Saturday, July 23, 2016

RamView, 7/23/2016: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

RamView, July 23, 2016
Legends of the Dome Game: White 56, Blue 49

St. Louis Rams, 1995-2015. RIP. Thanks for the memories.

Just a generic Dome again, as it was in 1995
So the occasion here is today's Legends of the Dome game, a flag football game starring a couple of dozen former St. Louis Rams players, and put together by Isaac Bruce, a man far more decent than the league he played in, to raise money for his charitable foundation and to give fans and players a chance to thank each other for the good times. I came into this event completely regarding it as a funeral, but Isaac and company pulled it off. It was a fun event.

Position by position:
* QB: Let me tell you, Marc Bulger (of the winning White team) can still wing it. He threw an 80-yard TD to Torry Holt that he placed perfectly between two deep defenders, and he dropped a perfect 35- or 40-yard pass right in the bucket to Torry that turned into another long TD. Also, by scrambling for a couple of gains, I believe he exceeded his NFL career rushing total. Kurt Warner's game showed a little more, um, maturity. His passes still have the classic Warner Wobble and I think a number of the back-shoulder throws he made weren't meant to be back-shoulder throws. Still, the first time he hit Isaac Bruce deep down the sideline, it was 1999 again. Unfortunately, Kurt threw the most near-picks and the game's only pick, in the end zone by Tony Horne (!), and you'd have to call that the play that decided the game. After three quarters, Brenda Warner (who was actually in attendance) made Mike Martz pull Kurt out of the game (j/k), and the final TD scored in the Dome by an NFL player was scored by... Dave Barr, who scrambled in from the 3 for the Blue team as time expired. Raise your hand if you knew Dave Barr was a St. Louis Ram, but that's a tribute to Isaac that such a broad range of players from St. Louis Rams history came here to be part of this event.
Kurt scans the field

Marc scans the field
* RB: Arlen Harris was the only true RB in the game, and I believe he scored a TD. The rushing star, though, had to be Adam Timmerman, who scored his first Dome TD I believe on a direct snap (tricky Martz) and got another carry off a fumblerooksi play (tricky Martz again). Those might have been the only handoffs all game (meaning Martz was right at home).
Touchdown, Timmerman!!
* Receivers: A number of the guys really look like they can still play. Torry Holt scored 3 or 4 TDs and looked like a coil ready to spring every time he lined up. Az Hakim turned a short pass into an 85-yard TD, bringing back memories of opening Monday night 2000, even if he didn't have teammate Torry convoying with him this time. Brandon Manumaleuna scored a TD, making him the most useful Rams TE to play in the Dome since, well, Brandon Manumaleuna. Dane Looker caught a TD and threw for another, a downright bullet to (I think) Tony Horne. (Tricky Dickie V. this time). Tony seemed to have gone into the witness protection program after the Greatest Show days, so it was nice to see him alive and well and looking good. But only one receiver was truly (M)money, today's secret weapon, Jeff Wilkins, who caught two TDs from Warner and lined up in the backfield a lot. That's about the only guy Martz didn't get the ball to during the Greatest Show, so he made up for it today. Isaac Bruce scored the Blue team's first TD, caught half a dozen deep digs and was open deep any time he wanted, but even though this was his game, his foundation, his brainchild, you weren't ever going to see him complaining about not getting the ball. That's just Isaac Bruce. He was the perfect person to put this game together for this city. Also playing: Rickey Proehl, Roland Williams and Shaun McDonald. Ernie Conwell was in attendance but I don't think he played.
Tony (alive and well) Horne
Torry celebrates another TD. Timmerman and McCollum also did this after Adam's TD, a pic I regret I didn't get

Torry off to the races again...
...for yet another Bob 'n Weave
* Offensive line: Orlando Pace was honored at halftime for his upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame, and he also got what was said to be his first touch in the Dome on one of the White team's multiple lateral adventures. In case Timmerman's career change to goal line back wasn't amusing enough, there was also the play where he got a lateral and then lateraled it away to fellow Donut Brother Andy McCollum. Chris Massey, fittingly, was one of the snappers. Wayne Gandy and Grant Williams also took the field.
Hall-of-Famer Orlando Pace

* Defensive line/LB: The line combat was roughly as intense as it is at any given Pro Bowl. Most of the time, it was get out of your stance, stand there, try to knock down the pass. Sean Landeta was a pass rusher for a few plays, for cryin' out loud. The one violator of the Pro Bowl rule was Jeff Zgonina. Zgonina's that kid in your pick-up game who believes the U.S. has a state called “Misp” instead of giving the proper 3-Mississippi count, so he had Bulger on the run a few times. Mike Jones is built a little more like a DT these days than a LB (hey, so am I), but you could see the old instincts kick in. He tossed enemy flags to the turf with enthusiasm. One of my favorite plays: on the goal line, Bulger dumped off to Roland Williams but Mike Jones downed him right around the two-yard line and threw his flag down with glee. Of course Mike Jones was going to make the stop in that part of the field! Also playing: D'Marco Farr, Ray Agnew, Tommy Polley, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Chris Draft. D'Marco got a cool tribute during the game in the form of a legends-of-the-game video like the one that used to show during games here for Deacon Jones. To be honest, “tackling” wasn't any worse than it was in a good half of the current team's games last season.
Ray Agnew
Wild-eyed Samoan boy Pisa Tinoisamoa
D'Marco Farr may be sending this game tape to the league office. They'll just say the referees were 100% correct anyway, like they always do
* Secondary: They weren't exactly playing press-cover out there. Receivers got large cushions, and, just like the Greatest Show days, the dig route was wide open just about any time either offense wanted it. It was fun watching Aeneas Williams mug Tony Horne at the line a couple of times so he wouldn't have to chase him around. Aeneas had a certain INT clang off his hands later. Dre Bly and Mike Furrey also had what I'll generously call pass breakups. WRs were pressed into playing DB and vice versa, so the game's key play was Tony Horne's end zone INT. His White team was already up a TD at the time and they stayed in front from there. It was very cool to see Isaac lined up in coverage against Torry late in the game, but Bulger didn't throw that way any of the times I saw those two squaring off. Dexter McCleon, Keith Lyle, Billy Jenkins and Rich Coady also played, as did Cliff Crosby, who scored a TD on offense.
Hall-of-Famer Aeneas Williams: still sticky in coverage, if not always legal
Cliff Crosby dives for paydirt
* Strategery: Al Saunders was Vermeil's assistant coach. Martz's was the legend, Jim Hanifan, who is 82 years old, needs a cane to get around and needed a chair to sit in on the sideline, but who made damn sure he was there for this event all the same. How do we get Hanny into the Hall of Fame? In one of the game's biggest surprises, Martz actually saved all his timeouts for the end of the half. After all the years, shoot, he fixed that!

Mike Martz
Four wide!
Dick Vermeil and Al Saunders

Jim Hanifan and Brenda Warner

* Upon further review: The referees were all volunteers and didn't do much besides spot the ball. Not a single flag was thrown, even though there were some false starts and (friendly) muggings in coverage. Wilkins got knocked down after one catch, which you'd think would be a penalty in flag football. Eh, they were still better than Jeff Triplette would have been. Grade: A-minus
At the coin toss (Jackie Joyner-Kersee in red shirt)
* Cheers: I estimate at least 10,000 fans came out; higher attendance than that would not surprise me. Fun moments during the game included Zgonina chasing down Hakim while he showboated at the end of his long TD, Mike Furrey getting his shorts pulled down on a tackle (thank goodness for compression pants), and me thinking that was Rickey Proehl for a full quarter afterward. In my defense, they're both bald white guys wearing #87 jerseys. Just about every player praised and thanked St. Louis fans at some point, whether by pre-taped video or on-field interview. On behalf of all of us, aw shucks, no, thank YOU. As 10,000 of us in blue got replaced downtown by 40,000 in red heading to tonight's Cardinals-Dodgers game, a friendly but clueless woman on Broadway rolled down her car window and asked, what was going on in there? Why are there so many people wearing Rams shirts?

Yep. Still a baseball town.

Post-game team picture

Thank you Isaac

* That'll do it.: This is the final RamView; I have watched my last Rams game. Fans are about love of the game, but leagues are about love of money, and the NFL made that clearer to this love-addled fool than ever before with its loathsomely greedy, back-stabbing, duplicitous and biased behavior that has returned St. Louis to football purgatory, permanently this time. My disregard for the team going forward will be equally permanent. Should Jeff Fisher pull off the unthinkable and lead the team to the Super Bowl, it'll be the Puppy Bowl that night for this guy. Or, much more likely, I'll wait till kickoff and then pop in a DVD of Super Bowl XXXIV. For the many of you staying with the team, or who got your team back: I've got no quarrel with you and wish you the best of luck, and I think Roger Angell would agree:

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look – I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of the this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring – caring deeply and passionately, really caring which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time where it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete – the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the hap-hazardous flight of a distant ball – seems a small price to pay for such a gift.

St. Louis Rams forever.

-- Mike

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


RamView has suspended operations indefinitely

Sunday, January 10, 2016

NFC Wild Card playoff: Green Bay 35, Washington 18

Just getting this out there now so I don't have to deal with it between games. A couple of interesting arguments can be made for the Redskins. They're arguably one of the league's hottest teams heading into the postseason. Four straight wins, five out of six. They've proven very tough at home, where they went 6-2, though the losses, fairly inexplicably, were to Miami and Dallas. Maybe the Rams' loss there in September wasn't as dreadful as it originally looked. Kirk Cousins has come on so strong I'm actually hoping to get him for my fantasy team next year. Meanwhile, the Packers appear to have completely stopped protecting Aaron Rodgers and looked like complete garbage in back-to-back losses to end the season.

The team with the hot hand and four straight wins vs. the reeling team with two straight pretty ugly losses: who's the one to pick for a playoff win? Of course. Dummy here is picking the Packers. Washington's got a lot of Houston's vibe. Not that I expect them to lose 30-0. But a lot of the reason they're here is their terrible division and a pretty darn easy schedule. I don't see many games against winning teams on the Redskin schedule, or any wins over one. There's also the experience factor. Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have been here before. Cousins and Jay Gruden haven't. The Packers could easily continue to play like garbage, but I'll go with the horse that has the big-race pedigree. Outright upset for the Packers (+1), and I'll take the under for now. I do get to change this pick any time up to gametime. Packers 24, Redskins 20

Joe and Troy calling the game for Fox, Gene Steratore and most of Walt Anderson's crew calling the game for the league.

I got here late and don't know who won the coin toss, but I assume the Packers did because they have the ball. Play-action and Aaron Rodgers goes sideline to James Jones for 11 in front of Brashaud Breeland. Chris Baker's unblocked the next play and flushed Rodgers into a throwaway. Eddie Lacy gets nowhere on a stretch handoff, stuffed by Mason Foster. Good edge pressure flushes Rodgers again, and Dashon Goldson tips the pass downfield to force Rodgers off the field. Poor punt rolls down to the 35. Rodgers is going to need better protection than he got the first series or the Packers are going to repeat their last two losses of the regular season.

