Sometimes football is just too poetic, the gods too cruel. This was the case yesterday. With the game tied at 21 on a frigid, face-numbing type of day where points were as precious as they were plentiful, Peyton Manning and his Broncos offense were ready to hike the ball from their own 20-yard line, 36 seconds on the clock and three timeouts remaining. But Manning took the ball from center and quickly handed off to running back Jacob Hester for minimal gain... the offense jogged off the field as the clock ran down to zero. The Ravens defense was undoubtedly thankful. Then, at the end of the game, an opportunity for redemption presented itself. Tied at 35, the Broncos had the ball at their own 20-yard line with 31-seconds remaining and a chance with Manning to prove Elway was even more a genius than we realize. Broncos fans, long suffering from inadequate QB play at the hands of Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, and Tim Tebow, were anticipating magic. Even Paul Domowitch tweeted, "Manning with 31 seconds is like Patton with 100 tanks." If this is the case, then Manning with 31 seconds and two timeouts is like Patton with 100 tanks and a nuclear arsenal. But this time, Manning took the ball from center and then took to his knee. The Denver coaching staff was decidedly content on attempting to win the game in overtime, which ultimately they did not. Confused Denver fans were left to wonder what could have been.
It turned out, what could have been actually happened a few hours later. Faced with an eerily similar situation, Atlanta possessed the ball on their 28-yard line with 31 seconds and two timeouts remaining. The difference between Atlanta's situation and Denver's was that the Falcons were down by one point and could not afford to sit back and wait for overtime. It's perhaps a point-of-view that Denver should have assumed. In three plays and 23-seconds, Atlanta moved the ball into field goal range and ended up winning the game on a 49-yard field goal. Again, Denver fans were left to wonder what could have been. Perhaps Jeffrey Lurie was as well.
The decisions by Denver coaches Mike McCoy and John Fox to go the conservative route with an elite quarterback in all likelihood reduces the chance that Mike McCoy will coach the Eagles next season. They were poor decision that contradict Jeffrey Lurie's quest for an innovative leader. However, Gus Bradley's day was only slightly better, if not more optimistic. Seattle's defense gave up an average of 15 points per game this season, yet found themselves giving up 20 points to Atlanta in the first half Sunday. Gus Bradley's unit could not stop the run, or Atlanta's efficient attack. However, where Bradley excelled was with his second half adjustments. Recognizing that the zone coverage that characterized Seattle's first half failures wasn't working, Bradley switched to a man-to-man scheme that effectively limited the Falcons offense in the second half and allowed Russell Wilson to lead an admirable comeback. It was a performance that showed heart in a situation that could have easily been deflating.
Poetic justice and cruelty aside, two coaching candidates lost Sunday. While neither McCoy nor Bradley did much to endear themselves to Philadelphia, Mike McCoy severely hurt his chances to become the Eagles next head coach. And with both candidates out of the playoffs, Lurie will decide soon he would like to command his tanks.
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