Where to even begin this week? It has often been said that the week before the Conference Championship games is the best week to see some great games. Yet most of the time, you get three good games and one bad one if you are lucky. This weekend featured four games that were fantastic, a couple of which might go right over to ESPN Classics. The weekend started off with a double overtime thriller, then had an ice bowl that went down to the wire, followed by an offensive showcase that was decided by a touchdown, then another overtime game to close out the weekend. In all, 19 points separated the winners from the losers, talk about tight games.
From a fantasy perspective, it was a decent week, 20 players will officially make the write up. As I sit over my keyboard, I still can’t believe some of the action that went on. If you weren’t able to see any of the games, seek out someone you know that might have taped (or tivoed) the game, really. Let’s get right into them…
Carolina 29, at St.Louis 23 (double overtime)
What a roller coaster of a game this was, one in the end that it seemed like no one wanted to win. With the dome rocking, it became apparent early on that touchdowns were going to be difficult to come by in this one. Carolina was unable to muster anything on the game’s opening possession, and the Rams responded by going on the move right away. St.Louis drove the field, but when it got inside the 10 yard line, the Carolina D held the Rams three times and Jeff Wilkins (5 FG) booted the first of his many field goals for the early lead. The Panthers went back into ball control mode, which worked for a while, but Jake Delhomme (290 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 int) was picked off and after a good return to the Panther 25, the Rams were back in business. But the Panthers would only allow the Rams to penetrate to the eight yard line, and again Wilkins was called on to extend the lead. Now down six, Carolina was again able to move the ball, and they would score on a bizarre play. Choosing to go for fourth down at the Ram five, Delhomme’s attempted pitch to the running back on a sweep to the right was batted forward by a Ram defender, and in the ensuing scramble for the ball, Muhsin Muhammed ended up recovering it in the end zone for the score. The play was reviewed but upheld. Amazingly enough, this was the only touchdown of the game until the fourth quarter.
The Rams now playing from behind were still able to move the ball, but yet again the drive ended inside the 10 yard line, and Wilkins went back to work to put the Rams back on top. Carolina was able to move on the ensuing possession, John Kasay (3 FG, 2 PAT) connecting from 45 yards out to give the Panthers the lead that they would hold into the halftime break.
To open the half, Wilkins again was called upon, this time he connected from 51 yards out. Kasay answered on the next drive with a 52 yard boot of his own. Kasay would be good from 34 yards out after a Ram punt. The home crowd was getting antsy, and when the Panthers forced a turnover to start the fourth quarter, it was beginning to look like an upset was in the making. Carolina took advantage and finally got a touchdown, and on the next play, they picked off Marc Bulger (332 passing yards, 0 TD, 3 int) again, things were looking bad for the Rams. The Rams D did a little work of their own, and Kasay’s boot from 53 yards out was no good.
6:29 remained, and Marshall Faulk (53 rushing yards, 9 catches for 78 yards, TD) decided to put the team on his back. He nearly singlehandedly got the Rams down the field, getting them to the five yard line. Those last five yards were so tough, and it took St.Louis seven plays, but they finally broke in. Needing a two point play, Bulger hooked up with Dane Looker on a nice play, and the lead was a precarious three points. The Rams had only one time out, so with 2:38 on the clock, they lined up for the on-sides kick. Incredibly, not only did Wilkins pull off a good one, he himself went up and recovered the kick to give the Rams the chance they needed.
Bulger hooked up with Isaac Bruce for 20 yards on the first play to put the ball on the Panther 38 yard line. That combo would work again, this time for 13 yards, Faulk would catch a pass for 6 more yards to move the ball to the 19 yard line. Faulk would carry for 4 more yards, but inexplicably, with a time out in hand and a shade less than 20 seconds remaining, Grady Martz chose to sit on the ball and not go for the win. He let the clock roll down to three seconds, used their final timeout and had Wilkins tie the game to force the overtime.
The extra session would prove excruciating to the fans of both teams. Carolina got the ball first, and they quickly got into range for a potential game winning kick as Delhomme hooked up with seldom used Jake Wiggins to move to the Ram 21 yard line. The Panthers called time out to set their plan into motion, which was for Delhomme to move the ball to the middle of the field on first down to set up a second down kick. The kicking unit made its way onto the field, and as Kasay’s kick went straight thru the uprights, officials were waving off the play because of delay of game. In a bizarre turn of events, after the Rams called timeout to ice Kasay, Carolina sent the offense back onto the field for what turned out to be two ineffective running plays. With the kicking unit again in place, the Rams stopped things again to ice Kasay, and it worked, his 45 yard attempt no good.
