Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
21 Jan 2008
compiled by Doug Farrar
Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2008.
Doug Farrar: Apparently, Igor Olshansky was flipping off the Foxboro crowd before the game. I find it interesting that A) The Chargers seem to have a predilection for taunting people they don't have to physically face on the field (Philip Rivers messing with Jay Cutler; guys messing with crowds everywhere, though after this game, I should probably give them credit for shooting their mouths off all the time no matter what) and that B) If they keep this up, the impossible could happen and popular sentiment might revert to the Pats.
Mike Tanier: Norv Turner lets the boys be boys, you know. That sort of thing has a way of snowballing. It didn't hurt them this year, but it shows a lack of professionalism that could spill into other aspects of the Chargers' play next year.
Russell Levine: Is it just me or does the crowd seem kinda flat? Maybe three Super Bowls, 17-0 and a team with all three of its offensive stars hurt has led the crowd to feel this will be just another ho-hum win? There's no noise at all evident on the broadcast.
Mike Tanier: Clapping with gloves on sounds pretty muffled.
Aaron Schatz: If you listened to the Simmons podcast this week, you heard me and Bill talking about the noise in Foxboro. There's no question that it is one of the quieter stadiums in the league and Simmons is of the opinion this has to do with the architecture of Gillette, it just doesn't amplify the crowd noise like a dome, or like Qwest Field does.
Will Carroll: Philip Rivers couldn't set on his first throw; his knee buckled due to the lateral push. I don't think he should go much more. Note it's the lateral movement that's the problem and that he's wearing a brace that should limit lateral movement. I don't think any possible ACL problem is affecting things.
Doug Farrar: If the Chargers are able to get a defensive push up the middle on Tom Brady as they were able to do to end New England's first drive, things could get very interesting. I don't think defenders from the side affect him that much, but he really relies on being able to step up in the pocket before he makes the throw under pressure.
San Diego is doing a great job with their blitzes early on in frequency and creativity. They're giving Brady different presnap looks, and they have the confidence in their corners to play up. Laurence Maroney has nothing available to him.
Vince Verhei: On the Patriots' first possession, the Chargers rushed five and got a three-and-out, but Brady had open receivers downfield both times -- once Brady threw a bad pass, once he didn't see the open man. Chargers have been rushing four most of the time since then, and on the touchdown to Jabar Gaffney, they only rushed three. So they're mixing up their fronts, and it seems to be working.
Ben Riley: CBS graphic just said, "Merriman: Big-Time Him." What does that mean? When did "Big Time" become a verb?
Doug Farrar: About the same time "Melty" became an adjective.
Ben Riley: Antonio Gates wandering toward the locker room already (though that was apparently an "equipment" issue). Philip Rivers looking shaky in the pocket. Igor Olshansky taunting aside, if the Chargers win today, it will be the biggest upset in sports history. Not football history. Sports history.
Sean McCormick: True, but it would still fall nicely into line with the running theme of dominant teams slipping up in the playoffs and then making up for it the following year by winning on the road.
Doug Farrar: I dunno, a lot of people thought that Jacksonville could win last week, and the Chargers finished sixth in DVOA while Jacksonville was fourth. If San Diego had a different coach, it wouldn't be seen as such an impossibility, and the Chargers are on a pretty hot streak of their own. Given the perceived AFL-NFL talent disparity (inaccurate, of course), it'd be tough to top Super Bowl III.
Stuart Fraser: I don't buy that San Diego over New England here, even with San Diego's injury situation, is a larger talent disparity than Stanford over USC or Appalachian State over Michigan.
Russell Levine: Count me in the group that thinks there's no such thing as a pro sports upset that can rank with some of the all-timers in college or the Miracle on Ice. There are no comparable talent gaps in pro sports.
Ben Riley: Russell, you make a good point, but I think a Chargers win would be more impressive than the Miracle on Ice, for three reasons. First, the Chargers' three best players are playing with one leg, four toes, and whatever else is wrong with LaDainian Tomlinson; I'm pretty sure Team USA was completely healthy. Two, this game is being played in New England; the Miracle on Ice took place in Lake Placid. Three, I'm not sure who Team USA had to beat to play USSR, but the Chargers are taking on arguably the best team in pro football history after beating a great Indianapolis team ... in Indianapolis.
Patrick Laverty: Actually, a football equivalent of Miracle on Ice would be something along the lines of Ball State beating the Patriots (in Muncie), not another NFL team. Russia was a bunch of professionals against a bunch of college kids. One also has to think that Stanford +52 beating USC is a bigger upset than the AFC's #3 seed beating the #1.
(After Brady throws a first-quarter interception to Quentin Jammer...)
Russell Levine: I'm going to look stupid when New England wins 35-7, but not only does the crowd sound flat, the Pats look flat on offense, and Brady is struggling with his accuracy and has been hit a few times. They don't look very Pats-like in the first 10 minutes.
Stuart Fraser: The Chargers are doing most of the traditional keys to limiting the Patriots: Stop the run with your defensive line, pressure Brady up the middle, play in high winds (or as close as you can manage,) smack the crap out of the New England receivers, and accept the occasional flag. It seems to be helped by Brady's bad day.
