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Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Are the Colts an emerging power?

By Gregg Easterbrook
ESPN.com

As the Indianapolis Colts stormed back in the fourth quarter at Houston, a question presented itself: Will the Colts, even without Reggie Wayne, emerge as the best NFL team?

Indianapolis is not impressive statistically, outgained on the season. But the Colts make plays when the pressure is on. They outscored Houston 15-0 in the fourth quarter. Many's the club that staged a fourth-quarter comeback at home; Indianapolis just did that on the road.

In terms of what this column calls authentic wins -- victories over other top teams -- the Colts are the best so far, 3-0 versus those on track for the playoffs (San Francisco, Denver and Seattle).

How do others compare? Undefeated Kansas City and stats-a-palooza Denver each have only one victory over a team with a winning record, in both cases shaky 5-4 Dallas. Cincinnati has a quality win over New England, but also three losses; Chicago has a quality win over Cincinnati, but also three losses; Green Bay is 1-3 against other winning teams; Detroit 2-2 against other winning teams. Seattle beat the 49ers but lost to Indianapolis, making the Seahawks 1-1 in authentic games. San Francisco 1-2 against top teams. New England has just one quality victory, over New Orleans, which in turn has just one victory over a winning team. For authentic accomplishments, so far Indianapolis is tops.

The Colts are 17-8 since the arrival of Andrew Luck, and have 10 fourth-quarter comebacks. The first choice of the 1998 draft brought them Peyton Manning and a long stretch of winning; the first choice of the 2012 draft brought Luck, whose style of play is so similar to Manning's it's spooky. Though Luck has an athletic dimension Manning lacks -- Luck runs well, and seems unfazed when hit in the pocket. Houston hit Luck a lot on Sunday night. Surely he did not enjoy it, but didn't let it bother him either. Several times he stood in the pocket and launched perfect passes knowing he would be hammered on release.

Luck is hardly the only reason Indianapolis is winning -- see more below for the team's other players, and tactics. Feels an awful lot like it's 2003 again in Indianapolis, the year Manning's Colts began their streak of seasons with at least 12 victories. Unless it's already 2006 again, the season the Colts won the Super Bowl.

In a development that made this columnist cheer, in the fourth quarter on "Monday Night Football," Bears coach Marc Trestman heeded years of hectoring by Tuesday morning quarterbacks and went for it on fourth down in his own territory. The result was victory.

With Chicago leading favored Green Bay 24-20 with 7:50 remaining, the Bears faced fourth-and-1 on their 32. For generations, NFL coaches in this situation have been doing the "safe" thing and punting. Though possession of the ball is almost always more important than field position, punting shifts the blame for any loss to the players. Going for it, if unsuccessful, focuses blame on the coach.

But the Bears had dropped six straight to the Packers and needed a change of mindset. Chicago went for it and converted with a 3-yard rush. The possession became an 18-snap, 95-yard, 8:58 affair that numbers among the greatest clock-killer drives in the annals of the sport. When it ended with a field goal, Chicago led 27-20 and left Green Bay with just 50 seconds and no timeouts.

Trestman's decision even followed the metric, tested by thousands of computer simulations, laid out in my 2007 column linked to above:

• Inside your own 20, punt.

• From your 21 to 35, go for it on fourth-and-2 or less.

• From your 36 to midfield, go for it on fourth-and-3 or less.

• From the opposition 49 to opposition 30, go for it on fourth-and-4 or less.

• From the opposition 29 to opposition 3, go for it on fourth-and-3 or less.

• From the opposition 2 or 1, go for it.

• Exception: inside the opponent's 25, attempt a field goal if it's the fourth quarter and a field goal causes a tie or gives you the lead.

Coming into this season, Trestman had an indistinct reputation. Now he is Manly Man Numero Uno! And now the Bears have the football gods on their side, which I for one would not want to mess with.

In other football news, leading undefeated Kansas City 10-3 in the third quarter, Buffalo faced third-and-goal on the Chiefs' 1. The Bills were down to their fourth-string quarterback, but already had 157 yards rushing and would end the game with 241, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. So run the ball once, maybe twice, win the game! Coaches could not possibly have radioed in a goal-line pass for the fourth-string quarterback! At least the ever-dreadful Bills now have a distinction -- see Single Worst Play of the Season.

Stats of the Week No. 1: At Oakland, Philadelphia scored 39 more points than in its previous two games combined.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Carolina is on a 4-0 streak -- over teams with a combined 6-27 record.

Stats of the Week No. 3: The Dolphins are 6-0 on Halloween.

Stats of the Week No. 4: The Cowboys' defense allowed 1,016 yards in eight days.

Stats of the Week No. 5: The Buffalo offense allowed more points (14) than it scored (13).

Stats of the Week No. 6: Since taking the field in last winter's playoffs, Atlanta, Houston and Minnesota are a combined 5-22.

Stats of the Week No. 7: At 1:39 Eastern on Nov. 3, St. Louis scored its first rushing touchdown of the season.

Stats of the Week No. 8: At 2:11 Eastern on Nov. 3, Carolina allowed a first-half touchdown for the first time this season.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Six weeks ago, Seattle came back from a 20-3 deficit to win in overtime; Sunday, Seattle came back from a 21-0 deficit to win in overtime.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Kansas City has six touchdowns on defense; Jacksonville has seven touchdowns on offense.

