This week the Sunday Night Football game on NBC was Saints at Vikings, a rematch of one of last season’s best playoff games. Monday Night Football on ESPN was Patriots at Bills, a cover-your-eyes awful pairing. Next week’s Sunday Night Football is Packers at Patriots, pitting future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady against each other. Next week’s Monday Night Football is Titans at Cowboys, a ho-hum pairing.
Of course, when drawing up a schedule, one never knows which games will turn out awesome and which will be duds. A scheduler might think, “Maybe Patriots at Bills will be a stunning upset.” Since New England would enter on a 31-4 stretch versus Buffalo, chances were the same would be a dud. What is known when drawing up a schedule is which games are likely to be good and which aren’t.
For several years, NBC has received from the NFL a substantially better slate of contests for Sunday Night Football than ESPN has received for Monday Night Football. Sunday primetime games consistently are compelling; Monday primetime games often howl at the moon.
NBC primetime began the 2018 season with Atlanta versus Philadelphia, a playoff rematch featuring the defending champion. ESPN primetime began the season with Jets versus Lions, pairing teams that did not make the playoffs the year before. Sunday Night Football this season gets 20 total appearances by last season’s playoff teams, plus the option to add the matchups of its choice to the slate in December. ESPN got 14 total appearances by last season’s playoff teams, no playoff rematches, and no “flex” option.
In a couple of weeks, Sunday Night Football will offer Cowboys versus Eagles, which is shaping up as a major contest pairing the defending champion versus one of the sport’s most popular clubs, while Monday Night Football will offer Giants versus 49ers. The Monday matchup will pair two awful teams irrelevant to the standings—and from the standpoint of offseason scheduling decisions by the league, two woofers that were a combined 9-23 in 2017.
Now here’s the punchline: ESPN pays twice as much for bad games as NBC pays for good ones.
ESPN sends the NFL a check for $1.9 billion each year, while NBC sends $950 million annually. Yet every year at schedule-release time, NBC receives a better slate of games than ESPN, even though NBC gets to air the Super Bowl every third year and ESPN never does. What’s going on?
A primary factor here is that the NFL’s feudal-elite owners really hate ESPN. They are jealous of its prime real estate on cable. Though ESPN subscriber numbers are down since 2014, the Worldwide Leader still receives far more cable-TV monthly revenue than any other American corporation, about $100 per year per basic cable subscriber. That’s around $10 billion annually to ESPN from cable subscriber fees, rivaling the NFL’s roughly $15 billion annually from all sources.
The owners think that without the NFL, ESPN would be much less appealing to cable carriers. They’re right. But ESPN also was first to the idea of national cable sports. The NFL wasn’t there first. ESPN also had the basic idea of treating sports as entertainment—adding humor and commentary—back when the NFL took itself oh-so-seriously. ESPN’s money and success at sports drive the feudal-elite NFL owners crazy in a way they aren’t about NBC, which existed long before cable and whose primary business is not sports.
NFL Network was launched in 2003 mainly to go after ESPN’s position in sports cable. NFL owners thought they’d take over. They didn’t: ESPN repelled the assault. This only makes the owners angrier about Bristol, Connecticut, whereas the NFL has never gone after NBC or any other “terrestrial” carrier. There are no hard feelings there.
NFL owners also really don’t like ESPN’s snarky attitude, and do not like that ESPN attempts, however fitfully, to cover the downside of sports, through Outline the Lines, the 30 for 30 project, and in other ways. NFL owners want their rings kissed. NBC kneels and prostrates itself—there is never anything but praise for the NFL on the Peacock Network. That’s another reason the owners repeatedly favor NBC over ESPN.
So why does ESPN put up with this? It’s about the Benjamins!
The Worldwide Leader knows that if push came to shove and it lost NFL rights, Bristol would lose its privileged position in the cable universe, too. Despite the slates of bad games, ESPN makes money on NFL broadcasting. The $1.9-billion fee includes unlimited rights to air NFL clips year-round. ESPN produces 365/24/7 sports programming across multiple channels—NBC only produces sports programming on two channels, and football mostly in the autumn. What ESPN is buying for that hefty fee is as much highlight reels, logos, and colors as it as a broadcast schedule.
