Posted on: May 30, 2009 7:57 pm

Sans "bad" officials, what would we talk about?

The puck is soon to drop on the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings, two teams with passionate fan bases, are about to face off in a repeat of last year's Cup Finals. Question is, how long will it take for the first fan on one side or the other to accuse the referees of making a poor call, particularly if it is one that happens at a critical point in the game or one that potentially affects the outcome of a game?

It will not be the first time this happens across all the major sports we watch. Every week of the NFL season, there is a catalog of threads specifically about bad calls in games. This year, in the NBA playoffs, we have been treated to a veritable ongoing litany of threads about officiating, or the lack thereof, in these series. The accusations in the NBA seem to get more outrageous as the playoffs go on, even to the point where a player on one team in a series accused their opponent of "buying" a win in the series. Talk about sour grapes.

That brings us to the question: Without poor officiating, what would we have to talk about? I have been guilty in the past of participating in some of these discussions, particularly regarding the NFL and the NHL. I don't watch much NBA play, but I have been intrigued to follow all the folderol about the officiating during the playloffs this year. As anyone who spends even a short amount of time as a Community member knows, this place abounds with any number of threads about poor officiating, how calls have affected the outcome of games, a player's individual stats, etc. In fact, some Community members at times appear to make a hobby out of complaining about officiating in the sport(s) they follow.

The one sport that appears to be exempt from as high a level of criticism is Major League Baseball. That is not to say that poor calls don't happen in baseball. It's just that the season is 162 games long, and fans, I think, a have a tendency to forget about a lot of bad calls as the season rolls on. Bad calls that occur in the playoffs are mostly few and far between for MLB. In the NBA and NHL, teams play about half as many games during a season, and the NFL has the shortest season of them all. NFL fans can zero in on officiating quicker than almost anybody.

So, if you follow a particular sport, what would be your solution(s) to poor officiating? Better training? Full-time officials? Closer league scrutiny of officials? I likely will come back with my take(s) after seeing a few responses. I hope we can have a constructive conversation about something that can be quite bothersome and distract fans from quality play in four wonderful professionals sports.
Category: General
Posted on: May 6, 2009 12:56 pm

NFL: Brett Favre is a joke, and a bad one at that

Here is a man who seems bound and determined to wear out any welcome he may have in the future among professional football fans and to consume any and all good will he may have been able to stockpile within the last two years.

Seems harsh to say, but right now, Brett Favre needs to worry less about finding another team for which to ply his trade and worry more about rehabilitating any reputation he may have left.

I used to be a fan, but that has pretty much ended. When Favre goes into the Hall of Fame, and he will, of course, he will now have to suffer the righteous slings and arrows of those who, like me, have seen enough of him and may feel the need to heckle him once he gets there.

Of course, he has to stay retired for more than six months before he can get to the Hall! Bets on if he'll be able to do it?

Category: NFL
Tags: Brett Favre, NFL
Posted on: January 18, 2009 11:26 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2009 12:45 am

NFL: Cards, Steelers to meet in Super Bowl XLIII

Got both games right today, but it was close in both!

Eagles versus Cardinals -- In the first two-thirds of the second half, it looked like the Cardinals would let this one slip away. Arizona built a 24-6 lead in the first half, with three touchdown passes from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald and a 49-yard field goal from Neil Rackers in the last moments of the second quarter. But, it was apparent the Eagles had made some good adjustments at halftime,coming out to score 19 unanswered points to take the lead 25-24 in the fourth quarter. When it counted most, Warner held it together and drove his team down the field to make the game-winning score, an 8-yard pass to running back Tim Hightower, who did some great running after the catch and twisted and turned his way into the end zone. With the score at 30-25, Arizona went for the 2-point conversion, with Warner throwing a bullet to tight end Ben Patrick to put the score at 32-25, forcing the Eagles to score a touchdown to either tie the game or go ahead with another 2-point conversion. It would stand up as the final score, as the Cardinals’ defense held, taking over on downs. After punting out of bounds and pinning Philadelphia inside their own 10, the Cardinals snuffed out the Eagles’ last play, a desperation attempt at a hook-and-ladder play that ended with a turnover.

