King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown! The Colts and -- touchdown! -- USC both win astounding shootouts.


Salon Staff
November 21, 2005 10:00PM (UTC)

Touchdown!

Wha? Oh, sorry. I thought I was still watching one of this weekend's big games. The best teams in college and pro football both won amazingly entertaining shootouts. For some reason they reminded me of the XFL's gambit of trying to sell itself as a return to smashmouth football.

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Remember the XFL?

I like a good defensive struggle as much as the next football purist -- a category to which I don't belong -- as long as it's really good defenses carrying the day rather than incompetent offenses.

But unless you're a Chicago Bears or Carolina Panthers fan, you'd have to be pretty damn pure if you wanted to hang around the water cooler Monday and talk about the Bears' 13-3 win over the Panthers Sunday and not the Indianapolis Colts out-touchdowning the Cincinnati Bengals 45-37.

And I didn't see unranked Georgia Tech's 14-10 upset on the road over No. 3 Miami Saturday, but is it possible it was more exciting than No. 16 Fresno State's near upset at top-ranked USC? The final in that one: 50-42. The second-half score alone was 37-21 Trojans.

You can't have scores like 50-42 or 45-37 without some defensive breakdowns, of course. But the nice thing about defensive breakdowns is they're more entertaining than offensive breakdowns. A long touchdown play caused by blown coverage is more fun than a pass sailing over the head of an open receiver or a running back running into his own blocker and losing three yards.

The Bengals and Colts both came into Sunday games with good defenses, not elite, but definitely upper-middle class. They'd both been vulnerable to the run and solid against the pass, which had served them well because their powerful offenses had put opponents in the position of having to throw.

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But neither was a match for the other's offense Sunday. Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer were blowtorches. They both threw for well over 300 yards and averaged about nine yards per attempt. The Colts scored on their first five possessions. When the Bengals only managed two touchdowns and two field goals on theirs -- they even had to punt once! -- they looked doomed.

Twenty points in 28 and a half minutes, and you look doomed, down by 15. Now that's entertainment.

Cincinnati got back in the game late in the half when Keiwan Ratliff intercepted an underthrown Manning ball and ran it back to the Indy 14, where Manning tackled him, sort of. He plays defense too! The Bengals cashed that in for 35-27, and got within one when they scored on the first possession of the second half.

But the defenses kicked in a little bit after halftime. The teams combined for 578 yards and 62 points in the first half, 365 and 20 in the second. By way of comparison, the Bears and Panthers combined for 496 yards and 16 points all day. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens combined for 523 and 29, but they played nearly five quarters.

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Here's how I follow the NFL: I have the Sunday Ticket and unless there's a single game that's far more interesting than the others, such as Colts-Bengals in the late slot Sunday, I watch all the games at once.

I use the mix channels, which show up to eight games simultaneously on little pictures within the picture, to try to see what's happening all over. Then I switch to whichever game looks like it has something interesting developing. Sometimes I'm switching madly between multiple games, watching a play and then zapping, convinced that I am to the remote control what Charlie Parker was to the sax.

As the games go on, I usually end up zeroing in on two or three of them. There's something called the Red Zone Channel that does this for you, switching to whatever game is deemed the most interesting at that moment. It's great, but it covers only Fox games, so I don't use it.

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What's funny about this method of consumption is that at the end of a set of games, having followed along with as many as 10 at once and been aware of what was happening, I can't remember any of it. This is especially true of the early games, because there are more of them and because once I start watching the late games, the earlier ones disappear from my brain pan.

A thoroughbred track announcer once told me that he has no memory of any race he calls because as soon as it's over he has to start memorizing the names, jockeys and colors of the horses in the next race. It's like working on a computer and never saving to the hard drive.

I make up for this later in the week. All 14 Sunday day games are edited down into something called "Short Cuts," which begin airing at midnight EST Monday, and repeat through Wednesday night on two channels, one each for games shown on Fox and CBS.

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Each game is cut down to fit into a 30-minute time slot, and in fact most games are chopped down to about 23 minutes. Everything is snipped except the plays and most of the referee announcements, though not all of them. Occasionally the editors even zap a kickoff, though I don't think this is intentional.

As soon as the ball carrier is tackled, there's a quick cut to the teams lined up at scrimmage for the next play. It's a little dizzying, and I wish the editors would let each play go for an additional second or two so we viewers could sort of get our minds around the end of the play, identify the tacklers, that sort of thing. The snip is also a little close to the snap on the other side, too.

But these are nitpicks. It's one of the great innovations in sports TV of my lifetime. I wish there were something similar for college football, though it would suffer much more from having the atmosphere stripped away.

I also wish it were cheaper. Great as it is, if I didn't have to buy the Sunday Ticket, I wouldn't.

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But anyway: As the early games wound down on Sunday I'd settled on the Steelers-Ravens dog as it wheezed into overtime, the low score the result of incompetent offenses more than good defenses. And I was grimly sticking with it, even though the game of the week, Colts-Bengals, the one we'd all been waiting for for the last month or so, had already started.

I blame this on the brain shutdown caused by watching 10 -- 10! -- games at once.

After the fourth time since the end of regulation that announcer Ian Eagle threw it to Greg Gumbel in New York for an update and Gumbel described a score in Cincinnati, Eagle said, "Greg, they've had more offense there in a three-minute span than we've seen all day here in Baltimore."

I was jolted alert. I said, "What the hell am I doing?" and immediately switched over to Cincinnati, where the Colts were leading 14-10 and about to go up 21-10. I think the only thing I missed in Baltimore was the game-winning field goal by Matt Stover of the Ravens, but you know how I feel about field goals. Thanks to Eagle -- whose first name rhymes with "flyin'" -- for waking me up.

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So the big question now: Has the NFL Sunday Ticket completely shot my attention span? Am I now going to demand an edited version of my favorite show? Kiefer Sutherland in "4."

Wait, that's not the question.

The question is, Can the Colts go undefeated? That's the question until the Colts get defeated.

Indianapolis was impressive Sunday in holding off the challenge of the Bengals, who are a very good team. The Colts' offense is absolutely humming. But they also gave up 37 points when the other guys had the ball. Win by the shootout, die by the shootout. It's an old saying I just made up.

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The Colts have home games against the Steelers and San Diego Chargers, and they have to go to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars, who are tough and tough to figure out, capable of beating Seattle and losing to St. Louis, able to stay in a game with the Colts and let the Jets stay in a game with them.

Indy also has to go to Seattle in Week 16, when the Colts, if undefeated, will have wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the Seahawks will probably still be fighting. There are also trip-up games at home against the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals, the latter in the season's final week, when coach Tony Dungy would have to decide between going for the undefeated record or keeping his stars safe from injury.

I think that choice is easy -- nobody remembers the 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears teams I alluded to annoyingly at the end of Friday's column, who went undefeated in the regular season and lost in the playoffs. But I don't think it'll get to that point. The Colts will lose in the next few weeks.

But boy, they're fun to watch.

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