Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Bill Barnwell

Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

Please also note that we do not write the e-mails specifically to produce this column, so we might not discuss every aspect of the game to the level we do in our other articles.

New York Jets 17 at Indianapolis Colts 30

Tom Gower: Nice job of playcalling this first drive -- Session overcommitted to Richardson's action, and Hayden was playing well off, so the slant was wide open.  Also, should Thomas Jones still be getting carries for any reason other than to give Greene a rest?

Aaron Schatz: Has anyone noticed how Manning just goes right down when the pass rush gets to him? He doesn't even take a hit, he just crumples to the ground if he knows a sack is coming.

Interesting to note that on Indy's first drive, they had Revis on Pierre Garcon and then Dallas Clark, over on the offensive right. Then they moved him back to the offensive left, up against Reggie Wayne as we all expected.

Tom Gower: He's done that for a couple years, I think. Any time he thinks a sack is inevitable and he has a chance, he does it.

Bill Barnwell: Jets with two sacks on two consecutive passes after having two (non-tripping-over-Saturday) sacks against Ryan defenses over Manning's career.

Steve Tasker's on-site? Maybe the Colts could use him on their coverage units.

That 61-yard punt by Weatherford had eyes. Wow.

Doug Farrar: That's now Lowery and Sheppard just demolished at the line by stutter moves.

Vince Verhei: It seems that Manning has either had no time and been sacked, or the blitz has been picked up and he has had forever -- witness the out-and-up-and-curl route that Reggie Wayne ran.

As far as Manning going down whenever the rush is near, that's part of why hasn't missed a game, I don't think, ever.

Tom Gower: I bet they don't call that Edwards deep shot from their own 6, if Indy had gone for it instead of settling for 3 and failed.

Is it just me, or has CBS been especially worthless this game when it comes to providing useful replays?

Bill Barnwell: NFL Matchup pointed out that the Jets love to go deep on the third series. Sure enough, third series, deep pass, six.

Aaron Schatz: If the Colts snap the ball while CBS is promoting one of their other shows, that's a good sign you can expect a penalty on the other team.

Also, when Peyton Manning is getting angry at the ref because he won't get out of the way for a quarterback sneak, this is a good sign to the Jets that the next play will be a quarterback sneak.

Vince Verhei: Peyton was fuming at the refs after the sneak failed -- if it wasn't because the refs blew the spot, then I think he thought the Jets were lined up offside.

Tom Gower: Yeah, if the refs won't let you run a QB sneak and the defense has plenty of time to prepare for a QB sneak, then don't go ahead and run the damn QB sneak into a locked-in defense.

Also, Jim Caldwell needs to talk to Herm Edwards about what you do.

Bill Barnwell: It's only really been two big plays by the Jets, but Sanchez has moved the ball effectively, and that was a fantastic play to stay in the pocket and release an accurate pass to Keller for a touchdown. His "I'm going to throw a wild pass as I'm being sacked" play was a little terrifying to see. 

Peyton Manning, on the other hand...

Vince Verhei: I'm sure I will get mail about this from Jets fans, so let me say this before it gets here: Sanchez's first half, and that excellent touchdown pass in particular, have been very non-JaMarcus-like.

Aaron Schatz: People reading that ESPN piece had a hard time differentiating between "A is like B, so Sanchez is screwed for life" and "A's stats are like B's stats, so perhaps Sanchez's rookie season wasn't as good as you think."

Sean McCormick: The Jets have quietly lost two of their top four cornerbacks in the first half with Lowery and Strickland.  That means that guys who shouldn't be in the game are in the game, and Manning immediately found Drew Coleman on that long pass to set up the Colts first touchdown.  

Vince Verhei: On how many teams would Austin Collie be the best receiver? Oakland, Miami, St. Louis for sure, Tennessee, Jacksonville, the Jets, the Chiefs...

True, but when you say "found Drew Coleman," he actually had very good coverage, but Manning threw a perfect touch pass.

Tom Gower: There's a BIG difference between working the slot with Wayne and somebody else decent like Garcon, with Peyton throwing the ball, and being the #1 target.  Tremendously productive, yes, but let's not crown him too quickly.

Mike Kurtz: The game has a close score but it feels like a larger disparity between the two teams. I think it's because the Jets have been more consistently effective on offense (astoundingly, though passing) than the Colts, but most of the offense for each has been on mediocre-to-blown coverage opening up big plays. If the game continues like this, I'd have to be worried about whether the Jets' passing game can keep up in the second half.

Of course, it's probably not, and these teams will more and more go back to their comfort zones.

Aaron Schatz: I think the best thing for the Colts to do is to leave more guys in to block and trust that Manning can find guys open against a Jets secondary that's missing some guys to injury. He'll find the guys, even with fewer receivers out there running around.

Vince Verhei: Dan Marino at halftime: "Every time the Colts run the ball is a victory for the New York Jets."

Not counting Manning's failed sneak, the Colts are averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and five of their 11 carries have gained 4 yards or more.

Tom Gower: The Jets seemed to learn from the first bootleg -- they had TE Ben Hartsock lined up outside RT and rather than running a route he got the seal on Mathis on the move after he realized Sanchez was booting back his way. Losing the short option is better than getting your QB destroyed.

David Gardner: Man, Feely is killing my fantasy team right now.

Is it too late to nominate these Southwest "Bags fly free" commercials as the most annoying?

Aaron Schatz: I think if the Jets are going to risk giving the ball back to the Colts around the 40-yard line, the better risk-reward scenario on the first drive of the third quarter would have been to treat it as fourth-down territory, run a draw or something on third and go for it on fourth, rather than hoping Feely could hit from 52.

Will Carroll: Estimates inside Lucas have Jets fans at about a third.

David Gardner: I also think it's funny that Jim Nantz called the Colts offense hurry-up. They didn't huddle, which they almost never do, and they snapped the ball with fewer than 10 seconds left on the play clock.

The weird thing is that Lowry isn't really getting worked by Pierre Garcon. He's playing Garcon tight, but Manning is threading it.

Aaron Schatz: Nope. Collie sure is working Drew Coleman, though. I can't tell if Revis is taking Wayne out of the game, or Garcon and Collie playing well against the lesser defensive backs is making it so they don't even need to test Revis.

Tom Gower: The difference between Peyton and a very good but not ridiculously so QB like Rivers: Colts wide receivers, like on a couple passes to Garcon that drive, are just as tightly-covered as the Chargers wideouts were last week, but Peyton is throwing ridiculously good passes.

Aaron Schatz: I hate to tell you, Rivers actually *can* make a lot of those throws... although he's better at dropping it over the top of a guy who is well-covered than threading it in to a guy who's well covered.

Tom Gower: Yeah, that's the throw that Peyton does better than anybody else.  Rivers and the Chargers' wideouts are a great fit for their respective strengths, but they're not complete the same way.  Peyton has that pass, too, which IIRC he used to great effect to Clark in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, not to pick at a nit or anything, but that's not where their strength is right now.

Vince Verhei: Colts listen to Dan Marino -- first drive of the second half, eight passes, no runs, 57 yards, touchdown. Manning is finding Garcon and Collie basically whenever he wants to. Announcers talk about Manning having figured out the Jets' blitz packages, and it looks like that's what's happened -- the wide receiver screen to Addai, for example, the ball was released right over a pair of blitzers. Addai had to slip a couple of tackles, but he slipped them partly because the defenders were out of position.

David Gardner: I don't think that hit by Bullitt was intentionally dirty, because the Jets have been running a lot of play-action stuff. I think it was definitely a penalty, though.

Bill Barnwell: Sanchez follows a great throw over the middle by missing a wide-open Cover-2 hole in zone. Phil Simms: "Great throw..." The throw was two yards out of bounds!

Vince Verhei: An example of fumble luck: Reggie Wayne fumbles in the middle of three or four Jets, but the ball bounces right back into his chest.

Bill Barnwell: Colts' blitzes aren't getting there. Took forever to get that corner around the edge on third down and he still didn't wrap up Sanchez. Result was a deep bomb to Edwards that could've been pass interference, either way.

They're now killing the Jets with underneath stuff, all curls and slants, nothing deep.

Tom Gower: I watched the Clark TD about 4 times trying to figure out who was supposed to be in coverage and still can't figure it out.  It looked like the two safeties were playing deep zones and neither Harris nor Ihedigbo dropped or reacted to Clark's movement at all.  I'm guessing Ihedigbo was supposed to have him, but that looks like a very poorly-timed busted coverage.

Aaron Schatz: I did like the replay they first showed of that touchdown, though. They showed this closeup of Clark that REALLY did nothing to show you who blew the coverage. It was the opposite of the all-22 angle: The "All-1 angle."

Vince Verhei: Manning is virtually forcing the ball to Garcon now. He gets open on a slick, slick little hitch-and-corner route and gets a first down. Cut to Bill Polian, grinning and clapping in exuberance. If the Colts win the Super Bowl, every Colts fan on every message board on the Internet is going to have an animated GIF of Polian there in their signature.

Bill Barnwell: Jets stopped getting big plays in second half. Without the big plays, they couldn't go station-to-station with first downs. Losing Greene also hurt. 

Tom Gower: Sanchez is, I believe, 7-15 for 75 thus far in the second half, while Jones has 8 for 27.  Greene was 2-14 before leaving with the injury.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's tough to run when you're averaging 5 yards per pass attempt and

Will Carroll: Colts miss the chance to send in Painter. Too much of a tip of the cap to fans. 

Aaron Schatz: This is a better Colts team than the one that won the Super Bowl three years ago. I have to think they'll be favored in either Super Bowl matchup.

Tom Gower: New York Jets, Success Rate by back:
Shonn Greene: 7-10, 70%
Thomas Jones: 3-16, 19%

Will Carroll: Was the Greene injury the turning point in the game?

Vince Verhei: I don't think so. I think Barnwell nailed it a few posts ago -- the Colts settled down and stopped leaving receivers wide-open downfield. All their points today were set up by big plays -- the Braylon Edwards catch, the Brad Smith throw, and the fumble recovery. The Greene injury didn't help, obviously, but I don't think it made the difference.

Mike Kurtz: After relying on big plays in the first half, the Jets' offense couldn't keep up the production. Part of it was better coverage by the Colts, but Sanchez also just wasn't as good in the second half.

Ned Macey: The Colts were a little too excited about stopping the run, leading to the two big plays.  No idea why they didn't just show patience to make the Jets drive the ball down the field, like they did in the second half.  Still, the defense obviously dominated the second half. 
I thought Sanchez played well, made a number of really good throws, but he also made a handful of WTF passes when under duress (some of which he completed), and you can see why he has such a high INT %. 
Manning was just unreal.  I'm sorry but Collie and Garcon are mediocre to slightly above average players.  This team used to run out Brandon Stokley as its fourth option (or probably actually Dallas Clark that year).  That was just an incredible football game by a quarterback.  The Jets' pass defense DVOA was -34.6%.  It is not 2002 TB good, but it is about as good as any pass defense in recent years.  Manning just shredded it.  I know they were down some people, but Strickland is not exactly a great player. 
I also disagree that this Colts team is better than 2006.  This is, in my mind, the worst Colts team of the past six or seven years.  Sure the 2006 regular season defense was worse, but history has shown that it was somewhat of an aberration.  The Colts have consistently been a slightly above average defense for five years.  The 2006 Colts offense, meanwhile, was dominant.  Imagine if Pierre Garcon were instead an in his prime Marvin Harrison (first in DYAR that year).  What the hell would the Jets have done?  They would have been forced into two deep, and then the Colts would run all over you (see 2006 playoffs).  I think we should trust DVOA on some level that this Colts team was hardly dominant.  They have the best quarterback in history, but they are hardly dominant.
I expect they'll be favored, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on them against MIN.  I think NO is the better team, but I think IND matches up much better with them beause the Colts (today excluded) limit the big play, and NO thrives on those plays.  Anyway, it should be a pretty high scoring SB with about as high a level of QB play as we've seen in a long time.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, I think this defense is generally better. The guys who were young in '06 have more experience and are better now -- Brackett, Hayden, Bethea. The DTs are better. Even if the receivers aren't as good.

