Tag Archives: Colts

Big Blue Thoughts Week 7

Ten thoughts following the Giants 31-21 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T stadium in Dallas, Texas.

1. The Cowboys are good….- Naturally I reserve the right to change my mind but the eye test proves it.  The Cowboys are playing sound, power football and have the playmakers on the outside to make you pay if you overcompensate in the box (nice sexual reference I know).  The offensive line is basically the best unit going in all of football- better than the Legion of Boom Seattle secondary.  They are winning individual battles at the point of attack and helping to win games for the Cowboys.  The defense, as a result, doesn’t need to play as much and allows them to be fresh.  Remember, this is a unit that lost its two best players and still sits as the 22nd best team defense based on total yards surrendered, giving up the 15th most yards per game, 18th most pass yards, 21st most rush yards, and tied with Green Bay for 16th most points given up.  So how does a team that has a +1 turnover differential get such acclaim?  Because Rod Marinelli has tied scheme with the pieces given and formed a unit that likely will have to continue playing great football for not so long stretches of the game.  This is a team that had the ball for more than 31 minutes in the game they lost in San Francisco, then had it for more than 41 minutes in Tennessee, almost 35 minutes against the Saints, 36 minutes in OT against Houston, nearly 38 minutes in Seattle, and 33 minutes against the Giants.  The only time they LOST the time of possession game was against the Rams, where they had to pass their way to victory after going down 21-0 midway through the second quarter.  This is a team that makes no bones about its offensive identity: they will run the football with a physically imposing running back who has finally managed to stay healthy and the minute they think you’re cheating at the line of scrimmage they will throw the football to a physically imposing wide receiver who’s on the short list for dominant wide receivers in the sport.

Do I trust the defense in the second half of the season when the weather turns cold?  Just looking at their next month, they go against Washington on Monday night, Arizona at home, and then travel to Jacksonville before they hit their bye.  They could enter their bye 8-2 if we are to assume that they lose to Arizona and even then you can’t assume anything.  Then the schedule gets a bit more daunting.  Sunday night against the Giants, then a quick turnaround against the Eagles on Thanksgiving day, followed a week later by a game at the who knows where mentally they will be Chicago Bears, ten days later at the Eagles for what could be pole position in the division, home for the Colts and then close out the season against the Washington Redskins. who may have Robert Griffin back healthy with what looks like a slate of solid weapons.  If one were an optimist, and say the Cowboys run the table till the bye, let’s say they split the Eagles games, sweep the other two divisional opponents, and lose to the Bears and Colts, we’re still talking a 12-4 regular season.  Here’s where the Tony Romo, Jason Garrett era has always hit a hard thud, there will be one or two losses that could slip into that dreamy scenario that could ultimately undo them, but this iteration of the Cowboys seems markedly different than the play for the division on the final day of the season Cowboys teams that always stopped short.

Based on the records as it stands, the Eagles face a tougher stretch.  The Eagles have Dallas twice, but also have yet to play Seattle and they draw Green Bay by virtue of winning the division last year.  Let’s assume they beat Arizona at home which is no easy feat, and then beat Houston and Carolina.  Let’s say they split one of the two against the Cowboys and split one of two against the Green Bay and Seattle teams and then win out.  That’s a 13-3 record for the Eagles.  I trust the Eagles defense more than I do trust the Cowboys defense and those two divisional games between the two will be huge especially the December 14th showdown at Philadelphia.  Should be an interesting 2 months to see this drama play out in Big D and Broad Street.

2. …this loss means the end for the Giants? Technically no one is officially knocked out but look at the two schedules and the if everything plays out as it should scenarios for the two teams- Dallas, would wind up 12-4 or 13-3 and Philly would go 13-3.  The best record the Giants could get now is 12-4 and thats by running the table Jim Fassel style.  That means beating Indy and San Fran at home and then beating Seattle AT Seattle and then also beating Dallas and Philly once which would make things interesting again.  They end the regular season in Philly.  But to get there, they would have to get through that tough stretch completely unscathed and there’s no evidence that the Giants even make it out of that stretch 1-2.  Remember, these two games were as must-win as must-win can be this early in the season and they failed both times.  If you think the wild card will be there for the taking consider that one of the two spots will be taken by the Dallas/Philly group and the other spot will likely come from the NFC West who have the defending champions, the Niners, the Cardinals and a suddenly dangerous Rams team.  Good luck trying to slip in through the wild card.  Crazier things have happened and Giants fans can attest to that.  It will be difficult to envision the Giants going any better than 10-6 and barely missing the playoffs.  Of course, as the season goes on, you have the out of nowhere injuries to significant players.  The Cowboys don’t have the kind of depth on defense that can afford any type of major injury.  The Eagles are a sound team but if LeSean McCoy doesn’t start performing better and the offensive line continues to have the kind of injuries they already have had (they are playing without Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce), the season could turn and the Eagles could start to suffer.  But I still like the Eagles and Cowboys thanks to their schedules to make it out with double digit wins more so than the Giants.

3. Is it time to put an end to the fairy tale that was Larry Donnell? No.  Physically he’s still a match up nightmare.  Mentally one has to wonder if the young kid can put the two costly turnovers late in the fourth that ultimately cost the Giants Sunday’s game.  We won’t have the answer to that for a few weeks, but the Giants have capable players up and down the roster offensively to start making a difference and the “next man up” philosophy will be put to the test if he doesn’t take care of the football better.  One thing we’ve learned about Coach Coughlin is that he HATES players with fumbling issues and isn’t a coach that takes kindly to mental mistakes.  It bears watching how Coughlin handles this in terms of the depth chart.  Daniel Fells continues to be steady and reach the end zone, but I know coming into the season  The Giants are heading into the bye and perhaps time off will heal the wound of Donnell’s fumble but Coughlin will remind the young TE that a 3 TD performance in Washington does NOT a career make.  The play in question wound up being a 14 point swing when Donnell fumbled at the New York 27.  The Cowboys scored 4 plays later with a 1 yard TD run by DeMarco Murray.

4. Eli Manning continues to be mistake free….- But the Giants keep losing.  Eli’s career record when throwing for at least 2 TD’s and zero interceptions is 21-6 (.777 win pct).  Coincidentally three of the six losses were to the Cowboys.    When the Giants handed the offense to Ben McAdoo one of his chief responsibilities was to reduce the amount of interceptions thrown by Eli.  He’s already done a fantastic job.  Eli has thrown 5 interceptions in 7 games.  Compare that to 2013 when he had thrown his 5th interception by the fourth quarter of game number two.  The biggest question surrounding Eli has always been about his erratic play but there’s no doubt that the early returns on this new offense have been good.  Eli has limited his mistakes and some of that is due to the fact that he is no longer forcing the issue when being under pressure.  He’s making sure to throw those god-awful short throws at the knees of his running back rather than throw it and hope for the best.  Think about the effect that has on an offensive line that everyone agrees has not improved as much as the Giants brass would have liked.  The offensive line is projected to give up 10 fewer sacks this year than last and that’s with an eight sack performance at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles on their register.  While the benefits may not be seen now, mistake free football is what helped win two Super Bowls.  This can only lead to better things.

