New England Patriots’ Super Bowl Hopes Dashed: What Went Wrong Against the New York Jets?

The New England Patriots 28-21 loss to their hated rival New York Jets in the 2010 divisional playoff round is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow for Patriots fans. But the bottom line is the Patriots got outplayed and outcoached and the New York Jets deserve their victory.

That leaves one wondering, what went wrong? Well, a lot went wrong. Here is my take on the game with the keys to the Jets victory.

Defensive Game Plan

I would not call the Jets defensive game plan brilliant because it was copied from the San Diego Chargers, and ironically, the Cleveland Browns (who Rex Ryan’s brother Rob Ryan was the defensive coordinator of at the time). Once the Patriots jettisoned Randy Moss earlier this year they really lost their only deep threat on offense. Brandon Tate was the most likely candidate to fulfill this role but at this stage in his early career he just hasn’t come through. Thus, New England eventually thrived on a short passing game and the run.

Shortly after New England booted Moss to the curb the San Diego Chargers played a perfect defensive game against them. What did they do? They didn’t blitz Brady leaving openings in the short passing game that he has so thoroughly exploited against most teams after that. They simply threw a lot of defensive backs into the game and blanketed the smallish wide receiving crew. As a result Brady had nowhere to go with the ball and was harassed all day in the pocket, not because of a great pass rush, but because the coverage was so good. The only reason the Patriots won that game is gaffs and turnovers by the Chargers.

The Cleveland Browns did the same thing to the offense, while gashing the very young defense in the running game for a blowout victory.

The Jets replicated that, and with two of the best cornerbacks in the league. They covered the receivers and got what I consider coverage sacks on Tom Brady. And later in the game when the Patriots seemed to be making a comeback they ran the ball effectively, but ate up so much of the clock they left little time to complete the comeback.

In their second meeting the Jets blitzed, Brady exploited it, and the Patriots got a lead. Sorry, while all this praise is heaped on Sanchez after this game, but put the ball in his hands for a comeback bid and that is usually going to spell disaster. Tonight the Jets defense didn’t leave it in Sanchez’s hands.

And one final point, this game showed clearly what the lack of a Randy Moss meant to this offense and team. A receiver to stretch the field is sorely needed.

Coaching Decisions

Bill Belichick is clearly one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history. You don’t have a team, especially in the era of free agency and parity, which competes year in and year out for a Super Bowl title unless you have a great coach. But why is it in big games that Belichick seems to outsmart himself?

Everyone remembers the infamous forth and short call against the Indianapolis Colts two years ago. With a small lead and the ball backed up within the Colts 20 yard line, near the end of the game, Belichick decides to go for it on 4th and 1 instead of punting the ball and making Peyton Manning drive most of the field for a winning touchdown. The Patriots didn’t make it, and paid for it with a loss.

Less remembered will be Belichick’s decision to eschew a 51 yard field goal in Super Bowl 42 and instead went for it on 4th and long, resulting in great field position for the Giants. Given the indoor stadium and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, it was a makeable field goal, even if he was a rookie.

So the Patriots are only down 7-3 in the second quarter near midfield and Belichick calls for a fake punt. Patrick Chung botches the snap and it’s the same as a turnover. The Jets have the ball on a short field and it’s suddenly 14-3. (I know Chung claims it was his call but I find that hard to believe).

Playing behind against the Jets defense is not where you want to be.

And what was with the challenge so early in the game on a first down play that was clearly a catch by Santonio Holmes?

Then with a 21-14 deficit with 1:32 seconds to go in the game, Belichick decides to go for an onside kick. Granted the Jets just torched the Patriots defense for a big play earlier to turn a 14-11 lead to a 21-11 lead prior to the long drive and field goal. But otherwise the New England defense had played pretty well in the in second half forcing a few three and outs.

Now I am not going to really fault Belichick for the onside kick call too much because head they kicked the ball and the Jets gotten a few first downs the game would have been over. But give the Jets the ball at midfield on a play that rarely works? Game over. I would have kicked the ball off and forced the Jets to make the first down.

Bad Plays

Despite the great play of the Jets the New England Patriots could have still won the game but the players simply made the worst mistakes and the worst times.

New England’s opening drive was a promising one, moving the ball well and looking to be on their way to a score. But Brady threw an interception which stopped the Patriots’ momentum in its tracks. While the Jets ultimately missed a field goal on their subsequent drive, this was a lost scoring opportunity.

Then on the next drive, Algae Crumpler crumpled and dropped a touchdown pass right in his hands on third down, so the Patriots had to settle for three instead of seven.

