The doublespeak here is rich. The NFL restricts its magnificent Sunday Ticket product, which enables viewers to choose for themselves which game to watch, to the lucky few who get the satellite service DirecTV. Millions of homes cannot receive DirecTV for technical reasons or can pull in the signal only after expensive special installations. Frank Hawkins, the NFL's chief negotiator for television contracts, told me that when he lived in Virginia, his home could not receive DirecTV until he had a tall metal pole installed in his backyard. Yet although the NFL won't let anyone in the U.S. except DirecTV subscribers watch Sunday Ticket, the league is furious that Time-Warner and Cablevision won't buy the NFL Network and Comcast will buy the NFL Network for its premium sports tier only. The NFL wants NFLN on every basic cable system, which was the path to success for ESPN and CNN. A war of words has broken out, in which the NFL is denouncing the cable carriers in consumer-rights language while asking that Congress intervene to force the NFL Network onto basic cable. The cable carriers are firing back, accusing the NFL of all manner of perfidy. Meanwhile, 35 million households already get the NFL Network, while only 1.6 million get Sunday Ticket -- and the consumer's barriers to Sunday Ticket are much higher than the barriers to the NFL Network.
|Gregg Easterbrook chat wrap|
How did the problematic Sunday Ticket monopoly arise? Here is a simplified chronology, parts of it as described by Hawkins. In the early 1980s, sports bars and some people who lived in rural areas began buying huge C-band dishes to pirate the network game feeds that then went out unscrambled. In 1987, the NFL drew up a plan to encrypt Sunday afternoon broadcasts and sell decoders to consumers, hoping that CBS and NBC (Fox did not then air the NFL) would market what eventually became Sunday Ticket. But CBS opposed the idea. In autumn, NFL broadcasts are the ratings drivers for the networks' local affiliates. The local affiliates feared that consumers switching away to distant games -- a viewer in, say, Atlanta choosing a broadcast from Seattle -- would dilute their ratings. This was especially important to CBS because its local affiliates rebate cash to the main network using a ratings formula; other networks accept in-kind advertising time from local affiliates.
|TMQ Cheat Sheet|
Gregg Easterbrook on ...
• Stats of the week
• Cheerleader of the week
• Sweet/sour plays of the week
• Have a holly jolly Halloween
• Monday night analysis
• Indy wins quietly
• One very odd book
• This week's anti-Belichick item
• Driver's ed
• Famous college point of week
Trumped by the CBS objection and "stepping lightly because maintaining relationships with the broadcast networks was our principal objective," Hawkins said, the NFL signed a deal in 1994 to beam Sunday Ticket over startup satellite carrier DirecTV. The goal, Hawkins said, was universal availability -- the NFL strongly wanted everyone to get access to the maximum number of games. During the startup years, the technical limits of direct-to-home satellite television distribution were not yet clear; the NFL believed DirecTV would be universally accessible, which turned out not to happen. It also turned out that before digital cable, most cable carriers lacked the bandwidth to show multiple viewer-elected channels simultaneously, so in the 1990s, Sunday Ticket probably couldn't have gone on cable anyway.
In 2002, the DirecTV exclusive on Sunday Ticket expired. By then, digital cable was on the horizon and Sunday Ticket was widely expected to shift to cable. The cable carriers wanted games sold individually, pay-per-view. The league wanted an all-encompassing package, which now -- as Sunday Ticket -- retails for $250 per year plus DirecTV-bundled costs that seem to vary depending on what phase the moons of Saturn are in at the exact moment you order. A power struggle ensued, with the big egos in the executive suites of the cable carriers essentially saying, "We'll decide how to market your games." This not only offended the big egos in the executive suites of the NFL but was totally different from the league's traditional partnership relationships with the broadcast networks and ESPN. In the background, the cable carriers were jockeying against each other to start their own sports networks and were angered by rumors the NFL would found what became NFL Network. In December 2002, the league gave the cable carriers a deadline for an offer for Sunday Ticket; the deadline passed, so the league re-upped with DirecTV; the cable carriers then presented a too-late offer and issued press releases denouncing the league for not waiting.
