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Victory formation is knee-deep in controversy

Victory formation is knee-deep in controversy

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New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning #10 takes a knee and Tampa Bay Buccaneers try to break through in the final seconds in the second half when the New York Jets played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, September 16, 2012 at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. New York Giants won 41-34.

The victory formation essentially is football's ultimate display of dominance.

In the dying moments of a game, the offense casually strolls to the line of scrimmage and assumes the unique configuration - two tight ends, two running backs hovering closely on each side of the quarterback and a lone patrolman a few yards behind him.

The outcome is a foregone conclusion. The quarterback takes the snap and kneels down.

The offense has declared the game over, and it doesn't need any more plays, thank you. "We always say it's the best play in football," Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said, "because you know if you're in that formation you did something right to win."

After a week of strategizing and preparation, after all the stress and then after 59 minutes or so of head-to-head competition, there's nothing left to do but watch the clock fade away.

"You just look at the other team, and they know it," former NFL head coach Herm Edwards said. As a player, Edwards pulled off the Miracle at the Meadowlands, returning a fumble for a deadline touchdown that made the victory formation mandatory henceforth.

"The victory formation means 'We gotcha,'" Edwards said. "And it's a wonderful feeling. Trust me."

The gratification isn't mutual for the defensive players who must line up against it.

"You've lost the game, and you're not in the happiest place," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "Nobody wants to be there.

"You know they're killing the ball. You just have to eat it."

The victory formation, because it signals a game ostensibly is finished, long has been an afterthought. When it appears on television, grab the remote. When it happens on the field in front of you, head for the exit.

But the victory formation has been a hot NFL topic over the past week.

First-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano created a stir by ordering his defensive linemen to aggressively lunge for the ball while the New York Giants tried to kneel out the clock. A pileup knocked quarterback Eli Manning to the turf and led to a profanity-laced argument between Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and Schiano on the field.

"If I'm a player," Edwards said, "I look at that and go, 'Really, man? Come on.' And I'm one that always preaches you play until the whistle blows. But common sense comes into it."

Bills receiver Stevie Johnson summed up the situation with an incredulous laugh.

"The victory formation is just that," Johnson said. "We won already. Give up."

STATS Inc. researched the victory formation - also known as the genuflect offense or kneel-down offense - and found NFL teams have used it about 300 times a year from 2000 through 2011. There were no fumbles, no quarterback knockdowns and no quarterback hurries.

That's because at the sight of the victory formation, defensive players historically turn into pacifists. Schiano justified his tactics throughout the week. When he was head coach at Rutgers University, his players actually came up with a couple of fumbles.

The Bills this afternoon will face a quarterback who fumbled away a victory-formation play in college. Cleveland Browns rookie Brandon Weeden, playing with a sprained thumb for Oklahoma State in 2010, lost an under-center snap against Troy.

The victory formation - a kneel-down play with maximum fumble protection - became a coaching staple after Edwards' unbelievable touchdown gave the Philadelphia Eagles a victory over the Giants in November 1978.

CBS Sports rolled its credits. Play-by-play announcer Don Criqui of Kenmore thanked viewers for tuning in. The Giants led, 17-12, and had the ball with less than 30 seconds to play. The Eagles had no timeouts. All Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik had to do was kneel.

But one play earlier, Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey (South Dayton) bowled a Giants lineman backward into Pisarcik in hopes of causing a fumble. To protect Pisarcik, the Giants called for a handoff to finish the game.

Running back Larry Csonka rejected the decision and wouldn't take the ball when Pisarcik pivoted around. The ball hit Csonka's hip and fell to the ground. Edwards scooped up the fumble and dashed 26 yards with nobody between him and the goal line.

"Back then, there was no victory formation," Edwards said. "The next week after the fumble, we started putting a player behind the quarterback in case there's a fumble. Everybody around the league started to do it."

Some teams will put a defensive player, perhaps a safety with decent hands, behind the quarterback. The Bills maintain their offensive personnel, putting Johnson behind Fitzpatrick.

"I'll stop somebody if I have to," Johnson said. "I'll try to. I'll do whatever I can to get the 'W.'"

The rest of the Bills' victory formation includes their normal offensive line plus tight ends Scott Chandler and Lee Smith. Fullback Corey McIntyre stands to Fitzpatrick's right. C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson stands to Fitzpatrick's left.

Against a victory formation, defenses assume a fourth-and-1 alignment.

For the quarterback, the mission is simple.

"You've got to make sure you get a solid snap and get down," Bills backup Brad Smith said.

Teams do practice the victory formation, frequently ending their walkthroughs the day before a game with it as a psychological statement.

"We say, 'Let's get in this formation this weekend. Let's make sure we're taking a knee at the end of the game,'" Fitzpatrick said.

The Bills have used the victory formation sparsely under Chan Gailey. They've had the opportunity only four times. Gailey twice got to call for kneel-downs to end seven-game losing streaks, once after he began his Bills tenure 0-7 and most recently to close out the Denver Broncos in Week 16 last year.

Quarterback protection is an important facet. NFL Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1-c states: "An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended when a quarterback immediately drops to his knee (or simulates dropping to his knee) behind the line of scrimmage."

Beyond that, however, the victory formation is not addressed in the NFL rulebook.Marty Schottenheimer, the former Bills linebacker who ranks sixth on the all-time coaching victories list, called the Giants-Buccaneers controversy "a paradox."

"On the one hand," Schottenheimer said from his home in Norman Lake, N.C., "I have to say to those guys on offense, 'Hey, there's still time left on the clock, and the ball is being snapped. So you have to be in position to protect yourself.' It's a legitimate play.

"I don't particularly like what was done by the defense, but I don't think you can chastise or criticize what was done. It's a play in the game."

Edwards took a more Machiavellian approach to dealing with the Buccaneers' unusual aggression.

Edwards didn't like that there were five seconds left and Schiano still had a timeout when he told his players to undercut the Giants' offensive line. So was Schiano trying to win the game or just set a tone?

"If you're the opposing coach, you can fake the kneel-down and throw a pass to the tight end over the middle running down for a 50-yard touchdown pass," Edwards said. "Then the other coach gets upset because you rubbed it in.

"Or because the play is going to happen in the guard box and over center, you can tell your tight end 'You know that defensive end who's not in the play? He's a good player. I want you to go at his knee.' Then you tear the guy's knee up on a play that's supposed to kill the clock."

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wondered if kneel-downs should be eliminated and recalled how former Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt unsuccessfully proposed rules that would force teams to try to advance the ball or be penalized.

Schottenheimer, who coached the Chiefs for nine seasons under Hunt, scoffed at that idea.

"The offense has earned the right to do whatever they choose," Schottenheimer said. "They've put themselves in that position and are entitled. That's the rule of the game. "As for the defense, I'm in that situation why? Because I failed to execute at some other point in time in the course of the game, and I'm out of luck."


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