Sunday, October 25, 2009

John Carney

When John Carney missed the extra point that would have put the Saints up 38-34 in today's game, I thought it was, well, interesting.

That clip was from a game played on December 21, 2003. It was the 16th week of the 17 week season, where the Saints had to win to remain in the playoff hunt. Making things worse, Jacksonville was 4-10 entering that game. To say that loss hurt would be a bit of an understatement, but really, it was just another wacky happening during the Jim Haslett era in New Orleans.

NFL Quick Hits

- An Alex Smith sighting in San Francisco? A competent Alex Smith sighting in San Francisco??? I'm shocked. You mean it's better for the head coach to not snipe at the #1 overall draft pick QB and to actively undermine his confidence in every way possible? That's an interesting theory. Oh, and to all those who kept asking why Shaun Hill never seemed to get the opportunities to start before? That's why. He's just not that good.

- Oh, and Houston, you're allowed to play well for 60 minutes, instead of 30.

- There were 5 games in which one team scored at least 30 points, and the other team socred less than 10. Perhaps a few teams need a refresher on the definition of parity. Even better, one of these 5 games was the showcase game to the English public. I understand the desire to not take away a home game from an NFL team that will actually put that home game to good use (though by that measure, Oakland should play one of their home games in England every year), but if you're actually serious about trying to expand to London, using crap teams for these showcase games is probably a bad idea. Tampa Bay? Really? That seemed like a good idea at any point this offseason?

- Thank you, Pittsburgh (I will never utter these words again). For one week, the Brett Favre hype machine can take the week off, now that Minnesota is no longer undefeated and 2 Brett Favre turnovers became 2 Steeler defensive touchdowns. Now we can focus on...what's that you say? Minnesota's next game is where??? %$#@!!!!!!
(If you can't guess where the game is, you haven't watched ESPN yet this year)

- You had to see this Jets-Raiders game coming. Angry defensive-minded genius coming off 3 straight losses versus terrible QB in a dysfunctional organization. Just makes Philly's loss last week all the more mindboggling. And Mark Sanchez makes waves again, as he's caught eating a hot dog on the sidelines towards the end of the game. I believe this means he has brought the curse of Rick Mirer upon himself, which means he either is going to regress into a skittish QB who refuses to go through his progressions by year 2, or he's going to ruin a Chicago Bears draft at some point in his career. I'm not sure which one.

- Okay, I give you a box-score. Team A outgains Team B 425-167. Team B gets only 9 first downs all game, gives up a safety, and loses the time of possession battle by about 10 minutes. Then I tell you that Team B won by 11 and never trailed in the game. You'd be confused. Befuddled, even. Then I'd tell you Team A's quarterback is Jake Delhomme. And suddenly it would all make sense. And Carolina signed him to an extension this offseason. John Fox has just joined Jim Zorn in the dead man walking zone.

And will someone please explain to me what it is about Buffalo that forces both them and their opponents to turn their games into poop-slinging contests? These last 3 Bills games have been some of the ugliest football games I've seen, though the Bills are 2-1 in them, go figure.

- Cutler throws 3 picks. Bears lose big. Broncos fans laugh.

- Miami shocks everyone by going up 24-3 on the Saints, but can't hold on. The first crack came with 5 seconds left in the first half. New Orleans had just scored a touchdown that was reviewed. The review showed that the Saints player was actually down inside the 1 yard line. This meant the officials would spot the ball, and then start the clock, and the Saints had no timeouts left. Saints coach Sean Payton left his kicking unit on the field (they were already there to kick the extra point before the review), content to get 3 points before halftime. Then Miami coach Tony Sparano made the boneheaded decision to call timeout. This gave Drew Brees the chance to get in his coach's ear to make his case to go for the touchdown instead and get within 2 scores. Payton was convinced, and Brees snuck the ball over the line for the touchdown. And instead of going into halftime up 18, the Dolphins instead went in to the locker room up 14, which became 7 less than 1 minute into the thrid quarter.

