What divisional weekend lacked in drama, it made up in poignancy
SAN DIEGO -- Poignant weekend in a lot of ways, with the Canton-great careers of
The moment I liked most from the weekend happened Sunday night, in the bowels of Qualcomm Stadium, where
There wasn't a lot of drama over the weekend in the four playoff games, but there's a lot of good stuff out there, in and around the NFL. Settle back, tell your boss you need a few minutes, and I hope I make this column worth your while.
"We've got a ton of respect for Revis,''
Oh really? Rivers went back to pass 45 times (40 passes, two sacks, three runs after being chased from the pocket), and I charted Revis' coverage pattern on every one of Rivers' pass-drops. By my count, Rivers threw four passes into the zone where Revis had primary coverage, or to the man Revis was playing man-to-man. One was complete, to
Four times Rivers went at Revis in 45 pass calls. One completion, for minus-four. One interception. You cannot play the position better than Revis played it Sunday. I don't care if you're
"We were playing a lot of man coverage on his side regardless who the receiver was,''
I told Revis the numbers in the tunnel after the game, just before he boarded the team buses for the airport. "I guess they gave me a lot of respect. It's my job, to cover guys, and I hope I do it pretty well.''
More than pretty well.
There's the story of the black baseball bats being handed out at the Friday night team meeting with "Bring The Wood'' burned into them, and the re-signing of local hero
On the second series of the game, Gay brought the wood against Arizona receiver
"We do that drill first thing in practice every day,'' defensive coordinator
There was a bit of bring-the-wood mentality by the Saints' defense. Williams all week told them Warner must go down, and he must go down hard. "We had to put Kurt down early so he would play with a little fear,'' Williams said. The other thing the Saints D did was make sure Warner couldn't step up in the pocket and get a second platform and be comfortable enough to throw. So defensive tackle
So now the secondary faces its second straight geezer, 40-year-old Favre, for the NFC title. You can bet Williams will change a few things up against Favre, but two things will be the same. The Saints will try to batter him with a couple of early shots, and they'll try to knock
There can't be 10 throws in Favre's football life as good as the one he made to start the scoring in the rout of the Cowboys. He sets up, flings it deep down the right sideline for Sidney Rice in tight coverage, and Rice barely has to move his hands to catch it and score on a 47-yard touchdown. The ball finds Rice's hands. Not a
We're now through 17 games. Favre is having the kind of impact no one except maybe he (and I bet he'd tell you he never thought the year would be going this good) thought he'd have. In 17 games, he's at a remarkable plus-30 touchdown-to-interception differential -- 37 touchdowns, seven interceptions. The Vikings need him to play like this only twice more and they're Super Bowl champions. That'll be a tall order, obviously, but the one thing we know is that physically the task has not been too much for him.
I've got to give defensive coordinator
That was a career-changer, potentially, for Edwards and Frazier. For Edwards because it showed he can be a premier pass-rusher on the biggest stage. And for Frazier, who should be the Bills' first, second and third candidate for head coach right now.
He's the undersized core-of-the-defense linebacker who, in a typical performance Saturday night, where he's supposed to be in the shadow of the great Ravens defenders, had five tackles, a sack and a
"We define ourselves,'' Brackett said after the Colts' 20-3 trouncing of the Ravens. "We've been, in my opinion, the best team in football all year, and we don't concern ourselves with what people in the outside world think of us. The one thing people don't realize about us is we're a physical team. Yes, we play with a lot of speed, but you can't get to 14-0 without having a physical presence on your defense.''
The matchup of brawn on the Jets line -- and with 228-pound rookie back
Good notes by
Now, my gut feeling is it won't happen next year either, but who knows? Dungy is getting to like TV, and he's getting to like the freedom the TV life gives him to do his charity work and to be around his children more.
