You know who Sunday's biggest winner was, don't you? Somehow, without even playing a game, it was
It figures. It has been a magic carpet ride of a season in New England, and things just keep falling perfectly -- there's that word again -- in line for the history-making Patriots.
Not only did the No. 2-seeded Colts go down in flames at home to the underdog Chargers, eliminating the Patriots' most dangerous rival from the AFC playoff field, but suddenly resilient San Diego very likely expended itself in the process of both doing that favor for New England and reaching its first conference title game in 13 years.
San Diego entered the game with Pro Bowl tight end
Something tells me that if No. 3-seeded San Diego needs to rely on the likes of backup quarterback
All season long I've thought the Colts were the one team capable of going into Gillette Stadium in January and trading big-play punches with the high-flying Patriots. But I guess we'll never know now. Indy couldn't even handle the injury-decimated Chargers on Sunday in the final game ever played at the RCA Dome. So much for the Colts team that many of us pundits thought had been unwisely overlooked amidst this season's Patriots-mania.
Can the upstart Chargers possibly give New England a game? Will it be a repeat of New England's 38-14 Week 2 dismantling of San Diego, or something closer to last January's thrilling 24-21 Patriots upset of the Chargers in the divisional round?
Logic says the Chargers can't win if L.T., Rivers and Gates aren't quick healers this week. But then again, San Diego had no business getting through the Colts without the health of their biggest stars. It was an impressive display of resiliency by San Diego, but it's going to take another four quarters of that, and much more, to knock the Patriots off their pedestal.
Then again, we've been wrong before.
• There will be a Manning once again playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl next week, just not the one most of us expected. Peyton's Colts go down at home against the Chargers, while Eli's Giants pull the 21-17 upset at Dallas. And little brothers -- of which I am one -- rejoice everywhere.
• On the bright side of the Cowboys' loss,
• The NFC's two finalists -- Green Bay and the Giants -- were both 8-8 last season in the regular season. By comparison, the Patriots and Chargers, the AFC's final two, went a combined 26-6 in the 2006 regular season. Another reason to like the AFC in the Super Bowl.
• Now that we know the NFL's Final Four, here are the four possible Super Bowl matchups, ranked in order of how we see their sizzle factor:
• What a war of attrition the Chargers-Colts game was. The Colts didn't have the services of receiver
• And did I mention that San Diego was so short of offensive options against the Colts that rookie receiver
• I'm no play-calling expert, but if I were the Chargers I'd find more ways to get the ball into
And what a grow-up game for Chargers receiver
• I don't have any particular nugget of inside information, but my instinct is strongly in the direction that we've seen the last of
I'd be very surprised if a 10th season was in the cards for Holmgren in Seattle. Holmgren and his wife,
• While I don't have quite as much conviction regarding
I could understand if Dungy considers his work in Indy sufficiently finished. He led the franchise to its long-awaited Super Bowl victory last season, and then he and his Colts took their best shot at a repeat this year, going 13-3 before being bounced out of the AFC playoffs at home on Sunday.
If the NFL coaching ranks lose both Holmgren and Dungy in the coming days, that particular fraternity will have lost two of its best. They're quality coaches, and even better men.
• It took some time to turn costly, but on their most critical play of the season -- that fourth-and-goal from the Chargers 7 in the final minutes -- the Colts were finally hurt by last summer's retirement of veteran offensive left tackle
• Maybe the most amazing thing I heard all weekend was that the Atlanta Falcons hired Patriots director of college scouting
I suppose you can score one for technology in this instance, but I find it remarkable that Blank, in essence, turned over the direction of his franchise to someone who he had never spent time with in person. To a degree, you could say Dimitroff was hired by the Falcons sight unseen (except on a TV screen). I can just hear Blank say to his new hire on his first day of work: "Oh, you looked a little heavier on TV.''
To me that speaks to how much the luster of the Patriots' success is worth these days in the NFL, that Blank was willing to invest in Dimitroff without more personal exposure to him. It also speaks to just how much potential job candidates who work for Belichick are loath to ask for permission to interview elsewhere during the playoffs.
• Is it too late to change my vote for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year? I went with Randy Moss, and the Cowboys'
• Is there anything better in the NFL than a snowy tableau at Lambeau? You can have the legendary Ice Bowl. I'll take those Winter Olympics that broke out Saturday in Green Bay.
• Did you notice how in the divisional round that fourth down became the new third down? The Jaguars, Patriots and Colts all went for a fourth down in unconventional fashion on their first drives in the divisional round, and not only did all three move the chains, they went on to score touchdowns on those possessions, jump-starting their offenses.
I've long thought that teams need to be more gutsy on fourth down, going against the book that says you only go on fourth when its desperation time or you're inches shy of the marker.
• What was Colts safety
• We waited all this time for Marvin Harrison's return for that? Two catches, 27 yards and a key fumble -- his first at home since 2003 -- just when it looked like the Colts were starting to roll? When Indy's season was on the line, Harrison was in the spot he'll remember 2007 by, the sideline.