Eagles’ QB Donovan McNabb actually outpassed Warner, making 28 of 47 throws for 375 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. McNabb was put on the deck twice by Arizona pass rushers. He threw to nine different players, with wide receiver Kevin Curtis getting four catches for 122 yards and wide receiver DeSean Jackson catching six for 92 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Brent Celek had a great day, with 10 catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns. All-purpose weapon Brian Westbrook wasn’t much of a factor in this game, with 45 rushing yards on 12 carries and two catches for 26 yards. McNabb and running back Correll Buckhalter combined for 52 yards on six carries, giving the Eagles a total of 97 rushing yards. Kicker David Akers made field goals of 45 yards and 33 yards in the first half. Akers was 2 for 3 on the day overall on field goals and also missed an extra point attempt.

Warner had one less interception (0 on the day) and one more touchdown pass, that TD pass representing the difference on the scoreboard. He was 21 of 28 for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He also was put on the deck twice. Warner threw to eight different players and caught a pass himself for four yards. Fitzgerald, the offensive star of the day for Arizona, led the way among those catching passes, with nine catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin had four catches for 34 yards. On the ground, running backs Edgerrin James and Hightower combined for 106 yards on 27 carries. The Cardinals are truly fortunate to have a talent like Larry Fitzgerald playing for them. The guy is a human highlight reel. If Kurt Warner doesn‘t have him to throw to, obviously, Arizona doesn’t even get this far, much less win this game. He is only one piece of the puzzle, pieces which also include Warner, Boldin, James, and Hightower, as well as others on both sides of the ball, but he is a critical piece.

Kudos to the Eagles, who had to scrap their way into the playoffs and were close to making a one-point lead hold up to make their way to the Super Bowl. As for the Cardinals, they have turned an up-and-down regular season into the team’s first trip to compete for the NFL’s ultimate prize, the Lombardi Trophy.

Ravens versus Steelers -- Leading up to this game, anyone who had anything to say about this year’s third meeting between these two teams knew it was going to be brutal. And they were right. Hard hits, nasty blocks, tough words bantered back and forth, some post-play shenanigans. In other words, everything you would expect in any meeting of bitter AFC North rivals. Both teams endured some frightening moments late in the fourth quarter when Steelers' safety Ryan Clark leveled a hard shoulder hit on Ravens' running back Willis McGahee, who had just caught a pass over the middle. McGahee was taken off the field on a cart, and Clark ended up on the sidelines being checked out by Steelers’ trainers. Clark, who had eight tackles on the day, was credited with a forced fumble as McGahee lost the ball when he was hit. Late word was that McGahee is experiencing significant neck pain, but does have feeling and movement in all his extremities.

During the half-time updates, CBS’ injury report was longer than during any game I’ve seen in a while. One of the game’s best blocks was one laid by Steelers’ wide receiver Limas Sweed, who flexed back to make space for tight end Heath Miller on a pass play. Sweed nearly separated Ravens’ cornerback Corey Ivy’s head from his torso. (It reminded me of the block laid by Steelers’ wide receiver Hines Ward on Bengals’ linebacker Keith Rivers on October 19 during the first of two Pittsburgh victories over Cincinnati in the regular season, a block which put Rivers out for the rest of the season with a broken jaw.) Sweed was likely looking to make himself feel a little better after dropping a perfectly-thrown ball from Ben Roethlisberger that would have been a touchdown had Sweed caught it. (Sweed also made a nice play in the third quarter to break up an interception and give Steelers’ kicker Jeff Reed a shot at a 46-yard field goal, which he hit to put Pittsburgh up 16-7). Each team would put another score on the board after Reed's kick, making the final score 23-14.

