1. I think this is what I liked about Wild-Card Weekend:
a. Seeing Bum Phillips.
b. Luv ya Blue!
c. Alex Flanagan getting A.J. Green to juggle.
d. Connor Barwin. Cosmo Kramer.
e. Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins, one of the most underrated players in the league, engaging rising star center Chris Myers of the Texans, pushing him back three yards and into Arian Foster, knocking him down for a tackle for loss.
f. Great throw by Andy Dalton -- his seventh completion in a row -- lasering one into Green's hands, just inside the hands of clinging cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
g. Classy move by the Greg Bensel and the Saints PR staff, not filling a prime press box seat at Saturday night's game in honor of the late Detroit beat man Tom Kowalski, who died unexpectedly in August, but leaving this notice in his place: "The New Orleans Saints honor the memory of Tom Kowalski.''
h. Great internal protection by the Saints line, giving Brees plenty of time to be great. Center Brian de la Puente holds his ground better than Olin Kreutz did early in the season.
i. Thirty-four first downs by the Saints. Amazing.
j. Is there a more accurate downfield passer in the game than Brees? Can't believe there is.
k. Excellent coverage by Corey Webster on Falcon wideout Roddy White, who had but two catches for eight yards in the first 37 minutes of the Atlanta loss.
l. John Fox putting Tebow on notice. I like Fox making this a bottom-line business, and who knows? Maybe that's why Tebow responded so well.
m. The back-shoulder throwing of Roethlisberger.
n. All throwing by Tebow.
o. The tying TD in Denver by Jerricho Cotchery? Couldn't happen to a nicer man.
p. Everything about Darren Sproles, who might be the biggest non-quarterback difference-maker left in the playoffs.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Wild-Card Weekend:
a. Glover Quin interfering with Green instead of playing smart defense the way he's been taught.
b. I hate ... no, detest ... that stupid NFL rule (the worst on the books, the one I'd erase if I could change one thing about the rule book) that makes a 52-yard defensive pass-interference penalty a monstrous game-changer rather than a 15-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage. Yes, Quin interfered with Green, but 52 yards? When Green might not have caught the ball anyway? I beseech you, Competition Committee -- change that this offseason.
c. Marvin Lewis, are you serious? Using a dubious challenge, your last one of the game, with 34 minutes left in a playoff game? Not smart.
d. Chris Crocker, dropping what should have been an easy game-changing interception, down seven in the third quarter at Houston.
e. Johnathan Joseph needs to know when the quarterback is throwing a Hail Mary on fourth down he's got to bat the ball down, not intercept it.
f. Matt Ryan's accuracy. One game's not everything, but a third of his completions were hard to catch.
g. Atlanta's run defense, allowing the Giants 172 yards and 5.5 yards a carry. Ridiculous.
h. Roethlisberger's decisions, including playing when he shouldn't have in December.
i. The rutty, slippery turf in Denver. Understand the weather's been bad there, but that's the best you can do, Broncos?
j. Doug Legursky's shotgun snapping ability.
k. The Steeler pass rush. I know the injuries hurt the line, but that front seven failed to pressure Tebow into mistakes, which had happened the previous three weeks.
m. Ron Winter: How'd you miss the facemask call on Tebow with 1:51 left in regulation ... a penalty that would have given the Broncos 1st-and-10 near midfield with the best long kicker in football waiting to win the game in regulation, in altitude?
3. I think, and I'm sorry for continuing to dump on the Bucs, but how on earth did a team with that much recent defensive drafting and a defensive head coach and a solid core allow 31 points a game? I don't recall such a blatant and incredible collapse on defense. Seven times the Bucs allowed 35 or more points in a game -- and that's with four picks in the top two rounds of the last two drafts being used on the front seven. Seven! Twenty-two sacks, with some of the best and the brightest pass-rushers to come out of the draft in recent years! Utterly, absolutely, stunningly pathetic. What was that coaching staff doing? Where was the defensive discipline?
4. I think if there's one college coach who could emerge as a candidate somewhere, this year or in the next couple, judging by the love he's getting from pro people, it's Greg Schiano of Rutgers. I've said this for the last couple of years, but if you ask Bill Belichick which young college coach he thinks could be a very good pro coach, it's the 45-year-old Schiano.
5. I think the Bengals obviously had no business being in the playoffs -- finishing 3-5, going 0-4 against AFC North bullies Baltimore and Pittsburgh. And they showed it for four quarters Saturday in Houston. One word for their play: disorganized.
6. I think the 47.5-2.5 vote for the All-Pro quarterback this year, with Rodgers beating out Brees, shuts the door on the MVP debate. It'll be Rodgers.