Would New Orleans still have been able to come back from an 18-point halftime defecit (instead of the 14 point one they actually faced)? They certainly had the offesne for it. But Coach Sparano needlessly gave away 4 points of their lead. Thos 4 points could have come in very handy late in the game. Bad bad decision that really had no upside. Are the Saints really going to set up a fake in the 15 seconds between getting the word back from the officials and when the clock starts? Especially with their extra-point kicking unit on the field? I highly doubt it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Top 7 Calls that made me want to put a fist through the television set (luckily I created this blog instead), #3: Darrell Jackson Pass Interference

Back to the main series of this blog. Let's go back once again (last time, I promise) to Super Bowl XL. This play is 4 plays into a promising Seattle drive in the first quarter with the score still 0-0. Matt Hasselbeck drops back to pass, rolls around to buy more time, then launches a pass down the deep middle of the field for #1 target Darrell Jackson. Jackson makes the catch in the end zone, seemingly giving Seattle a 6-0 lead, pending the PAT.

But then the referees would make their first large stamp on this game.

Jackson was called for offensive pass interference, which is traditionally called once every 3 years (unless the receiver is Plaxico Burress or Randy Moss). I have included a very brief clip of the play below:

Yeah, I wasn't kidding about the brief part. Anyway, I acknowledge that Jackson did push off and he did extend his arm, which is a red flag for the officials. However, I still have 2 major problems with this play:

1) As Jackson is moving around towards the end of this play, the Steeler defensive back is all over him, grabbing him and jostling him. This is normally an automatic illegal contact penalty, but because Hasselbeck left the pocket during his scarmbling around before the throw, the DB cannot be called for illegal contact. But, just because that jostling isn't illegal in that setting, doesn't mean he should be allowed to grab Jackson without Jackson being allowed to try and shed the DB. I also believe that the Steeler DB is still grabbing Jackson after the pass has left Hasselbeck's hand, which means it's defensive pass interference at that point. Unfortunately, there's no camera angle to show this.

2) If this is offensive pass interference, you are compelled to call the more egregious examples of offensive pass interference over the rest of the game. Number of other OPI calls over the rest of the game? 0. Curious. Especially when you consider at least once Hines Ward fully extended his arm and pushed off of Seattle cornerback Kelly Herndon's face mask to get open later in the game, but this was not called. If you're going to set the precedent, then you have to follow it. This is too big of a game to try and make a bigger statement. Call it both ways, or let the players dictate the outcome of the game.

Seattle would subsequently face 1st and 20 at the Steeler 26, and turn that into a field goal, instead of a touchdown.

Anti-Quality of call: (4/10 at first, 10/10 once I realized they weren't actually going to call this ever again)
Effect on game situation: 5/10
Effect on my mood: 9/10

And now please excuse me while I go take a shower to wash off the filth of watching all of those highlights.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Criticism gets to MLB, Shift in Umpiring Assignments for World Series

Apparently, the bad press the umpires have generated for MLB has actually gotten a response.


Stung by a rash of blown calls in the playoffs, Major League Baseball is breaking tradition and sticking with only experienced umpires for the World Series.

CB Bucknor was in line to work the World Series for the first time this year. But he missed two calls in Game 1 of the division series between the Red Sox and Angels, damaging his chance to get picked, one of the three people said.

So, in the end, baseball does a good thing, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

This is at least the third year that I have heard references made to the fact that CB Bucknor is one of the least respected umpires in MLB. He then proceded to blow 2 calls at first base in the first game of the Angels-Red Sox series. Taking Bucknnor out of a World Series assignment is the right thing to do.

However, it's not the right thing to do because Bucknor is inexperienced. It's the right thing to do because he's not a good umpire. And this is MLB's problem. It categorizes umpires as experienced or inexperienced, instead of good or bad.

Other leagues give championship game assignments based on merit. They grade officials and give the ones with the highest marks postseason games. Not MLB. They give out these assignments based on experience instead of merit.

Is it really a shock that all of these calls are being blown in the playoffs, when all that matters to MLB is how much experience an umpire has?

Monday, October 19, 2009

NFL gets call right during game, then wrong the day after

The NFL got this one wrong, after the referees got it right.

Dante Wesley of the Carolina Panthers is a gunner. The guy who runs down the sideline on a punt who becomes the first line of defense once the returner catches the football. The best thing a gunner can do? Lay a huge hit on the returner just after the ball gets there to try and cause a fumble.

What Dante Wesley did yesterday in the game against Tampa Bay, though, can only be called one thing: dirty.

It's true that the gunner cannot find the ball in the air while running full speed downfield and getting blocked by 1 or 2 guys. It's true the gunner has to rely on visual cues from the returner. But there are no visual cues from the returner. The returner hits the deck before the ball does. And Wesley didn't accidentally hit Clifton Smith, he launched himself into Smith with no reason to believe the ball would get there when he hit him. That's dirty, and that's dangerous.