Sweet Play of the Week: Leading Baltimore 21-18 with three minutes remaining, Cleveland faced fourth-and-1 on the Ravens' 43. The "safe" move was to punt. The restless home crowd sensed a punt, followed by a Baltimore drive to victory. After all, Cleveland came into the contest having dropped 11 straight to the Ravens.

Cleveland goes for it! Third-string quarterback Jason Campbell sprinted backward on a zany broken play then, about to go out of bounds, heave-hoed to Davone Bess for the first down. The Brown ended up consuming 6½ minutes on the possession, kicking a field goal and leaving Baltimore just 14 seconds. That's a manly-man sweet play!

Sweet Play No. 2: Winless City of Tampa reaching first-and-goal on the 2 of the heavily favored Seattle Seahawks, the Buccaneers sent in six offensive linemen for an expected power rush. Tailback Mike James took the handoff, went one step forward -- then stopped and leaped into the air to throw a pop pass to a tight end. Sweet.

Sour Play of the Week: Leading 23-20 at Dallas, Minnesota faced fourth-and-5 on the Boys' 36 with 3:41 remaining. A 53-yard field goal attempt stands a decent chance -- the Dallas dome offers ideal place-kicking conditions, while Vikings kicker Blair Walsh came in 2-for-3 from beyond 50 yards. A try for the first down is appealing -- the Dallas defense came in ranked last in the league. Earlier in the game, Minnesota went on fourth-and-1 and scored an 11-yard touchdown. There's no defense an NFL team of 2013 would rather face in a critical situation than the Cowboys' defense.

So go for it! Or at least try a field goal for more points! The Vikings came into the contest 1-6, what did they have to lose?

Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier sent the offense out to attempt to draw Dallas offside. It was a pitiful attempt: an empty-backfield formation that could only be a passing play, so did not tempt the front seven to crash the line. When Dallas didn't jump, Frazier did not call timeout -- he had all three -- rather, took a delay of game penalty that pushed the Vikings back. After a mincing punt, the Cowboys went the length of the field for victory. At 1-6, why were the Vikings punting in opposition territory? Now Minnesota is 1-7.

Washington Redskins cheerleaders
Verily, beholding the courage of the cheerleaders, the football gods smiled upon the Washington franchise.

Sweet 'N' Sour Series of the Week: Washington leading 24-21 with 21 seconds in regulation, officials signaled touchdown for San Diego's Danny Woodhead. Then they reversed -- correctly -- and spotted the ball on the 1. The home crowd roared. The visiting Bolts had first-and-goal on the 1 with 21 seconds, holding two timeouts. San Diego went run no gain, timeout, incompletion, incompletion, field goal to force overtime. The Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons took the opening kickoff of overtime and moved the length of the field for the win. Sweet for the home team, sour for the visitors -- who left a timeout on the table. They could have rushed once more, but instead chose to throw into the slight amount of space available from the 1-yard line.

Some might say the R*dsk*ns prevailed by going back to their roots, spending much of the contest in a college-style pistol set with two running backs and a tight end forming the letter "A" around Robert Griffin III, resulting in 209 rushing yards. But TMQ attributes the Persons' victory foremost to the Washington cheer-babes. Kickoff temperature 57 degrees with a stiff wind, the cheerleaders wore summer two-piece numbers in the second half. Outstanding professionalism, and the football gods smiled.

Only Ratings Threat to Football, "NCIS": Football continues to dominate television, the "Monday Night Football" woofer pairing of 1-5 Vikings at 0-6 Giants drawing higher ratings than Game 1 of the World Series two nights later. Prime-time NFL contests on NBC and ESPN consistently dominate their ratings periods. But there's an opponent the NFL cannot seem to get off the field -- the two top prime-time ratings dramas of last television season and, so far, this one: "NCIS" and its little brother, "NCIS: Los Angeles."

"NCIS," entering its 11th year, and "NCIS: Los Angeles," entering its fifth, posit an alternate reality in which the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has jurisdiction over all wrongdoing anywhere in the world. For the early seasons, scriptwriters tried to shoehorn in a nautical angle -- a Marine was involved, an ocean shipping document was found on the victim, that sort of thing. Now, desperate to crank out plots -- the shows are up to 340 total episodes -- "NCIS" scriptwriters often dispense altogether with jurisdiction. Businessman murdered? NCIS is on the scene. Terrorist sympathizer owns shell corporation? Call in NCIS. Cold War-era atomic warheads stolen by a creepy guy with a Peter Lorre accent? NCIS to the rescue: no FBI, CIA, local or state police on the case, just a bunch of boat-lovers.

NCIS: Los Angeles
Agents from "NCIS: Los Angeles" attack the last remnant of logic in their plots.

A high percentage of episodes concern dire terrorist threats from sinister foreigners who are vaguely Middle Eastern, wear $1,000 suits and are terrible shots. The creepy guys are plotting mass slaughter; good-looking, wisecracking NCIS agents use super-advanced technology, plus kickboxing moves, to stop every plot in time for a buddy-bonding scene. The success of the "NCIS" franchise suggests that in a post-9/11 country, there is strong fantasy appeal to the notion that terrorists are under every bed, but fearless agents who operate above the law won't rest until every last one is found. Though audiences must have breathed a sigh of relief when a planned spinoff of the spinoff, "NCIS: Red Team," about good-looking, wisecracking Navy agents with Knight Rider-style antiterrorism vehicles, was passed on by CBS.

