This nutty NFL season can be summed up by the end of the Dallas Cowboys-Washington game, which went from Dallas win to tie to Washington win in the course of one crazy play.
What looked like a game-winning 35-yard field-goal attempt by Mike Vanderjagt of Dallas with six seconds left and the score 19-19 was blocked by Troy Vincent of Washington. OK, we go to overtime. Vincent's teammate Sean Taylor picked up the loose ball. Taylor embarked on a broken-field run, but he had a long way to go. We were going to overtime.
Taylor weaved around and broke some tackles and went all the way to the Dallas 45, about a 30-yard run. But he was tackled with no time on the clock. Overtime. There was a flag on the play, but there's always a flag on a runback like that, and it's always a hold or an illegal block in the back. Where's that coin again, ref?
Hang on. Facemask, Dallas. An incredibly stupid penalty by Kyle Kosier, who grabbed Taylor's grill in a desperate attempt to stop a runback that had almost no chance of going all the way. Too much traffic. Fifteen yards. And, just as important, a half can't end on a defensive penalty, and the Cowboys were on defense during Taylor's runback.
That meant Washington got one more play, which, after the penalty walkoff, meant a 47-yard game-winning field-goal try by Nick Novak, who had missed from 49 yards with 31 seconds left.
Novak made the kick. "It's a short walk from the outhouse to the penthouse," he said after the game. And that's your NFL, 2006 version.
Ask the Miami Dolphins, who went to Chicago with a 1-6 record that was as legit as they come and beat the 7-0 Bears 31-13. Ask the New Orleans Saints, who beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road Sunday for their sixth win, twice as many in the first half as they collected all last year.
And, short walks being just as short in the other direction, ask the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have followed their Super Bowl win by starting 2-6, indiscriminately losing to bad teams (Oakland) and good (Denver). Ask the Minnesota Vikings, who impressed everybody by winning in Seattle two weeks ago to go to 4-2 and have since lost at home to a good team (New England) and on the road to a bad one (San Francisco).
Ask the Cincinnati Bengals, who started the season 3-0 and a Super Bowl contender and have since lost four of five.
One more way that Dallas-Washington game was like a little snapshot of the NFL, version 2006: It all came back to T.O.
If Terrell Owens hadn't dropped a beautifully thrown bomb from Tony Romo with about four minutes to go in the third period, he'd have scored to put the Cowboys up by two touchdowns. Who knows how the game would have played out after that, but it probably wouldn't have played out with Washington scoring two touchdowns.
Owens also had another drop, and he earned a 15-yard penalty by using the ball as a prop in a touchdown celebration. That's a stupid rule, but it's a rule, and if anybody should know the stupid rules regarding touchdown celebrations, it's Terrell "Mr. Sharpie" Owens.
The Terrell Owens ticking bomb timetable is shrinking. It took about four years before he really became a pain in the ass in San Francisco. In Philadelphia it was two years. In Dallas, it's one. See a pattern there? Future employers of Mr. Owens -- and there will be a new one soon -- beware: You don't even get that honeymoon anymore.
By sooner I mean next year. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells would be well advised not to do what Eagles coach Andy Reid did last year and send Owens home. Owens certainly isn't worth the trouble anymore, but he also draws a lot of attention away from a highly non-Canton-like coaching job Parcells has been doing in Dallas.
This is his fourth year there, and the Parcells magic is supposed to have kicked in by now. Instead, the Cowboys, not entirely because of Owens, are just a team that knows how to lose.
Things might be looking up since Parcells' late-October decision to bench the dreadful Drew Bledsoe for Romo, a decision he should have made in early August, if not in February. But there are still a lot of problems, and Parcells is giving no indication he has any idea what to do about them other than bark at reporters every Tuesday.
With a tough schedule, the Cowboys will be hard-pressed to win 10 games and make the playoffs. Parcells doesn't tend to stick around under the best of conditions. Owens might not be the only one packing his bags in a few months.
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Colts D wins the game! Not really [PERMALINK]
There seems to be this idea going around that the Indianapolis Colts beat the New England Patriots Sunday night because of their defense.
The Colts made it two road wins in a row against two of their chief rivals for the AFC title, the Denver Broncos and the Patriots, by forcing five turnovers, the last an interception by Cato June that sealed a 27-20 victory in Foxboro.
"Peyton Manning got help from an unlikely source -- his defense -- and the Colts remained the NFL's only unbeaten team," read the lead of Howard Ulman's game story for the Associated Press.
"Peyton Manning piled up the big numbers but the Indianapolis Colts' much-maligned defense made a bunch of the big plays Sunday as it contributed five takeaways to the Colts' 27-20 victory over the New England Patriots at rowdy, chilly Gillette Stadium," wrote Phil Richards in the Indianapolis Star.
