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Tenaciously supporting a minority that so many in the majority have yet to understand takes considerable strength and courage, perhaps in its own way, requiring even more bravery than donning pads and a helmet on Sundays.

Speaking out in favor of marriage equality has put NFL players Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita (all heterosexual, in case you were wondering) on a new kind of athletic map, one that spans far beyond the football field.  The three veterans of the sport, all California natives, will have their eyes on Washington D.C. Tuesday and Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases that could change the course of history for gay people in this country.    

With the help of attorney John Dragseth and university law professor Tim Holbrook, the three NFL players filed an Amicus Brief with the court - a document stating one’s position as it relates to a case before the court - in support of marriage equality. 

"Basically it’s a way to bring attention to an aspect of the case we think is important to the Court that they might not have otherwise considered," said Kluwe who used the athlete perspective as the primary focus of the brief.

"Many different entities file amicus briefs in high profile cases, and if they’re cogent and well reasoned, the Court generally takes them into consideration."


Several athletes (current and former) have signed the brief, hoping to use their names to help push what they see as positive legislation forward.

"The brief shows that historically, many athletes have been powerful agents for social change," said Fujita, who recently wrote an essay about his views on marriage equality for the New York Times.

"People look to us, whether we like it or not. And that’s why our actions, and how we treat others, and the words we use, carry a lot of weight. We need to set the right example, especially for kids."

In an age where world famous sports stars (i.e. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, etc.) keep quiet about their personal and political beliefs, many find the recent surge of athletes coming out in support of the LGBT community and marriage equality to be something new, and surprising.

"Renaissance" would be a more accurate description of the gay rights movement building within the community of current and former professional athletes as the sports world has often been at the forefront of civil rights issues. 

Jackie Robinson integrated baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, several years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education integrated the country in 1954.

Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman stood for racial equality on the medal stand in Mexico City during the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Women gained equal access to play sports in school with the Title IX portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 and here we are, four decades later, where women earn only 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in the workplace.

The NFL’s renaissance men embrace the challenges faced by their predecessors as they become the next generation of athletes to take a stand on social issues.

"Until everyone is accepted and treated equally we will continue to push the envelope toward equality," said Ayanbadejo, who plans to speak at a marriage equality rally in Washington on Tuesday.  

"People know and accept that racism isn’t right. When every one feels the same way about discrimination and the law backs our stance, only then will we be satisfied."

While Ayanbadejo, Fujita and Kluwe have long been supporters of the LBGT community and marriage equality, their stock soared sky high in 2012, and even ruffled some feathers along the way, thanks to an election year with marriage equality on the ballot in several states. 

The broad discussion of constitutional gay rights narrowly trickled down to the sports world Monday as news broke regarding an NFL player who is strongly considering coming out to the public.  He would become the first openly gay, active athlete in the history of North American team sports.

It’s clear that a host of fellow athletes would support him, as there are plenty of notable names on the athlete’s brief submitted to the court.  But the list is noticeably devoid of the most recognizable sports figures.  No LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, or Sidney Crosby.  No Venus or Serena Williams, Rory McIlroy or Derek Jeter. 

"It would really help bolster the environment of support and equality we’re trying to promote in the NFL and other pro sports," Kluwe said of the importance of the biggest names in the business publicly supporting LGBT rights and marriage equality. 

"Top athletes are definitely role models for a lot of people, and having their help is invaluable."

In fairness to the aforementioned, they weren’t necessarily asked to participate.  Ayanbadejo did the majority of the recruiting himself on a busy, Super Bowl-winning schedule.

"The first filtering of candidates was done in my head. I targeted my athletes and went for it," said Ayanbadejo when asked how many "A-list" athletes were asked to join the cause.

Fujita made a few calls as well, witnessing first hand how money and corporate sponsorship can so easily create a serious conflict of interest for celebrities.

"There were a handful that I approached. And it wasn’t that they weren’t with us on issue. Sometimes ‘corporate interests’ weigh in, I think. That’s why I occasionally (half-jokingly) challenge these guys to be the ‘anti-Jordan.’"

