So there was this football game about which I wanted to talk today… Last week, I wrote that the Bears were devoid of underdog stories, but I would like to point out two that came to fruition on Sunday. First, the Ravens and the Colts kicked seven field goals on Saturday, and none of them were as big as the two Robbie Gould made. Talk about gutsy kicks. If you're looking for an underdog story with the Bears, here he is. He started with the Patriots in 2005, who waived him (obviously, since they had this Vinatieri guy). Then he signed with the Ravens, who waived him (they have this Stover guy who's been there for 40 years). He was just a guy who anyone could have had as their field goal kicker, and the Bears picked him up in the middle of 2005. Now he's hitting long, difficult, playoff-winning kicks.
Second, what about Rashied Davis? Bernard Berrian made the long touchdown catch, but I would argue that Davis made the two most important catches of the day. The first one was the 3rd and 10 for 37 yards that set up the Bears' first touchdown. How much that play did for Good Rex's confidence we'll never know, but it clearly helped. And then 3rd and 10 for 30 yards that set up the winning field goal. Davis was actually a San Jose SaberCat for the first three years of his professional career, then played defensive back for the Bears last year. Now a wide receiver, he certainly carried his weight and then some yesterday.
Finally, there's a series of commercials that my girlfriend really enjoys by Miller High Life where a heavy-set delivery guy leads a crew into stores to take away the beer. One of the commercials ends with him saying, "$11.50 for a hamburger? Y'all must be crazy!" If I may paraphrase that quote for Jerry Angelo: "You're not going to put the franchise tag on Lance Briggs? Y'all must be crazy!" I don't want to hear salary cap economics on this one. In my opinion, Lance Briggs was the best defensive player on the field yesterday, and without him, we might be lamenting another home playoff loss today.
One small rant: how awful was the camera work yesterday? We missed just about every first-down measurement.
Oh, by the way: did you catch the Patriots-Chargers game? If anyone wonders why Marty Schottenheimer gets the playoff failure reputation he does, yesterday was a display of it. Let me set the stage for the play that left me scratching my head. San Diego is winning 21-13. There's 6:25 left in the game. New England has the ball at the San Diego 41 with a 4th and 5. New England quarterback Tom Brady throws an interception to San Diego's Marlon McCree. McCree takes a couple of steps and then has the ball ripped from him, fumbling it. New England's Reche Caldwell falls on the ball, and it's first down, New England, on a complete fluke.
So then Schottenheimer throws the challenge flag, and even now, I don't have any idea what he was challenging. Referee Tony Corrente made some announcement about "down by contact", but that made no sense. McCree has clearly taken a couple of steps with the ball in his possession, and he fumbled the ball while he was still running. San Diego basically threw away a timeout.
Why was this a big deal? After New England took the lead, San Diego returned the ball to their 25 with 1:05 to play. It's certainly not implausible for the Chargers to get into field goal range under that scenario. Of course, it's much easier to get into field goal range if you had a timeout with which to play, and even more so when you have a young quarterback who's never been exposed to this sort of pressure. And look what happened. Between the first snap of the drive, which occurred at 1:05, and the third snap of the drive, which was a spike to stop the clock, the clocked ticked down to :24. Philip Rivers was clearly flustered in the sequence. Rivers did eventually lead San Diego to the New England 37, but how much further could he have gotten them with a timeout?
I have yet to see a story that explained a) what Schottenheimer was challenging and b) what his rationale was for the challenge. Maybe as the day goes along, this will come out, but I don't understand what he was doing. It just continues to solidify Schottenheimer's legacy for playoff lack of success.
One more post-script from that game: how odd was LaDainian Tomlinson's post-game press conference? I don't know if you watched it, but it really seemed like his words were measured and he was angry at both the Patriots and his own coaching staff (the latter won't come out in what I'm about to quote, but watch it on You Tube or something and judge for yourself). From the AP story:
"Once it was over, Tomlinson, like Brady one of the most laid-back superstars in any sport, lost his cool. He went after an unidentified Patriots player and had to be restrained by a teammate and former Charger Reche Caldwell, who had a huge game for the Patriots.