Most television crime dramas exaggerate both the frequency with which law-enforcement officers kill suspects, and the likelihood of law-enforcement officers themselves being killed. This conforms to what audiences expect -- constant bloodshed. At least a dozen NCIS agents have been murdered during the shows, which depict just two small units of a large agency. Last year the actual NCIS held a memorial service for the six agents killed in the line of duty in its history.

"NCIS: Los Angeles" depicts the bustling NCIS office in the City of Angels, but there is no NCIS bureau in Los Angeles. The agency's office for Southern California is in San Diego, because San Diego has a large naval base. NCIS has a satellite facility in Seal Beach, Calif. -- near the Long Beach harbor. NCIS doesn't need an office in Los Angeles proper, since that city mainly has tanning beaches.

"NCIS," the main show, has grown so coated in treacle that its No. 1 status in drama ratings reflects poorly either on viewers or on the competition. Last season's story arc had the Justice Department relentlessly pursuing heroic agent Jethro Gibbs to put him in jail, though Gibbs has pretty much single-handedly rid the entire world of crime. The smirking prosecutor obsessed with destroying Gibbs was identified as an "independent counsel." Congress abolished the Office of the Independent Counsel in 1999. Within the tube, the job lives on.

"NCIS: Los Angeles" is more entertaining -- better wisecracks, more scenes of agents leaping away from explosions, references to NPR and plots that don't waste a single moment trying to make sense. To look cool, "NCIS: Los Angeles" agents dress in tight jeans and fashion T-shirts, even on regular assignment. Yet they pull out guns, badges, cell phones, handcuffs, flashlights and extra magazines, as if from a magician's hat. The megababe detective played by actress Daniela Ruah wears sprayed-on jeans that don't appear to have space for a credit card. Yet during action sequences, she draws more stuff than Batman from his utility belt. Where is the stuff coming from?

Viewers get no clue: in one frame the agents look cool in tight clothes and in the next frame they are holding stuff, they're never actually seen pulling anything out. Except that a close look at "NCIS: Los Angeles" action scenes shows all four agents have their handguns stuffed down the backs of their pants, even during office work or routine field investigation. A gun in the waistband may fall out when the bearer is running or exiting a car -- why don't their guns fall? Law-enforcement agencies require officers not on undercover to keep firearms snapped into a holster, for safety and because a clearly visible holstered pistol helps communicate the identity of a peace officer to the public. (One objection to "open carry" is that it may cause confusion about who's in law enforcement.) TMQ guesses the actual NCIS does not allow agents to carry guns in their waistband. Plus, stuffing a gun down the back of your pants an excellent way to shoot yourself in the keister.

Action movies and shows have too many characters depicted as casually skilled in languages. The tough-guy detective played by LL Cool J is fluent in Arabic, Ruah's character is said to be fluent in five languages, the lead detective played by actor Chris O'Donnell is said to be fluent in nine languages. Regardless of how they acquired language skills a diplomat would envy, none seems to spend a single moment maintaining proficiency, which is essential to fluency.

O'Donnell's character has amnesia, not knowing where he was born or his own first name. This scriptwriting contrivance allows for subplots in which O'Donnell searches for clues to his past. But missing from all prime-time crime shows is that arresting officers spend considerable time as witnesses. How could someone with amnesia be credible on the stand? "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Agent Callen tells us he cannot remember his own name. Yet he claims a clear recollection of observing the defendant placing the stolen fissile materials into the MacGuffin generator."

San Diego beach
See any warships here? That's why there are no actual NCIS agents based in actual Los Angeles.

The credits following recent "NCIS: Los Angeles" episodes include this puzzling line: "Promotional consideration furnished by Lockheed Martin." The world's largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin does not manufacture any consumer product that could have a tie-in on a TV show. Watching "NCIS: Los Angeles" can't make a viewer say, "Wow, I want to go out and buy a Fury 1500 drone," even if sharing with Lockheed Martin a passion for unmanned innovation. So what "promotional consideration" could the world's largest defense contractor have supplied?

"NCIS: Los Angeles" depicts a United States in which terrorists are taking over, and the sole hope for the innocent is cowboy law-enforcement agents who laugh at the phrase "search warrant," picking locks and smashing doors as they please while using advanced technology to break into suspects' cell phones and computers without a court's permission. The show especially glorifies closed-circuit video monitoring of public spaces, presenting a (highly unrealistic) supercomputer that requires mere seconds to locate any vaguely Middle Eastern-looking person anywhere in Southern California. This worldview -- terrorism is rampant, American citizens should allow law enforcement to ignore the Constitution -- is good for the revenue of Lockheed Martin, which sells, among other things, CCTV systems and biometric scanners.

How Indianapolis Came Back: Things didn't go well for Indianapolis early at Houston. The Colts fell behind 21-3 and were being outplayed by about that margin. Undrafted third-string quarterback Case Keenum twice ran naked boots and threw long touchdown passes, generating kilowatts of crowd energy. Keenum entered the game as an unknown -- little NFL film of him to study -- and took the visitors by surprise by bootlegging without blockers.

