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Why Charles Darwin would like the playoffs, and exigency strikes the NFL!  
 
Gregg Easterbrook   By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to NFL.com

(Gregg Easterbrook will contribute his column to NFL.com readers each week during the NFL season. He is a senior editor of The New Republic, a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. His latest book, The Progress Paradox, released by Random House, is in bookstores now.)

(Jan. 4, 2005) -- As 12 teams enter the NFL playoffs, consider this -- 11 of them will end their seasons in bitter defeat, players kicking locker doors and fans tearing up their placards and ticket stubs, even sobbing. In a playoff-bracket system, only one team concludes its year in victory. The work, effort and dreams of all others come to crashing termination in defeat. Charles Darwin would feel right at home with the NFL playoffs.

Which makes me pause to wonder, is the college bowl-mania system really so bad? This year, 56 big-college teams appeared in 28 bowl games, and 28 teams ended their years with dancing and celebration. For 28 groups of players and 28 sets of extended family and fans, the final memory of the season will always be a happy one. Whereas for 11 of the 12 NFL playoff teams, and their extended families and fans, the final memory of the season will always be unhappy.

This survival of the fittest format sure can be brutal. Maryland, where my kids go to high school, has a 16-team state football championship tournament, which I've come to know well because our high school made it to the second round this season. But the 16-team format meant 15 sets of boys, coaches, families, friends, cheerleaders, poms, bands, managers and schoolmates ended their seasons sobbing, left with a bitter final memory. Or think of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which now takes 65 entrants; 64 of them end their seasons on sour notes.

Maybe the bowl setup isn't so bad after all -- less Darwinian, more humane, certainly more scenes of happy victors, fans and families. Maybe the NFL should just stage a bunch of bowl games after the season, allowing half the playoff teams to end their years happily. Or maybe the ideal NFL club to root for is one that gets a big victory in its final game but does not make the postseason, allowing the last memory of the year to be a pleasant one. So congratulations, fans of the New Orleans Saints! It's better this way, trust me.

Wonder what Darwin would think of instant replay?  
Wonder what Darwin would think of instant replay?   
In other NFL news, Anthony Cotton of the Denver Post notes that since 1999, playoff-bound teams seeded Nos. 1 through 4 that won in the final regular-season week were 25-5 in their first playoff tests, while playoff-bound teams with the same seeding that lost in final week were 6-4 in their first postseason games. That sounds like an airtight argument for playing to win, even if your seeding is already locked. On Sunday, seven teams entered their regular-season finales with seeding locked. What did they do? Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego played to win; Indianapolis and Philadelphia did not try to win; Atlanta offered a medium effort. For the Patriots, Tom Brady was in until the fourth quarter began, and his team won; for the Steelers, even the practice-squad players played to win -- see more below -- and their team exited victorious. Working simply from the historical record of seeded teams that do or don't win their regular-season finales, TMQ predicts that Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego will fare well in the playoffs, while Atlanta will struggle and Indianapolis and Philadelphia make early exits.

And in other NFL news, the postseason is finally here -- the moment all football nuts have been waiting for. But as TMQ annually points out, at the very moment the postseason arrives, fan interest begins to decline. During the season, no matter how your favorite team stumbled, there was always next week. Now, for 20 of the league's 32 teams, there is no next week. The stadium lights have been turned off, and grandfatherly guys with names like Sparky are helping players toss the junk out of their lockers. Already backers of the eliminated teams are turning their attention to the draft, free agency and the spring minicamps. By this time next week, 24 of the 32 teams will be eliminated, meaning only one-quarter of the league's fan base will still have dogs in the hunt. It is a paradox but it is true that each season as we reach the playoff climax, interest declines.

And in still other NFL news, annually Tuesday Morning Quarterback warns at this point -- just 11 more games to go. Count 'em and weep -- four wild-card games, four divisional games, two championship games and then that Super Bowl thing you might have heard about. Just 11 NFL contests remain for this season. Savor them.

Stats of the Week

The Jets and Vikings lost and made the playoffs; the Jaguars, Ravens and Saints won and were eliminated.

Stats of the Week No. 2

Buffalo and Carolina opened a combined 1-11, then went a combined 15-3, then closed a combined 0-2 -- both losing at home on a day that a win would have put them into the playoffs.

Stats of the Week No. 3

Counting penalties, Minnesota snapped the ball seven times inside the Washington 8-yard line, and came away with only a field goal.

Stats of the Week No. 4

Detroit gained 434 yards, and lost.

Stats of the Week No. 5

Kansas City gained 443 yards, and lost.

Stats of the Week No. 6

Miami's three quarterbacks combined to throw eight interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Stats of the Week No. 7

Miami was the sole NFL team that did not have a 100-yard rusher this season.

Stats of the Week No. 8

The last four losing Super Bowl entrants (Giants, Rams, Raiders, Panthers) have had losing seasons the following year.