Then Patrick Chung, with the Patriots down 7-3, fumbled the ball on a fake punt attempt. Replays showed he very likely would have made the first down to keep the drive alive. Instead the Jets get the ball past midfield and convert it into a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

In the second half when the Patriots cut the Jets’ lead to 14-11 after a nice scoring drive and two point conversion, the defense gives up a huge play to Jerchico Cotchery which eventually lead to the Jets extending the lead to 21-11. A sad and unforgivable let down by the defensive that had played well in the second half up to that point.

Then the onside kick attempts at the end of the game were simply pitiful. Shayne Graham did a nice job on the first kick but all the Patriots players were blocking but nobody was going after the ball. They should have had at least one player aggressively going after the ball but they were all standing around trying to block. And even worse, they let Antonio Cromartie get the ball and run into scoring position.

And the second onside kick was just as bad. A good kick by Graham, but nobody aggressively trying to get go after the ball, which the Jets recovered.

That was pretty sad for Patriots fans who were teased with a possible comeback.

And finally the kickoffs by Shayne Graham were just pitiful. Line drives to the 10 yard line with Antonio Cromartie consistently putting the Jets in good field position were not helpful.

How Depressed Should Patriots Fans Be?

Any time you lose a playoff game against a team you know you can beat it is depressing. And there is so much parity in the league this year the Patriots had a great chance to win another Super Bowl. So it is very depressing.

But if you had asked me in the middle of the season, with one of the youngest and seemingly weakest defenses in the league, with two rookie corners, no real pass rushing threat, and a team relying on a cast of small receivers with no deep threat, to me it is amazing the Patriots made it as far as they did. The defense is clearly in rebuilding mode, so going 14-2 is pretty good.

On paper, in my opinion, the Baltimore Ravens have the best team in the league and they blew it too after second half turnovers against Pittsburgh.

Atlanta, the number one seed in the NFC got smacked in the mouth by the Green Bay Packers.

Peyton Manning and the Colts suffered a lot of injuries on offense and lost to the Jets last week.

While the New Orleans Saints, last year’s Super Bowl champions, lost to a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team.

So the Patriots loss, especially considering the personnel they have on the field, is nothing to be ashamed about.

The Patriots were overrated going into the playoffs in my opinion. Their defense has been vulnerable all year and is one of the youngest in the league and other than Brady and a solid offensive line, they really have no big playmakers on offense. I’ve heard commentators say the Patriots have done it with smoke and mirrors. The smoke and mirrors have been Brady’s superlative play all year. Other than the interception early in the game he actually played quite well, his receivers simply could not get open.

So at the end of the day it will take me a long time to get over this loss, but based on the personnel we had on the field all year, we got further than I thought we would.

But it sill stings, because we could have, should have taken it all again.

2010 NFL Football Season: Week Three Observations

Tom Brady

I realize after the first three weeks of the season that what I thought I knew, I don’t know, but there some things I know that I know, at least I think so this week.

What I Thought I Knew

I was ready to anoint the Green Bay Packers one of the top teams in football going into the week and I thought Mike McCarthy was a good coach. The horribly sloppy play and penalties against the Chicago Bears and questionable decisions by McCarthy lost the game for the Packers.

I thought the Ravens had one of the best defenses in the NFL. Who would have thought they wouldn’t be able to stop the run, against the Cleveland Browns of all teams? Luckily for them the offense woke out of its slumber for a win.

I thought the San Francisco 49’ers were an up and coming team despite their losses, but they proved me wrong Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

I thought the Houston Texans might be the best team in the AFC but they got punked by Dallas’s defense.

And while I knew the St. Louis Rams would be better this year than last, I didn’t expect them to completely handle the Washington Redskins the way they did.

And finally, I have never been a big believer in Michael Vick coming back to be an effective every down quarterback. I guess he has proven me wrong, so far.


What I Think I Know

Pittsburgh has the best defense in the league and they just keep proving it. It is scary that they are 3-0 without Big Ben. Very scary.

The New England Patriots young defense is terrible, mostly in the secondary. I sure hope Bill Belichick gets that squad straightened out, soon.

Clinton Portis has seen his better days.

Philip Rivers is a whiney punk and San Diego has once again started off slowly. I’d love to see them lose the rest of their games. I am tired of Philip Rivers.

Baltimore’s offense could be one of the best in the league once Joe Flacco starts playing well. Even though he played well against the Browns, I still didn’t like his jittery feet and mechanics.