The referees made the right call: personal foul penalty and an ejection for Wesley. There's no place in the game for that, and if they didn't do it, the Tampa Bay players would have rioted. The the NFL got to weigh in, and they suspended Wesley (good) for just 1 game (wait, WHAT???).

Let's compare this to an event from a couple years ago that resulted in an ejection and a 5-game suspension: the Albert Haynesworth stomping incident:

Haynesworth stepped on the face of a prone Andre Gurode, who didn't have a helmet on at the time. That was dangerous and dirty, and could have ended Gurode's career. All of those things are true of the Wesley hit as well.

I guess you can make the argument that Wesley just mistimed his hit, and at least it was a football play, whereas stepping on a helmetless player's head is never an okay play, but Wesley left his feet to take off Smith's head a full second before the ball got there against a defensless return man.

To suspend Wesley for only 1 game is to minimize the danger of concussions to Clifton Smith's health and his career. At a time where the NFL has commissioned a study on concussions, and stories like Ted Johnson's and Kyle Turley's, among many others, that is the last message the NFL should want to send.

With great speed and power has to come great responsibility, otherwise, as Carson Palmer said to SI's Peter King in a quarterback roundtable before the season started, "The truth of the matter is . . . somebody is going to die here in the NFL. It's going to happen." The NFL had a chance to take a stand on a clearly dirty play, and failed to do so.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Maccabi Tel Aviv coach bigger than the game

Usually I'd ignore NBA preseason, but this is too good to pass up.

The Maccabi coach recevied 2 technical fouls in an exhibition game against the Knicks. Rather than do the normal thing (leave the floor) or the Bobby Knight thing (throw a couple of chairs, swear a lot, then leave the floor), he just stayed there and kind of hung around. This caused an 8 minute delay as I imagine the referees tried to communicate to him that he had to leave.

Eventually, he left, but not before a rabbi tried to intervene on his behalf, saying the following (per ESPN):

"I explained that this is not a regular game and the kids are watching and [it's] important that there will be peace and forgive him," Rabbi Yitchak Dovid Grossman said of his discussions with the officials. "If you forgive him, I can speak to the children and say, 'You also forgive. If you have a fight, you forgive.' But he says this is the law, that you must obey."

I don't even know where to start with this. I don't think I've ever heard "Think of the children!!!!" in an NBA game before (maybe when Dennis Rodman was still playing). This rabbi certainly has never played organized sports before.

I shudder to think of how all those Israeli kids are going to go wrong because the NBA referees followed ther rules instead of "forgiving" this coach. Just think, we could have had peace in the Middle East but for these replacement referees putting the rulebook before the children. For shame.

NFL Quick Hits

- This is why Matt Schaub was getting talked up before the season, and why he's reached "Start unless on a bye" status on my team:

28-40, 392 yds, 4 TDs.

Of course, the fact that my backup is David Garrard and he just managed to lead his team to victory over the Rams in overtime doesn't hurt either.

- I'm already sick of Brett Favre's latest comeback and all the talk it's going to lead to. I'm wishing really bad things on the Ravens kicker for forcing that garbage down our throats by missing a 43 yard kick indoors.

- That's the Detroit we remember from 2008. Hurry back, Matt Stafford.

- The Giants are a good team, and I think they'll be near unbeatable at home in January, but New Orleans is a terrible matchup for them indoors. The Saints OL did a tremendous job keeping Drew Brees clean, and without pressure the Giants can't stop that attack. Of course almost no one can stop that attack in the dome.

- On a drive after recovering a fumble, the Browns had WR Josh Cribbs throw the ball twice and QB Derek Anderson throw the ball 0 times. And even though it ended in an INT, who could argue with the strategy? This is almost certainly what hell looks like for Brady Quinn.

And Anderson's final stats? 9-24 for 122 yds and 1 TD. Just about 1000% better than last week's effort.

- Jim Zorn has to be fired. Combine the abysmal showing today (6 points against the Chiefs), the lack of development by Jason Campbell (benched at halftime), and the owner (Daniel Snyder, good friend of Tom Cruise), and the bye week coming up for the Redskins (the usual time an in-season change would be made) and I just don't see how he survives.

