Monday, January 09, 2006

The Couch Critic - Wild Card Sunday

First post of the year, so I'm bringing back the only running thing I've done so far: The Couch Critic, This Time it Counts Edition. You know the drill: first post below, click here to waste more time. This post, for those who care, marks my return to semi-regular posting; full-time posting will return later this month.

– Back, by not so popular demand, is another version of The Couch Critic, Playoff Edition. For the first time ever, the Student Lounge is not the hosting the event; I accepted an invitation to watch at the House of Flash. Needless to say, whether I ever watch another Giants game in this apartment depends on the outcome of this game.

12:57 – In attendance: Flash, Lil’ Flash, and myself. Jersey scorecard: Flash and I are both wearing Shockeys #80, Lil’ Flash is wearing a fading Barber #21. I’m the only one with a cap. It’s all about the details, people.

1:00 – Flash quickly (in a flash, if you will – eh, you probably won’t) changes the channel in time to catch the A-Team theme just starting on TVLand. Great start to the day.

1:05 – Buck and Aikman, obviously. No problem there. Flash points out that since FOX is going with an extra sideline reporter for today’s game (Chris Myers), and they put their regular one (Pam Oliver) on the Giants’ sideline, FOX is clearly showing respect to Big Blue. Hard to argue that.

1:10 – Carolina gets it first. One good run, one good pass, one first down, nothing more, thanks to some false starts and the beast that is Umeniyora. No need to block him or anything; he only had 14.5 sacks this year. Giants ball. Crowd into it. Good start, at least on one side of the ball.

1:12 – I didn’t mention my picks yet. I’m staying away from the Giant game, period. It’s one thing to throw out a pick for a regular season game; I’m not bold enough to do it in the playoffs. You see, I want to be rooting for the Giants 100%, with no “well, if they lose, at least I picked the game right” fallback. Unfortunately, I already have one of those today: well, at least if they lose, U-Boat wasted 100 bucks. For those of you who don’t know, U-Boat is the kind of guy who, when he gets tickets to a game like this, makes you hate him and subconsciously want your team to lose. Hard to explain unless you have a similar friend. Oh, Cincinnati +3, and to win outright.

1:18 – Giants pretty much mirror the Panthers’ first series, punting after one first down. Tyree almost pinned it at the 1, though.

1:20 – Flash on Griesen: “He looks dead.” Aikman: “The Giants can’t afford to lose a linebacker right now.” Thank you, Captain Obvious.

1:25 – Two shocking things just took place: 1) The Panthers picked up a 3rd-down blitz, and somehow Delhomme didn’t find a wide-open Steve Smith, and 2) Chad Morton didn’t call for a fair catch inside the 10. Other than Griesen going down, defense has held up well enough.

1:31 – Prevailing thought so far: we’re straddling the line between a good defensive game and a crappy offensive performance. Next series for each team should be a good indicator of which one this is.

1:37 – Scoreless 1st quarter comes to a close. DeShaun Foster seems like he’s gonna break one sooner than later. Giants offense has clearly been sluggish, but they can ignite instantly.

1:45 – Scoreless no more. Linebackers, or what’s left of them, can’t make any tackles, and Delhomme hits Smith for 22 yards and 6 points. And Steve Smith unveils his playoff end-zone celebration, the snow angel. Except there’s no snow. Genius, that guy. No, I’m not bitter. It should also be noted that the Panthers scoring drive began as soon as Flash’s brother-in-law arrived to watch the game. I’m a guest here, so I can’t throw him out. Too bad.

1:57 – Offense still not doing much, and he non-call when Shockey got taken down didn’t help. Trying to be objective, I’ll concede that you could get away with not calling that. Punt down to the 7. Not uncharacteristically, Jeff Feagles is keeping the Giants in this game.

2:05 – 3rd down has become automatic for Carolina – 5 straight conversions, including the last one on 3rd and 12 whose spot could’ve been challenged and overturned. Important to hold on to those first-half timeouts, Tom – with 2 minutes left, you never know when you might need one. This drive started at the 7, it’s now at midfield.

2:14 – Son of a diddly. Giants finally get a stop on defense, getting the ball back, and the freaking punt is so bad it hits a Giant in the leg, Carolina recovers in field goal range. It’s turning into That Kind of Game.

2:18 – Defense wakes up a little, holds Carolina to three. Of all the knees on the team that have been destroyed this year, Gibril Wilson’s stays healthy enough to give three points away. Awesome.

2:20 – Halftime. 10-0. Pizza’s here, so things could only get better. Consensus in the room: it could be a lot worse than 10-0 right now, so we’ll take it.

2:40 – So apparently L.T. was on the field at halftime. Not sure why, but FOX showed a clip of him walking off the field waving. And it got me thinking: if L.T. suited up and played today, would the linebacking corps be better off? Probably not, but you’d seriously consider it, no?

2:42 – I wanted 7 on the opening drive but would’ve settled for 3. We got nothing. And a mediocre punt to boot. Not an inspiring start to the 2nd half. Maybe the defense will show us something here. Not counting on it.

