Overtime is the NFL's shipwreck island. Some castaways wash upon its shores thankful to be alive and counting their blessings. Others arrive wracked with doubt, questioning the mistakes that brought them there and terrified about the future. Some escape the island joyously, some go mad or starve, but no one is thrilled to be there in the first place.
Six teams beached themselves on overtime's unwelcoming shores in Week 11, and each resembled other famous castaways from popular culture:
The Texans, like Les "Survivorman" Stroud, knew that they would ultimately be rescued, if not by a victory against the Jaguars, then by a soft late schedule that would render a loss nearly irrelevant. But like Survivorman, the Texans could not just wait around for the clock to run out, so they used their resources and ample skills to take matters into their own hands.
The Buccaneers, like Robinson Crusoe, set about their business, continued to use hard work as atonement for past sins and waited for nature (or the Panthers) to subjugate itself before their superior determination.
The Panthers, like the cast of "Lost," found themselves yet again embroiled in a never-ending mystery that had zero chance of resolving itself satisfactorily.
For the Browns, Pat Shurmur was the Skipper, Jimmy Haslam was Thurston Howell, and Mike Holmgren was the Professor. There was no Ginger (that would be the Bengals), and Holmgren's wife Kathy had to double for Mary Ann, which is cool because the Professor and Mary Ann had a thing for each other anyway. This left Brandon Weeden to drop the coconuts that destroyed the GPS Holmgren and Shurmur built out of palm fronds, which is perfect.
The Jaguars are Tom Hanks from "Castaway," talking to a volleyball with a face drawn on it named "Gabbert."
The Cowboys, like the main character in "Tales of the Black Freighter," reached overtime by building a raft from the bloated remains of fellow shipwreck victims and were three-quarters insane by the time they got there.
Six teams, three games, three simultaneous tales of desperation, peril, and survival. How did they get there? Who escaped? And at what cost?
The Arrivals. The Texans reached overtime first, shocked that they needed two late touchdowns to come back against the defiant Jaguars. The Texans were not ready for Chad Henne and his Dread Pirate Roberts moustache; Henne replaced the injured Gabbert and provided the borderline competence the Jaguars usually lack at quarterback. The Texans also weren't ready for Cecil Shorts. No one is ever ready for Cecil Shorts.
The Texans nearly escaped overtime, but a false start negated a 42-yard Shayne Graham field goal in the final seconds, and Graham shanked the 47-yarder like he was aiming for the tunnel.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, the Cowboys were trapped in a burning building slap-fight with the Browns. Trailing by four points, the Browns reached the Cowboys six-yard line at the two-minute warning, which was the cue for the game to go from bad to ridiculous. On third down from the one-yard line, Trent Richardson attempted a Marcus Allen over-the-top leap from two yards in the backfield but left out the critical "get airborne" step. On fourth down, veteran Shurmur watchers were expecting a field goal attempt - he has that kind of situational acumen, folks - but Shurmur did the next best thing, calling a fade to Jordan Cameron. Because when the chips are down, you want the ball in Jordan Cameron's hands. Weeden led the backup tight end with two last names too far, and the Cowboys appeared to have victory in hand.
Ah, but Jason Garrett was not about to let an upstart like Shurmur out-mismanage him at the end of a game just yet. Garrett called three Felix Jones runs up the middle, the Browns used three timeouts, Josh Cribbs returned a short punt 21 yards, the Cowboys tacked on a penalty and Weeden found Ben Watson for the go-ahead touchdown.
In Houston, the Texans went into stump-grinder mode. They appeared to be trying to eat 14:57 of clock so they could kick a field goal on the final play and foil the new "each team gets a possession if there's a field goal" rule. So they revved up the patio tamper and started vibrating down the field.
In Carolina, the Panthers just needed their defense to hold on to a 21-10 lead with six minutes to play. In other words, they were doomed. The Buccaneers kicked a field goal, the Panthers chewed clock as best they could and Josh Freeman got the football back with 1:02 to play in the game. Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott approaches every one of these late-game situations like he was just awoken in the middle of the night from a sound sleep and ordered to land an airplane. Late in the inevitable drive, All-Pro caliber receiver Vincent Jackson lined up in the slot against rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, and you could hear Jackson's lips smacking. An easy touchdown and a two-point conversion later, and the Buccaneers landed on Overtime Island.
(No Panthers collapse would be complete without a reaction shot of Cam Newton, who watched the Jackson touchdown with his Linus towel draped over his head and the facial expression of a six-year old tasting his first anchovy. The telecast froze on this image for several seconds. It should be the cover of the Panthers media guide for the next 30 years.)
That left Shurmur and Garrett to play Chutes and Ladders. A roughness foul and a ticky-tack pass interference penalty got the Cowboys into game-tying field goal range. Garrett stuck his entire face down this gift horse's throat, running an interminable series of "what could possibly go wrong?" Tony Romo plays. Romo scrambled and nearly fumbled. Romo tried to throw out of bounds but lost his grip on the ball and nearly fumbled. Garrett somehow resisted the urge to have Romo balance the football on his helmet for one last play, sending Dan Bailey into the game to force overtime.