So while you’d think the NFL would want to showcase its very best in primetime on Monday night, in reality the league goes out of its way to put crummy games on Monday Night Football—and ESPN doesn’t care, so long as cable subscribers are forced to pay through the nose for crummy games.
This is a formula for cord-cutting for ESPN and the declining popularity for the NFL—both of which are happening. Big institutions often are shortsighted, as the NFL and ESPN are being in this instance. At least one interest group benefits: Tuesday Morning Quarterback! The fact that in recent years Monday Night Football usually is a woofer lets me complete the column before the Monday game.
In other football news, this column has criticized Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer for timid fourth-down tactics. Sunday night, he had the Vikes go for it three times on 4th-and-short, including twice on 4th-and-goal. The result was two touchdowns and a turnover on downs.
That’s exactly what fourth-down analytics suggests—two successes for each one failure. The result of going for it on fourth-and-short was that Minnesota scored more points than it otherwise would have, which is also what fourth-down analytics suggest. Interceptions and fumbles by Minnesota doomed the effort. But if Zimmer sticks with aggressive playcalling, the Vikings’ season (record: 4-3-1) has hope yet.
Stats of the Week #1. Kansas City is on a 7-0 streak versus Denver.
Stats of the Week #2. Cincinnati is on a pace to allow 7,164 yards of offense, which would be the NFL’s all-time worst defensive performance.
Stats of the Week #3. Cleveland has not won a road game in three years; the Steelers are on a 15-2-1 stretch versus the Browns.
Stats of the Week #4. In the first half of the 2018 season, Patrick Mahomes has as many touchdown passes (26) for the Chiefs as Alex Smith had for the Chiefs in the entire 2017 season.
Stats of the Week #5. The Raiders have scored 6 points in the fourth quarter. The Saints have scored 87 fourth-quarter points.
Stats of the Week #6. Since they took the field for last season’s AFC and NFC title games, Jacksonville and Minnesota are a combined 7-9-1.
Stats of the Week #7. The Buccaneers have the league’s number-one offense, and also a losing record.
Stats of the Week #8. Earlier this month at Louisville, Georgia Tech scored 66 points though completing only one forward pass. Last week, at Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech scored 49 points without completing any forward passes.
Stats of the Week #9. Chip Kelly and Jon Gruden, the highest-paid new head coaches in college and the pros, are a combined 3-12.
Stats of the Week #10. From the point TMQ predicted they would reach the Super Bowl to the point TMQ retracted the prediction, the Texans were 4-15. Since TMQ flipflopped and said they would not reach the Super Bowl, the Texans are 5-0.
Sweet Play of the Week. Goal! GOAL!!!! The packed house at Wembley Stadium got the 24th consecutive NFL London contest that did not pair teams with winning records—but it did get a 57-yard field goal by Jacksonville. The very long field goal is the closest gridiron football comes to European football’s GOAL!!! situation.
High ‘n’ Low Football IQ Plays of the Week. LA/A leading 29-27, the Rams kicked off to the Packers with 2:09 remaining. The ball sailed into the end zone. Since the 2016 NFL rule that brings a kickoff touchback out to the 25, TMQ has contended that NFL teams should almost always take the touchback. Taking one here would have put the ball on the 25 with Aaron Rodgers, one of the best two-minute-drill quarterbacks ever, having 2:09, the two-minute warning, and one time out to get a field goal to win. Instead, Green Bay return man Ty Montgomery brought the ball out, failed to reach the 25, then lost a fumble. Ay caramba what low football IQ!
Now there is 1:05 remaining and the Rams face 3rd-and-10 on the Green Bay 21. A stop here, an LA/A field goal, and the Pack still has a long shot at victory. Todd Gurley breaks into the open and could run for an easy touchdown—but stops at the Green Bay 4-yard line and “gives himself up.” Rams first down, game over. Yikes stripes what high football IQ!
