NFL Sunday Ticket is confined to DirecTV because the league signed an exclusive contract with the satellite company in the distant past (1994) when many analysts thought satellites would long be the sole medium for specialized programming. There were also nutty politics behind the deal. Early in the 1990s, Congress thought that it would be horrible if cable offered pay-per-view sports; charges for specific programming were then somehow viewed as un-American. The NFL assured lawmakers it would not sell games via cable, only via satellite. But now we've all switched to thinking there is nothing better for the economy than paying for content that used to be free: Subscription radio is even coming. No one would object if NFL Sunday Ticket were offered by cable today.
The exclusive deal with DirecTV expires after the 2002 season, at which point NFL Sunday Ticket will flood the market on all carriers and all wavelengths: It'll probably come into your car, if not be projected onto your sunglasses. Until then we remain at the mercy of football-illiterate local affiliates.
Best Plays of the Week: Best No. 1. A week ago Warrick Dunn saved Tampa Bay's bacon when he spun out of a tackle in the end zone, avoiding a closing-seconds safety. Last night Dunn once again made the play of the week. Bucs trailing Rams 35-31 with 1:49 remaining and the ball on the Tampa 35, Dunn took a pitch and was hemmed in for what seemed like a killer loss. Again showing presence of mind, Dunn lateraled the ball back to QB Shaun King, whose 15-yard run combined with a roughing penalty against the visitors moved Tampa into position for its last-second win. This 5-foot-8-inch gentleman Dunn knows what he's doing.
Best No. 2. Indianapolis lined up in a four-wide formation on the Marine Mammals 4. Colts RB Edgerrin James went in motion left, resulting in an empty backfield, which normally ensures pass. But Miami MLB Zach Thomas pulled out to follow James, leaving five Colt OLs across from four Dolphin DLs. QB Peyton Manning ran behind this mismatch for an easy six. Coaches often forget that spread-the-field formations leave the defensive center soft for QB runs.
Best No. 3. Green Bay faced third and goal on the Minnesota 5. Brett Favre pump-faked to the right flat and then lobbed over the middle to an open Ahman Green for six. The guy in the right flat was open, too! It's nice to see the old Favre again, even if the old Favre only shows up once a month now.
Best No. 4. In snow and swirling wind that had already closed the Buffalo airport, New England threw for a meager 44 yards during the first 59:29 of play. But in the final 31 seconds of regulation plus overtime, the P-Men were unstoppable, tossing for 112 yards and pulling out an improbable win. What happened? Field conditions had deteriorated so much that DBs couldn't keep their footing, so the Pats began to run short crossing routes on every play; Buffalo DBs fell down trying to hold assignments as the receivers crossed. The Bills made no adjustments to this adjustment: He who adjusts jogs up the tunnel victorious. Lack of redeeming virtue: The wondrous Doug Flutie, playing his final game in Buffalo for salary cap reasons and perhaps his second-last game for age reasons, was denied a storybook finish in the snow as the Bills fumbled twice at the New England goal line and botched a short FG in OT.
Worst Plays of the Week: Worst No. 1. Trailing 17-7 with six minutes left and facing fourth and one at the Kansas City 48, the Broncos had do-or-die but also one of the league's best power running games. Did they power-rush? Play-fake and go for the home run? No, it's a shaggy-looking 2-yard slant in, incomplete, game over.
Worst No. 2. With Dallas leading Jersey/A 13-0 in the third, G-Man Pete Mitchell caught a short pass, appeared to fumble, then fell on the ball; officials ruled him down before the fumble. Cowboys coach Dave Campo challenged the ruling of no fumble. But the Giants had recovered anyway, meaning they would get the ball in exactly the same place regardless of whether the call was upheld or overturned. The pointless challenge cost the Cowboys a timeout much needed in the endgame of a contest they ultimately lost 17-13.
Stats of the Week: Stat No. 1. Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper make amazing plays, but the Vikings have allowed 73 points in the last two games.
Stat No. 2. The Bears had more punts (nine) than first downs (eight).
Stat No. 3. The Browns had more penalties (seven) than first downs (six).