1. I think this is what I liked about the divisional playoffs:
a. Tremendous block from Frank Gore on Saints defensive end Will Smith near the goal line.
b. The throw from Brees to Marques Colston at the right pylon, dropped in the arms of Colston perfectly.
c. Justin Smith never taking a play off.
d. Brees, who deserves criticism for throwing twice into coverage and costing his team, deserves more praise for his two long drives to put the Saints up twice in the last four minutes.
e. New England left tackle Matt Light, who kept pressure off Brady all night.
f. Steratore's a really good ref. Thought he had the best day of any ref this weekend.
g. Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, for being big keys in bottling Tebow.
h. Johnathan Joseph on Torrey Smith. That's why they paid him the big bucks in Houston.
i. Rick Smith, the Houston GM, for choosing J.J. Watt in the first round, Brooks Reed in the second.
j. Anquan Boldin's ability to catch the ball in traffic. I mean, who's better?
k. Arian Foster -- brilliant day. He's the best all-around back in the game, and if that one-handed pluck out of the air didn't prove it, you were watching a different game. As a pure runner, Adrian Peterson, surgery and all, is my pick. But for every aspect of the game, Foster is the guy.
l. After picking off Manning deep in his territory in the second quarter, Packer safety Morgan Burnett made a play with two minutes left in the half of a 10-10 game that if you weren't watching very carefully, you would have missed Burnett saving four points. Manning had tight end Jake Ballard slightly open in the end zone for what appeared to be a five-yard touchdown pass. Manning threw, and Burnett got a fingertip on the ball (nothing more; maybe even a fingernail) and the ball was knocked off its path just a little bit, and it hit Ballard in the hand. Not a drop, but a misdirection of the ball at the last second.
m. Eli Manning, for owning January again.
n. What a blitz pickup by Ahmad Bradshaw on the Giants' first drive of the game.
o. Wow. Jermichael Finley pancaked Jason Pierre-Paul on the first Packer snap of the game.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about the divisional playoffs:
a. The phrase "divisional playoffs.'' Stupid title for the weekend.
b. Courtney Roby, your role is special teams. That's pretty much it. When you muff a kickoff, then kick it into the arms of the Niners, and hand them three points, that's a good way to have your role eliminated.
c. Malcolm Jenkins in the open field against Vernon Davis, and then Roman Harper in the end zone
d. Gregg Williams' defense. Horrible execution in almost certainly his last game in New Orleans. (I reported Wednesday it was likely the Saints defensive coordinator, whose contract is expiring in New Orleans, will join Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.)
e. Michael Crabdrop.
f. Jermichael Findrop.
g. James Starks, Tom Crabtree, drops on consecutive throws.
h. And James Starks: You've got to pick up the rushing linebacker better than that, son.
i. T.J. Yates. Look, he's a kid, and he was in an impossible spot. But he made two truly dumb throws (and was intercepted on a third), right into the hands of Ravens.
j. The Packers. That's it. Just the Packers. Other than the overtime loss to the Giants four years ago for the NFC crown, this was as disappointing a playoff loss as the team has had since Ron Wolf reinvented them 20 years ago.
k. Idiotic that the Packers have to burn a replay challenge to prove what everyone in America saw: Randall Cobb's knee was certainly down before the ball came out.
l. Bill Leavy. I must be the only guy in America who didn't think his non-reversal on the Greg Jennings fumble or non-fumble was horrible. But his blow-to-Rodgers'-head call, extending a desperation fourth-quarter drive, was a fictitious call if I ever saw one. I wouldn't expect to see Leavy doing any games until next September.
3. I think I reserved the right to say I told you so when I picked Justin Smith as my 2011 NFL defensive player of the year, and so I'll say it: I told you so.
4. I think the strangest call of the weekend came before the game started in Foxboro. Why on earth, Denver, would you defer when winning the coin toss? You'd choose to hand the ball to Tom Brady on the first series of the game? I don't care how little faith you have in your own quarterback to take it 80 yards. Isn't the pressure on your defense colossal, on the road, against Brady, to make a stop right away? Didn't like that call at all.
