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Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Zombie Patriots devour the Saints

By Gregg Easterbrook
ESPN.com

TMQ

Has any team ever looked more dead than New England did when, trailing New Orleans, the Patriots turned the ball over twice with less than three minutes remaining? The Patriots looked dead enough to audition as extras for the sequel to "World War Z." When New Orleans took possession with 2:16 remaining and the Patriots down to one timeout, stadium aisles were clogged with home fans streaming for the exits.

But the Saints were in the process of making a colossal blunder. New Orleans players and coaches were celebrating on the sideline: hugging, slapping hands. Never celebrate when the game isn't over! The football gods punish that sort of thing.

In Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns held a seemingly safe lead over Chicago with a minute remaining. Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle began clowning around and mugging to the home crowd. Michael Jordan noticed, and his eyes took on a steely gaze: The Bulls won on a closing-seconds 3 by John Paxson. Sunday, perhaps Tom Brady saw the New Orleans sideline celebration in progress. His eyes had the same look as Jordan's once did. Do not get star athletes angry. You won't like them when they're angry.

The incredible sequence that ended with New England victory began at 2:50. Trailing 24-23, the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-6 from their own 24. Fox analyst Troy Aikman said Bill Belichick made this call because he didn't trust his defense to stop New Orleans. Actually, the New England defense is playing strangely well this season -- ranked fifth in points allowed. Belichick made the call because he thought the Patriots could convert, and they needed the ball in order to score. Instead an accurate pass was dropped. New Orleans takes over on the 24, and the exodus to the parking lot begins.

One snap later, the Saints would make the first of four colossal errors. New Orleans dawdled coming up to the line and, seeing the play clock about to expire, Drew Brees spent the Saints' final timeout. Trading a timeout for 5 yards was a bad move, since a walk-off would have left the Saints in field goal position anyway. Why would a team in the driver's seat need to conserve its last timeout? It is always good to have a timeout in your pocket: They can be useful on defense as well as offense.

Another snap later, New Orleans made a second colossal blunder. Facing third-and-7 on the New England 21 with 2:33 remaining, Brees threw incomplete -- stopping the clock. Considering the Patriots' winning touchdown came with five seconds showing, if on this snap the Saints had simply run up the middle for no gain, they almost certainly would have won. Instead, because New Orleans stopped the clock before the two-minute warning, New England was able to get the ball back with 1:13. What a blunder by Saints coaches.

Earlier, New Orleans had kicked a field goal for a 27-23 lead, Brady immediately threw an interception, and the Saints sideline began celebrating. "This is a frustrating loss for New England," Aikman declared. Everybody thought the game was over -- though New Orleans was doomed.

But when New England gets the ball back at 1:13, boom, boom, boom -- three quick completions put the Flying Elvii at the New Orleans 26. Now the fourth colossal blunder: Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis should have wrapped up the New England receiver in bounds, but instead grabbed him and heaved him out of bounds -- stopping the clock. Remember, the winning touchdown came with just five seconds left.

Another completion puts New England on the New Orleans 17; Brady spikes the ball at 10 seconds. The New Orleans defense looks disordered -- didn't the network already declare the game over? Lacking a timeout, the Saints cannot pause to collect themselves. Pre-snap, Saints defenders are pointing at each other, confused. Touchdown! Fans in the parking lot headed to their cars are saying, "What? They just did what?" Absurdly, the New England video board says in huge letters, "QUIET PLEASE."

On the winning down, there were fifth and sixth Saints blunders. New Orleans corner Jabari Greer made the high school mistake of looking into the backfield trying to guess the play, rather than simply guarding his man. Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was single-covered going to the end zone, no safety around, though the pass absolutely had to go into the end zone.

There have been fantastic comebacks before, but never one on which the comeback team looked so totally dead. Just right for preparing for Halloween!

In football-trend news, you will be assimilated by the offense, resistance is futile. Latest indicator: Week 6 began with the Texans and Jets having the league's two best defenses statistically. Both lost at home, by a combined 57-19.

Stats of the Week No. 1: Denver and Seattle have combined to win 28 of their past 31 games.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Houston has given up a pick-six in five consecutive games.

Stats of the Week No. 3: Stretching back to last season, Washington has followed a 7-0 streak with a 1-5 streak.

