Two big trends are at work in the NFL: high-scoring games with lots of forward passes, and passing records fluttering down like autumn leaves.
Scoring is averaging 24 points per game, versus 21.7 per game last season and 21.3 points per game two decades ago. By late Sunday, 272 touchdown passes had been heave-hoed in the young season, an all-time record through week five—that was with Monday Night Football not yet played. Hurl that spheroid down the field!
Last year no NFL player averaged more than 300 passing yards per game; two decades ago, no NFL player averaged more than 275 passing yards per game. So far this season, 13 quarterbacks are averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. College football has been lighting it up with passing offense for a decade. The NFL has moved in that direction.
Drew Brees set the NFL’s all-time record for passing yards on Monday night, at 72,103 yards. Sunday, Aaron Rodgers reached 40,000 yards passing and 300 touchdown passes faster than anyone in NFL annals. Brees and Tom Brady both are closing in on the all-time record for passing touchdowns, now held by Peyton Manning. Brady is closing in as well on Manning’s records for most touchdown passes and passing yards, when postseason appearances are included.
There are several reasons for high-scoring, high-passing-yardage results, including years of rule changes to discourage the pass rush while handicapping defensive backs. Rule changes that aim to decrease head injuries are an absolute must, but they mainly restrain defenders—especially, the safeties—which is good for the forward pass.
And perhaps you’ve heard about this year’s rule change turning previously legal hits on the quarterback into fouls. Vikings at Eagles on Sunday, the Nesharim’s Michael Bennett pulled down Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins. It wasn’t violent, it wasn’t even really a hit, just a slow-motion tackle—flag, first down Minnesota. That would have been legal in chess!
There’s another factor: Improved orthopedic medicine is allowing guys who are old in athletic terms to keep playing. There have always been a few quarterbacks—Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon—who performed into their late 30s. Now, in our aging society, older quarterbacks are becoming common. Current NFL teams start seven quarterbacks who exceed 35 years of age: Brady, Brees, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Alex Smith.
Since quarterbacking has a lot to do with experience and knowledge, older quarterbacks generally have skills that young quarterbacks lack. What they haven’t had in the past was orthopedic health. Now they have that, too. Reduction of hits against quarterbacks, improving exercise science, and less-intrusive arthroscopic surgery allow many signal-callers to play a long time at a high level.
The result is (relatively) old folks lighting up the NFL. For every blazing-hot newcomer such as Patrick Mahomes, there are two guys aging in place. It’s the Year of the Geezer Quarterback.
As for the new roughing the passer rule that has so many football fans up in arms, TMQ has noted that quarterbacks are the most valuable commodities in the sport—so owners want to protect their capital investments. This is especially true in a season when many older signal-callers are stars. Knowing the Year of the Geezer Quarterback was coming, owners changed the roughing rule to keep their investments in the pocket and launching passes. So far so good, from this perspective.
Brady note: He continues to perform well at age 41. Is this because of avocado ice cream? Waiter, I’d like some. With sprinkles and bean sprouts, please.
But TMQ suspects the answer lies elsewhere. In a locked room of Brady’s Massachusetts mansion, covered with cloth, is an oil portrait of what Brady really looks like. Scriptwriters at Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprise will be elevator-pitching Hollywood soon on The Picture of Dorian Brady.
Turning leaves note: Below is my all-time favorite football haiku, inspired by Bashõ.
On Brett Favre’s helmet
beer falls, and the cup crumples.
Sideline in autumn.
Stats of the Week #1. The defending champion Eagles are 2-3.
Stats of the Week #2. The Rams have nearly three times as many touchdowns (21) as punts (8).
Stats of the Week #3. Since kickoff of last season’s playoff game, the Falcons are 1-5. This season the Falcons have surrendered the most points of any team.
Stats of the Week #4. Tennessee leads its division despite not scoring a touchdown in two of its last three games.
Stats of the Week #5. From the start of Russell Wilson’s career, the Seahawks went on a 42-6 tear in Seattle. Then came November 2017: since that month, the Seahawks are 2-5 at home.
