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Schein 9: Guys to root for in NFL playoffs
We pay tribute to the Round 1 heroes, question the zeroes and tell you whom you should root for the rest of the way.
1. Foaming at the mouthMy guys Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy came so close, only to be on the wrong end of the 51-45 'Zona win. But even though Rodgers had a malfunction of his internal clock on the game's final play and missed a wide-open Greg Jennings to win the game on the first play from scrimmage in overtime, the Green Bay quarterback played an unreal game.
With the field down to eight, we give you eight guys worth rooting for the rest of the way.
Karlos Dansby: I've argued for years he is one of the most underrated defenders in the NFL. And it was Dansby who snatched the ball after Michael Adams sacked and stripped Rodgers, racing into the end zone untouched for the most improbable score in a game dominated by offense.
Dansby is a longtime Cardinal who bleeds Cardinal red. He has been through everything in Arizona, from "they are who we thought they were" to the Super Bowl run last year. When we talked to Dansby on Monday on Sirius NFL Radio, he told us: "The moment was awesome. Guys on my team were telling me they loved me. That's what they said. They said they loved me. It completed me as a player."
Dansby is a prime-time player and a team leader, along with Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson, on defense.
Cowboys LB Keith Brooking has provided some serious late-season inspiration to his Dallas teammates.
David J. Phillip
Tony Richardson: If you looked up the word "professional" in the dictionary, chances are you'd find a picture of the Jets fullback. After a long, brilliant and understated 15-year career, Richardson finally won his first playoff game. Richardson has paved the way for several 1,000-yard backs in his career, most notably in Kansas City and with Minnesota and the Jets. You can still picture him blowing up Ray Lewis on Monday night five years ago and still leading the way in Kansas City in the mid-'90s. Richardson helped propel the Jets to the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL and was dominant in helping Shonn Greene clobber the Bengals.
Michael Oher: We fell in love with the story after reading
Darren Sproles: He is smaller than I am and a matchup nightmare! That gives you enough reason to root for him. LaDainian Tomlinson is no longer capable of being LaDainian Tomlinson. That means Sproles will be on the field to run, catch and return kicks. It doesn't get more exciting.
Drew Brees: Sure, I am not giving you an unsung hero with a player who received MVP votes. But the category is guys to root for. When Brees signed with New Orleans, he gave the team credibility. He made the Saints a legit destination post-Katrina. And Brees' charitable endeavors are heartfelt and numerous. There are some in the media and some fans who refuse to include Brees in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. That's shameful.
Antoine Bethea: Name the 10 best players on the Colts. See, you just included Bob Sanders, who's on IR and plays the same position as Bethea. The safety is an underrated star on a team with a galaxy of them. I hope he becomes a household name.
Bernard Berrian: The Vikings wide receiver has been playing hurt all season. And the big-ticket free agent never complains about his lack of rapport with Brett Favre (Berrian was banged up when Favre came in during camp), the touches for Percy Harvin or the way Sidney Rice has become a go-to guy. In fact, Berrian campaigned on our show for Harvin and Rice to make the Pro Bowl. He gets it.
2. Rise and ScheinWhat a weekend for a couple of young, bright offensive coordinators who have been under the gun this season.
Brian Schottenheimer: The Jets offensive coordinator called safe, intermediate passes for his young quarterback to give him confidence in the playoffs. And all Mark Sanchez did was go 12-for-15 without a pick in a postseason game. And two of those incomplete passes were drops. Schotty dialed up misdirection plays, used play action, called tight end Dustin Keller's number and had the great ability to use Shonn Greene over Thomas Jones when it was evident Greene was primed to have the better game. And don't minimize that coaching move, as most coordinators would stay with the veteran who brought them to the playoffs. All Greene did was have his best game as a Jet, barreling over the Bengals.
Jason Garrett: The Cowboys offensive coordinator did a great job mixing things up. I loved the involvement of Felix Jones, who darted his way to 9.8 yards per carry. Garrett called pass plays on running downs. He helped Tony Romo thrive as a result. And Romo did an excellent job spreading the ball around.
3. Hide the women, children and Matt MillenHave you ever seen the Patriots look so bad in a big spot? The answer is no.
Tom Brady was sacked three times and tossed three picks. He was awful. His surrounding cast was arguably worse.
Ray Rice embarrassed the Pats' run defense, right from the first play from scrimmage.
Bill Belichick's team couldn't block or tackle. It was downright pathetic.
But be careful calling this the end of the Patriots dynasty.
