Before we get to this week's Audibles, a request.
The "Tom Brady genuflect" joke is officially tired. Everybody gets it. The joke has now taken over every single discussion thread on the site, to the point where it is difficult to get a conversation going without having to keep skipping "genuflect" comments. This isn't about whether or not it is ok to criticize the Patriots, this is just about that specific joke. It's done, so enough already. Basta, genug, abbastanza, dayenu. Capiche?
Washington Redskins 10 at Seattle Seahawks 20
Michael David Smith: Seattle DT Craig Terrill is playing really well. How come I've never noticed him before?
Ryan Wilson: Hmmm. Twelve seconds left in the first half, ball at the Redskins 30-yard line, and instead of taking a knee, Washington runs a play. Result? Incomplete pass and Santana Moss hobbles off the field. I don't think that was how they drew it up.
Aaron Schatz: Mike's awesome article about the Seattle offensive line missed the important sixth member of the gang: fullback Mack Strong. His block made it possible for Maurice Morris to convert the third-and-1 at 3:38 or so of the second quarter.
It is painful to watch Mark Brunell try to run with a torn-up knee. I feel like he's auditioning for a remake of "The Monty Stratton Story." And when did Washington decide it would make Taylor Jacobs the focal point of the offense?
Greatest crowd sign ever: "2:00 -- YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED."
The FOX presentation is a bit strange. Is Dick Stockton really wearing a lime green tie? Also, they went to commercial at one point with Jane's Addiction's "Jane Says." What kind of NFL bumper music is that? Is the idea that since the game is in Seattle, the music should be grunge? Hello, FOX, Jane's Addiction was from Los Angeles.
Oh, and I can't believe Jake Plummer has time to prepare for the playoffs in between shooting his scenes as Jesus for the new NBC drama "The Book of Daniel."
Vivek Ramgopal: Telling sign about how the Skins felt about Jacobs before the game: James Thrash (broken hand, cast and all) almost got the spot across from Moss.
Bill Moore: Post Hasselbeck TD: Did Alexander look like a little girl there or what? My wife actually said, â€œI'm sorry, was he skipping?â€?
Michael David Smith: Seattle TE Ryan Hannam just abused Washington SS Ryan Clark on that long run by Mack Strong. I don't think I've ever seen a tight end sustain a block that long before.
Ryan Wilson: I think the Redskins' offensive playbook consists of: slip screen to Moss, slip screen to Cooley, 15-yard in to Moss, 15-yard in to Cooley, toss pitch to Bro Sweets in short yardage situations, and when in doubt, halfback pass. That's it. I really think they should run the halfback pass at least once a game for 16 weeks in 2006.
Seattle's 12th man: Cory Raymer.
And the Seahawks might want to think about trading for that Pepsi machine to start returning punts and kickoffs.
Aaron Schatz: Well, Washington has nothing to be ashamed of. They had a season far greater than anybody expected; they came back when left for dead by most people at 5-6. But it is also nice to see the Seattle fans get that long-awaited win.
I think that the Seahawks deserve some serious kudos for keeping Shaun Alexander out of this game rather than risk his future health with that concussion. But -- while I said I didn't have a problem with the vote, this game showed how silly it is to vote a running back as MVP, especially one who plays behind such a great line and with such a great passing game. Ask yourself: If Matt Hasselbeck had gone out with a concussion in the first quarter, and Seneca Wallace had been the quarterback of this game, would Seattle have won? I have my doubts. Seattle won without Alexander DESPITE the fact that they gave away three fumbles. (Man, did Washington eventually get karmic payback for all those early-season lost fumbles, or what?)
Michael David Smith: Can we start speculating about who the Redskins' starting quarterback is next year? I think the early favorite has to be Jason Campbell. But it's a really wide open race.
Ned Macey: I think Brunell starts the year, but when he is inevitably injured, Campbell will come in. What they desperately need is a second receiver.
I know all the breaks went against Seattle, and they still won, but I can't believe they ever left Cooley or Moss open. Two huge plays to Moss where he was wide open, and even on the game-clinching incompletion, they had him single-covered by a safety? I'm about as negative on Carolina as anybody, but I really think Seattle should be rooting heavily for Chicago tomorrow.