Quick sideline pass to Jordan Reed from Kirk Cousins for 4, defended well by Clay Matthews. Alfred Morris runs into Mike Daniels for 1. Cousins gets a ton of time on 3rd down, but the pass is through Reed's hands. Quick 3-and-out for the Packer D.

Penalty during the punt return starts Green Bay back at their 8. Nothing really there as Rodgers goes deep down the far sideline for Jones. Lacy gets nothing off the left side. FedEx Field crowd noise gets J.C. Tretter to jump. That hurts when, on 3rd-13 from the 4, Rodgers holds the ball in the end zone way too long, and Preston Smith beats Tretter to hack the Packer QB down for a safety. Really dumb play-calling here. The Redskins left the middle of the field wide open but Rodgers has no one within 10 yards to check down to. This is the kind of play you're going to call from the goal line, Mike McCarthy? God help my gambling picks on this game. Redskins 2, Packers 0

Rashad Ross sweeps left with the free kick return out to the 45. Cousins rolls left off play action and hits TE (not KC QB) Alex Smith with a short pass; he breaks some bad tackling to gain 16. Morris makes a nice cut in the backfield and drives forward for 5. Boy, Green Bay better get a stop quickly before they get run off the field. Morris runs through Morgan Burnett for another 5, down to the GB29. Green Bay blitzes Hasean Clinton-Dix off LT but Cousins throws right and hits DeSean Jackson on the sideline for 3. 4-man rush, plenty of time for Cousins again, he hits Reed down to the 15. Things on the LOS are decisively in Washington's favor early. And, just like that, Jackson drags out of the left slot, beating Damarious Randall with ease and beating Clinton-Dix to the pylon. Looks like a TD, but Jackson stepped out of bounds before breaking the plane with the ball. 1st-goal inside the 1 then. Clinton-Dix and Jake Ryan stuff Morris at the 1. 2nd-goal. Matthews and Letroy Guion stuff the 2nd-goal run, Guion running over center Spencer Long. AND NOW WASHINGTON GETS A DELAY OF GAME. 3rd-goal from the 8 when they started inside the 1. Zone blitz doesn't get there, but Clinton-Dix reaches around Pierre Garcon to break up a pass at the goal line. Major bullet dodge there. Bryce Harper's bases-loaded double puts the Nationals ahead 5-0. Nationals 5, Brewers 0

Jeff Janis returns the kick to the 20. Handoff to Lacy gets maybe 2. Rodgers gets plenty of time on 2nd down but can't hit Richard Rodgers on the sideline. Randall Cobb's open on a corner route, but Rodgers back-foots the throw and can't hit him, either, so Aaron Rodgers is off to a 1-for-SIX start.

Redskins start at their 32. They play-action out of a heavy formation, but Julius Peppers smokes jumbo TE Tom Compton, and even with the heavy lineup, Matthews breaks through unblocked to drop Cousins at the 20. Cousins loses the ball and gets extremely lucky it rolls right back to him. Well-designed draw to Pierre Thomas gets 7 but leaves 3rd-15. Peppers beats Josh LeRibeus late to force an incomplete pass. Well, neither offense looks like it knows what the hell to do right now.

Will Compton and Will Blackmon string out a handoff to Cobb for a couple. Jared Abbrederis bobbles away a smoke pass. 3rd-8, Quinton Dunbar breaks up a sideline pass to Jones. Instead of shaking our heads at the incompetent Packer offense, we should probably be impressed at how far they've gotten without a decent go-to-receiver.

Jamison Crowder brings the punt back across midfield but a penalty yanks them back to the 36. Nice right off-tackle run by Morris for 7. Nick Perry pressures Cousins into a dumpoff that's off Ryan Grant's hands. 3rd-3. Reed runs an out from left end and makes a stunning 1-handed catch in traffic and rolls down to the GB37. Two Packers thought they had a pick on that play. You'll need to actually have the ball for that, guys. That draws a pretty uneventful first quarter to a close.

Garcon runs a quick slot out and beats Casey Hayward for 12.  B.J. Raji is too quick for Kory Lichtensteiger the next play and buries Morris for a 4-yard loss. But on 3rd-10, Reed runs a simple seam route straight down the field and burns Micah Hyde for a 24-yard TD. Hopkins keeps things weird on the scoreboard by DOINKing the PAT off the right upright. Redskins 11, Packers 0

You can count on me to fall for picking the stupid Packers in the playoffs every year and getting burned. What a bunch of stiffs. Touchback for Hopkins. Foster and Kedric Golston blow up a handoff to James Starks for a loss as the Packer running game continues to get nowhere. Rodgers completes only his 2nd pass, to Jones at the 25. They quick-snap on 3rd down, catching Washington with 12 men on the field. That might have been the biggest Packer play of the game. That's superseded when Rodgers buys a lot of time from his 31 and goes deep over the middle to Jones for 34. Devante Adams shakes and bakes after a bubble screen to gain 10. Rodgers hits Starks in the far right flat for 5. Cobb dances for 8 with a jet sweep right down to the 12. He next drops a short pass intended for him. Rodgers quick-snaps to catch the Redskins with 12 men again, then dances around in the pocket to avoid Ryan Kerrigan's pressure and hits Cobb in the end zone for a 12-yard TD. Ach, there has been some sloppy play in this game. Gruden wanted a TO but didn't get it. Rodgers was at his finest on the play, though. Redskins 11, Packers 7

Touchback for Mason Crosby. Ryan trips Thomas for 2. Cousins gets time but has to settle for hitting Reed for a couple. Garcon drags right out of flat and beats LB Joe Thomas for 12. Hayward breaks up a downfield pass for Jackson. Chris Thompson breaks away on a draw for 25. Poor form by Mike Daniels there, overshooting the play while leaving his feet. Really exposed the middle. Poorer form by Cousins the following play. Mike Neal disposes of Morgan Moses with a quick swipe move, and though that's not Cousins' blind side, he's oblivious of the coming trainwreck. Sack, strip and I believe recovery, too, by Neal. Big, big play.

Packers ball at their 46, and despite the dead ball the previous play, Rodgers has to blow a TO to avoid a delay of game. Today's been so filled with sloppy delay of game situations it's a wonder some of these teams even made the playoffs. Kerrigan gets a handful of Rodgers' jersey but he escapes and sprints out right for the throwaway. Troy Aikman is also noting Rodgers' lack of intermediate receivers, but blames it on young receivers not working back to the QB vs. play design. Speaking of which, nice smoke pass to Cobb for 11, then in hurry-up, a quick slant to Jones for 9. Lacy off right tackle for 3 and another first at the WSH32. Rodgers overthrows Cobb deep behind the secondary. Richard Rodgers saved his butt with a nice blitz pickup; that deserved a better throw. Offsides on Kerrigan, then Starks breaks a tackle for 3 to set up 3rd-2. Washington looks confused on D, but Rodgers doesn't take good advantage of it, going outside for a well-covered Jones, with Dunbar breaking up the pass. Mason Crosby shaves the lead down to 1 with a 43-yard FG. Redskins 11, Packers 10

Another touchback for Crosby. Redskin ball with 2:54 to go. Morris going up the middle for 3 doesn't impress the home crowd much. GB actually uses a TO after that, their 1st. Short pass to Crowder for 4 inspires another GB TO. Crowder runs a quick out on 3rd down but Quinten Rollins makes a nice play to break it up. Washington didn't even have the ball 30 seconds there.

Packers take over at their 40 at 2:22. Rodgers to Jones over the middle for 5 at the 2:00 warning. Ball came out but Jones was down. Starks makes a tough catch of a low screen pass in a crowd and takes it across midfield. Quick hitch to TE Rodgers for 6. Quick out to him for another 5, to the WSH38. Clock's down to 1:00. They try for another quick screen to Rodgers, but it's incomplete, he wasn't expecting it. Jones makes a catch at the 30 with Breeland all over him. 3rd-2. Chris Baker's injured after the play, stopping the clock. Washington's also charged with a TO. Yet another solid pocket for Rodgers, and Adams beats Dunbar, who stuck to him well despite a double move, with an excellent sideline catch at the 10. Too late now, but Washington's got to get its pass rush going. Rodgers overthrows Cobb in the corner of the end zone at 0:33. The next play, 4-man rush only gets there late, giving Rodgers plenty of time to hit Adams for a 10-yard TD. Adams just ran a flag route out of the slot and Dashon Goldson gave him up to... no one. The Packers' hurry-up offense has really had the Redskin secondary confused at times. Too bad they didn't get a week to practice for it or anything! Packers 17, Redskins 11

That last play was really Dunbar's mistake: he should have stayed at the goal line but jumped up to cover Starks in the flat instead. Ross brings the kick only out to the 20, and Washington kneels it out from there.

Picking up the offensive pace was the pick-me-up the Packers badly needed. Washington needs to counter that by getting pass rush on Rodgers again; it completely died off in the 2nd quarter. They need to sell out against the pass in the 2nd half because Green Bay's completely one-dimensional, with no running game to speak of.

Washington could stand to go to a more aggressive approach on offense themselves. The trouble they've had protecting Cousins combined with their similar lack of a running game probably calls for a quick short-passing game to open things back up downfield.

Whichever team gets the TE going in the 2nd half seems very likely to have a leg up. Jordan Reed disappeared in the 2nd; he needs to be a big part of the offense if Washington is going to get back into gear. Richard Rodgers may be Aaron Rodgers' most reliable target; if the Redskins start re-applying heat, he's going to need that release valve.

