Like 95 percent of the football-loving world, you probably watched the Patriots' 29-26 overtime victory against the Jets.
You did so because there was practically no other choice, for reasons we will get into later. The only other late-afternoon game on the schedule was Jaguars at Raiders. That game was watched by a smattering of Raiders and Jaguars fans and people who had Maurice Jones-Drew in their fantasy lineups until about three minutes into the game, when MJD got carted off. Then that game was watched by a smattering of Raiders and Jaguars fans. And Jaguars fans only come in smatterings.
The Jets-Patriots game was a gem, of course, the kind of game that leaves us with questions to ponder for an entire week:
• How much fun was it to watch a signature Tom Brady performance in the final minute and in overtime, and why don't we see that very much in the first three quarters anymore?
• How much better can Mark Sanchez play, now that he is not required to throw to Santonio Holmes but has an alternative other than Chaz Schilens?
• When did the Brandon Lloyd of 2010-11 disappear and the Brandon Lloyd of 2003-09 return?
• How badly did the Redskins misuse LaRon Landry, who now plays like he has a rocket pack?
• If the Jets' special teams are this good, shouldn't Mike Westhoff just take over as head coach?
• The Patriots' defense is a steaming heap of boiled ugly: Bill Belichick sees this, doesn't he?
There is a lot to talk about after Jets-Patriots, but you watched the game, so you do not need me to tell you what happened. You probably did not see Jaguars-Raiders, but I watched both games simultaneously throughout the first halves in an effort to give you the comprehensive coverage you demand.
The Raiders' 26-23 victory over the Jaguars was like a funhouse-mirror version of the Jets-Patriots game. The Jaguars, like the Patriots, took a convincing-but-not-commanding lead at halftime (the Jaguars led 17-6, the Patriots 16-10). The Raiders, like the Jets, came back on the strength of a much-maligned passing game and an opponent with a strange urge to throw incomplete passes while leading in the fourth quarter. The Jets took advantage of a fumbled kickoff return to take a late lead against the Patriots, but then Tom Brady happened. The Raiders took advantage of an overtime fumble to kick a game-winning field goal, because Chad Henne never happens.
So the two games had a lot in common, and yet they were as different as Brady and Henne when you took a closer look. Here is a simultaneous breakdown of what was happening in the first half of Jaguars-Raiders at the exact moments when critical events in Jets-Patriots took place. Two games can be very alike, yet very different:
Foxboro: The Jets mount an impressive drive on their first possession, catching the Patriots off guard with a wide-open, empty-backfield approach on a few plays.
Oakland: Carson Palmer executes a zone-read option, handing off to Darren McFadden and dashing away as if he had the ball and planned to use his blazing speed to sprint up the sideline. Not a single Jaguars defender bites on this brilliantly conceived fake, perhaps because they know Palmer couldn't outrun them in a '68 Chevelle.
Foxboro: Shonn Greene scores a touchdown.
Oakland: A giant breast cancer awareness ribbon is unfurled during a break in the action. Either that, or the game is temporarily delayed for a Christo installation.
Foxboro: Devin McCourty returns a kickoff for a Patriots touchdown to tie the game 7-7.
Oakland: Darrius Heyward-Bey is tackled well short of a touchdown on third-and-goal by Paul Posluszny. A safety named Chris Prosinski also sees a lot of playing time for the Jaguars, who should consider fielding an entire defense of Eastern European names beginning with "p:" Posnanski, Prozacski, Prosaicski, Impotentski.
Foxboro: During a break in the action, there's a television ad for the "Assassin's Creed" video game. Doesn't that game look awesome? You play as some parkour Robin Hood working for George Washington during the American Revolution. If only that really happened in history. Can you imagine the letters that would have survived?
"My dear General Howe, my efforts to thwart the uprising in the southern regions were again temporarily thwarted by the jackanape in a hooded tunic who doth riddle my regulars with arrows. Please advise."
"Cornwallis, just win a battle for once, you bloody wanker!"
Oakland: Cecil Shorts scores a touchdown for the Jaguars. This is the only play of the first half that is more exciting than the "Assassin's Creed" commercial.
Foxboro: Rob Gronkowski makes a great TD catch to give the Patriots a 14-7 lead.
Oakland: The Jaguars line up in a full-house backfield. Blaine Gabbert fumbles the snap. But the Raiders jump offsides, so it's a Jaguars first down. Can we watch that giant pink ribbon some more?
Foxboro: The Patriots call a screen pass on third-and-20, then punt.
Oakland: Rashad Jennings bursts through the middle for a touchdown that gives the Jaguars a 14-3 lead. For a few minutes, the games got all "Freaky Friday."
Foxboro: Sanchez kicks the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety, a heads-up play that could otherwise have resulted in a Patriots touchdown.
