By Paul Gotham
Twenty-nine days ago, Jim Caldwell, Peyton Manning and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts endured a flock of boo birds amongst their fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. With home field advantage through the playoffs safely in hand, the Colts opted to rest their starters for the second half of their game against the New York Jets. Thus the Colts forfeited the opportunity of reaching a perfect season and allowed the Jets to avoid elimination.
Luck seemed an adversary when the Colts would have to face those same Jets for the AFC Championship. The difference now was Gang Green no longer was facing elimination but walking arm in arm with momentum.
Irony looked like the tone of the day as the Jets held the Colts scoreless in the first quarter. The Colts’ troubles deepened when a drive stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a field goal. New York added to Indy’s miseries with a quick strike and a 7-3 lead.
New York would strike twice more – a touchdown and a field goal. On the sideline, there were signs of frustration from Manning. ‘Ground and pound’ closed in on the American vernacular.
When the dust of the second stanza settled, a 17-13 score in favor of the Jets stared the Colts in the face. Usually no deficit is too much for Manning and the Colts. Except that this deficit was to a team that had not surrendered more than fifteen points since the end of November.
That was when the Colts went “forward in this generation” and earned their redemption.
The Colt offense scored 17 in the second half while the Colt defense kept the Jets out of the end zone.
With Reggie Wayne nearly suffocated in a Darrelle Revis blanket, Manning turned to Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie to pick apart the top defense in the league. Garcon grabbed a four yard pass from Manning to put the Colts ahead to stay seven minutes into the third. Garcon’s touchdown begs the question: has a D3 player ever caught a touchdown pass in an NFL Conference Championship game? During his college years, Garcon roamed the gridiron at Mount Union College.
Garcon made 11 catches on the day for 151 yards.
Clark caught a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth. Collie made seven grabs for 123 yards. Then the Colts became a ball-control team – something they scoffed at earlier this year. Earlier this year, the Colts scored 27 points with 14:53 worth of possession. On Championship Sunday, Manning orchestrated two second-half drives that lasted longer than five minutes a piece. The second of which came midway through the fourth quarter – a 12-play, 71-yard drive that took 5:33 and all but ended the Jets’ chances.
Manning finished 26-39 for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
“But my hand was made strong, by the hand of the almighty. We go forward in this generation, triumphantly.”
Mark Sanchez is no longer a rookie, and the New York Jets are none worse for the wear. Getting to the AFC Championship with a rookie quarterback is a testament to the balanced attack of the Jets. If not already, AFC East opponents should take notice. Rex Ryan has created a serious contender not just some one-year wonder.
“Don’t worry darlin’, now baby don’t you fret. We’re livin’ in the future, and none of this has happened yet.”
My City of Ruins
“With these hands, with these hands…Come on rise up! Come on rise up!”
Much has been made (as it should be) of the misfortune and ensuing struggle faced by the residents of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. To no small degree, the New Orleans Saints have played a role in boosting the morale of Gulf Coast denizens. Forced into a vagabond existence five years ago, the Saints’ triumphant return is near completion.
Garrett Hartley split the uprights in overtime to end an effort by the Saints that will be characterized more as opportunistic than precise.
Drew Brees completed 17 passes to eight different receivers for 197 yards. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush managed just 69 yards on 21 carries. But the only stat that matters is the final score: New Orleans 31 Minnesota 28.
Brees hooked up with Thomas in the first, Devery Henderson in the third and finally Reggie Bush in the fourth. Thomas also scored on a nine-yard run.
The Saint defense, like that port-a-potty at the family picnic, were johnny on the spot all day causing six Minnesota fumbles (three lost) and two interceptions.
“Now the sweet bells of mercy drift through the evening trees. Young men on the corner like scattered leaves. The boarded up windows, the empty streets while my brother’s down on his knees.”
The bitterest pill
Brad Childress and his Minnesota Vikings have the entire off-season to figure out how one team can dominate another by so much and come away with a loss. Minnesota nearly doubled New Orleans in total yards, 475-257. The Vikes outrushed the Saints (165-68) and outpassed the Saints (310-189). Yet, in the end, all that matters is 31-28.
Many will focus on the interception thrown by Brett Favre. Fair enough, it was an ill-advised pass. But don’t forget what else happened. It’s kind of like Bill Buckner’s error. Yeah, it happened. But how about the fact that Calvin Schiraldi had a two-run lead with two outs and no one on when he got confused and thought he was tossing batting practice. That’s sort of like the Vikings getting flagged for 12 men in the huddle…AFTER a timeout! Maybe a pass would not have been needed if the Vikings had that five yards back. Favre could have run to the sideline. True. But Bob Stanley did not need to bounce the ball five feet in front of the plate allowing the winning run to move into scoring position. And that Minnesota defensive back, who shall remain nameless, could have secured the ball that tipped off the hands of Marques Colston.
So Favre threw an interception on the last pass of his career…again. Bill Buckner let one go through the wickets. That’s all right, Favre will get his bust in Canton. Billy Buckner? This weekend he’ll be signing autographs at a card show or playing in some celebrity softball game. Somehow, life is not fair. Billy never made us endure any soap operas. I’m retired. I’m not retired. I’m retired. I’m not retired…
“The dying spark, you left your mark on me…for the bitterest pill is mine to swallow.”
McCarver trumps Aikman
Anyone else catch the exchange between Joe Buck and Troy Aikman? New Orleans got flagged for roughing the passer. On the first replay, Aikman commented that he didn’t like the call. Buck disagreed. You read that right. Buck disagreed. How many times has Tim McCarver put his foot in his mouth only to have pipsqueak smooth it over by mentioning that jello mouth caught Bob Gibson or something? Then Fox shows the replay again (remember, this is the NFL where a 60:00 game consists of about 15:00 of play, 25:00 of replays and 20:00 of watching guys stand in the hudlle or on the sideline). Aikman proceeds to explain himself at length. When he finished, Buck dismissed it: “I disagree.” I half expected him to pull a Demi Moore and “strenuously” disagree.
Joe? You do realize you are sitting next to hall-of-famer right? Not to mention a hall-of-fame quarterback. Okay, he’s had a couple of concussions, but the guy still has his wits about him. You might want to defer to his judgment in the future.
When Ron Jaworski makes a prediction, people should listen in the future. On the Sunday Morning Countdown, Jaws predicted that the Jets would go long on their third possession to Braylen Edwards. After the Colts made it three to nothing, the Jets took the kickoff for their third possession. First play, Sanchez dropped back and hit Edwards for an 80-yard touchdown. Now, THAT’S a prediction! Jaworski described how he had analyzed Jet tapes for a while and picked up on the tendency.
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