Ha, Howie Long stole my point about Jordan Reed. Put that man in the Hall of Fame! Ross sweeps right out to the 28, gets taken down way out of bounds, but no flag. Luckily, no Concrete Ring of Death, either. Cousins fires deep over the middle off play-action to Garcon for 21. Morris rips up the middle for 19 behind Brandon Scherff's block and a double-team on Raji. Thomas tries to sweep left but Ryan blows that up for -4. Cousins gets a lot of time, dumps off to Thompson at the 30. 3rd-7. Peppers gets good pressure on Cousins, but he hits Crowder on a pivot route. Hayward stops him a yard short. Jay Gruden's going for it on 4th-1. Cousins rolls right and buys time for Reed to get behind most of the Packers. He catches the soft toss at the 15 and gets down to the 7. 1st-goal, Cousins overthrows Garcon in the end zone. He hits Jamison in a Crowd-er at the 3 on 2nd-goal. With GB pretty pre-occupied covering Reed, Cousins brilliantly looks over there and runs it in himself on a QB draw. What kind of alignment was that by the Packers? NO NOSE GUARD ON THIRD AND GOAL FROM THE 3? Has anybody seen Gregg Williams? Redskins 18, Packers 17 

That may not have been a designed draw; Cousins may have taken freedom to run on his own once he saw that idiotic formation. Touchback Hopkins. Adams gets 9 on a bubble screen but stays down after the play clutching his knee. He got hurt by his own teammate Rodgers the TE landing on him. John KUUUUHN takes the up handoff for 2 and a 1st. Rodgers overthrows Jones on a deep go, with Dunbar having the best chance to catch it. Abbrederis spins out away from Blackmon on the sideline and gets 9. The Packers fake a handoff to Cobb; Rodgers rolls out and hits KUUUUHN coming off the end of the line for 6. Cobb's well-covered down the near sideline on another long incomplete. Pitch left to Cobb, who makes a nice cut up inside for 9. 3rd-1 at the WSH45. Up handoff to Kuhn again, but it's stuffed by Ricky Jean-Francois. Remember all the times in the NFC Championship last year when Mike McCarthy wouldn't go for it on 4th-and-short? He's going for it now, on 4th-and-1. The Packers can't catch Washington off-guard hurrying the play, then nearly run out of time on the play clock themselves. ANOTHER timeout today to avoid a delay of game. The hard count doesn't do the trick, but GB sticks with the play anyway, and Lacy goes off LT for 13. The key here is the stupid wide split by Kerrigan at RDE; the Packers ran right at that opening. Somewhere Gregg Williams nods in approval. And here goes Lacy again. He pops off the left side for 30 after KUUUUUHN's CRUSHING block in the hole takes out TWO Redskins. 1st-goal at the 4. Flip right to Starks, with Bryan Bulaga lead-blocking, and Starks is in pretty easily after cutting up inside the big man. Key block by KUUUUHN again, too. Packers 24, Redskins 18 Looks like the under is going to go down for the first time all weekend. Knew I should have switched my bet up there.

Ross takes a REALLY short kickoff at the 15 but only gets it out to the 24. Reed got behind coverage on a corner route, but Cousins overthrew him. Pitch right to Thomas for only a couple. Pretty big play for Washington here on 3rd-8. Grant appears to be open behind the secondary and Burnett, but trips over the 50 yard line. Cousins likely overthrew that one anyway. Couple of clutch throws missed by the Redskin QB.

Packers at their 24 now. Rodgers smells a blitz and audibles to a handoff to Cobb, who spins for 4. Cobb spins again for another 3 on a handoff out of pistol formation. 3rd-3. Trips left and Rodgers actually throws over there, to an open Jones on a quick out at the 38. Foster trips up Starks for a 2-yard loss. Rodgers gets plenty of time off play-action and hits Cobb crossing underneath the zone at midfield for another first down. The Redskins simply HAVE to get some pass rush going. It'll have to wait for the 4th quarter now.

Starks gets a big hole up the middle for 11. Great blocks by center Corey Linsley and Richard Rodgers. Starks slips through the right side for another 7 with Bulaga and company really controlling the point of attack. Starks gets another 4 and another first down off RT. We're starting to feel Washington's desperation as Kerrigan jumps offside. 1st-5 at the WSH24. Big cutbacks have been available on almost all of Starks' carries this drive, and he gets the message here, cutting back left into wide open field while Preston Smith fails to stay home. He dives down to the 3 with a 21-yard gain. Easy-to-see hold on Abbrederis not called. Lacy follows Richard Rodgers out of fullback in a weird half-pistol formation for the TD. Aaron Rodgers does an excellent Richard Nixon impression signalling for the 2-point attempt. Washington blitzes a safety but Abbredaris beats Blackmon out of the slot easily for the deuce. Packers 32, Redskins 18 The under and Washington's playoff hopes are taking the carpool home.

Crosby's third touchback. Ugh, don't run Morris up the middle! Boo! Two yards. Short pass to Thompson for 7. Morris crashes off left tackle for 12, though. Key block by Tom Compton at jumbo TE. Soft pass rush gives Cousins plenty of time to hit Reed down the seam for 22. He's erroneously called down after rebounding off Randall on the ground, denying him another 10-15 yards. Randall's down after the play because Reed basically kneedropped him on the Achilles. Ouch. Big rush by Clay Matthews on a stunt buries Cousins back at midfield. Nick Perry got there, too. Trent Williams is a good tackle, but he's not going to block both of those guys. Spencer Long screwed up next door. 2nd-19 now at the GB47. Burnett and Randall screw each other out of an INT on a poor deep throw. 4-man rush nearly gets Cousins and he throws behind Reed in the flat. Down two TDs, near midfield, only 9:00 left, Washington still ought to be going for it here, but they punt. It's downed around the 9, but you're running out of time and chances.

Pot Roast Knighton buries Lacy for -2 on a pistol handoff. Dunbar lets GB off the hook by interfering with Rodgers down the sideline. Aikman insists the throw wasn't catchable, which just tells me he hasn't watched any other games this weekend. DPI's been called on much-less catchable balls than that one. First down at the 27. Mike Pereira agrees with me, nyah. Lacy gets a couple after spinning off Baker on the ground. Lacy left for a couple more. Dunbar stops Abbrederis a yard short on a quick slant, but the Packers got a valuable three minutes off the clock. Crowder fair-catches a good punt at the 9.

Quick hitch to Garcon for 5. Thompson open out of the backfield out to the 23. Incomplete for a well-covered Reed over the middle. Cousins looks for Reed, but he's blanketed by Micah Hyde and that's incomplete. 3rd-10. Ladarius Gunter breaks up a pass for Garcon at the 40. Gunter's in because Quinten Rollins got hurt. He was also a favorite of mine a couple of Senior Bowls ago. Nyah. Nick Perry sticks a fork in Washington's season by beating Trent Williams around the edge and sacking Cousins despite being taken down by an unflagged hold. Basically just a 3-man rush there.

Packers have it at the WSH17; Goldson trips up Starks for no gain. Buck says GB called TO, but that had to be Washington. OK, he corrects himself. Starks up the middle for maybe another 1, and another Redskin TO. He's down to the 12 on 3rd down to claim Washington's last TO and send Crosby in. He hits from 29. Packers 35, Redskins 18

Ross only gets out to the 16. Save the seconds and kneel next time, huh? Thompson sprints for 38 with a screen, with Long leading out. Big block outside by Moses. A couple of plays later, Cousins hits Garcon at the GB21 and absorbs a late hit from Datone Jones. Well, that was quick; they're already at the 11. Hyde breaks up an end zone pass for Reed; should have picked it off. Cousins hits Thompson at the 5 a split second before getting hit by Perry again. McCarthy challenges whether Thompson controlled the ball in bounds but the call stands. 3rd-4. Matthews flinches but Reed is called for a false start. Cousins to Reed again, in a crowd at the 5, to set up 4th down. Cousins tries to buy time on a roll with nobody open but eventually gets dropped by Mike Neal all the way back at the 20. Cousins has had some big losses on sacks today.

While I'm trying to get the postgame show written, stupid Lacy fumbles with 1:51 left and Green Bay doesn't even run out the clock. Redskins at their 32. Cousins to Reed again, who breaks away from a strip attempt and gets 15. Ross runs around forever on a short cross and gets a big 2. Pass to Reed is broken up in the end zone and none of four different players can grab the rebound. Perry beats Williams again and Cousins obliviously runs right into his arms. At least that was the blind side that time. But boy, has his pocket presence been bad. Thompson can't turn the 4th-17 dumpoff into a first down, and we're finally done.

Final: Packers 35, Redskins 18

I'm struggling to find a POTG here. Rodgers' numbers were nothing special at all: 21-36-210. The key of the game was Green Bay's move to speed up the offense late in the first half. Washington really didn't stop them again after that. Rodgers wasn't pressured much after that, either, and you barely heard from Ryan Kerrigan or Preston Smith the rest of the game. That points toward the tackles, J.C. Tretter and Bryan Bulaga. Fox gave Tretter lots of love late in the game; I'll have to pick Bulaga. Keeping Kerrigan quiet ranks as the bigger accomplishment, and Bulaga was key to Green Bay's successful 2nd-half running game.

Green Bay really struggled there for a while, though, and now return to the scene of the crime in Arizona where they got wiped out three weeks ago. Arizona will keep some flaws exposed that Washington didn't work over very well today. I don't feel this game gives the Packers enough momentum to think they're going to reverse their last very negative result in the desert. I like the Cardinals and the Patriots pretty big next weekend; still mulling over the other two games.

Washington's got some work to do, first and foremost securing Cousins to a contract. I would think they'll go high in the draft for offensive line again, which would really improve the viability of their running game. Collect a bunch of defensive talent after that.

My apologies to everyone who bet against me this weekend. That's usually the way to go, but I actually had four successful games. I was 4-0 straight up (even though this is the first time ever all four road teams won on wild card weekend), 1-2-1 ATS and 2-2 over/under, a very acceptable 7-4-1 to start the postseason. If only I hadn't gone with the stupid sucker bet in the Houston game!

I may or may not blog next week. Depends on my mood. This is shaping up as a very rough week for St. Louis football fans and I may have to opt to take up needlepoint or something for a while instead of spending hours and hours being a pissed-off blogger.

Regardless, enjoy the games and thanks for reading.


NFC Wild Card Playoff: Seattle 10, Minnesota 9

It's the NFC's day in the playoff spotlight, and this game should be very interesting, if only because it will be so cold we may get to see a football shatter. Zero-degree weather in Minnesota means classic playoff weather, and that is supposed to mean whichever team runs the ball best wins. And that should be Minnesota. Marshawn Lynch is a no-go, so Seattle has to rely on Christine Michael and Bryce Brown to match carries with Adrian Peterson. Good luck with that. And as Rams fans, we've seen what a liability the Seattle offensive line can be, and Minnesota will attack that similarly to the way the Rams do. Flip sides, and the Vikings have got an offensive line that's held up pretty well through some injuries. Minnesota should win the LOS, run with more success and they've got the weather factor.

So of course dummy here is picking the Seahawks. My main concerns are picking Teddy Bridgewater over Russell Wilson in a big game, and that Minnesota hasn't beaten a good team all year except for Green Bay last week. That includes Seattle kicking their butts in the earlier, much warmer meeting this season. We'll see if zero degrees cools off the hot team. Win and cover -4 for Seattle, and I'll stick with the under, which went 2-0 yesterday. Seahawks 21, Vikings 13

Should be Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth announcing for the noon start. Walt Coleman will head an officiating crew that's about half his and half Brad Allen's.

