Wild Weekends: One Coronation Takes Place, Another Begins

It was probably the biggest weekend of the year off of the field.

Between all of the stories of coaches leaving and coaches beating on their players, there was quite the weekend on the field to match the wild weekend off of it. The completion of the BCS and the college football season saw the nation get cheated out of the title game they expected with Colt McCoy succumbing to the cruelest of fates having to leave the game after a shoulder hit on Texas’ first possession and would not return. Amidst the Mountain West’s great bowl season, Boise St. became the “small conference” representative by completing another undefeated season with a close, defensive Fiesta Bowl win over TCU (a game that went much like last year’s except change the setting and winner). And of course, there was the beginning of the NFL playoffs that also saw some changes in the norm with New England exiting things early and Dallas not choking in a situation that would normally call for it.

Alabama runs to national title with assistance from McCoy’s early injury

When all was said and done, Mark Ingram did all he was supposed to do, and Colt McCoy never had the chance to do the same.

Ingram entered the end-zone twice in defeating the Longhorns 37-21 with his one-yard plunge with 2:01 to play all but iced the game and the title for ‘Bama. Ingram finished with 116 yards on 22 carries having an effective game in becoming only the fifth person to win both the national title and Heisman trophy in the same season—Matt Leinart was the last to do so, in 2004.

McCoy’s night was a quick one as he suffered a shoulder injury on the Longhorns’ first possession courtesy of a shoulder hit from Marcell Dareus.

Dareus would make his presence felt later intercepting a shovel pass and returning it 28 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the first half giving the Tide a 24-6 lead at the half.

Adding to the bizarre beginning of this game with McCoy’s injury was Nick Saban’s call to go for a fake punt on a 4th & 23 inside his own 35. The play failed and it lead to a Texas field goal.

Freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert came in to replace McCoy and gave a 50/50 performance in that Gilbert’s first couple of series were disastrous, but once Gilbert got his feet wet, he nearly willed Texas to victory with a late run that had the Longhorns within 24-21 in the final quarter.

Gilbert finished 15/40 for 186 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Jordan Shipley was as much a target for Gilbert in this game as he was for McCoy this whole season. Shipley caught both of Gilbert’s touchdown passes and finished with 122 yards on ten catches.

Warner outduels Rogers in highest scoring playoff game ever

In my mind, the game of the year argument came down to a handful of games with the Iowa/Ohio St. and Pats/Colts games—on the same weekend nonetheless—being the frontrunners. Then came the Packers/Steelers shootout and both former candidates were discarded. And then came Sunday.

In the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history, Kurt Warner should what kind of quarterback he still is and Aaron Rodgers showed what kind of quarterback he can become. The game saw both men air it out for completely different reasons: Warner did it because he could, Rodgers because he had to.

The first two plays of the game for Green Bay were turnovers leading to Arizona touchdowns and a 14-point lead that they wouldn’t fully relinquish until the fourth quarter.

The game’s final play was the fourth of Overtime (counting the kickoff) and saw Rodgers hit, the ball come loose, Rodgers accidentally kick the ball into Karlos Dansby’s hands, and Dansby rumble 17 yards for the winning touchdown.

The game had 1,024 yards of total offense (778 passing), both teams scoring five times in the opponent’s red-zone, the Packers averaging 9.6 yards per completion and the Cards averaging 11.4 yards per completion.

Warner finished an amazing 29/33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns.

While Larry Fitzgerald had his usual big day catching six for 82 yards with two scores, it would be two lesser known receivers (Early Doucet and Steve Breaston) who would really pick up the slack with the Cardinals missing Anquan Boldin for the game. Doucet caught six for 77 yards with two scores and almost all of Breaston’s seven catches were big ones as he compiled 125 yards and a touchdown off those catches.

Rodgers finished 28/42 for 422 yards (more than Brett Favre ever threw in a playoff game in Green Bay) with four touchdowns passing, one touchdown rushing, an interception, and the climactic fumble.

Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley were Rodgers’ favorite targets in this game with Jennings catching eight passes for 130 yards with a touchdown while Finley caught six for 159 yards, but didn’t get into the end-zone.

The game itself was looking to be the reverse of the week before until Charles Woodson caused a fumble inside the Packers’ red-zone. The play resulted in a turnover, and the Packers got on the board on that drive with Rodgers’ running it in from a yard.

Overtime very nearly didn’t happen as Neil Rackers missed a 34-yard kick wide left pretty badly in the final seconds of regulation.

Brady crumbles, Pats suffer first home playoff loss since 1978

This one may have been over literally as it began. After Ray Rice’s 83-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening play, it was as if the season was already over for the New England Patriots.

Tom Brady did his part to help the Ravens to a 24-point first quarter by throwing two interceptions and losing fumble; those were converted into 17 of the Ravens’ 24 points in the quarter.

Brady rebounded and got New England back into it, but the hole was too big to climb out of. Brady finished the game 23/42 for 154 yards and two touchdowns, but also three interceptions for the day.

It was a rushing day for the Ravens as Joe Flacco only attempted ten passes for the game. The Ravens ended with 234 yards rushing as a team with Rice and Willis McGahee mainly leading the way.

Rice finished with two scores and 159 yards on 22 carries while McGahee ran for 62 yards on 20 carries and scored once.

