Tag:James Harrison
Posted on: January 24, 2011 12:23 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2011 1:20 pm
 

Pro Bowl replacements for SB players announced

Posted by Andy Benoit

Last season the NFL decided to move the Pro Bowl from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl. The idea was to take the utterly irrelevant All-Star event and make it just regularly irrelevant. It’s been an alright ploy, though a consequence is players from the competing Super Bowl teams cannot compete.

Thus, the league had to replace all of the Steeler and Packer players on the roster. So who did they tap?
 
For the Packers:

CB Tramon Williams replaced by Antoine Winfield

CB Charles Woodson replaced by Brent Grimes

FS Nick Collins replaced by Roman Harper

OLB Clay Matthews replaced by Brian Orakpo

WR Greg Jennings replaced by Larry Fitzgerald

LT Chad Clifton replaced by Donald Penn


For the Steelers:

OLB James Harrison replaced by Tamba Hali

S Troy Polamalu replaced by Eric Berry

C Maurkice Pouncey replaced by Jeff Saturday

DE Brett Keisel replaced by Randy Starks

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Posted on: January 24, 2011 10:53 am
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Posted on: January 24, 2011 12:27 am
Edited on: January 24, 2011 3:00 pm
 

10 Super Bowl stories you'll get sick of hearing

Posted by Andy Benoit

Because the Super Bowl is outlandishly over-covered, offering readers 10 Super Bowl stories worth their attention seems redundant if not fruitless. With two weeks until, as your local furniture store calls it, The Big Game!!!, every possible Packers-Steelers storyline is about to be utterly exhausted. And then retold.

You can thank all the “casual fans” who suddenly get interested in the NFL this time of year for this. Somebody has to bring those people up to speed, which means somebody has to retell all the stories true football fans got sick of months ago. You best get used to it now.

Just so you can be on guard, here is an overview of the 10 Super Bowl storylines you’ll get sick of hearing between now and February 6 They’re ranked in order from overhyped to way overhyped, and they don’t even include the non-game related economic stories (you know the ones about how expensive the advertising spots cost, how magnificent the host venue, Cowboys Stadium, is, how bad the CBA talks are going or how many bags of chips are consumed by Americans on Super Bowl Sunday).


10. Wide receivers

The Packers and Steelers receiving units almost mirror one another. Both have a sage veteran (Donald Driver, Hines Ward). Both have a dynamic young big-play weapon (Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace). And both have dangerous but not entirely trD. Driver (US Presswire)usted backups (James Jones and Jordy Nelson; Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown). Here are the predictable cliff notes for the stories involving these guys:

Driver: tough childhood in Houston, first chance at a ring

Ward: borderline “dirty player” who is also proud of Korean heritage

Jennings: NOT a diva, but has still emerged as a No. 1

Wallace: averaging 93 yards per catch this season (or something like that)

Jones: talented but dropped balls; his quarterback trusts him

Nelson: talented but a few fumbles; his quarterback trusts him

Sanders: talented but untested; his quarterback trusts him

Brown: big catches late in games but still raw; his quarterback trusts him

9. Hometown Players

On every Super Bowl team, there are a few players who happen to be from the town in which the game is being played. Thus, you get the homecoming story. This story is only interesting to the dozens of their family and friends who will be in the stands watching on Sunday (because, you know, the player bought dozens of tickets for family and friends!), but that doesn’t stop hard-hitting journalists from writing about it. Or from focusing on how the odds were really stacked against the kid from (insert name of Texas town), as no one ever thought he’d be playing on football’s biggest stage.

So who will the hometown stars be this year? A quick search on PlayersFrom.com (a website that sorts all professional athletes by home state) reveals that the following Packer players were born in Texas: K Mason Crosby, TE Jermichael Finley, QB Matt Flynn, C Scott Wells, WR Donald Driver. The Steelers born in Texas are DE Ziggy Hood, P Daniel Sepulveda, OT Tony Hills, OT Jonathan Scott and NT Casey Hampton.

