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The new ice age
The new ice age
A weekly look inside the team & the questions
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Tom Gannam/Associated Press
Denver Broncos coach Mike ShanahanThank Mike Shanahan for this new craze aimed at getting inside the kicker's mind.
So it took the NFL nearly half a century to truly embrace the forward pass and 100 years to adopt the two-point conversion. But what took the league coaches so long to come up with their latest innovation, the timeout-as-kick-goes-through-the-uprights?
Two years ago, the NFL finally allowed head coaches to call timeouts, but it took until this year for Mike Shanahan to show the way on how to really ice a kicker. The Denver coach called timeout just before the snap of the ball in which Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski kicked what appeared to be a winning 52-yard field goal.
Forced by the timeout to rekick, Janikowski missed, and Denver won.
Since then, the floodgates have opened and it is happening all over the NFL and college football, spawning fierce debates about whether the rule should be changed.
Thing is, it can be an advantage for a kicker to get a free practice swing, particularly in a swirling wind on the road -- think Heinz Field -- for opponents in December.
"Definitely," agreed kicker Jeff Reed. "And, if you miss it, it's great. But you can't go out and think like that, that's when it backfires on you."
In other words, kickers can't think the other coach will call a timeout before he kicks or that the other coach might be Mike Tomlin. He made it look as best he could along the sideline in Arizona that he was going to call a timeout before Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers lined up a 52-yard field-goal try on the last play of the first half.
"It worked, he missed," Tomlin said in jest. "I stood beside the official and said, 'I'm going to pretend like I'm calling a time out here.' And I didn't. Did it cause the guy to miss the kick? Probably not."
We'll see more and more of this unless it is forbidden with a new rule -- easy, don't allow the defense to call a timeout once the offense is set and the center's hands are on the football.
What everyone is missing here is the effect not so much on the kicker, but on the game itself and its fans. This is another case in which the fans rise up and celebrate a winning field goal or a miss in the closing seconds, only to be told it did not count. It is bad enough that sometimes they have to wait five or 10 minutes to learn if a touchdown were scored or not because of replay.
"They get all jacked up if it's a miss or a make, then have to do it again," Reed said. "I don't think it's fair at all. I think if the viewing audience on TV, if they can't see someone call a timeout, it shouldn't be legal."
The quirkiest rule
One of the least understood rules -- by players, fans and coaches -- is the one that permits anyone on a punt-receiving team to have a free shot with the football if it's touched but not downed by the punting team.
Fans -- I know, I received many e-mails about it -- thought Steelers punt-returner Allen Rossum was loony for breaking through a bunch of Seahawks to try to pick up a punted ball at the Steelers' 1 last week. What's crazy is not Rossum, but why more players don't do that.
A member of the Seahawks' punt team hit the ball without downing it. Once that happens, it's a free play for the punt-return team. If Rossum had picked the ball up, run 10 yards, fumbled it and Seattle recovered, it still would have been the Steelers' ball back where the Seahawks' player first touched it.
"There are no cons to that situation," Tomlin noted. "They touched the ball, and he gets the opportunity to take a shot at it. Nothing negative can happen."
Rossum and Tomlin both remember a game one year when Atlanta played Tampa Bay. Atlanta punted and, as the ball headed toward the end zone, Rossum leaped and swatted it back into play. A Buccaneers player -- Tomlin thought it was Dexter Jackson -- picked it up and ran it back for a long return.
It's a quirky rule, and punt-return teams should be more aware of it than they are, which means many coaches don't drive home that point.
Fans fast forward
Ike Taylor won the NFL defensive player of the week for his play last Sunday against Seattle. He had three passes defensed, five tackles and an interception.
Taylor acknowledged it was one of his best games.
Not that Taylor did not deserve the award, but he also benefited from the voting system. Fans did the voting online. Virtually any time a Steelers player is nominated for an award in which fans determine the winner, the Steelers' player will win.
It happened to Ben Roethlisberger his rookie season so much that those nominating him stopped doing so because they knew he always would win.
Steelers fans have that much voting power.
Last week, cornerback Roderick Hook of the Arizona Cardinals intercepted two passes and returned one for a 68-yard touchdown in his team's three-point win against the St. Louis Rams.
He had no chance to win the award against a Steelers candidate.