I'm not sure I remember the last time I was this excited about the NFL playoffs. For some reason, I chose this year to be the one where I watched pretty much every minute of all the games, and I've been rewarded with some pretty remarkable action.
Who gets shut out in the playoffs? Even better, who gets shut out in the playoffs after scoring the third-most points in the entire league? As Chris Berman might say, the Geeeeeeee-men, that's who. Eli Manning? 113 yards. Tiki Barber? 41 yards. Panther defense? Absolute domination. Obviously, this game wasn't much for drama, but the spectacle of the shutout was pretty cool.
Speaking of spectacle, how about Mark Brunell throwing for 41 yards against Tampa Bay ... and winning? And it's not like Clinton Portis (53 yards) carried the load. No, this one was all defense. The Washington d-line must have tipped about twelve Chris Simms passes, which is part of a league-wide trend toward tipping passes, but also part of Simms not playing like he's 6'4". Really, if you're that big, you should be able to get your ball over the line.
I didn't watch the Steelers-Bengals game as closely, largely because I knew Cincinnati didn't have a chance after Carson Palmer went down. Jon Kitna played valiantly, I thought, and he made the most of the skills he has (his mobility, mainly) to cause some trouble, but it was pretty clear that it wasn't going to be enough. I, like Bill Simmons, was hoping the Bengals could get to the Super Bowl just for the spectacle of seeing Chad Johnson navigate Media Week.
New England-Jacksonville was never really competitive and generally didn't really have a lot to recommend it. Oh well.
I predicted that whoever got to 10 points in the Carolina-Chicago game would win it. Instead, the teams combined for fifty and the game ended with Rex Grossman trying to lead a final drive for a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game. He's about as qualified to lead that drive as I am, though, so the ending was predictable. Both defenses disappointed me, but what really killed Chicago was poor traction: two times, a defensive back fell down, allowing Steve Smith to score a touchdown. Who knows what happens if the defenders keep their feet in those situations.
Washington-Seattle wasn't ever really in doubt, even after Shaun Alexander went down. Washington just didn't have the horses to stay with the Seahawks. Alexander's injury creates an interesting situation for next week, when both Seattle and Carolina could be missing their running backs.
The Patriots-Broncos game was hugely disappointing to me. I'm not what you'd call a Patriots fan, but I have some unreasonable dislike for the Broncos, probably related to some combination of feelings against Mike Shanahan and Bill Romanowski. New England just made far too many mistakes, uncharacteristically, and paid the price.
And the best for last. Pittsburgh dominated Indianapolis for about 55 minutes. They were getting to Peyton Manning, not letting him get good throws off, shutting down Edgerrin James, and generally coasting on the strength of two good early drives. You can't keep a good offense down forever, though, and I really started to believe once Manning led the Colts to two touchdowns to bring the game within three points. Then ... wow. The failed fourth-down conversion deep in Indianapolis territory. The Colts timeouts forcing Pittsburgh to do more than just kneel. The devastating Jerome Bettis fumble. The return for a touchdown stopped by Ben Roethlisberger grabbing Nick Harper's ankle. And the most accurate kicker in the history of the league absolutely shanking the final field goal.
And can I just add a note on Nick Harper? Didn't he play a magnificent game? He gets stabbed by his wife, gets his knee smacked around early in the game, and then, with the exception of one pass interference call, plays great, culminating in nearly taking a fumble 98 yards for a likely-game-winning score.
Here's to hoping the next three games are just as good. I'm rooting for the Steelers and Seahawks, and I think the Steelers will win, but I'll have to reserve judgment on the NFC game until we know the status of the two running backs.
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