8. Overcoming adversity

Both teams will talk all week about how they have overcome a lot of adversity this season. Good for them. We can sort of believe the Packers when they trumpet adversity because they led the NFC in injuries (in terms of games missed by starters). But the Steelers? It will be tougher for them to play this card considering they’re littered with stars on defense and have the richest winning tradition in the NFL. But they’ll still find a way to play the adversity card (probably by making veiled references to Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension).


7. Tomlin
M. Tomlin (US Presswire)
You might not get sick of this story because it’s hard to get sick of this man, but you’re going to be hearing it plenty of times: Mike Tomlin is now the only coach in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl twice before the age of 40. He’s already the youngest head coach to hoist a Lombardi Trophy.

This probably won’t be that obnoxious of a storyline. After all, it will probably include plenty about the Steeler modus operandi (which is fascinating), plus Tomlin is about as real as they come. He knows how to give a quote that is just good enough. Which is to say he knows how to say just enough to keep reporters happy but not quite enough to galvanize his opponent.


6. The defensive coordinators

Dick LeBeau is the master behind Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme. Dom Capers is the master behind Green Bay’s 3-4. Both are innovative and perhaps deserving of the majority of credit for their team’s success. LeBeau’s recent Hall of Fame induction ruined the hard-hitting THIS MAN SHOULD BE IN CANTON! angle that most writers had for his story, so expect most of the attention to shift towards Capers and whether he deserves a shot at being a head coach for a non-expansion franchise.

There will be plenty of crossover angles here, too, given that Capers coordinated Pittsburgh's D before LeBeau, and both men are pioneers of many 3-4 zone blitz packages.

A dark horse sub storyline here: Kevin Greene, the Packers’ excellent linebackers coach, who was a long-time Steeler.


5. Hair

You just know some idiot is going to do an entertainment feature comparing Troy Polamalu to Clay Matthews.


4. James Starks

Every Super Bowl needs an unlikely breakout star. The Steelers will unofficially nominate sixth-round rookie wideout Antonio Brown for this role, but expect the media to flock to Green Bay’s sixth-round rookie running back James Starks. The Eddie George-like upright runner from Buffalo has rushed for 263 yards since being inserted into the starting lineup for the postseason. Starks is clearly the team’s most explosive runner, but he does not offer star traits. That doeJ. Harrison (US Presswire)sn’t mean the media can’t tell you he’s a burgeoning young star, though.


3. Illegal hits (James Harrison)

Non-football media outlets have been sitting on their stories about how dangerous the sport is for several months, waiting to release them Super Bowl week. Last year, TIME magazine got this ball rolling with its cover piece titled “The Problem with Football: How to Make It Safer”. With Harrison, the poster child for illegal hits, going up against Aaron Rodgers, who suffered two concussions during the regular season, expect another slew of important but boring as hell articles about brain trauma.



2. Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers’ meteoric rise this postseason has been even louder than Drew Brees’ last season. Thank the Brett Favre drama for setting the backdrop for the first-round pick’s career. From day one we’ve admired Rodgers’ class and poise. Since finally taking the field three years ago, we’ve also added arm strength, accuracy and athleticism to his list of admirable traits. Factor in the female celebrities this guy has been linked to (Gossip Girl’s Jessica Szohr, Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, ESPN’s Erin Andrews) and, oh yeah, his insanely impressive performance in five consecutive “must win” games for the Packers (which includes Sunday’s game at Chicago, where Rodgers was much better than his numbers suggest) and we have a first-class superstar on our hands.


1. Ben Roethlisberger

B. Roethlisberger (US Presswire)
As great as a quarterback’s coming out party is, it doesn’t compare to another quarterback’s redemption story. Why? Because a redemption story gives everyone a chance to rehash the drama. The only thing more interesting than Rodgers dating celebrities is Roethlisberger getting accused of mistreating college girls. Sorry, but sexual assault allegations are just too salacious for the media (and public) to ignore.

You know the background here: Nevada and Georgia, no charges filed, six game suspension reduced to four. The Super Bowl week storylines will center around whether Roethlisberger is a changed man and how jovial and humble he has become. The popular caveat will be something along the lines of “only time will tell if these changes stick”. At some point, someone will point out that Big Ben recently got engaged to Pennsylvania native Ashley Harlan. And if that isn’t proof that this one-time frat boy is settling down, what is?