And then there were three.
The Survivals. Try as they might, the Texans could not engineer a 15-minute drive. Graham kicked a field goal, and the Texans forced fourth-and-10 on the Jaguars' next possession, but Henne delivered a perfect strike in the middle of the field to Justin Blackmon to keep the drive alive. Josh Scobee then kicked a 33-yarder, and overtime continued.
The Cowboys received the ball in overtime, and Garrett realized that a Browns rookie named Johnson Bademosi had been pressed into service covering Miles Austin because of injuries to Joe Haden and others. You could almost see the little bubbles brewing in Garrett's energy-saving Christmas tree candle of an imagination. Romo targeted Austin for several completions, but Bademosi finally read a slant and batted the ball away from Austin on third-and-two. The Cowboys punted the ball deep into Browns territory, where the Browns are more a danger to themselves than others.
Matt Schaub tried to go to work for the Texans, but he underthrew Andre Johnson along the left sideline. Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox made a brilliant fingertip interception.
In Charlotte, the Panthers fashioned a white surrender flag out of Newton's security towel. Doug Martin gained 32 yards on two runs after the Buccaneers received the ball. McDermott was probably stuck in an elevator. Freeman easily found Dallas Clark in the end zone to end the first overtime drama with a 27-21 Buccaneers win. Finding an alert, in-position Panthers defender would have been much harder.
The Browns punted. Romo and Garrett still had Miles Austin on the brain, even though veteran Sheldon Brown moved over to cover him. Austin caught a short pass, then appeared to catch another, run three steps and fumble. The dreaded "early whistle" declared the play both an incomplete pass and unreviewable, even though Austin appeared to qualify for both a "football move" and "NBA continuation."
Austin bobbled the next pass, which was ruled complete. The officials reviewed the catch, and things got really weird: Every camera angle was from Austin's back. No camera showed what was going on with his hands, the ball or the ground. One promising angle was obscured when the line judge's left shoulder appeared in the foreground. Austin could have been performing an alien autopsy for all you could tell.
The Bigfoot footage was inconclusive, and the Cowboys had the ball on the 24-yard line. All that was left for the Cowboys to do was to run a series of foolish, dangerous plays before kicking the field goal, and Garrett did his darndest. Romo called timeout between two handoffs, and you could read his mind as he left the field grimacing. What are we doing here? Why must we dance around wagging our tongues and thumbing our noses at Fate like this? Even I know that I should not be handling the ball and making decisions in this situation.
Fate did not play her hand when Bailey kicked field goal to give the Cowboys a 23-20 win. She was busy in Jacksonville.
Faced with fourth-and-10 near midfield, Mike Mularkey decided to go for it. It was a gutsy move, and it is a good gamble percentage-wise, but you have to wonder how many lifetime fourth-and-10 overtime conversions Chad Hanne has in him. The attempt failed, and it was clear the Jaguars wanted to die with their boots on. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker called a make-or-break blitz from the left side. Matt Schaub countered with a screen to Johnson into the teeth of the blitz. Receiver Kevin Walter and right tackle Kevin Newton raced out to block the Jaguars defenders who weren't trapped in mid-blitz. Johnson weaved for a touchdown. The Texans won, 43-37. The last rescue ship sailed into the sunset.
The Aftermath. The Texans escaped a "trap" game: bad division opponent, brutal three-game road trip looming, the division seemingly nestled in their palm. (Longtime readers will remind me that there is no statistical evidence that trap games exist. I am using the term in the colloquial sense.) The Jaguars discovered that their offense is much better when they use a semi-real quarterback, and they are going to keep discovering it and discovering it until the Gabbert Delusion ends.
The Cowboys have spent two weeks proving that they are slightly better than the Eagles and Browns. That they are probably pleased by this revelation explains why they are the Cowboys. Jerry Jones and Holmgren had a brief tete-a-tete before the game. Can you imagine the conversation? The covetous owner probably told the respected general manager that he planned to hire him but keep him on display in his original packaging so his value could appreciate.
The Buccaneers recognized the team they beat today: The Panthers have become the 2011 Buccaneers, full of doubt and flagging effort. Castaway stories often end with the protagonists learning something valuable about themselves. The stories sometimes end with the protagonist dead. For the Panthers, both scenarios are equally plausible.
The "Oxford English Dictionary" has chosen its 2012 Word of the Year: omnishambles. As you might expect, the word reflects the opinions and attitudes of people who dedicate their lives to writing dictionaries.
Omnishambles is a British coinage meaning "a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations." The American equivalents are epic fail and clusterf---, but the latter cannot be typed on a family site, and the former sounded cool when you first heard it over your Xbox headset in 2007 but won't impress the boss at a board meeting. Omnishambles was coined by the British political satire "The Thick of It," a program which has not yet jumped the pond but is sure to be a staple of PBS fundraisers by the year 2021.
