Watching Kurt Warner dissect Green Bay's No. 2 ranked defense in Sunday's record-breaking shootout, it struck me that 10 years ago this very month we first witnessed Warner on a national stage, putting on the kind of virtuoso performance that finished off the Packers.
Consider this: The two bookends of Warner's NFL postseason career at the moment are his five-touchdown, 391-yard, 27-of-33 passing day in the Rams' wild 49-37 NFC divisional round defeat of Minnesota on Jan. 16, 2000 -- his first-ever playoff appearance -- and his equally ridiculous masterpiece Sunday against Green Bay, when he was 29 of 33, for 379 yards, and five touchdowns in Arizona's unforgettable 51-45 overtime win.
To have one five-touchdown playoff game on your résumé is a feat. To have done it twice, almost a decade apart to the day, at age 28, and again at 38, is simply remarkable. Only Oakland's Daryle Lamonica and Warner have twice thrown for five touchdowns in the postseason.
The math alone for Warner from those two playoff games is mind-boggling: 56 of 66 passing, for 770 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 100 points scored, with just one interception. Warner is now 9-3 in his career as a playoff starter, but how can he ever top the first or last chapters in his postseason saga, when he played two of the closest-to-perfect games ever turned in by an NFL quarterback?
Warner's head coach of 10 years ago, the Rams' Dick Vermeil, watched his former quarterback's latest playoff work of art on Sunday from his home in southeast Pennsylvania. In Vermeil's eyes, it was Warner's finest hour ever, and maybe the signature game of his NFL career. He hopes it finally pushes Warner's Hall of Fame candidacy into slam-dunk territory.
"It's amazing,'' Vermeil said, on the phone. "That performance on Sunday was a Hall of Fame performance. I mean no disrespect, but if Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had done the same thing, people would be going bonzai. But Kurt Warner does it, and it's, 'Well, he had a great game.' But they move on.''
Why, I asked Vermeil, is Warner still underappreciated, even after everything he's done in his rather unique playing career?
"I just think many commentators and people in the media are hesitant to give Kurt the same amount of credit, maybe because of his background, and how he came up without the pedigree,'' Vermeil said. "And he's not a glamour guy. He's not dating models. He's just a low-key, super human being. A devout Christian and an outstanding football player. He doesn't draw attention to himself, other than when he plays on Sundays.
"It also may be because he's not in the New York market, the Chicago market, and he's not a Dallas Cowboy. They're raving about [Tony] Romo and how well he's playing. But my goodness, compared with Kurt? I don't know what else he's got to do. There's absolutely no question he's a Hall of Famer.''
Warner's 154.1 passer rating against Green Bay was the second highest in NFL playoff history, trailing only the perfect 158.3 rating that Manning hung up against Denver in a wild-card round win in 2004. Warner's career 104.6 playoff passer rating now trails only a tick behind league-leading Bart Starr (104.8) of the Green Bay dynasty in the 1960s.
"Kurt is a very, very special person and a very, very special player,'' said Vermeil, whose 1999 Rams won the franchise's only Super Bowl title with the unheralded Warner at quarterback. "He's maybe the most accurate passer in the history of the game. He was putting that ball on a laser on Sunday. Some of those guys the other day were covered. They weren't wide open. But I wasn't surprised by what he did. I expected him to play like that. The better the competition, the better Kurt plays. Look at his playoff history.''
Warner's next assignment is this weekend's NFC divisional round game at top-seeded New Orleans (13-3) on Saturday. With both Warner and Minnesota's Brett Favre, 40, still alive in the NFL's final eight, Vermeil said it should help kill the misperception that older quarterbacks are automatically quarterbacks on the decline.
"Hopefully it'll be a good message to all the people who make decisions on personnel, to evaluate the total picture,'' Vermeil said. "Does it have to do with age, or being in the wrong place and in the wrong offense? Quarterbacks cannot do it without a supporting cast and the right scheme.
