New England Patriots at Denver Broncos, 1/14/06
Point Spread: Denver -3
My recording kicks in with the CBS pre-game show. Dan Marino is disrespecting Tommy Brady in a pre-game interview with questions like, "Are the Patriots the greatest dynasty in NFL history?" Marino learns that Tommy has become more vocal with his teammates this season. Why? He "has the respect of the guys." As does his butt-like chin.
We go to Invesco Field in Denver. Our first fan sign of the game says, "Cooking Brady Soup: We Want a SUPER BOWL Of It". OK, so the sign spells out the name of the network, awkwardly, in three of its ten words, so congratulations for that. That sign is weird, not very catchy, and frankly a little bit gross. Are the Bronco fans going to resort to cannibalism to end the New England dynasty? The sign is being held up by at least four people, because the slogan is just that good.
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are announcing the game today. Last week, Simms got embarrassed when Nantz called him out for saying "Cincinna-tuh", and then Nantz felt bad and talked at length about how much he enjoys hearing Phil's Kentucky drawl. Then the two of them started making out.
Simms is very excited to be at the game. He says he's excited, mentions how much excitement there is in the stadium, and says he's excited again. It apepars he's also wearing a pink shirt.
Some company sponsors the pre-game Points (I forgot to write it down, and they don't pay me) which are entirely free of content. The Points are "Confident, Almost Cocky" and "Assert Your Will". To make them even more meaningless, Simms says the Points apply to both teams equally.
New England's offense: They can handle the blitz
Denver's defense: Blitz!
So, make whatever you want out of that one.
Denver's offense: Wear the Patriots down with running back Mike Anderson.
New England's defense: "It's all about the linebackers"
I feel smarter already. By the way, Phil Simms attended Morehead State University. He was also in Tau Kappa Epsilon, a fraternity whose Berkeley chapter is producing Stand Up For Stand-Up.
Denver's punter, Todd Sauerbrun, kicks off. Sauerbrun was allegedly a steroid user while he played for Carolina, and some speculated that his move to high-altitude Denver (and the steroids) might lead to some punting records. He might have set some, but since he's a punter, no one cares.
The Broncos line up for an eight-man blitz, which causes a New England false start. Or the crowd noise does. Safety John Lynch breaks through the line and disrespects Tommy with a celebratory fist pump. Tommy responds with a series of mocking fist pumps of his own. It's pretty funny.
In both games today, TV cameras have caught foamhead wearers among the home crowds. The Broncos foamhead is even more glorious on television, like a might foam steed ready to burst from the fan's head.
The Patriots seem to be hassling the referees quite a bit today. I haven't seen them very much this year, but it seems uncharacteristic from what I remember.
One thing the Patriots seem to excel at is beating blitzes by throwing screens. They killed Philly with them in last year's Super Bowl, and early on, they've done it to Denver as well. Denver is sending a lot of rushers at Brady on a consistent basis.
First bold coaching move of the game: New England goes for it on 4th-and-1 at the Denver 36. They don't get it, but I really like this decision. It's a difficult field goal, and a punt doesn't get you much in the way of field position. Most coaches aren't secure enough to do it, especially in the first quarter.
Ten minutes into the game, Jake Plummer still hasn't thrown an interception.
Plummer runs for seven yards and a first down. It was fast. Fast like a snake. Two seconds later, Simms says, "You see why he's called 'Jake the Snake'." I want to hear more variations. Plummer's run betrayed the defense again. He's poisoned that blitz with a venomous quick-read. Plummer takes a serpentine route through the defensive line.
Tommy Brady hits linebacker Al Wilson in the chest with a pass at his own five-yard line, but Wilson shows the proper respect by dropping the ball. On the next play, Tommy nearly tricks the Broncos, who are disrespectfully pointing at an apparent false start, but his receiver runs the wrong route and New England has to punt.
The first quarter ends in a scoreless tie.
A graphic shows that Mike Shanahan has a career record of 7-4 in the playoffs. That is pretty good, except when you consider that he went 7-0 in 1998-99. Basically, Denver has not won a playoff game since the Super Bowl against Atlanta, nearly six years ago. Shanahan is 7-1 when he has John Elway and Terrell Davis on his team, and 0-3 without them.
Jake Plummer's enormous, scraggly beard is even bigger than Johnny Damon's old one, though his hair is a little shorter. I'm not sure the chin strap on his helmet even works properly, given how much hair is in the way. I like to think Dan Fouts watches him and weeps with pride. As an added bonus, Plummer's miniature CBS picture still features his porn 'stache, not the full beard, so fans can enjoy both incarnations of Jake.
