Praiseworthy playoffs for NFL
By Clark Judge
More than that, they’ve given us a litany of unforgettable performances — including New England’s 34-31 overtime win in November, accomplished after the Patriots rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit.
The Broncos are an early favorite, and it’s not just oddsmakers who are on their side; it’s Mother Nature. The early forecast calls for partly cloudy skies next weekend, with temperatures in the mid-50s. Advantage: Manning.
v 2. Calling all idiots who say running doesn’t matter anymore. Any idea how many touchdown passes Seattle, San Francisco, New England and Denver had in their playoff victories? Try three, with two by one team ... OK, by one player, Manning. There were 10 scores by running backs, and enough of this stupid debate. It’s over. Check, please.
v 3. Just a hunch, but New England doesn’t jump offsides five times in three quarters.
v 4. Seattle and San Francisco aren’t just the two best teams in the NFC; they’re the two best teams in the NFL, and the reason is defense. Unlike Denver and New England, both play it at a very high level.
v 5. If I’m Ken Whisenhunt, the choice is easy: Detroit. The Lions have talent on both sides of the ball, a franchise quarterback, the game’s best wide receiver and opportunity in the wide-open NFC North.
v 6. New England is nothing if not resilient, and the proof is the past three games. The Patriots went from a passing offense to an effective rushing attack, and the envelope, please: Over their last three starts, Patriots’ running backs have 151 more yards rushing (643) than Tom Brady does passing (492) and scored 10 TDs. Brady threw for two ... both to running back Shane Vereen.
v 7. Too bad there’s not another Harbaugh waiting to be hired as a head coach. He’d get it, sight unseen. The reason: Genes. With the 49ers’ victory Sunday, John and Jim have been to six conference championship games in nine years. Each has three, with Jim reaching the NFC title game in each of his first three years in San Francisco. John went to three in his first five seasons in Baltimore and won his first Super Bowl last year — beating his brother.
— 8. At 3-0, Colin Kaepernick is the winningest 49ers’ quarterback ever in road playoff games. Honest. Joe Montana was 1-3, John Brodie 1-1, Steve Young 0-3 and Jeff Garcia 0-2.
— 9. Here’s why the 49ers could make it to their second straight Super Bowl. They’re 9-1 on the road, the best record in the NFL this season. Here’s why they may not: That one loss? Yep, it was to Seattle, a 29-3 beatdown in September. Worse, the last two times San Francisco played in Seattle they were hammered by a combined score of 71-16.
— 10. Yes, Brady is 10-4 vs. Manning, but he’s also 5-6 vs. Denver, the only opponent with a winning record against him. He’s also 2-4 in Denver — including a 2005 playoff loss. Plus, the Broncos are 7-0 when Jim Nantz and Phil Simms do their games.
— 11. Denver opened as a 6-1/2 point favorite next weekend, and that’s understandable because the last time these two met the Patriots had tight end Rob Gronkowski and Denver didn’t have tight end Julius Thomas. But careful, people: New England’s largest margin of defeat this year was seven points — and that happened once — and was 6-1 in games decided by three or fewer points. The line leveled off by Monday at some Vegas books to 4 1/2 points.
— 12. Next time the 49ers play, someone please make it decaf for Jim Harbaugh.
— 13. With that victory, Peyton Manning has as many playoff wins with Denver as Tim Tebow.
— 14. If you’re a Saints’ fan, this is why you should feel cheated: The season didn’t end with a Drew Brees pass; it ended with a Marques Colston pass.
— 15. Colston was so quick with his attempted cross-field lateral you have to believe it was a designed play. So one question: Who called it and why?
— 16. That makes Anquan Boldin 6-0 in the playoffs the past two seasons. He also has four 100-yard games in those six starts, and tell me that somewhere Joe Flacco isn’t shaking his head.
— 17. Ozzie Newsome is the best GM in the business and rarely makes a mistake. But he made a big one letting Boldin getting away ... to the 49ers of all people.
— 18. One week Tom Brady punts. Another, he holds for kicks. This week he’ll be the Patriots’ nickel back.
— 19. Maybe it means something, probably it does not. But the previous three times the Colts and Patriots met in the playoffs, the winner went on to win the Super Bowl.
— 20. Greg Schiano, please report to Foxboro for your finder’s fee. It’s the least the Patriots can do for delivering Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount.
— 21. Just a hunch, but Golden Tate isn’t on the Seahawks’ “hands team” this week.
— 22. NaVarro Bowman is the trivia answer. The question: Who scored the last touchdown at Candlestick Park?
— 23. Kaepernick is 4-1 in the playoffs. The five quarterbacks taken ahead of him in the 2011 draft (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton) are a combined 0-4.
