“They played ball. That’s the bottom line. They played basic football. Ain’t no tricks; ain’t no nothing. They just played ball.” And so it seems a disoriented Edgerrin James may have been describing the Eagles just as much as he was referring to his Colts’ devastating 20-3 loss to the Patriots as he sat in the locker room, shaking his head, seemingly unaware of the media microphones that flanked him.
After this weekend’s divisional playoffs, there are four teams left with the opportunity to take home the Vince Lombardi trophy. Out of these four teams, two played this weekend as complete teams, the way the game should be played — the Eagles and the Patriots. And neither Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown successor nor the NFL’s own Michael Jackson impersonator (circa 1983 — the year Jackson released, you guessed it, the Moonwalk) will be involved. Oh, and Doug Brien’s foot just called in to say it’s taking a rain-check, too — for his sake, hopefully he and that foot are somewhere warm where New Yorkers don’t exist.
Marino’s successor, Peyton Manning, was not able to lead the Colts to victory against the Patriots’ tough defensive coordinators and, more notably, its defensive players. Like Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, ever the literalist, said last week when asked if the game was a matchup of him versus Manning: “Nobody wants to see me on the field against Peyton Manning. Not me, not any fan. Nobody except the Colts.” This victory was for the players. Replay the game in the RCA Dome, and perhaps the score would have been slightly different, but not the outcome. The snow had nothing to do with Tom Brady and the offense’s masterful control of the ball or the clock in a game that allowed Peyton only 22 minutes and 17 seconds of visitation rights with the pigskin. I’ve never heard a timer that complained about ticking in inclement weather. Still think the snow played a 17-point deficit role? Ask Tony Dungy or Peyton about that.
“I didn’t really have any expectations or predictions on the weather. I didn’t think it was really much of a factor,” Manning said during a post-game press conference.
“It wasn’t bad down there. The field was in pretty good shape. We just got outplayed today,” Dungy said, echoing Manning’s comments only minutes after taking the mic at the same post-game press conference.
Props to the Colts for handling the devastating victory with such class and also for realizing that like “the Edge” said, Sunday’s game was about players, and the Patriots just played better ball.
Meanwhile, over in the City of Brotherly Love, the Eagles once again proved that they are a complete team whose receiving talent goes deeper than Terrell Owens. Not that the Vikings were an especially formidable opponent, but ask Bill Cowher behind closed doors what he thought of the matchup between his Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets a week ago, and I’d be willing to bet he didn’t think the J-E-T-S Jets-Jets-Jets would come as close to eliminating the Steelers as they did.
If the Jets’ last two matchups have shown anything in the last two weeks, it’s that once again anything can happen in the playoffs and good teams are extremely capable of beating themselves. That’s what made the Eagles’ decisive win over the Vikings so important. Donovan McNabb and company showed Philadelphia that the team has the talent and the focus to take on (and get even a la Freddie Mitchell’s brilliant reverse mooning) a team like the Vikings and showboat Randy Moss. Holding Moss to three catches for 51 yards and sacking Culpepper three times exhibited a tenacity that is often seen in the types of teams capable and more importantly, willing, to win an NFC Championship. Take a look at the stats from the game, they aren’t all that dizzying or different. What was different was the Eagles’ attitude that enabled them to make the most of red-zone opportunities. That, and the ability to take the wind out of the Vikings’ sails within the first five minutes of the game.
So, do I think it’ll be a Patriots versus Eagles Super Bowl? Pretty much. Corey Dillon has had such an impact this season on the Patriot offense that it’s almost inconceivable how they won two Super Bowls without him.
Dillon’s post-game interview reminded me of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Rod Tidwell from Jerry Maguire in the last 10 minutes of the movie — when everything Tidwell has worked for comes into fruition and all he can do while surrounded by TV cameras and newfound fame is cry to his wife on the phone. There were no tears from Dillon’s eyes but if you’d handed him a cell phone, there’s a decent chance the same scenario may have played out. This is a guy who knows what it is to be a big fish in a small pond and now wants nothing more than to run his big pond team to victory.
Will Pittsburgh give the Patriots trouble? They’ll try their hardest to. A team with a 15-1 regular season record and an experienced coach like Cowher at the helm isn’t the type of squad that loses a playoff game before it has even begun. Of course, if I were rookie Ben Roethlisberger and had just watched the brother of the guy who was picked ahead of me in the draft get demolished by the Patriots, as the letters from fans calling for Tommy Maddox were simultaneously flooding into Steelers headquarters, I might be a tad off my game in the next matchup as well. So perhaps the deserved hype will get to the Steelers in a way it couldn’t get to the Patriots when they last met for an AFC Championship game in 2001.