5. Andre Williams isn’t there yet.- And that’s ok.  The rookie was thrust into a role after a few highlights of him lowering the boom on some unsuspecting cornerback.  But you’re now seeing why he wasn’t projected as high on team’s draft boards.  He’s not as quick or shifty as the superstar running backs in the league.  He’s a pound it out in between the tackles 4 yards at a time the hard way kind of guy.  Those guys age quick.  Its the guys that can avoid the hits that last in the league and Williams hasn’t learned that trick yet.  Jennings, another big back, did a great job when he was healthy of showing burst once he hit the hole.  Williams runs into the hole and finds very little room to operate because he didn’t read the hole correctly.  That will come with time and repetition.  The Giants brought in former Jet Alex Green and former Cowboy Felix Jones for workouts but that’s more as a contingency.  They believe Jennings will be healthy enough to play after the bye.  But it does bear watching how reverting back to a part time role could make Williams more productive or if it has a negative impact on his development.  If he is in fact the future feature back, these few games may be the best thing for his development.

6. The defensive line is going back into its shell- The Giants went up against two above average (Philly) to really good (Cowboys) offensive lines and failed both times to generate any consistent rush.  Yes, their performance in Dallas was significantly better than it was in Philadelphia where it seemed like the Giants weren’t in the same league as the Eagles, but again a breakdown in fundamentals led to critical scores for the Cowboys.  Terrance Williams’ touchdown catch saw Tony Romo break to his left once he realized that JPP had taken an inside route to get the sack and he had acreage to run or stop, set himself and throw a touchdown strike to Terrance Williams.  It was similar to watching the Giants break contain against Shady McCoy.  The way to stop shifty players is to force them to try and go straight when they really want to run left or right.  Shady and Tony Romo are adept enough to wait for you as the defender to make the first move and give away where you’re going to try and get them so that they can instinctively make a counter-move.  The importance of being patient and allowing the player to fall into the hands of the defense are vital and the Giants failed both times.  During 2011, JPP had a knack for making the sure tackle and being excellent in run support because he was able to hold the point of attack on running plays and force the runner to either go way outside or shift back inside which led to short or no gain.  That’s the kind of performance we need.  Coach Nunn has promised to unleash DaMontre Moore and shift Kiawunuka to the inside on certain passing downs to generate  a pass rush but he said it with the nugget that he doesn’t think DaMontre Moore is necessarily ready to make that leap.  The Giants, more so than others, can be hamstrung by what they see in practice.  They recognize talent but if the talent doesn’t perform from Monday-Saturday they won’t trust it Sunday.  I’m not going to second guess them because their method has worked.  But sometimes you have to take chances that don’t have anything to do with your hand being forced due to injury.

7. Who deserves more credit? Tony Romo or Demarco Murray- Its a popular question but I offer this response: the offensive line.  That offensive line has changed everything for the Cowboys and I beg someone to say that the offensive line’s performance hasn’t been what has spurred the Cowboys resurgence this year.  As I wrote earlier, their affect on how long the defense has to stay out there, or their ability to wear opposing defenses out can’t be felt until the third and fourth quarter.  It reminds me of the offensive line the Giants had in late 2007  and throughout most of 2008.  The rushing stats for the Giants were unbelievable because the offensive line dominated the point of attack and forced the issue and moved buildings out of the way for the runners to run through.  Giving Tony Romo, an already talented quarterback, a running game and an offensive line that can pass protect well is creating the illusion that the Cowboys have an extra receiver on passing situations and a big TE blocking on running situations: it looks unfair.

8.  Why didn’t the Giants just keep passing it last Sunday?-  That’s a very good question and one that I think has more to do with how the game was being played and how close the game was until five minutes left.  Yes, the Giants were having success passing the football.  Eli played another fantastic, mistake free game.  But the fact is Tom Coughlin has always preached balance and he won’t change the identity of his team to suit the narrative of ONE game.  Remember, the Giants were trailing the Cowboys by 7 with 5:28 left in the game so there was no reason to panic and deviate from the game plan.  There is some merit to the thinking that perhaps the Giants should’ve gone pass heavy to set up the run and flip the script.  In the fourth quarter the Giants went pass heavy calling 12 pass plays to 4 run plays.  Technically the Giants did go pass heavy but two fumbles by Larry Donnell extinguished any chance of the Giants being able to score.  It will be interesting how the play calling changes if Rashard Jennings does not return after the bye.  Will the Giants rely heavily on the pass game?

9. Hey Rook, you’re a veteran now- That’s the headline that screamed this week as Victor Cruz’s injury now forces Odell Beckham to come into his own as a veteran.  I’m one of those guys who views injuries like this as opportunities for players who have the skill to put their talent on full display and I believe that Beckham will do just that.  I’m a fan of his route running, and his ability to get down the field and create mismatches.  Judging by “Drafting Giants” the NFL Films production that aired as a miniseries on the NFL Network, the Giants thought the world of him and love his pedigree; both his parents were professional athletes.  I did find it surprising that the Giants would be vocal about expanding his role in the offense.  There’s a difference in the tone that the Giants speak about him than say a Damontre Moore, a second year defensive end that the Giants feel similarly enthused about.  While Moore physically is able to dominate at the line of scrimmage, there are concepts he still is having problems with.  Beckham, who’s early injury put doubt into people’s heads about his toughness, sprung from his first game and immediately made an impact.  Whether its his budding connection with Eli which seems to be almost instinctive, or its his other skills that were on display from the day the Giants and other teams scouted him, it just looks like the added responsibility won’t be too much for the rookie receiver to handle.  An Adrien Robinson who has been the tight end of the future while the Giants keep inviting one year tryouts for tight ends has found it difficult to make it on the field on Sundays, and almost found himself completely out after Larry Donnell’s breakout performance the first few weeks.  The Giants aren’t sending mixed signals.  Some players progress a lot quicker than others.  Its just a nature of the game and the point of the game is to win.  The best players make the plays on Sundays and the best players play on Sundays.  For rookies, that means growing up quicker than maybe the  traditional process says.  But I don’t think Beckham minds.

