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Tuesday Morning Quarterback Excerpts, 12/27/05


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Well, at least TMQ is giving our team some props!


All year Tuesday Morning Quarterback has been crusading against fraidy-cat kicking, especially the supposedly "safe" punt that actually makes the team more likely to lose -- see last week's column for copious examples. But the big question of Christmas weekend, and you're forgiven if you were wrapping presents and missed it, involves a punt that backfired. And in this case, the punt was correct.

Atlanta-Tampa had gone to overtime. The Falcons had the ball, fourth-and-2, on their 24 with 1:08 remaining in the fifth quarter, the Bucs holding one timeout. During the regular season, a game that is tied after five quarters ends as a tie. Jim Mora of Atlanta ordered a punt: that is, he played for the tie. City of Tampa got a long return and kicked a field goal as time expired, eliminating the Falcons from the playoffs. Since then, the sports-yak world has been saying Mora the Younger fouled up royally because a tie would have eliminated the Falcons from the postseason anyway. But it wouldn't have! Had that game ended tied, the Falcons would now be 8-6-1, with a best finish of 9-6-1. If the Cowboys and Redskins both lose this weekend to finish 9-7, Atlanta at 9-6-1 would best those marks and the Falcons would enter the playoffs. True, an Atlanta victory against Tampa would have given the Falcons a better shot at the postseason: but actually only slightly better, owing to an array of tiebreakers we can skip here. Mora the Younger was faced with the choice of going on fourth-and-2 deep in his own territory, knowing a failure would all but hand the game to Tampa and thus eliminate Atlanta; or playing for the tie and hoping a couple other teams lost the following weekend. Mora did the smart thing by punting, and it's time the sports-yak world noticed. As for Tampa's long punt return, well, I've reviewed the tape and have not noticed Mora in cleats on the field during that play.

Houston's loss means the season-finale Texans at Niners game, previously expected to be one of the all-time woofers, may determine who gets the No. 1 choice in the draft and hence the chance to nab Reggie Bush. When it looked like the Houston-San Francisco game would decide the first choice straight up, James Brown of Fox cleverly suggested NFL bylaws be amended for this one weekend to specify that the winner of that game, not the loser, receive the first choice. Now the picture is muddied. If 2-13 Houston falls to 3-12 San Francisco, the Texans get the first pick. Should Houston win, the issue becomes complex. San Francisco and Houston would be tied at 3-13: but Green Bay, Jersey/B and New Orleans can all also finish 3-13. If multiple teams finish 3-13, draft order will be decided by the strength-of-schedule barometer, which is the cumulative winning percentage of opponents played. Elias Sports Bureau calculates that New Orleans appears to have a slight edge for worst strength-of-schedule if there is a five-way 3-13 tie, so the Saints might end up with the first selection. But cumulative winning percentage of opponents changes weekly, so we may not know until Sunday night who lands the first draft pick. What this all means is that there is tremendous drama in the final weekend of the season -- but drama at the bottom of the standings, not the top as per usual. Fans in cities across the country will be obsessively following the Houston-San Francisco score, the New Orleans-Tampa score, the Bills-Jets score. Games that would be expected to hold scant interest may instead be fantasy blockbusters. Only in America!

Stats of the Week Last year Michael Vick made the Pro Bowl despite being 21st in passer rating; this year he made the Pro Bowl despite being 24th.

Stats of the Week No. 2 In the Atlanta-Tampa game, the teams combined to face fourth-and-25, fourth-and-18, fourth-and-15, fourth-and-14 and fourth-and-11.

Stats of the Week No. 3 In the Washington-Jersey/A game, three players threw touchdown passes for the Redskins (Mark Brunell, Clinton Portis and Patrick Ramsey) while two players threw touchdown passes for the Giants (Eli Manning and Brunell).

Stats of the Week No. 4 Shaun Alexander has more touchdowns than nine entire teams: Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Jersey/B, New Orleans and San Francisco.

Stats of the Week No. 5 Arizona leads the league in something! Two-point conversions.

Stats of the Week No. 6 First overall draft pick Alex Smith still has 10 interceptions and no touchdown passes.

