Let's stop any talk about the Indianapolis Colts going undefeated right here.
They pounded the New England Patriots 40-21 Monday night in Foxboro, Mass. -- their own private graveyard in recent years -- in front of Al Michaels and everybody. Now they're 8-0, halfway to a perfect record, and they've finally beaten a live opponent, so that 1972 Miami Dolphins talk is starting.
The Colts looked tremendous Monday, unstoppable on offense against a team that has rendered them impotent in the recent past, and stifling at times on defense, especially when Indy was building its big lead in the second quarter. The Pats had the ball twice in the second period, going three and out and gaining 23 yards on five plays before Corey Dillon fumbled.
Indianapolis was the Super Bowl pick of many a Super Bowl picker, including yours truly. They are clearly the best team in the league at the moment and appear likely to stay that way barring a catastrophic injury to Peyton Manning, or a series of them to his teammates.
But as big as it was for the Colts to get the Patriot monkey off their backs, there's still a long way to go.
The Colts are not halfway to a 16-0 record because they're 8-0. Think of all the 8-0 teams you've ever seen. How many of them have gone undefeated? (Teacher's edition: 1.) If the Colts get to 14-0, they'll be about halfway to 16-0.
And the Patriots are a live opponent, but they're not THE PATRIOTS of the last two years. They're still a pretty good team. They've beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons on the road. But they've also been thrashed twice now, by the Colts and the San Diego Chargers, both times on their home field.
The injuries have finally taken their toll, not just on defense but also on the offensive line. The loss of the two coordinators, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, may have had an impact as well.
Whatever it is, and however much good beating them does for the Colts' psyche, the Patriots are just another team now, one of several scrambling for a playoff spot.
They're likely to make it, since they're aided by playing in a weak division where 4-4 puts you in first place. And they're going to keep getting help from a soft schedule. They could go 6-2 in the second half without playing any better than they have so far.
The Colts still have to play dangerous games in Cincinnati, Jacksonville and Seattle, and they have to play the Steelers and Chargers at home. And that's not to mention those trip-up games that sometimes happen to NFL teams that are cruising along, home games against the Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals.
Indy could go 5-3 in the second half without playing any worse than it has so far. Overall, that is. If the Colts keep playing like they did Monday night, the '72 Dolphins are going to have to take an interest.
In about six weeks.
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Clock management [PERMALINK]
A couple of funny things happened with clocks in games I saw Sunday.
Reader DavidWilliam, in a letter posted to Monday's column, pointed out that Washington was able to run a minute off the clock between its third-down play and a punt near the end of its win over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night.
On the third-down play, Clinton Portis was tackled short of a first down with 3:55 remaining. It generally takes two or three seconds from the ball carrier hitting the ground for the 40-second play clock to start, and that's what happened.
The play clock clicked down to :10 with 3:20 left in the game. Washington, leading 17-10, was letting as much time go by as it could before calling timeout, then punting. But at that point, the play clock switched to :25. Washington called timeout with one second left on the timer, 2:55 to go in the game. That should have happened at 3:11. Washington gained 16 seconds.
"The referee made the wrong decision in pumping up the clock," said Terrel Canton, a statistical analyst in the NFL's officiating department. "It definitely was a mistake."
Canton said there was some miscommunication between the officials who manage the clock, head linesman Ed Camp and line judge Jerome Boger, and referee Tom White.
Canton said that when there's a problem or delay spotting the ball, so that there's less time than usual between the spot and the expiration of the play clock, the referee has to advise the offense that the play clock is winding down and that they have to hurry to the line of scrimmage.
There was no delay following the Portis run, but White was evidently fooled by the Washington punt team standing around and making no move toward the line of scrimmage.
"He didn't know that Washington was going to wait down to one second to call a timeout," Canton said. "He just figured it was some problems with us."
Since he hadn't warned Washington, White reset the play clock.
I pointed out to Canton that it ended up not mattering, since Donovan McNabb threw the game-deciding interception with a minute and a half to play.
"It ended up not mattering," he harrumphed, "but they still let the offense have about 15 more seconds."
The other clock issue I mentioned Monday. At the end of the Oakland-Kansas City game, Larry Johnson plunged into the end zone for the winning touchdown as time expired. But the play had begun with five seconds showing on CBS's scoreboard-graphic clock, and the last three seconds ticked off with Johnson lying on the ground in the end zone.
The Raiders didn't argue with the officials about the clock, and Canton said his office hadn't heard any complaints by Tuesday morning. He said there may be a question about it from the team in the regular Wednesday session reviewing the officiating, but acknowledged that if Oakland was hopping mad, he'd have probably heard something Monday.
A late call to the Raiders hadn't been returned at posting time, but since the game ended they've complained a lot about an atrocious tripping penalty against pass rusher Ed Jasper three plays before Johnson's touchdown without mentioning the clock at the end of the game.
Canton speculated that maybe CBS's clock graphic was inaccurate. That got me wondering whether the clock graphic is electronically tied to the scoreboard clock. If it says :03 on your TV, does that necessarily mean it says :03 in the stadium?
"The answer is yes and no," said CBS spokeswoman Leslie Anne Wade. "Most often we are synced with the score clock. Occasionally we are not. Obviously, officially, the time is kept on the field, and probably where you're asking about, we weren't in sync with the score clock."
Maybe, but the clock looked OK to me.
The play began with the clock stopped at :05 following a timeout by each team. Once the ball was snapped, the clock seemed to start properly. Johnson leaped into the end zone and landed with :03 showing. I timed the play myself, and it took no longer than two seconds from snap to Johnson lying on the ground.
Keep in mind that Johnson scored around the top of his jump. By the time he hit the earth, the play had been over for half a second or so, and because he jumped over the pile, neither he nor the ball was hidden from the officials' view, so there shouldn't have been a delay calling it a touchdown.
Sure enough, the head linesman, Ron Marinucci, could be seen entering the TV frame with :02 showing on the clock, running in from the sideline with his arms already raised, signaling TD. The clock stops when the whistle blows, and officials blow their whistles when they signal touchdown.
All things considered, even with a fairly slow reaction to stop the clock, I don't see how there couldn't have been time left following Johnson's scores. The Chiefs should have had to kick off.
But if the Raiders don't mind, I don't. I'll let you know if they complain.
Previous column: Run, Dick Vermeil, run!
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