MINUS SIX degrees at kickoff. Seattle won the toss and elects to break Steven Hauschka's foot. Cordarrelle Patterson tries to get cute with the kickoff fielded inside the 5 and only makes the 12 before Cassius Marsh trips him down. Michael Bennett stops Adrian Peterson early; Richard Sherman finishes the tackle for a 1-yard loss. Mike Wallace actually catches a pass! 10-yard hitch. And idiotically signals first down. 3rd-and-1, dummy. Bennett's offside to give Minnesota a free 5. AP would have had it anyway. 1st-10 at the 26. AP eludes Bennett deep in the backfield and gains 2 off right tackle. Play-action, quick slant to Stefan Diggs goes for another 9. Teddy Bridgewater rolls right away from Marsh's sudden penetration but fires out of bounds. Sherman and DeShawn Shead completely blow up a bubble screen attempt to Adam Thielen. 3rd-10. Seattle double-stunts; Bridgewater goes short to Jarius Wright, who almost gets the first down but is a yard short. Shead and Bruce Irvin with clutch tackles there. Wait, the Vikings are going for it? 4th-1 at their own 46. It looked like a hard-count attempt at first but Bridgewater sneaked it across after his 2nd set of signals. He called out "Let's go Lake," and Seattle really should have known he was going to take that off his center's left hip. I'll bet the other audible is "River". 1st down Vikings. Seattle continues to outquick the Viking tackles, Cliff Avril tripping AP in the backfield this time. 4-man rush again does not get to Bridgewater, who runs an out route from the backfield to gain 9. On 3rd-1, though, the right side of the Viking line blocks ABSOLUTELY NO ONE they're supposed to and get AP buried for a huge loss. Bennett split a double team, then Bobby Wagner got to him after beating a blocker with a swim move, then Kam Chancellor got to him. That's Seattle's entire run defense, and you block none of those guys? OK then. Minnesota just spent seven minutes to drive 40 yards and punt. Seattle calls an inexplicable timeout prior to the punt. Jeff Locke's punt is awful and is lucky to bounce to even the 22.

Christine Michael pounds left for about 3. I see Russell Okung is back in the Seattle lineup, which could be a big boost for them. Trips right, but Russell Wilson is lobbing left all the way, and way overthrowing Fred Jackson's wheel route. 3rd-7. Seattle doesn't want to 3-and-out on offense after a 7:00 Viking drive. But they do, with Jermaine Kearse bobbling away a sideline route. It gets far worse on the punt, as the snap is at Jon Ryan's feet, and a rusher prevents him from getting off a late kick. Ryan channels his inner Johnny Hekker and takes off running, and had room to get the first, but shows the worst running instincts ever and hurdles smack into a crowd instead.

Not only do the Vikings take over at the SEA29, Ryan's down on the Seattle sideline after the play. May have landed on his face at the end of that fine run. AP goes right for 3, with Sherman making another stop. AP gets a monster hole on the left side from Matt Kalil and Brandon Fusco and hits that for 6. That was basically what the Rams would call a "wrap" play. Bridgewater uses Minnesota's 2nd timeout on 3rd-and-inches at the 20. Is Mike Martz over on the Viking sideline somewhere? AP leaps off right tackle and barely gets the 1st down on second effort. Pitch left to AP, but K.J. Wright cuts it off and feeds him back to Ahtyba Rubin for a loss. Rush continues not to get to Bridgewater and he hits McKinnon out of the backfield for 7. Shhh, but Minnesota's passing better than they're running. 3rd-5, another ROCK solid pocket for Bridgewater, and he hits Diggs at the 8. AP runs through Bennett for a couple. Stat of the day from Al Michaels: AP already has more carries in this game than he did in the entire first meeting. Bennett stops him again at the 4 to set up 3rd-and-goal. McKinnon runs a circle route and Bridgewater fires a fastball off his facemask. Michaels and Collinsworth give Wright credit for "breaking up" the pass, but that was mainly a bad throw. Blair Walsh ice chips the Vikings on the board. Vikings 3, Seahawks 0

The Vikings have possessed the ball for 13 minutes so far, Seattle one. The Seahawk D better figure out how to get the Vikings off the field pretty soon. Dangerous Tyler Lockett gets the kickoff around the 5 but gets taken down quickly by Edmond Robinson at the 17 as NBC hilariously sends us to the commercial break with the Snow Miser song. Yes, that could have been the Heat Miser song, but I'm pretty sure he's taking the day off. Michael cuts inside Everson Griffen's overpursuit and goes up the middle for 12. Michael plows left and bounces off Sharrif Floyd for another 5, and that will do it already for the first quarter.

This game's moving quickly, like everybody's in a hurry to get back inside or something. Minnesota packs the box on 2nd-5 and Harrison Smith beats WR Kevin Smith to drop Michael for a loss. Wilson calls timeout, Seattle's 2nd now, on 3rd-6. Diamond stack right, but Wilson throws a slant left to Kearse, who just gets the 6. Everybody's overloading one side and throwing away from it this weekend. Mike Zimmer wants to challenge the spot of the last play, hopefully without starting a fight with anybody. The spot looks right enough on replay, and Zimmer has thrown away his last timeout. Classy Zimmer flails hotly at the refs after the call. Seattle at their 38. Michael cuts inside overpursuit by Griffen again before getting slung down by Rhodes for 6. You'll have to trust me when I say I figured out that play is opening up because Griffen has to keep an eye on Russell Wilson before Collinsworth said it. 23 alignment, empty backfield, Wilson overthrows Fred Jackson's quick out route. 3rd-4. Seattle has to burn their final timeout to prevent delay-of-game. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr stop Wilson a couple short on a designed run. The snap to Ryan is terrible again, and he has to rush a bad 26-yard punt.

I don't see Seattle surviving another long Viking drive. They need to get them off quickly. We'll start at the 28, with 28 matadoring Irvin and heading upfield for 4. A couple more for AP, with another stop by Irvin. McKinnon makes a nifty cut and beats Chancellor deep out of the backfield. Chancellor gets away with a hold and that slows McKinnon down just enough for the ball to be at his fingertips and for Earl Thomas to crash in and break up the pass.

From the 39, Wilson hits Doug Baldwin for 23 off a play-action rollout right. Michael eludes pressure in the backfield and bangs into Kendricks on the left edge for a couple. Ahh, and now Wilson brilliantly fakes Griffen into attacking Michael on a handoff, but he kept the ball and zipped around right end for 9. Griffen couldn't stay patient on that play forever. Michael up the middle for a couple, to the MIN25. Barr excellently blows up a quick screen to Baldwin for a loss. Gregg Williams probably would have been blitzing that play and given up a TD. A delayed delay-of-game call moves Seattle back to the 34, and a short pass to Kearse only gets 4 back. Seattle's passing game hasn't shown a lot of downfield ambition. Pete Carroll's going to go for it on 4th-and-13. I might understand bypassing a 48-yard attempt in these conditions, but wasn't Ryan's last punt only 26 yards? Your chances of pinning the Vikings deep are probably the best. They run a 7-yard dumpoff to Jackson on a play I'm sure no one in Seattle understands, and the ball goes back to Minnesota.

5:42 to halftime, Vikings at their 23. AP turns the left corner for 13 and his best run of the day. Minnesota did Bennett there like KC was doing Watt yesterday. Let him overpursue. Nice pass to Mycole Pruitt beats Chancellor for 18. Throwing at him continues to sound like a good idea. Stretch handoff to AP is instead stretched out to the sideline by Avril and Wagner for no gain. Avril wins a big speed mismatch and drops Zach Line for a loss on a dumpoff. 3rd-13, Sherman stops a flare to Pruitt for about 3. Vikes punt with about 3:00 left. Lockett dangerously fields it at the 9, returns it to the 14.

Smoke pass to Baldwin for 2. Read option handoff to Michael for a couple more, swallowed whole by Griffen this time. 2:00 warning. Wilson flings deep for the first time all day and Rhodes clumsily plows over Lockett for an obvious DPI at the MIN40. 41-yard penalty. Jackson makes the least out of a lot of room up front and gets 2. No TOs for Seattle, so the clock's running. Kendricks swats down a pass for Baldwin on a drag, a play James Laurinaitis will never make in his life. Baldwin embarrasses Andrew Sendejo with an inside-out move to get wide open at the goal line, but Wilson's throw is a miserable floater and Sendejo and help get there to break it up. Wilson was hit on the throw. Seattle has to punt, and Ryan's punt is down at the 9. Minnesota will kneel out the low-scoring and quick-moving first half.

This has looked like a pretty typical Seahawk game on defense to me. They see what their straight 4-man rush accomplishes in the first half (not much) and start turning on the heat after halftime. They might as well use Chancellor to blitz, because he's useless in coverage and will probably get picked on when Seattle does finally start blitzing. Minnesota might want to think about double-teaming Bennett, who is having an Aaron-Donald-like game against the run. I'd try going at those big tackles up the middle. The Rams exposed those guys a little bit and I don't think they're as strong there as they typically are. Both teams need to extend the field in the passing game, because both defenses are too good to purposely limit yourself to the fishbowl. Seattle's already started to do it, with success. The Seahawks also arguably have shown more explosive potential with their running game. Read option had Minnesota mesmerized at times in the 1st half and I would think they're ready to really spring it on them in the 2nd.

Minnesota won the first half, but there's still plenty of work left in order to advance. A huge key for Seattle is to prevent long drives, but I'm expecting them to step up the pressure on Bridgewater. Who'll win the halftime adjustment battle?

Ha, Tony Dungy stole my halftime adjustments. Put that man in the Hall of Fame! Touchback by Blair Walsh, who laughs at -2 degree temperatures. Brian Robison spins Wilson down on an attempted play-action rollout and Wilson gets away with throwing away a wild pass. 2nd-10, Michael can't bounce outside Griffen and loses a little. Everyone agrees Seattle should be running a ton of read option. The only one who doesn't agree so far is the Seattle OC. Wilson gets a ton of time on 3rd-10, throws way high over the middle for Baldwin, but he brings it down Odell Beckham one-handed style for 17. Big play. And now here's the read option; Wilson runs left for 4. Lockett beats Trae Waynes deep as Wilson eludes Floyd on another rollout pass, but it's underthrown again and broken up. 3rd-6, Minnesota blitzes two off LT but Wilson goes to Jackson out of trips right for 11 to the MIN48. Michael power-runs behind fullback Derrick Coleman for 8 off the right side. And we now have Danielle (Hunter) tackling Christine for a 1-yard gain. What is this, the Lingerie League? 3rd-1. Floyd stuffs Christine for a loss after J.R. Sweezy completely whiffs on him. Gary Gilliam blew his block there, too. Seattle going for it on 4th-3 but has to blow TO#1 AGAIN to prevent delay of game. You know how teams that blitz hate to get blitzed? I guess teams with loud home crowds hate loud road crowds. Gilliam is terrible again and gets beaten badly by Hunter on a wide split. He flushes Wilson, who throws too high for Chase Coffman, who tips it to Waynes for an INT. Waynes takes it out to the 46 as it's become painfully obvious that Russell Wilson can not throw downfield today.

Big play for starters here - Bridgewater play-action dumpoff to Line for 11, accompanied by a 15-yard penalty on Avril for a dumb cheap-shot. That puts the Vikes on the SEA28. AP left for 3. Avril redeems himself a little by blowing up a stretch handoff to AP for a loss of SEVEN. Another lame 4-man rush gives Bridgewater time to hit McKinnon for 7 and into makeable FG position. Walsh drills a 43-yard FG true with no problems. Outside! In Minnesota! Somewhere Jeff Fisher and Greg Zuerlein are marveling. Vikings 6, Seahawks 0

I don't know why Seattle is still refusing to turn up the heat on Bridgewater. Walsh blasts another touchback. Play-action dropback, and not only can't Wilson find anyone, he's oblivious to Griffen beating Okung, taking a hard sack back at the 11. Make it back-to-back sacks now at the 7. Griffen and Hunter both drive their tackles practically into Wilson, who escapes, but into Floyd's grasp. We-give-up handoff to Michael, and that's exactly the kind of possession Seattle did not need. Derrick Coleman drags Marcus Sherels down at the 38 but gets flagged for a horse collar tackle without yanking Sherels backwards. He pulled him to the side, but maybe that's still enough for a proper penalty. I thought you had to pull back, though.

Minnesota will start another drive on the Seattle half of the field and may be on the verge of putting the game away. AP tries to bounce a run outside, and would have had a lot of room if not for Sherman cutting him off. 3 yards. DPI on Sherman against Jarius Wright gives Minnesota a first down at the SEA39, though. Bennett holds AP to a couple up the middle. Jet sweep left to Diggs, who gets around Bennett to gain 6. Gregg Williams would have been blitzing that play and given up a TD. 3rd-2, LAME 4-man rush, easy 4-yard pass from Bridgewated to Diggs, who ran a pivot route for the 1st. SEATTLE. BLITZ SOMEBODY! The Seattle Seahawks are inexplicably letting Teddy Bridgewater beat them through the air. AP left for 3. Rubin stops a draw to McKinnon for 1. 3rd-6, Seattle FINALLY blitzes and FINALLY gets to Bridgewater. Rubin split the RT and RG and missed but Avril finished it off at the 30. I'd still bring Walsh in. Mike Zimmer does, and the true Legatron blasts a 47-yard FG. Vikings 9, Seahawks 0

I would suggest this game is over, but we're coming up to the 4th quarter and Russell Wilson is still at QB. After touchback #3 for Walsh, a play-action rollout left gets Kevin Smith wide open for 15 to end the quarter.

Illegal contact on Captain Munnerlyn advances Seattle to the 39. Michael takes a delay handoff for 3. Wilson scrambles out of trouble after play-action, pump-fakes about four different times and runs out of bounds for 5. Michael's wide open in the flat off play-action, and Wilson rolls left and hits him out to the MIN39. And talk about making lemons into frozen lemonade! The snap is terrible, past Wilson's left ear. He corrals it 16 yards behind the LOS but alertly springs up and runs out of the pocket, where he can at least throw the ball away, right? But Lockett has been left wide open in the middle of the field, so Wilson tosses to him, he eludes Rhodes and swings all the way down inside the 5. A play that should have lost 16 yards gains 35 instead. VINTAGE RUSSELL WILSON! What'd I say, what'd I say - it's Russell Wilson in the 4th quarter. Collinsworth points out two keys to the play - excellent discipline by the offensive line to not be downfield illegally and excellent improv by Lockett, who was supposed to be the target on a screen pass but took off downfield when he saw trouble. 1st-and-goal. Michael leans up the middle for a couple. Touchdown to Doug Baldwin running a simple slot out at the goal line, and shame on the Vikings, leaving him completely wide open. Josh Robinson blows the coverage; he's in to replace Waynes, who was injured earlier. Vikings 9, Seahawks 7

These are the fires where young playoff teams are forged; let's see how Minnesota responds. Patterson makes the 22 from the goal line on the kickoff. Dumpoff to AP for 5. Play-action leaves AP wide open in the flat for another 10, and just when you think the Vikings have found a creative response to Seattle's TD, AP FUMBLES. That's been a bugaboo for him all year. Chancellor stripped him and Tim Barnes comes up with the loose ball. OK, make it Rubin. It's suddenly Seattle's ball again at the MIN40.

Seattle shows killer instinct by firing deep down the far sideline for Lockett, but Rhodes has him blanketed for a near-pick. Michael right for 3. 3rd-7, with the Vikings really stuffing the box, Kearse beats a returned Waynes for 8, stretching the ball across the marker on a hitch. Seattle next inexplicably leaves Griffen completely unblocked, which forces Wilson to scramble around crazily and barely avoid a 20-yard loss after tossing the ball away while in Griffen's grasp. Vikings fans gotta be wondering where the old in-the-grasp call went. Michael right for 1 at most as Linval Joseph is taking over in the middle. 3rd-9 at the 28. The Vikings blitz off LT and about 4 guys get to Wilson again, forcing another scramble and a throwaway. Seattle brings Hauschka in for a 46-yard attempt. They went for it on 4th-and-13 earlier in the game when it would have been a 48-yard attempt, but on the other side of the field. Hauschka nails this one and makes you wonder why Seattle didn't try the first one. Seahawks 10, Vikings 9

Fire, forge, yada yada. Patterson makes a nice move at the 20 and gets out to the 32, so the Vikings start in good shape. Shead makes a nice play to take Peterson down on the left edge. Peterson was lucky not to fumble that play; the exchange was not clean at all. The uh-oh's for Seattle, though; Bennett's down. Minnesota tried to set up a screen on 2nd-and-9, but Seattle pours through much too fast for a sack. Demarcus Dobbs got there, as did Wagner on a blitz despite getting held. See what happens when you blitz, Seattle? Bridgewater dumps off to Asiata on 3rd-and-18, but Earl Thomas takes him down well short. Fair catch by Lockett at the SEA 31 with just under 6:00 left.

WRAP PLAY for Michael gains 6 off LT. Minnesota stuffs Michael initially out of a full house backfield, but Okung pushes him forward for 3. 3rd-1, could be ballgame right here. Bad play call by Seattle here; they actually want to run an against-the-grain screen to Kevin Smith. Minnesota's all over that and Wilson fires down field and nearly gets picked off by Sendejo. I would have just booted Russell there; Seattle got FAR too fancy and will punt now without taking much time off the clock. And Sendejo by all rights should have picked that off. Ryan's punt gets the roll down to the MIN15. 4:14 to play.

Vikings start at the 19 because Seattle originally touched the punt there. Quick hitch to Diggs for 6. Can Minnesota get anything open downfield? They'll have to. Inside handoff to McKinnon for a 1st out to the 32. AP is on the sideline with Minnesota in passing mode; Seattle better bring it now or never. Bennett, who only missed one play after his injury, bats down a pass. And here come the Seahawks. They blitz all three LBs, McKinnon has no clue who to pick up and picks up no one, Bridgewater tries to escape the pocket but can't. I think the sack will go to Irvin. Bridgewater fires deep for Diggs on 3rd-and-16 but Jeremy Lane breaks it up. Lockett goes down with a pretty big punt at his 25.

About 2:20 to play. Minnesota has all 3 TOs left and the 2:00 warning but obviously HAVE to have a stop now. Michael cuts back and drives for 4 out of another full house backfield. TO#1, Vikings. Read-option handoff to Michael, up the middle for 1. 2:00 warning. 3rd-5. What's the call here? Quick slant to Kearse? No, they wanted to go to Lockett on a swing pass, but Minnesota covered that well and chased Wilson into throwing a pass at Jackson, incomplete on the sideline. Gilliam would have been called for a blatant hold on Anthony Barr anyway. Minnesota's going to get the ball back with two timeouts left. Good punt by Ryan; Sherels returns it to the 39, and the way Walsh is kicking today, the Vikings don't need much more than 20 yards.

1:42 to go. How did a game with so little scoring get this exciting? Good 4-man rush by Seattle gets a pass knockdown by Frank Clark. Benett making like Aaron Donald again. CRITICAL penalty next as Chancellor interferes with Kyle Rudolph at the SEA42. That's FG range for Walsh as far as I'm concerned. And now all of a sudden, here's Rudolph again, breaking away from Chancellor for a big gain, all the way down to the 18! Did somebody tell Minnesota to start picking on Chancellor at halftime or something? 1:26 left, and now Minnesota may be moving too fast. Or not, they have to take their 2nd timeout to avoid delay of game after the big gain. AP left for a yard, TO Seattle #2 at 1:20. Peterson down to the 13 to burn up Seattle's last timeout at 1:15. Peterson nearly gets what would be a game-clinching first down, but Shead drags him down just short. Zimmer bleeds the clock down to 0:26 and sends in Walsh.

OH MY GOD. Walsh just hooked it badly left. Minnesota loses! That's like Tiger Woods in his prime missing a one-foot putt! What a choke-


LACES OUT, MARINO! The hold was bad. A decent recapper would have already mentioned this has been a problem for the kicking teams all day. Blair Walsh has gone from Legatron to Ray Finkel thanks to this. Holder Jeff Locke better watch out for a cross-dressing police lieutenant trying to kill him in the near future.

Laces out, Jeff Locke. Laces freaking out.

Final: Seattle 10, Minnesota 9

Seattle Times
That stunning finish shouldn't detract from what Seattle did here. They proved the clutch team coming from 9 down at the start of the 4th quarter. This was Seattle doing what Seattle does, making clutch defensive plays and Russell Wilson running around and making at least one crazy game-changing play. It's the stuff of champions, and the Seahawks showed they've completely still got their chops. I'm going to call Michael Bennett (bottom of the picture) the POTG for having such an Aaron Donald-like effect, especially in the running game. He's a big reason Seattle held Peterson to 45 yards on 23 carries. The award could have gone to Wilson, or to Wagner, or to Sherman, or to the weather that was bad enough to play havoc just with long snaps. Bennett was a key disruptor start to finish.

And disliking Mike Zimmer the way I do, I got more than a little chuckle out of this result. And you know what? Minnesota's another playoff team reminding us why the Rams suck. In this case it was the lack of a credible downfield passing game. Minnesota's definitely joining the Rams in the offseason search for WRs. Beyond that, they just need to flesh this roster out with good role players. A blitz-blocking 3rd-down back like Benny Cunningham would have been big for them today, or a good blocking TE.

Seattle does not get the cover, but I'll gladly take another 2-1 gambling result from a memorable, thrilling game. The question for the Seahawks next week is whether Carolina's pass rush overwhelms their weak (though better with Okung healthy) o-line well enough to put them away early. The Panthers will be courting trouble if they don't get an early knockout.

I need a quick lunch break; we're on to Green Bay-Washington on about a 1/2 hour delay. Good luck matching this game.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Goodell: Rams free to move

Proving the compliant lackey he always has been, NFL "Commissioner" Roger Goodell has released a 48-page report that claims the Rams have MET the league's relocation guidelines, along with the Raiders and the Chargers. Goodell claims the St. Louis stadium proposal has "too many uncertainties" and the city hasn't come up with a viable solution despite "ample time" to do so. In other words, there is nothing here to block the Rams from moving out.

