Two weeks in a row now, "Monday Night Football" announcers Al Michaels and John Madden have jumped all over my favorite NFL hobbyhorse: instant replay. Two weeks out of two in the regular season, the NFL's signature technocratic, bureaucratic, bloodless element has come under fire on its highest-profile broadcast.
Hard to say how much it ended up mattering in the game, but the Eagles touchdown that gave them a 24-9 lead midway through the fourth quarter should have been reviewed and overturned. But the Vikings didn't realize in time that Terrel Owens, in gathering in a long pass from Donovan McNabb, had not only gone down before he crossed the goal line, but also had never controlled the ball before rolling out of bounds with it.
If the Vikings had challenged the play, it would have been ruled an incomplete pass, and the Vikes would still have been in striking range, down 17-9, though still on defense, second-and-10 at the Minnesota 45. The Eagles went on to win 27-16.
Now, I think instant replay should be done away with, but as long as it's here, how could the Vikings not challenge that play? Owens, tangled up a bit with cornerback Antoine Winfield, was falling as he caught the pass at the 1-yard line, then fell forward across the goal line and rolled out of bounds. It looked to me, watching the live shot on TV, like Owens was down before he went into the end zone. Replays showed he also was juggling the ball.
Here's a funny thing: NFL.com's collection of Week 2 photos leads off with a shot of Owens's T.D. catch, and while the caption doesn't mention it, in the photo he's clearly got his right knee on the ground short of the 1-yard line, with the ball well shy of the goal line. Incidentally, you can't see it because of the way the photo is cropped, but his right foot is resting out of bounds too.
Vikings coach Mike Tice said after the game that if he or any of his coaches had been able to see the replay, he'd have challenged, but there wasn't time. The coaches on the field had a bad angle to see the play clearly, and their colleagues in the press box were too far away to see it clearly. They had to wait for a replay on a press-box monitor.
This was Michaels' criticism. A challenge must be made before the next snap, so once the extra point is kicked, it's all over. Michaels called it "the only flaw" of instant replay that teams aren't given more time after a touchdown to challenge. Madden agreed that teams should have until the kickoff to throw the red flag.
They didn't make clear why they thought extra time should be given after a touchdown play, since an extra point doesn't happen any faster than any other subsequent play. Forty-five seconds elapsed between Owens scoring and the snap for the extra point, and during that time ABC showed two replays of the touchdown catch, the first one 15 seconds before the PAT snap. There was time for the assistants upstairs to shout into their headsets for Tice to throw the flag, had they been on their toes.
Tice was angry enough over the whole thing to drop an S-bomb live on ESPN during his postgame press conference, saying if he'd had a better view of the play or someone with superhuman vision in the press box he'd have thrown his flag, but what could he do?
Well, he could have thrown his flag. A team can only challenge until the two-minute warning, so he had about five and a half minutes until his red flag became useless laundry. The other team had just scored a crucial insurance touchdown on a play where the receiver had tumbled into the end zone with a defender on him. What, exactly, was Tice saving that challenge for?
It might have cost him a timeout if he'd been wrong, but on a play like that, it's certainly worth risking a timeout given the likelihood that Owens had been down shy of the end zone, never mind that he hadn't really caught the ball.
This is aside from the fact that NFL teams should have someone whose sole responsibility is to watch the action on a TV monitor to catch those plays that need to be reviewed. Like I said, watching the play live, my first thought was, "Oh, they have to challenge that one."
If I know the NFL, it'll change the rule next offseason if Michaels and Madden mention their replay-after-touchdowns beef again this year. And then 10 years from now we'll be scratching our heads when the issue comes up. "Why do you get extra time after a touchdown again?"
It'll be another rule like the one I learned about Monday, as most football fans who were watching probably did: If a quarterback lines up in the shotgun, he can lateral to another player and then become an eligible receiver, but if he lines up under center, he's ineligible once he laterals. What the purpose of this rule is I can't even begin to imagine.
Anyway, it's odd that Michaels called the post-T.D. thing the "only flaw" of instant replay, because in Week 1 he and Madden had riffed for a good minute on an even bigger flaw, the fact that instant replay has changed the way the game is officiated, and not for the better.
