Super Bowl Contenders Taken To The Wire
Going into last night Monday Night Football seemed like it was going to be a snoozer, even with two games. Both match ups featured a Super Bowl contender (New England and San Diego), versus a lowly divisional opponent (Buffalo and Oakland). No one gave the Bills or Raiders any chance of pulling an upset, not the sports polls, not Vegas, and certainly not me. In fact Vegas even predicated that the Patriots and Chargers would each win their games by double digits. I guess no one told the Bills and Raiders they didn’t have a chance, because both the Pats and the Chargers both had to have 4th quarter comebacks in the last two minutes to overcome their divisional foes.
For 55 minutes last night Tom Brady looked like the quarterback who couldn’t secure a starting job at Michigan and lasted until the 6th round of the 2000 Draft. Brady’s throws were high and erratic, he couldn’t move around in the pocket, and he threw a costly interception that was returned for a touchdown by DE Aaron Schobel. Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Brady that led the Patriots to 4 Super Bowl’s this decade returned for the last five minutes of the game. Brady connected with TE Ben Watson for a pair of touchdowns in the final two minutes to overcome the Bills 25-24. Brady may have never gotten the opportunity for the second trip into the endzone if Bills return man Leodis McKelvin hadn’t fumbled the kick-off (or if he had just kneeled down in the endzone for the touchback) with two minutes to go. The fumble gave the Patriots the ball on the Bills 30 with two minutes to go and the sure victory slipped away for good.
The late game was even more surprising last night as the Raiders not only hung with the Chargers, but led most of the way. The Raiders who have the worst record of any franchise since 2003 (including the the Lions) took San Diego to the limit last night. Every time the Chargers scored to tie the game or take a lead, the Raiders battled back and retook the lead. After Rivers drove down and threw a touchdown pass with 7 minutes to go it looked like the Chargers might hang on to win 17-13. The Chargers’ defense knocked QB JaMarcus Russell out of the game, and it looked like hope was lost. Things looked even bleaker when Russell returned a few plays later. The Raiders were facing a 4th and 15 from their own 43, with 2:40 remaining. The safe play would have been to punt it and hope that you can stop the Chargers from getting a first down. The smart play would have been to try for the first down, or even set up a screen pass to Darren McFadden. The Raiders elected for the bold play, and Russell executed a perfect 57 yard touchdown strike to rookie WR Louis Murphy. Now if only the game had ended there, the Russell and the Raiders would be the most talked about team all week. Unfortunately Phillip Rivers got his hands on the ball again and he drove the Chargers 90 yards for the game winning touchdown by Darren Sproles.
In the end the Patriots and Chargers came away with a win, and now sit atop their respective divisions like everyone expected. Although their record remains untarnished, their reputation is not. No one who watched last night’s games believed that these two teams are the teams to beat in the AFC. If the Patriots and Chargers want to contend for the Super Bowl, they will need to start playing like it, as their luck won’t last forever.