Live from Seattle, it is the final blog of the week. It is also the final day to make some football picks as we enter my favorite sports time of the year…The NFL Playoffs!
Ah yes. It gets no better. Especially when you have a dog in this hunt. And for Cowboys fans, you do…for now.
Philly knocks Eli out of the Playoffs
Colts slip by Chiefs
Pats edge the J-E-T-S, Tommy.
Cowboys at Seahawks:
This game can certainly go in either direction, and I have talked myself both ways during the week. But, at the end of the week, I have finally decided to stick with my initial instinct.
Seattle 35, Dallas 28.
They have Shaun Alexander to pound you and soften you up. They have a ton of receivers who will get the ball all night because of no pass rush. They also have big Walter Jones to lock down on DeMarcus Ware and neutralize his amazing ability.
Then, you have a bit of an offensive dry spell with no dominating running game. And, temptation to pass, pass, pass which will make Tony Romo win the game for you. I like Tony, but I am concerned about asking him to win a playoff game in a hostile setting this early in his career.
So, with the normal qualifications that I would love to be wrong on this pick, give me Seattle winning the game and the Cowboys with many questions to answer next week.
No D in Big D …
The frustrating, galling part of it all is that they've done it. They're just not doing it.
In a five-week span in the middle of the season, the Dallas Cowboys' defense was among the best in the NFL. From an Oct. 29 victory at Carolina through a Thanksgiving Day demolition of Tampa Bay, the Cowboys allowed an average of 14 points per game, giving up as many as 20 only once. In that stretch, Dallas held powerful Indianapolis to 14 in what seemed at the time to be a landmark victory.
Since then, that once-solid defense has crumbled. The Cowboys surrendered 20 or more points in each of the final five games of the regular season, allowing 33 per game as they staggered into the playoffs by losing three of the last four. They finished the season ranked 24th in the league in pass defense.
The low point came last week, when Dallas, playing at home with a chance to stay in the race for the NFC East championship, scored 31 points against the lowly Detroit Lions, and it wasn't enough. The 3-13 Lions torched the Cowboys for 39 points, leaving a staggering defense grasping for answers as Dallas heads into Saturday night's playoff game against the Seahawks.
Seahawks dealing with injuries o-plenty …
Injured players must have taken coach Mike Holmgren's words to heart.
"At this stage of the game, either you're in or you're out," Holmgren told the team after Tuesday's practice.
Many were in Thursday, though the team will make game-time decisions Saturday on the status of right guard Chris Gray (quadriceps bruise), wide receivers Nate Burleson (ankle), D.J. Hackett (hip flexor) and Darrell Jackson (turf toe), and left guard Floyd Womack (sore groin). All got some work in practice, though Jackson and Hackett were not in for team drills.
"I expect them, with the two more days [before the game] to heal up and be feeling better. But we'll have to wait and see how they feel [today]," Holmgren said.
Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (foot injury) also practiced and is probable to play.
Linebacker Leroy Hill has been upgraded from questionable to probable, and linebacker Julian Peterson missed practice because he is an expectant father.
Seattle paper check in on Bledsoe …
Bledsoe was elected to that position by his teammates in training camp, and he takes the field for the coin toss every game. He will be the backup Saturday against the Seahawks, and Romo was asked this week if Bledsoe helped prepare him for his first playoff start. Romo paused before beginning to answer.
"Ummm," he said.
"We haven't talked too much about it," Romo said. "He's getting himself ready. And I've got to get myself ready, basically."
Romo was chosen for the Pro Bowl, while Bledsoe made sure he's prepared should another opportunity arise.
But a few months of disappointment don't outweigh 14 years as a starter.
"Even though it's not going well, it's still the job I dreamed of having from the time I was a little kid," Bledsoe said. "So even though it's not going well, I still love it. I still love the game. I'm not jaded about the game or any of that.
"I love the game of football and enjoy being around the guys and all of that, but it has been hard."
Bledsoe wears flip-flops this time of year, a wintertime indulgence for the Northwest guy down here in Texas. He's lived in Bend, Ore., the past two years and has plans to operate a vineyard. His football future is not nearly as certain.
"Of course I've thought about it," Bledsoe said.
What are those thoughts?
"I'm not going to answer that one," Bledsoe said.
The answer is polite, and his voice has the baritone notes that are the signature of a quarterback who has spent a career shouting out plays.
"I'm proud of a lot of the things that I've accomplished," he said. "But it's not time for me yet to look back and say, 'OK, well, this is what my career was.' It's not that time yet."