Two things I know:
1. I'm told late last week that Seattle president
2. Dungy and Frazier are very close. So close that Frazier considers Dungy his mentor, and calls him weekly for advice on playcalls and personnel matters. "To be able to walk down the hall as head coach and talk to Tony for advice would be a dream,'' Frazier told me Sunday night ... after he and Dungy had dinner together in Minneapolis. "Tony has told me this: If he did ever do it [become a club president], it would be because of me. When he told me that, it brought tears to my eyes.''
So stay tuned. If Frazier doesn't get the Buffalo job after Minnesota's strong run, and if he waits until next year to be a head coach, we'll all have to be on Dungy watch again.
I'm hearing that after the Super Bowl, commissioner
Goodell recently met with Stallworth for two hours, and he came away impressed that Stallworth would devote time for the foreseeable future to anti-drunk-driving causes. Living in south Florida, Stallworth is coaching kids part-time and working out seriously to try to get in the kind of shape that would convince a team to give the well-traveled and chastened receiver one more shot.
You want to see great players make great plays in big games like these. Well, I do anyway. Reed had the most compelling three minutes any player has had in a while against the Colts on Saturday night. In the span of six plays on the same drive in the third quarter (technically, they are two different drives because of the change of possession and then the change back within seconds), Reed twice intercepted
Reed, 31, said after the game a nerve impingement in his neck may force him to retire. "You'll know soon enough,'' he said. That would be sad for football, because this is the best ball-hawking safety of our time (maybe ever), and the most instinctive defensive back of this era. Intercepting Manning twice in a span of six plays ... that's absolutely stunning. And it's no fluke.
On the first play, a long throw down the right sideline for a seemingly open
But five plays later, Reed did the same thing in straight-away center, on a ball I'm surprised Manning threw. With Ivy in tight coverage on
Someday, if Manning stays healthy for six or seven more years (a big if), we might be talking about him as the greatest quarterback of all time. If you talk to corners and safeties around the league, they'll tell you he's virtually un-baitable. That's what makes Reed, who has studied the difference in mechanics between Manning's pump-fakes and his real throws, so special. Even though one of them didn't count, I don't think you'll ever see such a great quarterback as Manning picked twice by the same guy on such instinctive plays.
If Reed retires, it'll be like some of the greats who went out in their prime --
If the past few days, I've spoken to sources on both sides of the labor talks, and I've come to the conclusion that it'll be an upset if there isn't a work stoppage that either delays or cancels the 2011 season. Many of us in the media have speculated about the chances for a lockout and predicted one is coming, but the total lack of progress over the nut issue in 11 bargaining sessions tells me unless there's a sea-change by one side or the other, you'd better savor the 2010 season because it could be the last football we see for a while.
At the core of the problem is ownership's demand for players to bear an equal part of the cost for stadium construction, debt service and upkeep -- and the players saying it's not their problem. In NFL Players Association executive director
I thought the 18 percent number might be an exaggeration, a scare tactic to get players' attention. It's not. The owners, one management source said, have asked that the players' pool of revenue against which the salary cap is calculated be reduced by 18 percent.
The players' response, a union source told me, is that they're not prepared to take a penny, or a percentage point, less. While Smith, in his letter to players, didn't dismiss the possibility of negotiating on the issue, he wrote that there has been no compelling information presented to players to justify such a major reduction in what players make.
You wonder what 18 percent means. So did I. The management source said the owners want $1 billion a year credited to ownership and not subject to being part of the pie that the players divide. "There's obviously been an enormous shift from public financing of stadiums to private funding,'' the management source said. "Those costs are not recognized in the current CBA, and we feel that has to change.''
The league has beat this drum for several years. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some give-and-take in the owners' demands, because this is collective bargaining, but I would be surprised if the owners drop this as a demand altogether. They're just too dug-in on it.
But from the players' perspective, it's got to be a tough sell to union leaders. Imagine Smith going into a union meeting at a team and telling the players that the average compensation to the men in this room is about $1.8 million this year in salary and bonus payments, and explaining to them in a time of bountiful success for the NFL, each of the players is going to have to take, on average, a $324,000 pay cut. The players will never go for that, absent the owners being able to prove they're losing money in a time of unparalleled wealth in the league.
