And Then There Were Four

Still vying to hoist the 44th version of the Vince Lombardi Trophy after last weekend’s divisional round action.  A few semi-random thoughts in the aftermath:

1. All indications are that Saturday evening was the final game of Kurt Warner’s career.  Obviously his call but everything he has done the past couple seasons lends you to think his still got game.  Speaking of game, that was very easily the best game so far in the NFL portion of Reggie Bush’s professional career.  He ran through, around, and by Cardinals defenders all evening long.  At least as impressive though was the Saints defense holding the Cardinals to a mere 14 points.  I think the Saints, Colts, and Vikings all showed that they were correct as it turns out in resting their defensive players especially.  Their units looked April fresh.

2. The Ravens obviously lost their game with the Colts in the final 2 minutes of the 1st half, giving up the touchdown, then going 3 & out fast enough that Peyton Manning had time to drive his team down the field for another touchdown.  The 2nd score was aided greatly by a totally lame personal foul helmet to helmet on a defenseless receiver call against Ray Lewis.  Colts dude still had the ball when Lewis hit him, and the only reason it became head-on was because the Colts dude ducked at the last moment.  Lewis was going for helmet in chest to knock the ball out and he had no chance to change his angle when the Colt changed his.  Totally unfair call.  The other big play was Garcon’s hustle to come back and force Ed Reed to fumble during his interception return.  If the Ravens score the INT or with offense on the short field its a whole new ballgame.  Instead the Colts keep the ball and their comfortable lead.

3. Though I picked the Cowboys to advance all the way to Miami, I am not surprised they lost to the Vikings.  I was however a bit surprised at how one-sided the score was.  Dallas just couldn’t get Jared Allen and his friends blocked, and it caused missed chances to score.  I don’t know how many times the Cowboys offense crossed midfield only to get 3 measely points.  A certain amount of postgame chatter is devoted of course to the Vikings TD pass in the final 2 minutes while already leading by a bunch.  In defense of the Vikings it was 4th down and they weren’t kicking a field goal there.  Still, the conventional thing to do there was to run the ball.  If it gets stuffed you give the ball over and finish on defense.  If it gets the 1st down but not the end zone you take knees.  If it hits the end zone that’s the defense’s bad for not tackling you.  The bigger question though is why they also threw the ball on 2nd down?  I understand Keith Brookings’ anger, but its not something I am losing sleep over.

4. J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!  The Chargers have no one to blame but themselves here.  How many possessions did they have leading 7-0 or 7-3 when another score would’ve put a team like the Jets in a real bind?  Why were they running the ball so much when it wasn’t working, and simply was never going to work, given the Chargers are a passing team and the Jets have a good defense?  Still might very well have won if Nate Kaeding weren’t the anti-Vinaterri.  But give credit to the Jets.  They played fantastic defense and capitalized on their opportunity when Rivers threw the interception and they were patient with the run until they popped the long score.  Also, for the record, I agreed with Norv Turner’s decision to onside kick with 2:14 remaining, one timeout, and down 3 points.  Indeed I’m not sure how many people aside from Phil Simms didn’t agree.  If you kick deep your only hope is to stop them on the 3 & out with 1:10 or so remaining, get the ball punted to you, and drive without timeouts into field goal range.  If you onside and recover you have the ball, or you can not recover and play defense.  As it turns out if they stuff the 4th & 1 play they get the ball right about where a kickoff 3 & out punt scenario would have given them the ball.  Also, quite frankly, I think Turner had no faith in Kaeding.  Recovering the onside kick would’ve given them enough time to drive the length of the field and get the winning touchdown, whereas playing defense to get it back you probably don’t have time for that unless the Jets really foul up.

So now we have a Super Bowl III rematch for the AFC title, and the first ever NFC title game in Superdome history.  The Jets winning Sunday would be a smaller upset that backing Namath’s guarantee, but it would still be significant.  Not really any moreso than winning in San Diego was, though.  My assumption is this will be a tightly played game but that Manning figures out a way to get 2 or 3 TDs and 1 or 2 field goals and that 20-24 points will be more than the Jets get.  As for the NFC game the Saints are favored by roughly 4.5 points, which is barely more than the homefield 3, and with good reason.  This game is a tossup.  If the Saints play defense the way they did against Arizona they’ll score enough to win.  But that’s an if.  The weird thing is its been awhile since Adrian Peterson had a big game.  You can’t ignore him but I would gameplan for Favre primarily if I’m the Saints.  As for the Vikings their formula as always will be to bottle the run and get pressure on the quarterback.  Brees has so many weapons the only way you can cover it is to harass him before he can pick out a target.  And my guess is the Vikings do that often enough to sour the mood on Bourbon Street.

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