Championship Sunday: Saints, Colts go to Miami; Vikes, Jets left behind
NEW ORLEANS -- In the losers' locker room Sunday night, there was mostly silence for the first five, 10 minutes that reporters were allowed in. Silence among the players, but the noise on the outside -- the delirium, really -- seeped through the walls. The cries symbolized 43 years of frustration ending, and the wailing of repeated "Who Dat!'' chants, which young and old screamed through the weekend and into this morning in a raucous celebration in the French Quarter, finally got to someone in the room.
"[Bleep] Who Dat!'' came an angry voice from the cluster of the offensive linemen's stalls.
The Vikings will have to live with their bitterest loss in a generation for a long, long time. Thirty-one first downs, outgaining the Saints by 218 yards, rendering
I'll get to the triumphs of the weekend, the Colts' second AFC title in four years and the Saints' first in forever, but I've got to touch on the Vikings first. Whoever lost the game here was going to feel it for a long time, but the fact that Minnesota may have lost on a 12-men-in the-huddle penalty, followed by a horrendous
Oh, and I'll have an opinion about the overtime rule too. And an interesting conversation with
"Of course, so is mine.''
No matter what you think of Favre -- and it's no secret I think he's the most charismatic and interesting player I've covered -- you have to admire how he bleeds in front of us. He goes out and gets the snot knocked out of him ("We were determined to hit him over and over and make him feel it,'' said none other than his old friend with the Packers, Saints safety
Before he went to his postgame press conference, he talked to me quietly for a couple of minutes, then to a couple of others in a growing group around his locker.
"I thought when I got hit [the high-low Saints sandwich late in the third quarter], my ankle was broken,'' he said. "I felt a lot of crunching in there.''
I told him I thought it was a late hit, with the lower hit a good example of why the
"Tomorrow,'' he said, "the whole foot will be purple. My thigh, right there, will be purple. My wrist [with a chunk of skin missing] will be purple. Other than that, I'm OK.''
He said all the requisite stuff about his future, that he'll go home and think about it and talk to his family about it. (My feeling is he'll be back for another season because he feels at home in Minnesota, as
As for the question all of America is asking this morning -- how in the world could you have thrown that pass? -- this was his explanation: When the Vikings had third-and-10 at the New Orleans 33 with 19 seconds left in a 28-28 game, they planned to call a running play to get a couple of yards closer. Then
Now, instead of running and forcing Longwell to try a field goal of up to 55 yards (he told the coaches he thought his range was about 53 yards), Favre had to throw. He rolled right with at least five yards of open field in front of him, and made the kind of decision that still haunts him from his last throw as a Packer. Against the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, he threw a careless pass that was intercepted by the Giants'
"I probably should have ran it,'' Favre said. "In hindsight, that's probably what I should have done. It was just late to Sidney.''
As Favre said to me: "You try to say it's just a game, and of course it is. You know that's the case. But it still hurts.''
This one will, for a long time.
A 28-28 game, 2:37 left, Vikings ball at their 21. Three timeouts left.
Maybe, I figured, he thinks Favre's hurt and he'd just rather drain the clock and take his chances with the coin flip. But what sense did that make? What if Minnesota lost the coin flip and never saw the ball in overtime? Here it had three timeouts, and on the previous two possessions, even with a battered Favre, the Vikings had gone 70 and 57 yards and found the cracks in the Saints' defense they needed to find.
Peterson burrowed behind right guard. Gain of two. Now a timeout by New Orleans. Now the Saints would take the Vikings' gift; they'd take the ball at their 30-yard line, 90 seconds or so left and no timeouts, and try to get into
"It was all in line with the number of timeouts they had left,'' said Childress, which confused me. Then he said in cases like this he wants to either score or end the game with the ball in his hands, to prevent the other team from scoring. If that's the case, he had a strange play-calling way of showing it. He couldn't burn the clock plus the two remaining Saints' timeouts without trying to be somewhat aggressive. But without the Saints calling that timeout, the Vikes, presumably, would have called another clock-eating play, then punted it away.
Now Favre threw to
Timeout, Vikings. Nineteen seconds left, ball at the Saint 33.
The crowd got jacked up for one final defensive stand -- so jacked up, evidently, that an extra back was in the Minnesota huddle, thinking it was a formation that required his presence on the field. Nope. Favre signaled timeout and an official promptly threw a flag. "You can't call back-to-back timeouts,'' said Childress.