Stats of the Week No. 4: In the Kansas City-Oakland game, there were 32 completed passes versus 13 sacks and three interceptions.

Stats of the Week No. 5: At one point, Oakland faced fourth-and-48.

Stats of the Week No. 6: The Giants are 0-6, have committed 23 turnovers, and are three games out of first place.

Stats of the Week No. 7: At 2:49 Eastern on Oct. 13, the Steelers' defense recorded its first interception of the 2013 season.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Stretching back to the start of last season, the Texans have followed an 11-1 streak with a 4-8 streak.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Tom Brady had gone eight quarters versus New Orleans without a touchdown pass -- until five seconds remained.

Stats of the Week No. 10: In his NFL career, quarterback Nick Foles is 2-0 as a starter versus the Buccaneers and 0-6 versus all other teams.

Sweet Play of the Week: At Minnesota, the Carolina Panthers ran the flea-flicker -- tailback starts up the middle, then flips the ball back to the quarterback. Rather than pitch deep, Cam Newton threw a tight end screen, with pulling offensive linemen. First down, Cats score on the possession and go on to win in a rout. Your columnist has attended way too many football games, and never seen the flea-flicker used to set up a screen. Sweet.

Embattled coach Ron Rivera, excoriated for conservative tactics, went for it twice on fourth-and-1 on the Cats' opening drive, including on fourth-and-goal. Touchdown, and an aggressive tempo was set. Sweet, on a day when fourth-and goal tries by Baltimore and Buffalo were stuffed.

Other big fourth-down decisions: The Titans kicked on fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 21 and kicked again on fourth-and-3 from the Seattle 8; Tennessee failed to score an offensive touchdown. Playing at Dallas, against a team that had just hung 48 points, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons, trailing 7-0, kicked on fourth-and-goal from the Dallas 2, on a day when they would rush for 216 yards; the R*dsk*ns went on to lose big. San Francisco iced the Arizona game with a late successful fourth-and-1 run, the rush by Bruce Miller, a converted defensive end making his first carry of the season.

Indianapolis, trailing 13-6, punted on fourth-and-short from the San Diego 40 late in the third quarter, which must have caused millions of people to write the words "game over" in their heads. On the night, the Colts punted on fourth-and-1, fourth-and-2, and twice on fourth-and-3.

Sour Play of the Week: Detroit leading 24-17 with four minutes remaining, Cleveland reached first-and-10 on the Lions' 44. Brandon Weeden heave-hoed an off-balance backhanded pass, interception, game over. Sometimes simply throwing the ball away for an incompletion is a quarterback's best move; sometimes taking a sack is OK, especially on first-and-10. There wasn't any need for Weeden to panic. Very sour.

Houston Texans cheerleaders
At least there were some people at Reliant Stadium who weren't booing the home team.

Sour Play No. 2: Game scoreless, St. Louis reached first-and-goal on the Houston 2. The Texans' defense fell for a play fake, leaving a backup tight end uncovered -- falling for the play fake though Les Mouflons entered the contest as the sole NFL team without a rushing touchdown. Sour. Later, Houston going for it on fourth-and-3 from the St. Louis 6, backup quarterback T.J. Yates threw an interception returned 98 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Alec Ogletree -- once again, the Moo Cows watched an opponent sprint the length of the field on a pick-six. Just to prove it was no fluke, Yates threw an interception at the St. Louis 15. Houston committed 17 turnovers in the 16 games of 2012, and has 15 in six games of 2013 so far.

Sweet 'N' Sour Special Teams: Behind practice-squad quarterback Thad Lewis, Buffalo scored two late touchdowns to take the favored Bengals to overtime. In the fifth quarter, the teams exchanged punts; after the second, the Bengals' Brandon Tate broke two tackles and returned the ball 29 yards to the Bills' 33, setting up the winning kick. That was sweet. When Cincinnati punted a few snaps before, Leodis McKelvin, the 11th player selected in the 2008 draft, not only did not try to return an overtime punt, he called a fair catch at the Buffalo 7. Very sour -- never fair catch inside your own 10! Had McKelvin stepped away from the ball, there was a good chance of a touchback. Instead the Bills began their drive on the 7, the result a quick three-and-out and a loss. In retrospect, following the fair catch, Buffalo should have attempted a 103-yard field goal.