The 2002 turn of events pleased the broadcast networks, which still weren't happy about loss of local ratings and local advertising -- when a Sunday Ticket subscriber watches an out-of-market game, local ads are not inserted into the blank time a network computer leaves. After Fox joined NFL broadcasting, Fox said it would object unless Sunday Ticket subscribers were capped at 1 million, a restriction on access that belies what the NFL now says about how the NFL Network should be widely available. The 1 million Sunday Ticket subscriber ceiling has been expanded somewhat since, but not by much: The NFL continues to tell the broadcast networks not to worry about Sunday Ticket because its availability isn't growing, and that belies everything the NFL is saying to Congress about the NFL Network. In 2004, the NFL renewed the DirecTV exclusive again, until 2010, after fighting again with cable carriers about how to present the games. The NFL wants Sunday Ticket sold to cable roughly the way iN Demand movies are sold, through a single source with a single national price. (iN Demand is a consortium that markets movies to cable provides, not a service of individual cable firms.) The cable carriers rejected this, and again the over-the-air broadcast networks were relieved.
Sunday Ticket is utterly, completely fabulous -- and the NFL refuses to let you have it.
Around the time of the 2004 Sunday Ticket renewal, the NFL Network had just gone on the air, and its finances came into play. The NFL wants to charge $7 to $9 per household per year for the NFL Network on basic, a fee the carriers strongly resist. This price would make the NFL Network, a seasonal product for a specialized audience, one of the most expensive items in the national cable universe. ESPN, which is to cable what cheeseburgers are to McDonald's, charges $30 to $35 per year for multiple channels with very broad appeal. CNN charges about $5 a year to the cable carriers, NBA TV about $4, and most cable channels charge far less or nothing at all. (The ones that charge nothing subsist on advertising.) Cable carriers want the NFL Network exiled to a premium sports tier so they will meet less resistance passing the price along to consumers, but that means a far smaller audience for NFLN, and hence lower ad revenues. While the money fight was going on, Comcast founded Versus, which is vaguely a competitor to ESPN, Fox College Sports and the NFL Network. Comcast features Versus on low channels. Channel 44, where I get Versus on my Comcast system, is considered highly desirable digital real estate compared with channel 180, where NFLN dwells, and channel 263, the lowest channel where Comcast airs Fox College Sports. This low-channel treatment of Versus is driving the NFL Network crazy because Versus ratings are lower than NFL Network ratings and, needless to say, not remotely in shouting distance of ESPN ratings.
So now the NFL and the cable carriers are blasting each other in public, suing each other in court (a federal judge ruled in May that Comcast is not legally required to put NFLN on basic cable) and running to Congress for special favors. Meanwhile, Sunday Ticket remains available only to the select few whose places of dwelling have an unobstructed view of the southwest sky, where the DirecTV satellites hang. And, as TMQ endlessly complains, Sunday Ticket is offered on cable in Canada and Mexico, plus offered via Yahoo broadband everywhere in the world except the United States. So most American taxpayers who paid for the stadia that make NFL profits possible can't watch the games they choose -- but anyone in Canada, Mexico or Liechtenstein is free to watch any NFL game.
Sunday Ticket might come to cable in 2010, especially if local affiliates' ads can be inserted into out-of-market broadcasts, and out-of-market viewing can be folded into local affiliate ratings. Neither of those sounds like an insurmountable obstacle. So is the real strategy to combine Sunday Ticket and NFL Network into a new mega-channel? "I can assure you there are no plans to make Sunday Ticket an NFLN product," NFLN spokesman Seth Palansky told me. Well, there might not be plans
The NFL's smackdown with the cable carriers about the NFL Network proves the NFL cannot always get its way, which is reassuring, in a sense. Aspects of the cable carriers' position are hard to fathom: NFL Network is a good product; don't the cable carriers want to offer viewers the best possible sports coverage? Otherwise, lack of diligence in finding a way to offer true universal access to Sunday Ticket is a major failing of the league. The National Football League must find a way to offer anyone the chance to buy Sunday Ticket. If the league does not, Congress ought to follow the NFL's advice and intervene. Members of Congress ought to pressure the NFL to stop offering Sunday Ticket to the entire populations of Canada and Bulgaria but restricting access here. This sounds like a nice populist cause for the right senator or representative.