Oakland: Palmer fakes a hand-off to Marcel Reece and executes the longest, slowest rollout play in history, ending with a three-yard pass to Brandon Myers. It's a not-at-all-heads-up play, which sadly constitutes a vast percentage of the Raiders' playbook.
Foxboro: Mark Sanchez throws an ill-advised interception that kills a Jets drive.
Oakland: Henne mysteriously materializes in the Jaguars' huddle like the impish sprite in a Shakespearean farce about the career of Tony Sparano. Replacing the injured Gabbert, he throws a 150-mph incompletion to Shorts, who is about seven yards away.
Foxboro: A commercial for "Two and a Half Men." So, we can now show a guy tied up and ball gagged in his boxer shorts on a bed with a dominatrix standing over him at about 5:15 p.m. during a football telecast? Why not just show blatant parental neglect and call it an "entertaining" reality show? Oh, wait, we do that too.
Oakland: Henne rolls out on fourth-and-one and throws the ball away in a display of incompetence so staggering that Mike Mularkey considers untying and deploying Ashton Kutcher.
Foxboro: The Jets drive to keep it close late in the first half, but an iffy spot requires a long measurement. The telecast shows a rare glimpse inside the replay booth, where you can clearly see the still frame of Greene getting tackled just before the 47-yard line. And you thought officials snuck in there to play "Assassin's Creed."
Oakland: Palmer gets pulverized by Jeremy Mincey. The ball pops loose and is recovered by C.J. Mosley. Palmer's arm is clearly going forward, and like clockwork, the telecast spools up footage of the old Tom Brady Tuck Rule play. Is that play permanently cued up during every NFL broadcast? Is there a Replay button, a Cheerleader button, a Big Pink Ribbon button and a Tuck Rule button on the console? For a few moments, Jaguars-Raiders viewers got to see Brady lead a halting, mistake-prone offense to a win, which is exactly what everyone else was watching.
CBS then tried to chase viewers away from the Jaguars-Raiders game with the most ridiculous statistical graphic in the history of NFL telecasts. Did you know that Palmer has now thrown for 200 or more yards in his 11th consecutive game, tying a Raiders team record held by Rich Gannon? Can you think of a less impressive accomplishment than throwing for more than 200 yards (which ceased being a benchmark of passing excellence late in the Great Depression) in consecutive games? Do you have any faith whatsoever in a Raiders' passing record that Palmer can set in a little more than one season, one which does not involve Ken Stabler or Jim Plunkett in any way? (Daryle Lamonica ranked third.) The producers might as well have run a graphic reading: "Look, get a satellite dish, or go to your local tavern, but for heaven's sake stop watching this."
And yet, the Raiders staged a comeback, and the "bad" game maintained its fearful symmetry with the good one. Both games drew to a tie at about the same time. Both reached overtime at about the same time. Had Jets-Patriots not been such a gem, Jaguars-Raiders would have served as a messy, somewhat silly, but ultimately satisfying alternative.
Luckily, though, the Patriots and Jets delivered the goods.
Around the League
Here are some talking points from the early games.
The Unsuspended: Jonathan Vilma played for the Saints in their 35-28 win over the Buccaneers, proving that absolute power just ain't what it used to be at NFL headquarters. Vilma, who had his suspension temporarily lifted in the umpteenth plot twist in the Bountygate Saga (written by the creative team that brought you "Lost"), had no tackles but put a big hit on Josh Freeman (evidence!) and batted a pass in the air that was nearly picked off.
Vilma's signature moment came during a pregame fighter jet flyover. Drew Brees squinted into the sky with his hand still over his breast from the National Anthem, and other players looked up in curiosity. But Vilma reacted with "they're coming to get me" suspicion, his eyes darting around the sideline for a foxhole he could hide in when the paratrooper lawyers landed and pummeled him with injunctions.
Vilma's presence may have had an inspirational affect on cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. Late in the third quarter, Vincent Jackson caught a deep pass along the left sideline and began racing for an apparent touchdown. But something slowed Jackson down. Perhaps, wearing the orange "Bruce the Pirate" throwback jersey, he could only run as fast as Jimmy Giles (Giles today, at age 57, not Giles circa 1981). Or maybe it was some leftover Norv Turner counter-motivation from his days in San Diego. But Jackson slowed, and Jenkins caught him at the three-yard line for a 95-yard NON-touchdown. Two plays later, LeGarrette Blount tried to punch in a touchdown, but Jenkins tripped him up, and the Buccaneers ultimately came away scoreless.
Late in the game, Jenkins made yet another important tackle on Jackson after a long gain. (Note: Jenkins was not covering Jackson on either long pass, so he cannot be blamed for giving up the receptions in the first place.) If Vilma goes back into the doghouse, the Saints at least have one defender they can count on to hold opponents under 96 yards per pass play.
