NFL Insider

Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Columnist
Tuesday, October 30, 2007; 11:00 AM

The Post's Mark Maske was online Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news from around the NFL.

A transcript follows.

Mark writes the NFL Insider blog, and is the author of the new book War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East.


Mark Maske: It seems like we just did this, since last week's chat got moved back to Thursday. But there still should be plenty to talk about, so let's get right to it.


Alexandria, Va.: Of course the Patriots ran up the score, but the Redskins didn't do much to respond and have little standing to complain after the fact. However, what's the inside skinny from other teams around the league about the risk he put his star players in by leaving them in so long? NFL players are professionals but they also have unchecked emotions sometimes and the next time a player feels he or his team is being "disrespected" maybe he just decides to take a shot and let the consequences be damned. Your thoughts?

Mark Maske: You would have to be pretty angry to take a cheap shot against a player the caliber of Tom Brady. There would be a huge fine and a tremendous public backlash. Even so, I don't understand why Bill Belichick would risk it.


Rochester, N.Y.: Why do you and all of the media continue to bash the Bills as a horrible team? They have played the hardest schedule of any team (even including the Jets twice, their opponents combined record is 28-23) and take away 20 seconds vs. Dallas would be 4-3 instead of 3-4. Now that they are not playing the "NFL elite" and are getting healthier, the defense is actually playing quite well with a lot of turnovers and stopping other teams. Don't be surprised if in a couple of weeks the Bills are actually in the playoff chase.

Mark Maske: I don't think I've bashed them as a horrible team. I have them at 21st in my rankings that will be posted on my blog at noon. That, to me, means they're a middle-of-the-road team. Had they won some of the games they should have won earlier in the season, particularly the Cowboys game, they'd be in even better shape. But let's not get carried away about them being in the playoff chase. You have to be one of the big boys to make the playoffs in the AFC.


Spring Valley, Ill.: How good are the Packers? Favre gets two weeks to get his head together, gets a running game and learns how to throw deep. Or the Packers have played teams that are hurt or hurting. Or is the NFC that bad?

Mark Maske: They're one of those teams where you shake your head after every game they win and ask yourself, "How in the world did they just win that?" I mean, last night you have Jay Cutler dropping the snap and fumbling when the Broncos are going in for a touchdown. You have a play call by the Broncos right before the tying field goal at the end of regulation that I just can't understand, and then the Packers win the toss and end the game one play into overtime. They're good. They're certainly not good enough to compete with the Patriots or Colts. I know they beat the Chargers early but I don't think they can beat the Chargers now that San Diego has its act together, and I don't think they're as good as the Steelers. But when you move down to that third tier, which includes the best of the NFC, they're as good as anyone. You have to put them in the conversation when you're talking about the best team in the J.V. conference.


D.C.: Is it possible to get an honest assessment of Bill Belichick without any bias, bashing or judgment? Is he truly a coaching marvel, and most important WHY? That's all I wanna know -- sans the drivel about his attire and bad attitude.

Mark Maske: Yes, he is a coaching marvel. He is able to get his players to buy completely what he is selling. He makes the tough decisions without flinching. He can X-and-O with anyone. No matter what you think about everything else, about the cheating scandal and about the running-up-the-score issue and about him personally, you must admit that the guy can flat-out coach football and you must appreciate that about him.


Alexandria, Va.: There has been talk about Clinton Portis not looking the same as he did a couple years ago. Is he still bothered by injuries or has he really lost a step? Will the coaches begin to give Betts more work or even move him into the starter role if the running game doesn't get more productive?

Mark Maske: Running backs don't last long in the NFL. The position simply takes its toll on your body. We may be seeing that. We may be seeing the effect of the injuries that the Redskins' offensive line has suffered. I'm not sure we know which one it really is, or which one it primarily is. It's probably a combination of the two. Betts certainly will get his carries, and if he shows that he can be more productive than Portis I would think you will see him getting more and more of the workload as the season progresses.


D.C.: So, are you saying it's okay to take a cheap shot at a player who is not as good as Tom Brady?

