The N.F.L.’s new try rule has resulted in lots of missed kicks — as intended, the point-after attempt is no longer automatic. But deuces still aren’t wild.
With a week remaining in the regular season, there have been 68 missed point-after attempts, versus eight in the entire 2014 regular season. But only 93 two-point conversions have been attempted, not hugely different from the 58 attempted in the 2014 regular season.
The preponderance of deuce tries of 2015 have been by the trailing team and have happened in the second half, when the trailing team must catch up. Early on, trailing teams aren’t going for two as much as might be expected: Scoring to pull within 14-12 in the first half versus Green Bay, the Raiders kicked a singleton. And hardly any N.F.L. coach is using the bolder approach of going for two when ahead in the first half.
Facing Santa Clara in the second week of the season, the Steelers, who lead the league with 10 deuce attempts, went for two at 6-0 and again at 14-3 in the first half. Both tries succeeded, giving Pittsburgh a 16-3 edge, a nice improvement over 14-3. College play, especially by Chip Kelly when at Oregon, has shown that going for two early, adding an extra spin to the ole scoreboard, can dishearten the opponent.
Over the next few games, the Steelers went for two early, when leading, versus St. Louis and Arizona, failing both times. This seemed to cause Mike Tomlin to lose interest in deuce tactics, though what happened on the last attempt tells nothing about what will happen on the next. (Pittsburgh is seven for 10 on deuce tries.) Meanwhile, most of the league hasn’t experimented with going for two early or when already leading.
The devil’s advocate would note that Arizona, Carolina and New England, this season’s best teams, have not attempted any deuces. This may be because kicked PATs are the preferred tactic — or because the best teams usually don’t worry about the scoreboard. The other devil’s advocate argument is that because 94 percent of PATs and 47 percent of deuces are succeeding this season, 100 tries of either type would yield 94 points, so what’s the difference?
But perhaps N.F.L. coaches are not embracing the deuce because they don’t want to be blamed for a failed try. If an N.F.L. coach decides to go for two and ends up wishing he’d kicked for one, that coach gets hammered by the sports press. If the coach sends in the place-kicker and it’s a miss, the kicker or holder or long-snapper will be blamed. For the many N.F.L. coaches on the hot seat, avoiding negative Monday-morning headlines is essential.
In other football news, what a relief for the Carolina Panthers — they lost! With the Cats now 14-1, the minkey is off their backs, as Inspector Clouseau would say: no distraction of trying to go undefeated. Carolina needs to win its final game to lock the first seed in the N.F.C., so will play all-out, then get a week off. Perfect! Had the Panthers won on Sunday, that would have been a disaster. The minkey would still be on their backs, while three weeks would pass before the next meaningful contest. All Carolina fans should be grateful to the Falcons.
With the final undefeated down in flames, surviving members of the 1972 Dolphins perfect team savored their record anew. Their heirs will be savoring the annual moment when the final N.F.L. undefeated goes down. National waistline note: the 1972 Dolphins had no one over 300 pounds. The most recent Super Bowl victor, the New England Patriots of 2015, had 11 players above 300 pounds.
Speaking of the Patriots, their confusion regarding the coin toss in overtime is understandable — see below for details of the N.F.L.’s super-obscure “two privileges” rule.
Sweet Play of the Week. Arizona leading Green Bay 17-0 to start the second half, Cardinals guard Mike Iupati executed a sweet pull block for the David Johnson 14-yard touchdown run that turned the contest into a walkover. But what was Aaron Rodgers doing still in the game once the score was Arizona 38-8 and both Green Bay starting offensive tackles were out injured?
Sour Play of the Week. Fourth-and-goal on the Indianapolis 5 as the clock approached double naughts, trailing 18-12, the Dolphins snapped. Certain the play would be a pass — though time management aspects of a run were the same as for a pass — the Colts rushed just three. All three reached Ryan Tannehill, dragging him down to end the game.
T.M.Q. notes that on most N.F.L. plays, there is at least one player doing absolutely nothing. On this down, Miami linemen Brandon Albert, Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jason Fox, plus wide receiver Kenny Stills, simply stood watching Tannehill be sacked, doing nothing. The snap was mistimed, but still it was fourth-and-goal on the final play and half the Dolphins’ offense watched, hands on hips, as their quarterback was sacked. That’s lump-of-coal sour.
