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We’re just saying…There’s No Place Like Dome

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Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:00 pm

Todd: We had to wait until the third weekend of the playoffs, but the NFL’s Conference Championship games finally managed to give us two compelling games on the same day.  The Jets and Vikings may have led their respective games early, but the Colts and Saints—each perfect through the season’s first 13 games—finished strong and proved that their play in the final weeks of the regular season meant as much as a Brett Favre retirement promise.  So instead of a Brett Bowl between No. 4’s current and former teams, the league’s two No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993. 

In the AFC Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Jets played nearly flawless for the first 27  minutes as they jumped out to a 17-6 lead.  But Peyton Manning has certainly conquered larger home playoff deficits (remember when the Patriots were leading 21-3 in the AFC title game three years ago?), so when he drove the Colts to a touchdown in the final two minutes of the half, not only did the game take a complete 180 (Indy scored 24 unanswered points) but did so with minimal contribution from Manning’s usual big-game targets.

When Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis threw a blanket over Reggie Wayne (3 catches, 55 yards) Peyton simply did what he typically does best—adjust on the fly.  Make no doubt that 24-year-old Austin Collie and 23-year-old Pierre Garcon have earned Manning’s confidence, as the two receivers combined for 18 receptions and the two touchdowns that put the Colts ahead to stay. 

These two young wideouts definitely have a Deion Branch/David Givens vibe going for them, making Indy’s already talented receiving corps that much deeper.  I’ll add this to the list of reasons I strongly loathe Colts President Bill Polian.

Garcon in particular had a huge game, setting an AFC Championship game record with 11 receptions.  The last time the second-year receiver caught that many in a playoff game was four seasons ago for the Purple Raiders of Mount Union, a Division 3 college in Alliance, Ohio.  Garcon is the school’s all-time leader in receptions (202) and touchdowns (47) while playing only three seasons of college ball (2005-2007). 

In addition to this meteoric rise, Garcon’s parents and much of his family are from Haiti, so imagine all the emotions he must have felt after Sunday’s game as he draped a Haitian national flag around the Lamar Hunt Trophy.

From one domed stadium to the next, the NFC Championship game at the Louisiana Superdome provided all the elements of a well-written news story, including the perfect ending for the home team and a city that’s been starving for a Super Bowl appearance.

WHAT was Brett Favre thinking when he threw that pass across his body into the middle of the field in the closing seconds of regulation?  He actually had some room to run, but as in many other instances he opted to play the role of riverboat gambler QB, which resulted in an easy interception for Saints cornerback Tracy Porter.

WHERE was Brad Childress or any other assistant coach when that 12th Minnesota offensive player ran out onto the field?  Adding insult to injury, the ‘too many men in the huddle’ penalty occurred after the Vikings called time out.  It moved them out of field goal range and forced Favre into throwing that last-second interception, the second pick in three years that will haunt Brett for a long time.

WHEN the Vikings rack up 475 yards of total offense—a whopping 218 yards more than the Saints—and hold the ball for nearly 37 minutes on the road in a conference championship game that should be enough to win.  But for a few scant seconds they weren’t able to hold the ball and that’s one of the reasons they lost their fifth consecutive conference championship since 1978.

WHY is Adrian Peterson talented enough to run over and cruise by opposing defenses, has a handshake that could probably break my hand and yet carries a football like it’s coated in grease?  Is it possible for a running back to run for over 100 yards and score three touchdowns yet still have a bad game?  Will Adrian spend the entire offseason with a pigskin tied to his hand? 

HOW long will Childress and the rest of America have to wait for Favre to make his decision to return or retire?  Childress said he’ll give his quarterback all the time he needs.  Really, Brad?  You sure you want to do that?  Don’t you know that Brett will change his mind at least a dozen times while finding a relatively quiet day on the sports schedule to get everyone’s attention?  Let me help Brett out…the day after MLB’s all-star game is a good day to get the sports world’s attention.

Finally, WHO dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?  The positive side of this game was the win for the New Orleans Saints and all of their long-suffering fans.  Don’t forget this was a franchise that played for 20 years before they had their first winning season. 

The most surreal image I noticed watching this game was the network showing a shot of the French Quarter with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter of a tie game and seeing barely anyone on Bourbon Street, a sight you don’t see very often.  Then they showed the scene right after Garrett Hartley’s game-winning field goal and it was back to looking like a frenzied celebration. 

