Monday, January 9, 2012

A Wild 'Wild Card' Weekend!

Sometimes, it feels so good to be wrong. Completely, and blissfully, wrong.

Last week, I picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the Denver Broncos. Actually, I didn’t pick them to just beat the Broncos as much as I picked them to smash their face in a car windshield and take their mother, Dorothy Mantooth, out to a nice seafood dinner and NEVER call her again. I stated, matter of factly, that the Broncos’ gimmick was up, that their offensive game plan had run the course of the Wildcat, that they had less than a 0% chance of winning, and that they would not score a single point in the game.
Let me be clear; I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.

This whole Tim Tebow thing is totally unexplainable at this point, as I can’t even begin to understand how I could be so invested in a team I otherwise wouldn’t care about in the slightest. I’ve never followed the Broncos, I’ve never cheered for the Broncos – heck, I’ve actually severely disliked the Broncos for the majority of my life. But trying to put into words what I felt as Demaryius Thomas raced 80 yards down the field would be…well, it would be a completely futile task. The scene in my house looked a lot like the insane asylum in Twelve Monkeys after Brad Pitt got all the loons worked up. I ran multiple laps around my living room, screaming at the top of my lungs the entire time. I nearly tackled my wife in joy, I scared the living daylights out of my kids, I ran up to the TV and yelled “SUCK IT PITTSBURGH!!!” several times, and, somewhere along the way, I lost my shirt in the euphoria of it all. It was unquestionably the happiest I’ve ever been as a football fan, and it may have been the best football game I’ve ever seen in my life. (Call that hyperbole if you want, but someone is going to have to tell me why it’s not before I relent.)

Of all the Broncos’ crazy wins, this one is easily the most meaningful, and not just because it was in the playoffs. For the first time, they stood toe to toe with one of the NFL’s elite (that word is relative). For the first time, they looked like they belonged in the playoffs. They didn’t need Marion Barber to inexplicably run out of bounds. They didn’t need a crazy turnover in overtime.  The offense moved the ball, Tebow was good, the defense made key plays, and the Broncos took advantage of a defensive mistake in the overtime. End of story. There’s nothing fluky or questionable about how Denver won. That may sound like a trivial thing to say about a playoff team, but it has to mean the world to the Denver Broncos, not just for the remainder of the playoffs, but even into next year.

So, how were the Broncos able to transform from the team that couldn’t muster more than 3 points against the Chiefs last week to the team that churned out 447 yards of offense against the Steelers this week? The answer is surprisingly simple; coaching.

I’ve been consistently railing on the Denver coaching staff all year, and the biggest surprise from last night isn’t that Tebow played well; it’s that they let him play, period. Here’s a quote from my Week 16 picks:

“Things didn’t necessarily go all that well against the Pats, but I honestly believe Tebow is making progress from week to week. If the coaching staff can finally grow a pair and let this team play the way they should, I think Denver could be very sneaky in the AFC Playoffs.”

I’m not taking credit for “calling it” or anything, as I clearly didn’t call a win against Pittsburgh, but if even a dope like me can figure out that John Fox and OC Mike McCoy were handcuffing their team to death, then they surely should have figured this out long before the playoffs started. Perhaps they’re evil geniuses who have been sitting on the “real playbook” for weeks, but I kinda doubt it.

Nevertheless, what we saw last night was a huge departure from the conservative, no-risk philosophy they’ve been employing all year. Gone were the bunched up formations specifically designed for repeated, and highly predictable, hand-offs. Gone was the constant obsession with field position that consistently doomed them to three and a half quarters of nothing. Gone was the leash around Tebow’s neck that essentially stripped him of everything that makes him special. All, gone. And as Demaryius Thomas raced down the sidelines in that amazing OT, I can’t help but imagine that the Steelers were thinking, “but…but…they never throw on first down!” Usually, no, they wouldn’t “risk” it. Last night, though, was a whole new team.

For the first time all year, John Fox let Tebow play. He put him back in the shotgun and gave him the green light to “pull the trigger,” as John Elway had instructed him earlier in the week. You can talk about the Steelers injuries and any other outside factor that you want, but this is why Denver looked so radically different. We spend so much time focusing on what Tebow can’t do as a QB that we often forget what he can do. What he can do is extend plays, keep drives alive with his legs, and throw a great deep ball. If that sounds a lot like a certain Pittsburgh Steelers QB, then it should. While he’s obviously not on a level with Big Ben right now, Tebow’s performance is a legit indicator of what he is capable of going forward. With everything on the line for him, in what could have been his only chance to show what he can do when the gloves are taken off, Tebow made big play after big play with both his feet and his arm. He was the best player in the game, and it wasn’t even close.

So yeah, I was wrong. Couldn’t be happier about it either. Thanks to Tebow, the entire weekend seemed like the most incredible weekend of football ever, even though every other game sucked.

Here are some of the other winners/losers from Wild Card weekend:

Winner – Demaryius Thomas

Tebow gets most of the attention, and for good reason, but it would be a crime to overlook Thomas. Since being selected in the first round (even before Tebow!) a couple seasons ago, the WR from Georgia Tech has had very little impact, mostly due to a series of injuries that cost him about a full season’s worth of games. After watching him tear through Pittsburgh’s secondary, I think it’s safe to declare him fully healthy. While his 204 yard performance last night will be heavily discussed, it only goes to highlight what has been a breakout second half. In his last six games (including playoffs), Thomas has done his best Calvin Johnson impression, catching 29 passes for 621 yards and 4 scores.  He still struggles with the dropsies at times, but he’s well on his way to stardom. What is most striking to me is how explosive he is at 6’3” and 235 lbs. A man that big should not be able to go 80 yards that quickly. In that offense, Thomas could easily become one of the best big play threats in the NFL.

