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The Divisional Payoffs


Practice Squad
Nov 29, 2006
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Indianapolis @ Baltimore

The Hype: Smothering Defense v. High-Powered Offense

The Result: The high-powered offense won despite a paradoxical paucity of power.

The Headline: Manning Wins the Medium One!

The Action: The Colts got another championship caliber performance from their much maligned defense, which held Baltimore to 83 rushing yards and limited Wear & Tear McNair to one Red Zone possession. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been that much scoring from kicks since Daniel LaRusso retired from the All Valley Karate Tournament.

Keys to the Whip: The Colts took possession with 7:39 remaining in the game. They ran the ball on 12 of 13 plays, killing all but 26 seconds while setting Vinatieri up for the field goal that made the Colts’ lead insurmountable. The drive was characterized by excellent play calling, and punctuated by Manning’s clutch 3rd down conversion on the only pass play of the drive.

Game Ball: Adam Vinatieri. He’s the tycoon of the trifecta, baybeeeeee! Sorry, too much college hoops lately. Thanks to his historical performance Sunday, Vinatieri is just one clutch kick away from signing a $250 million MLS contract and having coitus with a Spice Girl.

Shame Ball: Peyton Manning. Somebody better tell PeyMan that this isn’t the NBA playoffs.

The Aftermath: Did anybody else see Sean Salisbury’s post game commentary on ESPN Saturday? I don’t know if Salisbury used all his makeup preening his peeper for its next close-up, but he was in dire need of a nice #3 foundation. He looked like Tom Hanks in the last act of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia @ New Orleans

The Hype: America’s Team v. Cinderella

The Result: America’s Team Wins - Fatality! [America’s Team proudly holds aloft the still-beating heart of Cinderella]

The Headline: Saints Drop a Deuce on Philly

The Action: The game started ominously when Reggie Bush took a huge hit from Bobby Boucher on the second play from scrimmage. Bush came back, put up 95 total yards, scored a touchdown, and proved that he’s no SoCal sissy. This game boasted five lead-changes and a tremendously entertaining mix of offense and defense. It also boasted a 15-second crowd shot in which an attractive blonde woman could be seen wearing a “F*ck Da Eagles†crop top, with a ‘u’ where the asterisk should have been. As Janet (Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty) demonstrated, this spectator would have received considerably more media attention had the presence of profanity been replaced by the revelation of one of her nipples. One of her sweet, delicate, rose-petal pink nipples, standing erect in the shape of a Hershey Kiss, like Mel Gibson’s South African girlfriend in Lethal Weapon 2. I know that seems like a detailed description, but as post-Janet America continues to demonstrate, we can talk about nipples all we want as long as we don’t show them.

Keys to the Whip: Sean Payton proved that he is one of the preeminent play-callers in the league, winning convincingly in his post-season debut. Payton found the perfect mix of run and pass, and turned the aggressive tendencies of Philadelphia’s defense into his own advantage. When Madden ’08 comes out, I am going to use Sean Payton’s playbook exclusively.

Game Ball: Deuce McAllister, who averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored two second half touchdowns. Against the surprisingly porous Chicago defense, McAllister hopes to run for about a deuce, deuce and a half.

Shame Ball: In lieu of a truly shameful on-field performance, the Shame Ball goes to Andy Reid for wearing his black snowsuit in a dome. Runner up: Tom Benson for his always shameful Benson Boogie.

The Aftermath: According to the Worldwide Leader, the Saints are one win away from instantly restoring the city of New Orleans to its former, pre-storm glory.

Seattle @ Chicago

The Hype: Good Rex v Bad Rex

The Result: Not bad, Rex.

The Headline: Todd O’Connor Suffers 9 Heart Attacks as Bears Win in OT

The Action: It was a back and forth game in which the frigid weather turned Mike Holmgren’s face so red that a single drop of blue would have instantly turned him into Grimace.

Keys to the Whip: The unheralded play of the game was made by Thomas Jones, who batted down a tipped ball before it could be intercepted at midfield with 1:49 left in regulation.