Despite those who declined to participate (publicly or privately), Ayanbadejo was encouraged by the progress made by those who were willing to lend their support.

"There really wasn’t any flat out no’s but there was plenty of hesitation. And just as many guys that were hesitant stepped up and affirmative said yes. For me to be fair I would have had to have asked more guys but the overwhelming majority said yes. I would say I was batting around .650."

That average lines up nicely against the country as a whole, as nearly 60 percent of Americans said they support gay marriage.

The NFL’s renaissance men are hoping that one more majority sides with them as well come June, when the Supreme Court makes its decision on marriage equality. 

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Dear Chris,

Hey man, how’s it going? I would like to sugar coat the meaty contents of this letter by first saying congratulations on making it to the Super Bowl, as you and your 49ers teammates have made the city of San Francisco beam with football pride for the first time in many years.  That is wonderful.

More importantly, I have a personal favor I’d like to ask of you.  Please don’t apologize for your homophobic comments, attempt to rephrase or claim your words were taken out of context. 

I’m not sure even the best and brightest of the PR world could find a way to spin this (courtesy of the Mercury News):

“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver said. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.

“Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room man. Nah.”

Culliver suggested that homosexual athletes keep their sexuality private until 10 years after they retire.

Oy Vey. 

Apparently, Artie Lange is the new Oprah, getting guys like you to open up about such controversial subjects.  Impressive!

Here’s the thing Chris.  Personally, I respect your right to freely discuss your opinions, any time, any place. I’m sure the majority of San Franciscans agree, given the Bay Area’s storied history of the peace movement, freedom of speech and gay rights activism. 

This is why I implore you not to attempt to color these comments as something other than what they are; the dark truth that homophobia and strong anti-gay views remain deeply rooted in the world of professional sports.

Sure, there are other guys sprinkled throughout pro sports, for instance, your fellow NFL pals Brendon Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita, who are openly supportive of civil rights in this country, including LGBT rights.  But clearly the movement is not yet powerful enough to have impacted you, despite your own team’s efforts to join the cause

While it was a poor business move to publicly reveal your feelings about gays as a member of a San Francisco-based organization, there is no going back so you may as well resign to moving forward.

Should you apologize for hurting people’s feelings or offending them?  That seems fair.  You can stick by something you say while feeling bad that others are hurt by it.  In a weird and twisted way, I actually respect Lance Armstrong for a non-apology he gave Oprah in their sit-down interview.

Instead of taking the apology bait when Oprah asked him if he felt remorse, Armstrong’s response was, “everybody that gets caught is bummed out they got caught.” Finally, he was honest about something.

Chris, you are strong enough to take the Lance route on this one. 
Don’t be like your Super Bowl opponent Terrell Suggs who, after verbally decimating the "arrogant prick" Patriots, received a talking-to from teammate Ray Lewis, and consequently changed his tune to, “people don’t like them because they win,” in hopes of avoiding backlash.  That’s weak sauce.  Super weak. 

Stick to your beliefs.  Only if you mean it, say you’re sorry for offending anyone and then keep your mouth shut regarding this issue for the rest of the week.

And don’t worry about being excluded or treated as a leper back home in San Francisco after the Super Bowl.  Most of the folks in the Bay are much more accepting than you, so you need not worry.  It’s all good.  In fact, I bet you’ll be even more popular upon your return, as the locals will surely stop you on the street for a quick chat from time to time, in hopes that maybe, just maybe their open-mindedness might rub off on you. 

Sincerely,
Jackie

UPDATE:  Well, looks like Chris didn’t read my letter.  Bummer.

49ers statement, on behalf of Chris Culliver:

"The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”

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Emotions ran high after the Baltimore Ravens earned a trip to the Super Bowl with a 28-13 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. 

While the Ravens celebrated their victory with tears, chanting, laughter and even some post game trash talk, there were those on the losing side also experiencing a host of emotions, theirs, of the less joyful variety.

A screen shot of a status update posted on the Facebook page of Anna Welker, wife of Patriots receiver Wes Welker, went viral after the game Sunday as the post took aim at the personal life of Ravens team captain Ray Lewis.