The Super Bowl is totally up for grabs this year. So far, there are no clearly dominant teams in the NFL.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Buffalo Bills 38-30 (On NFL Game Rewind)

What is going on with the New England Patriots defense?! Giving up 23 points to the Buffalo Bills is simply not acceptable (I am not counting the kickoff return for a touchdown by C.J. Spiller). The young rookie defensive backs are struggling mightily. Hopefully they will improve over the course the season. Otherwise we are in big trouble.

Thankfully, the offense looked great. Tom Brady had a terrific game and spread the ball around to a variety of receivers. The one huge concern I have is the lack of commitment to the running game. Even without a marquee running back, it is imperative to have a rushing attack to slow down pass rushers and keep defenses a little more off guard. Otherwise teams will just catch up with our passing attack.

Ryan Fitzpatrick obviously had a great day at quarterback as well and you can understand why the Bills jettisoned Trent Edwards who was just not working out. It will be interesting to see what kind of success the Bills can muster when they face tougher defensive backs.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns, 24-17

I was absolutely shocked watching the Cleveland Browns and Peyton Hillis run all over the Ravens defense. Hillis ended up with 144 yards against what I thought was one of the toughest run defenses in the league.

Luckily for the Ravens the offense woke up after two disappointing weeks with Flacco hitting Anquan Boldin for three touchdowns. Despite having a better game I still though Flacco sometimes looked sketchy in the pocket. No quarterback has a lot of time to throw in the NFL but when Flacco gets what I consider normal pressure, he seems to get happy feet and throw off his back foot or make mental errors. It was less pronounced this week than last but there are still some issues there.

And what can you say about the acquisition of Anquan Boldin? He has been one of the most consistent offensive performers in the league and the bright spot on offense for the Ravens the past three weeks.

For Cleveland this should be a game to build on. If they can play that well against this defense, they should be able to notch up a few wins this season. And I wonder if Jake Delhomme will get his starting job back? Seneca Wallace looked awfully good in this game. Of course he was getting a lot of support in the running game.

MVP: Anquan Boldin, WR

St. Louis Ram over Washington Redskins, 30-16

Despite some miscues and not taking full advantage of some of their opportunities, the St. Louis Rams looked like a good football team against the Washington Redskins! I was extremely impressed with the team on both sides of the ball.

I was most impressed that after taking a 14-0 lead, the Washington Redskins came back to take the lead 16-14 early in the third quarter but the Rams didn’t falter. This is when bad teams fall apart and get spanked. Instead, the Rams stayed calm and retook the lead with a nice touchdown drive and never looked back. While I think Sam Bradford has a lot of work to do, his calm leadership and solid play showed that he can eventually be top flight starter in the NFL if he stays healthy. And the defense shut the Redskins out the rest of the game thanks to linebacker Bill Laurinaitis being all over the field and the play of free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe before leaving the game with an injury.

On the Redskins side of the ball, they absolutely could not get a running game going. Without a running game they just could not do much in the second half. It would appear Santana Moss is getting too old be a receiver that can carry the load and Joey Galloway is even worse. I am surprised the Redskins didn’t go to tight end Chris Cooley more than they did.

The most bizarre play was when Clinton Portis broke off a long run and then simply fell to the ground himself. Later in the week it was reported he told Coach Shanahan it was because of his wrist injury and concern about ball security. While I think Portis is one of the biggest whiners and malcontents in the league, he has been a tough player so I give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

This game reminded me a lot of the Detroit Lions game last year in the third game of the season where the Redskins lost in a poorly played game and Portis got into an argument with Jim Zorn on the sideline after taking himself out of the game. To me, that game marked the day the wheels came off for the Redskins in the 2009 season. Again, in the third week, they lost to a team most would think they should beat, and didn’t look great in the process. Will the wheels come off again or will Shanahan keep this team rolling forward and improving? With a weakened offensive line, no running game, and a questionable corps of receivers, it might be tough. Donovan McNabb can’t do it all on his own.

MVP: Bill Laurinaitis, LB

New York Jets over Miami Dolphins, 31-23

Mark Sanchez had a great game against the Dolphins. Is this his breakout game or will he revert back to the poor play we saw in the first game of the season? Time will tell. But I will say, I am not a believer.

I also think if the off field incidents like Braylon Edwards’ DUI continue, it will become a distraction for this team. He did catch a long touchdown pass to help redeem himself. The key to this game, to me though, was the ability of the Jets to run the ball with LaDanian Tomlinson, helping out the passing game.

Miami hung tough and tried to come back but to no avail, even with Brandon Marshall catching 10 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown.

