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Nothing Kills A Football Team Quite Like A Three-And-Out

Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Outthrough here.

I hate three-and-outs more than I hate turnovers. There is no rational explanation for this. In terms of both win probability and morale, a turnover is the certifiably worst result any NFL offense can produce. But a three-and-out is still somehow worse. I feel it in my bones.

Perhaps you’ve felt it as well. Your team plays good defense for a series. Maybe they even get a turnover. A small victory that hopefully proves to be the stepping stone to a larger one. This is the turning point, you think to yourself. This is where you bury those fuckers for good. The offense trots back out onto the field for what you hope will be a touchdown that consecrates the fabled momentum and begets many more touchdowns after that. And then you’re treated to two stuffed runs, a pass completed in front of the sticks, and a punt. All in 60 seconds or less. The least inspiring offensive output you’ve ever seen. It makes you want to die.

And with good reason, because three-and-outs just as accurate an indicator of a team’s overall seaworthiness as turnover stats are. See for yourself. Here were the 2021 team leaders in three-and-outs across the NFL, as provided by Mike Florio via Pro Football Focus:

1. (tie) Houston, Minnesota (53)

3. New Orleans (49)

4. (tie) Jacksonville, NY Jets (47)

6. Carolina (45)

7. Seattle (44)

8. (tie) Pittsburgh, Miami (43)

10. Dallas (40)

11. NY Giants (39)

12. Detroit (38)

13. Cincinnati (37)

14. (tie) Denver, Cleveland (36)

16. (tie) Indianapolis, Washington (34)

18. (tie) Tennessee, Arizona, Atlanta (33)

21. (tie) San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Las Vegas (32)

25. (tie) Philadelphia, LA Chargers, Baltimore (29)

28. Green Bay (28)

29. New England (26)

30. Buffalo (25)

31. LA Rams (24)

32. Kansas City (17)

These numbers roughly correlate with total offensive numbers across NFL teams, with two notable outliers. The Vikings finished 12th in overall offense this year, a mildly impressive stat utterly denuded by their terrifying three-and-out prolificacy. This is the Kirk Cousins Difference making itself well known, and it’s one of the chief reasons that Minnesota was able to put together a season-long series of collapses that resulted in a losing record and the dissolution of their leadership trust. They were a decent offensive team, but they would disappear for critical stretches. Those stretches would prove fatal, and not out of sheer bad luck. I know because I had to watch all of those stretches. I would have rather been lost in a fucking desert.

The other outlier is much more interesting. The Cowboys were sixth overall in total first downs this season. Yet whenever they failed to get a first down, they did so with a cruel efficiency, going three-and-out a miserable 40 times. The Steelers, who just slithered into the AFC playoff field thanks to the most enraging non-tie ever waged, are the only other team in the playoff field to rank in the top 10 three-and-out teams. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust either of these teams to get very far.

Because a three-and-out is cancerous to a football team. According to authors Pete Palmer and Bob Carroll, the average turnover is worth negative-four points to a team. But when you turn the ball over, it often shows that you were at least willing to take some measure of risk. Even the freshly deposed Mike Zimmer recognized this, telling Kirk Cousins to throw the ball downfield more often: “If you throw an interception, you throw an interception. That’s life. If we keep going for the jugular, that opens up a lot of other things.” He was right. Risk is a necessary component to an offense, and the best offenses are the ones whose risk acceptance rises in accordance with its talent level. Patrick Mahomes threw more picks this season than in any other season of his career. His team is still the betting favorite to win the AFC. The picks were worth it.

No three-and-out has ever been worth it. A three-and-out is a soft turnover. If it doesn’t cost you the full four points of a real turnover, it'll still cost you plenty. It opens up nothing. It inspires nothing. You didn’t change field position after a there-and-out. You didn’t keep the opposing offense off the field (despite it no longer being 1990, time of possession still closely correlates to winning percentage). You didn’t learn much, if anything, about how to attack the defense on the next series. You probably got booed as you jogged meekly back to the sidelines. Go three-and-out and it’s as if you never had the ball at all. It’s as if the other offense went for it on fourth down on the earlier possession and converted. It reduces virtually any offense, even a talented one, to a nonentity. It is the harbinger of lost momentum.