Dawn of the Dead (Chris Johnson Remix): It lives! Johnson rushed 18 times for 195 yards, including 83-, 27- and 25-yard runs, in a 35-34 Titans win, which at times looked like a 100-meter sprint competition up the sideline.
Here is how to interpret Johnson's huge game. First, no one has ever questioned his ability to break the sound barrier once he gets past the line of scrimmage. It's getting past the line of scrimmage that has been the problem, and will remain the problem. Second, the Bills' defense would get laughed out of Conference-USA, so lots of players not named Kevin Kolb are going to have career games against them this year. Johnson is going to ride this game, the Texans' loss (lots of garbage-time yardage) and another big game or two (the Colts are coming) to about 1,200 yards this season, mixing in a few more of his signature 15-for-24 performances. Next year, we will again be asking "what's wrong with Johnson" when he does the same thing, assuming the Titans don't draft Le'Veon Bell or someone.
Oh, and backup Jamie Harper leeched two short touchdowns from Johnson, because the Titans trust him to score from 83 yards away but not from one yard away, which makes more sense than you would think.
Going For the One: The Browns had a second-and-one opportunity on the Colts' 41-yard line, trailing 17-13 with 6:51 to play. A short Brandon Weeden pass fell incomplete. Weeden uncorked a bomb to Josh Gordon, who proved his mettle as a Browns receiver by dropping the ball. Pat Shurmur took a timeout to think things over, then … punted.
Up in the owner's box, the television cameras caught Jimmy Haslam making road rage gestures. The Browns lost, Shurmur's job has gone well past the jeopardy stage and Haslam's office probably looks like the hotel room from "Apocalypse Now" this morning.
Tim Tebow trademarked his sideline "Tebowing" genuflection last week, which caused quite a stir in church on Sunday morning. My 9-year old is still smarting from the horse-collar tackle he received from two XV Enterprises lawyers when he reached for the holy water font.
No, no, Tebow is not trying to copyright, or turn a profit from, the simple act of praying. His distant cousin L. Ron Tebow tried that in the 1950s with "Wildcatinetics," and failed. Tebow's marketing people just noticed that millions have been made from "Tebowing" T-shirts and the like, none of which is going to Tebow, Tebow's preferred charities, or (most importantly) the marketing people who get a percentage from such things. If anything, the gang at XV Enterprises is a little behind the curve, as Tebowing is so last December. Come back in 2017, when they trademark "Call Me Maybe" bus trip videos.
Back on topic … the concept of trademarking or patenting a signature football move is not new. In fact, it is part of the idiom: "John Elway's patented last-minute comeback," "Vince Lombardi's patented Packer Sweep," "Norv Turner's patented third quarter nap." None of these plays or activities was ever really patented, but if Tebow is truly a trendsetter, we may soon have to pay royalties if we ever want to pull off some of these maneuvers:
What it sounds like: The kind of activity that sends a school district into Platinum Bullying Alert when it happens to a middle school kid.
What it is: Imitating Cecil Shorts of the Jaguars by averaging 23.7 yards per catch. Shorts had a 42-yard touchdown on Sunday to go with 80-, 39- and 34-yard catches earlier this year. Shorts learned his deep-receiving skills as a preteen at Camp Anawanna. Shorts fumbled in overtime to help the Raiders win, making him the embodiment of the post-Jimmy Smith Jaguars receiver.
What it sounds like: Complaining about anything new, statistically verified or innovative that has happened in your sport since the day you retired in 1984.
What it is: Catching a deep pass from Drew Brees, tumbling over defender Eric Wright, and hitting the ground running for a 48-yard touchdown, prompting everyone watching the game to say, in unison, "Was that Colston? Moore? Henderson? Toon? Who? Joe Morgan? Does Brees throw to guys who are on no one's fantasy roster on purpose to make us crazy?"
What is sounds like: A twee British pop singer from the 1980s who set the cause of vegetarianism back 50 years with his wan little condemnations, bless his heart.
What it is: Imitating Alfred Morris by getting totally overshadowed by fellow rookie Robert Griffin III, rushing for 120 yards, but fumbling at a critical point in the third quarter of a close game. Griffin also played a solid game but fumbled in the crunch of the 27-23 loss to the Giants. That will happen when you count on rookies for 59 of your offensive touches. The Redskins may want to wean themselves from some of their gadget formations: A few more downs in the Pistol, and the whole offense earns an honorary degree from University of Nevada.
What it sounds like: Pronounce it "Raven-Sing," and it is a little pottery boutique in the trendy part of town, where your sister-in-law goes to hear poetry readings and get henna tattoos. More or less the exact diametric opposite of a sports bar.
What it is: Going on the road and playing like the world's most dedicated troop of 1976 Buccaneers re-enactors.
What is sounds like: Working with clay, like they do over some herbal tea in Raven Sing, while listening to Morris-ing.