2006 Colts had regular season DVOA of 17.3%. 2009 Colts had regular season DVOA of 17.1%, but considering that includes the Curtis Painter experience, I think even DVOA registers the 2009 team (at least, the regular season version) as a little better.

To add to my last Colts comments... the 2009 Colts also had more Pythagorean wins than the 2006 Colts, even counting the Curtis Painter games. (10.8 vs. 9.6)

Minnesota Vikings 28 at New Orleans Saints 31

Vince Verhei: I just saw Pam Oliver and Brett Favre have a detailed discussion of the ethics and mechanics of slapping men on the ass. If the Vikings win I'm not turning my television on for two weeks.

Mike Kurtz: Adrian Peterson, despite only getting two carries, looked really good on the opening drive. If Minnesota can run and throw effectively, New Orelans doesn't have much of a chance.

Bill Barnwell: Will Smith apparently decided that he wanted to show off his ability to run in a perfect circle on that Peterson touchdown. 

Tom Gower:  With the Saints' weakness against power rush and the Vikes' propensity to slam Peterson into the line regardless of effectiveness, I figured we'd see a Fisher-type gameplan, and that certainly wasn't it.

Will Smith at least had outside contain.  Darren Sharper had "waving in the general direction of Peterson"-type contain.

Vince Verhei: Saints are blitzing Favre a lot, which is not a huge surprise, but they're sending their safeties from deep in the secondary a lot. I don't care if you have Usain Bolt at safety, that's going to give Brett Favre too much time to read and react more often than not.

Aaron Schatz: Jabari Greer is doing a good job, though. I think the only time they've thrown his way was the wide receiver screen, and Greer made the tackle. They had to move Rice to the middle of the field to get him away from Greer, then threw him the second touchdown.

Mike Kurtz: Bush pitch on third-and-1! AWESOME!

Tom Gower: Jared Allen did an excellent job of sniffing that play out AND getting outside enough to force Bush to cut it back inside.

Mike Kurtz: Fast forward to the end of the first half, and Favre on the last two drives has been just a bit off. Not horribly inaccurate, and it doesn't seem to be nerves, but just a touch off. It's made a huge difference.

Of course, Bush then fumbles a punt return, and Minnesota is in the driver's seat.

Bill Barnwell: After careful analysis, that's a muff and not a fumble.

Why were people all over the Reggie Bush bandwagon this week? He has these great games once every six or seven times out, and then he's bad for five games. This is nothing new.

Vince Verhei: And the Vikings hand it right back. I'm not sure which of those fumbles was more galling. I guess Minnesota had to run a play -- Bush had the option to get the hell out of the way and let the punt bounce.

Tom Gower: He had an obvious good matchup this week, with the loss of EJ Henderson.  Shockey's hurt, so he's not going to be able to take advantage of Brinkley, but Bush has the skillset to be able to do such things.

David Gardner: Don't worry. Adrian Peterson -- no doubt in a plot to ruin my playoff  fantasy chances -- fumbles at the goal line.

Mike Kurtz: Amusing note: fumbled handoff between Favre and Peterson, Aikman INSTANTLY (certainly without any replay) blames it on Favre. Because.

Aaron Schatz: On Bush, he didn't have to move out of the way. He could have called for a fair catch. That's what he should have done.

On Peterson/Favre, technically any fumble on the exchange like that is charged to the quarterback. Looking at that fumble I honestly couldn't figure out who's fault it was.

It seems to me that the Vikings aren't blitzing at all, even zone blitzes, but Jared Allen is basically taking away the deep pass on his own. He's pushing Bushrod backwards on every play but they don't get heat on Brees because the Saints are throwing all short passes. If they want to go deep, though, they're going to have to give Bushrod help.

Mike Kurtz: I like the Mass Effect 2 halftime stats.

Percent of game completed: 50%
Class: Gunslinger
Favorite Ally: Sidney Rice
Missions Completed: 2
Mission Failures: 2
Romance: Pam Oliver

Aaron Schatz: You know, the Saints don't do well when they play zone. They need to play less zone.

Bill Barnwell: Porter was holding Shiancoe's TOWEL on that corner route. Is that a penalty?

Mike Kurtz: Towel is part of the uniform, so holding them is the same as holding the jersey (or a non-obtrusive corrective brace!).

Tom Gower: Rule 5-4-6 covers Optional Equipment. (a) is Rib Protectors, (b) is Wrist Protectors, (c) is Towels, and (d) is Headwear Coverings (remember the early 90's do-rag controversies?).  Anyway, here's (c):

Towels, provided they are white licensed towels approved by the League office for use on the playing field. Players are prohibited from adding to these towels personal messages, logos, names, symbols, or illustrations. Such towels also must be attached to or tucked into the front waist of the pants, and must be no larger than 6 x 8 inches (slightly larger size may be issued to quarterbacks, or may be folded to these limits for wearing in games). A player may wear no more than one towel. Players are prohibited from discarding on the playing field any loose towels or other materials used for wiping hands and the football. Streamers or ribbons, regardless of length, hanging from any part of the uniform, including the helmet, are prohibited.

Um, Darius Reynaud, people don't normally catch punts at their own 1 for good and valid reasons.

David Gardner: I disagree with Troy Aikman. I think the rule is ticky-tacky, but Hargrove definitely drove him into the turf, and that's against the rules.

Oh no! I agree with Joe Buck. I think that's worse than being wrong.

Vince Verhei: Vikings get back-to-back lucky breaks as first ANOTHER Adrian Peterson fumble is recovered by Minnesota, and then they convert on third down on a roughing the passer call in which there is no way the pass rusher, whose face was pointing straight down, could have known the pass had been released.

Mike Kurtz: Dave: IT'S A TRAP

Bill Barnwell: Adrian Peterson does not want this football you keep handing him.

Aaron Schatz: The Brett Favre interception intended for a receiver with three defenders sitting right around him was really no worse than an earlier Drew Brees dropped interception intended for a receiver with three defenders sitting right around him. However, if we're going to be sticking to the rules as written, Bobby McCray should have received a personal foul for going low on Favre, the Carson Palmer rule. He clearly was lunging below Favre's knees on purpose. That was much more flag-able than the "driving Favre into the ground" penalty on Anthony Hargrove from a couple plays before.

David Gardner: I keep seeing that Pizza Hut "any pizza for $10 commercial" and wanting to call them and order a personal cheese pizza for that price.

Bill Barnwell: That's funny. I keep seeing the Domino's "your sauce tastes like ketchup" commercial and wanting to call them and order a pizza with ketchup instead of sauce.

Vince Verhei: Saints FINALLY recover a Vikings fumble! Miracles can happen!

David Gardner: Nobody on the Vikings wants that football.

Tom Gower: Yes, and despite trying to pick it up instead of just falling on it.  Then again, not like Minnesota was sensible either.

Bill Barnwell: Saints are clearly using a Game Genie to induce fumbles at this point. 

Vince Verhei: We knock the refs and replay a lot, but that Reggie Bush touchdown was one instance where they got it right -- the call on the field was clearly wrong, and they had a chance to reverse it. It was a huge play in a huge game, and they got it right. Kind of makes all the weird calls and bad challenges worth it.

Tom Gower: That #28 for the Vikings who made that 27-yard run on second-and-7?  That guy's a pretty good running back.  In unrelated news, the Adrian Peterson Touches Without Fumbling Counter now stands at 1.

David Gardner: Bernard Berrian does not want that football.

Mike Kurtz: The NFL on FOX should just go ahead and change its theme to Yakety Sax.

Either Favre isn't recognizing these megablitzes or he's just holding on to the ball way too long. Part of it is a good game by Greer, but in some part he's digging his own grave.

Tom Gower: How many times has the ball been thrown Greer's way, four?  How many times has the ball been thrown Porter's way, 20?  Do Buck/Aikman not realize that the Vikings have been targeting Porter the entire game, or are they just choosing not to talk about it?

Aaron Schatz: It's not Porter. I think they've split things between Porter, Gay, and the big gigantic holes in the zone where nobody wants to cover Shiancoe. I don't think they're picking on Porter specifically. But Greer *is* shutting down whoever he covers on each play.

David Gardner: Again, I disagree with Aikman on that call. I thought Porter had position and that Berrian jumped into him. Thought that could have been incidental contact.

Will Carroll: Favre's ankle's no big deal. He had it taped. That's hardly "limited mobility" except in the strictest sense. He twisted it, it hurts, it will swell, so I'd be curious what he's doing in between series. I haven't seen anything shown. 

Vince Verhei: Peterson score to tie the game at 28. You know, you take away the turnovers, and this has been a complete Vikings asskicking -- they're up 429 to 227 in yards, 28 to 12 in first downs.

Mike Kurtz: Joe Buck also seems to think that every single handoff is delayed. Every. Single. One.

Bill Barnwell: Tracy Porter wins KCW for that "tackle". Yeesh. 

Mike Kurtz: Time for everyone's favorite awful coaching move, "playing for the long field goal." NFL fever... catch it!

Vince Verhei: Vikings get within range of a 51-yard field-goal attempt ... and then run the ball for no yards and let the clock run. I don't care if they hit this kick, that's a terrible, terrible decision.

David Gardner: Why would you run a play to go away from the middle of the field there? I hope they run another play for the sake of Longwell.

Tom Gower: Marv Levy is probably available for consultation on whether kicking the long field goal instead of keeping to try on offense is a good move. So is Scott Norwood if you can find him.

Mike Kurtz: This penalty may be a gift, as playing for a 56-yard field goal is JUST TOO CRAZY.

David Gardner: You can't call back-to-back timeouts! Favre got away with one there thanks to the penalty. Back-to-back timeouts is a 15-yard penalty.

Tom Gower: Back to back timeouts is only a 15-yard penalty when you're icing the kicker.  When you're on offense, the call for a second timeout is just ignored.

Brett Favre throws an unconscionable interception.

Vince Verhei: There is the Brett Favre I have been expecting to see all season!

Aaron Schatz: Total Favre throw.

Bill Barnwell: Tracy Porter is Mike Adams reincarnate. What an awful throw.

Mike Kurtz: My brain hurts. It was like a masterclass on how to not win a game.

Aaron Schatz: I've got to give props to K.C. Joyner on this tweet, esp. since I think we are among the people being addressed:

"People ask me all the time what qualifies as a bad decision. All I can say is that pass definitely would be in that category."

David Gardner: Let's not overlook the possibility, either, that Favre's career could end on an equally bad pass as the one that ended his Green Bay career in the NFC Championship Game against New York two years ago.

Aaron Schatz: Minnesota just lost its best cornerback to an injury on kickoff coverage. Uh-oh.

Tom Gower: So, of course, the Saints start off with two straight runs. There's a reason Peyton Manning gets a lot of credit for being really damn observant, and this is a good explanation of why.

Vince Verhei: Any other team, I would say run it on fourth-and-a-foot. But the Saints are playing the Vikings, and their quarterback just set a record for completion percentage.

Aaron Schatz: Devery Henderson, meet Kevin Faulk. Kevin Faulk, meet Devery Henderson. Let's all try not to bobble the ball when it is gonna cost us a yard near the sticks, okay?

Tom Gower: Henderson's bobble was preceded by two Colston catches.   This had been a ridiculously sure-handed bunch of receivers for most of the year, so it's only fitting that it deserts them at a key moment of this parade of errors.

David Gardner: You'd also think a quarterback sneak here for most teams would be successful, but Brees is barely 6-feet tall.

Vince Verhei: I think it's the only way to go. At some point, the Vikings are going to stop turning the ball over, and you've barely stopped them all day.

Tom Gower: DPI there: laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.

Bill Barnwell: Uncatchable pass.

