Commentary

Super Bowl is better than just a sequel

Originally Published: January 24, 2012
By Gregg Easterbrook | Page 2

TMQKurt Snibbe/ESPN.com

"The Matrix Reloaded," "Superman IV," "Red, White and Blonde," "Oceans Twelve," "Die Hard with a Vengeance," Oh man, there are some bad sequels out there. But don't despair about sequels. There was "The Naked Gun Two½" and the even better "The Naked Gun 33⅓."

The Giants-Patriots Super Bowl rematch is likely to be a fabulous sequel. Pace "The Naked Gun," TMQ has dubbed this rematch Super Bowl XLII: 2½.

The movie poster would feature Bill Belichick as an ultimate super-villain, turning the dials in the master control room of his headquarters in a hollowed-out mountain, while Victor Cruz rappels down from a helicopter dressed like Tom Cruise. "Victor Cruz" even sounds like a spy movie character! The cast would include two classic Hollywood leading men, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Gisele Bundchen would play the damsel in distress, and Danny Woodhead would be the comic relief.

Next week's column will preview Super Bowl XLII: 2½ in detail. Here are some initial things to consider.

• In the 2007 season, the New England Patriots beat the New York Giants during the regular season, then lost to them in the Super Bowl. This season, the Giants beat the Patriots during the regular season, suggesting New England will win the Super Bowl.

• Sunday's NFC title game, pitting Eli Manning versus Alex Smith, was the second in NFL annals in which each starting quarterback had been the No. 1 overall draft choice. The first, Denver versus Jersey/B in 1998, pitted John Elway versus Vinny Testaverde. Elway's Broncos won, then went on to take the Vince Lombardi Trophy. This suggests the Giants will win the Super Bowl.

• Since the two teams met in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants are 4-1 in the postseason and the Patriots are 2-3.

• Last season, Green Bay had five consecutive must-win games to reach the Super Bowl. This season, the Giants had five consecutive must-win games to reach the Super Bowl.

• Since the start of the 2010 season, the Patriots are a league-best 29-6.

• The first Patriots-Giants Super Bowl was expected to be a wild high-scoring affair -- and ended 17-14.

• When the Giants lost four straight in midseason, there were widespread calls for coach Tom Coughlin's head; now he has an inside track for NFL Coach of the Year. When the Giants lost their first two games of 2007, there were widespread calls for Coughlin's head; he won the Super Bowl that season.

• Madonna, who will be the halftime act, was born before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and, for that matter, before President Barack Obama.

In other football news, both Harbaugh brothers lost Sunday, ending sports marketers' hopes of a brother-on-brother Super Bowl -- though marketers should be plenty happy with the New England-Jersey/A rematch. Both Harbaugh brothers lost in part owing to excruciating mistakes: a missed short field goal on Baltimore's final play, two botched punt returns for San Francisco. Both Harbaugh brothers lost on the final snap; change one play in each game, and both are winners.

Here's what did not happen: Neither Jim nor John Harbaugh blew his stack or stormed off the field or acted as if the world had ended. Neither publicly criticized the players who erred. Harbaugh/West could have blamed the loss on returner Kyle Williams, but did not. Harbaugh/East said, "I thought our guys played their hearts out. We made plays and came up a play or two short at the end, but it doesn't lessen what they accomplished this year, and it doesn't lessen what they accomplished in this game. I like our football team, and I like where we are going."

In other words, both Harbaughs kept the losses in perspective. Sure, they wanted to win, but they didn't, and the sun will continue to rise. If only all sports coaches kept a sense of perspective.