Speaking of Hartley, did anyone out there expect the young kicker to perfectly split the uprights on his 40-yarder in overtime?  That kick would have even been good in the arena league, where the goal posts are only 15-feet wide.  I figure he was one of the last Saints players to go to sleep Sunday night, and the confidence he gained from making that kick can only help him when the stage gets bigger in Miami.

Regarding the overtime format and the need for a rule change because the team winning the coin toss has a distinct advantage, chew on this factoid: In 2009 teams that won the overtime coin toss were only 7-6, and prior to this year they won less than 56 percent of the time (232-183-17).

So Mike, what did you think of last weekend’s games?  We can save our Super Bowl talk and predictions for next week.

Mike: Well, I have to admit I didn’t watch much of the Colts/Jets game because I was traveling from Boston back to Maine on Sunday, but I did listen to it on the radio, and I must admit I was quite happy with the result.

I  know you  have your reasons to dislike Bill Polian and the Colts, but I just can’t agree with you. I’m glad they beat the J-E-T-S, and only a little of that feeling is due to the fact that I really hate the Jets. Face it Todd, the Colts have been one of, if not the best, teams in the league this season, and it is fitting that they are going to be in the Super Bowl next week.

As for Polian, he doesn’t anger me at all. Sure, he picks on the Pats, but I find it more pathetic and funny rather than offensive. I look at him as just a big windbag, someone to be ignored when he runs off his mouth. And besides, I can’t help it, I like to watch Peyton Manning play, he’s fun to watch with all of his running around behind the line before the snap. I know as a Pats fan, I’m supposed to hate him, but I just can’t (now Eli is a different story, not enough bad things can happen to him).

Getting on to the best game of the weekend, I must admit I had mixed feelings of who to root for. On one hand, I needed Minnesota to win to keep me alive in my (for entertainment purposes only) pool, but the Saints also intrigued me, since, for my money, they were the No. 2 team in the NFL behind the Colts in the regular season.

This game lived up to all my expectations and then some. It was just a flat-out fun game to watch, and that’s all you want for a playoff football game.

But let’s face it, there is no way the Vikings deserved to win this one, they were brutal when it came to holding on to the ball. It’s a testament to how good a team Minnesota was that they didn’t get killed in this game. I’m not sure what got into Adrian Peterson, but he looked like Lawrence Maroney in this one, dropping the ball in key situations.

And what was the deal with the too many men on the field penalty at the end of the game, were they channeling the 70s Bruins in Montreal??? Wow, that was just pathetic, and it cost them the game and the NFC Championship. Without that penalty, Favre has no reason to throw that interception and Minnesota likely wins it with a field goal in regulation (though was anyone surprised Favre gave up a pick in a big situation? I saw it happening as soon as he rolled out).

But enough about the Vikings (and I really don’t care when or if Favre makes his decision to come back, it doesn’t affect my life at all—get back to us when you decide), the real story of this week is the Saints. After years of being the ‘Aints, New Orleans finally has a championship team, and it’s a likeable one.

I think that all starts with Drew Brees. After being tossed  aside by the San Diego (we always choke in the playoffs) Super Chargers, Brees has proved himself to be an elite NFL QB, and more importantly, a better person. He went to the Saints after Katrina devastated New Orleans, and he has dedicated himself to helping with the rebuilding effort. It’s nice to see someone worthy of the honor playing in the Super Bowl.

I was also struck by the pictures from Bourbon Street before and after the Saints win. It was great television to watch the celebration. However, judging from the pictures I saw, I would bet that there were a lot of unproductive offices in and around the French Quarter on Monday morning as people fought through their post-celebration hangovers. But I guess that can be forgiven, after all, it’s about time New Orleans had a reason to celebrate.

One last thing, I’m putting the over/under at 500 for the times that some genius commentator mentions the fact that Peyton Manning is playing against the team he rooted for as a child and that Saints great Archie Manning will have mixed emotions on game day. We get it, find another story and move on!

Mike Higgins and Todd Bloniarz have been observing Boston sports all of their lives. In their professional lives, Mike is the sports editor for Current Publishing and Todd has called and covered games for various outlets ranging from high school, college and even the Boston Red Sox for one memorable inning on NESN.

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