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Breaking Madden: Tony Romo's week in Quarterback Hell

Tony Romo threw three straight interceptions last Sunday. His punishment: All his toys have been taken away. Welcome to Quarterback Hell.

In this, the 19th episode, we finally welcome America's Team to Breaking Madden. Tony Romo is here by virtue of one of the worst games of his career. During Sunday's game against the 49ers, Romo threw interceptions on three consecutive drives, and the Cowboys watched as San Francisco stomped to a 28-3 lead and eventual win.

His punishment: for one week, we're taking all of his receivers away. He hasn't proven himself responsible enough to throw to Dez Bryant, one of the best receivers in the NFL, nor does he deserve DeMarco Murray, one of the better receiver backs in the league.


Music: "Give Me All Night" by Carly Simon

Unlike last week's adventure, we aren't going to turn every knob all the way up. This is a more measured, dignified affair that will nonetheless conclude in a compelling argument against the forward pass itself. This week, I made three major adjustments, one of which I had to cancel because the resulting football was just too terrible.


I dropped every real-life wideout, tight end, and running back from the Cowboys' roster and replaced them with a skeleton crew of nine of the worst receivers imaginable. As per usual, these useless baby players are five feet tall, weigh 160 pounds, and are rated zero across the board -- including, crucially, Awareness.

I found them on Twitter, which is a great place to find terrible football players.

Once again, I'm very grateful for y'all, as you submitted about a thousand tweets. I picked through them all, and settled upon these nine adorable, awful little receivers.

Running back: Eth (@strubyet)


On October 3rd, 1999, the Cardinals' Jake Plummer threw a two-yard completion to tight end Andy McCullough. I looked it up. Since that day, nobody named Andy has caught a pass in the NFL.

Play description: This play is forbidden. We just don't know what would happen to the universe if a dude named Andy caught a football. It's a Large Hadron Collidor sort of deal.

Wide receiver: Flight Risk (@firedsidechat)


Even in its smallest of subplots, The Wire was busy exposing the futilities of human institutions. In the first season we briefly see McNulty get drunk and try to assemble IKEA furniture, and in the last season Kima does the same.

Assembling furniture is monotonous, so it's natural to feel like a couple drinks are a good idea. If you put one little piece in the wrong way, which is very easy to do while drinking, you might spend the next 20 minutes trying to pry it loose. If you're unthoughtful enough not to invest in a cheap power drill and you have to make the whole thing with a screwdriver, it becomes a four-hour, ass-on-the-floor odyssey that will end with one or more of your hands rotting off at the wrist.

It is miserable, and while I'm glad The Wire gave attention to the plight of the shit-faced furniture-building unheard, I really wish they'd have spent a whole season on it.

Play description: Quarterback sits on the ground cross-legged, occasionally scooting to pivot and pump-fake to a teammate before pausing and looking at the playbook. "Wait, this is the tight end, right? They gave me two tight ends ... ah shit, why did they make the left guard look one percent different than the tight end? Ahhhhh this is bullshit."

Running back: PHNEGRIAN (@phnegrian)


Aside from Kanye West giving a producer credit to God, this is the funniest "feat." credit I can remember. Staind's Aaron Lewis plays the guitar and sings ...


... and Fred Durst pretty much just sits around. He occasionally pops in with soft backing vocals that are almost un-noticeable, and that's it, save for shouting to the crowd mid-song:

Biloxi! This is the real motherfuckin' deal, y'all!

I'm feelin' those lighters!

Next time you happen upon a fallen tree, check the rings that are 10 to 15 years old. They will be blackened by the wet dust of somber butt-rock. DO NOT USE AS FIREWOOD.

Play description: First and goal at the one-foot line. Starting halfback and second-string fullback take turns falling forward until the fullback eventually scores.

Wide receiver: Alex Danger Ershock (@ADangerE)


Gigli cost $75 million to make, almost nobody saw it, and everybody agreed that it was a terrible, horrible movie. I actually paid American dollars to go see it on a date night. If you didn't see it, lemme tell you: it's even worse than you're imagining. Like, 50 times worse. It's pretty offensive and it's overwhelmingly, catastrophically stupid. Three things:

1. The movie centers around Gigli (Ben Affleck) kidnapping a guy who is mentally challenged, and then being ordered to cut off his thumb and sending it to his family. This does not actually happen, but "abuse of a mentally challenged person" ought to set off several million alarm bells inside anybody who is writing any sort of work of fiction. They did this in a romantic comedy.

