Commentary

Carolina, officials escape vs. Patriots

Originally Published: November 19, 2013
By Gregg Easterbrook | ESPN.com

Cam Newton TMQ IllustrationTodd Detwiler

It's the Parking Lot Theory of Officiating.

When a call (or a no-call) on the last play decides the game, officials want to be sure they can get out of the parking lot. That means the call (or no-call) will go the home team's way.

New England at Carolina, the home Panthers were flagged for pass interference as the clock expired, then the flag was picked up. That much was correct, because Rob Gronkowski, who was grabbed, could not have made the catch -- and the officiating standard is, if there is doubt about whether it was interference, then it was not interference. Flag picked up, home crowd happy, officials can get out of the parking lot.

But defensive holding should have been called, which would have given the Patriots the ball on the Cats' 13, an untimed down and one more try. Probably Carolina still would have prevailed, the game ending without controversy. But maybe the Patriots would have won, leaving the crowd enraged at the officials.

Here from the NFL rulebook: "It is defensive holding if a player grasps an eligible offensive player (or his jersey) with his hands, or extends an arm or arms to cut off or encircle him." Rob Gronkowski was grabbed as the pass was thrown – holding should have been called.

Last year's Fail Mary conclusion of the Packers at Seahawks game was a botched call that favored the home crowd. When officials mistakenly awarded victory to the Jets with a few seconds to play a 1998 contest against Seattle, the call favored the home crowd. That same year, officials mistakenly awarded victory to the Patriots on the final ticks of the clock against Buffalo, and the call favored the home crowd. When officials botched the final call of the 2003 Giants at Niners playoff game, the decision favored the home crowd.

There have of course been cases where zebras ruled against the home crowd in the final seconds, and every official knows what happens -- the crowd goes bonkers, as it did at the 2001 Cleveland Browns rain-of-beer-bottles game. Add that since the 1998 botched call in Buffalo at New England, officials have felt they should not throw flags in Hail Mary situations unless there is absolutely no choice. Failure to flag offensive pass interference was the error of the Packers-Seahawks ending; failure to call defensive holding was the error of the Cats-Pats conclusion.

Officials have come to view Hail Mary situations as let the boys decide the outcome. That was part of the psychology in the final Carolina-New England ruling. The main part was Parking Lot Theory. Most NFL officials start as high school or small-college officials, circumstances in which you walk through the hostile crowd in zebra stripes to get to your car after the game. At the NFL level, there is security, shuttle buses, locker rooms to change to street clothes. But the psychology remains -- when a ruling decides the game, officials lean in favor of the home crowd.

As for the contest itself, the Carolina Panthers are now on the map. The Cats held the high-scoring Patriots to 20 points in a decent defensive performance -- though they did allow them to move 62 yards in 59 seconds at the end. Carolina's linebacker-focused Tampa 2 defense emphasizes discipline, not gimmicks. The Cats got the touchdown they needed to win -- though they struggled offensively against a New England defense with multiple starters injured. Carolina may not be a juggernaut, but the team is on the upswing, its vibe changed from negative to positive.

As for the Patriots, now they are angry. You won't like them when they are angry.

In other football news, the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers, who met for the last NFC championship, are a combined 9-14 since kickoff of that contest. The Falcons' season is over, and the Niners are taking on water: San Francisco is 6-4, with a struggling offense held to less than 200 yards by the New Orleans Saints. Colin Kaepernick looks dazed and confused -- the zone-read play-fakes that gave him uncovered receivers last season are not getting the job done this season. Perhaps TMQ needs to declare a new football immutable law: Whenever the quarterback poses wearing less than the cheerleaders on their bikini calendar, woe onto that team.

The Saints don't lack for bravado. Trailing in the third quarter, New Orleans went for it on fourth-and-4: the try failed, but only stoked the home team's determination. Trailing in the fourth quarter, New Orleans threw deep on third-and-1, for a 26-yard gain. Head coach Sean Payton called timeout at 2:11, before a Saints' field goal attempt, though the clock would have stopped at the two minute warning. He seemed to want as many ticks as possible on the scoreboard to keep his players, and the home crowd, convinced a comeback could happen. The New Orleans winning play began with three seconds showing.

What's most striking about New Orleans is its defensive improvement. Not only did the Saints finish last in defense in 2012, they had the worst defensive season ever, by yards allowed. This season the Saints are third on defense. Rob Ryan to the Saints may have been an even more important offseason move than Alex Smith to the Chiefs.

A couple weeks ago, TMQ featured Division III tailback Octavias McKoy, who ran for an NCAA-record 455 yards in a game. In this season of Xbox offense, it seems 455 yards wasn't enough to hold the record. Saturday, Cartel Brooks of Heidelberg ran for 465 yards against Baldwin Wallace.

How would you feel if your team led 70-49 with four minutes remaining, and lost? I'm not talking about your basketball team -- I'm talking about your football team. See below.

Stats of the Week No. 1: The Philadelphia Eagles won at home for the first time in more than a year.

