Tuesday, December 30, 2014

NFL Top 10: Wildcard Games

Since the advent of the wildcard round in the NFL in 1978, the opening round of the playoffs has seen some of the most memorable games in league history.   Presented are ten of the best from the wildcard round -


TEN: Buffalo Bills at the New York Jets, 1981 - The Bills were entering their second straight playoff run and only their third since 1966, while the Jets had made the playoffs for the first time since the 1969 season and had done so after losing their first three games and with questions burgeoning about coach Walt Michaels, who'd acted in threatening manner to reporters following a Week Three loss to the Bengals.   The two AFC East foes had split their regular-season matches, and the Jets were sporting a defensive line in Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, Joe Klecko, and Larry Faulk aka Abdul Salaam, a unit quickly named The New York Sack Exchange.

The game quickly became a Bills rout, beginning with a fumble of the opening kick by the Jets run back for a touchdown by Charles Romes of the Bills.  Two Joe Fergunson touchdowns to Frank Lewis and a field goal put the Bills up 24-0 in the second quarter, but the Jets behind Richard Todd refused to quit in a turnover-plagued contest (the two teams combined for eight interceptions and the opening kick fumble).

Todd threw for 377 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Jets from the 24-0 gap and a fourth-quarter gap of 31-13 to within 31-27; getting the ball back in the final minute, Todd raced the Jets to the doorstep of the win only to be intercepted in the endzone with almost no time left.

Despite the loss, the Jets had made a point, in that they were determined not to be defined by Joe Namath's long-ago triumph.


NINE: The Catch II - Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, 1998
- For only the fourth time in sixteen seasons the 49ers did not win the NFC West, while the Packers likewise failed to win their division, the NFC Central.  The two teams entered Candlestick Park a combined 23-9, but the Packers had gone to the previous two Superbowls and had beaten the Niners five straight times.   Brett Favre's matchups against the Niners were for the most part uncompetitive, while Steve Young faced the specter of a lifetime record of 0-8 against the Packers.

This game became different right away, as the lead tied or changed six times in the first three quarters.  An exchange of field goals put the Niners up 23-20 in the fourth, but Favre stormed the Packers to the go-ahead touchdown at the 2-minute warning.   As Young began clawing the Niners forward, the biggest question mark was third-year receiver Terrell Owens, who'd had two catches but also several drops amid glare made brutal by The Stick's angles.   Also struggling was Jerry Rice, taken out of the game by the Packers defense until a six-yard catch with 52 seconds to go; controversy then ensued when the ball fell out; it was  ruled an incompletion but replay indicated a potential fumble.   With eleven seconds to go Young was nearly picked off, but the ball hit the ground.   With eight seconds to go Young was on the Packers 25; he dropped back, momentarily stumbled, then rifled the ball to Owens between two defenders into the endzone, the biggest and most clutch playoff touchdown for the Niners since Dwight Clark's winning score in 1981.    And yet the game almost ended in a Packers win anyway on the final kick return, run into Niners territory before being stopped.

The 30-27 win, coming amid burgeoning scandal within the Niners' ownership circle, was the club's last playoff win for four years.


EIGHT: The Music City Miracle - Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans, 1999 - The 1990s decade had been a traumatic one for the team formed by Kenneth Stanley "Bud" Adams, as the Houston Oilers collapsed from a playoff team to a vagabond in Tennessee until in 1999 a brand new stadium was completed.   The Oilers name was retired by Adams and the name Titans - personifying Tennessee as The Athens Of The South - was returned to pro football after the collapse of the New York Titans before the 1963 season.

The new Tennessee Titans surged in 1999, beginning with a 36-35 slugfest over the Cincinnati Bengals.   The Titans finished 13-3, losing the AFC Central to the 14-2 Jacksonville Jaguars; Jacksonville's only two losses all season had been to the Titans.  Entering this wildcard game the 11-5 Buffalo Bills had been led by Doug Flutie, but late in the season Rob Johnson, the man he'd replaced, started against the 13-win Indianapolis Colts and erupted to a 31-6 win; the win (over a Colts team with nothing to play for having secured the second AFC bye) sparked controversy as Johnson was named starter for the playoffs, this due to a 73% completion rate to Flutie's 55% rate with nineteen touchdowns and sixteen interceptions and possibly also memory of Flutie's futile performance in a 24-17 playoff loss the previous season at the Dolphins (Dan Marino's only playoff win in four tries against Buffalo).

Neither offense generated much all game, as McNair was held to 76 passing yards and a pick while running in one touchdown amid teammate Eddie George's 106-yard rushing performance.   The two teams swapped medium-range field goals with the Bills now leading 16-15 with only time for the kickoff return.