"Tomlinson yelled and pointed at the Patriots player, upset that some Patriots were dancing on the Chargers logo at midfield after they had silenced the record crowd of 68,810 at Qualcomm Stadium.
"'I would never react in that way. I was very upset,' Tomlinson said. ‘When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the dance Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach.'
Merriman, nicknamed "Lights Out," did a spasmodic dance to celebrate each of his NFL-high 17 sacks."
How to react to this? Tomlinson is one of the classiest players in the league. He doesn't dance. He doesn't call attention to himself when he scores. He is the quintessential "act like you've done it before" guy. And I do agree with that Bill Belichick has had more than one occasion this season where he seems to be lacking on the class side. (Remember the post-game handshakes with Jets' Head Coach Eric Mangini?)
Yet…how classy is it that Shawne Merriman has a specific, premeditated dance when he gets a sack? I think Tomlinson's point could have been made much more effectively had he just commented that he felt the dancing was disrespectful and not tying it to an act that, in and of itself, might not be particularly classy, either. I sure hope the Patriots and Chargers play again next year.
When you see games like this at Rutgers, they just make you shake your head. Why can't DePaul do this to every inferior opponent? Regardless, the Demons pick up a precious third road victory on the season and even their mark in conference. No win ever seems to be a lay-up on paper for DePaul (except Eastern Illinois), but I have to believe that the loss at Madison Square Garden is so fresh in the minds of the players, they just won't let the Red Storm come to Allstate and win. Of course, I've been wrong before…
As of this morning, DePaul's RPI rank is 55.
Kansas 68, Iowa State 64 (OT). The Jayhawks (15-2, 2-0, RPI: 21) continue to be scorching hot. Make that 14 wins in 15 tries, as they fight off a scrappy Cyclone squad.
Rhode Island 86, St. Joseph's 81. Shh – don't look now, but the Rams (8-8, 3-1, RPI: 142) have climbed back to .500 overall and knocked off a St. Joe's team who was undefeated in conference coming into the game. And they did it on the road, to boot. We talked about how bad Conference USA was on Thursday. How about the Atlantic 10/14? They have four teams at RPI rank 225 or worse, or roughly 30% of the conference. Remember when Charlotte was a feared conference foe, and everyone wanted Bobby Lutz? My, how times have changed. They're 7-8 and 1-2 in this anemic conference. The more I keep writing, the more I'm going to talk myself into Rhode Island having a chance to win the conference.
Northwestern State 82, Texas-San Antonio 62. Now that's more like it for the Demons (6-9, 2-2, RPI: 183). What Northwestern State does is actually influencing three Big East schools, as they played them all – DePaul, Marquette and Louisville. They may opt not to take a spin around the conference again next year, as they lost the three games by an average of 20 points.
UAB 67, Tulane 60. My confidence in UAB (10-7, 2-1, RPI: 64) feels like a plane that just got out of some turbulence. I'm trying to steady myself, but there are still a few bumps and hitches along the way. I'm still not sold on them finishing second in the conference. Should they win at Memphis this week, I'll feel better about things.
California 77, Washington 69 (OT). This is like hitting the $10,000 spot in the game Plinko on "The Price is Right" (I miss Bob Barker already). Not only did the Bears (11-6, 3-2, RPI: 44) get a nice win, but it crippled Washington (11-6, 1-5, RPI: 80) in the process. Answer: number of road wins Washington has. Question: What is zero? And their next game is Saturday at Washington State. You think the Cougars might be fired up for that one?
Bradley 76, Indiana State 59. To continue the game show theme, this is like hitting the "$5,000 + a spin" panel on the defunct game show "Press Your Luck". Like the Cal-Washington game, Bradley (12-6, 4-3, RPI: 28 ) gets a nice win, and it also cripples up-and-comer Indiana State (10-5, 4-2, RPI: 56), who had won six in a row coming into the game. But there's also the bonus of the game being played in Terre Haute, giving the win an extra boost for the Braves. I dig this all the way around.
