4th-and-2-Gate fallout

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 16, 2009



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Paul Tibbets of Pigskin
 
So Bill Belichick decided to go for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28 Sunday night and his Patriots lost to the Colts, 35-34.
 
We haven't seen an executive decision produce this much radioactive fallout since Truman-Hiroshima back in '45.  
 
Personally, the Cold, Hard Football Facts have no major problem with the decision, other than this: a good decision is one that succeeds. A bad decision is one that fails. 
 
Belichick's decision failed. So you do the math.
 
Belichick actually has bigger problems than 4th-and-2-Gate – but apparently CHFF is the only outlet that realizes it, because all the emotional energy in the media Monday was centered around a single play among 140 Sunday night, and not on the big-picture problems that plague Belichick's defense.  
 
But nobody was interested in the more telling story because it's easier to scream "heretic" at the top of your lungs and then burn the witch at the stake of public opinion.
 
So, instead, it was open season on Belichick Monday. And the Cold, Hard Football Facts are observers of media as much as we are observers of football. So the dynamics of the responses that lit up the media like an A-bomb Monday absolutely fascinated us. It was a Marianas-style turkey shoot made all the more frenzied by the fact that Belichick commits the cardinal sin of not kissing media ass every day.
 
There are two main conclusions we've come to in the wake of 4th-and-2-Gate:
 
ONE - The most sober, reasoned, rational, fact-filled and well-thought responses were provided by the citizen-journalists in the dreaded "blogosphere."
 
TWO - The old Molotov-cocktail-tossing character assassins from the traditional mainstream media paraded through the streets of cyberspace as if it were Kill-a-Jew Day in the Gaza Strip. "Death to Belichick! Death to Belichick!"
 
It's a fascinating dichotomy. 
 
The media these days is the most un-trusted institution in the United States – and they deserve every ounce of mistrust and every last decrease in revenue they've worked so hard to achieve over the years.
 
CBS tried to pass off forged documents as a legitimate news story. CNN gave favored coverage to a dictator in exchange for exclusive coverage. The N.Y. Times fabricates more fiction than James Patterson. Mainstream newspapers like the Boston Globe and the L.A. Times couldn't play a story straight with a protractor, compass and plumb line. And the biases of the various cable networks are well documented.
 
The irony, of course, is that the old media, these observers of the human condition, refuse to observe and recognize the reasons for their own demise. They continue to uphold themselves as the standard bearers of legitimacy and integrity, even as the public laughs in their face at the thought. Even worse, the old media lament the dreaded "blogosphere" as if it's the source of the mistrust that the mainstreamers have brought upon themselves.
 
(Personal note: I feel uniquely qualified to comment on the two sides of the equation as one of the few people who has one foot firmly planted in both the "mainstream" and alternative media worlds.)
 
The truth, of course, is that it's the mainstream media itself whose standards are in the cesspool. The truth, too, is that you'll find better reporting and a greater diversity of opinion in the blogosphere. Sure, there are bomb-throwing hacks in the world of "bloggers." But they cause less damage than the bomb-throwing hacks in the big media.
 
The reactions to 4th-and-2-Gate provide us a perfect prism through which to observe this phenomenon. In fact, perhaps it's a "teachable moment" for the mainstream media members who live with the delusion that they uphold some sort of standards of integrity when, in fact, they're mostly just flinging feces from said cesspool.
 
Here's a side-by-side look at some of the fallout and some of the more interesting responses Monday to the 4th-and-2-Gate controversy.
 
Mainstream-media character assassin: "Fourth-and-jackass. That's our name of a now-infamous play in New England Patriots history. Move over, Tuck Rule. You have company. Each and every week we see bad coaching decisions in the NFL, but never, and I mean never, have I seen one as dumb as the decision Patriots coach Bill Belichick made Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts. His brain was more frozen than Ted Williams'." – Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com
 
Dreaded blogger: "I can't believe I'm defending Bill Belichick. (He) did a lot of dumb things on Sunday night. Not punting wasn't one of them.  He did play the odds. The odds favor going for it. Speaking strictly in mathematical terms, in a vacuum Belichick made the right call.  PERIOD.  Going for it was the high percentage play ... By being aggressive and failing, he has opened the door for (Indy coach) Jim Caldwell to play passive the rest of the year and get away with it. Now when Jim punts instead of going for it, the local fans and media will embrace the conservative calls. This possibility terrifies me. Don't listen to the pundits. Belichick did the right thing. I can only hope Caldwell has the balls to do the same when it matters." – Deshawn Zombie, 18to88.com
 
CHFF comments: The irony here is that 18to88 is a blog run by hopeless Colts-loving homers (and also CHFF contributors). But at least they're up front about their biases ... and they still offer more rational, two-sided analysis than the "objective" mainstream media, who provide lead stories with witticisms such as "fourth-and-jackass." Somewhere, Mark Twain's sense of humor cringed in its grave.
 