Aaron Schatz: I just swore a big long blue streak at the television on that DPI, even though I'm rooting for New Orleans. Do you people understand what uncatchable means???

Mike Kurtz: Three reviews in four plays, maybe? I love the NFC.

Tom Gower: For the record, pass interference can only be called for actions by defenders more than 1 yard downfield.

Let the insufferable OT whining commence.

David Gardner: Damn, that was a GOOD field goal.

Mike Kurtz: I want the last 3 hours back.

Tom Gower: Make it 3 hours and 40 minutes.  Even better: we'll be getting another offseason of "will Brett Favre retire or won't he".  It's times like these when I wish I drank.  Heavily.

David Gardner: I thought that was a thoroughly interesting game. I'm glad I spent the last 3 hours and 40 minutes watching.

Aaron Schatz: I feel bad for the Vikings. On one hand, they got screwed by a couple calls on that last drive. The DPI was totally uncatchable, and I think that if the fourth-and-1 call or the Meachem catch had been called the other way on the field, those calls would not have been overturned either. Not enough visual evidence either way. On the other hand, the Vikings can blame themselves for the game going to overtime -- both Favre for the pick and whoever screwed up and was the 12th man in the huddle. Not to mention all the fumbles, of course.

Ned Macey: The way the Vikings managed the final minute of regulation was appallingly bad, between appearing to settle for a 50-yarder as the plan and the inexcusable 12-men penalty. That has to fall on Childress who, despite being pretty successful, has a bad reputation among many people. While I think that sequence was unforgivable, it is only a small part of the head coach's game, and Childress had his team in the NFC Championship -- and, if they had held onto the football and Ryan Longwell hit a field goal, the Super Bowl. Even with all the errors, had Favre just run forward on the final play for 5-10 yards, they had a better than even chance of going to Miami.

Bill Barnwell: Fun game. Just ridiculous. 

Vince Verhei: The Game Of The Year poll has just been rendered completely irrelevant. That just about redeemed what had been a pretty crummy postseason.

I do feel terrible for Vikings fans, who have had their hearts ripped out again.

I predicted the Saints would win a close game, but not like this -- getting the door shut in their faces over and over again but getting bailed out when the Vikings couldn't hold onto the ball. Instead, they were frustrated all day -- SEVEN three-and-outs! Two second-half touchdown drives that totaled 44 yards! I figured the Vikings defense would be the reason they lost, but they just about dominated one of the best offenses in football.

Tom Gower: OK, a waste of time is certainly a massive exaggeration, but I enjoyed it much less than you'd expect for a 31-28 OT game that was close throughout, and the game was particularly sloppy for a game between two good teams.  Plus, the Saints on the game-winning drive got first downs on a defensive hold, a fourth-and-1 on a reviewed spot, and a marginal defensive pass interference call.

Really, though, the Vikings have themselves to blame.  They couldn't hang on to the ball, turning it over thrice when they could've gotten key scores, and lost.

Mike Kurtz: I really don't understand how you could enjoy this game. It was incredibly sloppy in every phase, with special teams disasters, an incompetent new orleans offense paired with a worse-than-incompetent Vikings execution (and playcalling at the end of regulation), and while the defenses didn't melt down, they didn't look particularly exceptional. The Vikings completely brain-freeze at the end of the fourth quarter, we get into an overtime, where a third of the plays are reviewed by the booth, riddled with awful officiating.

I suppose I can see the claim that it's amusing, but good lord, this was bad football.

Bill Barnwell: Because it was dramatic? It was like watching a couple argue in a parking lot.

Aaron Schatz: Yes. Sloppy, amusing football. You kept saying, "what is going to happen next?" And the bad sloppy plays were interspersed with some good play, like Adrian Peterson spinning away from Saints guys, or Jared Allen killing Bushrod over and over.

Vince Verhei: That's actually close to how I felt at the end of the Green Bay-Arizona game, so I guess it's in the eye of the beholder. (I do disagree about the Minnesota defense -- I thought they were pretty exceptional, especially the front four.)

David Gardner: I don't think sloppy necessarily means bad. I've seen some well-executed football games that are boring as hell. To say that the game wasn't entertaining is a stretch.

Rob Weintraub: And I will be rooting for the Colts, purely because I can't have another team win a Super Bowl before the Bengals get one. Yes, I am a sports sociopath.

I second the thoughts on those who can't see it as a Game of the Year.  Highly competitive and entertaining but comically sloppy.

Aaron Schatz: Strange for Rich Eisen on NFL Network to be talking about "it's hard to even say it, sounds so strange, the Saints are in the Super Bowl." I don't think it is that strange. It was strange last year because the Cardinals had never gone AND they were horrible in December so nobody expected it. But the Saints started 13-0, they were the number one seed. They had never made it before, but does it feel that strange? This is a lot more like what it felt like to have the Bucs in the Super Bowl in 2002.

With the two number-one seeds in the Super Bowl, I feel like the world has returned to normal after the wackiness of the last few postseasons. No, they weren't the top two teams in DVOA, but some of that had to do with sitting guys at the end of the season, and the ratings were awful close otherwise. What's important is that these aren't teams that backed into the playoffs and then got hot. These were two of the best teams for the whole year, if not the two best.

And yes, this makes the Lions the only NFC team to never make a Super Bowl.


304 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2013, 4:18pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

As much as I currently despise Polian, Irsay, and anyone else who decides who plays when for the Colts, I really would like to see Indy win simply because that puts us at least 2/3 of the way to debunking the "Brady > Manning because of Rings!" debate.

131 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

I was really rooting for the Jets (even though I'm a Pats fans), just because I thought it would be poetic justice and a stick in Polian's craw if the Colts were knocked out of the playoffs by the team that Polian's decision let in.

I could care less about debunking the "rings" debate because anyone who brings that up is clearly not an intelligent football fan worth debating Brady versus Manning with.

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Welker got injured on his first touch. Most teams, even if they're resting their starters, will play them for a series or two. Welker would have been injured even if Belichick had rested his starters. Welker's injury was more about the field in Houston being crappy than whether one should sit or start starters.

Of course, it is proof that there is a finite chance on any given play that a starter would get injured. So yes, Polian did reduce the risk of injury. But we knew that. Merely seeing an example that the probability is nonzero shouldn't change the decision.

The funny thing is, I heard announcers saying things to the effect of "the fact the Colts are going to the SB justifies Polian's decision to rest his starters against the Jets and Bills".


First off, the only way this statement would be true would be if there was verifiable proof that not resting their starters would have prevented them from going. This is obviously ridiculous.

Secondly, the fact they rested their starters and gave away a perfect regular season is made WORSE in my mind by the fact that they're going to (and have a pretty good chance at winning) the SB. Getting knocked out of the playoffs when you threw away a perfect regular season means that that throw away wouldn't have mattered anyway. But if the Colts win the SB, and end up 17-2 when they easily could have been the first and only team to ever go 19-0...that would really really sting if I was a Colts fan, coach, or player.

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I would agree, except that given the conditions in Buffalo - as well as the Bills' level of play that day, which people forget about - it's entirely possible they would've gone 15-1 even if they tried.

I think they bungled the Jets game and the PR before and afterwards, but if they had gone 15-0 and sat the players down in the snow the next week I wouldn't have complained.

But just as there were overreactions to the decision, there are overreactions to the aftermath. This doesn't justify it entirely, it just voids some of the more ridiculous reactions to it. And this Super Bowl matchup does validate Polian's commentary about momentum. But that was a separate issue.

179 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

and a stick in Polian's craw if the Colts were knocked out of the playoffs by the team that Polian's decision let in.

I said this elsewhere, but Polian really was in a no-lose situation with that decision. If the Colts lost to the Jets on Sunday - well, then they could've lost during the season, too, even if they had played their starters.

That decision was entirely about risk management, and whether it was "correct" or not depends entirely on what you believe could have happened. Which means there's no way it can be "proven" wrong in one offseason.

202 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Back to " I really would like to see Indy win simply because that puts us at least 2/3 of the way to debunking the "Brady > Manning because of Rings!" debate."

First, in the MSM, after the last 4 years, with Manning winning an SB, Brady losing (to some, choking) an SB, losing a season to injury and Manning's super play, Manning is already leading that horserace. Whatever you want to say about the team of the decade debate between Pats/Colts, the Colts are better over the last half of the decade and about to end on a strong note (unlike Pats) which influences MSM too. Winning another one for Manning is a coffin nail, not a catchup...

Second, let's break out the thread again. I am unsure at this point how anyone OBJECTIVELY argues for Brady being the better of the two at this point. Subjectively, I lurv me some Brady, enjoyed what he's done for the Pats, and wouldn't trade him for anyone (even Manning, as silly as that may be). Full disclosure: I can't stand the Colts -- mostly because they are good/my favorite team's successful rival.

Despite my subjective preference, objectively,I really wonder how you build a viable statistical case for Brady being a better QB than Manning. If you can't just rely on the SB/Playoff records, where do you go statistically? I don't think you can do it by looking at basic or advanced stats, so how would you go about it? Would you/could you normalize the stats to reflect their performance as if they didn't play with vastly different receivers/caliber of receivers for their careers (in terms of HOF WR games or however)? Anyone?

There must be someone who has tried to keep up with events and can do it, and I would love to see them try. Alas, I fear that boat has sailed. IMO, Peyton is already a top 5 all time guy headed for best ever, while Brady is IMO now in the high teens/low 20s headed for at best somewhere in the top 10-15 (although how we compare guys playing since 1995 to someone playing in the 60s (or even 70s) is another tough nut to crack).

Bring it on!

209 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

I wish all the Pats fans were like you.

Thing is, Brady has gotten a LOT better in the past 4-5 years since the "debate" began too, yet he has lost ground overall. He's a much better QB now than in 04, when they last won a title, and I think he was a much better QB in 04 than in 03. It's pretty clear now, if you catch an NFLn re-air of an 03 game. Watching Manning-Brady from 11/03 is kind of amazing. Not just because they both look so young, but because of the differences between then and now style-wise. Brady wasn't really asked to do a whole lot back then; he just did what he was asked very well. Manning was clearly better physically then, but was a bit jumpier, could be rattled, and was still being outsmarted by Belichick. They really made each other better in the following years, and Brady is a much stronger and more capable QB because of that comparison, partly because I bet he never really bought into the ring argument and worked really damn hard to keep up with Peyton. (Manning, too, is better, largely because I think the 03-04 slaugherings by the Pats drove him to new heights mentally.)

I really enjoy watching Brady play and think it's a great rivalry. I look forward to another 5+ years of it.

243 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

The key phrase is that Brady did what he was "asked to do". Brady did it and Brady did it well. Be aggressive early, score first based on studying the other team, having a plan, and taking some chances.

A) You score first, you try and get a 2 possession lead ( say 10 points, 14 points), and then you focus on efficiency. Brady was very efficient, people even said that he ran a good 4 minutes "possession" offense passing the ball. They were aggressive early and then efficient.

B) You are aggressive early and you don't score first ( rare), then you can stay aggressive, shot guy, 4 WR etc. and play catch up, until you get that 10-14+ point lead, then you focus on shortening the game, being efficient etc.

It was a good model, Brady was very smart/efficent, and that's what made him good. He was also very good when he was aggressive ( the Patriots had something like 17 games in a row where they scored first).

I always maintained that Brady didn't have the best stats, but that's because of the aggressive early, then efficient model that Bellicheck employed. Brady's "traditional stats" weren't as good as say Manning's but on an efficiency standpoint he was an A+...

The stereotype was that Brady just won, and Manning was a stat whore.

Please don't forget that Tom Brady was just "winning" with sub optimal parts on offense Antowain Smith etc, but he had a good defense and excellent head coach... Peyton Manning had a high scoring offense, but an average at best defense, and the Dungy Handicap in the playoffs...

I argued that Tom Brady was underrated... I think people really felt like he couldn't put up big stats... but then 2007 came along, and Brady proved that he could put up big numbers too...