Stats of the Week No. 2: New Jersey quarterbacks Eli Manning and Geno Smith have combined to commit 39 turnovers.

Stats of the Week No. 3: The Detroit Lions have not won at Pittsburgh in 58 years.

Stats of the Week No. 4: The Indianapolis Colts have outscored opponents 133-77 in the second half.

Stats of the Week No. 5: In the fourth quarter at New Orleans, the 49ers gained 23 yards and did not make a first down; the Saints gained 172 yards and made nine first downs.

[+] EnlargeCartel Brooks
Kyle Youngblood/Heidelberg University AthleticsCartel Brooks of Heidelberg set a record that will never be broken, until it is.

Stats of the Week No. 6: Teams from Florida are a combined 8-22.

Stats of the Week No. 7: At the half versus Cleveland, the Cincinnati Bengals had more touchdowns (four) than first downs (three).

Stats of the Week No. 8: In the first halves of two meetings with Philadelphia this season, the Washington Redskins allowed 589 yards and fell behind by a combined 43-7.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Geno Smith finished with a 10.1 passer rating. If every attempt hits the ground incomplete, under the NFL formula a quarterback receives a 39.6 passer rating.

Stats of the Week No. 10: The New York Giants lost six straight, have committed a league-worst 29 turnovers, and are a game and a half out of first.

Sweet Special Teams Plays of the Week: Because most NFL teams send only a token after the punter, a seven- or eight-man rush can come as a shock. Early in the Cleveland at Cincinnati contest, the Bengals rushed seven and partially blocked a punt. Were the Browns forewarned? Later the Bengals again rushed seven, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown. On that play, high first-round draft choice Barkevious Mingo simply brushed his man and started up the field to cover the punt, assuming there would be no rush; instead Mingo's man blocked the kick. The scoop-and-score was by Tony Dye, who was called up from the practice squad shortly before the contest. Who-dat scores while first-round draft choice is flummoxed. Sweet.

[+] EnlargeJulius Thomas
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesKansas City was not ready for the Broncos' leap-frog play.

Sour Coaching of the Week: The Kansas City Chiefs have 23 coaches, including a "statistical analysis coordinator." None of them, not even the stats specialist, seemed aware the Denver Broncos are on track to break NFL scoring records. Trailing 17-7 late in the second quarter, the Chiefs faced fourth-and-goal on the Denver 1. Andy Reid sent in the field-goal unit, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook. On the night, Kansas City rushed for 144 yards, with a 5.8 yard-per-carry average. Yet Reid was too timid to try to gain one single yard for a touchdown against the league's highest-scoring team.

Just to prove this was no fluke, trailing 24-10 in the fourth quarter, Reid had the Chiefs punt from the Denver 41? Who cares if it was fourth-and-7? Denver is the league's highest-scoring team. Kansas City needed to go all-out for points or there was no hope. Outraged, the football gods pushed the fraidy-cat punt into the end zone for a touchback. When Kansas City next saw the ball, the margin was 27-10, there were seven minutes remaining, and the cheerleaders were already packing their things.

Nobody wins all the time, but Kansas City seemed troubled in bowing out as the last undefeated of 2013. The Chiefs have just three offensive touchdowns in their past 10 quarters. Appearing in prime time, many Kansas City players seemed more concerned with preening than performing. Kansas City had a bye to prepare, yet its game plan was unimaginative. When the Broncos needed a yard for a touchdown, there were not one, not two but three shifts to distract the defense: touchdown. When the Chiefs needed a yard for a touchdown, there was no misdirection, just a straight-ahead power rush, stuffed.

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Cartel Brooks set the NCAA single-game rushing record at 465 yards. How long will it last?

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Kansas City did play an aggressive defensive scheme -- many eight- or even nine-man fronts, with Cover 1 (lone high safety) and man-to-man press corners. Defensive coordinators watching on the tube must have wondered if this would prove the scheme to stop Peyton Manning. It didn't -- he completed five passes of at least 20 yards, his season average, while the Broncos gained 427 yards. Holding the opponent to less than 500 yards does not count as a moral victory for Kansas City. The Broncos, for their part, continue to roll out new plays. Facing third-and-3 in the third quarter, Manning elaborately audibled, pointing toward his left. At the snap, a tailback ran left as if for a quick screen; three defensive backs went to that area; Eric Decker ran a short "arrow" from left to right uncovered for a 33-yard gain.

Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Buffalo leading 27-7 in the third quarter, the Jets had second-and-10. Nickel safety Da'Norris Searcy snuck up into the line as if he were a linebacker. The Jets showed a hitch left. At the snap, Searcy charged into the hitch lane; interception four yards deep in the Jersey/B backfield, returned for a touchdown that made the game a rout. Sweet.

Sour was that Jekyll-and-Hyde rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who's beaten New England and New Orleans but is careless with the football, never looked before releasing the pass. Smith was lifted in the fourth quarter after throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville Jaguars cheerleader
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackIn Jacksonville, the cheerleaders have let go of that whole obsession-about-winning thing.

