NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Seahawks parlay 49ers mistakes into Super Bowl trip
SEATTLE — All season long, the Seattle Seahawks’ defense carried them at times the offense sputtered. Its biggest challenge yet will come in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks forced turnovers on the San Francisco 49ers’ final three drives, the last an interception by Malcolm Smith on a deflection by Richard Sherman in the end zone with 22 seconds to go that sealed a 23-17 victory in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
Next up: a title date with Peyton Manning and the high-powered Denver Broncos on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Colin Kaepernick fumbled and threw an interception on the 49ers’ previous two drives. But the Seahawks scored only one field goal off those turnovers, keeping the game alive.
Given the ball once more with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to go, Kaepernick completed four consecutive passes, including a fourth-and-2 strike to crossing Frank Gore as the 49ers drove to the Seattle 18.
But Sherman got a piece of Kaepernick’s jump-ball throw to the corner of the end zone and Smith corralled the ball in bounds, allowing Seattle to run out the clock and set off a celebration during which Sherman leaped into the stands at CenturyLink Field.
It’s the second George Halas Trophy and Super Bowl trip in the 38-year history of the Seahawks, who also won the NFC title after the 2005 season before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
No players remain from that team, and no one on Seattle’s roster has appeared in a Super Bowl. Neither has coach Pete Carroll, who did take the University of Southern California to two BCS championship games before becoming the Seahawks’ coach in 2010.
Sunday’s win was the Seahawks’ third straight against the 49ers in Seattle, where they rolled 42-13 on Dec. 23, 2012, and 29-3 on Sept. 15 before San Francisco won this regular season’s rematch 19-17 on Dec. 8 at Candlestick Park. This one was far tighter.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Peyton Manning passes Broncos past Patriots into Super Bowl
DENVER — Two years ago, the NFL world was wondering if Peyton Manning might ever throw another pass. Even he wasn’t sure.
Yet there were a gaggle of Mannings in a jubilant Denver Broncos locker room on Sunday, celebrating the Broncos’ 26-16 win in the AFC Championship Game and Manning’s third trip to the Super Bowl. Manning has a chance to win a second Super Bowl ring — his first with the Broncos and his first since having four surgeries on his neck.
“One of my favorite things to tell him is, ‘Enjoy the journey.’ I tell him that all the time. And it’s been a good journey,” Manning’s father and former NFL quarterback Archie Manning said.
Archie was joined by his other two sons, New York Giants quarterback Eli, who made the trip to Denver to surprise his brother, and Cooper, whose two sons scampered around the locker room in their orange No.18 jerseys, taking pictures of the AFC championship memorabilia and posing in their uncle’s locker.
“Oh, we’re proud. Obviously we’re proud of Peyton, but we’re just like all the other parents of Broncos that are going to the Super Bowl,” Archie said.
Peyton Manning was brilliant in leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl since his boss, John Elway, retired after the 1998 season. Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns, both at the end of drives lasting more than seven minutes. He was clearly the best player on the field in his 15th meeting with longtime nemesis Tom Brady.
Manning will be joined in East Rutherford, N.J., at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 by a suddenly stout defense that held the New England Patriots to 320 yards. The Broncos shut down the Patriots running game (64 yards) and held Brady to 277 passing yards. Brady was sacked twice, including a 10-yard loss on fourth-and-3 from the Broncos 29-yard line in the third quarter with Denver leading 20-3. That sack, by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, killed the Patriots’ 13-play drive and drew some of the loudest cheers of the day from a sold-out crowd at Sports Authority Field.
“We knew it would take a dominant performance on defense. We knew our offense was going to go out there with a rhythm. I knew Peyton would throw for all that, and we just wanted to do our part,” Knighton said. “We didn’t want to be the missing link.”