Peyton Manning was long argued by Patriot fans as the "stat whore" the guy who ran up his stats but "couldn't win the big one". Manning went from breaking passing records to focusing on efficiency. The Colts object on offense wasn't to score... It was to do so in the most efficient way possible. You didn't have to take chances and try and do double moves on corners to throw that deep ball... just take what that defense gives you and beat them... Keep your (weak) defense off the field some, keep them rested, and it will help you in the 4th quarter of games.

People forget that the Colts very nearly had another perfect season a few years ago... The Colts scores in the early part of the decade reflected shoot outs, but Manning transitioned from a "score as many points as possible" guy that left his defense on the field too long and in bad spots, to a "score responsibily and efficiently" that made life easier for his defenses...

Now here is the big difference between the two, and why Manning is the best ever...

While Brady was good at executing his orders, he was "executing orders". He can run plays, study up, call the right audibles etc. Peyton Manning on the other hand practically made the fake snap so I can see where the defense is commiting in vogue. He calls his own plays, his offensive coordinator merely gives him "suggestions".

What Peyton Manning did in Q2 of the AFCC game where he was literally pointing out every Jets blitz, over and over again, and then signaling where his guys to go was a work of art. No other guy in todays game can do what he did how he did it. The Jets aren't running some silly cover 2 scheme over and over again, they use exotic blizes and coverages, and they had nothing on Manning.

Manning is a maestro, and orchestra conductor, he's a coach on the field, and quite frankly he understands offense BETTER than most offensive coordinators. He's the best QB to ever play the game. People always get lost on his mental abilities, but forget Manning's ideal physical abilities... very tall, very big, strong arm, accurate arm, and everything you want in a QB... Good pocket awareness... Manning is a leader, he leads by example, and out works everybody on the team. Manning is the best QB ever.

Early in the Colt/Patriot days people used head to head record etc. for the reason that Brady was better than Manning, but Manning was often playing outdoors, on the road, in the cold against the best defensive brain out there.... While Tom Brady was lining up against " Tampa 2" over and over and over again, and as sure as the sun will rise, Dungy won't take any chances and will call the Tampa 2, because that's who he is and what he does.

In summary, I think when a QB "wins" as much as Brady did early in his career, you need to look more at efficiency. Brady won, and didn't post great stats because he didn't HAVE to... Now what does throw off Red flags is a guy like Jason Campbell who commands a 4-12 team and is "efficient". Yeah, you completed 3 yard passes on 3rd and 10... big deal.... But when looking at teams that don't win as much, you can look at a QB's stats to measure them... Look at Drew Brees in New Orleans. He did all that he could possibly do, but the defense just wasn't there....

Manning wins, and the burden of proof is now on Brady... Manning isn't just executing plays, he's creating them on the fly based on superior knowledge and film study.

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I agree with a lot of your points. But I'll beat the same drum I've beaten before and point out one important thin you're not considering...Manning has been in the league (in terms of full season's played) a lot longer than Brady. Manning just completed his twelfth full season, Brady his eighth. This is something people often forget about the two. At any given instant in time, Manning has 3-4 years more experience than Brady.

If you want to talk about Manning's ability to read defenses and orchestrate an offense instead of doing what he is told over the last couple of years, and you want an apples-to-apples comparison to how well Brady does it, we either have to wait about four years, or compare Brady's last two years to Manning in 2004-2005. Was Manning so masterful at it back then? Perhaps somewhat, but not to the degree he is now.

Granted, Manning is playing with a level of sustained excellence long beyond the time in his career when most QB's are retiring, or at least declining, making it extremely difficult for QB's like Brady to catch him for overall career accomplishments, but the fact remains that it is too early to tell. Interestingly, if you look plot full season DVOA for both Brady and Manning for their first eight full seasons played (counting 2001 for Brady, but not 2000 or 2008), the lines overlay almost PERFECTLY. Brady's year by year effectiveness has been almost identical to Manning's effectivness three to four years before.

Your last statement, that the burden of proof is now on Brady, is very accurate. Even if Manning were to retire this offseason, Brady would need at least four more years of being a top-3 +40% DVOA QB to stay in the discussion with Manning. And he would need to play out of his head to exceed Manning.

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I agree with both your and anotherpatsfans sentiments. I think, looked at objectively, Brady still has a long way to go before he can be claimed to be as good as Manning...and every year that Manning stays amazing makes it that much more unlikely that Brady will catch him.

It's a great rivalry, though. The only thing that would make it better would be if it was more "back and forth"--instead of Brady getting all the wins early, and Manning getting all the wins recently.

I disagree though that Manning was clearly physically better back in 03-04. I think back then each had a different critical weakness. Brady's long ball was decidedly not very good (part of the reason he was asked to "not to a whole lot" back then) tended to be wobbly and a bit off target. At some point (I think it was after the 2005 season) Brady commented that he spent the entire offseason working on his mechanics for throwing the deep ball. That work then payed off in 2007 once he got a credible deep threat WR. Since QB's physical abilities are often judged solely on their arm strength (Brady's weakness) and their straight line running speed (the Vick factor), Brady was viewed as being physically weak.

But Manning's weakness back then was physical as well, and just as important--his pocket mobility wasn't great (it wasn't bad, but not equal to Brady's at the time) and he had trouble throwing on the run. That is part of the reason why Ty Law owned him in 2003--Belichick's defense made him move his feet, and his uncanny accuracy became just average. Manning, too, fixed his flaw. He worked on his mobility and his ability to throw on the run and corrected it. I remember a Pats-Colts game a couple of years later (I don't remember which one) where Vrabel flushed Manning out of the pocket and, scrambling madly to his left, Manning half rotated and threw a perfect 30 yard or so strike to a well-covered Reggie Wayne (I think), dropping the ball perfectly where it had to be. I turned to my friends and said "Oh crap, we're not beating Manning again for a long time". Unfortunately, I was right.

265 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Yeah, people mistakenly call Manning's constant foot motion a nervous "happy feet" issue, when he does it for timing/knee safety. But back in 2003, it WAS nervous and kind of an issue, especially since he didn't have the same pocket awareness he has now. Compared with Brady's calm and excellent Montana-esque footwork, he looked awful out there.

The deep ball and the lack of attempts at bigger plays is mostly what stuck out to me in the 11/03 game. The Pats jumped out with a complete offense and a lot of short quick passes, and Brady had some absurd completion rate in the first half. The Colts started scoring, though, and they asked Brady to do more... and he kind of sucked. I believe his turnovers even let them back into the game. He just didn't look like he could complete a pass over 15 yards. That was the one where the D stood up at the end of the game. That and his excellent first half overshadowed a pretty bad 2nd half. That's just one game, though, but it's the only 03 game I have access to.

I knew an awful lot less about football back then (and didn't like Manning) so I could be very wrong about this, but the first time I noticed Brady having a truly full arsenal of skills was the 2004 title game. He threw a beautiful TD pass, I believe in the 2nd half, that couldn't have been any better placed. It was perfect within 2 inches of the ideal spot, and in laser-like fashion. Then again, the previous season he chucked it all over the field in the Super Bowl. So I'm still trying to figure out what changed and when it happened. I wish I had their season recap DVDs or something.

I think having Manning around has pushed him to get better and try to match him. Just as I think having Belichick around pushed Manning. Without getting outwitted by Belichick in 03-04 I don't know that we have the same field general in Manning that we have today. The rivalry has been good for all parties.

C, I appreciate your long response, although I think we may differ on our uses of the word efficiency. I'm not sure I'd argue that scoring a ton of points quickly through the air was less efficient than grinding up clock and using more plays. There are certainly advantages to the latter, but there are a few things that might argue that he was still plenty efficient back then.

The point about their career lengths is a good one that many overlook. Peyton did have quite a head start.

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MJK by the way you are a smart Patriots fan right? I'm a Giants fan but you are right, the Colts/Pats is a great rivalry and everybody watches it.

You do bring up a good point about age, to make a straight comparison is unfair when evaluating their careers because they are at different stages, but I'd still take Manning 3-4 years ago over Brady. I disagree with the outsiders DVOA of Brady this year, I think he was top 5 for sure, but not #1 for much of the year. Keep in mind this is coming from a guy who said Brady was UNDERRATED before the big 2007, because he wasn't just some efficient guy, but he could put up the numbers if needed as well ( they just chose not to). If either Brady or Manning had the same exact offense, but the Detroit Lions defense there is no doubt in my mind both of their stats would elevate...

I just go back to the point about Manning calling everything (mainly the plays/protections/pass routes etc.), and not having them called in to him as it's a big advantage. He was still doing this 3-4 years ago ( although not as well). Brady is smart, there is no doubt in my mind he steps up to the line and knows what's going on and can audible but I still don't think he can audible as well as Manning did 3-4 years ago.

Let me try and put it another way... Brady gets an A+ in the class, but Peyton Manning wrote the class on reading a defense and audibiling.

I'll also throw in there that the style of play that Manning has, is more difficult to learn, but once you get it it's more like riding a bike. I mean there are only so many ways you can organize pass coverage.... Man/Zone/Combination... You could learn defense real fast, but offense is much more complicated... Manning has so much information to process in the secondary and in the defensive fronts, that he's schooled on everything... You might start seeing teams do totally odd things to try and do SOMETHING new...

With that being said, I think Peyton Manning will age very well. He stays healthy, he's the most intelligent QB to ever play the game, and once you learn what he learned, it's like riding a bike. You don't unlearn how to properly high/low corners. You don't unlearn where to throw the ball in the cover 2, or what sorts of pick plays beat Man coverage... He has a strong enough arm, he's accurate, he's fundamental, he runs good play fakes, and he knows what the defense is doing... He's a good actor too, the former Saints GM was talking about how well he moves his eyes and shoulders to move defenders... I mean, you aren't going to unlearn that. I think Manning will still be very good when he's in his high 30's and could probably play in his young 40's if he wants to. Do you think in say 5 years he won't be one of the top 3 guys? I don't... Look at the late career success of Warner, Gannon, Favre... I'd expect Manning to be good into his late 30's early 40's.

I do agree about the pocket awareness/mobility, in that I'd give the edge to Brady. Brady is cool, slides his feet and feels the rush probably better than anyone, but Manning ain't too shabby either. I remember when people called these guys "statues", when having a mobile running quarterback was in style, and I couldn't pound the table any louder at how stupid the logic was. I think it was Reggie Mcneal, the college QB who turned WR and flamed out of the league said that the Peyton Manning's & Tom Brady's were "dinosaurs" as the mobile QB was taking over. This is when the media was pumping up Michael Vick on every NFL commercial and I was laughing my ass off.

The burden of proof is on Brady, I don't think he'll catch or surpass Manning but you never know, it will be fun watching though. Thanks for your response.


274 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Dave thanks for your response too. When I look at efficiency as a balance between risk and reward. Yeah, throwing passes 40 yards down field with 1 on 1 coverage will probably work out more often than not when your WR is better than their corner but some of that outcome is out of your control and has risk. You can score points very fast, and rack up more possessions ( and points), but you will get stung sometimes and the other team will also have more possessions. Throwing 10 yard passes to a wide open WR sitting in the hole in zone is less rewarding, but it's less risky as well because you are less likely to get a bad outcome. Throwing 10 yard passes over and over and over again against open space is efficient, but not as aggressive.

Manning went from more aggressive to more efficient
Brady went from more efficient to more aggressive

They both proved they can succeed under both models, Brady wasn't just aggressive in 2007, he was efficient as well... They are both very good players and I can always watch a Colts or Patriots game due to them.

275 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

To me, the most interesting thing about Manning as he ages will be how accepting he is of his declining physical tools and whether he'll just adapt and start making different throws, or whether he'll end up trying to do things he used to be able to do and leaving balls short/late, etc.

I guess that's no different from what's interesting about other QBs.