Also, with nearly seventeen minutes elapsed, Plummer is 6/8, and still hasn't thrown a pick.
Homoerotic Sports Commentary, Part I (courtesy of Tyler): "And the Broncos have their deepest penetration of the night".
Belichick's second controversial move comes when he accepts a holding penalty on third down, to try and push the Broncos out of field goal range. This backfires when Plummer converts the subsequent 3rd-and-17 play.
New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is listed at 325 pounds, but he appears to be at least 25 pounds heavier than that. Simms says Wilfork is on the "All Space-Eater Team". Shakespeare would have put him on the "All As-Fat-As-Butter Team".
Psychic Simms: Simms correctly predicts a QB sneak on 3rd-and-1 near the NE goal line. Unfortunately for Denver, so does the Patriot defense. Plummer is chastised for failing to push hard enough with his legs, which is a weakness he shares with snakes.
Second bold coaching move of the game: Denver passes up the chip shot field goal and throws into the end zone on fourth down. It's kind of a crappy play. Simms would have called a bootleg.
Tommy Brady gets drilled on a blitz, except it's another false start. The Patriots have three false starts and have also called a time out due to crowd noise. Denver fans have no respect at all.
The no-INT streak ends on the next possession, when Asante Samuel makes an excellent play to pick off a pass at the 10, and gets both feet down in bounds. It's initially called an incompletion, but overturned on review. Way to, replay booth! Tommy throws a 54-yard bomb on the very next play, which validates Gregg Easterbrook's theory about the benefit of throwing long immediately following a turnover, betting that the defense will be disoriented.
Homoerotic Sports Commentary, Part II: "Good blocking on the backside."
Playoff god Adam Vinatieri makes an ugly 40-yard field goal, and the Pats are on the board. CBS puts up a mean graphic about how Denver has been outscored 69-6 in the first half of their last three playoff games. Ouch.
One thing CBS does really well is putting together montages of crucial or related plays, and getting it ready very quickly. I am picking on Simms, but the telecast is much, much better than FOX's production, which can't be fully ascribed to the absence of The Goose.
Kevin Faulk runs for a first down, but disappointing former #1 draft pick Courtney Brown strips the ball. The Patriots never seem to lose fumbles in the playoffs.
The Broncos follow the Easterbrook Doctrine and throw deep on their first play. The pass is incomplete, but Asante Samuel is called for pass interference, though the flag is thrown while the players are already walking back to the huddle. It's a close call, but defensible. I would be pissed if I were a Patriots fan, that's for sure.
The ball goes to the one, and running back Mike Anderson takes it in. Mike Anderson has his full name on the back of his jersey for some reason. At first, I figure that Denver has another "M. Anderson" on the roster, but the Internet says they don't have any other Anderson besides him. So, the only conclusion I can draw is that Mike Anderson is really eccentric. The name barely fits, since it's twelve letters and a space. The "M" kind of extends around to his triceps. 7-3, Denver.
Just after Simms says that New England's ability to recover fumbles makes them "who they are", the jacked-up Todd Sauerbrun forces a fumble on the kickoff return. Two lost fumbles in 18 seconds of game time. Denver takes over at the 40. I think Sauerbrun has to be the front-runner for Peter King's Special Teams Player of the Week award, though with all due respect, it should go to Tommy Brady.
Tyler writes: "That fumble was a bad idea. And that one, too."
Fearing another surprise long pass, Belichick calls "a good time out". That phrase is ubiquitous among basketball announcers, but rarely heard in football. If Doug Collins were working this game, he's be very disappointed in how New England is finishing quarters.
The Broncos cash in with a 50-yard field goal that only barely clears the crossbar. The Patriots scream at the officials about what they thought was a false start. The team really does not look poised. I enjoy that the stadium audio announces that "That Broncos field goal is brought to you by -" before a panicked CBS producer cuts the audio feed, to avoid giving away free advertising.
Going into the half, it's Denver 10, New England 3.
Bonnie Bernstein interviews Shanahan on his way to the locker room. Bonnie is wearing a wacky pink-and-white fur coat-and-hat ensemble, but she still looks cute. Also looking fine are the Denver cheerleaders. Unlike the Seattle cheer squad, who dressed in heavy rain gear, the Broncos cheerleaders are wearing these outfits that look like slutty versions of WAC uniforms. Awesome. Anyway, Shanahan says Denver got lucky, they need to score in the red zone, and to improve their stagnant running attack, they need to throw the ball.
The cheerleaders have changed into orange outfits that kind of look like cut-off flight attendant uniforms. Possibly these are just different cheerleaders, and the WACs are stationed elsewhere.