Meanwhile, there's the cell phone factor. Some cable executives contend there is little point in chasing Sunday Ticket because all the people who want the service already have migrated to DirecTV. Sure -- all the people who want it at $250 a year, plus bundled charges, plus the hassle of installing and maintaining a satellite dish. If Sunday Ticket were $50 a year and came hassle-free through cable or any other hassle-free electronic pipeline that might evolve, instead of 1.6 million households getting Sunday Ticket, 25 million might sign up. Then consumer costs would be lower but business revenues higher -- $1.3 billion instead of $400 million in that example -- and what was once a luxury for the privileged few could be possessed affordably by almost anyone. Just like what happened with cell phones! Come on NFL, let us choose which game to watch. We'll pay, you'll be richer and you can stop speaking out of both sides of your mouth, demanding public access to the NFL Network while restricting public access to Sunday Ticket.
In other football news, man, the Patriots play well -- and, man, are they bad sports. With 13 minutes remaining, New England led Washington 38-0 -- 13 points more than the margin of the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history -- yet Tom Brady was still on the field, still in the shotgun and still throwing deep. When it was 52-0, most New England defensive starters were still on the field, desperately trying to prevent a Redskins consolation touchdown. In a nationally televised game, Bill Belichick went out of his way to display bad sportsmanship; it was especially coarse that Belichick sought to humiliate Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, a mild-mannered, dignified man who always treats others respectfully. See more on the Patriots' good play plus bad sportsmanship below. For now, it's enough to say that other teams could have run up the score Sunday but instead showed dignity. When Indianapolis took a 31-7 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter at Carolina, Peyton Manning and most of the Colts' starters sat down. Tony Dungy made no attempt to run up the score. When New Orleans went ahead 31-3 early in the fourth quarter against San Francisco, Drew Brees and most of the Saints' starters sat down.
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The Dolphins' cheerleaders brought their "A" game to London. The Dolphins themselves brought, well, our alphabet doesn't go down that far.
On Sunday, The Washington Post quoted George F. Will's wonderful dictum, "Football combines the two worst aspects of American culture, violence and committee meetings." Imagine if the Brits were running American football: They'd eliminate the violence and double the meeting times! NFL, don't get in the habit of playing in London. Fifty years from now, football will have become like cricket or soccer: several minutes between plays, red cards for contact, tea served during timeouts.
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
The letters on his chest refer to the Queen of England, not to the ship.
Stat of the Week No. 3: Tuning up for their showdown, Indianapolis and New England outscored their opponents 83-14.
Stat of the Week No. 4: Since taking the field for the January 2007 playoffs, Jersey/B is 1-8.
Stat of the Week No. 5: From the fourth quarter in Week 4 to the end of the first half Sunday, Detroit outscored Chicago 47-14.
Stat of the Week No. 6: Pittsburgh has won seven consecutive games at Cincinnati.
Stat of the Week No. 7: The NFC West is on a combined 1-15 streak.
Stat of the Week No. 8: (College bonus) Texas Tech coaches called 69 passes (attempts and sacks) plus six rushes; Navy coaches called 65 rushes plus 15 passes; both teams lost.
Stat of the Week No. 9: Undefeated New England is allowing only one point per game less than second-place Buffalo but is scoring 29 points per game more.
Stat of the Week No. 10: Indianapolis is the first team since the 1931 Packers to open three consecutive seasons at 7-0.
The renown of the Eagles' cheerleaders spreads past London to Israel.
Sweet Play of the Week: With Cleveland leading St. Louis 27-20 with 41 seconds remaining, the Browns' Leigh Bodden intercepted a Marc Bulger pass and, instead of running to pad his stats while engaging the risk of a fumble, simply knelt on the ground, ending the contest. Sweet! With Jacksonville leading City of Tampa 24-23 with 30 seconds remaining and Tampa with the ball in Jaguars' territory, rookie Reggie Nelson intercepted Jeff Garcia and started to run the ball back. Jacksonville's 11-year veteran defender Sammy Knight grabbed Nelson from behind and dragged his teammate to the ground, ending the game. Sweet!
Sweet Play of the Week No. 2: Purists say of running plays, "Keep doing it 'til they stop us." San Diego scored early against Houston by throwing deep to tight end Antonio Gates. Keep doing it 'til they stop you! Reaching the Moo Cows' 31 in the second quarter, San Diego threw deep to Gates, touchdown and the rout was on. By halftime, the Chargers led 35-3.
