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And Another Thing

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NFL: That old college try

And you thought Vince Lombardi was rattling around some celestial sideline these days, shaking his fist at Tom Landry and wondering why the heck the heavenly host was always grab-grab-grabbin' out there and not tacklin'.

Silly you. Saint Vince is in Baltimore, where he's apparently taken up residence in Ravens' linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo's soul.

Spiritual possession is surely the culprit here, after Ayanbadejo got on his Twitter feed Sunday and -- hey, look at this -- Lombardi began tweeting instead. Who else would call the Patriots' speed no-huddle a "gimmick," even as it piled up 457 yards, 7.0 yards per play and 41 points? Who else would compare it to a "cheap shot b4 a fight"?

Contempt like that is so old-school you can smell the chalk on its breath, and it springs from the suddenly elderly notion that if you try what works in college in the NFL, they'll have to use a Dustbuster to collect the shards when you're done. The Shield is a whole other animal than college, the thinking goes, and never shall the twain meet.

Well, except when Bill Belichick swipes the Oregon no-huddle-on-fast forward and confounds the Houston Texans with it.

Or when Jim Harbaugh turns loose Colin Kaepernick on Green Bay, and Kaepernick employs a very collegiate-looking read option to gash the Packers for 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and 263 yards passing and two more touchdowns.

That's 444 total yards if you're adding it up at home, and if that number suggests the Packers were utterly bewildered by what Kaepernick was doing to them, it's an accurate. They looked like your dotty old uncle trying to find his car keys as Kaepernick darted over and around them, averaging 11.3 yards per carry, while completing 17-of-31 passes to boot.

And the next day?

Well, on Sunday, Russell Wilson treated us all to a little Johnny Manziel, extending plays with his feet and his wits and torturing the poor Falcons with 445 total yards in a double-overtime loss. Wilson ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries, threw for 385 yards and two more scores on 24-of-36 passing, and nearly pulled out a dazzling come-from-behind victory.

And, sure, OK, maybe this is just a phase, the way everything is a phase in the modern NFL. The Cowboy Flex, the West Coast offense, the Packer sweep: Where are they now?

But if this is a phase, it's a sea change as well. No one ever seriously tried to run the Texas Longhorn wishbone in the NFL, because the pursuit speed of pro defenses would have rendered it impotent. What they're running in college now, though, is clearly far more sophisticated, and much more in line with the pro philosophy that speed is the most lethal thing in the game.

Which might explain why the NFL is suddenly flush with kid quarterbacks -- Wilson, Kaepernick, RG III, Andrew Luck -- who seem to have it figured out in a way kid quarterbacks never used to.

And that, Brendon/Vince, is no gimmick.

Ben Smith's blog.

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