Posted: Monday January 16, 2006 10:56AM; Updated: Monday January 16, 2006 7:43PM
4. I think this is what I didn't like about the divisional playoff weekend:
a. Seattle got away with an awful punt-return day from Jimmy Williams. Amazing, when you think about it, that a backup cornerback can have so much influence on a football game. This man almost lost the game for Seattle. He let his first attempt bounce 15 yards downfield rather than fair-catch it, fumbled and recovered his second try, and stupidly fielded the third punt with a Redskin right on top of him. On his fourth attempt, Williams fumbled and gave it away to Washington, handing the incredibly feeble Redskin offense a gift field goal in a game in which three points was like a bar of gold bullion. I am baffled that Mike Holmgren kept Williams on the job the rest of the day, which was uneventful.
b. And one more thing: If Seattle is as bad on special teams next Sunday as they were the other day, I guarantee they will lose.
c. I simply can't believe the Jets would hire Mike Tice. I think it's a one-man horse race: Eric Mangini or bust.
d. How about Peyton Manning gently sliding his line under the bus (as opposed to throwing them under it) by saying, "I'm looking for a safe word here. I don't want to be a bad teammate. Let's just say we had some problems in protection.'' That'll go over well with a line that had trouble picking up the Pittsburgh blitz.
e. Did Dick Enberg really describe the stabbing of Indy cornerback Nick Harper as "an accident?'' Did I hear right? Yes.
f. Who was that masquerading as Manning on the first two Colts drives?
g. My Lord! When's the last time Manning started a game 2-of-9 for 37 yards? Pop Warner ball in New Orleans?
h. Manning: 3-6 in the playoffs.
i. I've got to admit it now. You may have sensed it from me all year. I respected how the Bears got where they got to, but I just never thought they were that good. Awful division and so limited on offense. A total replay of 2001.
j. Redskins seemed awful blasé about losing a winnable game.
k. Clinton Portis was just too beat up to be great on Saturday.
l. I'm still amazed that Brady missed two fairly open receivers for touchdowns. That last happened, I think, in practice one day in Ann Arbor seven or eight years ago.
5. I think part of the football world, even the conquering part, feels for Tony Dungy this morning. "My heart goes out to him,'' Bettis told me. "I'm not sorry we won, obviously, but I really like Tony, and I know he's hurting.''
6. I think I talked to one league official, two head coaches, a quarterback, and a GM as the day progressed on Sunday, and there was one common theme: The officials are making too many mistakes for this time of year. The one that NO ONE could believe was the Asante Samuel interference on Ashley Lelie. As the GM said: "Don't tell me that didn't have a big part in the outcome of the game because the game ended up not being close. It was huge.'' I say: Allow replay for pass interference. I know it opens up a can of worms, but it's just too big a problem six or eight times a year, and it's a problem that can be corrected.
7. I think this about the situation of Kansas City offensive coordinator AlSaunders, who has choreographed and called every offensive snap for the highest-scoring team in football over the last four years, and yet seems to be a candidate for only one of the open jobs, Oakland. If Saunders were black, Jesse Jackson would be holding rallies to rail against the injustice of him not being in demand as a head coach.
8. After talking to Buffalo GM Marv Levy, I'm thinking there might be a bit of a learning curve for him. When Levy took the job, he told owner Ralph Wilson, 'I've never done this before. I've got a lot to learn.'' Those can't be comforting words for Bills Nation. I'll tell you what Levy can do that would help the coaches he hires: Be the buffer between Wilson and the head coach. Let's just say that Wilson's phone calls to Tom Donahoe and the last couple of Bills coaches -- sometimes many calls per day -- took up a lot of time that could have been used for football. I asked Levy what he was looking for in a head coach. "Let's see,'' he said. "Vince Lombardi? I'm not looking for a defensive guy or an offensive guy. I'm looking for the best coach.''