- Was it really that hard to figure out you were playing Oakland, Philly? I know you let JaMarcus Russell throw a TD pass, and I can see how that would be confusing, but to go touchdown-less against the Raiders??? There is no excuse for that, and for at least this week, McNabb deserves all of the abuse Philly fans have given him since he was drafted. Oh, and the last Philly play? Fittingly, a pass thrown at DeSean Jackson's feet. Classic McNabb, missing only the on-field retching.

- The Seahawks both are almost historically unlucky with injuries (MLB Lofa Tatupu is now out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle), and embarassing to watch. Biggest game of the year, and they fail to show up against a divisional rival. Terrible effort on all 3 sides of the ball, and 6 games into the season, they're pretty much looking toward 2010.

- But if we're going to talk embarassing, I have to mention the Titans. Yes, it was snowing (I still don't understand that), and yes, you guys are down, but to give up 45 points in the first half??? And score nothing all game long? There's a word for that: Quitters.

- And Rex Ryan has to be feeling a little less comfortable now that his Jets have gone from 3-0 to 3-3. And this week's loss to the Bills was especially unnerving. Mark Sanchez had looked like he'd come out of the Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco mold over 4 of the first 5 games. But in the Buffalo wind, he threw 10 completions and 5 interceptions. That's terrible. My biggest fear back in April on draft day was that Seattle would draft Sachez at #4 overall. Over the first few weeks of the season I was worried that perhaps I was wrong and that would have been the smart choice. But now that the Jets have come back to earth (and the outstanding play of LB Aaron Curry), I feel much better about the decision.

USA 2 Costa Rica 2, Part 2: Reason

Okay, we dealt with the emotion of the last-second equalizer, now let's look at the game from a more rational context:

Another uneven performance, which can essentially sum up qualifying for the US. The offense was still too much focused on the long ball to one of the forwards (usually Altidore) who would try to possess the ball and make something happen. The fact that Altidore was a man possessed that night and made the strategy work pretty well does not take away from the fact that it was a flawed strategy. Especially for a superior team at home.

If this was part of an overall strategy to sit back and play for the tie, it failed. Miserably. Not just because Costa Rica went up 2-0, but because there were plenty of defensive breakdowns (including the ones that led to those 2 goals) and Costa Rica was able to maintain possession in the offensive half for 45-60 seconds at a time. If you're going to sit back and play for the tie, you have to choke off the attack once they get within 35-40 yards of the goal, not rely on your back 4 alone to stop the attack when it gets within 20 yards of goal.

Whatever Bradley said to the team at halftime made a difference. It would have been nice for him to have said those things to the team before the start of the game, because the US looked sluggish and lethargic. On one cross, the US defender didn't make an effort to get to the ball about 3 yards out from net, and only Tim Howard's existence as a superhuman being saved a goal on that shot (how Howard managed to get his hands up to parry that shot I will never understand). Even Onyewu wasn't immune, as the stalwart let a Costa Rican attacker get around him inside the box to lead to the first goal.

Then we come to the second goal, which was scored off of an incredible shot that even Howard could do nothing about. However, that clean shot came off of a give and goal where late-game hero Jonathan Bornstein just stood and watched the attacker go by him. I don't know what game John Harkes was watching (he said Bornstein had a great game after his goal), because he had countless miscues (both defensively and offensively) in the first half. I was hoping Spector would come out of halftime as the left back, because Bornstein was making a mess of half of his challenges and 95% of his touches.

Of course, in talking about the 2-0 defecit I'd be remiss not to point out the fact that before even the first goal, the US had squandered at least 3 chances to take the lead. None more mindboggling than Conor Casey's decision to not take a controlling touch before firing the ball at the net in the 9th minute. Altidore had laid off a perfect pass to a wide open Casey, and Casey totally missed the net in trying to one-time the shot. Terrible, terrible job by Casey. In fact, when later Donovan shot the ball from a terrible angle instead of trying to get the ball to a wide open Casey 6 yards in front of the net, I was only a little angry, because I couldn't fault him if he assumed Casey would just make a mess of it again.

But even the level of play pales in comparison with the injury situation. Charlie Davies suffered massive injuries in a car wreck 2 nights before the game, and if he plays for the national team again it will be a great story. He certainly won't be back for the World Cup. Onyewu's patellar tendon injury won't keep him out of the World Cup, but it will keep him out 2-3 months. So 1/2 of the best US forward tandem and by far their best defender are out of commission for at least the next 2-3 months, which is by far the worst news to come out of the game.

