Possibly never before has the NFL offered us such an amazing contrast, as it did during this past weekend's divisional-round playoff games.
Some of the greatest performances and most entertaining games in NFL history were balanced by the most humiliating effort by any defense, pre or post-merger, in the history of professional football. The Kansas City Chiefs' performance on defense yesterday is the kind of embarrassment that can destroy a franchise. The good people of Kansas City deserve an apology.
But the fans of every other team in this past weekend's playoffs got their money's worth. How could we ever expect to see a more dominant performance than what Peyton Manning gave us Sunday? When have we ever seen greater resilience than what Donovan McNabb displayed in the Eagles' overtime win over Green Bay?
This past weekend's games had it all. They're worth revisiting.
Best performance—Manning was off the charts. His passer rating is at 156.9 for two games. How will the Colts be able to re-sign him?
Most courageous act—McNabb's fourth-and-26 pass to Freddie Mitchell is one of the great plays in NFL postseason history. What was Rush Limbaugh thinking? He's made a fool of himself.
Worst play of the weekend—Brett Favre has made a Hall of Fame career out of throwing careless passes off his back foot. But this one cost his team a chance at a Super Bowl.
Player who shouldn't have been booed—What's wrong with the St. Louis fans? Why did they boo Marc Bulger? He didn't drop the perfectly-thrown touchdown pass he threw. He didn't let a defensive back take the ball out of his hands. All Bulger did was bring the Rams back from a late-game, 11-point deficit. The kid should've been a hero.
Coach who should be booed—Mike Martz pulled the plug on Bulger, just when the kid was about to get it done in regulation. Then, in overtime, Martz did it again, running the ball on first and second downs and settling for a long field-goal attempt that was out of his kicker's range.
Best what-if performer—Chiefs kick-returner Dante Hall punctuated his great season with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that kept the Chiefs alive against the Colts. Unfortunately, Hall never got a chance to return a punt. What if the Chiefs defense had forced the Colts to punt a couple of times? Hall might've led the Chiefs to a win.
Honorable mention best performances—Colts running back Edgerrin James, Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Panthers running back DeShaun Foster, and the Colts and Panthers offensive lines come to mind. There were several more performances also worth mentioning.
Worst individual performance—Torry Holt cost his team the game.
Best decision that didn't work—Mike Sherman's decision to punt on fourth-and-one near the Eagles 40 was logical, but Sherman was made to look foolish by a punter who knocked it into the end zone and a run-defense that allowed Duce Staley to run the ball out to the 40 on the Eagles' first play. Had Sherman gone for the sticks and missed, the Eagles would've had field position that may have allowed them to win in regulation.
Dry-mouth award—Put yourself in David Akers' position. He had missed a chip-shot kick early in the game. Now, late in the game, he's facing kicks to send the game into overtime and send the Eagles into the NFC title game. Do you think his mouth was a little dry?
Get-it-done award—Bill Belichick knows how to play the pro game: Get a lead and protect it.
Still can't-get-it-done award—Jeff Fisher's team came, oh, so close, again. But they can't get it done.
If only they had stopped the run—The Rams lost simply because they couldn't stop the run, even with Stephen Davis out of the game.
Owner who should be angriest—Kansas City's Lamar Hunt deserves an explanation. How is it a team that spent big money in free agency to sign linebacker Shawn Barber, defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and cornerback Dexter McCleon, and drafted defensive lineman Ryan Sims in the first round of the 2002 draft, can't stop a simple dive play?
Fans who should be angriest—Chiefs fans were shoulder to shoulder, dressed in red and ready to go. Too bad their team wasn't. That makes three consecutive home-game playoff losses, dating back to 1995.
Best scene—Maybe it was because it was the climax of the whole weekend, but the scene in Philadelphia was classic postseason football; crazy fans, police on horses, cold weather but not too cold, and a stadium that shows off great on TV.