I would rank them equal in their ability to feel a rush and not panic while just sliding a step or two away. But there was one play in this year's game, I think the Edelman TD, where Brady did this little spin/duck move to avoid a rush. That's where his real mobility edge is. Peyton wouldn't have been able to pull that one off. But in general, both are good enough at avoiding a rush, even without having great speed, that they're able to trick people like Easterbrook into saying they have top tier O Lines. It was pretty clear to anyone with eyes that neither unit was elite in pass protection this year. Both have declined a lot since 2007.

279 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Well part of the reason why I think Manning will age well is as follows.

- Smarts ( no need to even talk about this) and this is the #1 factor.
- Mechanics/fundamentals are impecable... His eye movement, shoulder movement, play fakes, throwing motion, footwork can help make up for when his physical skills start to decline. He's not going to get worse at running play action play fakes...
- I think his physical skills are under appreciated/underrated. He might not have a Jay Cutler strong arm, or Favre in his prime rifle arm, but his arm is still very strong, and he's VERY accurate. He also throws the ball at good trajectories (say just lofted over LB's in zones) some air on deep balls, straigt passes on shorter stuff. He he's big, has height... I don't see him getting any shorter or smaller, even if his arm went from very strong to average, he does enough other things right that he'd still be one of the best QB's in the league.

That Brady move on the Edelman TD was awesome. Brady might be a little quicker than Manning, but he's also not as thick. I do think they are both very nifty in the pocket, but I'd give the edge to Brady.

The Colts offensive line was below average/borderline bad last year. Getting that team to 12-4 was a miracle and the reason why they got booted out of the playoffs was defense/special teams. Manning outplayed Rivers in that game. I'd agree that both offensive lines weren't as good as 07', but the Colts line bounced back this year and the Patriots did have a hard defenses on their schedule.

281 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Would you/could you normalize the stats to reflect their performance as if they didn't play with vastly different receivers/caliber of receivers for their careers (in terms of HOF WR games or however)?

That's very hard to analyze. But being hard doesn't make it unimportant. And it's certainly real.

We can't do a completely objective calculation of a "receiver corps factor". But we can estimate it using some commonly understood assessments of the corps involved.

Try this: we can mostly agree on the quality of the receiving corps in each year where both QBs played. 2001-2006 and 2009, the Colts had the superior receiving corps. In 2007, the Pats had the better receivers.

You could also rank the 16 receiver corps involved. I'd put the 2006 Pats corps at the bottom (they were awful!), and the 2007 Pats and the Harrison/Wayne/Clark years at the top. That's based on what we think about the receivers' skills, not just the raw stats. It's subjective, but again no one is going to argue that Troy Brown is better than Marvin Harrison, for example. While your mileage may vary, I'd say that the Colts had 6 or 7 of the top 8 of those 16 receiving corps.

We can also estimate the "receiver corp factor" by looking at the very convenient 2006 and 2007 Patriots. That gives us an idea of how important the receiver corps can be. Use that range and the rankings to estimate the adjustment needed for each receiving corps.

Roughly: the range is about 40% DVOA. After canceling top and bottom half ranks for each team, you end up comparing 4 "average bad years" for the Pats against 4 "average good years" for the Colts. Call that a difference of 40 * .5 = 20% for 4 years, or about 10% adjustment if you apply it over the whole period.

Manning had an average passing DVOA of 36.5%, while Brady had 24%. With that adjustment factor applied, Brady rates at 34%. That is, if he had had Manning's receivers, that's very roughly what we would have expected.

So, Manning comes out on top, but the rough estimate of a receiving corps factor shows why the "Brady-Manning controversy" is not unreasonable.

Please note that none of the above involves a subjective assessment of Manning or Brady. And none of it involves the postseason or "rings" or just-winning. I would be surprised if any remotely honest assessment of the receiver corps would arrive at a factor of less than 5% or more than 20%. Do you disagree?

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I think looking at WR talent would be a more in depth way of analysis ( and very difficult), but where do you stop? Do you look at their

Offensive lines as well?
RB's as well?
Head coaches, OC's as well/team concept?
Do you give Brady extra points because Manning plays in the Dome?
Do you factor in their schedules ( Brady had a hard one this year?)
Stats only or W/L record as well?

Breaking it down and giving a "true" nominal value would be VERY VERY difficult ( as you alluded to). Plus you'd most likely be throwing in subjetive factors that people couldn't agree on. For example, Peyton Manning makes his WR's better ( Brady does too), but how do you put a price on that?

286 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Wait a sec, there, C.

I was asked about how you might adjust for receiver talent. I showed how you could roughly estimate a receiver corps factor in this case, given what we (roughly) know about the impact of receivers on an offense's passing DVOA and what we (roughly) agree about the relative strengths of the receiver corps in question. This works in this case because we have a good example of the impact of receivers on a passing game, and because the receivers in question are well-known stars, or have left their teams to be obvious busts elsewhere. So the range and the rankings are not too controversial.

Are you agreeing with the estimate and proposing additional factors? Are you proposing your own estimate? If so, what is it? And how did you arrive at it?

Introducing unrelated factors and saying they are hard to calculate is just a red herring. A straw red herring, at that. It suggests that you are unwilling to address the issue on its merits.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

How many fumbles did the Saints have? Three? When you recover them all, nobody remembers.

The Saints deserved to win, because they kept slapping at the ball, and the Vikings kept dropping it. However, it wouldn't have taken more than an ounce of luck, for the Vikings to have won by 10 points or more.

Well, lemme see......I've witnessed four Vikings losses in the Super Bowl, only one of them in which the Vikings were within one score in the fourth quarter, and that one was a bit misleading. I've witnessed them losing five conference championship games, two by blowout, two in overtime, and one where a pass was dropped inside the one yeard line, as the Vikings were trying to tie the score in the last minute.

The Super Bowls are definitely the most painful, although that may be attributed to the fact that I was a kid then. Among the Conference Championship losses, the blowouts are disgusting, but at least you aren't waiting three-plus hours to get knifed. I'd have to say that losing in o.t. at home is the worst, so either I am just more accepting of these things as I age, or today's loss was less wrenching because it always seems that winning these games on the road is less likely.

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The Super Bowl losses were before my time. I've seen the last 4 NFCCG's, of which '98 was the worst because the Vikings were the better team and had the game in hand. In retrospect that team had it all come too easy. 2000 was brutal, obviously the end of an era. You could also mention the Vikings' long string of one-and-done playoff losses in the late 80s and 90s, when the Redskins or the Giants or whoever would push their smallish D line around and control the clock for 41 minutes on the way to a blowout win.

This was way more fun to watch. The Vikings played great, well enough to win. The mistakes were stupid but whatever -- the Saints have had incredible luck all year, why stop now? Plus they're a great team in their own right, no shame to lose to them on the road in OT.

Harvin and Peterson accounted for 5 of the 6 Vikings fumbles (including AP not opening up his arms on the handoff just before halftime) -- they're both young guys who'll be calmer if and when there's a next time. For all the "pants on the ground" joking around, those 2 never got themselves into the flow of the game today (Harvin slamming the ground after touchbacks was a sign he was way too wound up, I thought). I hope the Vikings don't give up on them, they're a great nucleus (along with Rice) for the offense next few years. The team should arrange some yoga lessons or aikido training for Adrian, who needs to learn that squeezing something too hard (in his "rock hard grip!") is a sure recipe for losing it.

Easy to second-guess Favre's last pass as a bad decision, but I respect his instinct to try to make something happen. They were out of reliable FG range at the 38 (Longwell's career best is 55), thanks to the stupid penalty and the too-conservative playcalling on 1st and 2nd downs. Live by the sword, die by the sword, but at least the Vikings went down swinging. If the Saints had run it back for a pick-six, you could hang the loss on that one play, but otherwise I think the reaction to blame the loss on that one pass has more to do with the usual sports talk soap opera than actual football analysis.

The whole team showed heart today. They lost because they tried too hard. Not too bitter a pill to swallow.

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Favre's first read according to him was Berrian in the flat. Originally he was covered but as Favre kept rolling the defender pealed off deep and Berrian was wide open about 7 yards down the field. Favre's best option was to just flip it to Berrian who would have put them in very good field position.

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Agreed, but I think Berrian only opens up late in the pattern once his defender reads Favre's eyes, who's already come off that read and is looking downfield. Favre had enough time than he probably could've planted his feet and taken another look to his right. But that's one great reason to hit a QB hard all game, to make him hear footsteps and rush a pass in a crucial situation. The Saints played a very good game on defense, won the pass rush battle for most of the game, even though the stats don't really reflect that.

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I didn't realize the '80s/90s Vikes DL was small...I thought they were big, fast and nasty, like the DL today with the Williams Brothers.

The '80s Vikes I remember were fast and big...Millard, Doleman, Browner, etc. But this is the first time I've heard them referred to as small. They also had John Randle a little bit later, but that was the '90s really. My Brownies beat them in '89 at the Muni on a Fake FG for a TD! The Vikes were 10-6 and had beat SFO several times in the previous two years, a feat not accomplished by many teams not named the LA Rams. :)

The Favre INT is like Red Right 88 or the '88 Fumble in Browns terms. yeah, Sipe and Byner wore goat horns for those plays, respectively, but they got them to that point. I'd rather lose a game like that than just go quietly into the night.

Favre should be back next year.

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Shortly before halftime, the fumble luck WAY favored the Vikings. By my count, counting punt muffs as fumbles, the Vikings had recovered four out of five fumbles (both punt muffs, plus Bush's fumble and one fumble of their own--the Saints recovered the other one).

Of course, in the second half, the Vikings started to play hot potato with the ball, and fumble luck evened out a bit (as it will when you have a LOT of fumbles).

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Yeah, the '98 Vikings loss seems like it's still very definitely the worst. That was a legitimately great team, which, if it had won the SB, might be in the conversation about Most Dominant Teams of All Time.

As a Redskins fan, though, I insist that the '87 Championship game wasn't decided on a dropped pass, but on a heroic batted ball by Darrell Green:

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Good post and good blog link. Most people forget that.
The '87 season was interesting in that it inspired the movie "The Replacements."

The Vikes beat the 49ers that year on the road. That was the game with the awesome Steve Young he made it still defies thought.

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One well-spotted fantasy whine might be okay, Mr. Gardner. Two sounds a little silly, especially when you consider that Peterson went on to have a huge game for you.

Great to see Ned Macey here. Please come back more often.

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I'm surprised you guys didn't discuss how uncomfortable Brees looked for much of this game and how his passes were wobbling and knuckling on so many drives. Late in the game Sean Payton looked downright conservative with much of the game calling, a reflection of Brees not being right.

Captcha: Official Wilfredo. I guess Cordero is not forgotten.

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Every now and then Brees just looks like an average QB. I don't think it was the rush; he was off from the beginning, and he wasn't hit particularly often. If he had his normal accuracy (when he can drop passes in close coverage), the game wouldn't have been that close. Of course, we can say the same thing about the Vikings and their ball security.

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My brother and I were mulling over the play in the Jets-Colts game where Sanchez was blown up by Bullitt. We both figured that the hit was legit, just as the HB can get contacted by the defense on a play-action pass, so too can the QB if he leads the bootleg out after handing the ball off. The on-field result was no flag.

Later on during the Saints-Vikings game, we watched Favre get blown up by the saint's DE during an end around. The on-field result was a penalty, although it was weirdly called a late hit out of bounds,with the refs somehow mixing the actions of both where favre was hit and harvin was pushed out.

So we're not sure what the actual ruling should be, and maybe someone can help dissect the differences between the two plays.

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I also agree with the thought that a game doesn't become great just because it has intrigue and excitement. The Saints and Vikings played a very sloppy, error-filled game. I wouldn't vote it game of the year on GP.

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Differences between 06' Colts and '09 Colts 1) Peyton Manning has ice-water in his veins. Did you see the shots of him with that pissed off 'the Jets are going DOWN' face? 5 years ago he's not that kind of a leader. He is the best player to ever play the game. If you don't agree, you haven't watched him enough. In '06, he wasn't THIS good in close games. In fact he played pretty poorly those whole playoffs. 2) Run defense is way better, defense is tougher, smarter, and faster, but pass D isn't quite as good with so many young guys out there and injuries.