Fans relished the Broncos’ first AFC title game since the 2005 season (when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers), and the resurgence of a team that was 4-12 three years ago. But the brief and disastrous tenure of coach Josh McDaniels, now New England’s offensive coordinator, led to the hiring of Elway as executive vice president of football operations. Elway has rebuilt the team and was a key element to the signing of Manning in March 2012.
Denver has gone 13-3 in the two seasons since, while Manning and the offense shattered records this season with 55 passing touchdowns and 606 points scored. But none of that would have really mattered without a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos, the preseason favorites to win the AFC, did not get here easily. They played the first six games of the season without their star pass rusher as Von Miller served a suspension, lost all-pro left tackle Ryan Clady in Week 2, lost defensive starters Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe, safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Chris Harris to season-ending injuries and played four weeks without coach John Fox, who had heart surgery in early November.
“Every Super Bowl team that has held up that trophy has been through some type of adversity,” Knighton said. “We just wanted to respond.”
It happens a lot in the NFL: The dazzling revolutions of September and October — the promise of a new-fangled Wildcat or read-option or run-and-shoot paradigm that will change everything — often fall by the wayside in the bitter rain and snow and cold of January, when football returns to the eternal verities of truth and reality.
So it is this year.
In a season during which passing and scoring records fell, all four Championship Sunday participants (including the one that set those records) relied on the timeless formula last weekend: run the ball effectively, control the clock, play solid defense and make the other team earn every point it scores.
You could see evidence of the back-to-basics approach in every divisional-round game:
- Russell Wilson’s passing was mostly grounded, and the oft-injured Percy Harvin was knocked out of the action with a concussion, but the Seahawks still took down the Saints. Seattle won behind tackle-breaking machine Marshawn Lynch (in postseason Beast Mode, evidently) and a suffocating defense that rattled New Orleans’ top weapon, Jimmy Graham.
- New England, decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball (along with, it has to be said, the murder charge against tight end Aaron Hernandez), has fewer difference-makers than it has had at any time in recent memory. But LeGarrette Blount was the blunt force that the Patriots used to pound the Colts’ defense into submission. Meanwhile, the Pats’ myriad defensive looks frustrated Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, who threw four interceptions.
- San Francisco won its second road playoff contest in eight days, thanks in large part to a defense that stonewalled Carolina’s running game (Cam Newton was the only Panther to eclipse 20 yards rushing) and snagged two interceptions. Offensively, the 49ers employed a balanced attack: Frank Gore led the charge on the ground while Colin Kaepernick made some timely plays through the air, leaning heavily on veteran gamer Anquan Boldin.
- Denver used San Diego’s own formula from the regular season — control the ball, shorten the game, manage the clock (35:27 of possession) — to keep the Chargers on their heels all day long. Denver’s defense missed Von Miller’s havoc-wreaking presence but stiffened enough to allow the Bolts just 65 yards rushing, less than half of what the Broncos churned out in a winning effort.
Each one of the four divisional-round winners exceeded 125 yards rushing. After setting the single-season record with an astounding 5,477 passing yards, Peyton Manning threw for just 230, with the other three winning quarterbacks failing to reach 200. Glamour QBs Tom Brady and Wilson didn’t even throw a single touchdown pass.
There is, of course, a long tradition of returning to the run game in the postseason. Go back 45 years to the New York Jets’ memorable defeat of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. New York was led by Joe Namath, who was one season removed from becoming the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 4,000 yards, but the Jets ran more than they passed on that day (logging 43 carries and 29 throws), to control the clock and the Colts. (A year later, the Kansas City Chiefs — another team known for offensive daring and innovation — rushed the ball 42 times for 151 yards to dominate the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.)
These things were true 45 years ago, and they still might be true 45 years from now.
In recent years, we’ve seen running backs de-emphasized on draft day. Yet, by the time the playoffs roll around, the best teams almost always have a solid run game in place.