Loser – NFL Officiating

Goodness gracious, where do I even begin? This past weekend was a complete train wreck for the league’s officials as they not only blew their usual allotment of calls, but they manage to have a massive impact on two games. The second place winner for worst call of the week goes to the “Backwards Incomplete Pass” call in the Denver-Pittsburgh game. If even Phil Simms can call it correctly without the use of replay, then anybody should be able to. By now, the officials should know to let those types of plays continue, but their quick use of the whistle on a pass that went about two yards backwards handed the Steelers seven free points. Thankfully, the Broncos were still able to win the game, or else I might currently be behind bars for assault. While that call didn’t end up affecting the game, the winner of the worst call of the week very well might have. In the 2nd quarter of the Lions-Saints game, Lions DE Willie Young forced a Drew Brees fumble that was subsequently scooped up by LB Justin Durant, who had a clear path to the end zone. The resulting TD should have extended the Lions lead to 21-7 – except the whistle blew while the play was still ongoing. One official ruled it a fumble, another ruled it an incomplete pass, the play was incorrectly blown dead, the subsequent review was botched…I’ll just let the league explain:

"Referee Tony Corrente ruled the play was a fumble and a recovery by Detroit," the league said in a statement emailed Sunday night to PFT. "However, during the play and before Detroit recovered the fumble, another official blew the whistle believing it was an incomplete pass. Because the ruling on the field was a fumble, and the whistle came before the recovery, the play is dead because of the inadvertent whistle and the Saints should have retained possession of the ball. New Orleans would then have had the choice to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to replay the down. Inadvertent whistles are not reviewable."

So, basically, these officials are stupid. Also, I love that replay has basically served as a giant, glaring spotlight on how incompetent the officials are. Unintended, but warmly welcomed, side effect.

Winner – Andre Johnson

I normally roll my eyes at the “feel good” stories the networks try to jam down our throats, but I legitimately felt happy for Andre Johnson on Saturday night. The guy had consistently been one of the best, if not the best, WR in the league for 122 regular season games, and it was a shame that he had never gotten to play in a playoff game. I’m happy for him to have gotten there, I’m happy for him to have won in front of the home crowd, and I’m happy for him to have had a great game.

Loser – Marvin Lewis

Not that it would have made a difference in the outcome of the game, but what the heck was he doing with those challenges? As if challenging a spot wasn’t bad enough (seriously, has that challenge EVER been won?), Lewis one-ups himself by wasting his second challenge before halftime! That’s enough to make Andy Reid blush!

Speaking of dumb coaches…

Loser – Mike Smith

I have no problem with the decision to go for it on 4th and short. In fact, I’m whole-heartedly in favor of doing it, and I think more coaches should be that aggressive in those types of situations. What I am not in favor of, however, is drawing a diagram of your play and then handing it to the defense before the snap. That’s essentially what Atlanta did on two separate occasions when they emptied the backfield of any legitimate running backs, put the receiver in motion, and tried to sneak Matt Ryan nearly a full yard through all 11 Giants defenders. You might be shocked to find out that they failed to convert on both tries…

Winner – Drew Brees

He’s still not going to win MVP, but his continued dominance is going to ensure his season is never forgotten, no matter what happens from here on out.

Loser – Evil

Good (Tim Tebow) triumphed over Evil (Ben Roethlisberger). Following the game, Evil (Big Ben) decided to dress up like a 1920’s gangster, presumably so he could bootleg some liquor before heading out of town to put a horse’s head in some guys bed.

Winner – Calvin Johnson

Just in case anyone was still forgetting to mention him on their “Best WR’s Alive” list…

Actually, screw that. Don’t even make a list. Just write his name down and move on to another position. OK? Thanks.

Loser – Anyone who watched Giants-Falcons

Completely unwatchable. I played Elder Scrolls during the 2nd half, it was so bad.

Winner – Me

I didn’t have to go through the seven stages of grief this weekend since the Cowboys were already out of it.  That’s a big plus for me!

Winner – NFL Divisional Round

New Orleans at San Francisco is going to be awesome.
New York at Green Bay rematch is going to be awesome.
Denver at New England rematch is going to be REALLY awesome.
Houston at Baltimore rematch is going to be…uh, can we just cancel this one?


  1. I think Denver showed another crucial trait of a winner this week as well...they lost momentum, then righted the ship and took care of business...huge.

  2. They lost momentum early in the game, then got it back, then gave it back, then got it back again, then...

    I think you see where this is going.

  3. But technically, Denver simultaneously lost and gained momentum at the SAME TIME when they lost badly to Kansas City, and clinched a playoff spot at almost the same exact time. Then, Tim Tebow went out and celebrated with some friends and ate pizza and drank a milkshake, an obvious gain in momentum, but then later that week he has a bad lasagna, losing that momentum again. Fortunately, at just the right time on Sunday, the momentum was in the Broncos' favor, 29-23. Whew! That was close!

  4. So technically, they peaked at the right time? I guess since they're carrying momentum into Saturday night, there's no chance that they lose, right?

  5. Unless they give up an early TD, in which case they will be declining and losing momentum at the same time.

  6. really, they're just football players, and football players play football.

  7. And forward passes must go forward in order to be forward passes...