And if you go three-and-out at a time when you REALLY can’t afford to—inside of two minutes, during your opening drive of either half, after a turnover, etc—the ennui becomes contagious. Momentum disappears over the horizon. That notorious QB sneak the Giants ran last week against Washington? The one that sealed Joe Judge’s fate? Guess how many plays that possession lasted. That’s what a three-and-out gets you for your money. It’s lethal. No wonder Brandon Staley hates to punt.  

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms. And for the playoffs, I also pick the games because I am never wrong about anything.

Five Throwgasms

Niners (+3) 30, Cowboys 20: Over at my other day job, my bosses pitched me on writing a Kyle Shanahan Is A Fraud post back in early November. I was more than game. The Niners were 3-5 at the time. They hadn’t won a home game in over a year. They traded the whole world for Trey Lance, even though Trey Lance might suck. They kept Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter, even though Pizza Boy already looked poised to enter the Latter Day Mark Sanchez phase of his career. And Kyle was an established power-mad dipshit with an annoying face. The take was there to be had. All I had to do was wait for their next loss and I’d be good to go.

Instead, these guys ripped off seven wins out of their last nine. They’re legitimately good. I fear them. Shanny got wind of my take and started coaching good just to spite me. I’ll never forgive him.

Cardinals (+4) 42, Rams 38: This game resides in the newly created Monday Night Wild Card slot, which I am in favor of. Not because Steve Levy gets my motor running or anything, but because there can be such a thing as too much football. Two straight triple-headers may sound like a dream come true for your average stock character from a Bud Light ad, but that much football can get pretty fucking exhausting. Also, I have a family and their tolerance of my NFL habit only goes so far. This is the time of year when my wife is like, “They’re STILL playing?!” Then I explain to her that these are in fact the most important games of the year, and then she tells me there are too many of them. So you see why watching 10 consecutive hours of this shit on back-to-back days would be a tough sell to the people I live with.

As for this game itself, I saw Matt Stafford limp off the field in that miracle Niners win last week. Matt Stafford is always limping off the field. By the end of every season—be it in LA or Detroit—the man is held together with sixty Ace bandages and roll of packing tape. He’s also thrown eight picks in his last four games. I am unconvinced that joining the Rams has magically turned him into a future Super Bowl winner.

Patriots (+4) 16, Bills 13: Here’s your Saturday night game. If the Bills curbstomp New England, it’ll be a fun drinking night for you, the practicing imbiber. If Lil’ Opie Cunningham and the Patriots win, well then it’s a grim men’s evening for us all.

Four Throwgasms

Bucs 27, Eagles (+8.5) 23: This matchup reeks of the kind of game where the Eagles look impressive for the first 55 minutes of regulation, to the point where you’re like, “Oh wow, they’re really gonna do this.” And then Tom Brady notices the scoreboard, says to himself, “Well we can’t have that,” and then casually engineers three straight touchdown drives to ice the game.

Three Throwgasms

Chiefs (-12.5) 35, Steelers 21: Every playoff, there’s one team I hate more than the rest. The redpill team, if you will. And what happens is that I’ll pick against the redpill team, often because their loss would appear to be a lock on paper, and then they ALWAYS win. Last year, that team was the Bucs. This year, that team is probably the goddamn Steelers, who don’t even belong here but got gifted a spot because the Raiders and Chargers never learned the concept of a gentleman’s agreement. Fucking awful. I hope the Chiefs beat them by a THOUSAND points, but I know how karma operates in this universe. If you’re a piece of shit, you get to win everything. I’mma pick the Chiefs and pray for the best anyway, but you’ve been warned.

On another note, TJ Watt will always be the true single-season sack leader in my mind. He got the same number of sacks as Michael Strahan did, but he did it in just 15 games and he didn’t need Brett Favre to take a dive to get him the record breaker. That’s the last nice thing I have to say about this Steelers team. Unless they wash my car for free or something.