In this year of offensive stat-a-rama, the title games' final scores were 23-20 and 20-17, and no team exceeded 400 yards of offense. Stat-a-rama had a bad day. But it was a fine day for Lend Me a Tight End! Three of the four title-round teams -- Baltimore, New England and San Francisco -- played much of their games with two tight ends on the field, with Patriots and Forty Niners tight ends accounting for more than half their team's passing yards. College tight ends awaiting the NFL draft should expect their phones to ring.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 1: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the first head coach-quarterback combo to reach the Super Bowl five times.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 2: Peyton Manning is 9-10 as a playoff starter; his kid brother Eli is 7-3 in the playoffs.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 3: At halftime, Victor Cruz of the Giants had 126 yards of offense; the entire San Francisco team had 144 yards.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 4: Alex Smith is 14-4 with Jim Harbaugh as his head coach and 19-13 under all other San Francisco head coaches.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 5: The Giants are on a postseason streak of 6-0 on the road.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 6: Tom Brady, at 16-5 in the postseason, tied Joe Montana for most playoff wins.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 7: For the third time in the past four regular seasons, the league's worst-ranked rushing offense made the Super Bowl: Giants 2011, Colts 2009 and Cardinals 2008.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 8: Eli Manning has eight touchdown passes versus one interception in the postseason.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 9: Giants at Forty Niners was the sixth conference title game in 16 years to match teams that did not make the playoffs the previous season.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 10: The NFC title contest was the third consecutive Giants-at-Forty Niners playoff game to be decided by a Giants field goal attempt on the final snap.

[+] EnlargeOlivia
Baltimore RavensOlivia of the Ravens. Replevin can wait!

Cheerleader of the Championship Round: Olivia of the Ravens, who, according to her team bio, is a University of Virginia graduate who works as a lawyer. America's courtrooms are not exactly sagging under the weight of lawyers who pose for swimsuit calendars. Here is a legal cheer:

Push 'em back, push 'em back.
Waaaayyyy back.
Your Honor this judgment is immune
From collateral attack.

Sweet Play of the Championship Round: Baltimore ball on the New England 14, Flying Elvii leading 23-20 with 14 seconds remaining, Harbaugh/East sent the field goal unit in for a short kick to force overtime. The Ravens' kicker rushed out late and seemed discombobulated, with the snap coming with one second on the play clock. You know the result: kicker Billy Cundiff's sole fourth-quarter miss of the season, and a sweet fifth Super Bowl invite for Belichick and Brady.

Why didn't Baltimore call time? The Ravens had a timeout, and, with most teams, a kicker who isn't ready has the green light to call timeout, just as a quarterback who isn't ready calls time. Even if the Ravens don't give their kicker free rein to call time, reader Adam Barnhart of Chevy Chase, Md., notes the Ravens have a special-teams coordinator -- not a coach, a coordinator -- plus an assistant special-teams coach, a "kicking consultant" and a head coach who was himself a special-teams coach. Barnhart asks, "How is it none of them knew to call a timeout to give the kicking team enough time to get set before the biggest Ravens down of the season?"

[+] EnlargeBilly Cundiff
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonAnybody can miss a kick. The question is, why didn't the Ravens call timeout?

What TMQ thinks happened was that the Ravens' kicker and coaching staff were expecting the icing timeout from Pats coach Bill Belichick. As Cundiff ran onto the field, Belichick motioned toward the side judge, which is what coaches do when they plan to try an icing timeout. But Belichick never called the icing timeout. Reverse psychology! At least now the unused Baltimore timeout can be donated to charity.

Sour Play of the Championship Round: It would be easy to call Kyle Williams of San Francisco the sour player of the title games -- he badly muffed a punt in regulation, all but handing Jersey/A a free touchdown, then fumbled a punt return in overtime, handing Jersey/A position for the winning kick.

But Williams was a last-minute replacement for regular San Francisco punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. Williams had returned only four punts all season. Bad as his errors were, the real error was by the coaching staff. Knowing they were fielding an inexperienced punt returner in a high-pressure situation, San Francisco coaches could have told William to fair-catch every kick. They could have put a teammate next to him to yell "Peter peter!" if the kick wasn't ideal for fielding. ("Peter peter!" is near-universal football code for "Don't touch the ball!") Had these steps been taken, San Francisco might today be preparing for the Super Bowl. This is, fundamentally, a coaching error. The Niners have a full-time special-teams coach, Brad Seely, who carries the glorified title of special teams coordinator. Seely, not Williams, should be the one Niners faithful are gnashing their teeth about.

San Francisco coaches were guilty of even sourer moves. Twice Harbaugh/West elected to punt on fourth-and-1 in Giants territory (see below). After a mainly fabulous season, Jim Harbaugh ended as a Sour Warhead.