Stats of the Week No. 9

Seattle and St. Louis made the playoffs despite being outscored by their opponents; Buffalo did not make the playoffs despite outscoring its opponents by 111 points.

Stats of the Week No. 10

Atlanta finished first in rushing, though its highest-rated runner finished 15th.

Stats of the Week No. 11

Kansas City scored 483 points, a 30 points-per-game average, and finished with a losing record.

Stats of the Week No. 12

Minnesota and St. Louis made the playoffs at 8-8. All previous 8-8 teams to make the NFL playoffs lost in the first round.

Stats of the Week No. 13

Jersey/B and Minnesota enter the playoffs on a combined streak of 8-13.

Stats of the Week No. 14

No team ranked in the bottom 10 for offense made the playoffs. Four teams ranked in the bottom 10 for defense made the playoffs (Green Bay, Indianapolis, Minnesota and Seattle).

Engineer Cheerleader of the Week

Perhaps Rachel is a reason for San Diego's turnaround?  
Perhaps Rachel is a reason for San Diego's turnaround?   
Literary Cheerleader of the Week remains suspended for more recognition of cheer-babes with other serious credentials. This week consider Rachel Arruejo of the San Diego Charger Girls, who has a degree in electrical engineering from the University of California at San Diego, an on-the-rise school, and who works as an R&D engineer. Arruejo has both dance and gymnastics training -- you don't find all that many dancing engineers -- and was the Chargers' cheer representative to last year's Pro Bowl. Yes, there are Pro Bowl cheerleaders, and whether a lot of it is reputation, publicity and who you know, like on the players' side, is a good question. When the 2005 Pro Bowl cheerleaders list comes out, I'll scan it for snubs, as sports columnists always do with the players' selections.

Sweet Play of the Week

Game tied at 7 in the second quarter, Green Bay had first-and-10 on the Chicago 38. Brett Favre faked a handoff up the middle, while a receiver came from the left as if to take an end-around. Every NFL team now runs the action where there's a back headed up the middle while a receiver comes for the end-around, and the defense's challenge is to guess which of the two gentlemen will get the ball. Answer this time: neither. Fullback William Henderson snuck into the right flat (underneath where the end-around guy came from), and then shot up the field for a touchdown reception.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 2

Leading 10-7 in a must-win, Denver faced third-and-goal on the Indianapolis 2. The Broncos lined up in a power-I set with two extra tight ends on the field, including tight end Patrick Hape lined up as a fullback. Play-fake and Hape runs into the right flat, uncovered, for the touchdown reception: Denver cruises and the hopes of Jacksonville, plus of Spenser, the Official Youngest of TMQ and a Jax fan, are dashed. Note to defensive coordinators: Hape is no Antonio Gates, but Denver looks for him at the goal line. Hape has eight receptions this season, four for touchdowns.

Sweet Play of the Week No. 3

Game tied at 7 in the third quarter and New England playing to win, the Patriots faced second-and-4 on the San Francisco 8. New England came out with two wides left, and Tom Brady saw that one of the Niners defensive backs was way off the line, practically lined up in the end zone. Brady audibled to a quick hitch to slot receiver Deion Branch -- note to defensive coordinators, the Patriots like the quick hitch at the goal line. David Patten, the other receiver on that side, blocked the man covering Branch, and Patten outran the backed-off corner to the end zone. Later, at the end of the third quarter and New England still playing to win, the Flying Elvii faced fourth-and-2 on the San Francisco 17. New England came out in a spread formation with four wide receivers -- then Brady simply went straight up the middle on a sneak, first down and TMQ wrote the words "San Francisco season over" in his notebook. Often when teams set up in multiple-receiver spread formations, the middle of the field is left soft for a run, but few teams take advantage of this, seeming to think that if you bring four or five receivers out then you must heave-ho to someone.

Sour Play of the Week

Leading 21-18 with 1:12 remaining and needing a win to maintain playoff hopes, New Orleans faced third-and-5 on the Carolina 43, the Panthers out of timeouts. Run, then boom a punt into the end zone with maybe 40 seconds left? Aaron Brooks sprints backward 10 yards and tosses at the sideline to Ernie Conwell, who promptly steps out of bounds for no gain, stopping the clock.

Sour Play of the Week No. 2

The Cleveland Browns (Beta Version) leading 22-7 with 2:10 remaining and seeming poised to actually win one for their acting interim provisional coach; Houston had first-and-10 on the Betas 32. Why blitz now and invite the Texans to score? Seven gentlemen crossed the line, David Carr dodged the blitz and ran to the 12; Houston scored a touchdown and Cleveland survived only by recovering the onside kick.

Revenge of the Practice Squad!