The point of this post is not to throw cold water on the good feeling the last-second equalizer brought, just to point out that there is still a ton of work to be done. As uneven as the US played throughout qualifying, they still ended up first in the region. This won't be enough to get them a seed at the World Cup, but it won't hurt their standing.

I said after the Confederation Cup that the US had to build off that in the remaining qualifying. I don't think they ever played that well in those 5 qualifying games, but they got the result they needed, so while the momentum has slowed, it didn't stall. Now all that's left before South Africa 2010 is friendlies and club games, so it will have to be individual momentum that helps bring the US to a better place than 2006.

Oh, and I hope the USSF response to AC Milan asking for money because Onyewu was hurt in US team duty is a single finger.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

USA 2 Costa Rica 2, Part 1: Emotion

The US came back from down 0-2 in this game to salvage a 2-2 tie at home against Costa Rica. There is plenty to say on the subject, so I'm breaking it down into 2 parts. This first part, is essentially everything that was running through my head once the final whistle sounded.

What. An. Ending!

The US didn't always make it look pretty, but they never stopped pushing to get back in the game. They missed a ton of giftwrapped chances early on, and then went down 2 goals by halftime, but not once did they let their heads hang and accept their first home loss in qualifying since 2001.

Not only did the US never give up, but in the 2nd half we finally saw shades of the US team we have been hoping to see all qualifying long. A team that methodically worked the ball up the field, only attacking into the box once they had worked enough players up to have 2 lines of attack: 1 line in the box, and another at the 18 as backup. Too many times the US puts everyone on the same level, then the ball squirts out to the 18, and no one is there to ty and clean up.

Man of the match is unquestionably Jozy Altidore. Wearing a Charlie Davies shirt, Altidore was a man possessed. Twice I saw him try and succeed in stealing a ball away from 3 opponents passing it back and forth. He created a golden chance for Conor Casey that Casey horribly botched in the 9th minute, drew 3 fouls just outside the 18, and had 2 quality chances on net (although he missed one and the other was saved). He was carrying the US offense for stretches at a time, taking the long balls, possessing, and making the right play. If he was playing to honor his friend in the hospital, he definitely made Davies proud.

I remember remarking during the game how Bradley always leaves his subs very late, and how sometimes you need to make the change earlier to shake things up. Sure enough, Bradley makes changes in the 62nd, 68th, and 78th minutes, and the first 2 changes have direct bearing on the 2 goals that were scored. Torres and Rogers injected a real shot of energy into the sagging US team, and without their play, this is at best a 2-1 loss for the Americans.

When a team misses as many good chances as the US did in the first 60 minutes of the game, it's either a sign that nothing is going to go right all game, or the karma is building up enough that eventually something is going to break your way. Last night it was the latter, as Bradley's shot was one of the lowest quality shots the US put on net. But that shot is the one that bounced off the sliding keeper and worked its way into the net to bring the game back to 2-1 in the 71st minute. And yes, it was unquestionably a lucky bounce, but it was the culmination of both a lot of outstanding chances the US created all game long, and of about 5-10 minutes of sustained American attack.

After this goal, the game fell into a mix of sloppy American attacks, and any effort possible by the Costa Ricans to waste time. In fact, they were so brazen about it, the their coach and an assistant were sent off for berating the 4th official, endangering what at the time looked to be their availability for Costa Rica's first 1 or 2 world cup games.

Also, the best US defender in years, Oguchi Onyewu went down in the last 10-12 minutes with what was later diagnosed as a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. Unfortunately for the US, this came after they had already subbed 3 times, so the Americans were forced to play with just 10 men for the rest of the game.

The second goal should never have happened. Given 5 minutes of stoppage time, the US started pressing about 2 minutes in. About 3 minutes in, the US lost the ball and Costa Rica dribbled it down into the US end with a 3 on 3 situation (and a man up overall). A situation many teams turn into the final whistle. And Costa Rica was thinking those thoughts, when all of a sudden Torres comes in and picks the Costa Rican player's pocket deep in his own end. The US brings it up the field and eventually secures a corner kick with over 4 and a half minutes gone in stoppage time. As soon as the ball is cleared by Costa Rica, it's game over. Do or die situation. Then, this happened:

Jonathan Bornstein runs in from the 18 onto a brilliant Torres corner kick, and stuffs it into the net with essentially no time left on the clock. With that header, the US won CONCACAF (thanks to Mexico tying Trinidad and Tobago) and Costa Rica is dumped from automatic berth in South Africa to a home and home playoff with Uruguay for a spot. Instead, Honduras, thanks to a 1-0 win over El Salvador, moves on, and the country torn apart by political strife hopefully has at least one day to unite and celebrate their first berth in the World Cup since 1982.