It was here that all hell broke loose as Lorenzo Neal took the kick at his own 25, handed off to Frank Wycheck, and then Wycheck threw it parallel to the line marker to Kevin Dyson; Dyson  raced past the Bills along the left sideline to the complete disbelief of everyone into the winning touchdown.   The play went to review, and ABC replays showed the lateral was indeed - albeit by inches - an actual lateral, and the touchdown stood.

The play - Home Run Throwback as it was known in Titans circles - was repeated in spectacular form in 2012's 44-41 overtime win by the Titans over the Detroit Lions.


SEVEN: Wildcard Sunday, 2002 - The whole of Wildcard weekend in 2002 qualified as among the most memorable, first when the Atlanta Falcons crushed the Packers and ended Green Bay's career playoff winning streak at Lambeau Field, then when Peyton Manning's Colts faced the club's second ever playoff meeting with the New York Jets and were annihilated 41-0.   But it was Wildcard Sunday that reached into the football stratosphere of amazement.

First the Cleveland Browns were in their first playoff run since 1994, and facing the hated Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field; Pittsburgh had beaten Cleveland in both games that year as former Dan Reeves quarterback project Tommy Maddox took over for Kordell Stewart and stormed the Steelers to a 10-5-1 record; the tie (34-34) came ironically against Reeves and his Atlanta Falcons squad.

Kelly Holcolm had taken over as Browns quarterback, and the Browns surged to the playoffs on a 9-7 record and after a bizarre confluence of Week 17 wins and losses league-wide amid a game-winning goalline stand against the Falcons by the Browns for the 24-16 playoff-clinching win.  Holcolm stormed the Browns to three touchdown drives and a field goal, interrupted by Antwaan Randle-El's 66-yard punt return score.  

The Browns led 24-7 in the third, but the Steelers behind Maddox kept clawing, and trailed 27-14 entering the fourth.   Maddox and Holcolm traded touchdowns, then after two Holcolm incompletions the Steelers got the ball back with 2:35 to go.   Maddox whipped four passes to the Browns 3-yard line and the go-ahead Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala touchdown run.  Holcolm, with just 50 seconds to work with, reached the Steelers 45 but made no attempt at the endzone, instead throwing short and thus blowing any chance at salvaging the win.   The 36-33 Steelers win completed the three-game season sweep of the pesky Browns.

Yet this game would be topped big-time immediately following, for the New York Giants were at The Stick against the 49ers.   Jeff Garcia, ex-CFL quarterback, had replaced Steve Young during 1999 and had Terrell Owens and other receivers to go with Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow at running back, while ex-Panther Kerry Collins was wielding an offense with Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer, and running back Atiim Kiambu Hakeem-Ah "Tiki" Barber.   The game opened with two touchdown exchanges highlighted by Terrell Owens shaking off two defenders for a 76-yard catch-and-run.   The Giants behind Collins then raced to a 35-14 lead in the third; a dropped Shockey endzone catch led to a Matt Bryant field goal and a 38-14 lead.

The missed touchdown became a source of bitterness later, because Garcia went to a no-huddle offense and exploded to a TO touchdown catch, a 14-yard run by himself, and two two-point conversion throws to Owens.   A Niners field goal made it 38-33 before the Giants clawed to the Niners 24 in the final four minutes; a bad snap by Trey Junkin, signed only the week before after missing the entire regular season, was followed by a shanked Matt Bryant kick.

Now the game saw hell break loose.   First Garcia whipped the Niners to the go-ahead touchdown with one minute remaining; Terrell Owens and Giants safety Shaun Williams nearly came to blows on the play, then on the two-point try Garcia was intercepted and a brawl erupted that led to Williams' ejection.   On the Giants possession Collins was nearly intercepted at the Niners 28 but the play was ruled incomplete.   The Giants reached the Niners 23, but on the last-second field goal Junkin's snap was low; holder Matt Allen dropped the ball, picked it up and ran, then heaved to the endzone for Tam Hopkins; still more controversy ensued when the Giants were flagged for an ineligible man downfield (Rich Seubert) while media contended the Niners were guilty of pass interference and that one untimed down should have been added.   A letter of apology to the Giants followed from the league office, and Junkin, almost in tears, announced he was finished in football.

Coach Jim Fassel summed up the entire weekend in his bitter postgame press conference - "I'm not getting over this one."


SIX: Matt Hasselback's Botched Prediction - Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers, 2003 - The Packers had stormed to their ninth playoff run in eleven seasons and were now facing their former coach, Mike Holmgren, now with a Seattle Seahawks team in its first playoff game since 1999 - and unknowable to anyone beginning a spectacular run of playoff appearances over the ensuing seasons ending in 2013's Superbowl runaway.

The 2003 meeting in steady snow began as a 13-6 Packers halftime lead, but Hasselback, a former Brett Favre backup, started storming the Seahawks forward, this following a season where the Seahawks lost six of eight road games, notably a brutal 44-41 overtime loss at Baltimore.   Hasselback whipped the Seahawks to three drives ending in Shaun Alexander touchdowns; the game lead tied or changed five times in the second half as two Ahman Green scores helped lead to overtime.

