Archive for March, 2012

Response to Bracketology: Super Bowl winning teams 31-40

This is my 2nd post in response to’s Bracketology, where they take who they consider the 64 greatest teams of the Super Bowl era, then seed and “regionalize” them into four 16-team quadrants. Here I will present to you my Super Bowl winning teams who I ranked 31-40.

40. 2010 Green Bay Packers

This team was the second #6 seed to take the Lombardi Trophy, and the third with a 10-6 record to take it. Also the 3rd to win 3 road playoff games then the Super Bowl. The Packers needed to beat the Bears on the final weekend just to qualify for the playoffs as a wild card. They won that game 10-3 and edged out the Giants and Buccaneers based on strength of victory – the 4th tiebreaker step used to determine wild card berths.  

They struggled to make the playoffs, even though they were considered an elite team to start the season, due to major season-ending injuries and others that caused key players to miss time. They lost starting running back Ryan Grant during their season opener – a 27-20 win in Philadelphia, their first in that city since 1962. They lost star TE Jermichael Finley for the season during a 16-13 OT loss to the lowly Washington Redskins. QB Aaron Rodgers played like a superstar, but at times his offensive line had trouble protecting him. Such troubles led to a concussion suffered in a Week 14 loss at Detroit 7-3. They lost the next week at New England 31-27 despite a valiant performance by backup QB Matt Flynn.

The defense was a strength of the team, allowing only 240 points during the regular season. And that defense, along with Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, would catch fire in the playoffs. Those elements, as well as a strong performance by running back James Starks, gave them a 21-16 victory in a return trip to Philadelphia in the NFC Wild Card game. The next week they rolled in to Atlanta and destroyed the top seed, 13-3 Falcons 48-21. A 70-yard interception return TD by Tramon Williams near the end of the first half broke the Falcons will. The next week was a match against their 90-year-long arch rival Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship at Soldier Field in Chicago. 

The Packers jumped on the Bears for a 14-0 lead after 3 quarters as they turned QB Jay Cutler into an ordinary QB and eventually knocked him out of the game. Chicago did rally to pull within 14-7 but then nose tackle B.J. Raji picked off a Caleb Haine pass and returned it 18 yards for a TD. Another interception in the final minute preserved a 21-14 victory. Aaron Rodgers capped his fantastic run with an MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV, a 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense also fueled the Packers win with a 37-yard interception return TD by Nick Collins in the first quarter and a forced fumble by Clay Matthews that set up Rodgers 3rd TD pass.

With that description it would seem unfair to rank them this low, and such an argument would be valid. Still a 10-6 record, due in part to losses in games they should have won – at Chicago in Week 3, the Redskins game, and the next week at home against the Dolphins, plus many other all-time great teams, knock them down ultimately to this spot. Doesn’t mean in the tournament they won’t pull an upset or two.

39. 2001 New England Patriots

New England was picked by many to finish either 4th or dead last in the AFC East, and after the first two games, they seemed headed in that direction. But in the 2nd game (originally scheduled as the 3rd but Week 2 was moved back to Week 17 after the September 11 terrorist attacks), one play changed not just a season, but the course of history with ripple effects throughout the league. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was running toward the sideline only to suffer a crushing hit from New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. Bledsoe, considered at the time a franchise player on a team not loaded with talent (even though his talent had many doubters), was hospitalized from the hit with a collapsed lung. New England lost that game 10-3 in Foxboro. Tom Brady, a second-year QB out of Michigan as the 199th player selected in 2000, was inserted as the starter. 

The next week things began to turn around. They blew out the Colts 44-13 in Foxboro. A loss the following   week in Miami 30-10 put them at 1-3, but they only lost again 31-20 in Denver in Week 7 and 24-17 at home to the Rams in Week 10. The Patriots would not lose again. They would overtake the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East at 11-5, one game over the Jets and in a tiebreaker over Miami based on division record. That record was good enough to get them one more game in Foxboro Stadium, their final game there before moving into Gillette Stadium to start the 2002 season. That game would be one of the most memorable in NFL postseason history.

The Oakland Raiders came calling for an AFC Divisional playoff game, the first ever to be played on primetime television. It was also played in a driving blizzard. New England fell behind 10-0 then cut the lead to 13-10 and got the ball late in the 4th quarter. A hit by Raiders CB Charles Woodson jarred the ball loose from Brady and Greg Beikert recovered, giving Oakland an apparent victory. Enter referee Walt Coleman. The replay booth called for him to review the play. He overturned the call, invoking the Tuck Rule, a controversial ruling which gave the Patriots new life. What replays show is that Coleman failed to call Woodson for roughing the passer. Woodson belted Brady in the head. They drove down to the Oakland 28-yard-line, where kicker Adam Vinatieri drilled a 45-yard, line-drive field goal into the driving snow and fierce winds to tie the game 13-13 and send it into OT. The Patriots took the OT kickoff, and drove inside the Oakland 10, holding the ball for nearly 10 minutes before Vinatieri hit a chip shot field goal for a 16-13 win.

The next week they ousted the heavily favored Steelers 24-17 at Heinz Field to capture a surprising AFC Championship. The special teams carried them to a 21-3 lead on a punt return TD by Troy Brown and a blocked field goal return TD. Their other TD came on a pass by Drew Bledsoe, inserted after a hit on Brady injured his ankle. The defense intercepted Kordell Stewart twice in the 4th quarter to stave off any Pittsburgh comeback. 

With only one week to prepare for the first Super Bowl ever played in the month of February, the Patriots were heavy underdogs against a team many thought were dynasty material: the St. Louis Rams. They set another trend by being introduced as an entire team during the pregame ceremonies rather than having the offensive starters introduced one by one, followed by the rest of the team. After spotting the Rams a field goal, the defense, who hit Rams receivers all day, pressured Warner, forcing an errant pass that was picked off by CB Ty Law and returned 50 yards for a TD. Following a fumble recovery, New England converted a two-minute drill into a 9-yard Brady to David Patten TD pass to make it 14-3 at halftime. St. Louis rallied to tie the score with two 4th quarter TDs, the second one with less than 90 seconds left. Fox commentator John Madden opined that the Patriots should settle for overtime, but Brady and New England thought differently. A series of completions brought them to the Rams 30-yard-line, then Vinatieri showed his clutch play again drilling a 47-yard field goal right down the middle as time expired, giving New England a 20-17 upset in Super Bowl XXXVI and their first ever World Championship.

