It was a really tough way for the season to end for the New England Patriots yesterday. I was with a raucous crowd at Professor Thom's, roaring on every play. The Pats looked like worldbeaters in the first half, rolling up a 21-3 lead late in the second half. Peyton Manning and the Colts looked like a beaten team at that point. But they managed a FG to end the first half, and it got the momentum going their way.
They came out with a great drive and scored a TD to cut the lead to 8, and then scored yet again, including a two-point conversion, to tie it up. The Patriots defense was clearly tired and was getting torched big time. But Tom Brady led the Patriots to another TD to grab the lead back.
Funny sidebar. I gave up my seat at the bar a couple of times during the game to friends who were standing up and wanted to have something to eat. Seemed like the Colts always did something good when I did that. One of my friends ordered me to sit down back in my seat to get the "karma back." The moment I did, Ellie Hobbs ran back the kickoff 80 yards to set up the Patriots next TD. With that, I was told not to leave my seat for any reason, not even to go to the bathroom. Anything for the cause I guess...
It was a tremendous game, even if you didn't have a rooting interest. There were some really questionable calls, like a roughing the passer penalty called during the Colts last drive, and an interference penalty not called on the Colts during the Pats next-to-last drive. But the Colts managed to win it on their last drive of the game, 38-34. You have to take your hat off to Peyton Manning for a tremendous comeback in the second half, leading the Colts to the best comeback ever in a conference title game, breaking the old record of 13 points by Atlanta in 1999 over the Vikings. (I remember it so well, and yesterday's game brought back painful memories of it.)
Despite not making it to the Super Bowl, it was a tremendous run for the Patriots. With all the injuries and defections, this "rebuilding" year for them was a spectacular success. You have to be proud of this club, and they will be back stronger next season. I felt badly for my Patriots fan friends, as the bar went silent after Tom Brady tossed the final interception to end it. But they will be back.
The Colts will take on the Bears, who rolled over the Saints, 39-14 at Soldier Field. (Congratulations to both Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy, two friends who are the first black head coaches to make it to the Super Bowl.) The Saints give a good run to the NFC title game, but were clearly beaten by a better Bears team.
I knew the Saints were in real trouble when Reggie Bush taunted the Bears defense and did his theatrics while scoring on a great 88-yard TD pass to get the Saints close at 16-14. But the last thing you want to do is taunt a talented Bears defense that was reeling at the time. The Saints did absolutely nothing after that as Chicago scored 23 unanswered points to book their trip to Miami on February 4. To Bush's credit, he did apologize after the game for being unprofessional in scoring that TD.
Yesterday's loss did nothing to tarnish a wonderful year for the Saints and their fans. They have a tremendous nucleus and like the Patriots, maybe even better next year.
Near the conclusion of yesterday's AFC title game, Jim Nantz said that whichever AFC team wins would be an underdog to the Chicago Bears for the Super Bowl. Early line on the game: Colts are a seven-point favorite. Sounds like Nantz and the bookies in Vegas clearly aren't on the same page...