Early, Houston blitzes were hammering Andrew Luck. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus had trouble with speed moves by the Houston front seven. When Cherilus was uncovered, no teammate beside him, he looked terrible.

Indianapolis adjusted. In the second half, the Colts kept a linebacker "home" on the opposite side to contain naked bootlegs -- on a key snap this resulted in Keenum hauled down for a loss, since after all, he was without a blocker. The Colts gave up a lot of yards, but figured out the weaknesses of the Houston offense in time to hold the hosts scoreless in the fourth quarter. Indianapolis coaches seem to have prepared their team for early success by the desperate Texans, followed by gradual comeback. Houston coaches could not have prepared for Gary Kubiak suffering stroke-like symptoms as the first half concluded, which put the sideline into turmoil.

The offensive adjustment was that much of the second half saw the Colts use six offensive linemen. Backup tackle Jeff Linkenbach lined up next to Cherilus, where a tight end would be expected, and didn't even report eligible. He was there strictly to block. On third downs in the second half, the Colts always had either six offensive linemen, or two running backs both staying in to block.

Luck threw for just 56 yards in the first half, but with extra blocking, for 215 yards in the second half. Third-and-goal on the Houston 10 in the third quarter, the Texans blitzed seven; extra blockers gave Luck time to find T.Y. Hilton for the touchdown, as Luck took a lick that might have unsettled Peyton Manning.

Houston reached third-and-3 on the Indianapolis 25 to start the fourth quarter, and disaster -- a crazed Keenum heave-ho fell incomplete, followed by a missed field goal attempt. Two snaps later, Indianapolis faced second-and-1. Houston expected run, and had no high safety. Protected by six offensive linemen, Luck threw 58 yards to Hilton for another touchdown, and palms began to sweat on the home sideline.

On the deuce conversion that was the game's final points, Indianapolis fielded six offensive linemen. Houston ran an all-out eight-man blitz. Pre-snap, tight end Coby Fleener went in motion. When a man followed him, that told Luck it would be a heavy blitz with man-on-man coverage. Fleener beat his guy on a corner route and Luck delivered the ball while being hammered.

The Texans' late attempts to "make a play" on defense only made plays for Indianapolis. Houston is now first in defense against yards but 27th against points. Don't blame all of that on pick-six mistakes by Matt Schaub, who was not on the field Sunday. The Texans' defense could not hold a fourth-quarter lead at home. That's on the Texans' defense.

The Sport Where Getting Rid of Players Is Management's Main Job: The NBA season is under way, after the final flurry of nutty trades intended to discard players with guaranteed contracts, or acquire those whose contracts expire soon, and thus can be given cab fare to the airport.

NBA general managers like nothing more than getting rid of players, allowing the team to position itself to sign new players to get rid of. The big Boston-Brooklyn trade came together when the Nets agreed to take Jason Terry, a high-priced player the Celtics wanted to get rid of. As part of the return package, Boston acquired Kris Joseph, whom the Celtics immediately waived. Such deals happen because there are only a few dozen NBA performers whom teams actually want. The rest are viewed by the league's front offices as nuclear waste -- ship them out, get rid of them!

Caron Butler
Caron Butler has played several games for Milwaukee, and has not been traded yet. What's up with that?

In the NFL, most teams enter the season with a decent chance of a winning year; in the NBA, many teams enter the season knowing they are certain to stink, and needing excuses lined up in advance. The most reliable excuse is, "We're losing now to clear cap space for those fantastic players we will sign next summer." NBA general managers talk endlessly of the fantastic players they might sign the following summer. Usually the desired free agents never materialize. When they do, half the time it doesn't take long until the team is desperate to get rid of them.

Because the 2014 draft and 2014 summer signing period are expected to be strong, NBA teams including Boston, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Milwaukee have denuded their rosters to stockpile cap space and/or picks. Any team taking this tack must ensure it has a terrible season to maximize its lottery odds. Should the Suns or 76ers win in coming months, that would be a catastrophe.

In this context, few sports subplots are more amusing than NBA goofy trades. Last winter, Orlando sent J.J. Redick and two benchwarmers to Milwaukee for three minor players. The Bucks waived one of the minor players and traded the other to Phoenix in the Caron Butler deal (see below), where he was immediately offloaded to the D-League. A few months later, Milwaukee traded Redick to the Los Angeles Clippers, receiving in return a pair of second-round draft selections. That didn't seem like much for a well-known starter. The key thing is the deal allowed Milwaukee to get rid of a high-priced player, positioning the Bucks to lose but enjoy cap space.

In the NFL, draft choices are precious; in the NBA, they are poker chips. Boston already holds Brooklyn's 2018 first choice -- most likely no one now in the Nets' front office will be around when that debt falls due. Last week the Suns got rid of a starter, Marcin Gortat -- in recent months the Suns have been close to desperate to get rid of players -- acquiring in return the injured Emeka Okafor, who has an expiring contract and thus can be disposed of, and a Whizzies first-round choice with so many asterisks that Phoenix may not receive the pick until 2020.