After the penalty yardage was marched off, he called a roll pass for Favre, and the rest is history. As I said, I don't think the blame for this loss should be on Childress by any means, but he certainly did his part to muck it up in the last 2:37.
Player after player in the Saints' locker room talked about winning one for the city. And they did. "These people didn't want to leave,'' Superdome manager
The two keys to the victory, to me, were
Think back about them. Payton interviewed for the Green Bay coaching job and the Saints' job in 2006. He preferred the Green Bay job, obviously, because of the quarterback stability (Favre and
Then it came down to two teams for Brees -- Miami and New Orleans. But when the Dolphins doctors told then-coach
Payton and Brees were orphans of the NFL, in a way, in a place where there were so many orphans of the storm. And here they are, the two men who propelled the Saints to the Super Bowl.
"What's great about doing it here,'' said Payton, "is that four years ago, there were holes in this roof. The fans in this city and this region deserve it.''
And they were partying pretty hard last night, and may still be as you read this.
I won't repeat every one of my objections to the rule that puts an inordinate amount of importance on the coin flip on overtime winners, but the NFC game was a classic case of why it's a bad idea to not give each team one possession in overtime:
The Vikings called heads, and it came up tails. New Orleans returned the kick to its 39-yard line. That meant if the Saints gained 28 yards, they'd be in field-goal range for Hartley. They got 17 yards in drive sustaining penalties, and 32 yards on their own, and Hartley's 40-yard field goal won it.
On the other sideline, Brett Favre stood waiting for his chance, the same way
Your witness, counselor.
The one thing that impressed me when I went to Colts camp last summer was how advanced
Just watch Garcon. He may be a small-college kid (from Mount Union, Ohio), but he has the agility and toughness of a Division I player. Late this year, he began to show the kind of reliable hands a taskmaster like Manning requires. He's only 23. Collie's 24, mature beyond his years, and Manning seems to trust him as much as he does Garcon already, after only nine months of exposure to the Colts' encyclopedic offense.
I know it's very early to say this, but the Colts, with
Today it begins. Once the highlights and interviews from the championship games begin to fade and the reality of a Saints-Colts Super Bowl sets in, we'll turn our attention to the compelling story of the NFL offseason, and it begins at 2:30 p.m. Central Time in southern Alabama.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow steps into the NFL crucible, onto a practice field ringed by coaches and scouts, at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., beginning a week of practice, meetings and face-to-face visits with prospective NFL employers. Tebow will play for the South Team, coached by the Miami Dolphins staff (
Tebow worked out with CFL coach
We in the media business are going to spend the next three months writing the Tebow story into the ground, but there are good reasons for it. He's had unparalleled college success, he's a too-good-to-be-true kid by all accounts, and he's a polarizing football prospect because there's great debate whether his mechanics and arm will allow him to be an every-down NFL quarterback.
Also, he's an unabashed pro-life supporter; his mother,
On Friday I spoke to Tebow for the first time, mostly about football, but some about the commercial -- and, specifically, what impact it might have, if any, on his draft prospects. I told him most NFL teams like their rookies to be seen and not heard, and certainly not heard in any politically divisive way. And there isn't a subject in this country that touches more buttons than abortion.
What I heard from Tebow was the voice of a kid with convictions, who doesn't shrink from what he believes -- even if it might hurt his draft prospects.
"That's always going to be a part of who I am, and I won't try to hide it,'' Tebow told me from Nashville, where he was working out with Bratkowski, the former Packer quarterback and longtime NFL assistant coach. "A team that doesn't want that shouldn't take me. Pro-life is very important to me. My mother listened to God late in her pregnancy, and if she had listened to others and terminated me, obviously I wouldn't be here. If others don't have the same belief, it's OK. I understand. But I hope they respect that at least I have the courage to stand up for what I believe in.''
Tebow will wow everyone he meets one-on-one in Mobile and at the Scouting Combine next month with his poise, presence and humility. That you know, obviously. When I asked about one of the biggest faults NFL scouts find with him -- his elongated throwing motion -- he said it's something scouts also said about Brett Favre and
Tebow wants to open himself up totally, beginning this week. He wants to show every team in the league everything he can do physically and mentally, and he wants to begin to prove he's not a one-trick pony -- a triple-option quarterback who loves to bowl over linebackers and make weird jump passes and other counter-NFL-culture plays.