The team that made the least mistakes was going to win this one, and that team tonight was the Steelers. Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, who was 13 of 30 for 141 yards, was intercepted three times, one of those returned by Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu 40 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Polamalu, who also had three tackles and an assist, again proved to be the final dagger for the Steelers' defense. Flacco, who also was sacked three times, threw to five players, with running back Ray Rice, wide receiver Derrick Mason, and tight end Todd Heap each getting three catches, Rice for 43 yards, Mason for 41 yards, and Heap for 26 yards. The Ravens’ running game wasn't able to get much traction beyond McGahee, who had 60 yards on 20 carries before he was injured, while he accounted for the Ravens’ two touchdowns on carries of 3 yards in the second quarter and 1 yard in the fourth quarter. Four other rushers combined on five carries for 13 yards.

The Ravens defense was in Roethlisberger’s face all night, getting consistent pressure on the Pittsburgh offensive line, hurling blitz after blitz, sacking Roethlisberger four times and putting him on the ground numerous other times. Roethlisberger was 16 of 33 for 255 yards and 1 touchdown, with no interceptions. He threw to eight players, with wide receiver Santonio Holmes getting two catches for 70 yards and the one touchdown scored by Pittsburgh’s offense. Miller had three catches for 62 yards, and Ward had three catches for 55 yards before being lifted from the game with a leg injury. Sweed had two catches for 10 yards. Running back Willie Parker had 24 carries for 47 yards. Three other rushers combined for 5 yards on four carries. Reed had three field goals on efforts of 34 yards and 42 yards in the first quarter and the 46-yarder in the third quarter.

Kudos to the Ravens, who put together a great season behind a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback and who nearly rode one of the league’s premier defenses to another shot at a Super Bowl ring. As for the Steelers, they have two weeks to get ready to go up against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, with a chance to establish the NFL record for Super Bowl victories at six. This will be the second time in the last four seasons the Steelers have made it to the NFL championship, having defeated the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL in 2006.

Posted on: January 17, 2009 10:14 am

NFL: Conference champs on deck . . .

At the beginning of the 2008 season, I think anyone would have given the Steelers a shot at making the Super Bowl, with one of the better quarterbacks in the game and one of the best defenses. The Ravens would have had an outside shot, considering they have a new coach and a rookie quarterback. I think the Eagles would have been given a similar chance to the Ravens, considering the inconsistency of the team over the last few years and some of the internal issues they have been deaing with recently. Of the four teams still in it, the Cardinals are the team least likely to have been given much love as a Super Bowl contender at the beginning of the season.

Colts, Chargers, Titans -- gone. Jets, Patriots -- didn't even make the cut. Giants, Panthers, Falcons -- gone. Saints, Cowboys -- didn't even make the cut.

So, here we are, about to enjoy a couple of unexpected, but imminently watchable matchups tomorrow.

Eagles versus Cardinals -- The current line here has Philadelphia by 4. This is actually a reasonably significant line for the Eagles going into Arizona. This line tells me there is a feeling that the Eagles have a tangible advantage over the Cardinals. I'm not so sure. Behind quarterback Donovan McNabb and head coach Andy Reid, Philadelphia has plenty of playoff experience. While this is Ken Whisenhunt's first turn in the playoffs as a head coach, he was Bill Cowher's offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh for three years and helped the Steelers to a win in Super Bowl XL, so he has dealt with playoff pressure, too. McNabb's matchup with Cardinals' QB Kurt Warner should be a good one. The Eagles have all-purpose weapon running back Brian Westbrook, rookie phenom wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and a defense that has found its purpose during the post-season. The Cardinals have one of the best wide receiver tandems in the game in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and running backs Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James have found their game during the post-season. The Cardinals' defense has also played well in the post-season.

The over-under on this game is 47. I have a feeling that total points for the game could end up at 50+, especially if Boldin is able to play. The Eagles' defense will have to be on top of their game to win this one, considering the variety of weapons Warner has at his disposal. Even without Boldin, I think the Cardinals will come out firing and play with a chip on their shoulders again, being underdogs at home. The CBS experts are split, three going with the Cardinals and two plus SPIN going with the Eagles. I'll go against the line and take the Cardinals in this one.

