Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships
Each Sunday, 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 2007.
New Orleans Saints 14 at Chicago Bears 39
Aaron Schatz: Last week, I think I pointed out a defensive player who smartly just jumped on the ball instead of trying to scoop and score, and losing the recovery. On the big fumble by Drew Brees on third-and-4, Ogunleye tried to scoop and score, and missed, and the Saints recovered. Cost the Bears 25 or 30 yards.
Doug Farrar: I think that was Seattle's own Chuck Darby you mentioned. And there's Fred Thomas (!) making a nice bat-away play on the deep (under)throw to Berrian. Gosh!
I'd like to know what happened on the Brees fumble when Jammal Brown blocked inside and let Mark Anderson come through unobstructed.
Mike Tanier: Even high school coaches now tell their fast guys that when the ball is bouncing around and they have a bead on it, they should attempt a scoop and score. Falling on the ball is strictly for linemen or when the ball is fumbled in heavy traffic. I am guessing that coaches at all levels figure the chance of a touchdown or a rundown to near the goal line is pretty good, and the risk that the offense recovers and it's third-and-35 or whatever, makes the scoop a good play.
Bill Moore: Seeing lots of Benson, and not that much Jones. Benson isn't running that well either. Strange.
Michael David Smith: I like the call to go for it on fourth-and-1 and I'm surprised the announcers don't.
Bill Moore: FOX reports that the rules official says there isn't a penalty to falsely calling a timeout. However, I recall there being a penalty for the defense faking a timeout call when you didn't have one on a field goal.
Am I wrong? If not, why wouldn't that apply to an offense?
Aaron Schatz: Wow, did the officials make a bad call on the Michael Lewis fumble. Wow, wow, wow. I thought it was REALLY clear that he was down before he fumbled.
Russell Levine: I disagree. I thought he was starting to lose control before he was down. Even though it wasn't fully out when the knee hit, he did not have control of the ball at that time.
Doug Farrar: Evil Rex dominated the first quarter: 2-for-8 for four yards on a fullback dump-off, and that inexcusable end zone airball to Desmond Clark on first down after the continuation of the red zone drive. Three Saints fumbles in a quarter, of course, will trump Evil Rex on most occasions.
Bill Barnwell: I am convinced that Brian Griese and Kyle Orton are playing beer pong on the sideline.
Grossman blew the blitz recognition when he was nearly sacked in the first quarter -- he pushed Jones inside to block no one and left a wide-open Saints DB coming off the edge.
You know how overwhelmed he is? Watch him coming up to the line as the first quarter ended -- he had no idea the clock was running down to :00. He wasn't rushing or slowing down, he was at his normal cadence.
What's with the brand on Mark Anderson's arm?
Aaron Schatz: I think that's the q-dogs, Omega Psi Phi. In fact, thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised if that's the symbol shaved into Larry Johnson's head also. It would make more sense than having a Rock-a-fella symbol shaved into your head.
Ned Macey: I think this is a good example of the fact that causing fumbles is a repeatable skill. The Bears are attacking the football. The play by Harris on Colston was an outstanding strip, and they were relentless on Lewis. Adrian Peterson is a great player to have on your team.
Doug Farrar: On the drive that ended with Chicago's third field goal, why go away from Benson near the goal line there when that approach was starting to wear down the defense? It's obvious through the first half that Grossman has no touch on anything short- to mid-range.
Ned Macey: I guess I'm a little surprised the Saints aren't running the ball more. The Bears came out with a lot of eight-man fronts, but they looked to be playing pass more now, and the Saints are still throwing.
Doug Farrar: Running the ball certainly wasn't a problem for the Bears on their first TD drive: eight plays for 69 yards and all of them on the ground. Looks like Lovie had a page from an old Decatur Staleys playbook.
...and the Saints respond to 1920s-era George Halas with a little Air Coryell. That answering TD drive was nothing but pass plays.
More Rex problems at the end of the second half. He was running off the field with time left, and just throwing the ball away with 12 seconds left on the clock. Yelling, hand signals ... anything? A rolled-up newspaper?
Aaron Schatz: The Bears are playing almost exclusively nickel when Reggie Bush is on the field, and yet they are not lining their tackles up wide like they've been doing all season, which means you don't have that space in front of Brees for the easy draw or step-up-in-pocket.