Spoiler Warning: Rey’s Fighting Staff Says, “If Found, Return to R. Skywalker.” The economics of the Hunger Games reality are puzzling — the advanced society of Panem has force fields and hovercraft, but can’t figure out how to plant corn. So too the economy of the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” galaxy, where hyperdrive is ho-hum and antigravity devices are so common that teenagers like Rey own them, yet people fight over morsels of food. Shouldn’t food be easier to produce than starships?
Now that J.J. Abrams wields control over the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, he has teleportation, precognition, warp engines, telekinesis, time travel, matter replicators and mind control in his tool kit. But his most important power is coincidence.
Of course many movies rely on preposterous coincidence, but Abrams sci-fi takes it to another level. In the 2009 reboot flick “Star Trek,” the young Jim Kirk, not yet a captain, is forced into a survival pod and crash-lands on an uncharted planet. Kirk’s pod touches down within walking distance of Mr. Spock, who was marooned by a different plot twist at exactly the same part of exactly the same uncharted planet. In “TFA,” Rey steals an abandoned starship that turns out to be the long-lost Millennium Falcon. She gets it up into space and almost immediately encounters a ship flown by Han Solo, who’s not looking for the Falcon — he’s there by coincidence. A typical galaxy is about 600 quadrillion miles across and 99 six-nines percent void. Yet by galactic standards, Han just happens to be within walking distance.
In “Star Trek,” while marooned on the uncharted world, Mr. Spock looks into the sky and sees his home planet, Vulcan, explode. For Vulcan to appear as large in the sky as it does to Spock, he would have had to have been on a moon of Vulcan. In “TFA,” the heroic rebels led by Leia Organa look up into the sky and see the capital planet of the Republic blown up by the bad guys’ latest world-killer weapon. To see the capital planet in this way, they too would have had to have been on a moon. The moon of a planet that just exploded would suffer terrible geological consequences, yet nothing happens to Spock’s or Leia’s terra firma.
Sure, these are movies intended for suburban shopping malls. But now that J.J. Abrams is Earth’s No. 1 person for depictions of outer space, he should step up his cosmic IQ.
Stats of the Week. The Vikings are 17-8 outdoors in Minnesota after Dec. 1.
The Rams broke an 0-10 streak at Seattle.
Carson Palmer is on a 26-4 streak.
Houston opened 1-4 and since is 7-3.
Since the start of the 2014 season, at home Tennessee is 2-0 versus Jacksonville and 0-14 versus all other teams.
This season the Ravens are 2-0 versus the Steelers and 3-10 versus all other teams.
Baltimore is on a 5-1 stretch versus Pittsburgh.
Aaron Rodgers is 9-20 on the road versus winning teams.
Last week, Kansas City became the first N.F.L. team to lose five straight and then win eight straight; this week, Kansas City became the first N.F.L. team to lose five straight and then win nine straight.
Peyton Manning has not played in six weeks, and leads the N.F.L. in interceptions.
“Boys, I’ve Got Great News, Six More Weeks of Exhaustion and You’ll be Able to Say You Were in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.” As this year’s 40 bowl games grind on — the Camping World Independence Bowl, the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl — bear in mind that some college football players don’t want to go through the motions of a bowl game. It means a month to six weeks of additional unpaid practice, often a lost Christmas vacation, just to inspire the boosters to donate to the college and to help the millionaire head coach recruit so that he can remain a millionaire. (A bowl victory lures commitments from the recruiting class announced in February.)
The big-deal New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day bowls can be a thrill for players, plus a chance to finish in the top 10. That’s worth six more weeks of hard work. But by late November, large numbers of college players are worn down from months of contact, need a break, need to be in class, and know they will never brag to friends back home, “I played in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl.”
Code of Federal Regulations note: This compendium of government rules contains 50 basic subject areas, with Title 35 “reserved” for future expansion of regulation even deeper into our lives.
Bowl stat bonus: In the Poinsettia Bowl, Boise State outgained Northern Illinois by 621 offensive yards — 654 yards for the Broncos, 33 yards for the Huskies.