These Colts aren't a more dominant team than the '06 Colts (who weren't all that dominant anyway), but they know how to win as a team better than the '06 Colts.

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I know I have a much higher level of confidence in the 09 squad. Might be the close CFB wins, might be Manning's performances, might be the depth at WR. Might be the fact that they did it in 2007.

The postseason Run-D is an interesting thing to look into. In 2006 they had Larry Johnson and stoned him (KC had no first downs until around the 45 miute mark), then Jamal Lewis whose tires were leaking air, but he was still a recent 2,000 yd rusher. Finally in the SB they faced Benson and Jones, two talented guys, but aside from the one 50 yard rumble, pretty much shut them out. A lot of people claim the Colts benefited from bad play-calling by ALL their opponents (i.e. too many passes, too few runs); once, I'd agree, twice might be a coincidence, but three times is a trend. The OCs saw they could not run, knew they had to keep up, and decided to pass.

So in the 2009 playoffs so far, they faced a couple two-headed monsters: Rice is as dangerous a RB as there is in the league and McGahee was coming off a 160 yard performance two weeks before, so they would be possibly more dangerous than any running game the Colts faced in 2006. (Rush DVOA rank 4) And the Ravens were held to 3 pts. Today Greene and Jones are both capable and the Jets had a top rated running offense (by traditional stats), but once again they were stomped (assisted by Greene's injury). (Rush DVOA rank only 11?? wow.) Now the Colts face another good, multi-deaded Hydra in the Saints (Rush DVOA rank 1, aw crap). I don't know... in the past 6-8 weeks, the Saints have looked a little flat to me, as if they blew it all in the great Patriot stompdown, and then coasted in to the end. Maybe their Vikes DVOA will help me out here.... I thought things were going to get easier for the Colts?!?!

Anyway, it looks as if the run D is on par with the 2006 post-season squad. The pass D, hard to tell. I think the DL is better (pressure) but the CBs younger and more raw. LBs better, Safeties, about even. The QBs/passing games they have faced this post-season are hardly indicative--probably inferior to the Ravens and Pats in 2007, and about the same as the Chiefs and Bears.

So the Colts D, while it IS for real, and has more facets to it thanks to Coyer and is therefore less predictable, might still have some trouble with the Saints. Of course the Saints didn't look all that geat tonight....

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Coyer gets all the credit, and he deserves a lot of it, but I'm getting sick of people overlooking John Teerlinck's role in this. The LBs are better, sure, but a lot of the run D improvement starts with those DTs. Muir and Mookie came from nowhere. Off the street. And while they're not big pass rush guys, they've really changed the run defense. Hell, didn't Muir lead the team in tackles last week? When's the last time that happened for a Colt D? Usually it's a safety leading them in tackles after the front 7 get beaten.

The Colts still aren't as physically strong along both lines as most teams, but they're getting much better overall play from the DTs.

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Fumble scoreboard for Saints-Vikings:

MIN fumbled six times, losing three.
NO fumbled three times, losing one.

Nine total fumbles, Saints recovered five, Vikings recovered four.

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Have you watched the Manning part of the Colts? The freakish catching by the receivers (really, does every team's receivers catch this well?)? I know my tone is funny/sarcastic, but really, if that's not impressive, I don't know what your passing game benchmark is. It is so good (in some people's minds) that it allows an ordinary running game to be pretty efficient when called on. It also puts enough pressure on opponents that they usually feel the need to press a little harder than they want, maybe run less and pass more, which plays into the defense's strengths.

Speaking of impressive, Freeney and Mathis spend so much time in the backfield breathing down the QBs' neck that the opponents' QBs can probably tell you what those guys had for lunch. The most impressive things about the D are speed-based: first step, pursuit, gang tackling.

Did you see the nationally televised Miami game or Cardinals games? The cards game was a TOTAL beat-down and the Miami game was a case of Manning being better than the other 21 guys on the field, and proving it with 15 minutes of TOP.

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I think the issue here is that Manning and his receivers have reached the level of so good they make it look easy. Then it doesn't look as impressive.

Randy Moss leaping over 3 defenders to bring down a desperation Culpepper heave looks way more impressive, but really you would rather have Wayne and Clark beating single coverage and Manning delivering strikes to the open guys.

It just doesn't look like they are doing anything that hard.

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I think Manning deserved the MVP, but this was his least impressive statistical season since 2002. They have never replaced Tarik Glen, leaving the offensive line a weakness. Melvin Bullitt is terrific, but he wouldn't stat if Sanders were healthy. The corners are rookies, and at least one of them was undrafted. They rarely blew anybody out. The receivers are better than they have ever had before, I'll grant you. It just reminds me of the 2003 Patriots signing guys off the street to play the secondary in the Super Bowl.

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Um, seriously? You think the receivers are better than the 2004 edition, with Harrison, Wayne, Stokely, Clark and Pollard? Wayne is outstanding. Clark is a very good pass catching tight end. Garcon and Collie are useful complementary receivers, but nothing special. I'd say several teams around the league have better overall sets of targets - the Cardinals, the Texans, the Saints, the Chargers. Manning, on the other hand, is a significantly better passer now than he was then, whatever the numbers say, and God knows he was pretty damn good then.

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Disagree that Garcon and Collie are "nothing special". I said the same thing about Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth after 2007. Then I watched a season of Brady trying to use Joey Galloway, Sam Aiken, and a 7th-round converted QB as #3 and #4 WR's, and changed my mind.

Garcon and Collie need a good QB throwing to them to succeed--they're never going to make a QB look better than he is, like Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, or Calving Johnson (or maybe Marvin Harrison/Reggie Wayne?) do. But they are capable #2/#3 WR's, at the Cotchery/Camarillo/Lee Evans/Jason Avant level. It's similar to the whole "does a good QB make a coach succeed, or does a good coach make a QB succeed", and the answer is "yes". You need a certain minimum amount of talent at both QB and WR in order for a passing game to work. I hope for the Colts sake that Polian doesn't make the mistake that Belichick made and think, just because he has a good QB and a good star WR, he can plug in any scrubs at #3/#4 and expect no dropoff.

In this game, for example, Garcon wasn't getting amazingly open, but was holding onto balls that were not easy to catch. I would say fully 50% of WR's in the league don't make those catches. So yes, Garcon may be "average", but average does not equal "replaceable".

And Collie was abusing whoever was covering him throughout the second half. Yes, due to injuries, that "whoever" as a #3-#5 DB, but still.

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Good response.

One thing that gets overlooked is Manning's leadership role. It's easy to say that his QB play makes the receivers better, but they still have to get open and catch the balls in those tiny windows. They have to know the offense, and to do that before age 23, they have to work HARD. The under-publicized reason they worked that hard and were able to make yesterday happen is because they have a drill sergeant as a QB. He's a big goofy looking TV pitchman with a sense of humor, and it's hard to imagine him ordering people around like a hardass coach, but the dude earns your trust and respect immediately. There's a very real fear of letting Peyton down, not only in the WRs, but on the whole team. And that helps the RBs block better, helps the WRs hone their games, and it all comes around to help him confidently decipher defenses, trust his reads, and deliver those balls into those tight windows.

Catch-wise, Garcon played out of his mind yesterday. Remember earlier this year? He was under 50% catch rate for a while. He and Collie were dropping easy balls left and right (hell, Collie dropped an easy one too yesterday, which he later more than made up for). It's not like they have miracle hands usually. In that regard, I do think it was less about preparation and more about pulling an amazing game out of their asses. Expecting Garcon to play with velcro hands like that again is probably a tad unrealistic. But it sure was fun to watch for one game.

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Funny...these Colts remind me a lot of the 2003 Patriots, in their discipline and versatility and ability to win games in whatever way necessary. It just feels inevitable sometimes.

As to Manning, I don't understand why he is still so good. QB's simply don't stay this good for this long. He's his 12th year? He's never had a negative DVOA season, he's been in the top 5 for DYAR for the last eight or so seasons... and every other QB of the modern era has had a significant decline after about eight years, assuming they even make it that far.

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Yep. While his physical skills are probably starting to erode (he can't run as quickly for the stretch play anymore, for instance), his increased mental abilities and wisdom have more than made up for that. And probably will for at least a few more years too, given how high his physical peak was to start with.

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Part of what makes them make it look easy, is that it's easier to catch balls when you are involved in the passing game and get into the flow. The Colts pass a lot and their WR's catch at a good percentage. Dallas Clark wasn't used as much and dropped a pass. What about the Michael Vick era when his WR's would drop the rare good pass?

Plus the Colts don't neccesarily draft/go for the fastest guys in the world, but put more value on hands/route running/intelligence.

You don't need to be faster than a guy to beat him if you and your QB are on the same page. If the DB is the same speed as the WR, the WR has an advantage because he knows where he's going where as the DB is reacting.

Like the other poster said, the Colts are so good at passing the rock that they make it look easy. They don't need some super physically gifted WR making sports center like catches.

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Vince, do you know which one it is; the muffed punt not being counted as a fumble, or the the ball being knocked loose on the fourth and inches in o.t. not being counted?

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That's what I suspected, and why the spot was bad; the zebra didn't see that he had lost possession, and credited him with forward progress from the spot where the defender first made contact, instead of where Thomas regained the ball. I could also see how the booth decided it was too much of a scrum to move the spot. Them's the breaks....

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But since he was a RB who started with 100% complete possession of the ball, and then crossed the plane for the 1st down, then bobbled it and lost a half yard or so, they already had the first down already before the bobble, no?

Now if he was a receiver like Kevin Faulk on the famous 4th and 2 play in the Pats/Colts game, where he comes down with the ball at the end is key since he bobbled it in midair without having had possession.

I am not sure I am right--trying to envision scenarios where it might or might not work. I've seen ball carriers with the first down yardage, run back to escape a tackler only to lose the yardage--they are not credited with the 1st down. And if they have it and are driven back, forward progress usually gives them credit for the first. If they have it and bobble before being driven back ... hmm, yeah, maybe the spot SHOULD be back a half yard, even if he broke the plane. Breaking the endzone plane is a different concept and maybe that's the logic I was using (wonrgly). But if the driving back and bobble are simultaneous, wouldn't he still get the forward progress?

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I'm no rules expert, but it seems to me that if you lose possession of the ball, then forward progress is a moot point, and the ball gets spotted where possession is regained. Think of it in a non-close call; the ball pops loose, and bounces five yards back, where the running back regaines it; that is where the ball gets spotted.

Now, in this instance, it's kinda' weird, in that the defender's helmet pinned the ball to the running back's thigh, with his hand jammed in there as well. The running back definitely lost possession, though, and it the ball just happened to stay in close. Anyways, it's the sort of thing that is hard to see at live speed, and another example of the role luck plays.

117 4th and One

First I think the Saints got a favorable mark even though they didn't get the first down. Second, on the play, I think the booth saw the fumble and that's why they reviewed it. Nowhere do we see who comes away with the ball. Even if he did retain it, it is obvious in my own eyes that the guy is moved backward while he is recovering it. And even if he recovers it, the ball is near his waist as in the case with Brees.

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And Will, sorry about the loss. I feel your pain, though in my mind it's probably not as bad as the childhood SB losses, or the loss to the Falcons about a decade ago. That one killed me. This one reminds me of a few Colts losses to the Pats a handful of years ago, where I thought my team outplayed the other guys, but just had too many errors (forced and unforced) to pull it off.

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Oh, hell, I'm already over it, and now I can enjoy the Super Bowl without a decades long rooting interest coloring my observation. I will say it is more painful to lose a o.t. game like this at home.

Pulling for the Colts now, in a well played game. Nothing against the Saints, except I really don't like to see a team which gets outgained by about 200 yards win a playoff game, even when the Vikings aren't the meatheads blowing the opportunity.