Not-So-Psychic Simms: "It's a fake blitz! Maybe!" (Ed. note: It was a real blitz.)
With nine minutes left in the third quarter, Tommy is 11/21 passing, though it still seems like he's doing way better than that. I'm not trying to disrespect him with math. New England drives for a field goal, and it's 10-6, Broncos. CBS takes three minutes of commercials, comes back for the kickoff, and then takes another two minutes of commercials.
New England's offense is kicking ass right now. They threw a long pass, then ran a flea-flicker, and in four plays, they've gone 73 yards. However, another false start backs them up to the Denver 10. First and goal.
They run my least favorite overused play of 2005, the wide receiver screen at the line of scrimmage, or WRSATLOS. As usual, this play fails. It seems to only work for Steve Smith of the Panthers. At least it wasn't a fake reverse.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Well, probably, though it's only the third quarter still. Brady gets pressured, and tries to force a pass to Troy Brown. DB Champ Bailey intercepts the pass in the end zone and runs it back about 100 yards. However, he slows down significantly inside the ten-yard line, and NE tight end Ben Watson, hustling his ass off, catches him at the two, knocking him out of bounds and forcing a fumble. The officials spot the ball at the one. Bailey had no idea anyone was there, and it was pretty amazing that Watson made it. Somewhere, Leon Lett just started crying.
Belichick challenges the ruling, arguing that Bailey fumbled the ball out of the end zone, which would give New England a touchback, and they'd take over on their own 20. Jim Nantz and I agree that the evidence is less than conclusive, but Phil Simms thinks he can figure it out. He hypothesizes that if you could draw a line from where Bailey lost the ball to where it ended up, you could tell if the ball went into the end zone. As CBS runs the reply over and over, Simms repeatedly tries to draw this magical line with the Telestrator, all while he rambles on about the physics of his demonstration. Morehead State University. After his efforts come to naught, Simms wistfully mutters, "Gee, I wish I could draw a better line." The referees also lack magical line-drawing ray-tracing software, and the play stands. Belichick has only two times out remaining.
Simms and Nantz let Bailey off the hook, because he looked pretty tired. However, I think you could argue that he was showboating, so he lucked out here. Ben Watson is well on his way to becoming a folk hero. On the next play, Mike Anderson runs it in, and Denver leads 17-6.
Would having "Michael Anderson" on the jersey be too ridiculous? How about adding a middle initial, just so there's absolutely no confusion?
Tom Selleck! Stephen Baldwin! It's Jesse Stone: Night Passage, only on CBS!
A big run by Corey Dillon ends the third quarter. Denver is up by 11, and against the spread, they're ahead by 8.
Willie McGinest is fighting teammate Larry Izzo on the sidelines. Phil Simms says it's OK. "Pushin' and shovin'. Jawin' and yellin'." He does not mention hootin' or hollerin'.
New England continues to do well with screen passes, and to move down the field pretty easily. Denver seems to trust its defensive backs on single coverage, and though it's not always working, they do seem to be in Tommy's face constantly. Then they send different guys to rush on each play, and it has to be confusing. Occasionally Tommy's passes aren't even close to their target, but that's clearly the receiver's fault, I'm sure. When Denver rushes eight guys on a 3rd-and-4, Troy Brown appears to be open in the end zone, but he must have been off his route, because Tommy overthrows him. Phil "Captain Physics" Simms blames the altitude for the pass going too high. Seriously, he really does.
Brady seems to get hit really hard every possession, yet the Broncos still don't have a sack.
The drive stalls, and playoff god Adam Vinatieri comes in to cut the lead to eight. Except - he misses, wide right. Pigs take off and soar over the rim of Invesco Field. Dogs and cats begin living together. I consider watching Jesse Stone: Night Passage.
This is the first time I believe that New England is going to lose this game.
Terrell Owens appears in a comemrcial for some company called Boost mobile. Maybe Drew Rosenhaus really is a good agent.
Instead of saying "one-possession game", couldn't the announcer just say, "eight-point lead"? Is that so hard?
Plummer completes a high pass to Lelie for a first down. Possibly his experience in Denver allows him to adjust for the altitude. Simms reminds us that first downs are good because you gain yardage, you get to control the clock, and you don't have to give the ball to the other team. It reminds me of last week, when Joe Theisman informed the viewing public that running back Clinton Portis wanted to "run that as far as he can." Football fans sometimes need a reminder that moving the ball forward is good.
Phil Simms really likes to say "two-possession game", and here he emphasizes that, given two possessions, New England could tie or win.
