Commentary

The mysterious Peyton Paradox

Originally Published: October 22, 2013
By Gregg Easterbrook | ESPN.com

The Colts knocked Denver from the ranks of the undefeated on Sunday in as exciting a contest as football produces. At 6-1 and scoring 43 points a game, the Broncos will be fine. But the night produced a reminder about Peyton Manning: Though one of the best ever at his position, he often comes up short in big games.

Call it the Peyton Paradox.

Here is the key indicator of the Peyton Paradox: Manning is 160-71 in the regular season but 9-11 in the postseason. Any quarterback might take a win or loss here and there, by good or bad fortune beyond his control. But Manning has played so many times over so many years that his numbers seem to represent a pattern. And those numbers show Manning's performance declines in the playoffs, when the pressure is on.

A quarterback can underwhelm in the playoffs and still be a memorable athlete. Canton's Dan Marino was 8-10 in the postseason and wrapped his distinguished NFL career with a 62-7 playoff loss at Jacksonville. Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Fouts, Warren Moon and Y.A. Tittle had losing postseason records: Tittle was 0-4 in the playoffs. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was unstoppable in the regular season (101-59) and underwhelming in the postseason (9-8, including four Super Bowl defeats).

Still, the Peyton Paradox is vexing. Eight of the 12 times Manning has led his charges to the postseason, they've bowed out in the opening round. Four times, Manning-led teams lost their playoff opener at home following the reward of a bye week. This will not prevent Manning from being a first-ballot Hall of Fame admit. But his numbers are no threat to Tom Brady's 17-7 postseason record or Joe Flacco's 9-4 mark.

Five of Manning's 11 postseason losses were to the team that went on to win the Super Bowl that season -- in other words, to the league's best team. Still, both Manning and his coaches seem to develop certain "yips" in the playoffs.

One is too much passing, a tendency on display against the Colts when, adjusting for sacks and scrambles, Manning (who calls many plays himself) and his coaches signaled 54 passing plays and 19 rushes. Teams that are overreliant on the forward pass might rule in the regular season, then fade in the postseason. The 2007 Patriots, the NFL's highest-scoring team, lost that season's Super Bowl when they were held to 14 points; last season's Patriots, the NFL's third-highest-scoring team, were held to 13 points in their playoff loss. Pass-wacky offenses that depend on timing and rhythm become frustrated when defenses go all-out and receivers are jammed, which tends to happen in the postseason.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Lyons/Getty ImagesHes a star, and hes a paradox.

If nothing else, this means the Broncos must work on their running game. In 2006, the season that culminated with Manning's ring, Indianapolis averaged 27 rush attempts and 110 yards rushing per game. Facing Chicago in the Super Bowl, the Colts surprised the Bears with 42 rush attempts and 191 yards rushing. Denver needs to be able to surprise teams with ground-oriented game plans.

Manning, always concerned with his receivers, needs to take into account his offensive line's situation. Manning barks so many pre-snap instructions that linemen might have only 1 second between learning the play and hike. That's not enough to switch your mindset from the retreating motion of pass-blocking to the drive motion of run-blocking. Broncos coaches need to figure out how to alter the audible formats so the offensive line has several seconds to switch mindsets.

There's another aspect of the Peyton Paradox -- Fahrenheit.

Manning grew up in Louisiana, attended college in Tennessee, enrolled in a conference in which nearly all dates were warm weather, played his college bowl games at warm sites and in the NFL has played much more often in domes or good weather than outdoors on blustery days. Indoors or in mild weather in the postseason, Manning is 9-7. In the cold in the postseason, he's 0-4.

Perhaps there was a reason, other than love of fresh air, that Indianapolis kept its dome open on Sunday night, with outdoor temperatures 52 degrees.

Family genes cannot be the explanation for Peyton's aversion to cold, since brother Eli is 8-3 in the playoffs with a cold-weather team and beat the Packers in the postseason at Green Bay when the kickoff temperature was below zero. But whatever the reason, Peyton's performance falters when it's cold -- and the postseason is when it's cold. Kickoff for the recent Baltimore at Denver playoff game, lost by the Broncos in a shocker, was 13 degrees. Denver is likely to host another playoff contest in January, and bracing cold is likely. The Peyton Paradox might continue.

In football safety news, the NFL has suspended Brandon Meriweather for two games for deliberate helmet-to-helmet hits. This is an important step in the right direction by the league. No NFL player likes to be fined, but fines are just an annoyance, as well as a tax-deductible business expense. Suspensions not only cost players their game checks -- if you're not on the field, you might lose your job. Commissioner Roger Goodell has threatened to suspend players for targeting the helmet: now the threat has teeth. And Meriweather deserves to be disciplined. We all make mistakes; when a person does the same thing repeatedly, it's not a mistake. Meriweather has repeatedly targeted other players' heads.