At some point, serious talks will start, with each side compromising. But I can't see the two sides bridging this chasm anytime soon.
When the Eagles convinced April, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, to take their special-teams coordinator job Thursday, they obviously got a great mentor for their kicking game; April, the NFL special-teams coach of the year in 2004 and 2008, had the best combined special teams in Buffalo three times in the past six years, according to rankings compiled by
One of April's fortes is getting rookies who have never played special teams in college to be key guys as gunners on the punt team or pursuit men on kickoff teams. With a weapon like Jackson in his hands? Who know how great the Eagles punt-return team can be. Jackson had two touchdowns and a 15.2-yard average punt return this season, and scored an NFL-record eight touchdowns of 50 yards or longer. Jackson, who made the Pro Bowl this year as both a returner and receiver, has become what the Bears hoped
"I had Deion Sanders,'' April said the other night, "and I don't want to put a lot of extra pressure on DeSean, but he has that kind of big-play ability. He's special. He's very similar to
April preaches the punt return is the first play of the offensive series. He's had the backing of his prior coaches in making the kicking teams an equal third of the team, and this can only ratchet up the danger of the already formidable Philadelphia special teams.
The gall of Kiffin. The unmitigated, outrageous gall of this kid. And the idiocy of Tennessee apparently giving Kiffin -- when, let's be honest, what options did he have coming off his disastrous 5-15 run with the Raiders? -- an $800,000 buyout after one year of his contract. But I blame Kiffin far more. Tennessee bought out
I wonder if Kiffin ever said to a single recruit since getting hired by Tennessee 13-plus months ago, "USC's my dream job, so if it ever opens up, I've got to go?'' Of course not. I'm sure the conversation was something like, "Come to Tennessee, I'm going to be here a long, long time, and we're going to win a national championship together.''
One 7-6 season. After Tennessee rescued a tarnished Kiffin. After Tennessee's athletics department backed Kiffin through six secondary recruiting violations, and after Tennessee backed Kiffin in a potential violation of having campus "hostesses'' make "visits'' to recruits all over the southeast.
And he's rewarded by another institution of higher learning (and I type that with as much sarcasm as I can muster), making him even richer than if he'd stayed at Tennessee .
Where's the decency? The maturity? The gratitude? The simple sense of even a pinch of loyalty?
My favorite part of this story is that Kiffin left Tennessee so hurriedly that he didn't even bother to call his brother-in-law, the brother of his wife, who was also his quarterbacks coach at Tennessee . The
In the past few days, I've learned that I'm really old, because there's not nearly as much outrage as I thought there'd be over this. I'd say
Interesting column Friday
That's precisely the way I feel. I hated
Except, of course, if you're a college football coach.
"over-RATED! over-RATED! over-RATED!''
"So much for being rusty.''
"I didn't know who the heck I was as a football coach. What transformed for me, before getting to USC -- between New England and SC -- was really, I had an epiphany of what was most important to me as a football coach. In that process of putting those thoughts together, it kind of just solidified a mentality and an approach that now has been put in practice for 10 years.
"I feel like I'm bringing a very, very clear message to our football team when we get in our meeting room. When we start this thing off, they're going to know where I'm coming from, because I know where I'm coming from ... The whole challenge here is to get the whole organization on the same page, everybody understands where we're coming from, what we're all about, where we're going, what we're doing. I didn't know that then. I didn't know it. And I'm almost embarrassed to tell you that I [was] coaching an NFL club and I didn't have my act together.''
"A number I think would be interesting would be eight. And no, that's not the amount of touchdown passes Green Bay gave up against Arizona . That's the number of touchdown passes we gave up all season. And the biggest reason for that is Darrelle Revis.''
"Am I worried about him getting a reputation for dropping the football? No. Because let's be honest -- he's earned it.''