I don't feel comfortable with the Burger King sullying the glory of Steve Young's miracle run against the Vikings in 1988. Especially since they edit it down so you miss the elements that made it so great, like Young dodging the same linebackers more than once. It's good to know that Jerry Rice is just as dedicated to blocking downfield when it's the Burger King running, however.
10:21 to go, and Denver punts from New England's 42. It looks like New England is trying for the punt block, not even putting back a return man. Also Troy Brown is on the field, even though Tim Dwight has been returning kicks so far. I'm not sure if the announcers acknowledger it, because this is the point where Tivo's recording shifts to "The Fifth Quarter", and I miss a crucial two seconds of game footage. The new recording shifts back to Troy Brown fumbling the punt, and Denver's center recovers the fumble at the 15. The announcers make a big deal about how the man who snapped the ball recovered the fumble, but...the punt only went 30 yards.
Bill Belichick reacts with remarkable restraint, just throwing down what appears to be a crumpled paper cup. Though, I guess he's the one who decided Troy Brown should try to sprint back and catch the punt, instead of just letting it bounce, so he only has himself to blame.
On second-and-7, Mike Anderson fights his way forward for a first down. Willie McGinest misses the tackle. man, it seems like all the old Patriot heroes are screwing up in this game. Vinatieri missed a kick, Tommy threw an interception in the end zone, Troy Brown fumbled, and McGinest got into a fight on the sidelines as well. We only need footage of Teddy Bruschi beating his children to complete the decline.
The Snake throws a TD pass to Rod Smith from the 4. It's 24-6, and I write "Game over" in my notebook. On this play, the Patriots were deceived by a fake to Ron Dayne. I'm no defensive coordinator, but I'm pretty sure you don't have to pay extra attention to Ron Dayne.
Las Vegas Update! Denver is up 15, counting the spread. So, for Las Vegas purposes, it's still a two-possession game.
Tom Selleck is apparently an Emmy winner. The Internet tells me he won for Magnum, P.I back in 1984. Sadly, neither T.C. nor Rick were ever nominated.
Tommy connects on a long bomb to Deion Branch, that goes for 73 yards. Boy, you'd think you'd want to look out for the deep pass if you're up by 18, huh? Tommy takes a huge hit, although I don't think he's been sacked. Sacks might just be a little bit overrated. On replay it shows that Dever was only rushing three guys, so their defense was pretty much designed to stop this exact play. and Brady completed it anyway.
With 8:05 remaining, David Givens catches a touchdown pass, which gives him his seventh consecutive playoff game with a touchdown. 24-13, Denver. More importantly, Simms and Nantz can start repeating "two-possession game" again.
Homoerotic Sports Commentary, Part III: "Seems like the back of the end zone is always open."
The Broncos get the ball back, and Plummer promptly throws to Rod Smith for 42 yards. What I always liked about Mike Shanahan, even back when he coached for the 49ers, is his aggression. Many coaches would be running the ball every play in this situation, just trying to kill the clock. Shanahan likes to put his foot on the other team's throat. Shanahan is like the anti-Schottenheimer.
Jake Plummer has been making good decisions all night...like a snake.
Homoerotic Commentary, Part IV - The Quest for Peace: Simms tells us that Armen Ketayian (who he calls "Big Armen") is "gonna be looking good on the sidelines" at tomorrow's Pittsburgh-Indianapolis game. Seconds later, he mentions that Jake Plummer's father's beard is "a lot neater, trimmer, and better-looking than Jake's."
Simms thinks Papa Plummer looks like Hemingway. Nantz replies with, "And his son's writing a pretty good script for himself tonight!" Like Hemingway, I kind of want to shoot myself.
Jason Elam makes another field goal to make it 27-13. It's still a two-possession game, but the gambling drama is over, since there's no way New England will score exactly 11 more points.
The cheerleaders are in yet another outfit. Seriously, are they changing at every quarter break? Is there going to be anything left for next week's game?
Tommy Brady hasn't lost a playoff game since high school, and that was a baseball game. He's hit as he throws (the four most exciting words in football are "hit as he throws") and safety John Lynch picks off the pass. Props to CBS for having a camera isolated on Lynch for the whole play.
Fan signs: Cancel Brady's Season. Better, and less cannibalistic.
Talking about Troy Brown and the punt, Bonnie Bernstein says "muff". Huh huh.
Denver runs out the clock, and the final score is Denver 27, New England 13. John Lynch celebrates by donning an unspeakably ugly visor. The Broncos won it with their defense, and despite some controversial calls in their favor, they earned the victory. Simms thinks Pittsbrugh needs "an out-of-body experience" to beat the Colts tomorrow, and Nantz tells Simms how much he enjoyed doing the broadcast with him. And then they start making out.