Ben Riley: Is there a shakier kicker in important games than Nate Kaeding? He manages to make 25-yard, first-quarter gimmes exciting.
Doug Farrar: Perhaps not an American kicker. Canada's got the champ.
Michael David Smith: The Chargers' decision to de-activate Dave Rayner was a huge mistake. Kaeding's kickoffs have been terrible.
Will Carroll: I don't believe in clutch, but I do believe in choke.
Kelly Washington: +1 for the slap on the ball that kept the punt out of the end zone and put the Chargers deep in their own territory;
Kelly Washington: -2 for the stupid dance.
I still think one of the big advantages a team could find is using more starters on special teams.
Doug Farrar: The last play of the first quarter â€“- that short pass to Stallworth â€“- was a perfect example of Brady's acumen under pressure. Everything's collapsing all around him, but as long as he can step up, it's almost as if the defenders aren't there. Is there anyone better in the NFL at taking one step out of trouble?
Aaron Schatz: Phil Simms keeps talking about Philip Rivers looking comfortable out there, but I'm with Will; it does look like things are sailing a bit and they're getting a lot of yardage with runs. Clearly, Tomlinson was nowhere near as healthy as we thought, because this is now two straight drives he has not been on the field.
Once again, the Chargers are doing some up-the-middle pressure here with Stephen Cooper. They did that in the first game, but they hardly did it against any other team this year.
Vince Verhei: I don't know if the wind was playing havoc with Brady's accuracy early, but it looks like the Pats have adjusted by getting the ball to Randy Moss on the reverse, and throwing to running backs in the flats -- short passes that don't get blown away. This also gets the ball to running backs around the Chargers' front -- which is crucial, because they were having no luck trying to go through it.
Doug Farrar: Going into the second quarter, it looks to me as if the mid-zone of that New England defense -- the 5- to 12-yard area -- is open for business. Rivers has a lot of time, and there are times when his options are shot down, but I've seen some iffy play underneath. Linebackers bumping into each other, hanging close to the line on fake blitzes, leaving huge holes in the zone. It looks like they need a reset.
Ben Riley: Do you think Vincent Jackson is aware how badly the 75,000 people who had him on their fantasy teams this year resent his playoff success? I mean, the guy has been an absolute beast the past two games.
Stuart Fraser: That was an interesting variation on "no holding in the playoffs" on that second-and-goal to Gates with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
I'd agree that passes are sailing on Rivers, but they're sailing on Brady too. Of course Brady often can't step in due to pressure and it seems Rivers won't step in, probably due to injury. Or it could be the wind.
Russell Levine: The Chargers need to stop kicking field goals if they're going to have a shot.
Sean McCormick: I was thinking that the Chargers might want to try one or two onside kicks today, and if they can't do better than giving New England the ball on the 40, they might want to try more than that. When in doubt, do as Jeff Fisher would do.
Ben Riley: The Patriots can continue to avoid Antonio Cromartie by throwing at Quentin Jammer, but Jammer seems determined to turn his career around tonight. He's playing out of his mind right now, and if Brady keeps throwing in his direction, he's going to get picked. Again.
Sean McCormick: Phil Simms just made a good point (and the world briefly stopped turning on its axis): San Diego is able to play tight and effective man coverage on both sides of the field. That's the kind of coverage that Miami used to play very successfully against Brady, and even though this Pats team is far more loaded at wide receiver, to the point where you'd expect them to find a good matchup somewhere, it hasn't really happened yet.
Doug Farrar: That tackle by Brandon Meriweather on Pocket Hercules II with 18 seconds left in the first half might wind up being the play of the game. The Chargers don't get the first down, they have to take their last timeout, Rivers has to heave the ball out of bounds on the next play, and though Kaeding broke his postseason 40-plus schneid, Meriweather's tackle may have prevented what I suspect will be a desperately-needed touchdown down the stretch.
Aaron Schatz: The Chargers are getting insane pass protection. That's why this game is still close. Rivers is getting tons of time to throw.
I've called Quentin Jammer overrated a lot in the past, but there's no question this was his best season, and he is playing very well today.
Mike Tanier: I think he is destined to have a long second career in the Charles Woodson/Shawn Springs sort of way. Some of these high-talent cornerbacks are very erratic early in their careers, then figure it out after several years, when their exceptional athleticism has faded a bit but their brains have caught up with their bodies.
Stuart Fraser: Add mine to the cavalcade of Jammer praise; he's playing really well. That said, Cromartie isn't being thrown at at all -- which is about the ultimate sign of success for a cornerback.
Bill Barnwell: On one hand, Jammer's having a great game. On the other, it's pretty amazing that the Patriots simply aren't going at Cromartie. It looks like he's officially their No. 1 corner, and he's absolutely taken Moss out of the game. They're doubling Moss on most every play, of course, but other teams do that, and he still gets his catches.
By the way, Matt Light's a dead ringer for "Wolf" from American Gladiators.