It's Brian St. Pierre handing off to Willie Parker as Chukky Okobi blocks -- who are these guys? They are the unknown Pittsburgh third-stringers who bested the Bills' first team in the fourth quarter, denying Buffalo the playoff slot it would have earned with a victory. Buffalo led 17-16 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and at that point Steelers starters departed the game; Pittsburgh had already locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. St. Pierre came in at quarterback -- until Friday he was on the Steelers practice squad and had never appeared in an NFL game. St. Pierre led Pittsburgh on a clock-killer fourth-quarter drive of 14 plays and 8:53, against the Buffalo defense, which finished ranked second in the league. Parker had a total of 83 career yards rushing coming into the game, and ran for 101 yards in the second half -- though in the fourth quarter, the Buffalo defense knew Pittsburgh would rush on every play. (All 13 non-kicking plays of the game-icing drive were runs.) Okobi had five career starts in four years coming into the game, and there he was plowing the road in the fourth quarter, joined by tackle Max Starks, who has never started an NFL game. Other Pittsburgh who-dats outplayed the Buffalo first team on its own field.

When the Pittsburgh regulars made their mass exodus at the start of the fourth quarter, you could sense Buffalo players and coaches starting to celebrate on the sidelines: assuming the game was over, they were mentally listening to SportsCenter announcers extol their astonishing comeback from 0-4 to the playoffs. The next thing you knew, Pittsburgh was ahead 29-17 at the two-minute warning. Oh ye mortals, trifle not with the football gods!

Buffalo rebound note: Though the Bills sure made the second half of their season interesting, on the year they only beat two teams that finished with a winning record. Buffalo had boasted about scoring more points than Indianapolis over the previous six games, but yet the Buffalo offense recorded only seven points in the second half as starter after Pittsburgh starter bowed out of the contest. Buffalo has boasted a lot about its highly ranked defense, but in the club's three meetings with elite teams -- New England twice, then Pittsburgh -- the Bills surrendered 89 points. Anyway if you can't hold a lead against the other team's practice squad in the fourth quarter at home with a playoff invitation on the line, you do not belong in the postseason.

Disclaimer Watch

Dave Fisher of Cañada Flintridge, Calif., reports that Carl's Jr., the West Coast burger chain, is running a TV ad that touts drive-through service. A car smashes into a Carl's Jr. and drives through the restaurant, as the crawl on the bottom says DO NOT ATTEMPT.

Burger Watch

In addition to not driving into the store, DO NOT ATTEMPT eating the new Carl's Jr. Breakfast Burger, a hamburger topped with fried egg, bacon, cheese and hash browns. This morning madness holds 830 calories and 46 grams of fat, substantially more than the 530 calories and 30 grams of a Big Mac. Meanwhile Hardee's, a burger chain owned by the same parent company as Carl's Jr., has introduced the Monster Thickburger -- two-thirds of a pound of beef, four bacon slices, three slices of cheese, mayo and "butter-flavored shortening," weighing in at 1,417 calories and 107 grams of fat. The "shortening" here will be shortening of your lifespan -- the Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 65 grams of fat per day, imagine almost twice that amount in a single sandwich. Doesn't Hardee's want its customers to survive long enough to return and order again? TMQ's fast-burger recommendation: the new Angus Steak Burger at Burger King. It's delicious, top-quality beef with lettuce, tomato, onions and a "corn dusted bun," and has 570 calories and 22 grams of fat, which are good numbers for a hefty-sized fast-food sandwich.

Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All

Baltimore leading 30-21, the Marine Mammals faced third-and-goal at the Ravens 1. Play-fake, Sage Rosenfels sprints backward 10 yards -- Sage, the goal line is the other way! -- then throws a crazy pass, interception. Can't anyone just run up the middle for a yard anymore?

Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All No. 2

Now it's Baltimore 30, Miami 23 and the Dolphins face third-and-2 on the Ravens 28 with 4:09 remaining. Play-fake, Sage Rosenfels sprints backward 14 yards -- Sage, the goal line is the other way! -- sack, and Miami punts and goes on to defeat. Can't anyone just run up the middle for a yard anymore? Remember, since this was third-and-2 with the game on the line, Miami should have been thinking in two-down terms: gaining even a yard on third down would have been good.

Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed At All (Playoff-Bound Collapse Edition)

Leading 17-16 at the end of the third quarter at home with Steelers starters leaving to take comfortable seats, the seemingly playoff-bound Bills faced third-and-1 on the Pittsburgh 11, on a day when Willis McGahee averaged 4.4 yards per rush. Run up the middle? Instead pass, offensive interference against Buffalo. A third-down gain brings the ball back to the same point, but now it's fourth-and-1. Run up the middle? If you fail, the opponent's third-string gentlemen are pinned deep in their own territory with the crowd roaring at experimental-scramjet decibels. Instead field-goal attempt, missed from 28. These two mincing fraidy-cat calls on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 are promptly punished by the football gods with 10 lightning points for Pittsburgh.

