FOXBOROUGH — Here’s what we’re watching in today’s game as the Patriots host the Steelers.
1. Tom Brady — The past few weeks have been anything but pretty for Brady. He’s failed to throw a touchdown in two of the last four games and his completion percentage has dipped to a career-low 55.7 percent as a starter. Last week against the Miami Dolphins, he completed a season-low 13 passes. There are worries about Brady’s hand and in turn his accuracy. If he can get through this week with at least a solid performance and a win, he can rest easy through the bye week at 7-2, a huge accomplishment for any team and any struggling quarterback.
2. Availability of Aqib Talib, others — Talib (hip) is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. He has practiced for the last two weeks but has been limited in doing so. He would be a great help Sunday against a player of Emmanuel Sanders’ speed and skill. There’s also concern about Kyle Arrington and his groin injury. He’s been limited the past few weeks. That’s two of the team’s top three corners. Leon Washington (ankle) is listed as questionable and seven others are listed as probable for Sunday’s game.
Why is it every time I feel the odds are stacked against Tim Tebow, particularly when I think there is NO WAY he can overcome them, he goes ahead and wins football games in the most stunning of fashions? Certainly I’m not the only one to feel this way. And I guess that’s what adds to the phenomena behind Timothy Richard Tebow. He simultaneously surprises, enthralls, inspires and enrages football fans. The way he wins, both awkward and unorthodox, late but timely, and marvelously highlight driven, is uncharacteristic in any regard. It’s spawned Tebow Time, and Tebow Magic, something no quarterback has ever done in comparison. It’s historic. It’s humbling. It galvanizes. It’s pure entertainment.
On the first play of overtime, Tebow found Demaryius Thomas over the middle of the field on a play-action pass for an 80-yard touchdown. Heads are still spinning. With Thomas’ quick stiff arm and 55-yard sprint, he left a wake of dropped jaws and speechless Twitter users. (How many times did you see just “Wow” in your Twitter stream?) Not to forget a felled Pittsburgh Steelers team that was destined to go in and challenge the juggernaut in New England. I can’t think of a play even as close to amazing as that one from the entire weekend.
But besides the Broncos shocking the world (there is truly a “world is against them” aura floating over there), there were three other games going on of high interest. Saints-Lions, Texans-Bengals and Giants-Falcons. Just a couple of thoughts on each.
– I swear the Lions would’ve won against the Saints if they could simply catch the gift-wrapped interceptions Drew Brees was floating to their defensive backs. A failure to capitalize on turnovers is just as much as a failure to score points in the playoffs. It was so egregious I was ready to suit up and sub for Aaron Berry (no relation) to get the job done. (C’mon dude, no one would ever know….)
– The Falcons are disappointing. Forget the fact that I picked against them in this game, but at least have the cajones to put some points on the board. Two points? 2? Dos? That’s irresponsible. Outrageous even. You can’t win unless you score some points, plain and simple. Credit to the New York Giants for shutting them down. Matt Ryan is not an elite quarterback.
– How many times was Andy Dalton going to go for the home run, rather than look for a single? Yes, let’s use a mixed sports analogy here in describing the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals. Dalton’s three interception were inexcusable in the Bengals’ loss to the Houston Texans. Particularly his fourth quarter bomb to Houston’s Danieal Manning with seven minutes remaining. That’s what sealed the loss. Forget the pass to Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, which was a freak of athletic nature. But his final two interceptions really were boneheaded picks, something only a rookie would do. On the flip side, I liked T.J. Yates’ game and Arian Foster. I can see the Texans doing well against the Baltimore Ravens. And on that note …
I’m going to follow up with my picks for the divisional playoffs later today. It’ll be the first time I pick for, or against, the Patriots. So there’s that. Check it out.
The way Aaron Rodgers is playing, he is deserving of the NFL’s MVP honors right now. The Chico, California-bred Rodgers (shout out to Chico State!) is completing 71 percent of his passes in three postseason games for 790 yards, six scores and two interceptions. The one bad apple, that drove down his quarterback rating to a measly 109.2 in the postseason, was last week’s NFC championship game against the Chicago Bears in which he threw both of his two interceptions and didn’t throw a touchdown. Continue reading →
Some are saying it was the best Super Bowl ever, and I’m saying it was the worst. As exciting as the fourth quarter was, the whole thing was ruined for me by the worst officiating I’ve ever seen in a Super Bowl. Pittsburgh had a lot of help. If this was an NBA game, I would’ve been convinced it was fixed. I have a little more confidence in the NFL, but that’s the only thing stopping me from saying that.
Exhibit A – there was a clear and obvious block in the back on James Harrison’s length-of-the-field touchdown return. There’s seven points off the board. Exhibit B – an awful roughing the passer call that gave the Steelers a first down and eventually led to a field goal. That would’ve been a bad call in a regular season game, but was truly terrible in the Super Bowl.
Exhibit C – same drive, roughing the kick….field goal holder??? I’m not quite sure when that became a penalty. It sounds vaguely familiar, but that can’t be in keeping with the spirit of the rule, can it? He hardly roughed him up. Exhibit D – the first Kurt Warner fumble, that was overturned after a review. They got the call right, but it was so obvious that the Cardinals shouldn’t have had to waste a challenge on it.
Every one of those bother me, but I’m able to look past them. To not review a questionable fumble call, with seconds remaining in the game, the game being the freaking Super Bowl, is inexcusable. Initially I thought it was a fumble, and I understand the call. But the replay looked different. I thought the ball may still have been in his hand (and I wasn’t the only one) and that there was a real good chance the call was overturned. Needless to say I was pretty surprised when they didn’t bother to look at it!
NFL Head of Officials Mike Pereira’s lame excuse was that “the booth” reviewed it and found it to be a fumble. Well fantastic, but their job isn’t to make the calls, it’s to tell the actual referees who are working the game whether a call is close enough to take a look at. Clearly this was, if only for the importance of the moment. Say the Cardinals get the ball back, plus the 15 yard penalty for taking of a helmet, you’re looking at a 29-yard toss into the endzone with Larry Fitzgerald on your side. It’s a long shot, sure, but it would’ve had a chance, and sure would’ve been fun.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was rooting for the Cardinals. But in general, I’m more of a Steelers fan. I just thought it was a better story if Arizona finally won a championship. (Side note: It also bothered me that the Super Bowl winning team had three different players throw punches in the game. Has that ever happened before? Stay classy, Pittsburgh.) I’m not saying the Steelers don’t deserve it. But that left a real bad taste in my mouth.