THE STORIES WE WILL NOT BE HEARING Jerry Gilbert
When the New York Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, the journalists who cover the National Football League were deprived of many of the stories they were expecting to develop. An NFC championship in Dallas may not have turned out to be a better game, but the canned story lines, which were all there for the telling, will now be largely left untold in the mainstream media.
First among these is the question of whether fate or some other otherworldly influence has decreed that Brett Favre cannot win in Texas Stadium. Obviously, the story will continue until he does win a game, but an objective analysis is needed. I am ready to be corrected, but I believe I watched every game, and none of them were classified as an upset. Dallas was always the better team. Brett Favre has lost playoff games to an inferior team. Atlanta in the cold and Philadelphia with 4th and 26 come to mind. However, in Dallas the better team won.
This season could have presented the exception. For the midseason encounter, the Packers were without, arguably, their best cornerback, Charles Woodson, and their best pass rusher Kabeer Gbaja Biamila. Add to that the fact that Al Harris played his worst game of the season, and the nickel corner position was in disarray as Jarret Bush proved to be not up to the challenge. The result was a defense that could not stop the Dallas passing attack. Fast forward to next week. None of the listed defensive problems from the first game should part of the contest, and the entire defense is playing better than it did against Dallas.
Al Harris against Terrell Owens would have been the second major story. Owens clearly won the first round and might have had a successful game again. We will never know for certain how the second game would have played out. However, Harris has rated competent to spectacular in every other game this season. Against Seattle, he was a shut down corner who also punished ball carriers when he tackled. In addition, Harris would have had much better support. The safeties are playing better. Charles Woodson would take up some of the coverage duties, and either Tramon Williams or Will Blackmon could be expected to be effective at cornerback Because Dallas lost to New York, a corner who was ready for TO, will instead be ready for Amani Toomer and probably Randy Moss.
A third story would also be about Brett Favre concerning his tendency to try to "do too much" if his team is behind in the game. It was argued that the "gunslinger mentality" absent most of this season, was on display in week 13 against the Cowboys. After that game, Coach Mike McCarthy assured the press that his game plan called for the attempted long passes. He believed that they would supplement the short passing offense against Dallas. Thus, while it is doubtful that Favre lost his focus against the Cowboys, the Seattle game should put the issue to rest for awhile. Down 14-0 after 4 minutes, Brett Favre stayed with the balanced offense, 173 passing yards (mostly run after the catch yardage) and 171 rushing yards. There is no recent data to suggest he will not continue to execute the game plan regardless of the opponent.
The fact that Mike McCarthy took the credit or blame for the failed long pass strategy in the first game raises another issue. It has to do with Coach McCarthy's relative inexperience, and whether he is ready for the big games. Against Seattle, McCarthy's first playoff game as a head coach, once he was down by two touchdowns, the coach was flawless. He made sure his team would stay with the game plan. He did not bench the fumble fingered running back. He challenged the spot on the lunging first down by Bubba Franks and kept the ultimately successful drive alive. Above all, he devised a game plan for the offense that, against a good defensive team, scored touchdowns on 6 consecutive drives. Such a performance would win almost every game.
Finally, we would have heard the name Jason Witten mentioned in nearly every story. The fine Dallas Tight end was a big part of their offense in the earlier game, and Green Bay has struggled at times stopping a premier tight end. Against Seattle, tight end, Marcus Pollard took himself out of the game by a seeming ineptitude in the snowy conditions, but Witten would have faced no such weather conditions in Dallas. With the injury to Jeremy Shockey, the Giants do not feature a premier tight end. That story too will not be told.
There will be many ways to slice, dice and over analyze the playoff game against New York. Hopefully the commentary will not be as predictable as it would have been had the opponent been the Dallas Cowboys.