5. I think that was a very meaty story by the Kansas City Star's Kent Babb about what he described to be the paranoia and insecurity he reports to be rampant in the offices of the Kansas City Chiefs under owner Clark Hunt and GM Scott Pioli. It's worth a read. Much of the story is about charges of former employees -- some in litigation with the team -- about being treated unfairly by the new regime; those charges will be refereed in court in due time, and we'll see whether the Chiefs have been unfair to employees. What jumped out at me in the story is former coach Todd Haley's suspicions -- as reported by Babb -- that rooms at the Chiefs offices were bugged. Babb also reported that Haley told him he believed his personal cellphone had been tampered with.
Whoa now. Those are very serious charges. Does Haley have proof that a federal crime has been committed and his phone was tampered with, or an office he works in has been bugged so team management could spy on him and other employees? If he has proof or something more than simple paranoia, out with it -- and expose the team for something incredibly scurrilous. If not, that's a damaging rap to lay on someone, or an organization. Haley needs to set the record straight.
6. I think the Dirk Koetter hire in Atlanta is a nod to the fact that the Falcons wanted to throw the ball downfield more, and to improving their screen game (maybe in 2012 with Jacquizz Rogers). Koetter's not Mike Martz, but I do think he'll be more open to featuring Julio Jones and getting Matt Ryan to take three or four shots a game deep.
7. I think this shouldn't be a sign that Mike Mularkey wasn't a good hire in Jacksonville, because Mularkey is smart and a good quarterback teacher. But as the Falcons offensive coordinator he'd hit a wall with Matt Ryan, and the Falcons needed to make a change, and I believe if he wouldn't have gotten the head-coaching job with the Jags, the Falcons would have strongly considered making a change at the coordinator spot.
8. I think the Bucs could take 10 days to two weeks from now to hire a coach. Why, you ask? Why not? Where's the competition for jobs right now? If you can interview 13 guys and steal some knowledge about how your team is perceived and how certain coaches would coach your team that can help you when you finally hire the one you like the best, why not do it? It's like I said last week: There's nothing wrong with picking the brains of smart coaches to improve the quality of the product you put on the field. Al Davis did it all the time.
9. I think it's fine that the NFL is considering hiring 10 full-time officials. It cannot hurt -- except if some of those the league would like to bring on full-time choose their day jobs. But I still don't see how it helps to be totally immersed in the job and in tape study. I like how Gene Steratore works as a basketball ref, even in season (see my Factoid of the Week), and probably stays sharp working games even if it's another game entirely. I'll be interested in hearing the league's plans for this, though I don't think I'll ever believe full-time officials will help guys make calls in such a fast game any better.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I guess that supposedly good Miss America omen didn't quite work out. Miss America was named Saturday night, and Laura Kaeppeler, from Wisconsin, was supposed to be the good-luck charm of the Packers. No dice.
b. Happy Martin Luther King Day.
c. Favorite MLK quote: "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.''
d. Red Sox alive? Making any moves to combat the Yankees' 13-man starting rotation? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
e. Glad to have helped a few of you discover The Art of Fielding. Had four people this past week tell me they're either reading it or have read it, and all agreed with me: Can't put it down, and as good as the baseball stuff is, the life stuff is better.
f. I saw a movie! Moneyball, and I liked it a lot. I'd ridiculed the casting of Philip Seymour Hoffman as A's manager Art Howe, and though he didn't look much like him other than atop the head, Hoffman had the personality and the dourness of a manager down pat. I didn't know how it'd play to a wide audience, but it's a compelling story about ideas.
g. Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Meryl Streep of male actors. He can do it all.
h. Missed the Golden Globes. What'd I miss?
i. Coffeenerdness: So I was in Boston over the weekend, and I walked into one of my three former Starbucks there, and the gal behind the counter, who I recognized, pointed to me and said: "Triple grande hazelnut latte.'' Wow. Impressive. You've got me. Maybe that's not entirely a good thing.
j. Beernerdness: So I was in Boston over the weekend, and I went to the House of Blues Friday night to see the Peter Gammons band play Rolling Stones covers. A good time was had by all -- particularly getting reacquainted with Harpoon IPA. The Harpoon line can't be beat.
k. Have a fun Championship Week. Home teams are 7-1 so far, but I don't see an easy road for either San Francisco or New England next weekend.
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