Anna Welker tells PepperOnSports.com exclusively,

"I’m deeply sorry for my recent post on Facebook, including comments about Ray Lewis. I let the competitiveness of the game and the comments people were making about a team I dearly love get the best of me. My actions were emotional and irrational and I sincerely apologize to Ray Lewis and anyone affected by my comment after yesterday’s game.  It is such an accomplishment for any NFL team to even make it to the playoffs, and the momentary frustration I felt should not overshadow the achievement of these amazing teams."

The Patriots/Ravens game was a grinder.  The matchup lacked the usual offensive fineness of the Patriots and the signature recklessly-smooth Ravens defense.

The back-to-back fourth quarter interceptions were evidence of what a hard fought game this was by both teams as defense was crucial at every turn.  To quote Tom Brady after the game, “I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us.”   He ain’t lying!

Both teams were evenly matched in many respects (we’ll get to that in a moment), so what was it that gave the Patriots the slight edge? Three words:  BIG. VINCE. WILFORK.

The patriots 325-pound nose tackle set the tone from the get-go.  During Baltimore’s third possession of the game (a third consecutive three-and-out), Wilfork tackled Ricky Williams for a five yard loss on first down and repeated the performance two plays later viciously sacking Joe Flacco for a five yard loss, forcing another Ravens punt. 

One might think the big guy had worn himself out early, but au contraire!  Wilfork’s presence in the middle was huge, and felt consistently throughout the game, which he capped off with a massive performance late in the fourth quarter. 

Wilfork was credited with tackles on three of the Ravens seven plays in their second to last possession of the game, including a stop that left Ray Rice hobbling and sidelined for two plays before welcoming him back with a tackle on a five yard run immediately followed by dropping Rice for a loss of three yards.   At the end of the day, Wilfork was directly responsible for the loss of 13 yards for the Ravens between his six tackles, one sack, and a quarterback hit. That said, most of Wilfork’s contributions never make it to the stat sheet and as a result, are primarily felt by opponents on the field in real time and seen in slow motion during film sessions. 

The 21st over all draft pick in 2004, Wilfork is one of the few players on the current Patriots roster left over from the Super Bowl-winning teams of the early 2000’s.  The former Hurricane won Super Bowl XXXIX with New England as a rookie and was a member of the 2007 team that lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.  Wilfork has long since been a leader of not only the Patriots defense, but the team as a whole.  He leads by example on and off the field and is seemingly a friend to all in the Patriots locker room.  He has remained the constant in a unit full of variables. 

The Patriots and Ravens both played a balanced, mirror-image game, each passing the ball 36 times and running it 31 times.  It can’t get much more even than that.  The Ravens beat out the Patriots in total yards,  time of possession and interceptions (2) while the New England defense got to the quarterback more often (three sacks and seven hits on Flacco and five tackles for a loss versus one sack and three hits on Brady, and two tackles for loss) than the Ravens.  Neither offense broke 300 yards passing (both Brady and Flacco went 22-36) and the Ravens rushed for 116 yards while the Pats couldn’t crack triple digits, gaining 96 yards on the ground. 

The Patriots defense suffered all kinds of injuries and personnel changes throughout the regular season contributing to their ranking of 31st in the league.  Yikes.  But this defensive unit sure has looked good in the post season, even with Kyle Arrington missing significant time in today’s game with an eye injury.  The Patriots have had the most explosive offense in the league all season long and finally the defense is coming around and holding its own.  As Bart Scott would say, I  CANTWAIT to see what Belichick & Co. will show us in the Super Bowl. 

 

I’m torn.  The Patriots are good for football.  I think they have become what the Dallas Cowboys used to be; America’s Team.  Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s hoodie make for great drama and top-notch TV ratings.  Behind Tom Terrific, the Pats also have the second most entertaining offensive player in the league in tight end Rob Gronkowski who makes experts marvel and fans drop their jaws to the floor with every catch.  Oh ya, then there’s Aaron Hernandez, tight end/running back extraordinaire.  On the other side of the AFC you have the Ravens with one of the league’s top defenses.  Probable Ravens lifers Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs have yet to win a ring, each missing out on Baltimore’s championship year by two and three seasons respectively.  One of the league’s best rushers and nicest guys, Ray Rice deserves to play in a Super Bowl game.  Then there’s the other Ray.  Ray Lewis, the medicine man-like spiritual leader of the team who has waited so long for another shot at a title. 