On the coin toss the Seahawks won, and Hasselback declared aloud, "We want the ball and we're gonna score!"   The Seahawks' first possession lasted three plays and a punt, then Green Bay punted after just three plays.   Hasselback completed two passes to his own 45, but on his fifth throw of the drive he was picked off by Al Harris and Harris raced 52-yards and the winning touchdown (33-27).   The Hasselback boast defined Seattle's rivalry with the Packers until the ultimate controversy erupted in 2012.


FIVE: Shootout At The Glendale Corral - Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals, 2009
- After flaming out in 2002-3 with the Rams, Kurt Warner went to a one-year-and-done career with the Giants before winding up with a Cardinals franchise subject to universal ridicule as the team where careers went to die.   After getting a new stadium, University Of Phoenix Stadium, that reputation began to change as Warner replaced inept draft pick Matt Leinart and installed a level of professionalism almost never to be found in Cardinals history.   2008 saw the Cardinals shock the league with three playoff wins and a Superbowl berth, a berth nearly ending in a stunning victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now in 2009 the Cards were a solid 10-6 and division champions, hosting the wildcard Packers.   The game began as a Kurt Warner runaway as the Cardinals stormed to a 17-0 lead in the first; Warner kept attacking and stormed the Cardinals to a 31-10 lead, but second-year Packers starter Aaron Rodgers began clawing the Pack back; two Rodgers touchdowns and a Warner score left Arizona up 38-24 in the fourth, and Rodgers kept roaring and two more touchdowns tied the game.   Warner put the Cards back up 45-38 with five to go; Rodgers tied it at the two-minute warning.   Warner completed five passes for 73 yards in the final two minutes - and had more touchdowns (five) than incompletions total (four) - but Neil Rackers' kick shanked badly and the game went into overtime.   After a holding penalty the Packers were on their 17 when Rodgers bobbled the ball, shanked it into the hands of Karlos Dansby, and Dansby roared to the winning touchdown, a 51-45 Cardinals win and one of the defining games of Warner's career - it was also a defining game for Rodgers, who erased a 21-point gap yet still botched the game and has gone on to win just two games in which he has trailed by two or more scores.


FOUR: Marshawn's Earthquake - New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks, 2010 - The once-woebegone Saints weathered the worst storm of their existence in 2005, then helped rally their city with a 2006 playoff surge under Sean Payton and Drew Brees; in 2009 it paid off in the biggest playoff win in the club's history and then the Superbowl.   They were wildcards in 2010 and traveled to the Seahawks, under former Jets and Patriots coach Pete Carroll following his lengthy sabbatical with USC.   The Seahawks had struggled to 7-9 and it was enough to win the NFC West, the first case of a team with a losing record winning a division.

The widely expected Saints win, however, was not to be.   Matt Hasselback exploded to three touchdowns and a 24-20 Seahawks lead at halftime.   Drew Brees kept fighting back, but Hasselback matched him drive for drive.  In the final four minutes the Saints had clawed to within 34-30; it was then the Seahawks finished off New Orleans as Marshawn Lynch - a former Buffalo Bill acquired by Seattle in an October trade that went largely unnoticed in football circles due to New England's Randy Moss trade that same week - exploded.   He stormed through the line, broke nine tackles, and threw down corner Tracy Porter (the hero of the Saints' NFC Title win over the Vikings and the Superbowl win over the Colts) while scoring from 67 yards out; fan cheering was so powerful the stadium registered as a medium-strength earthquake on a seismograph less than a mile from Qwest Field.

A late Brees touchdown could do nothing but cut the final score to 41-36 Seahawks.   For a team ridiculed for failing to post a winning record, the 2010 Seahawks wound up sending a decisive message to the league - be very afraid.


THREE: The 3:16 Game - Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos, 2011 - There may never be another phenomenon like Tim Tebow.   Building a powerful following in his college career, Tebow became a source of discussion before the 2010 NFL Draft and his selection by the Broncos and short-lived head coach Josh McDaniel caused a stir in league circles.   Tebow's ebullient expression of his religious faith won him fans, and as 2011 began his unconventional playing style began to foment disagreement in football analyses.   He became starter under new Broncos coach John Fox and despite dismal throwing efforts he was able to lead comeback wins over Miami and others; the comeback wins kept up, and when Tebow ran in the winning touchdown vs, the New York Jets he had become a full-fledged international sensation, a sensation that kept surging through six straight wins and did not abate even with crushing losses to New England and Buffalo.

The Broncos won the AFC West in a three-way tie with San Diego and Oakland and hosted the 12-4 Steelers on Wildcard Sunday; it was the seventh career playoff meeting between Pittsburgh and Denver and media speculation stipulated that the Broncos, under GM and former quarterback John Elway, livid at Tebow's poor throwing efforts, might bench Tebow for so important a game.

