Skeletons in the closet

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 30, 2007

By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts whine cooler
It's Halloween. What better time to uncover some skeletons in the closet?
Everybody has some hidden away in the corners of their soul. You have them. We have them (though ours are a little, ahem, "big boned"). Players and "pundits" have them, too.
We were reminded of all these skeletons when we saw so many players, fans and "pundits" dressed up as whiny little bitches this week.
In case you hadn't heard, New England is "running up the score" on its opponents. It's been among the hot topics on every sports talk show since Sunday, when the Patriots laid a 52-7 whipping on the Redskins who – last we checked – were a team of highly paid professionals, with a winning record, and who very well may end up in the playoffs this year.
In other words, the Redskins aren't exactly the JV squad from Boris Karloff School of Acting.
But apparently the Redskins – and certain segments of pigskin "punditry" – feel that the Patriots should have shown a little more "respect" by, like, just falling on their faces each play of the second half. As if that would have been more respectful.
The situation that got everyone's panties in a bunch was this: New England was leading 38-0 with 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and facing a 4th and 1 within easy field goal range at the Washington 7. But New England eschewed the easy field goal attempt -- in other words, they essentially took points off the board -- and responded with the most conservative play in sports: a QB dive up the middle. 
New England got the first down, and proceeded to score another touchdown, on a short pass to Wes Welker. New England also converted a fourth down later in the game, on a pass from second-string QB Matt Cassel, a guy who's thrown about three passes in anger since high school, to Jabar Gaffney, a sixth-year journeyman receiver who has fewer TD catches in his career (9) than outside linebacker Mike Vrabel (10).
So are the Patriots running up the score? We don't know.
And neither do you.
We do know this: the Patriots are among the most balanced teams in football, passing the ball on 51 percent of their offensive plays. They're also a classic example of a team that builds a lead with the pass and then secures the lead with the run.
  • The Patriots have passed the ball on 160 of 285 first-half plays (56 percent)
  • The Patriots have passed the ball on 107 of 229 second-half plays (47 percent)
But since the Cold, Hard Football Facts are not always enough to silence the screams of "running up the score," we thought it was worth diving into the ghoulish past of the most vocal critics.
The complaint: Young said on ESPN Monday that New England's big victories are tarnishing its image. Apparently, he pines for the days when the Patriots were a "lucky" team manned by a bunch of "overachievers" who squeaked out close wins. He also implied some sort of psychoses on behalf of Bill Belichick this year.
New England's big margins of victory are the result of Belichick's "insecurity from spygate," said Young from behind the desk on ESPN.
The skeletons in the closet: Maybe Belichick is feeling the same kind of insecurity Young felt after playing second fiddle to Joe Montana in the hearts and minds of San Francisco football fans – the same kind of insecurity that caused Young to throw a record six TD passes in Super Bowl XXIX, the last in the fourth quarter with his team sporting a comfortable 42-18 lead against the overmatched 11-5 Chargers.
Young in the ESPN segment also lamented getting his ass handed to him by the Bears back when he was with Tampa Bay.
Indeed, the Bears did beat the Bucs 48-14 back in 1986, Young's second and last year in Tampa. But he conveniently failed to mention San Francisco's 52-14 deconstruction of the Bears when he was with the 49ers in 1991.
Finally, Young also kind of forgot to mention how the 49ers treated the woeful Falcons during his tenure in San Francisco: which is pretty much the same way you treat the water in your toilet bowl.
Here are just some of the scores of the San Francisco-Atlanta series during Young's tenure leading the post-Montana 49ers:
  • 1992 – San Fran 56, Atlanta 17
  • 1992 – San Fran 41, Atlanta 3
  • 1994 – San Fran 42, Atlanta 3
  • 1994 – San Fran 50, Atlanta 14
You know, if the 49ers hadn't hung 16 fourth-quarter points on the Falcons in that 50-14 tune-up for their Super Bowl run, maybe it wouldn't have tarnished San Fran's image so drastically.
The complaint: The Redskins quarterback had a gem after the Patriots game Sunday.
 "When we're in those situations," said Campbell, "we tend to back off."
The skeletons in the closet: Campbell's quote is funny, seeing he's never been in "one those situations" in his NFL career.
In his one and a half seasons in a Washington uniform (he didn't do anything his first year, 2005), the Redskins have won a grand total of one game by two TDs or more – a 34-3 win over Detroit earlier this year.
In other words, Campbell has never in his time with the Redskins found himself in "one of those situations" where he would "tend to back off."
Maybe Campbell had his pro career confused with his college career, like that time he led upstart Auburn to a 73-7 win over the mighty Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe.
The complaint: Miami fans say New England rubbed it in two weeks ago when they pulled Tom Brady, yet then put him back in the game to lead the Patriots to another score.
The skeletons in the closet: The Patriots did the supposedly humane thing by pulling Brady for the entire fourth quarter of their 49-28 win over the Dolphins. New England was instantly rewarded with a defensive touchdown by Miami, to make the score 42-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Has anyone else here seen a team overcome a three-TD deficit in the fourth? That's right. We have, too.
So New England reinserted Brady, in a move that absolutely accomplished the goal of professional football: it crushed the spirit of the Dolphins. Miami played like a defeated group after Brady came back in, allowing the re-inserted QB to drive the Patriots 59 yards for a score in just four plays.
Of course, Miami fans are the last people in the world who should lament a victory by a team that crushed the spirit of its opponent.
Does 1972 ring a bell, anyone?
The famous undefeated Dolphins didn't even throw a single dry bone to the pathetic Patriots (who went 3-11) that year. In fact, Miami reserved its biggest beating for its northern rivals: the Dolphins won, 52-0.
There is no "running up the score" in professional football, folks, just as there is no crying in baseball.
But you better be careful what you bitch about. Because there are always skeletons in the closet.

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