Sweet 'N' Sour Tactics: At Pittsburgh, Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 179 yards in the first half, including two touchdowns. In the second half, Megatron was shut out.

What happened? In the first half, Pittsburgh had corner Ike Taylor in single coverage  against Johnson. In the second half, a safety doubled up Johnson on most downs. Sweet adjustment. The game's decisive play, a Pittsburgh interception, occurred when Matt Stafford tried to force the ball to Johnson with the Steelers leading by three and 4:28 remaining: Johnson was double-covered. Sour for the Lions, who benched Reggie Bush at halftime, then never took advantage of the opportunities a double-covered receiver should create elsewhere on the field.

Sweet 'n' sour bonus: Leading 27-23 at the start of the fourth quarter, Detroit lined up for a field goal attempt from the Pittsburgh 10. The call was a fake, resulting in a lost fumble. TMQ thinks NFL coaches should call fakes more often. In this case the fake was attempted in strong rain; holder Sam Martin slipped, then fumbled. Martin has now carried the ball twice in 2013, fumbling both times. Sour for the visitors. Following the recovery, the Steelers staged a 16-play, 97-yard clock-killing drive. Reaching third-and-goal on the Detroit 1, Pittsburgh lined up heavy right; put blocking fullback Will Johnson in motion right, suggesting a run right; then play-faked and threw to Johnson in the flat, for the touchdown. Tight end Heath Miller cut up the field, drawing the safety; Johnson came underneath, uncovered. Sweet.

TMQ in the news: On Tuesday night, Nov. 19, your columnist will appear at the National Press Club Book Fair & Authors' Night in Washington, D.C.

Later This Column Will Contain ... Wait, I See It ... Something About ... Punting, Yes, Something About How Teams Punt Too Much: TMQ lampoons psychics who get into legal troubles they don't see coming. The latest example is Sylvia Mitchell, a New York City fortuneteller just sentenced to five to 15 years for grand larceny. Mitchell catered to a high-end Manhattan clientele. The jury found that she stole from her marks by asking fees for psychic revelations -- in effect, charging for a product she did not deliver.

An actual psychic would have foreseen her own legal troubles: Obviously Mitchell was running a con. But since the lack of actual psychics is widely known, aren't the marks as much to blame? Bernard Madoff claimed he was investing in legitimate enterprises; that was fraud. Mitchell told her marks she could see the spirit world. That's not fraud, it is performance art.

[+] EnlargeFortune Teller
ThinkstockI see misfortune approaching your door -- hey wait, approaching my door!

Surely a consumer agency should have ordered Mitchell to close her fortunetelling shop -- but at least five years in prison? Before trial Mitchell was held at Rikers Island, as if she were a menace to society. It's hard not to conclude her real crime was being a working-class woman who fast-talked uptown dandies out of their trust-fund dividends.

Suppose the theory of the Mitchell conviction is correct -- that accepting fees for promises of supernatural interaction constitutes grand larceny. Wouldn't every church, mosque and synagogue be subject to a police raid? Your columnist is a churchgoer who pays an annual pledge, doing so of my own free will. The minister says that attending church and making donations is good for my soul. Maybe he's right. I choose of my own free will to believe he is. Or maybe all clergy are con artists. Should they go to prison for accepting money in return for vague intimations about an unverifiable spiritual plane? That's why Mitchell is going to prison.

More on how the NFL fleeces taxpayers: Check this chart from the hot new website Policy Mic, showing public subsidies to the NFL by state.

The football gods chortled: In a contest played in strong gusting wind, Buffalo's E.J. Manuel threw deep to speed merchant T.J. Graham, who was double-covered near the Jersey/B goal line. The wind held the ball in the air, turning the pass into an unplanned back-shoulder throw. Graham could see that the ball was held up, the defenders could not. Graham made what looked like a fair-catch, then walked into the end zone. Later, a Buffalo punt swirled by the wind traveled 2 yards.

Versus Minnesota, Russell Wilson scrambled on a broken play and threw a short backhand flip, similar to a basketball pass, to Marshawn Lynch for an untouched touchdown. The play wasn't all that different from a short interception thrown by Christian Ponder on the previous series, except that Wilson is a terrific player whose goofy pass was on the money, while Ponder is a struggling player whose goofy pass went to the wrong colored jersey. Both short throws were forced into a crowded area and both barely went beyond the outstretched hands of several players. But then as Neil Easterbrook, a professor at TCU and an Official Brother of TMQ, has noted, in the NFL, almost every pass just barely gets by someone's outstretched hand.

Return man Keshawn Martin of Houston signaled "safe" as a punt sailed toward him. In special teams play, the baseball safe signal means, "teammates, get away from the ball." The Raiders' coverage unit relaxed. Then the kick bounced directly toward Martin, who touched it by mistake. Now having no choice but to field the punt, he did so and ran 85 yards for a touchdown against Oakland defenders at half-speed.

[+] EnlargeRoyal Navy
Royal NavyThe Royal Navy's battle ensign can be raised over ever-fewer ships.