"I want to show, number one, that I'm a competitor and I'm not afraid for teams to see everything about me. My goal is to find just one team, one out of 32, to believe in me as a quarterback. I'm not just the guy who can play in the spread offense, or throw a jump pass or run the triple option. I'm a football junkie. I study it all the time. I've studied every type of offense -- pro style, West Coast. Just because I haven't played every kind of offense, why can't I? Why can't I run the West Coast? My coaches at Florida didn't just teach us a system. They taught us football. So I want the NFL people to put me through everything. Grind on me, test me. I feel I've worked my whole life to prepare for this.''
Tebow will excel when NFL teams (mostly at the combine in Indianapolis, but some in Mobile) get him up on the board and start talking specific plays with him. He'll need to prove he can be an accurate downfield passer and that he isn't totally reliant on running to be a good quarterback. I asked what he'd do if a team wanted him to be a versatile player instead of an every-down quarterback.
"It's a possibility,'' he said, "but I'm trying to get someone to believe in me as a quarterback.''
I expect he'll do that.
Last year, 15 underclassmen were first-round draft choices. This year, there should be at least that many, and it's conceivable that as many as 18 to 20 could go in the first round. I asked NFLDraftScout.com, a site I use and respect around draft day, to rank the top juniors --and where they rank in the first-round draft order. (The comments here belong to NFLDraftScout.com player analyst
"I think we did a great job of being the hunters and imposing our will today.''
"We really gave those guys the game. It's eating me up inside.''
"It's like being young and in love. You know the feeling -- like you're in an elevated state of bliss. That's how everyone in this town feels about the Saints.''
"The other thing that you need to know about me ... is that my parents raised me correctly. I am a cheesehead. From a very young age, I was a kid that grew up in the country. My dad put me to work on Saturdays. I didn't go into town and necessarily do the things I always wanted to do as a kid, but when I got to this point professionally, I really look back and I just want him to know, and my mother, how important that is to me.''
The Jets, the NFL's best defense in 2009, hadn't allowed a 320-yard passer all season. They hadn't allowed a 420-yard day by any offense. In Indianapolis, Manning threw for 377 -- and the Colts gained 461. Under the circumstances -- the pressure of not losing to a five seed at home, facing a pre-eminent defense -- the 26-of-39, three-touchdown, no-interception, 123.6-rating game was probably the best playoff game of Manning's 12-year career. (I don't consider the five-touchdown performance against the Broncos six years ago on a level with this because Denver had a sieve of a defense.) "If you can't disrupt Peyton Manning's rhythm, he'll kill you. And we didn't disrupt him enough,'' said
The Saints did let the Vikings march up and down the field on them to be sure, but Vilma stopped two drives with an interception and fumble recovery, forced another fumble, had five tackles and two passes deflected ... and changed the defense on the crucial Brett Favre interception from man to zone, which cornerback Tracy Porter credited for giving him the chance to pick off Favre and save the game for New Orleans. Vilma's second year with Saints after his trade from New York is turning into a special one. He's the defensive signal-caller, and defensive coordinator
In a game that looked like it might end 49-48 early but then settled into a defensive slugfest, the third-year special-teamer and dime back made a play that should have turned a 14-14 tie into a 21-14 Minnesota lead just before the end of the first half. Frampton, one of the Vikes' peripheral gunners on the punt team, bore down on Reggie Bush on a punt near the two-minute warning. Bush should have signaled for a fair catch, but in his eagerness to make a play, he let the punt fall into his waiting hands -- and Frampton nailed him almost simultaneously. The Vikings recovered at the Saint 10 and should have turned it into seven, but Favre and Peterson missed connections on a handoff two plays later; the Saints recovered and ran out the clock.
He may rock the sporting public to sleep with his words, but it's not his job to be
It's easy to sit there and say, "Well, he's got Peyton Manning, and anyone who has Peyton Manning just has to roll the ball out there at practice and the team will coach itself.'' Manning, obviously, is a tremendous advantage, and the Colts would be a mediocre team with a much lesser quarterback, but Caldwell has taken
All five of them, for a total of six. In particular, Adrian Peterson, who lost his seventh fumble of the season, and scrambled to recover what would have been his eighth. In addition, Peterson and Brett Favre mishandled a handoff together. Favre was credited with the fumble, but it could have gone either way. Putting the ball on the ground six times in a championship game. Ludicrous.