Purdue 67, Michigan 53. To continue the game show theme even further, this is like being in second place entering Final Jeopardy!, then getting the question right while the player in first place got the question wrong and you win. For the third consecutive blurb, a former DePaul opponent, Purdue (13-5, 2-2, RPI: 43) beat a team shaping up to be a bubble contender, Michigan (14-4, 2-1, RPI: 59).
Kentucky 64, Mississippi State 60. Given that the game was at Rupp Arena, it was probably closer than most expected. Nonetheless, the Wildcats (14-3, 3-0, RPI: 5) pull it out and win their tenth in a row. And here were go with the polls again. You would think a team with a single-digit RPI and a ten-game winning streak would warrant a ranking. We'll see if that's actually the case come Monday, but even if they're not, it doesn't matter. The enlightened on the DePaul message board know that it's the RPI that matters, not the popularity contest that is the polls.
UC-Irvine 67, Pacific 42. Wow, the "Good" section is just a cornucopia of news, as DePaul's non-conference opponents had a record of 9-3 over the weekend. And here was one of the surprises. Not only did Molson Blue Special #2, the Anteaters (8-10, 2-2, RPI: 150), blast Pacific, but they did it at Pacific.
Pittsburgh 74, Georgetown 69. It took some considerable deliberation to figure out whether a Georgetown (11-5, 1-2, RPI: 57) loss warranted consideration in this section. But as of today, I don't think the Hoyas are that far ahead of DePaul for an NCAA Tournament berth. That could change quickly, especially if they win the next two games as expected on the road at Rutgers and Seton Hall.
Notre Dame 88, Seton Hall 76. All right, I'm putting Notre Dame (15-2, 3-1, RPI: 35) in the "lock" column as of this win. They don't have a particularly challenging Big East schedule the rest of the way (home and home with South Florida, hosting Providence, @ Cincinnati, @ Marquette). It's impossible for me not to forecast them with 20 wins, which would be plenty for NCAA inclusion. Have I mentioned how important I think it is that DePaul play well against Notre Dame?
UCLA 65, USC 64. So, will USC (13-5, 3-2, RPI: 63) get "credit" for a close home loss to one of the nation's best teams? I think it's too early to tell. My gut tells me "yes" if they can finish over .500 in conference. Then again, my gut told me Florida was a possible early-round upset victim in last year's NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State 63, Illinois 57. The Spartans (15-4, 2-2, RPI: 25) are gradually sliding themselves over to the "lock" column, but this is more about Illinois (13-6, 1-3, RPI: 39), who is really having trouble in Big Ten play.
Baylor 73, Texas Tech 70. See, everyone loses on the road to inferior opponents in conference. I have to admit, I'm rooting a bit for Scott Drew to fix things at Baylor (10-5, 1-2, RPI: 116), since he's the son of one of the nicest guys in coaching, Valparaiso coach Homer Drew. The Red Raiders (13-5, 2-1, RPI: 33) hit a bit of a speed bump in their chase for a Tournament bid.
North Carolina State 88, Wake Forest 74. It sure seemed like a good idea to make sure an ACC team was on the schedule. Unfortunately, said ACC team has performed like a mid-major stuck in a major conference during the two seasons in which DePaul has played them. Wake (9-7, 1-3, RPI: 124) is now 6-17 in ACC play since the start of the 2005-2006 season (including ACC Tournament results). Blecch.
Wisconsin 56, Northwestern 50. You know it's coming. As frustrating as Northwestern (8-7, 0-4, RPI: 159) can be, they always manage to pull off a shocker at home at some point during the season. For a while, this looked like it would be the one, but it was not meant to be. By the way, how is Northwestern not the best coaching job in America? Look at Bill Carmody. Coming into this, his seventh season in Evanston, he was 82-95 (.463) overall and 33-63 (.344) in the Big Ten. He's had one winning season in seven and no post-season. Yet have you heard a peep about him being in trouble? With this sort of track record, I expect he'll be managing the Cubs by 2011.
