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The Onside Kick Is Dead. Here’s How To Fix It.

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Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday during the NFL season. Email Drew here. Buy his book here.

Football games don’t have to end like this. Last year in the NFL, only four onside kicks were recovered all season long, down from 12 in 2017 (with Miami having recovered four of them on their own!). So far this year, no team has recovered one. Two weeks ago, the Colts were down to the Raiders with just 70 seconds left to play. They had all three timeouts left. With that in mind, Frank Reich elected to kick away and hope his defense could stop the Raiders on successive plays. And really, it was the only choice he had. Reich isn’t a dinosaur. He didn’t eschew the onside kick because he was being too conservative. He was simply following the math to its logical end. Thanks to formation restrictions and other safety implementations, the NFL has made it impossible to recover an onside kick, so why bother to attempt one?

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Every year, some game ends in a tie, or some other overtime game ends abruptly because one team failed to get a possession in the extra period. And whenever it happens, NFL pundits go apeshit, demanding that the NFL fix overtime in a way that’s fair but not too communistic, fun but not too gimmicky, and results in a definite winner and loser. Meanwhile, close endings in every OTHER game have been hamstrung by the onside kick being murdered. What’s more, the idea of pulling off a SURPRISE onside kick—as the Saints did to deliriously great effect in their Super Bowl upset of the Manning-era Colts—has essentially been stricken from the playbook. This sucks because it’s fun to watch an NFL team risk its ass attempting one at a random moment, particularly when it’s some big road dog attempting to steal away a possession because they already know that they’re overmatched.

This is a crisis. You know about all the visible hindrances to exciting gameplay. We’ve got PI challenges that are rendered futile before the official has even finished jogging back from his little peep show booth. We’ve got the yellow FLAG graphic right there to tell everyone, “Sit back down. This wasn’t anything.” We’ve got 600 quarterbacks hurt: their mangled limbs hanging off the side of the injury cart, with rats skittering over to take a nibble.

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But here is an invisible deletion that has robbed every game of a potentially rambunctious ending, and stripped underdogs of a vital tool in their little emergency comeback kits.

In a way, getting rid of the onside kick is FAIR. If you’re down 10 points with two minutes to go, tough shit. You got yourself into this mess. You’re gonna lose fair and square. But I’m not here for what’s fair. FUCK fair. I’m here to be entertained. And I am not entertained by a two-score game being rendered a formality in the twilight of the fourth quarter. I am here for ACTION. I want the onside kick back the way it was. The way the rules used to be, the onside kick was still risky, but they at least left open the tiniest of loopholes to allow for a miracle every now and then. I like miracles in my sports. That’s why I fucking watch them.

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The NFL has paid cursory attention to this crisis, even going so far as to consider replacing the onside kick with a fourth-and-15 play from your own 35-yard line. But that idea never got out of development hell, and thus we are stuck, as we are every season, watching games that are a constant work in progress as the NFL lumbers toward a utopian rulebook somewhere in the distance that will make everything fair and perfect.

I don’t need dramatic fixes here. This is not gonna be a listicle of off-the-wall proposals to replace the onside kick with something that’s safer but also more dazzling. I want what I had. I want nervous hands teams. I want kickers going into the laboratory and experimenting with the Rabona, conspiring with special teams coaches to get the maximum amount of both bounce and chaos from drubbing a ball off the turf. I want that split second of doubt where someone falls on the ball but you can’t tell who did until the refs have untangled players from the hogpile.

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And the way you do this is simple. You move the receiving team back.

That’s it. The rule now is that the receiving team must be 10 yards off the ball prior to kickoff. The rules also state that the kickoff has to travel 10 yards and hit the ground before it’s a live ball that can be recovered by the kicking team. Without cluster formations, unbalanced formations, and other dangerous wrinkled permitted, that setup reduces current onside kick attempts to a simple handoff, with the kicker forced to boot a 10-yarder directly into enemy hands.

