Monday, January 31, 2011

FTT Off Topic: Geezing Out

So a few weeks ago, I went into my favorite used CD store -- yes, I know, Ive already lost many of you with the fact that these places still exist -- in Princeton, NJ, Princeton Record Exchange. It's one of my favorite things in the region, and still my preferred way to buy music, because I'm old, and because I tend to judge a band or artist by their deep tracks, rather than their singles. Anyway, I digress. I go to PRX about 2-3 times a year, because I easily drop over $100 every time I'm there, mostly on newer stuff that I've heard on Pandora. As a low '40s guy who used to be a music journalist and has always kind of consumed music, it's important to me to have new acts in my player. Besides, listening to "the songs you grew up with," to quote one geezer rock station in the area, just seems dull as toast. And yet.

Yet.

You see, there's this poker game.

I host it every three weeks; there will be 17 Friday nights in 2011 where anywhere from 12 to 25 people will be in my basement, shuffling my cards, stacking my chips, sitting on my chairs and leaning on my tables. It makes me happy, and I take pride in running a good game, getting the cash totals right, making the tournament run smooth, etc. I get a lot of help from my regulars, many of whom I consider very good friends. We've been running the game for over three years now, and it just keeps getting bigger and better.

And while they are there, they are also listening to my music. And many of them are bitching about it.

Now, a quick word. A poker player that isn't complaining about something is one that's pulling in a pot. Every other minute of the day, they are either bitching, or thinking about bitching. About blinds, antes, heat, cold, legroom, prize levels -- you name it, a poker player will give you grief about it. All while thanking you for running the game, bringing their friends, and filling your tip jar. Poker players are strange.

So when I'm filling my basket at PRX, some Geezer Rock finds it's way into the cart. Stuff I really loved 25 to 30 years ago, in high school, on prerecorded cassette in my proto-Walkman the size of a brick, as I delivered newspapers and rode my bicycle to and fro. You had your canon of the music that everyone else liked, you played it despite having heard it a few thousand times on radio stations, and by the time you went to college, you were so desperate for something new that you convinced yourself that REM was bitchin'. And so on.

Slowly and then with speed, I banished my geezer rock to the never play list; the more egregious things, I just plain got rid of. (My 16-year-old self would hate what my 41-year-old self thinks of Roger Waters and Jim Morrison.) But now that I'm hosting, I'm listening to the stuff that I haven't heard from forever... and some of it's pretty great, really. Mid '70s Rolling Stones, with the unrepentant misogyny that you just can't get nowadays? Yes please. Jethro Tull albums where the rhythm section is positively rollicking along, and the flute is something you can take or leave? Kinda nifty. Jimi Hendrix sessions in the BBC studios, where he's making "Day Tripper" his own and playing "Fire" in a way that sounds like guaranteed panty remover, if only it weren't hardwired into everyone's DNA?



Aw, you know what I'm talkin' about. Yeah!

So if you've got a band or six that you used to love, but wore your ears out on... well, go check 'em out now. See where your brain is with them. (But if that's all you've been listening to all this time, for heaven's sake, air out your brain and listen to something made in this century.) Moving on...

Compartmentalizing

Over the weekend, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a piece that revealed that longtime Eagles K David Akers had a severe family problem during the week before the team's playoff loss to the Packers -- a game in which Akers missed two field goals he normally makes. The problem is that one of his young daughters had to have an emergency operation to remove a cancerous ovary.

It's just about the worst thing that I could imagine, as a father, having to deal with. And it might have had something to do with Akers' performance, which might have been his last as an Eagle. Independent of the lockout situation, he's 35, expensive as kickers go, and apt to be in a decline phase of his career. It's a cruel business, football. Coach Andy Reid cited the lost six points in his post-game press conference, more out of frustration with letting an opportunity go than Akers, one suspects. But since Reid is now the longest tenured coach in the NFL, ring-less, and the reason why Michael Vick is here (don't discount the deep undercurrent of hate in the area for the Comeback Felon), some have taken this as further evidence that Reid is a classless assclown.

To which I say... um... well... it is David Akers' job to make those kicks. No matter what's going on in his life. If his head wasn't in the game, and I completely understand why the hell it would not be, he should have begged off the job and given the organization the chance to bring in a free agent kicker. There are many. No one would have blamed him for wanting out. If my daughter was undergoing life-threatening surgery, the very last place on Earth that I would be at is at my job. Period. And if you think that Reid's to blame for being honest about his frustrations when he could have knocked off what turns out to be the best team in the NFC, or that he shouldn't be allowed to say anything it... well, you haven't been around football coaches very often, really.

(Besides, if Akers had made the kicks, we'd be talking about his incredible focus, or how the trauma had steeled him to the task. As above, so below.)

In my day job, I manage people. And if one of them came to work with something like this hanging over them and didn't tell anyone about it, I'd have given him or her the same jobs as usual. And if they had then failed to perform that work, in a critical situation that caused my business what we needed to succeed...

Well, I'm not going to lie to you: I'd be disappointed that they made the decision to come in. I'd care that they didn't manage their selves and situation in a realistic fashion, and that on some level, if they made that judgment error here, they are likely to make a similar judgment error later. I doubt I'd can them over it, but I would keep it in mind, the next time I needed someone to take a pressure shot.

To his credit, Akers didn't bring up the situation; the Inquirer dug it out. And if it was his last moment in the laundry, that'd be even more sad, considering how stable and productive he's been for all of these many years. I'm sure that he didn't know he was going to miss, and he did hit one of his kicks in that game (albeit only just).

But football, and life, can be a sad business. People who help their teams succeed bear the rewards; those that are partly to blame for the failure suffer the punishment. Whether or not there's a compelling back story, good intentions, or any other mitigating factor.

The scoreboard cares not for your pain.

And never, ever, will.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

FTT Off Topic: Color Up

In a small moment for sanity and adult discourse, the Obama Admin-istration is retiring the color-coded alert system for terror threats introduced after 9/11. It seems that after a decade of gallows humor jibes and growing public cynicism, the idea that giving each day a Green (the lowest level, which we never achieved -- hell, we never even achieved Blue, the next lowest level) to Red (achieved once, in 2006, three months before the midterm elections, when you were supposed to BUY DUCT TAPE! BUY DUCT TAPE! and use it to cover all of your home and personal orifices while taking any flight to Britain) designation of Big Fear has outlasted its usefulness. As if it ever had any in the first place, of course.

So what comes next? By the end of April, we're going to have more specific and focused threat descriptions, possibly via Twitter or Facebook mobile alert message. I'm sure that someone out there, probably in a much older demographic who has gone on a permanent level of losing their fudge after the 2008 elections, is going to miss this, or have it impact their decision to vote in 2012. But probably not.

Because here's the nasty little problem with knowing more about terrorism: it achieves the exact goal of the terrorists, namely to create fear of the event, and to curtail ordinary human activity and commerce. There were always three distinct winners in any scare moment created by Al Qaeda, and none of them were on the side of the people. Like a wrassling show that had a big new big and evil dude in town, both the US government and Al Qaeda benefit ted, in a craven and repugnant fashion, from having people afraid of it. The final winner in this? The cable news networks that have always managed to parlay fear into ratings, and commercial time. (BUY GOLD! BUY SURVIVAL GEAR! BUY BOOKS THAT TELL YOU TO BUY GOLD AND SURVIVAL GEAR!)

In every age, there are trends that future generations will look back on and ridicule, and wonder how incredibly stupid the people who lived in that era were, since they capitulated to those trends. To people of my age, it's kind of amazing how Americans bought into the need to never leave the house without wearing a hat. I'm also kind of stunned at the idea that we really used to freak out when people of different races had babies. Others don't get how the entire nation would stop over who was the heavyweight boxing champion, or how people ever thought smoking was at best a minor health problem, or how people used to put themselves at incredible risk of contagion from the lack of decent hygiene.

Because even if the future is a nightmarish situation of rampant and effective terrorism on a level beyond, say, one effective domestic act of war every ten years (knock wood)... well, telling me that I should really stare at people on the airport because it's an Orange Day instead of a Yellow Day was always, on its face, breathtakingly stupid. Paying for the employment of people who made that designation, more so. And even if Something Happens and we're all reminded how there are people out there who want us dead and afraid? I'm somehow thinking that a public outcry for the return of Color Days isn't going to happen.

We now return you to your previously scheduled blog about sports, which is Green, and always has been.

Life in the bubble

Another moment in the Poker Diaries. As always, if this sort of thing doesn't appeal to you, please go look at the rest of the Internet.

The latest poker tournament in the home game happened on Friday night, and for the third straight event, I made the final table, but didn't cash. Just like in my fantasy and basketball keeper leagues, and I can't tell you how old this is getting.

The truly fabulous thing about poker is that playing well enough to get into position to make money, but not making money, will make you feel worse about your play than getting busted early. Early busts are easy; you just ran into a cooler hand, got caught in a bluff, or just weren't catching any cards. Sure, there's a small frission of shame about not being able to outlast anyone else, but on some level, that's actually kind of cool, since it shows that you aren't a nit.

I actually had the eventual champion all-in while holding a pocket pair, but he won the race with two overs for the saving play, and after catching cards for a few hours, I went fairly cold and kept catching the worst hand in poker - hands that hit, but not as hard as when they hit someone else. And sure, these things just work out in the long run, but in the long run, we're all dead. And not all that thrilled about that, or playing for four hours to make nothing.

Well, at least that appeals to the nit in me...

Top 10 Celtic Fan Justifications for Kevin Garnett Going Low

Ah, yet another career-defining moment from the Big Dickette, as he "closes out" on the Suns' Channing Frye. How will the Massholes defend this one?