Some say, "NFL players are highly paid warriors who take informed risks." That is so. But they also set examples for the 4 million youth and high school players who emulate NFL behavior, are not paid, and are children. Football will always be an aggressive sport. Making NFL action a little less rough is about the example presented to young people who look up to the league. Congratulations to the NFL for setting a positive example.

The suspension can be appealed. A note to appeal reviewers Matt Birk and Ted Cottrell -- show that the league truly does care about neurological health, including Meriweather's own.

In other football news, just seven weeks are in the books and already there is no possible remaining pairing of undefeated teams. Kansas City, worst franchise of 2012, so far stands as best of 2013. Stretching back to 2012 with the 49ers, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is on an 11-1-1 streak as a starter. The Chiefs' defense is fifth in yards allowed and first in points allowed. Several highly drafted defenders who were slow to develop, such as Tyson Jackson, are performing like gangbusters. Strong offensive line, efficient quarterback, running game and power defense -- that's a combination to make Hank Stram smile.

Stats of the Week No. 1: Stretching back to last season, Kansas City has followed a 1-12 streak with a 7-0 streak.

Stats of the Week No. 2: The Jets broke a streak of five straight losses to the Patriots; Tom Brady broke a streak of nine touchdown passes against the Jets without an interception.

[+] EnlargeRoddy White
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesInjured Roddy White wore a ski cap to protect himself from the ideal temperatures inside the Georgia Dome.

Stats of the Week No. 3: The Bears have more touchdowns on kick and turnover returns (five) than victories (four).

Stats of the Week No. 4: Buffalo won on the road for the first time in more than a year. Six of the Bills' nine remaining contests are on the road.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Denver is on a pace to score an all-time-record 681 points and is second in its division.

Stats of the Week No. 6: The Washington R*dsk*ns have given up touchdowns on punting plays in three consecutive games.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Stretching back to the start of the 2012 season, Arizona has followed a 4-0 run with a 4-15 run.

Stats of the Week No. 8: Against Oregon, Washington State had 557 yards passing and 2 yards rushing.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Philadelphia has the league's No. 2 offense but is averaging just 13 more yards gained than allowed.

Stats of the Week No. 10: The Cowboys, who entered with the league's 30th-ranked defense, held Philadelphia 25 points under its scoring average.

Sweet Play of the Week: Trailing Houston 10-7 with a minute before intermission, Kansas City faced third-and-1 on the Moo Cows 5. The Chiefs lined up with two backs in a zone-read look. Alex Smith took a shotgun snap; the tailback went to one side while Smith turned the other way and made a "show" fake to no one, which ensured defenders saw the ball; Smith then followed his blockers up the middle for an untouched touchdown. Sweet! If this had been a designed action, it would have been among the sweetest plays of all time. Tailback Jamaal Charles went the wrong way, causing the fake-to-no-one. Sweet nonetheless.

The Chiefs hung on for their second 17-16 victory this season over a visitor from the Lone Star State -- first the Cowboys, now the Texans.

Sweet No. 2: Trailing 7-3, Indianapolis recovered a fumble on the Denver 11. The first snap following a turnover is a good time for whatever is the best play in the playbook. The Colts lined up with an I-backfield, Reggie Wayne in a slot left and speed merchant Darrius Heyward-Bey wide left. Heyward-Bey came in motion toward Andrew Luck, who play-faked a power rush right. Heyward-Bey spun and sprinted back toward to left, uncovered, to catch a touchdown pass as Wayne, one of the league's best blockers at the wideout position, sealed off pursuit. Sweet.

Later, completing a pass that made it third-and-1 on the Denver 8 with about 20 seconds showing, the Colts rushed to the line. Broncos defenders seemed to assume Luck would spike to stop the clock. But that would have created fourth down, and at any rate, the Colts held a timeout. Broncs should have noted Luck frantically giving signals to his receivers as they rushed to the line: that's not needed for a clock-spike. Coby Fleener ran a flare to the right flat, uncovered, touchdown. Two uncovered receivers for touchdowns in the same half. Tout sweet.

Defensive coordinators will study film of this game, in which the Broncos ran up 33 points but were just 5-of-16 on third down and often seemed discombobulated. Indianapolis used press corners to throw Broncos receivers off their carefully timed routes.

[+] EnlargeRedskins cheerleaders
AP Photo/Alex BrandonSure that RG III guy helped, but cheerleader professionalism made the football gods smile on Washington.

Sweet No. 3: The Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons snapped back to form, gaining 499 yards to win a shootout with the Bears. Contest tied at 31 in the fourth quarter, R*dsk*ns facing second-and-9, Robert Griffin III play-faked, the line call was "max protect" with seven blockers, extra muscle created time for Aldrick Robinson to get deep for a 45-yard touchdown. Sweet. In 2012, Washington opened 3-6, then went 7-0 down the stretch. A similar rebound could be in the cards.

