Saturday, January 13, 2007

Divison Playoffs Day 1 Wrap Up

Colts beat Ravens with a taste of their own medicine; Saints march right into the NFC Championship game

AFC: Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6

NFC: New Orleans 27, Philly 24

The first day of the For Real Men Only round had a little bit of everything: field goals,defense, long touchdown passes, long touchdown runs, records set both good & bad, and did I mention a lot of field goals?

The Colts surprised everyone by kicking the Ravens out of the playoffs- literally- and the saints marched into the NFC Championship game by out-slugging the Eagles.

Even better I went 1-1, greatly improving my record for the New Year, which had been 0-for-'07.

-Colts defeat Ravens with defense and field goals.

Never in a million years would anybody have thought the Indianapolis Colts, the offensively awesome but defensively deficient Regular Season Wonders, would be able to oust the Ravens, possessors of the toughest defense in the league, from the playoffs, especially on the road.

But that's exactly what happened when Indy combined a stellar defensive effort with an NFL record-tying 5 field goals from Adam Vinateri to prevent the Ravens from repeating its Super Bowl run of 2001.

Payton Manning was mediocre again, throwing for only 170 yards on 15-30 passing with (obviously) no touchdowns and two interceptions, but all of a sudden Tony Dungy's team remembers how to play defense, shutting down an opponent and their running game for the second consecutive week. After allowing a league-bottom 170 yards per game on the ground in the regular season the Colts defense has only given up 127 yards rushing in the last two games combined after holding the Ravens to 83 today.

The contest was basically decided early in the second quarter. Baltimore had just gotten a 40-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 6-3 and on the ensuing possession Ed Reed got the first of his 2 interceptions of Manning. Baltimore was in business, driving all the way to the Colts' 4 yard line, but for some reason offensive mastermind Brian Billick decided to go with a pass play on 3rd & goal. The ball was picked off by Antoine Bethea and Indy would mount a 13-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal by Vinateri that doinked off the upright to make it 9-3.

In a game like this for all intents & purposes it was over.

Let's get this straight- this was not an artistic masterpiece. Baltimore committed 4 turnovers and could have had 3 more; Indy had the two Manning picks and it could have been worse- Reed & Chris McAlister both had potential interceptions knocked away by the diving hands of Ray Lewis. Add all those errant passes to 5 combined fumbles and what you had was a sloppy, grungy, low-scoring slug-fest. Like I said, who would EVER have thought the Colts could win a game like this?!

This is why the Colts brought in the Money Man, Vinateri, in the off season. The former Patriot playoff savior single-handedly catapulted the Colts to the AFC Championship game by hitting all 5 of his field goal attempts, and now the fans of Indianapolis get to experience a little bit of the joy us Pats fans had knowing that whenever you have the ball within 50 yards field goal range you can just put the points on the board. It's a nice feeling to have, and I absolutely HATE the fact that the Colts & their fans have it now.

(Side note: I heard Dan Dierdork calling AV the Money Man in this game and I was so pissed because I coined that name for Vinateri years ago after one of his many game-winning kicks for New England. In fact I went so far as to say they should just change his number 4 to a giant "$" and be done with it. Now Dierdork gets credit for it, just because he said it in front of an international TV audience. This shit disturbs me. Dierdork did have a decent line he didn't steal when he saw a promo for Prince playing the Super Bowl: " I bet Jonathan Ogden was the same size as Prince- when he was four.")

Although I didn't call this game right I did say that Vinateri was the only real man on the Colts team. Turns out that wasn't quite true. Those fellows clamping down on defense, like Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, Rob Morris & Nick Harper, and (gulp) Booger McFarland are pretty manly, too. They're also the reason the Colts are advancing and the Ravens are left wondering what the f**k happened.

-Saints turnaround continues with biggest win in team history

I told you the Saints were coming.

Now they have arrived.

New Orleans is one step away from completing one of the most uplifting, miraculous turnarounds in modern sports history. By winning the second playoff game in the team's 40 year existence the Saints became the first team to make it to the NFC Championship Game a year after finishing with 13 or more losses (NO went 3-13 last year.)

As I and many other predicted unlike the first game defense was nowhere to be found in this one. The two teams combined for 790 yards and 51 points and the Saints gashed the Eagles on the ground with a 208 yard output, most of that damage was done by battering-ram back Deuce McAllister. The Deuce was indeed on the loose, rushing for a New Orleans playoff record 144 yards and a touchdown and chipping in 4 catches for 20 yards and another score.

It was McAllister's 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that turned the tide for the Saints and set them on the winning path. Philly had been taking it to the New Orleans defense, getting wide-open looks and scoring on big plays, including a 75-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Garcia (15-30, 240 yards, TD) to Donte Stallworth in the second quarter and a 62-yard touchdown run by Brian Westbrook to open the third. The run by Westbrook made the score 21-13 Philly and it was looking like the Garcia Mojo was working its magic again.

Then Duece decided to put the team on his back- literally- when he carried a pile of players into the end zone to cap off a 7-play, 63-yard drive that got the Saints right back in the game at 21-20. After Philly next drive sputtered New Orleans got a little bit of luck that seems to be surrounding them throughout this whole storybook season. Reggie Bush () took a handoff and headed upfield when he fumbled the ball. Terrence Copper alertly fell on the ball and actually recovered it past the marker for a fortunate first down. Five plays later Deuce took a short pass and turned it into an 11-yard touchdown, the Saints had a 27-21 lead they wouldn't relinquish, and the partying began in earnest on Bourbon Street. Well, the partying fort the Saints advancing, that is.

Although the outcome of the game was still in doubt until the final minutes. That's when Andy clock mismanagement king Reid pulled a boneheaded call that could have cost his team a chance at the win. David Akers, the hero of last weeks win over the Giants, hit a field goal to cut the deficit to 27-24 and Philly had one last chance to either tie it or win it after Bush fumbled a pitchback at midfield with just over 3:00 to play (not a brilliant play call by the Coach of the Year either).

The Eagles quickly faced a 4th & 10 from the 44 and had to go for it with the clock winding down. Garcia found an open receiver for an apparent first down, but a HUGE false start penalty nullified the play and brought up 4th & 15. No biggie, right? It's only 5 more yards, you just made it by plenty on 4th & 10, and if you punt it away you may never get the ball back again.

Guess what? Reid punted, the Saints killed the clock when Deuce picked up a soul-crushing first down, and Andy Reid might want to delay his return to the City of Brotherly Hate.

Meanwhile the Saints are one step away from the Bowl and pending the outcome of the SEA/CHI game tomorrow could actually host the Championship game next week; the French Quarter better stock up on booze & beads early this year.

So the first day of the For Real Men Only is over and half the Final 4 is set. By this time tomorrow we will know who Indy & New Orleans' opponents are and where the conference championship games will be played.

I can only hope that the Pats will be getting a rematch with the Colts so the Postseason Princes can show what the Regular Season Wonders are really made of.

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