Some observations of this past weekend’s games…
So much for Destiny’s team
Similar to Forrest Gump pulling Lieutenant Dan from the jungle in Vietnam, the Eagles robbed the Packers of their pre-destined trip to the Super Bowl. I could go on about McNabb’s “Magic Legs” continuing the Gumpisms all day, but two references will be enough for this article. With the majority of the media convinced that the Packers would be making the trip to Houston (including yours truly), the Eagles and head coach Andy Reid had other ideas. Andy Reid had a note in the Eagles locker room stating something along the lines of: “If the Packers and Favre are a team of destiny, what does that leave for us?” After the Eagles 20-17 overtime victory, the answer was a trip to the NFC Championship game. A lot can be said about this game: missed opportunities, stellar rushing performances including Ahman Green (156 yard rushing) and Donovan McNabb (107 yards rushing on only 11 carries) and gutsy calls on both sides of the ball. But this game came down to two plays: the 4th and 26 converted by the Eagles and the Favre INT in overtime. The 4th down conversion was a thing of beauty as Freddie Mitchell made the 28-yard catch between two defenders setting up the field goal that sent the game into overtime. In overtime, it was a busted play that Favre looked to hand the ball off but since both he and the running back were out of position, Favre chose the launch the ball downfield to avoid getting sacked by the oncoming Eagles defenders. That pass ended up in the hands of Eagles safety Brian Dawkins and set up the game-winning field goal for Philly. This was a tough loss for Green Bay who were playing in their second consecutive playoff overtime game, but it was also a big win for a Philly team hoping that their third straight trip to the NFC title game is a charm.
Where’s the ‘D’? It certainly wasn’t in Kansas City this weekend
All you need to know about the Colts 38-31 victory over Kansas City in Arrowhead was that a combined 842 yards of offense was posted and neither team punted. That’s right, no punts for either team. This was the first playoff game in NFL history with no punts. Even without getting a chance to shine on punts, Dante Hall returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown which brought the Chiefs to within seven points near the end of the third quarter but it was not enough. Hall’s kick return along with his 9-yard TD reception and Priest Holmes’ 176 yards rushing and two TD’s wasn’t enough to match the Colts offensive express. The Indy train, driven by co-MVP Peyton Manning, was unstoppable for the second consecutive week. Manning connected on 22 of 30 passes for 304 yards, three TDs and no INTs. For the record, that means Manning has completed 44 of 56 passes for 681 yards and eight touchdowns in two games. Wow. The Edge chipped in 125 yards on the ground with two TDs himself in the winning effort. While all this offense has done wonders for those fantasy playoff pools, you’ve got to wonder what’ll happen next week when the Colts express makes it’s way into snowy, icy Foxboro. The old story of the unstoppable force verses the immovable object should be quite a show on Sunday.
Patriots freeze Titans Super Bowl hopes
On a night in New England where temperatures never reached double digits, the Patriots held on for yet another close home game defeating the Tennessee Titans 17-14 to advance to the AFC Championship game. The Patriots have now won 13 straight games including a perfect 9-0 at home and will host the Colts next week to see who makes the trip to Houston. Despite frigid temperatures, both teams moved the ball fairly well with two of the game’s four touchdowns coming by way of the pass. Automatic Adam Vinateri gave Pats fans a case of deja’ vu as his 46-yard field goal attempt sailed through the uprights (barely) giving the Pats the lead late in the fourth quarter. Despite a valiant effort by Steve McNair and the Titans, Tennessee came up short on their last possession. After Drew Bennett made two fine catches on the Titans final possession, it will be the ball he failed to catch that will be remembered most. On fourth down and 12, under pressure, McNair launched a pass up for grabs. Bennett fought to get open, jumped and got his hands on the ball but juggled it. As he tried to gain possession, the Pats secondary closed in and broke up the play ending the Titans drive and their hopes of playing for their second AFC Championship game in five years. Instead, it will be New England looking for a chance to to add to their first Super Bowl title won just two years ago. To get to Houston, the Pats will have to figure out how to beat both co-MVPs of the league. I guess Bill Belichick is earning his Coach of the Year award this season.
Panthers survive roller coaster ride
In perhaps the most bizarre game of the weekend, the Panthers blew an 11-point lead with less than three minutes to play in regulation, but hung on to defeat the Rams in double overtime 29-23. With the Rams on the verge of defeat down by 11 points with just under 6:30 to play, the Rams pulled an Emeril and kicked it up a notch. Marshall Faulk contributed 48 yards of the 57 yard-drive including the touchdown to pull within five points. After Bulger connected with Dane Looker for the two-point conversion and the Rams recovered the ensuing onsides kick, Mr. Momentum seemed to find a place on the Rams sidelines. The Rams final drive in regulation stalled at the Carolina 15-yard line and Martz took the safe way out and played for overtime by kicking the field goal. At this point, I couldn’t help but flash back to the Rams/Patriots Super Bowl hearing John Madden go on and on about how the Pats should just take a knee and play for overtime. Of course, we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the wild and wacky overtime had the Rams won it in regulation, now would we? After both teams missed nail-biting field goals and a Marc Bulger interception, the Panthers took over on their own 35 yard line. Just as the 2nd overtime was underway and fans were wondering how to make the smooth transition from the Rams/Panthers game to the just started Pats/Titans game, Steve Smith made everyone’s decisioneasier as he found the seam in the Panthers defense and took off for a 69-yard game-winning touchdown. The win advanced the Panthers to the NFC Championship game for the first time since ’96. The loss left a bad taste in the mouths of many St Louis fans which could be a long off-season for Mike Martz and company.
Some other passing thoughts….
Here’s a prime example of why gambling can skew one’s opinions. Looking at my picks from last week: Tennessee, Indy, Green Bay, and St. Louis one word comes to mind: Yuck! Of course, three of those four teams covered the spread, so I wasn’t really that far off. I know, close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes, but come on! Give a brother a break! How quickly the tide can turn from 3-1 to 4-4. Such is life trying to predict the NFL.
Looking ahead to this week’s matchups:
Indianapolis at New England: As mentioned above, the Unstoppable Force vs. the Immovable Object. The Colts offensive juggernaut against the defensive Mastermind in Bill Belichick. These teams combined to score 68 points in the Pats 38-30 win over the Colts at Indy earlier in the season. Since I’ve been touting the Colts as my pick to win the Super Bowl, I’ll pick them once again to pull off the road upset and advance to the big dance. Colts 28, Patriots 27.
Carolina at Philly: These teams met back in week 13 and the Eagles prevailed 25-16. Stephen Davis is 50/50 to play, but DeShaun Foster has shined in Davis’ absence. Jake Delhomme vs. Donovan McNabb. Hmm, I’d have to say advantage Eagles. While both defenses should keep this game a close one, I think Delhomme will make the bigger mistakes. Eagles finally win the big one. Philly 20, Carolina 13.
Until next week…