Stats of the Week #6. Bill Belichick is on a 31-3 stretch at home in October, while the Patriots are on an 8-0 streak versus the Colts.
Stats of the Week #7. Minnesota, first in defense in 2017, has dropped to 22nd; Kansas City is undefeated despite being last in defense.
Stats of the Week #8. Visiting Louisville, Georgia Tech completed one forward pass, and scored 66 points.
Stats of the Week #9. Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly, the two highest-paid new coaches in the NFL and NCAA, are a combined 1-9.
Stats of the Week #10. Kansas City is 5-0 for the second consecutive season.
Sweet Tactics of the Week. Jersey/B rushed for 323 yards versus Denver, which entered the contest 9th-ranked versus the run.
The Jets posted runs of 77 yards, 54 yards, 38 yards, and 36 yards, mainly by pulling offensive linemen from behind the play-side. This was Joe Gibbs’s favorite tactic during his Super Bowl years, when the Washington power-rush game was the envy of the league.
While the last decade has seen ever-more passing as rules have been tweaked to discourage the pass rush and handcuff defensive backs, rules for defending the run haven’t changed much. These two facets give offenses a double incentive to throw. When a contemporary NFL team comes out determined to run, defenses look surprised.
Sour Play of the Week. Miami led Cincinnati 17-3 to start the fourth quarter, but blink your eyes and the Bengals led 20-17. Just outside the two-minute warning, the Marine Mammals had 3rd-and-long on their 18. Dolphins right tackle Ja’Wuan James barely slowed Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap; then wrapped his arms around Dunlap; then when Dunlap escaped the hold, shoved him right into quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who fumbled. A Cincinnati scoop-and-score put the contest on ice.
Needless to say, the Bengals declined the holding penalty. A lineman holds and his man still gets by—then the lineman shoves his man into his own quarterback, creating the winning play for the opponent. That’s a Sour Warhead.
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Special Teams Plays. Carolina’s Graham Gano hit a 63-yard field goal as time expired to allow the home-team Panthers to defeat Jersey/A. Greg Joseph of Cleveland hit a field goal that barely cleared the crossbar as the clock expired in overtime, allowing the Browns and their faithful to escape some special kind of hell where games never end. (Three of Cleveland’s five outings so far have gone to overtime.)
The Cats’ long field goal was especially sweet since a moment before, Carolina coaches radioed in a run up the middle on 3rd-and-1 with 38 seconds remaining and no time outs. The play succeeded but forced Carolina to spike to stop the clock, leaving just 12 seconds. Had the long kick not saved Carolina’s bacon, the run up the middle with no time outs would have entered sports lore as one of the all-time bone-headed calls. (Ed note: Below is the Carolina Panthers' Spanish-language radio call of Gano's field goal, which was phenomenal.)
Then there were the Packers’ special teams. Green Bay placekicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and, just to prove it was no fluke, missed a PAT. Considering the awful day Crosby was having, why did Mike McCarthy send him out to attempt a 56-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter with Green Bay down two scores? Sure it was 4th-and-15, but Crosby seemed nearly certain to miss, as he did. Four sours.
Detroit’s first touchdown came after a punt to Green Bay that touched a Packer. This caused the ball to become live, but no one on the field realized it. Lions players watched the football roll as if it were still a punt, then downed it on the Green Bay 1, thinking they had just pinned the Packers deep. Officials signaled Lions’ possession 1st-and-goal. Sweet for Detroit and sour for Green Bay.
Special Teams bonus #1: Bills leading Titans 7-3 in the first half, Buffalo lined up for a field goal attempt. Taking the snap, holder Corey Bojorquez stood with the ball in passer stance to throw for a fake kick. Everybody else on the Bills blocked for a regular kick. As you might surmise, this down did not end well.