Eastern Kentucky 63, Eastern Illinois 62. I'm sure the fact that they're getting closer to winning should count for something, but Molson Blue Special #1, EIU (4-14, 1-9, RPI: 328 ) has only won once since December 7. The only bright spot for me is that Northwestern and EIU help sequence my reports. When I write about one in the "bad" section, the other can't be too far behind.
Virginia Tech 94, North Carolina 88. I would say this has been quite the start to the ACC season for the Hokies (11-4, 3-0, RPI: 36), upending Duke and North Carolina in consecutive conference games. Being the connoisseur of college mascots that I am, I had to look up the Hokie, and here you go:
The best line of the explanation to me is, "Contrary to popular misinformation, the term ‘Hokie' does not refer to a castrated turkey." Just how does misinformation like THAT get started?
Boston College 78, Virginia 73. The Eagles (12-4, 4-0, RPI: 37) have buzzed through the first quarter of ACC season unscathed, which has made up for some questionable non-conference home losses (Vermont, Duquesne). Bradlee Van Pelt Award Winner Jared Dudley had 22 points and 11 rebounds in the win.
Wichita State 69, Evansville 56. Hanging by a thread at the moment, the Shockers (10-6, 2-4, RPI: 52) pull out a win over a bad Evansville team (with apologies to my brother, who is an alumnus) that would have all but killed their at-large chances even with most of the Missouri Valley season yet to play.
Oregon 79, Arizona 77. Okay, I believe in the Ducks (16-1, 4-1, RPI: 20) now. Winning at the #2-ranked RPI team will make a convert of you.
Marquette 81, West Virginia 63. It appears as if the Golden Gold (14-5, 2-2, RPI: 47) have gotten themselves straightened out with two consecutive wins. As for West Virginia (12-3, 3-2, RPI: 49), the first week darlings of the conference, I think it's worth noting that DePaul has two more conference road wins than the Pittsnogles do at this point.
Louisville 78, Providence 63. It was nice to see the Friars (12-4, 2-1, RPI: 53) fall from the ranks of the undefeated in conference, doing a little damage to their chase for an NCAA Tournament bid. But I'm a little wary of the Cardinals (11-5, 2-1, RPI: 79). After losing to Massachusetts and then getting blown out by Kentucky, they were sent under the national radar. Although they don't really have a significant win until this one, they have a chance to make or break their season in this stretch of five: vs. Providence, vs. Marquette, @ DePaul, vs. Connecticut, vs. Syracuse. Should they win four of five, they're on the right side of the bubble.
Creighton 62, Northern Iowa 54. They're all just beating each other up, although Creighton (11-5, 5-1, RPI: 27) gets a bonus point for overcoming a 13-point halftime deficit on the road to tip Northern Iowa (12-4, 4-2, RPI: 60)
Southern Illinois 76, Missouri State 56. The death match that is the Missouri Valley regular season continues. The teams with the two best RPIs in the conference squared off in Carbondale, and it was the Salukis (12-4, 4-2, RPI: 9) who triumphed over the Bears (12-4, 4-2, RPI: 19). Both teams seem on track for an NCAA Tournament bid right now, but that can change quickly. And no, I'm not just too lazy to change the records: Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Missouri State are all 12-4 overall and 4-2 in conference as of today.
Stanford 71, Washington State 68 (OT). Given the current dynamics of the Pac-10, at least one result per conference game night is going to end up in the "Ambivalent" section. Despite this loss, Washington State (15-3, 4-2, RPI: 23) still only has three total losses, and two of those were by three points each. They're still fine. Stanford (11-4, 3-2, RPI: 42), meanwhile, has really improved its standing with a sweep of the Washington schools at home this weekend.
Let's go, Demons.
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