Sweet Play of the Week No. 3: New England may have punched Washington in the nose, but on a deep post to Randy Moss, the pass was defensed by middle linebacker London Fletcher, who stayed with Moss deep stride for stride.Sour Play of the Week: Philadelphia led 17-10 and kicked off to start the second half. Rookie Adrian Peterson fielded the ball at the goal line, then stepped out of bounds at his 1 instead of stepping back into the end zone for a touchback. This stranded Minnesota on its 1, and Philadelphia scored a field goal after the punt. Worse, Minnesota coach Brad Childress challenged the spot, although the spot was obviously correct, costing the Vikes a timeout. At the endgame, Minnesota trailed by a touchdown but could not stop the clock when Philadelphia faced fourth-and-13 in its territory.
Rex Brown/Getty Images
Racy Halloween costumes appeased the football gods and led to a Titans victory. Why didn't other home-teams cheer squads dress for success?
Sour Four Identical Plays of the Week: Reaching third-and-1 on the Cleveland 33 in the second quarter, St. Louis ran for no gain, then ran for no gain on fourth-and-1. Trailing 27-20, St. Louis reached third-and-1 on the Cleveland 16 with 2:33 remaining. Les Mouflons ran for no gain, then ran for no gain on fourth-and-1. Yes, the Rams' offensive line has injuries. But an NFL team must be able to gain a single yard in four attempts. On the final fourth-and-short, Cleveland had nine men crashing, yet extremely highly paid Marc Bulger did not audible to a play-fake.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing 24-23, City of Tampa faced fourth-and-4 on the Jacksonville 41 with five minutes remaining. That cannot, that cannot seriously be -- and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Jon "Once I Was A Teenaged Coach" Gruden ordered a punt in a short-yardage situation in opposition territory late in the fourth quarter. No need to say any more. To open the contest, Jax ran on 15 of its first 16 snaps, and the football gods smile on that sort of thing.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 2: Trailing 24-0, San Francisco faced fourth-and-8 on the New Orleans 11 late in the third quarter. That cannot, that cannot seriously be -- and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. The Squared Sevens' sole hope was to score a touchdown on that possession; for one of the league's lowest-scoring teams to pull within 24-3 of a high-scoring team late in the third quarter was meaningless, unless coach Nolan the Younger simply wanted to keep a shutout off his résumé.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk No. 3: Trailing 6-3, the Jets faced fourth-and-3 on the Buffalo 41 with 6 minutes remaining. That cannot, that cannot seriously be -- and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Eric "Double Agent" Mangini ordered a punt in a short-yardage situation in opposition territory late in the fourth quarter. Perhaps there is a reason Jersey/B has been outscored 85-35 in the fourth quarter.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
After the pitiful showing at New England by the Redskins' defense, gun turrets may be his last hope.
AP Photo/Mark H. Saltz
"Sleigh bells ring, are you listening ..."
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Cincinnati and Denver cheerleaders failed to go Halloween, but all was well in Tennessee.
Brett Favre's 82-yard game-winning touchdown pass on the first snap of overtime was an example of the fine line between a great play and a bonehead play. Favre heave-hoed toward a guy who was covered pretty well, and the football gods, still smarting about the cheerleaders, smiled on the visiting team. J.P. Losman's late 85-yard game-icing touchdown Sunday at Jersey/B was another example: a deep heave-ho to a guy who was double-covered in that case. Both passes, as they left the quarterback's hands, were as likely to be disastrous interceptions as highlight-reel touchdowns.
Although the Greg Jennings catch in overtime was what everyone who went to bed early will want to see from Monday night's game, the decisive sequence came when Denver failed to record a touchdown at the end of regulation. Trailing Green Bay 13-10, the Cursors reached first-and-10 on the Green Bay 13 with 38 seconds remaining, holding a timeout, with crowd energy on their side. First, Selvin Young -- the latest Denver tailback you've never heard of -- ran for 9 yards to the Packers' 4, and the timeout was spent. Next, Jay Cutler threw incomplete on second-and-1. On third-and-1, the Broncos' coaches called a quarterback draw for Cutler, no gain. The kicking unit did its fire-drill routine to get on the field and launch the tying field goal as the clock expired. Denver has played seven games, and this was the fourth time Jason Elam kicked a field goal on the final snap of regulation: Three won the game, the fourth caused overtime. But the table was set for Denver to score six and win. Instead the Broncos advanced to the extra quarter and lost.