What a game, what an ending.

An interesting side note: the Costa Rican coach on the bench who looks crushed in the video above? He's the strength and conditioning coach, as once the head coach and assistant coaches were sent off, it was left to him to try and maintain order on the sideline and communicate with the players on the field.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Matt Holliday

You know how coaches say, "No one play or player lost this game, we lost this as a team?"

Well, the St. Louis Cardinals did not lose game 2 of their NLDS matchup with the Dodgers. Matt Holliday (and only Matt Holliday) lost it for them. He out-Bill Buckerned Bill Bucker.

That was quite possibly the worst job of fielding I have ever seen. Even Manny Ramirez wouldn't have blown that catch like that. He may have tripped over himself, and he may have not reached that ball, but he would not have taken an easy fly ball, mangled it enough to have it hit him in the privates, and then trip over himself...all with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth with a 1 run lead.

Holliday should take $10 million out of his free agent contract he's going to sign this offseason, and buy enough booze to make all of the Cardinals fans in the world forget that this game ever happened.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bad calls of the weekend: BC-FSU

Maybe I'll tackle week 4 of the NFL season at some point, but right now, all I've got is, the Seahawks got blasted, the Broncos (Seattle has their 1st round pick in 2010) improved to 4-0 (thanks Tony Romo), and Pittsburgh is currently winning 7-0. I hate my NFL fan life.

Instead, I'd rather talk about a couple of atrocious calls I witnessed during yesterday's college football action. The first such call happened during the Florida State vs Boston College game and came early in the 4th quarter.

BC had jumped out to a surprising 21-3 lead in the first half, but Florida State had chipped away at this lead, getting back to 21-13 at the start of the 4th quarter. BC drove out to their own 37 yard line, where they faced 3rd and 1.

This snapshot gives you a good idea of just how far they have to go to get the first down at the start of the play (the yellow line signifying the first down).

BC (wisely, given the distance needed) calls for a QB sneak to try and get the first down. Their QB takes the snap, the line gets good push, and he pushes his way forward to about half a yard beyond the first down marker. But, don't take my word for it, see for yourself. I took the liberty of circling BC QB Dave Shinskie.

Then, the defense does what defenses always do in this situation: they stop his momentum and then push him backwards as far as they can, hoping to influence the official spot of the ball. Thanks to the general pile up of bodies, the FSU defense manages to shove Dave Shinskie back behind the first down marker, as seen below (again, Shinskie is circled).

Now comes the interesting part. One of the linesman on the officiating crew runs in at the spot where Shinskie's forward progress was stopped. By rule, this is where the ball should be spotted. Notice how the circled linesman runs in ahead of the yellow first down line.

Now, it's true that the yellow line isn't official (it's put there by ABC, who's broadcasting the game) but at this stage of the yellow line's development, you will never see a ball spotted entirely past the yellow line that is not actually a first down.

Okay, so 1 linesman believes the ball shouls be spotted ahead of the first down marker. Maybe the other linesman had a better view, and maybe he has money on FSU, and he believes the ball should be spotted behind the marker.

Hmmm, this doesn't seem to be the case. The circled linesman in the image above clearly believes Shinskie reached a good half yard further than the first down marker (as displayed by the much cruder but incredibly accurate yellow line). However, linesman #1 (not circled in this image) has moved about a yard backwards for seemingly no reason at all.

The official marking the spot should NEVER move off of that spot, even if it's to get the ball. There are 7 officials on the field, and this is one of the reasons why. Another official should hand the linesman the ball so that his spot can be as accurate as possible. Did he think his buddy was going to keep track of the spot while he got the ball from the pile? Did he magically change his mind? We'll never know. What we do know, is that linesman #1 influenced linesman #2's opinion of the proper spot, as seen below.

Now both linesmen are setup behind the first down marker as something caused them to change their minds regarding the spot. After many hours of consideration, I have decided that either they were sneakily abducted briefly by aliens on their way in from the sidelines, or Bobby Bowden broke down into a blubbering mess at some point and begged the officials for help getting back in the game. Whatever it was, the end result was the terrible spot seen below.

