Back from oblivion
One of them had his name virtually turned into a punch line in recent years, and it was often said of him that as a head coach he made a heck of an offensive coordinator. The other one spent a good bit of the past two seasons playing the role of a piñata, taking blows from all directions while folks stood around and debated when he'd crack.
But look at
In San Diego, Turner replaced
But for all those who loudly grieved the demise of MartyBall in San Diego, mocking Turner as a failure-in-waiting, consider this: Turner has taken San Diego to its first AFC title game since 1994. Schottenheimer last advanced one of his teams to a conference title game in 1993 (Kansas City), which is also the year he last won a playoff game. He was 0-2 in the postseason with the Chargers, so Turner already has managed something that Schottenheimer never did.
San Diego has won eight games in a row and is 12-2 since that 1-3 start. The Chargers just knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions on the road in a game in which their three most important offensive weapons were either hobbled by injury or knocked out of the game. That could sound a little flukey until you realize it's the second time this season the Chargers have beaten the Colts. They upset them in San Diego in November when Indy was injured, and they did it again on Sunday in Indianapolis when they were the ones who had to resort to backups. Different story, same result.
And then there are Coughlin's New York Giants. At 0-2 in mid-September, they looked not only defensively dysfunctional, but also the noxious fumes that overtook their 2006 season internally were again forming in the locker room. The fans and media immediately resumed a death watch for Coughlin's job that had really never ended since December 2006. That one-year extension that New York awarded him in January 2007 -- after making him twist in the wind for a few days -- looked like it would wind up being money thrown out the window.
In September, there were questions about whether Coughlin would even make it to midseason before the boom was lowered on him. It was considered just a matter of time before his much-publicized kinder, gentler personality makeover gave way to the old, raging Tommy C.
But there are no death watches underway now that New York has strung together a pair of playoff road wins, giving the Giants nine consecutive wins away from home overall. New York on Sunday in Green Bay will play for the NFC championship for the first time since the 2000 season, and Coughlin's guys have gone 12-4 for him since that 0-2 sky-is-falling start.
The best part for me is that both coaches have no interest in using this week's platform to remind everyone how wrong they were about them and their teams. They've got the mother of all I-told-you-so's coming, but all they want to do is get back to work trying to figure out how to extend their playoff runs another week. After all, Coughlin (12) and Turner (10) have been NFL head coaches for a combined 22 seasons without ever earning a Super Bowl trip. So there's plenty more to be won.
It's once again a great lesson for all of us in letting the whole story play out before we rush to judgment. In September, we buried Coughlin and Turner, but in January we're saluting them. No, you can't like their chances to keep their rides going this week in Green Bay and New England, but how can you rule out another comeback after where they've already been this year?
• Is it like we've seen this movie before? The Chargers are the third straight AFC team to follow my Theory of Unfinished Business (even though I thought it applied more to New England this year, as I wrote in May). Simply put, for the third consecutive year, the team that suffered the most bitter and galling playoff defeat last season has rebounded to make the most surprising postseason this year.
The No. 1-seeded Steelers in 2004 went 15-1, but lost at home to the Patriots in the AFC title game. The next season, the wild-card Steelers won four playoff games to earn their first Super Bowl title since 1979.
The No. 1-seeded Colts in 2005 went 14-2, but lost at home to the Steelers in the AFC divisional round. The next season, the No. 3-seeded Colts won four playoff games to earn their first Super Bowl title since 1970.
The No. 1-seeded Chargers in 2006 went 14-2, but lost at home to the Patriots in the AFC divisional round. The next season, which would be this year, the No. 3-seeded Chargers are halfway home to winning four playoff games and earning the first Super Bowl title in San Diego team history.
Then again, the Steelers and Colts didn't have the perfect-season Patriots standing between them and the Super Bowl.
• Just using a little common sense here, but if Colts owner
Dungy would do right to ignore Irsay's proposed arrangement. How does an NFL head coach ask his players to commit to the team year-round when he's not doing the same thing ? Being a head coach in this league will never be a part-time job, and Dungy knows that.
• And while we're at it,
• I don't think I've ever seen one team handle playing in the cold so dramatically differently as I did Green Bay in Week 16 in blustery Chicago (a 35-7 loss) and on Saturday in that snow-fest against Seattle (a 42-20 win).
• Speaking of the cold, the Chargers' injury situation won't be helped one bit by the game-time temperatures in the teens that are expected Sunday in Foxboro. If San Diego is waiting to see how quarterback
• If I were an NFL fan, I don't know if I'd really want my team going 13-3 in the regular season next year. The unlucky 13-win scenario claimed both the Colts and the Cowboys in their playoff openers this year, as it did the Ravens last year.
NFC North teams, however, seem immune from it. The Packers were 13-3 this year, as were the NFC champion Bears last year.
• Cowboys owner
• Couldn't help but notice some quotes where Dallas offensive line coach-assistant head coach
Who does that sound like? No wonder Dolphins football czar
• An interesting and potentially very telling statistic not to be lost in the build-up for this week's Chargers-Patriots AFC title game: While New England beat San Diego 38-14 in Week 2 at Gillette, the Chargers led the league in scoring defense over the final six weeks of the regular season, giving up just 12.5 points per game in that span.