December 19, 2005
1972 Dolphins:
Even though most fans can't stand their haughty champagne toast to another team's failure to run the table, the '72'ers' streak extends one more year.
 
 
 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
IMPERFECT.  LOGIC.

So much for 19-0.

Everyone can stop debating whether the Colts should play to win or play to rest their starters. One-loss teams with home-field advantage locked up can suit up the JV powder-puff team and no one really cares.

Actually, the most intriguing part of a previously unbeaten team's finally losing at this stage of the season is how quickly the bandwagon lightens.

Didn't they look beatable? That's more than an office whisper this morning. It's worthy of a shouting match.

If they lost at home to the Chargers, all of a sudden it becomes pretty easy to imagine them losing to the Broncos or the Bengals... or the Pats.

Maybe they lost their killer instinct when they clinched home-field advantage. Maybe they were playing not to get hurt, as opposed to not to lose.

Maybe this loss releases the absurd pressures that came along with the prospects of 19-0 and -- freed from that -- they can focus on what has been their one and only goal from the get-go: winning the Super Bowl.

But no matter where their motivations were yesterday, the biggest impact is in empowering their main AFC comp: Indy can be beat at home. Kong can be toppled.

They're NOT perfect.

Grossman Returns
Bears' message to rookie QB Kyle Orton: Hey, kid, thanks for all your hard work. We know you led the team to an improbable 9-4 start, but after your typical first half (2/10, 12 yards), it was time to get into playoff mode, yank you and put Rex Grossman into the game.

See Rex's 96 yards? The 9-for-16 completion rate? Those scoring drives? That's called "spark," and with two games left in the regular season for Grossman to work the kinks out, we can be the team to beat in the NFC. But thanks for the effort!

AFC Wild Mania
Jags, Steelers, Chargers: The real shame is that one of these deserving teams will join the Chiefs and not make the playoffs, considering that any of the three could switch to the NFC and be dominant.

JAX has the inside track, with a one-game lead on the other two and games remaining against the Texans and Titans. The Jags have three "reasonable" losses (2 vs. IND and 1 vs. DEN) and one dud (L to STL).

Pittsburgh won the NFC North by knocking off the Bears and Vikings in consecutive weeks. The Steelers also have a remaining-schedule advantage over the Chargers, with games at CLE and home vs. DET.

San Diego has the toughest road left (at KC, vs. DEN), but it's hard to knock the team that knocked off the Colts in Indianapolis. They're this season's "Panthers" -- the Best Team to NOT make the Playoffs.

Pats Look Great
Pats clinch AFC East: And there's no question they've also clinched "Team No One Wants to Play" status.

The D is getting healthy at a wonderfully convenient time (held Cadillac to 23 yds).

And on offense, having a healthy Dillon (2 TDs) is huge, and if "questionable" Tom Brady means 3 TDs, I can't imagine him at full strength.

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
Hornets: Hold Duncan to 11 and stun defending champ Spurs
DJ White: Indiana soph star to return from injury tonight
Appalachian St: Win only football playoff in Division I
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Yao: In rare event, sits out Rockets' W over Lakers (toe)
Kurt Warner: Cards QB done for rest of the season (knee)
Coyotes: Wayne Gretzky leaves bench to tend to sick mother
 
No offense to the Mannings or Palmer, but there's been no QB more valuable to his team this year than Brady.

Playoff Praise
Bengals clinch AFC North, with the remaining drama to play out between Cincy and Denver to see which 11-3 team can earn a 1st-round playoff bye. Cincy finishes vs. BUF, at KC; Denver finishes vs. OAK, at SD.

Seahawks nab 1st-round bye: (And yet, can anyone really be THAT nervous about playing a team that could barely hold off the Titans?)

Giants, Panthers move closer to clinching playoff spots: One of these 10-4 teams has national fan respect; the other is still sketchy. Can you guess which is which?

Weren't the Skins finished? Improbably, after its win over Dallas, D.C. is in the NFC's 6th playoff spot over DAL, ATL and MIN and controls its destiny with two games to go vs. NYG and at PHI.