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Posted on: January 20, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: January 20, 2011 4:30 pm
 

Steelers vs. Jets: 7-Point Championship Preview

Posted by Josh Katzowitz



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As a bonus, enjoy our playoff podcast preview:



1. New York Jets (No. 6, AFC, 13-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 2, AFC, 13-4)

For the second-straight season, the Jets somehow have risen from a Wild Card team to a squad that will play in the AFC championship game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Last year, they fell to the Colts. This year, though, they’re riding a big hot streak, having knocked off Indianapolis and then the formerly-invincible Patriots, and they’re looking for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1969.

The Steelers, meanwhile, are coming off a nice come-from-behind victory against the Ravens last week. Like the Jets beating the Patriots, Pittsburgh exerted a ton of energy, rallying to beat their biggest rival for the second time this season. There’s been some talk about emotional letdowns, especially on the Jets side, but this one is for a Super Bowl berth. An emotional letdown, like Jets coach Rex Ryan would say, is impossible.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



Both AFC games last week were great matchups and featured great results. It’ll be hard for this one to top those. Maybe I’m the one who is emotionally let down, but 3.5 Mora Faces is the max rating.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Jets secondary vs. Steelers WRs

Last week, the Jets shut down the Patriots WRs. New England couldn’t create separation, and at times, QB Tom Brady was stuck holding the ball for 5 … 6 … 7 … 8 seconds before having to scramble because his receivers simply could not get open.

The Steelers will have to do a better job than that. Assuming Jets CB Darrelle Revis – who has dominated Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne and New England’s Deion Branch so far in the playoffs – matches up against WR Hines Ward, don’t expect Ward to have much of an impact. In the Steelers Week 15 matchup against New York, Ward was targeted only three times and caught two passes for 34 yards.

That means the speedy Mike Wallace will have to be the game-changer for Pittsburgh. He’s had a big season, catching 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 TDs in the regular season. We assume Jets CB Antonio Cromartie, also a rather speedy fellow, will attend to him. Thing is with Cromartie: sometimes he’s great, like last week, and sometimes he’s very beatable, like with Colts WR Pierre Garcon two weeks ago.

Hell, Cromartie might be the biggest factor of all. Especially if Ben Roethlisberger tries to avoid Revis and, instead, targets Cromartie. Hey, at least Cromartie didn’t call Roethlisberger an a------.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

If Revis makes Ward somewhat irrelevant in the passing game, the Steelers WR still can be a nuisance on the field. Ask Bart Scott about that this video, featuring Ward’s greatest hits.



5. The Jets will win if ...

They can get big-time production from both running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Tomlinson, after a swoon in the second half of the season, has run well the first two rounds of the playoffs, and Greene has rushed for 77 and 70 yards in the two games. If Greene can inch closer to the 100-yard mark and Tomlinson can average about 5 yards a carry, that would keep the ball out of the hands of Rashard Mendenhall and Roethlisberger for much of the game and bring the Jets a win.

6. The Steelers will win if ...

They can pound and pressure Mark Sanchez for much of the day. Yes, Sanchez threw three touchdown passes last week, but he still has struggled – for the past two weeks – with his accuracy. The Steelers have plenty of defenders (ahem, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley) who can harass Sanchez and make him have to release the ball too early. Which certainly won’t help his aim.

7. Prediction: Jets 20, Steelers 17
Posted on: January 18, 2011 11:15 am
Edited on: January 18, 2011 11:37 am
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Posted on: January 17, 2011 5:45 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2011 6:25 pm
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Posted on: January 17, 2011 3:29 pm
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Posted on: January 17, 2011 1:02 am
Edited on: January 17, 2011 2:16 pm
 

10 championship round stories worth attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Jets Win; So how are we supposed to feel?

Normally, a sixth seeded 8.5-point underdog going on the road and upsetting the runaway Super Bowl favorite would classify as one of those feel-good Cinderella stories. But because the garrulous New York Jets have irritated so many this season, we find ourselves in a silent state of ambiguity. Did anyone actually stop and think befoNew York (US Presswire)rehand about the possibility of the Jets backing up their words? Or were we all too busy preparing our clever one-liners about comeuppance and karma?

