BNN: Patriots march on as rest of pack fights to contend



Jamie Augustinsky

The ’07 NFL season is coming to a close and with that comes the excitement of playoff football. Throughout the Wild Card and Divisional rounds, we’ve had some expected victories along with some shocking upsets that have produced intense and exciting games. Now, with the final four teams not being the ones most people would have predicted, we can look forward to some interesting Conference Championship matchups.

In the NFC Wild Card games, the No. 3-seeded Seattle Seahawks defeated the Washington Redskins by a score of 35-14, while the New York Giants beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the Road, 24-14. The Redskins earned the No. 6 seed in the NFC by winning their final four games after the tragic death of cornerback Sean Taylor on Nov. 27. The team hoped to keep the winning momentum going through the playoffs and end its difficult season on a winning note, but it was eliminated in the first round. The No. 5-seeded Giants had won seven-straight regular-season games on the road the season, so having to play in Tampa Bay was not an issue for them. Their road winning streak was extended to eight consecutive games with their win over the No. 4-seeded Buccaneers.

Despite a decent comeback attempt, the No. 4-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers were eliminated at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 31-29 in the AFC Wild Card round. The Steelers scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns, but a huge defensive stop by the Jags within the final four minutes of the game, followed by a game-winning field goal, ensured that it would be Jacksonville who would advance to the Divisional round. The San Diego Chargers, the No. 3 seed in the AFC, defeated the No. 6-seeded Tennessee Titans in San Diego by a score of 17-6 to round out the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

The Divisional round brought two major upsets: one in the NFC, as the New York Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys, and one in the AFC, as the San Diego Chargers beat the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. Despite Peyton Manning’s 402 passing yards for the Colts, the Chargers were able to pull off the upset with a 28-24 win. Manning was intercepted six times by the Chargers on Nov. 11 when the Chargers handed the Colts their second loss of their 13-3 season. What is most impressive about the Chargers’ victory is that they won despite injuries to star running back LaDainian Tomlinson and starting quarterback Philip Rivers. Tomlinson was absent the entire second half after bruising his knee on an 8-yard run in the middle of the second quarter. Back-up quarterback Billy Volek was forced to take charge after starter Rivers left in the third quarter with a knee injury. He finished 3-for-4 with 48 passing yards and scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard sneak to lead the Chargers to victory after they had been trailing by three in the fourth quarter.

The outcome of Sunday’s second Divisional playoff game was also a surprising upset. If asked which Manning brother would be victorious on Sunday, most people would have probably immediately responded that it would be Peyton. However, it was Eli Manning who led his New York Giants to a shocking 21-17 victory over the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys. The only road loss for the Giants all season came during their first road game of the year in Dallas, but history did not repeat itself in this game. Although the Giants had lost to their NFC East rivals twice during the regular season, they were able to defeat them in the playoffs, ending the Cowboys’ season and extending their winless playoff streak to 12 years, as Dallas has not won in the postseason since 1996.

Saturday’s Divisional games had more predictable results. Through the falling snow at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers got one step closer to the Super Bowl by defeating the Seattle Seahawks 42-20. The combined 28 points scored by both teams in the first quarter tied the NFL record for most points scored in an opening quarter of a playoff game, but after that it was all Packers. Green Bay will host the Giants on Sunday night in the NFC Championship game.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots continued their historical run and remained perfect as they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20 in the other game. Although the Jags matched the Patriots point for point in the first half, they were unable to handle the third-quarter surge and were outscored by the Pats 14-3 in that quarter. Brady finished 26-for-28 for 262 yards, three touchdowns and a 92.9 completion percentage, which set an NFL record for both the playoffs and the regular season. Along with the stellar play of Brady and the Pats’ offense, the defense also did its part in contributing to the victory by limiting the performance of Jacksonville’s star running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. The two rushers combined for a total of only 66 yards on the ground. The Patriots look to remain undefeated as they host the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship game Sunday afternoon. Tomlinson says that although he hyperextended his knee in the Divisional game, he’s pretty sure he will play in the important Championship game. Rivers is listed as questionable after suffering a sprained ligament in his right knee in the same game.

Although the Chargers looked impressive in their win over Indianapolis and are looking to avenge the 38-14 loss the Patriots handed them in September, the play of Brady combined with the abilities of his receivers Randy Moss, Donte’ Stallworth and Wes Welker will be too much for the Chargers to handle. In the NFC Championship game, the Packers will defeat the Giants at the snowy-Lambeau Field and Favre will try to win his second career Super Bowl. In the big game, which will be a matchup of two outstanding and legendary quarterbacks, I’m going to pick the Pack over the Pats. Although the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years and are the only team to do that aside from the Dallas Cowboys, I think Green Bay wants to give its beloved quarterback one more Super Bowl victory before he retires. With the records he has already set this season, I think it’s Favre’s year, and I say to look for him to be not only the Super Bowl champion but the MVP of the big game.