Another Sign Sports Illustrated Predictions Curse Has Joined S.I. Cover Curse. T.M.Q. has noted Sports Illustrated predicted Cleveland would win the World Series; the Indians did not make the postseason. Sports Illustrated predicted Baltimore would win the Super Bowl; the Ravens were one of the first clubs eliminated. Now that the big-college gridiron playoffs are about to begin, recall the Sports Illustrated prediction: The final four would be Ohio State, Auburn, T.C.U. and Notre Dame. None made it. Auburn, forecast by S.I. to rank second, finished 6-6 and is on its way to the Birmingham Bowl.
Pro Bowl Politics. The Pro Bowl has no impact on the standings; it’s just an extra bit of entertainment, and viewers consider quarterbacks a lot more entertaining than linemen. Still, the Pro Bowl roster offers 12 quarterbacks and running backs, and 16 offensive linemen, a top-heavy roll call. Preference for ball-handlers happens at other levels. This year’s Washington Post All-Met football team for the nation’s capital names 34 quarterbacks and running backs, and 17 offensive linemen.
Pro Bowl selections for blockers are based as much on publicity and reputation as that season’s performance. Three Cowboys offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl last year, because last year the Boys line performed well; three Cowboys offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl this year, because now they have reputations. But this season the St. Louis offensive line has allowed the league’s fewest sacks, yet got no one in the Pro Bowl. Buffalo and Seattle, the first- and third-ranked rushing teams, have no offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl.
Arena League Pair of Games of the Week. Jacksonville, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington combined for 1,453 yards passing and 312 yards rushing.
Duke Wins Bowl Game — Not a Misprint! Duke won a bowl game for the first time since 1961, putting Blue Devils football on a pace to win another bowl game in 2069. The football gods chortled when Indiana’s last-gasp field goal attempt was, controversially, ruled no good. This balanced the cosmic scales for the officiating blunder that cost Duke in a last-gasp defeat versus Miami. (The N.F.L. and N.C.A.A. have different standards for what part of a goal post a field-goal attempt must pass above to be considered good — another instance in which rules simplification and standardization are recommended.)
Unhappy Hour in Hell’s Sports Bar. Hell’s Sports Bar is hosting a New Year’s Eve party, but instead of cup o’ kindness, the drink special is cup o’ torment. On Sunday, Idaho became an actual Hell’s Sports Bar. In the early slot, rather than contests with playoffs implications, Gem State viewers were shown a pairing of also-rans, Boys at Bills. What did Idaho do to deserve this fate? In the late slot, most of the country became Hell’s Sports Bar as Fox stayed with the Arizona over Green Bay blowout rather than switch to Rams at Seattle, which went down to the wire.
Chicago viewers tuning to CBS saw also-rans Jax at New Orleans, combined record 10-18, rather than Pats at Jets. Because Fox telecast Bears-Bucs to most of Illinois, Chicago had to be punished for supporting the Bears, first with CBS blacking out in Cook County the playoff-atmosphere Patriots at Jets, then punished anew with the beaming into tubes of the Jags-Saints woofer.
Flying Reindeer Worry About Being Replaced by Drones. Again this year the War on Christmas ended with unconditional surrender by the attacking forces. Both a secular and a religious event, Christmas confounds the First Amendment. This Pew Research Center poll found 72 percent of Americans consider holiday symbols of Christianity, such as crèche scenes, acceptable on public property in some circumstances. O.K., but then symbols of Islam must be acceptable, too — it can be one way or the other. Not displaying symbolism of any faith at government buildings seems the wiser path. Santa and Rudolph are another matter, being secular.
Pew further found 81 percent of Americans believe “Jesus was born in a manger” while 75 percent believe the celestial baby was visited by wise men guided by a star. In Luke, Joseph and Mary live in Nazareth; they travel to Bethlehem to be registered; Mary gives birth in a stable because there’s no room in the inn; then angels announce the good news to shepherds abiding in a field. In Matthew, Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem, where Jesus is most likely born at home — there’s no mention of travel or an inn — the magi arrive to admire the swaddled babe, then the family flees to Egypt. The Bible’s two Christmas accounts conflict on key details — the other Gospels offer no birth narrative, introducing Jesus as an adult — while neither has the wise men and shepherds meeting. Yet the nativity scene, a misrepresentation of scripture, has become the focal point of public controversy regarding the religious aspect of Christmas.