During the deal, the Suns also got rid of three benchwarmers with guaranteed deals; Washington immediately waived the benchwarmers, getting rid of them. Perhaps they are on their way to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Multiple move-'em-out swaps have left the Suns the only NBA team with two Ukrainians on the roster (Slava Kravtsov, Alex Len). This would be a fantastic marketing opportunity if the Phoenix Suns were not located in -- Phoenix.

In July, Phoenix traded for Caron Butler. "The addition of an All-Star veteran in Caron Butler is very exciting for the Suns," said Phoenix president of basketball operations Lon Babby. The excitement didn't last long -- a month later, Butler was moved for a pair of backups. "This deal gives us significant cap space as well as the flexibility to trade for another exciting player," said Suns general manager Ryan McDonough. So the Suns were excited to get Butler and even more excited to get rid of him -- that's NBA player transactions in a nutshell. Butler has taped his ankles for the Heat, Lakers, Wizards, Mavericks, Clippers and Bucks. Surely Milwaukee, his current employer, is exploring trades to get rid of him.

Phoenix Suns
Parkinson's Law appears to apply to NBA management.

Calling H.M.S. Pinafore! The Suns not only have both a general manager and a president of basketball operations, they have a team president, two assistant general managers, a director of player personnel, five coaches, three strength or athletic trainers, three scouts, a "player development assistant" and a "performance recovery consultant." These are strictly the basketball personnel -- the Suns also have marketing and financial management officials. The NBA's active roster limit is 13; Phoenix has 19 managers to supervise 13 players. Is this a private enterprise or a government agency? And the Suns are getting government-style results -- the 19 managers led the 13 players to a 25-57 record last season.

What to Make of the AFC West?: The Chiefs remain undefeated, following a 1-12 streak last season with a 9-0 streak so far. But in addition to a soft schedule, the Chiefs haven't faced a starting quarterback since September. Opposition quarterbacks in Kansas City's past five games have been second string, second string, second string, third string and fourth string. Sunday at Buffalo, the Chiefs barely bested a losing team with an undrafted rookie quarterback making his first career start. Kansas City was outplayed on both sides of the ball, prevailing only when presented two gift-wrapped touchdowns by a team with the league's longest playoff drought.

The Denver Broncos are second in the division at 7-1, and churning out stats. But Denver has only one victory over a team with a winning record, and next gets yet another middling opponent, 4-4 San Diego.

Chip Kelly
Maybe the Eagles scored so many points because the Oakland game was played on the West Coast, closer to Oregon.

Let's Pile on Chip Kelly While We Still Can: At the trade deadline, New England sent a fifth-round draft pick to Philadelphia for nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and a sixth-round draft selection. Since in the 2014 draft, Philadelphia's sixth choice is likely to be high while New England's fifth is likely to be low, there is little difference between the selections, meaning Bill Belichick obtained Sopoaga for next to nothing.

Why the Eagles, ranked last in defense, should be trading a defensive starter for next to nothing is anyone's guess. Looks like neophyte Kelly got snookered by veteran Belichick. The trade may become another knock against the former Oregon coach. First Kelly's offense show signs of being a flash in the pan, then Kelly can't make up his mind about quarterbacks, next he's fleeced in a trade. Maybe Kelly can get Nicholls State, Oregon's 2013 opening opponent, on the Eagles' schedule for next year. And don't we wish Nicholls State played Nichols College.

Considering the Nesharim had laid eggs in their previous two games, it was defensible for Kelly to keep the pedal down in the second half of Philadelphia's destruction of Oakland. But one wonders -- was Kelly trying to get his team to believe its season can be saved, or does he think there are style points in the NFL?

Made With Elements From Nature's Own Periodic Table: Asked by Holly Rowe as he jogged off for halftime what he thought of the bad weather, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio replied, "There's a lot of elements." Indeed there are, at least 118 with ununoctium the latest added. Taking into account that what the NFL calls sacks the NCAA scores as tackles for a loss, in the first half at East Lansing, Michigan and Michigan State combined for minus-25 yards rushing.

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The Beach Ball Was More Interesting Than the Niners-Jacksonville Game: During last week's London windstorm, a 30-foot-high beach ball came loose from an advertising display and started bouncing through traffic.

Kiss 'Em When They're Up, Kick 'Em When They're Down: Last year when the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons won seven straight and Robert Griffin III couldn't be stopped, the Washington press corps treated him as the second coming. This year with the R*dsk*ns struggling at 3-5, the same press corps has come down on him like a 16-ton weight.

"Griffin is such a dazzling piece of eye candy that it has been tempting to attribute the reversal of [team] fortune entirely to him" -- Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, late 2012.

"Griffin is to a certain extent the victim of his own expectations, but that's his own fault" -- Jenkins, 11 months later.

"Griffin has ascended to the team's top leadership position almost as quickly as he joined the ranks of the NFL's most exciting quarterbacks" -- Post columnist Jason Reid, late 2012.

"Griffin's ineffective passing raises an important question: Will he ever be an elite drop-back passer?" -- Reid, 11 months later.

Yours truly has not been consistent in a few rare cases. But Griffin's rise and decline in the eyes of the Washington sports press is symptomatic of a common problem in the coverage of quarterbacks, presidents and other leaders -- too much credit when things go well, too much blame when things go poorly.

