Because I watched Saturday night's Dallas/Atlanta game at my friend Bill's house, my first full-fledged exposure to Bryant Gumbel as a play-by-play football announcer was more humorous than painful. Which isn't to say that Gumbel isn't head-clutchingly bad at doing football. Since I don't get the NFL Network in my home, I've watched all the Thursday-night games at a local watering hole, where bar-chatter far outdoes TV volume. But now I've heard a full game's worth of Gumbel, and while I'm not the first to talk about his impossible badness, let me be the next to pile on.
A couple of his howlers, at which Bill and I guffawed mightily:
On one Dallas offensive play, half the Cowboys' offensive line moves, all chaos breaks loose, flags fly, and Gumbel says (about five seconds after the fact), " Tony Romo apparently ran out of time, and took a delay of game." No, Bryant. False start.
On an Atlanta play way down by the Dallas end zone, the Falcons score a touchdown, but there's a flag. The referee explains that Atlanta lined up in an illegal formation, then consults with the Cowboys defense, obviously so they can accept the penalty and nullify the TD. Bryant pauses in confusion, then says, "This is a penalty that's not too injurious." After points come off the board, he sheepishly mutters, "That's a killer penalty."
Again and again, Gumbel mangled game action, couldn't clearly get his points across, seemed more invested on using ten-dollar words than communicating the action, and had to rely on a laryngitis-bound Dick Vermeil (in the first half, before Vermeil had to leave because of his sore throat), which is never a good thing. In fact, once Vermeil left and Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders took over color commentary, things got so much better. Faulk would calmly step in for a sputtering Gumbel and explain what he meant. And folks, when Deion Sanders is a breath of fresh air? Not a good sign.
It's as though Gumbel has never watched a football game. My buddy Bill was most prescient on this matter: "Remember when John Tesh was the announcer for the Olympic gymnastics? It's like that."
Indeed. It's like that.
Here were Week 15's fantasy highlights:
Who are you and what have you done with Brian Urlacher? Quite a mess in Chicago, where the victorious Bears are probably the most hangdog top-seed-clincher in the history of the NFC. Ug. Ly. Chicago was cruising along, leading 24-3 with 0:25 left in the third quarter. Suddenly Mike Alstott turns in a 14-yard touchdown run, Devin Hester fumbles the ensuing kickoff, Tim Rattay (more on him in a moment) throws a nine-yard score to Alex Smith, and we've got a ball game – 14 points in just over a minute. Then, after Cedric Benson scores to make it 31-17, Rattay throws a 64-yard touchdown to Joey Galloway, and a 44-yarder to Ike Hilliard (just a dump-off that Hilliard took to the house). Tampa Bay outscores Chicago 28-7 in the final 15:25 of regulation. But we're not through yet. On the second play of overtime, Alex Smith fumbles deep in his own territory, but Robbie Gould misses the potential game-winning 37-yarder, the Bucs take two false-start penalties inside their own 10, punt, and after a great (and slightly questionable) Rashied Davis catch, the Bears finally win on a Gould chip shot with just 2:46 left in OT. Phew.
Laveranues Coles caught 12 passes for 144 yards and a 21-yard score in Minnesota Sunday, his biggest yardage output since Week 1 in Tennessee. In truth, Coles could've had an even better game, had he not gotten slammed on a fourth-quarter play by the Vikings' Ben Leber; Coles was on the turf for several minutes after the play, and had to be helped off. But in a big fantasy playoff week, Coles certainly came up huge for his owners.
Chad Pennington fumbles on New York's opening drive, leading to a Travis Taylor score, then proceeds to go 28 for his next 37, totaling a career-high 339 yards passing and Coles's score. The Jets took a page out of New England's book (fancy that, Eric Mangini following the footsteps of Bill Belichick), and just threw, threw and threw some more against the run-stopping Vikings. It's pretty hard to love C-Pen against Miami on Christmas Day next week, though.
Great scene in New York: Jeremy Shockey chastises Philadelphia's Dhani Jones for a late hit out of bounds on Tiki Barber by standing alongside Jones and pointing at his own helmet, as in, "Man, are you a freakin' idiot or what?" Fast forward to the second quarter, after a Philly interception, Shockey barrels over some poor unsuspecting Eagle post-whistle, gets called for unnecessary roughness, and gives Philly the ball down on the Giant 41. Nice.