MVP: Mark Sanchez, QB

Chicago Bears over Green Bay Packers, 20-17

Green Bay outplayed the Bears but their 18 penalties for 152 yards killed them. Holding penalties thwarting the offense and a stupid roughing the passer penalty negating a Green Bay interception really did the Packers in. Punter Tim Masthay was horrible, having the kind of game that should get him cut. A short low kick allowed an easy punt return for a touchdown by Devin Hester that put the Bears ahead in the fourth quarter and was really the key play in the game.

And then Mike McCarthy challenged a fumble that was clearly a fumble in the fourth quarter costing the team a timeout. That was a really stupid move on his part. There is no way that play was getting overturned.

The Bears are now 3-0, the only undefeated team in the NFC, and have knocked off two good teams in Dallas and Green Bay. Frankly, they just don’t look like a 3-0 team to me.

MVP: Devin Hester, WR/KR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Player: Bill Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams
Offensive Lineman: Adam Goldberg, G, St. Louis Rams
Special Teams: Leon Washington, RB/KR, Seattle Seahawks
Rookie of the Week: C.J. Spiller, RB/KR, Buffalo Bills

2010 NFL Football Season: Week Two Observations

I know this is coming grievously late this week but I was out of town without Internet access.

What a wild week this was with two things standing out strongly, many starting quarterbacks being pulled or losing their jobs and Super Bowl aspirants Dallas and Minnesota staring off 0-2.

Quarterback Shuffle

I cannot remember seeing this many starting quarterbacks pulled or losing their jobs this early in the season. Most of the quarterbacks benched or losing their jobs are marginal starting quarterbacks or ones we have a lot of questions about. Let’s look at the list.

Vince Young (Tennessee) was pulled against the Pittsburgh Steelers after multiple interceptions but will retain his starting job. While there are a lot of questions about Young, he was facing one of the top three defenses in the league and really had a poor outing. While I am not a big believer in Young, he should bounce back from this one.

Jason Campbell (Oakland) was pulled in favor of Bruce Gradkowski in Oakland’s close win over the St. Louis Rams. To top it off, Campbell has now lost his starting job, after being signed to be the man in Oakland. While I like Jason Campbell a lot as a person, I have never been sold on his abilities as a starting quarterback in the NFL and it looks like this may be his last stand as a viable starter in the league, although I would not be surprised to see him back behind center at some point this year.

David Garrard (Jacksonville) was pulled out of the game against Denver but there really are not great options behind him. He has been a steady, if not stellar, quarterback for the Jaguars.

Trent Edwards (Buffalo) has lost his job to Ryan Fitzpatrick after a rather shaky start to the season. I doubt this will help the Bills woeful offense.

Matt Moore (Carolina) lost his job to rookie Jimmy Clausen out of Notre Dame so we will now have two starting rookies in the league to watch get pummeled.

And of course the change everyone is talking about is Michael Vick replacing Kevin Kolb as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Last week I said Vick is not a long term option at quarterback because of his poor decision making and teams being able to scheme against his running. Time will tell if I am right.

Dallas and Minnesota

Dallas and Minnesota both entered the season with high expectations. Now they have both started 0-2 and staring 0-3 in the face. Of the two Dallas seems better positioned to turn things around quickly. While they have problems on the offensive line, they have great talent at skilled positions on offense and an outstanding defense.

Minnesota is in trouble. Brett Favre is clearly not in sync with is injury depleted receiving corps and they could be in for a long, miserable, season.

GAMES I WATCHED

New York Jets over New England Patriots, 28-14 (On NFL Game Rewind)

The loss of Kevin Faulk to a season and possibly career ending ACL injury is a devastating blow to the Patriots offense. This 12 year veteran has been one of the most reliable third down backs in the league for years and is Brady’s go to guy on third down. He is going to be sorely missed.

The Patriots simply looked lost on offense in the second half of this game and did nothing right. With Darrelle Revis out of the game the Jets double teamed Randy Moss and did a good job of covering Wes Welker. And without being able to establish any kind of run, the Patriots simply couldn’t get anything done offense.

Unfortunately, the Patriots’ young defense was exposed in the second half, especially cornerback Darius Butler. They made Mark Sanchez look like the second coming of a young Joe Namath. Hopefully the defense will improve under the tutelage of Bill Belichick. They better.

LaDanian Tomlinson looks to have young legs and his 31 yard run setting up the go ahead score got it all started for the Jets. Of course it didn’t help that linebacker Rob Ninkovich missed the tackle on the play.