Griffin is the same person he was a year ago. Then he was in perfect shape and running a new tactic NFL defenses hadn't seen. Now he has a banged-up knee and defenses have adapted to the zone-read. He's still the same person he was a year ago.

Chocolate
"Freeze! This is the FSB! Keep those bonbons where we can see them!"

Ukrainian News: The above item provides what TMQ, at least, considers sufficient segue to mention this hilarious article on a European trade war involving Ukrainian chocolate. The article, by Andrew Kramer, begins: "From the Baltic to the Black Sea, a chocolate wall has descended across Europe." Everybody get the reference? It seems this Ukrainian company is out-competing Russian confectioners, who have responded by lobbying for a trade wall.

Russia is dropping the hammer on Lithuania candy firms too: "Members of the European Parliament expressed their solidarity with Lithuania by eating a type of Lithuanian sweetened cottage cheese dessert in front of photographers." Solidarity with Lithuanian cottage cheese! That will have them marching in the streets in Brussels.

Fine Whine: Recently, TMQ questioned whether wine tasters can make any distinctions beyond white versus red. Reader James Koutoulas of Chicago noted a Wall Street Journal article supporting my position. Many readers including Claire Levy of Nantucket, Mass., reported European con artists were able to sell cheap jug wine relabeled as super-expensive classic vintages because buyers couldn't taste the difference. The counterargument comes from reader Sean Kaley of Kapaa, Hawaii, who reports, "The Court of Master Sommeliers certifies sommeliers around the world. Earning the designation requires a man or woman to pass four rigorous exams in which he or she must correctly identify wines and the components of their flavor in a blind taste test."

With fossil fuels almost disturbingly plentiful, need something to worry about? The world may run out of wine. Here's an investing tip -- stockpile cheap jug wine, then relabel as Napa Valley and sell when the market rises.

Supreme Court Justices Don't Have Security Details, Why Do College Football Coaches?: A scuffle broke out with a minute remaining in the Georgia at Florida meeting. A moment into the scuffle, two Georgia state troopers came onto the field to help separate players. Whether a crime can occur in the context of a football or ice hockey game has long been debated. But there was no criminal activity apparent, just low-grade pushing and shoving.

Winston Churchill
Maybe it's just as well he did not live to see a chocolate curtain descend across Europe.

Thus you might think the question was: Why did the troopers come onto the field? But the question was: Why were they present in the first place?

Many college football teams have state troopers accompany their head coaches. Even if the troopers are donating their time, this doesn't seem right. Any security that's required can be provided by local law-enforcement agencies. Average citizens don't get state police escorts as they go about their business. And no NFL head coach is accompanied by state troopers.

State troopers seem present at college football contests to create an illusion that the head coach is a figure to be revered. Nick Saban has Alabama state troopers with him at all times, even for away games -- they aren't providing security, they are boosting Saban's ego. Wanting to be treated as a little king suggests a character flaw. My new book, "The King of Sports," notes that among the admirable things about Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer is that he does not surround himself with state troopers, cut to the heads of lines or similar nonsense.

Early in the fourth quarter, Georgia, leading 23-20, went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 39, and failed. TMQ contends it can be better to go for it on fourth-and-short and fail -- this lets players know their coach is challenging them to win -- than do the "safe" thing and punt. From the moment of the failed Georgia fourth-and-1 until the game's conclusion, Florida had negative yardage -- its possession following the failed fourth-and-1 ended on a fourth-and-26 -- while Georgia staged an eight-minute clock-killer drive that iced the contest.

Of course trying and failing on fourth-and-short is no guarantee of success. Sunday, Minnesota, New Orleans and Pittsburgh failed on fourth-and-short, then were defeated. Unsuccessful fourth-down tries that pin the opponent against his goal line are especially attractive, though. New England went and failed on fourth-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 1, leaving the Steelers on their 1, from which Ben Roethlisberger promptly threw an interception.

Calling Dr. Fraud: New York is the city of psychoanalysis -- you're nobody unless you have spent some time on the couch. Perhaps it's time for the Jets to be psychoanalyzed. In the past three weeks, they've wrapped solid victories over division leaders New England and New Orleans around a 40-point loss to Cincinnati. The week before that, Jersey/B lost to Pittsburgh, which allowed 610 yards and 55 points to the Patriots. All football teams perform better when they protect the ball, but the Jets seem particularly sensitive to the turnover stat line.

Seattle Seahawks Sea Gals
The Seahawks always win when the cheerleaders sport their "hello, sailor" outfits.

Overtime Won by Two Points: Years ago, TMQ told a radio interview that one thing I'd like to see in sports is a football game won by a safety in overtime. Now I have! When Cameron Wake sacked Andy Dalton in the fifth quarter at Miami, the ball was above the goal line. This column believes football rules should be simplified, and the touchdown/safety difference is an example. When going toward the end zone, if any part of the ball gets above the white goal line, it's a touchdown; when trying to get out of the end zone, the entire ball must reach beyond the white goal line. Because Dalton couldn't get the entire ball beyond the white line, the contest became the third NFL overtime game decided by a safety.

