Robert Griffin III is spending a lot of time in street clothes, and the Washington franchise has a losing record when he starts. Morris Claiborne walked out of Cowboys camp in a hissy fit, came back and immediately got injured. Sammy Watkins is getting more attention for dropping passes than catching them. The Jaguars went all-in to acquire Blaine Gabbert, then gave him a rapid heave-ho.
There's a lesson here: Mega-trades don't work in the NFL.
Successful basketball and baseball teams routinely benefit from transactions that resemble multinational counter-party credit-default swaps. But football is the ultimate team sport, and in team sports, paying a king's ransom to get one guy is as likely to backfire as to succeed.
The New England Patriots have the most victories in the past decade, and the Patriots don't engage in mega-trades. Their transactions usually are the reverse of mega-trades, surrendering high-profile draft picks to accumulate midrange choices. The Seattle Seahawks just won the Super Bowl, and did it through gradual, painstaking accumulation of talent, not some panicky trade-up. The Denver Broncos just finished second, and though they engage in high-profile free-agent signings, don't offer huge draft bundles in mega-trades.
Suppose an NFL king's-ransom trade is defined as a deal involving at least first- and second-round selections, or one of the draft's highest picks. How do recent mega-trades stack up?
• In 2012, Washington gave up three first-rounders, plus a second-round selection, for Griffin, who briefly injected excitement but mostly has been a letdown, with a 13-18 record as a starter. The team's roster is depleted as a result of the deal -- add three first-rounders and a second-round selection to the Washington depth chart, and the Persons might not be in the cellar. The Rams, who received the king's ransom for RG3, hardly are tearing up the league. Since the Griffin mega-trade, Washington is 14-23 and St. Louis is 15-19-1. General managers speak of win-win trades; so far the Griffin deal has been a lose-lose.
• This April, Buffalo traded two first-round picks -- plus a fourth-rounder -- for Sammy Watkins. He's appeared in only four contests, but the initial impression gives pause. Watkins has been targeted 32 times and made just 17 catches, with six drops. His receiving stats are barely better than those of aging Buffalo utility player Fred Jackson, the league's oldest running back.
• In 2013, Miami traded first- and second-round choices for Dion Jordan, who's yet to start a game and followed up his PED suspension by getting popped for substance abuse. After the draft, Miami officials boasted that Jordan was a "steal"; so far it looks like the Dolphins are the ones getting burglarized. That same year the Rams traded first- and second-rounders to acquire Tavon Austin, who's had moments but is far from consistent.
• In 2012, Dallas traded its first- and second-round picks to acquire Claiborne, who exhibits the toxic combination of erratic performance and locker-room tirades.
• Draft day 2011 saw two king's-ransom transactions. The Falcons gave up two first-rounders, a second-round pick and two fourth-round selections for Julio Jones, while Jacksonville traded first- and second-round selections for Gabbert. Jones is a star, though for the price, Atlanta expected a Super Bowl invitation. The Browns, recipient of the draft bounty, are 14-37 since the Jones deal, which should be viewed as a win for Atlanta. As for Gabbert, he spent the better part of his three seasons in Jacksonville losing football games and redefining the term "bust." When the Jaguars traded him to Santa Clara this offseason, all they received was a sixth-round pick.
What about mega-trades of history? In the complex 1989 Herschel Walker deal, Minnesota received Walker and middle-round picks; Dallas got three first-rounders, three second-rounders, other picks and several players. Minnesota never won a playoff game with Walker in the lineup, and when Walker bolted after three seasons, the Vikings still owed Dallas draft choices. The Cowboys used the Walker draft bounty to stock their 1990s Super Bowl three-peat squad.
The 1987 Eric Dickerson trade sent Dickerson to the Colts; Cornelius Bennett to the Bills; three first-round picks and three second-rounders, plus players, to the Rams. The Colts never won a playoff game with Dickerson in the lineup. The Rams made the playoffs twice with their Dickerson bounty, but were blown out of their only title appearance in subsequent seasons. Buffalo was the only trade winner, its woe-for-four Super Bowl streak being initiated.
The main recent mega-trade that was a clear win-win seems the 2004 transaction that sent Philip Rivers and others to the Chargers, Eli Manning to the Giants. Both teams would make the same trade again.
Bottom line? Mega-trades usually don't work out -- for either party. This ought to leave the Bills, Cowboys, Dolphins and R*dsk*ns sweating.
In schedule news, reader Jack Epstein notes: "After only four weeks, there is no possible matchup of undefeated teams remaining in the regular season." Arizona and Cincinnati are the last unbeatens remaining, and obviously they don't meet in the regular season. But in theory they could meet as undefeateds in the Super Bowl -- if both entered the contest 18-0.
In other football news, how would you feel if your college team gained 532 yards and lost by 20 points? How would you feel if your college team gained 650 yards and lost by 17 points? How would you feel if your college team gained 629 yards against a football factory and lost? How would you feel if your football-factory team gained 626 yards and lost by 35 points? How would you feel if your famous top-division college team gained 597 yards versus a lower-division Ivy League egghead team and lost? How would you feel if your school gained 520 yards against the nation's No. 1 collegiate team and lost? See more below.
Stats of the Week No. 2: Since falling behind early at St. Louis, the Cowboys have outscored opponents 72-27.
Stats of the Week No. 3: The Raiders are on a 2-17 road streak.
Stats of the Week No. 4: The Colts are on an 11-1 streak versus the Titans.