The last significant pass of the last game of Brett Favre's last three seasons, all with different teams:
Is there another
Two good things and one bad on my trip to the deep south:
This place, tucked into a neighborhood street like many of the great restaurants here are, has a nice bench out front, and curtains visible through the big windows, but you'd never know it's an actual restaurant. Owner Patrick Singley bought the classy, signless restaurant in 1993, and when I said I couldn't get over a place of business not having a sign, he said, "It didn't have one to begin with, and I just figured, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' ''
"Love this: Tailgating Colts fans, trying to shut up the chanting Jets fans, respond with "Jer-sey Shore! Jer-sey Shore!''
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of championship weekend:
a. Very good showing by the NFL (
b. It's amazing how few people with existing jobs want to work under
c. Remember eight months ago, when
d. I believe
f. Biggest play a player regrets of the day: New Orleans linebacker
g. I like what I saw in
h. Not a good day for Reggie Bush.
i. Not a particularly accurate day for Drew Brees. Too many overthrows.
j. The ref in New Orleans,
2. I think Rex Ryan's mouth, and the zipped lips of the Colts, had nothing to do with Colts 30, Jets 17.
3. I think the Colts seem like a slight favorite over the Saints to me. Just seems the Indy offense is a tad more consistent, and I trust the Colt pass-rush more than New Orleans' right now.
4. I think Adrian Peterson has to go to the
5. I think
6. I think this is what I liked about championship weekend:
a. Pierre Garcon. All seasons he's flashed signs of having a breakout game, and on the third Colts' series of the game, he had it. What a catch on the long fade, a limbo-like catch on his helmet.
g. Sean Payton's advice to Garrett Hartley when he went on the field to kick the kick that sent the Saints to the Super Bowl: "There's a little fleur de lis between both uprights, and why don't you see if you can hit it dead center.''
7. I think this is what I didn't like about championship weekend:
a. Pet Peeve of the Week: I heard this a few times from media people and from fans in the past few days, alarmed at the number of people who were picking the Jets to upset the Colts in the AFC. "They're disrespecting the Colts!'' was the general theme. So silly. These are athletic contests. The Jets entered the weekend hot, charmed and with a very good running game facing an undersized front seven. It's not the stretch of the season to think the Jets could have beaten Indianapolis. It's not even one of the biggest upsets in recent history. In January, the hot teams always have a chance. It's no disrespect to say a hot team can beat a very good team.
b. Kickers. The infection has settled in on
c. Never saw a return man field a punt at the one until I saw
d. Not positive about the
f. Two domes for the conference championships. Give me weather.
8. I think, if you just saw
Rex Ryan wanted no part of trading Harris; he viewed Harris as the long-term centerpiece of his defense, like
9. I think you'd have enjoyed the dinner I shared with sportswriter pals and the girlfriend of one of them Saturday night at Emeril's Delmonico on St. Charles. As FOX Sports'
Anyway, I rounded up a few writers (some I don't know well but should) and we had a nice meal ... and I proposed a pool for the nine people at the table. Throw $5 in the pool, and pick the team that drafts Tim Tebow. I proposed we do the order of the draft with those living farthest from Gainesville having the first pick, and here it went:
Immediately upon hearing my pick, Silver sent the following text-message to San Francisco GM
Come on! Stand up for your Tebow, Scot!
"You might be right,'' I said to Angela, who works for a technology company. "But why'd you pick Denver?''
"I'm from Denver!'' she said.
And the crowd went "Ooooooooh,'' on Cole's pick of the Pats.
So someone's going to win $45 ... or some New Orleans cause is going to get a free $45 if it's another team. That's what we'll do with this pot if Tebow goes to any of the other 23 teams in the league.
10. I think these are my non-title game thoughts of the week:
a. My very best wishes to one of the classic and classy men in the NFL business, longtime Packer PR man
Favre bought a remote-control fart machine (what a country!) and put it beneath Remmel's seat near the front of the bus for the ride from the Chicago hotel to Soldier Field before a game against the Bears. As the quiet bus made its way to the stadium, Favre kept pressing the button on the machine, and the fart sounds kept coming from under Remmel's seat, and
b. Best wishes also to ailing
d. Coffeenerdness: The great thing about P.J.'s Coffee in New Orleans? People go there to read, to have civil discussions (I heard a local politics discussion among five retirees in the P.J.'s on Maple Street near the Tulane campus Friday morning) and to work quietly. It's what coffee shops should be. And right across the street is a Starbucks. Both times I've been to P.J.'s, the stores have been more crowded than the nearby Starbucks.
e. Those of you who travel a lot will understand why the best news of the week for me was squeezing into the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis for the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine. What a gem of a hotel.