TMQ in the News: Here is a New York Times op-ed article spun out of my new book, "The King of Sports." The article notes that Theodore Roosevelt has been treated kindly by historians for his 1905 initiative to reform football; that like Teddy, Barack Obama is a huge fan of football but also concerned with its many defects; I propose that Obama, like Roosevelt, use the bully pulpit of the White House to pressure the football establishment for reform.

Two sidelights from events of 1905 are worth repeating.

Horse Feathers
Their 1932 movie about college football scandals sounds disturbingly up-to-date.

One is that at the time, when the president called the leaders of the powerhouse football programs to the White House, what this meant was officials from Harvard, Yale and Princeton. With professional football then in its infancy -- the team that would become the Canton Bulldogs was founded in 1905 -- and public universities not yet having begun the great expansion that would occur after World War II, the strongest teams in football were at elite private colleges.

Another sidelight is that public horror about football violence was caused in part by a newspaper photograph of the swollen, bloodied face of a college star as he left the field. That player was Robert "Tiny" Maxwell, for whom the Maxwell Award is named. Maxwell played for Swarthmore College, an elite liberal arts school that now doesn't even have a football team. The thought of Quaker-founded Swarthmore as a football powerhouse today sounds like a Marx Brothers movie. Maxwell in 1905 was viewed as a giant because he was 6-4, 240 pounds -- which today would be too small to play the line in Division I football, and would make Maxwell average-sized for Division III.

Speaking of the Marx Brothers, if you haven't seen their 1932 flick "Horse Feathers," watch for it on an old-movie channel. "Horse Feathers" is a satire of corruption in college football -- eligibility scandals, low academic standards, payola -- the material is amazingly like NCAA problems of the present day. Source of the classic line "I thought my razor was dull until I heard your speech," the movie builds up to the annual big game between Darwin University and Huxley College, the school names being an elaborate in-joke. Groucho's song "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It" seems pretty in tune with the Washington times.

The Wild One
Actual photograph of midfield handshake ceremony following a Kentucky high school football game.

High School Refs to Carry Marquess of Queensberry Rules: Reader Stephen DeWitte of Lexington, Ky., was among many to note that after more than one melee at the end of a Kentucky high school football game, the state's athletic governing body issued a caution to officials about postgame handshake lines. Civility causes fistfights -- that sounds like a Washington headline, too.

"Generously?": The Colts at Bolts "Monday Night Football" matchup aired locally because ESPN and California businesses bought up blocks of unsold seats. At least this was a free-market transaction. The Bengals at Bills contest aired locally because Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson bought back around 5,000 unsold tickets. Wilson is a nice guy, and it was good that the game was on the tube. Now let's put the money in perspective.

State and local taxpayers are being hit up for $95 million in improvements to the stadium where the Bills perform, which Wilson named after himself though he neither built nor funded it. Wilson pays a token rent for this publicly owned facility, then keeps nearly all revenue generated. The NFL copyrights images from this publicly owned facility, then keeps network licensing fees. Though taxpayers underwrite the NFL in these and other ways, the league still threatens to black out games. Taxpayers are shafted, a feudal elite hoards the gain, and average people, many of whom cannot afford to attend NFL contests, may not even be allowed to watch on television.

Blank TVs
NFL owners demand that taxpayers subsidize games, then threaten blackouts to keep taxpayers from watching.

The Bills organization praised itself for avoiding the blackout, saying Wilson had "generously" bought remaining tickets. He would have paid about $400,000 -- about $275,000 after taxes, since the purchase was a business expense. So Wilson gets a $95 million gift from taxpayers whose incomes are far lower than his, then is praised for giving back $275,000 -- about a third of 1 percent. Here is more on how the NFL fleeces taxpayers.

All Presidents Should Be So Feckless: Two weeks ago, every second sentence in news reports and in Washington political discussion was about ObamaCare. The world was either going to end because of ObamaCare ("ObamaCare will destroy everything we know as a nation" -- Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., early October) or a golden age would dawn because of ObamaCare. With budget negotiations finally moving forward, suddenly ObamaCare, a moment ago the greatest issue in the history of civilization, is dropping off the radar.