You still have Bob Kraft, Brady and Belichick. I think the Pats of 2009 are akin to the Yankees after 2001. The Yankees lost their edge with the departure of Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius. The same thing happened when the Pats lost their defensive stars, such as Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel. But the Yanks still made a World Series two years later. Sure, the "edge" guys' departure opened the door for the well-built Sox, just like the Jets are still playing now and have a window of opportunity. But let's not write the epitaph on the Patriots for the next 10 years. That would be a mistake.
4. Backseat coaching
Marvin Lewis went 6-0 in the AFC North and had a regular season worthy of Coach of the Year discussion. But he challenged two plays early in the Cincy loss that didn't have a prayer of being overturned. That can't happen.
5. Can't make it upDid you know Joe Theismann and Joe Gibbs were together in Washington in the 1980s? NBC marred the Jets' win over Cincy by teaming three broadcasters who called a combined zero NFL games this season together. It sent me into a tizzy on the Sirius NFL Tailgate Show Sunday morning with an animated rant.
I don't think Gibbs can name 15 Bengals. You could throw a dart and find guys more knowledgeable about the Jets and Cincinnati. It was one of the worst big-game broadcasts I've ever heard.
NBC employs Bob Papa, the voice of the NFL Network. He should've handled the play-by-play.
For Tom Hammond's knowledge, the Jets' star cornerback is Darrelle Revis, not Darrelle Reeves. The quarterback who threw the touchdown pass to Dustin Keller was Mark Sanchez, not Brad Smith. And nobody cares about Theismann's punting during a playoff game. Or Joe Jacoby for that matter. Really, how in the world is a Joe Jacoby reference even applicable?
And Theismann just wouldn't stop talking! I think he took every possible side on Marvin Lewis' awful challenges! Theismann didn't think Marvin would win but liked the challenge.
It was painful and the fans lost out.
6. Weekly hot seatJim Caldwell told me on Sirius NFL Radio on Monday that his Colts "had the best week of practice they had all season." He's not one for hyperbole, so I believe him. But the pressure is on Caldwell after he didn't play his guys down the stretch and eschewed the perfect season and momentum.
Caldwell rightly raved about the talents of Ray Rice, describing the ultimate blend of "balance, power and speed." Caldwell's defense is going to be tested against Rice, Willis McGahee and the Baltimore offensive line.
This is a huge game for the Colts. It's not just the playoffs. It's an attempt to justify a widely criticized strategy.
7. My guysKurt Warner: I've seen saying for years he is a Hall of Famer. Sunday ends the debate. Five touchdowns and only four incomplete passes in a playoff game? That's mind-boggling, especially toward the end of his career.
Ray Rice: He changed the complexion of the Ravens Sunday afternoon in New England with an 83-yard burst on the very first play.
Felix Jones: Eagles defenders will see the Dallas running back in their nightmares.
Jay Feely: The Jets place-kicker was forced into punting duty when Steve Weatherford was sick before the game. Punting for the first time in his NFL career, Feely did an excellent job under difficult circumstances.
Cedric Benson: The Bengals lost, but Benson capped a remarkable comeback season with a phenomenal day of rushing against the league's top defense.
8. My goatsRandy Moss: Was he even out there on Sunday?
Chad Ochocinco: He should change his name to Revis after the Jets' shutdown corner did just that to the most overrated player in the NFL for the second straight week.
Carson Palmer: He couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat on Saturday. Not a typical performance for a quarterback I've called "the human Jugs machine."
Dom Capers: The NFL on FOX cameras caught the Packers defensive coordinator pounding the table in disgust. Giving up 51 points in a playoff game will do that to you.
Donovan McNabb: He took the blame for the Eagles' loss and rightly so. McNabb had an awful night.
9. Three and out
- Pete Carroll picked a plumb situation if he was ever going to leave USC. Carroll is going to a great organization, with excellent facilities. Seattle will spend a lot of money for Carroll's coaching staff, front office and roster. He chose wisely. And the Seahawks have two first-round picks next year. I think this will work out very well.
- Tony Dungy told me Monday on Sirius NFL Radio that he didn't have a problem with Seattle interviewing Leslie Frazier for its coaching job, as he was told on good authority that it was before the club had come to terms with Carroll. I disagree with Dungy. I think Seattle violated the spirit of the Rooney Rule and why it is in place. But Dungy was critical of Washington interviewing a minority candidate while Jim Zorn was still the coach. I totally agree with that. I'm stunned the NFL is OK with how the Seahawks and Redskins "complied."
- Don't underestimate the contributions of Beanie Wells in the Cards' win. I think he gets lost in the shuffle with Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet dominating in the passing attack. And think of what Wells can do against the Saints!
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