The star of the divisional weekend, Blount, went undrafted out of college and was pawned off by the Buccaneers this past offseason — yet he’s been unstoppable for the Patriots of late. Marshawn Lynch was a first-round draft choice, but the Bills gave up on him before the Seahawks recast him as their most reliable offensive threat. Knowshon Moreno’s demise had been rumored for years in Denver, but this season he’s been a steady all-around back who doesn’t fumble (and a strong blocker, to boot). Frank Gore is a former third-round pick — thanks in part to some injury baggage from college — who has developed a reputation as a tough inside runner, and his efficiency boosts both the passing game and Kaepernick’s devastatingly effective keepers.
So why does this happen so often? Why do the gaudy passing numbers of the regular season frequently get supplanted by the meat and potatoes of old-school football in the new year? Simple reasons, mostly:
Better defense: Playoff teams are generally more accomplished defensively, meaning each opponent has a formidable pass rush. The best way to neutralize this is to have a running game that the defense has to take seriously.
Weather: So Peyton Manning isn’t as good in cold-weather games? Guess what: He’s not alone — not by a long shot. Show me a quarterback who consistently overperforms in freezing temperatures and snow, and I’ll show you an anomaly. Cold weather leads to numb hands, making it very difficult to execute the touch throws that separate the great quarterbacks from the good ones. And while receivers enjoy a slight advantage over defensive backs in terms of footing — because they know where they’re going — it’s much harder to catch a rifled pass in sub-freezing weather than it is on a room-temperature day. (If you’ve never tried it, just trust me.)
Dangerous opposing quarterbacks: You can get away with a quick, drive-killing string of incompletions — or even a turnover — when the quarterback on the other side is an untested rookie/journeyman who lacks pocket presence. But do that in a playoff game against a Manning or Brady, and you’re going to get burned. That’s why it’s all the more important to control the football and minimize mistakes.
Throwback football will be on full display in the NFC Championship Game, as the style fits the personalities of the coaches very well. A physical running game is a large part of the DNA both Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh used to build their respective teams.
It’s a bit different on the AFC side. New England’s commitment to the run is simply Bill Belichick’s adaptation to a roster that’s currently short on difference-making receivers and tight ends. The Pats very well could go back to being a top-five passing attack and the league’s top-ranked offense next season if they can come up with the right group of receivers for Brady. On the other hand, Denver is only committed to the run as long as you stay in a loose shell defense that begs the Broncos to use it.
In each game, though, both teams will look to assert their will by establishing a ground attack. And the ones that do so best will likely meet in New Jersey in February.
The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop watching NFL games.
Can home-field advantage can be established this year?
In the NFC, the 49ers and Saints are considered better teams than their home opponents, but both teams travel into tough weather conditions. In the AFC, the Colts were 6-2 at home in the regular season, but they’ve shown signs of being vulnerable.
And then there’s Green Bay. Since 2002, the Packers are 3-4 at Lambeau Field in the playoffs. That mark was 13-0 before ’02.
|KANSAS CITY CHIEFS||INDIANAPOLIS COLTS|
|NEW ORLEANS SAINTS||PHILADELPHIA EAGLES|
|SAN DIEGO CHARGERS||CINCINNATI BENGALS|
|SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS||GREEN BAY PACKERS|
So how wild will this weekend’s wild-card playoff games be?
A high-scoring game is expected Saturday night when the New Orleans Saints visit the Philadelphia Eagles. An Ice Bowl-like game is expected when the San Francisco 49ers visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Can the Indianapolis Colts repeat their 16-point win from Week 16 over Kansas City on Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium? Anything can happen in the San Diego-Cincinnati game Sunday.
Which teams will survive the first hurdle in the race toward Super Bowl XLVIII?
It doesn’t get much more even than this. The 3-3 Cowboys, who are 2-0 in the division, face the 3-3 Eagles, who are 2-0 in the division. Both teams stand atop the NFC East in about as grandiose a matchup as possible in Week 7 of an NFL season, with the Cowboys attempting to win their first road game of the 2013 season after starting 0-2 away from home.