2. Ricki (Jennifer Lopez) is Gigli's criminal associate, and she is also a lesbian. He spends pretty much the entire movie resenting the fact that she isn't attracted to men, and insisting on sex, which leads to this sequence of events: Ricki's girlfriend attempts suicide. Gigli and Ricki rush her to the hospital. While at the hospital, Gigli finds a cadaver and cuts its thumb off. Gigli and Ricki go home and have sex. At the end of the movie, they literally drive off into the horizon together. The message: if you are a man who finds a lesbian attractive, you should feel entitled to sex and nag her about it over and over and over until she is attracted to you.

3. The mentally challenged guy, Brian, cannot live independently and requires supervision and care. He is a huge fan of the show Baywatch. In the last scene, he's in the car with Gigli and Ricki. They plan to bring him back home, but on the way, they happen to pass by a beach where they're shooting a Baywatch episode. So they stop the car, drop him off at the set, and LEAVE HIM THERE.

Play description: A guy on the O-line cuts upfield and throws a tantrum over not being thrown the ball, despite being an ineligible receiver. Really puts the "offensive man" in "offensive lineman"!

Wide receiver: Andrew Keating (@GottaBeKeatingMe)


Experts in queueing theory -- the ones who study things like brunch lines and road traffic efficiency -- really need to perform a study on grocery store U-Scans. Unspoken queueing etiquette completely breaks down amongst people waiting for an open U-Scan. There are always multiple lanes. Sometimes, it's understood that a single line feeds into access to the first-available U-Scan, and other times, this autonomous assembly of humans decides wordlessly that there are multiple lines, each for a separate lane.

That is not much of a problem, but it completely fries the logic boards of some people. I've seen people cut in line from the opposite line. I've seen someone behind me in line speed-walk past me to the U-Scan I was in line for. I used to offer a friendly laugh and a "hey, c'mon now!" when this happened. I don't anymore, because they always feel guilty upon realizing what they did, and spend the next couple minutes marinating in shame as they bag their groceries. I don't want that. Besides, we're in this line to begin with because we don't want or understand human contact in the first place. We are but a hungry siblinghood of only children.

Play description: Quarterback takes 20 paces back and sprints into the center's ass. The ball is not snapped.

Tight end: Jeremy D. Larson (@jeremydlarson)



Play description: This is an audible. Just this entire dialogue from Angels in America, and then, "HUT!"

Running back: Chris Stone (@ChrisStone01)


This is a choo-choo train of words so unsettling that I had to find out whether this represented a real thing. The closest thing I could find is this Wikipedia entry on the grey foam-nest tree frog, which describes one of the funniest sexual behaviors in the animal kingdom: a female initiates by laying eggs on a tree branch. A bunch of males see this, form a circle around her, start releasing sperm, and kick it with their legs to froth it up into this nest-like thing. This goes on for hours. At some point in the middle of this, the female just kinda wanders off for a while before returning, probably because it's the most boring sex on Earth.

Play description: Go look up the Charlie Weis playbook, I'm sure it's in there somewhere.

Wide receiver: William White (@wswhite9598)


Play description: All 11 players have blocking assignments. Spencer Hall cries and eats soup in a dungeon.

Tight end: Shane Neighbor (@TimsNeighbor)


yeah this is a pretty bad name


If last week's game is any sound indicator, Tony Romo just wants to go out there and air it out. In order to enable this behavior, I deleted every single play from his playbook except for two: Four Verticals, and PA Power O.

Were it up to me, I would have left him with nothing but verts, but Madden requires at least one play-action play in the playbook. But really, it's just as well. Given that I erased every running play from the playbook, a play-action pass ought to be rendered completely useless in short order.


Tony's Throw Power rating is dialed all the way up to 99, and so are all his Accuracy ratings. This might sound like a gesture of mercy, but it's not. It's Quarterback Hell, I think: you're blessed with the greatest arm in the world, and it's wasted on a group of receivers who aren't worth a damn.

He is football's Henry Bemis from The Twilight Zone. He looks down; his receiving corps is crunched and broken. There was arm now.


This experiment is a strictly CPU affair. At no point did I take control of Tony Romo, his receivers, the Tennessee Titans' defense, or any other player in the game. This is all about Tony Romo and how he decides to rule his kingdom of shit.