In case all of this evidence isn't enough for you, let me add the following:

- The spot was so bad, Matt Millen immediately noticed it and called out the officials for a bad job. This is the same Matt Millen who spent the last 6 years demonstraitng who little he knew about successful football (and carving the heart out of the city of Detroit, but that's another matter), and he saw it right away.

- Every college football play is reviewed by a separate replay official. They have the option to signal down to the referee on the field to stop play and give the replay official more time to review the play and render a decision. The replay official (wisely) sent this signal down to ask for more time. Inexplicably, the replay official then decided there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the spot. I have an image of poor resolution screen-grabbed from a standard definition replay of the game that clearly shows the call was blatantly wrong. The replay official had a high definition video of the same thing, and he gutlessly shrunk from his obligation to right the on-field wrong.

This was a total failure by both linesmen and the replay official, all 3 of whom should be suspended for at least the next game for gross incompetence. I very much doubt this will happen, so God help whatever ACC team draws this crew next week.

The real issue is that this wasn't a pass interference call gone bad. This wasn't a holding call that later didn't hold up to video scrutiny. At least those are jugdment calls, and with jugdment calls there will be some variation from official to official. This was a simple spot of the ball call where both linesmen showed the correct initial instincts, then inexplicably went away from those instincts. The mistake was compounded when the replay official, with plenty of evidence to the contrary, upheld the initial call. It's a call that should never have been allowed to stand, but stood.

Luckily for BC (and this officiating crew), even after FSU tied the game at 21 on their ensuing possession, BC managed to win the game 28-21. I have a feeling the next team to be wronged by this crew won't be so lucky.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Lone Pennant Race* of 2009

If you haven't been paying attention, there is still one race that has not yet been wrapped up: the AL Central division race. Not only has it not been wrapped up, but Detroit and Minnesota have identical 85-76 records with one game left in the regular season.

This scenario is being spun as a total collapse by Detroit, and I was all ready to pile on to the Tigers. The I took a look at the numbers, and I was surprised at what I found. Here are Detroit's and Minnesota's record by month, with how many games Detroit was ahead of Minnesota in the standings at the end of the month in parenthesis:

April: 11-10 11-11 (+0.5)
May: 17-11 14-16 (+4.5)
June: 15-13 15-12 (+4.0)
July: 10-14 12-12 (+2.0)
August: 16-13 14-14 (+3.5)
Sept/Oct: 16-15 19-11 (0)

So, in actuality, Detroit has never been that far ahead of Minnesota. Sure they may have jumped more than 5 games ahead at a point in the season, but they never were able to pull away from Minnesota. So why is everyone piling on the Tigers? Here are their records over the last 9 games:

Detroit: 3-6
Minnesota: 6-3

So over the first 22 games of September, Minnesotsa made up 0.5 games of a 3.5 game defecit. Over the last 9 games, they've made up 3 games. So, clearly it looks like Detroit has choked, right? Let's look at who they've actually played.

They played 4 games against each other, and split those games. That means Detroit has gone 1-4 against the White Sox and Minnesota has gone 4-1 against the Royals. Now, Chicago is practically a .500 team (as of this post, they are 79-82), while the Royals are just 2 games out of the AL cellar.

So is this really a total choke on the part of the Tigers? I'm going to say no. It looks bad because Detroit has been on top of the division for so long. In fact, the Tigers will make history if they lose the division in becoming the first team to lead their division since May 10, only to lose their lead in the last week of the season. But while you'd expect Detroit to do better than 1-4 against a team with nothing to play for, if you're going to take issue with the Tigers, you should look back earlier in the season where they didn't pull away from Minnesota, not to these last 10 games of the season.

The real winners in all of this? The New York Yankees. The only thing that scared the Yankees for their first round matchup was the prospect of facing Tigers starter Justin Verlander in games 1 and 4 of the series. Now, because Detorit needs tomorrow's game, they have to put Verlander out there tomorrow, which means he won't pitch until Friday in the playoffs, which would be game 2. Let's be real, these 2 teams are looking at about 86 wins, while the Yankees have 102 and have their starters set up exactly how they want them.

Anyway, the Tigers send Verlander to the mound around 1 PM tomorrow, while the Twins send epic Yankee failure Carl Pavano to try and push themselves to a W around 2 PM.

*Technically this isn't true, as if Colorado beats LA tonight and tomorrow, the Rockies will steal the division from the Dodgers. But since both of these teams are in the playoffs already anyway, it doesn't really count.