Stats of the Week No. 5: As a starter, Matt Ryan is 38-10 at home with 29 interceptions, 24-26 on the road with 53 interceptions.
Stats of the Week No. 6: Jay Cutler is on a 1-9 streak versus the Packers.
Stats of the Week No. 7: Washington is on an 0-8 streak in the NFC East.
Stats of the Week No. 8: Indianapolis is on a 9-0 streak in the AFC South.
Stats of the Week No. 9: In its past two games, the University of Wisconsin has outrushed opponents by 773 yards.
Stats of the Week No. 10: Packers at Bears became the second regular-season NFL contest (Bills at 49ers in 1992) that did not have a punt.
Sweet Play of the Week: Host Chicago leading Green Bay 17-14, the Packers faced third-and-7 on the Bears' 22. The Packers' vaunted offense came in sputtering -- 28th in the league, a dud the previous week versus Detroit. But if there's one thing that would put a smile on the face of Aaron Rodgers, it's a predictable blitz on third-and-long. And it's a blitz! Randall Cobb runs right past Chicago defensive back Isaiah Frey, touchdown.
Green Bay would end the day with four touchdown passes on 302 yards passing. Sweet for the Packers' vaunted offense. Rodgers finished with a passer rating nearly double that of Jay Cutler -- 151.2 for Rodgers, 82.5 for Cutler. As for the Bears: They are 2-0 on the road, 0-2 at home, and heard their faithful boo loudly on a failed fourth-and-5 attempt in panic time.
Sour Plays of the Week: Trailing 26-21, Philadelphia had third-and-goal at the Santa Clara 1 at the two-minute warning, holding three timeouts. The Eagles could try two rushes to gain a single yard, with timeouts to control the clock. Chip Kelly called consecutive passes -- incompletion, incompletion, 49ers victory. Yes, the Santa Clara rush defense is stout. But throwing into the end zone from the 1 is quite hard because the defense has so little territory to defend. Santa Clara coaches were so sure the Eagles would go pass-wacky on the final two snaps that they put their base defense on the field. On third-and-goal, Philadelphia could have run against just three down linemen; on fourth-and-goal, against just two down linemen. Instead Nick Foles was sprinting backward and passes were falling incomplete. Very sour.
Sweet 'N' Sour Fourth Quarter: Lions at Jets paired the league's leading defenses going into the game. Detroit ahead 24-17 with five minutes remaining, the Lions punted on fourth-and-1 from their 29. A sweet ending seemed in store for the hosts. Then on third-and-short, Jersey/B back Chris Ivory dropped a flare pass that would have picked up the first down. Jets facing fourth-and-2 on their 24 with four minutes remaining, Rex Ryan sent in the punt unit.
Detroit ran twice into the line against the league's top rush defense, getting a first down. Sour for the Jets. Then with the Lions facing second-and-4 at midfield just inside the two-minute warning, Jets with one timeout remaining, Matt Stafford faked into the line and executed a naked bootleg for a first down: the rest was kneeling. The pass-wacky Lions iced a road game solely by running to grind the clock, and did so versus the league's leading rush defense -- sweet for Detroit, sour for Jersey/B.
So Simple That Only A Child Can Do It: Complaints about math teaching under the Common Core go back to this song from half a century ago.
- Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) September 24, 2014
Pay up, Nate -- I win that wager by 14 years. That Year 2000 column introduced Stop Me Before I Blitz Again, and also discussed my alternative names for the Washington franchise. Then I was calling the team the Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons. I changed to Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons when readers noted that Baltimore in is the Chesapeake watershed. Plus, I liked associating Dan Snyder's team with the word "drainage."
Lots of people are climbing onto the anti-R*dsk*ns bandwagon now, and welcome aboard. I've been there for 15 years. I wrote a piece for NFL.com in 2004 protesting the R*dsk*ns name, before this became a fashionable cause. The piece contained this phrase: "everyone accepts that the word itself is insulting. Redskin: 'a disparaging term for Native Americans' (American Heritage Dictionary)" and also the word Matwesaso.
Matwesaso? It means "courageous" in Nanticoke, an Algonquin language. The Nanticoke were inhabitants of the Potomac basin when Europeans first eyed it, so in 2005, I proposed on NFL.com that the franchise in question change its name to Washington Matwesaso. That's has a cool sound and rather than denigrate American Indians, honors them. Sure it would take a little getting used to, but so did Google, reddit and other brands that now roll off the tongue.
Other TMQ new name possibilities? The Washington Insiders -- in good years, the powerful Insiders! The Washington Handouts -- they never stop! The Washington One Percent -- ferocious in defending their turf! Readers suggested these via Twitter:
Robert Monte of Columbia, New Jersey, suggested Washington 495ers, referring to the infamous Beltway around the nation's capital. Christopher Kelly of Normal, Illinois, suggested Washington Drones, with a Predator as the helmet symbol. Steven Macks of Saint Paul, Minnesota, suggested Washington Chiefs of Staff. Tim Brown of Quincy, Massachusetts, suggested Washington Lobbyists -- "with run/pass references, since lobbyists run everything and nothing gets passed without their approval." Jason Martin of Clearwater, Florida, suggested Washington Monuments. David Sison of Manila, Philippines, suggested Washington Filibuster -- every game goes into overtime. Christian Skordos of Indianapolis suggested Washington Redsticks, referring to the Red Stick faction of the Creek nation in the War of 1812. (This would keep the team's current colors and Native American thematic.) Nick Semon of Houston suggested the Washington Red Tape -- impossible to get through.