I was going to respond above to the post which said there was nothing impressive about the Horseshoe-heads, but then decided that if somebody wasn't impressed by Cooper's brother, they may have spent more time watching bocce ball.

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Strange for Rich Eisen on NFL Network to be talking about "it's hard to even say it, sounds so strange, the Saints are in the Super Bowl."

I'm sure he meant it in the historical sense, not that this year's Saints aren't worthy. Kind of like the "the wacky mirror-universe 1996 Ravens. (First in offense, 29th in defense. Really.)"

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The Colts are just ridiculous. Since 99' they've had one losing season; a season where they lost their star running back to injury and their shitty defense decided to play extra shitty. Their 2 most dominant teams 05' and 07' choked the hardest. The most clutch team (08') gets jobbed in SD. The two teams with problems (06 running game and 09' recivers) are the ones that go to the superbowl. and throw in an entertaining as hell 04' season for the fans (IMO manning 49 tds > Bradys 50).

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Not much to argue with there, but I'll try: (and they're pretty small points)

Why was the 08 squad more clutch than 09?

Jobbed in SD--we're probably in the minority in believing that, but I also feel Sproles and Scifres won that game as much as anybody.

I'm confused about the 06/09 problems. The run game in 06 was a pretty good 2-headed monster (the run D was the huge hole there, is that what you meant?) and the recievers this year were damn good despite Gonzo's injury. With him back next year, I predict a lot of college-style spread formations--5OL, 1 QB, 5 WRS. Either that or Polian trades somebody for a draft pick, or an OT--Garcon for Michael Roos? 04 was a big paradigm-shift season for the league. VERY entertaining and without that year I don't think the Pats hit on the formula for their 2007. Lots of people forget that Manning sat roughly ten quarters that year in blowouts and end of season games--think about the damage they could have done with 2.5 more game equivalents to work with (and a willingness to pour it on). But they still were not a complete team until 2005. And maybe the Steelers proved that even that was wrong, and 2006 was the first complete Colts team. Not sure there.

That awful Jags game in 2006--I guess that was entertaining as well, if you find natural disasters and biblical plagues entertaining....

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No way. And they're not trading him anyway. They'll go into next year with 4 capable WRs and rotate them and sometimes go 5 wide. Gonzalez might take a while to become useful again anyway, plus there's always the chance that someone gets hurt. They can't afford to lose Clark, for instance, without having that extra WR depth.

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how was '04 a big paradigm shift? The pats won as usual and the Steelers had a very good year but choked in the same way to the pats that the Colts did in '03. The Colts also choked in '05 to the Steelers.

Unless you mean it was a dynastic shift--the Pats' reign was ending and the Colts was beginning. '01,'03,'04 Pats and then the '06 Colts and say (for argument's sake) the '09 Colts.

The '80s were the same way but it was more a trough between two bell curves...early on the 49ers were very good and late they were very good but in the middle they were not quite as good, losing out to teams like the Vikes, Rams and Giants. '81,84...then '88,'89 seasons.

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It was a paradigm shift because that was the year that the NFL made it illegal for DB's to cover WR's. At least, that's what fans of defensive football claim.

Seriously, that was the year where the NFL made calling illegal contact and DPI for any contact after 5 yards a "Point of Emphasis" (although, even though they called it that, it did involve re-writing the rulebook slightly to "clarify" the rule, so a lot of people claimed it was actually a rule change in a point-of-emphasis's clothes).

This was done partially in response to the fact that the Patriots DB's played extremely physically with the Colts WR's in the 2003 playoffs, right to the edge of what was legal, and the refs let them play. It worked...part of the reason why the Colts got destroyed in that game was that the Pats' DB disrupted the careful timing of the Colts offensive machine.

The rule change...I mean, "Point of Emphasis", came at the recommendation of the competition committee, of whom Polian was, I believe, a member. Many of the Patriots' players and fans believed that it was a direct effort on the part of Polian to change the rules of the game to favor the sort of team he had built at the expense of the sort of team that Belichick had built.

Hence the irony that Bobman points out--it was this very "Point of Emphasis" that enabled the 2007 Patriots to be so unstoppable. If DB's were allowed to mug WR's to the degree they did in 2003, the 2007 Patriots would not have been quite the offensive juggernaut they were.

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Of all the great colts teams, i think the best was their 2007 team which was frankly overshadowed by the ultra elite 16-0 pats. The 2008 team was very flawed and it took manning's best season(yes best) to still guide that team to a 12-4 record. THat team had a total makeshift o line, gonzo, clark, and wayne all were hurt at one pt or the other and the defense had injuries to mathis and even gary bracket. As far as this team and 06 team, i still believe this team is slightly better for a couple reasons. That team had jason david and nick harper playing at cb and while these current cbs arent terrific, david was a massive liability. I think the lb core on this team is much better than that years with cato june and rob morris, as well as at the dtackle position. Finally, the wideout core is a bit of a toss up. That year was more front heavy with harrison wayne and clark, but had moorehead and fletcher as the depth players. This year's seems more fluid despite gonzo's injury. Tough call either way, but can't say i agree with ned as if its a totally without question answer.

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I think 2005 was the best, but the tragedy changed everything. And sometimes the best team doesn't win.

But I agree, that 2007 team could certainly have knocked off the Patriots 4 or 5 times out of 10.

2006 won it all, but I don't think they were as good as 05, 07, 09, or maybe even 04.

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"Tom Gower: I watched the Clark TD about 4 times trying to figure out who was supposed to be in coverage and still can't figure it out."
It seemed like a classic Cover 2 to me, with 2 verticals called on the same side of the field (Wayne/Clark), the safety chose to go towards Wayne on the outside, Clark was wide open. Just the play you can call against that defense.

Jabari Greer : Did anyone seriously see that one coming ? Last Cover-2 CB plugged in the Saints defense was Jason David, and we all know how it turned out. Now Jabari Greer, an undrafted free agent who was not even starting in Buffalo, turns out to be nearly worth having an island called after him ? That is a shock.

Colts defense : their DTs might be better than in 06, but they weren't really good vs the pass yesterday. Sanchez was able to step up in the pocket a lot of times, making their 2 star pass rushers useless on the outside. They need to be better in 2 weeks, because the Williams wall won't be there pushing OG and OC into Brees face.

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Cover-2 was my initial reaction as well, but when I rewound the play to look at it, it seemed that the outside receivers were being covered man-to-man and the safeties were playing deep half zones. Ihedigbo was probably also playing too far inside for the area of responsibility you'd think he'd have in a cover-2.

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Greer was definitely a starter with Buffalo the past two years, and his metrics have always been very solid. The only knock against him was his ability to stay healthy, and indeed he missed more games this year due to injury.

His metrics:

2007- 16 games played, 13 games started, 6.1 yards/play (ranked 4th), 46% stop rate (ranked 14th)

2008- 10 games played, 10 games started, 7.1 yards/play (ranked 21st), 35% stop rate (ranked 72nd)

2009- (PFF stats, since FO charting isn't out): 52.3 QB rating on passes in his direction-- of players with at least 500 snaps, only Revis, Leon Hall, and Charles Woodson rate better.

Basically the Saints signed a player this offseason who was a known injury risk and was coming off an especially injury-riddled year, and got an elite corner who's good for about ~10-12 games a year.

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Well, I thought that he never was more than a 3rd CB, stuck behind Clements/McGee/McKelvin more recently, but I was obviously wrong. I don't recall a lot of good things said about him (even though those 2007 stats are really good, and 2008 average).

But even though he had those good stats, he still was a Cover 2 CB transitionning to more man coverage, and did it superbly. You might have seen it coming, but I sure don't recall a whole lot of media people predicting anything close to the level of success he had this season.

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To put my post into context I am a 48 year old Vikes fan who lives in Sydney Australia. I had resolved to buy a scalped ticket for the SB, knew the flights, hire car details and hotel details in Miami. I wasn't being overly optimistic rather I had resolved that if the Vikes made it I was going.

I had a few wishes for the game - score first - tick, lead or tie and halftime, tick. Have the ball in the offense hands for the last possession - tick.

The pain, the pain, the pain.

I have watched a lot of bad games, Will Allen are you out there? But this game was far worse as the Vikes played really well. I started to simply think "well we will stop the Saints and get the ball back". When you think EJ Henderson was out as well as Winfield, the rest of the D were very impressive. If I compare this to the SB loss in '77 that was much worse in that the Raiders gave us a real ass whippen, but this was the same but in reverse.

When we had the ball with less that 120 seconds to play I actually started to dream that I would see the inside of Miami airport - alas..........

Anyway great win to Saint's and I would like to thank the Vikes for a great year where they played hard all year and made me happy to be a fan, but it does hurt all the same.

Lastly, some of the strings of posts the last few weeks have been some of the funniest stuff I ever read in my life so well done to all you posters out there.



36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

I really enjoyed the Colts/Jets game. What had to concern NY is that the team couldn't play much better in the first half and had a measly four point lead.

I thought Thomas Jones was a pretty good back but didn't much of that in this game.

Regarding the NFC game some things that jump to mind:

--Jared Allen showed up. During the last half of the season Allen had been MIA wiht Edwards doing all the great work from the end. But not today. Allen played great.

--Something had to be up given that the Saints were determined to run the ball on short downs which is just weird given the respective strengths of the two teams.

--I don't know how folks can get too perturbed about the hits on Favre when Edwards drove Brees to the ground in the same exact manner with the ref standing right there and no call. And when Brees complains after the play the ref waves his hand at him and walks away.

--this whole play for a 50 yard field goal in a dome thing is completely out of control. Mike McCarthy did this in the Metrodome a year back when the Packesr go to the Vikings 33 with over a minute left and timeouts available. MM played it the same way as today by running straight into a brick wall. And then acted all shocked when Crosby 51 yarder faded right.

--I was impressed the Favre did the interview room after the game. Over his last decade in GB he would skip those leaving other guys to answer questions.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Totally agree on the end of the Vikes' last possession. Playing for a figgie is one thing when you're in range for a forty-yarder, or in non-sudden-death college. But settling for a fifty-yarder in the pros is nuts, even in a dome; at best you're taking a low-percentage kick, it's way too easy to get knocked back out of range (and that was the proximate cause of the INT), and there's no guarantee you'll ever see the ball again if you don't convert. It looks like the conservative approach, but it really isn't.

145 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Favre got at least one gift roughing call, where a perfectly legal hit at waist height just as he released the ball was called a personal foul (Jamarcus Russel or Joe Flacco probably doesn't get that call, but Brady/Manning/Favre do because they're Brady/Manning/Favre). But it was made up for a couple of plays later when two Saints rushers nailed Favre--one high and the other at knee level (this was the play that injured Favre's ankle)--in blatant violation of the new "Brady" rule, and no flag was thrown (it was on a 3rd down incomplete, so it would have given the Vikings a 1st down).

153 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

I think the gift call you're referring to was actually the correct call. The Saints' player (Hargrove?) did lift Favre up and drive him into the ground. I don't necessarily like this rule, but it was interpreted correctly.

The one they didn't call, however, was on an interception, so it would have allowed the Vikings to keep possession.

The real gift was the roughing the passer/late hit call in the first half.

38 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

The two conferences summed up by their championship games:
AFC: hard-fought, but fairly dull.
NFC: sloppy, but exciting.

And yes, this makes the Lions the only NFC team to never make a Super Bowl.

And the Vikings now take second place in 'Most years gone by since winning the NFC Championship'. That's pretty counter-intuitive. As are the teams in third (Washington, 91), fourth (Niners, 94), fifth (Cowboys, 95) and sixth (Packers, 97) — at least if you were around between the late 1980s and mid-1990s.

Yes, New Orleans is the ninth different NFC champion in nine years, the 14th in 19 years. And that's not because of fluky postseason play: the #1 seed has now won the NFC in 13 of those last 19 years.