Dallas had been criticized in years past for a lack of a home field advantage. Well, the Cowboys are now 3-1 at home this year. The problem has been on the road, where they’ve played a resurgent Chiefs squad and a quick passing Chargers team. The Cowboys swept the Eagles last year in the regular season series, but this is a much different Eagles team with Chip Kelly at the helm.
Special teams could make the difference once again. If there’s anyone happy to see the Eagles, it’s probably Dwayne Harris. He has two punt return touchdowns in his career. The most recent one occurred last week against the Redskins, and his first came last year against the team the Cowboys will travel to see this weekend. Harris recorded a 78-yard punt return touchdown in the Cowboys’ win at Philadelphia last year.
That game also featured a defense maligned for its inability to create turnovers finding a way to get the ball back. Brandon Carr had an interception return for a touchdown and Jason Hatcher had a fumble return for a touchdown. Both of those players played exceptionally well last week against the Redskins and will be needed if the Cowboys’ defense wants to prove the previous two weeks against the Chargers and Broncos were flukes.
The Eagles share the same record in the league and the division as the Cowboys, but the way they got there is completely different. Dallas is 3-1 at home and 0-2 on the road, while the Eagles are 0-2 at home and 3-1 on the road this year. In fact, the Eagles haven’t won a home game since Week 4 of the 2012 season, spanning eight straight home losses.
Philadelphia will want to reverse that trend after three straight road games, in which the Eagles went 2-1. Those two wins came against Giants and Bucs teams that are still searching for their first victories of the season. The Eagles’ opponents in their three wins this year have a combined one win. Both the Cowboys’ and Eagles’ three losses this season have come against the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos.
They’re two very evenly matched NFC East teams that will be meeting each other. Both have 45 penalties this season and rank in the top five in scoring average and in the bottom five in total defense. They both also have positive turnover margins at plus-four for the Cowboys and plus-two for the Eagles, and both boast a playmaking star receiver. DeSean Jackson has 34 catches for 589 yards and five touchdowns, while Dez Bryant has 34 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns.
Both teams are also dealing with significant injuries. Michael Vick isn’t expected to return from his hamstring injury this weekend, meaning Nick Foles will be the quarterback again. The Cowboys saw Foles in both games last season, as Vick left the first matchup injured. Foles threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns without an interception last week against the Bucs. With LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s rushing leader this year, the Eagles still have plenty of offensive firepower.
James Harrison says this is the best he’s felt physically since 2008, the year he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
After 10 grinding seasons as a star linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, that’s an impressive claim. Harrison’s ability to land a multiyear deal from the speaks to his success in maintaining his physical condition.
So how has Harrison — now 35 — held off Father Time? Dedication is a huge part of it. Being rich helps too.
Harrison told reporters on Tuesday he spends between $400,000 and $600,000 annually on “body work.”
“You want to be able to stay in this business for awhile, you’re gonna have to take care of your body,” he said. “If you want to do that, you’re going to have to spend money, it’s not cheap.”
OK, but half a million dollars? This kind of seems, well, impossible, and a reporter in attendance astutely asked how the bill gets so high.
Harrison explained that he owns a hyperbaric chamber and keeps six different masseuses on his payroll, in addition to a homeopathic doctor, chiropractor and acupuncturist.
Harrison said his Steelers teammates used to call him a “massage whore,” a name earned by the 2-4 hours of massages he receives each day. Harrison said he auditioned around 150 massage specialists before settling on his rotation.
This is all real stuff said in real press conference in front of real reporters. Remember James Harrison the next time a $19.99 gym membership gives you pause.
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Browns have waved off their white-flag giveaway.
Following days of criticism, the Browns have decided to cancel a promotion to hand out white flags to fans before Sunday’s game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Because white flags symbolize surrender, the giveaway seemed to imply the Browns were giving up against the Steelers, who have won 16 of the past 17 games between the AFC North foes.