TMQ credits this victory not to Griffin's improving knee, but to the Washington cheer-babes. As weather turns cool, cheerleader professionalism comes into play: the less cheerleaders wear, the better the home team's chances. Kickoff temperature 61 degrees, Washington cheerleaders came out in bikini-beach numbers. Often NFL cheer squads start the game in cheesecake looks, then at halftime, with the warm sun declining behind the stands, switch to track suits. Not the Washington cheer-babes, who at the half changed to a second set of two-piece hot-weather outfits. Outstanding professionalism!

Sour Plays of the Week: At favored Seattle a week ago, Tennessee coach Mike Munchak employed hyperconservative tactics that seemed intended to ensure a close loss rather than go all-out for victory. Hosting favored San Francisco, Munchak set some kind of record for fear of his own shadow.

[+] EnlargeTitans cheerleaders
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsCheerleaders wore Halloween costumes in Tennessee, hoping to frighten the 49ers.

The Titans punted on fourth-and-4 in San Francisco territory. Trailing by 24 points, the Titans punted on fourth-and-1. Just to prove it was no fluke, still trailing 24 points, the Titans punted on fourth-and-2. Trailing by 24 points in the fourth quarter, the Titans launched a field goal, thus all but assuring defeat -- see the Chase Stuart stat below -- but keeping a shutout off Munchak's coaching record. At the three-minute mark, trailing by two touchdowns when it mattered little whether the Flaming Thumbtacks took risks or started square dancing, then Munchak tried on onside kick. What a riverboat gambler!

Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Game tied, the Lions faced third-and-4 on their 23 with 40 seconds remaining, Cincinnati down to its final timeout. Cincinnati surprised Detroit with a corner blitz. Matt Stafford threw the ball away, stopping the clock. Detroit shanked its punt, and the stopped clock left Cincinnati enough time to kick the winning field goal as the scoreboard clock hit all-naughts. Sweet.

When Stafford was chased from the pocket by the blitzing corner, he should have allowed himself to be sacked. That would have forced Cincinnati to spend its final timeout, and probably led to overtime. By throwing the ball away to prevent a sack -- which didn't help Detroit in field-position terms -- Stafford left Cincinnati time to reply. Sour.

Wacky Wines of the Week: The Wine Spectator's upcoming New York Wine Experience is sold out despite an admission fee of $250 nightly, and for that, one cannot enter until an hour after the A-list crowd flounces past the velvet rope. A weekend package with meals and wine-world celebrities is sold out at $1,875 per head. Photographs from last year's event depict an absolute mob scene -- an NFL game seems sedate, and affordable, by comparison. We live in a world where thousands of people have the wherewithal to travel long distances to pay premium prices to be uncomfortable while tasting wines.

[+] Enlargewine tasting
Joe Raedle/Getty Images"Hmmm ... hints of transmission fluid and aroma of rocks."

Among these wine aficionados, will there be even one who could tell a merlot from a malbec in a true blind test? Tell a $75 bottle of Shafer Relentless (this year's in-the-know red) from a $12 Columbia Crest? Wine is among life's delights, and if the mystique of wine-making brings happiness, then customers get their money's worth. But TMQ continues to believe the overwhelming majority of oenophiles and wine critics would do no better on a true blind test than the people who swore they could tell Old Coke from New Coke.

In the run-up to the Wine Spectator event, a New York Times panel led by a "tasting coordinator" found all wines to be at least three-star. Everybody's above average! One vintage is "vivacious and pure," another "subtly complex" with "creamy texture" (wine?), another has "red fruit aromas" while another is "crunchy" (wine?), another "slow to open up" yet "deep." One exhibits "lingering aromas of flowers and rocks." These terms are said to signify tasting conventions -- for example, "flowers" means a set of sensations on the tongue, not whatever an actual flower would taste like. Still, I would not want the aroma of rocks lingering in my mouth.

Tuesday Morning Quarterback continues to propose a reverse palate test. Anyone can swirl a wine around and pronounce it subtly complex. I want a tasting coordinator to place 10 wines before a panel and say, "One of these is vivacious and pure. Identify it."

[+] EnlargeTerrance Mitchell
AP Photo/Don RyanPink, green and yellow -- the Ducks would fit right in at a prep school dance.

The Football Gods Chortled: Adjusting for sacks and scrambles, Washington State coaches called 93 passing plays and 8 rushes at Oregon. Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti had the temerity to complain that the Cougars kept trying to score after the outcome was ordained because "they want stats." This from a school that averages 58 points per game and often stays with hurry-up tactics after the outcome is ordained. Oregon kept its starters on the field, playing for stats, when ahead 48-24 in the fourth quarter.

Aliotti later apologized, which is the proper thing to do. But his comments were the first indication there is an underside to the Ducks of 2013. University of Oregon football went down a notch in this columnist's estimation and now is on the watch list for punishment by the football gods.

New Books: The word average in the above paragraph caused me to think of the brilliant and unsettling new book "Average Is Over," by economist Tyler Cowen. The thesis is that trends in education and economics are splitting the nation into a well-off privileged class and a struggling downtrodden class, with no room between for the average. Let's hope Cowen's thesis is wrong. Since there is a disturbing chance he will be proven right, this book is a must-read.

