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Aaron Rodgers Is Made Out of Lasers or Something, A Look Back on the First Patriots-Steelers AFC Title Game, Johnny Manziel Is Doing Stuff

Plus, celebramos in Indy after Grigson’s dismissal, Seahawks should get popped for fudging injury reports, and does Tyrod Taylor stay in Buffalo after all?

1. Whatever you think about the value of momentum going into the postseason (it’s probably not a thing that has value), the final four teams are a combined 29-1 since Thanksgiving.

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2. Tom Brady’s first-ever AFC title game appearance came against the Steelers. And Ben Roethlisberger’s first-ever AFC title game appearance came against the Patriots. Which seems, like, neat? Interesting? Arguably worth devoting a single sentence to pointing out?

Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about Patriots-Steelers. It should be a very good game! Unless it isn’t. And the Patriots are probably going to win, on account of the likelihood that they’ll score more points.

But I did want to step back into the wayback machine and ‘member a specific play in New England’s upset victory over the Steelers in the 2001 game (a somewhat forgotten game, sandwiched between the Tuck Rule Game and Super Bowl XXXVI upset of the Rams). The Steelers were heavier favorites over the Patriots than the Patriots are over the Steelers on Sunday, but this sequence was exactly how a good team can give a game away. (And keep in mind the Patriots also had a blocked field goal return TD in that game, Brady got hurt, Bledsoe played about half the game, and New England ended up with 259 yards of offense and still won with relative ease.)

A couple of notes:

Troy Edwards was the 13th overall pick of the 1999 draft and was ultimately a colossal bust. This was his last game as a Steeler (he bounced around the league for four more seasons).

I could be wrong, and maybe I just don’t pay enough attention to special teams, but I can’t ever remember watching a punt return on which a gunner failed to get past the line of scrimmage. And then was blocked back into his own end zone. He was in his own end zone! Even if he made the tackle, it still would have been a touchdown!

I edited out 53 seconds of an Ed Hochuli-led conference. (And look at how loose-fitting that shirt was on Hochuli. Too much cardio back then, eh?)

Apologies, I should have had a disclaimer that the video included the profanity of a group celebration. It was pure anarchy back in those days. Apologies if your children saw that. Be sure to scrub their eyes clean.

With all due respect to Troy Brown and Co., I’m pretty sure that was a lame-ass dance even back in 2002.

I re-watched a chunk of this game for the nostalgia. Amos Zereoue, a young Mike Vrabel who had gone from Pittsburgh to New England that offseason, Jason Gildon, Tebucky Jones (in my household, every duck toy—rubber ducks, stuffed animals—is referred to as “Teducky Jones”), Lee Flowers, Kimo von Oelhoffen. And yet, there’s Adam Vinatieri. And that was his sixth season!

Did you spot Tommy Maddox in that sequence? If you did, give yourself 300 Gameday 10 Things points.*

*—Tally up your Gameday 10 Things points after the Super Bowl and trade them in for more Gameday 10 Things points.

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3. Read Jenny Vrentas’ piece on Brady/Belichick. I’ll wait.

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4a. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t just fit passes through windows. He fits them through tunnels. Curvy tunnels. He hasn’t had a receiver create separation in about three months, and he fits in throws that also need to get around the fingertips of defensive backs and linebackers on the way there. I’m not sure there’s a proper understanding of how well Rodgers is playing right now.

4b. If the Packers had, oh, the 12th to 15th best quarterback in football during this eight-game winning streak (Sam Bradford, or Eli Manning, whomever), I’m not sure they would have won more than three games during this span.

4c. Look at that picture there, to your right if you’re on a personal computer, or above if you’re on a telephone. Who throws like that?

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4.5. Hey. HEY! I’m live-tweeting Packers-Falcons from The MMQB account. #twitter Also, here’s a podcast... #podcast

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5a. From what I can tell, mixed emotions in Indianapolis right now over the dismissal of Ryan Grigson.



5b. This kinda goes without saying, but from a football standpoint I’m not sure this roster could be any more poorly construed. I’m too lazy to play out the experiment, but I’m pretty sure that had the Colts set their draft board in alphabetical order the past four years it would have been a lateral move.

Had this organization not landed the No. 1 picks specifically in 1998 and 2012, the two years that featured franchise-defining, no-brainer first overall picks, we might be talking about the Colts the same way we talk about the Browns. Because while the Grigson years were unforgivably bad, the late Bill Polian years might have been worse.

As for now, Jim Irsay is scouring all 300 channels available to him via DirectTV in search of new front-office leadership (Gruden? Manning?). So stay by your phone, girl from the AT&T ads.