I can't speak to the other two teams, but Goodell is buying and passing along the complete line of bullshit Kroenke started feeding last year and really poured on thick with his piece-of-shit lie-filled attack job on St. Louis last week.

First of all, there is no indication Kroenke even owns the Rams legally by NFL guidelines. Remember? You're not allowed to own a pro sports team in another market if you want to own an NFL team. Now, go look at the Colorado Avalanche website and tell me Kroenke has given up any control over that team. I won't even bother with the Nuggets. Kroenke hasn't been required to meet this rule in the least by the NFL.

The idea that Kroenke has worked with St. Louis AT ALL on a new stadium is completely preposterous, let alone his bald-faced lie last week that he's tried to work with the city since 2002. You can't find a single city official who's ever talked to the guy, something the mayor of the city, who's never met the guy, pointed out this week.

To Kroenke, "trying" to resolve a stadium situation is sitting on your ass for 20 years waiting for a sweetheart lease to run out and then complaining that you actually have to pay a pittance to use the stadium after that. The only "plan" Kroenke offered to keep the team here was the ludicrous idea that the city should pay $700 million and tear down half the existing stadium and rebuild it. More free stadium for him. Meanwhile, where the hell was the team supposed to play? How does this constitute any work with the city to resolve the stadium? Why didn't he just ask somebody on the CVC to drop trou and lay a fucking golden egg on the table? That's as realistic as anything Kroenke ever offered as a solution to the stadium plan.

Goodell, who's been rigging this thing all along to move the Rams out, since the league never wanted them or any other team here in the first place, puts his official stamp of incompetence on this bullshit by announcing the Rams stadium plan is flawed, claiming it asks for the league to contribute $300 million instead of its max policy of $200 million. First of all, that $300 million claim has been disputed. Second of all, it's a loan, not a grant. Third of all, the NFL was more than happy to help keep the Vikings in Minnesota courtesy of a scheme that planned on the state providing funding largely based on some bar gambling game called "pull tabs". Which I have never played, but I assume Minnesotans must play, what, BILLIONS of times a year to make such a financing plan feasible? The NFL loved that plan. (Falling well short of their "pull tab" goal, Minnesota has raised cigarette taxes to fund the Vikings' new stadium instead.) But no, we're going to ding St. Louis for what's possibly the NFL's clerical mistake. Not that they'll mention that possibility to the owners voting next week.

This stopped being about the truth or a league obeying its rules long ago. Goodell is in the tank for Kroenke and is doing his damnedest to make his brutal, obnoxious spin the truth, knowing the owners are likely to buy the spin because they want to get the whole L.A. mess over with after 20 years and aren't likely to do a lot of their own legwork.

Fuck you, Goodell, and it goes without saying again, Fuck you, Kroenke.

The only thing that can possibly save football in St. Louis now, assuming the league even fucking follows the result of its own vote, would be if the owners lobbying for the Carson effort have 9 votes to block Kroenke. And that won't be much of a hurdle for a room full of greedy, lying douchebags who don't obey their own rules. They'll either change relocation to be a 2/3rd vote, or just buy the Charger and Raiders owners off. That's probably already in motion.

Fuck you all.


AFC Wild Card Playoff: Pittsburgh 18, Cincinnati 16

Well, it's not going to be hard for this game to top the dreadful first game. Heated rivalry, high-powered Steeler offense vs. a strong Bengal defense. One thing today's already told us to do is to pick with the QBs in mind, and I'm not picking A.J. McCarron or his hot wife over Roethlisberger. Well, at least if we're talking about QBing a playoff game. Which we are. Though it would be funny if the Bengals actually started winning playoff games without Andy Dalton. Bengals QB controversy in 2016 if that happens! You've also got the factor of Marvin Lewis never winning a playoff game, though it is notable the Chiefs got off a VERY long schnide today. The odds would seem to be against two long schnides getting broken in one day.

Vegas must think a lot of the Bengal defense, and not much of Pittsburgh's, to have the Steelers only a 2-point favorite with Dalton not playing. Cincy's got to win this game with defense; it's not out of the question for them to force some turnovers and get the Steelers off their game. In fact, they'll have to do just that. It may even be easier depending on who Pittsburgh's got at RB. I doubt DeAngelo Williams will be close to 100% if he's playing. Pittsburgh may be forced to play their third-string RB like they had to when they lost to Baltimore in last year's wild card. The prediction here, though, calls for high scores and the Steelers moving on. I know, they just lost to Baltimore, but I've fallen for that before and bet against the team that had the really weird late-season hiccup. In fact, that was the Ravens last year, losing woefully to Houston and Case F. Keenum two weeks before going into Pittsburgh and taking away a playoff win. Those who don't learn from history, etc., etc. Steelers 34-21. Win, cover, over.

CBS has got the game, so Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have the TV call. John Parry, who called the last Steelers-Bengals game, also has the call tonight, with a really mixed crew that includes only two of his regular crew members.

Bengals win the toss and bravely defer. Touchback by Mike Nugent. Bubble screen to Martavis Bryant for 4. Pittsburgh tries a handoff to somebody called Fitzgerald Touissant, who loses 2 after David DeCasto gets knocked down in front of him. All these good receivers, and Ben Roethlisberger's throwing to Darius Heyward-Bey after a pump fake on 3rd down. Low throw off his hands, three and out.

I need a brief break to do some cursing at NFL lackey-in-chief Roger Goodell. Be right back.

Bengals at their 36; quick pass from A.J. McCarron to A.J. Green on the sideline for 5. Ryan Shazier jumps a handoff to Jeremy Hill for a yard loss. Nantz is apparently going to be off a yard on every spot tonight. The Bengals fall back to 3rd-11 after a false start. McCarron steps up out of pressure and dumps off to Tyler Eifert, but that is stopped short. Back-to-back 3-and-outs? Not the start I expected. Antonio Brown makes a very risky basket catch at the 13 and returns to the 18.

1-3 personnel for the Steelers; Touissant rumbles off left tackle for 9. Bubble screen to Brown gets 1, if that. Ben fires a quick screen over Bryant's head. More 1-yard passes as Brown takes a quick pick route for 5. ANOTHER 1-yard pass, to Heath Miller, is stopped quickly by Ray Maualuga and the Steelers are punting again. Simms suggests Pittsburgh is doing nothing but dinking out of respect for the Bengal pass rush. I can tell you they're not going to win throwing nothing but 1-yarders. It's also raining pretty hard in Cincinnati at the moment. Pittsburgh interefered with Brandon Tate on the punt return, so the Bengals will start out at their 29.

James Harrison stuffs Hill off Stephon Tuitt's great penetration for a loss, but Marvin Jones makes an excellent catch tightroping the sideline for 13. That's followed by another false start on Cincy. Pittsburgh jumped on the right side but did not cross the line. The RG jumped unrelated to that. Now we've got James Harrison deking at the Bengals before the snap, which is clearly illegal. Parry'd better get a handle on this garbage quickly. Parry makes a correct call on Harrison, so now it's 1st-10 at the 41 again. Penetration by Cameron Heyward forces McCarron to flee the pocket and throw away. Lawrence Timmons blitzes up the middle untouched; how does that happen? McCarron escapes that but Harrison and Arthur Moats get him for a sack and a small loss. On 3rd-12, now it's Cincinnati throwing 1-yard passes, but Eifert spins off a bad Mike Mitchell attempt and runs through several more Steelers for a 16-yard gain across midfield. Boy, you sure giving up first downs on dumpoffs on 3rd-and-long, amirite? Shazier and Will Allen blow up Hill on a sweep right for another loss. McCarron hangs Eifert out to dry for a big hit from Antwon Blake, but he holds on for a 7-yard catch. McCarron goes for Eifert again on 3rd down, but somebody called Robert Golden breaks that up to send the punt team back in. Kevin Huber gets an excellent bounce that Tate fields cleanly at the 6.

Another nice cutback run by Touissant behind Alejandro Villanueva's strong drive-blocking for 9. But George Iloka run-blitzes and stuffs him for a loss on 2nd down. But Touissant makes a catch out of the backfield and takes it for 23 out to the 41. Great job by Ben to hang in there and find him. Touissant drives up the middle for another 5, and I have to say Pittsburgh is winning both sides of the LOS right now. And now it's Jordan Todman making two nifty cuts to bounce outside and out to the Bengal 40. Reggie Nelson knocks him down way out of bounds (nowhere near any Concrete Rings of Death, though), and we now have a brouhaha on the Steeler sideline. Was the Steeler coaching staff going after Nelson there? A flag flew, and now our all-star officiating crew is taking its sweet time figuring things out. It's a 15-yard penalty on the Steeler sideline, coach Mike Munchak. 1st-10 Steelers, but back at their 46. Pitch right to Todman with a strong lead block by Marcus Gilbert. Touissant skips up the middle for a first down.

Much different first quarter than I expected, especially the Steelers' fear of the Bengal defense.

Steelers at the CIN40. Maualuga stops Todman for 1. Draw to Todman for 3 more. Cincy blitzes off RT and Nelson drops Ben back near midfield as Ben tries to wheel away much too late. A teammate had stepped on Nelson's ankle right before he made the sack. Nelson has to be helped off the field.

A penalty during the fair catch starts the Bengals back at their 7. Hill goes left for 2. Quick slant to Mohammed Sanu gets 5. Still raining hard as a flare to Eifert goes awry and incomplete. Huber's punt rolls to the 35. My chance of hitting the over looking about as good as my chance of hitting Powerball right now.

Maualuga stops a run for 2, and Ben tosses a blown screen at Miller's feet. Didn't the Steelers have a really good WR this season? Where's he tonight? Name was Black or Brown or something. I don't follow them all that close. Ben can't hit Markus Wheaton on an out route. Search me, but something is seriously wrong with the Steeler passing game tonight. Tate returns the punt 9 yards to the 29.

The offensive comedy of errors continues as McCarron and center Russell Bodine blow the exchange. McCarron recovers. Then Heyward beats Kevin Zeitler badly to sack/strip McCarron the next play; Clint Boling recovers for Cincinnati. 3rd-23, though. Giovani Bernard gets 14 back on a draw, but here comes tonight's star, the punter, again.

Steelers at their 34. It is raining cats, dogs, pigs and horses now. Always know the weather report when you bet on games, kids. #84, no clue who HE is, makes a 4-yard catch, and a defensive penalty gives Pittsburgh 5 more out to the 43. Michael Johnson stuffs a run for no gain. Geno Atkins beats DeCastro badly on 2nd-10. Ben steps up from that, but Pittsburgh apparently decides they don't still need to block Atkins, and he whales on Ben from behind for the sack anyway. We hear Domata Peko's name for the first time tonight, and it's for a 15-yard penalty after the play. I realize this game's tied, but there is a whole lot of Houston in Cincinnati's game so far here, with the exception of the QB turning the ball over every other play. Losing on the LOS, unable to run, failing to get the ball to their best player, committing stupid penalties. Eh, Pittsburgh's not showing a whole lot more. Touissant's open for a dumpoff but Carlos Dunlap knocks it down. Um, Ben, you're much too tall to be letting that happen. CBS shows us now that Peko actually got his penalty for coming off the bench and getting into it with a Steeler. Come on. Even the Rams didn't pull that kind of garbage this year. And this is in the middle of a playoff game! Screen to Wheaton is not only stopped by a great play by Vontaze Burfict, but Wheaton completely butchers his attempt to keep control of the ball while going to the ground and loses it to the Bengals. This game has been like watching the Rams offense playing against... the Rams offense.

No CBS commentary now as Bud Dupree buries Hill for a loss. 2nd-12 at the CIN44. We also appear to be down to one fixed camera in the stands and nowhere near midfield. Another great rush by Heyward pressures McCarron into a throwaway. On 3rd down, A.J. tries to go deep for Jones but it is underthrown by a good 10 feet, intercepted by Blake near the 20 and returned out around the CIN40. I have little doubt that ball slipped out of McCarron's hand.

Nifty cutback by Touissant down to the 37 off a pancake by Villanueva. 2nd-6. Timeout #1 for Cincinnati. After throwing that INT bare-handed, McCarron is now practicing throwing with a glove on. Todman bounces a run around left end for 8. Maualuga bottles him up for 1 as a late flag flies yet again. Personal foul on Ramon Foster, a critical one, pushing Pittsburgh back out of FG position. Come on, idiots. 2nd-25 at the 44. Hey, there's that #84 again, open behind PacMan Jones for 23. Clutch D there, Cincy. Cincy blitzes Pittsburgh's 1-3 personnel on 3rd-2; Ben goes down the sideline for #84, but he's tangled up with PacMan and the pass is incomplete. A stickler ref would have called contact on Pac, but I agree with Simms that the no-call was the best call. Chris Boswell hits to put the Steelers on the board and leave me a mere 43 points from hitting my over bet. Steelers 3, Bengals 0

Touchback for Boswell at 2:27. I remember when Greg Zuerlein could do that. Quick hitch to Bernard for 4. Shazier breaks up and nearly picks off the next pass, I think for Eifert. Harrison getting away with flinching at the o-line again. McCarron goes downfield for #18, whoever that is. The throw hangs him out to dry; he can't pull it down one-handed and I don't doubt he had an eye on the defense. We're punting yet again after the 2:00 warning.

Fair catch by that #84 guy at the 25 with 1:49 left. The pocket collapses on Ben, but Touissant takes off with a 6-inch pass for 16. Surprisingly loud HEATH call as Miller makes a 4-yard catch in the flat. Complain about St. Louis all you want; it's beyond pathetic to see a fanbase give up that kind of road presence for a home PLAYOFF game. An injury to Dre Kirkpatrick stops the clock at 1:18 and will cost Cincy a timeout. And expect Ben to go right after his replacement. Quick drag route to #84 gets 11 to the CIN44. As Simms notes, that's Pittsburgh starting to take advantage of the Bengals having to lay off the receivers. DROP by Touissant. Missed out on a big play there. Illegal formation penalty takes away a pass to #84 down to the 27. Bryant lined up wrong. 1st-15, great blitz pickup lets Ben hit Bryant over the middle at the 25. Safety Shawn Williams destroys him with a big hit but went to Bryant's head. More reckless penalties by the Bengals. PIT's now at the 12 with 0:52 left. Looks like #84 dropped the 1st down pass on a slot out. Atkins holds Touissant to 1 on a draw as Pittsburgh uses their first TO. Ben throws a numbnut pass right to LB Vincent Rey, who somehow muffs it into an incomplete. #84 was breaking into the endzone, so I guess Ben never saw the LB. Boswell doubles the scoring at 0:33. Steelers 6, Bengals 0 Only 40 points to the over now!

Nothing but touchbacks on kickoffs tonight even though they're kicking outside, in the rain. Greg Zuerlein must be agape. The Bengals kneel out the half.

I'll try to be quick with the "halftime show". That Goodell rant set me back a while, but it needed to be done. Kroenke moving the team is bullshit enough without Goodell helping him rig the evidence and the vote.

And, unbelievably, this game is just as dreadful, if not more dreadful, than the first game because so much offensive talent is laying fallow. For Cincinnati, A.J. Green (that #18 guy) has once again disappeared in a playoff game, and Pittsburgh imo doesn't really have the DB talent that should be pulling that off. Start running some plays for him. Also, pull your head out, A.J. But the news behind the headline is that the Cincinnati o-line has really been garbage tonight. None of them can stop Cameron Heyward. They haven't really shown up. They're making no headway in the run game and aren't giving McCarron enough comfort to look for Green and Eifert, who should be driving this show. Oh, yeah, I said I was going to be quick. The Bengal line has to decide to play in the 2nd half or we might be in for another goose egg. I think they'll have to power run, start slow, and build up. They're within a score still; they've got time. And c'mon, Hue Jackson; you're better than this. I was ready to lobby for you as the new Rams head coach and everything.

Antonio Brown's been almost as quiet for Pittsburgh as Green has for Cincy. At least Todd Haley has ran more plays for him toward the end of the 2nd half. Pittsburgh started off too tentative but was letting Ben go downfield more at the end of the half. Backed by a surprisingly successful running game, that's enough to carry them.

Both defenses should blitz even more in the 2nd half. This is the kind of weather made for forcing mistakes. Cincy in particular needs to take the ball away in the 2nd half if they're going to get going. Still anybody's game; getting the star WRs out of the blocks and winning the turnover battle are fairly obvious keys.

The kickoff is NOT a touchback but Vince Williams stuffs PacMan at the 18. (Insert dying PacMan sound here.) Hill, who still has negative rushing yards, off left tackle for 2. Trips right, but McCarron goes left to Jones, who got away with a flinch pre-snap. 3rd-3. Trips slot right, McCarron gets a lot of time, has to scramble right, hits Sanu along the sideline for a 1st. 13 yards. McCarron overthrows Green and Blake. Hill finally makes a big play, thanks to Dupree's overrun and a terrible miss in the hole by Will Allen. He flies down the near sideline for 37 to the PIT30. Let's give Hill credit for nice shake-and-bake to make Allen miss in the hole. McCarron has Hill wide open for a short pass, but oh, that Bengal line. Andrew Whitworth, regarded as unbeatable at LT as recently as the Rams' game in Cincinnati, has been bad the second half of the season. He gets beaten here by Jarvis Jones, who knocks the ball out of McCarron's hand just as he's ready to throw. It's a fumble. Hijinks ensue. Cam Thomas picks it up for Pittsburgh, gets to midfield with it and loses it while being tackled. But it's still only Steelers around the ball, and William Gay scoops and scores from there, unless Thomas is called down by contact. He is, and hilariously, the celebration penalty the Steelers got for the non-touchdown is still enforced. They'll get the ball at their 36.

Undaunted, Pittsburgh gains 44 on an end-around to Bryant. He comes left, gets fine blocks from Touissant and Miller, makes a tackle miss with a quick cut back crossfield and isn't touched again till Kirkpatrick runs him down around the 20. Looks like it just isn't meant to be for the Bengals in the playoffs yet again. Ha! Now McCarron is warming up WITHOUT a glove again. Todman stutter-steps for 4. Pat Sims and others stuff him for no gain on 2nd-6, though that could have been a 2-3 yard loss. With the pocket closing, Ben fires out the back of the end zone on 3rd down. That pass pressure saved Cincy; Ben probably would have seen Brown wide open coming across the middle with another second. Boswell's 3rd FG may still be enough to put this game out of reach. Boswell for POTG? Steelers 9-0

Third touchback for Boswell. Harrison beats the hapless Whitworth inside and stuffs Bernard for no gain. A.J. GREEN finally shows up, beating William Gay with a double-move on the sideline for 22. But Allen blitzes in for another stuff of Bernard on 1st down. 2nd-11 blitz forces McCarron to throw short and quick; Bernard drops a pass that would have gained 1 at most. Simms ain't the only guy wondering why Cincy's not going downfield more. Pressure forces McCarron outside again and he throws a wild ball out of bounds. Whitworth's getting beaten so regularly McCarron really doesn't trust him at this point.

Steelers at their 18 after the punt. Touissant bounces around a wide-open right edge for 6. After an injury timeout for Wallace Gilberry, Touissant cuts back for another 6. Steelers really controlling the LOS. Maualuga stuffs Touissant's third straight carry in the middle. Doing their best impression of a Gregg Williams D, Cincy blitzes big on 2nd-10 and gets burned. I love this offensive call. They went trips right and set up a screen to the RB out of the backfield on that side, but Antonio Brown tore out of the right slot on a slant, which Ben saw, lofting a pass to him behind the Cincy front drawn in by the blitz. And Brown's off to the races. After, Johnson whiffs on him at midfield, he cuts inside and races all the way down to the 10 for roughly a 60-yard gain. Run this play for Tavon Austin next year, whoever's OC'ing the Rams. Zone blitzes still suck, and it looks like Brown's the answer to my halftime question of which star WR would get going. Touissant stumbles for no gain as we have DeCastro and Burfict fighting in the end zone. No flag, though. That'll work for the Steelers, as Bryant beats Kirkpatrick and scores a 10-yard TD the next play. OK, I'll try to describe the catch. He snags the ball high, pulls it down and only has a hold of the back end, so he pins it to the back of his leg and does a forward flip while pinning the ball against his midsection with his arm now around his right leg. You know what? He completed the process. I think the main question is if he made the catch in bounds. It's a TD! Don't worry if my explanation isn't comprehensible, we'll be seeing this catch many times. Steelers 15-0

OK, with 5:00 left in the 3rd, you can stick a fork in the Bengals, but I guess Tomlin wants to put them down 3 scores instead of 2 and goes for 2. Ben's fastball is dropped in the back of the end zone. Thrown too far behind Wheaton.

Touchback #4 for Boswell despite the rain re-intensifying. There's what the Bengals need. Out route to Green for 11. Bernard's wide open on a circle route but McCarron's pass comes too late and is bad. Defensive holding on Gay anyway. Put 'em on the 36. Bernard cracks the Steelers for 12 on a delay run as Bodine really moves Tuitt at center. Bernard up the middle for maybe 1, but the Steelers advance Cincy again with a face mask penalty. Come on. I think this is now the best Bengal drive of the night, thanks to all the Pittsburgh penalty yardage. From the 35, they LOSE SEVEN throwing a doofy pass to Sanu, who wasn't concentrating. It looked backward live, but Marvin Lewis makes a good challenge that it was really forward. 2nd-10 now instead of 2nd-17. Inside screen to Eifert for 7. Heyward nearly gets McCarron on 3rd down, but his quick throw goes to Sanu for 4. Tuitt and Dupree stuff Bernard for 1 at the PIT23. A Shazier blitz forces a quick throwaway.  McCarron gets lots of time on 3rd-9, but finds only a dumpoff to Bernard, who gets knocked out by Shazier, who also runs off with the ball. I guess Bernard was down by contact. He's also out by contact. The crowd goes nuts after the replay because they want a helmet-to-helmet call on Shazier. Hill tries to start a brawl with several Steelers near midfield. Simms says Bernard became a runner before he got hit, so no penalty, which Mike Carey confirms. The explanation I need is how that was different than the penalty the Bengals got at the end of the first half. I, and Mike Tomlin, would also like an explanation of why Bernard wasn't charged with a fumble. Tomlin throws the challenge flag. Looks like a fumble to all of us watching the replay. That ought to go over really big with the home crowd.

Yep, a fumble. Shazier's denied his TD return, but it's Steelers ball at their 25. Tracy Wolfson reports that Burfict has been going nuts on the Bengal sideline. Marvin Lewis has got to get a hold on his players tonight. Touissant bounces outside for a couple. There's trash getting thrown on the field now. John Parry tries to placate the crowd with a holding call on Pittsburgh. 1st-20. Maualuga holds Todman to 2 on a draw. Ben goes deep for Wheaton down the sideline, but somebody called Chris Lewis-Harris as him blanketed. 3rd-18. Ben gets a long time to throw but is sacked back inside by Burfict, who beat Gilbert late on a blitz. Clean play by Burfict, but Ben landed very hard on his throwing shoulder. He's assisted off. The quarter ends with the Steelers about to punt from the back of their end zone and possibly facing having to turn their postseason hopes over to Landry Jones.

Man, it felt like that third quarter took forever. The punt manages to roll to the Steeler 46. McCarron misses the backup TE Tyler Kroft on an out route. They've got some momentum but still no points. Well, those may not be far away with Allen interfering with Green inside the 5. Hill follows G Clint Boling and Kroft down to the 1, then sidesteps his way in from there. Ha! Followed the same two guys. Also got a block in the backfield by Jake Fisher as the jumbo fullback.  Steelers 15, Bengals 7

Landry Jones is indeed coming in for Pittsburgh. It'll be important for him not to spit the bit. The Steelers can help him out by running well. Touchback #2 by Nugent. Give the Bengals crowd credit - they haven't given up despite spending most of the past three hours in a downpour. Intended circle route pass to Touissant is blocked at the line by Sims. Todman makes another great cutback for 25, led out by Villanueva again, and Miller. On 2nd-6, Dunlap beats a double-team and he and Sims bury Jones for a sack. Quick screen to Bryant doesn't do much besides lead Burfict back over to the Steeler sideline to start up another conflagration. Bengals come close to blocking the punt, but Tate makes the fair catch at the 8.

Play-action screen to Hill goes for 14. Hill's all alone over the middle the next play for another 15 but comes off limping. That sends in Rex Burkhead to gain 4 up the middle to the 41. Cincy picks up the blitz on 2nd down, giving McCarron room to beat Shazier to the marker for 6 more. It took them all night, but the Bengals are starting to put together some drives. Just as I say that, Eifert's all alone downfield but lets a ball go through his hands. McCarron scrambles for just a yard. 3rd-9. The Bengals use their first timeout with 8:00 left. Pittsburgh's backed way off with their coverage and their pressure and should probably think about turning them both back on. The Bengals' flame is getting just a little too much oxygen. Pittsburgh does blitz now - don't turn it on on 3rd-and-9, dummies! but McCarron hangs in very well and hits Eifert for a diving catch and a big gain. He hits Green for another 9 down to the PIT24. The Bengals are in striking range on the scoreboard all of a sudden here. Bernard gets the first down but Arthur Moats stops him for 2 on a draw. Good blitz pickup on 2nd-8 but McCarron misses Marvin Jones on a short sideline route. Burkhead takes a swing pass for only a couple of yards. With 5:44 to go, Marvin Lewis sends out the FG team on 4th-3. I don't know about that when they're only down a TD. Steelers 15, Bengals 10

Touchback for Nugent. Ben is back from the locker room but stays on the sideline. Brown makes a diving catch on a comeback for 6. Todman tries to bounce a run outside right but can't get anything. 3rd and 4. The crowd gets louder as the rain falls harder. Jones tries to go up top for a double-teamed Brown but underthrows him. Get that throw downfield and he's still running. Ruh-roh, here's PacMan on the punt return, gobbling up 24 yards to the PIT45. Um, about the Steelers having stuck the fork in the Bengals...

Under double pressure, McCarron has to backhand a throw to Hill for 3. Quick pass to Marvin Jones, ludicrously covered by James Harrison, gets 5 on the sideline. Steeler blitz on 3rd-and-2 forces McCarron to throw it away and forces 4th down. Pittsburgh's blitzing again, and McCarron coolly hits Marvin Jones on a drag down to the PIT28. Pittsburgh's taking my advice, and much to my dismay, it's not working. Another blitz forces McCarron to scramble for about 3 at the 2:00 warning. Pittsburgh backing off after halftime really let McCarron gain confidence. McCarron misses Sanu open at the 20. 3rd-7 at the PIT25. And you are kidding me! McCarron hangs in against a 4-man rush, and what is A.J. Green doing wide open inside the 5? TD to Green after he runs through Mike Mitchell at the goal line. I'm going to accuse Mitchell of coming up way too late in coverage. No way Green ever should have been so open. Cincy goes for two with a pitchback to Hill that loses big yardage. What a rally by the Bengals, though, from given up for dead to the lead with 1:50 left. Bengals 16, Steelers 15

Nugent's first short kickoff of the night is only brought out to the 15 by Wheaton, and if you thought the crowd was loud before... lotsa luck, Landry Jones. Burfict picks him off! Really poor decision by Jones as Burfict had Wheaton's middle route cut off. Nantz is worried the play wasn't blown dead and Burfict just ran the wrong way for a safety. That would be NUTS. He's down by contact at the Steeler 26.

And now, are you really kidding me! JEREMY HILL FUMBLES THE BALL BACK TO THE STEELERS. Ryan Shazier stripped it out with Hill trying to dive the ground. Steelers ball with 1:23 left. I am dumbfounded.

And are you seriously double-secret probation kidding me! BEN ROETHLISBERGER BACK IN THE GAME FOR PITTSBURGH. Nantz makes a strong case that Cincy should have kneeled three times and kicked a FG. There's been a lot of questionable coaching decisions tonight. Ben hits Wheaton for 8 but throws the next pass behind Brown, who can't hang on. 3rd-2 at the 17. The Bengals call timeout at 0:54. Pittsburgh still has all theirs. Steelers need probably 50 yards to get into FG range, but they have to focus right now on their next 2. Ben rolls out of trouble and lobs to Touissant, who makes a deceptively tough catch and crucially gets out of bouds at the 24. 10 more to Touissant, but over the middle; Pittsburgh timeout at 0:44. Good pressure by Johnson and Gilberry forces an incomplete. Quick screen to Bryant gets maybe 3? Pittsburgh HAS to start thinking more downfield. Oh, Nantz is right. Maybe Ben, with the injured shoulder, can't really throw it very far. Might explain the lob a couple of plays ago. The Steelers are RUNNING? Johnson trips Touissant for 4, denied him a big gain, actually. But it's 4th-and-3. That run might have been a better call on 2nd down. Game on the line here, Cincy takes their last timeout. What? To give Pittsburgh more time to run a more composed play? It's like Lewis and Tomlin are trying to out-undermanage each other at times here. Now here we go. It's a pick route to Brown that gets Leon Hall tangled up and gets a first down at the CIN48. 22 seconds left; Pittsburgh needs 15 yards. Ben's shoulder looks fine as he overthrows Brown with a fastball. 2nd dow.... NO, HERE COMES A VERY LATE FLAG. But it's justified; Burfict jacked Brown in the head to give the Steelers a FIRST DOWN IN FIELD GOAL RANGE. YOU MINDLESS IDIOT. Brown's out cold; while they're tending to him, the Bengals are now getting into it with the referees. PACMAN BRILLIANTLY GETS A PENALTY FOR BUMPING THE REF. These hostilities started because I think Burfict wanted to apologize while Brown was getting walked off but tangled with a Steelers trainer. Burfict should have known that would never go over well after talking about hating Pittsburgh all week and being the guy who knocked Brown AND Roethlisberger out of the game. Good intentions but terrible discipline lead to a chip shot 35-yarder for Boswell. The Steelers' third or fourth FG kicker this season puts them ahead 18-16.

PacMan got his penalty going after assistant coach Joey Porter - somebody want to explain to me what the hell HE was doing in the middle of the field? PacMan brilliantly gobbles the clock down to 0:06 returning the kickoff to the 24. McCarron gets off a deep ball but Shazier knocks it down to end what has to be the most frustrating of Cincinnati's recent playoff losses.

It's the playoffs. The Bengals find a way to lose.

With great respect to Boswell's four FGs and at least four touchbacks, in a slugfest like this one, I can't give POTG to a kicker with a clear conscience. It's gotta go to Ryan Shazier, who forced two crucial fumbles, had a couple of tackles for loss among his 13 total and a couple of near-picks.

CBS' postgame studio commentary was harshly and rightly directed at Marvin Lewis for his team's complete meltdown in discipline. And again, another playoff team reminding us why the Rams suck. You can have all the playmakers on defense you want; it doesn't matter if they don't play under control and don't stay away from stupid and undisciplined penalties. This absolutely falls on the head coach, and the Bengals have to ask themselves tomorrow morning if they think this brand of football is worth keeping, or if they should consider tearing the whole mess down. Something's gotta give. Then again, though McCarron wasn't terrible, this whole thing could have been a lot different with Andy Dalton healthy. They have a deep enough roster to be able to shed some of their troublemakers. If they're not looking for a replacement for Lewis in the offseason, find one for PacMan and one for Burfict instead. And maybe some safety depth.

The 2-point Steeler win leaves me 3-2 with a push for my gambling day. That'll work. It also sends them to Denver next week, possibly without Ben and Antonio Brown, and sends the Chiefs to New England. Denver and Peyton are known for some playoff chokes, but doing so against Pittsburgh's second-string offense would be accomplishing something. Belichick vs. Reid looms as a big mismatch in the other AFC game next weekend, and KC is probably going up there without Jeremy Maclin. Hard not to like the AFC home teams big next weekend, though we'll have to keep an eye on the Steeler injuries.

Stay warm, Minnesota! Seahawks vs. Vikings up next, at noon tomorrow.