It all began turning upside down as Tebow rallied the Broncos after two Steeler field goals; he threw one touchdown and ran in another, while a Ben Roethlisberger interception was sandwiched between two Matt Prater field goals and a shocking 20-6 Broncos lead.   The Steelers clawed back in the second half as they outscored Denver 17-3 aided by a Willis McGahee fumble.   A late sack of Roethlisberger snuffed out any chance at a winning field goal and the game went to overtime at 23-23.

On the opening play of overtime the Steelers laid out a Cover Zero defense, basically daring Tebow to throw with almost no one protecting the back side of the defensive line; it was exactly what the Patriots a month earlier had shown the rest of the league to not do - instead of play passively the Patriots had attacked Tebow directly and thus threw him completely out of his game.

Given this defensive look, Tebow unloaded a pass caught high by DeMaryius Thomas and Thomas took advantage when the Steelers bit on the play fake; he raced almost unmolested to the winning touchdown (29-23 final).   It was Denver's first playoff win since 2005 and caused still more reaction when the box score showed Tebow had thrown for 316 yards with a 31.6 yard per catch average.   Multiple stats aligned with the Bible verse John 3:16 and the correlation became the most celebrated confluence of faith and football ever seen.

Adding to the bizarre quality of the game is that the Steelers' 2014 playoff loss to the Ravens means Pittsburgh has not won a playoff game since the 3:16 game.


TWO:  The Comeback II: Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts, 2013 - The Broncos gave up on Tebow when Peyton Manning, out a year after several neck surgeries, was released by the Colts.  Manning signed with Elway's Broncos - the irony of Peyton's rookie year being Elway's final playing year was curiously overlooked - and stormed the Broncos to a 13-3 2012 season ending in a rip-roaring Divisional Round loss to the Ravens.   The Colts meanwhile drafted sure-shot quarterback prospect Andrew Luck and exploded to 22-10 in his first two seasons.

The Chiefs meanwhile signed ex-Eagles coach Andy Reed after seven mediocre or worse seasons and acquired former 49ers starter Alex Smith, given up for dead by the Niners for Colin Kaepernick.   The Chiefs stormed to win their first nine games before collapsing to finish 11-5, including an embarrassing home loss to Luck's Colts.

For Wildcard Sunday in 2013 the Chiefs came to Lucas Oil Stadium and exploded, storming to 38-10 in the third quarter, pouncing on a Trent Richardson fumble and two Luck INTs.   But Luck began storming the Colts back as the Colts defense forced a fumble.  By the fourth quarter and despite a third Luck pick the Colts had raced to a 41-31 gap, then Luck scored himself on a botched Donald Brown run.   After a Chiefs field goal Luck whipped a 64-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton and the Colts suddenly led 45-44.   The Chiefs final drive died out at the Colts 43 and Indianapolis had its first playoff win since 2009 and had erased a 28-point gap.

Only one other game had ever seen a bigger comeback.


THE NUMBER ONE WILDCARD GAME OF ALL TIME - The Houston Oilers at The Buffalo Bills, 1992 - Even if the NFL sees a game where a team erases a five-touchdown gap The Comeback can never be forgotten.   New England's 25-point comeback to beat the Falcons in Superbowl LI is arguably a more important comeback win given it decided the championship.   Yet to erase a 32-point gap to win a playoff game was simply unprecedented.

From the injury at Houston that knocked out Jim Kelly to the stunning effort of backup Frank Reich, the Bills showed a level of heart impossible to forget.   The Oilers came in with every reason to feel confident in a win.   Warren Moon exploded the Oilers with four touchdowns in the first half, and a Reich pick-six put Houston up 35-3, a gap impossible to erase.

Yet Frank Reich did just that, having beaten Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes team in 1984 by wiping out a 31-0 gap to win 43-40.   Reich exploded the Bills to five straight touchdowns, four of them throws by him sandwiched around a Moon fumble, a blown field goal try, and an interception; a second Moon pick was wiped out on a roughing the passer penalty.   By halfway through the fourth the Bills improbably led 38-35.  Moon finally got the shellshocked Oilers to the tying field goal, but early in overtime a pass sailed over a blanketed Ernest Givens and was intercepted.   Steve Christie's field goal ended the biggest Bills win (41-38) in their history and the largest comeback win in NFL history.


BONUS: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs, 2017 -   The Tennessee Titans had not won a playoff game since beating the Ravens in 2003, but in 2017 they stormed back from down 21-3 to stun the favored Chiefs 22-21, a game highlighted by the funniest play in years as Marcus Mariota completed a touchdown.....to himself, as his pass was deflected backwards by Darrelle Revis into Mariota's hands.   The game was a breakthrough game for running back Derrick Henry as he rushed for 156 yards and a score and caught two passes for 35 yards; the Titans also overcame two turnovers (one a Mariota INT) and also eight penalties (having averaged just five to six per game) for the franchise's first career playoff win over the Chiefs, having lost the 1962 AFL Championship Game to the then-Dallas Texans and the 1993 AFC Divisional Playoff to Joe Montana, both as the Houston Oilers.

