John Madden
John Madden
No lead is safe in the NFL
By John Madden
ALLMADDEN.com

The two playoff games on Sunday featured fourth-quarter comeback wins by the home teams, as San Francisco knocked off the New York Giants in dramatic fashion, and Pittsburgh, behind Tommy Maddox, rallied to end Cleveland's season.

Both games were exciting and all four teams played well on offense. In fact, each of the quarterbacks impressed me with how they performed. Jeff Garcia was something else for the 49ers, and Kerry Collins did a good job for New York in a losing effort. Over in the AFC, Maddox played well late in the game, and Kelly Holcomb did a nice job for the Browns as a starter in relief of the injured Tim Couch.

Matt Bryant
Matt Bryant never had a chance to win the game for the Giants.
There are a few things in the games that you see and that we talk about that are so important. It's going to come down to a few plays, and one team's going to make those plays or not make those plays. And it can either be on offense, defense, or special teams. Sometimes, when we preview a game, we talk too much about the offense, the quarterback, the running back and so on. And we forget, like in the Giants' game, that it can come down to a snapper, a holder and a kicker. But that's a part of it and it's going to happen.

Now, from New York's standpoint, it probably shouldn't have even gotten to that. Before that, it came down to the Giants defense. If you have a playoff-type defense, and you get a lead like they had, then it's your defense's job to take that lead and get the win. The offense has to score some points, and continue to make plays and get first downs and stuff, so it's not all just the defense, but they need to do their job.

I thought San Francisco was very good in what it had to do. Things weren't going the 49ers' way and you can't wait right until the end to go to a hurry-up or no-huddle offense. They knew they needed at least three scores, and so they started while they were still in the third quarter to go to the no-huddle. And then when they did that, it gave them a spark, and it gave Garcia a spark, and gave the whole offense a spark. It sure as heck took some of the aggressiveness out of the Giants' defense. It seemed like it put them back on their heels a little.

So, you can go to any part of the game and look at things. What happens at the beginning of the game is going to determine what has to happen in the third quarter and so on. If New York's defense had done its job after getting the big lead, that comeback wouldn't have happened. And if the 49ers' offense didn't do their job of changing the momentum of the game and making something happen, then the play at the end of the game wouldn't have happened. Even at the end, had the Giants made the kick or made a play there, they would have won and moved on.

Some Maddox mojo
Like the game in San Francisco, the one in Pittsburgh went right down to the end. Also, like in the 49ers-Giants game, both offenses were better than both defenses most of the time. Cleveland got a big lead in this game and when that happens your defense has to take it over, and similar to New York's defense, the Browns' defense couldn't take it over on Sunday.

Tommy Maddox
Tommy Maddox threw for 367 yards and 3 TDs to rally the Steelers in the fourth quarter.
At one time in football, if you had like a three-touchdown lead, the game was over. Now, leads in any sport don't mean what they used to and we saw that this past weekend. Cleveland had a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, but they couldn't stop Maddox and the Steelers' offense.

And that's why Maddox is the quarterback for Pittsburgh. For years, the Steelers were a ball-control, running team with a tough defense, and they'd be very successful if they got ahead. They did get ahead most of the time and won a lot of games, but if they got behind by a few scores, it was usually over for them because they didn't have the offense or the quarterbacking to come from behind. But with Maddox, they can come back.

As I mentioned before, I thought all four quarterbacks played well on Sunday. The thing is, it's easier to play well when you're ahead, but the tough job was the one that Maddox did for his team. And the tough one was the job that Garcia did in his game.

The games on Saturday and Sunday are what the playoffs are. There are 12 teams that get into the playoffs and 11 of 'em are going to lose the last game that they play. And that's the one that you have to live with in the offseason until you go back to training camp. That's what the Giants have to be thinking about, along with the Browns, the Packers and Colts.

It is a tough thing to lose in the playoffs. You have the finality of it all. There's that ol' saying that the winners go on and the losers go home. And the finality of it all is that one minute you're playing to go on to the next round, and the next minute you're out and you're getting dressed, and the next day you're packing one of those garbage bags with your clothes and other stuff in it from your locker. Those are tough days for a player and a team.


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Video
 Never Say Die
Jeff Garcia talks to ESPN's Andrea Kremer after rallying the 49ers to victory.
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 Slipping Away
Jim Fassel and Kerry Collins are trying to find answer for a stunning loss.
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 Top Billing
Members of the Steelers and Browns react to Sunday's down-to-the-wire finish in Pittsburgh.
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 Left Grinning
Bill Cowher breathes a sigh of relief after Pittsburgh's comeback victory.
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 Staying Alive
Plaxico Burress details the Steelers' game-winning drive for ESPN's Ed Werder.
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