Apparently (according to the incessantly aired ad campaign), "American Pie: The Naked Mile" goes where no other "American Pie" has ever gone before. In other words: a library?
David Carr's days as an NFL starter simply have to be nearing an end. Sure, his offensive line is decimated once again, and sure, he was betrayed by a front office that blithely left Reggie Bush on the shelf. But while Carr has all the physical tools in the world (including a sassy hairdo), he just (in the words of every D-list broadcasting hack) "doesn't make good decisions." It's true. Somehow, Carr led the league in completion percentage coming into Sunday's humiliating loss in New England, and managed to go 16-for-28, and heck, that doesn't even count the four passes he completed to the Patriots. Sure, a couple of the picks were deflected, but a couple were the result of flat-footed stupidity. Dumb throws. Andre Johnson is too good a player to have to put up with so many ill-thrown passes (and AJ leads the league in receptions as it is), and the beleaguered Texans' defense just can't hold up when Carr throws more picks than scores (which he official has now in '06).
Corey Dillon owners had to stomach a very rough fantasy day. Kevin Faulk poked in an 11-yard TD for New England's first score, then caught a 43-yard score, on a screen from Tom Brady, to make it 17-0 for the Patriots. For the day, Dillon carried it 20 times for 61 yards, and caught five passes for 20 yards. And he clearly knew he was having a bad day, because while New England's other starters were resting during the fourth quarter, Dillon was still in there, up 40-7, banging away.
Who are you and what have you done with Ron Dayne? As Houston's starter, the Great Dayne looks like an entirely different dude. Suddenly he doesn't go down on first contact, doesn't stumble over the 30-yard-line, doesn't tippy-toe at the line of scrimmage, looking for someone to ankle-tackle him. He ran with great authority in a lopsided game, amassing 94 yards on only 18 carries (a 5.2 yards-per-carry average), and punched in a one-yard score, something let's just say he was challenged doing when he played for New York. Maybe Houston knows who their '07 running back is after all.
Since there's talk about how the Redskins have to limit their playbook to calls with which Jason Campbell is "comfortable," one wonders if there are only two pass plays in Campbell's playbook: "89-Two," where Campbell throws it to Santana Moss in double-coverage, and "89-Three," where Campbell throws it to Moss in triple-coverage. Actually, at least Campbell did exceed 200 yards passing in the Skins' upset win in New Orleans, though 31 of those came on a great Moss catch when (you guessed it) he was pretty well covered. By the by, Ladell Betts continued his studly ways: 22 carries, 119 yards. He's a must-start next week in St. Louis.
For the second straight week, Ben Roethlisberger stole a one-yard score from Willie Parker on a naked bootleg, which is just mean. For the day, Big Ben was 11-of-18 for 140 yards and a throwing score to Najeh Davenport, while another score, to Santonio Holmes, was called back by penalty (Holmes made up for the disappointment by scoring on a 65-yard punt return.) Meanwhile, Parker converted 23 carries into 132 yards, including a 41-yarder for a touchdown. Homecoming Willie's owners probably can't complain too much, as he's put up great numbers each of the last two weeks. But without Big Ben stealing his thunder, it could've been even better.
Desmond Clark scored twice, on 24- and 12-yard windswept touchdown passes from Rex Grossman. It was Clark's second multiple-TD game of the season, and the first time he exceeded 18 yards receiving in six games. Oh, and did he exceed it: Clark had seven catches for a whopping 125 yards.
There were quarterback-benchings galore across the NFL on Sunday. Brad Johnson went 10-for-17 for 96 yards against the Jets, but that wasn't good enough to hold off rookie Tarvaris Jackson, whose big arm and fleet feet were a welcome change from Johnson's constipated dump-off practices (Jackson threw a 35-yard score to Mewelde Moore). Bruce Gradkowski finally reached the end of Jon Gruden's rope, and Rattay entered a Bucs' game for the second straight week, just in time to lead the frenetic comeback detailed above. Joey Harrington's magic carpet ride in Miami may just have come to an end, as he went 4-for-9 for 15 yards in the first half in Buffalo, and was replaced by Cleo Lemon in the second half. And Aaron Brooks went 12-for-20 for 106 yards and a pick before Art Shell inserted the hapless Andrew Walter. It seems clear that Rattay will start next week at Cleveland, and that Jackson should start next week in Green Bay. Walter? No way. As for Lemon, he went 9-for-16 for 98 yards and didn't make anyone forget about Don Strock. We'll have to see.