The Football Gods Have Their Fingers Crossed. Tailback Fred Jackson (nine seasons) has never appeared in a postseason game. Now with the Seahawks, he should break that streak. T.M.Q. is rooting for him because he’s an undrafted player from Division III Coe College.
To Each, His Dulcinea. Scoring with a few seconds remaining to make the final Houston 34, Tennessee 6, Tre McBride of the Flaming Thumbtacks celebrated wildly.
To Each His Dulcinea, That He Alone Can Name. Boobie Dixon, a third-stringer for the awful Buffalo Bills, declared of the team’s final date versus the Jets, “The Super Bowl is next week for us.” Rex Ryan can’t coach players to perform but sure can coach empty boasting!
Why Has Jersey/B Improved? Not only did the Jets rid themselves of Ryan, while seeing him stay in the A.F.C. East and weaken the division — they also obtained Ryan Fitzpatrick (29 touchdown passes) and Brandon Marshall (1,376 receiving yards) for a net of just fifth- and sixth-round draft selections.
Lend Me a Tight End! In Persons versus Eagles, tight ends caught passes for 269 yards while running backs rushed for 112 yards.
Why Has Washington Improved? Washington’s win of the N.F.C. East could be attributed to benching the Robert Griffin III-ring circus in favor of the consistent, conventional Kirk Cousins. Another plus is that Coach Jay Gruden has resisted meddling by Chainsaw Dan Snyder. Gruden also stays calm, a good quality in a leader. When Cousins inexplicably knelt to end the first half versus the Eagles — Washington was on the Philadelphia 6; he was supposed to run a play — Gruden did not do a Mount Vesuvius impression, which speaks well of him. The front-office decision to use the fifth choice of the 2015 draft on guard Brandon Scherff, bypassing several flashier players, has proved wise. The improved Washington offensive line is allowing 1.7 sacks per contest, a major drop from 3.6 sacks per game in the 2014 season. And the emergence of Jordan Reed has given Washington the key that unlocks a modern N.F.L. defense — a tight end who goes downfield like a wide receiver.
What Will Happen to RG3? Acquired by Washington for a king’s ransom in draft selections, Griffin is one of those quarterbacks who would have been better off if drafted lower. Griffin, Joey Harrington, David Klingler, Rick Mirer, Christian Ponder, Heath Shuler, Akili Smith — going toward the top of the draft placed on them stressful expectations that wouldn’t have happened had any of them been chosen “second day.” (Ryan Leaf does not belong on this list because the extent of his injuries was never appreciated by football fans; high-drafted players who disappoint after sustaining significant injuries, such as Leaf, Ki-Jana Carter or Steve Emtman, are not busts.) All that off-season time Griffin spent doing product endorsements and personal appearances, when he should have been studying film, didn’t help. While Griffin was waving from various red carpets, Kirk Cousins was in the film room.
Still, T.M.Q. thinks Griffin will play well again once he is freed from Chainsaw Dan’s negative energy field. For contract reasons Griffin is more likely to be waived than traded; that will allow him to shop for the best situation. Griffin has potential to become the next Jim Plunkett. The 49ers’ trade for Plunkett included three first-round picks, just as Washington’s trade for Griffin included three first-rounders, Then the 49ers waived Plunkett, just as Griffin is likely to be released. Plunkett went from the waiver wire to winning two Super Bowls for the Raiders. RG3 may do something special after slinking out of Washington.
Authentic Games Standings. This week’s retcon is that the standings now take into account only games against opponents either in or alive for the playoffs. By that metric the Vikings and Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons are exposed as pretenders while the Jets look like this year’s sleeper. The Cardinals cannot pass the Panthers in the N.F.C. since Arizona’s best finish is 5-1 while Carolina has already locked its best finish at 5-0. The Patriots will finish first in the A.F.C. in Authentic terms, so my unscientific formula continues to predict a Cats-Pats Super Bowl rematch.
O.K., the real standings count, too. There remains a chance Arizona could secure the first seed in the N.F.C., and the Cardinals love their sliding field — Arizona is 19-4 at home under Bruce Arians. But Carolina locks the first seed with a win in Charlotte versus erratic City of Tampa.