Browns spokesman Neal Gulkis said in a statement on Saturday that the team scrapped the idea "in the best interests of everyone. It is something that was intended to be fun for our fans and that they could rally around, and we regret that some didn’t perceive it that way."
The flag giveaway was poorly received by many Browns fans and even some players.
Aloha, Honolulu! The NFL is back in Hawaii for the 2013 Pro Bowl. The annual contest of the AFC and NFC’s best will take place Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 at Aloha Stadium.
Who do you think should be headed to Hawaii at season’s end?
Make your voice heard by casting your vote for your favorite NFL players with the official Pro Bowl voting widget.
Editors Note: None of the Dallas Cowboys Defensive Ends or Special Teamers are listed in the 2013 Pro Bowl ballot. However, 25 players are eligible.
Laurent Robinson’s first season in Jacksonville isn’t going quite as well as he or the team hoped.
Robinson got off on the wrong foot when training camp started and has just nine catches and 134 yards in four games this season. Now he’s dealing with his third concussion since the start of camp as well. Robinson was injured in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, making it two straight games with a concussion for the wide receiver.
Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union reports that Robinson isn’t expected to play against Chicago in Week Five, which is to be expected given the short interval between concussions. The Jaguars have a bye in Week Six, so he could wind up missing just one game although it wouldn’t be surprising if Robinson wound up missing more time.
We’re not sure how much that would actually hurt the Jaguars passing offense. The Jags are gaining just 146.1 yards per game through the air, which leaves them next to last in that statistic. Robinson’s absence clearly isn’t what the team wanted when they signed him to a five-year, $32.5 million deal, but things can’t really get too much worse in the passing game.
IRVING, Texas – Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. These are the best receivers that the Dallas Cowboys have faced through two games. None of them scored a touchdown against Dallas. In fact, the Cowboys have yet to give up a touchdown to any receiver this season.
The receivers mentioned above and most of the ones the Cowboys have faced so far are known for their dangerous quickness. Vincent Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers poses a whole other problem.
At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson is a strong and physical receiver that the Cowboys will have to prepare for almost as if they are playing a fast tight end. This could mean trouble for the Cowboys who might not have given up touchdowns to receivers yet, but they have seen tight ends catch touchdown passes on them in each of the first two games.
In his first season with the Buccaneers, Jackson seems to have already picked up some nice chemistry with quarterback Josh Freeman. Last week in a loss to the Giants, he caught five passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Cornerback Brandon Carr, who has been instrumental in shutting down receivers this season, talked about preparing to face Jackson.
“You just got to be ready to go 60 minutes,” Carr said. “Be prepared for a battle every time you come to the line of scrimmage.”
As a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Carr faced Jackson when he was playing for the San Diego Chargers. He explained that he knew what to expect when lining up against Jackson.
“I just played him for four years so I kind of have a feel for his capabilities on the field. He’s a big, powerful receiver and he’s very physical at the line of scrimmage. … I’ll have my work cut out for me.”
“Yes and no,” Carr said. “He has a different skill set. They do things differently. Off the line of scrimmage he’s more physical, more of a bully, so to speak. When the ball goes up, it’s either he’s catching it or the opposite, nobody’s catching it.”
Although Carr described Jackson as a “bully” he made sure to point out that he is not intimidated by the big receiver. In fact, he relishes the opportunity.
“I like checking big receivers,” Carr said. “This will be a good matchup for me, a good test. I’m ready for the challenge. I just can’t wait for Sunday to get here.”
Safety Barry Church took time to praise the Cowboys’ cornerbacks and what they have been able to do thus far. He is confident that they will continue their success against Jackson.
“Our corners are playing pretty well this year,” Church said. “Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, they’re showing up all over the field and becoming lockdown corners. I look forward to continuing to play with them and continuing to shut down wide receivers.”
Church elaborated by explaining that the Cowboys know the formula to containing a big target like Jackson.