Ned Macey: While I was driving home from a beer run right before the game, the radio color man said that if McAllister and Bush are both in then they will always play nickel. Are they doing it when Deuce is not in the game too?
Michael David Smith: It looks to me like the Bears are just treating Bush as a wide receiver, and that any time the Saints use a personnel package that includes Bush, they're just automatically putting in their nickel package. I can't say for sure, but I don't think Hunter Hillenmeyer and Bush have been on the field at the same time on any play -- Hillenmeyer is the Bears' slowest linebacker, and they probably figure he'll be no use against Bush.
Bill Barnwell: Anyone else see Sean Payton eating a nacho before the second half started? That was awesome.
Aaron Schatz: When Bush scored that amazing TD, Aikman kept saying "this route is called smoke." It was a combo of a slant from the receiver and Bush coming out of the backfield in a wheel. Wait, that's a "smoke"? I thought smoke was the quick hitch where the QB recognizes the CB playing off and throws it fast for a quick gain. Can we decide what to call things and stay with one set of definitions?
It seems clear that the Saints came out in the third quarter and said, "OK, this is ridiculous, our corners aren't very good but there's no way Grossman is going to hit anyone" so they stopped the 2-deep shell and just left the corners one-on-one to bring an eighth guy up to stop the run. Then on the last drive of the third quarter, the Bears said, "OK, well, if you're going to leave guys man, and shade us outside, we're going to stop trying to have our lame quarterback throw long when he constantly leads his guys too much, and instead we'll throw some inside curls and posts that take advantage of how your lame corners are shading us."
Mike Tanier: I think there are two terminologies at work. In the old West Coast offense terminology, slant-and-flat was called Jet Smoke. Then there's also the Smoke play where the QB just fires it to the receiver. I am guessing that the same system doesn't use both calls.
Bill Barnwell: Too late idea: Could the Saints have stuck fake dreads on Fred Thomas so that he blended in with McKenzie? Does anyone really think Rex Grossman would have been able to tell the difference?
Doug Farrar: I can't see how it was a matter of getting Thomas â€œhelpâ€?, as Aikman said â€“ it's a matter of getting him the hell off the field. Grossman didn't even burn the Seahawks' street free agent/rookie corner combo that badly. And it's Thomas' good fortune that it took Grossman so long to resemble an actual NFL quarterback. When you're forced to rely on the downside of Rex Grossman...
Of course, the most glaring aspect of Thomas' year was the difference between his pre- and post-injury stop rate, as Aaron pointed out here.
Aaron Schatz: Amazing how a close game can become a blowout so quickly. The Saints just imploded at the end of this thing. IM-PLO-DED. That recent decline by the Bears defense? Yeah, these guys came to PLAY today. Big congratulations to them for a great performance. Like Ned said: fumble recovery is random, but fumble creation is not, and Lovie Smith defenses excel at fumble creation. Create enough fumbles, and you're bound to have a game like this where you recover nearly all of them.
That being said, I don't care that Grossman had that one good drive. He looks horrible. The Colts or Patriots would both destroy him, no matter if their offenses might have trouble with the Bears defense or not. The Super Bowl has to open up with the AFC team as 7-point favorites, minimum.
Good Sean Payton: Nice non-challenge on the Bernard Berrian touchdown. You throw that red flag, and you lose, you blow a timeout that you might need at the end (at the time, we're still talking two-score game). You win, yay, Bears get first-and-goal on the one and probably score anyway.
Bad Sean Payton: First of all, you know your kicker is 78 years old, and you've got third-and-10 at the 30 against a team that gives up rushing yards on third-and-long. Why not draw, try to get closer to where Carney is in range? I'm usually a believer that you go for the first down, but most teams don't have a field goal kicker who is clearly limited in range like this. Second, on the five-yard line, why call two straight drop-back passes with no rollout to get out of the pocket, and yet no max protect to keep the quarterback from a sack or intentional grounding? Run the ball, or roll out, or leave guys back there to protect -- they basically left Brees a sitting duck for the safety.
Ned Macey: Kudos to Tanier. Not sure I read anywhere else all week that the Bears are just a better team. This has become an ass-whipping.
All the credit in the world to Sean Payton this year for an amazing job, but I still think he butchered this game. First off, as I said earlier, I think the pass-happy thing was crazy. The Bears are missing Tommie Harris. You have an extremely efficient bruising running back. It got stuffed early when they were playing the run, but once it became clear that the Saints were going to pass, the Bears defense took over. They made one huge play, but they scored seven points the rest of the game.