10. Looking ahead- Well a bye couldn’t have come at a better time.  It feels like a coming to God moment for the Giants.  I thought they had to, at the very least, split the series against the Eagles and Cowboys.  Now, the focus comes to Indianapolis who has been playing excellently recently and that offense led by Andrew Luck and old friend Ahmad Bradshaw.  The Giants last played the Colts when they had a young buck called Peyton Manning as their quarterback.  This version of the Colt QB is just as dangerous if not more thanks to his physique.  If you thought Tony Romo was tough to bring down, I promise you Luck will be tougher.  Sacking Luck will require multiple Giants converging at the QB and even then, he has the arm and upper body strength to get the football out.  If the Giants don’t get pressure on Luck it will be a long day.  One player to keep an eye on: Dwayne Allen.  He missed virtually all of last season following a hip injury that put him on the IR.  His ability to block and be an able member of the passing game was a huge loss for the Colts but the Colts are a resilient bunch.  It forced certain players to play a more pronounced role.  With Allen back, a lot of players can now take their rightful place in the offense.  The Colts won’t expect Colby Fleener to block.  He can play the Dallas Clark role by lining up outside of the down linemen.  Allen’s presence is huge in this offense and the reason they have rolled off the kind of numbers they have.  Interestingly enough, the Colts last year played the kind of murderer’s row of schedules the Giants will.  Starting in week 3 the Colts played the 49ers in San Fran, the Seahawks at home, the Chargers in San Diego and the Broncos in Indy in five weeks and went 3-1 in those games.  So the lesson here is that it can be done.  The mistake free Eli needs to play those games.  If not, the Giants may not stand a chance and a bad 0-2 stretch can stretch into a nightmarish midseason which will give way to a pointless end of season string of games.  The Giants are now forced to win nearly all of the next few games against the Colts (at home), Seahawks (in Seattle), Niners (at home) and Cowboys (at home) to even survive and keep up with the Cowboys and Eagles.  Let’s remember, they have to win all of their division games thanks to losing to the Eagles and Cowboys in consecutive weeks.  This will be an interesting after the bye stretch.

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Daily Rounds 1/4/2012

And so it went in the NFL as more and more retentions and dismissals were announced.  Dean Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, announced that GM AJ Smith and head coach Norv Turner would be returning for the 2012 season but according to San Diego Union Tribune reporter Kevin Acee, both know that if they don’t make the playoffs in 2012, they will not get a similar vote of confidence from the owner Spanos.  Acee went on to write that much of this falls on AJ Smith, the GM and he knows it.  Meanwhile, Andy Reid was given a vote of confidence by the Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.  Les Bowen of the Philly Daily News said that despite all the harsh tone and sentiment, Jeff Lurie expressed confidence in Andy Reid, albeit in a limited time frame.   Despite the defense’s inability to stop many people, Paul Domowitch of the Daily News says that Andy Reid put Juan Castillo in a pretty uncomfortable situation and so he shouldn’t be left out to dry by Reid whatever decision he makes on the defensive coordinator.  Dan Graziano of ESPN.com says that the Eagle owner used the word unacceptable so much that bringing back Reid made the word meaningless.  The Bears let go of GM Jerry Angelo and Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes that it was thanks to an abysmal history of draft selecting that led to the former scout’s dismissal from the top job in all of Chi-town football land.  Dan Pompei of the Tribune writes that forcing Lovie Smith on the new GM is a recipe for disaster.  Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times writes that it was not enough talent as say a Green Bay or a Detroit that ultimately led to the dismissal of Jerry Angelo.  Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com says that the Bears made the right moves and threw out some names since the Bears are in the solution business.  Peter King of SI.com weighs in on all topics including how the dominoes may fall once the dust settles.  

Is that enough for you?  A day after the Rams fired Bill Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo and Raheem Morris was sent packing in Tampa, a few more jobs opened up in NFL offices and a few quite surprisingly stayed shut.  I want to focus on them specifically so let’s run them down one by one:

Chargers:  The biggest surprise of the day was that Norv Turner will wake up this morning as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.  If you hear talent evaluators and scouts talk about the job that AJ Smith has done in building the Chargers from perennial doormats to one of the elite teams, you’d think this team won a few championships.  Yet that’s the chatter among folks in the know:  the talent is there to win it all.  And that would lead one to believe that its the coach’s fault.  Right?  Wrong.  Apparently Norv has earned ONE FINAL shot at winning a new contract and it doesn’t necessarily mean winning a championship.  The Chargers are a very good team and over the final month showed that by playing well.  The regular season finale showed everything you needed to about the Chargers: their offense was clicking and yet the Raiders still had a chance in the end to win it.  The biggest problem the Chargers have is their head coach.  I’ve always felt that Norv Turner running an offense and Norv running a team are two totally different people and one easily out paces the other.  Some guys just can’t do the head coaching thing and it doesn’t take anything away from the offensive genius that Norv has, I’m just saying that perhaps the man would be better served wearing just that one hat than say the coach’s hat too.

Eagles: As surprising as the Chargers retention of Smith and Norv was, I wasn’t surprised by Andy Reid being given one more chance.  The shortened training season and programs limited the ability of Juan Castillo to install his defense and for Jim Washburn to install his wide 9 scheme.  But look at the raw numbers and the final 6 weeks and a different Eagles team started to emerge.  A team more confident and a team capable of scoring and playing with anyone.  Yes, the competition wasn’t all that but a team sometimes just needs to build confidence and say the Giants lost to the Jets and then the Cowboys beat the Giants in week 17, the Eagles would be hosting a playoff game.  Yes, as awful as that team played throughout the first 2 months of the season the Eagles still had a glimmer of hope heading into the final two weeks.  But there was just too much “unacceptable”-ness that couldn’t be ignored.  Reid’s decision to make Castillo, a former offensive line coach into a defensive coordinator was a dubious one.  The organization built a championship caliber defense to go with its high octane offense but I kept telling people that the offensive line was going to be a problem and it led to Vick getting injured and spending a ton of time on the side line.  The Eagles were plagued by mental errors and that falls on the coach’s lap.  Most of his decisions back fired on him during this season where all the expectations were that he not only make it to the playoffs but have a deep run.  None of that materialized.  Even in a very mediocre year for the NFC East, the Eagles with all that talent couldn’t win the division which is an upset in it of itself.  The next order of business will be to figure out what to do with Juan.  Hist last few games have been impressive and perhaps giving him a full offseason to help his players understand the scheme and the coverages may be of use.  BUT, Steve Spagnuolo, the former Eagles defensive coach is out there and there’s a rumbling among Eagle fans to retain him as the defensive coordinator a post he wanted a few years ago but was apparently held back by Reid which led to some tense times in Eagle land and eventually led to his emergence in New York as a Giant and a Super Bowl trophy.  The Eagles have plenty of tough decisions to make but make no mistake, the real unacceptable part will be this time next year if the Eagles are again left out of the dance, and Reid is looking for a lifeline: do NOT expect it from Jeff Lurie.

Bears: I agree with Dan Pompei- its tough to assume that the new GM and Lovie Smith will get along but there’s no denying that had Matt Forte and Jay Cutler NOT gone down with injuries the Bears would’ve been in the thick of things.  They were 7-3 and then Cutler and Forte went down.  I see them winning at minimum two of the games they lost.  They definitely beat the Broncos and they definitely beat the Chiefs.  That’s a 10-6 season and a wild card berth.  There were certainly holes and as Peter King pointed at the offensive line as a mystery that Jerry Angelo could never solve.  His draft record was poor and aside from Matt Forte, he didn’t draft a game changing star since trading for Jay Cutler.  But the biggest black mark was that Sam Hurd signing.  I don’t agree with it but Hurd’s arrest and charges and the fact that Angelo was accused of not doing a thorough background check may have been his undoing.  Bringing too much negative publicity may have been the final straw and there are several personnel moves that make you scratch your head.  That coupled with the fact that the Lions and Packers are teams that have been built from within and have the ability to have sustained excellence the Bears HAD to make a move to get on the boat of doing the same and bringing in a person who can draft well and help to build the core of the Bears from within.  That I feel was the biggest dilemma for the Bears who, like the Colts have masked a lot of their problems through scheme (Mike Martz also got the door) and great QB play.  The Bears had a decent team and aside from those two injuries to their most prominent offensive pieces, the Bears had very little shot of having a run with Caleb Hanie.  Lovie’s refusal to sit Hanie though was kind of odd and could’ve been the catalyst for his own firing.  Donovan McNabb may have helped the Bears a bit though even he would’ve been a long shot to cure the Bears considering their offensive line was just NOT any good.