New England Patriots 13 at Denver Broncos 27
Michael David Smith: John Lynch is all over the field today. He just covered about 20 yards in bringing down Corey Dillon to prevent a long gain. He's still got a lot of speed for a 34-year-old.
If Denver loses a close game, Shanahan will have a lot of explaining to do about his play-calling near the goal line. You've got second-and-2 from the 4-yard line, and you go with Tatum Bell, the guy who's known for breaking long runs rather than fighting for tough yards? Then you've got third-and-inches and you have Plummer sneak even though half the population of Boston was stacked in the middle of the line? Then you've got fourth-and-1 and you throw the fade? Just once, couldn't you try a handoff to Mike Anderson?
Memo to Jeff Triplette: If there's a false start, blow the play dead right away, don't wait until you've given Al Wilson a shot at Brady's ribs and then inform everyone that the play didn't count.
Russell Levine: I don't know if you can pin that one on Triplette. That was the crowd noise.
Ugh, that Plummer INT was shades of the old, bad Jake. Threw up a prayer. Anybody else have ominous feelings about the Broncos in this game? They're getting a dominating performance out of their defense, yet are making a lot of mistakes on offense and should have a lead by now.
Pat Laverty: Is it just me, or did Shanahan just scream "we can't run the ball on you" with a fade pass on fourth-and-1 on the two-yard line? If you can't get one yard with the run, kick the damn ball.
(After the Asante Samuel pass interference...)
Aaron Schatz: No way. Is this just Patriots homerism? I mean, Lelie had his hand and was pushing Samuel away, and that ball was uncatchable anyway, wasn't it? I don't mind the Pats losing because they are outplayed by a better team, but not on BS pass interference calls that HAND THE BRONCOS A [REDACTED] TOUCHDOWN.
Michael David Smith: So, anyway, remember how I said the Broncos should've handed off to Mike Anderson when they were near the goal line? I guess Shanahan agreed, since that's what he called on first-and-goal from the 1.
But the penalty that got the Broncos the first-and-goal from the one was absurd. If that's pass interference, I've seen about 50 uncalled pass interference penalties in the five previous playoff games.
Ryan Wilson: You know, I think Sauerbrun has to jump from the top bunk head first to get into his helmet. It looks like it's painted on it's so tight. That's one of the ill effects of steroid abuse. On the upside, he's now one of the best gunners on the kickoff team. It's all about trade-offs.
Yep, that might've been the worst call I've seen in a while. Nothing like a flag thrown 15 seconds after the play and it's the wrong call. And this is coming from a Steelers fan tormented by the Tom Brady All-Stars (just showing proper respect).
Russell Levine: Aaron, if you're looking for another reason why America is starting to hate the Pats, beyond simply the 3 titles and the 'no respect' crap, man are they barking at the refs a lot tonight. Seems like every single play somebody is complaining about something.
Bill Moore: They have argued, but replays have shown legit reasons. Taking extra hits on Brady (including one picking him up and dropping him), plus a horseshoot call on Samuel on that pass interference.
Aaron Schatz: If people think the Patriots argue and bitch at the officials more than other teams, I think they're imagining things. I've been noticing this from every team I've watched all season long -- I joke about Plaxico Burress a lot, but it isn't just the Giants and it isn't just the Patriots. I'm sure we'll see Indy do it tomorrow, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Chicago. For some reason, players seem to have learned that they can occasionally get a call if they bitch a lot, so they are all starting to do it all the time.
I'm really angry about that PI call, which completely changed this game around and was total crap. But the Pats only have themselves to blame for fumbling twice. You only get away with fumbling the ball for so long before the other team is going to grab one of them. And Kevin Faulk, well, he's had the fumblitis for years.
One more thing. The Denver pass rush is a good example of why it sucks that they don't make a stat for "hurries" public. Denver was last in adjusted sack rate but clearly they've got a great pass rush. Hopefully the charting project will give us some data on this that can be useful.
Russell Levine: No, no homerism. I find myself rooting pretty heavily for Denver in this game, but that was the worst PI call I've seen this year. I actually think the officials have done a much better job this season avoiding horrendous PI calls on deep balls, but that was a joke. It's one thing if the official right on top of the play makes the call, but it's salt in the wound when it comes from a guy halfway across the field. Brutal.
