A fresh and spicy gumbo of opinions, leftover after watching six NFL postseason games over the weekend:
1) The Dallas Cowboys Are Frauds: This was supposed to be the year that the Boys lived up to the breathless hype and legitimized the media slobbering by winning a Super Bowl. Instead the most overrated franchise in professional team sports played to their real heritage, and I’m not talking about Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. These era of Cowboys, you see, are the pro-team equivalent of the Kardashians: celebrities that have achieved nothing except being famous for no apparent reason … famous for being famous. That’s it. No substance.
Since the team that Jimmy Johnson built won its third Super Bowl to cap the 1995 season, the Cowboys are 4-11 in the postseason and have failed to survive past the divisional-playoff round. During Sunday’s 23-17 loss at home to the 49ers, the Cowboys displayed all sorts of buffoonery: dumb play-call selections, incompetent game-clock management, not knowing the rules (more on that below) and 14 mostly stupid and ill-timed penalties.
As usual at this time of the NFL calendar, the Dallas stars didn’t show up, and quarterback Dak Prescott swerved through another mediocre performance in a postseason game. Alarming stat on Dak: Including playoffs, the Cowboys are 1-12 when trailing by two scores at halftime with him at quarterback. Prescott has been an NFL quarterback for six seasons, surrounded by good talent … and at times, great talent. But he’s 1-3 in the postseason. He has fewer playoff wins than 13 current NFL quarterbacks including the Niners’ Jimmy Garoppolo. Heck, even Blake Bortles has more postseason victories (2) than Prescott.
1a) Stop Your Whining, Fake Cowboys: That QB draw with Dak with only 14 seconds remaining and no timeouts was an irresponsible call. It’s this simple: know the rules; the next play can’t start unless the umpire places it on the proper spot. The Cowboys mistakenly thought they could have their quarterback hand the ball to the center — and away we go! Not so fast. It doesn’t work that way. The Cowboys were unprepared to set up for their final play because Prescott and others didn’t know the rules — oblivious to the rule that dictates the football must go to the official. This one isn’t on the officials; it’s on the Cowboys. You can’t expect an umpire to sprint that far (he lines up well behind the quarterback) in time to get the next play set. And Dak could have saved his team for a final play by getting down early and saving time instead of picking up a few more yards. This mind-blowing gaffe was symbolic of the poor Dallas preparation.
In two seasons the unmitigated game-manager disaster of a head coach Mike McCarthy is 18-15 and 6-9 in games played against opponents that don’t reside in the weak NFC East.
Dallas has traipsed to 11 consecutive playoff appearances without making it to a conference championship game, and that includes seven one-and-dones. This is the longest such shutout since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
2) Tom Brady? Still Tom Brady. After Tampa Bay’s 31-15 dismissal of the overmatched Eagles, Brady has won 17 of his last 20 postseason games. After throwing for 271 yards and two touchdowns, Brady is 5-0 as a postseason starter for Tampa Bay, and his offense has scored 30+ points in all five of those victories. Brady is now up to 35 career playoff postseason victories – which is more than any NFL franchise has except New England (37) and Pittsburgh (36). And Brady led the Patriots to most of those wins.
Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts didn’t have much of a chance to defeat Brady on Sunday. Related note: Quarterbacks 25 and younger are 2-12 vs. Brady in the postseason. (Take a bow, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco.) One more Brady fun fact: he’s defeated 28 different quarterbacks in the playoffs; next on the list in league history is Joe Montana who defeated 15 QBs.
3) The Bills Humiliate Bill Belichick: What an embarrassment for the New England Patriots, getting snow-plowed out of Buffalo in a 47-17 loss. The Bills scored touchdowns on all seven competitive possessions (we’re not counting the kneel downs at the end of the game.) They punished the Belichick defense for 482 yards, 29 first downs and five TD passes by the slinging Josh Allen. This was a follow-up to Buffalo’s 33-21 win at New England on Dec. 26. The Bills didn’t have to punt in that game. They didn’t have to punt against the Patriots on Saturday. In the two clashes, excluding kneel-down possessions, this is what the Bills did to the Belichick defense: 14 possessions, 11 touchdowns, two field goals and one failed fourth-down conversion. Plus a total of 57 first downs.
It’s a new era in the Bills-Patriots rivalry. Armed with Tom Brady for all but one season (knee injury, 2008) from 2001 through 2019, New England bullied Buffalo by winning 32 of 35 games. But the Bills are 4-1 vs. the Patriots since Brady headed to Tampa Bay. After failing to win a single AFC East title during the Brady Era in New England, the Bills have won two in a row with Brady out of their division path. And the Patriots can’t stop Allen. The Bills have averaged 39.3 points in their last three victories over Belichick. I think it’s fair to say that during Belichick’s time as New England coach he’s never been routed this decisively by one team and one player. Allen, by the way, had more TD passes than incompletions in Saturday’s search-and-destroy job on the Patriots.
Belichick is 0-1 in the playoffs without Brady. The last time Belichick won a postseason game without Brady as his QB came in 1994 as the head coach in Cleveland. As mentioned, Brady is 5-0 in the postseason as Tampa Bay’s QB and is pursuing a second consecutive Super Bowl championship with the Bucs.
