- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

Tom Brady threw three interceptions … and New England still upset San Diego.

New Orleans and Chicago both lost the turnover battle last week … and will play for the NFC title Sunday.

Peyton Manning has five interceptions and one touchdown in two playoff games … and yet he is one home win away from his first Super Bowl appearance.

And New England and New Orleans both faced eight-point, second-half deficits … and rallied to win by scoring 11 and 14 unanswered points, respectively, to win.

Welcome to “NFL Playoffs: Bizarro Edition,” a tournament where turnovers aren’t costly, the best defense will be watching on television, second-half leads aren’t safe and all four teams have two-headed running back attacks.

Two days from the conference title games — New Orleans-Chicago and New England-Indianapolis — here are four myths that have been thoroughly debunked the last two weekends:

1. DEFENSE WINS THE TITLE

Hogwash.

Baltimore’s top-ranked defense is at home because the Ravens couldn’t stop Indianapolis on third down. San Diego is at home because its defense couldn’t finish off the Patriots.

Quarterback play wins championships. The team with the better quarterback has won seven of the eight games, the lone exception being Chicago’s win over Seattle.

While the top 10 rushers are out of the playoffs, the top two passers — Manning and New Orleans’ Drew Brees — are still playing.

Because their opponents are good, the numbers won’t be great. Manning has a woeful 58.3 passer rating, Brees averaged just a shade more than 10 yards a completion, the Bears’ Rex Grossman continues to be a disaster waiting to happen and Brady has been inconsistent. But they’re managing the game and making key throws when necessary.

“You’re not going to be able to put up big numbers every week,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “In the playoffs, you’re going to get an opportunity to make the three or four plays that make the difference and the guys that make them are the guys that go on.”

2. LEADS ARE SAFE

Not all leads.

New Orleans rallied from a 21-13 deficit to beat Philadelphia 27-24. Chicago trailed Seattle 24-21 before tying the game and then winning in overtime. And New England was down 21-13 to San Diego before scoring the final 11 points.

Three teams have trailed at halftime and won, and three teams have entered the fourth quarter trailing but won.

“It wasn’t all perfect,” Brady said, “but at the end we made enough great plays to win and that’s what it’s going to take again this week.”

Good teams with good coaches don’t panic and know how to answer.

When the Eagles took a 21-13 lead, the Saints responded with touchdown drives of 63 and 84 yards. The Patriots put together an 11-play, 55-yard march (aided by a Chargers fumble on an interception) to tie the game, and then moved 72 yards (eight plays) in just 2:20 for the game-winning field goal.

Chicago got two field goals from Robbie Gould — one in regulation and one in overtime — to oust Seattle.

3. TURNOVERS ARE COSTLY

Amazingly, not so much.

Winning the turnover battle hasn’t necessarily meant winning the game — a 4-4 record in the first two weekends.

During the wild-card round, Indianapolis and Seattle won despite each having a minus-1 turnover ratio. Last weekend, New Orleans (minus 1) and Chicago (minus 1) won their games and New England had three turnovers against San Diego. The Chargers had four giveaways.

The key for the teams with turnover problems was limiting the opponent from scoring at all or limiting them to a field goal.

Kansas City had no points off three Colts turnovers and Seattle held Dallas to two red-zone field goals.

New England, meanwhile, overcame three turnovers against San Diego by scoring 14 points off four takeaways.

4. MARQUEE RB REQUIRED

Nope.

Finally acknowledging how punishing the running back position is, all four teams playing this weekend have employed a two-running back system.

“It helps to have a couple backs, especially in a 16-game season,” Chicago running back Thomas Jones said. “You get dinged up and to have an extra back that is fresh is hard for a defense to adjust to.”

New Orleans: Deuce McAllister (244 regular-season carries, 21 playoffs) and Reggie Bush (155 and 12).

Chicago: Jones (296 and 21) and Cedric Benson (117 and 12).

Indianapolis: Joseph Addai (221 and 43) and Dominic Rhodes (187 and 27).

New England: Corey Dillon (199 and 18) and Laurence Maroney (175 and 23).

The league’s top 10 rushers this year are out of the playoffs.

“It’s not like anybody is sitting there charting things and saying, ‘OK, this guy has caught three balls and now we have to throw them to somebody else and this guy has carried five times and this guy has carried only twice,’ ‘ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of his offense’s rotation. “I think it’s just kind of turned out this way.”

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