News from the blue water: Last week I asked if any reader knew the current vessels-to-admirals ratio of the once-mighty Royal Navy. Many readers, including Stephanie Cummings-White of Torqauy, England, suggested I should be asking instead for the admirals-to-vessels ratio, citing this 2008 story noting 41 admirals supervising 40 warships. Nathan Green of Hempstead, Long Island, suggested matters were worse, citing this 2013 story reporting the Royal Navy has "15 times more commanding officers than ships," with 260 captains and 40 admirals for 19 warships.

The "15 times more" story, from the Daily Mail, lists as warships only "major surface combatants" -- destroyers, frigates and the Queen's lone remaining flattop, a light aircraft carrier scheduled to be retired in 2014. The major-surface-combatants definition excludes support vessels plus the Royal Navy's strategic nuclear submarines, which bear far more destructive power than all the navies of the world combined during World War II. Paul Meka of Buffalo, N.Y., notes that in total, the Royal Navy has 79 commissioned ships, two vessels for each admiral. Yoni Appelbaum of Cambridge, Mass., compared this to the United States Navy, which has 331 admirals for 285 ships in commission, a worse H.M.S. Pinafore ratio than under the Union Jack.

In other nautical news, TMQ complains that the U.S. Navy names its capital ships after Republican presidents but not Democratic ones. Current supercarriers bear the names of modern Republican presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford. Of modern Democratic presidents, only Truman is represented, though the keel has been laid for a John Kennedy.

[+] EnlargeThe Lyndon Johnson
U.S. Navy photo illustration/Lt. Shawn EklundLyndon Johnson was a Democratic president elected by a landslide -- which means the Navy won't put his name on an aircraft carrier.

While Gerald Ford, who was never elected to national office, has his name on a supercarrier, Franklin Roosevelt, elected four times and who led the country during the world's worst war, has his name on only a destroyer. Jimmy Carter, who beat Ford at the polls, has his name on only an attack submarine. (Carter is the sole president to have served aboard a submarine, but elected presidents should outrank appointed presidents.) Lyndon Johnson, who brought about passage of the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, and who was winner of a landslide national election, will have his name on a new type of destroyer that's under construction at Bath Iron Works -- an important ship, but nowhere as important as the supercarrier that bears the name of the unelected partial-term Ford.

There is no ship named the Bill Clinton -- or perhaps, in naval naming convention, the William Jefferson Clinton -- though Clinton was a popular two-term president whose policies helped cause an economic boom and the retreat of the remnants of the Soviet Union. (Capital ships sometimes are named for the living, including the Reagan and the Bush.)

The Secretary of the Navy, a political appointee, is the key figure in ship names. Democratically appointed SecNavs have tended to reach across the aisle to honor the other side, a Clinton appointee choosing the name for the Reagan. Republican secretaries of the Navy chose Ford and Bush over Clinton, who won more presidential elections than Ford and Bush combined.

It's not like Democrats aren't represented. Supercarriers bear the names of Carl Vinson and John Stennis -- old-South Congressional Democrats who were ardent segregationists. Neither Vinson nor Stennis ever won a national election, nor served in the military; both fought to keep blacks and whites apart. Yet their names are on supercarriers, while FDR's name is on a destroyer.

Denver's own personal stats item: The Broncos are on a pace to score 637 points; the NFL record is 589 points. Peyton Manning is on a pace to throw 54 touchdown passes; the NFL record is 50. The Broncos have outscored opponents by a league-best 143 points.

Hollywood producers don't take the subway: The fall TV season's action hit is "The Blacklist," staring the versatile actor James Spader as an all-knowing anti-hero locked in a codependency relationship with a megababe FBI agent played by actress Megan Boone. There are international criminal masterminds galore, plus An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA is monitoring the female agent and her enigmatic husband. (For readers new to this column, An Agency Far, Far More Secret Than The CIA is the formal name of the mysterious force that shows up in many action shows and movies.)

[+] EnlargeBlacklist
NBC UniversalOn "The Blacklist," James Spader knows all the world's criminals, but can't read a subway map.

Action shows fundamentally are preposterous: "The Blacklist" pushes the envelope. In just the first few episodes, a dozen FBI agents are killed in several machine-gun battles in Washington, D.C.; an FBI helicopter is shot down with a missile; four U.S. Marshals are killed, including two killed in mere seconds by an unarmed bad guy in shackles; 100 people are killed with biological weapons in Washington's subway system and in a federal courthouse; a cargo plane explodes above Washington and a commercial airliner is blown up at Reagan National Airport. That's just the first few episodes! Who has been assigned to fight this crime wave? A couple FBI agents.

"The Blacklist" tries to seem realistic, with location shoots in Washington and Baltimore, but the show constantly botches easily verified details. A bad guy gets on a subway train said to be pulling into DuPont Circle, an actual subway stop in Washington. The subway announcer voice is saying, "Connect to the Yellow Line at Farragut North." The Farragut North station does not meet that line. The sign on the train lists its destination as Shady Green. The actual destination is Shady Grove.