And we've run into trouble right away, y'all. With nothing but Four Verticals and a play-action in the playbook, none of these awful receivers are getting anywhere close to open. Tony is refusing to throw. He's so determined not to throw, in fact, that he will accept sack after sack if it means he can hold the ball.


Look at this one. Tony looks downfield, dances around, looks backwards just in case Dez Bryant's just hanging out back there, and then just offers himself up to be sacrificed. As you watch him just kind of throw himself to the ground, untouched, like a Goron in The Ocarina of Time, please know that this is not some kind of third-and-short situation in which two feet are all he needs. This was first and 10.

It became clear pretty early on that with this arrangement, we'd simply have an hour of Tony Romo falling down, which, believe it or not, gets less interesting over time. So I decided to cancel Phase II of this experiment. I gave him back his standard playbook and restarted the game in "coach mode." This allowed me to call all the plays -- in this case, I picked any passing play recommended by the game -- while still allowing computer-Romo to do his thing.

Actually, he still can't do his thing, because his receivers do not understand the dimension of time.


Cheers: Strubyet is wide open to receive a screen pass. Jeers: his understanding of the universe is one without time, in which it's conceivable to act within a moment that has already happened. He is holding up his hands to receive the ball, even as he stares in the opposite direction at the ball that has already passed him.

These little fellas were capable of catching the ball half the time, provided nobody was anywhere near them. Once they gained possession, though, nothing good happened. Nothing at all.


He ... I mean, damn. In last week's Breaking Madden we saw a guy pick up a dude and throw him, but ... he picks him up, turns, and shoves his precious little face directly into the face mask of a sprinting Derrick Morgan. God DANG. I don't know whether I've ever made this clear, so I'll do that now: never, ever, ever, ever attempt to recreate a Breaking Madden scenario in real life, ever.

If, God forbid, you do, please feel empowered to actually make use of your arms when heading into a dogpile.


No. 12 here, Mr. Neighbor, certainly wins a "participant" medal for this one. He runs directly at the pile, flops on an opponent's back, and lets his arms wobble around like spaghetti noodles. Also take note of No. 70, who is apparently Peter Pan.

I think this is a future Breaking Madden. Nothing but dogpiles. Let this awful machine make sand castles of men.

In order to buy Tony a little more time in the pocket, I knocked the Titans' pass rushing ability way down, so he could usually count on at least five seconds to survey the field. Messing with this slider made them pretty stupid. Kamerion Wembley here has an open look at the quarterback, but doesn't seem to have any interest in him.


Maybe he deserted mid-play and volunteered to the Cowboys' offensive line? You should be able to do that. A quarterback switching teams in the middle of an offensive series, taking a snap, and just running directly backwards for a touchdown would be the greatest heel turn of all time.

This pass rushing knob was more powerful than I thought. Romo who hasn't handed off the ball once the entire game, executes a really, painfully obvious play action right in front of Zach Brown's face.


And Brown STILL completely sold out for it. Like, he put up his house for it. He ran like a man late for his own dang yard sale.

PHNEGRIAN, the starting running back, didn't receive any touches, but he sure made his presence known! He did this by finding a teammate and dry-fucking his leg.


Honey. Honey, please stop. Stop that. STOP.

Tony Romo is a good quarterback, but one thing we all know and love about Tony Romo is that when he fails, it often looks very weird. This is one such moment.


That ball hit the ground six feet in front of him. At first I GIF'd this scene because I thought it hit his helmet or something, but after looking closely, it appears that it didn't hit anybody or anything. Tony, what did you do here?

I looked through all the still images from this GIF, and I found this one.


That's how he's holding the ball in the moment of release. He's holding it like a coffee thermos. This is what's interesting: there's no way Madden would intentionally have a quarterback throw a ball like this, right? And yet, the game knows exactly how to make the ball behave when it happens.

I regard and accept this as an act of protest on Tony Romo's part. These Madden players have limited avenues in which to communicate their distress. Message received, buddy, but I wasn't the one who threw those three picks on Sunday. You deserve this. You deserve all of it.


Unlike our Week 1 experiment, I actually allowed this game to play the entire way through. NFL records were broken, and so, I think, was the heart of Tony Romo. But you know what? He toughed through it, and made it through to the other side. Your punishment is over. You're free to go, fella:

Music: "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" by Paula Cole

Click here to check out many more episodes of Breaking Madden.