Bengals (-5.5) 35, Raiders 28. I will be genuinely heartbroken if, despite having Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, Zac Taylor turns out to be Marvin Lewis II and loses in the first round of the playoffs every year for the rest of time. The horrifying thing is that it’s a distinct possibility. Picking against every home team EXCEPT the Bengals will probably turn out unwise on my part.

Now, time to shift into Larry King mode to talk about some random crap:

-I respect Marcus Mariota 400 percent more now that he has a beard. Makes him look wily. Like he’s been through some real shit. If my team signed him as a temp starter, I’d feel terrific about losing 10 games with that beard of his in charge.

-I just wanted noted that Justin Herbert’s game-tying drive on Sunday night encompassed 19 plays. Nineteen fucking plays! All in just two minutes and change. I have never seen one team pack that many plays into so tight a window. I’m used to seeing teams in need of a quick touchdown burn five seconds off the clock here and there, even pausing to huddle up and pass around a mug of hot soup. The Chargers converted three fourth-and-10s on that drive. I would let Justin Herbert take my children from me.

-I’m not terribly old (45), but I’ve apparently reached at the age where new parts of my body get cold. My legs get cold now. My legs never got cold when I was, like, 16. I wasn’t even sure my nervous system reached down to them, frankly. They barely felt like my legs at all. No longer. Now I step outside on a winter day wearing normal pants and my legs are like HOW DARE YOU.

-I know the stock take right now is that these playoffs are wide open and anyone can win! But I just watched the Packers win 13 games, and now they get Billy Turner, Jaire Alexander, David Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith, and God knows what other studs back for the home stretch. Again, I know how karma operates. We’re gonna get a Packers-Steelers Super Bowl rematch and the winning quarterback will get to punch a woman in the face live on the podium after the fact. I want this league burned to the fucking ground.

-I shouldn’t be appalled by Applebee’s using the Cheers theme song for one of their big ad campaigns, but here we are. They unleashed the boomer in me and now he’s running wild. I can’t think of another restaurant where FEWER people would know your name than a fucking Applebee’s. Even the servers don’t know each other’s names at that grease trap.

-Here’s an email from reader John:

Is anybody at Defector going to call out Kurt Herbstreit for being a complete fucking tool?

Luckily for Jon, Samer did just that here a couple of weeks ago, after Kirk Herbstreit let loose one of his “Oh this guy was definitely an average QB for Ohio State back in the day” takes.

I myself have a blind spot for Herbstreit. I already know he’s occasionally gonna say some stupid shit. That’s the cost of doing business with the man. But I’m also someone who spent his formative football-consuming years watching College GameDay every Saturday morning. All of it, stem to stern. I fucking loved that show. I loved Chris Fowler (still do). I loved Lee Corso (ditto). And I loved Craig James (not so much anymore) before Herbstreit replaced him, and then I loved Herbstreit. This is not a terribly rational fondness. But that version of GameDay was a flawless mix of useful information and earnest rambunctiousness, one that no other football pregame show has been able to successfully replicate since, not even the current version of GameDay.

So when I see or hear Herbstreit talking now, I’m immediately taken back to lying on the common room couch in my college dorm on a Saturday afternoon, getting fired up for shitty college games AND lame keg parties in equal measure. It’s a pleasant feeling.

But yes, he’s a moron. And so swollen! His head looks like my hands do after a night of Chinese takeout.

-Somehow, either by default or because I fancy myself the house fixer, I am now the family administrator of all home COVID-19 tests. We bought a shitload before the latest wave, plus we got extras from both the county and my kids’ school system. So I have to test them, and myself, with some regularity. I set up the tests, I do the swabbing, I swirl the swab around in that tiny-ass vial, I drop the three drops, and I set the timer. Then, when the test comes up negative (it always has thus far, but I know that streak will likely end), I get to announce it to everyone in the kitchen. Honestly, it’s quite fun. Makes me feel like a doctor. “Now son, you have a blue stripe on your test result, but this is merely the control stripe. Were you to be positive, we’d see ANOTHER line right here …” Sometimes they even look up when I give them this mini-lecture. A true thrill.

