King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Patriots, Dolphins: In pursuit of perfection. Plus: Cleveland's crazy field goal. And: Why not illegally contact?


King Kaufman
November 19, 2007 7:10PM (UTC)

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, Tom Brady will throw 1.6 touchdown passes to Randy Moss.

Brady threw four TDs to Moss before halftime Sunday night in Buffalo and the New England Patriots beat the Bills 56-10. He added another to Ben Watson in the third quarter while simultaneously calling his broker and working a sudoku. The game wasn't as close as the score makes it sound. The Patriots' march to the sea continues.

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The sexy question in the NFL this year is whether the Patriots can go undefeated, though I'm at least as interested in whether the Miami Dolphins can go winless.

The Patriots are 10-0, outscoring opponents by 25 points a game with an average final score of 41-16. Twenty-five points a game is about a touchdown beyond absurd.

By way of comparison, the two teams that are running away with the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, both 9-1, are outscoring opponents by 10 points a game, which is pretty solid.

Last year's dominant regular-season team, the San Diego Chargers, outscored opponents by an average of almost 12 points while going 14-2. None of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers teams ever had an average margin of victory greater than 15 points. The Greatest Show on Turf 1999 St. Louis Rams outscored opponents by a little under 18 points a game. The '68 Baltimore Colts outscored theirs by almost 18 and a half a game, the most in the Super Bowl era.

The Pats are a touchdown beyond that. Oh, but watch out, they've got that big showdown with the Steelers in three weeks.

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That'd be the Steelers that lost to the New York Jets Sunday. Two-game winning streak for the What the Heck Pick of the week, by the way.

But I don't think the Patriots are going to go undefeated. To do that, they're going to have to win two games after having clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

If any team can do that, it's the Patriots, with their whack-job-genius coach and the us-against-the-world mentality he fosters. Meaningless? How can this game be meaningless? Three people in a diner booth in Skokie said the '85 Bears were the greatest team of all time. We'll show those bastards!

But I don't think any team can do it. The 1972 Dolphins, with their champagne bottles at the ready, can breathe easy.

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The 2007 Dolphins, I'm not so sure.

I'm not saying the Dolphins won't win one, maybe even two or three. I'm saying I'd bet on the Dolphins going 0-16 before I'd bet on the Patriots going 16-0. And come on, it's almost as sexy. It's been 35 years since a team went undefeated, but it's been 31 since a team went winless.

The Pats are home against Philadelphia and then at Baltimore before their showdown against the Steelers, who were looking like the Patriots' chief threat before Sunday. Now the chief threat is boredom.

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Both the Eagles and the Ravens are talented but disappointing, the kind of teams that could reach up and bite the Patriots. Kind of like the Bills, similarly mediocre but under different circumstances, could have. Only the Bills didn't. They lost 56-10, and I think Tom Brady just sneezed and threw another touchdown to Randy Moss.

After the Pittsburgh game, if the Patriots are 13-0 and the 8-2 Indianapolis Colts haven't yet lost their third game, New England would need to win one more to clinch home-field advantage. They'd do it by beating the Jets at home, leaving meaningless games at home against Miami and then at the New York Giants. Those games could very well be meaningless for both opponents too, except for the fact that they'd be trying to hand the Patriots their first loss.

I'm going with the Dolphins, on both ends of this question.

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And I can't get out of this item without mentioning the 1942 Chicago Bears, who outscored their foes by 26 points a game while going 11-0 in the regular season. That was a different game and a different league. Those foes included the Cleveland Rams, Chicago Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers.

Also -- worth noting, Pats fans -- those Bears lost in the title game.

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Not-so-instant non-replay [PERMALINK]

The officials who changed their mind about the field goal that sent Sunday's Cleveland Browns-Baltimore Ravens game into overtime swear that in the five minutes they were discussing the kick, they never used instant replay.

I believe them, though I also believe that I'm going to be rich soon because I helped the son of the former prime minister of Iraq get some money out of the country.

Browns kicker Phil Dawson booted a game-tying 51-yard field goal as regulation time expired. The ball hit the left upright, then the stanchion behind the crossbar, then it bounced back into the end zone. The officials signaled that the kick had failed, the Ravens celebrated, players from both teams even got together for a postgame prayer on the field.

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But some of the Browns, including Dawson, stuck around on the field to plead their case, rightly, that the kick should have been ruled good, because the ball hit the stanchion before bouncing back, not the crossbar. After five minutes of talking it over -- which included referee Pete Morelli going under the replay hood, though Morelli says he wasn't shown a replay because field goals aren't reviewable -- the kick was ruled a field goal.

The teams were called back out from the locker rooms and play resumed with overtime. The Browns won the toss and drove downfield for a field goal to win.

The replays are clear: The officials eventually got the call right. Even the hometown paper, the Baltimore Sun, could scarcely find Ravens fans to object to the ruling. An online poll asked, "Were the Ravens robbed?" Web polls are unscientific, but by an overwhelming margin, the Sun's readers said, "No."

But let's assume the officials really didn't look at any replays. How silly is it that NFL officials are asked to stop games for five minutes at a time to parse a play down to the millisecond to determine if any of a player's DNA had touched the ground before the ball came out, but they aren't allowed to use video to review the kind of thing that video review was made for?

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In baseball, which is much more reasonable about replay -- it has none -- the poobahs are just starting to consider using replay, but only for precisely this kind of thing, whether a ball went over a barrier. Politics of whether replay should be used at all aside, it's a perfectly reasonable use of replay, to determine a cold, hard fact.

The NFL's non-reviewable plays are mostly judgment calls, such as pass interference penalties. But the reason kicks aren't reviewable is almost certainly that nobody thought of it. There's no chance the rules committee won't tweak the rule next off-season.

That's one of the funniest things about the NFL. In most ways, it's airtight. It micromanages everything down to the shoelaces. But every once in a while somebody will do something or something will happen and the NFL will be left saying, "Oh, uh, we never thought of that. Better fix it."

That really shouldn't be happening anymore, but it happens. And then the league closes the loophole. And that's why the rulebook is more complex than the theory of relativity.

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NFL intentional fouls? [PERMALINK]

Washington took over at its own 30-yard line with 34 seconds left, trailing the Dallas Cowboys 28-23. Washington had to go 70 yards for the score. On the first play, Jason Campbell threw incomplete to Santana Moss, but the Cowboys were flagged for illegal contact, hitting a receiver more than five yards down field. Five yards and an automatic first down at the 35, but seven seconds had come off the clock.

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It occurred to me that if the Cowboys could pull that off four more times -- and it's got to be the easiest penalty in the world to get called for -- Washington would only be at the Dallas 45 with no time remaining. The half can't end on a defensive penalty, so the Washingtons would get one heave into the end zone from there.

That's roughly how the game ended anyway, and there were 37 Cowboys closer to the ball than the closest Washington, which is usually how it goes on plays like that.

I think the illegal contact defense would be much more effective than the famously ineffective "prevent." The danger is that the offense would complete one or more of those passes and decline the penalty or, worse, that the ball would be in the air when the defender made his hit, which would be pass interference, a much worse, spot-of-the-foul penalty. And that risk is why no coach will ever try it.

I wish they would, if only for the sanctimonious wailing it would engender about the integrity of the game.

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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