In a land far, far away from Foxboro, MA, the 49ers and Giants will duke it out in San Francisco for a chance to represent the NFC in the big game.  What’s not to love about the comeback-kid 49ers?  The young and intense rookie head coach finally gets a talented defense to play to its potential and turns a draft bust into a respectable, winning quarterback after six seasons of misery.  The Niners would be headed to their first Super Bowl in 17 years.  In the New York Giants, you have a team led by a guy who has been bullied and picked on by pundits as he was overshadowed by his superstar older brother, until now.  Eli Manning has finally proved that he is on the doorstep of being an elite quarterback and could very well finish his career with more Super Bowl wins than his brother Peyton.  Who ever would have imagined that? Eli and his receivers aren’t even the talk of the town as the Giants defense has been stellar, providing what could be an epic duel of the defenses at Candlestick. 

Each matchup on Sunday looks fantastic on paper, and every potential Super Bowl pairing is likely to yield a fantastically exciting contest. 

I’ll pick the Patriots with some degree of conviction, and the Giants, but barely.  Here’s why:

Ravens at Patriots

I trust the Patriots offense at home versus anybody.  Bring in the ‘85 bears, put them on the field against this Pats offense at Gillette and I’m taking New England.  I know the Pats lost a game at home to the Giants during the regular season, and the picture of Ray Rice running wild on them in the 2009 playoffs is fresh in my mind, playing like an scratchy home movie on a projector as the lights flash and the film pops.  But I still can’t bet against the Pats at hoe. 

This game is Brady or Bust for the Patriots.  This season the Pats are 8-1 at home, averaging a healthy 30.7 points per game… that’s an AVERAGE.  The Pats shoddy defense (I say their worst in 10 years, as the current D is ranked 31st in the league) is giving up 19.2 points per game at home.  By comparison, the Ravens are 4-4 on the road, scoring 19.9 points per game and the defense is allowing 18.4 points per game.  Obviously if the law of averages plays out Sunday, it’s a no-brainer Pats win. 

If Terrell Suggs can get to Brady and the Ravens sack him four or five times, that will be huge.  If Ed Reed - who was injured in the final minutes of last week’s game in Houston - can get his sticky fingers on a few footballs, watch out Boston!  If the Baltimore defense is playing at that level Sunday, they have a chance.  Last week I picked the Saints over the 49ers because I figured at the end of the day, the league’s best offense would beat the league’s best defense.  Clearly, I was wrong, which is why I won’t completely count the Ravens out. 

Last week, only three of the Ravens 20 points scored were generated solely by the offense as the other 17 points came on possessions as a result of Texans turnovers.  Points were tough to come by  in that contest, but Joe Flacco and Ray Rice should have an easier time against a New England defense that is far less intimidating than that of the Texans.  It’s still crazy to me that the Pats defense is ranked so poorly with guys like Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington.  Injuries have hurt the defense, but I think these guys will be fired up and playing with a chip on their shoulder come Sunday. 

Should the Ravens defense find a way to grind Gronkowski, Hernandez will pop up instead.  Should the Ravens D somehow hush Hernandez, Wes Welker will be hot on the screen game.  Should the Ravens D weaken Welker, Deion Branch will run the dink and dunk.  And should the Ravens D bother Branch, Robbie McCullough from Southie will jump out of the stands, take the field and find a way to catch a pass from Brady.   



Giants at 49ers

I’m picking the Giants because I feel like the stars are aligning for a Giants/Patriots Super Bowl rematch.  I wrote an article about it last week that provides a few legitimate reasons for why it’s bound to happen, citing some strange similarities between the Giants 2007 season and this year. 

I won’t place too much importance on the fact that the 49ers already beat the Giants at home because that was all the way back in week 10, which at this point, was a football lifetime ago.  The Giants were a different team back then, period.