Now it's Steelers 26, Bills 17 early in the fourth quarter, with Pittsburgh practice-squad guys populating the field. Buffalo faces third-and-1 on the Steelers 48. Run up the middle? Instead attempted trick play, loss of yardage. On fourth-and-6 from midfield, Buffalo punts, even though the whole season is on the line and you're playing against third-stringers. Emboldened by this mincing fraidy-cat failure to seize the day, the Pittsburgh third-stringers staged their clock-killer drive, and the home team did not get the ball back until almost the two-minute warning. For everything else that went wrong for the Bills on Sunday, had Buffalo simply run up the middle on even one of three late-game short-yardage downs, the Bills would likely now be preparing for the playoffs.

Cheer-Babe Solidarity

Seen any good hockey games lately? As the NHL continues its self-destruction -- hockey players demanding more millions from a failing league is like USAir employees staging their Christmas sickout to protest that too many people are flying on their planes -- Jesse Derris of Washington, D.C., suggests showing solidarity by gawking at the Ice Girls of the New York Islanders. They aren't cheerleaders, rather, figure skaters. And you'd think it would be too cold on the ice to wear revealing outfits, but you'd think wrong, Derris reports. During last holiday season, the Ice Girls appeared in minimalist Santa's-naughty-elves outfits. Of course, during last holiday season there were hockey games to appear at. On the Ice Girls bios page, click any skater and then scan to the bottom, where each recounts the worst pick-up line she has heard from spectators.

The New York Giants of Hackensack Does Have a Certain Ring, Though

The Anaheim Angels are now officially the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, though Anaheim is 26 miles from Los Angeles, according to MapQuest. (Actually, 26.18 miles, in the modern computer-based hyper-specificity that TMQ loves.) Surely many in California are already musing that Los Angeles means "the angels" in Spanish, so the team name is now the Angels Angels of Anaheim. Aha, but what does Anaheim mean? It is a concocted word built from the German heim, for home, and the Spanish word Ana from the Santa Ana River. So the team's new name means the Angels Angels of River Home. "Let's go Angels Angels of River Home!"

Best Plays Ere the Clock Struck Midnight

Jersey/A trailing 16-14 in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, the Giants faced third-and-goal on the Dallas 3. Eli Manning pump-faked the corner fade that so many teams now call in this situation, then flipped a middle screen pass to Tiki Barber for the touchdown. Later, as the clock approached midnight -- and the regular season had to end by midnight, the NFL's fairy godmother said so -- the Giants faced first-and-goal on the Dallas 3 with 16 seconds remaining and no time-outs. Jersey/A came out in a spread formation, then Manning handed off to Barber up the middle for the winning touchdown. As a wise man once observed, "Often when teams set up in multiple-receiver spread formations the middle of the field is left soft for a run."

NFL Hurtles to an Exigency!

Purists breathed sighs of relief that the NFL did not hurtle into any of the possible disasters of a losing team in the playoffs, a 10-6 team denied the playoffs or a combination of both. But the outcome still leaves much to be desired. Two 8-8 teams -- Minnesota and St. Louis -- are in the postseason, while three 9-7 teams -- Baltimore, Buffalo and Jacksonville -- are not. In one previous season, 1999, two 8-8 teams made the playoffs while a winning team was denied. But in that year only one 9-7 team (Kansas City) was shut out. This year, we have three winning teams denied a postseason invitation while two non-winning teams advance. This, TMQ feels, represents not disaster but exigency -- "the quality or state of being exigent; a state of affairs that makes urgent demands" (Merriam-Webster).

The solution to this exigency is the one TMQ has been pushing, namely, make the wild cards league-wide. What effect would that have had this season? All division winners would remain as they are; I don't propose tampering with the division alignment. Minnesota and St. Louis, the 8-8 NFC cards, would be disinvited. Baltimore and Jacksonville would advance at 9-7, while Buffalo at 9-7 would stay home based on likely tiebreakers. (In a league-wild system there would need to be a new league-wide tiebreaker hierarchy.) A playoff field with two more 9-7 teams and no 8-8 clubs is simply stronger, and isn't the whole point of the regular season to place the best teams into the playoffs?

Throw Now, Run Later

Trailing 17-14, the Blue Men Group reached first-and-goal on the Atlanta 3. TMQ's immutable law of the goal line dictates: If you're going to play-fake, do it on first down when the defense is thinking run, not on second down when the defense has just stuffed a run and is thinking pass. First down play-fake, touchdown pass to the uncovered tight end and the Seahawks are poised to stagger their way to winning the division. Somehow I have never gotten around to naming this immutable law. Let's call it Throw Now, Run Later. Remember, this applies only at the goal line.

Curious Tactics, Dr. Watson

The scoreboard in St. Louis had flashed the news of the Bills defeat, which not only put the Jets into the playoffs but assured Jersey/B of the fifth seed regardless of the outcome of the game they were still playing. So when the Jets reached Les Mouflons 9-yard line with six seconds remaining in regulation, trailing by three, why did Herman Edwards order the field goal? Why not one shot at the end zone to win or lose? At that point, Edwards knew the Bills had lost, and should have been prepared enough to know that meant his team's seeding just locked. Yet Edwards sent the game to overtime, and the Jets played almost another full period. What did Edwards accomplish except tiring his charges, in advance of a certain road trip to the West Coast? (The fifth seed was assured of playing at San Diego.)