It all adds up to that the "Wild" in Wildcard fits better than perhaps anyone could expect.

The Wages of Gridlock

While Washington does nothing, the economy starts picking up, and the 2011 budget stoppage has led to an actual reduction in government spending.

Holy Warren G. Harding - when government stays out of it the market actually works?

Of course it also displays the irrelevance of Barack Obama, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into that 2011 budget stoppage by Republicans.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Obama’s Executive Memoranda Highlights Constitutional Crisis

Obama's refusal to understand how to govern shows in that he thinks he's actually competent enough to handle executive memoranda.

Some Thoughts On NFL 2014

The NFL's 2014 season has wrapped up and there's a lot to say about it.   Some thoughts as the playoffs count down -

The Return Of Parcellsball - To a striking extent what jumped out at me was how many teams took the ball out of their quarterbacks' hand and put it in the hands of the running game and the defense.   The most obvious examples were the Cowboys - whose defense was ostensibly awful in 2013 - and the Broncos.   A few years ago it seemed everyone was saying the league was all-passing all the time - it's not that way anymore; indeed what has come to the fore is that increased passing has opened up run games, to where Detroit's 2013 win over the Cowboys where Matthew Stafford threw for 488 yards yet the Lions still busted out over 140 (strikingly unnoticed) rushing yards may become the archtypal NFL game going forward.

There Was A Lot Of Scoring But Curiously Uncompetitive Games - 2014 didn't seem to have that much in the way of the kind of super-competitive games that would get the NFL Films Game Of The Week treatment.  Denver's 39-36 comeback over Miami, Miami's 37-35 win over the Vikings, and San Diego's amazing coemback win over the 49ers were perhaps the best games of the season.   The previous two years saw a sizeable number of such games - 2012 saw the amazing 41-34 Giants-Bucs shootout, Tennessee's 44-41 overtime heart attack game over the Lions and the Titans' 35-34 thriller over the Bills, the 38-31 Bengals win over the Redskins, the controversial 31-30 Ravens win over the Patriots, and numerous other amazing games.   2013 also saw a slew of genuinely great games - New England's comeback wins over New Orleans, Denver, and Houston, plus the astonishing finish against Cleveland, Houston's shocker over San Diego, the mind-blowing 51-48 Broncos win over the Cowboys, the Jets upset of the Falcons, the Green Bay-Minnesota tie, the Cardinals' 37-34 escape at Tennessee, the 41-38 San Diego win at Kansas City, and the history-making 45-44 Colts playoff win over Kansas City, to name several. 

Mind-blowingly Poor Coaching In Several Quarters - The excuses made for Rex Ryan have come fast and furious with the potential of his firing from the NY Jets, and the excuses really are not to be taken seriously.   The reality is that Ryan is not that good a coach - his preparation is chronically inadequate, attention to detail is slipshod, and his reputation as a players coach has meant what it has always meant - he doesn't instill adequate discipline in players.   His inability to develop quarterbacks first showed with Mark Sanchez and continued with Geno Smith and Michael Vick.  

That the Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins at the end of the season also bodes poorly for Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who once again saw a capable team falter down the stretch.   One has to now wonder if Philbin really is in over his head as an NFL coach.

The collapse of the Falcons after 2012 has raised the spectre that Mike Smith will be replaced by Rex Ryan - that Smith has worn out his act in Atlanta seems clear enough.   We also got a poor first impression out of new Bucs coach Lovie Smith, who may have Jameis Winston as his starting quarterback in 2015.

But the worst of the lot is clearly Ken Whisenhunt, who took over a Tennessee Titans team that under Mike Munchak fought to the end of almost every game - this is what made 2013's frustration all the worse; it was a team of legitimate 12-4 caliber - and made that team into the worst in the league, a team that basically quit on the season.   The issue of quarterback was one Whisenhunt could never make better; whether he plays ever again is still a question but clearly Jake Locker showed more than what Charlie Whitehurst has, and while Zach Mettenberger showed some talent the rawness was also obvious and he never showed evidence of being able to stop bleeding, notably in the loss to the Steelers.

Burning Out And The Failure Of The Read-Option - That is the term that comes right to mind regarding the 49ers as Jim Harbaugh was subject to year-long controversy and quarterback Colin Kaepernick regressed quite graphically as the season went on, displaying no ability to process quarterbacking information and often panicking instead of facing adversity on the field head-on.   That Harbaugh was supposedly to be traded to the Browns was bizarre enough to open everyone's eyes and a sign there really was something wrong there.  