Mark Maske: I didn't say I thought it was okay to cheap-shot Tom Brady, or anyone else. I said that's the risk that Belichick is taking by leaving Brady in these games as long as he is, and I wouldn't take that risk. I said if you're an opposing player and that's the way you're considering retaliating, you would face quite a bit of scrutiny for doing that to Tom Brady, more than you would face if you did it to a quarterback with less stature.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think about Wilbon saying the 'Skins should have gone after Brady?

Mark Maske: I personally don't endorse that kind of on-field "justice." I think you would be lowering yourself to the level of your opponent. To me, you take your lumps and keep your mouth shut, and you get your revenge legally the next time you get your chance. It's like when I covered baseball and you'd see a pitcher throw at a hitter for breaking some unwritten rule of the game. I always thought it was silly and unnecessary and dangerous.


Midwest: What's the latest on Marvin Harrison's condition? Is his return key to a Colts win on Sunday?

Mark Maske: I would think he would play in this game. It seems like he was relatively close to being able to play this past weekend but the Colts didn't want to risk it. Certainly, you don't want to face the Patriots shorthanded.


San Francisco: In the junior varsity conference, who do you like better, Packers or Dallas? Are those the two to expect in the finals at this point?

Mark Maske: I think the Cowboys are the best team in the NFC right now. But I put the Giants right there along with the Packers next. And don't completely discount the Saints, who seem to be getting things together very quietly.


Good Honest Hits: What about what Wilbon was saying about Brady, why not take some honest but hard hits on him as the game goes on? It doesn't have to be a cheap shot to be a hard hit.

Mark Maske: You always try to do that, no matter what the score is. I think the issue we're debating here is if you're on defense and the Patriots are running up the score and Brady is still on the field, are you justified in taking a not-so-clean shot? I'm trying to say, and I hope I'm making it clear, that I don't personally endorse that but if you're the Patriots that's the risk you take by playing the game that way and having Brady on the field in that situation.


Santa Fe, N.M.: As much as it's bugged me, I do understand why everyone talks about the Colts and the Patriots on one tier and everyone else somewhere way below it, but let's not forget that by the time the playoffs come around some other teams will have been toughened up and every team will have some injury problems. So yeah, these two teams are totally dominant now, but a lot can (will) happen in the next nine weeks. It's not a done deal that these two will meet in the AFC finale or that either one will be a lock to win the Super Bowl against any NFC team.

Mark Maske: All true. But right now, there is a significant gap between those two teams and everyone else.


Virginia: Admiring Belichick is like admiring a boa is an awe-inspiring work, but you just don't want to get too close.

Mark Maske: Yes, it's less painful to admire Belichick from afar than from the other sideline during a game.


Oxford, Miss.: I'm relatively new to NFL fandom so please bear with me if this is a question that's been covered in depth already: what's up with the sudden death overtime rule? Seems kind of simplistic and unfair for the most popular professional sport in America, no? I was all excited last night to watch another fifteen minutes of the game and then sixteen seconds later it's over. Sure, Favre made a great play but they essentially won on a coin flip. At least give the other team one possession to tie it up, right? Is there a good reason for the sudden-death rule that I'm not getting?

Mark Maske: This has been debated at length by the owners and the members of the competition committee (in effect, the rules committee) the past few offseasons. Everyone, it seems, wants to change overtime but they can't agree on how to do it. There's not enough support for a rule change to ensure each team of at least one possession. No one wants to lengthen the game too much and increase the risk of injuries, and some like the excitement of sudden death. There was a proposal last offseason to have the team that kicks off in overtime move up five yards, the theory being that the team getting the ball would be, on average, five yards further back. There were statistics showing this would make the odds of winning the game by winning the overtime coin flip closer to 50-50, but the proposal didn't get enough votes. You'll see this issue continue to be debated until they come up with a solution that can get enough votes to be ratified. In the last few years, the team that wins the coin flip has won a little more than 60 percent of the overtime games.


Anonymous: Hey, Mark. Just finished "War Without Death" and loved it.

What are the feelings around the league regarding Saunders and Gibbs? My wife is a Chiefs fan and having watched the Chiefs when Saunders was the OC there, it is clear to me that he is not truly the offensive coordinator here. He's running completely different plays and not attacking vertically. The offense the 'Skins are currently running seems to be the same offense they were running before Saunders got here. Max-protect, one and two receiver routes, wide-receiver screens. Am I crazy or has nothing really changed since Joe hired Saunders? Thanks.