"I think what Favre has done now and what Kurt has done now, it's a good thing. It's going to send out a positive signal: Don't write these old guys off. They want to write off Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle right now, even though his offensive line was decimated by injuries, and he really never had his left tackle in there hardly at all. It's not that he's too old. It's that he doesn't have the supporting cast around him any more.''
Warner has the supporting cast, the perfect offense to play in for his quick-release and precision passing, and he still has the goods, as he displayed once again in that instant classic against Green Bay. Ten years after we first got a look at his playoff magic, Warner continues to amaze.
• When Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta declined to interview for the Seahawks general manager job last week, it was a clear indication that he has emerged as the obvious heir apparent for longtime Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome. Though there is no timetable for Newsome's departure from the organization, and Newsome remains one of the game's most respected GMs and gifted personnel evaluators, the Ravens think very highly of DeCosta and did not want to lose him to any NFL rival.
In the coming weeks, look for Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti to make the line of succession official in terms of the Ravens' general manager position, with DeCosta named Newsome's eventual replacement. When that transition will occur is likely to remain completely open-ended, and depends upon how much longer Newsome wants to remain in the job he has done so well in Baltimore, which is back in the playoffs for the sixth time in Newsome's 14-year GM tenure.
• It doesn't surprise many within the league that former Seattle general manager Tim Ruskell had a problem with Jim Mora, his hand-picked head coach, openly supporting Mike Holmgren's candidacy to be Ruskell's replacement last month. Ruskell had resigned by the time Mora threw his support behind Holmgren in the form of a letter to Seattle owner Paul Allen and team CEO TodLeiweke, but a league source told me that Mora's chess move angered Allen and marked the beginning of the end for Mora after one disappointing season as the Seahawks head coach.
Given that Mora's three-year head coaching tenure in Atlanta (2004-06) didn't end particularly well either, it's going to take some level of rehabilitation of Mora's reputation within the league before he's in position to earn a third head coaching opportunity. All in all, it has been a curious and sudden turn of events for a guy who not all that long ago was considered one of the better young head coaches in the game. But these facts don't help Mora: In his four seasons as a head coach, his won-loss record has decreased each year, from 11-5 in 2004, to 8-8 in 2005, to 7-9 in 2006, to this year's 5-11 in Seattle.
• I get that the track record for former collegiate head coaches who take No. 1 jobs in the NFL is abysmal, but new Seattle head coach Pete Carroll does have the benefit of not being a novice NFL head coach, as Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, Dennis Erickson, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Lou Holtz were when they donned NFL headsets.
Carroll took two of his four teams to the NFL playoffs as the Jets and Patriots head coach, and these days that's as likely to get you a hefty raise and a contract extension as it is get you canned (twice). Carroll was 1-2 in the playoffs during his three-year stint in New England (1997-99), and that's one more postseason win than Wade Phillips owned until last Saturday night.
Given that Carroll was sandwiched between the Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick coaching eras with the Patriots, and both of those guys led New England to Super Bowl berths, Carroll's tenure in Foxboro tends to look worse than it really was.
• Not sure how it is that Arizona's highly-regarded director of player personnel Steve Keim hasn't yet been asked to interview for the Seattle general manager job, because his name was among the first mentioned once Ruskell resigned on Dec. 3. But the Seahawks could do a lot worse than raid the front office of the division rival who has won the last two NFC West titles.
Within the league, Keim gets a ton of the credit for the talent Arizona has accumulated via the draft in recent years. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Beanie Wells, Calais Campbell, Tim Hightower, Deuce Lutui and LaRod Stephens-Howling are just the most notable examples of Keim's work for the defending NFC champions and current final 8 qualifier.
• Eric Mangini is fortunate to have had a well-timed four-game winning streak and kept his head coaching job in Cleveland. But it's remarkable how much his power within the organization has been reduced in the span of about two weeks.
He went from calling all the shots in every department in Cleveland this season -- with former Browns general manager George Kokinis being the NFL's real Mr. Irrelevant -- to now answering to both new general manager Tom Heckert Jr. and team president Mike Holmgren.
But given the Browns needed that kind of layered front office structure all along, the demotion of sorts could be the best thing that ever happened to Mangini's career.