The top three teams are pretty close, and I am becoming a believer in the Jets ... because if you can't run well against them, and if you can't make big plays, then what exactly can you do? I don't have a great conviction on any of them being the best. But I thought the Vikings played the best 60 minutes of the weekend, so they're on top headed into championship Sunday.
We asked in Sports Illustrated
Very tough to not pick a Colt like Gary Brackett after the way Indy snuffed out the Ravens. But Edwards has been in Jared Allen's shadow since Allen's huge trade from Kansas City to Minnesota 21 months ago, and he escaped it Sunday with one of the best individual performances of the 2009 season: three sacks for 23 yards in losses, another tackle for loss, three additional levelings of Tony Romo, five tackles and a forced fumble. It's going to be a long time before
His 83-yard punt return for touchdown capped the Saints' 45-14 rout of the Cards, and his hard-charging 84 rushing yards conjured up memories of his USC days. He was untouched on the punt return. He was touched plenty on his five rushes, and didn't seem to mind. This is the back
He epitomizes brash, and his players love it. "Players want to have fun,'' offensive line coach Bill Callahan told me after the game, "and Rex makes it fun for them every day. Plus they know he's doing everything in his power to put them in the best position to win.'' Ryan has told his players all season, and again this week, that they were better than the opposition, and they have come to believe it without questioning him. The chemistry and good feeling around this team starts with Ryan.
Rivers came up incredibly small in the biggest game of the year. I still have no idea who he was throwing the ball to on the vital, late-third-quarter interception by
Kaeding hit the trifecta for the Chargers: He blew a three-point game every which way -- wide left (from 36 yards), short (from 57 yards) and wide right (from 40 yards).
"What happened on the three missed field goals?'' Kaeding was asked afterward.
"I didn't kicked them between the uprights,'' he said.
The last one, the kick wide right, showed me it was either a choke job by Kaeding or he was pressing terribly. He pushed the ball. He didn't kick it, but rather punched it, like instead of taking a natural kick he was pressing. It showed. He has eight months before he can make it up to his team.
Downfall of the Cardinals Dept:
Arizona allowed 90 points in 78 minutes between midway through the second quarter of the wild-card win over Green Bay and midway through the third quarter of the divisional playoff loss to New Orleans.
Of the 16 Packers/Saints drives in those 78 minutes:
• 11 ended in touchdowns.
Thirteen of 16 scoring drives. If defensive coordinator
In the span of three complete seasons, dating to opening day 2007, Kaeding, the most accurate kicker in NFL history (87.2 percent) entering Sunday's game, had made 69 consecutive field goals of 40 yards or less.
In the span of 21 minutes against the Jets, he missed two within that distance.
Nine flight segments since the aborted terrorist on the plane in Detroit on Christmas. Zero difference in security that I've seen. Have I just missed it? Or is there just not the vigilance we should be seeing? Hard to tell, but I've not seen slower lines with more patdowns or anything I thought we'd see. I hope TSA knows what it's doing.
"I'm donating $1 to the Red Cross for each follower I have by midnight. PLS RT & let's help the ppl of Haiti 2gether 2day.''
By the end of the day, Stallworth had increased his Twitter followers from about 18,000 to 33,000, and he got former teammate
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of the playoff weekend:
a. Strong analysis by FOX's
b. When I got to the Jets' team hotel Saturday, the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla, there was
c. Good intelligence by my buddy
d. I really admire the comeback story of the Saints'
e. Arizona will be back. I just don't know if Kurt Warner will be.
f. "A big hit like that makes you think twice about playing the game,'' Warner said after the Cardinals loss, and he'll give retirement serious consideration. If I had to bet a dollar on his fate, I'd say he's done.
g. The Saints have never hosted the NFC Championship Game. Cool stuff there this week.