Doesn't help matters that the refs also blew a false start on the 50-yard field goal. So you could argue all 10 points came courtesy of the men in stripes.
On the other hand, I noted earlier that NE was barking to the refs after nearly every play in the early going (I sent that one long before the PI debacle), maybe there's some cosmic payback going on.
(Next, the Champ Bailey interception, runback, and controversy...)
Bill Moore: Left foot hits pylon, while ball is coming out of RIGHT hand. Touchback!
Michael David Smith: There's really just no replay angle that can tell us where Bailey's fumble went out. But you've got to give all the credit in the world to Ben Watson. Lots of guys can catch Leon Lett from behind. Catching Champ Bailey from behind, that is incredible.
But Brady really should have taken the sack there. As the Patriots were marching down the field, I kept thinking, the one thing they can't afford is a turnover in the red zone. Just take the sack and let Vinatieri kick the field goal.
Russell Levine: That's a call like the Redskins' fumble return last week. Logic tells you the player was touched on that one, but there's no conclusive view. In this case, I'm 99% sure that was a touchback, but the refs weren't in position to call it (not their fault on a 100-yard return) and there's no definitive replay. It looked to me like the ball was already out of his hand when his foot hit the pylon.
Come to think of it, this game is shaping up a lot like the Tampa-Washington game last week, where there was controversy on nearly every single scoring play. In this particular case, there's no way that call can be overturned on replay.
Ned Macey: I'm not sure about the interception return. I don't think anyone knows where that ball went out. I know he got nothing for doing it, but I hope people remember that play Ben Watson made, which was just amazing. As a Colts fan, I can say that worrying about officiating, particular pass interference calls, doesn't get you too far. (And of course, I agree with everyone that the pass interference call was bogus.)
Michael David Smith: I think Brady is the best quarterback in the league at keeping the other team from substituting. Manning is more known for it, but that's because the Colts' whole offense is better suited for it. The Patriots can be in a situation where they wouldn't ordinarily be rushing to the line, but when Brady sees that the defense isn't set, he'll just hurry the team to the line and force the defense to burn a timeout. He did it to Jacksonville last week and Denver this week. And I'm really tired of the idiots who think that's somehow unsportsmanlike. It's smart football.
Russell Levine: I know the officiating is going to be a big part of the game story, and justifiably so. The Pats got hosed on the PI call and probably on the INT return as well. But it shouldn't overshadow the Pats' own mistakes. Very uncharacteristic errors for them. Four turnovers. You can't do that on the road and expect to win against a quality team.
Aaron Schatz: Sigh. No magic beans.
This is so very hard because I expected that Denver would outplay New England. I was ready for that. But that really is not what happened. The Patriots beat themselves with fumbles and dropped passes, with a small assist from the refs on the Samuel PI. To give the Broncos credit, the biggest mistake was not just a bad New England play, it was a good Denver play, when Brady threw the interception thanks to Denver pressure. In the end, Brady is the one who made the deadly stupid interception, not Plummer.
I feel really bad for the Patriots defense because they really dominated the Denver offense for almost the entire game, but the Pats gave the game away on offense and special teams. At least maybe more people will know how good Al Wilson is now.
My prediction was that these teams were now equal, and the week of rest and home-field advantage gave Denver the advantage. Do people think that the dumb mistakes were in some part caused by lack of rest or crowd noise?
Bill Moore: I echo, Sigh. Maybe I'm in a fog, and have looked at no stats, but I can't think of any Denver points that were not a direct result of a Patriots mistake or a bad call (yes some of the mistakes are a result of good play and game planning by Denver, but many were just undisciplined mistakes). Ironically, it wasn't whipping boys like Starks and Kaczur who made errors, it was stalwarts like Brady, Brown and Vinatieri.
Russell Levine: I think the Broncos deserve some more credit than it seems they're getting. The blitz was effective in that they got hits on Brady early and forced him to make quicker decisions. He hit some short passes over the blitz and a few downfield throws, but they kept getting to him as well, and you could certainly argue all that blitzing helped cause the Bailey interception and some of the missed open throws later, because Brady was definitely not comfortable in the pocket at any point during the game.