In the regular season finale of 2003, the Ravens went to a meaningless overtime in the final game despite having locked their best seeding; then looked tired in the first-round playoff game, and lost. It's good for a postseason-bound team to play to win in the regular-season finale, but when overtime and exhaustion loom, call it a day. Not only did Edwards wear out the Jets for nothing; he did so knowing his charges might be assigned a Saturday kickoff, which, a few hours later, they were. Why didn't Edwards just go for it at the end of regulation, and win or lose?

What Was the Colts' Secret Agenda?

At kickoff of the late game in Denver, the Colts knew from the early scores that if they lost, the Broncos would be in the playoffs; if they won and Jacksonville won, the Broncos would be out and Jax would be in; if they won and Jax lost, the Broncos would be out and the Ravens in. Since the Colts were already locked at the third seed and the final entrant had to be the sixth seed, that meant that at kickoff, Indianapolis was in a position to determine who would come to its field the following weekend in the playoffs. By winning, Indianapolis would have guaranteed it would not play Denver again; by losing, Indianapolis guaranteed a return date with Denver. Knowing this, Indianapolis made no attempt to win -- in effect choosing Denver as its first-round opponent. Yes, the Colts beat the Broncos 41-10 in the playoffs at Indianapolis last season. Even so, methinks the football gods have been tempted here.

Movie Disclaimer Watch

Does this look like someone whose life needs fabricating?  
Does this look like someone whose life needs fabricating?   
The disclaimer box for The Aviator warns of "a crash sequence." No doubt this comes when the investors get a look at the box-office receipts! The flick, about the life of Howard Hughes, is directed by Martin Scorsese. Yours truly hasn't seen The Aviator and so has no idea how closely it cleaves to history, but can tell you that Scorsese's Gangs of New York, promoted as grim historical truth, was heavy on fiction. For instance, the 1863 New York draft riots are presented as an atrocity in which Union troops cold-bloodly murdered women and unarmed men in the streets. There's no evidence this happened, soldiers not arriving in the city until the third day of the riot, when the deaths -- mostly lynchings of black men -- had already occurred. Gangs of New York even shows Union warships firing broadsides into Manhattan, an absurd fictional touch. Maybe in The Aviator, the Spruce Goose breaks the sound barrier!

Best Purist Drive

Chris Datres of Ocala, Fla., nominates Navy's 26-play, 94-yard, 14:26 drive that sealed its bowl game against New Mexico. The drive ended only in a field goal, yet chewed up and spat out so much time that New Mexico's hopes were lost.

If Brad Pitt Changed His Name to Raghavendra Rau, That Would Not Make Him Smarter

This study by Purdue University management professor Raghavendra Rau finds that mutual funds that change their names to include buzz words like "growth" take in more cash from customers than those that do not change their names, regardless of the actual management of the funds. Rau told the Wall Street Journal, "If I change my name to Brad Pitt, that shouldn't make me more attractive to women." Hey, why not try? From now on, let's make this column the Sexy, Clever, Important Tuesday Morning Quarterback by Brad Pitt.

Take One Till the Fourth

Scoring to make it Jets 26, Rams 21 late in the third, Jersey/B went for two; incompletion. TMQ's immutable law holds: Take One Till the Fourth, unless way behind. Forget what those "coaches' cards" say about margins, until the endgame it is impossible to know what scoring combinations will matter -- a 99 percent chance of one point is almost always better than a 40 percent chance of two points. Had Jersey/B done the straightforward thing and taken the singleton, its last-second field goal would have won the game, rather than forcing an overtime that the Jets lost.

Best Play by a Quarterback Who Actually Wants to Be in San Diego

While Eli Manning was finishing his first season 1-6 as a starter, high-priced holdout Philip Rivers finally got off the Bolts' pine and Drew Brees was catching rays on the sidelines; 42-year-old Doug Flutie also threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown. I don't wish to alarm you, but the Chargers finished 12-4 and Brees finished as the third-rated quarterback in the league.

Attack of the Gambian Pouched Rat!

In October, yours truly saluted the Gambian giant pouched rat for its noble efforts in sniffing out land mines from the Mozambique civil war. But now, reader Matt Peterson points out, some Gambian giant pouched rats have found their way to the Florida Keys and are eating everything that is not nailed down. Apparently if well-fed, the rats grow so large that cats just shrug and let them pass.

Ernest Wilford Play of the Week

"ERN-est WIL-ford, ERN-est WIL-ford" yours truly and Spenser, the Official Youngest of TMQ and a Jax fan, chanted as Wilford made an incredible one-handed leaping 46-yard catch to set up the touchdown that proved the winning points for the Jaguars. On the season, Wilford totaled 19 catches, two of them game-winners -- Spenser and I will root for a different Jax gentleman next year.