The Saints are an offense too dependent on the big play in the passing game. That's a mediocre bunch of receivers in the intermediate game. Against the Cover-2, the big play is hard to hit. Nice design on the one to Bush, but they don't have the weapons to march down the field like the 2002 Raiders.
Also, what is Fred Thomas still doing on the field? Every mainstream reporter in football knows he couldn't cover anybody. Then, I do agree with Aikman that if he is on the field you have to give him help. After Berrian got two in front of him, did anybody not know the long ball was coming soon? Maybe Payton has no impact on the defense, but then it is on their D-coordinator.
Finally, super congratulations to Lovie. I do think it is a big deal that he is the first African-American coach to make the SB, and I think that's a story that should be retold. He definitely didn't have to beat the toughest competition in the world, but has there been a worse SB QB in recent years than Grossman? Smith and Rivera's defensive adjustments for this game were impressive. One two-minute drive and one big play (and Manning should have at least held that to a 30-yard gain). The fact that Bobby Petrino has a contract for several million more than Lovie is a joke.
Mike Tanier: Don't kudo me yet! Although I am happy to see so many plays that I diagrammed in use today. Desmond Clark did a double move up the middle for a big gain. The Bears dogged the blitz and dropped into coverage a lot. One thing I haven't seen from the Bears in the past few weeks is an offensive play that really shocked me: something that looked like it was from the far corner of their playbook, like an empty backfield play or something. I wonder if they are too predictable to beat whoever wins game two.
Doug Farrar: I thought Payton was wrong for bailing on the run all day, not just on those plays. It was as if he was never alerted to the Harris injury and the subsequent effect it had on Chicago's defense.
Aaron Schatz: In defense of the Saints' passing game, they do not have a mediocre bunch of receivers in the intermediate passing game. They have Joe Horn and Marques Colston. But Horn hasn't been able to play for two months, and Colston's hands were off today. I don't know if that's a bad day, or the elements, but he's usually better than he was today. Copper is a nothing, a roster filler. Henderson strikes me as an Ashley Lelie type. The tight ends are nothing special.
Thomas does better against possession guys. I think he would make a very good nickel corner if they could go out and get a faster guy to start opposite McKenzie. I don't think the Saints are a one-year fluke.
Ned Macey: Good point about Horn. I'd be worried about the Colts if, say, Wayne were not playing today. The AP story on inactives said Payton had a rule about nobody playing if they didn't practice. Apparently Horn practiced at times this week. No idea what his condition was, but I hope he couldn't run or he had to be playing.
In Colston's defense was the impressive catch across the middle. It seemed like Brees was a little off for much of the day. Don't know if that was the slick ball or what.
New England Patriots 34 at Indianapolis Colts 38
Bill Moore: I've come to a conclusion. We are going to learn in the off-season that Brady played hurt this year. By keeping him on the injury report for two straight years, the Patriots avoid having to disclose when Brady has a minor injury. People see his name and "questionable" week after week, and think nothing of it. But what that strategy buys them is eliminating the distraction of having to discuss minor injuries.
However, in watching Brady over the last, call it, seven games, he is not his normal self 24/7. As Jaws pointed out on NFL Matchup, Brady failed to step up into only modest pressure for a number of missed opportunities. I'm not Will Carroll, and I don't play him on TV, but I think Brady is hurt and is failing to step up to avoid further injury to whatever is wrong.
We'll see if the overthrow problem continues today, but it has been a problem following Brady for weeks.
Aaron Schatz: We're three plays in now.
On the fourth one, he twisted inside for the first time, but if he's going to be going back to the wide rush, there are going to be more of those third-down conversion draws.
Bill Barnwell: I'm convinced the Patriots have magnets in their gloves or something to recover these fumbles. This is impossible.
Michael David Smith: Am I the only one on the FO staff who thinks the Colts have a bad o-line? When I watch plays like that Addai pick up of six inches on third-and-four inches, I just feel like the Colts' line is the worst in the league at pushing forward in short yardage, which in my opinion is the most important thing a line has to do.
Mike Tanier: Greg Cosell at NFL Films told me in December that they have an average at best line made better by Peyton. But they really looked good against the Eagles, the Ravens last week ... I really had them scouted out as better than this. They really look awful.