When the cargo plane is bombed, its pieces are shown falling straight down. In the first "Star Trek" remake, in "Superman Returns," in "Unforgettable" and other movies and shows, pieces of aircraft or spacecraft fall straight down. They would fall is a broad parabolic arc. One "Blacklist" episode begins by showing a creepy guy with a genetic foreign accent installing a bomb in a brand-new, $90,000 BMW 750. Later viewers see a car explode in the distance, but what blows up is an old junker filmed in shadow. Perhaps the producer wrote off the $90,000 BMW on a production expense account as destroyed during special effects, used a junker for the shot, and now drives the BMW himself.

Several plots hinge on the FBI finding a criminal mastermind by tracing a credit card. A glamorous woman described as the world's most dangerous international assassin is cornered after she uses her credit card to order a drink in a hotel bar. Wouldn't the world's most dangerous international assassin buy her Cosmopolitan with unmarked euros?

Many "Blacklist" episodes involve the female agent and her partner creeping into an abandoned warehouse -- without calling for backup, of course. On TV crime shows and in action movies, considering how often criminal masterminds set up in an abandoned warehouse, they must be leasing them. Here's what it would sound like if a real estate agent was showing abandoned warehouses to a criminal mastermind:

Agent: This is a beautiful property! Poorly lighted entrances. Rusting gates. Lots of dark, scary passageways. Huge backlit fans turning slowly for no apparent reason. Easy freeway access.

Criminal Mastermind: I like the highway access -- good for chase scenes.

Agent: Location, location, location.

Mastermind: Are there surveillance cameras everywhere, so our faces are sure to be seen?

Agent: Of course! And luxurious appointments. There's a secure room for handling stolen fissile materials. A biohazards room for bizarre medical experiments.

[+] EnlargeThe Departed
Warner Brothers "So, I love this abandoned warehouse. What's the security deposit?"

Mastermind: Tanning beds, message chair and wet bar?

Agent: The works. Will you be having black SUVs coming and going at all hours?

Mastermind: Da/taip/aiwa/hija. (Scriptwriter: insert choice based on ethnicity of mastermind.)

Agent: Then be sure to observe all parking regulations.

Mastermind: Absolutely. We want to be good neighbors.

Agent: Noise complaints have been an issue with past clients. The lease specifies that if you are torturing good-looking helpless victims, they must be gagged.

Mastermind: Aw, shucks. Whatever. OK.

Agent: I will get you a sewer permit for blood. That way you won't attract attention.

Mastermind: Wow, you really are the best! Just like my mastermind acquaintances said.

Agent: Referrals are the key to my business.

Mastermind: Then again, all my mastermind acquaintances who leased abandoned warehouses died in shootouts when their well-dressed henchmen fired hundreds of rounds that missed, while the cops got off perfect shots while leaping sideways.

Agent: How will you be taking care of the charges today?

Mastermind: Here's my credit card.

Falcons now burnt toast: With Atlanta destroyed by a Buccaneers team that entered 1-8, the Falcons -- who last season hosted the NFC title contest, and came within two snaps of the Super Bowl -- are on a 2-9 streak. The magnificent Tony Gonzalez, both a top athlete and a dignified person, now all but certainly will reach the Hall of Fame but never the Super Bowl.

City of Tampa has won two straight, but that only improves the Bucs to 2-8. Weasel coach Greg Schiano may end up praised for giving the ejection-seat treatment to Josh Freeman. Rookie Mike Glennon outplayed Pro Bowler Matt Ryan. Ball on the Falcons' 3, Glennon correctly read an all-out "house" blitz and coolly audibled for an alley-oop, touchdown.

Charles Youvella, 1996-2013: Sometimes things happen that are awful in every respect -- bad in every possible way. Youvella, an Arizona high school football player, died last week of head injuries sustained in a game. Football deaths are rare, but when one occurs, there is nothing about the event that is not horrible. We've yet to come to terms with the harm football can cause, or even develop a vocabulary in which to discuss that harm.

Listen to an Arizona local newscaster reporting on the awful death. The newscaster and people he interviews focus on how hard Youvella was trying to win the game when he was fatally injured -- as if this meant anything at all, let alone is relevant compared to a young person's life. They reach for silver-lining comments that come out sounding ludicrous: People gave the boy's family gift cards! Of course when a person dies young, it is hard to think of anything to say. But broadcasters, writers and fans need a vocabulary in which to face that harm caused by football, and to express that sports glory is meaningless if harm is done.

[+] EnlargeEverBank Field
AP Photo/Stephen MortonTaxpayer funds for a bigger scoreboard are more important than school improvements.

The fleecing of taxpayers continues: Jacksonville just agreed to pay $43 million to spruce up the stadium where the Jaguars play. Owner Shad Khan, net worth estimated by Forbes at $3.8 billion, will contribute only $20 million. A hotel tax will fund the giveaway: Ordinary people using hotels in the Jacksonville will pay more so that a billionaire can have a new toy. If the gigantic scoreboard to be funded by the tax sells more tickets, the billionaire will keep the gains. And will hotels in Jacksonville lose business owing to the tax, or hotel workers face layoffs triggered by an NFL owner's subsidized toy?