As for the playoffs, I went with the Saints last week; fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.   Logic tells me the 49ers should win this game.  I would love for them to win it.  I think the rise of he 49ers from the depths of the NFL underworld would be one of the best story lines the league has seen in a long time.  But sometimes magic just happens… How can one explain the success of Tim Tebow and the Broncos despite having a deplete offense run by a quarterback who Brian Urlacher referred to as a running back? Sometimes magic just happens, which is exactly what I think we’ll see Sunday as I predict the Giants will beat the hot-like-fire 49ers in what will be a classic game.  Should the Niners win, shame on me!

Last week I wrote that the Saints vs. 49ers had the potential to be the best game of the playoffs, and as it turns out, I was right.  I think we could see a similar product this week between two well-balanced teams.  Heading into last week’s game, I expressed little faith in the 49ers offense, but I learned my lesson and I’m calling them legit.  I still can’t get over the last 5 minutes of that game… wow. 

Meanwhile the Giants threw the book at the defending champion Packers in impressive fashion as the G-Men have outscored opponents 61-22 in the playoffs while the defense has racked up six sacks (and 17 sacks in their last four games), two fumbles and one interception.  Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul… these guys have everything working for them and I expect Sunday to be no different.

But damn, the 49ers defense was even better than New York’s throughout the season!  Until last week’s wild one against the Saints, San Francisco gave up only 10.9 points per game at home, the team didn’t allow a rushing touchdown until week 14 and until Marshawn Lynch got ‘em in week 16, the Niners had not allowed a single rusher to gain 100 or more yards in one game.  Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith (the rookie has 14 sacks this season), Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson and the rest of the 49ers defense run like a well-oiled machine where rarely does a guy take a play off.  The unit plays with the intensity of its head coach Jim Harbaugh, which says a lot.  

I won’t count on the Giants running game to be very helpful on Sunday, but I am counting on Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham to produce.  I think Eli is good for two interceptions Sunday, seeing as he has 16 picks this season and the 49ers defense has picked off opponents 25 times. 

Don’t let the Giants’ win over the Packers fool you; I don’t expect this to be a high scoring game for either team.  Yes, the Giants scored 37 last week against one of the league’s worst defenses.  In the final five minutes of last week’s game, neither the 49ers or Saints played a lick of defense, accounting for the higher-than-anticipated score, but the Saints did turn the ball over FIVE times in the game, thanks in large part to an outstanding defensive performance by San Fran. 

Although Alex Smith and Vernon Davis played wonderfully against the Saints, those two alone accounted for so much of the offensive production (Frank Gore followed with 89 yards rushing and 38 yards receiving ) with makes me nervous.  If the Giants defense plays Davis tough enough to make him a near-non factor, who is going to step up and do the damage through the air?  Michael Crabtree? Tedd Ginn?  Davis is the Niners only consistent threat in the passing game, so that leaves Gore and Kendall Hunter to take over on the ground.   I can’t envision those guys getting past  this Giants defense. 

 

Bengals at Texans

A playoff win for either the Houston Texans or Cincinnati Bengals would have been a feel good story given both teams’ histories.   While the  31-10 Texans victory was certainly fantastic for the organization and its fans, it doesn’t change the fact that most of the game was ugly as hell!

This one was sloppy for both teams for quite some time, but finally, the Houston defense came alive, starting with rookie J.J. Watt’s pick six late in the first half.  The D really started to gel midway through the third quarter and it was all Texans all the time from that point on.

In their first playoff game in franchise history (can you believe Andre Johnson had never played in a postseason game?  A sports travesty, I know), the Texans and their fans were fired up!  Calling Reliant Stadium “loud” would be an understatement and I think that once the Texans got rid of the nerves, the players allowed the crowd to help them take down the Bengals.

Arian Foster attributed nerves to his shaky start, saying after the game, “I was so excited, took a lot of sugar before the game, so had to get that out.”

Foster got it out alright rushing for 153 yards on 24 carries, along with 29 receiving yards on three catches.  Foster’s two touchdowns were both spectacular; his 42-yard run through the entire Bengals defense was one of the best plays of the year. 