Ravens versus Steelers -- The current line for this one is Pittsburgh by 6. Six points may be a bit generous, considering this could turn into a literal knock-down drag-out sort of game, with two of the best defenses in the game going at each other tooth and nail to get to the Super Bowl. Can the Ravens' unflappable rookie quarterback Joe Flacco stand up against the pressure sure to be brought by the Steelers' stellar defense? Can savvy veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger stand tall in the pocket, avoid throwing mistakes and only scramble when necessary? He could find himself on the move quite a bit against a Ravens' defense that is good from the defensive line to the defensive backfield. Pittsburgh's offensive game planners will have to be careful to mix it up to keep the Ravens' defense off balance. Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are the keys to the Ravens' defense. Flacco is the mastermind for the offense, and he will have to be on his game to try to get his team enough points to win, but also to avoid mistakes in what is likely to be a defensive struggle of monumental proportions. Wide receivers Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Nate Washington, as well as tight end Heath Miller, will be primary targets for Roethlisberger, but the Steelers must also establish their running game to be able to effectively move the ball, as they did last week against the Chargers with running back Willie Parker. Flacco has wide receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton as his primary targets, and Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee to feed the ball to in the ground game.

This should be a great game. The over-under is at 34, which is a good number. If the total is over, it won't be by much. The Steelers at home by 6 represents a tangible advantage. However, three of six CBS experts and SPIN are picking the Ravens. Both teams will be trying to play the same kind of game -- ball control, no turnovers, and just enough points to win. I think this game will be won by the team that makes the least mistakes and which forces mistakes by the other team. Who will do it? I'll take the Steelers.

Good luck to each of these teams and their fan bases. Whichever teams win, we should be in for an exciting Super Bowl matchup.

Posted on: January 12, 2009 3:00 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2009 7:45 pm

NFL: Dungy decision sparks range of reactions

According to The Indianapolis Star, Colts' head coach Tony Dungy has spent today at Colts' Central, saying his farewells before a scheduled 5 p.m. press conference to announce his resignation as head coach of the team.


The range of reactions seen here among CBS community is from high praise to some downright nasty criticism. Just check into any of the threads dissecting Dungy's decision, and you'll see what I mean. Many are respectful, giving credit where credit is due. Some wonder why the Colts, during Dungy's tenure, with the perceived level of talent on the team, couldn't win more than one Super Bowl. Others are sad to see Dungy go, particularly Patriots' fans, who see Dungy as a weak coach against one of the Colts' perennial nemeses in the Patriots. Some have been critical regarding details of Dungy's personal life.

Member posts aside, here are the undeniable facts: a Super Bowl victory, seven playoff appearances, five division titles and two AFC championship games in seven seasons. Not too shabby.

Here are some more undeniable facts.

From The Indianapolis Star: Tony Dungy Era -- Season-by-Season Stats


From The Indianapolis Star: Tony Dungy's career record among all-time coaches


These numbers back up Dungy's status as one of the best coaches to come along in a while. Dungy's not perfect. Neither is any other human being. As human beings go, he's better than many. As coaches go, he is among a select few who have made some great achievements, including a Super Bowl victory.

I don't know what his plans are, but I have a tendency to think Dungy likely will choose to stay out of the public spotlight for a while. Will he return to coaching at some point? Perhaps. But, having done what he has done at the NFL level, maybe we will see him as head coach of an NCAA team somewhere down the road.

Good luck, Tony. Here's one fan who will miss your intelligence, your demeanor, and your humanity. Oh, and I almost forgot, your ability to coach the hell out of a football team.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 11, 2009 10:06 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2009 10:42 pm

NFL: Eagles hook Giants; Steelers zap Chargers

Another 1 and 1 day, and, again, one expected and one surprise.

Eagles versus Giants -- I expected this one to be a close game, but with a mostly-healthy Giants team, I expected New York to be on the good side of a 23-11 score versus the Eagles. But it didn't turn out that way, with the Eagles' defense being the difference in this game, forcing a fumble and two interceptions. The Giants' defense also netted two interceptions. New York actually had more total yards (307) than Philly (276), but were unable to make those yards bring something they could put on the scoreboard.