Aaron Schatz: Well, the Colts' line is definitely terrible at pushing forward in short yardage, and has been for years and years. Not the only way to judge a line, but they do suck at it.
I want to know what's going on with this Vrabel on the outside thing. They've got Vrabel at LOLB instead of inside, with Banta-Cain on the bench and Eric Alexander (52) at RILB. Now, I understand that Vrabel is better on the outside, but Eric Alexander is an undrafted free agent rookie. He's not really somebody I trust. Every play before the snap, Dallas Clark looks like he's going to be completely open, and one of these plays he will be.
Simms is right, I think he mentioned this. The Pats will run better because unlike the Chiefs and Ravens, they understand that you must soften up the Colts before you run on them. Do you remember who else understood that? The 2005 Steelers.
By the way, does anyone notice that the entire Patriots staff seems to be in matching nasty-ass grey hoodies?
Mike Tanier: Terrible decision by Manning on the interception. Great play by Samuel. And also, Mr. Harrison, could you get a little separation? Samuel barely backtracks on the play.
Aaron Schatz: Raheem Brock, my friends. Props on stopping that screen, because the Pats had the right play call against the blitz and he got all the way over to force Faulk outside and into Kelvin Hayden.
Bill Barnwell: Is it too early to call the Colts run defense of the past two weeks a fluke?
Russell Levine: Is it too early to call ballgame?
Aaron Schatz: Hey, you know that thing about how Belichick believes that only a game-changing player is worth big money? At this point, can we put Asante Samuel in that category with Tom Brady and Richard Seymour, at least considering his knowledge of how to play in the Pats' scheme? He just made himself another million or two a year on that interception, and as a Pats fan I have to say that this may be the first time since Lawyer Milloy that I will get very angry if the Pats let a player leave -- and remember, Milloy was the first one so none of us knew at that point that the dynasty was coming.
Michael David Smith: On third-and-24, a pass bounces off both of Harrison's hands and his facemask, resulting in an incomplete on what could have been a 97-yard touchdown. Phil Simms says the Colts "have to calm down and stop just trying to throw downfield." Uh, Phil? I don't think the play call was the problem there.
Patrick Laverty: How come all I hear from the media is you can't blitz Tom Brady, he'll pick a blitzing defense apart, but it seems on every passing down, there are blue shirts coming off the bench, out of the stands, from everywhere to get Brady?
Mike Tanier: It looks like the Colts are trying to throw a wrinkle at Brady. They rarely blitz, so they figured they could surprise him once or twice. Hasn't worked.
Oh, and Cato June is terrible.
Too late to change my pick? Are you sure? Oh, well. Sigh.
Okay, I feel slightly better about my pick ... win or lose, the Colts didn't totally turn into Chumpzilla. Yet, anyway. The no-huddle, calls-at-the-line thing is the way to go for the Colts, I think.
Oh, then the kick return. Spoke too soon.
Bill Barnwell: Maroney is the wrong back to attack this defense with. Dillon and Faulk are much better ideas.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know, I think Maroney is the kind of guy who can break those easily breakable Colts tackles. But I would run him on the right side, toward June, not on the left side toward Morris.
The Colts climbed back into the game because Manning is not, in fact, choking, except for the one interception. They had the FG drive, halftime, TD drive, the Pats had one chance and just because they came up a yard short doesn't mean the Colts are suddenly playing great defense, and then another TD drive. The defense is still a problem -- and the Pats come down and score again to make it 28-21.
Bill Barnwell: Maroney's more of a cut-back guy though and the Colts are a quick enough defense to adjust for that.
Nantz just referred to Tully Banta-Cain as "explosive". Really?
Aaron Schatz: Patriots go three-and-out again. What a dramatic turn this thing is taking. That Pats defense is feeling sick and crampy and tired and it is not going to be a good thing for them to come back onto the field.
By the way, Todd Sauerbrun is not kidding around here. Boom, boom, boom.
Mike Tanier: Well, the NFL has delivered two awesome games. I mean, this one has me on the edge. The other game was close until early in the 4th quarter. You know what that means: DULL SUPER BOWL.
Russell Levine: I get the feeling the Colts just squandered the best chance they're going to get to win this game.
Aaron Schatz: How is that corner end zone thing not pass interference on Kelvin Hayden? Just like Ellis Hobbs, his back was to the passer, he's clearly playing the man and not the ball. That Hobbs was one was pretty clearly PI so I don't know why this one isn't.