"Average Is Over" caused me to reflect that two decades ago, Mickey Kaus wrote in a prescient book called "The End of Equality" that the more open and fair the United States becomes, the less equal it will be. If society is rigged to favor any one particular group, others have a grievance; if society is completely open to anyone willing to work hard in school, then the result will be fair but highly unequal, and those who don't try won't have much claim on those who succeed. Kaus' warning is amplified and given new weight by the evidence Cowen presents.

[+] EnlargeBradshaw-Harris
AP PhotoThe four-peat Steelers are admired in the new book "Their Life's Work."

Column housekeeping note: If you are wondering, "Didn't he mention Mickey Kaus last week?" the answer is yes. The beauty of Tuesday Morning Quarterback is that I don't have to explain that kind of thing. I also mentioned the Martin Luther College football team for two weeks running -- hmmm, and just made it three weeks running.

Another new book to watch for is "Their Life's Work" by Gary Pomerantz, a well-done and richly detailed look at the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers' four-peat. Anyone who follows Pittsburgh sports needs this book. Plus, reading it will keep your mind off this Steelers season.

You Will Be Assimilated by the Offense, Resistance Is Futile: Visiting Houston, BYU gained 681 yards, recorded a hard-to-believe 41 first downs and needed a closing-seconds interception to eke out a one-point victory.

Headlines from the Future: Headline from the year 2013: "SKULL DISCOVERY SHEDS LIGHT ON HUMAN SPECIES." Headline from the year 3013: "SKULL DISCOVERY SHOWS PRIMITIVE HUMANS HIT HEADS IN RITUAL GAME."

Here is the news story from the future:

[+] Enlarge skull
AP Photo/Shakh AivazovWhat will skulls of today mean to future anthropologists?

Oct. 22, 3013 (New Johannesburg, Martian Federation) -- Anthropologists at New Johannesburg University said today they have discovered a skull that proves the controversial thesis that primitive humans engaged in a combat sport called football.

"The skull is in good condition and was found with a Riddell VSR4 still on," said Dr. Claudia Abdul-Wasserstein-Singh, leader of the research team. "The helmet bears a faded image that appears to be some sort of flaming thumbtack, which must have symbolized power to the ancients. This is proof that football is not just a legend, it was real."

She added, "The skeleton was found clutching a drink bucket that was used in some kind of anointing ritual."

Historical research on Earth has been prohibited since the late 21st century, when the planet's surviving population fled to Mars to escape a zombie plague that was accidentally created by the special-effects department of a Hollywood studio. Rockets began departing in 2093, just as United States Congress finally agreed on a debt-reduction plan. The project to trigger global warming on Mars worked perfectly, since by then humanity was very experienced at causing climate change.

Abdul-Wasserstein-Singh's expedition was among the first allowed to return to Earth since a robotic device called a "Wall-E" completed the zombie cleanup. "We've made many discoveries," she said. "For example, we confirmed that Miley Cyrus was elected president in 2028, running as a conservative Republican. We confirmed that ancient humans never actually spoke to each other, communicating solely through small electronic boxes."

[+] EnlargeTitans cheerleader
AP Photo/Wade PayneInstead, Mike Munchak frightened the home crowd with play calling.

Researchers remain puzzled by ancient adoration of the goddess Ron-Dah. "People would appeal to the goddess by singing, 'Help me, Ron-Dah. Help me, Ron-Dah," Abdul-Wasserstein-Singh said. "Perhaps it had something to do with primitive mating rites -- this was in the era before heterosexuality was banned. We have yet to find a definitive icon of the goddess Ron-Dah."

Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Trailing favored Atlanta, weasel coach Greg Schiano had the Buccaneers punt on fourth-and-1 from midfield. Maybe there's a reason City of Tampa is winless. (At one point, the Buccaneers faced first-and-goal on the 30.) Visiting Indianapolis, twice Denver punted on fourth-and-1, despite having the league's best offense. The Broncos' pass-wacky tactics can be better on third-and-long than on short-yardage downs -- something else that needs to be corrected before the postseason.

Because Atlanta, like Denver, uses last-second audibles and like Denver struggles to run the ball, Falcons coaches need to modify Matt Ryan's calls so that offensive linemen have several seconds to adjust their heads from pass-blocking to drive-blocking.

Invisible Hand Can't Make Up Its Invisible Mind: Last week, the Nobel in economics was shared by University of Chicago professors Eugene Fama and Lars Hansen and Yale professor Robert Shiller. Hansen's research is grounded in mathematic models; Fama and Shiller are involved in public-policy aspects of economics. More than one pundit noted the Nobel seemed to contradict itself, as Fama backs the rational-actor premise that economic behavior is logical, while Shiller thinks markets often are swayed by fads, emotion or lack of basic information. The list of Nobel laureates in economics contains many thinkers with opposing views. Edmund Phelps (2006) and Joseph Stiglitz (2001), for instance, are not exactly peas in a pod.