10) Like holding in football, this happens on every play, and Frye's just a jerk for flopping

9) KG's fist technique might have shown poor knowledge of a prostrate check, but you can't deny that his heart's in the right place

8) Since it happened during a loss on the second day of a back to back, the NBA bears a big part of the blame for scheduling

7) It's entirely Frye's fault for not having the guts or game to play in the post

6) After all of those years toiling for bad teams in Minnesota, Garnett is excused from this kind of behavior, because he had it so very, very hard

5) It's not Garnett's fault if Frye is so negligent about player safety as to not wear a cup or codpiece, like KG does

4) This is clearly accidental and innocuous, since if Garnett wanted to punch Frye in the jewels, he clearly would have done it much harder

3) Bruce Bowen and John Stockton did this on every play, and Kobe Bryant had trouble in Colorado, so no one should make a big deal about this

2) Mark Jackson and the Celtic house announcers didn't think it was a foul, and those opinions are legally binding

1) `With the history that's involved in teams that face each other twice a year, you can't blame KG when things get heated

Thursday, January 27, 2011

FTT Off-Topic: A Brief And Obvious Point About The Snowiest Month In My Part Of The World In 62 Years

It sucks.

Oh, wait, you wanted more than that?

In 19, sigh, 90, I was finishing up my senior year at Syracuse University. Syracuse, for those of you who have not had the pleasure to live in a hellscape of dull wintry torment, is in upstate New York, near the Great Lakes, and basically at a similar latitude to Buffalo, Irkutsk, and Charon. (Go look it up. It's hard to squeeze in Kepler Belt jokes into a sports blog, dammit.)

Situated as it is on a lake, Syracuse can get snow on a clear day. No, seriously -- all that's needed is a bit of wind to push the water vapor off the damn lake, and voila! -- it freezes and collects on your face, as you stare up at the cloud-free sky and contemplate just how very, very screwed you are.

Winter starts around mid-October, and ends around mid-May. And in my senior year, we got some snow. And then some more snow. And then after that, a whole lot more. Nearly 190 inches of it by the end of the year. It set a record, it did.

And in the last month in New Jersey, we've gotten the same amount, on a pro-rated basis. If February and March are like January (and no, it's highly doubtful that they will be), we'll be right in the same range. I mention this to you to note that, yes, if you live near me, this winter has sucked. Much.

What happens when you get this much of the white stuff is that you get profoundly irritated with it. Last night, for instance, we got 16 inches; it finally stopped around 4am. For whatever reason, I was convinced I was going to go to work anyway; I had meetings and all, and dammit, after the first 45 inches, simply staying home is no longer a tenable option. So with my alarm set for 5:45am, I got up and shoveled. My very good neighbor with the snowplow did the part of my driveway that he could. I broke out the snow blower, despite the hour of the day and the fact that in the enclosed places of my driveway, a snow blower basically means that I'm painting my neighbor's house with what fell on my driveway. Kinda fun, but, well, I'm just not that much of a dick. And the bottom three inches of the crud was slush and ice, and the blower really doesn't work for more than 10 to 12 inches.

So I Had At It, And Gave No Quarter. My eldest eventually came outside and threw herself into it as well. And 2.5 hours later, it was all cleared, and salted, and the envy of the neighborhood. At which point everyone in my office emailed everyone else to say they were working from home, and I stomped off to the local McDonald's, just to say that I got to go somewhere today. (And to reward the eldest for helping, who likes hash browns.)

Now, had this snow happened a month ago? I'd have slept late. I'd have accepted that nothing of any great consequence was going to happen today. I'd have put my feet up, had some hot cocoa, and got on with my hibernating self. But after a month? Hell and No. Snow will be crushed. Freedom, even if it's only the freedom to move as far as the street, will happen.

This, of course, is when the infinitely amused malevolent deity of your choice drops another debilitating amount of the stuff. Probably just in time for my poker game tomorrow night...

Alas Poor Vick, I Knew He'd Get Another Ad Deal

When will these comp-anies learn? Annoying music and criminals do NOT sell products.

Maybe in some people's eyes Mike Vick has paid his dues but not in most people's eyes. There are a lot more dog owners than there are football fans.
- NBC Philadelphia comments on a story where Vick has a sponsorship deal with a shoulder pad company announced
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

Now, this is something that I have some experience in, seeing how advertising is the day job and all. And what all of these relentless enforcers of Vick's back story are missing is this: there is nearly nothing that any sane company that uses celebrity endorsement will use Vick for... that *they* will buy.

Which does not mean that Vick can't be an effective celebrity endorser, of course. And here's the proof.

Did anyone in this audience, seeing how I reach a pretty upscale and educated demographic, ever buy anything promoted by Allen Iverson?

Heh. Didn't think so, really. And yet AI had one of the highest selling jerseys in the Association for nigh on 15 years, and sold Reeboks for nearly that long, and probably has made well over nine figures in his life from such activities.

How about Tiger Woods? Can't imagine anyone would want to be just like him in the last 12 months, and any advertiser has distanced themselves from him by now, seeing how he's not even the top golfer in the world anymore... oh, um, whoops. Nike and Electronic Arts are still on board, though many others (Accenture, Tag Heuer, Gillette, AT&T, Gatorade) have bailed. Giving your kid a dose of that Tiger Drank right now has to count as some kind of ironic parental abuse, really, but he's still going to bank tens of millions of dollars despite the infamy. (And you could argue that since Eldrick never really had bad boy cache, his fall was the worst.)

The point, and it should be an obvious one, is that message board commenters talk out of their dorsal orifices, and have absolutely no idea how advertising actually works, despite being exposed to it constantly. Vick will endorse brands that want to reach certain demographic groups, in mediums and ad buys that more expensive groups will be blissfully unaware of outside of news accounts, and make bank so long as he's one of the best and most watchable players in the country's most popular sports.

That's because when a major brand makes an endorsement decision, they do not do it in a cavalier fashion -- especially if they are publicly held. Instead, they will conduct focus group testing, telephone polls, Internet surveys and street team activities. They will then move forward, confident that their numbers will extrapolate into the larger public group, and limit their exposure with short-term media buys. The first few that will do this will get more attention and risk, but with each time that it happens, it will be less of a story and more of a payday.

That's because for a portion of the audience, Vick is a hero, proof that you can recover from a fall, and maybe even a limited martyr. Hell, OJ Simpson had popular support despite away from a football field for 15 years, and, well, far more guilty of far more worse crimes.

You see, advertising isn't about convincing the entire world to buy your product, because there is nothing that everyone buys. It's about convincing the people who already buy stuff like your product to buy just yours. Vick's going to be able to help some companies do that.

For people that, well, aren't you.

And if you do not like this, and do not want the companies that use him in such a fashion to do well?

Well, protest for all that you are worth. And give them free publicity, and cachet in the groups they are trying to reach, and make more companies go to Vick for another ad. Like the all-knowing, relentlessly forgiving geniuses that y'all are...

Top 10 NBA Forbes Financial Report Takeaways

According to Forbes, the Knicks are now the NBA's most valued franchises, and 17 out of 30 teams lost money last season. But there's more takeaways that the mainstream media is missing, which, of course, is why you read FTT.

10) Somehow, the Nets are worth even less now that a computer-free Russian billionaire overpaid for them

9) The single biggest thing keeping the Raptors afloat is the growing value of the Canadian dollar

8) The existence of a team in Memphis is best understood as a tax write-off, or as barter to Federal Express

7) The Cleveland franchise lost much of its value for some utterly inexplicable reason

6) Like every other business in Detroit, the Pistons would be more valuable if they moved to Mexico

5) It tells you everything you need to know about how bass-awkward the NBA is that a team in Oklahoma City is comparatively well-off

4) Yao Ming's injuries have put the league in serious jeopardy, since the country's financial overlords are no longer distracted by the big man's playoff chances

3) The Knicks' biggest advantage over the Lakers is that they don't have to share their building with a world-class organization like the Clippers

2) The league enjoyed a huge boost in value as soon as Chris Cohan sold the Warriors

1) If you think the league is in financial trouble now, just wait until they have a nuclear winter lockout in the middle of a nuclear winter NFL lockout

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 12 reasons why Roger Goodell will take a $1 salary in the event of a lockout

The NFL Commissh is really putting his money where the owner's mouths are, isn't he? But as always... FTT has The Rest Of The Story...

12) Ready to die on the streets in the cold as a homeless man, just to protect the one thing he (sniff) loves

11) The dollar that he'll be paid is the same one the NFL forked over in the USFL anti-trust lawsuit, so it's a very meaningful buck

10) Plans on making up the lost income by taking lots and lots of office supplies

9) Knows the owners will need his $10 million salary to buy groceries and medicine for the baby

8) Is making more than enough from his night job as an assistant manager at Appleby's

7) Is that committed to an 18-game regular season and fewer concussions

6) Has it on good authority that the positions of Daniel Snyder's pool boy, food taster and ball washer are available

5) Knows that when the owners move to a lockout, their network partners / paid media geishas will refer to it by some other name, like "aggressive bargaining", "labor correction" or "sensitivity training", so he'll skate on the technicality

4) Has all of that helmet to helmet contact fine money to fall back on

3) Really wants everyone who reads the story to know that he makes $10 million a year, because what he does is so gosh darned hard, and could not possibly be done for anything less

2) Thinks that if he takes the salary cut, he'll be able to get back to his roots, when it wasn't about the money, but was all about the union busting, man

1) Because big showy meaningless gestures like this are always conducive to getting a deal done, rather than, say, winning a bullsquat PR battle over which side is more repugnant

Whuck?



