Paranoia swept the blogosphere this morning, as word spread like wildfire that ESPN had told the Jaguars and Titans to use their timeouts at the end of a blowout to get more commercial breaks. Great story. Too bad it's not true.
Jack Del Rio did indeed use a couple of timeouts after the two-minute warning, with his team down 20. It backfired, with the Jags turning it over on downs and Chris Johnson breaking for a score that made his fantasy owners very happy.
After the game, Jeff Fisher had this to say about the unusual timeouts:
Jack used his timeouts. My understanding is they needed network timeouts, and that's why Jack used his timeouts. They came over and asked me to do it, but I said, 'I was hoping to get a first down and kneel on it.'
That quote spread like wildfire. Predictably, without context. In the original TitanInsider article, the quote is prefaced with this: "When it was over, Fisher joked a bit about the situation."
One beat writer who was there for Fisher's little quip says it was clear he was joking, and was needling Del Rio for trying to extend the game, only to have it backfire on him with another Titans score. Terry McCormick, the TitanInsider reporter, also confirms Fisher was just having fun at Del Rio's expense.
I know we all wanted to believe this story. I know it totally jibes with our image of ESPN as some looming Big Brother, pulling the strings of actual on-field action. But let's make sure little things like facts continue to get in the way of our conspiracy theories.
Maybe Jeff Fisher just shouldn't make jokes anymore.
UPDATE: The plot thickens. Fisher clarified his remarks, stating that at the two-minute warning, he and Del Rio were informed how many time outs each had remaining, and how many TV timeouts short the game was. The way he spoke of it, he makes it sound like standard practice (and not something from ESPN on high). But we've never heard of it; we're asking around today to find out more.