King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Hobbyhorse check: Even great coaches like Belichick and Reid insist on leaving the door open for beaten foes. Plus: Instant replay is not so instant.

Published September 26, 2005 7:00PM (EDT)

Can't anybody here manage the clock?

One of my hobbyhorses is the insistence by NFL teams on leaving time on the clock before attempting a game-tying or game-winning field goal.

Sunday two NFL teams pulled this bonehead move. But what did I expect? They were only the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, the defending conference champions coached by two of the most respected minds in the game, Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.

Neither decision cost the team making it the game. In the Pats game, the Pittsburgh Steelers mismanaged the clock too, and they almost certainly wouldn't have won had they not done so. But once in a while, these types of things cost teams games. Even the best teams never seem to get them right.

The Eagles' move was particularly jaw-dropping.

Philadelphia played the whole game with a hobbled kicker. David Akers, who hurt his right hamstring, his non-kicking leg, last week, aggravated the injury on the opening kickoff and could do nothing more strenuous than kick extra points and similar-length field goals the rest of the day.

Why coach Andy Reid, for whom roster management is a forte, didn't put another kicker on the roster Sunday, just in case, is a good question. Surely some special-teams soldier could have been spared for the afternoon, and mediocre kickers who can kick off to the 10-yard line and have a decent chance of hitting a medium-range field goal are loitering on street corners looking for casual labor.

Instead, the Eagles used a linebacker to placekick and a third-string tight end to kick off, with results that combined to nearly cost the Eagles a win over the Oakland Raiders, who enjoyed great field position all day and only had to stop the Eagles on downs to keep them from scoring. The linebacker, Mark Simoneau, even missed a PAT.

So the game is tied 20-20 in the final minute and the Eagles are driving. On first down from the Raiders 12 with 25 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Donovan McNabb hits Terrell Owens over the middle at the 5. Twenty seconds to go, second and three. There's plenty of time for the Eagles to gather themselves, think about what to do and do it.

So let's think. You have a kicker who can barely walk. Your kickoffs have given the Raiders the ball at midfield all day. You don't want to leave enough time on the clock for Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins to throw a Hail Mary pass. You wouldn't give anyone that chance if you didn't have to, but Kerry Collins has Randy Moss on his team.

The play is to line up, let the clock run down below five seconds, the time it takes to kick a field goal, and spike the ball. The only risk is that someone will commit a false-start penalty in the last 10 seconds, which would cause a clock runoff and mean the end of regulation. But that would only mean overtime, and with no actual play running, why would anyone jump? The linemen don't even have to come out of their three-point stances when the ball's snapped.

And let's not even talk about that "in case of a muffed snap" argument, which is somewhere below "I carry a bomb on airplanes because what are the odds of there being two bombs on one plane" on the scale of understanding probability.

The Eagles rushed up to the line and spiked the ball with 12 seconds left. Here's what I typed in my notes after that, knowing I'd use it:

"David Akers limps in, kicks the field goal. Nine seconds left, and now it's time for the tight end to kick off. The game should be over. CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf, who will criticize the way a guy ties his shoes, has said nothing. And this isn't second-guessing on my part. I'm typing this paragraph between the field goal and the kickoff, with the picture paused. OK, I'm hitting play."

Fortunately for the Eagles, the Raiders were just as dumb. Chris Carr fielded the ensuing amateurish kick -- or maybe it would have been a squib anyway, another hobbyhorse -- at the 32.

And rather than downing it or running straight ahead for 10 yards or so and getting tackled with time on the clock so Collins can try a desperation pass to Moss, who is, not to put too fine a point on it, the best guy in the league to try to throw such a pass to, Carr runs around for the entire nine seconds, first advancing straight ahead to the 40, then reversing fields and giving ground madly, eventually getting tackled at the 34. Total return yardage: two yards. Game over.

Dierdorf says, "Boy, he sh --" and stops short, since the broadcast, 35 minutes overtime, has to end quickly and he must have gotten a shout in his earpiece. So I'll give Dan credit for one out of two.

