By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Remember the '96 Masters? The one where Greg Norman fell apart in sections and slapped up the 78, so Nick Faldo sneaked in the back door and won the Green Jacket, even consoling Norman after the tournament because it was that bad? That defeat was 10 times more devastating to Norman than the victory was satisfying to Faldo, if that makes sense. It affected one person much more deeply than the other. You could argue that Norman was never the same.

There should be an easier way to describe these moments in sports -- only because they happen from time to time, and there's no way to quantify that dynamic when it happens -- so maybe we should start calling them "Faldos." Seems simple enough.

Bill Belichick, Peyton Manning
Once again, Bill has Peyton's number.

I mention this only because Thursday's game was a borderline Faldo for the Colts. They squandered a winnable game on the road, one of those nights that would have changed the complexion of the AFC. If they took that game, everyone would have been asking, "How can you stop these guys?" and raving about the rejuvenated Edge (who looked fantastic). As it turns out, we're talking about those two turnovers inside the 5, and Manning getting outplayed by Brady again, and the sack that never should have happened in the final minute, and the so-called All-Pro kicker missing a 48-yarder that the guy on the other sideline would have nailed. Now they're right back at Square One, a team that still can't take care of business when it matters.

If you're a Pats fan right now, you're not crazy about the way they looked. Maybe you're missing Ted Washington and wondering why Charlie Weis kept screwing around when the Pats could have scored 35-plus just by playing it straight. But you're happy that the streak keeps going, that Brady looked fantastic, that last year's mojo seems to have rolled over . . . and you can't even get that riled up because you're in Year One of another five-year grace period.

If you're a Colts fan right now? You're reeling from a borderline Stomach Punch Game. You're doubting your team. You're wondering what's different from last year, other than the Edge turning it up a notch in a contract year. You're tired of seeing the Peyton Manning Face. And you're praying that the Colts finish with a better record than the Pats, so you don't have to come back to Foxboro in four months.

And if that's not enough, here's Al Michaels's call right after the miss: "Wide right, and the Indianapolis Colts will go home again in total exasperation after playing in New England."

Sounds like a Faldo to me.

Some other quick thoughts on Thursday's Pats-Colts game:

  • The Pats were probably reluctant to overuse Corey Dillon since Kevin Faulk was inactive, which explains the 15 carries for 86 yards (when he probably could have matched James's numbers). Regardless, it looks like the Pats 18-year streak of seasons with a rushing average of less than 4.0 is about to come to an end. Dillon looked awesome. I can't remember the last time I watched a Pats game rooting for them to hand off, just to see what would happen.

  • ABC needs to start showing stats during these games. By the time the game ended, I had to go online for the final numbers for Dillon and James. Something seems wrong there. Making matters worse, they rolled out that "Max Stats" thing, some crazy configuration where Manning's 55-mph throw equaled a pitch of 83-mph in baseball or something. Hey, I have an idea ... what about adding together Manning's completions, incompletions and total yards, then showing us the numbers? Would that kill you? I'd find that 30 times more interesting than "The speed of that screen pass was roughly the equivalent of Barry Zito's hanging curve!" I think I speak for everyone here.

    Willie McGinest
    We bet Peyton doesn't underappreciate Willie.

  • From reader Jon Abbas: "Let me get this straight: Colts down 3, 1:43 to play, 1st and 10 at the Pats 20 ... League MVP is your QB ... Marvin Harrison is dying for a big play ... the refs are calling pass interferences at will ... and they play for the field goal? Could there be a more soulless team in the NFL than the Colts? Could you please put this out there to you readers so that someone from Indianapolis could possibly explain why, outside of fantasy football purposes, anyone should ever respect this Colts team? Thank you."

    Well, I'm not sure if that's fair. On second down, he threw to Wayne for a TD and it got broken up. But Manning handled that final drive poorly -- after the 46-yarder to Stokely, they were on the 19 yard-line with 90 seconds on the clock. That's a ton of time. But Manning rushed everyone up to the line, then threw a curious slant pattern to Harrison for three yards, one of those no-chance patterns. Then he made that throw to Wayne in double coverage, which stopped the clock with 49 seconds left. Now it's 3rd-and-8, they're still rushing -- why???? -- and Willie gets the sack when nobody blocks him, leading to the miss.

    That's terrible football. I didn't think either team played particularly well, but a great QB takes care of business in that final 90 seconds, doesn't he? In their primes, I just don't think Elway or Marino would have panicked like that on those last three plays, not with all that time left.

  • From reader Jim C.: "Does not the Peyton Manning Face take over for the Derek Lowe Face by now? It's the same thing every time we beat the Colts. After he throws that crucial, game-turning pick, he gets up off the ground, removes the chinstrap, and shakes his head, mouthing something undistinguishable but likely something along the lines of 'where the %^&*%^*& did that guy come from?' My brother-in-law called me after hearing the first pick on the radio and asked for the description of the televised play. Me: 'Bruschi just stood on the goal line, covering nobody, and played his eyes. He threw to someone who had a step on the coverage, and Bruschi just grabbed it.' Brother-in-law Roy: 'Did he remove the chinstrap when he got up?' Me: 'Yup.' Roy: 'Shook his head and threw his hands up in the air?' Me: 'Yup.' You don't even need to see the face to remember it."