This teams low ranking is based on my belief that if the 2001 NFL playoffs were replayed 20 times, the Patriots may not even come out on top even once more.

38. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

They were the #6 seed and needed to beat Detroit 35-21 on the final weekend to qualify for the playoffs. But they weren’t just any 6 seed. They finished 11-5, ending up in second place behind the Bengals due to a tiebreaker. They were 4-0 against the NFC North and could have easily been a dominant NFC team, as could the teams they outlasted for the AFC Wild Card berth, the Chiefs and Chargers.

Two of their losses were in overtime directly attributable to interceptions thrown by backup QB Tommy Maddox, who just didn’t have it anymore. Maddox was thrust into the lineup a few times due to injury suffered by Ben Roethlisberger. One was returned for a TD in overtime by Jaguars cornerback Rasheen Mathis in a 23-17 loss in Week 6. The other led to a Matt Stover field goal giving the Baltimore Ravens a 16-13 win in Week 11. The loss that ultimately cost them the AFC North was a 38-31 setback to the Bengals in Week 13 at Heinz Field. That game, however, served as a precursor to the Steelers’ title run.

For the AFC Wild Card game they drew the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Bengals QB Carson Palmer completed a 66-yard pass to Chris Henry to put the Bengals at the 8 on their first offensive play. That play would be Palmer’s last, as a hit below the knees by Steelers lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen tore Palmer’s ACL, knocking him out of the game. The Bengals stayed afloat in the first half with Jon Kitna now at the controls, leading 17-14 at halftime. The second half, however, was all Pittsburgh as Big Ben performed surgery on the Bengals secondary, including a 43-yard TD to Cedrick Wilson on a gadget play. Steelers 31, Bengals 17. Part of the motivation for the Steelers victory was footage of Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh wiping the bottom of his cleats with a “Terrible Towel” following that Bengals win in Pittsburgh, footage that incensed head coach Bill Cowher. In the locker room following the victory, the team together chanted “Who Dey?” (a Bengals rallying cry for years) to which Cowher responded “We Dey!”

The next week Pittsburgh traveled to the RCA Dome to face the #1 seed, 14-2 Indianapolis Colts. The Steelers dominated on both sides o the ball, building a 21-3 lead before the Colts staged a furious rally to cut it to 21-18. The Steelers tried to put the game away deep in Colts territory, but RB Jerome Bettis was hit near the goal line and fumbled. Colts safety Nick Harper scooped up the ball and appeared gone. But a wrong cut to the middle allowed Roethlisberger to slow him down and catch him near midfield. Peyton Manning got the Colts into field goal range but 3 straight incompletions forced a long, 46-yard attempt by normally reliable Mike Vanderjagt. Vanderjagt’s attempt missed badly to the right by at least 10-15 yards, and the Steelers became the first #6 seed to ever beat a #1 seed in the divisional round. Four teams have done it since.

The next week brought the Steelers to Denver to face the 13-3 Broncos in the AFC Championship game. The Steelers harrassed QB Jake Plummer all day, forcing two interceptions and a lost fumble. Roethlisberger played maybe his best game yet, converting several third-and-longs for first downs and bagging two TD passes as Pittsburgh won going away 34-17. They became the second team to ever advance to the Super Bowl with 3 road wins in the playoffs, and the first to do it as a #6 seed.

Two weeks later the Steelers traveled to Bettis’ home town of Detroit to face the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL at Ford Field. Hines Ward, the wide receiver many consider to be Hall of Fame worthy, won the game’s MVP by catching a 43-yard pass from fellow receiver and college QB Antwaan Randle-El to put the game away. Running back Willie Parker broke the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history with a 76-yard TD early in the 3rd quarter. The 21-10 victory, though, was considered by many to be clouded by several officials calls – judged questionable. One wiped out a Seattle TD pass in the 1st quarter. Another negated a pass that would have given them a 1st and goal and an excellent chance to take the lead in the 4th quarter.

37. 2006 Indianapolis Colts

Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning finally got their rings. The road to get there came with lots of potholes. They started 8-0, the first to ever do so in back-to-back seasons (they would also accomplish this in 2007 and 2009 – in all but ’07 they started at least 9-0). But a couple of those victories, over Tennessee 14-13 at home in Week 5 and 34-31 at Denver in Week 8 showed the Colts inability to stop the run. The wheels came off in December. The low point came in Week 14 – a 44-17 loss at Jacksonville where they gave up 375 rushing yards. The run defense again cost them in a 27-24 loss at Houston in Week 16, their first ever defeat at the hands of the Texans, which cost them a first-round bye. They ended up 12-4 as the AFC’s #3 seed.

What the regular season was to night, the playoffs were to day for the 2006 Colts. Wild Card weekend brought the 9-7 Kansas City Chiefs to the RCA Dome. Larry Johnson, the Chiefs running back who led the league with over 1700 rushing yards on a league record 416 carries, was held to 39 rushing yards. The Colts offense was spotty as Manning threw 3 interceptions, but they prevailed 23-8. The next week they would travel to M & T Bank Stadium to face the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional playoff game. They would also face a hostile crowd still bitter about the Colts moving from Baltimore to Indianapolis 22 years earlier. The Colts had another un-Colt-like game, as former Patriot and all-time clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri nailed 5 field goals to lead to a 15-6 victory as they held Jamal Lewis to 53 rushing yards and the Ravens to just 83 as a team. It was the first NFL playoff game without a TD since the 1979 NFC Championship game.

