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: December 29, 2008 9:55 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2008 12:46 pm

NFL: The table is set; three hot seats catch fire

The Wild Card round of the 2008 NFL playoffs are set, and there are some fine matchups in line.

The Seeds

                     AFC                                                                                 NFC

1 --               Titans                                                                              Giants

2 --               Steelers                                                                          Panthers

3 --               Dolphins                                                                         Vikings

4 --               Chargers                                                                        Cardinals

5 --               Colts                                                                                Falcons

6 --               Ravens                                                                            Eagles

The Wild Card Matchups

                      AFC                                                                                  NFC

SAT              Colts at Chargers                                                          Falcons at Cardinals

SUN             Ravens at Dolphins                                                      Eagles at Vikings

I believe the NFC games are easier to predict than the AFC games in this round. The Falcons have been playing heads-up ball lately while the Cardinals have limped into the post-season after claiming the championship in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL. I think the Falcons take this one. And the Eagles are on fire. Granted, they took apart a faltering Cowboys team, but Philadelphia is firing on all cylinders. It took all the Vikings had to get past the Giants by one point. I'm not sure the Vikings can handle the Eagles at full strength. I'll go with the Eagles in this one.

The AFC matchups are more intriguing. The Colts are riding a nine-game win streak, but the Chargers, who are on a four-game win streak of their own, have a huge chip on their shoulders and are playing much better than their record indicates. Being from and living in Indiana, and since my Bengals didn't even come close, I'll be rooting for the Colts, but I think I'll be prepared to be disappointed. I call this one a toss-up with a slight edge to the Chargers for home-field advantage.

Of all the games this coming weekend, I think the Ravens/Dolphins matchup is the most intriguing. Miami is riding high on the wave of an 11-5 season after an abysmal 1-15 campaign last year. They had to beat the Jets this past Sunday to get in. They played effectively and efficiently and got the job done. For the Dolphins, this will come down to mental toughness. For some players, the game against the Jets may have been the playoffs, do-or-die to make the postseason, but, on the good side, the Dolphins come into the game on a five-game win streak. There could be a letdown coming, a letdown they can't afford against a Ravens team that also squeaked their way in, but which also has a lot of playoff experience on the team. Typically, a rookie quarterback could be a weak link under playoff pressure, but Ravens QB Joe Flacco has grown into the position this year and has shown poise beyond that of a typical rookie QB. If the Ravens' defense can handle the flair that the Dolphins' offense may try to throw at them, they should win this game. Behind that defense and with more playoff experience, I'll give the Ravens a slight edge in this game, in spite of home-field advantage for the Dolphins.

Three head coaches early casualties . . .

Browns' head coach Romeo Crennel, Jets' maestro Eric Mangini, and Lions' ringmaster Rod Marinelli were all three shown the door today. Crennel's Browns were 4-12, Mangini's Jets were 9-7, but flamed out toward the end of the season when they looked like sure locks for the playoffs, and Marinelli's Lions set an NFL season record by going 0-16, a mark that will be hard for the hard-luck franchise to live down considering recent years and recent events.

Now, fans are left to wonder where these three will land and who will take their places on their former teams. There are still a limited number of jobs, a limited number of candidates and a limited number of teams, so it's likely Crennel, Mangini and Marinelli will end up somewhere, perhaps even as head coaches again, though it may take a couple of years. The better question is who will take their places -- who might be lured from somewhere else, who might be lured out of retirement, or who might be willing to take a chance on reviving some franchises that have fallen on rough times and want to find a spark to get them going again.

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