Rich People, Stop Giving To Harvard! Fall is college endowment reporting season, and news is beginning to dribble out -- Harvard's endowment is up to $36.4 billion, for example. That includes two earthquake-style recent transactions: a $350 million gift from Hong Kong businessman Gerald Chan and a $150 million gift from U.S. investor Kenneth Griffin.
Good for them! But since Harvard's endowment is already more than double the GDP of Iceland, do splashy announcements of more money serve a need, or serve the giver's ego?
TMQ contends the rich should not donate to the Ivy League, Stanford or a few other colleges that exist for the elite and already have ginormous endowments. Rather, the rich should give to schools for the average. At such colleges, donations reduce inequality, and make a difference in people's lives. Donations to Harvard only make inequality worse.
Disbursing about 5 percent a year from an endowment ensures its principal will not shrink over time. At 5 percent, Harvard's endowment would generate $1.8 billion annually in perpetuity. So how can Harvard possibly need more? That sum equates to $2.6 million per undergraduate per year -- almost 50 times the school's sticker price. Harvard already has ample endowment for every undergraduate to attend free, with vast reserves remaining for other purposes. Yet Harvard is in the midst of a capital campaign, demanding another $6.5 billion.
Sums of this nature allow the construction of majestic edifices with donors' names on the archway. They fund high pay and perks to administrative royalty: Harvard's president earns about $1 million annually, while many in the Harvard front office are paid more than the president of the United States. Harvard does permit undergrads from families at or below the median household income to attend at little or no cost. But with a $36 billion endowment, it's not clear why any student should pay anything to Harvard.
Robert Kelchen details which elite colleges and universities are generous and which are cruel to students from families with average finances. Kelchen's article is part of the latest edition of the Washington Monthly College Guide, a fantastic alternative to the U.S. News worldview. Where U.S. News is concerned with status -- a factor in college choices, undeniably -- the Monthly's College Guide focuses on value and the relationship between college and public service.
Now back to Gerald Chan and Kenneth Griffin. If they'd given their fantastic sums to any of the colleges where students from average backgrounds struggle with loans -- or to those schools that the Monthly finds offer students the best bang for the buck -- they would have changed the lives of ordinary people. Imagine the impact of either bundle at sainted Berea College, which accepts only students with financial need, amongst other criteria. Chan or Griffin would have become a hero to an entire generation trying to join the middle class. Instead they gave to the university that needs it least, which is the essence of inequality.
One might reply that it was their money to do with as they see fit. Actually only some was their money. Let's consider Griffin, a U.S. citizen. The deductibility of donations to higher education means Griffin really gave Harvard about $100 million, with taxpayers covering the balance. Ordinary people whose children are buried under student loans, and can only dream of attending Harvard, will be taxed to fund the transfer of another $50 million to the Crimson elite.
The same occurs any time donations from those in the top bracket go to the Ivy League, Stanford, Williams, Amherst -- average people are taxed to pamper the children of affluence. Grant Hill just gave $1.25 million to Duke University, his alma mater. Good for him! After the deduction, Hill pays about two-thirds of the announced total. The rest comes from average taxpayers who can only dream of a child attending Duke.
There may be no solution to the rich making gifts for ego rather than social benefit. But there is a solution to tax favors for the top of higher education: legislation to end the deductibility of donations to colleges or universities whose endowments exceed $1 million per enrolled student.
Tax policy has good reason to encourage giving to colleges and universities, since these institutions improve society. But the tax favors should go where society will be aided: not to the Ivy League or Stanford, which already have too much money. At $1 million per enrolled student, an endowment should generate $50,000 annually per undergraduate, without loss of principal. Thus once an endowment reaches $1 million per undergraduate, the school no longer has any financial needs of concern to the public. After the $1 million level (indexing for inflation), tax policy ought not reward further gifts that will not be used for education, rather for intergenerational money-hoarding.
About a dozen colleges and universities enjoy endowments that exceed $1 million per undergraduate. Harvard is now at $5.3 million per undergraduate, Yale clocks in at $4.4 million per undergrad. Duke just crossed the lofty $1 million in endowment per undergraduate line, so donations to Duke would cease being deductible under this proposal.
It would be good for society if rich people stopped giving to the Ivy League, Stanford and Duke, redirecting contributions to universities that serve students from families with money problems.
Since most colleges will never reach the $1 million per undergraduate threshold, it would not be onerous to require those few that do annually to announce if their endowment exceeds this level. To encourage gifts, colleges offer potential donors extensive tax-related advice; in this case, the wealthiest colleges should offer advice that discourages gifts.
You could still donate all you wished to elite universities under this scheme -- but you'd have to give the entire amount, not two-thirds with the balance coughed up by taxpayers.
Obviously this proposed tax-law change might cause the very rich to spend money on yachts rather than on Penn or Princeton. Or maybe it would encourage them to send their donations to the many colleges that serve people who weren't born into privilege -- and where a big chunk of money would change lives.
When 'Home' Is Eight Time Zones Away: Oakland was home team of record for the London contest versus Miami, a "home" game played 5,350 miles from home, and involving flight time above Greenland. So the Raiders, the league's worst road team of recent years, play essentially nine road games and seven home dates this season. This makes the Raiders the Savannah State of the NFL, a comparison that is perhaps a little too apt.
