Four topics this morning: Overtime, how impressive the Indianapolis skill-position machine is, what really happened on the 12-men-in-the-huddle play, and your Tweet-rage over my choice of material for Monday Morning Quarterback this week.
Overtime: I don't expect the rules to change just because two very high-profile games in the past 13 months ended without walk-in Hall of Famers getting a chance to touch the ball (Peyton Manning at San Diego, wild-card round, 2008 season; Brett Favre, NFC Championship Game, 2009 season). In fact, I don't even expect there to be serious discussion at the NFL Meetings in Orlando March 21-24.
But there's one thing you should know as you suggest different ways to go about fixing overtime, if you believe, as I do, that the system is inherently unfair and needs to be overhauled: Don't invent new rules. Don't suggest the college rule, with alternating possessions beginning at the opposing 25, don't suggest the first team to six points win, don't suggest an eight-minute time clock. Because the one thing I've learned from talking to members of the Competition Committee about overtime recently (not in the past couple of weeks, but the past couple of years) is they chafe at inventing guidelines that would make the game in overtime different than the game in the first four quarters. I think normal kickoff, normal ways of scoring and some re-jiggering of sudden death is the only way the system has a chance to get fixed.
That is why I have advocated a simple tweak to the rules: Ensure both teams get to touch the ball once in overtime, either by an offensive possession for each team or by a turnover on the first series of overtime that results in a defensive touchdown. I am not holding my breath.
The Colts are going to be a handful for New Orleans defensive boss Gregg Williams: Here are the scary postseason numbers for the second and third Indianapolis receivers, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, versus the entire Saints corps of wideouts (Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem):
Keep in mind that Garcon is a second-year player from tiny Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, and Collie is a fourth-round rookie from BYU. Neither played at football factories. Both have immersed themselves in the Indianapolis offensive system and bought into the In Manning We Trust philosophy, just like every other skill player who walks through the door at the Colts practice facility.
For Manning to show the trust in these two receivers so early in their professional careers (they've combined for 134 catches in 18 games this year) tells me Manning was ready to turn the page after the on-again, off-again late career of Marvin Harrison. The Colts didn't know from week to week many times in his last two years if Harrison was going to play or not because of an injured knee, and knowing Manning the way I do, I know he hates uncertainty.
I expect Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to play Manning the way he played Brett Favre and Kurt Warner the last two weeks. Williams preaches collapsing the pocket so the quarterback doesn't have the time or space to step up in the pocket and evade the outside rushers. That's why defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis against center Jeff Saturday and the guards of the Colts will be a vital matchup for New Orleans.
Darren Sharper told me Sunday the Saints' mission against Favre was, "Cut off the head, and the body will die.'' In other words, beat the crap out of Favre and see how many plays he makes at the end of the game if you physically manhandle him. I can guarantee you that inside the Saints' facility this week, Williams will be telling his men, "See? It worked against Favre; he threw a terrible pass near the end of the fourth quarter because we beat him up all game. We can do the same thing to Manning if we abuse him.''
Add in Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark (22 playoff catches, 212 yards, two scores) and you see how tough the challenge is going to be for the Saints. I look for Manning to throw fast and not give the Saints the chance to be physical with him.
The confusion of the 12th man: I hear, reliably, that the reason Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi was on the field for the infamous 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty is because of confusion on the Minnesota sidelines -- and not because Tahi himself thought he should have been in the game. Last week, the Vikings changed the personnel group that was supposed to be in the game on the ill-fated play they called with 19 seconds left -- switching from one tight end and a fullback to two tight ends. So when the play was called, Tahi stayed on the sidelines until a coach -- I don't know which one -- told him to go into the game. He went and was the 12th man in the huddle. The Vikes got penalized five yards for having the extra man in the huddle, moving the ball out of Ryan Longwell's field-goal range. On the next play, Brett Favre threw the interception that no Vikings fan will ever forget.
My explanation for yesterday's column: Much uproar in e-mail and Twitter-land over my column Monday. Leading with Favre, writing more about the Vikings than either of the winning teams, writing nothing about the Jets, writing way too much about Tim Tebow. Does that just about cover it?
I thought I'd explain the process I went through over the weekend and how it differed from usual weeks. Then, if you still are in a ripping frame of mind, have at it.
I usually write about 8,000 words, in-season, in Monday Morning Quarterback. This week, I was writing the NFC Championship Game cover story for Sports Illustrated, which is about a 2,200-word story and a different kind of writing. I'm trying to write things in there that no one else will write before Wednesday afternoon, when our magazine comes out. That entails working quite a bit after the game, which obviously cuts into my MMQB writing time.
So this week, I figured, my game's going to be over about 10 p.m. Eastern Time. I'll be tied up with interviews and maybe going out to see players or coaches after they leave the stadium, and I'd be really pressed for time. I got out of the Superdome about midnight Eastern, then visited Saints coach Sean Payton's postgame party at a steakhouse a mile from the 'Dome, then got back to my room to write about 1:45 a.m.
