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#1 Posted : Tuesday, February 2, 2010 4:56:20 PM(UTC)
[size=18]Brett Favre, felled by his fatal flaw[/size]

By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2


Hamartia. The "tragic flaw" described by Aristotle: A leader cannot control his own inner shortcoming, which causes him to achieve the reverse of what he desired. In "Antigone," the king, Creon, tells himself he is acting in the interest of the city, when actually he is acting to glorify his own ego -- this hamartia destroys him. Brett Favre comes up a bit short of a character in ancient Thebes, but on Sunday he was brought low by hamartia all the same. It was not enough for Favre's team to reach the Super Bowl -- he had to get the credit. Game tied with 19 seconds remaining, Favre scrambled at about the New Orleans 40-yard line, with open field ahead of him. All he needed to do was run a few yards, hook-slide, call timeout, and the Vikings' strong-legged kicker, Ryan Longwell, had a solid chance to win the NFC championship. But the credit had to go to Favre; he had to throw a spectacular pass at the end, so television announcers would swoon. So he heave-hoed a dramatic across-the-field pass. It was intercepted, and the Saints won in overtime.

Perhaps you are thinking, "It was just a dumb mistake, and the whole thing happened in a couple of seconds." No. Two years of Favre's life built up to that moment. For two years, Favre has insisted that entire NFL franchises, the Jets and the Vikings, become thralls to his celebrity. He has used his stature to demand, demand, demand -- the crux of the demands are always attention and publicity for himself. Now he is brought low. In two of the past three seasons, Favre has lost in the NFC Championship Game. Each time, his team seemed poised to win at the end; each time, Favre's final play was a disastrous interception. And each of those title losses eventually came in overtime -- to punish Favre for his hamartia, twice the football gods allowed him to come so close, so close, then denied him. Favre has been brought so low, he is now being laughed at in Wisconsin, and he has only himself to blame. Aristotle would not be surprised by the ending of the Favre saga. If, of course, it was the ending.

In other football news, someone clever, handsome and irresistible to women predicted an Indianapolis-New Orleans Super Bowl. Why, that must have been me! At the season's start, yours truly said on "The Brian Kenny Show" that I liked the Colts and Saints to meet in Miami -- the clip is here, my prediction is toward the end. I repeated the prediction here on Sept. 15. Considering my column motto is All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back, and my Super Bowl prediction failed to be wrong, you get your money back. Since TMQ is free -- oh, never mind. Anyway, Colts-Saints was the pairing I had hoped to see when I arrive on Feb. 7 at that stadium where the South Florida Dolphins perform. Now I will be happy.

Of the 88 players who started on championship Sunday, 19 were undrafted. Countless megabucks first-round draft choices sat at home drinking blueberry wheat microbrews and munching genetically modified maize chips while watching undrafted gentlemen perform on the big stage. Kids -- never give up! TMQ admires those players who excel despite being undrafted, waived, or both. Next week I will honor the best with my annual Tuesday Morning Quarterback All-Unwanted All-Pros.

In stats-obsession news, let the scramble for Indianapolis and New Orleans stats begin! Both are dome teams that play indoors on turf; in the Super Bowl, they will meet outdoors on grass. But this shouldn't be a factor. The Colts are 5-0 on grass, the Saints are 4-1.

In cultural news, the other day I took a United Airlines flight from Toronto to Washington. Scheduled departure time was 10:03 a.m. -- not 10:00, 10:03. Throughout this column you'll find TMQ's annual review of absurd pseudo-precision.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 1: Minnesota gained 475 yards on offense, made 31 first downs, and lost.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 2: Discounting the December Jets-Colts game in which Indianapolis pulled its starters, Peyton Manning is 5-0 against Rex Ryan defenses.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 3: The best offense (Saints) and the best defense (Jets) in the NFL made the championship round. But the second-, third- and fourth-best offenses (Cowboys, Patriots and Texans) and the second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-best defenses (Packers, Ravens, Bengals and Steelers) did not.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 4: In the past decade, road teams playing indoors in the postseason are 4-18.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 5: Minnesota and New Orleans, which met for the NFC championship, opened a combined 23-1 and are a combined 5-7 since.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 6: No head coach in the championship round had previously won a championship game.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 7: The Vikings finished 9-0 at home, 4-5 on the road.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 8: The Jets have lost three straight conference championship games.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 9: The Vikings have lost five straight conference championship games.