Can we give Reche Caldwell Keep Choppin' Wood even if the Pats win?
Bill Barnwell: I get the feeling Reche Caldwell just squandered the best chance the Patriots are going to get to win this game.
Mike Tanier: As someone who is sorta rooting for Indy, let me say: that was pass interference.
Russell Levine: As someone who is quite openly rooting for Indy, let me say: that was pass interference.
I can take issue with that third-and-5 run, Phil Simms. You're not playing to tie, you have to play to win if you're Indy. They have New England on its heels: they have to go for the kill there.
Bill Barnwell: How far back were the safeties on that 52 yard pass to Clark? 35 yards from the LOS?
This Patriots linebacking corps is done.
This is coming down to Gostkowski or Vinatieri and I really, really wish it wouldn't.
Aaron Schatz: Losing by three in the final four minutes, yes, my go to receiver would also be Aaron Moorehead. Twice.
Doug Farrar: Best thing to do is a best two-out-of-three cover drill between Fred Thomas and Reche Caldwell. Loser gets this week's KCW.
Bill Barnwell: Caldwell burns Thomas three times and drops three passes. Nothing is solved. We need to have them play NTN Trivia or something.
I'm hating the Patriots defensive playcalling on this last drive. They have too many holes in their secondary to blitz Manning and get away with it. The roughing the passer call doesn't help.
Mike Tanier: Two minute warning: Wayne attempts a self-pass at the end of that nice slant and run. Oh, my stars and garters. This game is nuts.
Will Carroll: This game is NOT over.
OK. Now it's over. See you in Miami.
Russell Levine: Wow. Where does this game rank among the best of all-time? It's right up there.
Maybe the "Patriot Way" came back to bite them in the rear this year. The receivers were clearly an issue today, and even a mixup on the final series.
What a football game. And good to see what looked like very heartfelt congratulations all around between BB and Dungy and BB and Manning.
Aaron Schatz: Sigh. 12 men in the huddle?
Mike Tanier: Yeah, the 12 man thing was pretty sad. I was shocked when Omar Gaither ran out there in a Patriots uniform.
Aaron Schatz: Can we cancel the Super Bowl and just give rings to the Bears defense and the Colts offense? I can't remember one team this one-sided ever making it, let alone two.
At least now people will stop saying mean things about Manning. I never thought it was his fault when they lost, it was almost always the defense. The only exception was the 2003 AFC Championship. Manning was great in the 2004 playoff game, where none of the receivers could hold onto the ball and Edge gained roughly three pico-inches per carry.
Patrick Laverty: 2000 Ravens?
Is Reche Caldwell the new Grady Little? He dropped one in the end zone, but Gaffney bailed him out with the TD on the next play, but that one when he wasn't even covered, maybe he doesn't score, but maybe he does. Patriots are up by 10 going into Indy's final drive. Patriots then just have to kill off one minute of clock, game over.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, no. No, no, no. The Ravens were SO much better than the 2006 Bears on offense, and their offense was much higher ranked in DVOA than the Colts defense during the season, plus they had excellent special teams.
I have to say, Patriots fans are going to have to take a lot of crap now, which is really depressing for those of us who haven't been jerks over the last few years and were never mean to Manning. I can't be happy for the Colts just because I know their fans are about to torture all of us for the sins of some.
Patrick Laverty: Two requests:
New England fans: Don't start with the "well our team was sick all week. If they were healthy, the Patriots win this game easily. They were up 21-3 and just got tired." No, you lost. End of story.
Indianapolis fans: Don't start with the "See, Manning's better because Brady threw the big interception to end the game." Yeah, he threw the pick, but your team just played really well in the second half. The key was that the Colts D shut down the Patriots' running game, when in the first half, Dillon and Maroney were dicing them up like a Ginsu on an aluminum can.
Good luck Colts. I hope they win, and all the Elway's not a..., umm, I mean Manning's not a winner crap can go away.
Mike Tanier: The no-call pass interference in the end zone was a bad call. The roughing the passer was ticky tack. That being said, the Patriots had their chances.
One lineman each scores on red zone fumbles. Nothing needs to be said about that.
Tom Moore running the ball three times in the red zone under two minutes to play. Putting it in that rookie's hands. Holy cow. And what was that rookie Alexander doing on the line getting mauled by the left guard? Odd defensive call by Belichick. And no, I don't think he was "allowing them to score." You do that if the opponent will lead by three, not four.