The London series began in 2007. Last season it expanded to two contests, and this season bumps to three. The games have often resulted in blowouts -- New England 45, St. Louis 7 in 2012; San Francisco 42, Jacksonville 10 last season. This is the eighth year of the London series, which has yet to offer a contest pairing two teams that both had a winning record at kickoff.
Fast forward to this year: Miami leading 10-7, the Marine Mammals go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Oakland 9. When the Raiders overstack the tackle box, the Dolphins run a toss to Lamar Miller, who reaches the end zone nearly untouched. Brill! Pip it up, mates! Pints are on Lamar!
There's A File In This Cake: "Hawaii Five-0," the nuttiest network prime-time series -- that's discounting for shows such as "Sleepy Hollow" and "Forever" that don't even attempt to make sense -- has returned to the airwaves. In last season's finale cliffhanger, arch-villain Wo Fat escaped from ADX Florence, the supermax prison in Colorado. Wo set off a gigantic bomb in his cell. The blast not only obliterated the cell wall, it blew up every obstacle all the way to the perimeter of the facility -- and apparently killed the entire prison staff, since no one chased Wo Fat. Yet the colossal explosion didn't scratch Wo Fat, who would have had to be standing next to the detonation. And how did he build the device in his cell? Danno: "Turns out Wo Fat found paint thinner and fertilizer in the prison yard." Not only were bomb-making materials lying around in plain sight at a supermax, a guy was able to drag hundreds of pounds of them back to his cell unnoticed.
You've already guessed that no one has ever escaped from a U.S. high-security facility, but on TV and in action movies, getting out from behind bars is as easy as hailing a cab. Killers have escaped from maximum-security confinement in "Criminal Minds," "Natural Born Killers," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Rizzoli & Isles" and "Unforgettable." In "The Dark Knight," the Joker escaped a lockup by setting off a bomb that killed all the policemen yet didn't scratch him, though he was standing in close proximity. On the Dana Delany vehicle "Body of Proof," a serial murderer needs mere seconds to kill a guard, who does not cry for help, then dons the guard's uniform and walks through the front door unnoticed. (Prisons have two-way cage areas where departure ID checks are required. Monitoring who leaves is part of what "prison" means.) When Arnold Schwarzenegger departed from the California statehouse, he made a big-budget flick called "Escape Plan." The movie was about busting out of the world's most advanced super-prison, which would be impossible -- if it weren't for the gigantic air shaft that runs next to the cell. There was even an elaborate prison break in the indie hit "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
On "Hawaii Five-0," jailbreaks occur so often the Hawaii Department of Public Safety should book prison-escape sightseeing events for tourists. One convict grabs a handgun from a guard watching him eat lunch and shoots his way out; another, shackled in leg irons, picks the locks in mere seconds, then punches a guard to grab his shotgun. When will Hollywood get that guards never carry projectile weapons in the corridors of prisons? In a previous season, Wo Fat escaped from Hawaii's main penitentiary using a scheme that involved a helicopter, a cargo ship and scuba divers.
Prison nonsense bonus No. 1: On FX's "The Bridge," a character stages a super-elaborate break-in of a maximum security prison to confront an inmate. Then the character simply walks out of the facility. Generally, it's harder to get out of prisons than to get in.
Prison nonsense bonus No. 2: On "Longmire," which is set in rural Wyoming, the titular character's friend Henry Standing Bear is described as being in jail in Denver, 400 miles away. Walt needs about five minutes to drive there. When viewers see the outside of the jail, the Wyoming state flag flies.
Walt Longmire bonus: "Longmire" had clever writing, was a police show with little gunfire, and was rare for network television in incorporating American Indian themes. The series was just canceled despite being a ratings hit -- "Longmire" was A&E Network's highest-rated scripted show, with more viewers than AMC's "Mad Men." So why was it axed? The Wall Street Journal reported A&E didn't like that the show's fan base was not young and trendy, with a median age of 60. Considering that millennials are tuning out television, while the TV-addicted baby boomers are starting to retire, soon networks will be lining up to buy shows whose median viewer is only 60 years old! Because producers, looking at the healthy ratings, assumed "Longmire" would be renewed, last season's finale was a cliffhanger. Now viewers will never find out what happened. The writers will never find out, either.
Santa Clara Curse? The 49ers have struggled since decamping from San Francisco, one of the world's greatest cities, for Santa Clara. San Francisco has beauty, history, romance, intellectual heft: but now, no NFL team. Even the name of the new stadium -- Levi's Stadium, aka The Building Bluejeans Built in this column -- is off, since Levi's is associated with San Francisco, not Santa Clara.
The 49ers defeated the Eagles, but just barely. All the Niners' vibes seem wrong. Santa Clara leads the league in penalties. Harbaugh/West sort-of wanted to leave in the offseason, and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network says his players think he treats them like children. At least he doesn't treat them like freshmen! Versus the Eagles, Harbaugh/West made dumb clock-management mistakes -- wasting a timeout trying to draw Philadelphia offside, wasting another challenging a call that was clearly correct. Had Philadelphia scored from point-blank range in the closing minute, the lack of timeouts might have doomed the 49ers. Draft decisions under current management have been puzzling. The Niners blew 2012 first- and second-round choices for A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James; in 2013, Harbaugh/West could've picked Zach Ertz, who bedeviled Santa Clara on Sunday, but instead traded the pick to select Tank Carradine and Chris Borland, neither of whom started Sunday.
