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Snap judgments

Colts, Pats an Instant classic; Grossman still unsteady

Posted: Sunday January 21, 2007 8:59PM; Updated: Monday January 22, 2007 12:27PM
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Joseph Addai's winning touchdown capped a spectacular Colts comeback.
Joseph Addai's winning touchdown capped a spectacular Colts comeback.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and hopefully the occasional insight on championship game-Sunday ...

An instant classic. What other superlative remotely fits? The Colts' historic 38-34 comeback victory over New England in Sunday's AFC Championship game not only was the NFL's game of the year, but also one for the ages.

Maybe this is the rush of the moment talking, and instant analysis at its most hasty, but given the magnitude of what was at stake, and the storylines that this game were over-flowing with -- Peyton Manning's and Tony Dungy's career-defining moments (thus far), and the demise of the playoff gold standard duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick -- this one tops my list as the greatest game I've ever covered in 17 years of chronicling the NFL.

My nominations are:

1. Indianapolis 38, New England 34, 2006 AFC title game -- Manning and the Colts dig themselves a 21-3 first-half hole, and then storm back, with No. 18 finally slaying his personal dragons by leading Indy on a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:17. Can't really improve on that script. A game that had everything you could want and more.

2. Atlanta 30, Minnesota 27, 1998 NFC title game -- The visiting Falcons earn a Super Bowl trip by upsetting the 16-1 and heavily favored Vikings in overtime, on Morten Andersen's 38-yard field goal. Minnesota blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead, and saw Gary Anderson miss a 38-yard, game-clinching kick in the fourth quarter. It was the first missed kick of the season for Anderson.

3. New England 20, St. Louis 17, Super Bowl XXXVI -- Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal as time expired lifts the underdog Patriots to their first Super Bowl title, and gives birth to a dynasty. In the post 9/11 unity that swept the country, a Patriots win seemed somehow ordained.

4. St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16, Super Bowl XXXIV -- Maybe the most dramatic final play in Super Bowl history unfolded when Titans receiver Kevin Dyson was stopped one yard shy of the end zone by Rams linebacker Mike Jones, sealing the Rams win.

5. Carolina 29, St. Louis 23, 2004 NFC divisional playoffs -- The upstart Panthers shocked the host Rams in double overtime, winning on Steve Smith's 69-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the second overtime. Both teams missed field goal tries in the first overtime.

* You don't root in this job, but it's impossible to not be happy for Dungy, who along with his family endured perhaps the ultimate personal tragedy late last season. Dungy has never raised football to the level of significance that other coaches routinely do, and his trip to the Super Bowl won't define him, but I'm glad he's going to finally get to ply his craft on the game's grandest stage. He deserves that opportunity.

* Nice hands, Reche Caldwell. Hard to imagine Deion Branch letting so much slip through his fingers.

* And while we're at it, Colts Pro Bowl receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison came up awfully small for the victorious Colts. The pair combined for only nine catches and 109 yards against New England, hardly the stuff of domination.

• Not a big Rex Grossman fan. Not at all.

The Bears won the NFC title game in spite of their struggling starting quarterback. Not because of him. I'd even go as far as saying Grossman -- in his current incarnation -- is the worst Super Bowl quarterback since guys like New England's Tony Eason and Miami's David Woodley made the big stage.

I know it's subjective, but I'm sticking by that assessment. And don't throw names like Trent Dilfer and Jeff Hostetler at me. They both won their games and therefore don't deserve inclusion.

The 39-14 final score masked how badly Grossman played in the first half, when the Bears could only muster three Robbie Gould field goals -- despite starting numerous drives in Saints territory -- and a Thomas Jones-led touchdown drive. And we do mean led. Jones carried on all eight plays in the scoring march, covering 69 yards. That told you plenty about how the Bears felt regarding Grossman's game up to that point.

The only passes Grossman seemed to have trouble with all day were the forward ones. For the second week in a row, I saw Grossman repeatedly throwing off his back foot, or sidearm, or falling away from the pass pressure. He missed high, like when he couldn't even hit a wide-open Desmond Clark in the back of the end zone, despite being less than 15 yards away. He missed low, like when even flat passes to Jones proved difficult.

In the first half, Grossman was 3 of 12 for 37 yards, with a long gain of 30 (a crisp pass to Clark down the seam). That means he was 2 of 11 for 7 yards the rest of the time. The Bears simply do not trust him to run their entire offense, and I can't say that I blame them. He finished 11 of 26 for 144 yards, one touchdown and a 73.2 passer rating. Chicago was just three of 16 (19 percent) on third downs.

In fairness, Grossman helped his team by not hurting his team. He didn't commit a turnover, and took no sacks. The Saints tried to give the game away in the first half, and Grossman and the Bears were willing to let them. In some ways, that's all that was being asked of Grossman.

But the Bears beat the Saints on the strength of their defense (four takeaways), running game (196 yards rushing) and special teams (Gould's dependable right foot). Grossman just managed not to screw things up. That doesn't make him unworthy of the win, or a Super Bowl trip. It just makes him what he happens to be right now: A care-taker quarterback.

Do you need a prolific quarterback to win the Super Bowl? Absolutely not. Guys like Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Mark Rypien and Hostetler have proven that. But suffice to say Grossman will be the second best quarterback in this year's Super Bowl.

• Great song, guys. But the Saints aren't coming. Mainly because they picked a lousy time to start coughing up the football (four turnovers, three in the first half).

• Maybe playing all those years either in San Diego or in a dome (this season in New Orleans) made Drew Brees a bit soft, because he never did look comfortable playing in the elements in Chicago on Sunday. Which was surprising for a guy who played his college ball in sometimes tough weather conditions at Purdue.

Brees looked a bit overwhelmed by the size of the moment at hand, and even shaky at times. He certainly didn't look like the quarterback who finished second overall in the MVP voting.

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Don Banks covers pro football for SI.com.

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