Julian Peterson calls out the OL …
Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson believes the key to attacking the Cowboys' offense is confusing it with blitzes.
"The weakest part of their offense is probably the offensive line," Peterson said. "We are going to try to put a couple of different stunts because they have been having a difficult time picking up blitzes in different line stunts, so we get the guys going to different angles and confuse the offensive line, maybe we can get some good pressure on Tony [Romo].
With Seattle playing without three of its top four cornerbacks, there's no secret about the Cowboys' game plan.
"They are down at cornerback," Terry Glenn said. "We have to pass. They know it. We know it. Everybody knows it."
Seattle's Kelly Herndon and Jimmy Williams are on injured reserve, and Marcus Trufant is out with a high ankle sprain. Jordan Babineaux, a converted safety, and Kelly Jennings will start at cornerback. The Seahawks signed former Cowboys cornerback Pete Hunter for depth purposes. Hunter has been working as a loan officer.
"They might as well put one of you guys at cornerback," Terrell Owens joked to reporters.
Matt Mosely with great stats on the Cowboys OL …
The research department just sent over the sacks allowed numbers I asked for this morning.
According to a highly regarded stats service, Flozell Adams led the team with 7 1/2 sacks allowed. He was tied for 16th in the league.
Kyle Kosier came in second with five, Colombo had 4 1/2, Gurode had four and Rivera was the low man with 3 1/2.
Stereotype column about Dallas ….
Best TV show set in Dallas: Well, let's see ... oh yeah, "Dallas!" (And just wondering, is anyone ever going to make that "Dallas" movie with John Travolta as J.R.?)
Best reality TV show set in Dallas (unintentional comedy category): "Dallas Cowboys
Cheerleaders: Making the Team." Seriously, you have to see this to believe it.
Crazy NBA owner: Mark "Cubes" Cuban. Doesn't Mark Cuban seem like a guy who should own the Sonics, and Clay Bennett like a guy who should own the Mavericks?
Tallest building: Bank of America Plaza, 921 feet. Sorry, but that's no match for the Columbia Center, Seattle's 967-foot tower of power.
Best bass player: Dusty Hill of ZZ Top was born in Dallas.
Best singer/guitarist from Dallas who we always thought was a woman until we did a Wikipedia search: Trini Lopez (big hit: "If I Had a Hammer," 1963).
Best guitar player: Dimebag Darrell (R.I.P.). The late, great Pantera guitarist was actually born in Arlington, but close enough.
New city slogan: "Live Large. Think Big."
Bill Cowher leaves Steelers …
Bill Cowher is returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- to say goodbye.
The Steelers will begin a coaching search Friday to replace the departing Cowher, a person familiar with Cowher's status said Thursday night. Cowher called owner Dan Rooney on Thursday to tell him of his decision, and the team announced a Friday news conference not long after that. Cowher is expected to attend.
The 49-year-old Cowher, one of the NFL's most recognizable faces and most successful
coaches for 15 seasons, has weighed resigning since shortly after the Steelers finally won the Super Bowl in February following numerous near misses.
Cowher has talked of wanting to spend more time with his family, especially now that they are living in a new home in Raleigh, N.C., where he and wife Kaye attended North Carolina State. Cowher's two oldest daughters are at Princeton and the youngest has only 21/2 years of high school remaining, time Cowher apparently doesn't want to spend away from her.
While Cowher would be resigning with one season left on his contract, there is no indication he would retire from pro football. He said recently he is not close to being burned out, and still likes coaching and dealing with players.
This just in: The NFL’s popularity has never been higher …
The NFL's broadcast partners said television ratings for football were among the best in history, with viewership increased on every network.
Fox reported its highest viewership since 1995, with an average of 16.6 million people tuning in on Sunday afternoons, while CBS reported an average of 15.4 million viewers, up 2 percent from 2005.
Meanwhile, NBC's new "Sunday Night Football" games lured an average of 17.5 million viewers, or 1.2 million more than comparable "Monday Night Football" games on ABC last year.
ESPN, which took over the "Monday Night Football" broadcasts this year, reported an average of 12.3 million viewers, or 38 percent more than "Sunday Night Football" games on ESPN in 2005.
Some observers had predicted ratings for Fox and CBS would drop after NBC received permission to select the top matchups for its broadcasts in the second half of the season. But it appeared to have no ill effect.
Fox said its late afternoon games, which usually feature NFC games of national interest, lured a 13.8 Nielsen rating and an average of 21.8 million viewers, giving them a larger audience than any prime-time show this fall including "Desperate Housewives" and "Dancing with the Stars."