Then there’s the decision that will REALLY make this offseason interesting.  The Indianapolis Colts fired Bill and Chris Polian Monday and owner Jim Irsay is setting the tone for a rebuilding year.  If that’s the case the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz says that means Andrew Luck will be the Colts QB in 2012 and Peyton Manning will be elsewhere.  Alex Marvez of FoxSports says that the best case scenario for the Colts would be that Peyton Manning’s neck isn’t healthy and it makes it easy for the organization to cut ties with the future hall of famer.  If not, there’s a major decision in the hands of a new GM.  Judy Batista of the New York Times says that the change was more of a cultural change as the Polians seemed to be outshining even the head coach Jim Caldwell who was spared the axing.  The decision on Caldwell will rest with the new GM.  

The Peyton Manning decision will be the most interesting personnel decision made by any one team that I can remember.  Imagine a QB with two or three more years of elite level at the quarterback position hitting the open market for teams to take.  Let’s take a look at the 12 teams that made the playoffs this year.  Out of the 12, 6 of them could use an upgrade immediately.  Imagine the Ravens with Peyton at the helm.  Imagine the 49ers with Peyton under center.  The Broncos may have Tebow magic but Peyton Manning could deliver them victories.  The Texans with Manning passing to Andre Johnson?  That’s Super Bowl worthy.  Then you open him up to owners like Daniel Snyder who has already said he would hand Peyton a blank check and let’s be real, he would and give him anything he wants.

But what about his legacy as a Colt?  In my estimation it wouldn’t suffer.  Look, this is a part of the business of football.  Teams are better off running superstars out of town a year early than a year late because of the propensity of injury in this sport.  The QB position especially is difficult.  Unfortunately the Colts won’t even be able to take advantage of having Peyton in the line up.  The Colts have until March 1st to make a decision on Peyton.  That’s the day that he’s owed a huge roster bonus upwards of $20 million.  His salary cap number will be a ridiculous $28 million which would be at the very least 1/6th of the teams’ cap number making it impossible to make additional roster changes.  The decision with the head is to finally cut Peyton Manning though it sounds harsh.  Its the right move for the organization that needs to look to its future and by firing the Polians they did just that.  We dont know what the Polians would’ve done had they been in charge of making that decision but Jim Irsay paved the way for a change.  Its something that had to be done.

Let’s not think that by any measure this is an easy decision.  Yes, Peyton’s neck surgeries the last few years are a troubling trend.  Yes, he’s getting older.  But his absence showed you how absolutely top heavy this team is in terms of production and play.  Without Peyton they are a doormat, a 2-14 disaster.  Its a result of bad drafting that has left this team woefully thin at several positions.  The Colts need to move forward and regardless of where you are as a fan, the right move is to release Peyton Manning so the Colts can build this team up the right way and give Andrew Luck a chance in the coming years to lead a good team.  If he’s as advertised if you build a solid offensive line, and get some more weapons along side Pierre Garcon (Reggie Wayne is most likely leaving and hopefully Austin Collie stops being concussed) the Colts can rebuild this team back in a division with the Texans who always have one reason or another why they can’t run away with the division.  Then there’s the Jags who are in rebuilding mode and are years away without a franchise QB at all.  Then there’s the Titans who are the second or third best team in the division depending solely on Indy’s play.  Again, this decision WILL NOT be easy but its necessary that the Colts look to the future and NOT hold on to the past.

Meanwhile the local football team in the playoffs, the Giants are looking at their battle tested schedule and wondering if they could take the 49ers and the Packers to the brink, why can’t they make a run?  Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News gets the players pulse.  Tom Rock of Newsday says that Antrell Rolle after giving props to Tom Coughlin continued the respect train and it stopped at the doorstep of fellow safety Deon Grant who sat him down and got him to be himself.  Osi Umeniyora played Sunday but suffered a setback on the high ankle sprain.  While he’s expected to miss some practice time do not expect him to miss the first playoff game in Metlife Stadium.  Mike Vaccaro says that the Giants can turn the volume up and bring some life to Metlife Stadium.  Paul Schwartz of the New York Post says that Giant fans shouldn’t compare any run the Giants may have with the one in 2007.  

Its interesting that Mike Vaccaro brings that up because the Giants in 2007 relied on a road reliable team to cruise into the Super Bowl.  The Giants rallying cry was road warriors and its been over 10 years since the Giants had a home playoff win so the Giants are overdue.  Its also interesting that the similarities between eerie events happening that year and the events of this year.  The Giants would love this team to author a similar ending and surely there is no super duper team that has no weaknesses that it would be the height of improbability that the Giants walk into their home this season and win BUT the Giants have a few glaring differences.  That team’s offensive line and running game were stout, both of which are concerns heading into the playoffs.

The Giants would have a similar up hill climb with the Saints being a very difficult task since the Giants would likely have to face them in the SuperDome where they are 8-0 this season and they are 10-0 in domes overall.  The Giants however have a passing attack which features Victor Cruz.  My biggest key going into the Falcon game will be how Nicks handles it.  Nicks is the unquestioned number one regardless of the feel good story that Cruz is.  Nicks is the move the chains/Plaxico guy who can make big catches and having both of them going at the same time would do wonders for this team and afford HUGE holes for the offensive line to work with.

The Giants need the defensive line to play lights out over the next month in order to have any chance to move forward.  If they don’t play well the secondary will get lit up.  Not a maybe, it WILL get lit up.  The pressure is on the defensive line to cause pressure and force mistakes.  The Giants will need all the help they can get.

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times believes that the Yankees are saving their cash to spend big next winter when guys like Matt Cain and Cole Hamels may wind up as free agents.  

The name to keep in mind is Matt Cain.  Cole Hamels will be retained by the Phillies barring some major malfunction on the organization’s thinking.  The Phillies have a ton of money tied up in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay (two worthwile contracts even at THAT price), but not retaining your home grown under 30 ace like pitcher would be the height of stupidity and the antithesis of how the Phillies have operated under Ruben Amaro Jr.  Cain however remains with the Giants, a team who will have to pay HUGE bucks to Tim Lincecum and will try to tie up Buster Posey (if they are smart) and I dont know where they are willing to go payroll wise but they would have to crack the $100 million barrier to afford both and I dont know that the Giants want to sustain that kind of payroll for multiple seasons which will eventually be what they have to do in order to keep the nucleus together.  Look, the Yankees were smart NOT to invite CJ Wilson to their facility for a try out.  Its clear the Yankees do NOT want to be used to drive up his price EVEN if it benefits them by making a fellow contender spend more but the Yankees are only going to gain an ace by trade.  My guess is that the Yankees somehow pry Felix Hernandez loose from the Mariners UNLESS Prince Fielder decides to sign in Seattle.  Seattle CAN operate as a big market club but are being built through the minor leagues by Jeff Zdiruneck.