4) Joe Burrow, The King of Cincinnati. Before his career is over, he’ll win some MVP awards. And if frugal team owner Mike Brown spends some money to build a more complete team, Burrow will lead Cincinnati to success in the Super Bowl. He’s a second-year quarterback getting hurried and hit at a frequent rate because of a vulnerable right side of his offensive line. But Burrow never flinches. He’s as confident as Brady, and absolutely fearless. Not just fearless in his demeanor under pressure – but 100% sure of himself when he fires a pass into a tight window. We saw several “how did he do that?” throws in Saturday’s 26-19 win over the visiting Las Vegas Raiders. Burrow was 24 of 34 for 244 yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL playoff game. And if you saw him in his postgame news conference, Burrow came off as a guy who expected to win – and didn’t understand the fuss because he did in fact win. It was the Bengals’ first postseason triumph since 1991. Joe Burrow takes the Bengals into SEC Country for the divisional-round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, the No. 1 AFC seed.
5) The Strange Case Of Jimmy Garoppolo. He isn’t Joe Montana, he isn’t Steve Young, and the 49ers sent a bunch of primo draft picks to Miami to move up in the 2021 NFL draft to choose Trey Lance, Jimmy G’s replacement. We know all of that. But what’s the rush to displace him? After Sunday’s win at Dallas he’s now 34-14 as the Niner starter, including the postseason. To put that in context, all other quarterbacks that have started under San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan are 8-28. Garoppolo tosses up some baffling interceptions; one such errant throw gave the Cowboys a chance to come back and get into position to steal the game. OK, Jimmy G’s durability is the real reason for lining up a potential replacement. He went through one stretch of missing nearly 50 percent of the games during a 48-game stretch through 2020. But he missed only two starts this year, and is making a play to keep Lance on the bench. Next weekend’s game at Green Bay is a big one for the Niners and their underappreciated quarterback.
6) I Don’t Trust Kyle Shanahan: The 49ers tried to give that game to Dallas, as Shanahan’s most glaring weakness as a head coach rising to the surface. – and that would be play-calling when his team has a lead. Shanahan, remember, blew a 28-3 lead as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator in the Super Bowl loss to New England. He then gave away a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead to Kansas City in the Super Bowl. Another bad loss. The 49ers were fortunate to avoid another collapse after taking a 23-7 lead into the fourth quarter at Dallas.
7) Hail To The Chiefs: After a sluggish start the Kansas City offense stopped middling around and put a 42-21 defeat on Ben Roethlisberger and the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. Through one stretch the Chiefs outscored the Steelers 35-0 without a response from the black and gold. The 35-0 began in the second quarter and rolled into the third, with KC remarkably amassing the 35 on five Patrick Mahomes touchdown passes. The streak required only over 11 minutes and 31 seconds of game action, meaning that Mahomes needed only 691 seconds of game play to vanquish the Steelers. He finished with 404 passing yards and was a video-game quarterback in this one. The Chiefs have won 16 postseason games in their all-time history; Mahomes has been the QB for seven of the 16 wins.
8) Next Up, Buffalo At Kansas City: a dreamy matchup that just as well could be the AFC Championship Game. The Bills won at Kansas City (38-20) in Week Five, but I don’t think that matters much now. Back then the Chiefs were weak defensively and had an offense plagued by turnovers. (The Bills had four takeaways in that win.) Since getting gonged by the Bills on Oct. 10, the Chiefs have won 10 of 11 games including Sunday’s elimination of the Steelers. Buffalo at Kansas City should be wild and exciting. Allen vs. Mahomes. And what kind of trickery does KC coach Andy Reid have in store for the Bills?
9) Roethlisberger Is Set To Retire: And the future Hall of Famer is one of the all-time Steelers … and maybe the ultimate Steeler in his toughness, street-fighting attitude, and a likable personality. Roethlisberger had a Pittsburgh identity, and he strengthened the Steelers’ identity, and led the team to 11 playoff-bound seasons that included five appearances in the AFC Championship games, three trips to the Super Bowl, and two Super Bowl titles.
But the Steelers – who deserve credit for even being in the playoffs this season – have more to worry about than finding a suitable successor to Big Ben. The secondary is a mess, and the offensive line is undermanned. In their last three postseason games the Steelers defense has been plundered for 42+ points by opponents. The respected Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert is retiring after the 2022 NFL Draft, and that will increase the difficulty of replenishing the roster.
10) Quick Hits: This note from Rick Gosselin, one of the all-time best football writers: “There have been 28 500-point offenses in NFL history. All qualified for the playoffs but only two were eliminated in the wild-card round — the 2000 St. Louis Rams and the 2021 Dallas Cowboys.” … the Eagles must cultivate a passing game. Running to win can work – until the other team, like Tampa Bay on Sunday, plugs the run. And then it becomes essential to have an effective passing game – and at this point Jalen Hurts can’t provide that … the homefield advantage returned over the super wildcard weekend. The past three years, home teams were 4-10 in the wildcard round; and 6-12 in the last four years. Over the weekend home teams won four out of five, and the LA Rams will try to make that five of six with a win over visiting Arizona on Monday night … why in the heck would an NFL owner or GM hire Cowboy OC Kellen Moore as head coach? He had a treasure trove of talent to work with and his play-calling played a major role in a 16-point showing at home in the one-and-done loss to the Niners… the Raiders’ Rich Bisaccia deserves to have the interim designation removed. He should be promoted to head coach. “We all think he’s the right guy,” quarterback Derek Carr said on Saturday.
Thanks for reading …
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