Now stretch your thoughts back to the dim mists of prehistory -- last month. Use of chemical weapons in Syria was the topic of every second sentence in news reports and in Washington political discussion. Barack Obama was threatening air strikes, Congress was being called on for tense consultations, military experts were warning of disaster. Obama's brand of diplomacy was roundly denounced, the president called "feckless" and "bungling" on Syria by The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Barack Obama
Bungling? Feckless? Syrian chemical weapons are being destroyed without a shot fired.

Now chemical arms in Syria are being destroyed under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the little-known agency that just won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Syrian civil war grinds on, but none of the predicted horrible consequences of Obama's diplomacy have come to pass, while Syrian civilians are becoming safe from chemical arms. And it's like the whole Syria chemical arms controversy never existed -- gone from total obsession to old news in a single month.

Best Tweet: Can Twitter be used for meaningful discussion? Last week California writer Mickey Kaus (@kausmickey) tweeted this point, which I have translated from compressed-speak into standard English: "Federal law forbids hiring anyone who is in the country illegally. A new California law forbids firing anyone because they are in the country illegally." That's enough food for thought for an entire law-review article, and Kaus squeezed it onto people's smartphones.

The Football Gods Chortled: The week before, New Orleans lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1, then Drew Brees used a hard count to draw the Chicago defense offside. Now at New England, New Orleans lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1. Brees barked a hard count -- and his teammates jumped offside.

Garo Yepremian
A Seattle Seahawks special-teams practice?

The Football Gods Chortled No. 2: Scoring to pull within 20-13 just ahead of the two-minute warning at Seattle, holding three timeouts, the Flaming Thumbtacks might have onside kicked. Instead they kicked away -- and the Seahawks returned the ball to the 43, about where a failed onside would have been spotted.

Today, FedEx Would Deliver the Horse's Head: It's nutty enough that in the movies and on TV, when lovers awake after a night of passionate sex, they're wearing underwear. Apparently actors and actresses get out of bed, put their bras and boxers back on, then return to bed to sleep.

Nuttier still is the Hollywood cliché scene in which, after a night of wild lovemaking with a mysterious stranger, a man or woman awakes to find the stranger gone. That mysterious bombshell with the glowing lip gloss, that mysterious hunk with the square chin, got out of bed, dressed and departed without making the slightest sound. In the FX series "The Bridge," the gorgeous wealthy widow awakes the next morning to find her dashing lover has vanished without making any noise -- then, she walks from her bedroom to an even worse cinematic absurdity. Back to her in a moment.

When Harry Met Sally
Will one of them leave without making the slightest sound?

A common improbable special effect in Hollywood is the space alien or demon with glowing eyes. If the eyes emitted light, wouldn't that stop them from working as eyes? Improbable scenes are more entertaining. In "Batman Forever," the Caped Crusader hangs from a skyscraper by one hand while supporting the entire weight of a bank vault with his other hand. In "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Indiana Jones jumps from a tramp steamer into the water next to a submerging Nazi submarine -- audiences hear the diving horn -- yet somehow gets inside the boat, though all hatches would be secured, and is able to stow away for several days in the cramped conditions of a submarine without any Nazis noticing an American with a whip and a fancy hat. In "Octopussy," James Bond fights a bad guy on the outside of a Beechcraft 18 that is flying about 200 mph. Bond knocks the bad guy off while maintaining his grip on a narrow metal ridge, then pulls himself the length of the plane against the 200 mph airflow.

These scenes are goofy all right -- but TMQ thinks the most improbable scene in all Hollywood annals occurs in the first "Godfather" movie. The sleazy Los Angeles producer wakes up to find a horse's head in his bed, and the mansion echoes with his screams of terror. The producer's hands and silk pajamas are soaked in bright red blood, possible only if the horse was slaughtered on the premises that morning. (Blood turns brown when exposed to air.) How did mobsters slaughter a horse at the mansion, then enter the bedroom and place a large, heavy object on the bed, soaking the sleazy producer in warm blood, without making any noise?

Harrison Ford
No one on the Nazi submarine noticed the handsome American in the fedora.

Now back to "The Bridge." After the gorgeous widow awakes to find her lover departed without making the slightest sound, she decides to walk to the barn. Wouldn't that be your first move after a night of wild lovemaking? In the barn, she screams in horror -- the scene is shot and paced to remind of the "Godfather" scene -- after finding her prize racehorse has been slaughtered and suspended from the rafters, as a warning to her from a Mexican drug cartel. The bad guys killed a horse and lifted it into the rafters -- without making any noise.