As for the Colin Kaepernick experiment -- many good things have happened, but it's still scary when he releases the ball. It's not scary when Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck releases the ball. The Eagles came into Santa Clara with the league's 30th-ranked pass defense, yet Kaepernick struggled to post 189 net passing yards. Early, Santa Clara coaches kept calling pass plays -- 21 called passes and 17 rushes in the first half. When the 49ers shifted to rushing -- 13 called passes, 25 rushes in the second half -- the situation improved, and the hosts won by outrushing the visitors by 196 yards. On one down, Kaepernick was sprinting left, then stopped and threw sideways right all the way across the field. The result was a touchdown. But let's hope as Kaepernick trotted off, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst grabbed him and said, "Great pass, don't ever do that again."
In Praise Of Sweaters: October begins tomorrow, and with it the full glory of autumn. Your columnist's favorite season is autumn -- leaves are turning, the weather is changing (I like cool weather), football is being played, the wonderful Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday sequence is in prospect, and everyone looks better in sweaters.
In Hawaii, there are no seasons. In some cold places such as Canada, there are two seasons: frozen and construction. In four-seasons areas, like where I live, we get one fall day for every two non-fall days, so I spend two-thirds of the year waiting for the full glory of autumn. It's finally here.
'Tis Better To Have Rushed And Lost Than Never To Have Rushed At All: Buffalo went to Houston to face the Texans, who entered with the 25th-ranked rushing defense. Yet adjusting for sacks and scrambles, Bills coaches called 47 passing plays and just 22 rushes. The Bills' average gain per rush, 4.2 yards, nearly exceeded their pitiful average gain of 4.8 yards per passing attempt.
With Buffalo leading 10-7 early in the third quarter, the Bills reached third-and-2 on the Houston 12. A run stands a good chance of making the first down, or setting up either fourth-and-1 or a field goal for a 13-7 margin. Instead it's a pass -- intercepted by J.J. Watt and returned 80 yards for a touchdown. That's a swing of 10 to 14 points; Houston won by six.
Since 2012, Buffalo management has invested three first-round draft picks, a second-rounder, two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder in its quarterback and wide receivers. (This includes the 2015 picks already spent on Sammy Watkins.) At Houston, it felt like the Bills' brain trust thought the team had to be pass-wacky to justify spending so many high picks on receivers and the accuracy-challenged EJ Manuel. Turns out all the Bills were justifying was the soon-to-come housecleaning from new owner Terry Pegula. The postgame benching of Manuel -- who was often off the mark in college, too -- shows the Bills' brain trust knows the clock is ticking on its employment.
Sportsmanship Watch: The Carolina Panthers are taking on water -- consecutive blowout defeats, by a combined 75-29. Sunday they were embarrassed by a terrific game from the Ravens' Steve Smith, who was Carolina's all-time leading receiver (for catches, yards and touchdowns) when Ron Rivera released him over the winter. To his credit, Rivera did the classy thing and went to the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Smith after the game
India On Top In Latest Space Race: India's Mars satellite went into orbit around the red planet and is broadcasting telemetry. Not only does this mean India wins Space Race: The Sequel -- New Delhi versus Beijing to see who is first to Mars -- India avoided the Mars Curse: More than half of the probes sent toward the red planet have failed, exploded or simply vanished.
NASA's Maven spacecraft also went into orbit around Mars last week, and at about three times the weight of the Indian orbiter, has more scientific potential. Maven's payload -- the part that reached the red planet -- is 143 pounds, about 2 percent of the launch mass of the mission. This alone -- $671 million to get 143 pounds to Martian orbit, not even to the surface and certainly not back to Earth -- should suggest how wildly impractical a manned Mars mission would be with current technology.
Though smaller than the U.S. Mars craft, India's mission cost only about 10 percent as much. Surely late-night comedians made jokes about Bangalore call centers handling mission control, but if India can show the way to lower-cost access to the heavens, that would be the most important space achievement in some time -- far more important than NASA's space station.
Is The Sun Setting On Tom Brady? A week ago before their home crowd, the Patriots barely outlasted the woeful Raiders. Monday night they were ground up into burger meat -- "Of course we're speaking in the figurative sense," as Weird Al would say -- by the Chiefs. Is New England's Brady-Belichick Golden Age drawing to a close?
Brady was openly frustrated throughout the contest. Every star athlete must deal with nationally televised defeat -- just ask LeBron James -- but rarely has Brady lost badly. His life with the Flying Elvii has been all news conferences, endorsements, championship rings and supermodels, 'til last night, when the Patriots looked like the Raiders East.
Belichick seemed to enter the contest assuming defeat was foreordained. Kansas City leading 7-0, he had the Patriots punt on fourth-and-2 from the Chiefs' 42. It took the home team just one snap to pass the point where the ball would have been had New England gone for it and failed. On the Pats' next possession, Belichick had them punt on fourth-and-2 at the Kansas City 46. Bill Belichick ordering consecutive punts on fourth-and-short in opposition territory -- maybe he should see a doctor.
As for Kansas City, its long losing spiral has been stopped by two emphatic victories in eight days. The 2014 NFL season will be a lot more interesting if the Chiefs are a factor.
Wacky Food Of The Week: Denny's new Wall Street location offers a $300 Grand Cru Slam breakfast with a bottle of Dom Perignon. Drink in style before heading to the office to steal from pension funds!