As I believe the word "Whuck?" to be one of the finest linguistic inventions of the age, it will be used as shorthand in the blog's new feature, "Things of Frightening Inexplicable Stupidity That I Need To Share With You, Dear Reader, For Fear That If I Do Not Get Independent Verification Of Its Existence, I May Be Going Insane."

I'm also pretty sure that I've played on this court when I lived in Fishtown.

Top 10 reasons why the Super Bowl will be a Scalper's Paradise

10) With the game at the Jerruh-soleum and tickets starting at $1,500 and up, the floor is already through the ceiling

9) When you are in the presence of such monumental architectural foolishness, ticket foolishness is inspired by osmosis

8) Pittsburgh and Green Bay may be the two biggest Road Fan groups in the country, since that means those people are able to get the hell out of Green Bay and Pittsburgh

7) With the economy picking up, people are more interested in spending money in ways that are plainly and spectacularly irresponsible

6) Everyone already owns a big television, and the 3-D thing just isn't making anyone buy new gear

5) With Dallas already well on the way to Mexico, losing gamblers are halfway to a new life already

4) You can trade your oil well for them, but only after shooting your guns in the air and screaming "Yee Haw!"

3) Everyone wants to work together to keep those old Visa bastards out of the game

2) Both teams have tons of fans from the 60s and 70s championship eras who are more than prepared to spend the retirement and estate, rather than leave anything for their ungrateful spawn

1) The Cowboys and their fans have had the ability to purchase a portion of the tickets, and since that team has won just one playoff game in this century, they've been selling those seats since before the year even started

A Brief, Small Question to Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert

As your team has now lost something like 85 of your last 25 games, and is clearly the worst team in the Association, and by a not inconsiderable margin...

And your nemesis/ex-chattel LeBron James is going to be no worse than a top three seed in Miami, and appears to have fully accepted his role as the biggest heel in the Association, albeit one with a team that is selling out every night, home and away...

And your roster is clearly filled with guys who no longer seem to be making any sort of effort, and would all welcome any sort of trade...

And your fans, assuming there are still any, and would appear to be increasingly ill-inclined to show up for games...

Well, just one question.

You still pitching that "Cavs will win a title before James" line?

And if so, would you like to work out your modifying claim of how you meant in the ABA, and the Cavs were accepting relegation?

Well, are you still quite sure that your sorry should be contracted franchise is going to win a championship before LeBron?

Screw You, Sad Eagle Fan

Today in Rubbing It In, some psychiatry honks posited that Philly Fan is the most depressed in the NFL, right up there with Atlanta Fan. They cooked up some index about being So Very, Very Close, how we care too much, have not enough psychiatric support, yada yada yada. I'm not going to link to the story, because I think it's bull squat, but there are two main points I'd like to address here.

1) Is Eagle Fan actually sad, and if so, why?

The team is incredibly watchable. The rest of the division is in tatters, as it has been for most of the Reid Era. The salary cap has been managed to the point where the club never loses a player they truly want, and the club rarely, if ever, gets painted in a corner by keeping stars until they are falling down and sad. Yes, I get that Reid is maddening in the game management points, and you've been to enough playoff games now that you are convinced that it's never going to end happy, but, um... you do realize that there are only a handful of fan bases that have had it better than you in the past 10 to 15 years, right? And that there is actually some benefit to having a team you can watch every year, rather than a boom-bust club that gives you years of cover-your-eyes misery. (Go ahead, root for the Rams. I think I got a better deal out of my club.)

And...

2) Life's too short to be made miserable by your football team, people. Or, well, anything.

Maybe this is just that I came into this year with low expectations. Or maybe I'm getting old enough where a certain amount of wisdom is starting to creep in. But let's just say it -- happiness is a choice. An intellectually indefensible choice that makes you seem like a pollyana or worse, a plainly difficult choice that requires a certain stubbornness and self-delusion, and a choice that you have to make, over and over again. But a choice.

If and when the Eagles win a Super Bowl in my lifetime, there will be a portion of the fan base that won't be happy. They'll be annoyed about the personnel or management, bent that it didn't happen earlier, when they had a chance to witness it in person, or instantly concerned about defending the title.

Count on it.

And be happy anyway...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Howard Eskin Will Not Be Ignored

This isn't sports, per se, but for those of us who endure Philadelphia media... take a peek at this.

You see, Howard Eskin is your only conduit, Philadelphia Fan, to Roy Halladay. He, and his other stalwart members of the Philadelphia media, are the only way that you will be able to hear meaningless cliches that prove to you that Halladay is a Nice Guy, deserving of your jersey purchase or applause or early round fantasy draft pick. There is no Twitter, or athlete blogs, or national media, or your own damn free will that would help you imagine what Roy might say about the news of the day.

And honestly, I'd say more about this, but when you've got someone with their head so far up their own dorsal orifice, I'm more inclined to applaud the accomplishment. Howard's not a young man, really, and that amount of flexibility and internal lube is rare for a man of an advanced age. Halladay really should talk to him more often; it's clearly holding him back from achieving true greatness or acceptance towards Cooperstown acceptance.

So kudos, Howard, for having the courage to stand up for your convictions, and all of us Ordinary Fans who would never have any other opportunity to hear the pearls of wit and wisdom from our region's star athletes. You are doing the Lord's work, Howard, and we're all so lucky to have you. So very, very lucky...

The Arbiter of Rivalries

From a Friday World Wide Lemur chat...

Mike (Indianapolis)

Is Green Bay and Chicago really a huge rivalry as everyone is making it out to be? The last time they played each other in the playoffs was in the 1940s. Aren't they really just bitter divisional rivals in a crappy division.

Bill Simmons (12:58 PM)

Glad someone brought this up. I feel like I'm in the top 1% of diehard football fans and can't remember a single meaningful Bears-Packers game. I'm sure there have been a couple, I just can't remember any. Am I wrong on this?

* * * * *

Oh, dear God in heaven. Where to start?

1) So nice that Little Prince Billy is now the arbiter of what is a rivalry, and what isn't. And here I thought that two teams that were less than 100 miles away from each other, that have played each other since the dawn of pro football time, with a won-loss record that's damn near close to even, and a team that defines itself with its new coach hire as to success coming from beating the other... well, that's not a rivalry, because Billy doesn't remember any of their games.

2) Is there an online test so that I can determine where I am in the percentage of diehard football fans? It's something like the Purity Test, only with an all-powerful myopia around your own laundry, with a rooting interest that closely relates to years when that team is good. Oh, and if I make enough money to gamble on lots of games, that gets me higher in the rankings too, right? We just need some ground rules here.

3) The NFC North is a crappy division. Really? Let's see... they had two teams play for the right to go to the Super Bowl this year. Last year, they sent two teams to the playoffs, with the division champion being a play or two away from going. Their games feature two out of four outdoor stadiums, with four franchises that routinely sell out games, most of the time, regardless of weather. But it's crappy, you see, because the teams tend to alternate times of ascendance.

Look, I get that your team's rivalries matter more to you. Eagles-Cowboys isn't the Cowboys' biggest game of the year; that's the Redskins for them. But if you were to tell me that the Eagles could only win two games next year, there's no doubt in my mind which I'd choose.

This does not mean, however, that someone else's rivalry isn't valid. And to offer that opinion is, at best, mean-spirited, and at worst, breathtakingly ignorant. You'd think that the World Wide Lemur could do better, wouldn't you?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Leave Jay Cutler allloooonnnneeee!

So right there in my Facebook and Twitter feed this morning, reposted by people I like and respect for the Blogfrican writing, thar it blows (and blow, it does)... a repost of an impassioned defense of Jay Cutler, and the decision to remove him from Sunday's NFC Championship Game due to a knee issue.

You see, we are being too hard on the twee pouty diabetic. By taking umbrage (something that more people should take, by the way -- America makes some of the finest umbrage in the world, and you can really taste the Um) with the man's inability / unwillingness to continue in the biggest game of his life against his team's biggest rival, with a Super Bowl berth on the line... well, we're being unfair. We're criticizing him in a way that calls his entire life into account, in a way that we can never know, to answer a question that has no answer. It's mean, unfair, biased, tasteless and cheap, it is.

Now, please go take a look at the logo of this here site. Specifically, the tag line of the logo. Then scroll on back. It's OK, I'll wait.

(shifts weight from foot to foot, checks Blackberry)

Oh, you're back. Nice logo, huh? It's actually an ancient surgical tool, which tells you all that you need to know about your prospects for surviving ancient surgery. But I digress. Ahem...

(clears throat)

JUST WHY IN THIS OR ANY OTHER WORLD DO WE HAVE TO BE FAIR TO JAY FREAKING CUTLER?

(coughing fit)

Sorry, I'm not as young as I used to be. Whew, that took me back. Feel a little light-headed now.

Now, I don't actually have anything *against* Cutler. I thought Chicago got the best of the deal they made with Denver for him. I like the way he throws the deep ball, and when he's got his feet set, he's got strength and accuracy in his throws. He's surprisingly mobile, and will hang in the pocket to take a hit. Give him a good line, time to throw and some weapons, I think he can do some damage.

Like, oh, 20 to 25 other guys playing the position in the league, really.

For the task of playing QB for the Bears in 2010, Cutler is compensated to the extent that his year is far, far, far in excess of your life's wages. Or, well, perhaps 50 to 100 of your lives. Over $22 million American dollars a year, for a 27-year-old man. Just one game of his wages -- $1.37 million -- would likely buy all of your worldly possessions, perhaps ten times over. In the lottery of life, Cutler has won, and wins just about every day, just like just about everyone else who has taken a snap from center in the NFL in 2010.

And I don't begrudge him any of that. It's a relentlessly competitive business, and a reasonable approximation of a meritocracy. Nor do I give a rat's lower digestive tract whether or not he stiffs Rick Reilly or any other media member, for that matter. The world would be a far, far better place if we were not allowed, by act of Congress, to ever allow an athlete to speak outside of game play while on camera. I promise, NFL, we'll all still watch the games.