What exactly is the plan in Denver? Last Thanksgiving, the Broncos were 7-4, had a highly ranked defense and held the inside track to win their division. Then Mike "The Ultimate Leader" Shanahan showed the door to Jake Plummer and began making wholesale changes in the defense, including firing the defensive coordinator. Since that moment, the Broncos are 5-7, and their defense has plummeted to 25th. Denver's 5-7 mark in that span is actually worse than it sounds because the Broncos have played eight of the 12 games at home, where the altitude advantage gives Denver the league's best home record since the merger. In those eight home dates with Cutler as the starter, Denver is only 3-5. The second half of the season looks like a sticky wicket (note: After the London game, beware of cricket terms sneaking into football) because the Broncos already have played five home games versus only two road dates; the remainder of their schedule features three home games versus six away. Thus, Denver already has squandered its homefield advantage for the 2007 season and stands 3-4.
Note: "Monday Night -- You're Surrounded" is a new TMQ-branded product, competing with the slightly more complex Monday Night Surround.
Hidden Plays: Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels but that stop or sustain drives. Trailing Detroit 13-0, sluggish Chicago scored late in the third quarter to make it 13-7, and the Soldier Field crowd came to life. On the Lions' first snap after the Bears' touchdown, Kevin Jones ran 34 yards. The crowd quieted. Detroit kicked a field goal on the possession to make it 16-7 in the fourth, and Ming Ding Xiong ("Bears whose outcomes are decided by fate" in Chinese) saw a record of 3-5 as their fate.
Didn't This Happen in 1995? On Sunday, Aaron Glenn intercepted a Jeff Garcia pass.
Indianapolis Wins Quietly: New England ran up the score, and on Monday was lavishly praised by sports pundits; Indianapolis pulled its starters early in the fourth quarter, and on Monday, sports pundits were complaining that the Colts' victory lacked style points. Please don't let BCS thinking come to the NFL! Judging teams by how much they win by -- rather than by records, quality of play and sportsmanship -- is the worst thing about college football and, 'til this year, has not been a factor at the professional level. As New England frantically ran up the score in the fourth quarter, Fox announcers Kenny Albert and Troy Aikman heaped praise on Bill Belichick for keeping Tom Brady on the field and throwing deep, a reaction that was puzzling, even given that many television announcers spend most of their time gushing. Wouldn't it be nice, with kids watching, if network announcers at least gave lip service to sportsmanship? Fun fact from Indianapolis at Carolina: With three minutes remaining in the first half, Peyton Manning had thrown for only 16 yards. Through the final three minutes of the half and the beginning of the fourth quarter, he threw for 239 yards.
For a Hefty Consulting Fee, They Won't Play the Anthem: PricewaterhouseCoopers -- that's how the company spells its name -- has an official anthem, in the Pepsi Generation métier: "More than 140,000 people standing tall your world, our people, yeah the word is out PricewaterhouseCoopers, it's comin' from the heart."
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
DayJet's cute little new air taxi.
As Americans have grown heftier, 1960s-era assumptions regarding passenger weight have become a concern to the aviation industry. In 2004, a turboprop of a Canadian commuter airline crashed into Lake Erie, killing all 10 aboard. According to the standard air passenger weight tables used in the United States and Canada, the average weight of the 10 people aboard was 183 pounds -- the tables assume an average adult male weight of 189 pounds and average adult female weight of 141 pounds. Investigation showed the average actual weight of the people on the plane was 240 pounds. That's 570 pounds unaccounted for in a plane with a max takeoff weight of 8,000 pounds, and 7 percent missing from the pilot's load and wind calculations are enough to upset a light aircraft. The smaller the aircraft, the higher the passengers' and bags' weight as a percentage of aircraft mass. For the cute little Eclipse 500, whose max takeoff weight is 5,995 pounds, the passengers, pilots and baggage easily could be 20 percent of aircraft weight, which is why the FAA mandated use of passengers' actual weights. But will the problem of rising weights of passengers -- plus rising luggage weight, with people dragging ever-more tonnage to airports -- remain confined to small aircraft? Even a large jet might experience problems on takeoff or in strong wind if, as happened in the Lake Erie crash, passengers were on average a third heavier than assumed. For an Airbus 320, a typical midsized jetliner, that could add four tons of unaccounted-for weight.
