It’s been a while since I’ve written any posts about sports. In fact, I think several months may have gone by where I didn’t write about anything that wasn’t in some way tied to the election. Now that the election is over, I might find that I still haven’t quite defined the extent to which I’ll cover non-political topics here. I don’t really know the answer, except that I’ll continue to write about what happens to be occupying my thoughts at the moment. Right now, they’re occupied by the greatest margin of victory in NY Jets franchise history, which I was lucky enough to witness first-hand from the very top of the north corner of Giants Stadium.
I was reminded of a hullabaloo from last season in which the Patriots were accused of unsportsmanlike behavior for unnecessarily running up the score late in blowout games in which the outcome had already been determined. The most offensive example came in the week 8 blowout against the Redskins. In that game, the Pats got the ball back with 2:02 remaining in the 3rd quarter and led the Skins 38-0. Any NFL fan knows that a head coach lucky enough to be in that position will normally play out the game as conservatively as possible. He’ll sub in as many of his reserve players as possible to eliminate the risk of key injuries. He’ll call mostly simple running plays, to keep the clock running and eat up as much of the remaining time as possible while he has possession of the ball, and to limit the likelihood of turnovers.
But this was not the approach that Coach Belichick employed in the 4th quarter of his week 8 game last season. Instead, the Pats ran an offensive assault with Tom Brady in at QB. They ran 10 passing plays, all of them from the shotgun. The drive took 17 plays and ate up 8 minutes because of two penalties called against the Pats, the fist of which sent them back to their own 13 yard line on the 6th play of the drive. On the 15th play, a 4th and 1 on the Redskins 7 yard line with 11:02 left in the game, they ran a QB sneak to get the first down! This set up the touchdown pass two plays later with 9:09 remaining. 45-0 Pats.
The Skins promptly went 3 and out and New England got the ball back at the Washington 45 with 8:30 to play. Would they now win graciously, let the clock wind down and go back to the locker room and celebrate another blowout? No. They ran it up to 52-0 with the backup QB on 6 plays (2 from the shotgun) including a pass on 4th and 2 from the Washington 37 with 7:16 left to play. The drive took all of 2:40 off the clock.
Compare that with the final 17 minutes of yesterday’s Jets/Rams game. The Jets also got the ball with just over 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter with a huge lead (40-3). They orchestrated an 8 play drive with 6 running plays that ended in a touchdown, eating up 5:30. The Rams then went 3 and out and the Jets got the ball back on their own 22 with 11:09 left in the game. The Jets brought in backup QB Kellen Clemens and ran 12 straight running plays, getting them 4 first downs and 70 yards and eating 9 minutes off the clock. So they came out of the 2 minute warning with first and goal on the Rams 8 yard line. With a cinch field goal and the opportunity for their second 50 point game of the season (not to mention Clemens’ first touchdown opportunity of the season) staring them in the face, he took a knee on three straight plays and let the clock run out. With a division showdown looming this Thursday against the hated Patriots, Coach Mangini made exactly the opposite statement that Belichick chose to go with 54 weeks earlier in almost exactly the same situation: a display of sportsmanship.