***

Mainstream-media character assassin: "Is there an insanity defense for football coaches? ... Who would have thought the Yoda of New England would lose his mind and his nerve like the rankest of rookie head coaches and crack under the strain of having Peyton Manning yapping at his heels all night like a puppy who didn't know who his master was? ... Mere mortals punt downfield and try to put as much real estate between their end zone and Manning's right arm. Geniuses commit hubris instead."  -- Ron "the Tabloid Terrorist" Borges, The Boston Herald
 
Dreaded blogger: "Immediately after the game, the reaction on various internet forums that I visit was 99% against Belichick; I was one of the few sympathetic souls. Over the last 24 hours since the game ended, a few more people are coming to his defense. The reason I believe very few people support Belichick's decision is that most people are not very good at probabilistic thinking. Hindsight is 20/20." – Jonathan Wilde, Distributed Republic
 
CHFF comments: The Tabloid Terrorist nearly died in a failed career suicide bombing a few years ago, though he has been on his best behavior since being tamed like a pigskin puppy by the Cold, Hard Football Facts. Naturally, fed some red meat by 4th-and-2-Gate, the Tabloid Terrorist couldn't resist lobbing bombs of sarcasm at a coach he despises. Wilde, a guy we'd never heard of before uncovering this story, easily comes across as the more professional of the two reporters.
 
***

Mainstream-media character assassin: "The worst coaching decision I've ever seen Bill Belichick make." – Rodney Harrison, former Patriots safety and NBC analyst
 
Dreaded blogger: "I have absolutely no problem with that call. Giving Peyton Manning more than two minutes to execute a game-winning drive with one time out and the two minute warning is a recipe for disaster .... So if you give me the choice between converting a 4th and 2 or Peyton Manning lining up from his own 25 with plenty of time to execute, I'll take the 4th and 2.  It's not conventional.  It's beyond gutsy.  But it's also probably the play that gives you the best odds of escaping from Indianapolis with a victory ... That being said, Bill Belichick coached this team like a complete idiot in the 4th quarter." – Derek Hanson, Foxboro Blog.com
 
CHFF comments: Harrison has learned quickly in the employ of an old-media dinosaur: strike hard and fast and deep at the subject at hand. Hanson, another fan blogger, also thinks Belichick is an idiot. But he gave two sides to a story.
 
***

Mainstream-media character assassin: "Maybe his headset was too tight and it squeezed the blood from his brain." – Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com
 
Dreaded blogger: "The percentages said that the Pats were better off trying for two yards to secure the win — even in their own territory — than willingly giving the Colts back the ball, wherever. That's why to call this a "gamble" that "backfired" mischaracterizes the situation: It wasn't a "gamble"; it was actually the superior of two options. And it didn't "backfire"; the Colts would have scored just as easily off a punt. Going for it was the only reasonable option. It's easy to second-guess, because it didn't work out. I think you'll find the hot trend today is actually defending Belichick's move." – Dan Shanoff, the Sporting Blog
 
CHFF comments: Shanoff has worked for a number of mainstream outlets, including ESPN, and currently writes for The Sporting News blog. But you wonder why someone like Wojciechhowski is a top columnist when the best that he can come up with about the biggest decision of the 2009 season is to make a fourth-grade-level wisecrack about the coach's headset being wrapped too tight.
 
***

 
Mainstream-media character assassin: "Bill Belichick, dummy." – Hank Gola, N.Y. Daily News
 
Dreaded blogger: "In the end, the game came down to some clutch play by both Peyton Manning and the Colts defense. There was also a rather arrogant, silly coaching decision made by someone we all know and loath; a decision that likely cost the Patriots the game. I am, of course, referring to Bill Belichick's erroneous decision to pull his punt team on 4th and 2 from his own 28 yard line ... But bigger (than) Belichick's decision was the clutch play of the Colts. Big media (aka ESPN, or ESPNBoston, whichever label you prefer) will hem and haw about how the Patriots "dominated" the game, and that the reason they lost it was because of Belichick's near-moronic decision. Um, no." -- BigBlue Shoe, StampedeBlue.com
 
CHFF comments: Once again, a hopeless Colts homer of a blogger who's up front about his biases offers a more intelligent, big-picture view than a mainstream media hack.
 
***

Mainstream -media character assassin: "Ghastly. . . . Too smart for his own good this time. The sin of hubris." -- Dan Shaughnessy, the Boston Globe
 
Dreaded blogger: "As a Steelers' fan, I'm the last person who I ever thought would be defending Darth Vader but I think it was a smart call. The hooded one played the percentages. In this case, he lost ... The irony is that if the Patriots had converted the 4th and 2 and run out the clock, those exact same sportswriters would be gushing about the genius that is Belichick." – Todd Fleming, Bleacher Report 
 
CHFF comments: "Shank" Shaughnessy, a ghastly old hack for a ghastly, hypocritical old-media dinosaur, is despised by the public he's supposed to serve and celebrated only by the navel gazers in his own industry. Fleming is a guy nobody's ever heard of who writes for the "anybody-can-contribute" citizen-journalism outlet Bleacher Report. Shaughnessy missed the story amid his bloodlust. Fleming nailed the story ... and nailed the ghastly old-media hacks like Shaughnessy in the process.
 
(Update: it's interesting to note that the most-quoted story of the week on the topic, the one with the most sober and analytical reaction, came from an ex-Navy man who runs the blog Advanced NFL Stats; his piece was channeled through the gang at the Fifth Down blog at the "mainstream" N.Y. Times.)

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