The other quarterback who left a game in non-garbage time was Steve McNair, whose throwing hand was inadvertently stepped on by Browns' LB Andra Davis (who himself later left the game with a concussion); X-rays were negative, but McNair has a bad cut on his palm. Kyle Boller came in and went 13-for-21 for 238 yards, two scores and one pick. Jamal Lewis ran strong in the interior of Cleveland's defense (22 carries, 109 yards and a score), and the immortal Ovie Mughelli and Demetrius Williams caught touchdowns – Actually, keep an eye on the rookie Williams; he's big, fast and unpolished, and could be a deep-league sleeper in '07.
Who are you and what have you done with J.P. Losman? Buffalo certainly isn't asking a ton out of their mercurial second-year starter, but what they do ask for, Losman's been delivering. Check out his numbers the last seven games: 107-for-164 (a 65% percent completion rate), 1,235 yards (a 176-yard per-game average), 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Pretty snazzy. I've been a big Losman basher in the past, so I'll eat some crow; sure, there hasn't been a ton on the line (though, improbably, Buffalo still isn't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs), but ol' J.P. has shut his yap and just played great. While the Miami game this week was still in doubt, and while the Dolphins defense was doing its best to hang in there despite no support from Harrington & Co., Losman put together two great throws, one to Lee Evans and a touchdown to Robert Royal, to give the Bills their first score. Later he'd hit Josh Reed and Evans for scores of their own. And speaking of Royal: Who are you and what have you done with Robert Royal? The one-time mostly-blocking tight end is up to 202 yards receiving and three touchdowns; coming into this season, he had 249 yards receiving in his entire four-year career.
Remember all those annoyingly questionable running backs on mediocre teams coming into Week 15? Here's how they all shook out: Chester Taylor did start and get the majority of Minnesota's carries; unfortunately, on a day when the Vikings' playoff hopes pretty much came crashing down, that translated to 11 carries for 38 yards (while Artose Pinner, last week's hero, carried it one time for four yards). Arlen Harris was indeed the primary replacement for Kevin Jones, but he was similarly stinky: nine carries, 18 yards. Thomas Jones told a better story for his owners (and he isn't on a mediocre team, either, though he was questionable for Sunday's game): 17 carries for 68 yards on his balky ankle, and a five-yard second-quarter score to boot. Benson registered 15 carries for 53 yards.
Predictable as a Bryant Gumbel malapropism: Steven Jackson ran wild on the Raiders: 31 carries for 127 yards, and two rushing scores. And just as predictable: Marc Bulger didn't get a whole lot accomplished against the very good Oakland secondary: 11-for-22 for 137 yards.
Let there be no question: Cedric Houston is the guy for the Jets. In a situation where many expected outside-runner Leon Washington to get more carries than the inside-bruising Houston, Cedric the Entertainer carried it 21 times (for 53 yards and a short score) to Washington's three carries.
Who are you and what have you done with David Garrard? Remember when Garrard was the loveable caretaker backup who wouldn't make Byron Leftwich's killer mistakes, and use his excellent running skills to boost Jacksonville's chances of making the playoffs? Yeah, me too. In a hellish loss Sunday, the Jags' defense was brilliant, shutting down Vince Young (8-for-15, 85 yards) and Travis Henry (12 carries for 37 yards), but Garrard absolutely crippled Jacksonville. Early in the first quarter, Garrard threw a terrible pass for Reggie Williams which was picked off by Pacman Jones and returned 83 yards for a score (Jones would add a 70-yard kickoff return to start the second half, and can make his reservations for Honolulu right now). In the third quarter, Garrard fumbled inside the Titans' 10 on a scramble, and Cortland Finnegan returned the turnover 92 yards for a touchdown. Not enough? Garrard threw another pick intended for Marcedes Lewis, returned by Chris Hope for a 61-yard score. And another one to end the game. Wow.
Fred Taylor saw daylight in the first quarter. He turned upfield, got into the open … and then fell down. The 35-yard gain was Taylor's second carry, and also his last; Taylor re-injured his hamstring and had to leave the Tennessee game for good. In his absence, Maurice Jones-Drew took over as the team's primary back, converting 25 carries into 98 yards and a second-quarter score (and also catching three passes for 47 yards). When it counted toward the end of the game, though, Jones-Drew was stuffed on a third-and-one down near the Titans' goal line. That possible score sure would've helped the Jags … and Jones-Drew's fantasy owners.
