As a Chargers fan, I hate to see him go. But as a Panthers fan, I’m very pleased to see Ron Rivera become the team’s next head coach. He’s consistently impressed me over the years with the work he did with the Bears and later the Chargers. In San Diego, he inherited and kept a 3-4 defense (Rivera coached a 4-3 in Chicago and will again in Carolina) and then got it to #1 in the NFL at one point this season, demonstrating an intelligent and flexible approach to the game. Now, Rivera needs to go and get a good offensive coordinator and perhaps a quarterback.
For the 43rd time, America is celebrating Super Bowl Sunday, an unofficial holiday of junk food, television marketing excess, the existence of Roman numerals, and football (or is it handegg?). And, for the 22nd time in my life, I have very little emotional investment in the game. Oh, sure, I’ve faked it before: I was rooting hard for the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, but that never worked out. The Super Bowl was first serious business in The Smith Household when Stan-The-Man Humphries sent the San Diego Super Chargers up against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX, during which Steve Young and Jerry Rice made history by turning an NFL team into meatwaffles for the first time. The other time, of course, is when the Carolina Panthers had their hearts broken by Adam Vinatieri and the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, which was also a historic Super Bowl because no other game so far has had as many letters in its Roman numeral.
So today we get the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers are looking to start blinging out their other hand, while the Cardinals are benefiting from Kurt Warner’s innate ability to somehow will really bad franchises to victory. Of course, when I think of the Cardinals, I’m always reminded of Denny Green:
So who wins? The smart money says the Steelers, but the Cardinals have beaten the smart money three games in a row now. The stage has gotten bigger and the Cardinals have proven that the stage is not bigger than they are so far. Both teams are playing their best football right now, too — I suspect this game has the potential to be much better than most people expect. Prediction? I’m really on the fence here. I think I take Arizona in a colossal upset, which means the Steelers will likely win because I haven’t given them a chance all postseason. (One does have to wonder what the week off does to Arizona’s momentum, after all.) Enjoy the game, folks!
Despite the untimely elimination of both the Carolina Panthers and San Diego (Super) Chargers from the playoffs last weekend, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about today’s conference championship matchups. For the NFC, we’ve got the Philadelphia Eagles traveling to Arizona to play — yes — the Arizona Cardinals. In the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens visit the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Ketchup Tundra. I’m going to attempt to analyze the games, but I have to tell you: almost nothing has gone to plan this postseason. (Except, of course, the whole “Chargers-don’t-have-a-chance-against-the-Steelers” meme.) Call this a shot in the dark.
Ted Cottrell has been fired as the San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator. His replacement? Ron Rivera, who in his tenure as defensive coordinator with the Bears made their defense something fierce. I’m quite excited about this development and am optimistic that Rivera will give the defense, dead-last in the NFL against the pass, the kick in the rear that it desperately needs.
This Chargers fan has seen this face far too much, and it needs to stop. Today’s performance was, once again, pitiful. They completely squandered LT’s first real healthy performance of the season with turnover after turnover, and they have completely forgotten how to play defense. There’s a REASON why Ted Cottrell was working in the NFL office before he became the Chargers’ D-coordinator!
But let’s get back to Norv. The Chargers are showing clear signs of being Norved — they’re disorganized, not playing defense, and there are a lot of selfish people on the team making plays for their own stats instead of for the overall big picture (Cromartie, I’m calling you out). Most importantly, they do not look ready to play. That’s where coaching and conditioning come into play.
Remember, Norv took a 14-2 team that was one dropped interception from the AFC Championship down to 11-5 and squeaked into the playoffs. Granted, he got one more playoff win than Marty Schottenheimer could muster, but the more I see this year play out, the more I feel like the Chargers — very, very trendy Super Bowl picks — are going to flame out as the most talented 8-8 team in NFL history.
I realize that injuries have hurt this team somewhat, most notably the absence of Shawne Merriman in the pass rush, but that’s no excuse for completely failing to play secondary, for somehow forgetting the fundamentals of tackling…ugh.
The Chargers are now 3-5 and it won’t get easier. It’s an uphill battle for them to get into the playoffs now, especially if the Broncos right the ship after their bye week. (And I refuse to blame Ed Hochuli for that bad call in the Denver game, in retrospect — yes, it eventually did cost them the game, but the Chargers still have to make that stop, and they couldn’t do it — twice.)