Will Carroll: So, you're the one watching that show.
Doug Farrar: He was a dead ringer for the best left tackle in football on that long Maroney fourth-quarter run. Damn, that's some killer downfield blocking.
Aaron Schatz: They keep talking about the Chargers feeling good about themselves, confident, because they are still in this game. I think the Chargers have outplayed the Patriots so far and they are still losing. The Patriots get the ball first in the second half, and the Chargers defense has a trend of playing worse in the second half all season long. I think that's a reason for the Patriots to be the more confident team coming out for the third quarter.
Mike Tanier: The Chargers played a lot of Cover-3 or quarters on first-and-10 and early in drives. The corners would drop way back and allow little 5-yard smash routes in front of them. Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans, and I think Donte Stallworth all caught first-and-10 passes that netted 7 to 12 yards without a defender anywhere near them on smash routes. Several Patriots drives stalled after that (or ended with turnovers) but it is hard to win the field position battle when you spot your opponent a first down to start every drive.
Vince Verhei: Dan Marino's cell phone going off was the greatest halftime act I've ever seen -- until I realized the whole thing was sponsored by Sprint. Oh boy.
Most unlikely one-on-one matchup of the day: Tedy Bruschi finds himself isolated against Antonio Gates at the goal-line -- and knocks the pass away.
Benjy Rose: Can someone tell me why Gillette Stadium plays "Hell's Bells" after the Brady tipped interception?
Stuart Fraser: I don't know, but that was clearly a makeup call by Fate after last year's divisional round.
Bill Barnwell: That interception looked like miscommunication with Stallworth and Brady, where Brady maybe thought Stallworth was changing his curl into a go, and Stallworth was still going to run a curl.
I like what the Patriots are doing with Kevin Faulk and Maroney, motioning them out so that the Chargers both announce their coverage and, if it's man, narrow down who's going to be rushing by getting one of the linebackers out of the box.
Doug Farrar: Junior Seau makes the second huge third-down tackle for the Patriots, on Michael Turner with nine minutes left in the third quarter from the New England 4-yard line. Another Kaeding field goal, another opportunity bites the dust.
Is it my new TV, a footing issue on the field, or is Maroney always this slow out of the blocks? He looks like Shaun Alexander from the handoff to the line, and that's not necessarily a good thing with this quick defense.
(After Brady throws interception No. 3, right to Cromartie in the middle of the end zone...)
Russell Levine: The Keep Choppin' Wood award will go to Cromartie, for running that pick out of the end zone, if this leads to a three-and-out.
(It actually leads to a four-and out -- the Chargers get one first down and have to punt.)
Mike Tanier: I have no problem with him doing that because he is Antonio Cromartie and is incredibly dangerous with the ball. He got tackled at the 7, but if he runs it out 20 times he is going to score four or five times and take it past the 20-yard line another eight or nine times.
Russell Levine: Still, what gives with Brady? He has been ordinary to bad today.
Michael David Smith: I would argue that "ordinary to bad" is being extremely generous. He's made some horrible throws out there.
Patrick Laverty: I don't know if Will or anyone else can confirm, but WEEI in Boston was saying that Brady had a little bit of the flu/cold thing going on. That definitely wasn't the Brady we saw all year.
Will Carroll: I don't do colds. I'm an injury guy, not an illness guy.
Patrick Laverty: The radio guys also kept ranting about Brady's performance the game after a bad game. Guess that could be something to check. Does he really have a great game after a bad one?
Mike Tanier: When I re-watch this game, I want to see how Brady leads his receivers. The diving catch in the final drive by Kevin Faulk is a great example of a touch pass. Brady did it early in the game on a short pass to Moss: With Moss about to release, Brady threw the ball about 8 yards upfield. On one pass to Wes Welker near the goal line (just before the Cromartie pick as I recall), Brady through to Welker's back shoulder, almost shoving him into the end zone with the throw. Those are great throws, and a few of them go a long way: If Brady just throws to Faulk in stride in the fourth quarter, the Patriots may not convert that third-and-10.
Doug Farrar: The next killer third-down stop -- Harrison blitzing left on third-and-10 with nine minutes left in the game. He forces the poor throw from Rivers, which keeps the Chargers out of field goal range, still down by nine, at the Pats' 36-yard line. New England's predictable ability to make these plays when they absolutely must, and to prevent the opponent from doing the same, really defines them as a team.
Stuart Fraser: And Norv Turner realizes he's down by two scores in the fourth quarter, and goes pass-wacky. Norv, there are 10 minutes in the game and all you need is a touchdown and a field goal. A few running plays won't kill you. (A cynic watching the game with me suggested that Norv knows he needs four field goals, so all the drives have to be in hurry-up from here on).
Ben Riley: Wow, I couldn't disagree more with Norv's play calling there. You've got first-and-10 in New England territory -- that's four-down territory! So run the ball, man! Instead it's three incomplete passes and a punt. And Easterbrook just started scribbling in his notebook...