Al Bogdan: Yes, Denver did a great job at shutting down New England's running game and were all over Brady. If they were playing pretty much any other QB in the league, they would have had at least a half dozen sacks. I thought Denver's offensive line really dominated New England. The running game didn't get off the ground, but they gave Plummer plenty of time to find receivers.
Rod Smith had yet another great game. He was 6-for-9 on catches, with very few of those six being easy. Maybe if the Broncos go on a little run here and win next week, he'll finally start earning some recognition as one of the best wide receivers in football.
Jason Beattie: Quick checking in from the local Broncos homer ... Even through my orange and blue colored glasses, that wasn't pass interference on Samuels. Just glad the game was not close enough that the TD there was the difference maker.
The year of the scruffy beard! Jake beats Big Ben in that department ... Speaking of hair, what the hell is up with Jimmy Johnson's do?
Ned Macey: As an Indianapolis fan, I had mixed feelings about who I wanted to win. But the way the game unfolded, I'm pleased with the results from an analyst's perspective for two reasons:
1) Think about how this game would have been portrayed by the media if the two teams had switched places. The Broncos would have lost because they aren't a championship caliber squad, and the Patriots have that something special that makes other teams make mistakes. Of the Patriots 10 previous playoff wins, only 2 have been by more than 14 points. This would have been seen as a dominant performance by the Pats. Imagine if Vinatieri had forced a fumble on a kick return? Imagine if Plummer had thrown a pick in the end zone that Samuel returned 100 yards. Plummer wouldn't shake his reputation for turnovers for years.
Despite all this, everything we were saying earlier is true. The Patriots made a lot of mistakes and got no breaks. If the Patriots had been over-matched, everyone would have blamed the injuries. With the Patriots making mistakes and getting bad breaks, hopefully we can dismiss the magic beans theory.
2) My new goal in life is to eliminate the â€œquarterback is a winnerâ€? idea from the media. Every preview I read on a mainstream site said both running games will be stopped, and who would you take, Brady or Plummer? Then both of these guys played similar games. They were good but not perfect. Each threw a red zone pick and each made some tough throws. But Brady's teammates fumbled three times on their own side of the field. Teams win and lose ball games, not quarterbacks. Every playoff loss Tom Brady suffers to an inferior quarterback (and while Plummer is good, he's no Brady) further proves this point.
Aaron Schatz: This is the first time since Football Outsiders started that my team has not been the champion. It's a little strange. It is even stranger because as soon as the game ended, I started getting nasty "I told you so" e-mails from Denver fans. Let's see ... Which team did I pick in this game? Which team did I have ahead of Indianapolis in the power rankings as recently as two weeks ago? Before the season, which team did I pick to win their division, a team that almost no other prognosticator thought would be going to the playoffs this year?
That's right, Broncos fans. The answers are: Denver, Denver, and Denver.
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at Indianapolis Colts 18
Michael David Smith: Dwight Freeney on Marvel Smith is a major mismatch. The Steelers tried to give Smith help on the Roethlisberger interception, but Parker thought Freeney was rushing to the outside, so when Freeney spun to the inside there was no one there.
I really don't even know what pass interference is. I've already seen three today that I was sure should have been flagged. None of them were. And we're still in the second quarter.
Russell Levine: Who was it from our group, Ryan maybe, that talked about how teams need to throw early to run late to beat the Colts. Looks like someone got the memo.
Aaron Schatz: Credit where credit is due. That idea was first brought up after the first Pittsburgh-Indy game by Ned Macey. It became a major part of this week's preview, of course.
Did Dick Enberg really say that Manning was "faking more moves than a Roman traffic officer?" What the hell does that mean?
Michael David Smith: Ryan Diem is a real liability. He didn't get any push on Aaron Smith at all on the James run on third-and-goal, which is why James had nowhere to run and the Colts had to settle for a field goal.
Ned Macey: I have no idea why they went right on that play. They ran right better during the season, but Diem is clearly not 100%. The only good gain they made right in the first half was when James made a great individual play.