But here's the really nasty bit. If Cutler is the QB of your team, are you really happy about that? I'm an Eagles fan, and there's no way I'm trading Michael Vick, or even Kevin Kolb, for him. He's clearly not in the class of Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, the guys who will be playing in the Super Bowl. Jets Fan isn't giving up Mark Sanchez for him. Falcons Fan would still rather have Matt Ryan. Saints Fan isn't giving up Drew Brees. The Colts aren't moving Peyton Manning, and the Ravens would rather live with Joe Flacco. Starting to notice a pattern here?

He's just not all that special. And that's not even taking into account the fact that Cutler's leadership skills are an open question, since his college teams stunk, his Denver teams fell apart in the stretch, and he's now 1-1 in the playoffs, with the win coming over a terrible Seahawks team at home.

So, getting back to the question at hand... Was Cutler really hurt? I don't know and don't care; I'm not a Bears fan, and as I had the Packers to cover, so my heart wasn't breaking when he departed. But if he was hurt... well, why isn't he in the locker room? The Bears are going to presumably win the game and play in two weeks; every possible minute of care and training should begin now now now, so the starting QB can play in that game. If they lose, so be it; Cutler has done everything he could to prevent that, than showed confidence in his teammates to go get it done without him. But that's not the point, either. This is. Let me see if I can do this with better technique this time; a little more diaphragm, I think. Opera singer style.

WHY DO WE HAVE TO BE FAIR TO JAY FREAKING CUTLER?

In the 2004-05 Super Bowl, Donovan McNabb plays through nausea in the fourth quarter in his attempt to lead the team back to a win. In another game against Arizona, he plays on a broken leg, one suspects, just to see if he can do it. He threw for four touchdowns that day, not that any of his haters would admit it. Personally, I think if a man plays through nausea, that seems like something you should give him credit for, rather than hate. But Eagles Fan's hate of McNabb is a whole 'nother post. Let's get back to Cutler.

The point of all this?

You can be unfair to Jay Cutler. It's OK. That's one of the nice things about caring about sports; you are entirely entitled to hold opinions on the personal qualities of people you will never meet.

And if Cutler feels bitter about his treatment?

Well, he can go back to sleep on the biggest pile of money that you ever did see, and curl up next to his reality television star skank.

Now, as for the rest of you... is Cutler cutting you a check? Because otherwise, I've no idea why you are carrying his water, really...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Top 10 Jets - Steelers Takeaways

10) If LaDanian Tomlinson is on your roster, there's really no chance that you will be going to the Super Bowl

9) When push comes to shove, Pittsburgh will live or die with Ben Roethlisberger on the run, and this is not news to Steeler Fan

8) It turns out that Bart Scott could, in fact, wait

7) That guy in Troy Polamalu's jersey owes the real player an apology

6) There's really no reason for Steve Weatherford to get on the plane to go back to New York, really

5) Between Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers are pretty well set for young wideouts

4) Seriously, when you have a third and goal from the one, and don't give the ball to Shonn Greene on either play, you pretty much need a new offensive coordinator

3) If Maurice Pouncey's injury keeps him out of the Super Bowl, the Steelers probably should not be favored

2) While Jets Fan has to irritated by the playcalling and frustrated by how close they got, they really can't complain about how much fun the team gave them this year... but will, anyway

1) Now we get two full weeks of how Ben Roethlisberger can't really be a rapist, because he's gotten to the Super Bowl again

Jets - Steelers Second Half Diary: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Smith goes nowhere on the return, but Greene gets Green out of the hole with a 23-yard burst. Faint pulse for the New Yorkers, who needed that play something fierce. Tomlinson follows up with his first good moment of the day, 8 yards up the gut. It's stuffed on second, but on third and four, Sanchez connects with Holmes for 16 yards. On first down from play action, Taylor falls, Holmes waves for the ball, and Sanchez connects on a massive bomb for a clear air turbulence touchdown. Wow. Great adjustment on the ball by Holmes, and that's a 45-yard score, 10 unanswered points, and We Have Drama. Steelers 24, Jets 10.

Brown takes a short high kick back to the Black 28. Roethlisberger gets free for four yards on a first down scramble, but Steeler Fan is sounding unsettled now. Clock milk and Mendenhall for four. Third down is nearly picked on a ball off a DB's face mask... and then the Jets special teams blow the stop with a 15-yard flag as STer Jamaal Westerman misses the ball, but gets P Jason Kapinos. Wow. New set of downs on the Green side of the field, and it's Mendenhall cracking 100 yards on a center give, then another yard on second; Black might be getting a mite bit conservative. Third and six from the Green 45 is a gun throw to RB Mewelde Moore, who gets launched after the sticks, but holds on for the first. Green trying hard, but not getting the results. The new C/QB problem finally crops up for a fumble, but Black recovers for a loss of one. From the gun on second in an empty backfield, Roethlisberger avoids pressure, but forces a deep ball, and DB Rodney Poole brings in the second Ben pick of the day. Halfway through the third quarter, Green Is Alive And Kicking, Folks...

Greene for three, stopped by DT Ziggy Hood, having a nice day. Sanchez from gun is too high for Holmes, and the QB just got it off from the blitz, and was nearly picked to boot. Third and long is a Big Damn Deal, and from the gun, Sanchez floats an odd ball to Edwards where the WR can't stay in. As it's a three and out, it's time for Simms to fellate Sanchez; nothing impresses him like failure. Weatherford finally hits a good punt, and Randle-El muffs it, but out of bounds and for no real damage. Big series for the Black D.

Mendenhall, two carries for six yards. Third and four from the gun sees Ben run for another first down, and Rex Ryan is failing to adjust for the difference between him and Tom Brady. That's a paddlin'. Mendenhall eaten for a loss of two, then gets the corner and nine. Black just trying to shorten the game, though another score would be a big deal. Third down gun work is another first down scramble, and a defensive holding to boot. Finally, the pressure gets to the QB for a 7-yard sack, and the ball nearly came loose, along with the name tag on the back of his shirt. Never seen that before. Mendenhall wiped out again, and had this Green defense showed up in the first half, this game would be a hell of a lot closer. Third and 20 sees the QB go down again, and the only thing good for Black at the end of that series is the clock kept running. Kapinos gets it to the 19, and Cotchery has recovered enough for a fair catch. A little more than a quarter left for Green, who need to make plays, but look a lot more lively than the first half.

Sanchez to Edwards on that slant they love from play action gets 18. S Ryan Clark is down on the play, and that's a big deal, especially considering how he has been playing recently. Green starting to find the range, especially on the line. Tomlinson for four ends the quarter, and it's 24-10 after three. Drama Continues!

Play action from Sanchez, and the QB holds in the fire to hold Keller for another big chunk of 18. From the Black 39, he tries Edwards in the end zone, but Gay has it locked down. 98 to -3 on yards for NYJ in the second half. Cotchery is slammed by Polamalu after a six yard bubble. From the 33 in the gun, Sanchez finds Keller to convert as the blitz doesn't get there. Nice work by the QB and TE. From the Black 27, Greene is stuffed at the line by Harrison. From the gun, Sanchez scrambles for seven, and almost coaxes a flag from Harrison's elbow to the back of the head. On the Black 20 on third and 3, it's a toss to Greene, who gets 2.5 before LB James Farrior arrives with hatred. That hurt just to hear it. Fourth and one sees Green go for it with 11:34 left, though the figgie would have some marginal value. Pretty much a killshot opportunity for Black. Greene gets the ball and the first with Much Manliness; that's a yard with purpose. You kind of know that Polamalu is doing it with mirrors on a play like that. From the gun, Sanchez fumbles the snap and loses eight; nearly a colossal mistake by the QB, rather than just a very bad one. A draw to Greene shows the RB run through a man on a Whoa moment, and it gets 16 massive yards. Bubble screen to Cotchery with fantastic Green blocking converts the first down; kudos to Edwards and Holmes. Play #14 of the drive is Greene on a quick hitter to the one. 8:30 left and clock burning. 181 to 29 in second half yards; mirror opposite of the first half. Sanchez to Keller doesn't connect, and Green burns way too much clock before it happens. Do or die down here is a mind-boggingly bad play call where Sanchez tries to force a slant into three men to Holmes. It's as if the QB did that blind. No reason to it. Fourth down is Tomlinson, and in a career defining moment, he's stopped short. That's a really long drive to nowhere, and while it's still possible for Green to win this game, it just went from hard to nearly impossible. Boy, it's not easy to be a Jets Fan... but hope springs eternal, as right after the commerce, the Steelers fumble the snap and take a safety. That could have even been seven, but Green will get the ball back right away, with the Black defense becomingly increasingly gassed, and 7:38 still to go. Wow. Steelers 24, Jets 12.

Cotchery returns the free kick to the Green 42. Play action fools no one, but Sanchez avoids pressure to hit Edwards for 22 yards, as the WR gets the knee down. From the Black 36, the Jets waste a play on a blown carry, and C Nick Mangold is felled by Sanchez from behind. Just as the Pouncy injury, that's a massive loss, and the longer this game goes, the more I like the Packers in the Super Bowl. Keller for nine as Green makes do for Mangold with reserve utility knife Robert Turner. Third and one sees Tomlinson stuffed again; the field goal is no value to Green, so they go for it with 5:30 left and the clock running. Another kill shot opportunity for Black, and Sanchez hits Edward on the slant to prolong things. Shotgun draw to Tomlinson for three, and I'm not sure why they are still trying him now, especially with Greene making plays. Short gain to Keller, clock still burning, burning. From the Black 11, Mangold returns for third and three, and Keller converts the first on an out. Less than four minutes now. From the gun, draw to Tomlinson for a couple; every time the Jets use him, it seems to help Pittsburgh. 3:30 left and Green huddling; ouch. Sanchez from the gun changing pre-snap, and Cotchery gets free for the score on a simple left out. Taylor makes the pick for Green, and that's just a massive mistake. Steeelers 24, Jets 19, and 19 unanswered points for Green. What a game.