Robert Sullivan/Getty Images
Park-goers celebrate getting through the turnstiles.
Boosters Gave the Kid a Bicycle, and Illegally Bought Him Ice Cream: Reader Gary Michaels of Tulsa, Okla., reports a bitter legal dispute about a father who wanted his boy to play at the local football powerhouse public school even though his family lives outside the district. Except the school in question is an elementary school, and the boy is 9 years old.
AP Photo/Susan Sterner
Strange creatures land on our world -- we mean the people looking at the UFO.
You don't need a 275-page book to tell you there are no Martians here.
Scouts Notes: Both the Patriots and the Colts make good use of the center flare to the tailback Sunday -- Indianapolis throwing it for a touchdown, the Patriots for an important first-half first down. Both clubs can use this action because their offensive lines are so good. Kevin Faulk or Joseph Addai looks around, sees no lineman who needs help, then circles directly in front of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning for an easy medium-range gain. When Indianapolis and New England meet Sunday, each will be facing another team that features the tailback center flare and a defense that sees the play in practice. Another scouts' point: Belichick game plans, going back to the Giants' Super Bowl wins when he was defensive coordinator, often involve jamming receivers at the line and hitting them on crossing routes, designed to disrupt the timing of passing offenses. Will he try this against the Colts'? And why does no one throw this tactic back at Belichick by jamming his receivers? On Sunday, Redskins' cornerbacks were soft, soft, soft.
Where Are the Quarterbacks of Yesteryear? Derek Anderson just became the first quarterback since Brian Sipe in 1984 to throw three touchdown passes in back-to-back games for Cleveland. In the offseason, the Browns made a huge investment in Brady Quinn, and Quinn has yet to see the field. But what Cleveland needed was a quality quarterback, and if it turns out Anderson is that man, so be it! Meanwhile, first-overall draft choice JaMarcus Russell likewise has yet to see the field for Oakland. In the Raiders' case, what is accomplished by playing Daunte Culpepper? Not much, it would seem.
This Week's Anti-Belichick Item: First, praise where due: No one draws up a better game plan than Belichick. This season, he usually has started with the shotgun spread and lots of quick slants. Belichick correctly guessed Washington would spend the week practicing to defend the shotgun spread and quick slants, so the New England coach opened with Tom Brady under center and the Patriots running up the middle. Sure enough, the Redskins were in a defense tailored to stop slant passing, with their linebackers backed off nearly 10 yards. After several consecutive runs worked, Washington brought its linebackers up, and Brady immediately started throwing slants. Belichick varies his game plan more from week to week than any other NFL coach, and the variations are almost always intelligent and sophisticated. If you wanted to win a game and had to choose a coach, all other things being equal, you'd be nuts not to choose Belichick.
But all other things aren't equal. Last week's TMQ called the Colts the good team and the Patriots the bad team in a "Good vs. Evil" setup for next week's clash. After the column posted, I felt badly that I had not made clear I was being satirical -- that was my failing as a writer -- because, after all, none of us has the slightest idea what is in the hearts of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. There was Internet chatter calling me biased, ignorant, lower than pond scum; although in 2004 when I wrote a column for NFL.com saying Belichick was not only the best coach of the moment but perhaps the best coach ever, I don't recall anyone calling me biased or uninformed. Anyway, I apologize to Brady for complaining that he smirks -- saying this is an insult, and although it's fine to criticize public figures, insults are childish. (Remember, my argument is not with the New England players, it is with bad sportsmanship and cheating.) I even toyed with apologizing to Belichick, since comparing him to Beelzebub was a tad overloaded. But then I watched Sunday's game and thought, Belichick is exactly what I said!
With 13 minutes remaining, the Patriots led 38-0, yet Brady not only was still on the field but was in the shotgun and still throwing deep. With 12 minutes to play, New England jumped offsides on third-and-2; Brady visibly yelled "f---!" in angry disgust. With his team ahead 38-0! At 11 minutes remaining, Belichick went for it on fourth-and-1, frantically trying to humiliate genteel Joe Gibbs by running up the score. When Brady threw to Wes Welker for yet another touchdown, he celebrated wildly afterward. OK, it's unfair to say Brady smirks. But a true sportsman, or anyone with dignity, would have felt embarrassed about celebrating wildly at 45-0 in the fourth quarter. Matt Cassel came in at quarterback, and immediately began throwing from the shotgun. Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 with a 45-point lead, and soon the Patriots were celebrating wildly when Cassel ran for a TD himself.
