When I was a kid, I loved to play the board game Strat-O-Matic baseball with my two friends. We played day and night, occasionally taking a break to run down to the beach for a swim, but for most of our summer, we would focus on playing our game.
We each had our favorite teams, and we had one simple rule: if your team had a player in the farm system that was not on the roster and he had a card, you could use him as part of your team. Therefore, the three of us combed the Sporting News each Friday looking for players that we could add to our rosters. One player who was discovered playing in the farm system for my friend's team was pitcher named Don McMahon. McMahon may not have had a stellar career in the major leagues, but his Strat-O-Matic card was unhittable with just three little singles and all the rest outs.
This discovery made my friend's team sensational as he started putting McMahon in every game and dominated the league. The competitive balance of our summer league was tilted because of one player and there had to be rules made to limit McMahon's impact.
Sunday, watching Peyton Manning play for the Colts, reminded me of my childhood. I realized that Manning is to the NFL, what Don McMahon was to three teenage kids' summer card league. He shifts the competitive balance so far in his team's favor that I'm now sure there has NEVER been a player like him in the league.
Manning makes throw after throw that leaves me speechless. (The completion to Austin Collie for 46 yards down the seam is in my top five throws of all time). He makes the right call or the right check, he is at home in the offense partly because it's the only one he has known as a pro and he has been instrumental in creating it.
His dominance of his sport is Michael Jordanesque because, like Jordan once did in the NBA, Manning controls the entire game. Manning might not play defense, but his ability forces opposing offenses to alter their thinking -- to adjust to the "Manning" factor. With Manning as the opponent, teams are living and dying on every play, hoping to tip one pass, hoping for one critical drop that can get the defense off the field. But it is all just hope, as there is never a plan to really stop Manning, at least not one I've seen.
The Jets had the No. 1 defense in the league in the regular season. The unit was brilliant in not allowing the big play, surrendering quick scores and playing well in the red zone. Sunday, the brilliance got "Manningized," as he moved his team up and down the field with pinpoint passing and incredible play-calling ability. Had the Jets not played well in the red zone, allowing Manning just three scores in six appearances, the Colts might have hung 40 on them.
Manning is the most dominant player in the NFL right now --- by a very large margin. As my Strat-O-Matic club had to develop the McMahon rules, the league might think about coming up with the Manning rules -- now, you know I'm just kidding, but Sunday I was giving it some thought; he is that good.
» The pride of Haiti is now the pride of Indianapolis as Pierre Garcon's play lead the Colts back to the Super Bowl. The Jets wanted the ball to go to Garcon or Austin Collie, and strangely enough, so did the Colts.
» Saints defensive back Tracy Porter came up big in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble that kept the Vikings off the scoreboard, then making the play of the game, intercepting Brett Favre near the end of regulation. The Saints' defense was gashed all day, but made some key plays lead by Porter when it counted.
» Throughout the playoffs, the Jets made the second-half adjustments to propel them to victory. However, Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer made the right calls. His defense blanked the Jets in the second half. All season, Coyer has quietly done a great job of getting his defense to make plays when it counted and the Colts held the Jets to 86 yards rushing.
» From the third drive of the game, the Colts' offensive line did a wonderful job of protecting Manning. He is always sensational, but his linemen played their best game of the season, in both run and pass blocking.
» Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore and line coach Howard Mudd proved once again that having experience does matter in football, especially on game day. They always make the right adjustments to whatever happens in the game and the offense always has more than one solution to a problem. Both men are great teachers.
» Twelve men on the field, all the fumbles, the Jonathan Vilma interception and Brad Childress' failure to challenge the Pierre Thomas touchdown will all be lasting memories for Vikings fans. However, the final 1:06 of regulation, from the play calls to the interception, will never be forgotten.
» Once the Jets lost corner Donald Strickland in the first quarter, the Colts went to their three-receiver sets. From that point on, New York's secondary struggled. Darrelle Revis can only cover one man, and the rest of the secondary was exploited.
» For the first time in the playoffs, it was the Jets' kicker that missed kicks. One of Jay Feely's two missed field goals resulted in the Colts getting a short field and turning that into a touchdown. The official stat sheet proclaims the turnover/takeaway column for the game as even, but these two misses gave the Colts a plus-two advantage in my book.
» The Saints' short-yardage offense failed to convert on third-and-1 three times and had one of their worst days on third down. Failing to win on short yardage kept New Orleans from finding its offensive rhythm.
We might have seen the last of...
» Brett Favre. Have we seen the last of him for his career? Can we officially start the five-year waiting period for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction? When Favre woke up Monday norning, he had to be sore and not feeling like playing in 2010. However, once he gets past the pain and the hurt of the loss, the hunger may return. But as we know, Favre has a tendency to change his mind.
» Defensive backs Lito Sheppard and Kerry Rhodes playing for the Jets. Both players had subpar seasons, resulting in benching at certain points. It seems, based on their high salaries in 2010, that neither player is going to be part of the new secondary next season.
If I were ...
» The Jets, I would find a complete tight end to enhance the offense. It will make current starter Dustin Keller a better player and not force the Jets to use offensive lineman Wayne Hunter in that role. When Hunter is in the game, the Jets are predictable on offense.
» The Jets, I would lock up Revis to a long-term deal. He is their best player and, before they start spending elsewhere, they need to take care of him.
» The Vikings, I would evaluate every starter on defense based on how they played and performed in every road game. For the Vikings to get back to this level of the playoffs again, they will need to play better on the road, especially on defense.
» The Vikings, I would give Favre as much time as he needed to make a decision. Regardless if he comes back in 2010, Minnesota needs to find a quarterback for 2011. If there is one worthy of an early pick in the draft, it would be a prudent move for the Vikings to make.
Three-step dots ...
» Jets fans should feel very confident about their future being in the hands of Mark Sanchez. Playing in his 18th NFL game, two more than he played in his college career, Sanchez had a coming out party Sunday and took a giant leap. ...
» For all the talk about the Jets' defense being able to handle the Colts' offense, the reality is New York allowed nearly the same number of yards to receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon (274) that the Baltimore Ravens gave up in the entire game in their loss to Indianapolis (275). ...
» Speaking of Pro Bowls, how many more quarterbacks are going to miss the game for the AFC, before Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell becomes an alternate? The Jaguars' David Garrard may be playing in the game, but he did not have a Pro Bowl season. ...
» The Saints must get a foundation on defense because all their scheming against the Vikings didn't get the job done. They might have made Favre sore and forced two interceptions, but they got torched. ...
» Had I told you before the game that the Saints would have only 257 yards of total offense, you would have thought the Vikings won the game, right? But missing in that statistic is the 183 yards allowed on kickoff returns by the Vikings, which set up scores. ...