Welcome back to Fantastic Football, my ongoing Let’s Play of Madden NFL 2002 on the PlayStation 2. Last time, we dissolved the Washington football team in acid and used the resulting slop to create the Las Vegas Vandals, the most yellow football team in America. This week, they play their first game against the San Diego Chargers.
Madden believes that the Chargers and the Vandals are pretty much evenly matched, with the Chargers having the better defense and the Vandals having the better offense. I’m betting that Madden’s probably right on all counts here. Will Peyton Manning and Tony Gonzalez be able overcome the Chargers’ defense and lead the Vandals to victory in their first ever football game?
Let’s find out.
As the away team, the Vandals are suited up in their black uniforms, and thus miss out on any potential advantage to be gained by blinding the other team with their brilliant yellow jerseys.
The Vandals win the coin toss and choose to receive the football. Our offense is a lot better than our defense, so the longer we can keep the ball away from the Chargers, the better.
Tremain Mack (#34) receives the kickoff and runs it to the 22-yard-line before being brought down. Peyton (#18) wastes no time in beginning the offensive drive, making a twenty yard pass to Tony (#88).
Look at that. That’s as perfect a pass as you could ask for on a football field.
The next play doesn’t go so well, with the pocket collapsing before Peyton can get a throw off. He goes down behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of 8 yards.
What happens next is simply ludicrous, and makes me regret the fact that there is no way for me to capture video from my PS2.
Once again, Peyton aims for Gonzalez. This time, the Chargers are ready, and Keith Mitchell is there to deflect the ball. It bounces off the head of fellow Chargers defender Sammy Knight, then bounces off the back of Mitchell’s helmet, then bounces again off of Tony’s helmet as he stumbles forwards, then bounces again off the outstretched arms of fellow Vandal Sean Dawkins (#84), finally landing in the waiting hands of Tony Gonzalez for a 21 yard completion.
This game is insane.
Then, as if the game understands that what just happened wasn’t right, it all goes to hell.
The Chargers have the ball.
God help us all.
The ensuing drive lasts 5 plays and ends in a Chargers touchdown.
Robert Ferguson (#89) receives the kickoff and runs it up to the 27-yard-line before going down. This time, coach Hugh Mann tells Peyton to mix it up a bit, throwing in some running plays and passing to people who aren’t Tony Gonzalez. It works, and after 6 plays the Vandals have moved 40 yards up the field and seem to be on the verge of scoring.
And then this happens.
Who did you think you were throwing to, Peyton? That is not where I told you to throw! That is a Chargers defender, and you threw the ball directly into his hands. Bad job.
The Chargers have the ball again, and that’s never good news. But at first it seems like our Vandals might be able to salvage this — after two failed rushing plays, the Chargers are at 3rd and 5 and it seems like we might be able to force them to punt.
Then Tony Banks makes a 26 yard pass to Rob Moore and all the dreams screech to a halt.
Miraculously, incredibly, the Vandals manage to keep the Chargers from converting again, holding them at the 36-yard-line. The Chargers line up to attempt a field goal, and I can only pray that kicking is as hard for them as it was for me during practice sessions.
It is. The Chargers miss the field goal, drawing an offensive holding penalty in the process. I decline the penalty, and we get the ball back at our own 43-yard-line.
Don’t let me down Peyton.
After 4 plays, we’ve moved the ball back downfield and are sitting at the Charger’s 15-yard-line. But we’ve been here before, and I daren’t even consider the possibility of scoring right now, lest the football demons take note and smite the Vandals for my hubris.
I try to be cautious. Hugh Mann tells the Vandals to execute an HB sweep, hoping to catch the Chargers off guard. Instead, Charlie Garner (#25) gets brought down behind the line of scrimmage and we lose 4 yards.
I decide that caution is for people who don’t win football games, and tell the Vandals to throw it.
Terry Glenn (#83) scores the Vandals’ very first touchdown in history.
Matt Stover (#3) comes on to kick the extra point attempt, and just like that, the game is tied. Hopefully, the Vandals’ defense can keep it that way.
The Chargers get the kickoff to the 29-yard-line, and I once again brace for the cycle of despair.