The last snap was hardly Dalton's only dreary down of the night. He arrived at Miami on a streak of 11 touchdown passes versus just two interceptions; he threw no touchdown passes to his teammates, one to the opposition, and had three interceptions. Miami leading 7-3, Cincinnati took possession on its 15 with 45 seconds remaining before intermission, holding no timeouts, and decided to try for a score. That made sideline throws -- to stop the clock -- inevitable. Dalton threw a quick short pass to the sideline, complete, clock stop. Dalton threw another quick short pass to the sideline, complete, clock stop. His next pass was guess what? Quick and short toward the sideline: Miami corner Dimitri Patterson jumped the route, interception, and the hosts got a field goal on the final snap of the first half.

Then facing third-and-4 on the Genetically Engineered Surimi's 10 in the third quarter, Dalton threw a badly off-target pass that Brent Grimes intercepted and ran back 94 yards for a touchdown -- a 10-point swing in a game that would be decided by two points. Grimes is a longtime TMQ favorite, an undrafted player from Division II Shippensburg.

A subtle play occurred on the overtime drive before the safety. Miami facing first-and-10 from its 14, the Bengals blitzed six. Ryan Tannehill saw the blitz coming and audibled to a go route to speedy Mike Wallace, who beat Cincinnati's Terence Newman. Wallace had two steps on Newman who, seeing the ball arcing exactly to the receiver's hands, dove at his legs. Pass interference advanced the spot to the Cincinnati 48, but precluded a touchdown that would have ended the contest. Camera angles showed Newman on the ground staring at the flag as if he'd been caught making a terrible mistake. Reader Andrew Lesko of Des Moines, Iowa, noted, "The announcers didn't spend one second praising one of the smartest plays a defensive player can make -- deliberate interference to prevent a long touchdown." Of course it may be that Newman was lying on the ground thinking that with a six blitz in progress and no deep help, he should not have let the other team's fastest guy get behind him.

Fun fact: The double-cutback touchdown run by Giovani Bernard took 15 seconds to cover 35 yards forward. Grimes missed a tackle on Bernard in the backfield, then missed another chance to tackle him on the 11. Not fun fact: The teams combined to kick on three consecutive fourth-and-1 situations. When Miami punted from the Cincinnati 40 on fourth-and-2 in overtime, the home crowd booed mercilessly, and it seemed the wrong call to your columnist, too. But the downed punt on the 8 was the first step to setting up the winning safety. Fun fact: For Halloween night, some 23,000 fans came dressed as empty seats. The announced gate was 52,388 at a stadium that holds 75,540.

Macy's
In a sign of taste and dignity, major retailers held off on Christmas advertising until Halloween.

Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Todd Janus of Des Moines notes Politico has already named 2013 the Year of the Liberal Billionaire, though 17 percent of the year remains. Plenty of time for conservative billionaires to stage a fourth-quarter comeback!

Though this column retired its Christmas Creep item -- Christmas Creep has gone from sporadic to all but required by law -- one cannot help noting that, as reported by many, many readers including Cassie Miles-Goodwin of Tahoe City, Calif., Best Buy began running Christmas-themed television ads on Halloween night.

Belichick Can't Bring Himself to Win Gracefully: It was hard watching the aging Steelers defense shredded for 610 yards and 55 points by the Patriots. It was impressive to watch three New England receivers gain more than 100 yards receiving, and Tom Brady advancing to 91-16 at home. But why was Brady still on the field once the lead was insurmountable in the fourth quarter? In 2007, Bill Belichick kept Brady in late during blowouts, trying to run up the score. This generated bad karma that came back to haunt Belichick in that season's Super Bowl loss. What's the point of generating more bad karma now? Once the lead is insurmountable, act like a gentleman.

The 500 Club: Hosting Louisiana Monroe, Troy gained 511 yards, and lost. Hosting Montana, Sacramento State gained 580 yards, and lost. Hosting Oklahoma State, Texas Tech gained 549 yards, and lost by 18 points. Hosting Eastern Washington, Idaho State gained 566 yards, and lost by 21 points. Hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland gained 560 yards, and lost by 29 points.

The 600 Club: Reader Myreon Hodur of Culver City, Calif., notes that in California prep play, Laguna Beach gained 681 yards, scored 56 points and lost to Calvary Chapel. Nathan Lancaster of Laguna Beach rushed for 547 yards, averaging 18 yards per carry, and scored seven touchdowns in a losing cause. Reader Jonathan Wells of Arlington, Texas, noted that hosting Rockwall High, Mesquite High of Mesquite, Texas, gained 683 yards, scored 61 points, and lost. Mesquite's Shadavian Reed rushed for 436 yards and six touchdowns in a losing cause.

In North Dakota, visiting Jamestown, Presentation gained 618 yards, and lost. In North Carolina, hosting Methodist, Greensboro gained 611 yards, scored 50 points, and lost: Greensboro is averaging 29 points, and is 2-7. Dubuque receives honorary membership for gaining 599 yards versus Simpson, and losing.

The 700 Club: Lance O'Neil of Salt Lake City reports that Stephen F. Austin gained 742 yards but lost to Sam Houston State. Honorary membership extended to undefeated Fordham which, hosting Holy Cross, gained 700 yards but had to survive a last-minute onside kick to hang on for victory.