9. I think I am officially worried about Eli Manning. I spent two hours last week watching coaches' tape of the Giants' loss to Carolina in the wild-card playoffs, and Manning was far worse than he looked on TV. And that was bad enough. I've been a Manning backer and I continue to be one, but let me point out a couple of things that made me wonder if he'll ever be great. One: I'm not sure if it's because he's worried about getting blasted by the oncoming pass rush, but often, at the end of throws, he turns his body almost in a flinching way. Turning his body takes away some of his accuracy. If you're a quarterback, you've got to know it's vital to stand in there, in the face of any kind of pass rush, and not let that pass rush affect the ball you're about to throw.
Two: This one is just as alarming. Some of Manning's judgments are brutal. Early in the third quarter, backed up deep in his territory, he went back to pass, faded right slightly, and was boring a hole with his eyes through Jeremy Shockey, who was running an intermediate cross from the strong side to weak.
Manning was so obviously looking for Shockey -- and this all happens within a second, so it's hard to see while watching TV or from inside the stadium -- that the Panthers' right cornerback, Chris Gamble, sprinted down off his man and toward Shockey. And Manning can't sense the impending doom, even with Shockey covered and a helper coming down over the top. He throws, awkwardly, across his body, and it settles into the hands of his unintended receiver, Gamble.
Manning needs to have a gut-check offseason. He needs to work on his weaknesses. Big-time.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I'm all for gender equity, but shouldn't Michelle Wie win a women's tournament before she enters the men's events? What's happening with this kid is a disservice to her. Her parents and handlers should stop pushing her -- even if she wants to be pushed -- onto the biggest stage before she conquers the women's stage. It reminds me a bit of what happened to David Clyde, the high school fastballer of a generation ago, who stepped from 12th grade to the major leagues with the Texas Rangers and had his career ruined because of it.
b. Have we missed one of the great sports stories of our time? Or overlooked it a bit? Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic champion figure skater, always seemed like a totally with-it kid, life in perspective. Her kid sister, Emily, was in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Louis over the weekend, and Sarah was there cheering her on. Sarah is a 20-year-old sophomore at Yale now. And for all the superstar kids who get lost in sports and let sports determine the outcome of their lives, Sarah should be a tremendous role model. Instead of living off a few moments of skating and a gold medal, Sarah told Christine Brennan of USA Today: "I'm incredibly proud of my performance, but the things I'll tell my grandchildren about are that moment [when fans rained cheers down on her], about walking into the Opening Ceremonies, about seeing my parents in the stands. I'll remember these things more than landing a triple lutz. You can be the most prepared you've ever been, but what happens on the ice can be determined by a slip of the blade. The only thing you can be sure of is the experience, because you never know how it's going to go on the ice.'' Pretty cool kid.
c. I must say I'm a fan of the skating, and though I missed the finals on TV, I think it's absurd that you don't have to compete to earn a spot on the Olympic team. If Michelle Kwan can't skate because of injury, so be it. Let the others compete for the three spots on the Olympic team.
d. Johnny Weir. Johnny Weird.
e. Coffeenerdness: I have gotten a lesson in hot drinks from a former coffee-aholic, Phil Simms. I spent some time with him the other day -- he was gracious enough to host three auction winners for a New Jersey charity I support, showing these guys how he watches football gametape to prepare for a game -- and he busted out the Bigelow green tea, then lectured us on how good green tea is for you. So, of course, now I'm on a green tea kick. If it's good enough for Joe Torre and Simms, it's good enough for me.
f. By the way, I need to publicly thank Jeremy Shockey. A couple of weeks ago, I took a New Jersey high school tight end who'd had a brain tumor removed to see Shockey at Giants Stadium. Shockey hung with the kid, gave him a football, signed it, posed for pictures, told him to enjoy high school times because they'd be the best years of his life, and thoroughly lifted his spirits. Shockey could have mumbled a few words and moved on. Instead, he gave someone a lasting memory and some hope.