    NFL PICKS -- WEEK 1
    (Home teams in caps)
    Titans (-3) over DOLPHINS
    Raiders (+4) over STEELERS
    REDSKINS (-1.5) over Bucs
    BROWNS (+3) over Ravens
    Jaguars (+3) over BILLS
    JETS (-5) over Bengals
    Lions (+3) over BEARS
    RAMS (-11) over Cardinals
    SAINTS (+3) over Seahawks
    TEXANS (-5) over Chargers
    EAGLES (-9) over Giants
    VIKINGS (-4.5) over Cowboys
    NINERS (+3.5) over Falcons
    BRONCOS (-3) over Chiefs
    PANTHERS (-3) over Packers

    (Season record: 0-0-1.)

    See, I think Manning has two faces. There's the one you just described, and then there's the "I can't believe that just happened" face, which he breaks out for special occasions (like Vanderjagt's miss last night). Strangely enough, his brother Eli made the exact same face when he was getting booed by the crowd during the NFL Draft. It must run in the family.

  • One thing on Willie McGinest: He didn't stay healthy enough in his prime to be considered a potential Hall of Famer, but it's hard to imagine anyone at that position having a more underappreciated career. He was dominant in the '96 Super Bowl season, tremendous during the first title season, and saved the team last season after Rosie Colvin went down (when he was supposed to be entering the twilight of his career). The guy makes HUGE plays. And yes, my buddy J-Bug told me to write this paragraph (he's owned a Willie jersey for almost a decade now).

    But the Bug's right. Willie is one of those guys who will retire some day and be forgotten immediately -- in that Cedric Maxwell-Bobby Jones-Paul O'Neill category -- and yet the fans who rooted for his team will always remember him fondly. These are the guys who make the difference between "Remember when we won three titles in four years?" and "I can't believe we didn't win the title during those four years."

  • I wish I could parlay wagers like, "Tony Dungy will challenge a call in Week One just to show everyone that he's not afraid to challenge a call" with "Tony Dungy will lose that same challenge."

  • I know they want to crack down on pass defense, but that was a debacle. Remember the year when the NBA tried to cut down on hand-checking, and there were like 200 fouls a game until they finally toned it down? We could be headed in that direction this season.

    (By the way, the officiating was Bavetta-esque last night ... and let's just say that the Pats weren't playing the role of the Knicks.)

  • Now that MNF is on a five-second delay, and my TiVO is already on a five-second delay, I'm now 10 seconds behind every play as it happens. There's something strangely unsettling about this. Should I even bother sitting in my lucky position anymore, or pulling out my autographed Neil O'Donnell football for luck when warranted? Should I be reacting 10 seconds ahead of every play? I just feel helpless.

    TAKING A GAMBLE
    Upset pick of the week: Niners (+160).

    Teaser of the week: None

    Parlay of the week: Eagles-Rams-Texans ($100 to win $110, all 3 teams have to win)

  • According to my man Michael Smith of ESPN.com, who just joined the worldwide leader and remains the only person from New Orleans who has ever liked me, Vanderjagt looked towards the Pats sideline and rubbed his fingers together before missing the climactic kick. Apparently he was trying to tell them that he was a money kicker and wouldn't miss.

    Well, he missed. Now THAT is comedy. Nothing like a trash-talking field goal kicker not being able to back it up. And then he gave us this beauty: "It sucks. I wanted to make it to help Edge out, I wanted to make it to help Peyton out, I wanted to make it so we could win this game. They're clearly not a better team than us. We needed a three-pointer to win the game, but 48 [yards is] no gimmie."

    (Note to Mike: Umm, until you beat the Patriots, and until your QB stops choking in big spots, they're "clearly" a better team than you. This is how sports works. If somebody keeps beating you, that makes them better. This is why we keep score. But please, keep saying stuff like this, because these are the things that make it impossible for the Patriots to lose any semblance of motivation during a 16-game winning streak that stretches over two years.)

  • That was a pretty sloppy game for the most part. Dramatic, but sloppy. Just two playoff teams working out the early-season kinks. And yet, when Madden dropped not one but TWO "This is what it's all abouts" on us -- one at the tail end, one after the game -- it didn't seem like hyperbole for some reason. Emotionally, it felt like mid-January out there.

    For what it's worth: Two of my buddies back home attended last night's game, both reporting that it was the greatest crowd of their lifetimes. Pretty strong words. Bug has been to every relevant Pats game of both Super Bowl seasons, and he claims last night's crowd topped everything, even the Snow Game. Between the Sox and the Pats, people in New England are just beside themselves right now. Of course, here in Hollywood, people are riled up because Shaq ripped Kobe in his new rap song.

    I think I need to make a trip home soon.

    One more thing: Starting next Friday, this will become a weekly NFL gambling column along the lines of my playoff columns from last winter. For Week One only, you'll have to settle for quick picks.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.




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