The sort of rational-markets concepts backed by Fama, or by 1997 winner Myron Scholes, is often misunderstood as meaning, "Because markets are rational, therefore everything is great." A market can be efficient yet have all kinds of problems, including nosedives, as nearly all financial and real-property markets experienced in 2008. Efficient in this sense simply means that most buyers and sellers are doing a reasonably good job of establishing prices based on what is known at the time. In an efficient market, there will still be errors and nasty surprises.

[+] EnlargeEugene Fama
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenEugene Fama of the University of Chicago.

A friend with economic chops puts it this way: "Fama would agree with TMQ: All Predictions Wrong Or Your Money Back. His view is that anything you know today about how the market will behave tomorrow will already be impounded in the price. Only the unexpected leads to real change, and as the unexpected is, well, unexpected, this means stock price changes cannot be predicted."

Bear in mind, Wall Street prices are not a barometer of the overall economy, or even necessarily measures of how specific companies are doing. Stock prices mainly reflect investors' guesses about what stock prices themselves are going to do. Fama would object to a pundit who said, "Economic forecasts are strong, so stock prices will rise in coming months." He'd say stock prices already incorporate the economic forecasts -- if the market does later rise, that would be caused by some new force, such as an invention or political development.

Shiller focuses on real estate, where behavioral economics is important. Someone who purchases equities for retirement saving is unlikely to have any emotional connection to the companies issuing the stocks. Most who buy homes or condos live in them, which adds feelings about towns, neighborhoods, schools and other subjective matters. When home prices in an area rise or fall for a couple of years straight, too many people seem to reason, "Prices have been rising/falling, that means prices will keep rising/falling!"

The Yale economist gained much of his stature by warning, in early 2005, that a housing bubble soon would burst; that happened in 2006. Shiller was concerned because the index he devised with economist Karl Case began rising in 2002 on a curve that seemed unsustainable. The Case-Shiller Index peaked at a delightfully hyperspecific 206.52 in July 2006, then plummeted to 134.07 in March 2012, suggesting a loss of about a third in national housing value.

Were super-sophisticated Nobel-class econometrics required to see what was coming? A subscription to The Washington Monthly would have done the trick. In 2004, the Monthly's Benjamin Wallace-Wells cautioned that "home prices are about to plummet, and take the recovery with them." The Washington Monthly is renowned for diligent journalism, and Wallace-Wells, now with New York Magazine, is unusually good at what he does. But the 2004 article shows there were sufficient warning signs that banks, policymakers and the Federal Reserve could have acted well before the meltdown of securities based on the gimmick mortgages set in motion the 2008 financial crisis.

Both Shiller's academic work and his media appearances have come to be associated with gloom regarding the housing market, but that's not really right. Since its nadir, the Case-Shiller Index has been rising, now standing at about 163. That suggests the United States housing stock is worth about 20 percent less than before the meltdown -- a negative, but no emergency. Adjusting for inflation, today's houses and condos are more valuable than they were in 2003. If anyone says, "I wish we could go back to the way the housing market was a decade ago," point out that a decade ago, mortgage rates were higher and houses were not worth as much. Shiller's research is not gloomy, rather oriented around cautioning home buyers and sellers, construction firms and policymakers against forgetting that the housing market has long shown cycles of overconfidence.

[+] EnlargeConstruction
AP PhotoThe housing market is rebounding -- which is no guarantee it won't crash again.

Here is TMQ's stab at boiling down into everyday advice the work of new Nobel winners Fama and Shiller:

Regarding Wall Street, never try to play the market by jumping in and out of stocks. You don't know what's going to happen to prices because no one knows. Never invest in a stock because you heard a news report that it's shooting up -- by the time you hear, the information that caused the rise has already been incorporated into the price. Do not buy because prices are rising, or sell because prices are falling. Stated another way, don't listen to Jim Cramer. "Whatever money you may need for the next five years, please take it out right now," Cramer said of Wall Street in fall 2008. Anyone who followed this "buy high, sell low" advice lost his or her shirt by cashing out when the Dow was at about 8,000. Five years later, the Cramer time horizon, the Dow was above 15,000.

Regarding retirement savings, diversify by having some in stock funds, some in bond funds and some in Treasurys. Don't jump in and out of the funds as prices move. Most people -- even most well-off people -- should be fine with a plain-vanilla S&P index fund, which reflects the market as a whole and insulates you from the temptation to trade individual stocks.

In real estate, think first of your own housing needs. If the house turns out to be a good investment, that's great, but the priority is finding a house that's right for you at a price you can handle for years to come. Declining housing prices are a problem for anyone who wants to sell, and a huge problem for anyone who must sell. But if you simply wait it out, chances are you will be fine. This is true even if your house is under water -- so long as you don't sell, you take no loss.

