Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The extra point in football is taken for granted, much like running water, electricity or many of the other background preconditions that enable our blissfully oblivious lives in North America. Case in point, two weeks ago: when the Cincinnati Bengals scored a late touchdown against my beloved Denver Broncos, I growled with frustration at what was now a tie game. The game, of course, was not tied as the Bengals had to kick the extra point to even the score at 24-24. Inexplicably, as though the ghost in the machine had taken over at long snapper, the snap was botched and the Broncos went on to win the game.

Saturday night in the National Football League's playoffs featured a football game between two football teams, the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks. At the end of a close football game between two good football teams and their genius football coaches, Dallas, trailing by a single point, appeared to have a first down inside the Seattle five-yard line. With time running out, it was obvious that the football team from Dallas would win the football game. However, the referees presiding over this football game called for a review of where the football ball was spotted, ultimately negating the first down.

It being fourth down, the Cowboys lined up to kick a 19-yard field goal, shorter than an extra point attempt. No kick in field goal is easier, though this particular instantiation of the subset of 19-yard field goal would actually never come to be in support or opposition of this claim. Quarterback Tony Romo had rescued Dallas' season and he had positioned them to win this game. As the former backup quarterback, he was also the holder for this field goal attempt. After doing all that he had done for his team, Romo tragically failed to do the simplest and most unnoticed of the things he does: catch a ball, place it on the ground and put a finger on top. This asinine, instantaneous miscue was sufficient to negate months of triumph for both Romo and the Cowboys, the former being indelibly marked as something of a goat.

Elsewhere, namely Foxboro, Massach--MA, months of consummate preparation and cerebral gamesmanship collided. Eric Mangini's Jets used no defensive linemen, five defensive linemen, no-huddle offenses and slow-huddling offenses to try and befuddle his mentor's New England Patriots. If only Mangini had better players, he would have prevailed. The Patriot offensive line was brilliant at neutralizing the Jet blitzes, the free-form defense made blocking assignments impossible since there often was no one to block.

The telling moment of the game came at the end of the first half, proving that the Patriots were both smarter and luckier than the Jets. New England lined up on a third-and-one about 40 inches from the endzone. The context was that though there were fourteen seconds left in the half, New England had no timeouts, meaning that a pass play was a virtual certainty. The calculus, apparently, was not obvious to the Jets, who bit on a play fake and then let tight end Ben Graham travel about fifteen yards unimpeded through the endzone as though he were in his own living room.

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