Giant's kicker John Carney put the first points on the board with a field goal in the first quarter. Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was 22 of 40 for 217 yards with one touchdown and the two interceptions, got his team's first score with a 1-yard run in the first quarter. The Giants trapped McNabb in the end zone in the second quarter, scoring a safety, then Carney and Eagles' kicker David Akers traded field goals to put the score at 10-8 before the half. Carney and Akers traded field goals again in the third, the only scoring in the quarter. The fourth quarter broke the Giants' backs as the Eagles scored 10 unanswered points, with McNabb hitting tight end Brent Celek for a 1-yard TD and Akers connecting on his third field goal. Running back Brian Westbrook was held to 18 carries for 36 yards and had two catches for 10 yards. McNabb threw to seven different players, with wide receiver DeSean Jackson getting four catches for 81 yards and wide receivers Jason Avant and Kevin Curtis each getting four catches, Avant for 43 yards and Curtis for 40 yards.

The Giants were held without a touchdown. QB Eli Manning was 15 of 29 for 169 yards and the two interceptions. Manning threw to six different players, with tight end Kevin Boss getting three catches for 52 yards and wide receiver Domenik Hixon catching two for 37 yards. While Carney produced all the points for the Giants, he missed two tries during the game. The rushing game contributed as much as it could, with running back Brandon Jacobs getting 19 carries for 92 yards and running back Derrick Ward getting 12 carries for 46 yards. These are pretty good numbers, but the offense could never get them close enough to the end zone to make their power and speed pay off.

This game was closer, I thought, than the final score indicated. Take away a miscue here and there, have Carney hit one or both of the field goals he missed, capitalize more in the red zone, and the Giants are in this game in the fourth quarter. As it was, Philly did what they had to do to win, and they move on to meet the Cardinals next week in Arizona for the NFC Championship. The Giants head into the offseason thinking about what might have been and what will be next year. Kudos to the Giants and their fans on another great year, and congrats to the Eagles, who are one win away from a chance to play for the  ultimate prize.

Chargers versus Steelers -- I, and a lot of others on various threads, said the Steelers should win this game, provided their defense played as they typically do and their offense scored some points to back up the defense. The Steelers got the win, 35-24, and while they did not run away with this game, it wasn't as close as the final score indicates.

The Chargers scored on their first possession of the game with a 41-yard pass down the middle from San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, a flat-out speed route with Jackson running under a beautifully thrown ball from Rivers. The Steelers answered quickly with a 67-yard punt return by Santonio Holmes for a touchdown. In the second quarter, Chargers' kicker Nate Kaeding hit on a 42-yard field goal, and Steelers' running back Willie Parker plowed into the end zone on a 3-yard run. The Steelers were up 14-10 at the half. The Steelers went up 21-10 in the third quarter, a quarter in which San Diego did not score, on an 8-yard pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger to tight end Heath Miller. In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh running back Gary Russell scored on a 1-yard run, putting the Steelers up 28-10. Rivers hit receiver Legedu Naanee for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 28-17. Shortly after that, Parker would score again for the Steelers on a 16-yard rush, putting the game at 35-17. Running back Darren Sproles would finish the scoring in the game on a 62-yard touchdown pass from Rivers. The Steelers were always able to stay one step ahead of the Chargers after they tied the score in the first quarter.

Rivers was 21 of 35 for 308 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The Steelers' defense sacked Rivers four times, and also took away a fumble during the game. Rivers threw to eight players, with Sproles leading receivers with five catches for 91 yards, most of it coming on the TD catch. Wide receiver Chris Chambers had four catches for 72 yards, and tight end Antonio Gates had 5 catches for 59 yards. The Chargers had just 15 net rushing yards. Sproles had 11 carries for 15 yards.

Roethlisberger was 17 of 26 for 181 yards and a touchdown. Back-up QB Byron Leftwich came in during the waning moments of the fourth quarter to ensure that Roethlisberger remained in one piece and in possession of all of his faculties. Roethlisberger was sacked once, but did not give up an interception. He threw to six different players, with wide receiver Hines Ward leading the way on four catches for 70 yards. Heath Miller had three catches for 37 yards, including a TD. On the ground, Willie Parker racked up 27 carries for 146 yards and the two TDs, proving to be the engine that drove the Steelers' offense. Six other players combined for 19 yards on 15 carries. The Steelers did not turn the ball over. The Steelers also won time of possession (36:30 to 23:30) and first downs (22 to 15).

