The Red Zone: NFL Divsional Playoffs, Part The Second.

Chargers 28, Colts 24 – What the hell happened here? That’s probably what was on the minds of both Chargers and Colts fans — one because their team lost a game everyone thought they were going to win, the other side because they won despite some seriously questionable officiating — when Jeff Luckett is getting attention for calls and he’s not even the head ref, it’s trouble — and the biggest one was the interception by Antonio Cromartie that was called back due to a phantom hold. The game became a war of attrition, with each side losing players due to injury (Bob Sanders, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison for the Colts; Phil Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson for the Bolts). Back-up QB Billy Volek and RB Michael Turner took the initiative and executed the game winning drive in the fourth quarter, then the Chargers’ defense harassed Peyton Manning badly, and forced him into high throws, including the 4th and 5 incompletion on the last drive to seal it. How did I get this one wrong? I ignored that San Diego has owned Indy; I don’t remember how many games over .500 the Chargers were against the Colts, but CBS did show a graphic about it. The 3-4 defense gives the Colts trouble, but it looked like they would pull it out (with official assistance) until that last drop. Norv Turner’s bellyaching got to be tiresome (and really, aren’t they supposed to flag you for that?), but if I were him, I’d probably have been griping too.

Giants 21, Cowboys 17 – As uncomfortable as I am with the concept of Norv Turner as successful playoff coach, I’m just as uncomfortable with Eli Manning further along in the playoffs than Eli. Yet he managed to play mistake-free football, not turning it over and leading three touchdown drives (including the very crucial one to tie te game at the half.) I’m mystified as to why the Cowboys got away from going to Marion Barber; he was effective early and in the fourth quarter, they put so much on Tony Romo’s arm that the Giants’ pass rush, to its credit, could start collapsing the pocket and teeing up on him, even in the two-minute drill. What makes it even more interesting is that New York was hampered in the secondary so badly, missing Aaron Ross and having to go one-on-one against Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton, yet the Cowboys sabotaged themselves. There were offensive line penalties caused by Andre Gurode being uncomfortable snapping the ball in shotgun formation (how that is the case, I don’t know), and the game was finally sealed by an R.W. McQuarters interception in the end zone — and watching Jerry Jones on the sidelines as the offensive play calling failed to generate any suspense against a pass rush that was really going well was a quite satisfying piece of schadenfreude. At least one piece of NFL playoff righteousness still holds: Wade Phillips remains winless in the playoffs.

However, Sunday’s games dictate more and more that the NFL needs to stop being a holdout and make its referees full-time. When the off-season comes around, they should be tested even more regularly to get some form of consistency with regard to the calling of pass interference, holding, and illegal contact.

Photo: AP/Tom Strattman

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