Wilkins would be next, as the Rams got into position, but his boot from 53 yards was just short. Carolina, perhaps stunned by the turn of events, couldn’t get the offense moving, but again the defense came up big, intercepting Bulger for the third time. A sack of Delhomme fittingly ended the first over time. America caught their breath, and on the opening play of the second overtime, Delhomme hooked up with Steve Smith (6 catches for 163 yards, TD) for a 69 yard touchdown play that put an end to the madness. The game that no one could win was finally over.
at New England 17, Tennessee 14
For those of you that don’t have the dual television that I employ during football season, you know that as soon as the Panthers scored, you were able to flip the channel just in time to see Tom Brady (201 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 int) hook up with Bethel Johnson for the first points of the game. You didn’t miss much. Tennessee false started on the first play of the game, the first of their many offensive penalties, and they didn’t get a first down on the game’s opening drive. The Patriots did, much to the delight of the home faithful that braved temperatures that were near zero degrees.
Tennessee answered right back, putting together a nice drive that was capped off by something rarely seen in Foxborough, a visiting touchdown. New England was able to move the ball on the ensuing possession, but after a false start of their own, Adam Vinatieri was no good from 44 yards out. The New England D made the next move, picking off Steve McNair (210 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 int) on the very next play, and the Pats moved down the field for a touchdown to retake their lead. That was how the half ended, neither side threatening again.
New England had the ball to open the half, and were unable to get anything going. Tennessee was on their first drive, McNair hooking up with Derrick Mason (7 catches for 90 yards, TD) from 11 yards out to tie the game. When the Titans forced a fumble on the next drive, it looked like Tennessee was getting the momentum. Again the NE D shut the door, three and out. The fourth quarter began with New England again on the move, but unable to close the deal, the drive ended outside of field goal range. Tennessee did much of the same, and time was running out in regulation.
The Titans looked like they came up with another stop, but from their 33 yard line, New England went for it on fourth and three, and picked up four yards to keep the drive alive. Vinatieri capped things off from 46 yards out for the slim Patriot lead. McNair and the Titan offense had plenty of time (4:02) and they went to work. It was a drive that just was not meant to be as McNair was guilty of intentional grounding on second down, an offensive holding penalty cost the Titans another 10 yards, and on fourth and twelve from the New England 42, McNair’s pass to Drew Bennett was incomplete. The Patriots were able to milk the last 1:38 from the clock, forced to chew up the final three seconds by “going for it” on fourth down, Brady throwing the ball up in the air out of bounds getting the job done. A hard fought game between two well coached and evenly matched teams, on this day, goes to the Patriots.
Indianapolis 38, at Kansas City 31
After getting a few hours sleep, it was time for the Sunday games. The Colts were in Kansas City, and what else can you say about Peyton Manning? The guy was perfect last week, and nearly perfect again this week. Right now, he is simply unstoppable. Playing in the unfriendly confines of Kansas City, the Colts took the opening drive and scored easily, Manning (304 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 int) hooking up with Stokley from 29 yards out. Kansas City went right down the field on their opening drive of the game, but it stalled at the Indy 4, and they settled for a field goal. Six plays later, Edgerrin James (125 rushing yards, 2 TD) went up the middle from 11 yards out for another Colt score.
The offensive display would continue, the Chiefs moving with ease, Trent Green finding Dante Hall (2 TD) for the 9 yard score. This time, nine plays later Manning again was tossing a touchdown pass. Kansas City would try and answer, but Tony Gonzalez’s touchdown was nullified by penalty, and Mort Andersen was no good from 31 yards out. Not a good omen. There was little time left, and the Colts took a knee after a sack and the half ended.
Kansas City would have the ball to open up the second frame, and they needed to score to get back into the game. On the second play, Priest Holmes (176 rushing yards, 2 TD) went for 48 yards, but fumbled the ball away at the end of the run. The ensuing Colt drive would not end in a touchdown, but they did tack on three more points. The Chiefs made good on their next chance, Holmes getting it done from one yard out. But you know what happens next, this time it was Reggie Wayne (6 catches for 83 yards, TD) on the receiving end of a Manning touchdown strike.
Once again down big, this time it was Dante Hall doing the deed. He took the kickoff and raced 92 yards for the score, re-electrifying the crowd and keeping the Chiefs hopes alive. No matter, Manning went back to work, getting the Colts down the field, this time James carrying the rock from a yard out. Kansas City again responded, Holmes scoring from a yard out, and with a little under five minutes to go, it was once again a seven point game. But it was not to be on this day. Instead of scoring, the Colts chewed up all but the final eight seconds, and Holmes was tackled as time expired.
