If there's one thing NFL coaches dread, it is the gutsy call. When a coach's deliberate gamble goes bust, in Monday's papers he is to blame. When a coach plays the percentages and things go bust, the players, the refs, the wind, and the rotation of the Earth are to blame.
This is why, facing fourth and short in the fourth quarter, so many coaches send in the punting unit: They may be accepting defeat, but the loss won't seem their direct fault ("well, shoot, I was counting on the defense to get the ball back") as it would if they went for it and failed. And this is why faked punt, field-goal, and PAT kicks are rare in the NFL. Although the faked field goal is probably the single most effective offensive play in football—and though faking a one-point PAT and trying for two is so unexpected it almost always works—coaches rarely make these calls. Better to play it safe and shift blame to that Austro-Serbo-Moldavian place-kicker.
Yet this weekend it was bartender, fake kicks for everyone!
Against the Falcons in the second quarter, the Rams faked a one-point PAT and ran for two, setting in motion a game with a total of five two-point conversions, the most in NFL annals. The Saints faked a punt using a guy they'd barely met while the Jets faked a field goal using a linebacker as a running back. The Eagles ran the classiest field-goal fake of the day, having the holder flip a no-look lateral from his kneeling stance to 180-pound kicker David Akers, who ran for the first down. The Bills sneaked deep-threat WR Eric Moulds onto the field as a blocker (!!) for a field-goal attempt, then threw him a touchdown pass that was hysterical to behold and was called back because the refs hadn't whistled play to start. Even the Bengals faked a field goal, though in their case the result was, well, take a guess.
Coaches, please note: On Sunday, every NFL team that attempted a fake kick won. Except for Cincinnati, which is not, so far as anyone can tell, an NFL team.
In other action San Francisco and Green Bay, who played so many memorable and important matchups during the 1990s, staged a fabulous game full of exciting plays, last-second drama—everything you could ask for. When it was over, the teams stood a combined 5-9.
Best Play of the Week: Best No. 1. With its place-kicker injured, St. Louis faced fourth and 15 on the Falcons' 30, score tied at 21 and 11 seconds left in the half. The Rams passed. Kurt Warner pump-faked, even though, with time almost expired, a short completion would have accomplished nothing; only the end zone mattered. The Falcons bit on the pump-fake, and Az-Zahir Hakim scored as the half expired.
Best No. 2. From the Jaguars' 21, the Flaming T's sent Eddie George and two linemen right for what looked like a screen set-up. TE Frank Wycheck blocked on that side as if aiding the screen—then broke over the short middle, because the pass was to him, for an 18-yard gain that set up a Tennessee touchdown. Double-screen-action plays usually don't work; seldom has one been executed so sweetly.
Football Gods Note: After last night's loss, the bloated, overrated Jax is 2-5 and, stretching back to last season, 2-6 since the day it won a playoff game 62-7 and its players proclaimed themselves the greatest in NFL history. Hubris is penalized more severely than holding; read your Greek theater, gentlemen.
Best No. 3. Leading Carolina 10-6 in the fourth, New Orleans lined up to punt. Into the game came career special-teamer Fred McAfee, whom the Saints had just signed. It's a fake! The ball was direct-snapped to McAfee by someone whose name McAfee surely doesn't even yet know, and he ran for 40 yards, setting up the game-icing TD.