h. It's going to be hard to beat the Saints, with the biggest religious presence this side of Vatican City on their side for the title game. Three monsignors from the area attended Saturday's games, and you can be sure the five crazy-fan Dominican nuns --
j. Yes, it did bug me to see the Vikings first offensive unit in the game in a 27-3 blowout in the final five minutes, scoring another TD with less than two minutes. It's not a federal case, but I didn't like it.
k. I can give you a lot of reasons why Wade Phillips might be in trouble, the biggest of which is that
2. I think, if I had to guess right now, I'd say the best shot for
3. I think the Jets' decision on Braylon Edwards, restricted free-agent, won't be as difficult as some of us have thought. Let's look at their alternatives. Jets GM
4. I think no coach or GM needing a veteran receiver could seriously consider bringing
5. I think one of the reasons the Saints play for Sean Payton was illustrated well Friday morning. Payton starts his team meetings with the news of the day usually, and on Friday he had some team business to discuss. "We've placed
Payton smells the coffee. He knows how beloved McAllister is in his locker room and in the city of New Orleans, and he knew how much it would mean for McAllister to be involved with the team he had labored with for so long -- and he also knew he had 52 healthy players on his roster and wouldn't need the roster spot for this game, at least. Why not give the city and the player a boost.
"I appreciate moments like this,'' he told me. "I realize how precious these moments are, and how quickly they go by. With players, you know, they have a schedule and itinerary in high school, then every day in college, then every day in the NFL, and then they wake up one day and it's gone. I just want to make sure Deuce knows how much we appreciate everything he's done for this franchise.''
6. I think one of the sad football things about the death of
7. I think this is what I liked about the playoff weekend:
a. What a hit by
b. An interesting scene in the bowels of Qualcomm Stadium. Roger Goodell, ready to leave San Diego to fly back to New York near the end of the game, was watching a small TV, not wanting to leave until the game was decided. And when
c. Percy Harvin's impact. Can't wait to see Gregg Williams' plan for him Sunday.
d. Reggie Bush finally showing up big. It's been a long time.
e. Nobody talks much about
g. Jim Leonhard. He's a star in the making. Great addition by the Jets in free-agency.
h. If that's the last game for
8. I think this is what I didn't like about the playoff weekend:
a. I continue to dislike the formal title of "divisional playoffs.'' Does anyone ever say, "Hey, come on over and we'll watch the divisional playoffs and have a few beers?'' No, but they do say they'll come over the watch the wild-card games or the championship games. The league ought to call this weekend the conference semis.
b. FOX going to a commercial with a compelling closeup of Kurt Warner laying on the ground, being tended to by trainers, in what might be the last game of his career.
c. The Dallas protection. Don't let me hear a word this morning about "Tony Romo not coming up big.'' Nonsense. He could have made a couple more plays, but not enough to be competitive in a game in which he was pressured on more than half of his dropbacks.
e. San Diego's sloppiness. In all aspects. Ten penalties, the missed field goals, Philip Rivers not make a single play downfield ... how does a team with an 11-game winning streak throw slop like that on the field in the playoffs?
f. I wish
9. I think an imprint on my brain from the weekend will always be the emotional family hugs between Mark Sanchez and dad, mom, kin and friends underneath the stadium. The embrace between him and father
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I now have figured out how tax audits work, especially for employees like me who have to file in more than one state. One state desperate for money tries to take the taxes you've paid in another state desperate for money. It's not pretty, and I have a feeling I'm going to be in the middle of it for a while.
c. There are at least nine TV shows I'd like to see, like "Mad Men,'' but for some reason I just gravitate to reruns of "The Office'' when I've got TiVO time. Must be something wrong with me.
d. Coffeenerdness: Three visits to Peet's in San Diego over the week convinced me that we've got to do something about increasing the Peet's store nationwide. Artful baristas. Great lattes. They must train their people well.
e. Due to the Haiti crisis, I'm going to postpone my appeal for
f. I've sent out all my "Monday Morning Quarterback'' books that got lost in the first mailing. Thanks for being patient, all of you who sent in appeals to have books re-shipped. You should be getting them soon.