Worst No. 2. On the ensuing possession—one of the fun things about football is that guys whose inseam measurements exceed their IQs say "ensuing"—the Raiders faced third and seven on the Marine Mammals' 14, score still 20-0. Miami had to get a stop or its goose was cooked. Tim Brown, Oakland's best receiver, went motion left. Both Miami DBs on that side ignored him, and Brown jogged out into the flat uncovered. (Miami had two DBs named to the Pro Bowl; perhaps there should be a recount.) Brown's unopposed catch put the ball at the 2. Tyrone Wheatley plowed in on the next play, and Raiderettes began calling their agents about sports-bra endorsement contracts for the AFC championship game.
Worst No. 3. On Miami's ensuing ensuing possession, the Dolphins faced fourth and eight on their 40, trailing 27-0, four minutes left in the third. Why are you punting? Punt, game over. The remaining 19 minutes were a tedious formality. At least Wannstedt could have negotiated safe passage back to the airport before announcing his surrender. Was Wannstedt worried that he had to keep the margin of defeat from getting bigger to protect his standing in the BCS? Real men go down in flames, not punting when there's still time for a last gasp.
Stats of Divisional Weekend: Stat No. 1. In its last four consecutive playoff defeats, ending the 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000 seasons, Miami was outscored 144-13. Ye gods.
Stat No. 2. In three games against the Giants this season, the Eagles were outscored 51-6 in the first half. Ye gods.
Stat No. 3. New Orleans receivers dropped two third-down passes in the first half at Minnesota, when the game was close. Miami receivers dropped three third-down passes in the first half at Oakland, when the game was close. Philadelphia receivers dropped two third-down passes in the first half at Jersey/A, when the game was close. Punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt. A third-down drop forcing a punt is in effect a turnover: All three dropsy teams went on to get stomped. New Orleans also dropped two interceptions in the first half, and a dropped INT is in effect a turnover.
Stat No. 4. Tennessee lost to Baltimore despite a 317-134 edge in yardage, a 23-6 edge in first downs, and despite blocking two Ravens kicks, just as Baltimore blocked two T's kicks. The Ravens had more punts (eight) than first downs. But Flaming Thumbtacks kicker Al del Greco missed three of four field-goal attempts, and the Ravens got their two supernatural returns. In two of Baltimore's last three games, the Ravens have allowed the opposition at least twice as many yards and three times as many first downs yet won on returns.
We Also Admire Your Devotion to Duty: Giving nothing away to the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders, who last week wore barely there two-piece numbers despite a kickoff temperature of 57 F, the aesthetically impressive Raiderettes (to gawk at them, click here) flounced out in two-piece outfits despite it being 58 F at kickoff. The promotional line in the NFL's current playoff commercials is "SHOW ME SOMETHING," and the Raiderettes came through!
Visible Coaches of the Year: TMQ has had his fill of sideline "reaction" shots of coaches. From these all-too-frequent views, we have learned: 1) When something good happens, coaches smile; and 2) when something bad happens, they frown. Many coach reaction shots are such zoom-ins that the information content is mainly cosmetology. TMQ and about 48 million other viewers could do with less of red-faced coaches yelling at the zebras (was there a single call in any game this year that a coach didn't holler about?) and increased camera focus on the cheerleaders, who after all are supposed to be looked at. Viewers never learned of the courage, devotion, and professionalism of the barely clad Raiderettes, for instance, because CBS only showed them flouncing in background shots while we saw close-ups of Jon "I Was a Teen-Age Coach" Gruden's really fascinating snarl perhaps 200 times. On the rare instances the networks do show cheerleaders, it is usually with advertiser logos plastered over them during "bridge" shots out of commercials. Cheerleaders spend months intensively preparing to be looked at. Why don't the networks reward their efforts? Surely not owing to taste.
Covert Coaches of the Year: TMQ heartily seconds the choice of Jim Haslett as Coach of the Year. In his first season, Haslett brought the Saints their best finish in team history, despite numerous injuries and a club left bereft of draft choices by the coming-unglued Faux Coach/Tawdry Pitchman Mike Ditka. (Remember Ditka's line that he traded all the Saints' draft choices so he could spend draft weekend golfing instead of staying up late reviewing player printouts? He meant it.) But the gentlemen Tuesday Morning Quarterback most admires are the coordinators and the position coaches, the unseen wallahs who make football happen. Here are TMQ's Covert Coaches of the Year:
Defensive Line: John Mitchell, Steelers. Pittsburgh consistently excels on defense despite a who-dat front. Honestly, can you name a Steelers DL? On draft day, every team's position coaches engage in turf fights over whose subspecialty gets the high selections. Mitchell obtains such great results from unknowns and low draft choices that the front office won't give him high picks to work with.
Linebackers: Jim Schwartz, Tennessee. The first-ranked Flaming Thumbtacks' defense has some flashy players (Jevon Kearse, Samari Rolle), but its essence is methodically efficient, well-coached LBs who are almost never caught out of position.