Repeat of Last Week's Complaint -- Since the Problem Repeated

Wow, look at the monster games on the Sunday card! Jets at Rams and Saints at Panthers: Both essentially playoff contests, pitting two teams in must-win situations to advance to the postseason. (Jersey/B ended up losing and advancing because Buffalo also lost, but the Jets started the game assuming they were in a must-win situation.) Which of these monster contests, both of which went down to the final tick of the clock, was shown on television in our nation's capital, where yours truly lurks? Neither. But we did see the meaningless Cowboys at Giants collision Sunday night, combined record 11-19 at kickoff.

As Tuesday Morning Quarterback said last week when none of Sunday's big games were shown in Washington, the league and the networks must come up with a better system for deciding which games air. And the problem isn't just Washington -- only 46 percent of the country saw Jets-Rams, the marquee matchup of the day. The NFL spares no expense to stage monster games of tremendous interest, then often makes it impossible for most viewers to see the monster games. The paid service Sunday Ticket is the solution for those who can receive satellite signals, but for those who don't or can't, which is the majority of Americans, choices regarding what airs over regular broadcast television simply must improve.

Philadelphia Omens and Portents

The Eagles just let themselves be blown out by Cincinnati. The week before that, they let themselves by trampled by the Rams. The week before that, Philadelphia struggled to beat a weak Dallas team. The week before that, Philadelphia struggled to beat a weak Washington team. And now the Eagles get a bye. When they take the field again on Jan. 16, it will have been almost six weeks since their last impressive victory, on Dec. 5 against Green Bay. This is such bad karma, not even nearly naked cheerleaders may be able to save the Eagles. Two sloppy wins over second-echelon opponents; then two games which Philadelphia didn't even try to win; then a bye. And note that after Terrell Owens went down against Dallas while the team was locking home-field advantage, that meant the Eagles had two no-pressure outings in which to try to establish a running game. What did they do? On Sunday, the Eagles threw 54 times and rushed 16 times. Philadelphia might as well have punted on first down! TMQ has a bad, bad feeling about all this.

Cheer-Babes Professionalism

As many readers noted, for Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field, the who-needs-clothes Eagles cheerleaders came out in bare midriffs and sprayed-on leotards, despite a kickoff temperature of 43 degrees. But seeing their champions immediately falling behind 17-0 and making no attempt to win, the Eagles cheerleaders jogged back into their locker room and put on track suits. Who can blame them?

Meanwhile Jeff Zielonka of State College, Pa., was at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where he witnessed the Bills defeat by the Steelers junior varsity. Zielonka provides this account: "During the first half, the Buffalo Jills wore heavy suits of the sort that would not appease the football gods. Result at halftime: Steelers 16, Bills 10. After the intermission, the Jills came out in much nicer short skirts that attracted my attention from my seats near the top of the stadium. What happens? Interception returned for a touchdown, Buffalo 17, Pittsburgh 16. Now we're approaching the end of the game, and the Bills have a chance to win if they recover the onside kick. The Jills had just gone back to the locker room and returned to the field wearing ponchos. End result: Steelers 29, Bills 24."

Specialized Magazine Report

A shockingly long time ago, TMQ got his start in journalism at a trade magazine actually called Waste Age . It was about the handling of toxic wastes, and I like to think it was the very best magazine about toxic wastes out there! (Free samples were a big bennie of the job.) Anyway this placed into my heart a soft spot for specialized and trade magazines.

Don't worry! If you get stuck here, someone will read something and save you.  
Don't worry! If you get stuck here, someone will read something and save you.   
My current favorite is Advanced Rescue Technology . The magazine is for firefighters and emergency-services personnel -- the sort of relaxing reading you flip through in the staff lounge while waiting for something to explode or sink. I first encountered this magazine in a ranger's office at Denali National Park in Alaska; rangers apparently sit flipping through Advanced Rescue Technology while waiting for calls regarding stranded climbers on Denali, also known as Mount McKinley. Calls about stranded climbers come with distressing regularity. During climbing season, you can check here to see how many climbers are on Denali and nearby Mount Foraker. For the 2004 climbing season, the success rate of reaching the summit was 51 percent at Denali and 25 percent at Foraker.

One recent issue of Advanced Rescue Technology contained an article headlined -- I am not making this up -- CEMENT TRUCK ROLLOVERS, A PICTORIAL ESSAY. Accompanying the photo-essay were 10 lovely, high-quality photographs of rolled-over cement trucks surrounded by EMS teams. The article's cryptic byline: "David Powers, AHS, NREMT-P, runs the Museum of Unnatural History in South Carolina." The cover story of another recent issue was, LARGE ANIMAL RESCUE.

