Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into Divisional Round

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Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into Divisional Round
USA Today/Thomas J. Russo

1. Irsay on Luck and Manning

After his team's improbable comeback win against the Kansas City Chiefs, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts couldn't stop smiling. Jim Irsay was in a giddy and reflective mood. He was dressed smartly, and his words were even smarter. 

When the topic switched from the game itself to the seemingly ever-present topic of Peyton Manning, Irsay didn't shy away from one pertinent fact—a fact he has mentioned once before but was more explicit about this time. 

"If we had kept Peyton, we would not have been able to field a competitive team," Irsay said.

Irsay said these words to just two journalists: me and one other person. Irsay then spoke on other topics but brought it back to Manning after the interrupting writer departed. The elaboration was interesting.

"People don't understand that part of it. The salary cap would have crushed this franchise had Peyton stayed. It wouldn't have been fair to Peyton, and it wouldn't have been fair to the organization. It would have been virtually impossible to have a team that was any good. It would have been Peyton and a bunch of guys.

"Peyton would have been frustrated. I would have been frustrated. The fans. Everyone. What we did had to be done."

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If Manning had stayed, he would have been due a $28 million bonus. After his release, Manning signed with the Broncos and got $58 million guaranteed. His cap figure for this season is $17.5 million. Luck counts just $5.025 million against the cap this year.

Irsay may have goofy tweets, and he may say some things that are, well, insane. But it's also time to recognize one important fact: The decision to let Manning go and then draft Luck was genius. Looking back, Irsay made the right decision.

If, say, Bill Belichick (or another football savant), had made this move, there would be odes constructed about its brilliance. But because Irsay isn't the prototypical football head, he doesn't get the credit. And make no mistake: The move to dump Manning was all Irsay.

Luck has a long way to go before he's Manning. I get that. Trust me. But the decision to let Manning go wasn't just about statistics and wins. Those will come for Luck. They already are. According to the Colts:

• Luck’s 443 passing yards marked the fifth-highest total in an NFL postseason game and the second-most in franchise history (Peyton Manning, 458 yards vs. Denver on Jan. 9, 2005).

• His four touchdown passes tied for the 11th-most in an NFL post- season contest and tied for the second-most in franchise history. It also marked the third time in team history that a quarterback threw for four-or-more touchdowns in a postseason game.

• With 45 passing attempts, Luck passed Earl Morrall (79) for the fourth-most passing attempts in Colts postseason history.

• With 29 completions, Luck passed Earl Morrall (37) for the fourth- most completions in Colts postseason history.

• With 443 yards, Luck passed Earl Morrall (667) for the fourth-most passing yards in franchise postseason history.


• With four touchdowns, Luck passed Earl Morrall and Jack Trudeau (two) for the fourth-most touchdown passes in Colts postseason history.

• Luck’s 45 rushing yards were the second-most in a playoff game by a Colts quarterback (48, Jim Harbaugh on Jan. 7, 1996).


• Luck became the first player in NFL history to record a passing touchdown and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the same game in postseason history.

• Including playoffs, Luck has won seven career games after trailing by double-digits, the most such wins in the NFL since the start of the 2012 season.

Yes, stats. Manning had lots of them. And wins. And a ring.

What Manning was, more than anything, was this: a person who could be trusted with the keys to the franchise.

And they have that again in Luck.

"We went from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck," Irsay said. "How great is that?"

Pretty great, and it happened because of Irsay.

 

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

2. Luck's habits

Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is better than almost anyone I've ever met at making some of the more difficult concepts in football easy to digest. He has a future in television as a studio analyst should he want it, and if he did go into television, he would end up being one of the best analysts television has ever seen. Yes, I said that. It's true.

One other thing he does well is tell stories about a player that exemplifies who that player really is. He recently did this with Luck.

Luck constantly takes notes, on everything. Not just in meetings, but whenever a thought comes to his head. He writes it down and stores it away. Many times, that information is minutia. But Luck, like all the greats, believes minutia can make the difference.

The night before a game, all of the quarterbacks will get together and quiz Luck. "He knows the offense better than we do," said Hasselbeck, "and we're quizzing him. It's pretty funny."

Luck's study habits sound like those of some other players I've covered. One in particular: Tom Brady.

 

3. Bust

gifdsports

I've defended Trent Richardson, but after his fumble in the playoff game against Kansas City, no one can defend him any longer.

When I asked several Colts players I trust about Richardson, none would comment. One player simply rolled his eyes and kept walking. That's not good.

What happens now? Richardson will still get opportunities. For now, the Colts need him. They don't have a choice. He will get the ball, but it's going to be less. It has to be. The Colts don't trust him. How can they?

