- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Big Ben, so named by Atlanta Coach Leeman Bennett "because it's a beat-the-clock play," takes advantage of a 1978 rule change that allows a receiver to tap a bail to a teammate. On this play, three wide receivers flood a deep area downfield, and the quarterback throws into the mob and hopes for the deflection. In 1978 Atlanta used Big Ben to pull out two games in the final moments against New Orleans in the regular season and against Philadelphia in the playoffs. Big Ben also helped Buffalo beat the Jets last year. The Eagles have another name for the play: Geronimo. Harold Carmichael, who stands 6'8", races downfield, rises like a Colossus and tries some volleyball with a teammate.
"It's ugly football," Walsh says. "It's no way to win a game. That rule is one of the least attractive in football. But it's there, so you can't ignore it. If you become preoccupied with it, though, you're playing a game of chance. And you can't build a program through chance."
Like most things in the NFL, you build a program through the draft. Or, as Staubach says of Two-Minute Football, "The key to it is playing on a team that's drafted a lot of big-play people." Bum Phillips disagrees mildly. "The key," he says, "is playing good the other 58 minutes so you won't need a two-minute offense."
For his part, Al Davis says, "You have to know the rules and know the clock, and I don't think a lot of people do. I've seen the quarterback throw the ball out of bounds to kill the clock, and everyone starts screaming 'intentional grounding.' But it's not. It's grounding only when he's doing it to escape the sack. I've seen teams call time and line up for a field goal with eight to 10 seconds left when they could've run another play. If I'm on the other guy's two-yard line with five seconds to go, I can throw a pass in four seconds and still have one second left to get my field-goal team on the field. That is, if the pass is incomplete. If it's not incomplete, it should be a touchdown; you must make sure that every receiver is over the goal line. There are no checkoff receivers at a time like that.
"Ken Stabler can complete a 10-to 15-yard pass, turn to the official and call time-out—and only six seconds will have run off. A 30-yard completion downfield takes 10 seconds, and if you've called two plays in the huddle, it will take another seven to 10 seconds to put the ball in play again. If you complete that pass and call a time-out, it's another 10 seconds. But you can run up and throw the ball away, and the whole thing has taken only 12 seconds—and you've saved a timeout. Those are the things a quarterback and a coach have to know, or they're going into the game unprepared."
On the other side of it, Levy keeps a chart showing how much time you can reasonably hope to eat up when you're sitting on a lead. If the other team is out of time-outs, you can milk two minutes off the clock with three downs and a punt, 1:25 if they have one time-out left, 50 seconds if they have two, and only 20 seconds if they have all three and can stop the clock after each play. So, if you're behind, it pays to use your time-outs when the other team has the ball.
Like it or not, the clock is always there, the ever-present host at the two-minute party, the eternal policeman. "You can get far more done in a short time than you think," Walsh says. "One, two, three seconds, that's not important. The key is your ability to function under the pressure of the clock, to function when you're running more than one play from a single huddle. And I don't mean a simple play; I mean something complex. You must be able to play in a relaxed manner, without high anxiety and a hysterical approach."
What's a hysterical approach? According to Levy, it's immediately resorting to crazy stuff, to gimmicks. "Trick plays seldom work in the last two minutes," he says. "People are more wary of them. You won't find flea-flickers being used."
"Repeats kill you, too," Walsh says. "It doesn't pay to fall back on a big play that worked earlier. The defense will make you think it's there again, and they'll trap you. People are smart in the NFL. It's not just a wild game we're playing out there, with people slashing through each other."
To the cold-eyed quarterback, the last two minutes of the first half can be even more important than the final two of the game. Dawson says, "If you score at the end of the first half, you can use it to set up something else at the end. Once when we were playing Oakland, I was throwing quick outs [sideline passes] to stop the clock at the end of the first half. I told Dennis Homan, 'Run a quick out and up,' a takeoff pattern, on Willie Brown. Willie liked to gamble on those outs. He did, and we beat him on the play. That kept Willie loose in the final two minutes of the game. It's like getting caught running a bluff in a poker game. It could be a good thing for you, if you've got any money left."