Now it's 52-0 late in the fourth quarter, but Belichick wasn't satisfied. Most defensive starters remained in the game. With four minutes to go, Mike Vrabel was still on the field and Patriots coaches were still calling blitzes. With three minutes to go, Rosevelt Colvin was still on the field and Patriots coaches were still calling blitzes. With 30 seconds remaining, Asante Samuel and many other starters were still on the field, frantically trying to prevent Washington from recording a second consolation touchdown.
You certainly can ask why the Redskins, especially tastefully named Gregg Williams, took their humiliation at New England so passively. If it were 38-0 in the fourth quarter and the other side still had its starting quarterback on the field throwing deep, I would have called a double safety blitz and slammed Brady to the ground; Belichick immediately would have taken the starters out, and the mockery of sportsmanship would have ended. After the game, Colvin and other Patriots players said that in the pros, you should play full-tilt no matter how lopsided the score. If that's true, no one from New England could have complained if Williams had called an all-out blitz to hammer Brady. Why Williams kept calling vanilla defenses in the fourth quarter, passively submitting to being mocked, is something only he knows. But the fact that Washington took its humiliation lying down is no excuse for New England's classless victory. The bad sportsmanship doesn't even make coaching sense -- what if Brady or some other valuable player gets injured during a meaningless fourth quarter running-up-the-score exercise?
Trick or Treats Fail Before Halloween: TMQ has done three items this season on timid playcalling by Marvin Lewis, including noting two weeks ago that Lewis ordered a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Kansas City 15 in the fourth quarter when trailing 20-7. Obviously the Bengals lost. On Sunday, it was Pittsburgh 14, Cincinnati 3, and Lewis faced fourth-and-1 on the Steelers' 3 in the second quarter. When Lewis sent in the field goal unit, the Bengals might as well have called it a day and gone out for blueberry-almond martinis. If the coach thinks his team can't gain one single yard at home -- if the coach won't take a very small risk to seize momentum against a division opponent that pounds Cincinnati on its home field year after year after year -- why bother to play? Attention, Carson Palmer, who has spent considerable time criticizing teammates: You trotted meekly off the field rather than pleading with the coaches to go for it. In a million years, would Brett Favre have trotted meekly off the field in this situation?
Michael Fabus/Getty Images
Retire him. Now. Make that yesterday.
Leftover NFL Network Point: Reader Matt Miller of Ventura, Calif., notes that DirecTV subscribers who buy Sunday Ticket can now watch any NFL game on their televisions or by computer using streaming video. Frank Hawkins, the NFL's chief negotiator for media contracts, told me he already has heard of people who have subscribed to DirecTV "even though they can't receive the satellite signal, then put the antenna in the garage, just so they can qualify for Sunday Ticket on streaming video." Hawkins said that if Sunday Ticket does not go to cable in 2010, more might opt for this strategy. That sounds, fundamentally, ridiculous. If those who can't get the DirecTV satellite signal really are shelling out hundreds of dollars a year just to qualify for Sunday Ticket over the Internet, then consumers are willing to climb huge hurdles, and pay steep prices, to get a product the NFL continues to withhold from universal availability.
Driver's Ed Should Teach Kids Not to Drive in Caravans: People who, like me, live in the Washington, D.C., area were shocked in mid-June when a terrible car crash took the lives of two girls and two young women, all recent graduates of the same high school. People who live in New York state were shocked less than two weeks later when a disturbingly similar terrible car crash took the lives of five girls who were all recent graduates of the same high school. In both cases, the victims were on their way to graduation celebrations -- a beach week and a lakeside week. All the victims were beautiful teenagers or young women, and few events seem sadder than the death of beauty in youth because it is assumed -- whether truly or falsely -- that the world lies at the feet of the young and attractive. Alcohol was a factor in the first crash, an autopsy showing the driver legally intoxicated under Virginia's strict standard for those younger than 21; cell phone use while driving is suspected in the second. The tragedies did have one thing in common, however: In both cases, the crashed cars were traveling at highway speed as a caravan of carloads of friends headed to the same destination, and in both cases, it was the lead car that crashed.
