King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Jim Fassel's coaching mistakes, errors that are as common as they are stupid, cost the Giants a Monday night win. Plus: Please, people -- no wagering!


I believe that most people overrate the importance of game strategy decisions when rating head coaches and managers, but even I still have my jaw resting on the ground after watching New York Giants coach Jim Fassel lose Monday night’s game to the Dallas Cowboys with a couple of horrible decisions.

Great coaches aren’t great because they’re strategic geniuses and lousy ones aren’t lousy because they’re strategic dunces. The great ones are leaders of people, molders of teams. The bad ones are lousy bosses. The actual X’s and O’s, the calling of this play over that one, don’t amount to a whole lot over time. It’s the players who either execute or don’t.


On Monday night, Fassel mismanaged the clock at the end of regulation, and he called a play that backfires almost as often as the prevent defense, a squib kick, which backfired. Shocked as I was watching Fassel, who I think is a good coach, suffer this serial mental breakdown, I’m even more amazed that as far as I’ve seen he’s not getting any of the blame for it.

Here’s what happened: The favored Giants trailed 29-14 in the fourth quarter before rallying for two touchdowns and tying the game on a two-point conversion (thanks in part to one of several ticky-tack pass interference calls, but that’s another story) with 6:20 to play. After the teams exchanged punts for the next few minutes, the Giants drove from their own 48 to a second and 5 at the Dallas 12, where they called the first of their three timeouts with 14 seconds left.

Incredibly, with two downs and two timeouts to play with, Fassel sent in his field goal unit. ABC’s Al Michaels and John Madden praised this move, saying that it would give the Giants time to call timeout and try again if they muffed the snap. Remember the last play of last year’s playoff loss in San Francisco, Michaels said, when the Giants had done just that on a potential game-winning field goal.

What neither announcer mentioned, and what nobody else seems to want to talk about even in the aftermath of what happened next, is that leaving all that time on the clock also meant the Giants would have to kick off to the Cowboys. It seems painfully obvious, I mean, you don’t even have to think about it obvious, that the odds of something bad happening for the Giants when the Cowboys have the ball are toweringly greater than the odds of the Giants muffing the snap and not losing possession and getting a timeout called. Yeah, there was that playoff disaster last year, but how often does a muffed snap happen, and when it does, how often does the ball end up still in your team’s hands? You’re going to give the other team the ball back because you don’t trust your field goal team to get a 29-yard kick away on one snap?

You don’t have to answer those questions. This is a rhetorical conversation.

So you probably know what came next. Matt Bryant hit the field goal that gave New York a 32-29 lead. If the Giants had simply run one more play before kicking, if they had just had quarterback Kerry Collins take a knee, then called timeout with one second to go, that field goal would have been the last play of the game. Giants win. Instead, there were 11 seconds left. Bryant’s squib kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Cowboys the ball on the 40. Quincy Carter hit Antonio Bryant for 26 yards to the New York 34, and Billy Cundiff came in and hit a 52-yard field goal to send the game to overtime, where the Cowboys won.

And so Matt Bryant is the goat. I did my best to scour the New York newspapers, which are rarely kind to local coaches, and found not a single writer who blamed Fassel for his colossal mistake of leaving time on the clock before that field goal. It’s all about how Bryant shouldn’t have kicked that ball out of bounds.

Sure, he shouldn’t have, but I’d lay that one at Fassel’s door too. There’s a dispute over Bryant’s instructions. Fassel says he told his kicker to squib it down the middle while Bryant insists Fassel told him to shade it left a little. Don’t be surprised if that little argument costs Bryant his already shaky hold on his job this week, but I say it doesn’t matter what really happened. Fassel ordered the squib and, in case Fassel’s never noticed this, a football has an oblong shape with two pointy ends that can make it bounce around unpredictably. Even when you squib it down the middle, you can’t be sure it won’t end up going out of bounds. For that reason, but not only for that reason, squib kickoffs are stupid.

I’ve never understood why the strategy on kickoffs is to kick it as deep as you can — until the fourth quarter with the game on the line, when it suddenly becomes a good idea to bounce the kickoff downfield. These kicks usually end up being fielded around the 25 and run back to about the 35 or 40. The justification is that you’re trying to prevent a long return, but isn’t the idea to prevent a long return all game long? A kickoff coverage team is designed to keep the kickoff from being run back for a touchdown, or even for a lot of yards. But coaches suddenly and routinely lose faith in their coverage units at the most crucial moment of the game. If they’re good enough to tackle the return man in the second quarter, they’re good enough to get him in the fourth.

