Snap Judgments: wild card weekend (cont.)
I might be about to go 0-for-2 this week on the Browns hiring front, but I'm hearing that Cleveland owner Randy Lerner is "smitten'' with ex-Jets head coach Eric Mangini, who has become the clear-cut favorite to replace Romeo Crennel.
And I promise you this: Mangini and Patriots president of player personnel Scott Pioli are not and never have been considered a package deal for the Browns. They are separate entities, and it was never a good bet that Cleveland could entice the two former good friends, but eventual Spygate combatants, to put everything to bed and join forces once again.
That's why if the Browns do hire Mangini, don't look for Pioli to be Lerner's top football man. Baltimore director of pro personnel George Kokinis, who remains very close to Mangini dating from their days together in Cleveland in the first half of the '90s, looks to be the driver's seat.
Reading the latest tea leaves, that puts Pioli in the Chiefs' wheelhouse. League sources tell me Pioli seems excited about the opportunity in Kansas City, which he's believed to be interviewing for Monday. Pioli still has to do his due diligence and thoroughly research the Cheifs' roster, but he's said to be high on some of the building blocks that Kansas City has in place (like offensive left tackle Branden Albert, and cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr).
The Chiefs are also in an enviable salary-cap situation, with at least $30 million of room to maneuver, and I don't think it hurts one bit that Pioli's wife was born and still has family in the Wichita, Kan., area. From a lifestyle perspective, Kansas City might be a better fit for Pioli than even Cleveland.
Say what you will about the Chargers being 0-5 against teams that made the playoffs this season, but they're 1-0 when it counts. And while we're at it, San Diego's Norv Turner is now 3-1 in the playoffs as the Chargers head coach. Marty Schottenheimer might continue to be beloved in some pockets of San Diego's locker room and fan base, but he was also 0-2 with a pair of first-round homefield divisional choke jobs in the playoffs with the Chargers.
I understand the saturation coverage of LaDainian Tomlinson's somewhat mysterious groin problem, but once again we learn that the pre-game injury sub-plot can wind up not mattering all that much once the game starts.
It's my belief that the Colts were hoping LT would play and play a lot, because Darren Sproles has been the Chargers' best play-maker out of the backfield for most of the season, and Indy knew it. With a healthy Sproles, he of the mind-boggling 328 yards of all-purpose yardage against the Colts, the loss of Tomlinson to injury just isn't the same game-changing story it once would have been.
Michael Turner, Sproles and Tomlinson were actually all on the same depth chart once upon a time? That's obscene.
Sproles accelerates to top speed faster than any other running back I've ever seen. He's not big enough to be a team's regular No. 1 back, at least for long, but he's the most elusive change-of-pace option we've seen in a very long time. Some team could make a mistake and try to give him big money if he reaches free agency next spring, but that's generally not a wise idea when you're talking about a complementary type back.
One Sproles low-light Saturday night however could have unforgivably ended the Chargers season. His fumble into the end zone was the perfect example of a back getting too greedy and not knowing enough to just take care of the football and accept being tackled at the 2 in a game you trail by just three points. Where is it written that every ballcarrier must now stretch out and try to extend the ball to break the plane, even when you're still five feet shy?
There was one of those overlooked and bizarre moments late in Saturday night's Colts-Chargers instant classic where failure actually behooved San Diego. Facing a 3rd and 10 from the Colts 44 and trailing 17-14 with 3:15 to play, the Chargers took a nine-yard sack by Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, which removed any chance that they could go for the first down on fourth down. Had San Diego gained even five yards on the play, the Chargers probably go for it and who knows what happens with the entire game riding on that one snap?
But facing a 4th and 19 from their own 47, it was a no-brainer to have Mike Scifries punt with 2:50 remaining. You know the rest. Scifries dropped the wedge shot that bounced out of bounds at the Colts 1, backing Indy into a huge hole from which it never really recovered.
The Colts wound up punting from their 1, and even though Hunter Smith boomed a 63-yarder, Chargers return man Darren Sproles clicked off 26 yards to get the ball to Indy 38 with 1:48 remaining. That positioned San Diego for the game-tying 26-yard Nate Kaeding field goal with 31 seconds remaining. With the game tied, all that was left was for the Chargers to win the overtime coin flip and drive to the winning score.
You just never know in the NFL playoffs. The Colts got the late fourth-quarter sack, and it wound up maybe helping the Chargers win.