Most troubling for Jets haters is that the Jets didn’t just beat the Pats, they beat them while staying true to form. A great example was how Shonn Greene opted for the blatant 15-yard celebration penalty after his de facto final-coffin-nail touchdown run. It was an immature and untimely gaffe that Greene’s coach was surely going to chew him out for. That is, if Greene’s coach hadn’t run (OK, lumbered) to the end zone to join the celebration.

To be fair, Greene’s coach had plenty to celebrate. Rex Ryan said all along that this matchup was about him and Bill Belichick. Well, Ryan won it. The Jets defense stifled New England’s high-powered offense by pressuring Tom Brady (Mike DeVito had his best game of the season; Shaun Ellis had two of New York’s five sacks; Jason Taylor put left tackle Matt Light on skates in the second half).

The Jets pressured Brady primarily by locking down his receivers. Deep in the fourth quarter, Ryan’s gameplan was still befuddling Brady and the Pats (you think New England was intentionally milking the clock on that fruitless 15-play drive?). Maddeningly enough, the Jet most responsible for the lockdown job on Brady’s targets was, aside from the brilliant Darrelle Revis, one Antonio Cromartie. The ex-Charger might be an utterly unlikeable reprobate, but the reality is, the Jets wouldn’t be returning to the AFC Championship without him.

Cromartie wasn’t the only “villain” responsible for the win Sunday. Wideouts Santonio Holmes (who served a four-game suspension early in the season) and Braylon Edwards (who was arrested for DUI in September) both had crucial touchdown catches. And neither was shy about enjoying the moment.

So the Jets walked their talk. No one could have predicted it. After all, they lost by 42 in Foxboro just a month earlier. Not to mention, theirs was the type of talk that even Moses would have had trouble walking. But because they did it, we get at least one more week of hearing them rattle off all the reasons they’re going to win the Super Bowl. And this time, we’ll have to listen quietly.

 

2.) Aaron Rodgers: the best quarterback left? A. Rodgers (US Presswire)

Hard to believe that “Aaron Rodgers has never won a playoff game” was actually a viable storyline earlier this month. Rodgers’ performance at Atlanta Saturday night (31 of 36, 366 yards, three touchdowns) was within arm’s reach of flawless. It was Rodger’s second straight three touchdown-zero interception playoff performance. And let’s not forget, the man registered 633 yards while throwing five touchdowns to just one interception in Green Bay’s final two must-win games on the regular season (coming off his second concussion of the year, no less).

Rodgers is the quarterback many experts would choose if starting a team right now. That’s saying something considering Ben Roethlisberger, two wins away from a third Super Bowl ring, is only 20 months older than Rodgers. Rodgers, like Roethlisberger, has an innate ability to extend a play and find his third or fourth read. Also like Roethlisberger (and Cutler, too), Rodgers is blessed with incredible natural tools (strong arm, mobility, etc.).

But it’s Rodgers’ shrewd presnap awareness that sets him apart. The three other remaining quarterbacks are all, at best, average when it comes to diagnosing a defense before the snap. Rodgers, as his wideouts will tell you, is fantastic. Maybe – MAYBE – that’s because he, unlike the other three remaining quarterbacks, was not shoved into the starting lineup as a first-round rookie.


3.) Sanchez’s Spotlight

An indirect (or perhaps direct) consequence of Rex Ryan’s loquaciousness is that it diminishes the media’s spotlight on quarterback Mark Sanchez. Who’s to say whether that’s Ryan’s intent. (The guess here is it’s not, given that Ryan at one point talked openly about benching his young signalcaller.) But given Sanchez’s youth and the disposition of the New York media, a diminished spotlight is probably a good thing.
M. Sanchez (US Presswire)
Think about the intensity of the spotlight if it weren’t diminished. The Jets traded up to draft the USC superstar  fifth overall. In two seasons Sanchez has led the Jets to two AFC title game appearances. He already holds the franchise record with four career playoff wins. This postseason, he has defeated Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Granted, Sanchez did not outplay Manning. But with three touchdowns and no turnovers at New England, he did outplay Brady. (And besides, we’re talking about a media spotlight here; it doesn’t matter to the headline writers if he outplayed Manning).