Just for fun, I checked out the odds you could get by a sportsbook in Vegas, Bovada.ly Sportsbook, Rodgers is 1-10, Brees 5-1, and any other player 30-1. Said Bovada.ly's manager, Kevin Bradley: "The ironic thing is, if Mark Ingram scores on the last play of the game in the season opener and the Saints beat the Packers in overtime, the odds would be almost even."
He has a point there. With no time left in the first game of the NFL season, Ingram was stoned at the goal line. Packers won by eight.
7. I think this is what a close acquaintance of new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien told me when I asked what kind of college coach he will be: "He will be a phenomenal recruiter. Just phenomenal. When he goes into a kid's living room, he won't have to sell them something he doesn't believe in -- he never would have taken this job if he didn't believe in Penn State. He'll believe in what he's saying, and I guarantee you the parents and the kids -- whether the kid ends up going there or not -- will be impressed with who he is.
"On the field, his players will love him. His coaching style, his fire, his determination ... very few people have the personality and the drive he has. He's a smart play-caller. I think he'll be a great success.''
Maybe. I don't know O'Brien. All I know if so much of college football is recruiting, and how is O'Brien -- how would anyone -- be able to recruit a top-tier team with the black eye Penn State is facing? I hope the fans and the boosters (particularly the silly former players who got ticked off they didn't have a say in naming the coach) are patient with O'Brien. He'll need it.
8. I think -- and if you know me, you know I have no use for the Pro Bowl -- the folly of the NFL's all-star game can be pointed out by this note: Stafford was the fourth player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season, and he was sixth in the voting for NFC quarterback. Three make the Pro Bowl, so that means three quarterbacks in front of him will either have to beg out of the game, or not play because of injury, for Stafford to make the trip to Hawaii.
One of the reasons this happened, obviously, is because players vote for the game with two weeks left in the regular season. So their vote came before Stafford threw for 893 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two weeks.
Look, I have no interest in the Pro Bowl. But the season is 16 games long. There's no good reason the balloting is done with one-eighth of the season left. That cost Stafford and Victor Cruz (342 receiving yards the last two weeks, and the biggest plays in two Giant wins) Pro Bowl spots. Balloting that happens with an eighth of the season left is not legitimate.
9. I think Mike Sherman would be a perfect fit -- today, for what the Bucs are and need right now.
10. I think these are my non-Wild-Card Weekend thoughts of the week:
a. The knot on Merril Hoge's tie is wider than Texas.
b. Happy 80th birthday (last Thursday), Chuck Noll.
c. I read The Art of Fielding, a book that sounds like it's about baseball and is .. and is also about a lot more. Author Chad Harbach is a terrific writer. I'm a baseball fan, as you may know, and I thought I would like this book mostly because of the smart baseball writing. But I got to the point midway through the tome where I wished he'd stop writing about baseball and concentrate more on the disparate and fascinating characters. Strongly, strongly recommend it.
d. I care some about the football game tonight between Alabama and LSU for the national championship. And I know I come off like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino saying this, but I cared nothing about the succession of games last week that could well have been a bunch of Weed Whacker Bowls. None of them, save Oklahoma State-Stanford, had anything whatever to do with the national title picture, yet there they were in prime time, played up as though they meant something.
e. I like those Man U and Manchester City and Arsenal and Liverpool games on TV. What great atmosphere.
f. I'm making plans to go see cricket in the spring in England. I've been told I'm going to either love it or nap through it. But my brother, who lives in England, has caught the bug big time, and usually what he likes, I like. Looking forward to it.
g. I'm excited about everyone telling me what a lamebrain I am for the next month. It's Hall of Fame Month! And coming Tuesday: My observations about the list of finalists for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.
h. Coffeenerdness: Don't know how you fix this, Seattle. But the latte quality, overall, in New York Starbucks stores is significantly worse than in Boston or Montclair, where the stores are rarely as crowded as the packed ones in New York. Just a word to the wise.
i. Beernerdness: Always nice to go into an everyday bar, as we did at our NBC Football Night in America wrap party Saturday night in Manhattan, and have a good choice of beer on tap. I chose Hoegaarden, a wheat beer, with a lemon, over Goose Island 312 Ale. I needed to drink light after a good pasta meal at NBC. I could have done without the annual shot of tequila, though. Why do I always do that?
j. What a loser I am. Still haven't seen Moneyball or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
k. Goodbye, Jorge Posada. Always admired you, even when you helped wreck so many lives on The Night Grady Little Ruined The ALCS in 2003.
l. Re Beyonce having her baby: I'll never forget Brent Musburger doing an ABC promo a few years ago and calling her "Bee-yontz.''
m. Rest in peace, Jim Huber of CNN. Jim was a great storyteller, and I was lucky to know him back in the CNNSI days. A very good man, too.
SI Now Live Friday December 20, 2013
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