MVP: LaDanian Tomlinson


Cincinnati Bengals over Baltimore Ravens, 15-10

Joe Flacco looked awful in this game. He looks uncomfortable in the pocket, even with a “normal” pass rush, misses open receivers, and seems to be rushing his decisions even when he doesn’t have too. Something is going on with Flacco and whatever it is isn’t good. There is no reason an offense with this kind of talent should be struggling to move the ball and in this case a lot of blame has to be placed on Flacco’s poor play.

On the other side of the ball, despite all the talk about this being a down year for the Ravens defense, they are playing at an extremely high level and had an excellent game. The Ravens just could not overcome the four interceptions and poor offensive play.

The Bengals bounced back after last week’s loss to the Patriots but like the Ravens, it’s their defense that is turning in stellar play. The offense with Chad Ochostinko, Terrible Terrell Owens, and Cedric Benson really did not get much done against the Ravens defense. It was an unimpressive performance by both teams on offense.

MVP: Jonathan Joseph, CB

Houston Texans over Washington Redskins, 30-27

The Redskins somehow blew a 17 point third quarter lead to lose to the Houston Texans in overtime. That somehow was Andre Johnson, who right now may be the best receiver in the league. He had a monster game against the Redskins, particularly in the second half when the game was on the line, and on a twisted ankle at that. It was a gutsy performance by the entire offense and proves the Texans may have finally turned the corner and become an elite team. But they need their big name defense to step it up more if they hope to challenge for the AFC crown.

Washington played a surprisingly excellent game on offense. Donovan McNabb looked as good as I have ever seen him. While the Redskins did not do much in the running game, their passing game was clicking but just could not quite get it done. The loss of rookie left tackle Trent Williams really hurt them as backup Stephon Heyer simply is not all that great at pass blocking. Jamaal Brown will likely move to the left side, a position he played at an All Pro level in New Orleans before suffering a knee injury.

The question for the Redskins is was their offensive performance because of a weak defense or do they really have something going?

MVP: Andre Johnson, WR

Indianapolis Colts over New York Giants, 38-14

There really isn’t much to say about this game except that the Manning Bowl turned into the Stupor Bowl. The Colts just smashed the Giants from beginning to end. The Giants defense could do nothing to stop the Colts and the Colts defense was determined to redeem their embarrassing performance last week against the Texans. And as soon as the Colts got a big lead and the Giants were forced to pass it was all over. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis just pinned their ears back like rabid dogs and attacked Eli Manning.

MVP: Peyton Manning, QB

New Orleans Saints over San Francisco 49’ers 25-22

The 49’ers handed the Saints an early Christmas present. They gave this game away. A snap over Alex Smith’s head for a safety and multiple turnovers doomed the 49’ers to defeat. Otherwise, they played quite well and could have, should have won the game but for the mistakes.

The Saints, like last week, looked amazing on offense on some drives, and totally out of sync in others. You can still see this team slowly coming together on offense and their defense is vulnerable but opportunistic. Having received two early passes in games they could have lost bodes well as they start to coalesce on offense. And while the loss of Reggie Bush for several weeks to injury will hurt, they have a lot of talent on offense.

The 49’ers just need to clean up their mistakes. They looked solid and well rounded on offense and their defense played well for the most part against one of the best offenses in the league. But you can’t win games making stupid mistakes.

MVP: Garrett Hartley, K


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Javid Best, RB, Detroit Lions
Defensive Player: LaRon Landry, SS, Washington Redskins
Offensive Lineman: Duane Brown, T, Houston Texans (now suspended four games)
Special Teams: Mike Nugent, K, Cincinnati Bengals
Rookie of the Week: Javid Best, RB, Detroit Lions

2010 NFL Football Season: Week One Observations

Wes Welker Scores Against the Bengals

A new season is upon us and it should be an exiting one.

In the NFC we wonder if the New Orleans Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions, if all the hoopla over the Dallas Cowboys will end again in ignominy, if Brett Favre can take a depleted receiving corps back to the playoffs, if the San Francisco are as good as advertised, and how will the only rookie starting quarterback in the league, Sam Bradford, fare in St. Louis?

The AFC appears to be even more wide open than the NFC. Several teams have a legitimate shot at Super Bowl glory. The New England Patriots with a healthy and hot Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss and a young defense should improve over the year and be a contender. The New York Jets and their slothful undisciplined coach say they are the heirs to the AFC East. The Baltimore Ravens are loaded on offense and their defense looks as good as ever. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has proven to be as formidable as ever and when Big Ben gets back their offense should improve. The Indianapolis Colts are always a tough team and the Houston Texans are emerging. Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers may or may not slip. They are in the weakest division in the AFC and despite losing their opener, will likely have a spot in the playoffs.