These tests are simple to perform in theory, and yet I have to think there are tens of millions of Americans who fuck them up. They throw out the instructions right away, swab their armpit instead of their nose, and then dunk the sample into a cup of flat Dr. Pepper. I don’t trust any of you with this shit. I’m the only one who’s following the protocols correctly.

Two Throwgasms


One Throwgasm


Last postseason: 7-6

Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“Ummon,” by Slift! From Cody:




Well put. When I retire, I’m gonna open an art gallery that’s nothing but heavy metal art. The art is like 90% of the appeal for me. Look how big that fucking sword is. Love big swords.

Worst Quarterback In The League Of The Week

Jake Fromm, who probably merits consideration alongside Nathan Peterman as the worst quarterback ever to grace an NFL field. Peterman sucked harder because the Bills deliberately CHOSE to start him over Tyrod Taylor, whereas the Giants started Fromm out of dire necessity. But this game log of his is so brutal that it almost counts as abstract art. Watching Jake Fromm play was a pretty good indicator of how you, the reader, would fair playing quarterback for an NFL team.

Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!

Potato Shack Express, which is exactly as unimpressive as it sounds. From Anthony:

I don't even know if this is a commercial or what, but there's a place in Bryan, TX (near College Station) called Potato Shack Express. Not sure how many quaaludes this dude did before filming, but I think it was more than zero.

I am also not convinced that this is an actual TV ad. It’s as if Lee Perrone, or “Papa Lee” as I shall now call him (“papa” means potato in Spanish!), filmed his own local news segment about himself.

About the restaurant: Potato Shack Express, which in a shocking twist is now permanently closed, offered a wide range of delicious sounding foods all needlessly dumped on top of a baked potato: chicken fried steak, hot wings, cheeseburgers, beef fajitas, etc. There’s a strain of restaurant that does this now. They serve typical comfort food but give it a twist by adding it into a baked potato, or on a bed of udon noodles, or inside a hollowed-out cantaloupe. I’m onto you, aspiring chain joints.

By the way, “We average about six to eight coupons per day” is killing me. You may as well tell me, “We average about six to eight customers per day.”

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 2021 chopping block:

Jon Gruden – FIRED!!!!

Urban Meyer – FIRED!!!!

Ron Rivera

Kevin Stefanski

Mike Zimmer – FIRED!

Robert Saleh

Brian Flores – FIRED!

Matt Nagy – FIRED!


David Culley

Matt Rhule

Pete Carroll

Dan Campbell

Vic Fangio - FIRED!

(* - potential midseason firing)

Very excited for Joe Judge to fuck off back to New England, toil in the shadows for a few years, and them magically reemerge as a hot candidate in 2026. You can set the atomic clock to it. His Giants tenure will get papered over as “a rough first stint” and then the Schefters of the world will note how impressed the rest of the league has been since with his work developing Gunner Olszewski.

Great Moments In Poop History

Reader James sends in this story I call ANIMAL LOUSE:

A lot of people have horrible experiences with their first college roommate. All in all, mine wasn't THAT bad. He was 21, so he could easily access liquor. However, he also had a crippling coke issue and loved to have sex with his girlfriend while I slept about two feet away. I awoke to him cumming about eight times that first semester of freshman year. I was too afraid to ask him to quit because of the liquor connection and because he would destroy me in a fight.

Anyway... One night I went out with buddies to celebrate my birthday. After pregaming for about five hours and then sneaking into the bars with an obvious fake ID to drink shots, I was blackout drunk. I stumbled back to my empty room.

Hours later, I woke up to the familiar sounds of my roommate and his girlfriend going at it. I also realized I had shit my pants. But it was odd as it wasn't messy; it was as if I pushed it out in my sleep and it froze halfway out my asshole and hardened. Essentially I had a feces dildo hanging halfway out my butt.