Stats of the Championship Round No. 10: The Colts will appear in their fourth Super Bowl -- all played in Miami.

Cheerleader of the Championship Round: Ashley of the Jersey/B Jets, who according to her team bio has a psychology degree from Montclair State. NFL team cheerleader bios contain a lot of silly questions ("What's your pet peeve?") that must be hard to answer without sounding trite. Ashley's bio actually has a thoughtful answer. To "What's your favorite thing about New York City?" she answered, "The lights, the glitz, roasted almonds, theater life, the chaos, Christmas time and people watching."

Sweet Play of the Championship Round: In overtime, the host Saints -- outplayed by the Vikings in every respect save turnovers -- faced a fourth-and-1 on the Minnesota 43-yard line. This is do-or-die -- you cannot give the ball back to the other team in overtime. Three times earlier in the game, New Orleans needed 1 yard for a first down, and all three times the Saints were stuffed. Sean Payton sent in a goal-line play -- one in which tailback Pierre Thomas leaps above the trench, as if at the goal line. Why do coaches only call the leap at the goal line? Because the most it can gain is 2 yards; the runner crosses the line of scrimmage, then slams to the ground. That's fine at the goal line, but in the middle of the field, coaches want to maintain the chance of a long run. But if you're going for it on fourth-and-1, all that really matters is gaining 1 yard. Tuesday Morning Quarterback long has wondered, why not call the goal-line leap for 1 yard in the middle of the field? Payton did, and five snaps later, his team was on the way to the Super Bowl.

Sour Play of the Championship Round: Midway through the fourth quarter, Indianapolis led Jersey/B 20-17 and faced a second-and-6 on the Jets' 15-yard line. Manning play-faked against a 4-2 front; Dallas Clark ran a seam, every tight end's favorite pattern; neither Jets inside linebacker made any attempt to cover Clark, who scored an easy touchdown as the hosts pulled away to earn a Super Bowl invite. That's the kind of play you might expect from a finalist for the TMQ Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back NFL MVP! Clark entered the game with 107 receptions and 10 touchdown catches on the season -- yet in the very field position and down-and-distance in which Manning likes to look for Clark, no one covered him. Very sour for the league's top-rated defense.

Sweet 'N' Sour Plays of the Championship Round: With the Jets leading 17-6 with 1:19 remaining in the first half, the Colts had a first-and-10 on the Jersey/B 16-yard line. Touchdown pass to Austin Collie -- the score at intermission is 17-13, and the Colts' comeback begins. On the final drive of the first half, Collie caught three passes for 80 yards -- that was sweet. During the Colts' divisional-round game, Collie (who was born in Canada) beat Ray Lewis for a touchdown; in the championship game, he broke a Darrelle Revis tackle for a first down. Those were extra-sweet.

As for the Jets, on the second play of that Colts drive, they big-blitzed; the Colts blocked the blitz, and gained 18 yards via Collie. On the next play they big-blitzed; the Colts blocked the blitz, and gained 46 yards via Collie. The tactic has just failed twice in a row. Maybe you should try something else? Instead, Rex Ryan called another big blitz; the Colts blocked the blitz, touchdown. What's worse, no one covered Collie -- the safety on his side, Eric Smith, stood like topiary, never covering anyone. Collie had just caught two passes on consecutive plays for 64 yards, and on the very next snap no one covered him. For the league's top-rated defense, this sequence was incredibly sour.