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6. Good on you for getting sober, Johnny Manziel. I’m not sure I believe it, but until we hear otherwise I’ll take your word for it.

Now, a quick word on Manziel’s stated desire to return to the NFL, because it’s a very important matter and also I want people to click on this page.

Manziel isn’t a very good prospect, even when you take away the off-the-field stuff. In college, I flunked out of Calc III. I drank way too much my junior year and that certainly didn’t help matters. But the fact is, I wasn’t smart enough to wrap my head around that level of mathematics and also I sob hysterically any time I need to use a graphing calculator; it would have taken 24/7 focus and every ounce of my feeble brain power just to pull a C in that class.

So as far as Manziel goes... being sober is better than not being sober. But there’s the matter of him being undersized, with middling arm strength and, at age 24, having never successfully operated anything close to a sophisticated NFL offense. Plus, any team bringing him in invites an automatic QB controversy as far as their fan base is concerned, because he’s the guy who did the finger thing that time. So who wants to bring that in for a guy who, maybe, if everything pans out, and he becomes a student of the game (and I’m not sure sobering up makes a guy who never wanted to study or practice suddenly love to study and practice), and he stays on the straight and narrow off the field, is a poor man’s Tyrod Taylor?

The cynic in me thinks that maybe Manziel’s motivation is the need to earn a paycheck after not earning one for quite awhile. (No shame in that! I’m only writing this because I need a paycheck, otherwise I’d be doing what I really want to do: Write that rock opera based on the arcade game BurgerTime.) If Manziel really wants to find a place where he can carve out a career and earn a steady paycheck over the next decade, he should head to the CFL. The style of play is built for his skillset. He’d need to sit and learn for a year or two, but for the payoff, look at Henry Burris. He’s a more appropriate comp for Manziel’s ceiling than anyone who’s had success in the NFL.

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7. The Seahawks deserve to get popped for leaving Richard Sherman off the injury report. I’m not blowing minds when I write that a big factor in the NFL’s meteoric rise over the past half-century has been establishing itself as a gambling-friendly sport. To stay gambling-friendly, you need to provide transparent injury reports. It’s part of what separates the NFL from, say, the NHL when it comes to entertainment value.

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8. I’d assume the arrival of Rick Dennison as the new offensive coordinator in Buffalo signals that the bridge hasn’t been torched in regards to Tyrod Taylor.

The Bills have spent the last couple seasons telling anyone who would listen that they have a playoff-caliber roster. (You know, one of those playoff teams with huge question marks at quarterback and wide receiver and no pass-rush presence and a reliance on street free agents at linebacker and shares a division with the best team in football over the past decade.) They’ve completely revamped the approach on the defensive side of the ball, going from the Ryan Bros. complex, multiple scheme to Sean McDemott’s zone-heavy, line-up-and-play approach. (So do they spend top dollar on Stephon Gilmore in a system that doesn’t require elite cornerback play? Up front, are they hoping the 34-year-old Kyle Williams never ages, Jerry Hughes recaptures his 2014 form after disappearing for two seasons and Marcell Dareus stops being a bonehead? At linebacker, do they pay Zach Brown after purging the staff that sparked his breakout year, and do they rely on Reggie Ragland, hand-picked by the Rex regime?)

The changes are just as big on the offensive side of the ball. The past two seasons, the Bills leaned on creative designs and often-dominant man blocking to fuel the running game, the heart of this offense. But Dennison will presumably run the same zone blocking scheme, heavy on those outside zone runs, that he’s overseen everywhere he’s been. They’re basically blowing up this offense’s identity. Which brings us to Taylor.

He’s had two offensive coordinators, both of whom ran fairly rudimentary systems designed around Taylor’s skill set, and both of whom seemed—at best—lukewarm on the quarterback. But Dennison’s system would seem to fit Taylor well. He’d be on the move a lot, and he’d be looking at a lot of simplified, half-field reads. Dennison coached Taylor in Baltimore, and he was part of a Broncos staff that tried to bring Taylor in before the 2015 season. Presumably, Dennison is a Taylor believer. Perhaps the Bills looked around at the QB alternatives and realized figuring out how to make it work for Taylor for the next year or two is the way to go.

I’d be curious to know how Taylor feels about reuniting with the franchise since it’s the same front office that mandated his benching in Week 17. And, of course, this all assumes that there’s some level of forethought going into the Bills’ decisions. And if there’s anything we’ve learned over the past three years…

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9. The biggest stress on my marriage every year is my insistence on watching every Senior Bowl practice.

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10. I think, at 2:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…

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