Along with Foster, Texans’ rookie quarterback, third-stringer T.J. Yates impressed (11-20, 159 yards), as did fellow rookie QB Andy Dalton (24-42, 257 yards) for Cincinnati.  Despite falling victim to the pressure cooker that was the Texans defense, Dalton, who was sacked four times, has plenty of talent and will improve with time and better offensive players around him.

In the end, the Texans had zero turnovers, the Bengals had three, all interceptions which weren’t necessarily Dalton’s fault, but were damaging nonetheless leading to 14 points, accounting for nearly half of Houston’s scoring.  That hurts.


Still in the game trailing 17-10, Bengals DB Chris Crocker dropped a sure-interception that could’ve been a game-changer, as finally, momentum might have shifted in Cincinnati’s favor.  That felt like a clear turning point where the Bengals defense seemed to resign and hang their heads. 

While the loss drops Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis to 0-4 all time in playoff games, the Texans not only played its first postseason game in its 10-year history, but Gary Kubiak and the gang managed to win it.  Even sweeter, the fact that Johnson, who played only in seven games this season due to injury, played great and scored a touchdown in the victory. 

Heading into this season, this was thought to be “the Texans’ year,” as the rest of the AFC South looked awful for various reasons.  Of course, nothing came easy as Foster missed games with a hamstring injury, LB Mario Williams was lost for the season, Johnson couldn’t stay healthy and then the Texans lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub before losing backup Matt Leinart in his first game as starter.  Imagine where the Texans might be had they stayed relatively healthy?  My guess is they’d be relaxing somewhere on the bye week watching Wildcard weekend on TV.

Instead, the Texans’ reward for beating the Bengals is a date with the Ravens in Baltimore in the divisional round.  Enjoy the win Houston, at least for tonight, as it’s gonna take one hell of a game plan to stomp the birds in Baltimore. 

Lions at Saints

Going into the Lions vs. Saints game, I knew the home team would be tough to beat in the Superdome, but I also figure Detroit, making its first playoff appearance since 1999, could steal a victory if New Orleans was having an off night.  Unfortunately for the Lions, the Saints were nearly perfect after halftime, leaving the Lions in the dust with a 45-28 victory.

The first half belonged to the Lions, but not by much as Detroit only led 14-10 heading into the third quarter.  Usually, Calvin Johnson is an outside receiver, but the Lions  switched things up, putting him in the slot, where he didn’t get hammered one-on-one like he would down the sidelines.  The move paid off as Johnson had five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

As for the Saints, they played quite well aside from two fumbles which didn’t produce any points for the Lions, but still managed to slow that killer New Orleans offense.   After the game, QB-extraordinaire Drew Brees said, “we stopped ourselves a few times.”

According to head coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions problems were as follows:
"We missed opportunities to make interceptions, we failed on 3rd and 4th downs, and we tackled poorly too."

That sounds about right coach!  The Saints beat out the Lions in time of possession by more than 15 minutes as New Orleans notched 34 first downs to Detroit’s 22.  How about this;  the Saints were successful on 3 of 4 fourth down conversions!

I almost expected to see the Sean Payton pull out the old onside kick to start the second half, a la Super Bowl XLIV, but then figured, naaahhh, it’s not desperation time just yet.  The Saints wouldn’t need it.

In the opening drive of the third quarter, Brees aired it out to Devery Henderson for a 41-yard touchdown, and after the Lions ensuing possession (which resulted in a punt), the Saints led a 82-yard touchdown drive complete with a Brees QB sneak on fourth down. 

In other words, the Saints played like the Saints.  Aside from a first-half fumble, the Lions defense failed to pressure Brees who went 33-34 for 466 yard passing, and three touchdowns.  Like in the Bengals vs. Texans game, Lions DB Aaron Berry missed a gimmee interception when a Brees’ pass went right through his fingertips in the fourth quarter.

As for the New Orleans receiving corps, Marques Colston and Robert Meachem each logged more than 100 receiving yards while seemingly every other guy on offense got his in between.  Darren Sproles was also fantastic catching and running for a combined 85 yards and two touchdowns, as the little man has proven to be a key pickup for this year’s team. Ya think San Diego is regretting letting him off the hook and not paying up?  I bet so!

