My Crystal Ball
First, a review of my (sort of) predictions:
As one of a tiny group of Eli defenders, I can take some satisfaction in his performance the past two weeks: 4 TDs, 0 INTs, QB ratings of 117.1 and 132.4. He didn't throw for a ton of yards, but consider this: smart football people think the most important QB statistic is YPA, or yards per pass attempt. Eli's playoff YPA is 7.73 yards. How good is that? The league leader in 2007 was, of course, Tom Brady, at 8.3. Romo was 2nd at 7.7.
So, on the road, in the playoffs, against the #1 pass and #13 pass defenses, Eli put up huge numbers in the stats that matter. Oh, and he won.
My other prediction, however, that the Patriots would fall, is looking shaky. My prediction rested in part, on bad weather, and it didn't come in the first round. Brady and Co. got a dry, fast track for Saturday's game. And in the 2nd round, they get to play a Chargers team that saw most of their best players injured. It's hard to see the Pats going down now.
Never Say Never (or Always)
Many prognosticators, be they barstool blowhards, radio ranters, or media mouths, often make the mistake of saying the word "never" when attacking various coaches and players, and "always" when praising them. Here's an index of reasons to avoid absolutes when making predictions:
- Coughlin, Tom (playoff games, ability to win)
- Turner, Norv (ibid)
- Manning, Eli (demeanor on sidelines, importance of)
- Romo, Tony (legend, growth of)
- Vinatieri, Adam (clutch kicks, maker of)
This morning, I was sipping a decaff pumpkin spice double latte and pondering the greatness of Brett Favre. Not his greatness as a football player - that is undeniable - but his greatness as a father, a husband, a healer, a bringer of peace, an avatar of all that is good in this worl, ...whoa, sorry, guess I began taking this Peter King thing a little too seriously...
Eli's drive to end the first half was great, but not as joyous as Romo's pick to end the game. Those were both topped, however, by the shot of Jerry Jones' dumbfounded expression on the sidelines. Surely, it can't get any better than that, I thought. But then TO broke down in his post-game news conference. Terrell Owens, arguably the worst teammate in modern American sports, voice cracking about the media picking on "my teammate...my quarterback" was a transcendent moment.
(In case you've stumbled upon this blog, you've probably figured out I'm a Cowgirls-hating Giants fan).
Update: since writing this this morning, I've had an opportunity to see the TO crying clip 3 more times. Like a great movie, it rewards multiple viewings, and gets funnier every time. Also, if you're familiar with the "Leave Britney Alone" YouTube clip, you might appreciate this "Leave Tony Alone" parody. And not to get too far off the reservation, but if you think the Britney clip is funny, here is a Seth Green parody of that...
TO Was Right (Wait...He Was Wrong)
I may doubt TO's sincerity, but he was right in defending Romo. There were 4 QBs with a bye.
- Brady went to NY with his latest supermodel girlfriend for a vacation
- Favre went to Mississipi to be with his family
- Romo went to Mexico with his girlfriend and some teammates
I don't know about Peyton. Wouldn't be surprised if Peyton abstains from marital relations from training camp to the end of the season...
Point is, players on byes take time off and spend them with loved ones - or at least, incredibly beautiful women. One can make a case that Romo, unlike the sainted Favre and Brady, at least spent it with teammates, too.
Update: After reading Dr. Z's take on this (written before the game), I've changed my mind. He starts by outlining how poorly Romo played down the stretch and then says:
If I were Wade Phillips and I had an open weekend ahead, I wouldn't make Romo strap on the pads and get to work, but I'd damn well make sure to tell him to get his ass into Jason Garrett's office and work this thing out. Instead it's off to Cancun on the Airhead Express with his tootsie. I don't buy it. If I were betting, I'd jump on the Giants, getting 7½.
Kick 'Em When They're Up
I pride myself on knocking athletes when they're up (Jeter back in '99-'01) and defending them when they're down (Eli & Coughlin the past two years). Just a natural tendency to go against the grain, I guess. So I'd like to be one of the only people to say a word against the tide of praise for Tom Brady.
It's nothing against Brady, per se, who is a great quarterback. But like most NFL fans, I've watched a fair amount of Brady this year, and I'm not sure if any quarterback has ever had an easier season than the Sage of Foxboro. A typical 2007 Patriots' pass play goes something like this:
- Brady takes snap
- Brady drops back 3 steps
- Brady scans the field. He has time. Lots of time. Enough time to read Moby Dick, learn Farsi, broker peace in the Middle East, fantasize about super-models, and scan the Fall fashion line for new suits.
- Brady throws to a wide open Wes Welker. Or to a completely covered Randy Moss, who catches it anyway.
Of course, this isn't entirely true. Brady doesn't have to fantasize about super-models.
Brady is good enough to be good on any team. He's deservedly punched his ticket to Canton. But I'm reasonably sure that most starting quarterbacks in the NFL would have had put up superlative numbers guiding this offense. And Peyton might have thrown for 60 TDs.
Football fans are familiar with the Prevent D, when a team with the lead allows their opponent to march upfield, trading yardage for time. I'd like to coin a new term - the Prevent O.
We saw it in both games yesterday as the Chargers and Giants, with small leads, went super-conservative on their final drives. They tried to run time off rather than get first downs (and risk turnovers). In both cases, they had fast 3-and-outs, and the Colts and Boys got the ball back.
It's easy to criticize such a strategy - especially if, as in these cases, you're giving the ball back to great offenses.
But...Dr. Z tells a story about Tom Landry that has always stuck with me.
It happens to all of them, the near great and the very great, such as Tom Landry, one of history's finest game strategists. Nov. 9, 1980, Giants vs. Cowboys in the Meadowlands. Dallas was on its way to the NFC Championship game.
The Giants had just lost eight straight. Somehow the score was tied at 35 all -- late in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys had a fourth and one on their own 47.
They went for it and Brad Van Pelt stopped Robert Newhouse for no gain. The Giants took over, kicked a field goal and won. I talked to Landry very late, after the Cowboy locker room had practically cleared out.
"I violated one of my own most important principles," he said. "At the end of a close game, you always have to ask the question: 'What's the easiest way for us to lose?' And then you have to make sure to avoid it.
For the Giants and the Chargers, the easiest way to lose the game late in the 4th quarter was to turn it over in their own end. Turner and Coughlin both made the right call to go Prevent O.
I'll close with a quick story from this NFL season. At the height of the Michael Vick stuff this year, Mike & Mad Dog had the following exchange on WFAN radio in New York (this is only funny if you know M& the MD):
Mike: Vick made his court appearance yesterday, and PETA was there protesting.
Mad Dog: Peter? Peter King?!? Peter King was there?!?
Mike: No, PETA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Mike went on to patiently explain to Mad Dog what PETA is...