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So move the receiving team back another five yards. They gotta start 15 yards away, which gives the kicker a chance to dribble the pigskin into the tiniest of openings before the hands team can get there. The team in front would still be at a massive advantage to recover the ball, seeing as how the kicking team would still have to run twice as far to get to that spot. But at least there’d be SOME chance to recover. That’s all I ask. I don’t need it to be 50/50. I just need there to be enough of a chance that it’s WORTH trying every so often.

Would this make onside kickoffs more dangerous? I guess. But look, they already neutered kickoffs to the point where no one even bothers taking them out of the end zone anymore. And I already know what this game, in total, does to players and I still watch. It doesn’t matter if the NFL does some shit that makes the sport .05 percent less or .05 percent more “safe,” if such things can even be properly quantified. What matters is that onside kicks fucking suck right now. If the NFL can’t sort out an easy, not-terribly-dramatic way of restoring them to their proper place in the sport, then they should just scrap the kickoff altogether and be done with it.

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The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.

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Five Throwgasms

Texans at Chiefs: The other night the Colts went for it on fourth down against Kansas City and the SNF crew had a Next Gen Stats graphic ready that showed the success rate going for it in that situation and, if I remember correctly, whether or not it increased the Colts’ win probability versus punting (it did, and Indy converted, and then went on to win). This graphic should be posted on every fourth down on every game on every network. Same with two-point conversions. For decades now, fans have had to blindly trust a fucking color guy’s judgment in these situations, which almost always amounts to, “I’d punt it away here, Joe,” with no evidence backing him up.

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The NFL is a television entity first and foremost, which means that the game follows TV’s lead more often than vice versa. Even the replay process is dependent on network camera angles. Thanks to that SNF graphic, and to common sense, both Collinsworth and Al Michaels confidently approved of Reich’s decision to go for it. When the announcers start approving of such calls and stop framing them as risky (the punt was the risky move there), that helps ease the stigma of going for it and failing. And it relieves coaches of having to explain WHY they went for it on fourth down, or on a 2-point conversion.

John Harbaugh had to explain this to reporters, and did so convincingly, after the Ravens lost to Kansas City three weeks ago. But he never should have had to. His trademark pissiness in that postgame conference was warranted for once in his life. Put a fucking graphic up so that the fans and the press and the general football culture fall in line. It will legitimately inspire more coaches to go for it, and it’ll direct scrutiny toward them when they puss out.

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Niners at Rams: I’ve been watching the baseball playoffs and someone on TV or radio noted that giving up a solo home run in a playoff game is survivable. It’s something you can shrug off as an anomaly before getting back to the business of working through a half-inning. You can’t do that with a three-run shot or a grand slam. And you know what? They’re right. Solo home runs are fucking annoying like that. I do not subscribe to the rockhead take that home runs are rally killers, but a solo home run feels like a fucking waste. You hit the ball out and you only got a single run out of it? Horrible.

(Watches the Nats launch two solo dingers to tie the Dodgers in the eighth)

Actually, scratch all that. Solo homers are sufficiently effective.

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Four Throwgasms

Giants at Patriots: I saw Angie Harmon in a LifeLock ad the other night and thought to myself, “Hey, I haven’t thought about that lady in a while. I wonder what she’s up to!” Well, she’s apparently doing LifeLock ads. I guess life is just that boring when you’re divorced from Jason Sehorn and you have $40 million rotting away in a hedge fund somewhere.

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Lions at Packers

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Three Throwgasms

Eagles at Vikings: One of these teams is gonna turn out to be a fraud. You can probably already guess which one of them it’s gonna be, but I think the outcome of this game will essentially solidify their fraud-itude from here on out. EXCITING!

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Saints at Jaguars: I don’t think Nick Foles should get his job back. Gardner Minshew’s start isn’t a fluke. He’s completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has only thrown one pick. His touch on mid-range passes is the kinda shit that makes me wanna spray a bottle of Andre all over the TV room. He’s legit. Exiling him back to the bench at this point would be both irresponsible and boring. Like the rest of the internet, I require more Minshew in my life.

