Last year Tuesday Morning Quarterback attended the Miami at Buffalo game, held on a blustery day. Your columnist wore a flannel shirt and tweedy sportcoat. Bills coaches trotted out in team sweaters. Then Jimmy Johnson, meister of the visitors, appeared from the tunnel dressed in a heavy North Face parka—the kind designed for assaulting K2—with the hood pulled up and wearing those enormous mega-gloves intended for snowmobiling. TMQ turned to his companion (not Jennifer Lopez, but I can't say who because Jennifer gets insanely jealous) and remarked, "This game's over." So it was: The Dolphins lost by 20. Fear of cold doomed them before the ref even whistled play to begin.
Never was this phenomenon on better display than this weekend. Indianapolis, a dome-based team for whom "cold" is a setting on the air conditioning, went to Green Bay and tried to perform in swirling snow. Colts QB Peyton Manning, a Tennessee-based gentleman, had the ball flop out of his hand trying to pass on the first snap, costing the Colts a safety in a contest the Packers ultimately won by two. On the sidelines, Colts coaches wore McMurdo-base parkas and ski caps pulled over the ears; Packers coaches wore varsity jackets and baseball hats. Tampa Bay, a Florida team now 0-18 lifetime when the kickoff temperature is below 40, went into Chicago at 37 F and honked to the woeful Bears. Tampa sideline staff wore not only heavy parkas but balaclavas. Did they think 37 degrees was the Amundsen-Scott expedition? The Arizona (CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN FOOTBALL-LIKE SUBSTANCE) Cardinals left their land of sun and halter-tops and went to Philadelphia. Kickoff temperature was in the 40s, and the coaches wore heavy parkas. Parkas in the 40s: God help them if it should drop below freezing!
Ah, for the days of manly-man Minnesota coach Bud Grant. Back before the Vikes took their game indoors, Grant allowed the visiting team to have sideline heater units but banned them for his own players: Grant believed it was an advantage to shrug at the cold while others fretted about staying warm, and how right he was. This weekend every warm-weather team whose coaches overdressed lost in cold-weather cities. Contrapositive proves the rule: Dome-based Detroit won in frosty New Jersey as Lions coaches wore varsity jackets while Florida-based Jax won in Pittsburgh as Jaguars coaches wore varsity jackets and baseball caps on a nippy night. Thus TMQ proclaims two more laws of football: Cold Coaches = Victory, while Ridiculous K2 Survival Gear on Sideline ? Victory.
Best Plays of the Week: Best No. 1. Well-designed offenses have "series" plays in which an action shown early sets up something for later. In the first quarter, the Vikes faked to Robert Smith up the middle while a fake end-around was drawing the attention of Carolina defenders, then Smith snuck into the flat for a screen pass he took 53 yards to the house. In the second quarter the same action started again—Smith heads up middle, end starts around—causing defenders to think, "It's that screen!" This time Minnesota gave the ball to Smith, and he ran for the touchdown.
Best No. 2. When Jax faced third and five from the Steelers' 18 with 15 seconds remaining in the half, Pittsburgh did not go blitz-wacky but rushed just two gentlemen and dropped nine. Jaguars QB Mark Brunell, expecting the blitz, was so befuddled he threw the ball away though no one was anywhere near him.
Best No. 3. Jersey/B second-string QB Ray Lucas lined up as a receiver in a trick formation and drew a pass interference penalty from a Dolphins DB, helping set up a field goal.
Worst Plays of the Week: Worst No. 1. Trailing Baltimore 17-0 in the third, spiraling-toward-the-water Dallas faced fourth and one at midfield. Tough-guy Emmitt Smith could have carried the ball behind one of the league's heaviest lines. Instead, boom goes the punt. Cowboys coach Dave Campo might as well have phoned Ravens counterpart Brian Billick to concede. (Wait, you can only do that at 2 a.m.) As the snuggly warm Jimmy Johnson used to say, if you can't make one single yard, you don't deserve to win. Dallas didn't even try to make one single yard. Final: Ravens 27, Cowboys 0.
Worst No. 2. One of the dumbest mistakes a QB can make is to heave-ho with a pass rusher right in his face, blocking view of the field. Doing this looks macho and avoids the sack but reliably generates INTs. Atlanta trailed San Francisco by three in the third quarter, ball in Niners territory, when a DL broke cleanly through the Falcons' line and came straight at Chris Chandler. He heave-hoed to nobody in particular, and Niners DB Jason Webster ran the pick back 70 yards for six.
Worst No. 3. As Jersey/A CB/pitchman Jason Sehorn was chasing a Detroit runner in the third quarter, his pants came untied. Sehorn's dilemma: make the tackle to prevent a touchdown or stop to pull up his pants to prevent loss of cool. He chose the latter, and the Lions scored. Hey, image is everything! No one chewed him out on the sideline. Sehorn, who has skipped practices to film TV commercials, continues to be coddled by Giants management, partly because he is the team's only white star.
Day of the Deuce Disasters! Disaster No. 1: Indianapolis scored a touchdown making it Packers 19, Colts 9 early in the fourth. A two-point try would pull the Colts within eight, meaning one more touch and deuce could tie. Instead Colts coach Jim Mora took the single PAT and a nine-point deficit. Indianapolis ended up losing by two when a deuce attempt on its final touchdown would have been pointless owing to the lack of the first deuce attempt.