Saints, Colts Will Be Super
Friday - January 19, 2007
This Sunday’s NFL Conference Championships will have plenty of grist for the mill. There are lots of sidebar stories featuring the rogues and royalty of the NFL - exactly what the league hopes for at this time of year. And the strongest part might be the teams who have survived to this point.
It’s easy to root for the Saints. After the devastation wrought by Katrina, New Orleans seemed to find in its football team a symbol of strength, a hope that the city could climb back.
After hiring Sean Payton as coach, signing Drew Brees and drafting Reggie Bush, the Saints have been transformed into a cohesive unit that can score points in bunches with a variety of weapons.
An early indication of the team attitude was the way RB Deuce McAllister embraced Reggie Bush. It was very different from the way McAllister was treated by Ricky Williams when he arrived in New Orleans. He shrugged off that experience, fought the feeling of being unappreciated for his three seasons of 1,000-plus rushing yards, and now is part of the best one-two punch of any backfield in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears, despite the most erratic QB play in the league, have ridden their defense into the last role for the conference title. And even that outstanding defense isn’t what it was in the first half of the season. The Bears clearly miss DT Tommie Harris and the pressure he brings on QBs and RBs alike. Sure, LB Brian Urlacher is All-World, but Shaun Alexander rushed for 108 yards and 2 TDs last week. Add to that the up-and-down play of QB Rex Grossman, and you wonder if the Bears are Super Bowl worthy.
And for the rogues? DT Tank Johnson, mired in legal problems, came up with a huge sack of Matt Hasselbeck.
This time destiny steps in, and New Orleans survives by a touchdown, 31-24.
What is it with Tom Brady and the post-season? The Pats’ QB is now 12-1 in December and January, and he guided his team to an unlikely win in San Diego. And he did it by playing much less than his best game. But when his team absolutely needed him, right before the half, and in the fourth quarter, he came through with big scores. And he did it despite an inability to mount any ground game whatsoever. The Patriots avoid beating themselves with undisciplined penalties and untimely turnovers. They win with a defense that lacks a bonafide star. And they don’t panic. They’ll be unfazed going to Indianapolis for the AFC title game. But they’ll be about as exciting as their head coach Bill Belichek. The guy is the cure for insomnia, but man, can he coach.
The Colts feature football royalty in QB Peyton Manning. If regular season was all there is, he might be the greatest quarterback ever. But he has no rings and has not played well in post-season. This time there are no excuses. The game is at home in a cozy dome. Hey, that rhymed!
He’s got healthy receivers and an excellent RB in Joseph Addai. More remarkable, the much-maligned Colt defense has been terrific in the playoffs. They manhandled the Chiefs, and limited the Ravens to 83 yards rushing and a couple of field goals. This is it for Indianapolis.
The stars are aligned, and Peyton Manning will never get a better chance to remove the large primate from his back.
Irony of ironies, Adam Vinatieri, acquired from the Patriots in the off-season, will be the difference-maker.
Colts win a close one, 27-24.
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