Playoff Plotz
Cowboys choke: Promising win over KC in Week 14 eclipsed by 35-7 shellacking from division rival Redskins that dragged Dallas to 8-6, now sitting behind the Redskins and with next week's game at Carolina.

Vikings collapse: They've been playing with house money since the ship went down. Perhaps distracted by the prurient details of the cruise charges, they might have sealed Mike Tice's fate with an L at home to 'Burgh.

Lions Fan Revolt
In the Morning Quickie chat on Friday, Geoff from Detroit suggested that the greatest TD celebration Chad Johnson could ever do would be to hold up a sign this weekend that said "Fire Millen."

Chad didn't do that (in fact, it was his most subdued celebration of the season, particularly given his two-week drought), but given the anti-Millen sentiment in the city, he might as well have.

It's not just the "Millen March" held before the 41-17 loss to the Bengals; fans are chanting it at Wings and Pistons games, and apparently even on the road where Detroit teams are playing. Fans everywhere want in on it.

But it's not "giving into the fans" if the Lions give Millen the axe. In fact, it's precisely BECAUSE he's lost the fans that they should fire him. This isn't knee-jerk Monday "Fire him!" talk. It's open rebellion.

Texans: Ugh!
I'd like to know how many Texans fans were actually cheering their team's win over Arizona, considering that it likely cost them the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. I'm guessing not many.

What's one marginal extra win in an otherwise horrible season, when it comes at the expense of drafting Reggie Bush (or trading the top pick for even more valuable assets)?

"Half-full" fans might see new consultant Dan Reeves' impact as an immediately positive one; realistic ones know that, at this point, winning is worse than losing.

The 49ers (2-12) have all the momentum for No. 1 now, but the season still looks like it's coming down to a Week 17 "Who Wants It More?" between the Niners and the Texans. (Or is that "Who Wants It LESS?")

Nomar: New Dodger
Between signing Nomar to go with imports Bill Mueller and Grady Little, along with holdover Derek Lowe, the next logical step for the Dodgers to become "Red Sox West" is to pony up the extra bucks to land Johnny Damon, then sign up Kevin Millar to sit on the bench and make up a funny nickname for the group. (Hey: Is "Dem Bums" available?)

Artest Recants?
Perhaps sensing that his trade-me gripes might land him an exile in Toronto, Ron Artest changed his rap tune this weekend, suggesting that he'd like to stay in Indiana.

Not that the Pacers want him back. But between Miguel Tejada and Ron-Ron, trade demands from stars just aren't what they used to be. That's why for all his quirks, you've gotta respect the consistency of a guy like Manny.

Fantasy Tops Reality
Friday, I asked you if you'd root for your fantasy team at the expense of your real-life favorite team (assuming your "real" team was out of playoff contention, but your fantasy team was in.)

The results were pretty wild: More than 60 percent of readers said they'd "absolutely" root for their fantasy team at the expense of their "real" team. Only 40 percent said "No way." Take that, purists.

Seahawks-Colts:
What looked like a tantalizing Super Bowl preview a few weeks ago now looks like an exercise in playing "Back-Up Player Fantasy Football."
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Page 2 Index
Page 2 Critics
 
NFL Power Rankings
Colts
But who else is wavering...
 
Bengals
Zeroing in on 1st-round bye
 
Pats
Team no one wants to play?
 
Seahawks
Barely finish off the Titans?
 
Chargers
Anyone who beats the Colts...
 

Shaq, on Jerry Buss' decision to trade him: "Everybody knows what that is really about. He had to make a choice, the young guy or the old guy. He made his choice and good luck with his choice."

Mort says Saints coach Jim Haslett wants a new five-year deal. If you asked Saints fans, I'm sure they'd be fine with letting him go ASAP

NCAA grad rates expected to improve in announcement today, thanks to new method of accounting for players who transfer. Massage those numbers!

The lawyer for those two Texas football players arrested last week says he doesn't think there will be charges. Just in time for Rose practice.

Congrats to the Washington women's volleyball team, which beat Nebraska for its first NCAA title.

More recruiting bounty for Florida? Top-ranked WR Percy Harvin (VA Beach, VA) will make his announcement today at 3:40 on ESPNews.



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