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NFL Random Thoughts
by Larry Ness - 01/26/2005
I guess this Belichick guy and his QB (a man named Brady) KNOW what they are doing? Together, they have won EIGHT consecutive playoff games and are poised to win their THIRD Super Bowl in four years on February 6. That's some pretty fair company and I'll look deeper into both men's careers beginning next Monday when I begin a five-part Super Bowl preview.
The Patriots will of course be playing the Eagles in Jacksonville, as Philadelphia avoided a FOURTH consecutive NFC title-game loss by beating Atlanta, 27-10. For those of you looking for a 'sign', consider these two factoids.
The last time (and ONLY previous time!) the Eagles played in a Super Bowl the score was also 27-10, although Philly was on the losing end of that one to the Raiders (is that a good or bad omen?). The last time the Eagles won an NFL title was 1960 when they beat the Packers 17-13. Green Bay's coach was Vince Lombardi and it was the only playoff loss of Lombardi's career. His 9-1 playoff mark was just matched last Sunday by New England's Bill Belichick!
I'll get to New England and Philadelphia next week but here's some final thoughts on the weekend's losers. It's always tough losing these games and I realize a head coach doesn't want to say he or his team is satisfied by just getting this far but Jim More Jr HAS GOT TO BE KIDDING!
He put on his best 'game-face' and told us, "We are not going to accept this as being OK. To lose an NFC Championship Game. That's not our goal. Our goal is to win Super Bowls, not to win divisions".
Here's some PERSPECTIVE! The Falcons finished the year at 11-5 in the pathetically weak NFC. They came VERY CLOSE to becoming the first 11-win team (since the league went to a 16-game season) to NOT outscore their opponents on the year, by scoring 340 points while allowing 337. For the record, 62 teams have won exactly 11 games since 1978 (not a small sample!).
The 2004 season marked Atlanta's EIGHTH playoff appearance (including the 1982 strike season in which eight team teams from each conference got in) and the team's division title was just its THIRD (1980 and 1998 were the others). Considering Atlanta joined the league in 1966 (the year of the first Super Bowl) and has made just TWO NFC title game appearances in 39 years, it's safe to say it was a good year for Atlanta!
In comparison, Atlanta has finished LAST in its division 12 times, including a stretch from 1983 through 1990 in which the Falcons finished last in SEVEN of eight years! So please Jim, spare us all the politically correct line about how only getting to and winning the Super Bowl, MATTERS!
On the other hand, Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher has EVERY RIGHT to be disappointed! Pittsburgh finished the year at 15-1, just the fourth team to accomplish that feat. The Steelers entered Sunday's title game on a 15-game same-season winning streak (only Miami's 1972 team with 17 straight had done better!) and was hosting a team it had beaten 34-20 during the regular season.
Sure the Patriots were the small favorite but this was a game Cowher NEEDED! As good as his career has been, Sunday's loss was his FOURTH in five previous AFC title games and left him 0-5 ATS! Even worse, ALL FIVE have come at home. For a coach that prides himself on his defense, only two playoff home teams in the Super Bowl era have allowed more points to an opponent than the 41 points the Steelers allowed the Patriots on Sunday.
Not much went right for Cowher this postseason. While his defense held the Jets without an offensive TD in the divisional round game a week ago, the Steelers needed not one but TWO missed field goals (by the Jets' Doug Brien) in the game's final two minutes to escape with a 20-17 OT win. Against New England, the Steelers were down 24-3 at the half!
Cowher's rookie-sensation Ben Roethlisberger threw FIVE interceptions over the two games and even the reliable Jerome Bettis had two lost fumbles (one in each game) after going 368 touches without a turnover. Roethlisberger's streak of 14 straight NFL wins came to an end, as did his streak of 27 straight wins, which included 13 straight wins at Miami-Ohio last year.
The only streak that CONTINUED last week for Pittsburgh was Duce Staley's! Staley (signed as a free agent) was a member of the Eagles for their three straight NFC title-game losses the last three years and Sunday's loss makes him a participant in FOUR consecutive conference championship game losses!
Friday I'll check in on the NBA and college hoops! My five-part Super Bowl preview begins Monday.