Omen of Coming Decline of the NFL. Gurley not scoring was the high-IQ move for winning the game—but meant the Rams failed to cover. People who’d bet on Green Bay collected. If the NFL, like the NBA, encouraged gambling, right now the sportsyak world would be atwitter with claims that Gurley took a fall because he’d wagered against his own team, or was under the control of some high-roller who had.
“Man, forget fantasy and forget Vegas today. We got the win so that’s all that matters.”-Todd Gurley— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) October 29, 2018
Yea about that...pic.twitter.com/Sin0pKv4zd
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Play. Carolina leading Baltimore 14-0, the Cats faced 3rd-and-1. Cam Newton faked up the middle and then executed a “flip 80”—a favorite play of the Kurt Warner Super Bowl Rams—which D.J. Moore ran for a net of 28 yards after a fumble recovery. Carolina scored a touchdown on the drive on the way to a resounding 36-21 win, with Newton having thrown at least a pair of touchdown passes for six consecutive games. Sweet.
Two weeks ago, Baltimore’s defense was first overall in every category and seemed poised for a season recalling the dominant Ravens defense that won the 2001 Super Bowl. Since then the Ravens have lost twice, allowing 24 points by New Orleans and 36 points by Carolina. Sour.
(Note: since both Baltimore losses were to the NFC, the Ravens still look decent in their division, as the NFL playoff formula discounts interconference games.)
Unhappy Hour in Hell’s Sports Bar. Hell’s Sports Bar has an infinite number of flatscreen TVs, but certain blackout restrictions may apply. Sunday afternoon, while most of the United States got the headliner Packers at Rams, Arizona, northern California, and parts of Nevada saw 49ers at Cardinals, combined record 2-12.
Thursday night the entire country becomes Hell’s Sports Bar as Fox and NFL Network air Niners versus Raiders, combined record 2-13. Fortunately there will be college football, pro basketball, pro hockey, Netflix, and Hulu to escape from the NFL that night. Oh, and also books!
TMQ Failed to Find the Time-Travel Stone of Inverness. Once TMQ did a Christmas Creep running item, which would premiere around this time of year. But the Christmas Creep phenomenon became so common—Christmas radio stations before Halloween, shopping-mall Christmas displays in summer heat—that the recounting was no longer remarkable.
So TMQ moved on to a Unified Field Theory of Creep, exemplified by pumpkin spiced lattes at Starbucks in August. These became no longer remarkable, and therefore your columnist retired the whole Creep concept. Here, the Unified Field Theory of Creep is resumed briefly to note that over the summer I was in Scotland, where the hotel got the Edinburgh Evening News on the morning of the day listed on the masthead. Creep on a daily basis!
One Edinburgh Evening News story expressed outrage that 14 percent of ScotRail trains arrive five minutes late. In the United States, those same stats would run under the headline, AMTRAK LAUDS IMPROVED PERFORMANCE.
The National Museum of Scotland is an impressive collection that TMQ commends. Scotland is the world’s capital of shortbread, whisky, and golf. A museum exhibit explained that golf began in Holland, then was banned in 1457 by the Scottish legislature “for interfering with archery practice.”
The National Museum displayed an arts-and-crafts armchair designed in 1897 by Charles MacIntosh. The seat width measured 17.5 inches. Rear ends now average quite a bit more heft than in 1897, yet Air India, Lufthansa, Qantas, Southwest, United, and other airlines have coach seats with less width than 17.5 inches. That is, with less width than was considered necessary a century ago. Today’s Aer Lingus Airbus 330 long-haul coach seat is a medieval torture device at 17 inches of width, less than designers thought necessary for the much slimmer bodies of the 19th century.
Scots are renowned for taking credit—if the National Museum of Scotland is to be believed, most of the advances of the industrial era originated in the Land of Heather, along with fire and the wheel. But though Donald Trump is half-Scottish by ancestry, your columnist did not observe anything across the length and breadth of Scotland taking any credit for him or even noting that Trump exists—no exhibits, no signage, nada. One Scot told me, “The Germans can have Trump.” (The other half of 45’s ancestry is German.)