Bojorquez would hold on the long field goal as time expired that won for Buffalo and allowed the home crowd a raucous celebration. But after the down where he thought it was a fake kick and no one else did, Bojorquez walked off holding his shoulder. Anybody who’s played any high school varsity sport knows that if you do something really stupid with everyone watching, you pretend to be hurt so it’s not your fault.
Special Teams Bonus #2: Pittsburgh’s blocked punt versus Atlanta set up the short touchdown that turned a close game into a walkover and broke the Steelers’ three-game home losing streak.
Wonder Woman Explains the American Electorate. Gal Gadot made her debut as Diana Prince in the over-titled Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. At the finale, when she and the boys in capes confront the gigantic monster, Wonder Woman exclaims, “Every time we hit him, he becomes more powerful!”
That, in a nutshell, is Donald Trump. Not the gigantic monster part. Well, maybe the gigantic monster part, too.
At this juncture in 2016, when pundits and data crunchers with their mysterious super-secret algorithms were saying the presidential vote would be a landslide for Hillary Clinton, the mainstream media, academics, and the Democratic party began amusing themselves by hurling insults at Trump. There was a competition to see who could zing Trump in the nastiest way. Most people would rather not be insulted; it hurts their feelings. But Trump wants insults. Every time you hit him, he becomes more powerful!
It wasn’t some odd coincidence that as November 8, 2016 approached, Trump seemed to egg his critics on. He knew what Democrats, academics, the New York Times, and similar quarters did not—that venting rage toward him is exactly what he wants the left, and its media steno pool, to do.
Now November 6, 2018 approaches. The agitprop crowd has become theatrically outraged over Brett Kavanaugh—who wouldn’t be my choice, but is, objectively, well-qualified. Protestors not just protesting but screaming in the halls of congressional office buildings. High-status academics engaging in preposterous exaggeration of the case against Kavanaugh. (Anybody who actually believes Yale Law School, run by a liberal woman, is the secret nerve center of international sexism ought to be sent back to high school to start over.) Top pundits competing against each other to see who can use the most alarmist language announcing the impending end of the world.
All this plays into Donald Trump’s hands!
Not, of course, that venom is confined to the left. Last Friday, the day of the cloture vote that assured success for Kavanaugh’s nomination, Sean Hannity’s show came on Fox News at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Hannity was livid—and his guests were livid. On the day his side won!
But Hannity’s viewership will side with Trump in any case. There is more than a passing chance the into-the-deep-end dive regarding Kavanaugh by Democrats, the New York Times, the New Yorker, CNN, and Capitol Hill protestors will help elect Trump’s preferred candidates to the House and Senate, by increasing right-wing turnout and swaying independents to think the left isn’t merely opposed to Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy but has gone mega-nutso.
Becoming enraged about Kavanaugh is not rational. When Obama won, everybody knew he would pick liberal justices; when Trump won, everybody knew the picks would be conservatives. This is how the system works! Nor does becoming enraged about Kavanaugh accomplish much beyond allowing the enraged to feel holier than thou.
Didn’t the establishment learn anything from autumn 2016? All the recent stories and columns and on-air diatribes, and statements by Democratic leaders, about how hideously awful it was for Trump to criticize Christine Blasey Ford: Can’t you see he is deliberately egging you on?
In 2016, Trump showed he understands the contemporary American electorate better than nearly all pundits, op-ed writers, Ivy League professors, and hosts of cable-news lefty love-ins. Now you’re falling for the same trick again!
This Really Must Be the 21st Century. TMQ thinks every bucket list should include a trip to the Red River Showdown, the annual Oklahoma-Texas game.
Past results have sounded like this: Texas 9, Oklahoma 7 (1951). Texas 9, Oklahoma 6 (1962). Oklahoma 18, Texas 9 (1966). Texas 13, Oklahoma 6 (1977). Now, with the fad for college shootouts using quick-snap Xbox offenses, in the last 15 years, six times the winner had at least 40 points and twice the loser had at least 40 points. Saturday’s result was Texas 48, Oklahoma 45, with 1,033 yards of offense combined and an average gain of 7.8 yards per snap.