All of my 1985 Bears-Patriots leads for Rundown are shot. And every other columnist is thinking the same thing.
That third-and-4 play that the Patriots ran, where Brown and Gaffney were stacked on the right side of the formation, Gaffney cleared out, Brown sat down in the zone but a Colt jumped the route and broke up the play. I saw that before somewhere (last time I plug TDZ I promise).
And I will be the first to state that I am thrilled I will never have to hear about how Manning cannot beat Brady in a big game. And I will be the first to state how much I enjoy watching both quarterbacks, how great they are and their teams are, and how much I look forward to 5-10 more years of duels between them.
Michael David Smith: Marvin Harrison was terrible today. The only times Manning didn't look good were the times when he looked like he was forcing it to Harrison.
Bill Barnwell: I'm still happy it wasn't Vinatieri or Gostkowski. Is the Brady-Manning thread closed yet?
Russell Levine: On the "allowing them to score thing" ... you certainly don't allow them to do it when it's third down and one stop means a tying field goal, not losing by four. Although I must say the last time I saw a hole that big on the goal line it was in Super Bowl XXXII and Terrell Davis burst through a very disinterested Green Bay front.
Bill Moore: Reche Caldwell DEFINITELY gets the KCW. You are standing there alone, NE needs 1) to move the ball, and 2) to take time off the clock. You scream for the ball, and you ... DROP IT? Oh yeah, and it's your second wide open drop of the day.
The lack of quality amongst the receivers definitely stood out today.
The non-PI call was a little ridiculous, but we knew coming into this game that Carollo wasn't a DPI kind of guy. Just no one thought it would work against NE.
That said, it was a pretty fair game overall. It goes to show that "just let them play" is better than football fields of penalty yardage.
The Colts played better. Period. They found the holes, they kept their offense on the field. In fact, when Hobbs almost ran one back but didn't quite make it, I turned to the rest of the room and said, "good. The D will get a few minutes longer to rest." That's a sign of good play and game management.
Wide receivers aside, the Patriots played their guts out too. Probably literally as many are likely heaving right now. However, when they only scored three points on that second to last drive, I was sure they were done.
However, can anyone explain to me where Corey Dillon was at the end of that game? Maroney isn't a true pounder. I don't have his success rate in front of me, but it's not great. With 4:35 to go, Dillon should have been pounding away. Other than the wide open Reche, I don't get why all the passing at that point.
Finally, there was a great embrace by Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy.
Ned Macey: I'm not especially rational now, but I'll try to give a reasoned analysis of the game from my point of view. First off, as a fan and an analyst, I could not have imagined a better way for this game to go. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Pats, but the 8-0 in one-touchdown games thing was unsustainable.
Samuel did make himself an extra million or five today even in a losing effort. That being said, Hobbs also played outstanding. This wasn't like Denver where Bailey controls one side and Wayne abuses the other side. Everything was down the middle with Clark and Fletcher. Wayne and Harrison had both killed the Pats in the last two regular season games, and I was very impressed by both corners. It seemed like they always knew when the Colts were going to go deep. Clearly the Colts thought coming in that they could make big plays, but they just weren't there. Maybe my Harrison-tinted glasses are in the way, but I thought on the second slow-mo replay on the long pass that Samuel just got a finger on it.
Another great performance by Dominic Rhodes. The Colts were definitely right to not pay James long term, but as a fan it is too bad that he wasn't there today. I don't think they are better without him, but they obviously didn't miss him too much.
If the Colts offensive line is one of the worst in the league, then I'd argue that Manning is the greatest player in NFL history. They just hit 126 yards on the ground against the Pats with Rhodes and a rookie who was the fourth back off the board. They aren't the best line, but there is more to line play than short-yardage.
Defensively, this was the real Colts. They will give up some plays, but they're fast and you can't just keep handing off and hoping for good results. They are an average defense, which isn't bad considering their pedigree and salaries. Other than the 35-yarder on the fourth-and-1, they held the running game in check. (By the way, doesn't it seem like fourth down plays often gain a bunch of yards more than you thought?) The kick-off coverage, however, is not average.
I think this game showed they should have kept Branch. They are basically as good as the Colts without him, but they had nothing to attack them with. The Nick Harper injury, while little reported by the announcers, was clearly noticed by Brady. He went to his right just about every throw in the second half, and Hayden was beat repeatedly. Imagine having Branch over there. If they win a SB the next year or two, then that decision will be vindicated.