Sweet 'N' Sour Play of the Championship Round: With New England leading 23-20. Baltimore had possession on the Flying Elvii's 14 with 22 seconds remaining. Lee Evans ran a "pin" route to the right pin; Joe Flacco put the pass on Evans' hands; he caught the ball and got one foot down; Sterling Moore of the Patriots stripped the ball from Evans, forcing the incompletion. Two snaps later came the Nevermores' fateful missed short field goal, and New England was on its way back to the Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargeMoore
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireOne foot and one second separated Lee Evans from becoming a football celebrity.

The play was sweet for Moore, an undrafted free agent who has only three career starts, was fourth on New England's depth chart at one point and was waived by the Patriots on Dec. 10, 2011. Now he's likely to start in the Super Bowl -- six weeks from waiver wire to Super Bowl introduction! The play was sour for Evans, a quality player for eight seasons who was making his first postseason appearance this year. Owing to the difference between field-of-play and end zone rules, had Evans gotten his other foot down the play would have been a touchdown, even if Moore stripped the ball an instant later. Today, Evans would be the toast of Baltimore and preparing for a Super Bowl. Instead, he's viewed as the goat, based on a one-second difference involving one of his feet. Pretty sour.

Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Facing fourth-and-1 on the Jersey/A 43, San Francisco tried to get the Giants to jump offside, failed, drew a delay penalty and punted on fourth-and-6. Why didn't the Niners simply leave the offense on the field and go for it on fourth-and-1? They were in opposition territory! Later, San Francisco punted on fourth-and-6 from midfield. Jersey/A was called for running into the kicker, which would have made the down fourth-and-1 on the Giants' 43. Harbaugh/West declined the penalty.

For intents and purposes, twice in the NFL title game the Forty Niners punted rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Giants' 43. Teams that punt on fourth-and-1 in opposition territory deserve to lose. And San Francisco averaged 5.4 yards per rush on the day!

Just to prove it was no fluke, San Francisco punted again on fourth-and-1 in overtime. This time, the spot was the Niners' own 31. Sure, going for it would be risky. But if you are averaging 5.4 yards per rush and it's overtime of a championship game, don't passively punt back to the other guys! The fourth-and-1 punt in overtime was the last time San Francisco snapped the ball.

[+] EnlargeCol. Harland Sanders
AP PhotoA man who turned an honorary title into a livelihood.

Perhaps CNN Would Address Tom Brady as "Mr. Quarterback": In the Republican debate just before the South Carolina primary, John King of CNN addressed the candidates as "Gov. Romney," "Sen. Santorum," "Speaker Gingrich" and "Congressman Paul." Only Paul actually holds the post connected to the title. Romney is a former governor, Santorum a former senator and Gingrich a former speaker. In 1925, at the Scopes Monkey Trial, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow both were addressed by the judge as "Colonel" though only Bryan had served in the military. Southern culture of the time used the term "colonel" liberally; Harland Sanders in 1935 being granted the title Col. Sanders by the Kentucky legislature, for instance. Maybe CNN ought to call the Republican contenders "Col. Romney" and "Col. Gingrich."

Should the news media use titles such as "governor" and "speaker" for candidates who are not in fact governors or speakers? The authority here is The Protocol School of Washington, which teaches etiquette and, name aside, is located in Columbia, S.C. It maintains a lengthy website on terms of address; the section on addressing former officials is here. The basic rule is that if there are many persons in a category, a former official keeps his or her title when being addressed, but, if there is only one of someone, the former person to hold that job does not keep the title.

Since there are many governors and senators, "Gov. Romney" and "Sen. Santorum" are correct terms of address. But there is only one Speaker of the House, so Gingrich should not be addressed as "Speaker Gingrich."

The one-or-many rule is the reason judges, generals, admirals, governors, mayors and members of Congress keep their titles for life -- but presidents, speakers and Cabinet secretaries do not. The Protocol School notes that former president Bill Clinton should not be addressed as "President Clinton," although, having been a governor, he may be addressed as "Gov. Clinton." Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should not be addressed as "Secretary Rice"; she is addressed as "Dr. Rice." When Dwight Eisenhower left office, he asked to be addressed as "Gen. Eisenhower" because addressing him as "Mr. President" would have been disrespectful to the sitting president, John Kennedy. Dick Cheney and Al Gore, the Protocol School notes, should not be addressed as "Vice President Cheney" or "Vice President Gore" because there is only one vice president, though they may be addressed as "Congressman Cheney" or "Sen. Gore."

