- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

A league that not long ago was thought to be short of talented, young quarterbacks suddenly is full of them.
In fact, the team with the less experienced passer has lost just one of the past 11 playoff games dating back to last January's divisional round.
Atlanta's 22-year-old Michael Vick over Green Bay's 33-year-old Brett Favre is the prime example, but San Francisco's Jeff Garcia and the New York Jets' Chad Pennington also had less NFL experience than their respective vanquished counterparts, the New York Giants' Kerry Collins and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. Tommy Maddox, who rallied Pittsburgh past Cleveland, has the same six years in the NFL as the Browns' Kelly Holcomb.
Last year New England's Tom Brady defeated St. Louis' Kurt Warner, Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart and Oakland's Rich Gannon. Meanwhile, Warner topped Favre, Stewart beat Baltimore's Elvis Grbac, and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb got the better of Chicago's Jim Miller. The only exception was McNabb's loss to Warner in the NFC Championship game, but that wasn't much of one since McNabb and Warner both became starters in 1999.
Following that logic this weekend, Vick and the Falcons should upset McNabb and the host Eagles, while Garcia and the visiting 49ers should upend Brad Johnson and Tampa Bay. In the AFC, the formula means Pennington and the Jets over Gannon and the host Raiders and Maddox and the visiting Steelers defeating Steve McNair and Tennessee.
With just one road team having won in each of the past three seasons' divisional rounds, that premise seems unlikely. But after the miraculous comebacks by the Steelers and 49ers, the Falcons becoming the first visitor to win a playoff game in Wisconsin and the Jets coming off their second playoff victory since 1986, wild scenarios aren't so unlikely.
In contrast to the success of the less experienced quarterbacks, coaching seniority was a positive last weekend. Atlanta's Dan Reeves, the Jets' Herman Edwards and Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher had all been in their jobs longer than their rivals, while San Francisco's Steve Mariucci and the Giants' Jim Fassel both took over their teams in 1997.
The NFC matchups have little history. The 49ers and Bucs haven't met in the playoffs and not at all since 1997. The Eagles and Falcons have played just once since 1998 and haven't met in the postseason since a 1978 wild-card contest won by Atlanta 14-13.
However, the AFC matchups have a lot more tradition to them. Tomorrow's game will be the fourth between the Jets and Raiders over the last two seasons (Oakland has won two of the previous three). New York also beat Oakland in the 1968 AFL Championship game to set up its unforgettable victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. And the Jets defeated the Raiders in a 1982 divisional playoff game.
The Steelers and Titans were AFC Central rivals from 1970 to 2001. Pittsburgh won 37 of those 63 matchups, including one-sided triumphs in the 1978 and '79 AFC Championship games (when the Titans were still the Houston Oilers) that were preludes to Super Bowl victories. The Steelers also prevailed in overtime in a first-round game in 1989.
And of course, Tennessee beat Pittsburgh 31-23 on Nov.17 in a game marred by the spinal contusion injury to Maddox that at first was feared would leave him paralyzed.
Awful deja vu The long snapper was at the end of his career. The kicker was in his first full NFL season. But if they could team with the holder for a long but makable field goal, their NFC East team would pull a big playoff upset.
Sound familiar? That's because Sunday's last-minute disaster for 41-year-old snapper Trey Junkin signed out of retirement by the Giants just last week and rookie kicker Matt Bryant was eerily reminiscent of the end of Washington's 14-13 divisional-round loss at Tampa Bay three seasons ago, when 37-year-old Redskins snapper Dan Turk failed to get the ball to holder Brad Johnson for kicker Brett Conway to attempt a game-winning field goal. It was Turk's final play. Less than two years later, he died of testicular cancer.
More records for Rice? Ageless Oakland receiver Jerry Rice already holds the playoff records for catches (137), touchdown catches (20), receiving yards (2,042), 100-yard games (seven) and consecutive games with a catch (25). If Rice's Raiders beat the Jets tomorrow, he'll tie former Dallas Cowboy D.D. Lewis' record by appearing in his 27th playoff game on Jan.19. Rice is also only one touchdown shy of the mark of 21 held by running backs Emmitt Smith of Dallas and Thurman Thomas of Buffalo. And he needs 83 yards to eclipse Thomas' record of 2,124 from scrimmage.
No replay fan Reeves, 4-for-26 on challenges since the NFL revived replay in 1999, is no fan of the new system. Here's what the NFL's senior coach had to say before the officials botched the end of the Giants-49ers game:
"The league has to discuss what instant replay is really about. If replay is only going to be a tool that corrects plays that everybody even a drunk in the bar knows is going to be changed, then why do you have replay? My interpretation of what replay is supposed to do is, it's supposed to make those tough calls that happen in an instant and a guy has got to call what he sees. In my opinion, what we're doing right now is justifying what they call on the field. And if they're close, they're going to take whatever is close. And if close is what we want, then replay is doing a heck of a job being close."

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