This is a quarterback who could easily be overhyped. Adding fuel to the Sanchez fire is the fact that he’s far and away the most prominent Latino player in today’s NFL. Given America’s changing demographics, you think marketing execs aren’t salivating at this?

In a lot of respects, Sanchez still has a long ways to go as an NFL passer. But so did Eli Manning after two seasons. The New York media could not resist the urge to pile on Manning. That’s partly because Manning never had the luxury of playing for an attention-grabbing head coach.

 

4.) The irony of Santonio Holmes

The Jets probably wouldn’t be in the AFC Championship if they hadn’tS. Holmes (US Presswire) brought in Santonio Holmes. His speed, quickness and precise route running have infused a big-play element into an otherwise run-of-the-mill passing game. Holmes’ tiptoe (or tip-right-knee) touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone at Foxboro gave the Jets a critical 10-point advantage late in the second half. Earlier in the year, Holmes helped the Jets keep winning while they went through somewhat of a rough patch by registering a 52-yard catch-and-run set up a game-winning overtime field goal against the Lions in Week 9 and a 37-yard overtime touchdown against the Browns in Week 10.

Where the irony comes in is the Steelers might not be in the AFC Championship if not for dumping Holmes. Sure, Holmes was just as important a big-play weapon for Pittsburgh as he’s been for New York. (We all remember Super Bowl 43.) But Holmes’ extensive off-field transgressions also flew in the face of everything the Rooney Family’s organization stands for. It’s the commitment to character that, in the big scheme of things, has laid the foundation for the Steelers’ six Super Bowl titles.

What’s more, if Holmes didn’t depart Pittsburgh, third-year pro Mike Wallace might not have become a 1,200-yard receiver and lethal big-play specialist. And youngsters Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown probably wouldn’t have gotten enough reps to assume critical roles come playoff time.

 

5.) Jerry Angelo’s and Lovie Smith’s Gambles Pay Off

Before this season, every decision-maker in Chicago was on the hot seat. No seats were hotter than those hosting general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith. In 2009, Angelo gave up a pair of first-round draft choices and handful of attractive ancillary pieces (namely quarterback Kyle Orton) to acquire Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. The cannon-armed but petulant 26-year-old (at the time) tossed a league-high 26 interceptions in his first season as a Bear. L. Smith (US Presswire)

In the ensuing offseason, outside observers understood that Angelo had no choice but to stick with Cutler. What they didn’t understand was why Angelo would not invest in an offensive line to help protect his quarterback. Instead of bringing in reinforcements for one of the least talented front fives in football, Angelo handed more than $40 million in guaranteed money to free agent defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers was a great acquisition, but his price tag would doom the organization if he remained as inconsistent as he was in Carolina.

As it’s turned out, Peppers has been sensational in Chicago. His eight sacks don’t begin to tell the story of his dominance. Brian Urlacher (whose return after missing 15 games with a wrist injury also reinvigorated the Bears D) says his first-year teammate deserves Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Cutler has been less spectacular than Peppers though still good enough to lead the Bears to an NFC North division title (despite operating behind a questionable front five). Credit the arrival of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. And, credit Martz’s arrival to Lovie Smith. Knowing that a fourth straight missed postseason would result in his unemployment, the defensive-minded Smith called upon the most offensive-minded coach football has seen in the past 10 years. Smith and Martz were old friends from their days in St. Louis, but many doubted that there would be enough humility in the air for their seemingly clashing philosophies to gel.

But gel they have, thanks to Smith’s willingness to be hands-off. He has let Martz handle the offense. He’s let Mike Tice, another former head coach, handle the offensive line. Tice has made chicken soup out of chicken…well, you know.

The offensive line’s consistent improvements are comparable to the consistent improvements of Chicago’s more-talented defensive line. Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina have been particularly impressive, thanks to the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, the defensive line specialist who accepted the defensive coordinating responsibilities thrust upon him by Smith.

