Three veteran quarterbacks and a rookie paced their teams into the NFL’s version of the Final Four this past weekend.
Brett Favre, and ageless wonder, tossed a career playoff-best four touchdowns, including three to wide receiver Sidney Rice in the Minnesota Vikings’ 34-3 blitz of the Dallas Cowboys, and one-time USC standout Mark Sanchez was unspectacular, but directed the New York Jets to two fourth-quarter scores, en route to a 17-14 win over the San Diego Chargers.
On Saturday, Peyton Manning pushed the Indianapolis Colts to a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens behind a pair of scoring passes, and New Orleans’ Drew Brees launched three touchdowns, as the Saints blasted the Arizona Cardinals 45-14.
Former Trojan running back Reggie Bush peeled off a 46-yard scoring dash, and also added an 83-yard punt return for a score.
Favre, who turned 40, was efficient, drilling 15 of 24 attempts for 234 yards, and was grateful for the opportunity to play the top-seeded Saints.
Looking forlorn, the Cowboys’ Tony Romo was sacked six times by the NFL’s best, fumbling twice, with an interception.
The Chargers’ Philip Rivers tossed back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter, putting his No. 2 seeded club in a jam.
The first by cornerback Darrelle Revis was one the Smithsonian should put on display, while the second by Jim Leonhart was the product of an overthrow by Rivers, who found eight receivers, including Vincent Jackson (seven catches for 111 yards) and tight end Antonio Gates (eight receptions for 93 yards).
The Jets prevailed because they stopped San Diego’s ground attack, and ran the ball especially well in the second half.
New York running back Shonn Greene rushed for 128 yards on 23 carries, and gave the Jets a 17-7 lead when he exploded for a 53-yard run with 7:26 left in the fourth quarter.
First-year New York Head Coach Rex Ryan believes in the run, and didn’t abandon it in the second half despite having only mild success in the opening half.
Sanchez completed 12 of 23 passes for 100 yards, but his two-yard scoring pass to tight end Dustin Keller early in the fourth quarter made it 10-7. One sensed a switch in momentum, which began after Rivers’ second interception.
San Diego’s reliable All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding missed field goals of 36, 57 and 40 yards, and should have converted on the two shorter ones.
Rivers hit 27 of 40 passes for 298 yards with one touchdown, and scored from a yard out to get the Chargers within three points and 2:14 left in the fourth quarter.
On the kickoff, San Diego Head Coach Norv Turner opted for an onside kick, which the Jets recovered at the San Diego 38. This was highly questionable, given that there was enough time to stop the Jets, and force overtime with a field goal, or a win with a touchdown.
Rivers marched the Chargers to a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter when he found reserve tight end Kris Wilson with a 13-yard pass that capped the 69-yard, four-play drive.
San Diego ranked 31st in rushing, and it showed against the top run defense, as Darren Sproles finished with 33 yards, and LaDainian Tomlinson 24.
Additionally, the Chargers made four of 13 third-down conversions, while the Jets were successful on six of 16.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.