We had a great time at 101 ESPN’s AFC-NFC Championship bash at the UMB Bank Champion’s Club at Busch Stadium on Sunday, and thank everyone who came out to join us. Rams COO Kevin Demoff came, and I pointed out to him that I hoped we won’t have a party next year, and that the Rams are playing in the NFC title game. This one, an NFC West battle, was great – and so were the Denver Broncos. Here are 10 takeaways from Sunday’s games:
1. I’m embarrassed for the people in the sports media who talked about, and will talk in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning’s “legacy.” Manning has joined Craig Morton and Kurt Warner as quarterbacks who will have started for two teams in the Super Bowl. This will be his third Super Bowl start, matching Warner and Ben Roethlisberger. He has more Super Bowl appearances than Steve Young, Dan Marino, Brett Favre and his brother Eli. He’s second all-time in touchdowns, yards, completions, attempts and passer rating. He’s third in yards per game, fourth in career completion percentage, 19th in touchdown percentage, 18th in lowest interception percentage. He’s the best passer of all-time, and has taken teams to three Super Bowls. Peyton Manning’s legacy is set in stone as one of the best to ever play, and that wouldn’t have changed with a loss to New England on Sunday and won’t regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
2. It’s interesting to look at the teams the Patriots have been knocked out by in the playoffs over the last few years. Baltimore got them twice, the Giants got them twice, and the Jets, Steelers and Colts all got them once, along with this year’s Broncos. The common denominator among those teams is that they’re physical, and manhandled the Patriots in the playoffs. On Sunday, the Broncos came into the game ready for a street fight, and the Patriots apparently couldn’t deal with being in a bruising battle. The Bronco touchdown drives in the second and third quarters were the longest of the year for Denver. Eventually, the losses of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo in the middle of the Patriot defense were going to catch up with them, and it did in this game. Against a really good team, they couldn’t run the ball and couldn’t stop the run, and that will haunt them all offseason.
3. There was suggestion in the Boston media, even in Bill Belichick’s Monday press conference, and on NFL Network, that he had been outcoached by John Fox. That didn’t happen. There’s nothing a coach can do when his team is manhandled, and Denver simply manhandled the Patriots in this one. As much as New England physically dominated Indianapolis in the divisional round, Denver physically dominated the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. There’s nothing coaching can do about a team that’s physically inferior to its opponent.
4. Champ Bailey was drafted one spot after Torry Holt in the 1999 draft. I wanted the Rams to take Bailey, but I’m happy with the choice they made. Of course, Holt won a Super Bowl in his rookie year and returned to the Super Bowl in his third year. He played his last game for Jacksonville in 2009 and will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. Bailey played five years for Washington and now has played 10 for Denver, and this will be his first Super Bowl appearance. It’s guys like Bailey for whom I root at this time of year if I don’t have a rooting interest. He’s put in 15 years; he’s a 12-time Pro Bowl performer and almost certain Hall of Famer. It would be good to see him cap his career with a championship.
5. I have to believe the success of John Elway as the Broncos’ vice president of football operations will open the door for former star players who desire to get into that line of work. Troy Aikman has said he would like to get involved in a front office, and Dallas obviously needs someone better than what they have. Marshall Faulk would like to be in a front office and has the intelligence and pedigree to do it. Others who would be good fits in a front office include John Lynch, Tony Gonzalez and, eventually, Peyton Manning.
6. On the NFC side, the Rams know what it takes to get to the Super Bowl. They see it four times a year, with San Francisco representing the NFC last year and Seattle this season. I actually like the idea of the bar being set so high in the division. I go back to the early 90s, when the winner of the NFC East generally won the Super Bowl, with the Giants winning in ’90, Washington in ’91, and Dallas in ’92, ’93 and ’95. That’s the kind of division I hope the Rams compete in for the next few seasons. If you win it, you can plan on challenging for a Super Bowl title.
7. D’Marco and I talked about the Seattle running game last week, and I mentioned that an explosive Marshawn Lynch run many times makes the difference in a Seahawk victory. Against New Orleans, it was a 31-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put the game away, increasing a 16-8 lead to 23-8. Lynch averaged 4.0 yards per carry in the game without the long run, 5.0 with it. Against San Francisco, Lynch tied the game at 10-10 and turned momentum with a 40-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Minus that run, Lynch averaged 3.3 yards per carry, and with it he averaged 5.0. Denver needs to hold him down all night, because his explosive plays this year have made a big difference.
8. We talk all the time about turnovers being the key to games, and Colin Kaepernick tossed two interceptions and lost a fumble. He looked out of sorts for the entire second half, and took the blame for the loss. And it was his fault. All three of San Francisco’s fourth quarter possessions ended in turnovers. He has opened the door to defensive linemen swatting at the ball when they get near him now. It’ll be interesting to see if he changes things next year.
9. While I wasn’t a big fan of what Richard Sherman did in his postgame tirade with Erin Andrews, I wasn’t surprised and I wasn’t outraged. Sherman is one of those guys who is trying to make a name for himself. He’s a bright, Stanford-educated guy who happens to be intensely competitive, talkative and desirous of the spotlight. As we’ve watched him over the last couple of seasons, it’s become clear that he wants to become a media star. He’s a regular on NFL Network and writes a column for Peter King’s TheMMQB. And, he got what he wanted with his outburst. Sherman was the talk of football on Monday, the day after the Super Bowl pairing was set. He’s no different than Madonna or Lady Gaga or Terrell Owens. He craves the spotlight, and he had the spotlight for 24 hours after the NFC championship game, until someone told him to apologize. He’s a great player, but it seems he has higher aspirations than just being a great player. Sherman understands that he’s in the entertainment business, and made an entertaining statement to a large segment of fans.
10. According to Accuweather, the Super Bowl Sunday forecast for New York calls for a high of 29 degrees and a low of 18 with cloudy skies. It looks like a cold, raw evening for the biggest single event in sports. It would be a shame if conditions determined the outcome of the game, but it could happen. And if it does, shame on NFL owners for not thinking hard enough before voting for this site to be chosen.
It should be a great Super Bowl week and game. I always enjoy the battle between immovable force and irresistible object. Who wins between the Denver offense and the Seattle defense? I have no idea, but it’s going to be fun.