OK State note: on Saturday, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State combined for 87 points and 947 offensive yards—and both lost.
Trump Campaigned by Claiming Crime Is Rising, Which Isn’t True—Except on Primetime TV. Actual Hawaii is serene and safe. In 2016 there were 35 homicides in actual Hawaii, or one Hawaiian in 40,000 murdered, a low homicide rate compared to one in 20,000 nationally and one in 16,000 globally. But on CBS, every day in Oahu is World War III.
CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 and its new spin-off reboot Magnum P.I. just debuted for the current season. The Five-0 premiere included dozens of military carbines being fired (including hundreds of close-range rounds fired at the show’s stars, and of course every shot missed), huge explosions, and Chinese bad guys lying dead everywhere. The Magnum premiere offered three machine-gun battles, a helicopter assault, and a huge explosion. Perhaps most extreme, viewers saw Thomas Magnum in a vintage Ferrari chasing bad guys along an Oahu highway with absolutely no one else on the road. As everyone knows, Hawaii has lots of open roads with no cars or trucks or tour buses on them!
Five-0, a ratings hit, just reached its ninth season. In each season, individual episodes have shown more murders than occur in the actual state in a year. Five-0 has depicted machine-gun slaughters of surfer dudes and bikini babes on Waikiki beach; gigantic blasts leveling whole buildings in downtown Honolulu; bioengineered diseases causing evacuation of Hawaiian cities; death drones killing hikers and joggers on scenic Hawaiian hills; Honolulu bank robberies involving a dozen hoodlums firing military weapons; wildfires smothering Oahu; exploding tractor-trailer trucks in tourist areas; attacks by helicopter commandos on Hawaiian prisons; murders of the governor and other top public officials; and at least 100 police officers gunned down, significantly more than the total number of law enforcement officers who have died by gunfire in the entire history of the state.
Of course Five-0 and Magnum are cartoonish. In both shows (they come from the same production company) a good guy needs only to type a few quick commands into a laptop to—get this—reposition United States spy satellites in order to track individual cars on Hawaii streets. In a Five-0 episode last season, 37 people are shot to death in Honolulu in a single day (that’s the count, discussed by characters), and not only do the Five-0 Scooby Gang members not have to fill out any paperwork, by sunset they are down at Kamekono’s on the beach, knocking back brews, checking out girls, and generally yukking it up. No one could mistake this sort of drivel for realism.
In contrast there’s the NBC primetime Chicago franchise of producer Dick Wolf—Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med—surely soon to be joined by the tense action series Chicago Food Truck. These shows present a faux-realism that says to the viewer, “This is what Chicago is really like.”
Wolf has a production studio in the Windy City, which means he brings economic activity, provides paydays for the actors and stage crews who run Chicago’s lively legitimate-theater scene, and shoots outdoors on location in a city that photographs beautifully. Having Hollywood base a multi-series franchise there is good for Chicago.
But the series in this franchise that has political overtones, Chicago P.D., is troubling at many levels, including that Chicago city agencies assist in the production of a show that depicts the poor of the city as little more than a mob while CPD officers are angels walking the Earth. Obviously the poor of Chicago commit many crimes, while most CPD officers are genuine public servants. But last week’s second-degree murder conviction of a Chicago policeman who shot to death an African-American teenager who was threatening no one, and had a knife but no firearm, puts the phoniness of Chicago P.D. into perspective.
Primetime American television, which is heavy on crime procedurals, is trebly wrong in its core depictions. First, violent crime is shown as out of control, when actually it is in a generation-long trend of decline. Second, affluent whites are depicted as primary targets of violent crime, when low-income minority group members are far more likely, as a population share, to be harmed. Third, law enforcement agencies are depicted as super-efficient avengers who always get their man, though, as the Washington Post reports, in the past decade, police in the nation’s largest cities have failed to make an arrest in about 50 percent of homicides.