In all, with his job on the line, Lovie Smith delegated major responsibilities to three former head coaches who are now assistants on his staff. How many of the other 31 Type A personalities running NFL teams would be willing to do THAT?


6.) The AFC’s Rich Defensive Casts

The Jets and Steelers both run 3-4 defenses littered with big-name stars. For the Jets, it begins and ends with Darrelle Revis, the best shutdown corner since Deion Sanders (if not the best all-around cornerback of the post 80’s era). Then there’s playmaker Antonio Cromartie. And inside linebackers Bart Scott (outspoken Pro Bowl caliber veteran) and David Harris (tackling machine whom colleagues voted team MVP). Plus, outside linebacker Jason Taylor is a future Hall of Famer. I. Taylor (US Presswire)

The Steelers, of course, have the most identifiable defensive player in football: Troy Polamalu. Outside linebacker James Harrison is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and his counterpart LaMarr Woodley is not far behind. Plus, most fans recognize nose tackle Casey Hampton because a.) He’s the size of a small house and b.) He’s the fulcrum to a run defense that, in nine years under Dick LeBeau, has never ranked worse than No. 3.

LeBeau, a Hall of Fame player and innovator of the 3-4’s famed zone blitz, is a star himself – just like the coach behind the Jets’ complicated 3-4 scheme. All in all, the 2010 AFC Championship is ripe with big defensive names. But without the little defensive names, neither team would be here.

For the Jets, as we highlighted a few weeks ago, defensive end Mike Devito has been playing out of his mind. So has Shaun Ellis, who recorded two sacks and a slew of quarterback pressures against the Patriots. Backup nose tackle Sione Pouha, who took over when Kris Jenkins went down in Week 1, has also been pushing the pile with regularity. Pouha’s not the only backup thriving; safety Eric Smith has done a noble job filling in for injured defensive signalcaller Jim Leonhard. Smith brings valuable headhunting prowess to what is an otherwise finesse secondary (Revis aside), plus he’s a reliable filler against the run.

On Pittsburgh’s D, because Ike Taylor drops interceptions the way John Mayer drops women, many don’t recognize him as an elite corner. But that’s exactly what the lanky 6’2” veteran is. Taylor’s ability to shadow in man coverage and extend his long arms into passing lanes out of zone positions make him a bona fide stopper (which is exactly what a cornerback is supposed to be). What’s more, Taylor, like every Steeler defender, can tackle.

Before he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, defensive end Brett Keisel would have earned an Ike Taylor-like “unsung hero” paragraph. Keisel is finally getting the recognition he deserves, so instead of piling on there, we’ll close by mentioning that Ryan Clark (aka “Pittsburgh’s other safety”) is one of the fiercest openfield hitters in the NFL.


7.) Rethinking Brady, Belichick and the Patriots

Stop and think about New England’s last three playoff appearances. There was the stunning divisional round loss at home to the rival Jets on Sunday. Last year, it was the blowout wild card loss at home to the Ravens. And in 2007 it waT. Brady (US Presswire)s the astonishing Super Bowl defeat and derailed perfect season at the hands of the Giants.

We think of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick almost as untouchable geniuses above all criticism. That’s understandable. They’re still the only head coach-quarterback duo to ever win three rings in a four-year span. And the reason two of their last three playoff defeats have been so shocking is because of the dominance that immediately preceded it: New England was a perfect 16-0 in ’07 and an NFL-best 14-2 in ’10.

That said, it was six years ago that Belichick and Brady last hoisted a Lombardi Trophy. And keep in mind, in 2006, the Patriots blew an 18-point second half lead to Indy in the AFC Championship.

Is this story meant to call into question the reputation of the NFL’s current greatest head coach and quarterback? Absolutely not. Over the past six years, Belichick and Brady have still accomplished more with less talent around them than anyone in football. But the beginning chapters of these men’s book were about the auras of two untouchable legends. In the middle chapters, that aura evaporated.


8.) Pro Bowl Snubs Shine

There were two NFC cornerbacks whom many felt got the shaft from Pro Bowl voters: Green Bay’s Tramon Williams and Chicago’s Charles Tillman. Largely because of their performance in the divisional round, both will be on the field for the NFC Championship Sunday.