As the Chargers rush for 11 yards on the first play of the drive, one thing becomes very apparent: Despite having some decently good running backs, the Vandals rushing game is nowhere near as good as the Chargers, who are aided by the absolutely abysmal performance of my defensive line. Something is going to have to change. I begin making plans to trade for better linemen after the game, starting by ditching the 4th string quarterback. (Why did I even think we needed a 4th string quarterback?)
After the initial lackluster showing by the Vandals defense, we manage to force the Chargers to punt from their own 42-yard-line. With any luck, the ensuing offensive drive will rack up another touchdown.
After an initial 33 yard pass to Dawkins, the Vandals are unable to complete another pass, and Peyton gets sacked for a loss of 7 yards. It’s 4th and 17, with the ball at the Charger’s 48. Deciding that caution is still for people who don’t win football games, I tell the Vandals to throw it.
For a moment, it almost looks like Tony is going to make the catch, but it bounces out of his hands and lands out of bounds. The Chargers get the ball.
And then the Chargers score.
What this image doesn’t tell you is that Corey Dillon broke three separate tackles during his 52 yard run downfield. Our defense is awful.
The subsequent drive is agonizing, as the Vandals move downfield in fits and starts, just barely converting on 3rd down twice to move the ball up to the 50 yard line. But on the next play, Peyton manages to make a 33 yard pass to Robert Ferguson (#89), puting the Vandals back inside the Charger’s red zone.
Once again, Glenn makes the touchdown reception.
I realize that I may have been discounting the rest of the Vandals’ receiving corps. While none of them are quite on the same level as Tony, they are a respectable crew of competent catchers, who have all been vital instruments in keeping the Vandals alive so far. But they’re going to have do even more if we want to stop playing catch-up with the Chargers.
After a short drive by the Chargers that features an honestly spectacular diving catch by Rob Moore to convert on 3rd down, the quarter ends with Chargers at the 39 yard line and poised to drive downfield for yet another touchdown.
We’ve got three more quarters of this folks, so I’m going to stop giving detailed play by plays and just recap the drives as they happen.
The Chargers continue their drive downfield, mixing up their rush heavy offense with a few well-placed deep throws to Rob Moore. The Vandals are caught completely flatfooted, and unable to stop the Chargers from entering the red zone. A short pass later, and the score is 21 to 14.
The Vandals respond with what may be their best drive yet. In three plays, Peyton makes three passes that move the Vandals 56 yards up field, and once again in range of a touchdown.
With one more pass, Tony scores his first touchdown of the game, and the score is once again tied.
Allow me to take a quick diversion to do a little bit of math.
The highest scoring game in NFL history was a 1966 game between the New York Giants and a team that has since been dissolve in acid. The score for that game was 72 to 41, for a combined total of 113 points. It’s been just under 20 minutes of game time in the current game, and the score is 21 to 21. Assuming that the Chargers and the Vandals continue scoring at the current rate, we are well on track to break the record set in 1966.
For this to happen, not only does my own defense have to be terrible, but the Chargers’ defense needs to be comparably terrible when matched against the Vandals offense. The result is the closest thing in football to Basketball’s run-and-gun style of all-offense/no-defense play.
I hate it. We desperately need to improve our defense.
The resulting drive by the Chargers has them steadily run the ball up the field before almost being brought to a stop at the 38. The Vandals blitz hard, and the pocket collapses, but Banks manages to get a last second throw off to Moore, who is only barely brought down at the 6. Two plays later, and Dillon runs it in for another touchdown.
The Vandals respond with another rapid flying drive downfield. It seems like Peyton has finally gotten into his stride, making pass after pass without incident. But just as the Vandals edge within striking range, a sack and loss of 6 yards seems to break the rhythm. Soon the Vandals find themselves at 4th and 16 on the Chargers’ 41.
Caution is for people who don’t win football games. Hugh Mann tells Peyton to go for it.
The pass is incomplete. Turnover on downs.
The Chargers charge downfield, aided by a lucky penalty call against the Vandals. With 3rd and inches to go, Banks pulls off another stunning last second throw to Moore as the pocket collapses around him. The Chargers score another touchdown.
The Vandals, undeterred, respond with another flying drive downfield. It’s the only thing they know how to do. It’s the only thing they’re good at.
