Well—right idea, wrong order. I expected Peyton Manning to slice and dice the Jets in the first half, and thought that if the Jets could hang close, they would win. I never imagined that they could actually be up by eleven points in the first half, and that Peyton would only then figure them out, making his mastery clear at the very end of the first half and putting the game out of the reach in the second.
A few quick observations. First, the Jets got their lead not by running the ball and playing power offense, etc., but by throwing it. (Sanchez to Edwards had the whole placid Upper East Side shouting and stamping the floors. You could hear it, from the Met to the Jewish Museum.) Now, the biggest divide, even a newly-minted Blogger knows, between the analytic experts online and the color-commentator guys on television (and the columnists in the tabloids) is that the analytic experts all insist that the N.F.L. is a passing league, dependent on a passing game, while the color-commentators and the folk wisdoms still insist that you have to run to win. Why the Jets stopped even trying, as it seemed, to throw deep in the second half, while continuing to run the ball into the line long after Shonn Greene was gone and the exercise was obviously futile, is puzzling; it was as if a deep folk-emotional conviction was taking the place of the evidence before one’s eyes. I see this morning that Braylon Edwards, no less, a man who might know, shares my bewilderment. “We didn’t have the same attitude” in the second half, he is quoted as saying, meaning far too reluctant to throw deep, adding, dramatically: “Take that for what it is.”
Of course, every speedy receiver in every game, from Central Park to the Super Bowl, thinks that he’s always open—“Man, I’m beating him like a drum,” the tall kid in the maroon windbreaker who you took at the last second says on every play when he runs back, a little winded, to the Great Lawn huddle—and doubtless Brian Schottenheimer saw looming, ball-hawking safeties that neither Braylon nor I could spot. But, given that it worked once, you would have thought that it was worth trying twice, or thrice. And where was the Wildcat? We love the Wildcat. It did seem that undue caution generally overcame the Jets just when they needed the Audacity of Audacity. (Larger life-political lesson here, of course.)
More broadly, the conference championships came down to Intellectual Man, in the person of Peyton, in one game, and Instinctive Man, in the person of Brett Favre, whose Vikings played the Saints in the other. For once, blessedly, Intellectual Man won the day. Instinctive Man, to be a little hard on him—though it’s my own view that you can never be too hard on Instinctive Man—cost his team a title for the second time in three years, throwing an interception (this one right across the grain of the play) that was not merely ill-timed, but dim-witted. Credit to Favre for getting them there, but let us have no doubt that he throws those things not because he thinks he should, but because he feels inside that he can, with predictable results. (Occasion for lesson to Blogger’s son: Never use the Force; trust, instead, your Focus.) Manning, let it be added, is not just smart; he is also conspicuously not-fearless, collapsing in a self-protecting heap when he’s about to be sacked, which looks shabby but also probably explains why he’s almost never been injured. A theory of my own is that good teams are good mostly because of the absence of injuries, but that the absence of injury is not an accident but an acquired skill. Manning—and Wayne Gretzky—are Exhibit A’s through Zed, as we say in Canada, for this proposition. (Gretzky did get hurt finally, through a cheap shot from an American player, and his play was never quite the same again.) Can’t help but love a smart, wary, pain-averse fellow like Manning. Sign-off prediction? Colts all the way.