Monday, January 19, 2004

posted by James - 12:01 AM

Wow, Chris. Two for two ain't bad in my book. Why aren't you down in Vegas right now? I’d anoint you the official Just North of Wrigley Field handi-capper, just as long as I don’t have to put any money on it. :)

Another round of close football games this weekend, but they weren't as close as they seem. While watching these games, the winning teams just looked like they wanted it more and were more prepared. They dominated, plain and simple, even though they won by less than two touchdowns.

New England took advantage of their snowy home environment to lead Indianapolis from the opening drive.

They had a perfect game plan. They passed the ball early on when they knew as the field conditions worsened, passing would become more difficult.

Patriots QB Tom Brady gained the edge over Colts QB and current co-MVP Payton Manning by leading his team to 10 points, while Manning ended his first two drives with interceptions.

Manning threw two more interceptions in the second half as his team was unable to recover from a 15-0 halftime deficit.

The Patriots did a great job on defense, but Manning helped them out a lot.

Maybe he came into this offseason prepared to settle for a couple playoff wins as a success, because he looked jittery from his first snap.

The Patriots hadn't blitzed once and Manning already had happy feet. He threw both of his first-half interceptions off his back foot, with out a blue jersey around him.

He should have hit Pollard in the end zone, but he was too busy scrambling around when he had a perfect pocket to throw in.

On the other hand Brady was cool like he had been there before, like the former Super Bowl MVP he is. He had identical yardage numbers to Manning, but did so in 10 less attempts.

And the Patriots used their running game perfectly in the second half, chewing up lots of yardage and clock, while setting up for three more Adam Vinatieri field goals - setting a record and icing the game with under a minute left with his fifth field goal.

Brady and Vinatieri - the Pats' unsung and overlooked MVPs - did their parts in making the Patriots the AFC Champion for the third time in eight years.

Despite what the Fox analysts said after the game, the NFC Championship game between Carolina and Philadelphia wasn't close.

The Eagles only scored three points! There have been only two teams since 1970 to win a NFC Championship with less than two touchdowns, and even they could muster at least three field goals.

The Panthers defense did a great job of getting after Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, forcing him out of the game for the fourth quarter after injuring him earlier (in what I'll admit was a cheap shot after the play, but it got the job done).

But the Eagles and McNabb lost the game long before.

Did they lose it because of an ineffective running game? No. The stat sheet says Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter and McNabb combined for 137 yards and 5.3 yards per carry.

Did they lose it because their defense didn't hold against the Panthers' quality running game and effective passing attack? No, the stat sheet says they held the Panthers to just 256 yards (less than the Eagles' 289).

What the stat sheet doesn't show is why the Eagles lost, because the stat sheet doesn't show how many times Eagles receivers couldn't wrangle in the cowhide and how many of the Eagles' four turnovers were the fault of a pathetic effort from the Eagles' pass catchers - which led to the Panthers often having a short field (Fox analyst and former Bengals WR Chris Collinsworth could not stop talking about this point).

McNabb is a great talent, but Joe Montana, Bart Starr and Terry Bradshaw all throwing at the same time wouldn't have made a difference when they're throwing to Team Stonehands.

And when they weren't dropping balls or tipping them up in the air so the Panthers' could pick them off, they were running the wrong routes and generally making themselves look pretty foolish and not worthy of an NFL uniform.

To beleaguer the point, Eagles WR James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell caught three passes total from McNabb. Panthers CB Ricky Manning, himself, caught three passes from McNabb.

McNabb deserved better than this and the accompanying beating his body took.

So for the third straight year, the Eagles come up one win short of the Super Bowl - with the last two NFC Championship defeats coming at home. Everything I know about Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid says he's a quality head coach bred from the same Mike Holmgren-protégé stock as Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci and Dick Jauron (uhh... I'll try not to mention his name many more times from the Just North of Wrigley Field Area), but I sure hope this run of so-close-but-not-quite letdowns doesn't find his name added to the chopping-block rumors.

Hopefully, the exasperated Philly fan base will give him another shot with some better weapons around McNabb.

So, New England vs. Carolina is your Super Bowl 38 matchup. I have my idea of who I think will win, but I'll save it for another day sometime after they post the injury list (Hint! Hint!).

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