Happy Hour in Hell's Sports Bar: Hell's sports bar has 28 flat-screen HD TVs, but certain blackout rules may apply. Next week's fantastic Denver at Indianapolis pairing will be blacked out, while the 0-5 Buccaneers at the 1-4 Falcons will show on continuous loop.

Best Blocks: At City of Tampa, LeSean McCoy picked up 44 yards on a routine screen action when offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans hustled 20 yards downfield to make blocks. Looked like the kind of downfield blocking Chip Kelly got at Oregon.

Embezzlers, Meth Cooks Get Better Favorable Ratings Than Congress: Polls show the approval rating for the House of Representatives has shrunk to a rock-bottom 5 percent. The 5 percent satisfied with Congress -- who are these crackpots?

Do As I Say, Not As I Do: As the government shutdown grinds on, TMQ offers grudging admiration for Tea Party members who are trying to force the system to confront the kind of long-term unfunded entitlements warned about in this recent Congressional Budget Office report. TMQ feels grudging admiration if that is, in fact, what Tea Party members are attempting to accomplish. If they are simply trying to harm the president for self-serving political reasons, that is another matter. Standing for your principles is admirable; demanding that others suffer for your self-promotion is contemptible.

Sen. Ted Cruz
Senator Ted Cruz hates government -- as long as he benefits personally.

One of the puzzles of modern politics is the number of hard-core types who devote themselves to denouncing government -- after first ensuring they personally enjoy the pay and benefits of government positions. The majority of the 2012 Republican presidential contenders have spent most or all of their adult lives sheltered in government employment. Pretty sweet hustle: Enjoy government benefits while demanding that others not be allowed to receive them.

The right's man of the hour is Sen. Ted Cruz, who has advanced anti-government vitriol to an art form. Yet he himself spent only a few years in the private sector: Most of his adult life he's been in state and local government. Paul Ryan is the right's intellectual of the hour. He too has spent most of his adult life enjoying the pay and perks of government, after a few years in the private sector -- working for his family's firm, where there was no risk of being fired.

Egg nog
When kids ring the bell for trick or treat, make sure the eggnog is ready!

Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Aaron Goldhamer of Denver reports, "During a pre-football beer run on October 5, I perused my local store's Breckenridge Brewery beer selection. It's a brewery whose Autumn Ale is a great beer. Seeing no Autumn Ale, I inquired as to its availability. There was none, though I was offered a 'winter Ale' -- on October 5." Nathan Goodman of Austin, Texas, reports, "On October 8th, I purchased a Borden eggnog. Eleven weeks before Christmas, Borden already had eggnog on the shelf. There was a jack-o-lantern on the packaging." Festive Halloween eggnog!

There Is No Joy in Mudville: The home crowd in Minnesota booed loudly as the Vikings fell behind 21-3 to the Panthers. The home crowd in Seattle booed madly after the nutty first-half-ending play on which the backup holder -- you really don't ever want to hear the words "the backup holder" -- heave-hoed the fumble that became a length-of-the-field touchdown. Sure the Seahawks have won 10 straight at home. But what have you done for us lately? And with an injured place-kicker, why didn't Pete Carroll leave the offense on the field and try for a touchdown from the Flaming Thumbtacks' 4-yard line?

The home crowd in Baltimore booed loudly as the Ravens fell behind 6-0 to the Packers at intermission. Sure, the Ravens just won that Super Bowl thing. But what have you done for us lately? Green Bay leading 3-0 with 12 seconds remaining in the first half, Baltimore had the ball on its 34 and tried to run a play: sack, fumble, Packers field goal on last down for a 6-0 intermission score. Some in the home crowd booed as Denver left the field at halftime with a modest 14-12 edge over winless Jaguars A&M. Home booing became loud and general at Denver as the Jags pulled within 21-19 in the third quarter. Sure the Broncos were on a 16-1 win streak, but what have you done for us lately?

The home crowd in Massachusetts booed the Patriots when they were ahead in the fourth quarter! The booing was because a red zone drive stalled, culminating in a field goal. The home crowd booed Super Bowl hero Tom Brady when he threw a late pick. What have you done for us lately? Oh wait, what you did was one of the sport's all-time comebacks.

