January 13, 2003
Raiders WR Jerry Porter:
When you can grab the spotlight from Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, you've accomplished something.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

While "Lord of the Rings," "CSI" and "Friends" were big winners last night at the this-can't-really-be-us People's Choice Awards, the NFL divisional playoffs had their own winners and losers ...

Winner: Rich Gannon. Low-key MVP outplayed ultra-hyped Jets QB Chad Montana. No surprise that the Raiders got hot and pulled away when the team finally figured out to go to Gannon's arm in second half. If the Titans thought Tommy Maddox was a challenge ...

Loser: Raiders' postgame trash-talk. Is a divisional-round win so big that the team had to dump on the Jets so much? So what if the Jets started it? Oakland sure isn't yapping like it has championship focus.

Winner: Achy vet QBs. Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Brad Johnson showed how it's done. But don't forget the obviously huge bye-week factor (bye teams 4-0), which gave them extra time to heal up.

Loser: Hyped QBs. Winner: Defenses. Pennington, Mike Vick and Jeff Garcia were engulfed by the week-long hoopla around them, but not as much as they were by stifling, sack-heavy playoff D from the Raiders, Eagles and Bucs. If they learn from it, the QBs might begin to approach their Super Bowl potential. Meanwhile, the Eagles-Bucs game is the best playoff matchup of defenses in a long time.

Loser: NFL's OT policy. Once again, the toss of a coin determines a winner -- this time to advance to the AFC title game. Unfortunately, it will probably take a "Coin Flip Super Bowl" (and who doesn't think the NFL is on a collision course with that during this wacky season?) to change this ridiculous policy.

Winner/Loser: Titans kicker Joe Nedney. Redeemed himself with second-try winning FG, but "When I'm done, I might try acting" quote about roughing-the-kicker call is bad for booters everywhere.

Loser: Titans-Steelers ref Ron "Uh, Let Me Check on That" Blum. For a playoff ref to not be completely versed in all replay-review policies -- then to broadcast it to the world -- was yet another NFL embarrassment. The hot discussion will be about whether or not the league should hire full-time refs, which makes

1. Bucs' hurdle: Winning in Philly
2. Raiders' hurdle: Winning AFC finally
3. Refs' hurdle: Spotlight gets more intense
1. The Steelers' "We Were Robbed" crying
2. Entertaining displays from Terrell Owens
3. Chad Pennington-Joe Montana comparisons
an assumption that full-time would eliminate the recent mistakes. Seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of really great refs might drop out because they don't want to give up their day job. Who wants full-time mediocrity?

Winner: NFL director of officials Mike Pereira. Quickly quashed RefGate II talk, saying the NFL reviewed the Steelers-Titans game and stood by the roughing-the-kicker call on the Steelers. So don't look for any apologies on that, but ...

Loser: Pereira. ... What about the Steelers' ignored timeout call on the final play? Out of timeouts? Please. Call came after the snap? Replays show otherwise. Weren't game-affecting final plays supposed to be reviewed before the game was declared over? Of the non-timeout, Pereira said: "I have not been able to study that." I thought he just said they reviewed the game? But somehow they overlooked this controversial call? Dubious.

Loser: Steelers whining. Missed timeout call aside, was there anything less impressive than the Steelers' postgame complaints? It starts at the top, where head coach Bill Cowher's much-lauded intensity just made him look out of control. Pittsburgh should take a page from the Giants, who got screwed a lot worse: Accept responsibility for all their own breakdowns (say, porous defense) that led to the loss.

Loser: Whoever made the call to start that first set of fireworks. Without a roughing-the-kicker penalty, let's assume the Steelers go on to win, and that display becomes the "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment of sports history.

Mariucci Watch
What's the latest on Steve Mariucci's future in San Francisco? ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli has the latest scoop. His take? Chances are he'll stick around next season, the final year in his contract. My question: If the Jags really are interested in Mooch, would they be willing to give up a draft-pick package, like the Bucs did for Jon Gruden? The Jags could use the draft help a lot more than Tampa Bay did.

Premature Picks
Early conference-championships picks: Rematches from two regular-season stinkers. Raiders over Titans: After two years of knockouts, Raiders finally do the KO'ing. Bucs over Eagles: Like MJ's Bulls finally getting past the Piston Bad Boys, last game for the Vet notwithstanding ... It's an all-Pirate Super Bowl! Arrr ...

Steelers LB Joey Porter:
"The ref took this away from us." No, shoddy defense took it away from you.
Which teams are headed to the Super Bowl?
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