About the time Ty Law was intercepting Peyton Manning for the third time, the message should have started sinking in, but it probably didn't.
Other teams' coaches and general managers should've started "getting the point" at about the time Donovan McNabb put on the long coat and rested his sore ribs in the heated comfort of the Philadelphia Eagles' sideline, but they probably didn't.
No, when it comes to quarterbacks and glitzy offensive players, NFL teams spend their money with the reckless abandon with which New England and Carolina played defense on Sunday. Quarterbacks will always get the big money and most NFL owners insist on spending their salary cap allotment on offensive players, even though what a team spends on one wide receiver would usually buy three quality defenders.
Why do they keep doing it? Because they can't help themselves. They refuse to believe defense wins championships. After all, offensive players are much more marketable, and offense is so much more fun to watch.
Yeah, and the operative word is watch, because that's what the league's top offensive teams will be doing two Sundays from now: Watching two of the league's best defensive teams play for the Super Bowl XXXVIII title.
Minnesota will be watching. The Vikings were number one in offense this season but didn't even make the playoffs.
Kansas City will be watching. The Chiefs were number two in offense but couldn't stop a watch with a hammer.
Indy was third, Green Bay fourth, Seattle sixth; gone, gone, gone.
This isn't new stuff, folks. The previous three Super Bowls have been won by Tampa Bay, New England and Baltimore, all of whom rested their reputations on their defenses. Their quarterbacks were journeyman Brad Johnson, second-year pro and former sixth-round draft choice Tom Brady, and the previously laughable Trent Dilfer.
Who will it be this year? Jake Delhomme? Would that do it? Delhomme is a $1.8 million cap hit and Manning is a $15.4 million kick in the teeth. Is that enough to finally get the message across? Probably not.
The message is very basic and easily understood:
• You don't have to spend big on a quarterback to win it all. In fact, history would indicate that spending big on a quarterback is a sure way to not win it all. Go ahead, find a bargain; take a shot at an NFL Europe refugee (Kurt Warner); replace an expensive first-pick-of-the-draft (Drew Bledsoe) with a sixth-rounder who looks like he has the poise and toughness to get it done at crunch time.
New England and Carolina are going to play for the Super Bowl title in two weeks because they found quarterbacks who allowed them to save money at football's most expensive position, and spend the money they saved on the side of the ball where money goes farthest, defense.
Here are the facts:
• Manning and Steve McNair are this season's co-MVPs, but the Patriots eliminated each on consecutive weekends.
• Carolina won at St. Louis and at Philadelphia on consecutive weekends by dominating the line of scrimmage, forcing turnovers and bludgeoning the Rams and Eagles into submission.
The Patriots and Panthers represent the seventh and eighth-ranked defenses in the league; their offenses are a very middle-of-the-road 17th and 16th. Bill Belichick and John Fox are two of the finest defensive minds of the game, and they clearly operate their teams with a defense-first philosophy.
Belichick's team is not without a star quarterback. Brady may, in fact, be the best quarterback in the game, but he remains a bargain because of the way he entered the league. Manning was the first pick of the 1998 draft and McNabb was the second pick of the '99 draft, and each player has a contract that dominates his team's salary cap. In contrast, the Pats got Brady cheap, and his emergence in the 2001 season allowed the Pats to move Bledsoe out and create room on the team's cap, and there's no doubting what that has meant to the overall quality of the Pats' roster.
Fox's Panthers beat the Eagles with a quarterback who barely threw for 100 yards. Delhomme threw just 11 passes in the first half and Fox complained to the TV field reporter that the Panthers were "throwing too much," so Fox reduced Delhomme's contribution to three passes in the second half. Are you kidding me? Nine of 14 for 101 yards and one touchdown, and he won?
Meanwhile, in New England, Manning threw 47 times. Four of those passes were intercepted, leaving him with a passer rating in the low-30s. What a waste of money on a player who's poised to become an unrestricted free agent on March 3, and is certain to become the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Learn their lesson? Never.