January 17, 2005
Corey Dillon:
Sustained Pats O with 144 yards. Look ahead: Biggest difference between next week and Week 8, when the Pats lost at PIT? Dillon didn't play. (Watch out.) QUICKIE LIVE! 9-10 a.m.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Fans backed the wrong guy.

We supported Peyton Manning and doubted Bill Belichick, when it should have been the other way around. Peyton stinks. Stinks!

Don't let anyone fool you: This absolutely diminishes his record-breaking regular season.

An opportunity for the ages turned into yet another Peyton dud, which -- having spent the weekend in Gainesville -- reminded me of the big games he's lost all the way back to his college days.

He's the solo equivalent of what the Eagles are as a team: A choker when it counts most. A big-game patsy. Frankly, a loser.

But he would have won the game at home in the dome! The whine of the ignorant. Winning in the snow at Foxboro -- ending the Pats dynasty -- was precisely the moment for him to seize.

Instead, he seized up.

Wasting away in Marino-ville?

Worse: Choking in "Pey-town."

And still champs ...
"Pey-a" culpa: On behalf of the overwhelming majority of fans who thought the Colts would beat the Patriots, here's a nervous laugh -- and a reflexive switch to Pats praise.

The Pats have had more important wins during their four-year dynasty -- you know, like two Super Bowl wins.

But no win was more IMPRESSIVE than Sunday's.

The Pats made Peyton look like Eli. Meanwhile, you'd never know the Pats offense was playing in the frigid flurries.

With one three-hour stretch of domination, the Pats re-established themselves as the NFL's team to beat; they re-asserted their dynasty; and they silenced the doubters.

Best evidence? Early poll results have ESPN.com consumers favoring the Patriots over the Steelers 63 percent to 37. Big switch from last week's anti-Pats bandwagon.

So "silenced" is inaccurate; the Pats have turned doubters into cheerleaders.

What Next?
Early conventional wisdom:

AFC Champ game: Pats/Pitt
Two great Ds: Take the under.

NFC Champ game: For Birds
Eagles: Most. Pressure. Ever.

For must-read early analysis, check out Clayton and Pasquarelli's AFC and NFC previews (see Q It Up).

Tedy Bruschi: 2 takeaways; given on behalf of whole Pats D
Allen Rossum: Atlanta punt returner sets record (152 yds)
World Hockey Ass'n: sees NHL mess as revival moment?
Kobe Bryant: Out 5 games (AND Lakers better without him)
UNC: No. 1? Not even in ACC, where Wake thumped 'em
Michelle Wie: Misses Sony cut; get 'em next year, girl!
Eagles Roll
In Philly, a division round win doesn't mean squat. A 27-14 win pock-marked with lucky plays is simply the preview before "Not Another NFC Title Game in Philly," a movie we've all seen before. WAY too many times.

Choke Bowl IV? Even without T.O., I'm not sure the city's psyche can handle another loss on the outside-looking-in of a Super Bowl. That pressure looms much bigger than anything the Falcons might bring.

As for Freddie Mitchell: The Eagles WR wants attention like T.O. or Randy Moss so bad, he has to resort to derivative TD celebrations (like pantomiming pulling up his pants) to stake a claim. (2 TDs? Not bad.)

Falcons Win Big
Let Vick Be Vick: Jim Mora Jr.'s eventual comfort with this strategy is a main reason Falcons are a game away from the Super Bowl as Atlanta's outstanding defense or scintillating special teams.

119 rush yards/2 pass TDs: Those were exactly the stats that most fans thought would be necessary for the Falcons to win (though many can quibble why he was still running plays after the game was out of reach).

Steelers Survive
More sighs of relief than cheers out of Blitzburgh, which managed to look downright ordinary in stealing a win from the hapless Jets.

As for Big Ben? For a national audience, most of whom were getting their first look at him, he didn't just look ordinary; he looked mediocre. Good luck with that Pats D, rookie.

Leinart Returning
Decision to stay at USC guarantees one of two equally superlative outcomes:

Best college QB ever. Or ...

Biggest mistake ever.

And, hey: If he wins a second Heisman and third national title, but suffers a career-ending injury in the national-title game, we could see both!

Nash for MVP
Best evidence yet: Look at how only so-so the Suns are without him! 83 points in a L vs. the Pacers; a collapse/loss to the Wizards. He gets my MVP vote for what he hasn't done as much as what he has.

PHX's differential between Nash and No-Nash is lottery and 70 wins; can that be said about any other player in the league? No, not Duncan, KG, Shaq, Kobe or even LeBron.

Jack Johnson Doc
Long before Moss or T.O., Barkley or Bonds, there was boxing champ Jack Johnson, the best athlete of his generation and a sports superstar whose maddening of the masses had as much impact as his punches.

"Unforgiveable Blackness" should have made my list of 2004's best sports books -- but the companion PBS documentary airing tonight and Tuesday (with a possible ESPN flick later this year) is worth your time, too.

Jets K
Doug Brien:

47 and 43 weren't exactly easy kicks. But when you get two cracks and can't deliver, perhaps NY might create a reality-TV show looking for a new kicker.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live!
NFL: AFC Champ preview
NFL: NFC Champ preview
Ranking NFL Contenders
Re-assume rightful place
Got lucky. VERY lucky
Can Philly stop Vick?
Way too much pressure
Get HFA in 2005!

The NFL's coin-toss OT policy is sports' biggest embarrassment; but you won't see change until a "Coin Toss Super Bowl champ" is ruined by it ...

Delgado watch: Marlins offering 3-yr/$34-mil? Wow. Unlikely to see that outrageous offer matched (but with New Mets' new math, never know) ...

Transitive property, college hoops edition: Wake beat UNC; Illinois thumped Wake. Very hard to take any team over No. 1 Illini right now ...

Armageddon approaches? The Wizards are the second-best team in the East (and arguably top 5 in the NBA). DC beat the Suns and have won 7 in row; but Larry Hughes out 4-6 weeks ...

College FB all-star game winners: Louisville QB Stefan LeFors (3 TDs in only a quarter); Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield (2 TDs) ...

Nene and Kandi picked the wrong season to get into a brawl; the NBA hit each with a 4-game suspension ...

Early NFL polling from ESPN.com users: PHI over ATL (57-43), NE over PIT (63-37) ...

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