The NFL Has No Shame: Two weeks after the controversy arose, Baltimore Ravens officials were told not to destroy records concerning the Ray Rice matter, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun. That came two weeks before any policy on preserving records! Nudge nudge, wink wink. Recall that in 2007 when the Spygate matter first broke, Roger Goodell gave the Patriots three days to turn over the tapes. How could it take three days to put some videotapes in a FedEx box? Certainly they didn't use that time to destroy anything -- nudge nudge, wink wink.
Maybe The NCAA Does Have Shame: Reader Butch Loads of Cleveland notes a rare bit of positive news from the intersection of football-factory football and education -- the University of South Carolina became the first SEC school to offer multiyear scholarships. Multiyear agreements -- four years, in this case -- put players, not coaches, in the driver's seat regarding their quest for a diploma. The sooner all scholarships in the revenue sports (football and men's basketball) are multiyear, the better.
Does The University Of Michigan Have Shame? Brady Hoke is on the hot seat for a 4-9 stretch that includes a shutout at Notre Dame. Students and alums want the Wolverines to win, but shame on any who think a losing stretch is a reason Hoke should be fired. Aren't we at least supposed to pretend the University of Michigan is an educational institution and its players student-athletes? As long as players are in class and Hoke is behaving in a responsible manner, Hoke should, in theory, keep his job -- home losses to Minnesota be damned.
It's the responsible manner part that is disturbing. Hoke sent quarterback Shane Morris back into Saturday's game, even though the wobbly Morris appeared he could be suffering from a concussion. The Michigan Daily has called for Hoke to be fired for ignoring risks to Morris' health. Ted Miller maintains the same in his BMOC column on ESPN.com, noting that during the telecast Saturday, ESPN announcer Ed Cunningham said, "Shane Morris cannot be going back into this game. This young man looked groggy after that hit, he's being put back on the field. He can barely stand up ... this is atrocious to me."
Sunday, Michigan's sports press office issued a bizarre statement from Hoke claiming he thought Morris had a leg injury, not a concussion. Why would he be going back in with a leg injury? Morris is not an NFL player: the University of Michigan is supposed to at least pretend players are students first. Late Monday, Michigan issued another statement, apologizing for sending Morris back in. Treating players like an NFL junior varsity, not like students, is Hoke's offense -- and the University of Michigan itself, including school president Mark Schlissel, shares blame. The previous head coach, Rich Rodriguez, departed under a cloud with Michigan facing NCAA probation. That others have low standards doesn't rationalize the great University of Michigan stooping to their level.
Wasteful Government Spending, Escalators -- Both Going Up: Over the summer, Barack Obama declared that U.S. infrastructure was crumbling because "we are not spending enough" on roads, bridges, subways and similar projects. Au contraire: The problem is we're not getting value for what we do spend. This Reuters column by TMQ lays out example after example of government-funded construction projects that are insanely overpriced, insanely slow or both. Late last year, TMQ noted that the federally funded subway authority of the Washington, D.C., area said it needed five months to replace two escalators in a closed station. How could the project possibly be so inefficient? "Perhaps dozens of workers will mill around drinking coffee, supervised by top-heavy senior managers who argue about who gets to sign memos. If this were a private-sector project, it would take five days, not five months."
Five months to fix two escalators would seem a golden fleece that can't be topped. Yet last week the subway agency of our nation's capital outdid itself, saying it would need 2½ years to replace three escalators. This time it's at a station that will remain open during the project, which complicates the work. But if the private sector were paying, this would take 2½ months, not 2½ years.
Government construction that proceeds at maximum cost and minimum pace is not just featherbedding -- though, that's bad enough. Poor performance in government construction deprives average people of the benefits of infrastructure, which include both convenience and economic growth. Why has U.S. economic growth been soft? One reason is that Washington is wasting money that ought to be improving the American infrastructure, which would contribute to growth. When historians assess the Obama presidency, he is likely to receive good marks in several categories. But he may be seen as mismanaging the $3.8 trillion federal budget.
Liberalism has a blind spot regarding money management -- no matter what the question, the answer must always be more spending. And it's this blind spot that harms the prospects of liberalism. The average person has no way of knowing how much a space launch or a Syria bombing campaign should cost, but everyone understands that 2½ years to replace three escalators is absurd.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Dallas leading 17-0, the Boys had first-and-10 on the Saints' 23 with 24 seconds remaining before intermission. A sack doesn't really help New Orleans, since Dallas, holding two timeouts, would remain in Dan Bailey's field goal range. What New Orleans needs is incompletions.
But New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan doesn't think in terms of incompletions, he wants to make a splashy play. "You can just feel that Rob Ryan is about to do something stupid," Cowboys radio analyst Babe Laufenberg had said two snaps before. What Ryan did was the stupidest thing possible: an eight-man blitz, which is like handing out a card that says, "Please score a touchdown." Dallas did, turning a somewhat close game into a walkover. NBC's fancy sound gear enabled the nation to learn that Tony Romo's audible code word against a big blitz is, "Hey! Hey!"
TMQ Holds His Cards: My predicted Super Bowl entrants, Indianapolis and New Orleans, opened a combined 0-4. I said I'd hold my cards, and now these clubs are a combined 3-5. If predictions were easy, everybody would do them! Wait, everybody does.
Leading 7-0 versus Tennessee, the Colts ran a surprise onside kick, recovered, scored on the possession and never looked back. Indianapolis employed the pulling-guard onside, in which the first man blocks the closest member of the receiving team so the second man can recover the kick. Andrew Luck leads the league in touchdown passes, an auspicious sign. (The perpetually confused-looking Philip Rivers leads the league in passer rating.) As for the Flaming Thumbtacks, they've been outscored 100-34 in their past three contests.
