Finally, an entire weekend of games in the NFL postseason lived up to expectations. For at least three quarters, the AFC championship game turned out to be one of the most exciting games in NFL conference championship history. Not even four quarters could decide the NFC Super Bowl representative. For the first time in sixteen years, two number NFL one seeds will play in each other in what will likely be the most hyped game in Super Bowl history.
New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts – As stated above, for three quarters this was an NFL classic. Rex Ryan and the Jets didn’t come to Indianapolis satisfied with exceeding expectations and playing in the title game. The Jets came out firing on both sides of the ball. Manning was sacked on the third down of his first possession and you knew from there, this was going to be a long afternoon. All of the talk about the Jets rattling Manning proved to be correct.
To my surprise, the Jets broke this game wide open with a phenomenal call in the second quarter. Mark Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards with a beautiful 80-yard pass for a score. This was the first touchdown of the game and pulled the Jets in front 7-3. The Colts looked stunned, the crowd got quiet, and the Jets looked more confident than the home team that bucked history and had the opportunity to go for an undefeated season.
Going into halftime I was almost sure that the Jets were winning this thing. The Jets were having some serious problems accounting for Collie and Garcon, but they had kept Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in check. I didn’t think Jim Caldwell would be able to make the proper adjustments necessary to take the game back. The Jets also had the ball coming out of halftime. Everything just seemed to be going the way of gang green.
Now on paper you wouldn’t have thought Greene leaving was that big of a deal because you have Jones. But Jones works in a split situation because of the change-of-pace style he brings paired with Leon Washington or Greene. A situation that features Jones with no other options is a tricky one. I sent a text to my brother when Greene went out and I said that this one is over. Missing that second back completely changes the game for the New York Jets and makes things a lot easier for the Colts defense.
Manning showed me a lot on Sunday. I think sometimes he gets a lot of criticism because he just makes it look too easy. It took him a half, but he picked up on the Jets schemes and found ways to get Clark and Wayne open. Once Wayne and Clark started getting open, the will of the Jets was broken, and Manning was in cruise control.
Last week I wrote about the underrated Indianapolis Colts defense coming into the game. For some reason, the Colts are still labeled a bad rushing defense because of a few bad seasons a couple of years back. It’s just not true. In back to back weeks, the Colts plugged up arguably the two best rushing teams in the NFL. I think this Colts defense is underrated and are a big reason that this team is going to the Super Bowl.
I don’t think the New York Jets are a case of a team that overachieved and got hot. I think they have a very good coach who can do this again. Think about this. This isn’t even entirely Rex Ryan’s team. Give Rex Ryan a few years where we can get his type of players and this team will be ready for the Super Bowl. So long Kerry Rhodes. Ryan is no fluke. Ryan has been a defensive mastermind for years as a coordinator. I think that there has been an official changing of the guard in the AFC East this year. I don’t see any reason that this team can’t win the East next season and contend once again.
The Jets will be playing with fire if they roll with Thomas Jones next season. He is only getting older. Should the Jets come back with a three-headed attack of Jones, Washington, and Greene, they could be the most dangerous team in the AFC next season. Mark Sanchez will likely have a bit of a sophomore slump so I wouldn’t expect big things next season. However, he only seemed to get more comfortable with Dustin Keller as the season moved on. I think he is the real deal and Jets fans can be comfortable for the first time in decades that they have a franchise quarterback for years to come.
Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints – Rarely does a game with this much hype live up to expectations. On paper, this reminded me of those old 49er-Cowboy NFC title games of the early 1990s which always wound up more competitive than the Super Bowl. Both teams opened up the game with scoring drives and reassured fans that this game was going to live up to all of the hype and then some.
I have to start off here with something that didn’t have anything to do with the game itself. Right before the game kicked off on the sidelines, Chris Myers grabbed Vikings coach Brad Childress for some comments. Chris asks him flat out what his run-pass ratio will be for the game. Of course Childress looks at him like, “Are you serious?” and gives up a very non-committal answer. But what kind of lazy journalism is this? Is that any different than a question any NFL fan would ask Brad Childress before a game? Give me a break! There are plenty of ways to ask the same question, yet in a more creative fashion. What is the point of having this sideline charade if all the interviewer is going to do is ask a lazy question? I’ve seen better sideline reporting during an Arena Football game.
