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The post season is upon us and it kicks off at 4:30 today in Indianapolis where the swish cheese Colts rushing defense will take on a mouse otherwise known as Larry Johnson. Weâ€™ll see if the Colts have enough mouse traps to stop LJ but more on that in a bit.
Remember those butterflies on Opening Dayâ€¦the excitement and anticipation of the season about to get under way? Today those butterflies intensify for fans and perhaps even more so for the players. Thatâ€™s where the post season experience factors in. The regular season is a marathon and pacing is essential. But the post season is a sprint and for players that havenâ€™t experienced it, they are in for a rude awakening.
The speed heightens, the hitting is harder and the pressure intensifies. No longer can teams depend on regrouping for the next game because there is no next game. The NFL playoffs simply put are a single elimination tournament and each game, each series, each play is full throttle. There is no more pacing or conservation of energy. Start your engines and load up on high octane.
Thatâ€™s why the bye is so important to any team but particularly important for the Ravens who have a nice blend of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance. The rest helps the vets and the vets school their less experienced teammates on the reality and desperation of the NFL Playoffs.
Since the 2000 season, the Ravens are 7-1 under Brian Billick after a bye and winners of their last six (if you include the KC game this season given the 10 gap). The team responds well to the rest and apparently they prepare well. Their only loss was against the 13-3 Steelers in 2001, a team that eventually lost to the World Champion Patriots in the AFC Championship that season. The Ravens wins after byes are by an average score of 25-12. For those that question Billickâ€™s handling of the players during their down time — DONâ€™T!
Today that down time ends as the Ravens get ready to practice in Owings Mills to prepare for their first post season game at The Vault next weekend. There are varying opinions on who fans want the Ravens to play, the most popular choice being the Colts on the condition that the Patriots go to San Diego and beat the Chargers to bring the AFC Championship game back to Baltimore.
The players donâ€™t really care. They just want to beat whatever team stands in their way of the ultimate prize — a Super Bowl XLI victory. The team is taking a very businesslike approach to the post season and you can thank the veteran leadership of Ray Lewis, Steve McNair and two-time Super Bowl Champion Trevor Pryce for that.
The Ravens have talked very little if any smack about their accomplishments realizing that the only thing that their success has done up to now is keep them alive. The playoffs are survival of the fittest and so far the Ravens appear to be in very good shape. Itâ€™s unlikely that you will see any celebrating going on with this crew until 10 PM on February 4 in Miami.
Bill Cowher steps down
Some are celebrating the resignation of Bill Cowher. Iâ€™m not one of them. Sure, Cowherâ€™s snarl, chin (I swear he was often striking the pose for the cameras) and his weekly impersonations of Daffy Duck where both irritating and at times humorous. But I respect him as a coach and I respect his accomplishments. I for one will miss him because he helped make the Ravens/Steelers rivalry a fierce one. His competitive nature and combative style and fearless approach to managing games with gadget plays and fake punts, helped to make the rivalry engaging and entertaining.
Without Cowher, the Steelers are weaker not just due to the absence of his leadership but also due to the rippling affect it will have on his very solid coaching staff. Chances are the Steelers will turn their sideline over to one of two assistants, Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt. If the nod goes to Grimm, Whisenhunt is likely to walk. That leaves the Steelers with an inferior head coach to Cowher and in essence two assistants that will no longer be acting as assistants.
Name for Ravens’ Defense
Yes the Steelers took a mighty big hit to their mighty big Chin yesterday with Cowherâ€™s resignation. The Chin is a deserved nickname for Bill Cowher but what might be a deserving nickname for the Ravens defense. Weâ€™ve heard plenty of recommendations ranging from Purple Pain to D-Rex to The Beast. The one that I particularly like is Riptide Rush.
Think back to the Broncos at their best while on defense and you think Orange Crush — a name that had staying power. Riptide Rush is a purple shade of Gatorade. And if you think about the Ravens defense and the way they morph in all sorts of shapes and sizes while attacking opponents from all directions, isnâ€™t that like a riptide?
Round 1 of the NFL Playoffs
And speaking of ripped, I think thatâ€™s exactly what the Colts will do to the Chiefs today. Everyone believes the Chiefs will just pound Larry Johnson into the teeth of the Colts lightweight rushing defense. And given Herm Edwardsâ€™ conservative style, Iâ€™d be shocked if their game plan is anything but that. But the way Trent Green is playing (like a deer in headlights) Freeney and Mathis might haunt the KC QB with those bees still buzzing around in his helmet. Plus, I donâ€™t see the Chiefs secondary without the benefit of a pass rush being able to stay with Manning & Co. Theyâ€™ll score at a pace that KC canâ€™t keep up with and when KC asks Trent Green or Damon Huard to try and keep up it wonâ€™t happen. Iâ€™ll call it 37-17 Colts.
In Seattle today weâ€™ll observe a battle of two struggling teams. Matt Hasselbeck has had a very subpar season and his receiving corps is very banged up. Shawn Alexander is arguably not the same player as in 2005 and he certainly misses LG Steve Hutchinson. On the other side of the ball, Tony Romo is an inexperienced playoff quarterback and that could hurt the Cowboys a bit, particularly in hostile upper Pacific territory. But the team heâ€™s facing is one of the leagueâ€™s worst tackling teams. Dallas stays alive while Mike Holmgren delivers several obscenity last soliloquies that will make Brian Billick proud. Cowboys 27 Seahawks 23.
Tomorrow the Patriots will host the Jets in the early game and this game certainly is marked by familiarity. Eric Mangini takes on his master Bill Belichick and word is thereâ€™s no love lost between the two. Belichick will don his ugly hoodie as he watches his stud QB who is 10-1 in the postseason win and equally ugly game against the J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS. Patriots 19, Jets 13.
And last but not least, the Giants are going to the city of brotherly love where they will find no brothers. These teams split but the Eagles let the first game slip away and today they wonâ€™t. How long before thereâ€™s a QB controversy in Philly upon McNabbâ€™s return next year? Jimmy Johnsonâ€™s defense harasses and embarrasses Eli Manning in the second half. Eagles 27, Giants 20.
Here’s to the early game on Saturday for the Ravens!