Aaron Schatz: The Chargers are playing really well, but that's now two big mistakes running balls out of the end zone. First, on Cromartie's interception, he should have just gone down to a knee; instead he tries to run it out and the Chargers get it on the 4 instead of the 20. Then, after the Wes Welker fourth-quarter touchdown, Stephen Gostkowski booms it with the wind 5 yards deep in the end zone, and Darren Sproles takes it out and gets drilled at the 15. Sometimes, it's better to not try to make the big play.
Stuart Fraser: One situation in which the Chargers aren't playing well is when New England has third-and-short. I don't think San Diego has managed a stop on third-and-less than about 6.
And, in the end, (actually, throughout most of the second half), the Chargers couldn't stop the run. This is unusual, because normally when teams go one-dimensional to kill the clock it becomes a lot easier. I don't know enough about San Diego to accuse them of lacking depth along the line and at linebacker, but that's the usual cause of being unable to hold up against the running game in the second half.
It is, of course, possible that nobody in San Diego prepared for a running game out of two-TE sets. But they should have done so -- New England loved it last year, and the personnel are still there (or they've been improved).
Russell Levine: Kevin Faulk gets the Pats' MVP today for those two drive-extending catches. On the other hand, that was a brutal decision by Norv, punting from the New England 36 down two scores.
Vince Verhei: To those who say the Patriots high ranking in rush offense DVOA is merely a product of the threat of their passing attack, I present to you the second half of this game. Playing with the lead and to run out the clock, they go to a one-wide receiver offense, alternating between an I-formation with two tight ends and a single-back, triple-TE approach, and run over the Chargers over and over again.
Mike Tanier: Anyone see the Richard Seymour shot on Philip Rivers after the whistle?
Stuart Fraser: Yes. In rulebook terms, I thought it should have drawn a flag. In personality terms, I suspect Rivers probably had it coming. It wasn't a particularly vicious shot.
Aaron Schatz: What do people think about Philip Rivers today? He did look pretty good considering the injury, and yet at halftime, Bill Cowher was saying that he thought the Chargers should take him out, and early on Will pointed out how the knee was seriously limiting him.
Russell Levine: Is there a quarterback in the NFL that throws an uglier-looking -- yet still effective -- ball than Rivers? The ball never seems to have anything on it, yet usually finds the mark.
Sean McCormick: Rivers is what Chad Pennington would be with top level personnel around him.
I was just about to post that the Chargers are being successful for the second week in a row at working the deep outside. Then Philip Rivers promptly put that wounded duck up for Ellis Hobbs to grab near the end of the second quarter. Of course, it's possible that the Chargers called the old "Let him intercept it, then strip him" play, but they don't execute it as well as the Pats.
Doug Farrar: That wasn't as bad as Rivers' other early interception, the "I'm falling down, but I don't want to eat the ball" pick by Samuel. I'm sure many people yelled "Pick!" while that one was in the air.
Stuart Fraser: Rivers reminded me of Pennington at times, though I'll let people who watch more Jets ball than me comment on that analogy. The first interception was all on Chambers, though -- almost as bad as the hook-and-lateral-via-a-defender the Patriots pulled off in this fixture last year.
Ben Riley: It was damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't for the Chargers there. Rivers was clearly struggling throwing anything deep, but even on one leg, I think he's a better option that Billy Volek. And if the Chargers had managed to punch a few touchdowns in, we might have been talking about one of the "gutsiest" playoff performances of all time.
Stuart Fraser: In general, I'm not taking Cowher's word for anything when it comes to quarterbacks. He's far too inclined to wrap his quarterbacks in cotton wool and not let them do anything bad. Which isn't all that bad an idea when you've got the Steelers defense, but it will only take you so far. I don't think Rivers played great, but he did more than I'd have expected from Volek. There seemed to be too much air underneath many of his passes -- but I could say the same about Brady.
Mike Tanier: Both Rivers and Brady made some great throws and some really bad ones. Rivers was wildly off target at times but threw some absolute strikes, like when he hit Chambers with his tippie-toes on the sidelines. Rivers never looks good when throwing on the waddle, so when the Patriots forced him to run a little in the second half they were at a big advantage. But after being outside for 15 minutes today, I don't know how anyone was gripping a football.
Russell Levine: I don't know what to make of the Pats' last three outings. They've looked beatable all three weeks. What does it mean for the Super Bowl? Anything? Who knows, but it's been a while since they've looked dominant.
Doug Farrar: It probably means that the team they're facing will put a few good things together, maybe even take an early lead, and everyone will be writing all this stuff about how this is where it all ends. Then, the opposing team will make one imperceptible mistake. Because of that, and before anyone knows what happened, the opposing team will find itself under a really huge boulder as the Patriots do what they've done all the way through the second half of the season, or at least since Rosevelt Colvin got hurt. Death by a thousand paper cuts, bend-but-don't-break, whichever clichÃ© you care to employ. They seem to have forgotten how to lose.