The next week would bring the AFC Championship game in what turned out to be a game for the ages. The New England Patriots had an identical 12-4 regular season record and were also coming off a road
playoff upset, a 24-21 win in San Diego. The Colts 27-20 victory at New England in Week 9 meant this time Manning would face Bill Belichick’s defense in his own backyard instead of in Massachusetts. Early on that didn’t seem to matter as the Patriots built a 21-3 lead early in the 2nd quarter. One TD was an Asante Samuel 39-yard interception return of a Manning pass. New England also recovered their own fumble in the Colts end zone for a TD. Logan Mankins was the recipient of the gift TD after Corey Dillon dropped the ball on the turf. A field goal made it 21-6 at halftime. Then the Colts opened the 2nd half with two TD drives, sandwiching a 3-and-out from New England’s offense. A two-point conversion on the 2nd TD tied the score at 21. The two teams went back and forth the rest of the way, this time with the Colts getting the bounces to go their way. Jeff Saturday answered Mankins’ score by pouncing on a Joseph Addai fumble for a TD. Another break saw Patriots wide receiver Jabar Gaffney lined up wide near the sideline, uncovered. Tom Brady’s pass to him was dropped, though, and the Patriots squandered what would have been a walk-in TD, settling for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. With New England leading 34-31 late in the 4th quarter, Manning led the Colts into scoring range again, this time with a bruised thumb that collided with a helmet on an earlier pass. Addai finished it off with a 3-yard TD run with exactly one minute left to give the Colts their first lead 38-34. Marlin Jackson’s interception of a Brady pass sealed it.

Two weeks Dungy’s Colts would face a former assistant, Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI in Miami. Dungy and Smith were the first two black head coaches to lead their teams to the Roman numeral classic. The Colts got off to a shaky start as Devin Hester took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a TD. They trailed 14-6 after 1 quarter. Manning hit a wide-open Reggie Wayne for a 53-yard TD but the extra point failed when the holder couldn’t handle the wet ball on the snap. Indianapolis got their bearings and took a 16-14 lead into halftime. Two more Vinatieri field goals and one from the Bears Robbie Gould made it 22-17 early in the 4th quarter. Then Bears QB Rex Grossman threw an ill-advised pass into the teeth of the Colts secondary, which was snagged by Kelvin Hayden, making his first ever interception. He made the most of it, returning it 56 yards for the TD that sealed the game. Colts 29, Bears 17.

36. 1990 New York Giants

The 1990 Giants set a record with only 14 turnovers. A deadly efficient offense, along with a defense that yielded only 211 points, started the season 10-0. Then they hit a bump in the road, losing 3 of 4 games, including a tough 7-3 defeat at San Francisco on Monday Night Football which effectively gave the 49ers the NFC’s #1 seed. A loss two weeks later, 17-13 at home to the Buffalo Bills, was also costly in that Phil Simms was knocked out for the season with a fractured foot. Jeff Hostetler would be at the controls the rest of the way. They finished 13-3 with their 2nd straight NFC East title. Their offense, while efficient, didn’t exactly strike fear in opponents, only scoring 335 points.

The Giants, as the NFC’s #2 seed, opened the 1990 playoffs in the divisional round at Giants Stadium against the Chicago Bears. A bruising running game yielded 191 yards, and Hostetler tossed two TD passes. The defense shut down the Bears and New York won easily 31-3. This led the Giants back to Candlestick Park for a rematch with the 49ers, this time for the NFC Championship. In one of the most physical, hard-hitting games ever, the offenses were put on the back burner. The only touchdown of the game came on a 62-yard catch-and-run pass from Joe Montana to John Taylor, giving San Francisco a 13-6 3rd quarter lead. It was 13-9 after 3 quarters. In the 4th quarter Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall got off the ground after being blocked and delivered a vicious hit on Montana, jarring the ball loose. The 49ers recovered the ball but Montana wouldn’t play again until December of 1992. Late in the 4th quarter, with the 49ers in Giants territory trying to melt down the clock, a hit by defensive tackle Erik Howard forced Roger Craig to fumble. Lawrence Taylor recovered. Two Hostetler completions put the Giants on the 49ers 24-yard line. That set up kicker Matt Bahr for his fifth 3-pointer, which hooked just inside the left upright as time expired, giving the Giants a 15-13 upset win and ending the 49ers quest for a threepeat.

One week later they traveled down to Tampa for another rematch against a team that beat them in December, the Buffalo Bills. Super Bowl XXV would be played against the backdrop of the Gulf War. Whitney Houston’s stirring rendition of the National Anthem preceded the game, which I consider still to this the day the most well-played of all time. The Giants were in danger of being blown out of the stadium as the Bills “K-Gun” no-huddle offense propelled them to a 10-3 lead after a 1-yard TD run by Don Smith. Then Hostetler stumbled at his own goal line, leaving him exposed to all-time great pass rusher Bruce Smith, who trapped him for a safety and a 12-3 Bills lead. It would have been a TD had Hostetler not gripped the ball tightly, thus avoiding a fumble. The Giants then got their bearings and drove for a TD late in the first half on a 14-yard pass from Hostetler to Stephen Baker. New York took the second half kickoff and put together the most time-consuming drive in Super Bowl history, over 9 minutes. It ended with a 1-yard TD run by Super Bowl MVP O.J. Anderson. The Bills, however, regained the lead early in the 4th quarter on a 31-yard run by Thurman Thomas. A Matt Bahr chip-shot field goal put the Giants back on top 20-19. One more chance for Buffalo, who drove down to the 29-yard line. Set up on the right hash mark, Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s 46-yard attempt with 8 seconds left was pushed just wide right, and the underdog Giants escaped with their second Lombardi Trophy in 5 years. It also marked the last game for coach Bill Parcells with the team.

35. 1982 Washington Redskins

The Redskins yielded a league low 128 points and finished 8-1. That’s right, 8-1. A 57-day players’ strike disrupted the season, wiping out half of the regular season schedule. Divisions were done away with for this season. The playoffs would be a “Super Bowl tournament” featuring 8 teams from each conference, seeded by record. Washington, under second-year head coach Joe Gibbs, rode to their record on the running of John Riggins, the passing of Joe Thiesmann, and kicker Mark Moseley – the league’s MVP (not a misprint, Moseley won the award in 1982). We can only speculate how the Redskins would have fared with a full 16-game schedule.