It should also be clear that read-option offenses cannot work in the NFL.   That the college game seems grossly inadequate at properly training quarterbacks is an issue the game needs to address.

The Decline Of Peyton Manning And The Collapse Of The AFC West - Once again arm strength showed noticeable deterioration as the season went on and the Broncos showed a struggle to put games away early and often, notably in nearly blowing it against Kansas City in Week Two.   That the Broncos grabbed a bye week after being humiliated by the Bengals came because of the collapse of the AFC West, which failed to produce a single win over the Broncos.  

San Diego's regression was all the more gnawing as Philip Rivers failed to pull one out of the hat, this after dominating Peyton Manning for a lengthy portion of his career.

Kansas City regressed from 11-5 to 9-7; though they had more wins over quality opponents (four) than in 2013 (just one) overall the Chiefs got worse instead of better, and the Alex Smith experiment has to end.

Contrary To Myth, Officiating Was Not A Serious Problem - Entering the season there was concern that the NFL would over-officiate games after showing signs of such in the preseason, notably the Eagles-Patriots game.   As the season got going, though, penalties did not show any sign of interfering with games; indeed what was striking was that penalties against offense seemed more frequent than normal and certainly was enough to dispel the myth that the league will not let teams play defense.

The Pipe Dream That Won't Go Away - Yes, the idea that Los Angeles should or will get an NFL team continued.   That the league will try to ram it down everyone's throats is obvious; that no one is biting is also obvious, with targeted teams refusing to leave their present homes (and NO sign their host cities will or even should ever let them leave), and no evidence there is any fanbase for a team in that city, one of the worst in the country between nitwit politicians and a population of transients, degenerates (see all the street gangers with Oakland Raiders gear), and indifference.  

The Media War Against Roger Goodell - The Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic violence controversies saw a gigantic media crusade against Roger Goodell and served to mask the real problem that is the media's grotesque grandstanding on these issues.   Media coverage of Ray Rice was chronically inadequate, merely a regurgitation of anger instead of some actual analysis, which would have noticed that Goodell was actually correct in his initial punishment of Rice.   It remains absurd that seemingly no one in the Mainstream Sports Media ever dissents from the established myth created at the beginning of issues like this.

Finally, A Resurgance In The AFC East - Buffalo finished 9-7 and Miami 8-8, and for the first time since 2000 both teams won against the Patriots.   That it didn't matter is true enough - New England locked up the AFC's top seed and treated its last two games as semi-preseason games with experimentation on line combinations.   It nonetheless served as a legitimate step forward for the division, especially with Buffalo's resurgance after over a decade of irrelevance and a change of ownership a long time needed.  

And thus it is as the 2014 playoffs beckon.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Abu Ghraib Confession Proving To Be A Lie

The NY Times op-ed "confession" to torture of Islamo-Arab savages is falling apart while the Senate report ripping the CIA for torture is also worthless.

NFL Top 10: Brady-Manning Games

The 2015 AFC playoffs are almost here and we may yet again see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning square off.   Given how much energy this rivalry has generated it ranks as something the league really has never seen before - a rivalry driven exclusively by the showdown of the two quarterbacks.   Team rivalries and coaching rivalries have been many a chapter in NFL history but this rivalry may top them all.   

In the format of NFL NETWORK'S series NFL Top 10, we look back at the top ten games of the Brady-Manning rivalry -


#10: THE 2001 DEBUT - Tom Brady had been a low-round draft pick who'd risen up the New England Patriots depth chart almost entirely unnoticed; in Week 3 of 2001 he took over as starter after the near-fatal chest injury absorbed by Drew Bledsoe.   The Indianapolis Colts were division rivals of the Patriots and Peyton Manning was in his fourth season; he had already won 28 games and made two ill-fated playoff trips; Manning's Colts had already crushed the New York Jets and Buffalo by a combined score of 87-50 entering this game.

It didn't matter.   Bryan Cox's savage hit on receiver Jerome Pathon surged throughout the Colts lineup and suddenly they were playing scared.   Otis Smith and Ty Law ran back Manning interceptions for touchdowns; trailing 23-7 the floor collapsed on the Colts in the fourth quarter as the Patriots nailed down 21 points for the ultimate 44-13 win.  Brady put up 168 passing yards in a modest start while five Patriots players combined for 177 rushing yards. 

A month later at the RCA Dome Brady unleashed a more aggressive quarterbacking attack; he threw three touchdowns while receiver David Patten threw a 60-yard bomb, caught a 91-score, and ran in a touchdown as the Patriots absorbed nearly 500 Indianapolis yards to win 38-17.   Peyton Manning managed only one touchdown as Colts GM Bill Polian was overheard in the press box demanding his players break bones of Patriots players.

It was just the beginning.