Before jumping in the games I watched this, a few big picture headlines that week one revealed.

  • Brady, Welker, Moss and the offense are back and as good as ever.
  • New Orleans appears to have started right where they left off last year, with a powerful offense and defense that is solid. They are the favorites to emerge from the NFC.

  • Minnesota, after the tiresome annual saga of Brett Favre’s retirement dance, suddenly found themselves without receivers. Their defense is solid but their opening salvo on offense bodes ill for their chances this season.

  • Thankfully, for once, we won’t have the annual will the Indianapolis Colts go undefeated as they spank the teams in their weak division. Houston hung a loss on the Colts, and if their offense line continues to struggle, Peyton Manning is in for a long season.

  • Will Michael Vick be the Eagles starter this season?

  • San Francisco is not as good as we thought they were.

  • Dallas continues to shoot itself in the foot.

  • Finally, for the most part the defenses in the league seem to have started the season a step ahead of the offenses. This is likely to change as the season progresses but as someone who loves the defensive side of the ball, it was refreshing to see.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Cincinnati Bengals, 38-24

One word: Welker.

It was a very happy sight to see Wes Welker looking like, well, Wes Welker, after his amazingly fast recover from reconstructive knee surgery after suffering an injury in the last game of the season last year. WELKER! WELKER! WELKER!

Tom Brady also looked very sharp in this game, as did the entire offense. It was good to see a little bit of the running game back in the game plan, although I still think they could run the ball even more. Fred Taylor seemed to have fresh legs in the first half and the running back by committee approach worked. And I continue to be amazed at how older players like third down back Kevin Faulk can continue to be so effective.

What was also heartening to see is the very young defense with two rookie starting cornerbacks holding up well against the powerful Cincinnati Bengals offense with two of the best receivers in the league. I did get somewhat worried in the second half when the Bengals had two back to back sustained scoring drives. Barring injury I expect the defense to continue to improve as the season progresses. While it was not a lock down defense, it was good enough to win this game.

And Brandon Tate! His kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half was crucial, as it turned out, to extend the lead. Instead of providing even more momentum for the Patriots, it almost seemed like the Patriots players thought the game was over and played really rather poorly in the third quarter. The defense suddenly looked vulnerable and the offense didn’t do much either.

The Patriots played a very good all around game while the Bengals really didn’t get started until the second half. But for us Patriots fans the story was Wes Welker.

As a side note, good riddance Baloney Lauren Maroney. And don’t worry about Randy Moss, he’ll be fine.

MVP: Wes Welker, WR


New Orleans over Minnesota Vikings, 14-9

There are really a lot of storylines to this game.

The Saints look like a Super Bowl team. While their offense did struggle a bit their two scoring drives were dominant and once they started running the ball in the second half, they locked the game up. If they can continue to mix in a solid running game with their vaunted passing attack they will be very difficult to beat this season.

The Saints’ offensive line was the most dominant unit in the game and the best I saw all weekend. Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, along with center Jonathan Goodwin, completely dominated Minnesota’s defensive tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams. Maybe the Williams boys need to get back on that supplement that almost cost them a suspension. They got punked in this game. And I really have to give a huge shout out to Jermon Bushrod. He totally handled my 2009 defensive player of the year Jared Allen entirely on this own. Last year I got a lot of criticism for favoring Carl Nicks over Jahri Evans as my All Pro guard. I did so because last year Nicks often had to help Bushrod, who really was the weak link on the offensive line. I don’t know if this is a one game stellar effort by Bushrod or if he has really improved that much. If continues this level of play the Saints may even be better this year than last.

In the second half the Saints finally started running the ball with Pierre Thomas, who ate up the clock and moved the chains. He has solid performance behind the dominant offensive line and I felt it was a great change of pace by Sean Peyton.

Minnesota, meanwhile, looked awful on offense. With Sydney Rice out for at last half the season and Percy Harvin ailing and running lousy routes, there really were no receivers open to throw to. Bernard Berrian looked awful in preseason and woeful in this game as well. He seems to have completely disappeared. I was surprised Greg Camarillo did not see more action in the slot.

Minnesota’s defense did not play up to their usual standards on the defensive line but they settled down and did manage to hold the Saints to 14 points. They are battling injuries in the secondary and Antoine Winfield is also coming off an injury plagued 2009 and really did not play up to his usual standards. It was great to see linebacker E.J. Henderson back in the lineup and playing extremely well after suffering a gruesome broken femur last year. I though his career was likely over, but clearly it’s not.