At the moment of Bryant’s fateful kickoff, there had been 270 kickoff returns in the NFL this season. Exactly one had been run back for a touchdown. Last season, there were 1,989 kickoff returns, 15 of which had been returned all the way. That’s about one TD every 132 returns, and that’s not counting kicks that go for touchbacks. To be fair it also doesn’t count kick returns long enough to set up a field goal, but those are more rare than touchbacks. To prevent an event that the odds say happens to your team about once every two seasons, you give up 15 or 20 yards of field position by squibbing it, even if it doesn’t roll out of bounds.

That’s a terrible trade, as the Cowboys proved Monday by going 26 yards on the only play they had time for, setting themselves up for the game-tying kick. Cowboys return man Zuriel Smith had returned four kickoffs Monday prior to that squib. Even including a 39-yarder on his first try, he had averaged 25.5 yards, giving Dallas an average starting point of their own 29-yard line. Had Bryant made his average kick — to the 4 — and the Giants held Smith to his average return, then that 26-yard pass play would have given the Cowboys a first down on the New York 45, too far away to try anything but a desperate Hail Mary pass. And any play that gained enough yards to set up a field goal would have run out the clock.

The next time the Giants kicked off, to start the overtime, Smith fielded the ball on his 8-yard line. Guess how far he ran it back. To the 29.

Cost-benefit analysis. We learn how to do it as kids, writing down the pros and cons of some decision on a sheet of paper. Football coaches don’t seem to have gotten that lesson. If Jim Fassel had, the Giants would be 2-0 today.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Week 2: Please, no wagering [PERMALINK]

“Hello,” began an e-mail from a reader. “After dropping a C-note on the Titans I won’t be taking your predictions very seriously in the future.”

People, put everything down immediately and listen to me very, very carefully: Do not use my predictions as a basis for wagering. You may flip a coin as a basis for wagering. You may consult tea leaves or chicken gizzards, bet on the uniform you like, or play astrological hunches, but do not waste your money by betting on my picks, much less “take them very seriously.” If you have money you don’t value and want me to be part of its departure from your life, send it to me. Just don’t bet it on my picks. It’s hard enough to look in the mirror each morning. I’m two-dimensional and see-through, you know.

I, like almost everyone else who does this sort of thing in public, picked the Titans to beat the Colts Sunday, which they did not do with a vengeance, to the tune of 33-7. I also, like everyone else in the known universe, picked the Buccaneers to beat the Panthers, which didn’t happen because the Panthers blocked what would have been the game-winning extra point to force overtime, where they won. That was pretty exciting, if anything that happens in a 12-9 game can be called exciting, and it won’t help my campaign to remove all kicking from the game of football.

“I’m sure you’ve heard this 5,000 times today,” wrote reader J.F. Ford in an e-mail on Monday, “but nice work on the Bucs. Ouch.” I haven’t heard from Ford since as I’m sure he’s still working on sending that note to all 3,629 sportswriters who picked the Bucs. Of course, not all of those people wrote, “Do believe the hype about the Buccaneers” in their headlines.

Anyway, I went 10-6 with my picks in Week 2, two games better than my 8-8 outing in Week 1. Of course, I’d have gone a very solid 11-5 if Fassel hadn’t kicked away that Giants win, but I’m not bitter, not at all. That brings me to 18-14 on the year. I like to compare myself with the octet of ESPN experts, and that mark puts me, shall we say, toward the back of a tightly packed field. I’m ahead of Eric Allen, who is 17-15. Last week I mistakenly wrote that I was better than Allen in Week 1. I thought he’d gone 7-9 but he was actually 8-8. This time he went 9-7, so I’ve got a game on him. But he did pick the Colts over the Titans. The rat.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Send an e-mail to King Kaufman.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • More Related Stories

    Featured Slide Shows

    • Share on Twitter
    • Share on Facebook
    • 1 of 11
    • Close
    • Fullscreen
    • Thumbnails

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
      Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
      Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Here by Richard McGuire
      A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
      The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
      This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
      For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Over Easy by Mimi Pond
      When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
      You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Shoplifter by Michael Cho
      Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

      Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

      Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
      This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

    • Recent Slide Shows



    Comment Preview

    Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>