Posted: Monday January 16, 2006 10:56AM; Updated: Monday January 16, 2006 7:43PM
Too bad they didn't have a direct line to Gladys Bettis, Jerome's mother, in the stands at the RCA Dome. She was freaking out up there. Colts drive again, and with 25 seconds left, on second-and-two from the Pittsburgh 28, Manning throws for Reggie Wayne in the end zone. There is contact with cornerback Bryant McFadden, and for the 965th time this weekend, we all look for a flag and a horrendous pass interference call. But no, the flags stay in the pockets! Tony Dungy screams! But no. And now it's time for Mike Vanderjagt to try a 46-yard field goal.
"Idiot kicker,'' Manning once called him. Bad kicking karma. The idiot Kicker will never live this one down. Never. The Idiot Kicker just continued the Lousy Streak that is Peyton Manning's playoff career. The kick is so far right that I was sure Vanderjagt was aiming for the pylon at the right corner of the end zone. Choke!
Thank God for instant replay and CBS cameramen. "He missed,'' we see Dungy say. "He missed it!'' Cowher yells. "He missed it!''
Ladies and gentlemen, we have the greatest game of the season. Of many seasons, probably. And in the car on the way home, Bettis has begun to calm down. Until I tell him: "You are one game away from playing the Super Bowl in your hometown."
"Hey,'' he said with a caution, "don't get ahead of ourselves now. We've done it the right way the last few weeks, when every game's been like a playoff game for us. Go back to our home game with Chicago [in Week 14]: Ever since then, every week it's been win or go home. Same thing this [coming] week at Denver. No one on this team will look past that game, I can promise you.'' Then he chuckled and said, "But I like our chances. I can't wait for Sunday."
The Fine Fifteen
Tom Brady threw two uncharacteristic interceptions against the Broncos on Saturday.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
1. Pittsburgh (13-5). Call this sacrilegious, but that might be the biggest win by the Steelers since Super Bowl XIV.
2. Indianapolis (14-3). Let the second-guessing about resting the Colts begin. To me, it doesn't matter. Pittsburgh's defense did Sunday's dirty work. Nothing else.
3. Denver (14-3). What a tough, tough game to pick. Give me 'til Wednesday on this one.
4. New England (11-7). In the end, the Patriots just weren't clutch. Troy Brown muffing a punt? Adam Vinatieri missing a relative chip shot? Tom Brady missing open receivers in the end zone? Absolutely, downright bizarre.
5. Seattle (14-3). I don't mean this as a rap, but watching Pats-Broncos and Steelers-Colts, is there any doubt the AFC is the superior conference right now? 'Hawks had better get some Krazy Glue for their return men.
6. Carolina (13-5). "I love Jake Delhomme,'' Matt Hasselbeck told me on Sunday night. "One of the most underrated players in the game. I think Carolina had the best shot of those two teams [Panthers, Bears] to go on the road and win, because of Jake.''
7. Chicago (12-6). Still think you made the right call "resting'' Rex Grossman in the season finale, Lovie?
8. Washington (11-7). Sean Taylor is not a good football player. He is a great football player. Not only does he hit like a heavyweight fighter, he also chases down plays everywhere. Being around the Seahawks last Thursday and Friday, you could just tell the immense respect they have for the guy. "He's one safety I just can't get a read on before the snap,'' Hasselbeck told me. Even if you could, he'd knock your block off.
9. Tampa Bay (11-6). Bucs catch a break when Monte Kiffin turned down the chance to interview with the Rams.
10. Jacksonville (12-5). If I were Wayne Weaver, I might be thinking extension for Jack Del Rio.
11. New York Giants (11-6). In the wake of the Tiki Barber "we were outcoached'' comments, I have two points to make:
1. I've been thinking a lot about what we expect from the athletes we watch and report about. We say we want honesty, but when we get honesty, as we did in this case, we say, "Whoa! How can you dump on your coaches like that?'' What is it that we want, then -- honesty or homogenized lying? Now that isn't to say Tiki should have gone out of his way to say the Panthers outcoached his Giants, the same way I don't think he should have said, "Boy, Eli Manning got undressed today, and he's got a long way to go before he's a good NFL quarterback.'' But if he does say it, while I'm not crazy about it and would rather have seen him say this privately to Tom Coughlin, I don't think it's the fall of western civilization, either.
2. What's so compelling about this particular case of athletic bluntness -- and perhaps so significant for the Giants -- is that Barber is universally seen as the player who says the exact right things at the right time. Like at the end of the Oakland game on New Year's Eve, when, seconds after the game was over, he didn't crow about his own incredible season. Instead, he told ESPN's Suzy Kolber on national TV how the team was so glad it was able to make the playoffs for the families of the two late owners, Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch. So imagine his level of passion about the issue of coaching if it bubbles to the surface in front of the press. If your marquee player, who always says the right thing, utters something like this after a game, you have to think: There might be problems in Maraville that go beyond this game.
12. Cincinnati (11-6). I am just like the rest of wounded Bengaldom: I want to know if CarsonPalmer's going to be able to be Carson Palmer by Labor Day.
13. Dallas (10-6). Five weeks 'til pitchers and catchers, Bill Parcells.
14. San Diego (9-7). I've got news for anyone who thinks it was news that DrewBrees said he was entering negotiations for a long-term contract with the Chargers: Lindsay Lohan likes to go out at night.
15. Minnesota (9-7). Brad Childress has some significant work to do with Daunte Culpepper.