"Housing prices are rising, I've got to act fast" is a formula for a mistake unless you are certain you want a specific home or condo and can afford that place regardless of which way the market might move. Don't assume "I can always refinance later to lower my payments." With mortgage rates historically low, there's no chance they will go lower. The fixed-rate mortgage at anything around today's averages is such a great deal -- cheap to begin with, then repaid with future inflated money -- that few buyers should consider anything other than fixed-rate loans.

In all investing, there are no secret formulas for instant wealth. Those stories about people buying old houses and flipping them for quick profits? There are stories about people winning Powerball, too. Those stories about secret stock-market formulas? If some money manager actually possessed a secret investing formula, he would not need clients. Bernard Madoff's whisper of "I have a secret investing formula" was all any person should have needed to know to head for the door. Head for the door if you hear this from anyone seeking your money.

When the Cat's Away, the Mice Will Play: Atlanta's Harry Douglas normally is the third option at wide receiver. With Julio Jones and Roddy White both out with injuries, Douglas had seven receptions for 149 yards.

[+] EnlargeCan
Thinkstock.comThe can has been kicked -- all the way to Jan. 14.

MSM Piles on GOP: The government shutdown turned out to be a complete waste of everyone's time, and from the Tea Party standpoint was always fated to fail. The hard right lost on ObamaCare in Congress in 2010, lost on ObamaCare in 2012 in a Supreme Court decision written by a Republican appointee, lost on ObamaCare in the 2012 presidential election. ObamaCare may or may not prove wise policy, but it was put before Congress, courts and the national electorate and won fair and square. Only sore losers endlessly demand re-hearing of an issue on which they've already been defeated repeatedly.

That said, there was media gloating. "GOP BACKS DOWN" -- New York Times headline. "EXTORTIONISTS EXTINGUISHED" -- Huffington Post headline. "BOEHNER SIGNALS HE'LL CAVE" -- NPR. The House Republican position wasn't sinister, just bad political strategy. The can has been kicked down the road  for only 90 days. Left, right and media need to kiss and make up so the country does not go through this nonsense again.

Yippies, Tea Party Have More in Common Than Meets the Eye: In 1972, radicals took over the Democratic Party. Their cause, opposition to the Vietnam War, might have been just, but their tactics were scorched-earth and led to the landslide Democratic defeat in the 1972 elections. The party went haywire internally, as candidates had to cater to vocal extremists who represented only a small fraction of voters. It took 20 years, 'til the 1992 victory by centrist Democratic Bill Clinton, for the Democratic Party to regain its bearings.

[+] EnlargeDemocratic National Convention
AP Photo/Michael BoyerYippie rioters and today's Tea Party have more in common than either might care to admit.

In 1994, radicals took over the Republican Party. Their cause, opposition to an ever-expanding entitlement state, might be just, but their tactics are scorched-earth and just led to one of the worst defeats in the annals of Congressional politics. The party has gone haywire internally, as candidates must cater to vocal extremists who represent only a small fraction of voters: If Mitt Romney had not spent so much of his political capital last year catering to extremists, the GOP might have regained the White House. Supposing the 20-year clock observed in Democratic politics also applies to the Republican situation, 2014 will make two decades, and the GOP will move back toward the center.

Stats to Watch: The Broncos finally lost a game but are on a 17-2 streak and this season have outscored opponents 54-19 in the fourth quarter. The Panthers have consecutive wins, with Cam Newton throwing four touchdown passes and no interceptions; the Panthers also have the league's third-ranked defense.

Football IQ Lacking: Leading New England by three points with 2:29 remaining, Jersey/B faced second-and-11 on its 40 and went incompletion, incompletion, punt. This stopped the clock twice; New England scored with 16 seconds remaining to force overtime. TMQ's Law of the Obvious holds: Sometimes, simply running up the middle for no gain is fine.

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Facing third-and-10 from inside his own 1-yard line, Robert Griffin III called timeout to prevent the play clock from expiring. But the walk-off would have been one foot!

The Buffalo-at-Miami contest devolved into dueling mental errors. Last week, TMQ excoriated Bills high draft choice Leodis McKelvin for fair-catching at his own 7 -- never fair catch inside the 10! -- which pinned the Bills deep in overtime. Sunday, McKelvin again fair-caught on his own 7, pinning the Bills deep when trailing in the fourth quarter. Twice in the second half, Stevie Johnson, one of the NFL's highest-paid receivers, ran a third-down pattern short of the marker; both times, Buffalo punted on fourth-and-1. Stopping short of the marker is a rookie error that a megabucks guy should not make.

On the Genetically Engineered Surimi side of the ball, leading 21-20 with three minutes remaining, Miami had possession at midfield on second down. Running forces Buffalo to spend its timeouts; passing risks a sack, and the Dolphins entered the contest last in the NFL for sacks allowed. It's a pass play! Sack, fumble, Bills recover.