Another touchdown reception by Tony brings the score to 35-28, and now it’s up to the Vandals’ defense to keep the Chargers from widening their lead. If you’ve read this far, then that sentence should inspire about as much hope in you as Lord Cardigan ordering the Charge of the Light Brigade.
At the 2-minute warning for the half, the stadium begins chanting Corey Dillon’s name. Already a good running back, he has become essentially unstoppable when pitted against the Vandal’s defense. But they’re going to have to stop him if they want to win this game.
The Chargers’ drive ends with a field goal. With a minute left in the half, the Vandals are going to need a miracle drive to even have a hope in the second half.
After 3 plays and 3 downs, the miracle has not materialized. The Vandals are sitting at 4th and 13 on their own 28, with 55 seconds left in the half.
Caution is for people who don’t win football games.
And maybe if I keep saying that enough, it’ll be true. Peyton doesn’t even get a chance to get the ball off, as he’s brought down on the 21. A few seconds later, the Chargers score another touchdown.
The Vandals get the ball back with 43 seconds left. With nothing left to lose, they begin another drive downfield. It ends midfield, with another turnover on downs. What the Vandals are doing is no longer football. It is merely the flailing of a drowning man.
With 9 seconds left, the Chargers line up for another field goal from the 29-yard-line. It’s good, propelling them to a 20 point lead.
With 5 seconds left in the half, the Vandals line up for one last play before the half. Hugh Mann tells Peyton to throw it long to Tony, on the off chance that the football demons show mercy.
There is no mercy in Qualcomm Stadium. Only the cries of broken men.
The Chargers start the second half with possession, and I have no illusions as to what that means.
To my surprise, the Vandals manage to hold the Chargers at the 30, forcing them to punt. It isn’t enough to turn the tide, but it might be enough to hold it back.
The punt return gets the ball to the 50, and the Vandals line up to try again. 3 plays and 3 passes later, and they’ve managed to narrow the score to 48-35. It’s not enough, but it will have to do. At this point, if the Vandals want to have any hope of overtaking the Chargers, the defense will have to hold the line.
Not only do they hold the line, they manage to drive the Chargers back. They’re forced to punt at 4th and 20 from their own 10-yard-line. The Vandals line-up to start their next drive from the Chargers’ 45. From there, it doesn’t take long for Glenn to take another touchdown pass, bring the score up to 48-42.
It’s still too soon to hope. All it would take is for Dillon to break out into the backfield, or Moore to make another diving catch, and the Chargers’ would pull out of reach again. I order the Vandals to keep the pressure on by applying blitz after blitz. The Chargers can’t advance if Banks can’t get the ball off. It’s risky, but it ends up paying off, as the Chargers are once again forced to punt, this time from their own 22.
The Vandals don’t hesitate. They begin driving down the field. On each play, the pocket holds firm. On each play, Peyton makes his target. On each play, the Vandals gain ground. 19 yards. 22 yards. They’re in the red zone now. Only 15 yards stand between them and the lead.
It’s not enough. The Chargers throw everything they have into stopping the Vandals, and soon it’s 4th and 8. 13 yards from the end zone. 13 yards from the lead. 13 yards from victory.
I order a fake field goal pass.
Caution is for people who don’t win football games.
It’s a turnover on downs. Of course it was a turnover on downs. It’s always a turnover on downs. But at least it’s only a turnover on the Chargers’ own 13.
This time, the Vandals are unable to pin the Chargers in the backfield. Try as they might, they can’t keep the Chargers from converting, and soon it’s 1st and 10 on the 11.
The Chargers draw a holding penalty. I take it. Anything that will push them away from the end zone.
The Chargers draw another holding penalty. I take it, and they get kicked back to 2nd and 29. They miss a pass, and it becomes 3rd and 29. We just have to stop them from gaining 29 yards.
The Chargers make an 18 yard pass, but it’s not enough. They line up for a field goal. It’s good. The score is 51 to 42.
The next drive starts on the 27, and after 2 incomplete passes, it seems like it’s going to end on the 27. But on 3rd down, Peyton hauls back and throws deep to Glenn, moving the Vandals 41 yards down the field. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this game so far, it’s that nothing is a sure thing, except the Vandals’ inability to convert on 4th down.
But after that amazing deep pass, the drive stalls at the Chargers’ 32. The Chargers have gotten wise, and Peyton can’t reach his receivers through their blockers. It’s 4th down again, and for once, I hesitate.
