Inside Pulse 12

The Box Score: NFL Conference Championships

“I actually found myself talking about your column during last Saturday’s Eagles game.” – 411’s own Bebito Jackson.

The PS2 version of NFL 2K3 correctly predicted all four matchups with greater accuracy than I ever could have envisioned. The flow of the games and the margins of victory all seemed to be very close to what really happened. Which is a very good thing, except when you consider that Oakland’s victory over the Jets was predicted.

Let’s all take a moment of silence for the Jets’ 2002 season.

In any event, this thing works. Even some of the things that were totally off were, in fact, very accurate. For example, NFL 2K3 had Terrell Owens tearing up the Tampa Bay D. This didn’t happen in real life, and as a result San Francisco only scored six points. What does this mean? Terrell Owens’ success is directly related to the 49ers’ offensive output. To a lesser extent, the same type of thing occurred in the Jets-Raiders (ugh) game. In the simulation, the Jets ran the ball very little and got totally blown out of the water. However, if you watched the game on Sunday, you saw the Jets run it in the first half, being moderately successful with it. When they abandoned the run in the second half, that’s when they started to implode. The lesson here is that when the Jets don’t run, they lose. And it happened.

Now, onto Sunday. This week, there are two games to be played, the winners of which will head to San Diego for Super Bowl XXXVII.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles

at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia

Time: Afternoon

Temperature: 25 degrees

Precipitation: Moderate Snow

The Eagles came out charged for their last game ever at Veterans Stadium. Their first drive was a huge success, taking only three Donovan McNabb passes to go 78 yards for the score. Todd Pinkston caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to put Philadelphia on top, 7-0. Tampa Bay would soon make their arrival on the scoreboard, though, with a Martin Gramatica 45-yard field goal.

The second quarter saw the Bucs come to life. After Brian Kelly dropped an interception that could have easily been returned for a touchdown, Tampa Bay dug the hole even deeper on a Derrick Brooks pass interference penalty. However, the defense continued to pressure McNabb, who had trouble throwing due to the constant pressure and inclement weather. Brooks redeemed himself just two plays after his penalty with a key interception at the Tampa Bay 32-yard line. With the ball, the Bucs marched downfield with the drive culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to Marco Battaglia to give Tampa Bay the lead.

The lead, however, would not last very long. On the ensuing kickoff, Brian Mitchell broke loose and ran the kick back 96 yards for a touchdown. With the clock running low, the Buccaneers had no time to feel sorry for themselves. Instead, they came right back to get within one. A Keyshawn Johnson 47-yard catch proved crucial in getting the team into field goal range. From there, Gramatica nailed a 37-yarder, and the half ended with Philly up, 14-13.

The second half began with a flurry of turnovers. Tampa Bay fumbled the kickoff, which was recovered by the Eagles on Tampa’s 28-yard line. Philadelphia was unable to convert, though, giving the ball right back on an interception by Ronde Barber. Thanks to a 52-yard run by Michael Pittman, the Tampa offense was in business. However, Brad Johnson had three straight incompletions from the Eagles’ 12, so the Bucs were forced to settle for a field goal. The three points, though, gave them the lead.

The Eagles then had a very similar drive – they got down to the three-yard line, from which they were unable to find the end zone. They reclaimed the lead on a David Akers 18-yard field goal to make the game 17-16. The inability of Philadelphia to score a touchdown from this close would prove vital in the game’s conclusion.

With the lead, Philadelphia reclaimed possession on a punt and proceeded to use running plays in an attempt to run out the clock. After forcing Tampa Bay to burn two timeouts, the Eagles punted the ball. Tampa Bay, having the chance to reach their first Super Bowl in franchise history, took advantage of their opportunity. Brad Johnson masterfully ran the two-minute offense, connecting with Keyshawn Johnson for a 40-yard strike that moved the chains to the Philadelphia 8. From there, Martin Gramatica connected on a 25-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, with just ten seconds left. The Bucs’ defense prevented any Donovan McNabb miracles, and led the Bucs’ march to San Diego.

FINAL SCORE

Tampa Bay 19

Philadelphia 17

QB SUMMARY

Johnson (TB) 11/20, 203 yards, 1 TD

McNabb (PHI) 7/14, 108 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

RB SUMMARY

Pittman (TB) 3-56

Staley (PHI) 14-83

WR SUMMARY

Johnson (TB) 6-135

Lewis (PHI) 3-36

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Keyshawn Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans at Oakland Raiders

at Network Associates Coliseum

Time: Afternoon

Temperature: 65 degrees

Oakland received the kickoff and started a very productive opening drive. Rich Gannon ran a textbook West Coast offense drive, receiving help in the form of a big run by Charlie Garner and a nice pass play to Terry Porter. The four-play, 78-yard drive ended with Gannon’s ten-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jerry Rice.

Toward the end of the first quarter, both defenses took over the game. On Tennessee’s first offensive play of the game, Steve McNair threw a pass that was intercepted by Tory James. Oakland took over at the Tennessee 28, only to throw an interception to Samari Rolle of the Titans. After a few marginally successful plays, McNair threw another interception, this one to Greg Biekert at the Tennessee 33. This put the Raiders in field goal range, resulting in a Sebastian Janikowski field goal from 28 yards out that gave Oakland a 10-0 lead.

The next drive was far better for the Titans. Beginning to incorporate the running game, McNair put together an excellent series. McNair started the drive throwing short passes and eventually worked his way up to throwing for a first down every time. The drive resulted in a five-yard McNair pass to Frank Wycheck for a touchdown. However, the good fortune would not last, as the Raiders came right back. Capitalizing on a Samari Rolle pass interference penalty, Oakland marched 79 yards for the score. Roland Williams caught a Gannon pass from 11 yards out to end the first half with a 17-7 lead. At the half, Tennessee had just 16 rushing yards.

Thanks in large part to a 36-yard completion from McNair to Justin McCareins as the third quarter ended, the Titans got right back into the game to open the fourth quarter. McNair would later find Kevin Dyson in the end zone to bring Tennessee within a field goal. Unfortunately for the Titans, it was as close as they would come all day. Another Janikowski field goal increased the Oakland lead to six, a lead which the Raiders would not relinquish. Tennessee drove in the final minutes, but could not complete a 4th and 4 from the Oakland 23, and their fate was sealed.

FINAL SCORE

Tennessee 14

Oakland 20

QB SUMMARY

McNair (TEN) 20/30, 253 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT

Gannon (OAK) 9/14, 151 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

RB SUMMARY

George (TEN) 5-22

Garner (OAK) 12-60

WR SUMMARY

Wycheck (TEN) 8-84, 1 TD

Rice (OAK) 5-102, 1 TD

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Jerry Rice, Oakland Raiders

411mania.com Post-Game Show

My personal predictions are as follows:

PHILLY OVER TAMPA BAY. Tampa will wilt in the cold weather (again) and lose a tough one to the Eagles (again). There’s no way Philly is going to lose in its last game in the Vet, and the Eagles will get out to an early lead to keep its raucous fans in the game. Philly 27, Tampa Bay 7.

OAKLAND OVER TENNESSEE. It truly pains me to say it, but the Raiders are the best team in football. They can beat any team out there, any time. With so many veterans who have been there before, there’s no chance of a letdown. Tennessee, on the other hand, didn’t exactly look convincing in last week’s game against Pittsburgh, a much lesser opponent. Give Tennessee credit for taking their season this far, but it goes no further than the Black Hole. Oakland 31, Tennessee 20.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of The Box Score. Come back next week for the super-duper Super Bowl edition, complete with predictions from the 411 staff! Thanks for reading. Take care.