'Dogs show some bite

After victories for favorites on Saturday, Chargers and Giants spring pair of upsets

Divisional playoffs analysis

January 14, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN REPORTER

The most incongruous day of the NFL playoffs had Terrell Owens in tears at a podium in Dallas, Eli Manning bundling for a trip to Green Bay and the San Diego Chargers bouncing the defending Super Bowl champions with a cast of backups.

Gone are Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, and the much-anticipated rematches they were expected to play in on Sunday.

Championship week is up next, and look who made reservations:

The New York Giants, a battered fifth seed, exiled the Cowboys with a relentless pass rush and a solid, mistake-free game from quarterback Eli Manning. With the 21-17 loss, the Cowboys became the NFC's first No. 1 seed to lose in the divisional round since the NFL went to its 12-team playoff format in 1990.

It was enough to reduce Owens to tears in defense of Romo, who had been criticized for a bye-week trip to Mexico with girlfriend Jessica Simpson and played inconsistently yesterday.

The Chargers lost LaDainian Tomlinson in the second quarter and quarterback Philip Rivers on the final play of the third - both to knee injuries - but still shocked the second-seeded Colts with a 28-24 triumph at Indianapolis.

San Diego got a game-winning, 78-yard touchdown drive from backup quarterback Billy Volek, 71 rushing yards from Michael Turner and a 56-yard catch-and-touchdown run by 5-foot-6 running back Darren Sproles.

Those upsets set up a pair of championship game matchups no one anticipated.

The Chargers, who have won eight in a row, face the New England Patriots, unbeaten through 17 games, on Sunday in Foxborough in an AFC rematch of last year's divisional playoff game. The Patriots stared down the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, 31-20, in a game that again exposed New England's vulnerability in the secondary.

The Giants, who have won nine straight road games, advance to the NFC title game in Green Bay against the 14-3 Packers, who dusted the Seattle Seahawks, 42-20, in a snowstorm on Saturday.

Winners will rendezvous in Arizona for the Feb. 3 Super Bowl.

Next week figures to be a tough turnaround for the Chargers and Giants, however.

The Packers and Patriots not only got through their games relatively unscathed, but they also get an extra day's rest in addition to a home game.

Green Bay, the No. 2 seed in the NFC, is in the conference championship game for the first time since 1997. The Patriots are in the AFC championship game for the second straight year, the fourth time in five years and the fifth time in seven years.

Yesterday's surprises provided further vindication for Eli Manning in New York and coach Norv Turner in San Diego. Manning perhaps stepped out from behind his brother's tall shadow with two playoff victories this month. Turner, with the mandate to get the Chargers to the Super Bowl in his first season, battled injuries and several suspect penalties to advance.

What's more, Manning and Rivers, the top two quarterbacks from the 2004 draft, might have come of age in the same postseason.

No one is expecting them to get any farther, though.

The Chargers were drubbed by the Patriots in New England in Week 2, 38-14. Tom Brady passed for 279 yards and three touchdowns in that game, while Rivers threw for 179 and two interceptions.

More telling was the total yardage: The Patriots amassed 407 yards to San Diego's 201. The Chargers might wish to remember last January's 24-21 divisional playoff loss at home to the Patriots. They had an NFL-best record of 14-2 and the AFC's top seed last season, and led, 21-13, with eight minutes left. The game turned on a Brady interception in the fourth quarter.

But New England's Troy Brown stripped interceptor Marlon McCree of the ball to set up a touchdown, two-point conversion and 21-21 tie. The Patriots got a go-ahead 31-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 70 seconds left, and San Diego's Nate Kaeding was short on a 54-yard attempt as time expired.

That was the final game for Marty Schottenheimer as Chargers head coach.

A year later, Schottenheimer is a candidate for the Ravens' vacancy. In what amounts to good news for the Ravens, they'll be able to talk to Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett this week, too.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Divisional games

Saturday

AFC: New England 31, Jacksonville 20 NFC: Green Bay 42, Seattle 20

Yesterday

AFC: San Diego 28, Indianapolis 24 NFC: N.Y. Giants 21, Dallas 17

Conf. championships

Sunday

AFC: San Diego at New England (-14 1/2 ), 3 p.m., chs. 13, 9 NFC: N.Y. Giants vs. Green Bay (-7), 6:30 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Super Bowl

Feb. 3

At University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

6:30 p.m., chs. 45, 5

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