The OED also selected an American word of the year: GIF. They get a witty coinage with a variety of political and social uses, we get a video file designation. What a clusterf---.
You know where this is going: Week 11 Omnishambles in Review!
The Usual Suspects: Several teams have been in a state of omnishambles for weeks. The Chargers did not make a game of it against the Broncos, but they made a game of making a game of it, always scoring just enough to make their 30-23 loss look closer than it really was. The Chargers were 3-of-16 on third down conversions, and Philip Rivers looked frustrated and distracted on many of his passes. In one memorable second quarter sequence, he threw an ugly interception into soft zone coverage, then came back on the next series to sidearm the ball on one hop to a receiver on second down and throw ten yards out of bounds on third down. With a chance to mount a desperation drive in the waning seconds, Rivers was strip-sacked. A teammate recovered the ball with eight seconds remaining, but Rivers just started walking off the field and shaking hands with opponents. He could have done that midway through the third quarter.
The Eagles stopped just short of tossing busts of Chuck Bednarik and Dick Vermeil from the upper deck and watching them shatter in the parking lot with their 31-6 loss to the Redskins. Robert Griffin completed 14 of 15 passes, including a bomb to Aldrick Robinson where Nnamdi Asomugha appeared to be watching a different game on NFL RedZone and another to Santana Moss where Brandon Boykin and Kurt Coleman had position in double coverage but allowed a 33-year old to both out-jump them for the ball and muscle through them for the touchdown. In fairness, the Eagles defense probably looked great on that one incomplete pass, and the Eagles offense was just as bad as the defense, so it is not appropriate to point fingers.
The Chiefs lost 28-6, and they are now so depressing that it is no fun joking about them.
Mystery Quarterbacks: The Cardinals benched John Skelton in favor of Ryan Lindley, a sixth-round rookie who impressed the Cardinals organization in the preseason by … look, the Cardinals organization considered Skelton and Kevin Kolb starting material, so impressing them is not exactly a feat. Third-string, sixth-round rookie quarterbacks are essentially interns. They cost practically nothing, are willing to do anything, and you can replace them without anyone noticing. Giving Lindley the start was like leaving the intern in charge of the office.
Ken Whisenhunt may have hoped to get some mileage from the Max Hall Constant, which states that every new Cardinals quarterback, no matter how obscure inept, gets at least one "ALL HE DOES IS WIN" victory near the start of his career. The Max Hall Constant got Whisenhunt into the Kolb-Skelton mess in the first place, and it nearly worked its magic again on Sunday, as Matt Ryan threw five interceptions to counteract Lindley's 9-of-20 passing. But the Falcons managed a late Michael Turner one-yard touchdown (there is no other kind anymore) and a 23-19 win. In retrospect, the Cardinals may be thankful that Lindley didn't ALL HE DOES IS WIN the game and earn a spot in their quarterback Rolodex until 2016.
Nick Foles started for the Eagles and threw two interceptions for a team that fed its dignity to feral cats a month ago. Foles is not a believer in Quarterback Hair: No quarterback who looks like Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo" or J.P. Losman has ever had a successful career, but Foles remains dangerously unshorn. But what if a quarterback with Foles/Spicoli hair started for the Cardinals? Which would prove more powerful: Quarterback Hair or the Max Hall Constant? The OED needs a word to describe such a conundrum.
Forward Fumbles: The Texans got into their overtime predicament in part because Arian Foster turned the corner on a third quarter run, saw the Jaguars defense converging, and pitched the ball forward to defender Derek Cox as if he were teaching a toddler to hit a Wiffle ball. The shocked Cox bobbled the ball, and a wacky scrum ensued. John Chick, the Cecil Shorts of the Jaguars defense, ended up with the ball, and the Jaguars kicked a field goal.
When Matt Ryan was not throwing interceptions for the Falcons, he threw a short pass to Jason Snelling, who shot-putted the ball toward the sideline. In a basketball-style "loose ball along the baseline" play, Greg Toler flipped it back into the field of play, and Rashad Johnson landed on it for the Cardinals. Ryan Lindley then went to work answering phones and backing up computer files.
Doug Martin appeared to have a one-yard touchdown for the Buccaneers, but he lost the handle on the ball just as he crossed the plane of the goal line. In Carolina, they call recovering a gift fumble in the end zone after a long drive a "defensive highlight."
Splayed Attendance: The official paid attendance for the Panthers game was 72,603. If you added up the people in the stadium, the people within three miles of the stadium, any raccoons foraging in the stadium dumpsters and the ghosts hovering around waiting to teach Jerry Richardson a lesson on Christmas Eve, you do not get 72,603 people. That's because the Panthers are a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations. America does not need omnishambles. They just need the Panthers.
(One of the runners up for the Word of the Year was "mummy porn," a tongue-in-cheek term for the "50 Shades of Grey" genre of literature. This was almost a very different Mandatory Monday segment.)