The Broncos have the inside track to a bye, and should resist using it to bring back Peyton Manning. He threw 17 interceptions in nine starts; Brock Osweiler has thrown four interceptions in six starts. The Broncos are more dangerous if they protect the ball on offense and let their first-ranked defense shine.
Green Bay 3-3
Bengals, Chiefs, Texans 3-4
Illuminati Behind Patriots OT Kick? Winning the coin toss in overtime at Jersey/B and electing to kick, Bill Belichick seemed to outthink himself. Kicking to start overtime in the N.F.L. format appears a low-percentage decision. The theory of kicking is that if your defense forces the other team to punt on its first overtime possession, then you only need a field goal to win. But if you receive the overtime kickoff and get a field goal, then stopping the other team’s possession results in victory. And if the other team takes the overtime kickoff and scores a touchdown, as the Jets did, that’s the game. This dynamic is why kicking to begin overtime is widely viewed as a nutty move.
Of course since the coach was Belichick, a hidden conspiracy may have been involved. Perhaps the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderberg Group instructed Belichick to kick for sinister reasons. Perhaps Flying Elvii coaches’ headphones were receiving transmissions from Project HAARP. Or the explanation could be superstition. In the two most recent times Belichick won the toss to begin overtime, both versus Denver, when he chose to receive the Patriots lost, and when he chose to kick the Patriots won. The latter was on a cold day with strong gusting winds. Sunday’s weather in New Jersey was mild.
Some confusion during the coin toss — Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater questioning referee Clete Blakeman — stemmed from the quirks of coin toss rules which, like so much else in football, are excessively complex.
At the coin toss to begin an N.F.L. game, the winner may choose among “two privileges,” or defer that choice to the start of the second half. (Scan for “two privileges.”) The privileges are whether to kick or receive, or which goal to defend in the first quarter. Kick/receive counts as a single choice. If the toss winner defers, then it is presented the same “two privileges” after intermission, while the toss loser gets the two privileges to start the contest. When winning the opening toss, Belichick almost always elects to defer, since getting the ball to start the third quarter is considered slightly better than getting the ball to start the first quarter.
The result is like this. Team A wins the game-opening toss. If it defers, Team B always chooses the “first privilege,” kick or receive, then says receive; otherwise Team A will get the ball to start both halves. After Team B chooses to receive, the referee turns back to Team A’s captain and offers the other privilege, which is selecting which goal to defend. So on a windy day, winning the opening coin toss is double value — Team A can defer to the second half and also control when it gets the wind.
The second-half choice is simpler, since at that juncture there’s no defer option. Team A is asked whether it wishes to kick or receive, and always says it wishes to receive. Then Team B chooses which goal to defend.
At an overtime coin toss, the winner cannot defer — unless it can, hold that thought — and is offered only the “two privileges:” whether to kick or receive, or to decide which goal to defend. If the winner chooses to kick, as the Patriots did at Jersey/B, then the toss loser, the Jets, chooses which goal; had the Patriots elected to receive, again the Jets would have chosen a goal. Slater said that’s why he got confused at midfield on national television. When the Patriots win a game-opening coin toss, they can kick off and also decide which goal they want. At the overtime coin toss, once New England elected to kick, the goal choice belonged to the Jets. Blakeman, the referee, knew that, and wasn’t happy to hear Slater question him.
Here’s the nutty quirk — the winner of an overtime coin toss can defer, but only if it’s in the playoffs. Regular-season N.F.L. games end after five quarters if the score is tied; postseason contests continue till someone wins. If a postseason game goes to a seventh quarter — that is, to a fourth half — there’s another coin toss, modeled on the one that starts the second half. So in theory a team winning the overtime coin toss in the playoffs can elect to defer its choice to the seventh quarter, without, of course, knowing if there will be a seventh quarter. The excessively long N.F.L. rule book even spells out coin toss rules for the start of a ninth quarter. I’m pretty sure no N.F.L. coach has ever deferred to start a playoff overtime. But should this happen, Belichick will be the one who does it.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk. Arriving at Buffalo with a 4-10 record, the Cowboys punted in Bills territory three times. Dallas is now 4-11.
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