 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

4. The motivator

This from a 49ers player, on Jim Harbaugh motivating the team prior to their win at Lambeau: "He spoke a couple of times about the lack of respect we were getting. How everyone thought we would get killed because it was so cold. He just mentioned it very slyly. Just planted the seed. Got some of us a little fired up. We beat the Packers all the time. We own them. Who cares what the weather is? We're better. We don't care about their stupid tradition. Or the cold. We just beat that ass."

Oh.

After the game, the entire San Francisco team talked about how they looked forward to revenge against the Carolina Panthers. "We owe them," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.

The Panthers won 10-9 in Week 10.

My guess is Harbaugh planted that little seed as well.

Harbaugh is brilliant. Maybe the best combination of tactician and motivator we've seen since Bill Parcells. He is also at the beginning of creating quite an empire. Harbaugh became the first coach since the 1970 merger to win at least 13 games (including the playoffs) in his first three seasons as head coach.

Since the merger, only nine franchises have won at least 13 games, including the playoffs, in at least three consecutive seasons. The 49ers (13-4) accomplished that feat for the third time in franchise history. They're the only franchise in the NFL to do so more than once.

 

5. Concussed brain and rest

It's becoming clear—even if it's painfully obvious—that a concussed mind needs lots of rest. Like, months of rest. Not a game or a week or even a few weeks. But a lot longer. This, from MD Direct, explains what I mean.

 

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

6. Expanded playoffs

An NFL spokesman told Bleacher Report there was no truth to a report that the NFL playoffs were expanding by two teams. The subject hasn't been put to a vote by ownership. So it hasn't happened. Yet.

But it will, and soon. My guess is this is what's happened: Commissioner Roger Goodell has probably already had intense discussions with some of the league's more influential owners, like Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft. Or members of the finance committee, if not the entire committee. What did they talk about? The television ratings. They are absolutely insane. This means massive amounts of cash for the league. More games equals more cash.

Ownership obviously knows this, so Goodell and his key owners have already crunched the numbers and determined that not going to expanded playoffs would just be dumbassery. So while a decision may not have technically been made, in effect, it already probably has been. Because Goodell will show the research to ownership and ownership will say: to not do this would be dumbassery.

And they will do it.

My guess is they will do it next season. You can almost count on it.

 

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

7. RGIII

The latest installment of As The Read Option Turns has Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III bragging about his influence with owner Dan Snyder. The writer of the story, Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post, is one of the best to ever do it. Ever.

But we are starting to reach a tipping point here—if we haven't already—where RGIII is starting to get blamed for every damn problem Washington has ever had. The deficit? RGIII's fault. Global warming? RGIII's fault. The Kardashians? Him, too.

I don't think Griffin is more entitled or arrogant than any other young star. Was Eli Manning entitled or arrogant when he forced his way out of San Diego? I don't know. I just think this is how quarterbacks have acted, do act, and always will act. It's the quarterback credo: In me, me, me I trust. They are egotistical and believe the universe spins around them. That quality is what allows them to do the hardest job in all of sports.

Griffin is the latest quarterback to behave this way, yet he's being portrayed as some sort of anomaly.

When you speak to players around the league about Griffin, initially, there isn't much support for him. Players, especially the grunts, don't like players who cozy up to ownership. But now, veterans around the sport I speak to actually feel sorry for him. They think he's being unfairly singled out as some sort of lone diva. I tend to agree.

 

8. More mind games

We talked earlier about how Harbaugh gets in the minds of his players. So too does Sean Payton. He's as good as Harbaugh, if not better. It is true that Payton is telling his players they can beat anyone in the playoffs, but I'm told he's going even further this week as they prepare for a rematch with Seattle. Payton is telling his team that the Seahawks, in that regular-season blowout, beat the Saints because they caught them on a bad day. The Seahawks didn't beat them. The Saints lost.

I covered that game. No, the Saints lost. They got their asses kicked.

Payton isn't just using words to motivate. He's using visual aids, too:

We'll see if these strategies work, but one thing I've learned about Payton: don't underestimate him. He's that talented.

 

9. Drew Brees on the road

One last thing on the Saints. If they are to win in Seattle, as tough a place as there is to play in all of sports, Drew Brees will have to play better on the road. This statistic from NFL Stats, which highlights his performance over the last six years, says it all:

Brees at home: 142 touchdowns and 38 interceptions.

Brees on the road: 87 touchdowns and 57 interceptions.

 

10. Best thing you will see all week

So this made me laugh, but maybe it's just me. No, it's not. It will make you laugh as well. A lot.

 

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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