Even if Carr had broken the run for a touchdown, the chance it would have been called back for an illegal block in the back penalty was roughly 100 percent, maybe a little more.

The last time I saw an NFL kickoff or punt return that wasn't called back for an illegal block in the back penalty was in 1993. I'm juuuuuust starting to think this rule is a little too strict. The last time I saw it not called on a return when the ball-carrier reversed his field was in 1887. President Cleveland about fell out of his chair on that one.

Dumbest play I've seen this year, immediately following the second dumbest.

But there was plenty of dumb in the Patriots-Steelers endgame, the finish of a terrific, tense battle.

The score was tied 20-20 in this one too, with the Pats driving. They got to the Pittsburgh 25-yard line with 40 seconds to go, facing a third-and-3. Forty seconds, mind you. The Patriots had no timeouts left, the Steelers one.

New England brought kicker Adam Vinatieri onto the field as the seconds ticked away. The Steelers did nothing. The Patriots snapped the ball with six seconds remaining, Vinatieri hit the 42-yarder and the Pats had a 23-20 lead -- with one second left.

Now, why not wait another few seconds, then snap it? Why leave time on the clock? Now the Patriots had to kick off, meaning the Steelers had a tiny, tiny, tiny chance of running it back all the way and winning. I can't emphasize enough how tiny the chances were, but they were greater than zero, which is what they would have been had the Patriots waited one more lousy second to snap the ball.

The chances probably wouldn't have been much greater had the Steelers called their last timeout with 40 seconds left. The Patriots almost certainly would have had Tom Brady take a knee, then run the field-goal drill in exactly the same way, leaving one second on the clock.

But something might have gone wrong. Maybe Brady fumbles the snap. Maybe someone jumps early and makes Vinatieri's job five yards harder. Even if all you're doing is improving your odds from one in a million to one in 999,999, if there's no cost, why not do it?

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Get on with it! [PERMALINK]

Patriots-Steelers, middle of the second quarter. Eugene Wilson appears to intercept a Ben Roethlisberger third-down pass. It's low and he goes down and either cradles it or traps it, though it looks pretty clear to the naked eye he trapped it.

It's ruled an interception and the Steelers challenge. CBS goes to commercial and returns two minutes later to a shot of referee Bill Carollo peering into the monitor.

The network runs a replay that shows without a doubt that Wilson hadn't come close to catching that pass. It bounced under him and he gathered it up.

From that point, it's five minutes to the next snap. Instant replay is instant like chickpeas are chicks.

Why does this stuff take so long? The entire challenge delay was seven minutes. Even if Carollo hadn't started looking at the replays until CBS came back from a commercial -- which is not what happened -- it shouldn't have been more than a three-minute delay. Wilson didn't catch it. Fourth down.

Considering he headed over to the sidelines sometime around the start of the commercial break, it should have been about a one-minute delay.

After CBS returned, Carollo stayed on the sidelines for another two minutes, most of which he spent talking to the booth, not looking at replays. Then he went back on the field, made the announcement, set the ball, ready to go and ... hang on. Another delay.

The ball was sitting nose on the 40. Is that where it had been? Well, let's go to the replay! Good thing the ref had spent those extra two minutes talking to the booth about the placement of the ball and the setting of the clock.

So another two minutes later, Carollo comes back to inform us that "The ball is correct, it should be at the 39 and a half yard line." So I guess by "correct," he meant "incorrect."

OK, they move the ball about the distance of the ball itself, so the back of it is on the 40 and, seven minutes after the last play -- seven minutes! -- the Steelers get their fourth-down snap.

Now, how on earth did the officials ever know where to place the ball before instant replay? I mean, did they have, like, a guy standing on the sideline with a stick planted in the ground or something, to mark the spot of the last snap?

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Overnight ratings [PERMALINK]

First glance at some Week 3 picks.

Told you so: Saints, Jets, Bengals, Patriots.

Did I say that?: Falcons, Cardinals.

Almost: Randy Moss and Terrell Owens not scoring.

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