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In Football, Sometimes It Pays To Know The Rules

Philly QB Donovan McNabb watches the second half of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens from the sidelines at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images hide caption

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Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Philly QB Donovan McNabb watches the second half of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens from the sidelines at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The benching of Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who has made the Pro Bowl every year he was healthy and one year when he wasn't, marks a great fall from grace.

McNabb was forced to don the hooded parka of shame and prowl the sidelines for ineffective play midway through Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. But his real troubles started the week before.

A boneheaded comment McNabb made after last week's tie with the Cincinnati Bengals will torment him more than a blitzing linebacker ever could. Put it this way: If you had told him before the game that it would wind up a tie, he wouldn't have believed it. Not because the Bengals are an awful team, which they are, but because McNabb didn't know an NFL game could end in a tie.

McNabb will never live down his belief in a sixth quarter. When the time comes when he is traded or waived — something that's looking more and more likely — his post-game remarks will be resurrected by sportswriters everywhere. Much like the $640 toilet seat in the 1980s came to symbolize runaway military spending, or the phrase "Heck of a job, Brownie" came to stand for the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, McNabb's gaffe will live on.

My theory is that McNabb was so scarred by the season and a half he spent playing alongside wide receiver Terrell Owens, he blocked out everything to do with T.O. And that includes the letters T and O in any combination.

Precious Mettle

Only two defensive players have ever won the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award: Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings in 1970 and Lawrence Taylor of the Giants in 1986. This season, there seemed to be a chance that another defensive player might win.

Albert Haynesworth of the Tennessee Titans is the most important player on the best defense in the league. Technically, he's one lineman, but his size and power make him practically an entire defensive line. And he is the rare lineman who not only shuts down an opponent's running game, but pressures the quarterback. Haynesworth is worth his weight in gold — actually more than double. With the price of gold at just over $800 and Haynesworth listed at 320 pounds, his worth in gold comes out to more than $3 million. His salary is a little more than $7 million.

So I was excited to see Haynesworth in high definition against the Jets last weekend. What do I think of his MVP chances now? I think left guard Alan Faneca. The seven-time Pro Bowler whom the Jets acquired in the off-season all but neutralized Haynesworth. For my money, Faneca — whose worth in gold is about $2,950,000 and who makes $5,640,000 a year — may be a better value than Haynesworth.

Odds Of An All-New York Super Bowl?

The chances of a game pitting the Giants against the Jets, according to Aaron Schatz and the gurus at Football Outsiders: 9.2 percent. They calculate that the Jets have a 19.6 percent chance of making the championship game, while the Giants have a 47.1 percent shot.

Jokers, Chokers And Mediocres

A look at the NFL teams that are stuck in the middle, too weak to peak. (To see how the rest stack up, you can go to sites like ESPN or Fox or CBS.)

Carolina Panthers: Yes, Carolina is 8-3 and hardly belongs grouped with eh-inspiring teams. But I sense the Panthers will be spitting up furballs for the remainder of the season.

Philadelphia Eagles: Has anyone else noticed that the quarterback who thought there was a double overtime treated the Super Bowl as "double over" time?

Green Bay Packers: The Pack makes the list in order to explain that last reference: McNabb was said to have been sick in the huddle during Super Bowl XXXIX. OK, so maybe it's not that funny when you have to explain a joke. Especially if the joke is kinda lame. Kinda like the Packers.

San Diego Chargers: A mediocre team that desperately needs a win insists on kicking field goals, instead of going for touchdowns, and playing for the tie. Wouldn't want to mess with mediocrity.

Denver Broncos: The Broncos have had four different starting tailbacks in the past four games. Back in the day, the University of Southern California was known as Tailback U. Now, Denver's starter raises the question: Tailback? You?

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