Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Coaches’ moves playing vital role in playoffs

January 13, 2004

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Mike Martz played for a tie and lost.

The Eagles' Andy Reid played for a win and won, although he had to wait until overtime after trying to score a go-ahead TD in regulation and almost losing his gamble.

And John Fox was let off the hook for a dumb penalty because his Panthers beat Martz and the Rams.

Yes, coaching counts more than ever in the NFL playoffs, as this weekend's second-round games showed. But so does luck -- lose and you take the heat, win and your gaffes are forgotten.

First, the Rams.

Trailing the Panthers 23-20, St. Louis reached the Carolina 15 with about 30 seconds left in regulation and one time out left. Instead of taking a shot at the end zone, the usually aggressive Martz let the clock run down to three seconds, used the time out, then had Jeff Wilkins kick the field goal that sent the game to overtime.

"To me, that's the right thing to do at that point in the game," Martz said. "To come back like we had to get in that position, I just felt like the risk wasn't necessary."

Because the Rams lost on the first play of the second OT, Martz took heat on the airwaves and in print.

Reid was spared criticism because Philadelphia won in overtime, beating Green Bay, 20-17. Yet he did what Martz what criticized for not doing -- and it nearly cost the Eagles the game.

With 22 seconds left and Philadelphia at the Green Bay 19 with no time outs left, Reid decided to go for the win in regulation. So Donovan McNabb threw for Todd Pinkston in the right corner of the end zone. But the Packers' Mike McKenzie established position and might have intercepted the ball if Pinkston hadn't come over the top and kept the defender from getting it.

Dangerous?

An interception would have ended the game, giving Green Bay the victory.

An offensive-pass-interference penalty could have been called on Pinkston, setting the Eagles back 10 yards and making Akers' field-goal attempt tougher: 47 yards in swirling winds. It was a close call, although officials usually are instructed not to throw marginal game-turning flags late in games, especially in the postseason.

On the next play, McNabb, who was sacked eight times, barely escaped the Packers' rush and threw again for the end zone -- this time to James Thrash. Had there been a sack, time probably would have run out before the kicking team could get on the field, and Green Bay would have won.

On to Fox, who in two seasons in Carolina has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the NFL's new coaching standouts.

On the first possession of overtime, the Panthers reached the St. Louis 22. Then quarterback Jake Delhomme lost a yard getting the ball to the middle of the field.

Time out, Carolina.

Play resumed, and John Kasay kicked the apparent game-winning field goal from 40 yards. Whoops! A 5-yard penalty for delay of game. A couple of plays later, Kasay's kick from 45 yards drifted wide right. The Rams then came down to the other end, but Wilkins' try from 53 yards was just short.

Had Wilkins' kick been good, Martz's gaffe would have been forgotten, and Fox and his staff would have had to answer for the delay penalty after a time out. But victories solve everything, and Carolina won on a TD pass from Delhomme to Steve Smith on the first play of the second overtime.

Not that everything is a risk, as Bill Belichick and his assistants have shown all season. In the Patriots' 17-14 win Saturday over Tennessee, they found the ultimate fail-safe play with three seconds left and a fourth down at their own 37. They didn't punt (it could be blocked) and didn't run (there could be a fumble.) They didn't even call for Tom Brady to take a knee. Instead, Brady rolled out and threw the ball very high down the right sideline in the direction of David Givens. By the time the ball came down -- right on the sideline -- the game was over.

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