I know what you’re thinking. How did the Philadelphia Eagles, who kicked the pus out of the Lions last week, look so mortal in dying against the Cowboys on Sunday? That’s not fair. That doesn’t make sense.
I know what you’re thinking. How did the mighty San Francisco 49ers, everybody’s favorite juggernaut, get stomped like a grape in their own vineyard? How did Jerry Rice, Steve Young and that offensive brain trust lose to a team from the tundra, the Green Bay Packers? Not fair. Doesn’t make sense.
I know what you’re thinking. How did the Indianapolis Colts, a team most people didn’t even know made the playoffs, do something to the Chiefs that no team had done all season — beat them at home? The Kansas City Chiefs? With the best record in football? And they lost to the Colts?
Doesn’t make sense!
Well, actually, it does.
The simple rule that many of us forget at playoff time is this: Defense wins championships. It is a cliche, for sure, as much as “We gave it 110 percent” or “We wanted it more than the other guy” or “If you can’t block and tackle, you can’t win.”
You know what? All those are true.
And so is this. Defense wins. It is one (of many reasons) that the Lions are already on vacation, putting on calories — and it is the reason Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Indianapolis are alive for the Super Bowl.
‘D’ landed KO on QBs
Let’s start with Saturday’s Green Bay upset. A terrific game, if you ask me, because the Packers attacked the very heart of the monster, the 49ers’ passing game. Now, I know all about Brett Favre, how magnificent he was, and it’s true, without a great quarterback you’re dead in the playoffs. Just look at the teams that lost Sunday. Kansas City got nothing out of Steve Bono; he was as useless as wet tissue. Bye-bye, Chiefs. Philly lost its quarterback, old friend and one-week- miracle Rodney Peete, when he got kicked in the head, and backup Randall Cunningham looked as interested as a school kid at a physics lecture.
The Buffalo Bills saw Jim Kelly knocked silly, only to return, then force one of his patented interceptions (nobody is as gutsy as Kelly, and nobody is as stubborn, either).
And Young, the 49ers’ miracle worker, was simply normal on Saturday, and his team lost as well. Not one of the losing teams this weekend could claim their quarterback gave a star performance. It is the reason quarterback is the most important position.
But it was not the reason for the victories and defeats. That was defense, folks. Plain and simple. What Green Bay did was swallow the San Francisco receivers so completely, there was no place for Young to go. The scene that comes back from that game is Young, scrambling out of the pocket, and looking downfield, looking, looking, finally throwing it away. If Rice, John Taylor and J. J. Stokes can’t get free in that much time, there is some kind of secondary action going on.
Same thing happened in Indianapolis’ upset of the heavily favored Chiefs. Every time Bono went back to pass, he seemed confused. The Colts’ defense — headed by coordinator Vince Tobin — was designed, in Tobin’s words, “to confuse Bono, and make him think.”
It worked. Bono threw three interceptions in the second half, and the Colts closed down the Chiefs’ running game like police busting a bookmaking joint.
The reason Dallas won so handily against Philly was that the Cowboys’ defense rendered the offense useless. Leon Lett was on top of Peete and Cunningham almost as fast as the snap, and the Eagles didn’t score a touchdown until the game was 30-3. This is the same Eagles team that had 58 points against the Lions?
Oh, yes. The Lions. How does all this defense talk relate to them? Lions’ defense never jelled
Well, it helps explain things. The Lions never had a great defense this year. When a team wins seven in a row, the credit gets spread around, and many of us started to sing the praises of the defense simply because it held the other team to fewer points.
But if you look back, there weren’t too many games where the Lions’ defense was stellar. As late as the Houston game, it was giving up too much yardage to inferior teams. And when the bad breaks befell the Lions’ offense against Philadelphia, the defense did nothing to help.
This is fact: In NFL playoff games, when nerves clang and temperatures drop, it is easier for defenses to play hard than offenses. Defense doesn’t worry about fumbles or bad passes. It just attacks. That is the lesson of the weekend.
So when Wayne Fontes sits down with William Clay Ford, they will discuss the future of the team — but maybe they should be discussing the past. Fontes used to be a defensive coordinator, remember? Ford might want to ask him why that part of the team has loosened over the years. For unless the Lions find a way to tighten it up — and fast — they will always be on the sidelines before the playoffs are very old, no matter who is coaching.
And who needs that?