The home crowd at Houston booed continuously -- and had reasons.

Scarlett Johansson
The movie "Don Jon" has a plot that makes "Batman Forever" seem highly realistic.

Mega-Babe News: Esquire just named Scarlett Johansson its "sexiest woman alive." Currently she appears with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the semi-indie movie "Don Jon," whose storyline is that Gordon-Levitt would rather watch porn than have sex with his girlfriend -- Scarlett Johansson. This plot makes a James Bond movie seem realistic.

Baylor Held to 35 Points: Trailing Baylor, which came in averaging 70 points per game, by 28-25 with six minutes remaining, Kansas State faced fourth-and-2 on the Bears' 27. In trotted the kicking unit; outraged, the football gods pushed the try wide. The opponent is big-time football's highest-scoring team, kicking on fourth-and-short is not going to get the job done! The final was Baylor 35, Kansas State 25.

Oregon Held to 45 Points: The University of Washington was hosting Oregon, which has big-college football's best offense. Facing fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, the Huskies punted, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. Against big-college football's best offense, kicking on fourth-and-1 is not going to get the job done! The Ducks needed just three snaps to pass the place where the ball would have been, had Washington gone for it and failed. The final was Oregon 45, Washington 24.

One tactic the Ducks use to attain their fast pace: When Oregon makes a long gainer, players run upfield so they can be lined up as officials spot the ball. In the second quarter, after a long Ducks pass completion, the clock froze at 5:06 for the brief first-down stop that applies in NCAA rules. Oregon was already set when officials signaled ready-to-play, and snapped at 5:02. Four seconds between downs! Even knowing they were facing the Blur Offense, Huskies defenders seemed stunned the ball was back in play so quickly, and allowed an untouched touchdown run. The Huskies held Oregon to 631 yards of offense.

Ah For the Days When Casinos Were Full of Men in Tuxedos and Women in Evening Gowns: Jaguars A&M claimed moral victory by holding Broncos University below its scoring average, the game's 35-19 final allowing Jacksonville to beat the largest-ever NFL spread. That a 28-point underdog lost by 16 points should not matter to any well-run book. Spreads are not an attempt to predict victory margins. Their purpose is to induce a roughly equal amount of betting on each team, so that no matter what happens, the house stays whole. The Denver-Jax spread was huge because that's what bookies and casinos had to offer to get a lot of bettors to lay on Jacksonville. Since runaway scoring margins don't happen often in pro football -- they happen constantly in college -- an NFL 'dog plus lots of points can be an attractive wager. You don't even need to know who is playing.

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Because of polls, college coaches nervously watch the scoreboard, favorites hoping to win by as much as touts expected, underdogs hoping to lose close. Hosting Baylor, 2-3 Kansas State seemed more concerned with containing the margin of defeat -- a close defeat by a ranked team reflects well on the loser -- than going all out for victory. Because at the NFL level, a one-point win has the same value as a 20-point win, you might think NFL coaches would always go all out for victory. But they don't. In the endgame at Seattle, underdog Tennessee took a short field goal rather than try for a touchdown, then didn't onside kick. Coach Mike Munchak was transparently assigning more importance to ensuring a close loss than trying all out for victory. With the Seahawks likely to make the playoffs, at year's end Munchak can say, "We went to Seattle and only lost by 7."

No honest NFL coach cares about what happens to wagers, but college coaches can have an uneasy relationship with betting. In the NFL, high-rollers never give money to teams or coaches -- but in college, this is not only common, it is actively encouraged by development offices. Depending on the structure of a university's athletic department, the football coach may be more like an employee of the boosters than of the board of trustees. High-roller boosters like to bet on their favorite teams. Big-deal colleges may keep the starters on the field long after the scoring margin is insurmountable not in order to embarrass the losing side, rather, in order to be certain the team covers to please its moneyed boosters.

The 500 Club: Visiting USC, Arizona gained 508 yards. And lost. Visiting Maryland, the University of Virginia gained 505 yards, and lost. Visiting Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut gained 583 yards, and lost by 23 points. Hosting Benedictine of Illinois, Avila gained 570 yards, and lost by 25 points.

