Favorites making statements, the great Favre, more Snap Judgments
The Saints and Vikings got back on track, but the Chargers stumbled at home
Their masteries have put the entire "rest versus rust" debate on the back burner
Brett Favre's career-best four playoff TD tosses vs. Dallas only adds to his legend
SAN DIEGO -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we, for the second time in a row, had the good fortune of being at the only dramatic game of the NFL's playoff weekend, that 17-14 Jets upset of the stumbling, bumbling Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium....
Welcome to favorites weekend, and so much for the "rest versus rust" debate. For the first time in quite a while, the divisional round of the NFL playoffs was largely dominated by the upper seeds, rewarding those teams that rested last week and making a mockery of the issue of late-season rust and a lack of momentum heading into the playoffs.
In the NFC, the top-ranked Saints, losers of their last three games in the regular season, dismantled an Arizona team Saturday that had all kinds of mojo coming out of its 51-45 shootout win over Green Bay in the first round. Then the No. 2 Vikings, losers of three of their last five games, followed up by dismissing the red-hot Cowboys 34-3 on Sunday in the Metrodome.
In the AFC, the No. 1-seeded Colts -- who are always the epicenter of the rest versus rust argument -- sure looked rested enough to me, taking care of business in workmanlike fashion against visiting Baltimore Saturday night. Those two season-ending losses suffered by Jim Caldwell's club? No real factor, meaning Indy for now has dodged the bullet that always seemed to inflict damage in past years.
Form finally broke late Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm, as the No. 5-seeded Cinderella Jets beat the No. 2 seeded Chargers in a game that was so ugly it was beautiful. That outcome was all that kept us from having a once-in-five-years occurrence in next week's conference title games: AFC and NFC championships that would have matched the top two seeds for the first time since after the 2004 season, when New England (2) upset Pittsburgh (1) in the AFC title game, and Philadelphia (1) beat Atlanta (2) in the NFC championship game.
As is, three of the top four seeds survived into the conference championship round. Compare that with last year's divisional round, in which both top seeds lost their playoff openers (Tennessee in the AFC, to Baltimore; the Giants in the NFC, to Philadelphia), as well as the No. 2 seeded Carolina Panthers (to Arizona) in the NFC. Only the AFC's No. 2, the Steelers, broke that trend, winning at home against San Diego en route to their eventual Super Bowl title.
This year's playoffs feel like an aberration already, with all the lopsided games and lack of much drama (the Green Bay at Arizona shootout aside), but if it winds up giving us a Saints-Colts Super Bowl, it'll mark the first time since 1993 that we get a pair of top seeds pitted against one another in the last game of the NFL's season. That was the season the Bills-Cowboys rematch severely bored the football-watching public, with Buffalo and Dallas playing yet another uncompetitive game.
Beware the Vikings, because recent history actually smiles much more on the No. 2 seeds than the top seeds. In this NFL decade (2000-on), eight of the 18 teams to make the Super Bowl were No. 1 seeds. But those eight went 1-7 in the Super Bowl, with only the 2003 Patriots earning a ring.
But of the four No. 2 seeds to make the Super Bowl this decade -- Pittsburgh in 2008, New England in 2004, Tampa Bay in 2002, and New England in 2001 -- all four have won the game and gotten the big confetti shower and the parade.
It has all gone perfectly as planned for Brett Favre this season. Two years after he ended his 16-year Green Bay career with that galling home-field loss to the upstart Giants -- which his overtime interception helped decide -- Favre is once again leading an NFC North team in the NFC Championship Game. This time at the tender age of 40.
It's the Vikings and not the Packers but, let's face it, that only makes the story all the more remarkable. Whatever happens to Minnesota next week in New Orleans, I'd say the Favre experiment has worked -- and worked wonders -- for the Vikings. The organization kind of sold its soul last summer to entice Favre to town, but with Minnesota making its first NFC title game since 2000 (when it lost 41-0 to the Giants), you can't say it hasn't been worth the over-the-top effort.
Favre threw a playoff career-best four touchdowns against the Cowboys, and we now have at least one great postseason memory to put alongside all those huge postseason games he turned in for Green Bay.
And don't forget this: Favre is now just two wins away from becoming the first quarterback to ever lead two organizations to a Super Bowl title. Kurt Warner was gunning for the same accomplishment this postseason, but his playoff run ended Saturday afternoon in New Orleans.
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Jets rookie Mark Sanchez will be your final four quarterbacks this season. That's three of the top four vote-getters in the league MVP balloting and the season's top first-year passer going head to head in the conference championships. Not a bad bill of fare to look forward to on Championship Sunday.
That wasn't a pass rush the Vikings sent after Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on Sunday, it was a jail break. Romo spent his Sunday running for his life, and I do believe Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards played the game of his NFL life.
Playing the role of Randy Moss, circa 1998, in today's divisional playoffs: Sidney Rice. The coming of Favre to Minnesota has been the absolute best thing that ever happened to Rice, the third-year receiver from South Carolina. With three touchdown catches against Dallas, Rice has found the end zone 11 times this season, and his six-catch, 141-yard performance on Sunday announced his arrival as one of the game's most potent big-play threats.
I'm getting the sense that Sunday won't make a difference in regards to Wade Phillips returning to the Dallas sideline for the 2010 regular season, but I think it should. The Cowboys weren't just beaten, they were humiliated by the Vikings, who aren't 31 points better than Dallas by anyone's estimation.
If I'm Jerry Jones, I certainly don't offer Phillips the new contract extension that he said he had ready and waiting for his coach. I might consider picking up Phillips' 2010 option, but a new long-term deal would be out of the question. Though the Cowboys finally ended their 13-year playoff-win drought last week with that win at home against Eagles, getting blown out in the divisional round shouldn't make anyone feel too comfortable.
Speaking of that, nice knowing you, Shaun Suisham. Maybe you and Nick Folk can hang out, grab some beers and try to figure out who might be the next Cowboys kicker. This much we know: It's not going to be either one of you.
This week's DeSean Jackson "I-should-have-kept-my-mouth-shut" award goes to Dallas strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who was beaten in one-on-one coverage on Sidney Rice's first touchdown catch of the game -- that 47-yard, first-quarter bomb from Favre.
Sensabaugh, you might recall, last week said Dallas would have to beat itself to lose in Minnesota. No, the Cowboys just had to get enough players like Sensabaugh to come up small in a big-game setting to lose to Minnesota.
Yawn. Welcome to the NFL's series of Blowout Bowls. Six out of the first seven playoff games this month have been largely uncompetitive. Other than last weekend's Arizona-Green Bay overtime classic, the average margin of victory in this year's NFL playoff games has been 21.3 points, with all six being decided by margins ranging from 10 to 31 points.
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