In the playoffs, though, Washington was lights out. Tied for the best record in the league with the Raiders and owning the NFC’s #1 seed, the Redskins blazed through the playoffs, soundly beating the Detroit Lions 31-7 and the Minnesota Vikings 21-7, leading to the NFC Championship game against the archrival Dallas Cowboys, who handed them their only defeat of 1982 – a 24-10 decision in Week 5 at RFK Stadium. The Redskins were ready for the rematch. Riggins had another 100+-yard performance with 2 rushing touchdowns. Dexter Manley knocked Dallas QB Danny White out of the game with a concussion. Manley then deflected a Gary Hogeboom screen pass intended for Tony Dorsett. The pass landed in the arms of Daryl Grant, who waltzed in for a TD as RFK Stadium went berserk. Redskins 31, Cowboys 17.

Washington’s NFC Championship victory was over the same team they beat 10 years prior. Super Bowl XVII would be against the same team they faced in the big game that season – the Miami Dolphins. This time, the Dolphins had the “Killer Bees” on defense (due to several starting defenders whose last names begin with the letter “B”) instead of the “No Name Defense”. And this time the Dolphins weren’t undefeated.

Miami did, however grab the early lead when QB David Woodley found WR Jimmy Cefalo for a 76-yard TD pass. Washington tied Miami 10-10 late in the 2nd quarter on a Thiesman 4-yard TD fade to Charlie Brown, but gave the lead right back as Fulton Walker returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a TD – the first such score in Super Bowl history. Washington drew closer with a 3rd quarter field goal to make it 17-13. The 4th quarter brought out John Riggins to close the deal. With 9 minutes plus remaining, and it 4th and 1 on the Miami 43-yard line, the Redskins called on Riggins to pick up the first down. With the game in the balance, Riggins picked up the first down, but also a lot more. He burst through the arms of much smaller Dolphins corner Don McNeal and raced for a TD. Another TD, a Thiesmann 6-yard TD pass to Alvin Garrett, sealed the Redskins 27-17 victory. “Rigginomics” ruled the day with a Super Bowl record 166 rushing yards (since broken twice).

34. 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers

They began the ’74 campaign not with Terry Bradshaw as the starting QB, but with “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam, a rifle-armed, African-American QB who showed some promise in 1973. His passing was lighting up the skies the first two weeks – a 30-0 shutout of the Baltimore Colts at Three Rivers Stadium and a 35-35 overtime tie at Denver. Week 3 was his undoing, however, as the Raiders came into down and pillage Pittsburgh 17-0. The running game, with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, along with the Steel Curtain defense, who was at the height of its powers in the mid-1970s, were the catalysts for the Steelers’ success. Bradshaw got his starting role back but after a 17-10 loss at Cincinnati in Week 9 Terry Hanratty was named the starter the next week in their game at Cleveland, a 26-16 victory were Hanratty threw only 4 passes. Pittsburgh finished 10-3-1, easily winning the AFC Central. Key to their success was perhaps the best draft class of all time, where they landed wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth as well as linebacker Jack Lambert.

The divisional round of the playoffs brought the Buffalo Bills to Three Rivers Stadium. They held O.J. Simpson to 49 rushing yards, which would be more than their next two opponents combined. Pittsburgh’s offense took off, getting on a roll and leading to a 32-14 victory. The win brought them west against the Oakland Raiders for the AFC Championship. they held Oakland to 29 rushing yards and intercepted Ken Stabler three times. It was a 21-point fourth quarter that was the difference in the 24-13 victory.

For the first time in the 42-year history of the franchise the Pittsburgh Steelers would be playing to be King of the Hill in the NFL. Super Bowl IX, the last game ever played in Tulane Stadium, would pit them against the Minnesota Vikings. The Steelers run defense was even more stiff, holding Minnesota to 17 rushing yards and 119 yards in total offense. Fran Tarkenton was intercepted 3 times. The defense also became the first ever to record a safety in a Super Bowl as a fumble ws recovered by Tarkenton in the end zone, who was downed by defensive tackle Dwight White. Pittsburgh increased their lead to 9-0 as a fumble on the 2nd half kickoff led to a Franco Harris 9-yard TD run. Harris would win MVP honors with 158 rushing yards. A blocked punt recovered for a TD made the Steelers sweat it out. But leading 9-6, Bradshaw led the team on a drive that culminted in Bradshaw hitting TE Larry Brown for a 4-yard TD. Final: Steelers 16, Vikings 6.

33. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

They gave up 196 points in a year where expansion diluted rosters and scoring and offense reached new heights (as it would several times over later on). Since the league expanded the regular season to 16 games in 1978, only the ’78 Steelers, ’86 Bears and ’00 Ravens permitted fewer points. Jon Gruden took over the team after they let go of Tony Dungy, the architect of their “Tampa Two” defensive system. The 2002 Bucs are still the only Super Bowl champion to ever start the season with a home loss – this a 26-20 overtime defeat to the Saints. New Orleans beat them twice, but the Bucs were 12-2 against the rest of the league, easily winning the newly formed NFC South. This time, though, the offense, with Gruden leading the way, was more functional than in the past, especially in the playoffs, though not spectacular.

They disposed of the San Francisco 49ers 31-6 in an NFC Divisional playoff game at Raymond James Stadium. Quarterback Brad Johnson led the attack to an efficient performance, and the defense shut down Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia. The next week brought them back to Philadelphia for a playoff showdown for the 3rd straight season. This time the NFC Championship was at stake. And this time, Tampa Bay had what it took. In the final game ever played at Veterans Stadium, the Bucs spotted the Eagles an early 7-0 lead, but then the Bucs offense took off. Brad Johnson led them on two TD drives and a 17-10 halftime lead. The Tampa Two kept Donovan McNabb in check, and sealed it late in the 4th quarter on a 95-yard interception return TD by Ronde Barber. Tampa Bay finally beat the Eagles in the playoffs and finally reached the Super Bowl with a 27-10 victory.

The next week it was the Bucs against the team Gruden departed from a year before, the Oakland Raiders. Playing the role of league MVP quarterback Rich Gannon in practice, Gruden had the defense ready. They picked off 5 Gannon passes, returning 3 of them for TDs, two of them in the final two minutes, sealing a 48-21 victory. That Raiders head coach Bill Callahan (a Gruden assistant) didn’t alter the Raiders’ audible system is one of the most confounding things an NFL coach has ever done (or not done).

32. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

Under second-year head coach Mike Tomlin (another Dungy disciple), the Steelers breezed to a 12-4 record on the strength of their defense which yielded 223 points. The offense could get the job done, but at times the line had trouble protecting Ben Roethlisberger. But they looked Super Bowl caliber with about 1/4 of the season left, especially on defense, with linebacker and Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. Their 12-4 mark earned them the AFC’s #2 seed.

The Steelers welcomed the AFC West champion San Diego Chargers to Heinz Field. The offense stole the show, particularly Santonio Holmes, in a 35-24 victory. A third match with the Baltimore Ravens, at Heinz Field, would decide the AFC Championsihp. Pittsburgh won both regular season contests in the final seconds or overtime. The championship game was a physical affair, decided when safety Troy Polamalu intercepted Joe Flacco and returned it 38 yards for a TD, giving them a 23-14 win.

They would face just the 2nd 9-7 team ever to reach the Big Game – the Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh jumped out to a 10-0 lead and was up 10-7 late in the 2nd quarter. Arizona threatened to take the lead before halftime but Harrison stepped in front of a Kurt Warner pass and scored on a marathon 100-yard return, the longest scoring play of any kind in a Super Bowl. They increased the lead to 20-7 in the 3rd quarter, but the Cardinals showed heart, scoring 16 unanswered points, the 2nd TD a 62-yard Warner to Larry Fitzgerald pass which put Arizona up 23-20 with just over 2 1/2 minutes left. But the Steelers showed their championship mettle with Big Ben and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes making the big plays. The first was a 35-yard completion that put the ball on the 5-yard line. Then on 2nd and goal Holmes caught a Roethlisberger pass in the corner of the end zone, just keeping his toes inbounds, and doing it with two Cardinals defenders draped on him. The score with 34 seconds left made the final 27-23.

31. 2000 Baltimore Ravens

They started with Tony Banks as the QB. Their 2nd game was a 39-36 shootout victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, their first ever over that team. But anybody with a modicum of historical knowledge sees what obviously carried that team. They went the entire month of October without scoring a single touchdown, and still won 2 of those 5 games. They were also the first ever Super Bowl champion with a 3-game losing streak at one point in the season.

Trent Dilfer was inserted as the starter in the middle of a 14-6 home loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 8. Two weeks later their touchdown-less streak ended, as did their losing streak. They showed they could compete with the big boys by handing the Titans their first ever loss at the Coliseum in Nashville 24-23 in Week 11. Tennessee still won the division at 13-3, but the Ravens secured their first ever playoff berth as a 12-4 wild card, allowing just 165 points, by far an all-time low for a 16-game schedule. They also as a team allowed fewer than 1000 rushing yards, another record.

The playoffs saw the defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Rod Woodson take their game to another level. The defense also had great role players like Peter Boulware, Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams, Duane Starks and Gary Baxter. The AFC Wild Card game yielded a 21-3 victory over the Broncos in Baltimore. Ex (and future) Bronco TE Shannon Sharpe scored a 53-yard pass on a deflection and the defense shut down the AFC’s highest scoring offense. The divisional playoffs brought the Ravens back to Nashville, and they gave up a 1st quarter touchdown, but then put an end to it. A blocked field goal led to one TD. Then they broke the Titans when Lewis wrestled a pass from running back Eddie George and rumbled 50 yards for a TD. Shots of a dejected George, prone on the ground face buried in the turf told the story. Ravens 24, Titans 10.

They then went west to face the 12-4 Oakland Raiders for the AFC Championship. Baltimore shut down another high-scoring offense, as Rich Gannon was knocked out of the game after being flattened by Siragusa. Shannon Sharpe gave the Ravens all the points they needed by catching a short Dilfer pass and outracing the defense for a 96-yard TD, to this day the longest play from scrimmage in playoff history. Baltimore won 16-3.

Two weeks later they went down to Tampa to face the NFC Champion Giants for Super Bowl XXXV. New York went into the game with 8 straight wins, but the Ravens defense set the tone early, not allowing the Giants to run. A first-quarter TD pass of 38 yards from Dilfer to Brandon Stokley put the Ravens up to stay. A 3rd quarter interception return for a TD by Duane Starks made it 17-0. The Ravens would have become the first team to record a Super Bowl shutout but allowed the Giants Ron Dixon to return the ensuing kickoff for a TD. But they put the game away when Jermaine Lewis returned the following kickoff 84-yards all the way. They eventually made the final score 34-7, and of course it was Ray Lewis who claimed MVP honors.


My response to’s Bracketology

In honor of the upcoming NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament (there’s a Women’s Tournament too), the National Football League’s official website gave us its own “March Madness”. In order to determine the “greatest team of all time”, a 64-team bracket was produced.

The bracket was interesting, and I do plan on voting each round. The team that “advances” is determined by fan vote. With all due respect, though, this bracket, while intriguing, leaves lots to be desired. First is in the caption  over the spot reserved for the “champion” – “Greatest Team of All Time”. That name itself is dishonest. All 64 teams are from the Super Bowl Era. No 1962 Packers, or 1965 Packers, 1960 Eagles, none of the ’50s Browns, or the original Monsters of the Midway.

The most conspicuous absence from this “tournament”, though, is the team on the losing end in perhaps the biggest upset in NFL history – the 1968 Baltimore Colts. That team went 13-1, steamrolled through the NFL playoffs over the Vikings and Browns, and were 19-point favorites for Super Bowl III. Much discussion abounded about where they ranked with the greatest teams ever. The fact that they shot themselves in the foot repeatedly  that January, 1969 day doesn’t negate how dominant of a team they were that season. Also curious was the absence of the 1973 Vikings, who had Fran Tarkenton back in his 2nd stint with the team. That team started 9-0, had the NFC Central wrapped up two weeks before Thanksgiving, and blasted through the NFC playoffs, only to run into a Miami Dolphins buzzsaw in Super Bowl VIII.

The bracket also features 3 teams that didn’t even make it to the Super Bowl. Great teams, sure, but if the 1990 49ers, 1998 Vikings and 2011 Packers belong in this, how do you omit the 1968 Colts? How do you omit them while having the 1981 Bengals on there? 