In 2012, the Saints were last in the league in defense. In 2013, they rose to fourth. Maybe that 2013 number was a misprint -- now they're at 30th. The Saints don't have an interception this season, and New Orleans' tackling versus Dallas was terrible. On one longer gain, defensive back Johnny Patrick simply pulled up and watched the Boys' runner advance. On a Dallas third-and-1 at a key juncture, New Orleans had only 10 men on the field. The Saints have opened 1-3 but with all losses on the road. Now New Orleans plays seven of 12 in the Superdome. The Saints are still a playoff threat.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: Dallas leading 7-0, New Orleans punted on fourth-and-2 in Cowboys territory. The Saints would go on to record 438 yards of offense, but score only 17 points. What good is a hot offense if you're afraid to try on fourth-and-short in opposition territory? On its next possession, New Orleans attempted a field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Dallas 23. Outraged, the football gods pushed the try wide. Consecutive drives end on fourth-and-short kicks on the downhill side of the field. That's a formula for running up a lot of yards, and losing.
Hilarious In Retrospect: General Motors cars have improved markedly, but GM has been embarrassed by a series of management failures under CEOs Dan Akerson and Mary Barra, especially the cover-up of defective ignition switches. Yet in 2012, Forbes claimed the now-departed Akerson was underpaid at $7.6 million, and just before the defect scandal broke this year, CNN claimed Barra was underpaid at $14.4 million.
Based on what's now known, it seems Akerson and Barra were substantially overpaid. The company's own report described Akerson and Barra as failed executives who ran a management culture of "incompetence and neglect." So why aren't prosecutors trying to claw back their undeserved bonuses? And with the typical CEO of a large public company now making 296 times as much as the typical worker, why does the mainstream media agitate for even bigger CEO mega-paydays?
Last week we learned that as part of the public-oversight aspect of the GM bailout, the Treasury Department approved "excessive" raises for the company's top officials, 16 of whom make more than half a million dollars per year. Bottom line of the bailout? "The government gave $352 billion in aid to [General Motors and close affiliates] and recovered $377.6 billion, according to Treasury." That does not take into account opportunity cost -- $352 billion invested in the S&P in 2008 would today be worth about $560 billion. So around $200 billion is the true cost to taxpayers for rescuing General Motors and the financial company now called Ally. Treasury officials should think in terms of opportunity cost, which is how all well-run private businesses think.
'Hot Air' Should Be Banned From Climate Change Headlines: As almost everyone expected, last week's climate change summit at the United Nations accomplished nothing other than production of greenhouse gases. Two follow-ups are worth reading. First, the government of India was honest, acknowledging that nation's greenhouse emissions are going to keep rising. Dealing with climate change must involve acceptance that greenhouse concentrations in the atmosphere are certain to rise for at least another generation. Second, Yale's Dan Esty, who is megasmart on environmental law, proposes forgetting about complex international agreements -- which there is no chance, none, zero that even a Democratic U.S. Senate would ratify -- and concentrating on local greenhouse gas reductions. Smog and acid rain are declining almost everywhere in the world, though no treaty governs either. Both are declining because the United States invented the fixes, then gave them away. That's the best hope for greenhouse gas, too.
Grambling Reminds The NFL It Exists: The Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons just lost by more than 30 points at home for the second time since December 2013. Robert Griffin III is out indefinitely and hope that backup Kirk Cousins would be the cure for what ails the team was dashed when, during a third-quarter stretch, Cousins threw interceptions on three of five pass attempts. Highly placed insiders told TMQ that was not good.
This time the bearer of bad news for Chainsaw Dan's charges was Jersey/A. Last season the Giants opened 0-6, then bounced back 7-3. This summer your columnist warned Jersey/A could "open struggling again," which was the case as the Giants lost their first two contests and were outscored 60-28. Is another bounce back in the works? Now Jersey/A has consecutive victories, winning by a combined score of 75-31. One reason I thought the Giants would "open struggling" was dearth at tight end. It seems that has been solved by Larry Donnell, who caught three touchdown passes in the Giants' destruction of the hapless Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons.
Undrafted out of lower-division Grambling State, Donnell was ignored by pro scouts despite having the qualities everyone seems to want in a modern tight end -- he's really tall and really fast. Scouts used to flock to Grambling, which recruited the players who couldn't quite make one of the few football factories. Then scholarship limits and cable television democratized college football, and the sorts of athletes who might have signed with Grambling found they had plenty of options. Grambling State's last NFL draft choice was Jason Hatcher, in 2006. Grambling had five NFL first-round draft choices in the 1970s, and hasn't had one since, the precipitous drop roughly coinciding with the moment when the college football universe -- like the actual universe -- started infinite expansion.
Jersey/A leading the Persons 14-7, the visitors had first-and-goal on the Washington 6 in the second quarter. Donnell already had both Giants touchdowns. Donnell had not been jammed on either of his two initial scores, both of which came inside the 10. Washington's defensive coaches seemed to consider him a nonissue. Surely they would have noticed Donnell by now, and put a linebacker on him! Instead, when he lined up split as wide receiver, the 6-foot-6 Donnell was across from 5-foot-11 safety Bashaud Breeland. Eli Manning noticed this immediately -- it would have been hard not to notice it -- and audibled to a stutter-fade, touchdown.
