by Michael Lombardi
January 18, 02010
QUOTE: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Take a bow, Yahoo Dave. Your Jets are in the final four, and regardless of how they got in the playoffs, they’re for real right now. I’m sure this is exactly how you figured the season would go. I’m glad I made my bet with Matt “I love me some Texans” Bowen instead of you. You clearly can see the future.
Four games Sunday and really only one good game as the three home teams dominated. The Cowboys, who were so hot going into the playoffs and in their first-round win over the Eagles, played as they did two months earlier in Green Bay, making too many mistakes and missing too many field goals.
Here are my postgame thoughts….
The really good
Reggie Bush looked like a new man. He was running harder and tougher than I’ve ever seen him, and his effort will make the Saints think seriously about picking up his option this offseason. His toughness was a welcome addition to their offense.
Brett Favre, not Adrian Peterson, is the key to the Vikings. He proved that yesterday, making incredibly accurate throws down the field. And wide receiver Sidney Rice seems to have Favre’s confidence that he can make plays. Next week in New Orleans, it will be critical for them to have another big day.
The Jets’ defense met the challenge and covered in the secondary better than they had all season. Even though the Chargers did a good job picking up the blitz, the Jets covered their wide receivers and never allowed a big-play passing team to make a big play.
The Vikings’ defensive line proved to be the better line and dominated the game with Dallas, creating pressure on Tony Romo and never allowing him to get comfortable. Six sacks and numerous pressures forced the Cowboys to make mistake. DE Ray Edwards dominated tackle Marc Colombo and was in the backfield all day.
Leslie Frazier, the defensive coordinator of the Vikings, did a good job planning last week and seemed to have a great understanding of the Cowboys’ hot reads off blitz looks. The Vikings’ defense was ready for anything the Cowboys had to offer.
The Colts’ defense is fast, and it used that speed to shut down the running game of the Ravens, which essentially shut down their offense. The Ravens averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt, which appears to be a solid number, but they were often in long downs because of their seven penalties along with the Colts winning on first down. Holding the Ravens to just 12 first downs was very impressive.
Jets coach Rex Ryan deferring the ball to start the game put the Chargers offense on the field. Even though his own offense spent the first quarter going three and out, their confidence grew as the game wore on. The Jets started the second half with a field goal and a renewed sense they could move the ball.
Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey, despite playing on a bad foot, was very effective and was a tough player for the Cards in the passing game. When the Saints go empty with Bush and Shockey in the game, they have five very effective receivers.
The pressure the Saints’ defensive front applied to Kurt Warner was the difference in the game. They were fast and active and forced the Cards to get out of their rhythm.
Gary Brackett, the middle backer of the Colts, is playing very well. He doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to tackle in spite of his size. The Colts never complain about missing Bob Sanders because their safeties, Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea, do not allow big runs. They have allowed only 11 20-plus-yard runs all season.
Joe Flacco’s hip might be injured, but he was not very effective making quick decisions. Once his first option was closed off, he didn’t look definite about where he needed to go with the ball.
The Ravens’ first-down play selection was questionable. Before they fell behind 20-3, they had 13 first-and-10 calls: 11 run, two pass. You might say their second-down calls were not very good either.
The Cards seem to have too much talent on defense to allow 45 points, 35 in the first half, but injuries depleted their secondary. In the past two weeks, they allowed 90 points.
The very bad
The Chargers thinking they could rekindle the magic of LT was their biggest mistake of the day. LaDainian Tomlinson is done, and every time they gave the ball to him in the first half, they did the Jets a favor. All year, the Chargers were a passing team, not LT’s team, and something changed in the playoffs.
Wade Phillips’ decision to attempt a 48-yard field goal early in the game was a move I’m sure he’d love to have back. Faced with a fourth and 1, Phillips sent out Shaun Suisham to try the long kick, which missed. The ‘Boys had been moving the ball well, and had they gotten the first down, things might have been different. Expect a new kicker in Dallas next year.
Nate Kaeding had made his previous 69 field goal attempts from inside the 40-yard line, including playoffs, but he missed two realistic kicks and one unrealistic one. A missed field goal is like a turnover, so with Kaeding’s three misses and two interceptions by Rivers, the Chargers were minus-5 in the turnover-takeaway column.
San Diego defensive end Shawne Merriman is supposed to be a difference maker in games, but he didn’t make a difference at all Sunday. His play was non-existent.
On a serious note, I would like to send my condolences to the family of Bears defensive end Gaines Adams, who died suddenly Sunday morning after going into cardiac arrest from an enlarged heart. He was just 26 years old. The NFL has lost too many young people in recent years, from Chris Henry to Steve McNair to Sean Taylor to Darrent Williams. Each one is very sad to very hard to comprehend.
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