Saturday, January 03, 2004

posted by James - 11:34 PM

I’m up late awaiting the first great winter storm of the season, and my first as a Wrigleyville resident, and watching some highlights from the NFL wild-card games I watched earlier.

As wild-card games go, Tennessee’s 20-17 victory over Baltimore was an epic in both build-up and between the sidelines.

The matchup

Baltimore: Has a vaunted and storied defense capable of lifting the team to a victory on any day, as it did all the way to the 2000 NFL Championship. Their offense is one-sided, but propelled by the league’s No. 1 running game, led by 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis.

Tennessee: Has a balanced offense with co-MVP QB Steve McNair and a number of weapons at his disposal. Also has a very stout defense, which held its opponents under 30 points in all but three games (the Ravens allowed four).

More importantly, that stout defense allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL this season.

And they played like they could have stopped Lewis, O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson, holding the NFL Offensive MVP to only 35 yards.

The Titans defense gave up only 10 points (with the other seven coming from an interception return), allowing their offense to break a tie in the final minute on the leg of the ancient kicker Gary Anderson.

Though a 46-yard field goal from a 44-year-old kicker to eliminate at team with six-straight wins over you may scream of luck, this team also had an overabundance of toughness.

McNair gutted his way through another Titan success culminating with the final eight-play, 35-yard scoring drive and Eddie George played like a superhero.

George has come under criticism during the last three years of his career as he’s hovered around the 1,000 rushing yard mark while other running backs (i.e. Lewis, Priest Holmes, LaDanian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis) have posted gaudier numbers, but after this performance he will never have to answer questions about his heart.

While making a tackle to thwart another Ravens interception return, George separated his shoulder at the beginning of the second quarter. (Ouch! That hurts just typing it.)

Then he returned for the start of the second-half like he hadn’t had his shoulder ripped out of its socket just a quarter ago, except for the infusion of energy and passion that showed in his play and his team, helping them to overcome a three-point deficit and advance in the NFL playoffs.

There’s a good chance George didn’t have to come back. In fact, Chris Brown, his backup, had 61 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown in the first half.

But his “invincibility” as he took on his “off-field friend” Ray Lewis, who did his best to rub salt in the wound in a rather punishing manner, was infectious.

The Titans need look no further than McNair and George, their battered, bruised and dislocated warriors, for the necessary inspiration to carry them further in this postseason.

I’m just hoping George and McNair feel as inspired when they wake up tomorrow morning.

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