But not for long.
What did I just say about the Vandals not being able to convert on 4th down? I really should listen to myself.
The Chargers get the ball and they run with it. Literally. They know that the Vandals can’t stop Dillon, no matter how hard they try. Slowly but surely, yard by yard, the Chargers advance up the field. I watch as Dillon breaks through two tackles and stiff arms another defender, gaining 28 yards before being brought down at the 7-yard-line. Inevitably and inexorably, the Chargers score another touchdown. 58 to 42.
After another high-flying, rapid charge downfield, the quarter ends 58-42. It’s 1st and 6, and the Vandals have the ball on the Chargers’ 7. These men may be beaten, but they aren’t done yet. A short pass later, and Dawkins scores his first touchdown of the night.
It is at this point that I decide to discard caution entirely. I order the Vandals to go for 2.
It doesn’t work, just like all the times I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind. In fact, if I had been cautious throughout this entire game, the Vandals might actually be winning. But it is far too late to change tactics now. Not when the score is 58 to 48.
Something has changed inside the Vandals defense. They rush the Chargers, shattering the pocket and sacking Brooks. Then they do it again. It’s 3rd and 19 on the Chargers’ 21. Despite a penalty, the Vandals manage to force the Chargers to punt.
The game is in Peyton’s hands now. Another touchdown drive would bring the score within field goal range. Sure enough, it only takes a few passes to move the Vandals into scoring range, and then a short rush by Garner brings it in for a touchdown.
Taking the extra point at this point would leave the Vandals down by 3, so I tell them to go for 2 again. If they miss, then they won’t be any worse off than they were before, as they’ll still need another touchdown to take the lead. But if they make it, then they’ll only need a field goal to put them ahead.
The score is 58-56.
It won’t last. Whatever spark may have entered the Vandals defense on previous drives seems to have vanished, as the Chargers quickly move the ball 65 yards downfield with only 2 plays. The best they can hope for is to keep the Chargers from advancing into the end zone and forcing them to take a field goal.
The Chargers score a touchdown. The kick is good, and the score becomes 65-56. Only 3 points away from becoming the highest scoring game in NFL history. I’ve lost track of the number of touchdowns. Too many. Far far too many.
The next drive ends in disaster.
Another interception. The Chargers run it all the way back to the 22, and with it, the Vandals’ hopes of ever winning this football game.
The Vandals make a valiant effort, and almost manage to force the Chargers’ to kick a field goal, but it is not to be. Rob Moore catches another touchdown pass. The extra point attempt clears easily, and the score is now 72 to 56. This is now the highest scoring NFL football game.
It is hell.
And there are still 10 more minutes of it.
The next Vandals’ drive ends in another touchdown after a 33 yard pass to Glenn, who ran it the rest of the way in. Hooray, touchdowns.
After the extra point, the score is 72-63. There are still 8 and a half minutes left in this game.
The Vandals manage to stop the Chargers’ next drive at the 48-yard-line. As they line up to receive the punt, I consider how many times the Vandals have come within a hairsbreadth of the lead, only to have the Chargers surge ahead again. I’m confident that, with a slightly better defense, the Vandals would be leading right now.
The Vandals don’t even make it into the backfield. When 4th down comes, I punt. There is nothing left to do.
The Chargers, at least, don’t have any more success in moving the ball, and when 4th down comes, they punt it back. With 5 minutes left in the game, the score is still 72-63.
The next drive is more successful, and in short order the Vandals are lining up at the Chargers’ 13-yard-line. It’s looking like we might be able to narrow the score a little bit more.
So of course, Peyton throws another interception.
The Vandals keep the Chargers pinned in the backfield, but now they’ve started playing to run out the clock. With 2:43 left in the game, the Vandals line up to receive the punt.
With exactly 2 minutes left in the game, Peyton leads the offense out onto the field for what might be their last chance to score in the game.
With exactly 1 minute left, they score what may be the last touchdown of the game.
The score is now 72-70.
All the Chargers have to do to win is run out the clock.
The final score is 72-70. If that were a real score in a real football game, it would be the highest scoring game ever played in the NFL.
It was by far the worst football game I have ever witnessed. But at least it’s over.