Danyluk on Football: The Conference Confluence
Thoughts from Colts-Patriots – We all knew that the Patriots were the sturdier act going in, but what I want to know is why Andrew Luck has suddenly become an interception quarterback – seven in these playoff games versus a regular season where he committed only nine. Add in the one from last year’s loss to Baltimore and it’s eight INTs in three postseason games.
I’ve heard a few commentators say that it’s because he’s forcing the ball, trying to create plays on a team that can’t do it without him. I suppose.
I mean, that’s an okay explanation for some of them, maybe, but on others Luck just cranked back and gunned it toward the defensive people back there in coverage….Hussein Abdullah in KC game, Alphonso Dennard, Jamie Collins vs. New England. The media loves to tell us Luck is a quarterback “built for the postseason,” but after watching his day in New England, I kept remembering the line from Al Davis after one of his playoff losses, griping about his up-down quarterback, Daryle Lamonica – “Honestly,” he said, “I don’t know what goes through his mind sometimes.”
I didn’t want to hear any of that “jumped the route” nonsense from these analysts as they replayed Luck’s INTs. Call them what they were – careless throws, the cram-it-in-there business that helped make Brett Favre the all-time interception king, both career and playoff. Maybe Luck was “just having fun out there,” like they used to belch about Favre all the time. Or maybe the pressure is just a little too big for him...a little too anxious…for right now, at least.
On the New England side, Belichick sent his offense out there with instructions to put the hammer down – devour the clock and keep Luck out of the game. And so it came to be…46 rush attempts, LeGarrette Blount and Stephen Ridley banging into a Colt defense that honestly held up pretty well, except for Blount’s gaudy 73-yarder that finally wrecked the game.
Thoughts from Chargers-Broncos – They gave Ryan Matthews the ball a few times early. Uh-uh, not today. Ankle still no good. And thus the Charger run game was reduced to Danny Woodhead, their 5-feet-8 Mighty Mite, trying to dip and dodge his way for yards, and a game plan was ruined for a Charger team that came out looking significantly less enthusiastic than it did a week ago in Cincinnati.
Manning’s tipped interception to close the first half saved the Chargers from going down 21-0, but San Diego still couldn’t get its offense moving until very late. They stuck with the run…behind 17-0…then 24-7…then the frenzy at the end of the rope, where you tie a knot and hold on. Somebody asked coach Mike McCoy in the postgame if he should have thrown more earlier, while the game was still close. McCoy cut him short, but it was a question everyone in the room was wondering.
“I’m not second guessing anything,” he growled. “Coaches have coached their tails off all year long, and the players have done an outstanding job executing.
“We got beat today.”
Boringly famous last words.
What’s Next? New England at Denver (-6) – Both defenses can go haywire at any time, so we’re now focusing on which offense can exert itself the firmest. Denver will surely come out swinging, looking to abuse those Patriot defensive backs and build the fast, two-score lead.
The Pats, meanwhile, carry on with their Indy gameplan, playing mashball and trying to shrink the game, much like San Diego did a month ago in their visit to Denver. Fingers crossed. Belichick knows he can’t get into an airshow with Amendola and Edelman as his only downfield options. The other Pat receivers we heard so much about earlier in the year (Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson)…well, they have completely dried up.
That’s how I think it will play out…Denver getting on the board fast and pulling ahead, forcing the Patriots to run with them. A Bronco lead swells then shrinks, swells then shrinks. There’ll be Patriot onside kicks at the end, but Manning returns to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2008, where very grave danger awaits. Broncos 38, Patriots 30
Thoughts from Saints-Seahawks – A beautiful defensive effort by the Saints, spoiled by an assortment of gaffes by their own offense/special teams that allowed the early Seattle lead. A trio of Saint defensive linemen stand out – Akiem Hicks, Brodrick Bunkley and, oh my, LDE Cameron Jordan. They were dynamite, plundering the line, throwing bodies back and helping to keep the Seattle offense to 114 second-half yards. Subtract Marshawn Lynch’s late 31-yard burst and it’s an 83-yard Seattle half.
“Our job was to be more physical than their offense,” said Jordan, “and I think we did a good job of that.” Much more than good.
Fast forward to the Saint offensive surge at the end, Drew Brees finally coming to life and finding open people all over the field. The last guy he finds is Marcus Colston, who is uncovered on the sideline at the Seattle 37. Colston makes the catch, and had he stepped out of bounds there would have been seven second remaining on the clock…enough time for one last Brees chuck at the endzone.