Will Carroll: We have learned three things:
Home field should not be a goal; it's nice, but not an assurance.
Never have a Manning at QB in a big game.
Three weeks off might be too much.
Michael David Smith: Will, could you please define "big game"? I know a few Denver and Kansas City fans who would disagree with you vehemently.
Aaron Schatz: This is amazing because of all those "no team that has ever" phrases that will be gone if the Colts lose... no team that started 13-0 ever failed to win the Super Bowl, no sixth seed ever made it to the championship game, team with the most Pythagorean wins usually wins the Super Bowl, etc."
Russell Levine: I've always defended Peyton using those games as justification, but there's no defending him on this one. It was always that the team wasn't strong enough. But they dominated the entire league this year, and he's shown next to nothing in this game, at home, against a #6 seed. His reputation will not recover from this game until and if he wins a Super Bowl. He will be known primarily as a guy who chokes in big games.
Michael David Smith: Wow, Russ, you and I have very different definitions of "next to nothing" if you think 258 yards (and counting) and no turnovers against a very good defense on a day that his offensive line is getting him killed is next to nothing.
Russell Levine: Well I did send that before their second touchdown drive, but if Indy does lose this game, I still think it's because he came up small. Yes, the line did not play well, but he started feeling pressure that wasn't there on a bunch of throws. For three quarters, he never looked comfortable or confident. And the second touchdown drive only came about because of a dodgy replay overturn of his interception.
(And now, the final sack, the Jerome Bettis fumble, and Indy's final chance...)
Aaron Schatz: No, no, no. This cannot be happening. I am not rooting for either of these teams but that cannot be the last play of Jerome Bettis' career. He is too good a player and too good a guy for that to be the last play. This has to end some other way.
Michael David Smith: The fact that Indy didn't use its first timeout until there was less than a minute left is the stuff of John T. Reed's fantasies.
Russell Levine: Nice effort by Vandy. I had no problem with Indy's clock management there, the only bone I had to pick was the third down play. Should have gone for something shorter to get the first, then take a TO and take a shot or two at the end zone.
Roethlisberger is the hero for that tackle on the fumble return. That was a brilliant play. Sure looked like a Reggie Bush lateral might have led to an Indy TD there.
Tim Gerheim: This game couldn't have been better if it had been scripted. The idiot kicker missing it at the end. This might be the best football game I've ever seen. It helps that I root against Indianapolis on principle, but that wasn't necessary. There was never a time in this game that I thought I knew who was going to win.
I feel bad, though, that Manning won't lose his "playoff choker" label, because this loss really wasn't his fault at all. He/Indianapolis isn't always that good against the pressure from 3-4 defenses, but that's nothing like saying that he chokes in big games. He's less than a perfect quarterback -- what a surprise. They didn't lose because of Manning. Fortunately Vandy is there to play the goat, even if that's not entirely fair either.
Vivek Ramgopal: Great editing by CBS. If you read everyone's lips:
Dungy: "He missed it." (with a sigh)
Cowher: "He missed it???"
Manning: "He missed it" (with anger)
Aaron Schatz: A couple more yards wouldn't have helped that. Vanderjagt, I mean, wow. But once again, while Manning was not great, Manning was not the problem. The defense let Pittsburgh throw for a zillion yards in the first quarter, the offensive line was horrible, and of course Vanderjagt.
This game really makes me want to revisit our offensive line stats, because that was not the number one offensive line in run blocking OR pass blocking. Ryan Lilja, #65 the left guard, is HORRIBLE. I missed a couple of the sacks but on two sacks in particular I rewound the DVR and he was the guy who missed the block; in the first quarter he was supposed to pull left to get Farrior and just COMPLETELY missed him, and in the fourth quarter he was supposed to pull left to get Porter and just whiffed.
The other thing we've learned is that the league needs to rewrite the rules in the off-season to make the definitions of certain penalties more specific. This off-season has been filled with tons of questionable calls on holding, on pass interference, on whether balls were interceptions or not, or touchbacks or not, whether knees were down or not, and so on.
All season long I thought the proper model was the 2005 Colts as the 1996 Packers, but perhaps the proper model is the 2005 Steelers as the 1997 Broncos -- the team that dominated the AFC the year before but was upset in the playoffs, came back as a wild card the next year and won it all.