As interesting as the stories in Advanced Rescue Technology are the ads. SEARCHCAM EYELINK CAN BE YOUR EYES AND EARS IN A HAZARDOUS SITUATION, promises one ad showing a man in a moon suit holding a gizmo. SHOULDN'T YOU USE THE NT RES-Q BAG? asks another, in this case a two-page four-color spread, so the NT Res-Q Bag must be a hot seller. And you'll want to make sure you own Rescue Randy, the "Official Manikin of the Firefighter Combat Challenge." Firefighter combat challenge -- are they shooting at each other as they try to save the manikin? Check out Rescue Randy and his pal Rescue Rudy at the website of Simulaids. TMQ notes the heaviest Rescue Randy weighs 165 pounds -- apparently for training purposes, fire departments don't take into account expanding national waistlines. Surely some who live in cities where highways have carpool-only lanes have been tempted to buy a Rescue Randy and seat him as a simulated passenger, though the $995 pricetag may be a deterrent.

The subscription price for six issues of Advanced Rescue Technology is listed as $12.50, but when you order, $5.95 for "shipping and handling" is added. So it's really a $18.45 subscription. Charging "shipping and handling" to make magazines seem less expensive is a trend in marketing. For instance Vogue currently offers 12 issues for $12, but another charges another $4 to mail them. Presumably, you can save that $4 by driving to Vogue's office each month and picking up your issue in person.

In Another Environmental Gesture, the Jets Will Recycle Game Plans

The Jets continue to pursue a $1.4 billion proposal to build in Manhattan the world's first self-powered environmentally friendly stadium, complete with 25,000 solar collectors and 34 wind turbines. On an exclusive basis, Tuesday Morning Quarterback has learned that secret plans call for the wind turbines to run in reverse whenever the visiting team has the ball, creating an artificial tornado.

Now as everyone knows, for NFL purposes, New York is located in New Jersey. Suppose the junior Jersey team succeeds in returning to any of the five boroughs of New York. This would present TMQ a problem: What to call the clubs yours truly currently designates Jersey/A and Jersey/B? An obvious new nomenclature would be New Jersey Giants and New York Jets. But I refuse to take the simple way out! TMQ's marketing department is considering Hudson/West and Hudson/East as the new cognomen. A reader expresses the dilemma in haiku:

TMQ would hate
Jets' move: Jersey/B no more,
just plain old New York.
-- John Karp, Palo Alto, Calif.

On the Other Hand, If Gravity Is Malfunctioning, That's Good News for Ted Washington

Joel Pliskin of Oakland, Calif., points out this Los Angeles Times story on a researcher who has shown that the two Pioneer deep-space probes -- the only artificial objects to have left our solar system -- have begun moving in ways that are impossible if standard theories of physics are correct.

Is something wrong with gravity? Is some unknown force acting on the probes? This seems another indicator of my own pet theory that science has barely begun to grasp what's going on in the universe, and that in centuries to come, people will chortle regarding what we consider knowledge, in the same way we today chortle about those of past centuries who thought the Earth was flat or the air was full of phlogiston. (Conversation in the year 2105: "Can you believe that in 2005, people at Harvard actually thought the entire universe emerged as an explosion of a point with no dimensions?")

Hats Off to Jim Irsay

The sports commentary world has not given sufficient due to the fact that just before Christmas, the Colts signed a 30-year agreement to remain in Indianapolis. A new stadium will be built with a mix of public and private financing; the stadium will feature lots of club and box seats, these being essential to modern NFL team financing because premium seat revenue is the one major form of income that NFL teams do not share amongst themselves. TMQ, who is anti-gambling, is not thrilled that some of the public money for the project will come from allowing slot machines in Indianapolis and taxing the proceeds; but yours truly is impressed that the deal includes a provision that 6,000 seats at the new stadium be reserved for $25 tickets, so average people can afford to attend a game. The Colts could have high-tailed it to the glamour, sun and beach babes of Los Angeles: Instead they showed loyalty to the small-state local fans of Indiana. Loyalty -- I thought that went out of style!

Congratulations to the Colts for doing the right thing.

Running Items Department

Disaster Play Law -- College Bowl Edition

LSU leading Iowa 25-24 with nine seconds remaining, the Hawkeyes pinned on their 44, receiver Warren Holloway ran a fly pattern from the middle of a trips set. The LSU corner across from Holloway made no attempt to cover him, or anyone, simply standing there like a piece of topiary as Holloway went deep for a 56-yard touchdown pass as time expired. As TMQ has been pointing out lately, "If you break down a disaster play, you find one or more gentlemen standing around doing absolutely nothing on the team that is struck by the disaster."

Reader Animadversion

Got a comment or a deeply felt grievance? Register it at TMQNFL@yahoo.com. Include your name and hometown, and I may quote from your email and cite your name and hometown unless you instruct me otherwise.

