It’s one of the best weekends of the NFL season, with four of the league’s top teams in action with Super Bowl implications.
But it turned out to be pretty much of a dud when it came to exciting action, with only the fourth and final game really having any dramatics in the fourth quarter as the New York Jets beat the Chargers 17-14 in San Diego.
Lots of images and plenty of thoughts; no one asked, but here’s some observations, ideas, stats and opinions as the NFL reaches its final four.
FUN WITH FAVRE
It was fun watching Brett Favre have fun on Sunday as the Vikings crushed Dallas 34-3. Favre is an exasperating figure, with all the focus on him over the last two years concerning his divorce from the Packers, his year with the Jets, his retirement and his return to the league with the Vikings. There have been times when it seemed like the only reason ESPN was still broadcasting was to report on Favre and his plans whether in Green Bay, New York, Mississippi or the Twin Cities.
If you wonder why Favre still wants to play, all you had to do is watch him play this game. At the age of 40, he was running around and leading the Vikings like he was 25 years old. His enjoyment of the game and the situation was so obvious, so palatable that it came through the TV screen.
While Favre threw four TD passes, it was the defensive effort of the Vikings that pushed them into the NFC Championship Game against the Saints. He could end up laying an egg in that game against the Saints, but that won’t take away from the fact of what the opportunity means to him.
“This was why I’m here,” Favre said after the game.
And, it was fun to watch.
ONCE AGAIN, DEFENSE TAKES THE DAY
Four games in two days again drove home the point that if a team wants to win in the post-season, they must be able to play defense. There were no shootouts in the second round, just defense winning four games. The four losing teams scored a combined 34 points, or less than the 45 points the New Orleans scored in its victory over Arizona.
And again, stopping the run was the key. The four winning teams gave up an average of 85.2 rushing yards over the weekend. Only one team – Arizona with 101 – finished with more than 100 yards rushing. The winning teams averaged 125.2 rushing yards. That 40-yard difference spoke to the ability of teams like the Jets to run the clock and keep the Chargers off the field.
Turnovers are always important, and every winner in the eight post-season games so far has finished on the plus side. This past weekend, Indianapolis and Minnesota were both plus-3, New Orleans was plus-2 and the Jets were plus-1.
WHAT GOT INTO REGGIE BUSH?
There’s no question that since he was selected in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Reggie Bush has been disappointing and certainly inconsistent in his play with the Saints.
Bush has played in 52 games since taking his Heisman Trophy to New Orleans four years ago from Southern Cal. He hasn’t played a full 16 games since his rookie season. In the games he played, Bush has totaled 4,502 yards in rushing/receiving/punt returns on 826 attempts and 32 touchdowns. That’s an average of approximately 16 touches for 87 yards per game.
In the ‘09 regular season, he had just 725 offensive yards with eight touchdowns. That’s the fewest offensive yards he’s had in any season.
It’s all led to questions about his dedication, his work ethic and his desire. Then, came Saturday’s game against Arizona where Bush was the most dominant player on the field in the Saints 31-point victory over the Cardinals.
Bush had 12 touches for a total of 217 yards and two touchdowns. He returned a punt 83 yards for a score and had a 46-yard touchdown run. In fact, he has two touches for 129 yards and then 10 others for 88 yards. That big-play potential that every team would love to have in their arsenal is what was flashed by Bush.
If the Saints are going to beat the Vikings defense, they will need another game like that one from
ANOTHER POST-SEASON NIGHTMARE FOR THE CHARGERS
Well, they can’t blame this one on Marty Schottenheimer.
It was another post-season flop by the Chargers at home, just like 2004 and 2006 when they lost games when Schottenheimer was the team’s head coach. That defeat in ‘04 came to Herm Edwards and his Jets in overtime 20-17. The next year they lost to the Patriots 24-21 at Qualcomm.
All that talent on the Chargers roster over the last six years and they’ve been unable to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win one. They are now 3-5 in the post-season, and that roster of young talent is getting older and older. More than likely, RB LaDainian Tomlinson played his last game in a Chargers uniform and it was not a memorable performance, with 12 carries for 24 yards.
When general manager A.J. Smith finally convinced team president Dean Spanos to pull the plug on Marty, one of the reasons given was his inability to win in the post-season. That, and Marty wanted to hire his brother Kurt as defensive coordinator. Smith wanted his guy Ted Cotrell in the spot. So Spanos sided with Smith.
