What We Learned
Three things we know after the Divisional playoffsPosted: Sunday January 20, 2002 7:43 PM
Updated: Sunday January 20, 2002 7:56 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
Oh, for every playoff game to be played in white-out conditions with the yard lines being cleared of snow by men with leaf blowers. The New England-Oakland Snow Bowl had classic written all over it from the opening kick. As for the rest of the Divisional round, ho-hum. Here are three observations:
1. From the very beginning, it was a win-it-all-or-nothing proposition. But we can now declare the Grbac Experiment a failure in Baltimore.
Elvis Grbac still might go on to do great things with the Ravens. Just not this year.
No one can objectively look at this season's results and make the case that Grbac was indeed an upgrade over Trent Dilfer, last year's Super Bowl winning quarterback. Not even Grbac's biggest booster, Ravens head coach Brian Billick.
While Dilfer was winning every game he started this season in Seattle (4-0), Grbac was in the midst of almost a year-long struggle to establish himself in Baltimore. Turnovers, poor decision-making and a palpable lack of confident play marked his 2001 season. His critics and doubters were many, and more than a couple of them resided in his own locker room.
The pattern of the Ravens' maddeningly inconsistent season again was on display in Sunday’s blowout loss at Pittsburgh. When Grbac took care of the football this year, Baltimore won and looked capable of repeating their surprise title run of last season. But when Grbac got sloppy -- as he did with two horrible early interceptions against the Steelers -- the Ravens were a mediocre team headed nowhere but the middle of the NFL pack.
There's no way of knowing how Dilfer would have fared this season in Baltimore. But this much we know about Grbac: He didn't come anywhere near the performance needed to give the Ravens a legitimate chance to defend their Super Bowl title.
In the regular season, Grbac threw more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15), and his quarterback rating was an uninspired 71.9. In games Grbac started, Baltimore went a ho-hum 9-7, including the playoffs. That's a far cry from the dominating 11-1 run that the Dilfer-led Ravens finished last season with.
Toward the end of the regular season and in last week's playoff opener at Miami, Grbac seemed to finally grasp that Baltimore's defense was good enough that he didn't have to take unnecessary chances in the passing game. His was almost a caretaker's role, as was Dilfer's, but team success was the reward. Alas, that modest amount of progress was swept away in a hail of first-half Ravens turnovers Sunday. Grbac was far from the only guilty party in purple against the Steelers, but he's the trigger man and taking the blame when things go wrong is part of a quarterback's job.
Billick has repeatedly said the Ravens are committed to Grbac long-term, despite his spotty play and the $6 million offseason bonus he's due in March. We'll take him at his word. Next year, Grbac might very well wipe away the stench of 2001. But when one grades his first season in Baltimore on a pass-fail basis, there is but one conclusion: Grbac failed, because he didn't pass well enough.
2. If there was even a 10 percent chance remaining that Tom Brady hadn't ended the Drew Bledsoe era in New England, it's gone, gone, gone now.
Tom Brady's heroic performance in the Patriots' comeback 16-13 victory in overtime Saturday night against Oakland seals the deal. New England's fans and media would have Bob Kraft's head on a platter if he even considered allowing Bledsoe to compete for the starting job next season.
Brady is today and tomorrow. Bledsoe is so yesterday.
In conditions made memorable by a snowfall that belonged on a Hallmark card, Brady displayed the remarkable poise that has highlighted his out-of-nowhere season. Trailing by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, Brady rallied the Patriots from the brink of extinction, scoring on a 6-yard run and executing two clutch field goal drives.
Dinking and dunking his offense down the field, Brady finished 32-of-52 for 312 yards and just one interception -- in essence, beating veteran Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon at his own game. Brady entered with 14 career starts. Gannon on Saturday ended his 14th NFL season.
With Brady struggling early against Oakland, you had to wonder if Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would feel the urge at some point to turn to Bledsoe, whose playoff experience had to be tempting. After all, Brady's hot hand had begun to cool in the season's final month, with just one touchdown pass in the Patriots' final four games.
But Belichick never wavered and because of it, New England is Brady's team today more than ever. It's not yet clear how Bledsoe and the Patriots will parts ways, be it trade, release or even the expansion draft. But what is evident is that Bledsoe's time in New England is over, less than a year after he signed what was billed as a career-ending contract with the Patriots.
Nobody could have seen Bledsoe's demise coming in late September. But these days, the future in New England belongs to the baby-faced Brady. It's as obvious as the dimple on his chin.
3. We learned again this weekend one of the great truths about the wonderful game of football. Never, never, never put your trust in Bill Parcells. Ever.
Parcells has walked away from more jobs than Lou Saban and Larry Brown have combined to land.
So what does that have to do with the Divisional round of this year's playoffs? Not a darn thing, but we just think it bears repeating. Not in Tampa Bay, of course. The Bucs have been twice burned by the The Tuna's flirtations, and can't even bring themselves to say the P word.
Lost in all the furor about Parcells turning down the Bucs was this: In the end, Tony Dungy was right. He never wanted to believe he was going to be replaced by Parcells, and sure enough he wasn't.
We all should have known better. What's that old saying? Those who forget Parcells' history are doomed to repeat it? Guilty as charged.
Funny isn't it? For a coach whose teams traditionally show no sign of quit, Parcells sure seems to know how to tuck and run when it suits his purposes. We're not suggesting that Parcells and his agent led the Bucs on, but suffice to say Tampa Bay spent part of Saturday morning repainting that B. Parcells parking space sign.
Oh, and about next month's Hall of Fame vote, Bill? We'll get back to you on that one. What? You thought it was Tampa Bay or bust?