AP Photo/Dan Elliott
Alcohol, drowsiness, cell phone use -- and caravan-driving -- are causes.
Leftover NFL Network Point No. 2: Reader Sandra Gorman of Tampa, Fla., writes to note that as recently as 2004, you could use NFL.com to dial in free game-day radio broadcasts from either team's flagship radio station: "But now you have to purchase an Internet radio package directly from the NFL for $29.99 to listen to local broadcasts of the games. So not only have they monopolized the television waves, they've gotten a hold of the radio waves too!" I wish the radio broadcasts were still free, but have no complaint about Field Pass, the NFL's radio service, because it is available to everyone, or at least to everyone with Internet access, which is now the majority. There is no monopoly-restriction problem as with Sunday Ticket.
Scanning around to local radio calls is a lot of fun, especially late in close games, so I recommend you invest the $30. Although the Golden Age of Radio is past, there are still lots of radio sports announcers who can paint a better picture with their voices than television bobbleheads can provide when describing something directly in front of their eyes. Two weeks ago, I had a great time listening over NFL radio to the back-and-forth of the Minnesota-Chicago fourth quarter. When the Vikings attempted their improbable 55-yard outdoor field goal on the final snap and the kick was losing altitude as it approached the crossbar, the demented scream of "Get in there!!!" from Minnesota KFAN play-by-play man Paul Allen, followed by the Chicago crowd silence that told you the zebras had raised their arms, was worth the annual price of Field Pass in itself.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! New Orleans 17, San Francisco 0, first-and-goal for the Saints with 51 seconds remaining in the first half, San Francisco blitzes 7. The New Orleans offensive line, which TMQ has been harsh on, blocks the blitz; Drew Brees steps around a rusher; Marques Colston is by himself for the touchdown; and the United States Saints seem back in the hunt. Who was covering Colston? Veteran cornerback Walt Harris was covering no one.
AP Photo/Luray Parker
This is what the ball looks like to Oakland's Mike Williams.
Obscure College Score of the Week: University of Virginia at Wise 42, Union College 37, game nominated by reader Chad Osborne of Radford, Va. Located in Wise, Va., UVA-Wise is a small liberal arts college affiliated with the far larger University of Virginia. Wise has scored more than 40 points on eight occasions this season and has surrendered more than 50 points three times. The average score of a UVA-Wise game has been 50-37.
Obscure College Score of the Week No. 2: Abilene Christian 70, Tarleton 63. There were 19 touchdowns, 1,317 yards of offense, and both teams broke their school scoring records on the same day. Don't you wish you'd been there!
Obscure College Score of the Week (Tape Delayed): Mike Wang of Dallas was among many readers to note that at one point in the Davidson victory over Drake a week ago, Davidson led 6-0 -- owing to three safeties. Three safeties in a single game tied the NCAA record. "The safeties came on Drake punts because three Travis Klatt snaps sailed high over the head of punter Brandon Wubs," a Wildcats' press release reported. Travis Klatt snapping to Brandon Wubs -- don't you wish you'd been there!
Famous College Point of the Week: Virginia Tech led second-ranked Boston College 10-0 and had BC backed up on its 8 with four minutes remaining. Then -- everyone repeat together -- Virginia Tech switched to the prevent defense. The only thing the prevent defense prevents is punts! Matt Ryan proceeded to throw for more yards in the final four minutes than in the previous 56 minutes, and with seconds remaining, Boston College completed its historic comeback. From the four-minute mark on, Virginia Tech rushed only three and played its secondary supersoft. Occasionally rushing just three is an effective tactic; the more defensive variety, the better. And using the prevent in the closing minute makes sense. But long is the list of teams that rued, really rued, switching to the prevent too soon, when it only seemed as though the game was over.
Reader Animadversion : Got a complaint or a deeply held grievance? Write me at TMQ_ESPN@yahoo.com. Include your real name and the name of your hometown, and I might quote you by name unless you instruct me otherwise. Note: Giving your hometown improves your odds of being quoted.
Wednesday: Readers report that yogic flying is real!
Next Week: TMQ's nightmare: An angry crowd with pitchforks and torches comes to my house, the crowd composed of people who use DirecTV to watch the New England Patriots.
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly.