While I’m pleased that Tony Dungy, whom I have long admired and wanted as a Vikings head coach since before he departed for points south, finally gets a crack at the big game, I’m disappointed that the Colts are there because they simply don’t deserve to be.
A lot of people have been commenting on how the officiating has been so much better in this year’s playoffs, but there were two reprehensible calls and two questionable ones in the AFC Championship game, all of which went in the Colts favor.
1. The utterly ridiculous “face-guarding” pass interference call that gave the Colts first-and-goal on the 1 instead of third-and-seven on the 19. This isn’t debatable, as according to league official Dean Blandino, who was in the replay booth at the game “Ellis Hobbs should not have been flagged for pass-interference. He didn’t make contact with the receiver and in no way did Hobbs impede Reggie Wayne’s ability to catch the pass.”
It was as bad a call as the “illegal block” call against Matt Hasselbeck in the last Super Bowl.
2. This was compounded by the no-call on the pass interference in the Colts end zone. New England ended up kicking a field goal, if I recall correctly; that’s a four-point difference right there.
3. The pass-interference call on Troy Brown. That pick-play is a common one, it’s the same thing that the Saints used to free Reggie Bush on his long touchdown against the Bears.
4. The roughing-the-passer call on Tully Banta-Cain. However, the officials have been making these ticky-tack calls all year, so no surprise there.
I wasn’t impressed with either Manning or Belichick. Manning, to his credit, didn’t quit when he was down, but neither did he pull an Elway or a Montana. A quarterback who can’t even bear to watch the other team drive is simply not a mentally tough one, Manning is unquestionably talented and a very hard worker, but he’s neither a leader nor a clutch performer.
Belichick uncharacteristically choked, in my opinion. He made bad decisions on two critical occasions, on third-and-4 with 3:22 remaining and after the two-minute warning with the Colts on the NE 11. In both cases, he placed his bet on the exhausted New England defense rather than Brady and the offense; I couldn’t believe the pass and punt on third and fourth downs when two runs would have given a much higher probability of success and given the Colts the ball where they could be held to a field goal without burning up the entire clock.
And if Belichick had ordered the defense to permit Addai to score on the inevitable run up the middle after the two-minute warning, the Patriots would have had the ball, a high probability of decent field position, two minutes, all its timeouts and a Colts team dreading another 4th-quarter Tom Brady march.
I think the Super Bowl will be better than most people are expecting. I wouldn’t go so far as to predict a Bears victory, but I expect a Bears win if the game is close in the 4th quarter. Rex Grossman, for all that he is a frighteningly erratic disaster, strikes me as more likely to show up when he’s needed most than Peyton Manning.
But if the Colts can crack the Bears defense early, I think they’ll roll to a runaway victory in the best tradition of the 80’s Super Bowls. Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that in most Super Bowls, the great defense knocks off the great offense. The Bears defense was weak towards the end of the season, but the one that showed up last weekend at Soldier Field looked as if they had invoked the spirit of 1985.