Tim Gerheim: It is incredibly impressive that the Patriots ran a drive that lasted over nine minutes AT THE END OF THE GAME? Sure the words "game over" were written in TMQ's notebook when Turner punted at 9:13, but there's no way even Easterbrook thought the Chargers wouldn't even see the ball again. How often does a nine-minute drive even occur? I would be surprised if it was even once a weekend during the regular season. And the Pats did it, against a good Chargers defense, during the last nine minutes of the game.
Ned Macey:Sure Brady didn't play well, but he was playing the second best pass defense according to DVOA and the best overall defense in weighted DVOA. Might that not have something to do with the 3 INTs and overall mediocre performance? Also, the Chargers run defense ranked 19th in DVOA, so the Pats' second-half strategy was extremely sound.
Of course, Brady also suffered from the weather. One of the next major breakthroughs for FO is weather-adjustments for offensive and defensive play. I know Aaron has written a few times about doing that for the 2008 book.
The Chargers coped impressively with the losses of Tomlinson and limitations of Gates, but the fact that they lost this game in the red zone, where those two players excel, was unfortunate.
Aaron Schatz: I feel really bad for LaDainian Tomlinson. Here is a guy who is one of the best players of his generation, former MVP, class act. Here he is, finally, one game from the Super Bowl, and he's forced to sit on the sidelines, unable to help, watching his team lose. I am guessing that Norv Turner made the right decision, given the quality of the other San Diego running backs, but it had to be so emotionally hard for L.T.
Although the Patriots struggled in this game, the way they won demonstrated why they are the best offense of all-time and probably the best team of all time. When I was on WEEI on Tuesday, we had a caller who talked about how, if the Patriots were running an offense as good as the 99-01 Rams, why couldn't a team come in and beat them just like the 2001 Patriots beat the 2001 Rams? My response was this:
First of all, people don't understand just how big the 2001 upset was, possibly the greatest upset in NFL history, greater than Super Bowl III. It's not the class of upset that happens all the time.
Second, the difference between the 2007 Patriots and the 1999-2001 Rams is flexibility. The Mike Martz offense is what it is. If you can figure out how to stop it, you stop it. He doesn't want his quarterback to call audibles to adjust at the line. He doesn't come in with power running. He runs what he runs. The 2007 Patriots are flexible. Brady audibles whenever he wants. If they can't pass the ball -- and they could not today, due to the wind and Brady having perhaps his worst day of the year -- they bring in two tight ends, three tight ends, and they stuff it down your throat with a power running game. Not that Laurence Maroney is better than Marshall Faulk, since he certainly is not, but the 2001 Rams could not have adjusted to do what the 2007 Patriots did in the second half of this game. That's why the 2007 Patriots have the greatest offense in NFL history.
Doug Farrar: Everyone gets excited for conference championships! Why? Because in the words of Emmitt Smith, "If the Giants win this game, they could possibly go to the Super Bowl."
Mike Tanier: He didn't really say that, did he?
Doug Farrar: I don't think he meant to say it (i.e., he knows that a win would put the Giants in the big game and he just verbally gets in his own way a lot of the time), but he said it.
Michael David Smith: He said it.
Aaron Schatz: I just have to point out that the advertisement on the side of Gmail for this message was "Green Bay Packers Zubaz: We're Back!" OK, who decided that Zubaz was back?
Will Carroll: The halftime shot of Lambeau looked like they were heating the field. I couldn't find anything on a quick Google, but isn't there some kind of melting tech under the field there?
Doug Farrar: They've had coils/rails under the field for decades. If I remember correctly, they didn't work (or weren't turned on) before the Ice Bowl, hence the name.
Bill Barnwell: One of the things I've been lamenting about the Giants from the preseason on is their tendency to overpursue on defense. The first two plays in this game from the Packers totally exploited said tendency.
I have a man-crush on Justin Tuck. I just wanted to say that.
Ben Riley: "Eli, hi, this is Matt Hasselbeck. The Dropped Pass Support Group meets at 7:30 on Monday. See you there."
Aaron Schatz: This game is definitely backing up the charting numbers showing Al Harris as no longer playing at a superstar cornerback level.
Stuart Fraser: Did Troy Aikman really just describe the Al Harris-Plaxico Burress matchup as "a good matchup for both teams"? If he did, does anybody know what the blazes he meant?
Ahh, the Giants are showing how wide receivers should really let a quarterback down. Anybody can drop a pass, but having your split end and your slot guy run into each other requires skill and true dedication to screwing up. Wonder how many reps it took in practice to perfect that?
(After Green Bay's return man very nearly flubs a Giants kickoff...)
Doug Farrar: Anyone who had "11:33 left in the first half" in the Koren Robinson Dropped Football Pool, you're a winner!
Ben Riley: Last week, Doug and I were talking about which team had a better wide receiving corps, Packers or Seahawks. I argued for Seattle, but Doug argued -- and I quote -- "the Packers' yards after catch numbers are insane." One 90-yard Donald Driver touchdown with 85 yards after the catch later, I think we can score that one Farrar 1, Riley 0.