2:49 – At least the D-line came to play today. Strahan gets his second sack, saving 3 points. And now for a quick word about Chad Morton. I don’t think I’d be a better returner than Chad Morton, but I definitely think I’d be a smarter one. For one thing, he’s the only return guy in the league who routinely fair catches inside the 10. On top of that, the 2nd half kickoff was going out of bounds until Morton decided to field it and run it. And he just topped it off with his trademark move: fielding a bouncing punt with a defender ready to pounce on him. Remarkably, he doesn’t fumble. But I maintain I’m a smarter returner.

2:55 – At last, the turn of events that was inevitable: Manning throws a horrible INT, followed by a Steve Smith end-around. 17-0.

3:02 – Giants drive comes to another screeching halt with another interception. Flash: “Who cares, they were gonna punt to around there anyway.” I guess so, but still.

3:06 – 31-yard run for Foster, breaking approximately 67 tackles along the way. Hate to say it, but it couldn’t be clearer: Game. Over.

3:28 – What more is there to write? Eli is being Eli, Steve Smith is being Steve Smith, and this game has been an out-and-out disaster. The thing that annoyed me the most, though, was when the Giants finally converted a 3rd down and the crowd gave an obvious sarcastic cheer, and Aikman, devoid of sarcasm, pointed out the fans are finally seeing something they like. Buck was probably too bored to correct him.

3:35 – 23-0. Alright, I’ll say it: at least U-Boat wasted 100 bucks and I didn’t waste 150. Seriously, is a friend really a friend if he has extra tickets to a playoff game but only will sell them to you for a 50% markup?

3:42 – Two cracks elicit hollow laughter: 1) after I comment what an insult this game was to the late owners, Hearsay (a late addition to the party) remarks, “They needed Mara or Tisch to die this week.” 2) I mention I can’t wait to see the over/under number for next week’s Panthers/Bears game.

3:45 – That sucked. It was one of those games where the defeat was a slow buildup, as opposed to the punch in the gut that was 39-38 in San Fran three seasons ago. Still didn’t even sink in yet. I’ll post final Giants thoughts later on, back in the Student Lounge, when I’m too annoyed to write anything about Steelers/Bengals.

4:45 – Decompressed a little, throwing myself into Cincy/Pittsburgh. Should be entertaining. So far the Steelers had the ball once and punted. One thing I learned on that drive: these teams clearly don’t like each other. Makes for good football TV.

4:46 – Carson Palmer led the NFL in TD passes this year. I did not know that. That’s one of Carson’s old lines. I did know that. I need to stop this immediately.

4:47 – Woah, a lot just happened here. Palmer hit Chris Henry for 66 yards, as Jim Nantz called him “Johnson,” and as Carson Palmer goes down hard after completing his first career playoff pass. Jon Kitna warming up. This game just got more interesting for all the wrong reasons.

4:50 – Can’t pronounce or write the name of the guy who “got blocked into” Carson Palmer. Too lazy to look it up. Phil Simms is quickly looking at the media guide for some words on Jon Kitna, and is having trouble doing so.

4:51 – Simms recovers, points out that he was a starter as recently as 2003, played last week, and gets an unusual amount of reps for a backup every Friday. That’s more like it, Phil. Meantime, it’s first and goal.

4:53 – Forget “don’t like each other.” These teams hate each other.

4:55 – Now Chris Henry is lying on the ground, pounding his fists into the grass. Costly opening drive, though they do go up 3-0.

5:05 – Steelers looking to challenge the Giants’ false start record, set in Seattle a month ago. 3 so far in their first 7 plays. Note to New York Giants: watch this game, watch Cincy, learn how to tackle.

5:11 – Great sequence. Kitna scampers 10 yards for a first down, crowd loving it. Simms: “I said he is tough, but he’s gotta know, too, that Craig Krenzel’s behind you, Jon, so the team wants you to say healthy. [long pause, realizing he just torched the 3rd-stringer…] I’m not saying that Craig Krenzel can’t do it…”

5:13 – Kitna leads a fantastic drive, capped off by a great Rudi Johnson run for the first Bengals’ playoff TD in 15 years. Such a cliché, I know, but Cincy is playing inspired football.

5:23 – Injury update (Bonne Bernstein’s earning her paycheck today): Palmer’s getting an MRI right now, Chris Henry is done, Quincy Morgan is probably done too. Welcome back to the playoffs, Cincy!

5:25 – After getting great field position to start their third drive, Pittsburgh moves down the field with relative ease. 10-7.

5:37 – Great moment for Steeler-haters right there. Troy Polamalu almost picks off Kitna, pushing ensues, then Polamalu goes for one last shove, ball in hand, called for a penalty which takes away a 4th down FG attempt, and instead makes it 1st and goal. Great stuff.

5:41 – Another would-be 4th down taken care of by another Steeler penalty. Illegal contact, 1st down. Greater stuff.