What it is: Imitating Clay Matthews by squirting water into your flowing hair during breaks on the field, creating a creepy male "Flashdance" effect. Matthews had a sack in the Packers' 30-20 win over the Rams, and he also chased Sam Bradford down in a Hungry Cheetah versus Not Very Fast Quarterback footrace, forcing an incomplete pass in the red zone. All the while, his hair stayed perfectly moisturized.
What is sounds like: A recurring problem for many of the antagonists in cable drama series.
What it is: Donald Jones, after scoring one of the 300 touchdowns in the Bills-Titans game, doing the Sugar Hill Gang Apache dance in the end zone. No dance step is too out of date for an end zone celebration, especially in Buffalo, where you half expect to see The Lindy Hop.
At least Jones-ing is better than Tolbert-ing. Mike Tolbert went "Gangnam Style" after a touchdown in the Panthers' loss to the Cowboys, and you could feel the trend shriveling and dying as he did it.
Freedom of Choice
It's a good thing the Patriots-Jets game was a classic, because we were forced to watch it. The NFL didn't quite strap us to a chair and brace our eyes open, "A Clockwork Orange"-style, but it did schedule Jaguars-Raiders as the only alternative, which was nearly as tortuous.
Yes, that game turned out to be close and exciting as well, as described in detail earlier. But two options are at least two fewer than what we have come to expect from our late-game lineup. Variety is what makes NFL Sundays great. It's the reason satellite packages are sold.
Baseball was the cause of the short-sheeted late-game schedule. Now, baseball is a hell of a sport, and I will assert that as long as Major League Baseball continues to underwrite this website. (National Pastime! Fabric of American Life! Green Cathedrals! A pitch every 75 seconds or your money back!) But there was no baseball game at 4 p.m. ET, just the threat of one. The Giants and Cardinals were originally set to play at 4:30 p.m. ET, but the game was pushed back due to rain/the opportunity to play in prime time. Had the Yankees played to win instead of using their at bats as a kind of rainforest songbird courting ritual, they would have played on Sunday evening, and the Giants and Cardinals would have taken their chances in the afternoon. The shadow of a Yankees playoff game can still block out the NFL's sun for a few hours.
I have no idea what Fox showed in place of the NLCS. It probably strapped Seth MacFarlane to a chair and forced him to draw pictures of talking dogs and make pop-culture references on the fly. Come to think of it, I would watch that.
NBC, I am told, showed figure skating. Poor NBC. It would love to slap pads and helmets on those figure skaters, give them sticks and create a Sequins Hockey League to fill some airtime until the NHL returns in 2014.
With no Yankees game to promote, Fox ran soccer scores along the crawl during NFL games. One score involved a team called QPR. Yes, Fox loves its soccer, but QPR is not a sports acronym that can go unexplained, like NYY or USC. Quarterly Personnel Report? Quilting for Profit and Relaxation? Quest for Perfect Ribs? Why, it's the Queens Park Rangers, silly, who battled to a 1-1 draw against Everton. Everton leveled the game when QPR scored an own goal, which is something like Devin McCourty fumbling a kickoff return, though I am not sure, as I understand nothing from the last two sentences.
The best hope for those who worried that the Patriots-Jets game would be a bore was for the Saints to play both an early and a late game. Saints games are usually the longest games of the week, and they did their best to draw things out this week, taking a 35-21 lead, allowing the Bucs to close to 35-28, then extending a late-game sequence in which the Bucs kept scoring apparent game-tying touchdowns that were nullified for various (legitimate) reasons. The game ran much longer than the shootout between the Bills and Titans, if only because each Bills-Titans touchdown was like street luge plummeting down an icy mountain road, with no defenders or hay bales standing in his way.
But alas, one game ran longer than the Saints-Buccaneers thriller: the interminable slow-motion humiliation of the Ravens at the hands of the Texans. The worst thing about that game is that both teams are known for their tight, run-oriented wins. The only game like that on this week's schedule was Thursday's Niners-Seahawks game, where there was 6:43 left to play in the fourth quarter just eight seconds after the opening kickoff. If Texans-Ravens were any longer, more tedious and more devoid of drama, it would have been reclassified as a
baseball game figure skating tournament. (Thinking man's game! The hardest act in sports! Kevin Costner's career!)
The Sunday afternoon brownout continues next week, though we are at least guaranteed a World Series game as an excuse for the reduced NFL slate. The only late games are Cowboys-Giants and Raiders-Chiefs. That's right: The Raiders are on the undercard for the second week in a row, once again facing one of the few NFL teams unbearable enough to make football fans consider soccer or figure skating. Of course, if this week is any indication, the Raiders will play a close-but-sloppy game filled with surprises and comebacks, the kind that reminds you why you like football so much that you usually don't care who is playing.
In other words, just watch, baby.