Meanwhile the main public school district for Jacksonville has seen a $25 million per year cutback on capital improvements. Jacksonville had no problem finding $43 million right away for a gift to the NFL to improve a stadium, but the area's schools face a long-term shortage of funds to improve classrooms.

Sked watch: Cincinnati is sitting pretty at 7-4, with three of its final five contests at home. Bufffalo is all but eliminated at 4-7, with three of its final five on the road. Seattle, at 10-1, is already playing for home-field advantage in the NFC. Philadelphia has rebounded to lead the NFC East, but has no victory over a team with a winning record. Down the stretch, the Eagles don't face any elite teams. The Jets are sure to defeat Baltimore next week, since their season has gone win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss.

In 2012, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons opened 3-6, then went won out and made the postseason. When the Persons opened 3-6 this season, their faithful were dreaming of another 7-0 run. When they fell behind 24-0 at Philadelphia then rallied to make it 24-16 with the ball on the Eagles' 18 in the final minute, the faithful were dancing. RG III dropped back -- and with five linemen to block three pass rushers, was almost immediately under pressure. R*dsk*ns out of time outs, Griffin had to avoid being sacked. Griffin leapt into the air and tried to throw the ball out of the end zone; his wounded duck floated to a defender for an interception, ending the contest.

Griffin isn't playing as well as he did in 2012, but football is a team sport. His teammates are not distinguishing themselves, while Mike "The Ultimate Leader" Shanahan barely seems engaged with what's happening on the field. Though Washington dropped to 3-7, the team retains hope in the weak NFC East. Only two of its final six opponents have winning records.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsDuke wins! Yeah! Not a misprint!

Duke football ranked -- not a misprint: Leading favored University of Miami 38-30 early in the fourth quarter, Duke faced fourth-and-1 on the Hurricanes' 33. The "safe" tactic is a long field goal attempt -- instead rush, touchdown. Now leading 45-30 with four minutes remaining, Duke faced fourth-and-1 on the Hurricanes' 23. Kicking here is super-safe, plus insulates the coach from criticism should something go wrong. Duke goes for it, converts, and the rest is filler. On the day, the Blue Devils rushed for 358 yards against a ranked opponent.

Blue Devils football is now 8-2, ranked 24th by USA Today, and a dark horse for the ACC title. When I typed those words, a loud klaxon sounded in Bristol, Conn., and jet fighters scrambled from a nearby airbase. Duke football is 8-2 -- not a misprint! Plus, graduates 92 percent of its players.

Wasteful spending on bodyguards watch: One reason government costs so much, and seems to achieve so little, is money wasted to glorify minor officials. Many have security details not to protect them -- else every citizen should get a security detail -- but to make them seem important, while allowing them to race through traffic, cut to the heads of lines and so on.

Reader Scott Nimmo of Pipersville, Pa., reports a waste of $82,000 on security for the governor's office. The bodyguards were not for the governor, or even for the lieutenant governor; they were for the lieutenant governor's wife. Pennsylvania State Troopers were accompanying her on business trips to New York City, in order to make her seem important and, surely, allow her to double-park.

[+] EnlargeTacitus
Grolier SocietyTacitus did not have a security detail. He wasn't the wife of a lieutenant governor!

This waste of public funds made the newspapers because it was just stopped. But why did it exist in the first place? It is difficult to believe any lieutenant governor of any state needs bodyguards, let alone any lieutenant governor's spouse. By its constitution, Pennsylvania has a weak executive and a strong legislature: because the governor's position is weak, the lieutenant governor's position is strictly ceremonial. Yet bodyguards surround Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who has no responsibilities. His spouse, in turn, is not a public official. Why was $82,000 of taxpayers' money wasted to create an illusion she was some kind of visiting dignitary?

Tuesday Morning Quarterback will repeat the question I've asked before: If politicians waste the public's money on security details that anyone can see, what are they doing with the public's money in secret? And I will add a quotation from Barbara Tuchman: "Chief among the forces affecting political folly is a lust for power, named by Tacitus as 'the most flagrant of all the passions.' Because it can only be satisfied by power over others, government is its favorite field of exercise …[with] titles and red carpets and motorcycle escorts."

Correction of the year: Reader David Elliott of Colorado Springs, Colo. noted that it took a newspaper 150 years to decide it was wrong about the Gettysburg Address.

Oh, for those halcyon days in Eugene: Why did the Eagles struggle to hold a 24-point lead at home? Chip Kelly's blur offense is fifth in yards per game, last in the league in time of possession. Taking possession at the start of the fourth quarter with the score 24-0, when the priority should have been draining the clock, the Eagles staged a quick-snap three-and-out that consumed only 1:08.