The NFL reported that football topped local ratings 80 percent of the time this year, breaking a record set in 2003. The Pittsburgh Steelers had the highest local ratings of any NFL team, scoring a 42.8 local rating, which represents two-thirds of all the television households in the Pittsburgh area. The Washington Redskins averaged a 24.9 local rating, representing 49 percent of all television households in the region.
The only broadcaster still struggling to gain viewers is the league-owned NFL Network, which began showing games on Thursday and Saturday nights this season. The cable network, which still is not available in many homes across the country, averaged just more than 3 million viewers for its games.
Stars, who are 8-7 without Modano, And have taken points in 4 of 5 without Modano, Lindros, and Morrow, do it again last night in Edmonton. 2nd game of a back to back, and down 4-1, the Stars Show massive Stones and fight all the way back for a win …Stefan’s gaffe is amazing. You have to see it. Shocking.
The vibe in the Stars' dressing room after Thursday night's game was at once jovial and bewildered, as if Bigfoot had sauntered in and personally congratulated them on their 6-5 shootout victory over the Oilers.
Then again, plenty of people claim to have seen Bigfoot. Few have ever seen a finale quite like the one at Rexall Place, when a huge rally, a breathtaking go-ahead goal and a relatively uneventful, two-round shootout victory all turned into footnotes for the Stars.
"That was an emotional rollercoaster, that's for sure," Stars goalie Marty Turco said.
Dallas turned a routine loss into a rousing comeback with three third-period goals
in short order. And just when it seemed the Stars would put it away — as Patrik Stefan skated to within a stick's length of an empty net with the puck on his stick and less than 10 seconds to play — one of the most bizarre sequences in franchise history nearly cost them the game.
With a chewed-up surface at the end of the period, Stefan later said he was trying to make sure he scored. Instead, the puck hopped his stick and he tripped behind the goal line, pushing the puck backwards as he did. Edmonton's Jarret Stoll alertly and perfectly sent it up the ice to Petr Sykora, who chipped it ahead to Ryan Smyth. He fed Hemsky in the slot.
Hemsky skated around Turco with a forehand-to-backhand move, and whipped in the game-tying goal with 2.0 seconds showing on the clock.
Both coaches, longtime former players who have seen their share of weird finishes, were befuddled afterward.
"I've been in pro hockey, what is it? — almost 25 years now — and I've never seen that, and I hope I never see it again," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "That's inexcusable. That should be a game that gets put away. ... Fortunately, we came back and got the two points."
Pandemonium ensued in Rexall Place, although in a much different tenor than in the Stars' earlier trip there this season, when a badly blown last-second call cost the home team the game.
"We were bestowed a miracle," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "I've never seen anything like it in my entire life. We turned a disaster into a debacle."
Mavs win again! Devin Harris with a big game …
For the second time this season, the Mavericks have put together a 12-game winning streak. This time, win No. 12 in a row came at the expense of the Indiana Pacers, who fought a gallant fight Thursday night before the Mavs pulled away for a 100-91 triumph at American Airlines Center.
"It's the best team in the league, record-wise, for a reason," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "We showed that we can certainly play with this caliber of team, but to win you've got to be a little more solid in some areas."
When they needed to be, the Mavs were solid in a lot of areas. For starters, Devin Harris tallied 13 of his career-high 24 points in the fourth period when the Mavs used a late 14-4 run to stretch their NBA-best record to 26-7. Harris converted 8 of 10 shots and was also 8-of-9 from the free throw line as he repeatedly flew through
the teeth of the Pacers defense for tough baskets.
"The driving was there all night long," Harris said. "They kind of forced us into jump shots in the first half.
"But everyone made a conscious effort to attack the basket, including me, in the second half."
The performance by Harris was much needed, because Jason Terry scored only one point on 0-of-4 shooting.
Asked if Terry, who played just 19 minutes, was in his doghouse, coach Avery Johnson said: "I think I'm too young to have a doghouse. But he was in a bedroom that I didn't like."
Terry said every player has nights like he had.
"I wasn't able to get anything going, but as a team we responded to the adversity," Terry said. "We had a slow first quarter, and then for us to come back defensively in the third and fourth quarters, that was big.
"Offensively, Devin's decision-making was A-plus tonight."
SPURS TONIGHT @ 7 on ESPN (5pm if you are stuck in Seattle)…
Back Again: T-Shirt Record
Seahawks Fan returns from Vacation