Now, Buffalo, trailing by one point, reaches first down on the Miami 18 with 2:36 remaining, Dolphins out of timeouts. Miami must let Buffalo score! Otherwise, the Bills will grind the clock then take the lead with the game nearly over, too little time for Miami to reply. This is exactly what occurs. Last week, the Cowboys were in the must-let-them-score situation versus Denver and failed to do so. Miami repeated the Boys mistake.

Last week, TMQ noted that even a team that wants to kill the clock can benefit from a defensive timeout. Before Miami staged its last-snap Hail Mary, the Bills called timeout, got collected and reminded defensive backs not to try to intercept -- just knock it down. They did. At least there was football IQ on the final down!

Rocky Returns! Next week, TMQ brings back Rocky the Dog and asks: What should Rocky give out on Halloween? Tweet your suggestions to @EasterbrookG.

[+] EnlargeRick Perry
AP Photo/Matt RourkeIf politicians waste taxpayer money in secret at the same rate they waste money on security in public -- you do the math.

Wasteful Spending on Bodyguards Watch: The security details that surround minor local, state and federal officials -- present to make the officials seem more important, as well as to allow them to cut to the heads of lines -- amount only to a fraction of government waste. But they symbolize two things: the desire of many government officials to be treated like little kings, and the contempt of many government officials for the public's money. City council members and school-district superintendents do not need chauffeurs and bodyguards. If government officials openly waste money in ways that are obvious, what are they doing with the kind of spending voters don't see?

Readers offer two more examples of public officials' squandering money on themselves. George Leopold of Washington, D.C., reports the county executive of Milwaukee County, Wis., wants to spend $400,000 on private bodyguards for himself . He claims an unspecified threat -- if a private citizen perceives a threat, no taxpayer-funded bodyguards come running -- and says he should have a security detail because the mayor has a security detail. In other words, he wants bodyguards to feel more important.

Mark Nichols of Derby, Conn., noted the bodyguards of Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy have been paid $1.1 million in overtime alone. Malloy, a Democrat, is one of several governors -- Democrat Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Republicans Rick Perry of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana are others -- who spend much of their time flying around to other states or countries. For a governor to conduct a visit to another part of America is a great way to shirk official duties; going to another country allows the governor to get a paid vacation while strutting around as if he were a visiting head of state.

NBC News reports Malloy "has taken at least 27 trips out of the state and four out of the country," with most costs taxpayer-subsidized, including $19,000 for Malloy's security detail to accompany him on what must have been a super-ultra-vital trip to China. In the event Malloy had needed protection, Chinese police would have provided that and known the quirks of the local situation a lot better than Connecticut state troopers. The bodyguards went on the trip to make the governor appear to be someone of great significance. The Chinese hosts perhaps didn't know the U.S. Constitution forbids states from involvement in foreign policy. But Connecticut voters need to know that.

Adventures in Officiating: Jersey/B missed a field goal try in overtime, but New England's Chris Jones was called for "pushing the opponent into the pile," as referee Jerome Boger announced. As of 2013, it is a penalty for a player to push a teammate forward against a field goal attempt. Boger later said that was the foul. But that's not what Boger said on the field during the game. Maybe his in-game statement was a slip of the tongue, but Boger seemed confused when making the call, as nearly everyone was confused when hearing the call. To TMQ, it looked like Jones was simply running a twist, a common defensive line stunt. Of course, the umpire, who threw the flag, has the best view. The Jets won with another kick a few snaps later.

Unified Field Theory of Creep: Many readers, including Mary Beth Brown of Portsmouth, N.H., noted that Pro Bowl balloting just opened -- with 43 percent of the season played. Let's hope an NFL player performed well in September, since performance in November and December doesn't count.

"Hawaii Five-0" Update: Television's most ridiculous show is back for a fourth season. In the first episode, McGarrett, unarmed, needs mere seconds to kill five heavily armed men. In the second episode, Kono, unarmed, needs mere seconds to kill three heavily armed men. Clearly unarmed guys are better than unarmed girls at killing heavily armed men! Through the first two episodes about a dozen law enforcement officers are gunned down, more than the total in the actual Hawaii for a decade. A high-security prison is blown up, Honolulu Police headquarters is attacked by commandos, a helicopter is shot down at Aloha Stadium, two machine gun duels occur on Honolulu streets and a gang of bad guys are killed by Five-0 during a paramilitary strike against a hideout. Five-0 personnel in blackout gear attack a fog-shrouded, shipping-container dock at night, taking out bad guys one by one rather than just driving up with lots uniformed officers and announcing, "This is the police." All this in just the first two episodes!

[+] EnlargeHawaii 5-0
CBSOn "Hawaii Five-0," Honolulu isnt a paradise, it's a war zone.

In one sequence, McGarrett, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, is shown getting into his new Batmobile-class supercar. When he gets out a moment later, he is wearing a flak vest with guns strapped to his thighs.