Now that the word is out about Donnell, he will face better coverage in the future. As for the Persons -- a 31-point prime-time loss at home, ye gods. By the third quarter, Washington players and coaches had that what-just-happened expression on their faces. In the preseason, TMQ christened rookie coach Jay Gruden "Sure-to-Be-Former R*dsk*ns Head Coach Jay Gruden." Now, given the sparkling management record and renowned even temper of owner Chainsaw Dan Snyder, one wonders if Gruden will keep his job until Thanksgiving.
Adventures In Officiating: City of Tampa leading Pittsburgh 10-3, the Steelers' Antonio Brown scored, spun the football in the end zone then did a modified iced-tea plunge -- more like an iced-water plunge. Flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. Zebras must enforce the rules, but the celebration penalty is such a stupid rule. You're supposed to celebrate touchdowns!
With 27 seconds remaining before intermission versus the Falcons, the Vikings appeared to score a touchdown on a 7-yard run. Replay ruled the runner down at the 1-yard line, which means the clock restarted. Mike Zimmer had a timeout but didn't tell officials to call the timeout if the ball was ruled down in the field of play. The result was a 10-second runoff against the offense -- the proper call if the offense uses a pretext to stop the clock when a half is nearly over. The Vikes settled for a field goal, then won comfortably anyway. If they'd lost, sportsyak radio would today be dissecting this ruling.
Dallas leading 10-0 with good field position after intercepting Drew Brees, the Boys faked an end-around, then ran a screen pass for a long gain to the Saints' 15, setting up a touchdown. Dallas offensive linemen Zack Martin and Travis Frederick were far downfield before the pass was released -- a terrible no-call. On the next Dallas possession, New Orleans got a makeup flag as Dallas was signaled for a phantom offensive holding. But the no-call on the screen hurt a lot more than the makeup call helped, as the former positioned the hosts to take a 17-0 lead.
Maroon Zone Play of the Week: Miami of Florida leading 9-7 versus Duke, a football power -- not a misprint! -- the Hurricanes faced fourth-and-19 on the Blue Devils' 28. This is the Maroon Zone, where it's too close for a punt and in this instance, owing to driving rain, too far for a field goal attempt. Miami threw deep, touchdown.
What A Relief There Is No Jacksonville-Oakland Game This Year: Going into this season there was talk about whether Gus Bradley could build the Jaguars into a Seattle South. Now the talk is whether Bradley will keep his job until Halloween -- the Raiders' Dennis Allen, fired yesterday, didn't even make it till World Vegetarian Day. Jacksonville is 0-4 and has been outscored by 94 points. As Weird Al sings, "What's the use of even going through the motions when you know that you're gonna lose anyhow. So why don't you save us all some time and give up now?"
The 500 Club: Visiting Oklahoma State, Texas Tech gained 512 yards, recorded 32 first downs, snapped 90 times, and lost. Visiting Yale, Army gained 597 yards, and lost. (Yale has a football factory-style schedule of six home games, four away dates.) Visiting Idaho State, Sacramento State gained 532 yards, and lost by 20 points. Hosting Gustavus Adolphus, Augsburg gained 546 yards, and lost. Hosting No. 1 Florida State, North Carolina State gained 520 yards, and lost.
The 600 Club: Reader Craig McMichael of Detroit notes that hosting UCLA, Arizona State gained 626 yards, ran a staggering 105 plays, and lost by 35 points. The schools combined for 1,206 yards, 15 scoring plays and four punts. Visiting Cal, Colorado gained 629 yards, scored eight touchdowns, and lost. Reader Tom Puckett of Trenton, Ohio, reports that visiting Heidelberg, Ohio Northern gained 650 yards, and lost by 17 points.
The 700 Club: Reader Tobin Morse of Colorado Springs notes that Air Academy High School gained 724 yards, scored 62 points, and lost to Sand Creek. In California prep play, Whittier Christian scored 74 points against Western Christian, gained 682 yards on offense, and lost.
In A Club All Its Own: Hosting Western New England, Maine Maritime gained a respectable 372 yards -- and lost by 64 points. Three interceptions versus just one completion didn't help.
Obscure College Score: Alderson-Broaddus 67, Limestone 14. Located in Gaffney, South Carolina, Limestone College, founded as a women's school, today is 63 percent male. With only about 1,000 undergraduates, Limestone has about 20 percent of its male students on the football team, which began play this year.
Single Worst Play of the Season -- So Far: No team has ever looked as dead as the City of Tampa Buccaneers looked when they failed on downs near the Pittsburgh goal line with 1:44. The Steelers led 24-20 and took possession. After the Bucs held and called their final timeouts, Pittsburgh lined up to punt on its own 17 with 50 seconds left. The Steelers were punting to a winless team that was playing a backup quarterback and a wide receiver, Louis Murphy, signed off the street the previous week.
The punter shanked the kick, giving City of Tampa possession at the downhill 46. On first down the backup quarterback barely avoided a sack. On second down the Bucs lined up trips right -- and the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose vaunted secondary is the stuff of lore, forgot to cover one of the trips guys.
Across from the trips set were two defensive backs for three receivers. Murphy ran a down-and-in and got lost in the confusion, gaining 41 yards to the Pittsburgh 5. Two snaps later, the visitors won. Forgetting to cover a wide receiver with seconds remaining and the opposition certain to throw deep -- Pittsburgh Steelers, you are guilty of the single worst play of the season. So far.
Next Week: The United Kingdom classifies NFL London game participants as seasonal migrant workers.