Colts and Saints move on in the playoffs



Yesterday was one of those magical days in the National Football League. Days like Saturday did not come around that often anymore. One of the reasons that Saturday was special was because it was the playoffs. More importantly, both for the game Saturday were good games.

Since parity was achieved in the NFL, mediocrity has reigned. Every team has a couple of marquee players. Almost every team has an opportunity to win on any given Sunday. This is clearly a good thing if you live in someplace like Phoenix or Tampa. These teams have been chronically mediocre. “Parity” has been a terrible thing if you live in someplace like Pittsburgh or Dallas.

Four years ago we saw the impact of coaching on the NFL. Bill Parcells took over a very mediocre Dallas Cowboy team. He clearly showed that coaching was worth three or four victories per year. Three or four victories per year are the difference between making the playoffs and watching the playoffs.

Anyway, the first game featured the number one defense in the league — the Baltimore Ravens. The Baltimore Ravens were as good as advertised. The Indianapolis Colts seem to be still wounded from last year’s season. Last year, the Indianapolis Colts were probably the best team in the league for 14 weeks. Unfortunately, they lost in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl winner — the Pittsburgh Steelers. The skin was interesting for a number of reasons. Steve McNair is a Pro bowl quarterback who was released from the Tennessee Titans because he was too old and too costly. Steve McNair was the piece that the Baltimore Ravens offense was missing. Finally, the ravens defense did not have to win every game by themselves.

The Indianapolis Colts defense looked terrible for the last half of the year. The Jacksonville Jaguars ran for over 300 yards against this defense. On the other hand, the mighty Indianapolis Colts offense was not the juggernaut it was supposed to be. Several games they struggled.

I thought there was no way that the Indianapolis Colts would be able to figure out a way to score and score often against the Baltimore Ravens defense. As it turns out, I was right. At least, I was right about this part of the game. It was the Indianapolis Colts is defense that was a surprise. The Baltimore Ravens were unable to consistently move the ball against a fast, swarming defense. This was the difference in the game. Both defenses produced turnovers. The difference in the game was not the marquee quarterbacks of Peyton Manning or Steve McNair but instead it was the kicker Adam Vinatieri. He made five of five field goals including a 51 yarder that bounced off the crossbar.

So, the New Orleans Saints. What a difference the year makes. A new coach. A couple new players — Drew Brees from the San Diego Chargers, Reggie Bush from the draft, trade for a few players and bingo you have the number one offense in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, you have the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are a testimony to determination and overcoming obstacles. They were looking good as they were heading into the middle of the season when they are great quarterback, Donovan McNabb went down with a season ending knee injury. The team seem to fall apart. Then something happened. I’m not sure what. Jeff Garcia, a 36 year old quarterback who was a star in San Francisco nearly 8 or nine years ago, found his groove. The Eagles won five in a row behind his strong performances. This includes beating the Giants twice, beating the Redskins and the Cowboys.

Both defenses played pretty well. The New Orleans Saints defense has been susceptible to the big play all year. Brian Westbrook, who didn’t play up to his usual great standards, busted a long run for 62 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles hit several long pass plays including a touchdown to Stallworth. The Saints defense was good enough. They did not allow the Eagles to have long sustained drives. The Saints offense started slowly. Reggie Bush got blown up on the first play from scrimmage. He would return later to prove why he is one of the most exciting running backs in the league. Drew Brees has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that if he stays healthy he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. It was the old Saint who was the difference in the game. Deuce McAllister ran for 143 yards. Although 143 yards is impressive, it was how McAllister accumulated the yardage. It seemed that he had several runs or he needed four or 5 yards and he got six or seven. The last two or 3 yards he seemed to be carrying tacklers. This was best exemplified by a second and goal where he seemed to carry the whole Eagles team into the end zone. The play almost look like a rugby scrum.

Both games were fun to watch. The outcome of both games was still in doubt with only seconds to go. The New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts move on.

In honor of the Saints victory, here’s a little Louis Armstrong.

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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