Since I was wanting to do this anyway, I want to reveal my own building blocks for an upcoming mock tournament. Four more seasons have to complete before I do it. I want to make a 100-team tourney of all Super Bowl participants after the conclusion of Super Bowl L in January 2016. The 50 Super Bowl winners will be ranked 1-50, and seeded accordingly. The 50 Super Bowl losers will also be ranked 1-50, and seeded 51-100.

In the next several blog posts I will reveal my current rankings. Those ranking will stay. The next 4 winners, and losers, will fill out spots and can be squeezed in anywhere. Here now are my #41 through #46 ranked Super Bowl-winning teams:

46. 2011 New York Giants

With all championship teams, give credit where it is due. The Giants got hot when it mattered most. They swept the Cowboys twice in a four-week span to capture the NFC East. They beat a solid Falcons team in the Wild Card round, then went up to Green bay and smoked the 15-1 Packers, making Green Bay the first ever one-and-done 15-1 team. New York beat them soundly 37-20. Then they went all the way to the West Coast and eeked out a tough 20-17 OT victory over the 49ers. Then they overcame the same Patriots team they beat in early November, with some of the same cast they beat in Super Bowl XLII. A remarkable run for a team that looked dead in the water heading into the stretch run.

Which brings me to why they’re right now the lowest ranked champion.They were swept by the last place, 5-11 Washington Redskins, including a 23-10 home loss in mid-December that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. A 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team handed Big Blue a 36-25 loss at the Meadowlands, as did the 8-8 Eagles 17-10. New York was cumulatively outscored 400-394, the only Super Bowl champion with that distinction. They are also the only team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy after allowing at least 25 points per game in the regular season.

45. 1980 Oakland Raiders

This is the first ever world champion with the moniker “wild card team”. Oakland entered Super Bowl XV loose, with the team used to playing under the glare of the championship spotlight. They had many players left over from their Super Bowl XI team – Gene Upshaw, Cliff Branch, Dave Dalby, Henry Lawrence, to name a few. They dominated the favored Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the Superdome, over which was tied a yellow ribbon in honor of the Americans returning home after being held hostage in Iran for over a year. Jim Plunkett, the ultimate NFL comeback story, won MVP honors with 3 touchdown passes.

This was a team many picked to finish in the AFC West cellar, a division many at the time considered the strongest. They finished 11-5, good for 2nd place. The San Diego Chargers captured the AFC West that season due to a net-points-in-division-games tiebreaker over Oakland. They then shut down Earl Campbell and the Oilers 27-7 in the Wild Card round, escaped from Cleveland with a 14-12 victory over the Browns after Sam Rutigliano had Brian Sipe go for a TD late in the game on a pass play called “Red Right 88” that was intercepted in the end zone by safety Mike Davis. Oakland then beat the Chargers 34-27 in San Diego to take the AFC Title.

The Raiders starter heading into the season was Dan Pastorini, acquired in a trade with the Houston Oilers that sent franchise QB Ken Stabler to Houston. They floundered to a 2-3 start, with Pastorini suffering a leg injury in the 5th game, a 31-17 lackluster loss at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. Insert Plunkett, and the Raiders got hot. They won 6 in a row, also riding the exploits of Lester Hayes, the stick-um clad, combative cornerback whose 13 interceptions fell just one short of the all-time league record set by Dick “Night Train” Lane.

So why the low ranking? The 1980 Oakland Raiders had no regular season wins by 20 or more points. Their largest margin of victory was 33-14 over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8. Their only 20+ victory was that wild card win over Houston. Lester Hayes’ secret to success was stripped of him in 1981 when the league outlawed stickum. Hayes still was a decent corner, but not quite as effective without the goo all over his uniform. That Raiders season was also sandwiched by three seasons watching the playoffs from home. Every season is in a way self-contained, but that team seemed to hit lightning in a bottle. They returned to prominence two years later after moving to Los Angeles. That said, I’m not sure if you replay the 1980 playoffs 20 times if the Raiders would come out on top more than two other times.

44. 1987 Washington Redskins

This team, more than any other, seemed to take the Lombardi Trophy by default. They cruised to a 11-4 record to win the NFC East by 3 1/2 games over the Cowboys, Eagles and Cardinals. The defending world champion Giants finished 6-9. They were boosted by a 3-0 record during the replacement games as the only team without a regular player to cross the picket line. Included was a 13-7 win in Dallas on Monday Night Football over the Cowboys who started Danny White, Randy White, Tony Dorsett and Too Tall Jones in that game.

Washington had some disturbing regular season losses: 21-20 at Atlanta where the difference was a blocked extra point, 31-27 at Philadelphia where their pass defense failed them in the clutch, and 30-26 at home to the 6-9 Los Angeles Rams. They went into Chicago to face the Bears for the 2nd straight year in the divisional round. They rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to win 21-17 on the strength of a classic Darrell Green punt-return TD. They were able to travel to Chicago for this round because the 8-7 Vikings destroyed the 12-3 Saints in the wild card game. They were able to avoid the 49ers again after Minnesota upset San Francisco a day before the Redskins win in Chicago. Thus the Redskins were able to host the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings. They held on 17-10 after Darrin Nelson dropped a 4th down pass at the goal line in the final minute. Two weeks later they steamrolled to a historic 35-point 2nd quarter, with Doug Williams throwing 4 TD passes in the period, overcoming all doubters, and Timmy Smith setting a Super Bowl rushing yardage record that stands to this day. They demolished the Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII in San Diego, in a game proving at the time the superiority of the NFC big dogs over the AFC’s best, as well as the fact that matchups often determine who wins.

43. 2007 New York Giants

This team went from on the verge of ousting Tom Coughlin and looking like the worst team in the league, especially on defense, to the team that registered the greatest upset since Super Bowl III. They won on the strength of a front four who could wreak havoc on a pass pocket without extra blitzers, and a quarterback who, although was sometimes erratic, made the plays when it counted most. Eli Manning capped his Super Bowl XLII MVP performance with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left to deny the New England Patriots the first 19-0 season in league history, 17-14.