My guess is that the Nationals sign Prince Fielder.  The Mariners trade Felix to the Yankees  for multiple pieces (start with Jesus Montero AND Dellin Betances and perhaps Gaby Sanchez) which IS the right move for both teams and the Yankees STILL don’t win a world series.  Look, I’m no Mayan but I’d be lying if I told you I thought the Yankees can expect to find another Freddy Garcia AND Bartolo Colon to offset their lack of pitching depth.  You know what you got in CC Sabathia (workhorse ace) and in AJ Burnett (5.00 ERA) and at some point in time the Yankees can expect Mariano to drop off in production though I would NEVER bet against the greatest closer in the history of the position.  I expect a slightly down year from Curtis Granderson.  I expect Robinson Cano to have an MVP year next year.  I expect the slow regression of the captain and Alex Rodriguez to continue and for Manny Banuelos to have a decent rookie campaign.  I even predict he makes the team from the outset of the season.

Finally, before quitting the blog for the day, Lynn Zinser of the New York Times talks about the repercussions for Santonio Holmes quitting on his team.  Now that Rex Ryan has been shut up for good, everyone else is doing the talking and its not complementary.  Mike Lupica of the Daily News calls Rex and the Jets the joke.  Brian Costello of the Post says that Mark Sanchez during an interview with 1050 ESPN took full responsibility for trying to make things right with Santonio Holmes.  Roderick Boone of Newsday said that Rex vowed to spend more time with the offense.  

Lynn hit the nail right on the head.  Often times when players are making certain decisions during the heat of the battle they rarely think about its consequences.  They give in to their emotions and let them  take control.  Holmes wanted the football.  He didn’t get it.  He pouted.  But the setting for that was the problem.  The season was on the line and as it turns out, the Jets COULD HAVE made the playoffs had Holmes kept his head in the game and made plays to help the Jets win the game.  BUT, what can’t be ignored is that Holmes criticisms have some merit.  The offense has stunk for some time now but at least over the last two years when the Jets went on extended runs they had some sort of identity:  they were a run-oriented offense.  They went away from that slowly with Holmes’ acquisition and Plax this year but to do that in addition to cutting several veterans who would’ve provided leadership in the locker room was a recipe for disaster.  Add that to the fact that the training camps were cut short by the lockout and the team had very little time to get acclimated to the new system the Jets were setting themselves up.  By the time they tried to revert back it was too late.  They had squandered too many games and another year out of a great defense.  The Jets face a tough question but my choice would be to keep Santonio.  The Jets need to bring in a QB to really challenge Sanchez.  You want to see your franchise guy man up and win a QB competition straight up which is why throwing money at Matt Flynn is a good idea.  Of course if Peyton Manning comes into play you could make a run but with the Jets current cap situation he would have to take a lesser deal to come to the Jets though he may want to do that with how close the Jets are and the chance at playing Tom Brady twice a year.  But who knows, right now Mark Sanchez has to do what he can to reclaim that locker room because he’s NOT a leader that can voice his opinions.  Santonio had NO RESPECT for him and thus missed meetings that he tried to set up.  That kind of insubordination deserves a huge presence by Rex who needs to give up this idea and belief that he can coach anybody and focus on putting together a good team not necessarily the most talented one.

The Jets were once a team and I think most players would love to play for a coach like Rex Ryan who wears his emotions on his sleeve but Rex needs to take a step back and assess exactly what went wrong.  My opinion?  Get rid of Schotty if you are going in a different direction at the QB.  IF you get Peyton ax Schotty and get a decent offensive coordinator to take his place.  I would pray that Schottenheimer gets the Jaguars job which is apparently open.  The fact is, the Jets need help in the locker room which wasn’t the case until this year.  Either way, they want their players to quit the baby act and not quit on themselves.

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Finally, the ending America wanted

Happy endings are always fun aren’t they?  Nowadays, you sit and watch a movie that run as long as Indian movies (think almost 3 hours), and hope that you will be rewarded with an ending that you want to see.  We’re cynics nowadays anyway right?  Sometimes the happy ending isn’t what we want to see.  I remember watching “Departed” and loving the scene where basically every person got shot in the end.  Then I thought to myself, what kind of sick human being am I that I could love seeing 3 human beings shot and killed and finding some enjoying in it.  Then again, in our American culture, we glorify killers, thugs and gangs so it stands without reason that we’ve been conditioned to like these darker heroes.  After all, we didn’t like Batman with George Clooney and the hard nipples, we liked Christian Bale and the darker Batman.

But happy endings nowadays are few and far between.  So how great was it to see the images of Drew Brees, with tears in his eyes, holding his kid and chatting it up with him.  Tom Benson lifting the Super Bowl trophy and the city’s hopes over his head in triumph.  Sean Payton, on the shoulders of his players, emphatically swinging his cap with force which might have suggested him saying “hell yeah.”

If you weren’t a Colt fan before this game, how could you possibly rationalize rooting for them?  You could be a Peyton Manning fan and still want the Saints to win.  So before the game I was asked who I was rooting for and I said I really had no particular rooting interest but my money was on the Colts to win and for the reason I stated (that being Peyton Manning), I felt pretty good about my choice. But something interesting happened when the game began.

Since the Super Bowl’s intended purpose of making it a neutral site is to allow fan bases of both teams to have equal numbers there, it goes without saying that nothing happens the way we’d like it to so what I enjoy doing is to hear the crowd noise for the first series.  Every pass completed, and every pass dropped and everything else in between.  Whichever fan base is the loudest, you know who the “home team” is.  Go back to the first series and tell me that it wasn’t an overwhelmingly pro-Saints crowd.  But the Saints weren’t just the home team last night, they were America’s team.  The team America wanted and as the game wore on and they got down 10-0, I found myself firmly planted in the Saints corner.

I imagine that’s what happened to most of America.  This was not the way we wanted it to end.  Ask Dan Marino, no one is ever promised multiple trips to the Super Bowl.  Its tough and its grueling and almost impossible to replicate greatness over a long stretch to where a team will end up in the Super Bowl year after year.  When the Colts went up 10-0 and Peyton did his defiant fist pump and nonchalantly jogged off the field, I was almost feeling a sense of anger.  Why anger?  Because the storyline of Katrina and the devastation it had caused crept in me.  Sean Payton the former OC of the Giants who they let go after a dispute with Jim Fassell deserved a chance to justify everyone’s belief in him.  Because Drew Brees, the guy who was on his way to break out status with the Chargers injured his shoulder was put to the back of the line and was given a chance with a city that would need rehab just a year later.  Because somewhere deep in my heart, through all his antics I could see how Jeremy Shockey felt more a part of this championship than he ever did with the Giants and I wanted to see him hoist one up.  Because there was just so much to like.  Because their “Who Dat” trademark is so a part of that culture that it almost seems like a different language and cool at the same time.  Because the next shot of Peyton’s family just giving their best golf clap, assured of yet another Super Bowl trophy to put on the mantle seemed almost aristocratic that it rubbed me the wrong way.  Tell me I wasn’t the only one waiting for the “the Manning family wardrobe sponsored by IZOD” ad.  Because their team name is the Saints.  Think about it.  How could you root against a Saint?  How could a Saint be a bad guy in any scenario?  Even Boondock Saints with excessive violence are considered the good guys.