Brady played well. The play to Gaffney in the end zone was a great play by both players. I thought Brady was just throwing it away. The game-ending interception is meaningless. 80-yard drives in less than a minute are damn near impossible.
Finally, I'm most happy for Dungy. The fact that Tampa Bay won the year he left has hung over him for years. Tampa Bay has one playoff berth since 2002. Dungy has an amazing regular season record. He's made the playoffs every year since like 1998 and only has one losing season in his career. The Colts are substantially better under him than they ever were under Mora. Plus, I like that he's not an a**hole. Nice guys finish last is my least favorite expression in the world. He may not be the coach that Belichick is, but he's one win away from almost guaranteeing a place in Canton.
Congratulations Tanier, rundown 2 for 2.
Bill Barnwell: I don't think the problem was Hobbs and Samuel as much as it was the safeties and linebackers.
Vrabel and Bruschi are absolute toast. Banta-Cain is some yeast. If the Patriots defensive line plays a great game, they can get away with it. The Patriots defensive line wasn't anything special tonight and they had no answer for the middle of the field.
Also, since no one ever gets to second-guess Belichick -- somebody please explain to me why the Patriots threw the ball three times when they got the ball back before the two-minute warning.
Russell Levine: Or even why they threw it before the go-ahead field goal.
Ned Macey: By the way, it was definitely pass interference on Hayden.
Michael David Smith: I'm surprised so many people are talking about pass interference. I've long since reached the point where I don't even think about pass interference because I know I'll never figure out how it's called. I'm close to the same way on roughing the passer.
Aaron Schatz: What did happen on the Pats roughing the passer anyway? They never really explained it and it isn't like Manning got knocked down.
Patrick Laverty: I think Jarvis Green patted Manning on the helmet for making a nice throw and they called it hands to the face. Or something like that. Seriously, receivers and DBs do hit each other in the helmet harder after a good hit than Green did to Manning. The protection for QBs has become a joke.
Will Carroll: Rhodes is going to be the biggest off-season loss. The Colts are going to get raped by the cap this year, but if they win the Super Bowl, it's hard to say that it didn't go to plan.
Patrick Laverty: I thought I heard that the Colts have something like 11 FAs and they're already over the cap. Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Freeney and 49 guys fresh out of college.
Aaron Schatz: When I wrote in Week 9 that the Colts could not make the Super Bowl with the defense as currently constituted, was I wrong?
Mike Tanier: No man, we were right on. They wound up losing a bunch of games and we called that. But the defense improved. Dungy and his coaches get paid to get those guys to improve, and they did. And DVOA said they were improving, leaving us trying to ask "well, is this a one-game or a two-game thing, or is it real." And there just wasn't enough there to make a definitive answer.
We were several weeks ahead of the curve in attacking that defense. We were right with the curve when we were being guarded about the improvement. Can't be right all the time.
Alex Carnevale: No shame in losing a game that great. The big winners today were Sprint, Sony, MasterCard, Gatorade, DirecTV, and the American Red Cross.
Aaron Schatz: Over on the pro-football-reference blog, Doug Drinen ran this really bitter, angry rant about the Patriots for two whole days last week. Not written by him, by another guy who sometimes writes for him. And I wrote him and asked him why he did it, given that we try to go out of our way around here to praise both teams. And he said, "Irrational hatred is the very essence of sports fandom."
Really? I always thought that irrational love was the very essence of sports fandom. I guess I'm old fashioned that way.
What we saw over the last week, poisoning sports sites around the Internet and the discussion threads here on FO, is what happens when irrational hatred becomes a more important part of being a fan than irrational love. And let me tell you, it sucks.
I believe in a world where the Patriots and Colts can both be great teams, and it just so happens that no team gets to win the championship every year. I believe in a world where Colts fans can respect the accomplishments of the Patriots in the same way that Bears fans respect the accomplishments of the Saints, where people don't call either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning a choking crybaby, and where we don't obsess over the pressure of a Bill Belichick handshake, measuring our hatred for him to the most intricate measurement of pounds per square inch.
I know the world isn't like that. I just want Football Outsiders to be like that. I hope that all the people who have said so many nasty things to each other over the last week will step back and decide that they want Football Outsiders to be like that too.