— 24. There’s so much talk about the impact that Seattle’s fans — the 12th Man — have on opponents, and rightly so. But it wasn’t the crowd that forced New Orleans to burn those timeouts. It was the Saints’ lack of urgency. Nobody was in a hurry to break the huddle, line up or snap the ball.
— 25. The only problem I have with that Aaron Rodgers commercial is this: Since when does he take the middle seat in coach?
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED THIS WEEKEND
— 1. Experience matters in the playoffs. All but one quarterback in this weekend’s conference championship games had been there before — and on more than one occasion — and all four quarterbacks have previous playoff victories.
— 2. Seeds do count in NFC divisional games. With Seattle’s victory, the No. NFC 1 seed is 20-4 in in divisional rounds since the NFL went to the 12-team format in 1990. In the AFC, the count is 14-10.
— 3. If you’re the home team, you want Terry McCauley as your ref. He worked the Seattle victory, the fifth straight game he officiated where the home team won. No other crew has a longer streak.
— 4. If you’re the home team you might want the crew of Pete Morelli, too. He worked the Indianapolis-New England game, and it’s not just that he called the fewest penalties this year; it’s that home teams were 11-5 when his crew worked their games.
— 5. Dallas never should’ve let Rob Ryan go. It wasn’t Brees that kept the Saints in the game; it was Ryan’s defense, shutting down Seattle in the second half for all but that last possession. Ryan worked miracles with a historically bad defense. Now it’s the Cowboys that are historically bad.
JUST ASKING BUT ...
— Can anybody on Carl Cheffers’ officiating crew count to 12?
— Any chance the Omaha Chamber of Commerce can get Peyton Manning to do PSAs?
— Which defense do you trust more — Seattle or San Francisco?
— Who had the tougher weekend — Chuck or John Pagano?
— Why did it take San Diego to open up its offense?
FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME EXLAINING TO DO
— 1. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. Yeah, it’s old news, but what was with that field-goal call with just under four minutes left? The Saints were down by eight, which meant they still had to score a touchdown. It was fourth-and-15, and, yes, I understand they were going into a stiff wind. So instead of trusting quarterback Drew Brees to pick up 15 yards you trust Shayne Graham to hit a 48-yard kick? Sorry, I don’t get it. The math just doesn’t add up.
— 2. John Lynch, Fox Analyst. Please tell me he didn’t compare Khiry Robinson to Curtis Martin. He did? Well, he also attributed Percy Harvin’s hardships to “not being in football shape” due to missing training camp. Sorry, John, that wasn’t it. The guy HAD A CONCUSSION!!! Yep, that will cause you to leave a football game.
— 3. CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf. When the Patriots took a safety shortly before halftime, he questioned what punter Ryan Allen was doing — saying if he’d just fallen on the ball “at least he would give his defense a fighting chance.” Huh? At the Patriots’ 2? Puh-leeze. What Allen should’ve done was kick the ball out of the back of the end zone. Instead, he tried to pick up the ball and run and lucked out when his attempted lateral was deflected out of the end zone. So the safety he should’ve taken? He did take.
— 4. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. You’re supposed to be the best tight end in the business, so good you told Seattle’s Bruce Irvin “I’m Jimmy.” Yeah, Jimmy who? That’s what they’re asking after Graham had one catch, and that was with a minute left. Graham’s a terrific player, but he didn’t act like one last weekend — one reason Seattle’s Michael Bennett felt compelled to call him “soft” and “overrated.”
— 5. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck. I heard the adjective “great” thrown around a lot with him last weekend, and, no question, he offers glimpses of greatness and has a promising future that promises greatness. But he has eight interceptions in three playoff gamest, too — including seven in the past two — and there’s nothing great about that.
NUMBERS THAT MIGHT MEAN SOMETHING
— 1 — San Diego first-half yards passing
— 3-0 — New England vs. Indianapolis at home in the playoffs
4 — San Diego neutral-zone infractions
— 4-0 — San Francisco’s playoff record under Jim Harbaugh when leading at half
— 6 — LeGarrette Blount TDs the past two weeks
— 14-4 — Denver at home in the playoffs
— 16-1 — Russell Wilson at home
— 18-7 — Tom Brady playoff record
— 20-4 — NFC No. 1 seeds in divisional play since the NFL went to a 12-team format in 1990
— 345 — Times Peyton Manning called out “Omaha” vs. San Diego
EARLY LINES FOR NEXT WEEKEND (released Sunday night)
—Denver by 6-1/2 over New England
—Seattle by 3-1/2 over San Francisco