Marvin Harrison (6 catches for 98 yards) also gets a mention here in victory. Incredibly, the Colts have not been forced to punt in two playoff games.
at Philadelphia 20, Green Bay 17 (overtime)
With a #1 versus #3 set up in the AFC, it was up to the Eagles to make sure the NFC would have the same setup. Yet so many had thought that it would be Green Bay that would prevail in this one. Whatever you thought, this was another classic game. It started off with three and outs by both offenses, as the teams were getting a feel for each other. The Eagles looked like they would draw first blood, but scrambling to his left, Donovan McNabb (248 passing yards, 2 TD, 0 int, 107 rushing yards) fumbled the ball away. Doesn’t it always seem that after a turnover, the team that gets the ball always tried to score on that next play, no matter where they are on the field? Seems like it to me. And yet Green Bay surprised the Eagle D by doing just that, Brett Favre (180 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 int) hooking up with Robert Ferguson (4 catches for 65 yards, 2 TD) on a 40 yard bomb to give Green Bay the lead.
The Eagles got a nice return of the ensuing kick, and it looked like they were moving until a first down pass to the Packer five yard line was ruled incomplete on a challenge, so a field goal was in the cards. Or so they thought, Akers missed from just 33 yards out. Green Bay went right back to work, Favre again hooking up with Ferguson just before the end of the first quarter for the 14 point lead. Philadelphia finally got things going, Duece Staley capping off a nice drive midway thru the second. The next Green Bay drive would be extremely key, they drove down the field and had first down at the Eagle four. After an incomplete, Davenport carried twice unsuccessfully to the one yard line, fourth and goal, two minute warning. With plenty of time to think about it, Sherman wanted to go for it, but Ahman Green (156 rushing yards) ran into the back of one of his blockers and did not get into the end zone and the half ended 14-7.
The second half started out blah, then McNabb began to take over, running and passing. At the start of the fourth quarter, he tossed a great touchdown pass to Todd Pinkston (7 catches for 95 yards, TD) from 12 yards out. What made the play great, is that twice he was in the grasp of two separate Green Bay defenders, both times he got away, then scrambled and found Pinkston just inside the touchdown pylon. The kick was good, and it was a tie ball game. Two punts later, Green Bay was able to get things moving, started off with a Favre bomb to Javon Walker for a 44 yard gain. It was a tough catch in between two defenders, but he came down with the ball. In what might have been the play of the game, instead of getting up off the turf at the seven yard line and waltzing into the endzone, he began to celebrate, dancing and wiggling around. He had not yet been tackled, and luckily he was wrapped up by Philly defenders before he had a chance to spin the ball on the ground and complete his dance. This celebration would prove costly as Green Bay was unable to get into the end zone, settling for the short field goal.
Ten and a half minutes remained, and the Eagles went three and out on their next possession, including a sack on third down where McNabb’s fumble was recovered by Staley. The Packers then went to work on the clock, Green and Davenport running well. Facing a third and four at the Eagle 48, Favre had to scramble and he fell a yard short of the first down. Fourth and one, and it was a full yard. Green Bay lined up the offense on the field, but it was just a ploy to try and get the Eagles to jump offside…they did not, and Green Bay’s punt sailed thru the end zone for a touchback. It would be up to the Packer D to close this one out.
2:21 remained and after an incomplete pass, McNabb was sacked for a loss of 16 yards. On third and 26, the Eagles went for all 26 yards, but McNabb’s pass to Chad Lewis fell incomplete. As I was ranting about how they should have gone for half the yardage on third down, McNabb barely beat the play clock, and fourth down was underway. He found Freddy Mitchell up the middle for 27 yards and the drive continued. After finding Mitchell again, the Eagles were in range at the Packer 32. McNabb to Pinkston gobbled up 10 more yards on third and seven, putting the ball on the 19 with 0:22 remaining. The Eagles would make the bold move in going for the win, twice throwing to the corner of the end zone, both times unsuccessful and both times almost picked off. The second time, McNabb was again almost sacked, which would have ended the game since the Eagles had no time outs left. Akers came on, and he was true from 37 yards out.
With the crowd back into it, the Eagles went three and out to open up the overtime session. On Green Bay’s first play, facing a strong blitz, Favre threw the ball as high and far as he could, but when it landed it was in the arms of an Eagle. The return was for 34 yards, putting the ball on the Green Bay 34 yard line. Philly moved the ball a few more yards, and with the ball on the Packer 13, Green Bay called timeout to ice Akers. When they lined up again, the Packers tried to call another time out, the referees ignored the request since you can’t call back to back time outs, and Akers’ kick was true from 31 yards out as the Packers on the field were too busy looking for a timeout to try and make the block. A tough game for the Packers, one in which they led for a long time, but in the end the Eagles steal the win.