[+] EnlargeRepublican presidential candidates
AP Photo/David GoldmanCongressman Paul addresses Congressman -- not Speaker -- Gingrich.

Thus addressing Next Gingrich as "Speaker Gingrich" is improper and disrespectful to the sitting speaker, John Boehner. As a former member of the House of Representatives, Newt should be addressed as "Congressman Gingrich."

Considering Gingrich frequently proclaims his great knowledge of history, and considering he misses no chance to savage the media, why doesn't he correct journalists who improperly address him as "Speaker Gingrich"? Perhaps because being called "Speaker Gingrich" makes him seem more important.

Why do members of the news media address Gingrich improperly? Perhaps because it makes them, by reflection, seem important. When news types call him "Speaker Gingrich" or "Mr. Speaker," it sounds as if someone of power and standing is in the room. A relationship of mutual phoniness is established -- Gingrich and any journalist addressing him as "Speaker Gingrich" both pretending to be more important than they are.

Jersey/A at San Francisco Analysis: In seven years with the Niners, Alex Smith has had seven offensive coordinators: Greg Roman (current), Mike Johnson, Jimmy Raye, Mike Martz, Jim Hostler, Norv Turner and Mike McCarthy. It's amazing Smith's brain is not fried. This season, he threw 22 touchdown passes versus five interceptions. Imagine what he will be like next season after his first NFL experience with coaching continuity.

Smith throwing to tight end Vernon Davis won the New Orleans game in the divisional round, and, against the G-Persons, Smith threw for 148 yards to his tight ends. The problem was that he connected only once to a wide receiver, to Michael Crabtree for 3 yards. One completion to a wide receiver in a playoff game! Ye gods. Smith couldn't even connect with wide receivers when the Niners play-faked on first down -- once he had Kyle Williams uncovered deep on a first-down play fake, and missed him. San Francisco has a stacked roster. If this team can add wide receivers in the offseason, it might become a juggernaut.

San Francisco's offensive line got good push in the run game but blocked poorly for Smith. Twice as Smith was sacked, TMQ counted four of the five Niners OLs simply standing there watching, not even trying to block anyone. The deliberate cutback run for 14 yards by Kendall Hunter was a nice action -- he took a toss left, then deliberately reversed field as two linemen pulled in the direction of the deliberate reverse. Unplanned reversals of field can result in big gains, but the runner has no blockers. TMQ has long wondered why the deliberate reversal of field, with blocking, isn't more popular.

Although Jim Harbaugh was known at Stanford -- and is known at San Francisco -- for good play design, a poor play design hurt the Niners. With the Forty Niners leading 14-10 at the start of the fourth quarter, they faced third-and-1 on the Jersey/A 46. San Francisco simply ran a power rush with extra linemen on the field without misdirection. Run stuffed, followed by a punt. Had the Squared Sevens converted here, the outcome might have been different. The play design could not have been more bland.

[+] EnlargeCoughlin
AP Photo/David J. Phillip"You kids stop that spitball fight and get back to your desks. I mean it this time!"

As for the Giants, during their late-season surge, the offense has been effective on long-yardage downs, terrible with short yardage. The pattern repeated. At San Francisco, Jersey/A converted third-and-15 (for a touchdown), third-and-10, third-and-7 (twice) and third-and-6. The Giants failed to convert fourth-and-1, third-and-1 (twice), third-and-2 and third-and-3. Obviously, if the Giants face a third-and-1 in the Super Bowl, they should deliberately jump offside to make the down a more manageable third-and-6.

Late in the game, the Jersey/A offensive linemen looked exhausted, as the Giants ran 90 offensive plays, a University-of-Oregon-like total. (New England ran 68 offensive plays in beating Baltimore; that's a common NFL number.) The result was three late sacks allowed by Jersey/A, including one on which right tackle Kareem McKenzie merely brushed San Francisco's Aldon Smith, then turned around to watch him hammer Manning. That sort of nonsense must be eliminated if the Giants want to beat the Patriots again.

