Observations from the Conference Championships

By Jason Magnus
Updated: November 11, 2008

NEW YORK, NY— So we’re set for Super Bowl Sunday. Raiders and Buccaneers. Get ready for a full week of storylines that read “Gruden vs. Raiders” or “Top ranked defense faces top offense”. History tells us that with only one week for teams to prepare for the Super Bowl, the game is almost always more competitive, and this year should be no different. So let’s take a look at Sunday’s games and see how the teams got to San Diego. Tampa Bay 27 Philadelphia 10: When the Eagles’ Brian Mitchell took the opening kickoff 70 yards setting up an easy Duce Staley touchdown, writers around the country had begun typing the “Eagles Freeze Buccaneers, Again” headline. But this is not the same Tampa Bay team that hasn’t been able to make the leap for the past 5 years. And as good as the Tampa defense has been all year, you had to feel the conservative gameplan of Eagles’ coach Andy Reid didn’t give his team a chance to win. The fact is Philadelphia is not a team loaded with offensive weapons and must rely on the skills of Donovan McNabb to succeed against the leagues top defense. Yet all game long it seemed as though the Eagles were trying to hide McNabb and not let him make the plays that have made him a top flight player in the NFL. You hear it all the time. In big games, the big players make big plays. By keeping McNabb in the pocket the Eagles sealed their own fate.

On the Tampa Bay side, their ability to bounce back from the early 7-0 deficit was something they haven’t been able to do over the past few years. You can credit the influence of Jon Gruden, the leadership of Warren Sapp or Derrick Brooks, or the emergence of Brad Johnson, but the Bucs simply made all the big plays after the games opening minutes. And right now, their defense seems to be a step ahead of the rest of the league by both talent and scheme. Their offense is doing just enough to put up the points they need. It’s hard not to feel good about this Buccaneer team heading into San Diego January 26th.

Play of the Game: Down 7-3 in the first quarter and in the shadow of their own goal line, Brad Johnson completed a 3rd down and short that Joe Jurevicius turned into a 71 yard gain. Two plays later Mike Alstott was in the end zone behind a Warren Sapp block and the Bucs never looked back.

NFC Championship MVP: Ronde Barber would be the leading candidate recording a sack fumble and the game sealing 92 yard interception return for a touchdown. I’m going to take the easy way out and choose the entire Bucs defense. Brooks and Sapp were all over the field, and Simeon Rice rushed the passer like he has all season. It’s going to be a great matchup between their defense and the Raiders offense.

Oakland 41 Tennessee 24: For three quarters this game had the making of a classic. It’s not too often the hits on each play can be heard in your living room. Like heavyweight fighter both teams threw haymakers but couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. Unfortunately for the Titans their two fumbles in the last 90 seconds of the first half opened the door for ten Raider points, and a complete shift in momentum. It was a pretty valiant effort by the Titans, but in the end the Raiders just have too many weapons and too big an offensive line. And as good and efficient as that offense is, all I could think for 60 minutes of football was “Steve McNair is unreal!” Is there anything he cannot do with the football? I’m glad he is finally getting his credit, despite the pro bowl snub, because I have a feeling if Peyton Manning had a near miss in the super bowl and a near miss in the conference championship good ‘ol Peyton would be called the AFC’s best.

There is nothing I like more than to see Al Davis lose, but it just didn’t happen this week. It doesn’t get better than hearing Al Davis spout conspiracy theories after the Raiders go down. This year he might not have to pull his best Oliver Stone because the Raiders are for real. And to top it off they are making middle age cool. When Jerry Rice is as old as his number he might still be catching passes. Is there anything scarier than Jerry Rice catching a slant over the middle against your team? I didn’t think so, and we’ve been saying that since 1985. Charlie Garner in the open field isn’t a much better thought either.

Play of the Game: Robert Holcombe’s fumble with 1:47 left in the first half sets up a Gannon touchdown pass two plays later. On the ensuing kickoff, John Simon fumbles and Sebastian Janikowski hits a 43 yard field goal to give the Raiders the halftime lead.

AFC Championship MVP: Rich Gannon. Just check the stat sheet.

And I almost forgot……..

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few more black announcers in the booth? That means in the booth, not on the sideline.

I will never ever get used to Rich Gannon yelling at Tim Brown and Jerry Rice for running a bad pattern. Rich can win the next 10 MVP’s and I still won’t understand.

Do you think it bothers Charlie Garner to carry the ball down the field only to see Zack Crockett punch it in from a yard out? I hope touchdowns aren’t an incentive in Charlie’s contract.

Don’t sleep on white receivers. From what I saw the Titans Drew Bennett and the Buc’s Joe Jurevicius were two of the baddest players on the field.

Speaking of Bennett, did you see him run past Charles Woodson a few times? Woodson doesn’t look healthy and that will not bode well for Super Sunday.

Ja Rule and Ashanti at halftime in Philly! LL Cool J at halftime in Oakland! I guess hip-hop is taking over.

Buccaneers 24 Raiders 20 See ya next week.