Doug Farrar: It would be a lot closer to a tie if D.J. Hackett could stay healthy and Deion Branch didn't keep turning into a pumpkin. But the Packers have invested in those big guys who can bring in a quick slant and just blaze upfield. They're built for the spread offense, and they can all block like monsters.
Bill Barnwell: Ben and I are debating here on Atari Bigby's play: Is it good that the Bigby laid the huge hit on Burress in the first half, or was it his responsibility to have anticipated the slant and have covered it in the first place?
Also, forgetting that Corey Webster was absolutely manhandled by Driver on the line on the 90-yard touchdown, the angle that Gibril Wilson took on the tackle was absolutely unforgivable. Just atrocious.
Aaron Schatz: The Giants keep looking for flags on the Packers defensive backs for illegal contact. Bigby led with his helmet when he laid out a Giants receiver and got no flag. MDS did a research article back in the first year of FO showing that officials really do call fewer penalties during the postseason, except for Ed Hochuli for some reason. The "let them play" ethic is really obvious this year.
In the Patriots-Chargers game, there was basically no holding (only one offensive holding penalty, which was declined on a sack). No holding so far in this game either.
Doug Farrar: This has been an exceptional postseason for the "let them play" thing, and I don't mean "exceptional" in a good way. I think it will go through the Super Bowl, and there will be some silent offseason adjustments directed at next year's postseason, which is what the NFL seems to do whenever the officials keeping flags in their pockets seems to benefit one especially physical secondary. Call it the Bill Polian Rule.
I'll say this, though: Mike Pereira can't talk on one hand about how he's pushing for consistency in officiating and watch stuff like this, and even the graphic crew-by-crew swings in the regular season for certain penalties, on the other. If there was consistency, scouting crews ahead of time wouldn't be necessary, but it is. I also wonder how much of this has to do with the postseason all-star crews.
Stuart Fraser: Wow. I think Antonio Pierce's play in blowing up a screen despite having three blockers between him and the ball carrier, and forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal, is the best individual defensive effort in this year's playoffs.
Bill Barnwell: That was a great freaking play. I don't know if it was the best individual effort of the playoffs, but it was a great, great freaking play.
Ben Riley: Wow. The Joe Buck-to-Troy Aikman frigid-broadcasting-booth chest bump just raised the bar on man-on-man awkwardness. High comedy.
Doug Farrar: Terry Bradshaw's "I'm going to talk no matter where my microphone is" halftime analysis was wonderfully reminiscent of Larry "Bud" Melman.
Vince Verhei: Bradshaw did that in the pregame show, too. You've got to give him a break though, he's only been doing TV for 23 years.
Ben Riley: "That makes me feel like a real sissy." -- Joe Buck, as Fox comes back from commercial showing the three attractive girls who live in Green Bay wearing bikini tops.
Aaron Schatz: The biggest question going into tonight's game was: "Are we getting the Giants' passing game from the regular season, or the Giants' passing game from the last three weeks?" At halftime, I would have to say that Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress are still drinking the '03 Panthers juice, but the other guys on that offense have reverted to normal.
Bill Barnwell: I will say that as improved as Eli Manning has been this postseason, he still panics when the clock is running down. He has one or two "OH S**T -- TIME OUT!" moments per game.
Vince Verhei: The Packers seem to be running a lot of play action from draws. So they fake pass, then fake run, then really pass. It seems to be slowing the Giants pass rush down even more than normal play action, but it also takes longer to set up. If the Giants ever start blitzing, that tactic could backfire big-time for Green Bay.
For the Giants, they've got to be feeling good about themselves. On that last drive, they've got the big dropped pass by Burress, plus the brainfart Manning had when he tried to scramble with no timeouts; otherwise they've got another field goal, maybe a touchdown. But Harris clearly can't cover Burress, Eli's had plenty of time to throw, they've had some success running the ball, and if the Giants can stop beating themselves, they've got a great chance to win this game.
Ben Riley: What's that famous logical paradox? Zeno's Paradoxes? The Packers seemed determined to make it real by making it half the distance to the goal twice. From within the 1-yard line.
Stuart Fraser: I'm guessing that either the Packers decided that "half the distance to the goal" isn't much of a deterrent from the 1, or alternatively whatever they thought was the Giants' snap count wasn't.
By the way, if the Giants win, do we need another irrational Brady-Manning thread?
Ben Riley: So, Plaxico Burress just ran past the Packers bench yelling, "He can't cover me!" while pointing at Al Harris. It's true. Harris can't cover him. Should be interesting to see how this plays out.
Vince Verhei: After the Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter, they gave up on the Harris-Burress matchup, putting Charles Woodson on Burress instead.
(One play laterâ€¦)
Vince Verhei: OK, forget what I said about Woodson-Burress. It lasted exactly one play, a completion. I guess the Packers figured Woodson can't cover Burress either.
Aaron Schatz: On the first drive of the third quarter, we learn that the officials' "let them play" postseason attitude simply is no match for the most-penalized defense in the NFL. Eventually, the flags had to come out on the Packers.