So at that point, I became a Saint fan.  I was ready for a hot plate of gumbo, some beads on my neck and some jazz music in the back ground.  I dont want to say that I was the reason that the Saints outscored the Colts 31-7 the rest of the way or to say that somehow from where I was watching I put it in Sean Payton’s mind to go for the onside kick to “ambush” the Colts the way they did to begin the second half.  I wasn’t.  But as any fan who likes the end result of any contest, I feel I had a bit part and a very very very tiny stake in their championship and other than my Giants or the Jets, there’s no other city I would rather see win a championship than the city of New Orleans.

As for the game here are some of my thoughts:

SEQUENCE OF THE GAME: Its probably the least attractive title for this but it must be said.  I will get to the play of the game which is obvious to anyone who watched the game.  Let’s set it up:

The Colts score with 0:36 left in the first quarter and lead 10-0.  The Colts seemingly have all the momentum.  Manning just drove 96 yards and hit Pierre Garcon with one of three passes that you just had to shake your head at how good he is.  Over the top of defenders and right into the hands of a player in mid stride.

Saints take over with :30 left at the 11 after a holding penalty.

Here’s the play call:

Run,(end of first quarter). Pass to Colston for the first down.  Run with Bush for 8.  Run with Bush for a yard and a late hit penalty that gave them an extra 15. Pass to Pierre Thomas for 9 yards (Broke two tackles).  Run by Pierre Thomas for a yard and a first (Broke a tackle).  Pass to Colston for 11 and another first. Run by Pierre Thomas for a yard.  Pass to Devery Henderson for 6 yards.  Sack by Dwight Freeney on 3rd down (on a bull rush by the way; how’s that ankle Dwight?).  Hartley field goal for 46 yards.  By the way, it was his longest field goal outdoors.

Drive length: 43 yards in 10 plays and 5:54 in game time.

Colts take over with 9:27 in the second quarter

here’s their play call:

Pass to Joseph Addai  for 9 yards.  Run by Addai for minus 3.  Incompletion to Pierre Garcon on a very good throw by Manning.   3 and out.

Drive length: 6 yards in 3 plays and 1:04 in game time.

Saints take over at the 27 after a punt and 8:14 left on the clock.

here’s the play call:

Pass incomplete to Shockey (high throw and almost intercepted).  Pass to Pierre Thomas for 7 yards (another tackle broken).  Pass to Colston for 13 yards and a first down.  Run by Bush for a yard. Pass to Shockey for 7 yards. Pass to Lance Moore for 21 yards. Devery Henderson on a reverse for  minus 7.  Pass to Marques Colston for 27 yards.  Pass to Lance Moore for 0 yards. False start by offense for a loss of 5 yards. Run by Pierre Thomas for 7 yards. 2 minute break.  Loss of a yard by Mike Bell. Fourth down and a yard and they get stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Let’s pause here for a second.   Here’s why I am not a head football coach.  I thought it was a huge mistake to go for it on fourth down.  Peyton had been stopped for one 3 and out but the reason was that Pierre Garcon had missed a ball that hit him on his hands so the chances of that happening again were slim.  The Super Bowl is one game sudden death and so having the correct feel for each moment of the game is crucial and I felt if I were Sean Payton that getting 3 points as opposed to going for a touchdown was far more important because you needed to keep putting up points.  The fact that they got stopped was the absolute worst thing that could happen.  But Payton went for it.

Then when the running play went to the same side as the play before it, I was baffled.  Why not throw it up to one of your 6 feet and taller recievers to see if they couldn’t come down with it?  Suddenly the Saints were playing power football?  Also, they ran to the outside which plays to the strength of the Colts defense which is predicated on speed and closing in on the football.  By jumping to the outside, the Colts used that advantage and got to the attack point quicker.  At this point, I thought uh oh, Peyton’s now going to drive 99 yards and score before the half and all the air is going to come out of that Saints bandwagon I had jumped on after 36 seconds in the first quarter.

Drive length: 72 yards in 12 plays 6:25 of game time. 0 points.

We can all agree that at this point, the Colts had the momentum.

Manning from the 1 here’s the play call with 1:49 on the clock to end the half.  Remember that the Colts are set to get the ball back.

Run by Mike Hart for 4 yards. Run by Addai for 5 yards. Timeout Saints.  Run by Addai for 0 yards. Time out Saints. Colts punt.

Now think about that for a second.  Manning and the Colts just saw the Saints stonewalled with a yard to go so they dont want to make the same mistake and can’t afford to being backed against their end zone so I don’t fault them at all for not going for it here although if there’s one QB that can draw up a play and get a yard its Peyton, but let’s not fuss over that.  Remember how I said that I wasn’t cut out to be a head football coach?  Well here’s why.  The Saints had 3 timeouts.  When Peyton called a run play that surprised no one, I figured ok, why aren’t the Saints calling timeout?  It was then brought to my attention by Phil Simms that they were trying to use only 2 timeouts during the Colts possession and use one for their possession which is smart and economical.  That’s all predicated on the Saints stopping them in the next two plays.  When Addai ran for 5 and set up a third and one, the Saints didn’t call a timeout until they let 11 seconds run off the clock which who knows what the Saints could’ve done with an extra 11 seconds but let’s not play that game.

Ok, so let’s resume.  Punt to Bush run back 5 yards.  Saints start off at the 48.  0:35 left.

Pass to Devery Henderson for 20 yards.  Run up and spike to stop the clock (15 seconds elapsed between catch and spiking the ball).  Pass to Henderson for 6.  Pass to Bush for a yard and he steps out of bounds.  Hartley hits a field goal from 44 yards.  His second of the quarter and only the second player to hit two longer than forty yard field goals in the Super Bowl.

Drive length: 27 yards in 5 plays and 0:35 seconds of game time and 3 points.

Why was that entire quarter summarized?  Because the flow of the game and momentum switched three times.  That quarter was one big pendulum swing and the team that ended it with the momentum went on to win the game.  Remember when I thought they wouldn’t get those 3 points back and thought it was a mistake that they didn’t come away with points to end the half?  Well let’s now look at it from the perspective that we see it played out from.  The Saints went for it thinking, even if we don’t hit the field goal, we pin the Colts at the one and now they have to play conservative run football just to get out of the endzone and try to milk time off the clock.  They are going to play conservative.  We stop them on 3 plays, use two timeouts and we still have a little under a minute to drive to get back those three points anyway.  Or we hit a big play and score a touchdown.  That’s how it played out.  That’s why the momentum went back to the Saints, because even when geniuses like me thought they were losing the momentum, it still worked.  So much for me as a head coach.