This column contends that wine snobbery is mostly based on unfalsifiable claims to detect subtlety of flavor: “notes of caramel brioche with sea-salt butter,” that sort of thing. TMQ thinks most writers for the Wine Advocate couldn’t tell a burgundy from a Bordeaux if their lives depended on it. I sure couldn’t! Outlandish tasting notes have spread to single malt scotch. At Howie’s in Edinburgh—a great place for dinner—Auchentoshan was listed as having a taste of “crème brûlee on the nose with hints of tangerine and lime on the tongue.” In a nearby pub, Jura Journey single malt was said to possess “fruitcake spice with fudge and vanilla notes, finishes with gentle smoke.” Single-malt scotch is wonderful stuff, but I couldn’t tell a Speyside whisky from an island whisky if my life depended on it, and suspect there are few who can.
The fad is on, so blended scotch is claiming tasting notes, too. Johnnie Walker Blue says it tastes of raisins, smoke, vanilla, honey, rose petals, orange, hazelnut, sherry, and chocolate. All at once! That’s some blend.
My favorite spot in Scotland is Inverness, a fascinating small city where my wife and I stayed in a wonderful Airbnb across from the Old High Church, with a view of bridges along the Ness River, flowing out of Loch Ness. Throughout the Old High Church graveyard, as in many historical cemeteries, were 18th- and 19th-century markers for persons who passed in their 70s and 80s. How could that be, considering longevity was so much less then? At the time there were sharp class differences in expected lifespan (there remain some today, but not as distinct). The sorts of persons who belonged to churches were more likely to be affluent and more likely to reach old age*. Those who lived a long time accumulated sufficient net worth that their estates could afford gravestones. The poor, or those who died young, simply were erased from history. Archaic Scottish gravestones remembering those few who became old, but not those many who died young, were a stark reminder.
*The association of longevity with net worth—and with family net worth, since the affluent leave money to descendants—is a factor in inequality. Only recently have African Americans as a group begun to live approximately as long as white Americans as a group. Since net worth rises sharply after age 55, from a lifespan standpoint American whites have had better opportunities to accumulate money than have had American blacks. (This paragraph is about generalities; of course there are exceptions.)
Scotland and the passage of time are themes in the Starz hit Outlander, which kicks off its fourth season in a few days.
Outlander’s pilot was a trip by foreign tourists to Inverness. The heroine, played by the beguiling Caitriona Balfe, touches a Druid stone and unwittingly engages a time-travel spell that transports her to the clan-era Highlands, where she experiences sword-fighting, scotch-drinking, and bodice-ripping, plus nostalgia for the Jacobite lost cause. She falls for the studly yet sensitive hero, played by the muscular Sam Heughan. Together they form the best-looking couple of the 18th century, if not of all human history.
Outlander recalls the premise of Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon, also about foreign travelers journeying to Inverness and having a mystical encounter in the Highland mists. Brigadoon premiered on Broadway in 1947, when you had to go to a theater to see the show. Now all you have to do to watch Outlander is glance at a device. You can look and look and look. Outlander has aired 42 hour-long episodes, with 13 more in the can for season four and seasons five and six already greenlighted by the network, getting the series to about 30 times the length of Brigadoon.
Well-done in acting and production quality, Outlander asks viewers to accept the premise of time travel. That’s no different from, say, Star Wars asking viewers to accept the premise of hyperdrive. The show is subsidized by a Scottish government agency, and in thanks, takes the Scottish nationalist viewpoint by depicting the English as raging monsters.
Outlander adds to sci-fi the conventions of romance novels: dreamy stares, constant misadventures that separate the lovers,preposterously unlikely reunions, regular vows of eternal devotion. But additionally, so far the heroine has been kidnapped thrice, shipwrecked twice, sexually assaulted numerous times, tortured by a British army officer, press-ganged by a British naval officer, date-raped by the king of France, attacked by fire ants, imprisoned in a dungeon, tied to a bed by a deranged priest, trapped in a bordello, tried for witchcraft, used in a voodoo ritual, and had her mind read. (And dozens more episodes to go!)