#9: THE GOALLINE STAND, 2003 -  Entering Week 13 of the 2003 season the Colts had become a superpower in the race for the playoffs after exploding to a history-making comeback win over the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 5; the Patriots were also in the race after a slugfest of a win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 5 (the Titans for their part were neck-and-neck with both at 9-2) and at the RCA Dome at the end of November the Patriots and Colts met for the first time since divisional realignment put the Colts into the now-second-year AFC South.  

It began as another Patriots rout; Tom Brady led three drives putting up 17 points.   The Colts scored 10 points before Bethel Johnson ran back a 92-yard kick at the end of the first half.   The game then changed after Brady led another touchdown drive for a 31-10 lead; two interceptions and three Manning touchdowns put the game 31-31; another monster Johnson kick return led to a Brady touchdown to Deion Branch; a Kevin Faulk fumble led to a Colts field goal, then in the final minutes a bad shank of a punt by Ken Walter put the ball around the 50 and Manning whipped the Colts to the Patriots 2, but there two runs and a forlorn toss led to a 4th and 1 run by Edgerrin James blown up for a loss of two yards and a 38-34 Patriots win.   Willie McGinest played a key role; "I saw (Manning) tap his butt" thus signalling a run play he helped blow up.  


- The NFL inaugurated Thursday Night Football in 2004 by scheduling the Colts at Foxboro in Week 1.   Manning led the Colts to a 17-13 halftime lead, but then Brady erupted to put the Patriots up 27-17; a late Colts touchdown was followed by a final drive, but on 3rd down McGinest sacked Manning, setting up a 48-yard field goal try by Mike Vanderjagt, who hadn't missed in over 40 consecutive tries and taunted the Patriots sideline by rubbing his fingers in a "money" gesture - except he wasn't money, shanking the kick for the 27-24 Patriots win.


#7: THE PLAYOFFS, 2003 AND 2004 - The Colts won the AFC South title in 2003 and 2004 and faced the Patriots in snowy Foxboro both times.   In 2003 the Patriots edged the Titans 17-14 as Steve McNair, co-MVP with Manning that year, lived up to being MVP in a taut game where he barely came short on a pass to Drew Bennett.   Manning meanwhile had exploded to his first two playoff wins, but in the AFC Championship Game he was not in McNair's playoff class as he was intercepted four times.   The Patriots for their part didn't play particularly well, forced into five Adam Vinatieri field goals and eventually grinding out a 24-14 win and path to Superbowl XXXVIII against the upstart Carolina Panthers.

In 2004 Manning was back, but this time the Patriots unleashed a powerful run game led by Corey Dillon, the former Bengal.   Dillon and Kevin Faulk combined for 200 rushing yards and ate up so much clock it gave Manning indigestion; his endzone interception on the final play capped off a hideous playoff failure, 20-3, as Brady was on his way to another Superbowl.  


#6: PEYTON'S BREAKTHROUGH, 2005 - 2005 was mainly a forgettable season for the Patriots as they limped into November 7's Monday Night Football match at 4-3 with the Colts at 7-0.   Brady managed three touchdowns but Manning was unstoppable rolling to 40 points and his first win over the Patriots since 2000, and first ever win at Foxboro.   This win signalled a permanent change in the rivalry, as Manning would never again be New England's patsy.


-  Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, and Adalius Thomas were the key free agent pickups as the Patriots made the most determined run to a Superbowl ever seen, exploding to put up over 34 points per game.  The Patriots were 8-0 and the Colts 7-0 as they entered November at the RCA Dome.   The game became one of the highest-rated broadcasts in CBS history as Randy Moss caught a short touchdown but the Colts clawed to a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter.   Down by two scores, Brady finally got his offense going on a 60-yard bomb to Moss to the Colts 3, and a third-down touchdown to Welker.   After forcing a Colts punt the Patriots raced to the go-ahead touchdown, on a pass to Moss, a 40-yard strike to Stallworth, and the touchdown to Kevin Faulk.   Manning was then strip-sacked by former RCA Dome popcorn vendor Roosevelt Colvin, a longtime nemesis of Manning from his Chicago Bears days.   Brady converted the needed first down and the Patriots had broken the Colts' unbeaten streak, 24-20.


#4: FOURTH AND TWO, 2009
- The Colts were unbeaten on November 15, 2009 when they hosted the Patriots, and the game started as a Patriots runaway as Brady and Manning combined for four touchdowns and a 24-14 Patriots lead; a goalline fumble by embattled running back Laurence Maroney wiped out a third-quarter Patriots touchdown, and Moss' catch put the Pats up 31-14 entering the fourth quarter.   But Manning connected with Pierre Garcon and in the final three minutes the Patriots led 34-28 but were pinned at their own 28 needing two more yards; Bill Belichick went for the fourth down conversion and a pass to Kevin Faulk appeared to break the first down plane but was ruled short by referee Scott Green.   When Manning tossed the winning touchdown in the final seconds the media storm against Belichick was enormous like the league hadn't seen since 1995's fourth down failure by the Cowboys against the Eagles.  