Nice return for Brown helps Black loads. From their own 39, Mendenhall gets two, and that's the first Jet timeout. 99 yards for the RB in the first, just 23 in the second; that tells you everything there is to know about this game. 2:50 left. Play action to Miller is absolutely immense, a 14-yard gain, a first down, and the clock still running. Second Green timeout, and Poole just missed knocking that ball down and making this a dramatically more difficult game to close for Black. From the Green 44, Mendenhall for two, and he goes down in bounds without fumbling, the whole dream of what was necessary there. Final Green timeout with 2:38 left. Mendenhall manages two yards and staying in bounds, and the clock run off will get us to the 2-minute warning. Assuming a run, a stop, and a suitable punt, this is going to be on Sanchez to score a touchdown from 80 to 90 yards away in 80 seconds, with no timeouts, on the road. And if he does that, he'll have truly earned the crown of Most Road Playoff Wins Ever.

From the Green 40 in the gun, Black refuses to play conservative. Roethlisberger instead scrambles around, and finds Brown on a cross for 14 yards and the kill shot. Just pure balls, and all credit to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Roethlisberger and Brown for executing the biggest play of the year to perfection. Ryan throws his headset to the ground in frustration, and I think I just heard America, or at the very least New England, have a collective Nelson Muntz moment. Amazing year for them, and you have to think they can get back here again... and maybe even win, assuming they don't employ Tomlinson. (Sorry, LT. It's you.)

The Steelers advance in as manly a fashion as is humanly possible for a team that nearly blew a 24-point lead at home, and I go 2-0 in my playoff picks. Not sure what's the bigger story, really. Congrats to the champs, my friends who are their fans, and to all of those Jet Fans out there... honestly, try not to be bitter. Your team fought like hell, and gave you more moments of joy than just about any year in their history. But beating the best three QBs of the era, all on the road, was just too much to ask of any team, really.

A final moment for Steeler Fan... I don't think this is one of your best teams. Wallace is still too young to be a consistent game breaker, the line has troublesome moments, and the defense is more erratic than any in recent memory. But they are good in close games, don't beat themselves with coaching moments, and get the plays they need to advance. And in some ways, the teams that have to struggle to seal the deal are just more lovable... but only if they do it. You folks win too often to settle for nice tries.

Jets - Steelers First Half Diary -- Ground And Pound Is The Pittsburgh Sound

KR Antonio Scott to the Black 33, and RB Rashard Mendenhall gets a tough yard on first. Rollout by QB Ben Roethlisberger to WR Hines Ward for seven, as MLB David Harris saves the first. Third and two from an empty backfield isn't manly, and neither is a delay of game on the third play from scrimmage. Whoops. From the gun with two backs, WR Emannual Sanders can't catch the slant that would give the first down, but a hands to the face from CB Antonio Cromartie earlier in the play gives Black the first down. Roethlisberger takes too long, then misses TE Matt Spaeth on an awkward quail. A give to Mendenhall gets four; the back looks fast, but hasn't had a hole yet. Third and six from the gun sees a Green blitz, but the throw to WR Mike Wallace is made, and it's close to the sticks. An odd camera angle makes it look worse for the offense than it is, but the first is made, the Black has the ball in Green territory, albeit tentatively. Dangerous but creative play by Roethlisberger ends with a lateral to Mendenhall that gets eight yards, and the QB getting a leg injury from DE Calvin Pace. Mendenhall bounces it outside with nothing happening in the middle, and another clsoe spot gives Black the first. Mendenhall gets nine yards out of some borderline Barry Sanders elusiveness, and nearly took it to the house. The Jets DL is owning, but the RB Does Not Care. Short yardage RB Isaac Redman gets five, as the Green DL shows signs of discouragement. Six minute drive and counting. Deep ball to TE Heath Miller works for 21, and would have been six had the ball been more accurate. Great catch by the TE, and Jets coach Rex Ryan makes a terrible replay challenge that will take the refs no time at all to reject. I get the idea of calling a timeout to give your ragged defense a chance to catch its breath in the red zone, but this will leave them with just one challenge for the rest of the game... but what the hell do I know? Referee Ed Hochuli overturns the call, and it's second and 10 with the Green defense getting a major respite. Mendenhall makes two men miss and loses two yards, as patience with a weak line doesn't always work out. Roethlisberger in real pain from the Pace injury. From the gun on third and 12, the QB shrugs off the pain and scrambles, diving head first to make the sticks. Huge play for Black, and that's all kinds of gutty work from the reprobate. Mendenhall finds some actual room, and gets five yards up the gut. The QB pumps twice, buying time, and gets it to Ward for a first down, just in front of the goal line. C Maurice Pouncey is down now, just because this first drive has to become even more epic. The rookie leaves in a bad way, on one leg, and that's just an immense loss. First and goal from the one sees Mendenhall continue his outstanding first drive by working through the noted WWE imitating LB Bart Scott to break the plane. K Shaun Suisham connects on the PAT, and after a 9:06 drive that goes 67 yards, all of them contested, it's Steelers 7, Jets 0.

Pouncey leaves on a cart; hard to imagine seeing him coming back before next year. KR/WR Jericho Cotchery brings it back to the Jets 23, but not before another opportunity for commerce. Talk about taking a long time before you get to start the game; if I were Pittsburgh, I'd have been very tempted to try an onside kick there and really put the hammer down. QB Matt Sanchez tried a listless slant that's knocked down at the line. A give to RB LaDanian Tomlinson ends with LB James Harrison with definitive and beautiful violence. Third and 10 from the gun sees Sanchez gaining the first on his signature hard hook to Cotchery, and that's a big saving moment. From the Green 40, Sanchez tries for WR Braylon Edwards deep, and the ball flies into empty space in advance of an illegal contact call. With a new first on their own 45, a give to RB Shonn Greene gets two second-effort yards into the middle of the line. Multiple flags between the hand-check battle between WR Santonio Holmes and CB Ike Taylor ends in DPI and a 10-yard flag. Now in Black territory, it's Tomlinson for two with purpose. From the gun, Sanchez's pass is knocked down, but the play never happened due to a false start. Next play is another knockdown, a great play by DE Lawrence Timmons, and the Jets settle for a four yard out that Phil Simms feels is fellation-worthy, because drives that end in no points makes him wet, especially when they are on the verge of field goal range. P Steve Weatherford is already better than this week, in that this kick doesn't go into the end zone. Black starts at their 13 in a first quarter that would have finished in 25 minutes if it weren't a conference championship game with force-fed ads.

Mendenhall for 11 on a fake bubble screen draw that Simms feels could lead to peace in the Middle East. The RB's tenth carry of the quarter gets two to the left. A defensive offsides gives the offense a free play, and Mendenhall takes a check down for 17 yards, finishing it with inspiring violence against DB Eric Smith. The first quarter ends, and if the manliness displayed by the home team doesn't give Steeler Fan a stiffie, I don't know Steeler Fan.

From play action with a ton of time, Roethlisberger misses Miller deep. Cromartie limping, but not leaving. From the gun, Roethlisberger is nearly picked by Harris, and Smith nailed Sanders with a late hit that's borderline ejectable in this year's league... and just good football the year before. Whoops. From the Green 40, Mendenhall gets seven, and he's just dominating the Jets so far this game, Scott in particular. 66 yards on the ground already for Black. The RB falls forward for two on second down, setting up a short third down. The power give to Redman doesn't work at all. Black tries to quick snap on fourth down, but the refs foil the strategy by calling for a bizarre measurement, since it's more than a yard. Weird. The 50-yard figgie won't work in this yard, so Black goes for it, and a play action screen to Mendenhall bounces off the back's hands and to Harris for a pick, not that the turnover does more than change the field position by a few yards, and break a long streak for Ben taking care of the ball. Telling, on a lot of levels, that Black didn't just run it, or give Roethlisberger the chance to get it on a bootleg. Green is back in the game in a big way, especially on defense.

Tricksy to Cotchery loses four and fools no Steeler. False start makes things worse for them. Sanchez with time takes TE Dustin Keller on a center check down for six yards. Third and 13 is a loud crowd moment, and from the gun, Cotchery drops Sanchez's cross that might have made the sticks. Green barely got the snap off, and have already had two false starts. Weatherford's punt is 29 yards of embarassment, and Black will start at their own 38.

Roethlisberger goes for it all with Wallace deep, but the ball hangs, and CB Darrelle Revis had a better shot at the ball, but can't bring it in. On second, Mendenhall has room and a burst, and the back gallops for 35 yards; he now has 85 in 20 minutes. Hard to see how that situation is going to get better for Green, or won't be fatal if it continues. Black calls time, probably to sop up the drool from the running game yards. Redman has room for eight on a nice cutback, and the play shoes G Chris Kimoeatu just looking for people to crush. Redman gets another 13 of pure balls nasty, as Black runs right into the teeth of a run defense and does not care. Wow, this is just unseemly, especially in a first half. Mendenall for another two, and the Steelers have already passed their season average on the ground. Mendenhall to the one, and the run is punctuated by Miller launching a linebacker into the goalposts. Ye gads. Another Black timeout -- what the hell, does it take a lot to just call the same play over and over? -- and from the gun after the break, it's the first and only throw of the drive, with Roethlisberger throwing pointlessly into coverage. Could have easily been a Revis pick, but Smith knocks it down early. Suisham somehow navigates the insanely difficult Heinz Field wind conditions from 20 yards out, that's just your average 58-yard drive, every inch of it on the ground. If you like your football from the watermelon ball era, this game is yours.