Still drunk, I knew I couldn't just sit here all night, but the repressed 19 year old me didn't want to interrupt my roommate. I thought, fuck this, I can't sit like this all night. Plus, it stinks and they're nasty for fucking in the midst of this filth.

I got up as quickly as I could muster and headed for the door. My roommate, startled, said "Uh what's up buddy", as if he was surprised that someone else was even in the room. "I shit my pants. I gotta go" was my response, and I left for the showers.

Basically I just dropped my clothes in the bathroom garbage and took a shower until all the shit was gone, then walked back into my room naked. By then my roommate’s girlfriend was gone and he was asleep. I found out the next day that my exit pretty much hastened the end to their public exploits as she was grossed out. Sorry your highness.

Postscript, my roommate flunked out after one semester and I got a single for the rest of the year. Good times.

Who knew a half-baked turtle pie would serve you so well? Proud of you.

Gametime Snack Of The Week

Photo via The New York Times

Shrimp cakes. Okay that’s not a snack but I’ve been doing this column for 15 years and I’ve basically run out of snack foods to profile here. Hence, we’re talking shrimp cakes. I had never put raw shrimp in a food processor until I made these. You should see those little shrimpies get processed into a weird, gummy slurry. It’s not appetizing, but it is interesting. The shrimp meat coalesces into a sticky ball, like shrimp dough. Then you fry it up and HOO SHIT, suddenly you’re right in the middle of downtown Flavortown. This must be how they make shrimp toast. I’ve adored shrimp toast for years, but I always assumed it was made by some form of maritime necromancy. Turns out you and me can make our own shrimp loaf products anytime we wish! WHAT A COUNTRY.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

Ed Hardy beer! Oh yes. Such a thing does indeed exist. From Jason:

Ed Hardy beer! It's $3 per six-pack, imported from Mexico and not entirely terrible. I bought a sixer when I saw it at the liquor store and went back the next day and bought a case. It tastes a bit like a sweeter Blatz or something which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. Too bad I'll be out of it before Sunday.

Enormous upset. I was not prepared for this particular shitty beer to be a GOOD shitty beer. Credit to Mexico, which knows how to make the finest shitty beers on the continent.

Dan Campbell’s Clump Dog Of The Week: Kalif Raymond

“THAT’S WHAT I’M FUCKING TALKING ABOUT RIGHT THERE! I told these guys … I told them we were building something special here. I said we’re gonna show the whole world that the Detroit Lions are the real fucking deal. And we did. We are the 2021 Super Bowl champions. Can you believe it? I don’t even know what to say, I’m just … [holds back tears by clenching his jaw tight enough to kill a bear] THIS CHAMPIONSHIP IS FOR ALL THE FANS WHO STUCK WITH US THROUGH THE HARD TIMES.”

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Jaguars Fans

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which I loved. This movie got a lot of shit back when it was released for being 160 minutes long, but really … what movie ISN’T that long now? Every time a new movie is about to drop, everyone is like, “Can you believe this shit is nearly three hours long?!” Yes, I very much can. The pattern has been well established.

Anyway, this is the movie where I, now a Movie Knower, thought to myself, “You know what? Brad Pitt really is one of our finest actors.” I’ve seen him badly miscast (Allied), and I thought a different guy (Joe Pesci) deserved the specific Oscar that Pitt won. But man, I’m done fighting it. He’s fucking brilliant here: a revelation if he hadn’t already been a revelation back in 1989. And the rest of the cast is INSANE. Pitt! Sam Rockwell! Pre-cornball Jeremy Renner! Sam Shepard! Ted Levine! Paul Schneider! They got Zooey Deschanel for this movie and she’s only in the coda! James Carville is in this movie and even HE’S good, and I fucking hate James Carville. Four stars.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“You know, most people don't know the difference between apple cider and apple juice, but I do! Now here's a little trick to help you remember. If it's clear and yella', you've got juice there, fella! If it's tangy and brown, you're in cidertown!”

Enjoy the playoffs, everyone.

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