Monday, January 14, 2008

NFL divisional round closing thoughts

By Rick Morris

^ It was a strange Sunday in terms of the conventional wisdom regarding quarterbacks and coaches. Philip Rivers and Eli Manning have been routinely castigated as chokers during their short careers, but both are still alive going into Championship Sunday (although I am waiting for FDH Lounge Dignitary Nate Noy to call or email me claiming that Billy Volek's appearance in the game was actually the real reason the Chargers advanced). In terms of retread coaches who are not highly thought of by the media and most fans, Norv Turner pulled off a very surprising win and Wade Phillips will have to suffer through a difficult offseason as his Cowboys looked flat on balance and underachieved big-time.

^ Granted, general manager A.J. Smith is looking a lot smarter in San Diego than he did in September. A word to the wise, however for Mr. Smith: you might not want to strut around puffing out your chest saying, "How you like me now???" until the Chargers prove they can stay within three touchdowns of the Pats on Sunday.

^ The Seahawks were exposed as a fraud that took advantage of a weak, injury-riddled division. They need to retool offensively, starting with the run game, in order to make any kind of legitimate Super Bowl run next year.

^ T.O. is right; the Cowboys did lose as a team. But given the scrutiny that he was under for last year's playoff choke and his fade down the stretch this year, Tony Romo had to know that his Mexico junket with Yoko Romo was going to put him in an unacceptable position and he did it anyway. I have no sympathy for him.

^ What shapes up as the most fascinating and possibly consequential coaching decision of the offseason looms in Dallas, as Jerry Jones will have to turn over the ship right now to heir apparent Jason Garrett in order to avoid losing him. Did Bum's Son lose enough luster down the stretch and in this shameful loss to make a change even remotely feasible?

^ Peyton Manning seemed to have gotten the big-game monkey off his back once and for all last year when he won the Super Bowl. But Sunday's name, notwithstanding the gaudy statistics, was a losing effort in a game the team never should have blown, and is actually more typical of his career than what we saw last year (as past shockers to Pittsburgh and Tennessee at home in the divisional round can also attest). For all the talk in recent years about Peyton and Tom Brady being the "Marino and Montana" of this generation (meaning that one was a stat freak and another was a consummate winner), we had already seen a lot of cross-pollination this year what with Manning winning a Super Bowl and Brady having one of the all-time great statistical years and a league-record 50 touchdowns. But this game, combined with a possible fourth Brady Super Bowl ring in a few weeks, could serve to separate the two once and for all in the public mind with Brady universally considered better as a whole.

^ Jacksonville did everything they could defensively against the Patriots Saturday night, but frankly they were limited by only having 11 defenders. When a team establishes the run and pass to perfection as New England so often does, the other team is just on its heels throughout. The Jags were kept honest defensively for 60 minutes and with the historic array of weapons at Brady's disposal, Jacksonville couldn't get one or two additional stops to have a plausible chance at success.

^ This is a very controversial opinion, but the Pats game proved definitively who the league MVP is and it isn't Tom Brady, even in his moment of greatest one-game statistical glory. David Garrard, with a collection of wide receivers that an Arena League team would be ashamed to field, had another excellent game and got a chance to display his playmaking skills on a national scale. If the Jacksonville front office stops bumbling in its attempts to acquire legitimate wideouts, the Jags could make a run at the Super Bowl next year.

^ I love Championship Sunday. Along with Super Bowl Sunday, it ranks very high on my list of favorite secular holidays annually. But I am less enthusiastic for this year's offerings after Sunday's surprises. I believe Indy would have still lost to New England, but given a much better accounting for itself and I remain very unimpressed by a Giant team with an up-and-down offense and a pathetic secondary. While a Sunday night game in the snow at the Frozen Tundra will admittedly be cool, a Packer/Cowboy rematch now that Green Bay has a legit running game would have been awesome. Some of the storylines (aside from the tired Patriot Perfection one) will be OK, though: the bad blood between San Diego and New England dating back to last year, Ryan Grant going up against his old team for a shot at the Super Bowl, young guns Eli Manning and Philip Rivers (who were traded for one another on Draft Day in '04) having a chance to meet in the Super Bowl if they can pull big upsets. Still, though, the anticipated matchups would likely have been far better than what the NFL is going to dish out to us.

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