Monday, January 15, 2007

NFL Playoff Update

It wasn't terribly surprising to see the Colts upset the Ravens, though it was at least unexpected. Steve McNair uncharacteristically blew two scoring opportunities with lousy throws that were picked off, leaving at least ten points on the field, enough to squeak past an error-prone Peyton Manning.

It was the other AFC divisional game that was really the upset of the year, so much so that Schottenheimer may become the only coach to get his ass fired after a 14-2 season.

Sunday afternoon, inside Qualcomm Stadium, Marty Schottenheimer cemented his reputation as a terrible postseason coach, blowing an 11-point second-quarter lead and an eight-point fourth-quarter lead and falling 24-21 to the New England Patriots.

Given his contentious relationship with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, his 5-13 playoff record and contract situation (Marty has one year left on his deal), Schottenheimer, in all likelihood, lost his fourth head-coaching assignment on Sunday.

He lost it in grand style.

Rather than allow his Pro Bowl kicker to attempt a 48-yard field goal early in the first quarter, Schottenheimer instructed his offense to go for it on fourth and 11 at the New England 30. The Patriots sacked Philip Rivers for a loss of 5 yards and he fumbled.

"I thought we had a play we could use to make it," Schottenheimer explained. "Our intention today was to be very aggressive."

Marty might be the first coach in the history of football who knows a good play for fourth and 11 in the first quarter of a scoreless game. Marty's intention was to prove that he's not too conservative to win in the playoffs. His attempt to dispel that reputation made him look stupid. It's inexcusable to turn down an opportunity to score first in a playoff game.

Apparently Schottenheimer supposedly overcompensated for his notorious conservative play-calling in the playoffs by being overly aggressive. But that's not even half of it. The Chargers lost because they were undisciplined, blowing plenty of opportunities to score and to put the Patriots away. Only Tom Brady, who must have been born with a lucky horseshoe in his ass, could get intercepted on a do-or-die 4th-and-10 play, and have it turn into a first down for his own team. Chargers DB Marlon McCree, who caught and then fumbled that errant pass with just a few minutes left in the game, will have a room next to Tony Romo in the NFL off-season nightmare infirmary. All McCree had to do was smack the ball into the ground; instead he gift-wrapped it and handed it back.

As they say, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and New England has the tremendous fortune to be both. So it's another Brady-Manning playoff showdown, but this time in Indianapolis. And these two teams are the only ones so far in the playoffs to each have a game decided by more than three points. This is probably Manning's best chance to get that Brady monkey off his back, once and for all, but the Pats have a slight edge on defense and in their running game, and things just seem to roll their way at the right time. This should be one of the more entertaining conference championship games in recent memory.

Patriots 31, Colts 27

As for the NFC, the underachieving Bears were lucky to squeak past the overachieving Seahawks in overtime. They will not get such help from the Saints, who let the opportunistic Eagles stay in the game a bit too long, but will be ready for Da Bears, and will drive Rex Grossman crazy all day with line pressure and linebacker stunts and blitzes. If there's a good old-fashioned -40ยบ wind chill blizzard, all bets are off, but assuming roughly today's weather:

Saints 27, Bears 17.

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