But Manning didn't despair. Watch the Giants' body language. On the sideline, Tom Coughlin has hands on hips as though to say, "What are all those men in those pads doing out there?" Coughlin seems perpetually befuddled: he might be saying into his headset, "suffering succotash," pace Sylvester the cat. Eli often seems befuddled, flapping his arms and seeming to say, "Aw gosh golly darn what in blazes" after a receiver runs the wrong route and the pass sails into the stands. The Niners and Packers appeared determined and laser-focused; the Giants appeared flummoxed; the Giants won both games.

[+] EnlargeSylvester the Cat
Warner Bros.Suffering succotash!

Jersey/A's victory at San Francisco was extra impressive for two reasons. First, the rain should have favored the hosts, a power-rush team, over the visitors, a pass-wacky team whose coaches radioed in 65 passing plays. Second, in the divisional round, San Francisco played at home on a Saturday, then had eight days at home before playing again. The Giants played the late game Sunday in Wisconsin, then flew back to New Jersey, then flew from Jersey to California. The Niners should have been rested and ready, and the Giants should have been jet-lagged. How does a jet-lagged team win in overtime on the opposite coast? As the game wore on, the Giants showed they are, as Coughlin says, a dangerous team.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback was dubious when the Giants used a high first-round choice on Jason Pierre-Paul. Boy, was I wrong. In addition to pass rush, he's good against the run and knocks down passes at the line. Pierre-Paul is an obvious candidate for the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back NFL MVP, as is undrafted Victor Cruz.

Adventures in Officiating: The big call of title day came when Ahmad Bradshaw of Jersey/A lost the ball in Giants territory with 2:16 remaining in regulation. San Francisco recovered, and the Squared Sevens appeared positioned for a winning kick. Officials ruled that because Bradshaw's forward progress stopped before the ball came out, Jersey/A retained possession. By a rules quirk, the call could not be reviewed.

Maybe the call was correct. If so, why did officials rule the other way, again favoring the Giants, in a nearly identical situation the week before? In the fourth quarter of the Giants at Packers divisional contest, Ryan Grant of Green Bay was wrapped up by one tackler, then hit by a second tackler at the Packers 45. As he was driven backward to the 44, he lost the ball. Zebra ruled this a fumble, awarding possession to the Giants; the game-icing touchdown followed a moment later. The plays aren't identical but are awfully similar. Why was one a fumble and the other not a fumble?

Here is what Michael Signora of league headquarters had to say: "These are very different plays. In the play from the New York-Green Bay game, the runner is moving forward and the ball is knocked loose. That is why the ruling is a fumble. In Sunday's game, Rule 7, Section 2 (b) of the NFL Rule Book (page 35) comes into play. The rule covers dead balls. It states: 'An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended … (b) when a runner is held or otherwise restrained so that his forward progress ends.' "

[+] EnlargeSteve Weatherford
AP Photo/David J. PhillipIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times for placekickers on Sunday.

On another officiating point, please, league, in the offseason, get rid of the celebration rule! This rule is so, so stupid -- pro football fundamentally is entertainment, why shouldn't players who score a touchdown celebrate? Vernon Davis was flagged for celebration because he stood on a network camera stand for maybe five seconds. Taunting after a touchdown should be flagged. Celebrating is great! The celebration rule should go out the window at the prep, NCAA and NFL levels.

The celebration rule is so stupid there must be an underlying psychological reason that football leadership clings to it. Two possible explanations:

  1. The old men who administer the sport think players should be in misery. Bad enough they make all that money, how dare the players celebrate!
  2. The old men who administer the sport don't want to admit pro football is, fundamentally, a form of entertainment. They want to pretend football is ultraserious. How dare the players celebrate!

Disclaimer of the Championship Round: Reader Glen Weinstein of Bedford, Mass., reports, "I just bought some Poland Spring water whose label boasts, 'Smaller Cap = Less Plastic. This is part of our ongoing effort to reduce our impact on the environment.' Then in tiny type: 'Warning: Cap is a small part and poses a choking hazard, particularly for children.' So we want to protect the environment more than we want to protect children."

[+] EnlargeJungle
Getty ImagesIf complex plant life is older than assumed, animals may have existed really far back in the past.

A Cosmic Thought: TMQ sometimes notes that study of the cosmos steadily finds the universe older than once presumed (around 14 billion years old, by current estimates) and larger than once thought (size estimate increasing from 40 billion to 100 billion galaxies in the past decade alone), and study of the Earth steadily finds life, animals and civilization older than once presumed.