Octavias McKoy
Octavias McKoy of Western Connecticut ran for 372 yards and five touchdowns in one game. That's nowhere near enough to win a college shootout.

The 600 Club: Hosting Massachusetts Maritime, Western Connecticut gained 606 yards, scored 53 points, and lost. Octavias McKoy of the Colonials rushed for 372 yards and scored five touchdowns in a losing cause. Hosting New Haven, Merrimack gained 600 yards, and lost. It was the second time this season Merrimack has gained at least 600 yards on offense, and lost. Hosting Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota Morehead gained 685 yards, and lost by 24 points.

High Football IQ: Leading 19-17, Green Bay faced third-and-3 at Baltimore, 1:32 remaining, the hosts out of timeouts. Eddie Lacy ran wide for the first down -- then immediately "got on the ground," not trying to extend the play, because he knew the Packers could start kneeling. Smart move. Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, born in California with grandparents from Iran, had good blocking on the down, and throughout the contest against the Ravens' vaunted front seven.

Low Football IQ: Oakland held Kansas City to just 105 yards passing at home, and lost. Raiders facing first-and-20 after a holding penalty in the fourth quarter, Oakland coaches radioed in a play fake. Who's going to fall for a play fake on first-and-20? Sack, and the epic fourth-and-48 sequence begins. Reader Chuck Case of Littleton, Colo., notes it has now been more than a year since Alex Smith lost a game as a starting quarterback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader
The Buccaneers' cheerleaders are winners. The Buccaneers -- not so much.

'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All: In the third overtime at Happy Valley, Michigan faced fourth-and-inches on the Penn State 16. Michigan's was the second possession, meaning a field goal wins the game. But the Michigan place-kicker had missed his previous two attempts. Going for the first down would raise the Wolverines' odds of victory via touchdown. Instead kick, missed. In the fourth overtime, Penn State faced exactly the same choice, fourth-and-inches on the 16. Penn State ran for it, converted, and recorded the winning touchdown a few snaps later.

Perhaps one reason coaches don't want to go for it on fourth-and-short is that contemporary pass-wacky sets are not designed for short yardage. Hosting the Giants, the Bears went for it on fourth-and-2 -- using a four-wide shotgun set with no play fake, the action was pass all the way. At Ole Miss, Texas A&M went for it on fourth-and-1. Johnny Football was deep in a shotgun set. He handed off to a tailback who lined up 7 yards deep, meaning he needed a good run just to reach the line of scrimmage.

Wasteful Spending on Bodyguards Watch: This column rails against minor local and state officials who have taxpayer-funded security details not because of any risk -- average people sure don't get security details -- but to make themselves seem more important, while cutting to the heads of lines, running red lights, double-parking and so on.

The Washington Post reports allegations that Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler not only travels with a security detail of state troopers, he routinely has troopers turn sirens so his car can speed and run red lights, even when there is no emergency. This isn't just waste, though that's bad enough -- public officials who insist on such treatment want to believe they are little kings to whom no laws apply. To top it off, Gansler's taxpayer-provided car is a super-sized Chevy Tahoe, which gets 17 MPG and emits 8.6 tons of greenhouse gases annually.

Obscure College Score: Wartburg 37, Buena Vista 29. Located in Waverly, Iowa, Wartburg College is named for Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther lived for a time after being excommunicated at the onset of the Reformation. Next week, Luther College hosts Wartburg. Yet neither plays Martin Luther College.

Alec Ogletree
The Texans give all-out effort chasing Alex Ogletree.

Single Worst Play of the Season -- So Far: Bad enough that Houston was self-destructing at home against the lower-echelon St. Louis Rams. Bad enough that Texans quarterbacks had thrown interceptions returned for touchdowns in four consecutive games, and were about to make it five. When at the end of the third quarter, backup T.J. Yates threw a pick-six to Alec Ogletree of the Rams -- Yates was the sole member of the Texans who tried to catch him.

Ogletree is a linebacker. The Texans had speed merchants on the field, and rather than chase Ogletree, they stood around watching. The 98-yard runback took 11 seconds, a long time by football standards, yet none of the Houston speed players chased Ogletree, who's all alone in every camera angle of play.

Houston Texans offense -- you are guilty of the single worst play of the season. So far.

Next Week: Can the Texans make it six straight games throwing a pick-six?

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.