Mark Maske: Yes, this offense seems to be some sort of mixture of a Saunders offense and a Gibbs offense. The idea is to take the best elements of both and blend them, since they're both based in the Don Coryell system. At the moment, it doesn't really seem to be working. I will always believe that Gibbs never should have brought in Saunders, that he should have just stuck with what he was doing the year after they reached the second round of the playoffs.


Belichick is not a snake...: he is just a coach who WINS, contrary to so many other coaches out there. Deal with it. I am a Dolphins fan, so I hate the Pats. But I know greatness when I see it.

Belichick also is someone who knows that giving up too much information (i.e., to the media), works against his team, not for it. And finally, I don't recall anyone whining about the '99 Rams or any of the countless other successful/dominant NFL teams running up the score?

Mark Maske: He is a coach who wins who also was punished by the commissioner for willfully and systematically breaking the rules when it comes to fair on-field competition. That's the part of the equation that you're leaving out. People are going to come to different conclusions about how much that matters in their bottom-line evaluations of Belichick, but you can't simply disregard it.


Bowie, Md.: Gotta disagree with the "newbie" on OT ... Favre's pass was the perfect ending, exciting, daring and well-executed. It's the danged field goals to end OT that seem dull and unsatisfying. Except for the winners of course.

Mark Maske: That's the excitement factor that many in the league don't want to give up. The problem is trying to figure out how to balance that with the competitive issue of making sure that winning a coin flip doesn't all but guarantee winning the game.


Worcester, Mass.: I don't remember anyone complaining about running up the score when the Rams were the Greatest Show on Turf or when Manning was going for 49 TDs.

The old Gibbs scored some points on teams too.

Maybe if the Washington DBs hadn't talked so much all week BB would have taken it easier on them.

New England has always looked for slights and disrespect and the most of the league has never understood the motivation that gives them.

The comments after Cameragate were manna from heaven for NE Pats coaches; like Freddie Mitchell before the SB with the Eagles.

And pick No. 32 is a small price to pay if it means another Super Bowl win. Plus they have the 49ers' first-round pick currently No. 5?].

Was that too much?

Mark Maske: No. There you go. I've let you make your points.


As a Pats fan...: I know where I stand on this weekend's upcoming game vs. Indy, what are your thoughts? Thanks!

Mark Maske: I hope we see a great and competitive game. The more I see of the Patriots, the more I wonder if anyone can stay in a game with them, even the Colts.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Mark;

Love your work, and your book on the 2006 NFC East (even though as a 'Skins fan I generally want to forget that year).

As someone who's seen the organization closer-up than most of us, do you think there's any chance Snyder will finally do the right thing and hire a strong GM -- and let the GM have the requisite power to allow him to do his job the right way?

Mark Maske: If Gibbs wants a general manager, he'll get one. But I don't see Gibbs relinquishing that power, so I don't see it happening while he's the coach.


D.C.: Does the QB switch for the Jets help or hurt the 'Skins chances next week?

Mark Maske: To me, the most dangerous the Jets have looked on offense all season came late in that Ravens game with Kellen Clemens playing quarterback. They had a very good chance to win that game, and might have done it if his receivers had not dropped some well-thrown passes. Even so, I think the Redskins will win this game.


20008: What's the word coming out of London about the game? Everybody was saying "wait 'til Monday" to see the reaction. While I love the Giants, I have to admit that I slept off my post-Halloween celebration hangover from halftime to about the middle of the 4th quarter because that was one boring game.

Mark Maske: The NFL inflicted the Dolphins on the rest of the world. But really, this was about selling the product in other places globally, and the NFL seemed to do that with pretty good success in London for this game.


Reston, Va.: Who's going to win the power struggle going on in Atlanta? The players or Petrino?

Mark Maske: I would say Petrino. The Falcons have invested quite a bit of money in him, and he's going to get more than one season to get things done.


Mark Maske: Thanks for the questions, everyone. It was lively this week, for sure. See you right here next week.


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