4,400 Tons of Responsibility Per Crew Member -- Before the Ship is Loaded:

The container vessels that ply the world's oceans continue to get bigger. Many are now too big to pass through the Panama Canal. Many are engineered for specific "strings" -- for instance, to shuttle endlessly between Singapore and Rotterdam, Netherlands, never serving any other ports. Mediterranean Shipping Company, based in landlocked Switzerland, just launched the largest ship so far, the MSC Daniela, capable of carrying 14,000 standard shipping containers. The ship weighs about 133,000 tons -- about a third more than the final Nimitz-class supercarrier, the recently launched George H. W. Bush. STX Shipbuilding of South Korea is working on a vessel that would carry 22,000 standard containers, and be twice the mass of the largest aircraft carrier.

Here is something that dazzles me: MSC, the world's second-largest container shipping company, was founded in 1970, when an Italian sea captain bought an old cargo ship and offered to carry anything anywhere. Global trade has exploded so fast that a company which now owns 376 large vessels, including the largest in the world, was founded a mere 40 years ago. And here is something that creeps me out. Counting aviators, the George H. W. Bush has a crew complement of about 5,500. The larger MSC Daniela has a crew complement of 30.

That 50.3 Percent Chance is Definitely Not a 50/50 Chance!

In mid-December, nfl-forecast.com declared New England had an "88.78 percent" chance of winning its division, while Minnesota had a "98.38 percent" chance and Buffalo clung to a "0.04 percent" chance. Dallas, meanwhile, had a "50.3 percent" chance of reaching the playoffs. Accuscore.com now predicts game results for the Wall Street Journal. For the NBA's opening day, it forecast -- I am not making this up -- a final score of Cleveland 92.6, Boston 90.4.

According to new reports from last summer, New England fourth-round draft choice Rich Ohrnberger got a $451,000 signing bonus, while Donovan McNabb received a $5.34 million raise. Why are oddly specific numbers common in NFL contracts?

Minnesota at New Orleans Analysis: The Vikings played a lot better than the Saints did -- except for putting the ball on the ground. Statistically, Minnesota came into the game the best team of any of the final four -- ranked fifth in offense and sixth in defense. Those numbers are a little deceptive because the Vikings ran up huge statistical margins at home while going 9-0, then were an average team statistically on the road while going 4-5. Still, in the NFC title game, Minnesota gained 218 more yards than New Orleans and made 16 more first downs. And that's considering the Vikings never had an overtime possession: At the end of regulation, the Minnesota edge was 250 yards and 18 first downs. Double the opponent's yardage and gain 18 more first downs -- you can only lose that scenario with turnovers.

Were the Vikings' turnovers caused by nervousness? By crowd noise? Maybe they were caused by earplugs! The Minnesota defense, which played very well, wore no earplugs. The Minnesota offense wore earplugs. Plus-nine on turnovers in their first 17 contests, the earplug-wearing Vikings were minus-four in the title game. It's not just that Minnesota offensive players had trouble communicating -- wide receivers sometimes didn't know the play and several line calls were blown, one reason the previously stout Vikings offensive line allowed Favre to be hit over and over. The Vikes fumbled six times, losing three. In his 17 previous contests, Favre had 37 touchdown passes and seven interceptions; he put earplugs in his ears and threw one touchdown pass and two interceptions. The sense of balance originates in the inner ear. Push earplugs into your ears and your balance may be subtly altered. And the Vikings looked off-balance all night.

Last week, TMQ wondered if Head Coach Favre and his intern, Brad Childress, could resist the urge to let Favre win the game and the glory with his arm, and instead mainly rush against the Saints' defense. Counting sacks and scrambles, Minnesota called 50 passing plays and 35 rushing plays, with 150 yards gained by tailbacks Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Yes, the running game caused two turnovers, but the passing game caused three. Oh, what might have been had Minnesota mainly rushed against the Saints, whose weakness is run defense. But Favre's hamartia is wanting all the glory for himself, and whether the pass calls were coming in from the sideline or Favre was making them, pass calls they were. Constant passing also exposed Favre to the hammering he took -- more runs would have kept the 40-year-old away from contact.