Chicago P.D. takes these structural faults of primetime police procedurals and multiples them, pretending to be realism while relentlessly distorting practically everything about the city’s law enforcement.
On the show, murder victims are middle-class whites, upper-class whites with expensive townhouses in Lincoln Park, or white college kids who’d come downtown for a pub crawl. In actual Chicago, South Side and West Side African Americans and Hispanics are dramatically more likely to be crime victims than middle- or high-income whites. But that’s not how Chicago looks on NBC.
Some of the lack of realism borders on science fiction. In this season’s opener, it takes a small squad of detectives just a day to solve a plague of poisoned heroin being sold on city streets. No police department, no matter how well-run, could be that good. In 2016, Chicago P.D. presented a fictionalized version of the awful murder of Tyshawn Lee, a nine year old caught in a gang war. In real life, three years passed with no conviction; on the show, detectives needed a single day to find the killer, who immediately confessed.
Further troubling about Chicago PD is that the show lauds torture of suspects. Brutalized suspects always turn out to be guilty as sin, and the beatings always cause them to reveal information that saves an innocent life. Whether torture could be acceptable if law enforcement knew for sure an innocent life would be saved is a complex moral issue. In real-world policing, detectives rarely know if they have the right guy, while torture is, itself, a crime. Chicago P.D. manipulates audiences into rooting for torture, suggesting cops have godlike powers of knowledge and would never harm a suspect except if given no choice to protect the innocent.
Constitutional protections are laughed at on Chicago P.D. In this season’s premiere, the protagonist busts into the apartment of a dope dealer, threatens his girlfriend, and starts burning the dealer’s $100 bills to get the dealer to admit where the stash house is. The detective has probable cause, so why couldn’t the entry to the dealer’s apartment have been done legally? Because real heroes don’t waste time filling out forms for some namby-pamby warrant!
Chicago PD suggests to the NBC primetime audience that crime could end tomorrow if bleeding-heart politicians didn’t tie the hands of heroic cops who inexplicably know exactly where every offender is at every moment and never, ever mistreat the innocent. I wonder if Dick Wolf would want to live in a neighborhood where cops are free to smash down his door and rough him up because only a wimp would go to a judge for a search warrant.
Most disturbing is that Chicago PD depicts police officers as the real victims of urban dysfunction.
In one episode, a foot patrolman chases a murder suspect while loudly yelling “Stop! Police!” After the suspect raises a gun and the patrolman shoots him, the officer is immediately fired, then prosecuted. In another episode, a policewoman observes a murder and shoots the killer while trying to apprehend him; she is fired immediately, without any investigation or union rights. In both episodes, mobs of angry African Americans form outside the precinct house—causing the viewer to perceive police officers as the ones in danger, and blacks as the real threat.
At the end of last season, a decorated detective—shown to viewers as dedicated to protecting the innocent—is sent to prison on a trumped-up charge in order to appease the media and a sinister African-American higher-up. Though the detective’s record is clean, the judge denies bail. As soon as the noble officer is behind bars, he’s stabbed to death by the drug gang that runs the jail.
Why would a judge deny bail to an officer with no prior conviction? “I got a call from the mayor,” the judge explains to the show’s hero. The media and the minority group mobs, it is implied, like to hear that white Chicago cops are being killed.
Maybe there are cities in which mayors telephone judges with instructions, though this is really not how the criminal justice system is supposed to function. But that’s how the criminal justice system is presented to NBC’s primetime audience, in a show that bills itself as the hidden truth about Chicago law.
Chicago has an actual mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who was just depicted on an NBC primetime series as crooked. In Chicago the phrase “the Mayor” is pronounced “duh Mare”: why does the actual duh Mare have Chicago city agencies cooperate with production of a series that depicts duh Mare as a corrupt lover of criminals? NBC has a clear free-speech right to make the show—that Chicago’s leaders assist in production is another matter.
And why does NBC think it’s a fine idea to present the primetime audience with a highly distorted picture of urban crime and punishment? Then the NBC News division gets all upset that the audience goes out and votes for Trump.
