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|Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was injured last Sunday in a game in which the outcome was not in question.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The blame game began before the football game ended.
Anquan Boldin lay awkwardly on the field, surrounded by Arizona Cardinals teammates and medical personnel. Quarterback Kurt Warner led players from the Cardinals and New York Jets in prayer.
Twenty-seven seconds remained in a game the Jets were leading by 21 points.
The league would fine and suspend Jets safety Eric Smith for leading with his helmet against a defenseless receiver. But there was enough blame to go around. The sequence raised questions about player safety and, ultimately, coaching tactics during lopsided games.
Both head coaches -- Eric Mangini of the Jets and Ken Whisenhunt of the Cardinals -- were going all out even though the outcome wasn't in question.
Mangini ordered a 2-point conversion after Brett Favre's sixth touchdown pass extended the Jets' lead to 19 points with 2 minutes remaining.
Whisenhunt ordered his first-team offense back onto the field with instructions to push for more points.
Jets safety Kerry Rhodes hit Boldin from behind on the play in question, sending the receiver's head more directly into the path of Smith's helmet.
And then Smith blasted Boldin. The hit made a distinct and sickening sound that witnesses said they wouldn't forget. Both players were injured, and for what?
"I think the biggest disappointment was that there was no need to throw the ball into that space in the first place," ESPN.com user Illianthar wrote.
"It was completely irresponsible for Ken Whisenhunt to be attempting to score with under 35 seconds left and his team down three touchdowns," Kyle from St. Louis wrote. "Even worse, he kept going for it after Boldin was injured. He should be embarrassed."
"Just thinking of that play and how unnecessary it was makes me sick to my stomach," KGsGreenTeam wrote. "Boldin is a great young receiver and to see him go down in such a way, on a meaningless play, is gut wrenching."
"It's football, things like that happen," wrote seank12283. "Whisenhunt and Warner should just have run the clock out. There was no way they would have surpassed 21 points in that short of time."
"I blame Mangini for running up the score and Warner for trying to make a miracle cheesecake comeback happen with sour ingredients," AntLynn72 wrote.
"AntLynn72, you can't be serious," Takl321 wrote. "How can you blame Warner? The only decisions he makes are who to throw to or to call an audible. Are you going to pull your starters out of the game and show them you're giving up? Did Warner know what was going to happen before he threw that pass?
"And how can you blame Mangini? Your team is up against one of the most potent offenses in the league [that] can score in a heartbeat. ... Have you never seen a comeback of over 20 points to win a game? Wake up."
On it went.
For the record, Whisenhunt kept pushing for points as part of a broader effort to encourage his team to finish strong no matter the circumstances -- particularly after trailing 34-0 at halftime.
"The thing you look at is, we did respond in the second half," Whisenhunt told the team's Web site. "We scored 35 points on five consecutive drives and probably would have scored a sixth had we not had the injury to Anquan.
"We never quit fighting. As tough as things went for us and you say, 'Well, you are scraping, you are reaching for positives,' that to me is a positive that we played hard."
Coaches routinely exposed franchise players to injury during blowout games in Week 4.
Matt Ryan was throwing passes for the Falcons in the final 2 minutes of a 24-9 defeat to Carolina. St. Louis' Trent Green did the same during a 31-14 defeat to Buffalo.
Denver's Jay Cutler was throwing in the final 32 seconds of a 33-19 defeat at Kansas City.
San Francisco's J.T. O'Sullivan was throwing with 2 seconds remaining in a 31-17 defeat at New Orleans.
The New England Patriots sometimes exposed quarterback Tom Brady and other prominent players to potential harm during the latter stages of blowout victories last season.
Brady's 30th touchdown pass of the season extended the Patriots' lead to 45 points with 9 minutes remaining in a Week 8 victory over Washington. Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs left the Redskins' starting quarterback, Jason Campbell, in the game to the end. Campbell threw seven times on a late scoring drive.
"It isn't like college, where you have 80, 90 guys at a game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said today. "You only have 45 players and you have three specialists and three quarterbacks. Who do you want to take out?
"Most teams take four receivers to the game, maybe five at most. You're in a three-receiver set. Somebody has got to play. You have seven offensive linemen at the game. You take one or two of them out, the other guys got to play.
"You take one or two guys out, then what message does that say to the guys that you leave in there, that we don't care about you? "
Protecting the most important players is all a coach can do.
"Every game is different," Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "As I've gotten older, I'm more likely to [protect star players]."
As a less experienced head coach in Green Bay during the mid-1990s, Holmgren couldn't resist trying to score late points against Dallas during heated rivalry games with the Cowboys.
"We would go down there and we would have these shootouts," Holmgren said. "They would be ahead of us and kind of tee off, Leon Lett and those guys. And I just kept throwing it.
"But then, you learn. You think and you go, 'Wow, I can't lose the quarterback. That would be a shame if I lost the quarterback in a game that, realistically.' "
Last season, the Seahawks trailed only 21-0 with more than 7 minutes remaining when Holmgren decided to let backup quarterback Seneca Wallace finish the game. Holmgren decided to "live for anoth
er day" even though enough time remained for a comeback.
"I hear the argument that we're playing to the final whistle, never say die," Holmgren said. "That's all great. That's wonderful. Then you also have to explain to the players sometimes, 'Hey, it's a marathon, not a sprint. It's a war, not just the battle. We can't lose this guy to something screwy.'
"And if we did, I wouldn't be doing my job. I'd be hurting the team. So, I have changed. With me, it came with just experience."