This is a perfectly Jaguars situation because they had a defense that took them to the AFC title game just two years ago. All they needed was decent quarterbacking to finish the canvas. So what happens? They extend Blake Bortles, cut Blake Bortles, stuff $50 million into Nick Foles’s Chippendales thong, and piss off their best corner to the point where he’s concocted 57 different reasons to not play for them the past few weeks. In the midst of all this, they stumble bass ackwards into a fucking RAY OF LIGHT in the sixth round: the kind of dirt cheap rookie quarterbacking talent that opens up a sudden championship window for the length of their contract. Now their defense sucks and they’re on the hook for over $16 million in dead Bortles money and even more in live Foles money. The Jags ruined Gardner Minshew before Doug Marrone even had a chance to. I feel cheated.

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Panthers at Bucs (London): Early-morning game! I’m gonna make popovers to celebrate.

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Two Throwgasms

Seahawks at Browns: The Giants won their trades with Cleveland. Right now, Odell Beckham Jr. is averaging fewer yards per game than he has in any other season he’s played in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Giants got Jabrill Peppers, who is quickly blossoming into a stud. They also got draft picks that became Dexter Lawrence and Oshane Ximines, both of whom have contributed immediately to an otherwise shoddy defense. Plus, they got guard Kevin Zeitler from the Browns in exchange for Olivier Vernon. I was like everyone else in believing that the Giants essentially gave Odell away for nothing, all because he had been a naughty boy. I was ready to point at laugh at Dave Gettleman because he handed a final championship piece to a team that went 7-8-1 a season ago.

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And you know what? These Browns may finish with a worse record than they did that year. They may not even be as good as the Giants are right now. They can’t pass block for shit. They can’t defend the run at all. Their coach is a glorified Sonic manager. And Baker Mayfield has been fucking atrocious. You know who has a better passer rating, completion percentage, and TD:INT ratio than Baker right now? Daniel Jones. I feel like a fucking idiot. Dave Gettleman is gonna turn out to be Mike Lombardi but with a credible resume. I should go back to drinking.

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One Throwgasm

Steelers at Chargers: This is where I remind myself that the Chargers went 12-4 last season with a core of players not terribly different from the current lineup that just blew a game at home to a winless Broncos outfit. Yes, they have a Civil War battle’s worth of injuries, but they always have those. They still have Marmalard and Joey Bosa, but that hasn’t stopped them from reverting to deserved irrelevance.

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This is right around the time of the season where it becomes clear that a team—or even a unit within that team—isn’t what it was the season prior, even if the players are the same. This is when the old Parcells axiom of carryover being an illusion is proven to be true.

In my mind, the Chargers still have an incredibly balanced offensive attack, the way they did a year ago. They do not. In my mind, the Bengals still have a shockingly productive passing offense (No. 1 a year ago!). They no longer have that. In my mind, Baker Mayfield is a stud. He, uh, has some work to do. All these teams are in the process of establishing all NEW stereotypes that will then be rendered obsolete a year from now. So for the present moment, I’m gonna sit back and take comfort in knowing that it has now been firmly established that both the Chargers and Steelers, this year, suck.

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Bengals at Ravens: I took my son to a D.C. United game last week against FC Cincinnati and I took a photo of this banner out of sheer appreciation:

Why I never
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Cincinnati played with just nine men for the entire second half and United could still only manage a 0-0 out of it, so that was neat. For the entire first half of that game, no one sat in the row in front of us. I could put my feet up! LUXURY. Then some pair of dad jeans sat in front of me for the second half, forcing me to put my feet back on the ground like a common PEASANT. This guy spent the whole second half standing up in the Mike McCarthy pose: mouth agape, hands outstretched, searching for answers he’d never get. He deserved that tie. Him and his dad jeans.

Skins at Dolphins: Miami could win this game! Then we’d have ourselves a NEW king of the shitheap. And it would be the Skins! FUCKING SWEET!

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Titans at Broncos

Cowboys at Jets

Falcons at Cardinals

Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“Phantom Limbs,” by Debt Neglector! Debt Neglector? Hey, that describes me perfectly. Here’s reader Scott:

I mean really, if you don’t want to take on a wall by the first chorus, something is wrong with you. Old school punk in an old school package. As someone who likes Husker Du, I can almost guarantee you’ll love these guys. One album and a new EP that’s out in a few weeks. From their Facebook page:

“Band Interests: Hating nazis and white supremacists, complaining about the evils of the capitalistic systems that are destroying our society, healthcare, and quality of life. Snacks.”