Crowd Reaction Watch. When the Eagles fell behind early, the Philadelphia crowd persistently booed. Sure, you just won the Super Bowl, but what have you done for us lately?
As LA/B hosted the Raiders—Los Angeles versus Oakland, seemingly a pairing with lots of local interest—the announced crowd was 25,362, which would be considered a bad gate for some Texas high school football evenings. Many spectators supposedly attending Raiders at Chargers came dressed as empty seats. TMQ’s Official Crowd Estimate was 15,000 at the game.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk. Overtime in Houston ended with sudden victory—TMQ dislikes the term sudden death—since both teams already had the ball once. Dallas faced 4th-and-1 on the Texans’ 42, and head coach Jason Garrett sent out the punter. You don’t need any other information to know who won the game.
Not only were the Boys, who boast, boast, boast about their running game, punting on 4th-and-1 in opposition territory. They were punting on 4th-and-1 in opposition territory in overtime, which, under NFL rules, is 99 percent about possession of the ball. At Princeton, Garrett must have cut class the day football tactics were taught.
Media-studies note: Calling the game, neither Al Michaels nor Chris Collinsworth said anything about Dallas punting on 4th-and-1 in opposition territory in overtime. Michaels and Collinsworth are paid huge amounts to do football year-round, and neither seemed aware of the overwhelming statistical case for going for it on fourth-and-short, especially in opposition territory, especially in overtime. Michaels and Collinsworth certainly did chortle, though. Broadcaster school must grant degrees in chortling.
Fortune Favors the Bold! Leading 33-31 at Seattle, LA/A faced 4th-and-1 on in its own territory with 1:39 remaining. Initially, head coach Sean McVay sent in the punt unit. Then Seattle head coach Pete Carroll called time out, and during the time out, McVay resolved to keep the offense on the field. Fortune favored the bold!
Adventures in Officiating. Last week TMQ complained about officials allowing the Patriots, at Miami, to run an obvious illegal pick in which a wide receiver crashed into the guy trying to guard Cordarelle Patterson, springing him open. The play was a downfield block thrown before the pass was caught—illegal and obvious, yet no flag.
Now it’s Colts at Patriots. Patterson snags a touchdown pass on a play on which wide receiver Chris Hogan throws a downfield block on Patterson’s man before the pass is in the air—illegal and obvious, yet no flag. To top it off, Hogan also held the defender. There could have been two flags versus New England. Instead no flags and the touchdown stood.
Just to prove it was no fluke, on the next Flying Elvii possession, Rob Gronkowski threw an obvious block downfield on defensive back Pierre Desir, to spring Julian Edelman open. The pass fell incomplete. But the action should have been a penalty and was not.
That’s three times in two games the Patriots have gotten away with actions that were not even close to legal picks. In all three cases, the action looked like Fuzzy Thurston leading a Packers power sweep in 1966. The league needs to enforce the rules regarding blocking downfield before the pass.
Late in the fifth period at Cleveland, the Browns faced 4th-and-5. Jarvis Landry tried to run a deep pattern and, with the pass in flight, was absolutely pasted by Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr. No flag.
Referee Clay Martin announced the pass was uncatchable. How could anyone know? The receiver had been body-blocked with the ball in flight. In any event, a personal foul could have been called—Landry was in a defenseless-receiver posture. The Browns ended up winning. Had they not, this down would be endlessly repeated on highlight reels as a major officiating screw-up.
Back in 2012 during the strike/lockout of NFL officials—the fiasco that led to the Fail Mary at the end of a Packers-Seahawks game—football aficionados repeatedly were told the reason for poor officiating was that NFL zebras are part-time and not paid enough. As of this season, many officials are fulltime and earn around $190,000 per season, plus bonuses. Yet the quality of officiating has not improved. We’re paying more but not getting more—just like U.S. infrastructure projects!
Next Week. TMQ’s annual New York Times Corrections on Fast-Forward.