PLAY OF THE GAME:  Obviously its the onside kick and I will tell you why.  Its ballsy.  Its exactly what they called it: an ambush.  That’s what Sean Payton called that play to his kicker who had NEVER attempted the kick in his life.  Think about that.  A punter who had just started practicing that kick 12 days ago in what is one of the biggest gambles of the coach’s career.  Either its successful and he’s a genius or it doesn’t work and he’s a fool.  Credit Peter King for all this info since I read it in his MMQB (a must read for any real football fan).  In the article, Peter mentioned how Payton had seen how the Colts kick off teams cheated sending two players back to defend the run back which left the Colts woefully thin up front which left them susceptible to the onside kick.  Why not attempt it earlier?  Payton wanted to set it up and now with the Saints having the momentum and half time being longer than usual since its the Super Bowl and it takes time for Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend to put down their pipes and get off the field, Payton figured why not get momentum while its there to be had.  Great play by a coach who obviously didn’t blindly go for it and had reason to believe it would work.  Solid reasoning based on information he had gathered while scouting the Colts.  That’s why Payton won the game.  His game management skills and properly assessing the flow of the game helped win this game.

MVP:  DREW BREES. Sometimes, the Super Bowl MVP award goes to the most popular player on the team or the QB.  No other way.  But in this case, who else to give it to?  Drew Brees tied the record for completions in a Super Bowl and went a methodical 29-32 after the first half which included a spike in those 3 incompletions.  So really its 29-31 after the first quarter which gives him a 93.5% completion rate.  He ended with  a 32-39 line (82 % for those scoring at home) for 288 yards and 2 TD’s.  A completely efficient performance which fully cements him in the conversation of upper echelon QB’s of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

INDY REACTION: On facebook, an interesting question was raised by a friend of mine.  Brett Favre throws that INT and he’s an idiot and a moron.  Manning throws it and its a bad route run by Reggie Wayne or a great play made by the defender.  Well, to clarify the point I made, Favre’s backbreaking INT’s as evidenced by the one that he threw against the Saints in the NFC Championship game are head scratchers.  The ones that make you immediately yell out “what the %$#@ were you thinking?”  This interception by Peyton was his worst throw of the afternoon considering he wasn’t facing as much pressure.  Peyton played a great game in the first quarter and then was rendered useless for the remaining 3 quarters which is more a credit to the Saints defense and Offense winning the time of possession battle.  That second quarter was so crucial for the Saints because they kept Peyton off the field for the most part.  Credit Tracy Porter for jumping the route.  That was all Tracy Porter on that interception and return.  We can all point the finger at Peyton but let’s give credit where its due and not look to play the blame game on this one for once?

For the most part, Peyton continued to show why he’s still the best QB in the business throwing 3 passes that have to be shown in loop to every young QB in the game.  His pass, while moving to his right and hitting Dallas Clark in the fourth quarter over 4 defenders had to be one of the greatest throws I’ve ever seen.  Talk about putting it right where it had to be.  His other pass was the very first completion to Dallas Clark, just an incredibly tight window and he fit it right where it had to be.  Throws like that make it hard to put anyone else number one.

When Peyton got the ball and down 24-17, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t believe that Peyton wasn’t going to drive down the field and score and tie the game.  I was waiting for it to happen.  Then when he got intercepted, I looked up at the clock and despite common sense and everyone in the room telling me it was over, I still held out hope that if any QB on the planet could pull this one off, it was Peyton.  That’s how good he is ladies and gents.

All in all a very good Super Bowl.  Not quite as good as the last two years but then again expecting three games in a row that came down to the final minute would be a bit much.  Hopefully 2011 in Dallas will be a great one considering we might not see another one for a while.

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Colts vs. Jets post wrap

After Championship Sunday that delivered probably the best offensive match up between two Super Bowl combatants, its the losers that are getting all of the attention.  We will get into the Brett Favre fiasco in a minute but let’s first start off with the hometown Jets.
Just like last week and the week before, the Jets played one half more dominant than the other but instead of finishing strong, the Jets started off strong and tailed off late.  In the first half, Rex Ryan’s blitzers (especially the first few series) were able to tee off on Manning and get him flustered.  They were pushing the offensive line of the Colts and using their bulk to get a great blitz.

What was the turning point?  It actually came when the Jets with a 14-6 lead got a fumble recovery after Calvin Pace got in to the Colt backfield so early its like he was hiding there at the snap and hit Joseph Addai right after the handoff and forced the fumble which Jim Leonhard recovered.  There’s 3:40 left in the half, they are at the Colt 35.  Here’s the play sequence:

Run for three yards by Thomas Jones.

False start by offense which pushed them back 5 yards.

Run for a loss of four yards by Thomas Jones.

Run for Thomas Jones by 5 yards.

Field goal made by Jay Feely from 48 yards.

Basically the Jets settled for 3 points.  Some can make the point that after a penalty and the negative play the Jets didn’t want to force anything down the middle and wanted to get into better field goal range.  Fine.  But on second down, the Jets could’ve ran a quick pass play to try for the first down.  The passing game was decent during the game when it was close, but the Jets still not trusting it enough in a key spot went in with the mindset to run the football.  They had already lost Shonn Greene for the game, and they were down to Thomas Jones who just didn’t have the burst and did that stutter step on a really quick Colts team that continuously got to him.

What did Peyton Manning do?  They took over at the 20, with 2:11 left

1st and 10: Incompletion to Dallas Clark

2nd and 10: Completion to Austin Collie for 18 yards.

2 minute warning

1st and 10: Completion to Austin Collie for 46 yards.

1st and 10: TD pass to Austin Collie for 15 yards.

The Jets ran three plays and got 3 points.  The Colts ran 4 and scored 7.  In both of these instances, the Jets and Colts had to score.  The Jets needed 7 to pad their lead after a rare Colt turnover.  The Colts needed 7 to respond to the Jets scoring and having all the momentum.  In four plays, the Colts marched 80 yards and scored.  In three the Jets couldn’t even get 10 for a first down.  That’s the difference.  That was where the Colts found their rhythm.  Where Austin Collie stepped up and proved he was a reliable threat for Peyton.  On three consecutive pass plays Peyton hooked up with Collie almost following him down his route until he got to the spot Peyton needed.  Right there is where the Jets lost and the Colts won.

Years ago, when Peyton won the Super Bowl I made the statement that his victory over the Patriots was bigger.  That was his Super Bowl.  He couldn’t seem to get the Patriot monkey off his back.  We were beginning to question whether he could ever come through in a clutch playoff game but after finally having a playoff game at home, he not only beat the Patriots, he came back on the Patriots which was far more liberating.  When sports legends have that “a-ha” moment, its huge.  They finally figure it out.  Its like Neo in the Matrix seeing everything in code and stopping the bullets.  His confidence renewed, the best always realize that every ounce of doubt resides in their heads.

Peyton had his moment in 2006 when he beat the Patriots.  I said then that Peyton could conceivably win a few Super Bowls now with that new found knowledge.  He was his own play caller.  His own coach.  No player is more respected than Peyton Manning.  None.  He was the only thing holding himself back.  Football is a team game but if anyone can make it all about him its Peyton.  Even if he sees his offensive line not giving him time, he will switch up the game plan for shorter routes so that his O-line doesn’t have to defend for too long.  If his O-line gives him too much time and they are covering the long routes, then he’ll dink and dunk you to death and throw in a delayed hand off to keep you honest.  Once he figures it out, its too late.