Halfway through the series so far, the Battle of Culloden, April 1746, is about to begin. The heroine knows from future history that Culloden will bring calamity to her Jacobite friends—the Scottish army wiped out, the clan system destroyed, and the infamous “clearings” to follow. Pregnant with the handsome Highlander’s child, she uses the Druid stone to return to modernity so the baby can be born in safety. There’s a teary goodbye replete with wonderfully cheesy romance-novel vows, after which her beloved falls on the field of battle.
Next the series advances to the present day. The child, a daughter, is grown and the spittin’ image of her Highlander dad; the heroine has become a wealthy surgeon who is jaded by her predictable, non-magical life. The daughter’s boyfriend—a historian who works in a Scottish archive, ideal boyfriend for the circumstances!—discovers the hero did not in fact die at Culloden moor but was alive in the year 1765, running an Edinburgh print shop. The heroine resolves to return to him, setting in motion shipwrecks, searches for buried treasure, and soft-core porn. As a bonus, the magical stone grants the heroine restored youth.
Though viewers must accept the assumption of Druid time-travel, within that assumption, action should make sense. When the heroine takes her fateful decision to return to the past, she says goodbye to her daughter, expecting never to see her again. The daughter supports the decision, sad only that she will never know whether her mother reconnected with the love of her life. But mom could leave a message in the past telling the daughter what happens!
Mom, daughter, and Scottish historian beau could agree on codes that the heroine could insert into books or documents in the past, or carve into stone in some agreed place in a specific castle or cathedral. Many 18th-century Scottish structures remain extant, so the present-day historian knows which ones will stand. Only short codes—a single word or symbol—would be required. One code could mean, “It worked and we lived happily ever after.” Another could mean, “It failed and I was stupid to return.” Then the daughter would know.
Here’s the kicker—if they agreed on a code to be left in the past, they could read the result right now. The message would already be there, before the heroine uses the portal to return. This is one of many time-travel paradoxes—from the standpoint of the present, anything a time traveler did in the past would already have happened, even if the traveler had not yet departed.
The characters never discuss any plan like this. But they do meet an oracle: not a pretend oracle, an actual oracle. Maybe the oracle gave a prophecy about the series being renewed.
Fortune Favors the Bold! Leading Miami 14-10, Houston faced 4th-and-goal on the Marine Mammals’ 2, went for it, scored, and never looked back.
Earlier Miami had gone on 4th-and-1 and failed, so shouldn’t the quotient of bold have balanced out? After all, TMQ contends it’s often better to go and fail than to launch a fraidy-cat kick. Miami head coach Adam Gase’s call was a strange one that required Brock Osweiler to sprint backward 10 yards and resulted in an incompletion. You only need one yard—why is your quarterback sprinting backwards?
Maybe Tom Brady Sent Him Some Avocado Ice Cream. Little-known Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons center Chase Roullier had a perfect pull block to spring Adrian Peterson for the 64-yard touchdown run that allowed him to tie Barry Sanders for most touchdown rushes over 50 yards in NFL annals. Peterson ran for 149 yards and notched his first receiving touchdown in five years. Isn’t Peterson supposed to be washed up?
It’s the Sunday Before Halloween. Where Are the Costumes? This weekend’s games were the ones before Halloween—when, in the last couple of decades, most NFL cheerleaders strutted in costume. Not in 2018!
Blackface costumes, which NBC Today show host Megyn Kelly inexplicably endorsed last week, are wrong, wrong, wrong. But for many years the overwhelming majority of Americans have agreed that blackface is never appropriate. What does it say about grievance-obsessed contemporary culture that in 2018, professional entertainers such as NFL cheerleaders don’t want to wear any kind of Halloween costume at all?
Maybe one reason sci-fi and superheroes have so taken hold of U.S. pop entertainment is that their dozens of outfits create Halloween costumes that can be worn without fear of stepping into an identity-group minefield. Kryptonians, Amazonians, Martians, Wookiees, talking raccoons, and the Kree don’t object to people dressing up like them. At least, not yet.