The Lions played well on offense also.  Matt Stafford is no slouch.  Did you know that like Brees, he too passed for over 5,000 yards this season?  Wild!  As for the wildcard game, Stafford passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were to Johnson who lived up to his Megatron moniker finishing the contest with 211 yards on 12 receptions.  But that wouldn’t be enough as the Saints defense came alive in the second half, intercepting Stafford twice in the fourth quarter, squashing any chances of a Detroit comeback.  The Saints defense held the Lions to only 32 yards on the ground while the New Orleans running backs found a way to weave through the Detroit defense for 167 yards rushing, led by Pierre Thomas (66 yards, TD). 

At this point, I can’t ever bet against the Saints offense.  They scored five touchdowns against the Lions in the second half, and remember, Detroit was a pretty good second-half team through most of the season.  Drew Brees is on another planet and with the help of a powerful offensive line and great position players around him, I think only the Saints can stop themselves at this point.

Unfortunately for us at home, we won’t get to see a Jim vs. Jim Handshake-gate rematch between Schwartz’ Lions and Harbaugh’s 49ers in the divisional round next week, but Saints at 49ers should be a treat nonetheless.  The Saints high-flying offense against a tough as nails 49ers defense in San Francisco should not disappoint.  As for the Lions, its back to the den until next season.  Hopefully Schwartz will keep himself in check and discipline his players accordingly so the Lions can improve and stay in the hunt for several seasons to come. 

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images, Ronald Martinez and Bob Levey)

                         
For some professional athletes, playing to win is not nearly as important as the paycheck and lifestyle that comes along with the job.  For others, like Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, logging that W is a major source of pride and accomplishment, making any loss unacceptable.

Suggs and the Ravens (10-4) were humiliated by the San Diego not so super until three weeks ago Chargers (7-7) on Sunday night, the 34-14 defeat not sitting well with the four-time pro bowl selection.  Check out a tweet posted by a sizzling hot T-Sizzle a few hours after the game ended:

@untouchablejay4:  That was Phuckin Bullsh!t Bmore. I apologize from the bottom of my heart. WE WILL WIN OUT!!!!!!! #byanymeansnecessary

Please pardon his phrench, as clearly, Suggs is frustrated.  When this tweet popped up on my timeline, my first thought was, “uh-oh.  Guaranteeing wins never ends well.”

Suggs had several reasons to be upset.  For starters, the Ravens went into Sunday’s game leading their division, but because of the loss, should the Steelers beat the 49ers on Monday, Pittsburgh would take sole possession of the AFC North and drop Baltimore down to the fifth seed.   

"It’s back to the drawing board," Suggs told the media in the locker room after the game.  "Everybody said we’d fall to fifth so what… Like I said, we in hell now, so, but, we got a vacation home in hell.  This is normal for us…" 

Umm, okay.  I won’t pretend to understand exactly what Suggs is getting at there but losing the game to the Chargers stung on several levels and wasn’t cool, even by Hades-dwelling standards. 

The long-heralded Ravens defense only laid two nasty hits on Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers in the entire game, and the only sack the Ravens notched went bye-bye with a personal foul called on Suggs. 

The Ravens came into Sunday’s game not only riding a four game winning streak, but also enthused for the return of their captain/emotional leader/amazing pre-game dancing linebacker Ray Lewis (from injury) for the first time in as many games. 

Despite leading the defense with ten tackles, Lewis’ return wasn’t nearly enough for the Ravens as quarterback Joe Flacco was hammered by the Chargers, being sacked five times and throwing two interceptions. 

As for Suggs’ promise of winning out, that isn’t out of the question by any means as the Ravens host the Cleveland Browns (4-10) next week, followed by the Bengals (8-6) in Cincinnati to close out the regular season. 

Ravens fans should wait to see what goes down with their arch-rival Steelers on Monday night before going into freak out mode just yet, although ESPN’s Trey Wingo tweeted Sunday that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he was optimistic that the injured Ben Roethlisberger will be under center against the 49ers.  I wonder if Suggs and the Ravens will watch that game with the rest of us?