">Bob Kravitz. "Well, of course you know; everybody in America saw this game. But it bears repeating here: Defense won this game."
"Stats lie," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney told reporters after the game. "You guys write all that stuff about how we can't stop the run, how we're no good," Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports quoted him saying. "What we understand is that whatever we had to do to get the ball back for our offense, that's what we have to do."
OK. Celebrate away, Colts defense. But if the rest of you want a more accurate picture of the game you might want to skip the Indy papers and check the blats in Beantown. They talked less about the Indianapolis defense and more about Peyton Manning and the Colts' dynamite offense, plus an uncharacteristically sloppy night by the Patriots, particularly quarterback Tom Brady.
Stats don't really lie, but they can be misinterpreted. It's no lie that the Colts defense, among the worst in the league but supposedly all better now, allowed the Pats to rack up 349 yards and 24 first downs, virtually identical numbers to the 354 and 24 the Colts amassed on what everyone seems to agree was another great night for Manning.
It's the truth that the Patriots went a robust 9-for-15 trying to convert third and fourth downs. It's not dissembling to say the Patriots were able to run for 4.5 yards a pop. It's also not a lie to say the Colts held Brady to an anemic 5.7 yards per throw, though there were some unforced drops.
If there's a lying stat coming out of Monday's game, or at least a bad interpretation, it's this one: The Colts forced five turnovers, so therefore they played good defense.
And extrapolating from that, as Kravitz did, they can go 16-0. Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe also likes the Colts' chances of an undefeated run, though he didn't really praise the defense, correctly pointing out that the Colts win by outscoring people.
What happened was that the Colts showed again that they really can't stop the run, but they made some nice plays and, most importantly, got a lot of the bounces.
Let's look at Brady's four interceptions:
1. Brady way overthrows Doug Gabriel deep down the left sideline with no score in the first quarter. It was good coverage, but Brady had no business throwing the ball, and then when he did throw it he made a horrible throw. Good defense kept it from being a completion, but bad offense turned it into a turnover.
2. Late in the half, Indy leading 17-14, Brady throws deep into coverage again, this time to tight end Benjamin Watson, who's well covered by linebacker Gary Brackett. Brady overthrows it just a bit, but he puts it where only Watson can catch it. Watson leaps and the ball tips off his hands and -- pure luck -- ricochets to safety Bob Sanders, who makes a nice play to hang on for the interception. But without that lucky bounce, Sanders' contribution to the play would have been to land on a fallen Watson at the 3-yard line.
"Some days that's a catch and some days it's batted up and picked," Brady said later. "It was just one of those nights."
3. Early in the fourth quarter, the Colts up 24-17, Brady's short throw to Corey Dillon is tipped by rushing lineman Robert Mathis and intercepted by Cato June. Good play by the defense.
4. With about a minute and a half to go, trailing 27-20, Brady, having hit Watson for a 25-yard gain to the Indy 39 on the possession's first play, makes a short throw to a wide-open Kevin Faulk over the middle. The ball hits Faulk in the hands and ricochets to June for the interception that seals the game. Another bad play by the offense and another fortunate bounce for the defense.
Faulk had made another of the Colts' impressive defensive plays on the previous possession. The Patriots, down 27-17, had driven from their own 39 to the Indy 8 and faced a third-and-goal with 6:10 to go. Brady threw over the middle to Faulk, running a little circle route from the backfield at the 3. Faulk, open, dropped it.
He did a kind of funny hop as the ball approached. NBC announcer Al Michaels said he looked upfield before he had it, but it looked to me like he was hearing footsteps and short-armed the pass. I suppose you can credit that to the Colts' intimidating defense if I'm right about that. If so it was the only moment all night when the Patriots looked intimidated, as opposed to just inept.
Brady praised the Colts defense while noting that three of his interceptions came on deflections: "They've got good aggressiveness on defense. They got their hands on it," he said. "They didn't drop any."
The Colts did make some plays. The other turnover was a fumble that was really a steal by Raheem Brock, who simply took the ball away from Corey Dillon as he tackled him. Great play.
But they also got a healthy helping of good fortune. The Colts deserve to be called the class of the AFC at the moment because of their fantastic offense, their 8-0 record and their two straight road wins over two of the best teams in the league.
But they didn't turn any corners on defense Sunday night. They're still a very good team that's very vulnerable when the other team has the ball, and since even the best offenses have off days, that means they've got a long, long way to go to get to 16-0.
Remember what we talked about last year when the Colts also beat the Patriots in prime time to go 8-0 and start the talk of an undefeated season in earnest: 8-0 isn't even close to halfway to 16-0.
So this isn't exactly going out on a limb, but: With that defense, even though it "won" them Sunday's game, the Colts are not going to go undefeated, and they're going to face a tough road in the playoffs, where defense is even more important.
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