From The Cheap Seats

There are coaches who win and there are coaches who win when it matters. Lots of NFL coaches have turned around franchises only to run out of steam when push came to shove. We know that a coach like Bill Parcells entered games with an attitude, as did his teams. He had them prepared to be aggressive, because they knew he would be. He had them prepared to have the courage to take risks, because they knew he would. As the only coach to take two franchises to the Super Bowl (almost three), he is the benchmark for winning coaches.

Let's look at last week's games for a minute and focus on this. In the Ram-Viking game, with just over a minute to go in the half, the Vikings stopped the Rams and called time out. Because of what followed, we can assume it was a veteran player doing it on his own, not a coaching decision. The Rams punted and the Vikes had the ball with a minute left and a 17-14 lead. Now was the time to attack, to show the Rams they had an opponent who was never going to ease up. Dennis Green chose to sit on the lead, telling both the Rams and his team that he was both more afraid of his team making a mistake than scoring again, and that he was thrilled to have a 17-14 lead over the better team. That lead lasted about ten seconds into the second half and the Vikings were never heard from again.

Jim Mora's specialty has been great regular season records followed by quick exits when it was time to face the big boys. Last week in the fourth quarter, trailing, the Colts had a fourth and 1 just on their side of the 50. We know what Parcells would have done, because the Big Tuna did it on a regular basis. He would have risked losing to give himself a better chance to win. Mora punted and was killed slowly by the clock. The coward dies many times, the brave man dies but once.

What does this mean for today's games? We know Dick Vermeil's history, he's turned around a moribund franchise before and brought it to the Super Bowl. He has shown boldness when it is necessary -- how about that bomb on the first play last week? And you'd better believe that his team has the confidence in him that is needed. Tony Dungy, on the other hand, is as tight and buttoned-down a coach as can be. He plays not to lose and as a rule, doesn't. But he goes into this with a rookie QB, which will result in further tightness on his part. Perhaps he'd open things up if he ever had a real QB, but he sure doesn't think he has one here. Even if the Rams didn't have the home field and a speed edge to go with it, I'd like them to win this on coaching alone. They have them and while I'm not excited about laying 14 points, they'll win the game and probably cover.

Tom Coughlin and Jeff Fisher are still fairly unknown. We know that Coughlin has his team ready to play. They have always been ready and confident. He's conservative, but I think he'll open up if he has to. He's fallen in love with his defense and lets them carry the load, yet he still has some pretty powerful offensive weapons. The question is whether his conservatism will leave Tennesse in the game long enough to pull it out. As for Jim Fisher, any coach who practices laterals on kickoff returns in case he needs one is ready. He's also conservative, not showing a lot of faith in his QB. He probably has good reason for this, but it could be a problem at this level.

The Jaguars played an awful schedule, almost never facing a winning team. They played the Titans twice and lost both games, getting hammered in the second meeting. They didn't have Fred Taylor in their 20-19 home loss back in September. Tennessee didn't have Steve McNair and went with Neil O'Donnell in that victory. I'm not sure how much that QB switch mattered. No team has ever beaten a team for the third time in a season when the game was on the road. It's hard to believe Tennessee will do it here. Yet Tony Boselli's injury has to mean something to the Jaguar offense. Maybe that romp last week has made the Jags over confident. I think this will be tight and give the Titans a good shot.

A note on a personal recollection: I remember a year when I thought the Houston Oilers were going to the Super Bowl. They went into Buffalo and jumped out to a 35-3 lead. I was feeling pretty confident and then the Bills came back and won, 41-38. I was certain they had used it all up and couldn't possibly go on the road and win the next week. They could and did. Surely, I thought, they weren't going to the Super Bowl. They did. This year, I thought Buffalo had a good shot at going to the Super Bowl, based on their great defense and a newly found passing attack. They were about to upset Tennessee when a miracle finish beat them. I figured the Colts would take care of the Titans (I know, I was backing Jim Mora in the playoffs) and Tennessee survived. Now they're not at home and not facing Jim Mora, so surely their luck will run out. Won't it?


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