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NFL Post Game Handshakes, Week 10: Quarterback Headaches, Rams Fake Punt Craziness, and the Giants are Right Where They Want to Be Again

This week’s Post-Game Handshakes involve a few slaps to the face to check you for a concussion, sort of like second hand smoke. In addition, the Colts are running away from the pack for a playoff spot, John Harbaugh wants all your points, and all of you thought the Giants were the best team in the league just four weeks ago, and I have the proof. Good job, good effort.

Concussions Knocked Three Starting Quarterbacks Out Late Yesterday, and Why That’s A Good Thing:

Four games were played after 4 pm yesterday. Three of the eight starting quarterbacks were knocked out of the game with head injuries, starting with Michael Vick, then right after that Alex Smith, followed by Jay Cutler on this close play that was penalized as an illegal forward pass and unnecessary roughness.

So some will point to that many quarterbacks in a short window of time as a bad sign. Unless you live under a rock and don’t realize that this can be a brutal game, though, I don’t see how that is the take away. As recently as five years ago, and certainly for much of this game’s history, there is a good chance that at least one of these guys would have finished out the game, subject to making decisions while concussed that would have otherwise led the team to pull them. All of them, I’m sure, wanted to keep playing.

It took one more play for Michael Vick, Alex Smith was out right away (played out the offensive series then was removed), and Cutler played a few more offensive snaps before the end of the half, when the Bears had almost five minutes to evaluate during the review of that play. Going forward, we’ll probably get to a point where not only do we have reviews for things like challenges, but somebody will be responsible for monitoring in real time hits like Cutler’s. The presumption would be that type of contact resulted in a concussion, and the player would have to clear that presumption by passing a test right away.

Even though there were three prominent injuries yesterday, and quarterbacks are more likely to be removed for head injuries now, injuries at the quarterback position are way down. We’ve only had three teams actually start multiple quarterbacks this year as we exit week 10 (Arizona, Kansas City, and Tennessee).

Only 36 quarterbacks had thrown 20+ passes through week 9 (Henne in relief of Gabbert was the only non-starter). Some of that is because of young quarterbacks starting right away and not moving into the lineup a few weeks in, most of it, though, is injuries. Compare that to the previous four years, where the average number of quarterbacks at the same point is 44.25. A decade ago, it was 48 quarterbacks. In 1992, it was 45, at a time when there were only 28 teams (1.6 per team). The difference between 36 and 44 or 48 may not sound like a lot, but it means at least a third of the starters were missing a game in past years compared to this one.

New York Jets, where train wrecks have resulted in smaller cleanups: That is all. Hey, at least Tebow went 3 for 3, and throws like Golden Tate (who has a perfect passer rating, haters!), thus providing material for the five pictures of Tim Tebow. Positive spin.

The Rams with all your fake punts: In the 24-24 tie against the Rams dialed up two successful fake punts. The first came right before the end of the first half, up by a touchdown and punting out of their own end zone. Johnny Hekker read the play and threw a pass to the wide open gunner on 4th and 4, when the guy covering blitzed for a punt block. This wouldn’t be a fake you would call ahead of time, it was an adjustment based on what the 49ers did. What chances would you have to have that a punter could complete a pass to a wide open receiver 10 yards downfield? I ran the numbers, and the break even point for going for it rather than punting there is 60%, given the time remaining and score. Hekker was a backup quarterback in college, so I think his chances were better than that.

The second one came down by 4 with 5:23 left in the game, at their own 33. This was a called fake, and brilliant. Hekker faked a reverse handoff and hit the backside receiver. The Rams scored to take the lead, but alas the 49ers tied it, and it remained tied.

Are we all non-believers in the Giants again? They probably like that: Just one month ago, the Giants went into San Francisco and destroyed the 49ers. I ran a poll in this column asking who the best team was, and the Giants at 4-2 ran away with the most votes.

Now, we are doubting them again, and Eli “dead arm” will be this week’s freak out point, and the Giants have us right where they want us. The only time they have been considered the best has been when they walked off the field twice in February. In the front runners role, they look beatable, and in the underdog role, they can beat anyone.

Indianapolis Colts, playoff contender: In case you haven’t checked the standings this morning, the Indianapolis Colts not only are in playoff position, but are two games clear of all other contenders for the last spot, after the Dolphins got destroyed at home and the Chargers played well in the fourth quarter again at Tampa. Only the Bengals stepped up with a win to join those teams at 4-5, while the Jets, Bills, and Raiders fell to 3-6 and basically confirmed what we already knew. They are out of it.

Basically, the Colts are in if they can get three more wins, unless you think the Chargers or Bengals have a 5 of 7 stretch in them (they could still get tiebreaker), or the Dolphins have a 6 of 7 (Colts have head to head tiebreaker). Indianapolis has the Titans and Bills at home, the Chiefs on the road among their last seven.