Suisham's kick goes out of bounds, rather than gives KR/WILD!cat operator Brad Smith a shot. Greene for 3 on first on just their 11th play of the evening. Miscommunication throw to Edwards from a second down gun. Third and seven is just huge, given how gassed the Green defense is, and after pressure and a tip by DL Brett Keisel in coverage, it's a three and out. The Jets have ran 14 offensive plays in 21 minutes, and that ratio is about to get worse. Another terrible Weatherford punt is taken by KR Antwan Randle-El to the Black 34.

Dumb side screen to Wallace misses, and is nearly a lateral. Sandlot scramble and connection with Miller works for 23, not that Jim Nantz cares enough to do the math for us. Mendenhall for a couple in middle traffic. From the gun with the clock milked, Roethlisberger connects with Sanders for 20 yards to the left, and Green looks like they are, to use the words of the late great Gorilla Monsoon, on dream street. Mendenhall for three on backfield trickery. Roethlisberger finds Mendenhall in the flat, and the back nearly gets in; on the next play, the QB keeps it for the score, and it's Party Time in Pittsburgh. So much for the QB being gimpy from an injury, or the idea that the Jets didn't play their Super Bowl last week. With two minutes left in the half, it's Steelers 17, Jets 0, and Green more or less has to score before the half, and again with the second half kickoff, to keep this game from getting into A Lack Of Drama.

Smith to the 32, as CBS decides we need to see their obese celebrities waving Steeler flags. Eek. Sanchez from play action fools no one, and he's sacked in a jailhouse rush as the clock burns. A pump and miss to Cotchery had killshot TAInt written all over it, but falls to the turf. From the gun on third and 17, it's Wilding Time, and Sanchez is destroyed by CB Ike Taylor in mid-motion. The play is ruled a fumble on the field, recovered by DB William Gay, and ran in for an apparent touchdown. I'm not sure that Sanchez will be able to play again after that hit, and even if the arm is moving forward, the pass might be ruled a lateral... not that Simms and Nantz notice this, of course. You have to love professional media coverage, you really do. Referee Ed Hochuli saves us from this inanity by upholding the ruling on the field, and the Steelers are now 31:13 away from going to Dallas. Suisham's PAT makes it 24-0, and honestly, it hasn't been that close. Sanchez warming on the sidelines will keep the world from seeing Mark Brunell.

The Jets desperately need something, anything, good to happen for them. The squib kick isn't that play, and goes to the Green 30. 68 seconds left in the half, and just to add injury to injury, Cotchery is down and looks absolutely mangled. The Jets have 12 yards tonight to date, and it's hard to remember any of them, really.

Sanchzez from the gun gets it to Keller for four yards as the defense looks sharkish. Hurry up on second to Smith works, and he gets 16 yards to midfield. Jets have all three timeouts and 39 seconds left. Smith for nine, and that's the first Sanchez timeout, as Simms fellates the QB for not having a TAInt, as if that fumble wasn't a score. Honestly, Simms fellates QBs like breathing. From the gun,Sanchez is nearly picked as Green picks up a blitz. A defensive holding call on CB Bryant McFadden gives them five and a first. From the Black 35 in the gun, Sanchez takes Keller for nine, and that's their second timeout. Green now in range for a K Nick Folk miss, because field goal kicking in Heinz Field is only slightly less difficult than trigonometry. From the gun, Sanchez tries Holmes in the end zone, but Taylor is only man that could have caught that. Third and one with 22 seconds left from the 25 is a back leg gun throw to Edwards that never has a chance. Folk from 43 with 14 seconds left fades it from left to right, and misses the upright on the happy side by about a foot. Green Scores! Well, that gets us closer to the over, at least. Steelers 24, Jets 3.

Wow, the Steelers PA guy really likes that Caddyshack CD. That's the most national attention that Loverboy has had in, like, forever, and tells you more than you need to know about Pittsburgh. Spaeth falls on the squib, Roethlisberger takes a knee, and that's the half. See you in a bit.

Top 10 NFL Conference Championship Ad Questions

10) Does any person on the planet who does not work for Budweiser care how their little Western movie teaser ends, and how on God's green earth does this sell beer?

9) How does running into television screens sell beer?

8) How does a family of goobers wearing matching clothes equate to a better-than-nature family, and how does this lead to people buying Microsoft products?

7) Why does Farmers' Insurance send its agents to a college campus to learn disturbingly personal details about their customers?

6) Do the bitchtastic Bud Light bartenders ever get tips, or do they just work for the chance to abuse non-conformists?

5) Since the Visa Super Bowl lifer guys are so adamant about missing important family events for their need to spend huge dollars on a game that has to rarely, if ever, involve their teams, doesn't this make me kind of a selfish twat for using my Visa card?

4) Can't Southwest's kangaroo court put the evil CEO in jail, rather than just make him saunter out?

3) Has anyone actually stared at a clock to measure out the countdown before a Verizon iPhone purchase?

2) Why is Burger King embedding sinister ingredient chunks into burgers, rather than, you know, giving people the option to order burgers with actual food items that are those ingredients?

1) Do I have to be a dancy fancy pants to purchase the new VW Jetta?

Top 10 Packer - Bears Takeaways

10) Someone might want to mention to Bears coach Lovie Smith that he has a field goal kicker, or that if you are going to go to the emergency QB in the third quarter, it might behoove you to at least have him throw the ball then

9) Describing the Packers' efforts to avoid Devin Hester in the return game as cowardly does a great disservice to cowards

8) Mike Martz is such a genius, he can devise an offense where only the (same) running back ever touches the ball, you rarely use the shotgun despite massive protection problems, and your stud TE doesn't get any chances to make plats

7) Fox is very grateful to Aaron Rodgers for using bad luck and judgment to keep the outcome in doubt for as long as he could

6) If you want to buy a Jay Cutler Bears' jersey today, I'm thinking that you can find some motivated sellers in the Chicago area

5) B.J. Raji was just a yard away from becoming Leon Lett II, Electric Boogaloo

4) The Bears might want to look into having LBs that are faster than QBs

3) Dom Capers is such a genius that he has 340-pound nose tackles dropping into coverage, and it works (along with deep corner blitzes that never, ever get to the QB)

2) On Earl Bennett's late touchdown, Giants S Nick Collins more or less proved that he should have missed the Pro Bowl no matter what

1) The gambling sharps that scorned "recreational" gamblers for just going with the team with the better QB might have missed that the team also had the *much* better QB

Packers - Bears Second Half Diary: The Cheese Stands... Barely

Crosby tries another short kick, but Hester foils the strategy by taking it anyway, and gets to the Black 40. As Bear Fan stirs with hope, it's Forte for five, then one. It's kind of easy to cover Black right now;

On third and four, it's another skittery deep drop and short miss to Hester, and that's the end of the drive. As Fox excuses Cutler's troubles on his knees, Maynard's punt is field on a mindless hop by gunner Corey Graham, who could have let it go for more yards. Whoops.

From his own 17, Rodgers tries Jennings deep, but Tillman is all over it for an incomplete. Yellow gave their QB time on the ball; telling for the first play from scrimmage. Starks spins for two, then gets wiped by DE Israel Idionje. Huge down here on third and eight, and Rodgers from the gun has time to find Nelson for 22 yards on a center laser that's the 5th 20+ yard pass play of the day. Number six is the very next play, as it's Jennings for 21 as the CB stumbles. That's just all day, and Jennings is at 5 for 98 already. From the Bear 40, Starks gets nine on good and patient draw running. Cutler on the bench looking morose, and QB Todd Collins is warming up. Ye gads. Starks is snowed under for a yard loss, and with the Bear offense about to go to a meh backup, this could be the last meaningful play of the game. On third and one from the gun, Rodgers goes to Jones deep. The WR drops it, but DPI is called, correct by the standards of the day. Sigh. First and goal from the eight and the gun is a give to Starks for two. Rodgers tries Driver in the back of the end zone, but the coverage is too tight. From the gun on third and goal, Rodgers makes the only play that he couldn't make... a pick by Urlacher on an utterly unnecessary try into triple coverage. Wow, what a mistake. The LB rumbles for 39 before Rodgers can get him down, and Urlacher in the open field might have been the best scoring chance of the day for Black.

Collins in for Cutler; let's just say that you can get Jay's jersey for a lot less tomorrow in the Chicago area. The back-up misses Davis on first, then sees a false start. Cutler is 6 of 14 for 80 yards and a pick, and nothing about his day has gone the way he wanted. Collins is rushed and misses a cross as Jenkins hits the elbow on the throw. Third and 15 from the gun is picked off by S Nick Collins, and that call should be reviewed and reversed. Fox obliges with a timely commercial break, and Smith has to throw the challenge flag to get his Maynard punt. It's 39 yards of net, and we're 23.5 minutes from this being over.

A Starks run comes back on a hold for first and 20. Yellow outgaining Black by a 3-to-1 margin. From the gun with two backs, it's an awkward bubble screen to Jennings, who takes it on a knee for four yards. From the gun again, Rodgers has time and Jennings for another 20+ yard gain, the same 22-yard center square out that's worked all day. First down, Pack. Starks jitterbugs for a yard; and that was *not* balls nasty. Pre-snap adjustments, then Rodgers from the gun squirms to the line; the 1-yard sack is less preferable for Black than a 10-yard Clifton hold on Peppers. 21 minutes left. Second and 18 from the gun is an out to Nelson for 10, and the Pack's WRs are just owning their releases from the line. Third and eight from the gun with 20 minutes left sees Rodgers extend the play but eventually throw it away. The Black D deserves better in this game. Masthay's punt to Hester is long and returnable, but the Miami product slips, and Black's best chance to score is down without stress. Black will start at their own 17.