Can’t go wrong with that.

Truly, you cannot. I’m very high on their Snacks platform. That’s my top issue as a voter. By the way, I am unreasonably picky about my punk rock. Like, I don’t wanna listen to punk played by some band that deliberately refuses to learn how to play their instruments because that would be conforming to THE MAN. Most of the time, I judge punk strictly by asking myself, “Hey, does this sound close enough to regular rock for me to enjoy?” With Debt Neglector, that answer is an enthusiastic yes.

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By the way, one time years and years I was watching a Behind The Music on Green Day, because I was bored. And they were like, “Actually, recording ‘Time Of Your Life’ was the PUNKEST thing we could do!” I still like that song, but that’s fucking hilarious. If the most punk thing is to not be punk, then the most punk shit of all is, like, Barry Manilow.

Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week

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You know, I never expected the Chinese government to occupy this space, but I suppose I should have.

“We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in a statement. “We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

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What’s so deeply fucked is how many businesses outside of China, ESPN included, are more than happy to accept such terms. Even Marco Rubio is appalled by this series of developments, and Marco Rubio doesn’t even know how to wipe his own ass.

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This was the inevitable end point of people standing firm on the idea that the freedom of speech doesn’t extend to the workplace. Well, what happens when your boss does business somewhere where there IS no freedom of speech? This is what happens. Anyone who thinks this is a fine way of doing business, and there are such people out there, are shitheads. Unfortunately, those are the same kind of people who happen to control the bulk of the American job market. So that’s depressing. Excited for this site to get sold to Alibaba a year from now.

Magic Johnson’s Lock Of The Week: Niners +3.5

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“China is one of my Top 60 economies in the world! So honored to have visited the Land of The Far East just last year to tour the inside of an Alibaba packing facility and have a sumptuous dinner with their CFO, Maggie Wu! If China ever starts going heavy into business, LOOK OUT!”

2019 Magic record: 2-3

Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death

Mike Evans. Fuck you, Mike Evans. Mike Evans is the kind of player who will score 12 touchdowns in a season and have all of those touchdowns come in, like, three games. He is a fantasy scratch ticket. I hate him. He deserves to have Jameis be his QB for life.

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Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!

Bathtub Refinishers. From Chico, CA! Here’s Brandon:

This weird and crappy jingle hasn’t changed in 20 years. It’s been so thoroughly implanted into my brain that my last deathbed utterance will be, “we’ll put your sink back in the pink.”

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And now it shall be mine as well. We’ll put your sink back in the pink. What in the living fuck? Is that a shocker reference? Anyway, I thought Cialis had the market cornered on distressing ads featuring people in bathtubs. I was mistaken.

Fire This Asshole!

Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2019 chopping block:

Jay Gruden—FIRED!
Doug Marrone
Dan Quinn*********
Ron Rivera
Pat Shurmur
Mike Tomlin
Adam Gase*********
Brian Flores
Freddie Kitchens
Mike Zimmer
Zac Taylor
Mike Vrabel
Anthony Lynn
(*—possible midseason firing)

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Jay Gruden’s firing was an odd letdown because everyone knew it was coming and it took longer for Dan Snyder to pull the trigger than Dan usually takes. For a real adrenaline charge, I need a SUDDEN firing. I need to Freddie Kitchens completely blindsided by a Week 10 ouster. That’s when the firing is at its juiciest.

In other doomed first-year coaches, the Jets are so bad now that they’re disappointing even non-fans like myself. No one will ever be able to explain why this team hired Adam Gase. Not even the people who hired him. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not 20 years from now. It’s such a profound waste. Sam Darnold’s spleen deserved better than this.

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Great Moments In Grandpa History

Reader Scot sends in this story I call GARDEN OF BREEDIN’:

I was at my grandparents house, and got recruited to help till the garden. My grandfather and I are out in the garden, digging away with shovels. It is a nice spring day, and we’re doing physical labor. I’m in my shirtsleeves, and Grandpa has on his winter coat.