On the latter score, New Scientist magazine reports: "A new analysis of limestone rocks laid down between 1 billion and 500 million years ago suggests there was extensive plant life on land much earlier than previously thought."

Researchers led by Paul Knauth of Arizona State University have found chemical markers suggesting Earth was covered by simple vegetation perhaps as far back as 800 million years ago. Olivia Judson, a fellow at Imperial College, believes complex ancient plant life is sufficiently old that fire cycles began at least 400 million years ago.

[+] EnlargeClovis People
AP PhotoClovis tools have been assumed the oldest such objects in North America. Now there are hints other cultures predated the Clovis People.

Biologists have assumed there could not have been land animals until about 430 million years ago, because sparse plant life meant there was not enough oxygen in the atmosphere to support animals. Science magazine recently reported the atmosphere might have held a significant amount of oxygen at least 500 million years ago, and thus land animals might be older than assumed.

When did humanity arrive in the Americas? Standard thinking has been no earlier than 13,000 years ago, date for first evidence of Clovis People in the Southwest. Recently Michael Waters of Texas A&M led a team that found evidence of tool making at least 15,500 years ago, near what is now Buttermilk Creek, Texas. People using tools might have been in Texas more than 15 millennia ago! And maybe before that. Bear in mind, the fossil record essentially is a random archive of what happened by chance to be preserved, then happened by chance to be found.

[+] EnlargeFlak Jacket
AP Photo/Steve Young at BYU, lacing up last century's rib protector.

Each time we look up into the sky, the cosmos seems older and grander. Each time we learn more about Earth, life here seems older and grander.

Flak Vest, 21st-century Style: Byron Donzis, a Texas inventor who devised the rib-protection vest first worn by Dan Pastorini of the old Houston Oilers and eventually worn by many NFL players, died recently at age 79.

The very latest in rib protection is the EvoShield, which -- unlike the original flak-vest models -- is lightweight and conforms to the individual. Jimmy Graham and Matt Stafford are among the NFL stars wearing EvoShield protectors; it might be only a matter of time until high school players don this advanced equipment. Donzis intended his original invention to be worn by players who already had rib injuries, so he fashioned it strong but heavy. Only a pocket-passer quarterback could use the Donzis vest -- it didn't work for speed players. The EvoShield is light enough for running backs, receivers and defensive backs and is intended to be worn to prevent rib injuries from happening in the first place.

[+] EnlargeEvoshield
www.evoshield.comEvoShield, this century's rib protector. Harbinger of super-lightweight football protection to come?

TMQ suspects the EvoShield represents the bow wave of future football equipment that will be lighter yet protect better than current bulky pads. Football players a generation from now might appear leaner and sleeker as they switch to advanced protection.

Baltimore at New England Analysis: TMQ has been calling on opponents to jam super-effective Rob Gronkowski at the line, and the Ravens opened doing exactly that, keeping him out of the offense early. But you can't put anything past Bill Belichick. Noting that Gronkowski, who was lining up like a wide receiver in empty sets, was being jammed, Belichick shifted him in-line to the conventional position for tight ends. Baltimore hadn't expected this and, except on a couple of occasions, did not get any more jams on him. Once in-line, Gronkowski did a lot of pass blocking and even lined up once as a tailback. He blocked well, something he hadn't shown in recent weeks.

New England had an unimpressive day on offense, but it was against a fabulous defense; scoring 23 points versus the Baltimore Ravens is harder than scoring 45 points versus the Denver Broncos. New England's offensive line allowed just one sack and just three hits on Tom Brady. If Terrell Suggs played in the game, I am not aware of it. Two years ago in their home postseason loss to Baltimore, the Patriots let the visitors control the line of scrimmage. Sunday, New England controlled the line of scrimmage, which is a good sign for the Flying Elvii because their Super Bowl opponent has strong lines on both sides of the ball.

TMQ believes football games often are decided by "hidden plays," plays that never make highlight reels but that stop or sustain drives. With New England leading 23-20, Baltimore reached third-and-3 on the Pats' 30-yard line with four minutes remaining. The Ravens came out in a shotgun spread, showing pass. New England clearly expected run, putting eight defenders on the line of scrimmage and six tight within the tackle box.