I feel bad for the Colts, for Will and Ned, for all the people of Indianapolis, but I am glad that fumble is not the way Jerome Bettis goes out, whether the Steelers beat Denver or not.
Pat Laverty: I was listening to the game on ESPN radio today and when PIT went up 21-3, the two idiots on there said something to the effect of â€œ1:20 to go, this one is over.â€? I looked at my clock and saw that it was only 3:10, and I couldn't understand how a game was almost over in less than two hours. Then they said there was 1:20 left in the THIRD QUARTER!! And this game is over? Indy has over 16 minutes left to go and they're down by less than three scores? How can you count them out at that point? Amazing.
Ned Macey: Do people have thoughts about why the Colts lose in the playoffs? I know their defense has not been dominant in any playoff game, but that is three straight losses where the opposition has gotten 24 or fewer. 21 point at home when one of the drives was only 30 yards should be good enough. Force two turnovers, and the Colts couldn't get to 22 points? I have never believed that Manning or Dungy or whoever couldn't get it done in the playoffs. I've never believed a team couldn't win with an offensive-laden team. At this point, however, I have no rational explanation for what happened.
It is a ittle hard to say they are just a regular season team since their last two losses have come against a team with a better regular season record. This is their first home playoff loss since 1999 when they lost to a much better Tennessee team (according to DVOA anyway).
Russell Levine: I do think there's a risk of letting Manning off the hook too much here. What did he do to help his team win in the first three quarters? He calls a lot of the plays at the line. Where were the quick plays to beat the blitz? Where were the adjustments? Seems like every other snap he was running for his life and tossing the ball out of bounds. The best thing you could say about him the first three quarters, as Pittsburgh built an ultimately insurmountable lead, was that he didn't throw the killer interception.
Yes, he made some plays down the stretch to make it interesting, but that only came about because of a highly dubious replay overturn. He never was the leader that team saw while going 13-0. And remember, I'm normally a huge Manning defender. I don't discount that the Pittsburgh defense has made a lot of QBs look ordinary and they played very well today. But Manning is not just any QB. He's supposed to be the best. Did he do anything out of the ordinary to put his team in position to win while game was still close? Did he do anything to overcome that defense?
This has been a problem for him going back to his college days. It's not that he was terrible -- he wasn't. But he also wasn't as good as he should have been, and that's been a recurring theme for him in the playoffs. He was very ordinary today when they needed him to be extraordinary. He wasn't up to the task.
Aaron Schatz: We wrote a couple times this year that teams were stopping the Pittsburgh blitz with max protect scheme. I'm trying to remember back but I don't remember the Colts ever having more than six blockers and usually it was just five. Am I wrong on this? I taped the game as charting backup so I can go back to look tomorrow.
I wonder if part of the problem in Indy is that Manning's constant play-changing isn't just confusing the defenses -- it is also confusing his own offensive line.
Ned Macey: A few other thoughts:
1) On the max protect thing. It seemed the Colts knew that they could make plays with James in the passing game, and I felt they kept him in a lot less than they did against San Diego. They tried to bring Clark back for protection later in the game, but he wasn't great, and it was a little late for that.
2) The false start by Glenn on what would have been a touchdown at the end of the first half was huge. Not only because their field goal there was the difference in a game where both teams scored three times, but a 7-point deficit compared to an 11-point deficit is huge for momentum.
3) If you want to do something fun, re-read my Any Given Sunday on the Colts' loss to San Diego. Roethlisberger did nothing after the first quarter (non-call on pass interference aside), just like Brees did nothing. Running game did nothing early but made just enough plays late. Offense was completely befuddled by blitzing 3-4 defense. In this game, Vanderjagt missed game-tying field goal instead of Manning being sacked out of field goal range.
4) I think Colts fans everywhere thought this was our "Tuck Rule" game after the reversal on the Polamalu interception.
5) I was dying for the Colts to call a screen on their final couple of plays. But, on the second-and-2, they had Wayne one-on-one with McFadden. To echo Ryan, that was a great play by him. (By the way, two great catches by Wayne on their final scoring drive).