Andrew Luck would become the fourth first overall pick since the merger to play in the postseason his rookie year, and first quarterback, joining Jake Long (2008), Russell Maryland (1991) and Earl Campbell (1978). Maryland and Campbell were part of trades, though, so the 2008 Dolphins are the only one to go from worst to playoffs. In a year where we may not have any worst to firsts to win divisions, worst overall to playoffs will have to do.

John Harbaugh plays to win the game, by more than 30 points: Baltimore was up 41-17 with 5:40 left in the third quarter, when they ran a fake field goal right up the middle with the holder Sam Koch for the touchdown. “If they are going to give us an opportunity for four points that we normally wouldn’t have, then we feel like we are obligated to take advantage of that,” said John Harbaugh. For the record, I’m on Harbaugh’s side that you try to gain points here, and this isn’t high school or college since everyone is paid. Still, I suspect some trash talk by the Raiders DB on the previous play after denying the third down pass may have played a role in pushing the fake in.

Should Mike Smith have gone for two early in the fourth quarter? Several close decisions in the Atlanta-New Orleans game, which is what always seems to happen for Mike Smith when these two teams get together. When you are the last undefeated and take a close loss, though, the decisions become amplified.

Mark Bradley thinks that Smith should have gone for two after a touchdown with 13:32 left in the game to cut it to 28-23, in order to be within a field goal. Mike Smith reportedly said that you don’t look at the chart until 7 minutes left in the game, which makes me cringe, this is a close call that would have been second guessed either way. Smith’s right that there are multiple possessions left (if that is what he was implying) and so the states of being down 4 (and potentially down 7 with another opponent field goal, or up 3 with a touchdown by your team next) and down 3 vs down 5 are relatively similar.

The larger swing was the field goal on 4th and goal from the 2 with 9 minutes left, to cut it to 28-27. This isn’t a Marvin Lewis situation because there is still time remaining, but the Falcons were also the equivalent of a two point conversion away from adding 7 points. The decision cost the Falcons, and here’s why. Coaches tend to think downside (we’ll still be down 4, they can make it a two possession game with a touchdown, etc). The upside of being ahead at this stage with a 3 point lead is bigger than the downside. Plugging in the WP calculator at Advanced NFL Stats, the chances were as follows:

  • 26% chance of winning if fail (New Orleans at own 2 up by 4)
  • 40% chance of winning if kick field goal (assuming New Orleans starts at own 22)
  • 68% chance of winning if score touchdown (assuming New Orleans starts at own 22)

As you can see, the size of the jump is double, so some quick math tells you that they should be going for it if they have a 1 in 3 chance (and Atlanta’s chances of making the equivalent of a two point conversion have to be better than that). If we assume a 50% chance, then the decision cost them a 7% chance of winning the game.

FOURTH AND ONE LOG

1. San Francisco went at the STL 48 in the second quarter, down 14-0. They converted and eventually scored a touchdown. The 49ers also went at the Rams’ 21, trailing by 10 early in the fourth quarter, and scored a touchdown two plays later.

2. Atlanta punted from NO 49, up 10-7 in first quarter. New Orleans went 90 yards for touchdown on the drive that followed. The final play of the game for Atlanta also came on 4th  and 1, incomplete to Tony Gonzalez with 16 seconds left.

3. Trailing 21-17 in the middle of the third, Tampa Bay went for it at the 50, converted, and scored a touchdown to take the lead for good two plays later.

4. In the first quarter down 3-0, Chicago went at the Houston 43. Michael Bush picked up the first down, but fumbled the ball after an 11 yard gain.

Other NFL Content:

Rams and 49ers Game Ends in a Tie, 24-24, the First Since Bengals-Eagles in 2008
Cowboys Safety Eric Frampton “Cracks” the Eagles
Brandon Carr With a–You Guessed It–Pick Six of Nick Foles, Assist to Ernie Sims
Golden Tate Hurdled a Defender and then Threw a Touchdown Pass
Norv Turner Frustrated at Post Game Press Conference Following Chargers Loss to the Tampa Bay [Audio]
Riley Cooper Made a Fantastic One Handed Touchdown Grab
Michael Vick suffered a concussion on this play, did not return
Philip Rivers With Quite Possibly the Worst Looking Pick Six Ever
Chris Ivory: 56-yard TD run Features a Beastly Stiff-Arm
Trindon Holliday Pulled a DeSean Jackson on this Punt Return, But it Went Unnoticed
Cam Newton Pick-Six Should Lead to Another Fun Postgame Press Conference
Alex Smith Knocked Out of the Rams Game With a Concussion on This Helmet to Helmet Hit

 

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