Madden brought it up during the season-opening Thursday night game between the Colts and the Patriots. Edgerrin James lost a fumble in the third quarter of that game. It looked to me like James' elbow hit the turf a split second -- even in slow motion it was a split second -- before the ball was ripped from his arm, but it was ruled a fumble on the field and that ruling was upheld on review. In other words, the ball came out before James' elbow hit the grass.
"I kind of like that, get back to where a fumble is a fumble," Madden said. "I mean, someone has the ball, and if they get hit and they fumble it's a doggone fumble. Now, every time there's a fumble, we have to look. Is the elbow down? Is the knee down? Is the foot? You know, all those types of things, instead of it just being a fumble. That was good defense, and it was a turnover by the Colts.
"If they have any other emphasis on rules, that's one I'd like to see them emphasize, that a fumble is a fumble, and don't every time a guy fumbles, don't start trying to make excuses for it and find out why it's not a fumble."
Michaels agreed. "I mean, let's face it, John, the impetus for replay in the first place was to correct egregious calls," he said. "And now it's reached a point where you parse the real close calls."
"Right, too fine," Madden said. "And then you get away from what football is and has been."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Instant replay has altered reality, has changed what, in Madden's words, a doggone fumble looks like. Officials call "down by contact" -- the NFL's current technocratic term for "tackled" -- on fumbles far more than they did in the pre-replay days. I can't prove this statistically, but if anyone were to study it, I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that I'm right. It's obvious. Twenty years ago, you almost never saw the ball-carrier ruled down on an apparent fumble. Now, most plays that are apparently fumbled are ruled, on the field, "down by contact."
Instant replay was introduced to correct mistakes, not to change the definition of what a fumble is. It's been a change for the worse.
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Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day [PERMALINK]
Today's stat: Runs created per 27 outs. Or, to its friends, RC27.
This one is related to runs created, which we covered Thursday, and which tallies up the things a hitter does at the plate and on the bases, good and bad, and estimates the number of runs he is personally responsible for having produced for his team. Through Monday's games Barry Bonds has 172.2 runs created, a ridiculous 24.4 percent more than closest competitor Todd Helton of the Rockies, with 138.9.
RC27 takes that number and divides it by the number of outs the hitter has made, then multiplies by 27. That creates something fun: an estimate of how many runs per game would be scored by a team that had a lineup of that player batting nine times.
For example, Luis Castillo of the Marlins has an RC27 of 5.30. That means if you had nine Luis Castillos in your lineup, your team would average 5.3 runs per game, which is just about what the league-leading Cardinals average. That sounds strange, because Castillo is hardly Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds or Scott Rolen, but remember that pitchers and weak-hitting catchers and middle infielders have to bat too.
Here are the top five in the National League in RC27:
1. Barry Bonds, S.F. -- 20.48
2. Todd Helton, Col. -- 10.81
3. Jim Edmonds, St.L. -- 10.63
4. J.D. Drew, Atl. -- 9.83
5. Lance Berkman, Hou. -- 9.56
Good grief, notice anyone standing out? A lineup made up of Barry Bonds nine times would beat just about any other player-times-nine by a 2-1 margin, on average. Can you imagine if you had nine guys who could hit like Todd Helton and you could only play about .237 ball? That's what would happen when you met the Barry Bondses, according to a stathead tool called the Pythagorean formula.
As for the other MVP "candidates," Pujols is sixth at 9.20, Rolen is seventh at 9.07 and Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers is ninth at 8.83. Non-candidate Bobby Abreu of the Phillies is eighth at 8.93.
The difference between Bonds and runner-up Helton, 9.67 runs, is the same as the difference between Helton and Phillies pitcher Brett Myers, who is 350th in the league in RC27. Percentage-wise, the difference between Bonds and Helton is the same as the difference between Helton and Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal, who is 91st in the league at 5.71. Think about that for a second. First place to second is the same as second place to 91st.
I wrote last week that there should be a term for second place when there's such a distance between leader and runner-up that "second place" just doesn't tell the story. One reader sheepishly suggested "Mondale," which is funny but not useful.
But reader John Pritchard offers up a term from the world of Australian horse racing: daylight second. It means that pretty much nobody is in second place, there's nothing but daylight there. An Australian announcer calling Secretariat's 31-length win in the 1973 Belmont Stakes might have said, "At the wire it's Secretariat first, daylight second."
In just about every offensive statistic that measures individual achievement in the National League this year, it's Barry Bonds first, daylight second.
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