The Saints game plan here was to hit Brett Favre and to hit him often. I have no problem with that, because that is what the game is all about. However, the game plan here included taking lots of cheap and dirty shots at old #4. Favre hit the ground often, and most of those hits were late and dirty. I am no Favre apologist by any means, but even I thought some of these hits were getting a bit ridiculous.
The bottom line here is it worked for the Saints. No other team this season was able to get to Favre as often as the Saints got to him. Favre not only went down often, he often went down hard. The pain on Favre’s face as he would get up from every hit was just excruciating. At one point Favre had to go to the bench for medical treatment. This was a defensive performance that you would have expected in the early game. As much as Favre can annoy me at times, I will say this about the gunslinger. He is one tough guy. Nobody can ever question his toughness after watching what he went through at 40-years old and finishing the game.
The story of the game here was turnovers. The Vikings offense turned the ball over six times, with Adrian Peterson stealing that show. The Saints got a bit off of the hook here, because they also turned the ball over several times. Adrian Peterson is taking a ton of heat today for his numerous fumbles. While he does need to own up to his own mistakes, the Saints defense deserves a ton of credit here also. The Saints were constantly going for the ball. I don’t know if this was all about Peterson’s carless play or more about the Saints creating their own turnovers. I tend to credit the defenses on both sides for creating the turnovers rather than putting all of the blame on the players when it comes to most of the turnovers. Not all of them, but I’ll get to that.
The old Brett Favre made a special guest appearance here. Favre threw an interception to the Saints, turning the ball over, and taking away the Vikings Super Bowl hopes with one play. This wasn’t a brilliant play by the Saints. This was a horrendous throw and terrible decision by a veteran quarterback who should have known better.
The turnover gave the Saints the ball with less than 10 seconds to go, yet they didn’t do anything with it. The game went into overtime. Now here we go again with the NFL overtime debate. Anytime an NFL game goes into overtime, fans and media start screaming about how unfair it is that the other team doesn’t get a chance with the ball. I hate that argument. Using that argument, it is like saying that defense doesn’t count for anything. The defense has just as much of an opportunity to make something happen as the opposing offense. The Saints won the toss and received the ball.
The Saints wound up scoring on the opening overtime drive. The Saints used 11 plays to move the ball down the field and set things up for a field goal. Garrett Hartley made a 40-yard field goal to win the game and send the Saints to the Super Bowl. Before you anti-overtime critics start screaming about it being unfair that the Vikings didn’t get a chance, keep in mind that the Vikings had 11 chances to stop the Saints. Not too mention, most overtimes don’t end on the first possession. This was only the fifth time out of twenty-seven NFL playoff overtimes that a team scored on its opening possession.
Funny how after five intense quarters of championship football, the quarterback who threw one of the most ridiculous interceptions in postseason history is stealing all of the headlines today. While the most anticipated Super Bowl of our generation is getting its share of headlines, most of the headlines revolve around Brett Favre and his future in the NFL. I will save my opinions on what Favre should and will do for later in the week. But it got so ridiculous that Fox had more shots of Favre leaving the field after the game than the quarterback that just drove his team 11 plays down the field in overtime to win the game and go to the Super Bowl. Heck, I thought at one point that Fox was going to ask Favre to accept the Halas Trophy for the Saints!
Finally after years of disappointment, NFL fans will get the Super Bowl Dream Match that we always hope for when a season starts. I’ll give the NFL a lot of credit, because most of the Super Bowls over the last decade were competitive thrillers. But none ever featured a matchup of the two “sexy” team of the season. This will be the first time in sixteen years that two number one seeds will play each other for in the Super Bowl. Enjoy it, because it may be another sixteen before we see anything like this again.
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