It’s the Sunday Before Halloween and Blue-Face-Painted Giants Fans Already Looking Ahead to 2019 Season. When Jersey/A employed the second overall choice of 2018 on Saquon Barkley, passing on Sam Darnold—and on the chance to trade the choice to other teams seeking Darnold—the rationale was that Barkley’s talents, plus the megabucks free agent Nate Solder, would refresh Eli Manning for one last Super Bowl run.
This hasn’t worked. Barkley has been fabulous, but Solder has been unexpectedly terrible—putting a decal of an airborne Elvis on a football player’s helmet instantly makes him good, apparently taking that decal off instantly makes him bad—and Eli seems even more perplexed than usual, bearing in mind that perplexed is his resting-face expression. (One of my kids says, “Eli always looks like he just broke something expensive but hasn’t been caught yet.”) This being New York City, the recriminations have already set in.
In recent weeks the Giants have traded two starters for midround choices in the 2019 draft, which suggests they are giving up on 2018. One starter offloaded was Eli Apple, the 10th selection of the 2016 draft, now gone for just a midround choice.
Football drafts are easy to second-guess, but the 2016 first round was a disaster for many teams. Next after cornerback Apple was cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who’s hurt this season; last season when he suited up, the Buccaneers had the league’s worst pass defense. A few picks later came safety Karl Joseph, whom the Raiders have been trying to trade as part of their fire sale. (“Everything must go!”) Then came Corey Coleman, whom the Browns and Bills have dropped as a bust. Also chosen soon after Apple in that first round were Laquon Treadwell, a disappointment at Minnesota; Artie Burns, struggling at Pittsburgh; Paxton Lynch, waived by Denver; and Joshua Garnett, a backup for Santa Clara. Ouch.
As for the Saints, who acquired Apple, they are all-in for 2018, having already traded away their first-, third-, fourth-, and sixth-round choices in the 2019 draft in order to reinforce the current squad. Saints’ coaches are keenly aware that if there is to be another trophy under Drew Brees, it’s now or never. Tomorrow will be too late!
Year of the Geezer Quarterback. At 9:27 p.m. ET on October 28, in his seventh game of 2018, 39-year-old geezer Brees (geezer in athletic terms—at least 35 years of age) threw his first interception of the season.
Geezer Derek Anderson started under center for the Bills on Monday Night Football. Four quarterbacks in the NFL have three more interceptions than touchdown passes, and all but one play for Bills.
To open the season, geezer quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick of Harvard became the first player in NFL annals to throw for at least 400 yards in three consecutive games. As thanks he was benched for the much younger, extensively-hyped Jameis Winston. Sunday, Winston threw four interceptions and got the Buccaneers behind by 18 points. Fitzpatrick came in and quickly led City of Tampa to three scores, tying the game, compiling a 154.9 passer rating in the process—158.3 is perfect in the NFL’s recondite system. How long till he is again benched as thanks?
Best 99-Yard Drive. The University of Minnesota drove from its 1-yard line to a touchdown versus Indiana University. On another Gophers’ possession, Minnesota went for it on 4th-and-1 in its own territory. “This is really risky,” Fox color man Evan Moore, a former NFL player, declared. Going for it on 4th-and-1 is not really risky, it’s playing the percentages! Minnesota converted and got a touchdown on the drive, in a contest ultimately decided by a touchdown. Late in the game, score tied, Indiana faced 4th-and-3 in its own territory, and punted. That’s all the information you need to know who won.
All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back. The NBA has tipped off, and everybody’s already talking about who the Lakers might sign next summer after a terrible 2018-2019 season. The New York Times went so far as to predict the Lakers won’t make the NBA’s postseason card, and since 16 of the 30 NBA teams receive invitations, an NBA club is odds-on to reach the playoffs.
TMQ would think the single easiest thing in all of sports would be to predict success for LeBron James. Yet this is currently unfashionable.
