Playoff Observations: NFC Championship Game


This is the first of two blogs of playoff observations today.  First I’ll be tackling the Arizona Cardinals 32-25 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale, Arizona, before going over the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-14 win over the Baltimore Ravens up in Pittsburgh.  So what I noticed about the Eagles-Cardinals matchup:

Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver in the National Football League, hands down.  I can’t think of anyone else who could come close to him.  Fitzgerald has the right combination of size, speed, and hands.  His statistics from Sunday (9 receptions, 152 yards, 3 TDs) back this up.  The only question I have about the play calling of the Cardinals offense was during the third quarter and first part of the fourth quarter when Fitzgerald was totally written out of the gameplan.  During this stretch, Fitzgerald was barely thrown to and the Cardinals saw their 24-6 lead turn into a 25-24 deficit.  But what did the Cardinals do on their last drive?  They got the ball to Fitzgerald which led to the win.  Watching Fitzgerald was watching a man among boys.  It’s obvious that if the ball is anywhere near Fitzgerald, he will come down with it.  I wonder how Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau plan on stopping this one.

I hate second-guessing anyone.  Whether it be an errant Brett Favre throw in the 2008 NFC Championship Game, to play-calling, to the referees.  But here I’m just going to say what I would have done; not what should have been done.  The string of plays concerns the Eagles second-to-last possession that started with about 2:53 left in the game.  With 2:09 left around midfield, the Eagles faced a second-and-ten. Andy Reid called three straight pass plays to end the Eagles last scoring threat.  What I would have done is on second down, with 2:09 left is called a run play.  The run play would get some yardage and put the Eagles in more manageable situations for their offense.  After the second down pass, 2:01 was left on the clock with third-and-ten.  Run the ball, Andy.  Make an easier fourth down situation for your team.  That was my only qualm about Reid’s playcalling.

The Eagles have been searching for big play weapons for Donovan McNabb for some time now, and I think they have finally found them in Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson.  Curtis had a great game and was almost the team’s savior on the fourth-and-ten play.  His deceptive speed creates mismatches on defense and he just always seems to be able to get open.  As for his counterpart, I think that Jackson was the steal of the 2008 NFL Draft.  Countless mocks had the Eagles picking him with the 19th pick in the first round.  Instead, the Eagles traded out of the first round and picked him down in the second round.  That saves a lot of money right there.  Jackson in the first round is a bad pick; Jackson in the second round is a great pick.  He could play too.  He gave McNabb a consistent threat the quarterback hadn’t seen since that #81 character was in Philly.  The only blemish on Jackson’s rookie season was his ridiculously bonehead play against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football.  That was really bad.  But he still turned it around, making a juggling 62-yard touchdown catch on Sunday against Arizona.  He’s a game changer any time he touches the ball and no matter how he touches it.

I’m focusing more on the Eagles in this mostly because they’re my second team behind the Green Bay Packers and I know more about them than the Cardinals.  I could tick off the names of most of the Cardinals skill players, but not much more.  That being said, the Eagles have finally found their replacement for L.J. Smith who is on his way out.  It’s tough to see why they even franchised him for this year.  But that’s beside the point.  This man is Brent Celek.  He can play.  Ten catches, 83 yards, two touchdowns.  That’s not the line you expect out of a no-name tight end in the NFC Championship Game.  He’s an athlete too. Numerous times this year we’ve seen him try to leap over guys, and he was at it again on Sunday.  The only thing he needs to work on to become one of McNabb’s favorite targets is to improve his hands and football mindset.  Many times this year he dropped key passes or committed stupid penalties, putting his team in a hole.

Kurt Warner can still play.  Matt Leinart better be taking notes on how Warner goes about his business or he’ll have bust written all over him.  Warner is a professional (I know he had those spats in St. Louis, but that seems to be an isolated incident).  It’s obvious that in his time off he’s out studying the next opponent or out helping his community instead of entertaining college girls in his hot tub.  Warner goes out each Sunday, makes his reads, and gets the ball to his playmakers.  Leinart could never get comfortable in the pocket (maybe thinking about those chicks?) and didn’t seem to realize he has one of the best receiving corps in the NFL around him.  Watching Warner run the offense is like watching an experienced surgeon at work who knows where everything is and what needs to be done.  He doesn’t do just enough to get by, but he doesn’t try to do too much either.  Warner is one of the reasons I’m rooting for Arizona on February 1st.

Clancy Pendergast is one of the coolest names out there.  He sounds like a 1950s detective.  He’s done wonders with that defense though.  But the cool name nearly trumps that.