Ahman Green owners are an even less-happy lot on Monday morning; Green was solid against Detroit, carrying it 22 times for 79 yards, and catching seven passes for 44 more. But he couldn't score. Meanwhile, ex-Texan Vernand Morency carried it just seven times for 54 yards, but scored twice, from 14 and 21 yards out.
Jason Wright's tenure as co-starter alongside Reuben Droughns may have come to an unceremonious end. Each Cleveland back had eight carries Sunday; Wright totaled 37 yards, and Droughns, 31. However, in the fourth quarter, Wright suffered a knee injury that Romeo Crennel called serious. It seems likely Droughns will be the guy the season's final two games, versus Tampa Bay and Houston.
Tiki Barber didn't exactly have the insane breakout game I predicted last Wednesday, but he was certainly an improvement in Week 15 over his past disappointments. Barber carried it 19 times for 75 yards, which is a modest-to-good output, but lo and behold, he scored his second touchdown of the season, an 11-yarder that allowed Brandon Jacobs absolutely nowhere near the field. Of course Jacobs did cannibalize a one-yard score in the fourth quarter … after getting stuffed on his first attempt.
Carolina is easily the league's most disappointing team of '06, and their gutless blowout loss at home to Pittsburgh was certainly no exception. Strangely, Chris Weinke started this game 7-for-8 and 15-for-18, and was 15-for-19 in the first half (to go with four first-half sacks). But Carolina was already down 17-3, and just quit in the second half. Steve Smith (five catches, 56 yards) owners, be sad.
Tennessee's total time of possession in Sunday's win was 15 minutes and 38 seconds. According to NBC, that's the lowest time of possession for a winning team in the 30 years since the stat has been officially kept.
That open wound on the back of Jeff Garcia's throwing hand sure was gross.
Tatum Bell fumbled at his own 4, which allowed Antonio Smith to scoop up a short second-quarter score for the Cardinals. The elder Bell carried it 15 times for just 25 yards before Mike Bell came into the game and took over, converting 16 carries into 61 yards and two short scores in his old stomping grounds (he went to the University of Arizona, and yes, I know, Tucson is pretty far from Phoenix, you can shut up now). Tatum did carry it three more times, but Mike Shanahan seemed pretty peeved with his erstwhile starter.
Boy, Troy Williamson needs a hand transplant. After Jackson came into the game and started slinging the ball all over the field, he threw two long ones to Williamson: the first, a deep-right pass with just under three minutes left, would've made a lovely garbage-time score. The second, a Hail Mary with no time left, bounced directly into Williamson's hands … and then just as directly out. Yep, that pretty much encapsulates Troy Williamson's 2006.
Hey, Jack Bauer has a beard.
The Detroit Lions had 60 total yards in the first half.
The kickers who missed kicks, and thus left fantasy points on your playoff table? Glad you asked: Ryan Longwell (49-yard attempt), Phil Dawson (47), John Kasay (50), Rob Bironas (44), Gould (37), Neil Rackers (50) and David Akers (48).
Who are you and what have you done with my MVP award? Before Washington's big upset over the Saints, I was set to make an argument for Drew Brees over LaDainian Tomlinson for NFL MVP. Not fantasy MVP; there's no question that LDT is all-world fantasy-wise this year. But Brees has still has an outside shot at the single-season passing yardage record, has 25 passing touchdowns to 11 interceptions, has now thrown for below a 60 percent completion average in just three games (including Sunday), has failed to throw a touchdown in a game only twice (including Sunday), leads the league in most significant passing categories, and has resurrected a franchise that most figured would win five games or fewer this season. Tomlinson entered Week 15 with very good statistics, but not leading the league in rush yards, yards-per-carry, carries, RB receptions, or even total yards from scrimmage. His one incredible statistic, the insane 29 touchdowns, is awesome, but only 12 of those came with his team tied or losing, and a whole bunch came as icing for a guy going after a record. Put another way: how good would the Chargers be without LDT? Pretty good. And how good would the Saints be without Brees? Ba-a-a-a-ad. However, that Saints loss to Washington (in which Brees went a disappointing 21-for-38 for 207 yards and a pick, despite almost rallying for a late win) certainly hurts my case. I know, I know: Tomlinson's going to be MVP.
By the way, that interception Brees threw to Carlos Rogers was just Washington's sixth pick the entire season, which is crazy, and was also New Orleans' first turnover in four games, which is pretty crazy, too.