Reader animadversion: Last week I supposed that college football ratings are rising faster than NFL ratings because with so many college teams, there are more pairings of winner versus winner. Reader Al Caniglia of Frankfurt, Germany, adds, "Another reason college ratings continue to climb is that viewers generally can watch the game they want. Depending on where you live in the country, on Sunday the NFL may compel you to watch some awful game, blocking access to the best games. On Saturdays, you can change the channel to almost any of the day's big NCAA contests. The NFL needs to give their customers the right to choose which game to watch."

[+] EnlargeBig Brother
Columbia PicturesPay the subsidies and watch what the NFL tells you to watch.

Sunday's monster daylight game was 6-3 San Francisco at 7-2 New Orleans. Woe onto New England, the upper Midwest and most of Texas and Oklahoma, which were compelled to watch third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien of the struggling Packers face off against the cellar-dwelling Giants. The Dakotas, which might have liked to see the monster contest in New Orleans, were compelled to watch cellar-dwelling Minnesota at Seattle.

Taxpayers who are forced to support construction and operation of NFL stadia do not in return receive free choice regarding games. Local affiliates force-feed crummy NFL pairings to their viewers for this reason: because they can.

The fortunate can view any game using the Sunday Ticket product on DirecTV, which is fabulous if you can get it, but millions of Americans cannot. DirecTV requires an antenna with clear line-of-sight toward the sky above Texas; if trees or buildings block your line-of-sight, too bad. As this column has noted, while Sunday Ticket is a satellite monopoly product within the United States, any cable customer in Canada and Mexico can buy Sunday Ticket. So Canadians and Mexicans, who are not compelled to subsidize the NFL, enjoy more viewer choice than the Americans who pay to underwrite the league. How long until college teams start playing on Sunday afternoons, challenging the Big Brother broadcast policies of the NFL directly?

Krumble on the play! Thursday night's Indianapolis at Tennessee collision paired starting quarterbacks from Harvard and Stanford. The Colts fielded two other players from Stanford, and three from strong-academics Notre Dame and Boston College. Titans starter Alterraun Verner was a math major at UCLA, and used the 2011 lockout to complete his degree. All jocks are not dumb jocks.

Down 17-6 at the end of the first half, the Colts were staging yet another comeback: third quarter touchdown, then krumble on the play! The Flaming Thumbtacks dropped the kickoff, and TMQ contends the kickoff fumble -- krumble -- is the most damaging event in football, since the team that just scored immediately gets the ball in scoring position again.

The Colts advanced to second-and-1 on the Tennessee 11. They sent in a power set that showed toss left. At the snap, Indianapolis pulled left tackle and left guard in that direction, along with tight end and fullback, a nice Stanford-flavored enactment of the Student Body play beloved by generations of California coaches. Andrew Luck started to make the toss left -- then realized that an amazing 10 of the Titans' 11 defenders were on the offensive left of the imaginary line down the center of the field. He simply took off running right for an untouched touchdown, and yet another comeback victory was in the Colts' cards.

Whitey Bulger
AP Photo/U.S. Marshals ServiceWhitey Bulger will serve two life sentences -- plus five years!

His prison lifespan may not be long anyway: "Whitey" Bulger, age 84, was just sentenced to consecutive life terms plus five years. Perhaps the extra five years to be served to purgatory, before boarding that "down" elevator.

Why do judges impose sentences too long to serve? Sometimes separate sentences are assigned for separate counts, then totaled up. Two life sentences is a backstop against one of the sentences being overturned on appeal or set aside owing to collateral judgments. Sometimes very long sentences are served concurrently, meaning a term of, say, 50 years could end in less than 50 years. Since Bulger's sentences are consecutive, if the Buddhists are right, he goes straight back to prison in his next life.

Adventures in officiating: In the fourth quarter, Drew Brees was sacked on third down and fumbled, with San Francisco recoverying. The Niners were called, correctly, for roughing the passer. Officials enforced the penalty from the spot of the fumble recovery, placing the ball on the San Francisco 35. Since the foul occurred before the change of possession, sure seems like the penalty should have been enforced from the previous spot, placing the ball on the San Francisco 20. From the NFL's absurdly long 114-page rulebook: "When the spot of a backward pass or fumble is behind the line of scrimmage, all fouls committed by either team … are enforced from the previous spot, except a foul by the offense in its end zone is a safety." Enforcing the penalty from the spot of the recovery would make sense only if it had become San Francisco ball.

Just as the first quarter was ending at Tennessee, officials missed a 12-men-on-the-field violation by the Flaming Thumbtacks. During the long commercial break, they failed to correct the problem. Just as the game should have resumed, Chuck Pagano threw the challenge flag. NFL Network then went back into commercial. When it returned -- after festive mid-November ads for Christmas shopping -- officials upheld the challenge, then realized they'd forgotten to switch end zones for the second quarter. A total of nine minutes ticked by before play resumed, just to fix a minor violation that changed a second-and-7 into a first-and-5.