Instead, Colston pivots then whips the ball downfield, trying to hit to reserve RB Travaris Cadet, who is stationed way over on the other sideline. Clearly a violation of Rule 8, Section 1, Article 2, item 1(a), your honor. The officials agree, and the game is over.
So, was this actually a play call from the New Orleans’ sideline? Or did Colston act alone, the sudden crackpot, the lone gunman desperate for a place in the history books. I’ve hunted all over for an official explanation on the matter and all I could find was this from the Sean Peyton postgame – “We’ll look at the film. Next question.”
I have the feeling a play like this could exist in the New Orleans playbook, in the Rigmarole & Razzmatazz section, some type of contraption which features a pass then a cross-field lateral to a man trailing on the play. But I’ve only ever seen it on kickoff and punt returns, never on a play from scrimmage – I mean, from beyond the line of scrimmage.
Now I’m on a mission, sifting through the archives, looking for evidence of such a diabolical play. After two hours, the best I can come up with is from November 27, 1942 – Marshall versus Bradley Tech, with Jackie Chapman, that wild-eyed Marshall quarterback, tossing “a long cross-field lateral to Dick Damron, who raced 24 yards for the first touchdown.” And, Hoo-ray! A Marshall victory!
I’ll try to contact Chapman and find out if he was past the line when he threw crossfield. In the meantime, the rest of you try to get ahold of Colston and find out what was in his head.
Thoughts from 49ers-Panthers – Oddly, three of the four divisional games had almost a regular-season feel to them. Week 19 football. Somehow I expected more ferocity, bigger intensity. This is the one that didn’t need any further cranking up.
The big muscle in the game was the 49er linebacking. It was devastating. Terrific pass coverage, run-stopping power…then that pair of smashing goal-line stands that stunned the Panthers…Bowman, then Willis, then Brooks leading the first…Bowman, Brooks then Bowman again on the second.
Memories of the ’79 Sugar Bowl. Bear Bryant removing his hat indoors, Alabama stonewalling Penn State on four plays at the goal, and Barry Krauss, the ‘Bama linebacker, saying, “I knew it was a good hit because the screws came out of my helmet.”
Colin Kaepernick, the Niner QB, went through some hot streaks then some flat ones, but in all delivered a clean game. How many times where there open running lanes for him, with the Carolina linebackers running around in coverage and nothing but open green ahead? But he stayed put and waited for his receivers to swing free. Sometimes he hit them and sometimes he didn’t. On the other side, Cam Newton was sharp and confident early. Then things broke bad and he faded.
What’s Next? San Francisco at Seattle (-3) – The Seahawks weren’t nearly as polished as I expected to see them versus New Orleans. Blame the layoff, the weather, the whipping North Sea conditions, but honestly Pete Carroll’s club hasn’t been sharp in weeks. Last serious performance came in 34-7 rout over New Orleans back in early December. Since then they’ve been, well, just okay.
I get the feeling we’re looking at another one of these clubs that peaked too early…the rampaging, mid-season favorite that’s hot on the surface but is quietly cooling underneath. Remember the Packers in 2011? The Patriots in 2010? The Germans in ’42?
Russell Wilson suddenly looks like a third-round pick at quarterback. His scrambles have been ineffective. The Saint linemen were hunting him down easily last week. While we’re at it, New Orleans also did the dirty work on WR Percy Harvin (concussion), who was supposed to add some sizzle to the Seahawk attack. As of this writing, Harvin still hasn’t been cleared for duty.
Meanwhile, Frisco’s game has really rounded into shape. Call it that Super Bowl look. Defense is healthy and peaking; offense patient but much deadlier with WR Michael Crabtree in the mix. The one knock on San Francisco is its depth at running back. There is none. If they somehow lose Frank Gore (playoffs: 37 carries for 150) there’s little behind him to maintain a ground game. OK, Seattle takes the depth-at-running-back category.
The victor? How can anyone pick against the ‘Hawks’ defense and that nuthouse of a home field? Well, I can. The 49ers have been there in recent years, and the Harbaugh/Carroll feud cranks this thing to even higher levels but, sorry, I just don’t like the way Pete’s team is playing right now. 49ers 24, Seahawks 16
Tom Danyluk joins FootballNation after nine years as a columnist with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which you can purchase on Amazon.com. Questions or comments? Please contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.