[+] EnlargePatriots
David Butler II/US PresswireThe New England cheerleaders dance at the Super Bowl so often, it's like a second home for them.

No team can run against eight men on the line of scrimmage! But rather than audible to a pass -- this was Baltimore's chance to win the game, passing against an eight-man press front -- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco handed off to running back Ray Rice on a draw. On the play, Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda pulled left, and probably was supposed to trap defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Instead, Yanda missed Wilfork -- in fact air-blocked, not making contact with anyone. Rice lost 3 yards, pushing the Ravens back out of field goal range on a cold day. Flacco's fourth-down pass fell incomplete. This sequence was as important as what happened in the final 30 seconds.

Harbaugh/East has won a playoff game in each of his first four seasons as a head coach, the first NFL coach to do so. Flacco is 5-4 in the postseason, a record many quarterbacks might envy. But there's a constant sense of unfulfilled promise about the Ravens: All those Pro Bowlers, high draft choices and big contracts, yet they keep missing the Super Bowl. If Flacco were toiling for a bad team, he might be considered a star. Because he is under center for a stacked team, he is viewed as not living up to expectations. Maybe he should give Elvis Grbac a call.

Tom Brady did not have a good game, surely a tantalizing fact for Jersey/A defenders. But the New England offensive line held fast, as did the defensive front seven, including undrafted Kyle Love, thrice-waived Rob Ninkovich and twice-waived Mark Anderson. Logan Mankins is an obvious candidate for the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back NFL MVP, as is Wilfork, who had a tremendous day versus the Ravens.

Tactics sidelight: Scoring to pull within 10-9, the Ravens kicked a PAT; the Patriots were called for too many men on the field. On a PAT penalty, the "offended team" has the choice of replaying the down or having the foul enforced on the ensuing kickoff. John Harbaugh chose the latter, which, considering it's a 5-yard foul, only moved the ensuing kickoff from the Baltimore 35 to the Baltimore 40. The result was a touchback, a likely outcome anyway.

Had Baltimore replayed the down, the spot would have been advanced half the distance, placing the ball on New England's 1. Essentially it would have been fourth-and-goal on the 1 -- and a Baltimore deuce gives the Ravens an 11-10 lead. Harbaugh/East chose kickoff enforcement so quickly he seemed not even to consider going for two against the league's 31st-rated defense. TMQ suspects that, had positions been reversed, Belichick would have accepted the penalty on the PAT and gone for two.

[+] EnlargeCourtroom
Virginia Sherwood/NBC Universal"Your Honor, plaintiffs' counsel modestly requests 11 million times as much as a victim receives."

Another Class-Action Swindle? TMQ has written items on class-action lawsuits that appear on paper to be victories for consumers, but mainly benefit lawyers. The settlements might pay huge sums to plaintiff's counsel and little or nothing to the supposed class of victims, while allowing a corporation to shed liability. (Presumably the offending behavior is stopped.) In some class-action suits, the corporation that appears to "lose" and the tort attorneys who say they are "standing up for the little guy" appear to be cooperating for the purpose of shafting the little guy.

The latest suspicious class-action settlement is noted by reader Sterling Crockett of Bothell, Wash. The proposed settlement appears to be a victory for anyone who bought a ticket from Ticketmaster using its website. As Crockett notes, the lawyers will receive up to $16.5 million and people who bought tickets get a $1.50 discount on a future Ticketmaster purchase. (Click on "settlement agreement.") So the lawyers receive a mere 11 million times as much as any one of the victims! Like many class-action suits, one must actively opt out. If a Ticketmaster customer does nothing -- or never hears the litigation occurred -- his or her standing to sue Ticketmaster is voided.

Basically the proposed settlement has the company paying some lawyers a tax-deductible $16.5 million to shed its own customers' rights, and the "award" to the victims requires them to make future purchases from the company.

Can Anyone Own Stats? During a "Sunday Night Football" game involving the Philadelphia Eagles, NBC ran a crawl saying that, until this year's Eagles, "No non-expansion team has acquired six Pro Bowl players of 31 years of age or younger in the same offseason." TMQ often asks, "Who looks this stuff up?" It might have been the network's research desk. All networks have a research desk; ESPN's researchers are busy 24/7. Or the fact might have come from an independent website, such as TMQ's favorite source of independent stats. And sports stats might come from two companies that do stats all day long, Elias Sports Bureau and Stats LLC.