A recent item noted a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., hotel on Excelsior Avenue, and marveled at a street named after wood shavings. Adam Martignetti of Newburyport, Mass., reports there is an expensive restaurant in Boston named Excelsior, where the wacky food includes Berkshire pork rack with maple-ginseng lacquer and truffle-potato puree for $34. "A restaurant named after wood chips," Martignetti joins me in marveling. But many readers, including Alyssa Richard of Seekonk, Mass., explained that excelsior means "ever upward" and is the state motto of New York. She also points out that in one of the Star Trek movies, Sulu commands the starcruiser Excelsior: "Do you really think Sulu captained a ship named after wood shavings?"

My computer spell checker got its revenge again last week when I referred to the San Diego team as the Lighting Bolts. A reader notes in haiku,

Lighting Bolts a team --
Fluorescent or halogen?
Spellcheck strikes once more.
-- David Hamilton, Arcata, Calif.

Regarding my complaint that neither of Week 16's marquee games, San Diego at Indianapolis and New England at Jersey/B, were shown on television in the nation's capital, Bob Chesteen of Belgrade, Serbia, writes to advise Washington, D.C., residents to move to Serbia. Both those games, he reports, aired live there. Last week's related item about NFL Sunday Ticket prompted many, including Matt Sampson, to ask what readers always ask -- if I can't get Sunday Ticket, how can I see every play of every game? Let me offer the two-word answer that is the only thing I ever say about this: Trade secret.

To last week's eerie list of correct predictions of exact final scores, Donna Valko of Mesa, Ariz., adds that the Arizona Republic correctly predicted the final of Seahawks 24, Cardinals 21. How to explain so many correct final score predictions in the same week? A starcruiser from "Kurt Warner's" homeworld must have been in orbit above Earth and exhausting anti-muons, which, as everyone knows, alter time-space causality. By the way, the alien entity that was once "Kurt Warner" has pretty obviously jumped hosts and is now "Ben Roethlisberger."

Last week, yours truly noted that Christmas trees, Santa Claus, elves and the rest, while obviously associated with Christmas, are not themselves religious symbols -- you don't find a lot of flying reindeer in the Bible. Many readers, including Crista Morrow of San Francisco, countered that Santa "is a modern - reinterpretation of the Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas," who lived in Asia Minor in the fourth century. TMQ proposed that Dec. 25 be renamed Spendmas and "become exclusively a secular holiday that celebrates consumerism, spending, presents and credit-card debt." Some other date would be chosen to observe Jesus' birth, since Dec. 25 was picked arbitrarily in the first place. Michael Swartwout of St. Louis suggests religious Christmas could be Jan. 7, the feast of Epiphany, which symbolizes the moment the celestial nature of the baby Jesus was revealed to the three Magi, and is already the day on which the Russian Orthodox Church observes Jesus' birth. The revelation to the Magi occurs in the Gospel of Matthew, which presents one of the two, mutually incompatible scripture birth accounts for Jesus. I have always preferred the birth story in the Gospel of Luke, for it is the account in which the heavenly host announces the Redeemer's arrival to shepherds watching over their sheep. This is very powerful: penniless shepherds camped in a field, not kings, are asked to receive the divine child into history. Anyway, here's the refined proposal. Dec. 25 becomes Spendmas, a totally secular national holiday based on worship of Best Buy. Jan. 7 becomes religious Christmas but is a regular day for offices and schools -- people would go to church on their own and expect no favors from government.

Lee Bienkowski of Jacksonville, Fla., notes that the animal in the Jaguars' team logo has a blue tongue -- maybe from too many last-second finishes this year. He haikuizes,

Jag with a blue tongue.
Gasping for breath -- Cyanic
Cat, not Cardiac.
-- Lee Bienkowski, Jacksonville, Fla.

Greg Johnson of Kansas City, Mo., reports he has begun to use standard Tuesday Morning Quarterback strategy -- rarely blitz, run on short-yardage downs, pass only on first down at the goal line, don't punt in the Maroon Zone -- when playing EA Madden football. His winning record has shot up, he says. In haiku,

Playing PS2
with TMQ strategy
means fewer losses.
-- Greg Johnson, Kansas City, Mo.

Apropos my item on Julie, Amtrak's hated computer voice, José Arana of Hollywood, Fla., says his local Pizza Hut inflicts on callers Sally, a computer voice that takes delivery orders. "After 10 minutes of responding YES and NO, I nevertheless got the wrong pizza," Arana reports. José, at least the wrong pizza arrived: you're lucky Julie and Sally did not get together to ship your wrong pizza to another city via train.

This Week's Challenge

Elizabeth Whitman of Bangor, Maine, writes to protest this football announcer cliché, used after a quarterback throws an interception: "He wishes that he had that one back." Whitman says, "You think?" She suggests this Challenge -- name the worst announcer cliché. Use the link at Reader Animadversion.

Next Week

Darwinian forces exert selection pressure on the playoff teams. Which ones will fall extinct?

 
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Team News
Related
•  Carucci: NFL.com 2004 All-Interview Team

•  Vic's picks: The best of 2004

•  Stokley a surprise no more

•  Unsung Heroes: Finishing strong

•  Tiki's Take: Good to finish on a positive note