Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Now that I've caught my breath ...

After a game like the Steelers and Colts played, it’s going to be difficult to craft a coherent story here, so following is a list of observations about the game in bullet-point format, and in no particular order:
  • It has to be the most improbable series of events: Jerome Bettis, who hadn’t lost a fumble all year, fumbled to give the Colts one last chance, then Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn’t missed a field goal at home all year, missed the tying try. That summed up a game that had more momentum shifts than any I can remember.
  • The apparent interception by Troy Polamalu that was reversed on the replay wasn’t a case of a bad call. It was a case of another obscure rule that the NFL needs to re-examine. This rule, which we can call the knees rule, says that if a player catches the ball and falls down, but isn’t touched, he has to get both knees off the ground before losing control of the ball. Else it is not a catch. Like the “tuck rule,” it’s obscure, it makes little sense and it just happened to come to light in a very important game.
  • That doesn’t excuse the referees for some very poor calls, including a non-pass interference against the Colts in the first half, and an incredible no-call when Steelers guard Alan Faneca clearly flinched on a 4th-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. How can referees make no call there? Either they saw Faneca move or they didn’t, so they have to call the Colts for encroachment. When you combine those calls with a few poor ones in the Patriots-Broncos game on Saturday night, you wonder how NFL officiating has gotten so bad. Here’s a theory: Instant replay. Knowing that there’s the possibility of replay to help them out, officials have lost the courage to make the calls on the field. The only trouble is that the referees then dictate the actions of coaches who have to challenge the calls. The college rule of where a questionable play gets reviewed upstairs is a better way to go. And someone please tell me how the college officials can review plays so quickly, with very little interruption and the referee staying on the field, while the NFL ref has to go into the peep-show booth and the replay takes 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Ben Roethlisberger has gone from a quivering rookie in last year’s playoffs to a steel-nerved leader this year. It’s been a remarkable transformation and it’s the reason the Steelers are in the AFC Championship Game.
  • Had Bettis’ fumble cost the Steelers the game and ended his career, you almost wonder if that being the last play of his career would have hurt his Hall of Fame chances. It won’t come to that, and it’s a good thing because The Bus should be given a clear path to Canton.
  • The line of the day has to go to my fiancée, who is slowly learning about sports and dutifully watched along side me as I surely lost 10 years from my life. When she heard the story about Colts cornerback Nick Harper having been stabbed by his wife the day before, she responded in shock, then said, “You don’t stab a guy the day before a big game!”

Now, some general observations on the playoffs:

  • A strong argument can be made about resting starters late in the year to avoid injuries when a team has already clinched its playoff position. However, all four teams coming off the bye weeks looked rusty, especially early in their games. Is it a coincidence that Seattle and Denver, which played their key offensive starters for most of a half in their final games, survived? And is it a coincidence that Indianapolis and Chicago, which went with the second string for most of their season finales, dug themselves holes that proved too deep? In particular, was Lovie Smith’s decision to sit Rex Grossman in the last game of the regular season, when the quarterback had played in six quarters this season, a factor in Grossman’s 3-for-15, 2-yard start Sunday?
  • It’s also interesting that Carolina and Pittsburgh, which needed to win their final games just to make the playoffs, have looked like the two sharpest teams in the playoffs so far.
  • When I hear announcers and referees talk about making “a football move,” I think back to Bobby Knight’s famous press conference in which he asked what “a game face” was.
  • Injuries have played a bigger role in these playoffs than in recent years. Carson Palmer, Shaun Alexander, Julius Peppers and DeShaun Foster have suffered game-ending injuries thus far. Though only Palmer’s team failed to survive, the NFC Championship game next week could come down to which team can stay healthy.
  • A lot will be made of Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning and their inability to lead the Colts to a victory in a big game. Let’s give Dungy a break for now, as he lost to a coach today whose big-game coaching record is less than stellar, but who now looks like a genius. However, Manning again showed that if you disrupt his timing, he becomes vulnerable. He is not mobile, and his throws seem to scatter when the pass rush is on his mind. New England exploited this in each of the past two years, and Pittsburgh did it today.
  • Next week looks to be another beauty. Pittsburgh and Denver are similar teams with the ability to pound the ball on the ground. Having tamed the crowd in the RCA Dome, the Steelers face another hostile environment. Carolina and Seattle, despite the gap in their seedings, are almost dead-even. In fact, take into account Seattle’s relatively weak schedule in the NFC West and Carolina’s more difficult schedule in the NFC South, and the Panthers might be the better team. Both home teams have been perfect in their stadiums this season, which is no small factor.
  • Finally, a retrospective on the Patriots’ success. It’s hard to fathom a New England loss in which the Patriots turned the ball over five times. Over the past five years, they have been laser-like in their execution, both on offense and defense. And in the playoffs, nearly everything has gone their way, because they have taken the game plans drawn up and run them with hardly a flaw. I expected that if their run was to end, it would likely come against a team with the same kind of grind-it-out mentality that they have displayed. Denver was such a team, which is why I picked the Broncos to win. But I couldn’t have expected it would happen the way it did. For once, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady looked human. It’s hard to imagine them staying down for long. Brady is too young and too good, and Belichick seems to genuinely love solving other teams with his singular blend of analysis and creativity. This is an interruption in the dynasty; it’s not nearly the end.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

carolina was not perfect in their own stadium this year. they lost to the saints. while it may have counted as a home game for the saints, it was played in charlotte

5:14 PM  
Blogger Dave Jackson said...

Carolina is the road team this week. Denver and Seattle are undefeated at home.

You are correct that the Panthers lost at home to the Saints in Week 1.

Interestingly, Carolina and Pittsburgh are both 6-2 on the road this year, two of five teams to win that many on the road. Indy was 7-1; Cincinnati and Jacksonville were also 6-2.

10:28 AM  
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