Defense Strikes Back: Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Houston, Jersey/A, Miami, Minnesota, New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were held to fewer than 300 yards of offense. The Steelers-Ravens contest was a traditionalist affair -- slow, grinding field-position struggles, six field goals versus two touchdowns. The Pittsburgh touchdown came on the tight end shovel pass debuted by Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer at Florida and now in use by the Broncos. The beauty of a shovel pass is that if it's dropped, it's just an incompletion, which helps in the mass of bodies at the goal line.

Fortune Favors the Bold: TMQ's theories of fourth down extend to the contention that it's often better for a team to go for it and fail than to launch a punt. Going for it communicates to players that their coach is challenging them to win; launching a punt can make it seem the coach is afraid to lose.

Leading 14-0 at Arizona, the Bluish Men Group ran up the middle on second-and-1 and failed. They ran up the middle on third-and-1 and failed. Now facing fourth-and-1 on the Cardinals 43, they ran up the middle and failed. The fourth-and-1 action was unimaginative -- no misdirection. That's something Seattle coaches need to correct. But the failure and the home-crowd roars did Seattle no harm; the Seahawks went on to win 34-22. The message coach Pete Carroll sent by going on fourth down was determination to win.

Over on the home-team side of the ball, trailing 31-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, fourth-and-goal on the Seattle 4, Arizona's Bruce Arians sent in the field goal unit, thereby running up the white flag. The super-productive Chase Stuart notes the white-flag nature of the decision. Stuart adds the who-looks-this-up stat that since 1940, only three NFL teams that trailed by 18 or more points and then kicked a field goal at any time in the second half knew victory. On paper, the kick was "safe" because it pulled the Cardinals within two scores. But facing the Seahawks' power defense, an opponent who gets close needs a touchdown -- a field goal can be launched from long distance. After playing things safe when the contest still might have been won, trailing 34-22 with 24 seconds remaining, a situation in which it makes no difference what the Cardinals do, Arians went for it on fourth down.

[+] EnlargeMustard and hot dogs
Tom Kelley/Getty ImagesKicking when trailing big does not cut this yellow stuff.

The woe-be-gotten Arizona offensive line allowed seven sacks. On a third-and-9, Arizona had six to block four, yet Carson Palmer went down exactly two seconds after the snap:; left tackle Bradley Sowell barely slowed defensive end Chris Clemons. A few weeks ago, Arizona traded away highly drafted left tackle Levi Brown. He wasn't playing well, and in any case his new team, the Steelers, immediately placed Brown on injured reserve. But a modern NFL team simply can't cut the mustard -- whatever that means -- without a quality left tackle. At least the Cardinals didn't lose 58-0, like the last time they faced Seattle.

The 500 Club: In high school action, reader Patrick Orndorf reports that Chambersburg of Pennsylvania scored 51 points versus Harrisburg and lost. Visiting Toledo, Navy gained 514 yards on offense and lost. Hosting Greensboro, Carolina Wesleyan gained 516 yards and lost. Visiting UMass Dartmouth, Worchester State gained 578 yards and lost. Hosting Miami, North Carolina gained 500 yards, was plus-two in turnovers, and lost. Visiting Stephen F. Austin, Nicholls State gained 518 yards and lost. Hosting Concordia of Wisconsin, Concordia of Chicago gained 596 yards and lost. Visiting Presbyterian, VMI gained 540 yards and lost by two touchdowns. Visiting Michigan, Indiana gained 572 yards and lost by 16 points. Hosting Fordham, Yale gained 509 yards and lost by three touchdowns. Visiting Oregon, Washington State gained 557 yards and lost by 24 points. Hosting Willamette, Lewis & Clark gained 588 yards and lost by four touchdowns.

The 600 Club: Hosting Auburn, Texas A&M gained 602 yards and lost -- the Aggies' second 600 Club admission this season. (Losing 22 yards on the crazed final play nearly knocked Texas A&M backward to the less-exclusive 500 Club.) Hosting Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg gained 620 yards and lost by two touchdowns; Matt Soltes threw for 476 yards and five touchdowns in a losing cause. Hosting Coastal Carolina, Liberty gained 615 yards, had three players who gained at least 100 yards, and lost. Visiting LaGrange, Huntingdon gained 680 yards, was plus-two for turnovers, built a 16-point fourth-quarter lead and lost.

Baylor Held to 71 Points : Trailing Baylor, college football's highest-scoring team, by 14-0 in the first quarter, Iowa State punted on fourth-and-1 from midfield. Buck-buck-brawkkkkkk! The final was Baylor 71, Iowa State 7.

Obscure College Score: Union of Kentucky 45, Bluefield College 35. Located in Bluefield, Va., Bluefield College "encourages" students to bring TVs and DVD players for dorm rooms. Mom and Dad are paying Bluefield $35,560 a year, and the college encourages students to sit in their dorms watching TV.

Next Week: Kansas City fans ask NFL to end season now.

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.

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