Game Ball: Robbie Gould kicked the first game-winning field goal in Chicago Bears playoff history. Not bad for a dude who was pounding nails 18 months ago. And no, ‘pounding nails’ is not a euphemism for self-gratification. He was literally working as a carpenter.

Shame Ball: Brian Urlacher made one nice play in pass coverage, then disappeared as if he had seen Tyna Robertson standing on the sidelines with Maury Povich.

The Aftermath: Normally, I aspire to avoid soapbox diatribes, but this is an exception. I am both puzzled and disgusted by the recent treatment of Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, by fans and media alike. If this does not interest you, feel free to skip ahead to New England @ San Diego.

After sustaining two season-ending injuries in his first three years with the Bears, Rex Grossman was labeled a china doll. He fought through frustrating rehabilitation stints, and went to battle in all 16 games in 2006, temporarily shaking the words ‘injury-prone’ from his resume. In the process, he led the team to a 13-3 record, passed for over 3,000 yards and tossed 23 touchdowns. It was one of the best seasons ever for a Chicago Bear quarterback. Granted, that is a bit like saying that Walrusman was one of the best pistol-packing pickpockets to ever joust a Jedi, but the point remains important to this argument.

Where are all of the accolades? Where’s the ESPN puff piece on the Indiana kid overcoming adversity? Nowhere to be found. Instead, Mike Green, Mike Golic, and Mark Schlereth unanimously named Grossman their most disappointing player of 2006. Why? Grossman started every game this season. Didn’t he exceed expectations by virtue of that one solitary fact? How was Grossman’s season any less fulfilling than those put forth by Antwaan Randle El, Pontiac Williams, Daunte Culpepper, Lamont Jordan, Eli Manning, Edgerrin James, Mike Vick, Jake Delhomme, and a dozen others who didn’t even come close to matching their expectations? Apparently, Rex Grossman was so terrible, that he couldn’t even earn a split decision.

Was there evidence of Rexual dysfunction throughout the season? Undeniably! At this point, every meat-eating, beer-farting football fan in America knows that Rex Grossman led the league in both 100+ passer ratings and 40- passer ratings. He threw 20 interceptions to accompany those 23 touchdowns, and looked absolutely atrocious at times. Clearly, it would be wrong to canonize him like he’s Joe Clifford Montana. But it is equally wrong to vilify him like he’s Ray freaking Carruth!

In the two weeks leading up to the divisional playoff, Grossman was categorically criticized for his performance against Green Bay and for the explanation that followed. Certainly, his 0.0 passer rating was worthy of harsh judgment. He played that game like he had popped one too many OxyContin (apologies to the Packers organization, whose quarterback always took just the right amount). His explanation, while foolish in its frankness, could have been said of just about any member of the Chicago Bears that night. His mistake was honesty, and for it, he was thoroughly punished.

Everyone from Stu-yah Scott to Boomer Esiason took their turn throwing Rex under the bus of self-righteousness. The latter went so far as to describe Grossman as “the Paris Hilton of the NFL.†Why? Did Rex have an extramarital affair with Urlacher or something? Just about every national sports pundit chose Chicago as the most likely home team to get bounced from the divisional playoffs. The reason? Rex Grossman.

So pervasive was the Rex repulsion that he was booed when introduced at Soldier Field Sunday. Can you imagine that? The quarterback of the Chicago Bears was booed by his own fans upon entering the stadium to start in the divisional playoff game he helped make possible. In my lifetime as a Bear fan, nothing has ever shamed me as much as those boo’s. Not even Steve Fuller’s dance moves.

Grossman faced tremendous pressure on Sunday, from fans, from various media, and especially from the Seattle defense, which brought more consistent harassment than Sean Salisbury’s RAZR. He responded to that pressure the same way he has responded to adversity throughout his short career: pretty damn well. He didn’t set the world on fire, but he did lead his team to 27 points without the benefit of stellar defense. He also made some huge throws when he had to. That 3rd down pass to Davis in OT is as significant as any pass in the history of a 97 year-old sports franchise. It was also beautiful to look at. Statistically, Grossman outplayed the likes of Tom Brady and Payton Manning this weekend. Does that mean that he is the better quarterback? No. But it does suggest that the man deserved a little praise on Monday.