The Chargers relived a Chiefs nightmare in this game, as Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding missed three field goals, including a 36-yarder. That was the first kick inside the 40-yard line that Kaeding has missed since 2007. That was 69 straight FGs.
It was a Lin Elliott moment.
RUBBING IT IN
Favre’s fourth TD pass was an 11-yard toss to TE Visanthe Shiancoe with just under two minutes to play and the Vikings leading by 24 points.
Dallas LB Keith Brooking thought the last score was unnecessary.
“It was disrespectful and it was classless,” Brooking said after the game. “It just wasn’t the right thing to do at that time, period.”
Quoting former college and NFL head coach Lou Holtz, Vikings head coach Brad Childress said: “It’s our job to score points. It’s their job to stop us from scoring. It wasn’t rubbing it in. It’s just taking care of business and being aggressive at the end of the game.”
Did the Vikings rub it in? You bet. But Brooking should be yelling and sniping at his teammates rather than Minnesota. The Cowboys defense was supposed to stop them. They weren’t able to do that, so the problem wasn’t on the Vikings side of the ball, it was on the Dallas defense.
YES, THAT WAS KRIS WILSON IN THE END ZONE
The Chargers first TD of the game came on a TD pass from QB Philip Rivers to TE Kris Wilson.
That’s right, the same Wilson who was a second-round selection by the Chiefs in the 2004 NFL Draft. There he was celebrating in the Qualcomm end zone (left).
Wilson was just one of a bunch of Chiefs draft choices and players developed by the team that were still in action over the weekend, while their old team has been off work for two weeks now.
Let’s start with the Jets, where FB Tony Richardson is going to his first AFC Championship Game. Congrats to T-Rich.
Starting for the Saints in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota will be LB Scott Fujita, from the fifth-round of the Chiefs 2002 class. Former defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham didn’t think he could play anymore. From the class of 2004 was Wilson and fellow second-round choice DT Junior Siavii who played for the Cowboys. Of course, wrecking havoc for the Vikings defensive was fourth-round pick from ‘04 DE Jared Allen. And let’s not forget CB Benny Sapp, who started on Sunday for the Minnesota defense.
FROM THE PAGES OF SUPER BOWL HISTORY
On January 18, 1976, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 at the Orange Bowl in Super Bowl X after the ‘75 season. It was the second consecutive championship for the Steelers. Dallas took an early lead, as QB Roger Staubach hit WR Drew Pearson for a 29-yard TD pass.
Pittsburgh tied the score with a seven-yard TD pass from QB Terry Bradshaw to TE Randy Grossman. Dallas hit a field goal to take the lead again, 10-7. There was no more scoring until the fourth quarter, when Steelers RB Reggie Harrison blocked a Cowboys punt and it went out of the end zone for a safety. K Roy Gerela kicked a 36-yard FG and then added an 18-yarder to give the Steelers a 15-10 lead. With 3:02 to play, Bradshaw and WR Lynn Swann hooked up for a 64-yard TD pass. Gerela missed the PAT kick and Pittsburgh’s lead was 21-10. Dallas added a late touchdown, but couldn’t get any closer.
The Steelers defense had seven sacks, including four by DE L.C. Greenwood. They also picked off Staubach three times. Bradshaw completed nine of 19 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns. The Super Bowl MVP was Swann, with his four catches for 161 yards and one TD. He was the first wide receiver to receive the honor.
Norm Schachter was the game’s referee and the officials called no penalties on the Steelers and only two on the Cowboys. The national anthem was performed by Tom Sullivan. The half-time show was performed by the group “Up with People” that did a celebration of the American Bicentennial. CBS had the TV broadcast with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier handling the announcing. A 30-second commercial costs $110,000. Scenes for the movie Black Sunday were filmed during the game.
FROM THE PAGES OF AFC CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
On January 18, 2004, the New England Patriots beat Indianapolis 24-14 in the ‘03 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Players in cold, cloudy conditions with occasional snow, the Patriots jumped to a 15-0 lead at half-time and were never seriously threatened by the Colts. The New England defense intercepted four of Peyton Manning’s passes, while picking up four sacks and forcing a safety. The Patriots offense scored just one TD and five field goals from Adam Vinatieri. The only time they reached the end zone came when QB Tom Brady connected with WR David Givens on a seven-yard score.