Minnesota is likely to continue to struggle on offense unless the receivers get their heads out of their ass and start playing football.

While Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are better and played wonderfully, I am giving the most valuable player award here to Jermon Bushrod for handling Jared Allen.

MVP: Jermon Bushrod, T

Green Bay Packers over Philadelphia Eagles, 27-20

Let the quarterback controversy begin! The Eagles offense looked absolutely miserable in the first half. Kevin Kolb was harassed and the receivers weren’t really getting open but he wasn’t doing much either. I am not sure if it is because Michael Vick kept entering the game and did not allow Kolb to establish a rhythm or something else, but once he sustained a concussion and Vick took over the offense came to life. But, that was mostly because of Vick’s legs. His running really broke the game open for the offense even though they still fell short in the end.

It will be fascinating to see what transpires this season now that Kolb might be out for a few games and Vick will be the starter. If Vick is successful it will be hard for Andy Reid not to keep him behind center once Kolb is healthy. But you know what? Vick will never lead a team to the promised land (although he has sent quite a few dogs to doggie heaven). His success in this game was mostly his running ability. Just like in Atlanta, once teams scheme against him, his inaccurate passing and poor decision making will catch up with him. Yes, he may have a rocket arm and can throw the ball 60 yards with a flick of the wrist, but Eagles’ fans should not get too giddy over the possibilities. Unless he continues to be a running quarterback he will not be that dynamic, and eventually teams will catch up with the Eagles if Vick is at the helm.

Green Bay didn’t really look all the wonderful either. The offensive tackles had a hard time handling the rush but they did manage a couple of really nice touchdown drives. The star of the game was Clay Matthews, Jr. who was all over the place on defense and recorded a couple of sacks.

MVP: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB

Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys, 13-7

GOAT: Jason Garrett. And no, that is not for “greatest of all time” but idiot. I am sure everyone has seen the play by now, but at the end of the first half, in bad field position, with little time left on the clock, the Cowboys ran a short sideline route to Tashard Choice who ended up fumbling the ball which was returned for a Redskins touchdown and was the difference in the game. What made this play so stupid? First, the Redskins offense was doing absolutely nothing and had only a 3-0 lead. Scores were clearly going to be a premium in this game and with so little time left on the clock, the smart move was simply to run the time off the clock and regroup in the second half. Secondly, the play had no chance of even netting enough yards to get into field goal range. It was stupid play call, period, for that situation.

What this play and head coach Wade Phillips’ comments after the game shows is that Wade Phillips is not in control of this team. He basically threw Jason Garrett under the bus by saying they should have kneeled on the ball, didn’t know why the ran a play there, and tersely said the defense (which he runs) did its job and did not give up a touchdown. I believe they will continue to be destiny’s stepchild this season.

Otherwise, both teams struggled a great deal on offense. Dallas’s offensive line did not protect Tony Romo well but they finally got going late in the game to finally make a run for a win, but alas they failed. A holding penalty on the last play of the game negated a would be game winning touchdown. It was clearly holding too so nobody can gripe about the call.

The Mike Shanahan era started off with a win over archrival Dallas on Dallas’s home turf. While it was not a dominating or particularly impressive win, especially on offense, it was a win. As usual, the Washington defense is very solid this year, as they have been in year’s past. While they have sometimes been criticized for not getting enough turnovers, they are basically a very sturdy unit.

The offense, however, was woeful and did nothing. Shanahan needs to find a way to fix that quick because they won’t be winning many games like this otherwise. He can thank DeAngelo Hall for the fumble recovery and touchdown, which was the difference in the game. Or, send Jason Garrett a thank you card for the gift.

MVP: DeAngelo Hall, CB

Baltimore Ravens over New York Jets, 10-9

The New York Jets are an undisciplined team and reflection of their coach, the slovenly Rex Ryan. They shot themselves in the foot with penalties and giving up big plays on third and long when they had the Ravens’ offense on the ropes, which was the difference in the game. Add to that the harassment by Jets players of a female reporter also shows a lack of professionalism, decorum, and discipline, again a reflection of their head coach. The Jets may very well implode this season.

The Jets defense continues to be a stellar unit, one of the best, if not the best in the league. But their offense looks awful and Mark Sanchez has not proven, yet, that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. They were facing another top defense in the Ravens, so maybe time will tell.

The Ravens defense played excellent football and Ray Lewis continues, in his fifteenth NFL season, to be one of the best defensive players in the league. He got some great hits on the Jets, and the rest of the unit played excellent as well. I was surprised at how the offense was so throttled, however, even facing the Jets. With Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and a very good offensive line, Anquan Bolden, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap, I thought they were loaded on offense. The Jets bailed them out with bad penalties most of the game and Ravens were lucky to escape with a win.