Last week, TMQ noted that, against Oklahoma, a Baylor defender was called for targeting and was ejected; officials looked at the replay and determined, correctly, that the contact was not helmet-to-helmet; they reinstated the player and let the penalty stand. I contended the disqualification should have stood, because the Baylor player threw his forearm into the player's neck. The new NCAA targeting rule shouldn't make anyone think that only helmet-to-helmet hits lead to ejection: any flagrant unnecessary roughness should.

Reader Michael Tomlin of The Colony, Texas, writes, "I am a high school football official, and in Texas we operate under the same rules as the NCAA. Your comments about the Baylor player were correct. He should have been ejected. Here is how the new rule reads:

"'Targeting and Initiating Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player. No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul.'

"So by rule, the ejection should have been upheld since the Baylor player made contact, forearm to neck, with a defenseless player.

"The rule may receive offseason changes. Collegiate officials have called it, then gone to replay for the ejection confirmation. That's confusing for everybody. We high school officials have barely called it since we do not have access to replay. Taking one of the precious few games away from a high school kid -- who most likely will not play again after high school -- should be done sparingly. So high school officials tend not to call this unless we are certain."

Many readers have proposed that the touchdown/safety difference can be understood in a simple manner by thinking of the goal line as the end zone -- if any part of the ball is above the goal line going toward the end zone it's a touchdown, but the entire ball must be beyond the goal line to avoid a safety, since otherwise part of the ball is in the end zone.

Just when this seemed settled, Will Stromeyer, a high school official from Webster, Texas, writes, "The forward point of the ball is used for everything except the safety distinction. When setting a ball ready for play after a touchback, for example, the nose of the ball is on the back of the 20 yard line. Thus when the offense tries to avoid a safety, if the nose of the ball is in the field of play, the ball should be considered in the field of play. Otherwise the field is somewhat shorter than 100 yards. I enforce the rule the way it is written, but this is one of several rules that is peculiar and needs a closer look."

[+] EnlargeJeff Ireland
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyJeff Ireland needs to have a few words with the man in charge of Dolphins draft strategy. Wait, that's him.

Let's save time by listing to what Jeff Ireland didn't mess up: Beleaguered Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, who traded first- and second-round choices to draft Dion Jordan, seems just now to be discovering that the guy is a part-time player. How could Ireland possibly have known? Everybody knew except Ireland! See for example TMQ on the Tuesday after the draft, check the Miami item.

The 500 Club: Visiting Tusculum, Mars Hill gained 545 yards, and lost. Hosting Curry, Maine Maritime gained 505 yards, and lost by 16 points. Hosting UCF, Temple gained 518 yards, allowed 10 points in the final minute, and lost. Visiting Auburn, Georgia gained 532 yards, allowed 73 yards in the final 30 seconds, and lost. Hosting Abilene Christian, Prairie View gained 572 yards, and lost by 20 points. Visiting Grand Valley State, Saginaw Valley gained 573 yards, and lost by 15 points. Visiting Duke, the University of Miami gained 565 yards, and lost by 18 points. Hosting Colorado State, New Mexico gained 527 yards, and lost by 24 points.

Fourth down, knock it down! Not only did Georgia violate this Football 101 rule on the 73-yard Hail Mary by Auburn in the closing seconds: it was fourth-and-18 in the closing seconds, Auburn needing to go the length of the field, and the Bulldogs let a receiver get behind the deepest defender!

Oakland clinging to a 28-23 lead with a minute remaining, Houston threw into the end zone on fourth down. Twice Raiders safety Usama Young poked the ball up into the air, risking defeat for his team while trying to make a stat-padding interception. Fourth down, knock it down!

The 600 Club: Visiting Toledo, the University at Buffalo gained 601 yards, and lost. Honorary member: Visiting Delaware, Richmond gained 680 yards, and needed a touchdown on the game's final snap to win. Hosting Methodist, North Carolina Wesleyan gained 642 yards, scored 62 points, and lost.

The 700 Club: Hosting Sacramento State, Portland State gained 713 yards, and lost. Reader Lucas Mitzel of Aurora, Ill., reports that in Illinois prep playoffs action, Mount Carmel High scored 70 points against Greenville High, gained 756 yards on offense, led by 21 points with four minutes remaining, and lost.

Hidden play of the week: Hidden plays are ones that never make highlight reels, but sustain or stop drives. San Francisco leading 20-17 in the fourth quarter at New Orleans, Colin Kaepernick scrambled on a busted play and flipped a flare pass to Frank Gore, running alone up the Saints' sideline. Gore would have gotten a first down, and might have reached New Orleans territory, but he dropped the well-thrown ball. The Niners punted and went on to lose by a field goal as the clock expired.

Obscure college score: Reinhardt 66, Campbellsville 48. In NAIA action, Campbellsville University joined the 500 Club, gaining 532 yards but losing by 18 points -- there was the little matter of the 783 yards allowed. Located in Waleska, Ga., Reinhardt University offers a major in "World/Global History," as if the world and the globe were somehow different.

Next Week: Andy Reid demands to know why his 22 assistants didn't tell him the Denver Broncos are a high-scoring team.

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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