The 900 Club: Tuesday Morning Quarterback is compelled to create another club -- this one's harder to get into than the G-Seven. Reader Thomas Beechem reports that in Kentucky prep action, Warren Central High gained 918 yards, scored 69 points, and lost. We live in a world where 918 yards and 69 points is not enough, a spooky thought on several levels.

Kiss of Death: Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said last week: "Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere. I am telling you that we are very committed to Leslie Frazier and this coaching staff." So, Frazier is finished. One month before firing him, USC athletic director Pat Haden said, "I am behind Lane Kiffin 100 percent."

Adventures in Officiating: In the Minnesota at Dallas game, officials called unnecessary roughness on the Vikings and then, after huddling, picked up the flag. This was the right move -- the tackle had been clean. But the home crowd booed relentlessly. Two snaps later, officials again called unnecessary roughness on the Vikings, a tacky call. The makeup call!

Jersey/B defenders were called for roughing the passer when one merely tapped his hand against Drew Brees' helmet -- not a hard tap, and it happened in the confusion of a pile.

Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin lost an 89-yard punt return touchdown on a ticky-tacky call of illegal block in the back -- the defender turned a split-second before being hit in the back. Rather than a touchdown, Buffalo got the ball on its 9. In effect, a 91-yard penalty.

Tom Brady overthrew Rob Gronkowski in the Steelers' end zone; defender and receiver both tripped as the ball approached. The side judge at the spot, with a clear view, signaled incompletion. Gronkowski leaped up lobbying for a penalty, the home crowd booed, and way late, a flag came sailing in from the opposite side of the field.

Baltimore went for it on fourth-and-short with a Joe Flacco sneak. Fullback Vonta Leach pushed Flacco, while tackle Michael Oher pulled him. Why wasn't helping the runner called? The 2013 NFL rulebook does not list a foul for helping the runner, though puzzlingly does show the gesture a referee would use to signal this foul.

In the Indianapolis at Houston game, the Moo Cows fumbled at the sideline, and the call on the field was Colts recovery. After a long review, zebras declared a Colts player had his hand out of bounds when touching the loose ball with his leg: that made the ball out of bounds, giving it back to the hosts, who scored a touchdown on the possession. Maybe this ruling was correct, but it was far from clear the original call on the field was wrong.

Calls on the field should be overturned only if it's clear they are wrong. When the referee keeps looking and looking and looking at the replay and can't make up his mind, then it's not clear the call was wrong, and whatever was ruled on the field should stand. TMQ continues to believe that on a replay, the referee should get to watch the play twice, and that's it -- monitor turned off. Either the call on the field was clearly wrong, or should stand.

Obscure College Score: John Carroll 63, Wilmington 3. The winless Quakers kicked a late fourth-quarter field goal to avoid being blanked -- good for them! Located in Wilmington, Ohio, Wilmington College has an Institute for Problem Solving.

Typesetting note: Last week TMQ did a brief item on the quirk of the Washington Post typesetting system that for a decade has caused obscure Otterbein University to be listed as (OT)terbein. This week the Post's score column read: Otterbein 19, Capital 14. Next I will look for quirks in the ObamaCare website!

What The -- ??: Seattle, trailing 21-7, kicked off to City of Tampa with 1:40 remaining in the first half. The Bucs' Eric Page signaled fair catch on his own 13. He wasn't under pressure from the Bluish Men Group coverage unit. Pinned on their 13, the Bucs didn't try to score again before intermission, though holding all three timeouts; City of Tampa went on to lose in overtime. What's the point of fair-catching a kickoff? Of course the Bucs might have used the opportunity to attempt a 97-yard fair-catch field goal.

Owing to a personal foul on the Seattle touchdown, the Hawks were kicking off from the 50 -- perhaps Page was told to fair-catch, so there was no chance of a live ball being swarmed by the kicking team. This raises a TMQ pet peeve. Defensive foul on a touchdown isn't automatically enforced on the kickoff -- the "offended team" can enforce the foul on the try, making it 1 yard for two points, rather than 2 yards for a deuce. NFL coaches never take this risk. Seattle, trailing big, should have.

Sean Smith
Options for the Bills' coaches: two plays to rush for 1 yard, or let the fourth-string rookie throw at the goal line.

Single Worst Play of the Season -- So Far: Leading 10-3 in the third quarter, Buffalo faced third-and-goal on the Kansas City 1 with a fourth-string quarterback but a blazing-hot rushing attack. The crazy pass call not only resulted in an interception; the pick was returned 100 yards for a touchdown, a 14-point swing in a game decided by 10 points. The Bills would finish the contest with 241 yards rushing. Had Buffalo run on this down and run again if needed on fourth-and-goal, the Bills likely would have upset the league's last undefeated club.

Just to prove this was no fluke, from the time Kansas City took a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter until the double whistle, Buffalo coaches radioed in 16 passing plays and two rushes -- keeping the ball in the hands of the fourth-stringer, away from the effective rushing game. The bottom line was the Bills outgained Kansas City 470 yards to 210 yards, but two Kansas City defensive touchdowns on Bills passing plays decided the contest. Buffalo coaches, you are guilty of the Single Worst Play of the Season. So far.

Next Week: The biggest non-Saturday ever for CFB -- Thursday doubleheader of Oklahoma at Baylor followed by Stanford at Oregon. On a school night!

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.