Forte -- what a shock! -- gets it for nothing. Clock running. Second down carry works better, and he gets 8 before an uncalled late hit. The woes of not being a QB. Collins waits too long on a slant and is nearly picked by Williams; good call by the refs, as Knox played DB on that. Maynard's punt is fielded on a remarkably stupid hop by Williams, who gets crushed and fumbles... but the play never happened due to an ineligible man downfield call. Yellow will have it with 18 minutes left against an utterly impotent offense.

As I fight off the urge to take a nap -- oh, the joys of post-40 -- Rodgers from the gun gives to FB Jon Kuhn for two. I think Yellow calls these plays just to get a heat check of their road crowd. Jackson goes right and backwards as Urlacher is all over him. Given the Yellow defense today, just running it and taking time off the clock here is defensible. Rodgers from the gun throws instead, and misses TE Andrew Quarless in front of the sticks. The QB is Not Happy, and there's 16.5 minutes left now. Masthay's punt is long and directional, and Hester runs 30 yards, but none of them forward. An ineligible man downfield flag gives the PR another shot as the Bears mull over going to QB Caleb Hanie -- no, seriously. And if he leads them to a comeback win, he'll have the job in the Super Bowl and next year? Masthay's line drive punt to sub PR Earl Bennett goes for 65 yards, with a 21-yard return. Hanie in. Wow. 16 minutes left.

Forte for 11, the biggest hole he's seen in some time. It's kind of amazing to me that this game is still close enough to be in doubt. Forte for four, and that's the end of the third quarter. I hope you didn't take the over.

Since Hanie's in before the fourth, Collins and Cutler can not come back. Wow. Um, that could be a big deal in the event of injury. Forte in the flat for a first. The QB uses scamper power for two, and he might not want to take full power hits from LB AJ Hawk too often. From the Yellow 42, Forte gets through another hole for 11, and Black's got it at the Yellow 30. INTERESTING. Pre-snap shifting, and Taylor is eaten by Mathews for a loss. On second and 13, Hanie finds Knox on a cross, and the speedy WR just burns the corner after a perfect pass; huge play. Knox is ruled out at the one yard line. A give to Taylor from a power formation works, and in a game where the Packers looked like they could have put it away on a half dozen occasions, it's a one-play game. Gould's PAT is good, and with 12 minutes left, it's Packers 14, Bears 7. Bear Fan is singing, and I'm no longer fighting off Naptime. Wow, wow, wow.

The Packers guard against an onside kick, but Gould goes deep, and Starks gets it back to the Yellow 24. No gain as the RB goes left, and throats knot in Wisconsin. Rodgers is smashed on a deep ball, and that's an obvious helmet to helmet play by Peppers on Rodgers. Wow, that's just concussion city, and how Black Fan is complaining about that call, I have no idea. Rodgers is bloodied. Yellow pre-snap movement, and the teams are starting to show signs of a fight brewing, which tends to happen with seasons on the line and your QB getting crushed. Peppers channeling the Power Of Hate. Rodgers tries Driver and misses, and CB Tim Jennings is flagged for DPI. 50-50 call. 11:03 left, ball at the Yellow 49. From power, it's a play action dump to Kuhn, who gets six. Rodgers looks a little off to me, but he's not leaving the game. Starks on a delay for two, and there's ten minutes left. Every first down is two minutes off the clock, and a figgie could ice it... so this is A Big Damn Down. From the gun, Rodgers tries Quarless on a slant, and it goes right through the rookie TE. Black dodges another bullet. Masthay's punt appears to be stopped at the one on a great play by gunner Jarrod Bush, but the refs rule it a touchback. Huge call. Black will start at their own 20, with time enough for any kind of play-calling, and everything in play. Amazing turn of events here.

Forte for no gain, and it's a mite telling that I wrote his name before the snap. Black looks confused pre-snap on second, which sees Hanie's arm hit by Raji for force an incomplete. Third and 10 with 8:34 is another close out moment for Yellow... and the defense does the job with a blitz on Hanie that forces an incomplete. The Bears have been flat-out terrible on third down today. Maynard's bad day continues, with a 24-yarder that gives Yellow the ball at the Bear 45. Rodgers will have another chance to put this away.

Rodgers rolls out and checks down, but misses. Bad clock use there. A slant to Jennings gets nine in front of Tillman, and it's another third and one, the kind that the Bears have been owning all day. Fox hypes Kuhn's effectiveness... but the Pack tries a rollout throw tht Idionje ends. No long Crosby figgie, because long figgies are just against the law today. Masthay's punt is 25 yards of net to the Bear 10. So not the drive the Pack needed, and yet another bullet dodged by the Bears defense, which has been dancing on the edge for so long now, it almost feels like the Bears have to win this game.

Forte? Sure. He gets two yards. Can't imagine that the Pack were expecting that call. The Bears huddle up, because it's not like they are down by a touchdown with seven minutes left. Hanie gets it to Bennett for three against pressure, but the ball carries him to the ground. Third and five, and Hanie has to use a timeout. Wow, it's like they are using a third-string QB in the biggest moment of their season! And it shows, in a massive way, as Hanie throws a TAInt to Raji, who absolutely *coasts* into the end zone for the most fun that a 338-pound man has ever had on a football field. His first career pick and touchdown, and how Hanie is supposed to know that a NT is going to drop back into coverage, I don't know. Hanie tries valiantly to strip the ball from the big man at the goal line, but Raji crossed the plane in mid-gloat first. The Crosby PAT is good, and that's the kill shot to end all kill shots. Packers 21, Bears 7 with six minutes left, and Bear Fan can think about the parking lot. Wow, wow, wow. (And yes, he should have totally pulled a Westbrook and sat at the one.)

Fox fellates Raji, and why not? Everyone loves a fat man. Hanie to Olsen for 13 and a first, and it's Black Scramble Time. Finally, a no-huddle offense. Hanie to Bennett for seven as Yellow goes into Tee Off Mode. Forte for five, a first down, and more clock running. Five minutes left. Go Pack Go chants are heard for the first time today as Hanie finds Bennett, who keeps his feet and just plain ambles into the end zone. Ridiculous breakdown by Collins and CB Charles Woodson, and that's an 81-yard touchdown drive that, amazingly, puts the game back into doubt. Along with the over. How dare Bear Fan think about the parking lot? What a roller coaster this game is, for a game that hasn't had a lead change.

Gould thinking about an onside? Not with 4:43 left. A squib to Woodson is brought back to the Yellow 24. Can Rodgers close it out, or can Yellow grind it on the ground? Power formation give to Starks fools no one; loss of one. Four minutes left. Starks again to the right, and compounding the error, he's knocked out of bounds. Fox somehow neglects to inform us of this salient point, because an extra thirty seconds on the clock means nothing. Third from the gun sees Rodgers scramble to the line and sit, not able to avoid Briggs or get it to an open Kuhn. Masthay with a massive 56-yard punt, and Hester can only manage 9 on the return, as it was on the sideline.The Starks mistake to not stay in bounds means that Hanie has 2:53 left, and 71 yards to go.

From the gun, Hanie shakes off pressure to try the required First Down Forte, but Yellow is somehow looking for that. Incomplete. 2:49 left. From the gun, Hanie juggles a high snap, then panicks to Forte for a 1-yard flat route. Third and nine from the gun sees Hanie avoid the blitz to get it to Olsen, who makes the sticks and gets out of bounds. This deep CB blitz isn't working, Yellow. First third down conversion of the day for Black. Hanie gets rid of it for a post-whistle committee meeting that results in a grounding flag; weak call against the offense, and maybe the refs are giving Yellow the call for Olsen diving. From the Black 30, Yellow rushes three and allows a 10-yard under route to Forte. Clock running, and Hanie just gets it off before the two minute warning. A check down to Forte is stopped just short of the sticks. After commerce, the Bears will need to convert a fourth and one to prolong the game.

Taylor for a slow developing power run to the right that works with manliness. First down throw to Forte is a good looking screen for 12, a first down, and the ball at the Yellow 35. Mathews looking gassed and hobbling. 87 seconds left. Hanie throws it away on first against pressure from the Packer bigs. 81 seconds left. From the gun on second against a 3-man rush, Haine takes Olsen on a long 7-yard hook, and the TE steps out of bounds. 75 seconds left. Long clock results in the Bears having to take their second timeout. Woof. End around to Bennett fools no one, and that's a disaster loss and clock running. Fourth and four, and another Yellow chance to end it. From the gun, Hanie is picked off by Shields, and this one is finally over. Valiant effort by Black, and I don't doubt that you've just seen the best defensive effort against Rodgers and Co. that you will see in the 2010-11 playoffs... but that's all she wrote.

Green Bay returns to the Super Bowl, and they are the NFC's first #6 seed to go to the big dance. We'll see in about 3.5 hours if they will face another #6 seed.

Top 12 reasons why Carson Palmer wants out of Cincy

Sure, he says it's just about the wildly erratic nature of the franchise... But as always, FTT has The Rest of the story.