The Giants were the second team to capture the world championship after winning 3 road playoff games. They finished 10-6 and at the time were tied with the 1988 49ers with the worst regular season winning percentage for a Super Bowl winner. They are also the only Super Bowl winning team with a losing home record, not winning a single game at the Meadowlands after Halloween. Three of those losses featured Eli Manning at his worst, seeming to not yet grasp how to manage the game in the swirling autumn winds in East Rutherford. He gave up 3 interceptions for TDs in a 41-17 loss to the Vikings. They were 7-1 on the road, however, in the regular season. Then they whirled through Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay to reach the big game. They didn’t look the part early, though, giving up 80 points in their first two games. The next two weeks showed their character, though, as a late goal line stand preserved a 24-17 win in Washington. The next week they sacked Donovan McNabb 12 times, including six by Osi Umenyiora, in a 16-3 win over the Eagles at Giants Stadium.

42. 1988 San Francisco 49ers

Their 10-6 record, mentioned above, including a pedestrian 4-4 home mark. This team was the first Super Bowl winner without a winning mark in their own stadium during the regular season. Several of their 6 losses were to league also-rans. The first was a 34-17 drubbing at the hand of the last place Atlanta Falcons at home. Then the 8-8 Broncos stole a 16-13 OT win, catching San Francisco on one of their many off days. They turned a 23-0 lead into a 24-23 loss to the 7-9 Phoenix Cardinals in Arizona. This road loss, on November 6, 1988, would be their last away from Candlestick Park until September . . . of 1991! The next week, though, the mediocre Raiders came to the West Bay and held the Niners to a field goal, winning 9-3. San Francisco was in 3rd place, two games out of first place, then turned it around. They won their next four games and captured the NFC West by winning a 3-way tiebreaker over the Saints and Rams.

Then in the playoffs they turned it up a notch, getting full revenge on the Vikings who unceremoniously ousted them the year before, beating Minnesota handily 34-9. They then got their lone road playoff win in their 18-year success run, 28-3 over the Bears in the NFC Championship game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. Super Bowl XXIII showed what they were about as they overcame a spotty performance of missed opportunities to edge the Bengals 20-16 on a Joe Montana 10-yard TD pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left in Bill Walsh’s final game as head coach.

41. 1970 Baltimore Colts

Several players from that team themselves don’t look at their rings from their Super Bowl V victory over the Dallas Cowboys with much pride. Just watch the “America’s Game” episode about that team. Bill Curry, Mike Curtis and Bubba Smith all were embarrassed by their performance in that game, a 16-13, last-second victory marred by turnovers and penalties, known as the “Blunder Bowl”.

This team, an old NFL franchise, was one of three to join the 10 old American Football League teams to join the new American Football Conference. Their 11-2-1 record was the best in the AFC, but their offense hardly scared anybody. Their defense still could get the job done. They even had a first-year head coach – Don McCafferty, who replaced Don Shula, who went to Miami after an apparent falling out with owner Carroll Rosenbloom.

The Colts ousted the Bengals 17-0 in the divisional round, beat the Raiders 27-17 in the inaugural AFC Championship Game – both in Baltimore, before escaping past the Cowboys in the Orange Bowl.

In my next installment on this topic I will reveal who I ranked 31-40 out of all the Super Bowl winning teams.

Roger Goodell needs to make a devastating example of the Saints

Anyone who is an NFL fan, and some who aren’t, are aware by now of the New Orleans Saints bounty system, or “pay for pain”.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was on the staff from 2009-2011, the time which was the subject of the league’s investigation, which culminated in a 50,000-page document. Cash bonuses were awarded to players who knocked opposing players out of the game due to injury, including bonuses for “cartoffs” or payouts to those whose hits caused players who had to be assisted off the field on a cart.

Many have said the league will come down much harder on the Saints then they did on the New England Patriots in 2007 for Spygate. Before I get into what should be done, though, I need to put a couple of tiresome canards in their place.

First – please stop with the “but this happens all over the league”. So did (or does) steroid use in the NFL and in Major League Baseball. “But Mom, Dad, everyone does it!” This type of rationalization is a fallacy known as the “appeal to common practice“. It’s also a form of moral adolescence. Good parents don’t let their kids get by with that bullshit. Good teachers and principals don’t let students use that. And Roger Goodell shouldn’t allow that lame reasoning to shield the Saints and Gregg Williams from accountability.

Furthermore, how do you know “everyone does it”? I’m not talking about bounties generally. I’m not talking about isolated cases of players targeting opponents in that manner, or of even a coach here and there who from time got carried away. I’m talking about an organized, systematic operation spearheaded by a defensive coordinator, with as many as 27 players participating, running for 3 seasons. Of which the head coach and general manager knew and did nothing to stop. And after the team had been warned by league officials to stop or else. Not to mention the general manager, Mickey Loomis, was ordered by owner Tom Benson to put a stop to it. Loomis ignored Benson’s order, which is blatant insubordination. Why Benson hasn’t yet fired him is beyond me. There is zero evidence of any other team having a whole elaborate system like this in place. So here “everyone else does it” is not fact-based but simply speculation based on belief.

Sometimes widespread practices are things that should be stamped out. And sometimes the only way to make new standards stick is to make a clear, unmistakable example of those who have been caught violating them. Observers need to be put on notice that those with the authority to mete out discipline mean business, and you test them to your own peril. It’s not perfectly fair, but sometimes it’s the only way to send a message that sinks in the right way. Besides, rules against bounties have been in place for a long time.

The second tiresome canard is this: “You might as well make the quarterback wear a skirt”. While I will grant that sometimes the league is overzealous in its efforts to protect quarterbacks and in its rules against hits on “defenseless receivers”, to state that due to this the league should stop emphasizing player safety so much is simply absurd. There’s a reason players are required to wear the equipment they wear, why there are rules against grabbing the facemask, against “spearing”, against taking shots at a quarterback’s knees, against blocking below the waist, chop blocking, clotheslining, etc. It isn’t only because the league is a business. Player safety is a matter of workplace conditions. The game is rough and violent already without players intentionally injuring one another. The league sees it as a moral duty to minimize practices that needlessly expose players to serious injury, and rightfully so. Using the Saints bounty scandal as evidence of the league going “soft” blows your credibility out of the water.