"LSU is the first team to beat the eventual Rose, Orange and Cotton bowl winners in same season, according to Stats LLC," The Wall Street Journal reported recently. "According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the franchise had won a game while shooting under 31 percent was Dec. 1, 1957," The Washington Post recently noted of the Sacramento Kings. Those are some seriously obscure stats! But does anyone own stats?

Elias, a privately held company, and Stats, a joint venture of Fox Sports and The Associated Press, function like wire services, compiling information and selling it to clients. Their contracts with clients (including ESPN) specify payment plus credit to the source, in the same way wire service news is credited. Newspapers and the sports media are scrupulous about this, even referring to Stats by its formal name Stats LLC, though it's rare for newspapers to use formal names for other companies, such as by saying Google Inc. rather than just Google.

[+] Enlarge49ers cheerleaders
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezSunday may not have been the last mega-game for the Niners' cheerleaders.

There's no doubt that if Elias, Stats or any similar firm has a contract calling for its work to be credited, then the work must be credited. Whether these firms, or anyone who compiles factual information, can assert ownership of that information is a separate issue. Copyright law protects only the form of expression, not underlying facts: facts are in the public domain. So if a newspaper plagiarized another newspaper by copying paragraphs verbatim, that's trouble. But if a newspaper saw factual information in another newspaper and rewrote the facts into a new form of expression without giving credit, that might be dirty pool but would not be a legal offense.

This is why wire-service contracts, and the similar agreements signed by stats services, call for payment regardless of how a news organization obtained its information. Otherwise, a newspaper could read an Associated Press dispatch, write a different version and claim to have dug up the information on its own. Short of hiring private detectives, there would be no way of knowing whether the newspaper were being honest. In the case of stats, if a sports reporter figures out, on his or her own, the same statistics provided by the stats service, the sports media organization still must pay. Without such arrangements, stats services and news wires would go out of business.

The law of trade secrets and other intellectual property works the same way. A 1979 Supreme Court decision held that a firm that promises to pay for a design must keep its promise even if it turns out the design can't be copyrighted or patented -- that is, if no federal law independently would give any rights to the designer. Similarly, a news organization that promises a fee to a stats service or The Associated Press must pay the fee even if it turns out the information produced cannot be copyrighted.

So, to answer a question raised by an earlier TMQ, nobody can "own" the fact that 2011 was the first NFL season since 1944 in which no former Notre Dame quarterback attempted a forward pass. Facts cannot be owned. But a stats service can sign a contract requiring payment for figuring this sort of thing out.

Millenium Falcon
20th Century FoxHan Solo should have sold naming rights to the Millennium Falcon.

Name That Space Probe: TMQ has complained about NASA's not-yet-launched James Webb Space Telescope. The project is plagued by cost overruns, and unimaginatively named after a former bureaucrat rather than a scientist or explorer. Reader Andy Craig of Kansas City, Mo., proposes, "In an age where stadium naming rights are sold for huge sums and institutions are selling naming rights, perhaps NASA should consider how much a company would be willing to pay to have its name on a device likely to provide the most stunning images of our universe yet. How does the Bank of America Space Telescope sound? Or to maximize rights fees, the Tostitos Space Telescope Presented by Nissan."

Limited liability note: The names of many law firms are followed by LLC. Since BenJarvus Green-Ellis of the Patriots is nicknamed "The Law Firm," TMQ thinks he should change his name to BenJarvus Green-Ellis LLC.

Scary Sequel News: The "Die Hard" franchise began in 1988, when Bruce Willis was 33. The fifth installment (fourth sequel), "A Good Day to Die Hard," is due in theaters in 2013. Willis will be 58 years of age on opening night. Maybe the flick will involve tea party activists attacking the Social Security Administration and Willis fighting them off with his cane.

Next Week: The coveted "longest award in sports" -- Entertainment and Sports Programming Network's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back National Football League Most Valuable Player.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for Page 2, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "Sonic Boom" and six other books. He writes a politics column for Reuters and is a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly. His website can be found here, and you can follow TMQ on Twitter.


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