Kudos to the Chargers and their fans for a strong finish after what could have been a disastrous season. The Steelers' win sets up a confrontation between them and the Baltimore Ravens, bitter division rivals in the AFC North, for the AFC Championship. Pittsburgh swept the regular season series, and they will have home-field advantage again next week, but the Steelers have to be ready for a Ravens team on a roll. Baltimore may be dealing with injuries to two key players, as linebacker Terrell Suggs left their game against the Tennessee Titans with a sprained shoulder, and cornerback Samari Rolle left the game with a groin strain. Hopefully, the Ravens will be at full strength. It will make this game, already expected to be intense, that much more exciting.

Posted on: January 11, 2009 12:57 am
Edited on: January 11, 2009 11:44 am

NFL: Ravens topple Titans; Cards flay Panthers

Well, another 1 and 1 day. The good call I expected, but the one I missed was a complete surprise.

Ravens versus Titans -- The Ravens won a squeaker 13-10 in one of the best-played games I've seen this year. Back and forth, body blow for body flow, punch in the mouth for punch in the mouth. The Titans played better than I thought they would, but with three costly turnovers when points were within reach, the Ravens did what they usually do, beat you by taking the ball away from you. Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco showed great poise for a rookie. His offensive line made sure he did not get sacked, and the Ravens' offense gave up no turnovers. The Titans' offensive line gave up only one sack, but the team played undisciplined football, getting penalized 12 times for 89 yards. The Ravens had eight penalties for 40 yards. Between the turnovers and the penalties, the Titans gave the Ravens just enough of the razor's edge to skin by.

Titans QB Kerry Collins was 26 of 42 for 281 yards and an interception. Titans' running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White combined on 26 carries for 117 yards, with Johnson scording on an eight-yard run in the first quarter. But the Titans were without Johnson in the second half after he suffered an ankle injury late in the second quarter. Collins threw to eight different players, with wide receiver Justin Gage netting 10 catches for 135 yards. White also had four catches for 35 yards, and Johnson had a catch for 28 yards. Kicker Rob Bironas rounded out the Titan's scoring with a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

Flacco was 11 of 22 for 161 yards and a touchdown to wide receiver Derrick Mason, who had five catches for 78 yards. Running backs Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain combined on 24 carries for 44 yards, testament to the game played by the Titans' defense, which held Flacco to less than 165 yards. Reliable Ravens' kicker Matt Stover banged field goals of 21 yards and 43 yards to round out the Ravens' scoring.

A controversy in this game will haunt the Titans and, as indicated by some threads already in play, cause many of their fans to say the Titans got "jobbed," terminology used by CBS commentator Boomer Esiason in his postgame wrapup, and that the officials handed the game to the Ravens. On the Ravens' final scoring drive, late in the fourth quarter, time appeared to run out on the play clock before Flacco took the snap on one play, and a flag was not thrown on the play. Titans' coach Jeff Fisher was incredulous, as were the team's fans in Tennessee. Bottom line, though, is that the Titans turned over the ball three times and committed too many penalties to win a game as close as this one was.

Congrats to the Titans and their fans on a great season, and kudos to the Ravens, who move on to the AFC Championship game next week against the winner of the Chargers versus Steelers game.

Cardinals versus Panthers -- I was shocked by how the Cardinals came out in this one and absolutely pole-axed the Panthers. For all intents and purposes, this game was over before the final minutes of the first half, a half which ended with the Cardinals ahead 27-7. Carolina scored on their first possession of the game on a nine-yard dash by running back Jonathan Stewart, but then proceeded to give up 27 unanswered points, essentially sealing their fate. In the second half, Cards' kicker Neil Rackers accounted for all the team's scoring, with field goals of 33 yards and 20 yards, but the Cardinals defense held the Panthers down, allowing only a touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Smith in the fourth quarter. The two-point conversion try after the score failed, setting the final score at 33-13.