Hey Grandpa, I say, why are you wearing your winter coat? He responds, “It’s going to get down to 30 tonight.”

You cannot argue with Grandpa logic.

I can’t, but did he expect YOU to help in the garden that long? Because that’s prison labor.

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Gametime Snack Of The Week

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Whiskey pillows! Everyone goofed on Glenlivet for introducing scotch pods to the world but all those same yuksters will also try them. Not only that, we’re gonna see booze pods for EVERY product out there within a year. There’ll be vodka pods, wine pods, Bud Light Kumquat pods… everything. This is because of the novelty, but more important: BIG ALCOHOL knows that alkies need to sneak booze into and onto things, and those little airplane bottles aren’t always up to the task. What better way to secret a fifth of Jameson into Yankee stadium than by hiding them inside your rectum and then yanking them out like anal beads? It’s foolproof.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

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Edison Light. Bear with reader Andy on this. This is a long explanation but still well worth imbibing:

During college and for a while afterwards I worked in a neighborhood package store with a bunch of my buddies. It was the best job ever; you sat around making up stupid games 90% of the time, got cash at the end of the night, and could buy booze at cost on credit till your next shift. The only downside was that neighborhood drunks are absolutely the worst people in the world. But your soul gets hardened to that pretty fast. When we found the bum who lived in the woods behind the store dead in the parking lot, the only response from the crew was jealousy that they weren’t the ones who got to poke him with a stick to see if he was still alive.

Sometimes we would luck into a great deal. The store owner would help out the salesmen by buying a bunch of whatever new product they were trying to promote, with the understanding that if it flopped he would be taken care of. So one day the back of the store was filled with about 30 cases of Edison Light beer, not a single one of which sold. After a few months the distributor wrote it off and credited the store under the condition that under absolutely no circumstances were they taking the beer back. So for the princely sum of $1.20 a case (which was only the deposit on the bottles), we trucked 30 cases of Edison Light to the basement of our buddy’s condo in the family minivan and celebrated our good fortune.

Our joy was short lived. The problem with having a ton of terrible beer is that people stop drinking it when they figure out that it is terrible. Everyone was excited at first but then realized they were drinking beer that tasted like Bud Light filtered through a gym sock with a lemon and then left out in the sun for a few days. But I couldn’t let a deal like that go and drank it every time I went over for about 18 months straight until I started to wonder if a beer could give you colon cancer. I think my buddy threw the last case and a half out about ten years later when he moved. As always, be careful what you wish for.

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I too wish I could poke a dead vagrant with a stick.

Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Week!

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“People are coming to me all week saying, Oh we’re so sorry about your boss. I only have one boss, okay? That’s Honolulu Lou. Lou scrapes barnacles off of local piers and sells them to tourists at a profit. We’re talking big money here. I made eight bucks doing scrape jobs for Lou in just one day. That man’s never going out of business, which means I never will either.”

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Dolphins Fans

The Parent Trap. This is the remake, featuring Lindsay Lohan back when she was a child actor (and a remarkably talented one, at that). It’s also a Nancy Meyers movie, which means that every character in it is insanely rich and lives in meticulously appointed homes straight out of an Architectural Digest spread. It also means that the plot of what is ostensibly a family film hinges on Dennis Quaid getting hoodwinked by a potentially wicked stepmother strictly because she’s a fantastic lay. So if you’re either 12 OR 46 years old, this is the movie for you. It’s for exactly no one else.

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Also, the story is about twin sisters who never knew they were twins because they were split up in a divorce and their parents NEVER saw each other again. I’ve had friends whose parents have divorced. But I’ve never heard of divorced parents pulling an ICE and preventing two siblings from ever seeing each other again, let alone KNOWING the other existed. As others have pointed out, this is fucked! In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that this was the movie that introduced Lohan to the universe. Now she hosts club events in Mykonos or something.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“And the Lord said, ‘whack ye all the serpents which crawl on their bellies and thy town shall be a beacon unto others.’ So you see Lisa, even God himself endorses Whacking Day.”

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Enjoy the games, everyone.

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About the author

Drew Magary

Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and columnist for GEN magazine. You can buy Drew's second novel, The Hike, through here.