You’ve just got to be more physical with him at the line of scrimmage,” Church said. “You can’t let him get on top of you because he’s going to out-jump you. He’s got a couple of inches on our corners so they’ve got to be real physical with him at the line of scrimmage.”
Tomlin, 40, was entering the final year of his contract, although the team had an option for 2013. Financial terms of the three-year extension weren’t released, but Tomlin was the sixth-highest paid NFL coach for this season, according to Forbes magazine.
"I am excited that I will continue to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for years to come," Tomlin said in a statement. "I am grateful to the Steelers organization for the opportunity I have been given over the past five years to work and live in this great city, and I am excited to continue to work to bring another championship to the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh."
Tomlin, who is entering his sixth season as the Steelers’ coach, became the youngest coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl, when he led the Steelers to a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in February 2009. He also reached the playoffs four times in his first five seasons, including two trips to the Super Bowl.
"We are pleased to announce that Mike Tomlin will remain with the Steelers for at least five more years," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. "Mike is one of the top head coaches in the National Football League and we are thrilled he will continue to lead our team as we pursue another Super Bowl title."
Once upon a time, Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was the cool new kid in Cleveland. He had high hopes, even if it wasn’t his stated goal to be the greatest thing that’s happened to the city .
Two humbling seasons later, McCoy has learned how tough the NFL can be .
“It’s been a rough ride thus far,” McCoy told the Abilene (Texas) Reporter News. “We’ve had our ups and downs. I’ve had three (offensive) coordinators going into my third year. Two head coaches in two years.
“There’s been some ups and downs and things you have to fight through. Most are things out of your control. But for me, I would just like a little consistency. I love the town. I love the fans. I think they truly deserve a winning football team. That’s what I want to do. I want to be there for the ride of turning that thing around. We’ll see what happens.”
We continue to believe that the Browns will ultimately trade McCoy . Seneca Wallace fits naturally as a backup, and the Browns could potentially get a conditional late-round pick for McCoy during training camp. The Texas product hopes that doesn’t happen.
“I really like Cleveland,” McCoy said. “I’ve always been a guy that wants to finish what he starts.”
In the interview, McCoy repeatedly talked about handling the things he can control. At this point, we’re not sure McCoy can do anything to change the minds of the Browns brass. Only a Brandon Weeden training-camp injury would truly give McCoy a chance to start again.
If his father wouldn’t have talked him out of it, Jerry Jones would have likely purchased the San Diego Chargers when he was only 25.
The Cowboys owner and general manager recently wrote a 1,300-word story about his life as a 25-year-old for an upcoming issue of ForbesLife Magazine.
In his entry, Jones describes how his passion to own an AFL team was so great that he would frequently fly to Houston, sit around the lobby of a hotel where the AFL owners met and when they exited, Jones would introduce himself.
During those meetings, Jones met Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie, who was aware that Barron Hilton was looking to sell the San Diego Chargers.
Hilton wanted $5.8 million for the franchise.
Jones was convinced that he wanted to make the purchase but his father talked him out of it.
"He asked me what in the world I was doing," Jones recalled. "He told me I was supposed to be working in the insurance business and that I still had the pizza-parlor deal to work out. He told me to let football go, that by my own admission the Chargers wouldn’t work financially. He told me, ‘I hate to see you start life behind the eight ball.’"
Although Jones had the financing in place, he decided to take his father’s advice.
"Now, of course, just a few months later, the AFL and the NFL merged. The value of the Chargers skyrocketed," Jones wrote. "What I could have had for $5.8 million was then sold for over $11 million.
"My dad told that story for the rest of his life, how he had talked me out of earning millions at age 25."
Jones gave the magazine a few photos to run with the story. Here is one with his son Stephen and wife Gene in the Jones’ Fayetteville, Arkansas, apartment:
OCEANSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Former NFL star Junior Seau was found shot to death at his home Wednesday morning in what police said appeared to be a suicide. He was 43.