When he was going down in the first quarter thanks to the Jet D, he was merely studying his victim.  He was seeing its tendencies.  He was big game hunting.  It wasn’t until he got mad that he finally saddled up and took the reins and took control of the game.  After that score, the Jets never scored again.  The Colts then put up a 17-0 second half to win the game.  Once the Colts had the lead the defense could go to town and with Peyton Manning running your offense, the defense had the luxury of taking some chances.  You could just see it in his eyes.  He had figured it out and was going to nail each throw.  Second half was about playing pitch and catch with Pierre Garcon who everyone can be happy had a big day.  His hometown of Haiti having been devastated from the terrible earthquake was a under the radar draft pick from a division 3 school.

My theory on division II players is this: if they get drafted, they have to prove that they were flat out dominant.  Three years at Mount Union College in the Ohio Athletic Conference, he averaged in his three years there: 60+ catches, 1000+ yards, and 15+ touchdowns there every year.  Not dominating but still really, really good.  Something about his style made the Colts take notice and draft him.  This year was supposed to be a step back year for Manning because Marvin Harrison was gone and so was Tony Dungy.  But Peyton, proving once again why he is the best football player alive, took what he had and made it work.

Take away Wayne and Clark?  Fine, meet my new guys Collie and Garcon.  Garcon set a record for most receptions in an AFC Championship game with 11.  The genius of Peyton.  The emergence of Collie and Garcon.

Here’s another stat that’s most telling about how thoroughly the Colts defeated the Jets.  The Jets were far and away the best running team in football.  No debate or need for discussion.  The Jets rushed 29 times for 86 yards which is at a 3.0 ypc.  The Colts rushed 24 times for 101 yards for a 4.2 ypc.  The Colts out ran the best running team in football.  Forget that they outgained the Jets through the air, the offensive line with a chip on their shoulder went in with the mindset to run the football and take the game through the ground and they did that.

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Week 17

Its Week 17 in the NFL and despite our best attempts many of your favorite NFL players will be warming the bench.  Does this take away from the integrity of the game?  There’s this idea that NFL coaches want you to believe: win at any cost and you play to win the game.  Those rules don’t matter when playoff seeding has been decided and coaches suddenly remember that this is a violent sport.

Don’t get me wrong, strategically, this is the right move.  Risking injury in an otherwise meaningless game is the kind of decision that coaches can get fired over.  The risk is far greater than the reward.

However, last week, the decision made by Jim Caldwell to sit Peyton Manning and other starters was not only the wrong decision, it was an unfortunate one.  I will get to who it was unfortunate for.

Sitting Manning and others in the middle of an undecided game robbed the fans of something that every fanbase should be entitled to; the chance at perfection.  Manning’s brilliance has been on full display this season, one in which he was supposed to take a step back.  His record consecutive season streak of winning 12 games was supposed to be snapped and the loss of ol faithful Marvin Harrison was supposed to be devastating along with grooming two new receivers.

Somehow, Manning has taken his level even higher.  I argued when Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl, and beat the Patriots in the process, that Manning had finally “got it”.  Its that mental big game IQ that automatically makes that great player even better.  When Jordan finally beat the Pistons and won his first championshipn he never looked back.  With a good supporting cast he could win every year all on memory of what it takes.  That big game IQ is so advanced in the great ones that its ultimately difficult to see them stopping from winning championships as long as they have a decent supporting cast.  Jordan’s last 2 titles against Utah was won because he knew what it took to win those games and Karl Malone and John Stockton didn’t.

That IQ is being put on display this season.  Everytime a game seems close, Peyton digs deep into his big game IQ and pulls another one out.  All he asks of everyone else, is that they be in the right spot everytime.

The call to take Peyton out robbed the Colt fans and football fans of seeing our living legend from doing what he does best: win.  Not because his team is better, but because he’s undoubtedly the best player on the field on every occasion.

There wasn’t a doubt that the Colts were going to win that game.  None.  It was 15-10 after Peyton answered a Jet special team TD with a TD drive of his own.  I hate to simplify the difficult chess match that football is but when its Peyton Manning it is that simple.

Don’t blame Caldwell, this decision, like every year, was made by GM Bill Polian.  His reasoning is based on sound reasoning: he’s not trying for a perfect season, he’s trying for a Super Bowl and in order for him to achieve that, he must protect his best players from the risk of injury.

That’s fine, except, the Jets don’t get the respect of earning that victory and headlines of the Jets ending their perfect season ring hollow when you consider how it all played out.

This week, the Jets play a Bengals team, who also have very little to play for.  A team unwilling to risk injury to play for competitive pride.  Of course the problem is this: we have an example of a team with nothing to play for on the final week of the season playing for only pride and it paying off.  The Giants in 2007 decided to play the Patriots at full strength even though they had locked up a playoff spot and look what that resulted in.

But teams are not that interested in moral victory to risk the public lashing if Peyton Manning gets injured and ruins a possible Super Bowl victory.  We applauded the Pats for going for it and the Saints and Drew Brees earlier this season when they said they would go for it too.

Now for the unfortunate people in this story.  The wronged are the fans.  The unfortunate ones are the owners.  Next season will likely be played without a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) in place which means it will be an uncapped year.  One of the major sticking points will most certainly be the idea to extend the season to 18 games.  Imagine if you will your team at 14-1 having locked in a playoff seed.  Week 17 in a rather meaningless game, they will most likely rest the starters making 4 weeks of meaningless football being played in front of half interested fans who hate themselves for taking out that second mortgage in order to pay for season tickets.  The fans will not go for that.  They were in outrage last week over the Colts, just imagine how it plays out when the owners demand an 18 game season and get it.  There will be a downward spike in ticket sales and in the midst of an economic recession, it could result in a very bitter winter indeed for many owners.

Owners can force the players into playing but they run the risk of alienating their coaches who would favor sitting the players.  The owners are staring down the barrel of a very difficult decision: play an 18 game season and hope its competitve for the most part, OR face backlash from fans who will most certainly not pony up extra cash for 2 more games when they are already paying for 4 preseason games.

Single ticket sales may see a spike but that’s because there will be more seats to be had and the risk of a half empty Lucas Oil Stadium could ultimately be bad news bears for the bottomline of teams.

In my opinion, we should keep seasons to 16 games.  The best part of the NFL is that its such a limited amount of games that we look forward to the season and love it and we want more.  The greatest showmen will tell you that you should always leave your audiences wanting more.  Not only will non competitive games be played, Sunday afternoons in December and early January will be meaningless.  That can’t happen.  More games mean there’s an even greater chance that a Peyton Manning gets injured.  Last season when Tom Brady got injured in the first quarter of the first game of the season, the NFL got robbed of the Patriots response to them losing out on the Super Bowl and the perfect season.  Who knows how it wouldve played out.  Injuries do that and teams constantly play in fear of that risk.  Let’s not increase that risk so that week 17’s for years to come will actually mean something.

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