12) Desperate to get away from Dhani Jones and his poetry

11) No matter what the Bengals do, this job requires being in Cincinati

10) Like 7 out of 8 NFL QBs, dreams of a nice peaceful NFC West retirement

9) Determined to follow Terrell Owens for the rest of his days

8) Cedric Benson keeps falling down on him

7) After the first 25 TAInts, the thrill is gone

6) Just realized that unless he forces a change, he'll keep having to play Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times a year

5) Can't imagine getting his own reality show if he lives in Porkopolis

4) Tired of living in the shadow of Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason and Jeff Blake

3) Has seen an indoor practice facility, and is no longer interested in living without one

2) Being the only male over the age of 10 with the name "Carson" has just gotten creepy

1) Finally saw himself in the mirror wearing that ridiculous uniform

Packers - Bears First Half Diary: This Aaron Rodgers Guy Is Good

The Packers win the toss, and RB/KR James Starts stumbles to the 16 as the Fox crew worries about the field. First play for Yellow is QB Aaron Rodgers looking dominant, with a 21 yard strike to WR Greg Jennings. Yellow likes it so much, they do it again on the next down, with the wideout making some men miss at the end to stretch it to 26. From the Bear 36, Starks rolls for six on a balls nasty run. From the gun, Starks for 5 as Rodgers takes a checkdown from the gun after making a man miss. Ye gads, the QB is trailing vapor right now. Play action to WR Jordy Nelson goes for 22 down the gut, and once again, that's just perfect. From the Bear 2 in a power formation, Starks gets a yard. With DT BJ Raji in for the power push, Rodgers keeps on a naked bootleg and just makes the pylon. Telling that they didn't just go for power there, but any 7 play, 84 yard opening drive for a score is a good one. Packers 7, Bears 0, after just four minutes.

A short and cowardly Yellow kickoff is brought back by reserve TE Kellen Davis to the Chicago 36, and in a big development, RT Kyle Clifton is down. For Yellow, which wins this game as long as their QB has time to work, that might be the worst possible injury, outside of Rodgers.

Forte for 2 on the ground, then 21 on a nice checkdown from QB Jay Cutler, who avoided pressure to make a big gain. They give it to the back again for two, and the check down on second, which is diagnosed and dealt with for just a yard. Third and long is a major mistake for the Bears QB, who misses the open WR/PR Devin Hester on a deep ball, high and away. With Rodgers looking like the best QB in the NFL, you can't miss opportunities like that, but the Bears do. Rather than try a 53-yard Robbie Gould figgie, Black sends in P Brad Maynard, who only gets it to the Yellow 16.

TJ Lang in for Clifton; worrisome for Yellow. Starks for 16 on the left as the Bears are losing at the point of attack; big play to change field position quickly. From the gun at the GB 26, Rodgers gets 10 from WR James Jones on a slant, and the QB is just not missing anything right now. Yards are 109 to 29 for Yellow. Starks for just one, and that might be the first good play for the Bear defense today. From the gun on second, Rodgers gives to RB Brandon Jackson on a slow draw, and it gets the full nine and the first. From their own 46, Rodgers goes deep and just misses Jennings deep, and the QB takes a nasty groin shot from DE Julius Peppers. First miss of the day for Rodgers. From the gun on second, the QB misses again on a deep ball to Nelson, and the WR pules for a flag that does not come. Nelson wasn't very open, but it's surprising when Rodgers misses anything right now. Third and 10 from the gun at the GB 46 sees the Bears bring heat from Peppers, and the checkdown to FB Jon Kuhn does not connect. Much better series for the Bear defense. P Tim Masthay keeps it in play to PR Devin Hester, who makes the first man miss, but not the second. Return of three yards, and the Bears will have it at their 16 after commerce.

Black starts with a false start. Forte for 3, then 6, as the Bears go with a nearly all-Forte diet. Third and six is a big damn deal, and from an empty backfield, Cutler is sacked by Jenkins for a loss of five in a play that looked just pitiful for the Bear line. LB Clay Mathews in on that as well. Maynard's punt to Williams is brought back to midfield, and Yellow is looking very good with less than three minutes left in the first.

Rodgers just gets it off before pressure to Jennings for 21, and that's the fourth 20+ yard pass of the quarter for Yellow. Wow. A give to Starks gets three to the right while taking forever. The RB gets another yard while running through three men; balls nasty? Yes. On third and six from the gun with Jennings back after limping off for a play, Rodgers is sacked by MLB Brian Urlacher, who gets through traffic for an 8-yard loss. Huge, huge play to keep this at just a one-possession game. No figgie now, and Masthay's punt is covered perfectly by the Yellow coverage team. With a Black flag, they'll start from their own 1. Masthay looks real good so far, and since he didn't kick at all in Atlanta, he's good and rested. (Do punters really get tired?)

Forte with patience in his own end zone gets 2, and that's the quarter. Long walk for both teams... and after the commerce, it's Cutler flirting with a safety before an awkward jump check down miss to Forte. Wow, that looked bad. Third and 8 with Shaky Jay pushes offensive coordinator Mike Martz to dial up another Forte run, and Jenkins nearly traps the back in the end zone for a 2-yard loss. Maynard's punt is muffed by Williams for a loss, and Yellow will start at the Bear 45, rather than inside of figgie range.

With the Bears moving pre-snap, Yellow jumps for five. First Yellow flag of the day. Starks gets two to the right, and that looked awkward. On second from the gun, Rodgers takes Jackson on a checkdown, and the RB toasts Urlacher for 16. Fox wants to excuse the LB with a field comment, but, um, nope. Starks for 13 to the left with all kinds of room, and he's looking like a borderline second-round fantasy pick next year. Ryan Grantwho? In the Bear red zone, Rodgers is perfect over the middle to a fearless Nelson, who takes a big hit from CB Charles Tillman at the Bear 4. Starks goes right and just reaches the goal line with his stretch, and that's his first NFL touchdown, assuming Yellow can get a PAT happen before a challenge in. None from coach Lovie Smith, and the Crosby PAT makes it Packers 14, Bears 0, with 11 minutes left in the half.

Short kick taken to the 34, and Yellow is doing everything to minimize Hester in this one. Cutler from play action has time to find WR Johnny Knox for 24, and that's a huge play to start to turn the tide. Cutler misses Hester on a cross, and the QB looked a little gun-shy on the backpedal and flat route. On a nice play call against a blitz, Cutler finds RB Chester Taylor in the flat, and the backup gets 12 and the first. From the GB 31, Cutler tries Hester in the end zone; the WR was open, but the pass wasn't close. Black is running a lot of play clock on this drive -- tentative? -- and it requires a Black timeout. Clifton back from the locker room. Cutler takes WR Rasheed Davis, but it comes back on a hold; Yellow tried a very delayed CB blitz on that play that looked too tricky by half. Big play erased. From the Yellow 41, Cutler goes for 10 yards and pain; no sliding today? Third and 11 is a big deal, and Cutler winds up moving early and getting just a yard before giving up. Maynard in, rather than try a 49-yard Gould figgie, and Black can't get it covered before the end zone. That's a net of 11 yards, and the second time today that Maynard failed to pin Yellow deep after a pretty conservative decision to punt. Smith is not impressing Bear Fan right about now.

A big Yellow drive could start putting an early end to drama today. From power, it's Starks for 10, and that's with the first defender who gets to him bringing him down. 14 to 3 on first downs so far. Play action, then a 25-yard run by Rodgers, who is plainly faster than OLB Lance Briggs right now. Wow. Starks stopped at the line, as Troy Aikman talks about how scrambles hurt a defense's heart, as if he knows anything about that. Rodgers to Jennings, who shies away from contact rather than diving for the sticks. Telling. Third and one from the Black is a big damn deal, and Rodgers takes a timeout. From power, it's Starks to the right, and Briggs ends it in the backfield. Like the Urlacher sack, a monster play and dodge for the Black defense, and for all of Yellow's success, they aren't confident in power formations. Masthay's punt checks up to the 12, and nearly touches a fleeing Hester.

With 4:17 left, Cutler from an empty backfield is nearly picked on a sideline fly to Forte. Floating back foot throw, dying quail, ugly. Cutler tries TE Greg Olsen on an out that looks TAInt, but it's too wide to be dangerous, and Williams is nicked for a defensive hold and first down. Black does not seem comfortable from shotgun. Another duck to Olsen is knocked down by the TE, as the QB is cracked by Raji at the end of the throw. Play-action draw to Forte works for 13, and that's a huge play, if only because it's likely to keep the ball from Rodgers before the half. Forte wide gets little, and Cutler's bleeding. From the Bear 30, a slow drop and Forte check down gets three; those passes just look dangerously pickable. Black runs clock all the way down to the 2-minute warning, much to Bear Fan's disgust. They've got a point; the Bears are playing a game where they are down by 14 as if they have a lead. And don't have a field goal kicker.

On third and seven with Rodgers looming, Cutler is sacked and stripped, and Forte recovers, but can't advance. Big loss, Yellow timeout, and the road team is looking close to dominant on both sides of the ball so far today. Maynard's fifth punt of the day bounces out at the Yellow 36; 42 yards of stress-free net. Rodgers will have 104 seconds and one timeout to end drama.

Rodgers for 11 after the coverage is good, and he's just making this look easy. A missed slant, then a gunned slant to WR Donald Driver for nine. Third and one has been trouble for Yellow, but not on a quick snap and sneak to Rodgers, which moves the sticks. A minute left on the Bear 41. Rodgers from the gun hits Driver's shoe, and the ball hops up to Briggs for a gift / miracle pick. What a break for Black...

Cutler to Forte for 17 on a cross; 42 seconds left, and a major momentum change is in the making. From the Yellow 41, Cutler tries Knox at the goal line, and CB Sam Shields reads the underthrow and makes the pick for a backbreaking INT. Great play by Shields, but had the ball been 5 to 10 yards deeper, that could have been a Black score. A booth review is a waste of time, but allows for more time with Fox's injury honk; yay! Both Fox idiots are overruled, and Cutler leaves early as Rodgers takes a knee. We're 30 minutes away from a Cheesehead Super Bowl; more later.

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