Police Chief Frank McCoy said Seau’s girlfriend reported finding him unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest and lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful.
A gun was found near him, McCoy said. Police said no suicide note was found and they didn’t immediately know who the gun was registered to.
"We believe it was a suicide," said Oceanside police Lt. Leonard Mata. "There is no indication of foul play."
Seau’s mother appeared before reporters, weeping uncontrollably.
"I don’t understand … I’m shocked," Luisa Seau cried out.
Her son gave no indication of a problem when she spoke to him by phone earlier this week, she said.
"He’s joking to me, he called me a `homegirl,’" she said.
IRVING, Texas — Seems some fans are ticked that the Dallas Cowboys tied for the 11th-toughest schedule based on 2011 records while last year’s top playoff seeds, the Packers and Patriots, supposedly have it easy.
Bottom line is this: nobody in the National Football League gets a weak slate. "Schedule strength" applies to all 32 times. That’s parity, folks.
The Cowboys tied for the 15th-toughest schedule in 2011, but some of their so-called "easier" games — San Francisco (6-10 in 2010) and Detroit (6-10 in 2010) — weren’t so simple. Sure, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia played well below expectations, but the Eagles certainly didn’t show it in two blowout wins over Dallas. And no NFC East game is a cakewalk, anyway.
This year the Cowboys have another third-place schedule, but the entire division plays the NFC South and the AFC North. The only difference is the Giants get fellow division champs Green Bay and San Francisco, while the Cowboys play fellow third-placers Chicago and Seattle.
Even then, both those opponents could compete for a playoff spot. The Bears will be better if they get protection for Jay Cutler, and the Seahawks were a team on the rise by the end of 2011.
No matter what the computer says, the Cowboys always have to claw and scratch to get back to the postseason. December/January probably will include multiple division and primetime matchups — great for ratings, but not for Dallas. That’s the price of being America’s Team.
Twelve of the Cowboys’ 24 games under Jason Garrett have been decided by a field goal or less. No one said winning would be easy in 2012, either.
Dallas Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)
Week 1: Wednesday, Sept. 5, at NY Giants, 8:30 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Monday, Oct. 1, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, NY Giants, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Atlanta, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Philadelphia, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, Washington, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Peyton Manning will become the next quarterback of the Denver Broncos, barring a snag during intensified contract negotiations that have commenced under the instruction of the four-time MVP to his agent Tom Condon, according to multiple sources.
Once the Manning deal becomes official, Denver will try to trade Tim Tebow, according to sources.
Manning instructed Condon to negotiate the finite details of a contract that would conclude with him joining the Broncos after a frenzied but focused process that began when the Indianapolis Colts released him March 7.
Manning called Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway on Monday morning to tell him the news. Manning also called the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans to inform them of his intent to now play for Denver.
Titans owner Bud Adams released a statement Monday saying: "Obviously I am disappointed, because I thought we would be a perfect fit.
"Now that we move forward, I want our fans to know that our expectations haven’t changed — winning a championship is still the goal. I like our quarterback situation moving forward and we will continue to build the team through free agency and the draft with that goal in mind.
"I also want to commend Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. They were thrown into a very difficult situation. Matt was very good for us last year; and at some point, we expect Jake to be our future franchise quarterback," Adams said in the statement.
A contract between Manning and the Broncos is expected to be a formality. Elway and Manning first discussed the parameters of a five-year, $95 million contract during their March 9 meeting in Denver, the first time the quarterback visited a team during his free agency.
Only two Dallas Cowboys, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and nose tackle Jay Ratliff were named to the Pro Bowl when the NFC and AFC all-star teams were announced on Tuesday.
It’s the fewest number of Cowboys going to the Pro Bowl since 2002 when defensive tackle La’Roi Glover was their lone representative.
Ware, who is second in the league in sacks with 18, was voted in as a starter. It is his sixth straight trip to the Pro Bowl.
