Peyton Manning is one win away from furthering his NFL legacy. His NFC foe will be the New Orle… ndskbhvkzcb hdbc (sorry, I fumbled my laptop) …the New Orleans Saints. Let’s review Sunday’s action.
(5) Jets 17 at (1) Colts 30
Peyton Manning was simply too much for the New York defense. Even “Revis Island” couldn’t derail Manning. It took 28 minutes, but Manning and the Indianapolis offense eventually solved Rex Ryan’s defense en route to a 30-17 victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
As I mentioned in my preview, the Jets were a good team with luck on their side. That luck ran out Sunday afternoon. Field goal misses went against New York as Jay Feely missed a 44 yard field goal (as well as a 52 yarder), and a defense that had carried the Jets ultimately failed.
It was a game of two very different halves, well almost. With a little over two minutes remaining in the first half with his team trailing by 11, Manning drove the Indianapolis offense on an 80 yard touchdown drive in just over a minute. While the Colts never looked back, the Jets never recovered. Manning picked apart the New York secondary, moving defensive backs with his eyes and pump fakes, and then hitting receivers in stride. It wasn’t always so easy for Manning and the Colts, especially early on.
For most of the first half it looked as if the Jets were going to frustrate Manning and possibly sneak out of Indy with a win. Manning was under siege, surrendering sacks and getting pressured into poor throws. Eventually, the Colts’ offensive line adjusted. As a result, Manning went essentially untouched for the entire second half. Leaving Manning alone in the pocket is trouble. With time, Manning dissected and shredded the secondary down to its core.
Manning didn’t need his two primary targets to do so either. With Darrelle Revis on Reggie Wayne and the Jet linebackers blanketing Dallas Clark, Manning comfortably exploited the Jets secondary via the depth of his receiving corps. As good as Revis was, he couldn’t eliminate all of Manning’s weapons. Pierre Garcon (11-151-TD) and Austin Collie (7-123-TD) ran circles around New York’s other defensive backs. Manning moved the Indianapolis offense at will, sustaining five drives over 70 yards, and only punting once in the second half (excluding a fourth quarter punt after the game was decided). In the biggest game of the year, against the league’s best defense, Manning was unstoppable.
In a conference championship game there are usual more aspects to cover. Yes, the Indy defense deserves a great deal of credit for containing the Jets ground game, and Mark Sanchez deserves a nod for playing well. But in the end, today was about Manning. Once he hit Collie for three straight passes and a touchdown to close the first half, the game was over. I knew it, the Jets knew it, and Manning knew it. I’m glad we get to watch for one more week.
(2) Vikings 28 at (1) Saints 31 OT
Fumbling six times and throwing two interceptions won’t produce conference championships. On the other hand, an overtime defeat must be the most favorable outcome in the history of the NFL when a team is as careless with the ball as the Minnesota Vikings were on Sunday evening. I’m not one to argue the better team lost, because if they were better, they’d have won. But tonight’s Vikings team? Whoooooff. How many touchdowns do they win by if the Saints don’t figure out the fumble button on the joystick? At least two, right? Regardless, that was one of the sloppiest playoff games I’ve ever seen. The officiating was dreadful, the coaching was questionable, and the mistakes were endless. Maybe we should just give the Jets a second shot at the Colts for the Super Bowl.
Of the final four teams, New Orleans was the team I couldn’t bear to see in Miami. Now, because Minnesota resorted to earplugs, the Saints will headline the sports world for the next two weeks, and longer if they upset the Colts. I might have to hibernate. I knew this would happen. It was inevitable. Interceptions, fumbles, earplugs; even Brett Favre can’t overcome that lineup.
Let’s start with Brad Childress’ game management at the close of the 4th quarter. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but when did a 51 yard field become a comfortable distance for a game-winning kick? Two conservative run calls for no gain were baffling. Even in a dome, you have to give your kicker at least six more yards there. Not moving the ball on first or second down forced the Vikings into a difficult position on third down. Third and long (even longer after the penalty) allowed the Saints to be more aggressive in forcing a mistake. Childress’ whole sequence there was a disaster, even for an Andy Reid disciple… and that’s saying something. I understand running the ball to keep the clock moving. I agree with keeping the clock running. However, you can do that with a screen or the inside slants/curls that were successful all game, anything to move the ball. Another first down should have been the priority with running the clock as the secondary goal. Childress’ decision to prioritize eating the clock cost his team a shot at the Super Bowl. Get in reasonable field goal range, and then worry about the clock. Not vice versa.
Minnesota’s turnovers will also haunt them for a long, long, long time. Their performance was Bill Buckner-esque. Favre’s performance, while subpar, wasn’t surprising. I witnessed the 4th and 26 miracle back in 2004. What’s often lost in that game was Favre’s awful interception in overtime. That interception led to the Eagles’ victory. The same was true two years ago when Favre handed the Giants a trip to the Super Bowl. Favre’s done this before. To be surprised would be naive. It’s equivalent to finding out a politician lied or your investment portfolio tanked.
The fumbles, on the other hand, I can’t believe. Six, count them, 1 2 3 4 5… six fumbles. I’m sure there’ve been more in a single game, but that’s the worst I’ve ever seen. Even though only three were ultimately lost, two were surrendered inside the ten yard line. Inside the ten! That’s at least six points in a game the Vikings lost by… hold on, let me check… oh that’s right… they lost by three… in overtime!!!! Brett Favre and the Vikings had a Super Bowl berth in their grasp and literally let it slip through their hands.
I know I’m supposed to praise the Saints for hanging tough and pulling this one out. I can’t do it. Please explain to me where it would have been tough for New Orleans to “hang around.” Turnovers offer the quickest momentum change in football. If anything, we should be praising Minnesota for hanging tough. Five turnovers plus three more fumbles is more than enough to make a team say, “It’s just not our day,” and give up and go home. The Vikings continued to battle and almost overcame a horrific performance. The Saints didn’t hang around; like an annoying friend at a boring party, the Vikings wouldn’t let them leave.
I’ve read a lot of blame heaped upon the officials too. Arguing they made sure the New Orleans fairytale didn’t end. I agree they blew the pass interference call at the end and some lousy calls elsewhere. However, if the game were fixed, the NFL would want Favre in the big game. While it’s hard to excuse such an atrocious call with the game on the line (the pass interference call), the officials weren’t as awful as either fan base would argue. Alright, that’s enough. My head is spinning. I can’t keep going. I’ll cut to the New Orleans locker room to close this week’s recap (this may have actually happened)…
Sean Payton (surrounded by his players while holding a football up): “Great Job today gentlemen. You hung in there, believed in each other, and now we’re going to the Super Bowl!!! Who Dat?!” “Now… (players screaming, celebrating)…Now, let’s make sure this game ball goes where it belongs.” (Dramatic pause)… “To the Minnesota Vikings! Without them, we’d be blubbering babies right now.”
Agreed. Now let’s cut to the Minnesota locker room (this definitely happened)…
Brett Favre (standing in the middle of a dejected locker room with the team around him): “Balls on the ground, balls on the ground! Looking like fools putting the balls on the ground! Choking in your throat. Got hit sideways. Balls to the ground!”