MVP: Ray Lewis, LB

Kansas City Chiefs over San Diego Chargers, 21-14

I was happy to see the Chiefs beat the Chargers on Monday night but Chief’s fans shouldn’t get too excited. It was really two big plays on offense that sealed the deal, a great 56 yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles and a 94 yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie wide receiver Dexter McCluster were the keys to the game. Otherwise the offense looked anemic and Matt Cassel really did not do much to distinguish himself.

The Chief’s defense did play well. Defensive tackle Glen Dorsey finally looked like a first round draft pick in this game and the defensive backs did a very nice job on the Charger’s receivers, especially Brandon Flowers.

Philip Rivers made himself look like a complete idiot and proved what a jerk he is yelling at his teammates and carrying on a like a petulant child in the second half. While indeed his teammates made mistakes, I can’t imagine that endears him to his offensive line or establishes him as the leader of the team. They did almost come back and win, however. Rookie running back Ryan Matthews had a decent game, but he gave up a fumble that lead to a touchdown, helping the Chief’s secure the win.

MVP: Dexter McCluster, KR/WR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (231 yards rushing, 3 TDs)
Defensive Player: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Lineman: Jermon Bushrod, T, New Orleans Saints
Special Teams: Brandon Tate, WR/KR, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Dexter McCluster, WR/KR, Kansas City Chiefs

2009 NFL Season: AFC & NFC Championship Games

Indianapolis Colts over New York Jets, 30-17

You have to hand it to the New York Jets for their nice run in the playoffs. They embarrassed the Cincinnati Bengals (well, the Bengals embarrassed themselves) and I gave them no chance against the hot San Diego Chargers but they pulled off an impressive win. Despite the final score, I thought the Jets played a fine game against the Colts.

The Jets got the big passing plays they needed for scores in the first half to go ahead and stay in the game. And their defense did a great job of taking away Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. The problem was Peyton Manning finally figured out how to move the ball effectively against the Jets defense, and Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie stepped up to the plate with big plays. Once the Colts got a quick score to end the first half, they became too much to handle for the Jets in the second half. The Jets never did make great adjustments and eschewed the blitz to play coverage. But Garcon, especially, came up big for the Colts when it counted.

And once the Jets got behind, their offense just isn’t built right now to come back from a deficit. The Colts with the lead could play to stop the pass and the Jets passing game just simply isn’t dynamic enough to compensate.

So in the end this game turned out about how I expected it to, with Colts finding ways to score against a solid defense, and a Jets offense just not able to keep up.

MVP: Pierre Garcon, WR

New Orleans Saints over Minnesota Vikings, 31-28 OT

This was a very entertaining game and completely lived up to its billing. The Vikings basically outplayed the Saints but turnovers matter in all NFL games and the Vikings fumbled their way out of a Super Bowl birth. It was a closely contest with the offenses moving up and down the field, but the Vikings had an edge on offense that they negated with turnovers and negative plays.

Near the end of regulation, as Minnesota was driving into field goal range, I kept thinking I would be writing what an unbelievably courageous performance by Brett Favre in a win. He was battered as badly as I have ever seen any quarterback battered in a game, but he kept getting out there and fighting back. Instead Favre, as he has done so many times in the past in the playoffs, he threw and idiotic interception instead of stumbling forward for a few yards to give his kicker a chance to win the game. Of course the Vikings had already blundred on that series with too many men in the huddle for a five yard penalty, an egregious mental error at that part of the game. But it was still Favre cementing his legacy, for me at least, as a choke artist in the playoffs, that was the saddest part of the game. Maybe the kicker misses the long field goal, but Favre took his out of any chance to win it in regulation with his terribly ill advised pass late over the middle.

The game then goes to overtime, the Saints get a great kick return by Pierre Thomas for great field position, and win the game on a 40-yard field goal.

Don’t get me wrong though. It was an unbelievably courageous performance by Favre. And it certainly was not Favre’s fault they lost the game. Stupid penalties and fumbles, especially by Adrian Peterson, helped doom them. But why does Favre insist on making the dumbest of throws in the most crucial of situations?

That is what I will remember in this game, as much as anything else.

MVP: Jonathan Vilma, LB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Player: Jonathan Vilma, LB, New Orleans Saints
Offensive Lineman: Jeff Saturday, C, Indianapolis Colts
Special Teams: Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans Saints

Brett Favre Blunders Again