The Panthers were never able to establish any rhythm on offense, and, uncharacteristically, the Panthers committed six turnovers, all accounted for by quarterback Jake Delhomme, who threw five interceptions and lost a fumble. You could tell Delhomme was rattled when cameras showed him sitting on the sidelines between possessions. He looked like he had been run over by a truck. Delhomme was 17 of 34 for 205 yards, with the touchdown to Steve Smith and five interceptions. Delhomme threw to eight different players, with Muhsin Muhammad making five catches for 55 yards and Smith getting two catches for 43 yards. Running back DeAngelo Williams had 12 carries for 63 yards, and Stewart had three carries for 12 yards, including the touchdown in the first quarter.

The Cardinals answered Carolina's first score two possessions later, when Arizona QB Kurt Warner hit running back Tim Hightower for a three-yard touchdown. Two plays after the Delhomme fumble on Carolina's next possession, Cardinals' running back Edgerrin James dashed up the middle for a four-yard touchdown. For the game, Hightower had 17 carries for 76 yards, and James had 20 carries for 57 yards. The offensive star of the game for Arizona was wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had extra weight on his shoulders with tandem wide receiver Anquan Boldin inactive for the game with a sore hamstring, as he set a team playoff record for receiving yards. Fitzgerald had eight catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. Warner, who was 21 of 32 for 220 yards with the two touchdowns and an interception, threw to eight different players. Rackers had four total field goals for the game.

Congrats to the Panthers and their fans on a great season, and kudos to the Cardinals, who move on to the NFC Championship game next week against the winner of the Eagles versus Giants matchup.

Posted on: January 9, 2009 12:23 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2009 12:26 pm

NFL Div. Playoffs: Now it gets really fun!

I love the playoffs because it means you get to watch two NFL games on Saturday, and all four of the games are scheduled so you can catch them all! It's a bonus when the games are good, and it looks like the matchups on both Saturday and Sunday are setting up nicely.

On Saturday, the Ravens travel to take on the Titans in the early game, a 4:30 p.m. start. The Titans are favored by a field goal at the moment, what I like to call the "tip of the hat" line for home-field advantage when two comparable teams are playing. Essentially, this game is a toss up in my book. I think the Titans CAN win, but will they? If the Ravens play smart offense, like they did last week against the Dolphins, they should win this game. Just let the defense run amok and see what happens.

The other Saturday game has the Cardinals on the road to meet the Panthers at 8:15 p.m. The line on this one is Panthers by 9 1/2. This line tells me that those in the know believe Arizona does not match up well against the balanced attack and stingy defense of Carolina. If the Panthers stay on their game, they should win this one. I'm not sure if they'll cover a 9 1/2-point spread, but they should win.

On Sunday, in the early game at 1 p.m., we have the Eagles traveling to play the Giants. This will be the third time these two teams have seen each other this year, after a regular-season split, with both teams winning on the road. The line has the Giants by 4. Can the Eagles make the road work for them again, coming in against a Giants' team that has had two badly-needed weeks to get healthy? I like the Giants here, provided all the pieces are ready come game time, but I'm not sure if they will make the 4-point spread.

In the late game, the Chargers travel almost coast-to-coast to take on the Steelers at 4:45 p.m. In their meeting earlier this year, the Steelers squeaked by with an 11-10 win, in a game with one of the strangest endings I saw all this year. The line has the Steelers by 6, a clear advantage. The Steelers have had two weeks to get healthy, good news considering starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out of their last regular season game against the Browns with a concussion. The Chargers likely will be without running back LaDainian Tomlinson, though this may not be as critical as it normally would be with the performance last week of Darren Sproles. The Chargers bested the Colts last week in a game I thought the Colts should have won, but the victory in which can be traced largely to the performance of Sproles. The Steelers must score points to back up the work of their defense and minimize mistakes when they have the ball. If they can do this, I think they win, but perhaps not by the 6-point margin.

These should be some great games, and I'm looking forward to being able to watch all of them. Playoff football is the best!

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com