- In 2010 the Colts traveled to Foxboro for the first time since 2006 and were 6-3 with the Patriots 7-2.   The Patriots had changed their offense with Randy Moss traded after Week 4 and Deion Branch returned after four seasons in Seattle; they had also drafted two boffo tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.   The game on November 21 began with the pattern that had developed from 2003 - once again the Patriots raced to a big lead, taking a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter.   And once again Manning roared back, this time with two touchdowns to Blair White in the fourth.   Once again the Patriots couldn't put Manning away and Peyton had the ball in the final minutes driving remorselessly.

But this time a pass to the Patriots 6-yard line was intercepted by James Sanders, and the Patriots won 31-28.   The game began a three-game losing streak for the Colts, and amid a 38-35 overtime loss to the Cowboys radioman Bob Lamey was heard to blast Peyton's declining play.   Following a wildcard round bow-out to the NY Jets, neck surgery for Manning wound up ending his career at the Colts.  


BEST OF THE REST: - After Manning left the Colts, Tom Brady faced heralded youngster Andrew Luck in 2012 and again in the 2013 playoffs; the results were disturbingly reminiscent of days of yore for the Colts; in 2012 two interceptions were turned into Patriots touchdowns and New England won 59-24.   In the 2013 playoffs LeGarrette Blount led an unprecedented Patriots rushing attack while Luck was intercepted four times in a 43-22 Patriots win.

Before Manning faced Brady, he squared off against Drew Bledsoe for three seasons.   In September 1999 at Foxboro Manning exploded to three touchdowns and an Edgerrin James rushing score, but Bledsoe erased Manning's 28-7 lead on three unanswered touchdowns (including the final two career scoring catches for tight end Ben Coates).   James' late fumble set up the winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri and the 31-28 Patriots win.  

Blowing a 21-point lead in Foxboro was a harbinger of another Manning disaster fourteen years later.......

- Manning was signed by the Denver Broncos in 2012 and led Denver to a 13-3 season.   In 2013 on Sunday Night Football the Patriots hosted the Broncos a year after defeating Manning 31-21 and now fresh off a controversial loss to the Carolina Panthers.   The first half was a disaster for the Patriots, as three fumbles and a failed fourth-down attempt led to a Von Miller touchdown, a Manning score, and a 24-0 Broncos lead.  

But facing cold winds Tom Brady put on a history-making performance, exploding to three touchdowns, a fourth touchdown drive, and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, all aided as the Patriots defense bullied the Broncos into three fumbles and a Manning interception.   The Patriots led 31-24 before a late Manning touchdown tied the game.  In overtime (a first for the rivalry) the Patriots elected to defend the endzone where the winds were blowing toward the Broncos instead of take the initial possession, a decision that puzzled observors, but after an exchange of three punts the Patriots at the very least didn't look foolish; instead on their second punt former Patriot Wes Welker hesitated on the kick and the ball bounced off a teammate and was grabbed by the Patriots at the Broncos 12-yard line.   The Broncos called two timeouts and the two-minute warning for overtime passed before Gostkowski drilled the winning field goal, 34-31.   It was the largest comeback win in Patriots history, surpassing 1984's comeback win over the Seahawks down 23-0 to win 38-23.   It also cemented Brady's repuation as a superior cold-weather quarterback.  


BEST OF THE REST: In 2014 Manning and Brady met for the sixteenth time and the Patriots authored their most lopsided win over Manning (43-21) since 2001. Brady threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns while Manning was intercepted twice and stopped on fourth down four times, three of them in the fourth quarter. 


The Number One Brady-Manning Game Of All - THE 2006 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - It will almost certainly be cited as the greatest by all retrospectives on their careers.   The showdown for Superbowl XLI was a shocker that still permeates both New England and Indianapolis.   The Colts had shot down the Chiefs and Ravens while the Patriots upended the Jets and Chargers for this meeting at the RCA Dome, and the Patriots once again raced to a big lead; when Asante Samuel intercepted Manning and scored, the Patriots led 21-3, but Manning exploded the Colts to tie the game.   After swapping touchdowns and field goals the Patriots led 34-31 but needing a goalline stand in the final minute, they didn't get it; after Joseph Addai's touchdown Brady was intercepted and the Colts had won 38-34, on their way to only the second Superbowl win in their history and first as an Indianapolis team.  

2013's AFC Championship Game turned out to be another Manning triumph, his eighth in 22 career games against the Patriots, and fifth in fifteen meetings with Tom Brady.   It was anything but an end; Brady and the Patriots authored their worst rout of Manning since 2001 in 2014's 43-21 slaughter at Foxboro; the win was another on Brady's path to his history-making Superbowl XLIX triumph.   The rivalry thus awaits the 2015 season at Mile High.