6) The Colts have invested very little in offensive linemen in terms of draft picks. Glenn was taking in the first round forever ago, but everybody else is a low round pick. They paid Diem, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses. Hard to judge him when he is not healthy. The Colts have had a good line for years, but the two examples I can think of with Colts linemen leaving are McKinney to Houston and DeMulling to Detroit. Those didn't work out too well for either team.
7) He ended up being a non-factor because of score, but that was a rejuvenated Edge out there. Whoever signs him next year would be wise to watch his carries.
Carolina Panthers 29 at Chicago Bears 21
Tim Gerheim: Carolina sure came to play. They had outstanding blitz pickup on that second play touchdown to Steve Smith. I always had the impression that Chicago was more of a straight ahead defense that didn't blitz that much but played really solid defensive football. They may want to do that, because if the Panthers are going to continue pass protecting that well they're just going to eat up the blitz.
Aaron Schatz: Gee, leave a safety deep to help cover Steve Smith? Why would you ever want to do that?
Mike Tanier: Here's a random Bears-Panthers thought. The Bears started seven drives at or inside their own 20. The Panthers started 10 drives at or past their own 30. Robbie Gould had kickoffs of 51, 60, 61, and 64 yards, and the Panthers had runbacks of 29, 26, and 34 yards. If the Bears do a better job on kickoffs and coverage, they probably don't give up the field goal before halftime and they make Carolina's 4th quarter drive much tougher.
Ned Macey: I thought Mike Doss had a bad first half. Then I saw Charles Tillman. If you have one cornerback that is clearly better, Vasher, going against a team with one wide receiver, why don't you have that cornerback follow him around? All three of Smith's big plays came when Vasher wasn't on him.
The fact that Carolina has now played six playoff games under Fox way above their level of performance in the regular season has to be investigated. Even the Giants team he was defensive coordinator for who made the Super Bowl played above what its regular season DVOA said. Is he the second best game-planner in football behind Belichick? And if so, why can't he do it consistently in the regular season?
Aaron Schatz: Two years ago, weren't we all talking about Charles Tillman as this amazing rookie cornerback? Was this just one game, or was Vasher much better during the entire season?
By the way, here's an example for those who think that the Patriots are the only team that whines about penalties. Drew Carter was whining to officials that there should be a late hit on Chicago when Carter was, I dunno, two inches out of bounds. And Justin Gage whined about pass interference three or four times.
Is it me, or in the first half did Thomas Jones keep hitting the hole by flipping over onto his back? What the hell is that supposed to achieve? Jones falls on his tuchus and gets three yards. Second-and-7. This is not a success. And what the heck is with all the players dropping the ball as they cross the goal line???
Michael David Smith: I was one of the few people who didn't think Brian Urlacher deserved to be an all-pro this year, but he had a game befitting of his status as the league's Defensive Player of the Year. That leaping interception to end a Carolina drive in the second quarter was outstanding. Other than Urlacher, Chicago's defense looked confused all day, especially on a Delhomme touchdown pass to Mangum, when the Bears had the wrong personnel on the field and Charles Tillman ran onto the field as linebacker Leon Joe ran off at the last second.
Julius Peppers picked up what was ruled on the field as a Justin Gage fumble and raced 37 yards for a touchdown. Even though the play was overturned, Peppers showed that he's the fastest defensive lineman in the league. Peppers and Gage are both great athletes and former college basketball players, and neither Gage nor any other Bear even came close to running Peppers down.
The first time the teams played, Carolina often used five defensive linemen to counter Chicago's tendency to run. I didn't see much of that in the rematch.
I think it'll be interesting to see what happens to the Bears at quarterback this off-season. I wrote in the NY Sun today that the Bears have just about everyone back on defense next year, but they really do need to bring in a veteran quarterback. They just can't assume Grossman is going to be both healthy and good (I'm not sure he'll be either), and I don't think Orton showed anything this season. I think the Bears probably have more work to do in the off-season than any 11-5 team in recent memory.
Aaron Schatz: I think the Bears are the best candidate for a 2005 playoff team missing the postseason in 2006.
Later This Week
Any Given Sunday: Steelers over Colts
Every Play Counts: Lofa Tatupu