Monday, January 22, 2007

Championship Sunday

New Orleans Saints 14
Chicago Bears 39

  • The New Orleans Saints' Cinderella season came to a abrupt halt Sunday, largely impart to the conditions at Solider Field. The Saints, whose home games take place in the controlled confines of the Louisiana Superdome on artificial turf, and whose road games mostly take place in the warm south, were obviously uncomfortable in snowy 28 degree Chicago. If this game took place in New Orleans, or even on a neutral field, the Saints would have probably blown out the Bears. However, Chicago, aided by a soft schedule, earned the homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs during the regular season and cannot be faulted.
  • Chicago had 196 yards rushing to New Orleans 56. In the playoffs, especially in such weather and field conditions, football games are won running the ball.
  • Similar to the win against the Seahawks, Rex Grossman was aided by defense and special teams and simply had to not make mistakes. Having never trailed, Rex went a mediocre 11/26 for 144 yards, but ZERO turnovers is a rare feat that practically guarantees a Chicago victory.
  • The Saints defensive coaching staff is being criticized for not being aggressive enough, and rightly so. They should have sent more blitzes and pressured Grossman into making some of his signature mistakes.
  • Down 16-0, Drew Brees and the Saints offense finally got going, culminating in a dump off lob to Reggie Bush which he took to the house 88 yards later to make it 16-14. About ten yards from scoring, Bush proudly waved and taunted at the chasing Bears defenders before making his trademark somersault into the endzone. Note that the Chicago defense never let the Saints score after Bush's showy taunt and dance.

New England Patriots 34
Indianapolis Colts 38

  • Football games rarely live up to the hype like this instant classic did. Brady vs Manning is this generation's Montana vs Aikman and Magic vs Bird.
  • Halftime: Pats 21, Colts 6. Peyton has been picked off for a touchdown, and the Colts defense is looking soft again. The Monday mourning discussions and newspaper headlines are already being developed - Manning loses the big game...again.
  • Instead, the Colts storm back quickly in the second half, with a Manning sneak into the endzone and a touchdown strike to Dan Klecko (the THIRD lineman to score a touchdown in this game!), capped off with a two point conversion to, who else, Marvin Harrison. Just like that, we are all tied up at 21. Game on.
  • Brady and Manning keep on firing back at each other, trading a pair of touchdowns and field goals, until Peyton's potentially career defining 7-play 80-yard drive for the go ahead score with a minute left. Brady looks like he is poised for another comeback drive of his own before being picked off at midfield.
  • Let there be no doubt Manning won this game, and he needed all 349 of his passing yards to do it. But he finally got help come championship time. Throughout this season and into the playoffs, the knocks on the Colts were 1) run defense and 2) run offense. In the second half, the Colts held the Pats to 5 carries for 8 yards. The Colts, on the other hand, had Rhodes and Addai evenly share 28 carries for 125 yards, a solid 4.5 yards/carry. In such a close game, this is an enormous difference.
  • Thankfully, the game did not come down to a Vinatieri or Gostkowski missed field goal, which would have completely changed the outcome of the game and playoffs, a la 2005, and created one of the saddest storylines ever.
  • Speaking of great storylines, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, two good friends and former colleagues, will now face off each other as the first two African-American head coaches in the Super Bowl. Throw in Peyton Manning's first shot at a Super Bowl title, strength versus strength in a great offense versus a great defense, and Rex Grossman and the Bears coming in as 7-point underdogs, and we are in for one heck of a game in Miami come Super Bowl XLI.