Last season, James went into the playoffs with a bunch of guys that he met at the Cleveland airport arrivals lounge in February. James and this bunch of guys (“Bunch of Guys” was on the backs of their jerseys) reached the NBA Finals. Sure, they got swept by Golden State. But two of the games went down to the closing seconds—the NBA Finals were within a couple of shots of being 2-2. And to reach the NBA Finals, James and the guys whose names nobody can remember defeated the Boston Celtics in a game seven on the road.
Here are the things I would least like to do, in descending order:
1). Fight the United States military under any circumstances.
2). Play the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin in 1966.
3). Play the Celtics of any year in a game seven in Boston.
James did the third with a subpar cast and won. He’ll be a force in the 2019 NBA postseason with the Lakers. Why isn’t this obvious?
Adventures in Officiating. Dolphins at Texans contained two obvious officiating mistakes. On a Miami field goal attempt, Houston was called for roughing the Dolphins’ holder, which gave Miami a first down. On the next snap, it was a touchdown. It is roughing to hit the holder’s head or neck; replays showed the Texans’ player hit the holder’s shoulder, which is legal. (NFL zebras insist on saying “head or neck area”—what’s the difference between your neck and your “neck area”?) This call favored Miami. Officials also missed obvious defensive holding on a Miami interception, a call that favored Houston.
In the second quarter, the ball came loose from Miami quarterback Brock Osweiler when he was hit while his arm was moving forward to attempt a pass; Houston did a scoop-and-score; zebras signaled touchdown. After review, officials reversed to an incompletion, which was the correct ruling. So on the field, officials got this right.
The broadcast booth was a different matter. During the long review, Fox announcers Joe Buck thought the play should remain a Houston touchdown while Troy Aikman thought (correctly) the ruling should be reversed to incompletion. They brought in Mike Pereira, former head of NFL officiating and now a Fox employee. He hemmed and hawed about whether the call should be Houston touchdown or Miami ball. As the long review wound up, Pereira said the call should remain Houston touchdown. When referee Shawn Smith declared incomplete pass, Pereira quickly said that’s what he thought, too.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback often complains that the NFL rulebook is too long and complicated. In this instance, the former NFL director of officiating clearly had no idea how a play should be officiated. But the rule governing this particular situation is not long or complicated. See 22.4—“When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional movement forward of his hand starts a forward pass.”
That made it obvious the play was an incompletion. Did the fact that the quarterback was hit and twisted around change the outcome? No, and the rule on that is clear, too: “If a Team B player contacts the passer or the ball after forward movement begins, a forward pass is ruled, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground.” The former NFL director of officiating was unsure of these rules!
In collegiate play, Oklahoma State led visiting Texas 24-14 with a minute remaining before intermission and faced 4th-and-1 at midfield. The Cowboys came out in a punt set. Suddenly everyone on the Oklahoma State side shifted: The backs rushed toward the line, the gunners came in, the wide-splits offensive line became tight. Texas jumped offside, first down Oklahoma State. A Cowboys touchdown a few snaps later was the decisive play of the contest—a 31-14 halftime lead rather than the ball punted back to Texas.
Why wasn’t the call illegal motion on Oklahoma State? The college rule says it’s illegal “simulating the snap” for linemen to make “any quick or sudden lateral movement” to draw the defense offside, which is exactly what Oklahoma State did. Both gunners had been in pre-snap stances, then both moved—man-in-motion would allow only one in move—while the center had a hand on the ground and the moved. (Once an offensive lineman’s hand is on the ground he cannot change position.)
On ABC, Kirk Herbstreit correctly said the call should have gone against Oklahoma State, citing the “simulating the snap” standard. This was a rare case of a football announcer actually knowing the rulebook! The call wasn’t reviewable; Texas coach Tom Herman called time out to argue with the zebras, of course to no avail. This instance of bad officiating set in motion Herman’s bad behavior as the contest concluded.
The 500 Club. Visiting Cincinnati, the Buccaneers gained 576 yards on offense, and lost.
The 600 Club. Visiting Pitt, Duke gained 619 yards on offense, and lost.
Next Week. Vote early, vote often!