Now: what should be done? Remember, when Goodell instituted his personal conduct policy, he stated, and has reiterated several times over, that coaches and other personnel in positions of authority on will be held to a higher standard than the players. There’s what many think will happen, and there’s what I think.

Gregg Williams is the mastermind of this. His years with the Saints, as well as reports that he ran the same program during his tenure as defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins from 2004-2007, should get him thrown out of the league. Not fined, not suspended. Not even a lengthy suspension. These actions are so egregious, so openly defiant of league rules – even after a league-wide memo warning teams about this, so recklessly disregarding of player safety, and so much an assault against common decency, that to me, nothing less than a lifetime ban is sufficient. Make it easy on the St. Louis Rams, who hired recently hired Williams.

All of this happened under head coach Sean Peyton’s watch. He knew it was going on, and did absolutely nothing to stop it. In the NCAA things like this are considered “lack of institutional control”. There’s nothing yet pointing to him having direct involvement in the bounty program, but it is inexcusable for him not to even lift a finger to nip that hideous practice in the bud. Because he hasn’t been accused of direct involvement, he should serve a lengthy suspension without pay. I wouldn’t oppose him being sidelined for 6 games, although I personally would like to see him shelved for the entire 2012 season. I’ve already stated what I think should have already happened to General Manager Mickey Loomis.

The players involved knew damn well that what they were doing, and that it is wrong, so the Nuremberg defense “I was just following orders” should not fly. I think everyone of the players involved should also be suspended for the entire 2012 season. Not all involved are still on the Saints roster. That makes no difference to me, though. Many still are. The Saints should, in effect, be forced to field a defense full of scout-team players. If that means they surrender 625 points next season, well, all of those involved should have thought of the possible consequences between 2009 and 2011.

Strip them of all of their 2012 draft choices too. Maybe sanctions such as these will be the necessary warning shot fired to remind everyone in the NFL that disgusting practices like this will not be tolerated, and that those caught engaging in them will have no quarter.

Fellow progressives – on the Breibart situation – please hear me out

I also posted this on Daily Kos. His passing today has brought out a lot of strong, emotion-filled reactions, pleas for class, dismissals of the pleas for classiness, and on and on and on.

I’ve seen a few themes today to which I feel I must respond.

I know full well that people will feel what they feel and say what they want to say. I can’t control that. My plea with all of you is that you be willing to see this from another angle.

I’m fully aware of Breitbart’s disgusting, vile comments in the wake of Ted Kennedy’s passing. His activities are well-documented. I also know how ugly people were after George Tiller was murdered. I realize that people on the right base their hatred on delusions and fact-free stories. That said, I would guess that most, if not all of them sincerely believe their stances are based on a righteous cause. That they’re on the side of truth and justice. When the shoe is on the other foot and the same scenarios play out on Free Republic, Red State or another right wing internet watering hole, many probably dismiss admonitions to remain civil and classy as silly just the same as many here did today. Heck, peak at those old comment threads (at your own risk) and you may find pejoratives towards “civility hall monitors” – or whatever terms they may choose, and gripes against “false piety”. They may even had commented that such admonitions amounted to “whitewashing” Kennedy’s or Tiller’s legacies. Remember, many on the right consider Kennedy as the embodiment of evil on the left.

Now many of us were appalled at what Breitbart said after Ted Kennedy died, and equally so at how that was celebrated. Rightfully so. Ask yourselves this, and look at it honestly. How many of us who were appalled at that are now dismissing calls for class and civility on the heels of Breitbart’s death as a kind of phony morality? If you looked at those comments on right-wing blogs and said or thought “stay classy” – why is it now OK for us to behave in the same manner?

Some of you have suggested that Shirley Sherrod and even Jesse LaGreca would of course show magnanimity today because they are public figures and what they say will be put under extra scrutiny. But the rest of us, the rank and file members of an online community who hide behind the anonymity of a screen name, can’t be expected to do the same and are thus justified in making hateful remarks. Let’s not worry our pretty little heads about them. What are the chances of many people reading them anyway?

Remember how disgusting the comments were on the Fox News website in reaction to Whitney Houston’s passing? We were rightly disgusted by them. Many of those comments were also from anonymous posters hiding behind a screen name.

Since when do we advance our cause or exercise self-improvement by holding ourselves to a lower standard? I thought being progressive meant belief in progress, in both the human race and in our own personal lives.

Let me expand on the self-improvement and standards of behavior a little bit. Some of you commended Shirley Sherrod for being a graceful, classy person, and were right to do so. What you then did after was lament how you couldn’t be as classy and graceful as her. Maybe you’re right and I also don’t hold a candle to her when it comes to that. but could it possibly be that we find conducting ourselves in that manner difficult and thus, leave it untried? Are we sure we aren’t selling ourselves short here. Would it kill us to at least aspire to that?

Another disturbing thing about today is how a few have now “lost a little respect for” Jesse LaGreca or hold him in lower esteem now due to his reactions to what transpired today. Some were so cynical about his diary they insinuated less than noble motives for him posting it, as “trying to impress somebody” – as if he were selling out. A couple of commenters used the occasion to dig up a few comments and diaries he previously wrote to accuse him of rank hypocrisy, as if things said in the heat of a tense debate are the same as doing the equivalent of an endzone dance after an adversary dies.

Come again? Jesse LaGreca will continue to be a feisty, unapologetic advocate for truth, for justice, equality, and for those who don’t have access to wealth and power. He’s about to get his own show, and I say that his comments today reflect someone who will be highly respected by many for his efforts. He may not win over the establishment, but that’s not his goal.

I myself am far from perfect in these things. I have used incendiary rhetoric in the past. Sometimes I still do. Sometimes it was uncalled for. Not every incidence of it warrants us getting the vapors. Still, we would do well to look to the example of Jesse, Shirley Sherrod, and Media Matters on how to comport ourselves.

Acknowledging the humanity of a political foe who is no longer with us, even a foe who often engaged in the politics of personal destruction and who failed or refused to see the humanity of us, is not “whitewashing” that person’s history. It’s not papering over anything. It’s simply being a decent human being.