5:43 – Kitna to Houshmandzadeh, 17-7. You just can’t give a team 3 chances like that. Oh, and you can’t leave a guy that open in the end zone, either. Polamalu’s fault, natch.

5:51 – Big Ben answering the Bengals. 54-yard pass, 15-yard pass, 1st and goal. Bettis bobbles what would’ve been a TD pass (from him, not to him), but Roethlisberger to Ward on 3rd down gets it done. 17-14.

6:02 – Bengals finally punt. Just over a minute to go. Wow, close game, points scored on both ends, defenses making plays. Would it have been so hard to have seen this at 1:00?

6:10 – Halftime. Greg Gumbel, pretending he’s a real reporter: “Sources close to injured quarterback Carson Palmer tell The NFL Today that Carson Palmer says that he suffered a couple of torn ligaments in his left knee, and the MRI is being taken to confirm that diagnosis.” Bottom line: Kitna’s team for the foreseeable future.

6:35 – Interesting opening 5:09 of the 2nd half. Bengals try a reverse on the kickoff to no avail. Chad Johnson catches, then fumbles, then challenged and ruled incomplete. Then Carson Palmer news comes in, and the word “July” is mentioned. Finally, a botched long snap on a FG attempt, as Giants fans watching (few and far between, I’m guessing) recoil in flashback horror.

6:44 – It’s weird. The Steelers, since ending their first two drives with punts, seem to be moving the ball down the field at will, yet it doesn’t feel like the Cincy defense is playing poorly. Maybe both can be true. Anyway, the pass interference in the end zone certainly helps, and having Jerome Bettis does too. 21-17, Pittsburgh on top.

6:47 – Seeing the Peyton Manning MasterCard commercial for the 572nd time, it’s hard to think of something new about it. But on Thursday, Tony Kornheiser showed why he’s so utterly brilliant: given 5 minutes with Eli Manning, he took 30 seconds to ask Eli, completely straight-faced, if he ever received that autographed loaf of bread from his brother. Eli had fun with the question, and Tony succeeded once again.

6:53 – Nice commercial I’ve never seen before, for SONY HD televisions – the broadcast of the Cal/Stanford “The Play” (with the band), acted out poorly on an electronic football board. Solid B+.

6:55 – Frikkin awesome play called and executed by Pittsburgh on 3rd and 2 from the Cincy 43. Snap goes directly to Randle El, who runs right, then throws a perfect overhand lateral to Roethlisberger, who hits an extremely open Chuck Wilson for 6 points. Impressive stuff all around, and credit Simms for being on top of it all, from calling the direct snap to Randle El based on his positioning, to calling it a TD while Big Ben still had the ball. And credit the telecast director for getting a well-timed shot of the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. Game-changing-type play. 28-17.

6:56 – Just rewound and watched it again, and I heard a lot of cheers in Paul Brown Stadium. First playoff game in 15 years, and Bengals fans still scalped tickets to Steelers fans? Bad job.

6:58 – By the way, I checked’s GameCenter for this game just now to check the proper spelling of Cedrick, and they’ve labeled the play a flea flicker. I think that’s inaccurate; a flea flicker is a play where the running back tosses back to the quarterback who throws the pass. On this play, Randle El was technically the quarterback (he took the snap) and Roethlisberger was the running back who threw the pass. I can’t imagine anybody actually cares about this, so I’ll stop.

7:06 – It took awhile, but Jon Kitna is reminding the world why he’s a backup QB. Last drive, he seemed to just hold the ball for minutes on end without doing much, this time he just threw a devastating INT. 11-point deficit now, and if it gets any bigger, Pittsburgh is headed for Indianapolis.

7:07 – I think I speak for the entire CBS viewership right now when I say ENOUGH SHOTS OF THE BETTIS PARENTS.

7:25 – Well, after a Steelers FG, a Bengals punt, and a Steelrs punt, the Bengals have the ball, down two TDs, with 6:42 left. Maybe they’d have a shot with Palmer still around, but with Kitna it’s Game. Over.

7:29 – Troy Polamalu clinches it. So over Wild Card Weekend, three road teams won, and the only home team that one had a worse record than their opponent. Interesting. Looking ahead, Indy should demolish Pittsburgh, but New England and Denver should be close. Seattle will be fired up, but they’ll be facing a red-hot Redskins team. Gut feeling right now: advantage Seattle. As for Carolina/Chicago, I need some distance from today’s game before I can really look at this one.

7:39 – Also, next week features four games between teams that faced each other in the regular season. I think this happened last year, too.

7:45 – I just checked; the rematch game applied to all four games in the first round, all four games in the second round, and the AFC championship game. Stupidly, I forgot to check if the team that won the first time won the second time as well. Mabye I’ll do it tomorrow and update.

7:50 – Yeah, that’s the ticket. I’ll write some sort of Giants conclusion tomorrow right here, as well as research the rematch factor. If I don’t, out of laziness, I’ll end by pointing out that the Giants are winless in the playoffs since Flash moved into his apartment. Time to move.

Back next week (maybe) for Divisional Playoff games.


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