Featuring the pass all day, when Minnesota reached the New Orleans 33 with 1:06 remaining in regulation, game tied, the Vikings holding two timeouts, Childress had his charges take their sweet time on two running plays; the clock ticked down to 19 seconds before a penalty made the situation third-and-15 from the 38. Childress seemed to think the game was already over -- but field goal kickers can miss! The penalty, for 12 men in the huddle, came after a Vikings timeout. That is a mistake by the sideline, not the players. As he often has, Childress seemed befuddled in a clock-management situation. In 2008, against the Titans, trailing by 13 points at the two-minute warning and out of timeouts, Childress ordered a punt, later saying he thought there was plenty of time for the Vikings to get the ball back twice. If Favre returns, and his intern Childress returns, the Vikes should hire a clock coach.

The tastefully named Gregg Williams, the New Orleans defensive coordinator, used a Jets-like game plan of constant big blitzing on passing downs, combined with press coverage, a mix New Orleans had not shown this season. Just as it did for the Jets, this game plan backfired by allowing the opponent big play after big play, and a 7-of-12 third-down conversion rate.

Saints players came after Favre so hard -- four times slamming him in ways that invited late-hit or roughing penalties, only two of which were called -- that TMQ had the impression Williams told his charges something along the lines of, "Pound Favre every time you can; we will take a couple of roughing flags in return for making an old guy worry about the next hit." That was what happened at the end of regulation. Game tied, Minnesota ball on the New Orleans 38, the Vikings faced third-and-15, holding a timeout. Favre rolled right and might have run for at least 5 yards, then performed a hook slide and called the timeout, setting up a 50-yard field goal attempt (the Vikes have a good kicker in Longwell). Was it Favre's hamartia that made him throw that crazy cross-field pass -- or fear that he would be hammered again?

Williams nearly blitzed New Orleans out of the Super Bowl. The Vikings had nine expected-passing downs in the second half: second-and-long or third-and-long. Williams called big blitzes on seven, and the result was one incompletion, six first downs and 125 yards gained by Minnesota. On two of the long-yardage downs, Williams called a conventional four-man rush. The result was Favre's two interceptions. If the Saints blitz to excess against Indianapolis, outside the confines of their noise cone, they will be doomed.

As usual, the Saints had some new tricks on offense (New Orleans varies its plays and sets more than any NFL team). Reserve tight end Dave Thomas often lined up as a slotback, and he had a fine game. (Thomas, whom the Saints picked up from New England for a seventh-round draft choice, is yet another castoff prospering under Sean Payton.) Reserve tackle Zach Strief took some snaps at fullback and twice went in motion. On one snap, the running backs in the New Orleans backfield were a tight end and an offensive lineman.

New Orleans' blocking was generally good. Jahri Evans of Division II Bloomsburg pulled and wiped out two defenders on the 38-yard touchdown screen pass to Pierre Thomas. On Thomas' 9-yard touchdown run, Evans threw Ticonderoga class Minnesota defensive tackle Pat Williams to the ground, one of the best blocks TMQ has ever seen. Evans' performance was of the caliber one expects from a finalist for the TMQ Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back NFL MVP.

But in the main, the New Orleans offense sputtered. Brees' throws were off-target or wobbled. An elaborately set up reverse to Reggie Bush -- Payton called prior plays intended to distract Minnesota from the reverse when it came -- was lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. Despite having the league's highest-ranked offense, New Orleans punted three times on fourth-and-1 (once deep in Saints territory, which made sense) and twice on fourth-and-2. (One fourth-and-1 punt shows in the books as fourth-and-6 because it followed a failed attempt to draw the Vikings offside.)

Most importantly, the Saints could not, until the very end, convert short-yardage downs. Third-and-1: stuffed, punt. Third-and-1: stuffed, punt. Third-and-4: pass dropped, punt. Third-and-1: stuffed, punt. This sort of thing will not git 'er done against the Colts, who like to hold serve with lots of first downs.

The Jets' selling AFC champ merchandise the week before the game was bad enough. Reader Brian Ploessl of Cassville, Wis., notes that in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, the Vikings posted the accompanying screen on their team Web site, announcing Minnesota was going to the Super Bowl. Of course, the announcement did not say what year.

Rest of the column here.
#2 Posted : Wednesday, February 3, 2010 4:48:28 PM(UTC)
Hey Non, thanks! That is awesome.
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