Well, so much for keeping the flags in the pockets. Did the officials just hand the Packers a touchdown with a ticky-tack 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Sam Madison that easily could have been a no-call or offsetting penalties on Madison and Vernand Morency?
Stuart Fraser: I don't know. And the reason I don't know is that the replay cut off partway through their contretemps, with my compliments to FOX. It's probably my biggest hate about NFL coverage: when there's a major penalty and the replay cuts off halfway through the action, missing off all sorts of things that might have moved the zebra to get his flag out.
(Early in the fourth quarter, Brett Favre is intercepted by R.W. McQuarters, who fumbles. The ball is recovered by Mark Tauscher...)
Mike Tanier: I just witnessed Favre's interception and Tauscher's fumble recovery. I am glad the season is almost over. I can't make sense of this stuff anymore.
Ben Riley: OK, so some plays just require a classical name. The Catch. The Music City Miracle. And now we have R.W. McQuarters picking Brett Favre, and then fumbling. Divine Intervention?
Doug Farrar: Tauscher might be the Packers' Most Valuable Player this postseason. Patrick Kerney was negated against him last week, and Michael Strahan (with a nod to Sal "That won't happen to Strahan!!!" Paolantonio) has two tackles and no sacks through the third quarter.
Stuart Fraser: That's a play from the New England playbook, isn't it? DB hook right Brown lateral?
Vince Verhei: On that failed third-down screen that led to the game-tying field goal: Was that meant to be a double-pass? Looked like a lateral to me. Odd time and place for that call.
Ben Riley: I'm totally confused as to why Mike McCarthy accepted that penalty with nine minutes to play. Isn't fourth down with a potential 52-yard field goal attempt better than giving the Giants another chance at making the first? (And as it turns out, the Giants gain 12 yards on third down and get a questionable pass interference call to convert on fourth. Just sayin'â€¦)
The cognitive dissonance happening within Tom Coughlin's mind after Lawrence Tynes shanked that field goal was truly breathtaking. Coughlin's internal monologue: "I've revitalized my team and my self-image. But my kicker is still complete [rhymes with spit.] Do I scream at him? Or do I pretend to be supportive? Ah, whatever, I'll scream and clap and hope Favre throws a pick."
(After Green Bay goes three-and-out midway through the fourth quarter...)
Doug Farrar: Favre didn't throw a pick there, but if the Packers lose this, he'll spend the offseason wondering about the drive that ended with six minutes left in the game. Two bad throws, a short dinker to Morency for 7 yards on third-and-10, punt. That's the Favre from 15 years ago that Mike Holmgren still yells at in his sleep.
On the late Manning sack, it looked to me that the center was making a football move, as they say, before KGB took off from the line. Brought his head up and looked to be starting the snap. Probably a good no-call, though it was close.
Bill Barnwell: Regardless of whether Gbaja-Biamila was offside or not on that pass rush, Ahmad Bradshaw's blitz pickup was abysmal. He just totally ignored the outside rusher.
Doug Farrar: Outstanding job by Jeff Feagles to bring the high snap down on the missed 36-yard field goal attempt to end regulation. I understand that the snap threw the rhythm off, but Tynes had a foot angle on that ball like Garo Yepremian on acid.
Brett Favre in the second half: 9-of-16 for 21 yards. Can't wait to see those DVOA splits!
And literally one second after I wrote that, Favre barfed all over himself and airmailed a pick to Corey Webster in overtime. Eeek. People are going to say that the Packers lost this game more than the Giants won it, but when you offer up a game to the home team that many times and they won't accept the gift, that has something to do with your team as well. And I'm very happy to welcome Eli Manning to the Quarterback Club inside my head, because I was tired of the extreme dichotomy between the performances and the hype. He wasn't what they thought he was before, but he is now.
Sean McCormick: The Giants were just better, and they were better in conditions that did a lot to negate their pass rush. Eli was better than Favre, the receivers played completely out of character and came up with big catch after big catch, and Bradshaw was the best running back on the field. Their kicking game could well undo any chance they have at an upset, but they deserved to win the game.
And I'm happy for Eli, too, even though it guarantees there are going to be about 600 uncomfortable shots into whatever luxury suite Peyton is sitting in. They should just give him a field pass and let him stand on the Giants sideline.
Any early guesses on the line? Does it come down some because of the way the Giants played the Pats in Week 16, or does it balloon up because of the AFC-NFC imbalance? I'm saying 14 to start.
Aaron Schatz: Green Bay only has itself to blame. Missed kicks, fumbled interceptions and punts... the Giants kept trying to hand the Packers a trip to the Super Bowl and they just wouldn't take it.
Mike Tanier: Don't forget penaties. The Packers defense killed itself with penalty after penalty. The drive that ended with the Zeno-paradox-half-the-distance fouls and the Jacobs touchdown started with an illegal contact and a roughing the passer foul.
Aaron Schatz: The Giants have done their best 2003 Panthers impression, but if they win it will be a far greater upset than it would have been if the 2003 Panthers had beaten that Patriots team. That Patriots team ranked third in DVOA in a compressed league without any really great teams. This Patriots team just finished the greatest regular season in league history. If the Giants win the Super Bowl, it will rank as the greatest championship upset in the history of American professional sports.