When I knew my schedule would be crazy last week, I prepared two items for the columns that I thought would be interesting for the masses -- my first interview with Tim Tebow and a look at where the junior-eligible players fit in the NFL draft's first round. I wrote those things Friday and Saturday, and a few other regular column fixtures. Sunday, I watched the AFC game, writing some as that game took place, and then filed about 3,500 words before the start of the NFC title game. That left me about 4,000 words for the column left to write overnight Sunday, plus my game story for the magazine.
The reason for my lack of Colts coverage is that often I try to do a phone interview with a player or coach from a big game, but to do so this week would have been difficult while covering another game; it's a bit impractical to interview a player from another game for 15 minutes and miss the game I'm covering. Not impossible, but difficult. So I knew I'd be giving that game short-shrift, unfortunate in the column.
Now, as far as the New Orleans-based coverage goes, I thought there were three interesting angles: the Favre interception/possible end of career/big beating he took; the questionable play-calling and 12-men penalty by the Vikes on their last drive; and the story of the Saints making the Super Bowl. For Sports Illustrated, the story has to be the team that moves on, not the team that is left in the wake, and so I chose to do the Saints marching on for the mag. The Vikings stuff I chose to lead the online column.
I knew at the time it would be odd to write more Vikings than anything else, but when you have to make difficult journalism decisions, they're not always going to be popular. If you don't agree (and I know many of you don't, based on your advice that I should eat various inedible items and do terrible physical damage to myself and go do some more PR for Favre), at least now you understand what I was faced with.
Now onto your e-mail:
• I'D WORRY ABOUT HIM TOO. From Joe of Joliet, Ill.: "I am worried about Drew Brees. On the broadcast, Troy Aikman said he was not throwing with authority and everyone could see his passes were wobbly. The Saints needed more from him. I worry that his shoulder is acting up. Did you see this too?''
I don't know if his shoulder is sore, but I do know he missed four open receivers Sunday by slightly overthrowing or underthrowing them. That's unlike Brees. I'll be watching that on Super Sunday. But let's look at the bottom line: Eight playoff quarters, six touchdowns, no interceptions, no turnovers. As he told me after the game, his goal Sunday was to play turnover-free, and he did.
• GOOD QUESTION. From Jim Rhodes of Portland, Ore.: "I have a topic that I'd like to hear your comments on. Over that past several years, more and more defenses are being coached on how to strip the ball from offensive players and there is an emphasis on creating a fumble as opposed to making a tackle. Don't you think it's difficult for anyone to hang on to the football if a defensive player's sole purpose is to strip the ball? I think what is actually happening on the field is not a lack of ballcarriers not securing the ball but rather the increased emphasis by the defense on causing fumbles. Your thoughts?''
You're onto something. When Gregg Williams took over the Saints' defense, he put into place something none of his players had done before: At the beginning of practice, he has every defensive player go through six stations, practicing how to strip or punch out the ball. But here's the thing, Jim -- if you know that's coming, as Adrian Peterson certainly did, there are ways to protect against it. As I wrote Monday, ask Tiki Barber how he fixed it. He changed the way he carries the ball. Peterson can too.
• FAVRE DIDN'T LOSE THE GAME. From Ryan Garton of Oklahoma City: "I think the media will unfairly crucify Favre for the throw at the end of regulation and put the loss on his shoulders and will gloss over the three fumbles (Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian) that either took points off the board for the Vikings or led to Saints points. The three lost fumbles were far more damaging and bigger deciding factors in the game. Without those mistakes the Vikings cruise to an easy victory, no?''
Yes. But in sports we look at the fact that it was 28-28 and Favre threw a terrible ball that prevented the Vikings from attempting the winning field goal. As a wise man once said (Ken Anderson, but I think he stole it from prior generations), quarterbacks get too much credit when they win, too much blame when they lose.
• FAVRE IS NOT THE BEST QUARTERBACK OF ALL TIME. From Clayton Wood, of Muscle Shoals, Ala.: "I hope we can finally settle the debate about whether or not Favre is the best quarterback of all time. Clearly, he is not. And this is coming from one of the biggest Favre fans in the world. In golf, the difference in pre-scandal Tiger and the rest of the field is found largely between the ears. The same is true in football. The difference in physical ability is not that great among the great quarterbacks. What separates the truly elite quarterbacks from the really good ones is their mental toughness and ability to avoid costly errors. After the costly mistake Favre made last night, I don't see how anyone can rank him among the best all time, like you always say. Am I missing the mark on this?''
The terrible throws he made at the end of the 2007 and 2009 NFC championship games have to be a major mark against his legacy, to be sure. You're right. Re history: I can certainly rank him among the best, and I can just as certainly say I've never ranked him the best. The best quarterback ever is Otto Graham, I believe, because he played for 10 years in pro football, at the top of the players who played quarterback at the time, and won seven championships with the Browns. I'd have Joe Montana, Sammy Baugh and Johnny Unitas -- at least -- ahead of Favre, and in short order there's a good chance Peyton Manning will be ahead of him. I've said this 100 times: The hours after an emotional game are not the time to place players in their historical resting spot. Let's give it a while, then judge where he is.