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Surprise, it won’t be the Steelers in Foxboro


01/25/18



 Well, that was an interesting weekend of NFL playoff football. It had three games with endings ranging from wild to incredible to beyond belief. The fourth was the only one that followed the script, despite national expectations that a speculative ESPN.com story of division within the Patriots’ holy trinity would throw them off course. Noise, which bothered hopeful types in the peanut gallery a lot more than it did the Patriots. After a slow start, they ran off 35 straight points in a total 35-14 domination of the not yet ready for prime time Tennessee Titans.  

It sets up a surprising Jacksonville-vs.-New England match-up for the AFC title. A classic good news-bad news situation. The good is, with the early exit of the Steelers, we don’t have to put up with their whiny fans spewing their “they’re cheaters, if we’d only had LeVon last year, that wasn’t a fumble, the refs were on their side” conspiracy theory/excuse-making rhetoric that would have made the week seem like an eternity. 
However, getting Jacksonville brings with it the Coughlin Curse, as the only man to ever have Bill Belichick’s number is now Jacksonville GM Tom Coughlin, who was, gulp 5-1 lifetime vs. Coach B. That includes two dramatic Super Bowl wins over your New England Patriots by the G-Men. As GM, he won’t be on the sidelines, but you can bet he’ll be in on the planning and that can’t hurt the cause. So the question is, is this match-up trouble, or a chance to exorcise the demon Coughlin?
Here are a few more thoughts on last weekend’s playoff action and what lies ahead on Sunday:
Aside from me, anyone else pick Jacksonville to upend the Steelers? Though given that it happened in a 45-42 shoot-out, I’m not sure I deserve much credit. I was expecting a defense-led low-scoring affair like their 10-6 opening-round win over Buffalo. 
With that in mind, which is it: The Bills are better than most think, or the vaunted Steelers defense was overrated?
In that vein: Was that an incredible win for the Vikings? Or after looking like sure winners after taking the lead with 14 seconds left, has the New Orleans 29-24 loss to Minnesota now become the NFL’s answer to Game 6 in the 1986 World Series?  
Under the heading of what the definition of news is and is not, do we really need to know Marcus Williams cried after his missed tackle on Mookie Diggs’ game-winning TD? He is going to see that clip and hear talk about it for the rest of his life, so leave the kid alone.  
By the way, nice call by Rex Ryan. He gave Patriots Nation an “upset alert” on ESPN because “the Patriot defense can’t stop Derrick Harvey and the Tennessee running game.” Final tally – Pats 35, Titans 14, as Harvey ran for 28 yards on 12 carries good for 2.3 a carry.
In case you are wondering, Jags Coach Doug Marrone was 1-3 vs. NE with the Bills. Though the win was a Week 17 squeaker when the Pats had already locked up their important goals.  
Do you think Mike Tomlin was afraid his defense couldn’t get a stop when he on-sides kicked with the Steelers down 42-35 and 2:18 left to go? Because the math doesn’t back it up, as he still had two timeouts and the two-minute warning to stop the clock. If he kicks deep, with a turnover machine at QB, you have to figure Marrone goes really conservative deep in their own territory. Thus, a three and out gives Pitt the ball with about 1:50 left. More than enough for his on-fire offense to go in for the tying score. Instead Jacksonville got primo field position leading to the easy field goal that made it a two-score game. Pittsburgh then scores, but with one second left, meaning they had to recover and score a TD off an on-sides kick. Bottom line: The loss goes on Tomlin for a really bad decision. 
Dan Fouts then wondered on TV if any defensive team had ever scored like that. Answer: Kinda, sorta. I once saw 49ers tight end Ted Kwalick take it all the way down the sideline for a score in the ’70s after catching a kick on a full gallop. But they called it back, because the rules were different in the olden days.
How good is Antonio Brown? Both catches on long passes into the end zone with Jacksonville defenders hanging all over him were simply unreal. Brandin Cooks wouldn’t have come close to making either one.   
When is having 12 tackles a bad thing? When you’re a DB and they come because the guy you’re covering keeps catching balls, as was the case for Logan Ryan in his return to Foxboro when Danny Amendola had a career-best 11 catches while matched up against Ryan.
Bonehead of the weekend is Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith for taunting while running a fumble back for a TD right before the first half ended. The 15-yard penalty gave Big Ben enough time to engineer a momentum-building last-second TD drive to make it 28-14 to negate Smith’s crowd-deflating TD that should have sent Jax to the locker room leading 28-7. 
Guess the Falcons don’t like tight ones at the end of the game. They’re one more bad one away from being scarred for life.
This wasn’t a pro football story per se. But since the great Keith Jackson was the very first play-by-play guy in the glory days of Monday Night Football it is worth mentioning that sadly he died Friday at 89. Rest in peace. 
Finally, when it comes to admitting a mistake, Donald Trump has nothing on Max Kellerman. Unless of course Max the Moron’s definition of an aging QB falling off the cliff is a 337-yard, three-TD, 102.5-QB-rating day. If so, Tom Brady’s now in free fall. 
Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com. 





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