Sweet Player of the Week In case you missed it because you were wrapping presents, 43-year-old Ray Brown started at guard for the Washington Redskins on Saturday and played a terrific game as Clinton Portis ran for 108 yards and 'Skins quarterbacks were sacked only once. Graying geezers have kicked in NFL games before, but has anyone older ever started on the line?

Sweet Player of the Week No. 2 When was the last time a linebacker caught two touchdown passes in the same game? New England had the ball on the Jersey/B 1 and then on the Jersey/B 2; both times Vrabel reported eligible and lined up left as an extra tight end, then ran a crossing pattern right at the back of the end zone, touchdown. Both times the Jets acted surprised, though Vrabel scored on this pattern earlier in the year, and also ran a crossing pattern right in a goal-to-go situation in Week 15. Vrabel has six receptions in his career -- all six for touchdowns.

Best Purist Drive Trailing St. Louis 20-17, San Francisco took possession on its 25 with 9:11 remaining. The Squared Sevens ran on eight out of nine snaps on the drive, scoring the winning six.

Manly Man Play of the Week Leading 20-7 with 13:33 remaining, Kansas City faced fourth-and-3 on the San Diego 35 in bad weather. This is the Maroon Zone -- where a field goal may be too far but a punt would be preposterous. The Chiefs went for it; 11-yard pass to Larry Johnson. A moment later Kansas City went for it again on fourth-and-14 from the San Diego 28, incompletion. But the successful fourth-and-3 had killed enough clock to preclude a Bolts' comeback.

Manly Man Stop of the Week Washington 35, Jersey/A 20, the Giants faced fourth-and-6 on the Nanticokes' 26 with 10:26 remaining. The Giants do the manly man thing by going for it; six-man blitz, incompletion. I told you I loved the big blitz

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Vikings leading 17-10 in a game Minnesota had to win to stay alive, Baltimore faced third-and-7 on the Vikes' 47. Seven-man blitz, easy 47-yard touchdown strike to Mark Clayton. Now it's Minnesota 20, Baltimore 17, and the Ravens are in almost exactly the same down-and-distance in almost exactly the same place -- third-and-8 on the Vikings' 39. There's the snap, and you're not serious! Again the seven-man blitz, this time an easy 39-yard touchdown strike to Derrick Mason. As Tuesday Morning Quarterback has been noting this season, it's one thing to try the mega-blitz to see if it will work; quite another to call the mega-blitz again after it has already exploded in your face the first time.

Vikings note: Two weeks ago, Analyze This asked whether Mike Tice, Brad Johnson, Zygi Wilf or Ted Cottrell was most behind the team's midseason turnaround. Now we know the answer was: None of them were! Tice, Johnson, Wilf and Cottrell were the same people when the team opened 2-5 as when it went 6-0 as when it wheezed out by reverting to 0-2. During the early losing streak, Minnesota had bad luck with bouncing balls and a tough schedule; during the victory streak, the ball bounced the Vikes' way and only one opponent had a winning record; the last two weeks, the football gods have been unkind and the opponents motivated. Of course coaching and ownership matter -- see above the example of Cottrell's calls hurting the Vikings' chances at Baltimore. But coaches and owners are not idiots in the weeks the team loses and then suddenly geniuses in the weeks the team wins. Usually they're the same people.

Cheer-Babe Professionalism Watch Kickoff temperature a nippy 50 degrees on Christmas Eve, the high-aesthetic-appeal Redskins Cheerleaders came out in barely there two-piece Santa outfits that definitely favored naughty over nice. Needless the say, the football gods rewarded Washington with victory.

Britney, Love the Navel Makeup. Tell Us About Your Latest Video. Wait, What's That Noise, Did Something Happen on the Field? So ABC's run of Monday Night Football began with a 36-21 Jets loss and ended 555 games later with a 36-21 Jets loss. Though there were many memorable moments in those years, TMQ joins Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated in being glad the ABC suzerainty of Monday Night Football has concluded. If you approach NFL games, broadcasts and licensing as products, there is only one NFL product whose popularity has been declining, and that is ABC's Monday Night Football. Why? Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks because the network tried to present Monday Night as a prime-time celebrity-fest rather than as a football game -- and football games are more interesting than celebrities.

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