At least the Panthers won today. Might don that shade of blue for the weeks ahead if the Chargers can’t turn it around.
In case you haven’t heard, all indications are that Tom Brady is done for the year. Last year, the Patriots talked about playing through the adversity of Spygate, etc — but they had all their players remain reasonably intact. The rush of air you feel? The rest of the AFC East breathing a sigh of relief. While the Belichick-era Patriots are resilient, losing their superstar quarterback may be too much. The Patriots are definitely more mortal now, and the division is completely up for grabs now.
Meanwhile, I watched my Chargers and the Panthers tangle to the last second, when a Jake Delhomme miracle throw was caught by Dante Rosario for a game-winning touchdown with no time left. Incredible! I hate seeing the Chargers lose, but losing to the Panthers is the only team I can accept them losing to. The Panthers haven’t looked this good in years. Having Steve Smith out may not necessarily be a bad thing for Delhomme; he spread the ball out to everybody. Delhomme always seems to lean on Smith when he’s in the game. The playcalling was very well-balanced (though going for it on fourth-and-1 on their second drive of the game was foolish), and the defense was as strong as ever.
This game is a gut-check for the Chargers, who need to strongly rethink their policy of leaving players out completely in preseason. Everybody was shaking off rust, and the regular season just isn’t the time for that. One silver lining: Philip Rivers looks as sharp as ever. His mobility was all there — it’s uncanny considering that less than seven months ago he had his ACL reconstructed. The Chargers will bounce back and will be fine; they needed this game to get a few things in check.
Looks to be a fun and wild year ahead; I’m really glad football’s back, especially after such a dismal baseball season.
Brett Favre is apparently retiring. This surprises me immensely, especially considering that his last pass was an interception, but the man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. And the fact that he’s reasonably healthy and is ready to get back to his family life is probably a huge thing for him, too. Hate to see him go, but better on his terms than others’. He’s one of the greats, and he won’t be forgotten.
The NFL regular season has concluded, so that means a fairly unhappy New Years’ Eve for a few underperformers. The shakeup begins — where else? — in Miami: general manager Randy Mueller is Bill Parcells’ first casualty in what promises to be a tumultuous offseason for the 1-15 Dolphins. Brian Billick, the coach of the Ravens who lost to the Dolphins, found out what happens when you lose to a 1-15 team enroute to a nine-game losing streak: you lose your job. Billick didn’t have a chance; the Ravens were undisciplined and sloppy the last few weeks of the season. Meanwhile, many believe coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney are on the hot seat in Carolina. Fox expects to be back, but owner Jerry Richardson hasn’t decided yet. I say give Fox another run at it with Jake Delhomme or Matt Moore at quarterback, but by all means, fire Hurney. The Panthers have had a few substandard drafts (no more USC receivers, please!) and the David Carr signing turned out to be an atrocious $6 million disaster.
One game to go in the regular season, and it’s pretty important for the Chargers. While their seeding is set (they’re #3 by virtue of their defeating the Raiders today), it’s unclear who they’re going to see in their playoff game next weekend. Whoever they see won’t make it easy.
If the Titans beat the Colts tonight — a real possibility, as Indy has nothing to really play for in terms of seeding — then they travel to San Diego to see the Chargers. You might recall a few weeks ago the Chargers needed a furious comeback and a LaDainian Tomlinson score in overtime to escape the Titans. However, the Chargers of late have realigned themselves and began playing the kind of furious defense that they were known for last year. They’ve also started involving Tomlinson, the newly-crowned NFL rushing champ, in the offense again, something that utterly failed to happen in the first few weeks of the season. I think the Chargers can win this rematch, but it won’t be easy. Titans coach Jeff Fisher knows what it takes to get a team ready to drive far in the playoffs and to a Super Bowl.
The Chargers would need to really rely on their defense to come through if they end up getting the Browns — they’ve got a pretty furious offense. Derek Anderson has been surprisingly good this year (except in the would-have-been clincher against Cincinnati last week). Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are both legitimate receiving threats, and Jamal Lewis is running the ball as well as he has in his career. Cleveland’s also given up 382 points this year, so their defense is suspect…that would be a pretty high-scoring affair, and I get the feeling with the way the Charger defense is playing, Derek Anderson would have some issues.
The Titans are on now…we’ll know before the day is out.