Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Sunday, January 08, 2006

All about the quarterbacks

Thoughts on a big weekend of football:

As a Steelers fan, I’ll take any win, though this one tastes a little funny after Carson Palmer’s injury. Jon Kitna stepped in and played admirably, but the Steelers defense made the adjustments at halftime and dominated the second half. Also, it seemed as if the blown field goal had an impact on both teams. It gave Pittsburgh the kind of momentum a turnover usually provides, and Cincinnati’s offense wasn’t the same afterward.

Many people were expecting the Steelers to win, including perhaps the NFL and the TV networks. The schedule for next week was announced before the games today, awarding Denver the Saturday night home game and Indianapolis the early afternoon slot on Sunday. Had Cincinnati won, they would have been the only team forced to work on a short week, since the Bengals would have met the Broncos. Not a fair proposition, especially with Kitna replacing Palmer. The league should have waited until the matchups were set.

Assuming he recovers from knee surgery, Palmer vs. Ben Roethlisberger will be a battle to watch for a long time. Big Ben showed the composure that he was lacking in his playoff debut last year, rallying his team from two 10-point deficits and playing turnover-free football. When the Steelers’ running game was bottled up early, Roethlisberger made the throws he had to. Also, Pittsburgh’s offense is at its best when it mixes in a few trick plays, like Jerome Bettis’ attempted throw into the end zone (which was incomplete but perhaps kept the Cincinnati defense off-balance on the next play, a touchdown), and the Randle El to Roethlisberger to Cedrick Wilson touchdown pass. Those plays keep the defense honest and allow the running game to flourish.

I’ve admired Palmer for going to Cincinnati as the top draft pick without hesitation and trying to turn the Bengals’ fortunes around, unlike another quarterback who had a bad day Sunday. Eli Manning has a ways to go as a big-game quarterback. The Panthers defense shut down Tiki Barber and dared Manning to beat them. He couldn’t make the throws, and Steelers fans can tell you all about the big games in which Manning’s No. 1 receiver, Plaxico Burress, disappeared more often than Mr. Snuffleupagus.

Another young quarterback, Chris Simms, actually played quite well in his playoff debut against a good defense. After some early mistakes, he put his team in a position to win and they came close to tying the score on Edell Shepherd’s touchdown that wasn’t. Three times this week – counting the Rose Bowl – a receiver caught a pass and appeared to lose the ball just after their second foot came down, and all three times it was ruled incomplete. At least the calls were consistent.

The two big college football stories this weekend also involved quarterbacks. Simms’ successor at the University of Texas, Vince Young, declared for the NFL Draft on Sunday, and Virginia Tech QB Marcus Vick did so on Saturday, a day after being kicked off the Hokies’ squad. Giving Vick any more copy is a waste of time, so let’s just say that one of these guys gets it and the other doesn’t – and their pro careers will reflect that.

I’ll take credit for 2 ½ of my picks – I correctly predicted the Steelers’ and Redskins’ victory, coming within range on the scores. And I had New England over Jacksonville, but in a much closer game that seemed to be the case at halftime. A few big plays in the second half turned a close game into a Patriots blowout. I was way off on the Carolina victory.

Gut feeling: the four home teams win next week. But I’ll think long and hard about the visitors – especially Carolina and New England – between now and Friday, when the official divisional playoff predictions come out.


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