Unfortunately, he received virtually none. The AP story claimed that “Two swings of the foot by Robbie Gould were all the Chicago Bears needed to offset any shortcomings in Rex Grossman's arm.†Others followed suit. The recap from starts, “Robbie Gould won it after Rex Grossman didn’t lose it.†Every national source mentioned Grossman’s interception and his lost fumble. Many pointed out that he nearly had other passes intercepted.

What other player in this league is scrutinized this way? Other than Grossman, can you think of one passer whose near-interceptions are deemed newsworthy? Why did almost every national outlet fail to mention that the interception he did throw passed right through the hands of Muhsin Muhammad? Why didn’t they point out that Bernard Berrian dropped a sure touchdown in the fourth quarter? Why is the media attention so one-sided?

Is it because Grossman isn’t as dreamy as Tom Brady? Is it because his commercial wasn’t as funny as some of Manning’s? Or is it just that there isn’t anything interesting to say about the Bears? I’m not sure. But I cannot recall an athlete who was so stubbornly scourged despite the fact that a) he is pretty good, b) he is well respected by his teammates, and c) he is well liked by just about everyone who meets him.

Anyway, when you’re picking a quarterback to cheer for this week (e.g., Manning to win the big one, Brady to continue the dynasty, Brees to restore hope to New Orleans), don’t forget this one: Grossman to silence the critics. I, for one, am getting sick of hearing from them.

New England @ San Diego

The Hype: The Genius v The Choke Artist

The Result: To the genius go the spoils.

The Headline: Schot-himself-in-the-foot-enheimer

The Action: Tom Brady very nearly gave this game away with six and a half to play. Down eight and driving, Brady was picked off by Marlon McCree. Fortunately for Brady, his intended receiver on the play was Troy Brown. Brown, who also puts in time as a defensive back, skillfully stripped McCree, giving Brady a chance at redemption. Predictably, Brady made the most of the opportunity.

Keys to the Whip: Schottenheimer was so anxious to shake his conservative reputation, that he elected to go for it on 4th-and-11 with 5:21 to play in the first quarter, passing up what would have been a 47-yard field goal attempt for his Pro-Bowl kicker. The Pats took advantage, claiming possession and marching down to take the opening score for themselves. Schottenheimer blew it again when he challenged the McCree fumble, which had clearly been called correctly on the field. The lost timeout would have been useful on San Diego’s final drive. However, the most glaring indictment of the Chargers’ coach has to be the fact that the league MVP touched the ball one time or less on 6 different possessions, despite averaging 7.5 yards per touch.

Game Ball: There was nobody on that field who even came close to matching the skill of LaDomlinson. The only thing wrong with the 187 yards he earned on 25 touches is that he got only 25 touches.

Shame Ball: Corence Dilroney, who accounted for 23 total yards. Perhaps Belichick was saving Dilroney for Indianapolis.

The Aftermath: LaDomlinson took exception to the Patriots’ post game celebration, which involved mocking Sherriman’s spazzy sack dance while trampling the Charger’s on-field logo. Reactions to his statements have been polarized. On the one hand, the league MVP has shown himself to be one of the classiest individuals in professional sports, and there is probably some validity in his opinion. On the other hand, the statement smacked of sour grapes; the knee-jerk reaction of a fierce competitor who was hurt by the loss and angered by the victors’ exhibition.

Personally, I was disappointed in the midfield display. It seemed to contradict one of my favorite moments in the history of pro football: namely, the Patriots’ decision to forego individual introductions prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. That day, the New England Patriots were introduced as a team. As they rushed out of the tunnel together, they sent the message that they were a commune of like-minded individuals, united by the universal mission of capturing a championship. They were like the Borg of the NFL. Five years later, a team built around the same key components felt it necessary to rub it in after they sent the top seed home for the off season. Somehow, it is difficult to reconcile these two scenes. Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine the hive mind deciding to stop their cube in order to dance in celebration of another successful assimilation. That said, I can totally picture the queen wearing cutoff sleeves.
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