Williams’ postseason brilliance began a week earlier than Tillman’s. The athlT. Williams (US Presswire)etic undrafted veteran who took over the No. 2 job when Al Harris blew out his knee last season clinched Green Bay’s wild card victory with an end zone interception in the closing minutes at Philly. Williams snagged a second end zone pick in similar fashion at Atlanta: by maintaining underneath technique against a bigger receiver (in this case, Michael Jenkins). After keeping points off the board with two interceptions, Williams put points on it with his third. With nine seconds left in the first half and the Falcons trying to get in field goal range, Williams jumped Matt Ryan’s ill-advised sideline pass to Roddy White and took it to the house for a momentum-swinging 14-point lead that Atlanta would not overcome.

As for Tillman, his excellence was key to Chicago's defensive dominance against Seattle. The Bears’ only true cover corner normally mans the left side of the D. But on Sunday, Tillman shadowed Mike Williams, holding Matt Hasselbeck's No. 1 target to four catches for 15 yards. Yes, Williams caught two touchdowns, but the second was thanks to sheer luck that resulted from Tillman’s textbook deflection.

It will be interesting to see what matchups Tramon Williams and Tillman draw this Sunday. Williams has the speed to run with Johnny Knox outside (figure the Packers will put an inside defender on Devin Hester, as Hester usually aligns in the slot). Tillman will have to rely on his physicality to keep the quicker Greg Jennings in check.


9.) Seahawks-Bears: Tough Watch

So the Seattle Seahawks weren’t a Cinderella team after all; watching them at Chicago was more like watching one of the evil stepsisters dance at the ball. Or like watching a sub-.500 team try to win a playoff game on the road. The game felt over before the midpoint of quarter two. As divisional round contests go, it was awful television. Shame. J. Cutler (US Presswire)

But whatever, doesn’t matter now. Besides, the story of Sunday’s unwatchable NFC divisional round game wasn’t the Seahawks, it was the Bears. Jay Cutler threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns in his first postseason game since high school. Aside from a small handful of first half glitches, Chicago’s once-putrid offensive line gave Cutler all the time in the world to throw. And when Cutler couldn’t find a receiver, he scrambled for positive yardage (he finished with 43 yards and two touchdowns on eight runs).

On the other side of the ball, the results were what you’d expect from the NFC’s No. 1 run defense going up against the NFC’s No. 16 run offense. With the Seahawks feeling compelled to throw on 49 of 61 offensive snaps, the Bears were able to sit back in that Lovie Smith Cover 2 and let their speed take over. Mike Williams, who appeared to tweak his upper leg early in the game, was manhandled by Charles Tillman. That hurt because the loss of tight end John Carlson (head injury) prevented Seattle from fully attacking Chicago’s questionable safeties.

If you want to get picky, the only concern Bears fans can take away from Sunday is that their defense took its foot off the gas late in the fourth quarter.


10. Quick Hits

*Most people believe that the Ravens lost at Pittsburgh because of turnovers. That’s valid, though let’s not forget, late in the fourth quarter Anquan Boldin dropped a huge touchdown in the end zone and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who had been carping for more balls all season, dropped a very catchable fourth-and-19.

*Terrell Suggs should change his name to Terrell Rooney because he owns the Steelers. Suggs had three sacks Saturday, giving him 15.5 in 18 career games against Pittsburgh.

*A storyline from Baltimore that didn’t get talked about (because of the nonstop intensity of the contest itself) is whether this was Ed Reed’s final game. The future Hall of Fame safety is 32 and contemplated retirement this past offseason.

*The Atlanta Falcons need to add one more playmaker to the center of their defense. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton is solid but does not have star tools. Neither of the safeties is a game breaker.

*Was anyone else surprised that Pete Carroll elected to punt with his team down 28-10 and just over six minutes to play?

*When Danny Woodhead fumbled in the fourth quarter (recovered by the Patriots) it brought to mind the episode of Hard Knocks where Rex Ryan flipped out in the preseason finale after so many of the Jets backups fumbled. In that episode, Ryan put Woodhead back in the game specifically because he knew he wouldn’t cough up the ball.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com