Sean McCormick: In theory, that's true. But the Giants actually look a lot more dangerous than that 2001 Pats team did going up against the '01 Rams. They have a legitimate elite receiving threat, a quarterback who is actually throwing downfield and winning games rather than managing them, and they have the best defensive line in football. The Pats were better this year than the 2001 Rams, but they kind of staggered down the stretch and have not been particularly impressive. If the Pats had put up that effort today against Indy, I think they would have lost.
No one should expect the Giants to win, mind you, but I'll be less surprised than I was in 2001.
Vince Verhei: All credit to the Giants: They won, on the road, even though it seemed like every single break went against them. They were clearly the better team today. That said, it sets up the biggest mismatch in the Super Bowl we will ever, ever see. If they beat the Pats, then it will certainly be the biggest championship upset in sports history.
In both games today, the inconsistent young quarterbacks significantly outplayed their MVP/Super Bowl Champ/future Hall of Fame counterparts, and the best of them all was clearly Eli Manning. Weird, huh?
Aaron Schatz: I've been comparing the Giants a lot to the 2003 Panthers, but I realized there are a couple of other good historical comparisons. The question is: What other wild card teams have gotten red-hot in the playoffs, and what did it mean when they hit the championship?
One of them isn't really that historical, and it isn't even in the same sport. The Colorado Rockies went 15-1 down the stretch this year. They went 7-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Then they went to take on the team with the best record in baseball during the regular season. They got crushed.
The other team snagged a wild card, won three straight playoff games on the road, and headed off to the Super Bowl to take on a team some people considered the greatest of all time. That team was the 1985 New England Patriots. They got crushed.
This isn't to say that the Giants will get crushed -- the 2003 Panthers only lost by a last-minute field goal -- but there are plenty of indications that playoff momentum runs out when it faces regular-season dominance.
Bill Barnwell: You know, I didn't even get excited when the Giants won. Everyone in the room was hooting and hollering and I just kinda sat there, mouth agape, a mix of confusion and astonishment.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Your team doesn't make it to the Super Bowl after you predict they'll finish with the worst record in football, or when they're the least-likely team to make the finals according to your own Secret Sauce (which we can now officially say has gone bad, I think). Not with a secondary like that, not with a crippled star wideout and a questionable starting quarterback.
And yet, we are.
It took a couple of hours for it to sink in and for me to shut the analyst side of me down. I never believed, for one moment during the game, that the Giants were going to win this game. The Tynes miss at the end of regulation was ordained from above. I'm surprised Feagles even got the snap down. After Trey Junkin a few years ago, it seemed natural that we'd go through that again.
I don't care if this team isn't great. I know they're not. I know they were mediocre for 15 games and had four great games in a row at the end of the season, and that the former 15 are likely much more indicative than the final four. I know that they're flawed in many ways, that they simply weren't close to the best team in the NFC at any point this year, that there's no real indicator that they're a significantly better team outside of their passing attack, that they've been subject to some incredible luck with injuries and bizarrely poor performances, but it doesn't matter. I don't care.
My team -- my stupid, ugly, crummy, klutzy, divorce-riddled team -- is in the Super Bowl. And I'm just happy.
Ned Macey: I probably don't match a Peter King in this area, but I've always really liked Brett Favre. That being said, he just played really badly in the second half. I don't understand what goes on in his head, but he just stared making terrible decisions much like the Dallas game in the regular season. Who would have thought as late as Week 10 that the sound defensive strategy was to stuff the run and make Favre beat you?
Mike Tanier: Explanation of Giants: Decent, Wild Card-caliber team gets better late in the season, gets a boost from some rookies (Ross and Bradshaw), faces a Wild Card opponent on its last legs, beats a flat Cowboys team that looked shocked to discover they were expected to actually show up for the two games before the Super Bowl, then wins an Ice Bowl against an opponent determined to beat itself with interceptions and penalties.
The Giants deserve their due. They really stepped up in the last month and particularly the last 2 weeks. But sorry, I am not going to break my back explaining why they are winning despite a low DVOA figure, and I am not going to start overrating some of their players/units because they have won a few games. They aren't who I thought they were at the start of the year (a joke), but I still think they are only slightly better than the team I figured to go 9-7 and lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Aaron Schatz: I don't think I can run out of "how incredible is it that the Giants got this far?" facts. Can you guess how many regular-season wins the Giants had over a team that finished the regular season with a winning record?
One. Week 3, 24-17 over Washington. Philadelphia was 8-8 and the other seven teams the Giants beat had losing records.
The whole thing is just nuts.
(Ed. Note: Just to let readers know, we won't be running an Any Given Sunday on the Green Bay-New York game. We've pretty much said everything that needs to be said, either here or in the NFC Championship preview. Eli Manning is playing much better, Al Harris struggled this year, the Packers get lots of penalties, etc.)
400 comments, Last at 04 Feb 2008, 5:09am by James