Ratliff was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fourth straight year. He will go in as a reserve after recording two sacks, six tackles for loss, 12 quarterback pressures and four pass deflections in 2011.
“It’s a great honor to be selected to play in the Pro Bowl,” Ware said. “It shows that all the work through the offseason and season pays off. It’s special because you are selected by the fans, your peers and coaches around the league. I am excited to represent the Dallas Cowboys and the entire NFL in the game. Since my rookie season, I always strived on working hard, being consistent and playing at a high level, and it really means something on a personal level to be rewarded.”
That tight end Jason Witten didn’t make the team was notable because it ended a streak of seven straight trips to the Pro Bowl for him. He could be added as an alternate as well as quarterback Tony Romo, linebacker Sean Lee and rookie tackle Tyron Smith.
The playoff picture is starting to come into focus on this happy note: Win and you are in as a division champion.
That’s the easy scenario for the Broncos and either the Cowboys or Giants. And while Baltimore already owns at least a wild-card spot, a victory for the Ravens will earn them the AFC North and a first-round bye.
Denver is tied atop the AFC North with Oakland at 8-7, with the Broncos hosting the Chiefs on Sunday, and the Raiders at home for San Diego. Denver has the tiebreaker, but if it loses and the Raiders win, the Broncos can’t get a wild card. The Raiders can get a wild card if both they and Denver win, as long as Cincinnati and Tennessee lose, or Cincinnati loses and the New York Jets win. Got it?
In first place in the woeful NFC East are the Cowboys and the Giants, who meet at the Meadowlands. A win or a tie will give New York (8-7) the East title; neither team can be a wild card.
For a comprehensive look at the 2011 NFL Playoffs, check out the new PLAYOFFS page on The Boys Are Back blog … or click HERE.
Keep up with the ever-changing NFL Playoff race right here, on The Boys Are Back blog.
x-clinched playoff berth
y-denotes division winner
z-denotes first-round bye
*-clinched home-field advantage
During the regular season, the seeds reflect how the playoffs would stand if the season ended up to that point. The NFL playoffs are not based on a pure bracket system. In the divisional playoffs, the No. 1 seed is assured of playing the lowest-seeded Wild Card survivor. There are no restrictions on intra-division games and the higher seed of any matchup will have home-field advantage.
• Baltimore is the AFC North leader ahead of Pittsburgh based on head to head (2-0).
• Houston is the No. 1 seed ahead of Baltimore and New England based on conference record (8-2 to the Ravens’ 7-2 and the Patriots’ 7-2).
• Baltimore is the No. 2 seed ahead of New England based on common games (4-0 to the Patriots’ 3-1).
• Denver is the AFC West leader ahead of Oakland based on division record (3-2 to the Raiders’ 2-2).
• Cincinnati finishes ahead of Tennessee based on head to head (1-0).
• San Diego finishes ahead of Buffalo based on conference record (4-5 to the Bills’ 3-5).
• Cleveland finishes ahead of Miami and Jacksonville based on head to head sweep (2-0).
• Miami finishes ahead of Jacksonville based on conference record (3-6 to the Jaguars’ 3-7).
• Atlanta is the No. 5 seed ahead of Detroit based on head to head (1-0).
• Seattle finishes ahead of Arizona based on head to head (1-0).
• Carolina finishes ahead of Tampa Bay based on head to head (1-0).
• Carolina finishes ahead of Washington based on head to head (1-0).
• Washington finishes ahead of Tampa Bay based on conference record (4-5 to the Buccaneers’ 3-6).
• Indianapolis (Week 12), Jacksonville (Week 13), Cleveland (Week 14), Miami (Week 14).
• Minnesota (Week 12), St. Louis (Week 12), Carolina (Week 14), Tampa Bay (Week 14), Washington (Week 14).
NFL Playoff Tracker courtesy: CBS Sports