By contrast, the AFC has gone: Pats, Steelers, Colts, Pats, Steelers, Colts. A fair division of the spoils among the decade's three best teams? The fourth-most recent AFC champion is the Raiders!

In those same last 19 years, the AFC has had only nine different champions — in fact, only ten in the past 25 years (and eleven in 40 years). Yet the AFC's #1 seed has been only half as successful as the NFC's at advancing: Indianapolis is just the 7th top seed in 19 years to win the AFC.

227 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

and yet the Lions don't even have first place in "most years gone by since playing in a conference championship game" ... or second (thanks to the Modell Compromise, otherwise the Browns' drought would have been ended by the Ravens) ... and they're even just tied for third with Washington.

If only I'd known at the time. I thought it was merely a reminder that the entire season was a joke and the Lions weren't really that good. Little did I know ...

At one point, the franchise was a game away from winning an unprecedented third consecutive championship. Of course, that was over half a century ago, and in true Detroit fashion, they lost by 46. (Ah, the '50s, when the Lions and Browns were good.)

Jacksonville and Houston will reach a Super Bowl before the Lions do. I'd say Cleveland and Detroit will do it within five years of each other. (Please not in the same year: I have good friends who are Browns fans and I don't want one of us to have to kill the others.)

It should be a fun Super Bowl in these parts.

If the Colts win, does that make Curtis Painter a better QB than Dan Marino?

230 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Yes, it's funny to think that, if I'd been around in 1957, I probably would have been bored with the Lions' success. And the Browns'.

Even so, for a while the Lions were the division rival I feared most, as a Packer fan. The 80s Packers were so bad, rivalries were impossible. But from 1992-95, just as it seemed the Pack was turning the corner, the Lions always got in the way. Firstly with the head-to-heads, which were often high-scoring Sanders-TD, Favre-TD affairs, and used to leave me a nervous wreck. Then Detroit won the division on a head-to-head over Green Bay in the final week of 1993, topped it again with a week to go in 1994, and would have snared the 1995 title from the Packers' grasp on a scorching seven-game win streak had it not been for the Braylonesque hands of Yancey Thigpen.

Seriously, if Thigpen had made that catch, the Lions would have had three divisional titles in five years, and the Packers none in 23 years. Green Bay's franchise-defining road win in San Fran likely doesn't happen; neither does the Lions' meltdown in Philadelphia. At that point, Mike Holmgren becomes 'choker extraordinaire' and……… who knows what happens next?

252 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Yes, I should have written, "were topping it with a week to go in 1994" — only to blow it on week 17, of course, being the Lions.

I can't think why I didn't perceive the Vikings as a bigger rival back then. After all they swept the Pack in 92 and 93, then won in overtime in 94 at the Dome. It might be that I've always rather liked the Vikings; or I figured their team was just better, and thus deserving. That's the effect that two decades of futility has: it inspires undue deference. But the Lions had been the Packers' equal in futility, and it seemed unfair that just as my team was improving, so was Detroit. Anyway……

Incidentally, that 1994 divisional title was a sham. The NFL still played a Monday night game on the final week of the season at the time, and in 1994 it pitted Minnesota against the 49ers. San Francisco was 13-2 coming into week 17, a game ahead of Dallas for the best record in the NFC; Minnesota was 9-6, tied with Chicago and Detroit atop the Central (and a game in front of Green Bay, with the tiebreak in the Pack's favor). When Dallas blew their Sunday game, the Niners had nothing to play for and pulled a Curtis Painter, airing third-string players such as, um, Ed McCaffrey, and leaving the Vikings to stroll to the title.

Bitter? Moi?

39 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships


Agree re NO running and getting stuffed. The W wall was obviously working and yet they kept smashing into it. Very odd.

Also agree re Farve, nice interview. Allen seemed to have 3 people on him at times, had a good game but the NO line scrapped well all day as well.

Re the NY/Colts game - Ryan needs to play the 2nd qtr to his team during the offseason - lots of upside for that team. Looking at Manning's face he seemed very sure of himself and his team, always felt they had NY's measure BUT they sure were pesky.

My call is Favre comes back for another season.

As I type I am playing Albinoni's adagio, very apt at this time of the day given the Vikes loss. The pain, the pain, the pain......


41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Aaron Schatz: "However, if we're going to be sticking to the rules as written, Bobby McCray should have received a personal foul for going low on Favre, the Carson Palmer rule."

It seems weird to call it the Carson Palmer Rule when it took 3 full years after his injury to get the rule added. I wonder what the delay was on that?

45 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

The rule for hitting quarterbacks below the knee was passed in 2006 and has nothing to do with Tom Brady.

Defenders are prohibited from hitting a passer in the knee or below unless they are blocked into him. This rule was enacted in response to the previous season's injuries to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Brian Griese.

Click here and you'll see that the Brady injury forced a "point of emphasis," not a rule change.

We can call it the Kimo von Oelhoffen rule, if you prefer.

54 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

To be precise, current Rule 12-2-13-5 was added before the 2006 season. It reads:

A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him;

Prior to the current season, the following notes were added:

Note 1: A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player.

Note 2: It is not a foul if the defender swipes, wraps, or grabs a passer in the knee area or below in an attempt to tackle him.

65 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Since the rules are a technical creation, I thought it'd be more useful to have the technical language rather than relying on non-technical descriptions of the rules. Whether you believe McCray should have been penalized under the rule as enacted before this year, under newly-added (for 2009) Note 1, or not penalized under newly-added (for 2009) Note 2, I don't really care.

42 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

i'm glad i won't have to watch jared allen killing payton manning.

on the other hand, i'm royally pissed that childress blew the playcalling at the end of regulation. even before favre forgot how to run in the open field the vikings should have played for more yards. don't take a chance on a 51-yard field goal when you have time to get closer.

new orleans doesn't seem all that far from miami. their fans will show in droves.

116 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

You're right that NO-to-Miami is a longer drive than some might realize, but using mileage makes the drive from Indy much more comparable than it really is. The NO-Mia drive is 12-13 hours, which is doable by one driver in one day. I strongly suspect that one driver attempting to go from Indy to Miami in one day would be a very bad idea.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

You have to go back a long way to find a Conference finalist gets whipped so badly yardage wise and win. SD in 1994 versus Pittsburgh - were out gained 415 to 226.

I wonder if a number 1 seed has ever been beat so badly yardage wise?

I think like the Chargers in 1994 weren't much competition for the 49ers, the Saints won't be much competition for the Colts. I expect to see one of the old time one sided Super Bowls.

101 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

I really don't know what to make of the Saints. They've produced most of the best displays by any team this season (Eagles, Patriots, Cardinals) but at other times played quite poorly. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if they got blown out horribly, but if they play at their best (which probably involves Bushrod not getting totally destroyed by Freeney) I would probably expect them to win - though not by much, the Colts are too good to get blown out by anyone.

109 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

New Orleans strikes me as a really skilled team but not very physical. Sounds funny to say after the hits they put on Favre - but their front gets pushed around by almost any team with a decent running game and their offensive line has been pummeled by Dallas and now Minnesota.

I see Indy as similar offensively (but less error prone) and much sturdier defensively. But Any Given Sunday.

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Will Carroll: Favre's ankle's no big deal. He had it taped. That's hardly "limited mobility" except in the strictest sense. He twisted it, it hurts, it will swell, so I'd be curious what he's doing in between series. I haven't seen anything shown.

Will, I think that's the first time I've every heard anyone say that the cameras weren't on Favre enough!

127 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

I think steps 2-3 are what got the Vikings into this whole Favre mess in the first place:

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

(I also like the Eagles)

52 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

There is no way the Bags Fly Free should even be in the discussion for most annoying commercial. The runaway winner has to be Jimmy Football from Bud Light. If I ever saw that d-bag in person, I think I’d have to punch him square in the nuts, and even that would only be the tip of the iceberg when compared to the trauma he has imparted upon us. What makes it worse is that Bud Light usually has some of the best (if there is such a thing) ads. This is not one of them. I feel less human each time I’m subjected to it.

73 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

There are a lot of worse beers out there. Which should not be misinterpreted. It's not actually good or anything. Just tasteless in a non-offensive sort of way. When its 100 degrees out and you're having 20 haven't tasted the last dozen, you may as well drink that or something like it. I'm not even sure it qualifies as "beer."

Hmmm... bland, tasteless, middle-of-the-road, weak, watered down. Are we talking about beer or rock-radio?

I actually liked some of the press conference ads. Until they got played over and over and over...

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

Surprised there isn't the usual whining from the horrific contingent of commenters in these articles about some kind of minutia posted in one of these pieces. You commenters are absolutely inept to read and I wish FO would disable the ability to comment on these pieces. You guys make a mockery of the work these guys do.

67 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

- I liked the Jets game plan, they played about as well a first half as you could have expected. The Colts were bringing their safeties up to stop the run, and they ran that play action pump fake to Edwards on 1st down ( great play by him acting like he was going to block), and then the Brad Smith play was on 1st or 2nd down. They really picked their spots well to run the trick plays. The Colts commited to not being run over, and the Jets made them pay.
- Phil Simms never mentioned it, but the 2nd sack of Peyton Manning he was looking for Dallas Clark who was knocked down after chipping one of the blitzers, Manning had not outlet so he did the smart thing and went down.
- I disagreed with the comment that the Jets flaws were injured... Kris Jenkins wouldn't have stoped those outside off tackle zone blocking runs as much, and Leon Washington would have helped on ST but not as much rushing as the Jets RB's played well. The Jets need a more viable passing game and they need Sachnez to grow and mature as a QB, they didn't lose because they were missing a DT and RB.

- The drive that ended at the 1 yard line FG, Manning had one of the most unbelievable drives you will ever see. He'd watch the Jets line up, and point out their blitzers, redirect his own guys, and he was RIGHT every single time... Pointing " Hey, #57 is blitzing", and he was right and beat it over and over and over again, picking up chunks. They get to the 1 and run that QB sneak which is a good thought but it just wasn't there. The Jets were guarding the A gaps and it didn't work. The other 8-10 plays though were amazing and show why Manning is the best ever. He's not having plays called in and executing them, he's calling everything out on the field like an orchestra conductor and executing them.

- The Vikings fumbled a lot, Drew Brees wasn't throwing spirals at the end of the game. Aikman and Buck missed it but I believe they rotate in more footballs than a regular game, and "new" balls. These balls are glossy and need to be "broken in". I don't know the exact number of balls in a regular game ( say 20 or so), but they might use 50 or so balls in a championship game or super bowl. I suspect that's why there were so many fumbles and Brees throwing wobbly passes.

- I think Favre should have ran it at the end to pick up 5 or so yards, but then again his legs were hurt and I HATE playing shoulda woulda coulda, he's NOT the reason why they lost, I hate blaming the last guy, when there were tons of other misakes, and it's no lock Longwell makes a 57 or 52 yard field goal with the game on the line.

- Joe Buck annoyed me this entire game, he started out with, "Live from New Orelans, the loudest stadium in the league". I love how in these champtionship games they try and make up a story within the story. NO is the loudest stadium? How many other teams say that? I love how a couple years ago all they talked about was how "tired" the defense is for being on the field a long time. It's always got to be a game within a game... They don't mention that as much in regular games, but now it's the new insight that's always talked about and the biggest thing in the world...

I won so much money yesterday on the Cols ML and Saints/Vikings OVER it's not even funny. I think the Super Bowl being in Miami favors the Colts as the venue favors their style of play over New Orleans who haven't played as well on grass...

69 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conf. Championships

I just want to make it clear that I believe all the fumbles were from lots of new and slick balls( and a fumble prone player), Buck never wouda thunk it but I'm surprised Aikman didn't. They use more and newer balls in those championship games, that's why Peyton Manning had such an emphasis on getting to them before his last super bowl and breaking them all in so they wouldn't be glossy... Another small detail the best QB ever looked into that most people don't even think about ( even high paid announcers).