Cowboys beat on Eagles for second straight week to gain first playoff win since ’96

It was truly a night where Jerry Jones, Tony Romo, and Wade Phillips could celebrate and relax at the same time.

In beating the division rival Philadelphia Eagles in convincing fashion for the second straight week, the Cowboys broke a 13 year postseason jinx that saw them go without a win that whole time, despite multiple years where Dallas should have at least gotten out of the opening round.

The win was equal parts offense and defense as Romo and Felix Jones both played very well while the Cowboy defense kept Philadelphia off of the field for 2/3 of the game.

Jones finished with 148 yards on 16 carries and a third quarter touchdown.

Romo finished 23/35 for 244 yards and two touchdowns in gaining his first career playoff win in his third attempt.

Michael Vick made his lone pass completion of the game count as it went to Jeremy Maclin for a 76-yard touchdown that made the game 7-7. It would be the highpoint of Philly’s night.

Jets dominate Bengals for second straight week, this time it keeps Cinci home

The first repeat beat down of last Saturday came with the New York Jets steamrolling the Cincinnati Bengals for the second straight week.

In his first career playoff game, Mark Sanchez played like a seasoned veteran going 12/15 for 182 yards and a touchdown.

Sanchez had plenty of run support, but not from Thomas Jones who finished with only 34 yards for the game. It would be Shonn Greene that became the Jets’ yard-eating machine as he ran for 135 yards on 21 carries and scored. Jones also scored a touchdown in the game.

Cedric Benson completed his transformation by being the life force for the Bengals in the game by rushing for 169 yards on 21 carries, and his 47-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter made the game 21-14 Jets and seemed to be the spark the Bengals needed to mount a comeback. It never happened.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The end of this year’s college football season not only marks the end of this decade, but the end of an era in college football. While a new decade is supposed to bring about new times and new changes to the world, in terms of college football, it probably shouldn’t have come this quickly. But the case is that in the last two weeks, the college football world lost Pete Carroll and Bobby Bowden and may have also lost Mike Leach and Jim Leavitt. Carroll has been the face of USC football throughout this decade, as has Mike Leach to Tech through this decade, and Jim Leavitt and Bobby Bowden are basically the only football coaches their respective schools have ever known. Add to that Mark Mangino’s quick and quiet exit from Kansas—a program he helped make legitimate in recent years—is helping to create a new identity for college football as a whole with all of these longtime coaches of schools suddenly leaving or being shown the door. With Carroll, it’s simply a matter of competitive spirit. To say that Carroll could have stayed at USC for the remainder of his career and won many more conference titles and probably another national title or two would be very easy and very accurate, but that wasn’t how Carroll was looking at his future. Carroll—something he voiced in interviews this past weekend—has been itching to get back into pro football for one and only one reason: he didn’t accomplish a whole lot in his first run as an NFL coach. Had Carroll been to the playoffs once or twice or won a division title, he may have been satisfied with how those years went. Instead, Carroll appears to have seen all those Pac-10 titles, the Heisman trophy winners, and the national titles as proof that he has done all he can at the college football and can make it at the pro level. Will he? We’ll find out, but with a rich owner who has proven himself to be someone who really wants to see his team succeed, he’s already got a good start. With all the others I mentioned (with one notable exception), their exits point to a new discussion on coach-player conduct as Leach, Mangino, and Leavitt were all fired because of things they either did to or said to players on their team. While what Leavitt did wasn’t close to many of the things Bobby Knight got away with or got fired for while coaching Indiana basketball, it did violate the big rule as far as coaching kids or young adults: never put your hands on them in a threatening way. As for Mangino, if it were just verbal, I think it was extreme for this guy to come under the thunder he did, but if it was just verbal, then Mangino’s exit was also extreme in how quickly it happened. As for Leach, I’m hoping all the details of this story come out; from Craig James to his kid to doctors and concussions and closets, it’s a lot to wrap one’s head around considering we’re talking about a college football program.

At this moment, I would like to give a proper goodbye to Bobby Bowden. Did I care that Florida St. had no business being in the Gator Bowl with a 6-6 record? No. Did I care that the Gator Bowl invited Florida St. because of Bowden or that West Viriginia was invited on Bowden’s request? No. Why? Because if there’s one man who deserves to have the game compromised for his final day it is Bobby Bowden.

I can still remember vividly first getting into college football and despite being a diehard Michigan fan still realizing that Florida St. was the team to beat and Bobby Bowden was the coach you had to outcoach to beat that team. And while FSU nor Bowden have that aura on invincibility anymore, the memories and the progress the game has made while Bowden has coached and because of him are what has lasted through the years. Maybe even more than the domination of the ACC during those first nine years, the two national titles, all the big bowl games, and the fourteen-year run of top five finishes, was the professionalism and the down-to-earth attitude that Bowden showcased on that sideline and with the press every weekend. And how about that final press conference? If there was ever a time that someone could be driven to tears (and I nearly did cry) over something that you shouldn’t be crying about, this was it. Those moments with Bowden, his wife by his side, giving his final remarks while appearing to be very content, calm, and accepting of his retirement are what made this bowl season for me despite all of the great action that the bowls produced. Bobby, thank you, thank you for helping to make college football what it is today, thank you for showing that a program can be made literally from the ground up and become something big. Most of all, thank you for being you and coaching the way you did all those years; it may not have been the way everyone wants to coach, but it worked, and I am one of many who are thankful that it did. Thanks for the memories and one final really good one.

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