The 8-3 San Diego Chargers, who will send in Drew Brees to beat 7-4 Denver today at San Diego, won a shootout at Kansas City last Sunday with Brees at quarterback -- and that's more than Indianapolis could do last month with Peyton Manning.
Manning threw for nearly 500 yards and five touchdowns but that wasn't enough. In a 45-35 defeat, he spent so much time calling running plays to set up his passes that he didn't have time to outscore the Chiefs.
Brees, by contrast, came out passing last week and stayed with it, beating the Chiefs, 34-31.
Instead of running to set up Brees' passes, the Chargers pass to set up runs. That's how they scored twice before halftime.
In the second half, passing ever more aggressively, Brees led San Diego to the winning 20 points. On a pair of 70-yard touchdown drives, he threw the ball on every snap but one to catch up with the Chiefs each time they scored.
Finally, after the Chargers had intercepted, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a running-play expert, set up the winning field goal with an ideal third-and-five play -- a designed quarterback run by Brees for 17 yards through a surprised Kansas City team that was still playing pass defense.
Bill Belichick of New England was the NFL'S first to realize that a running back more often damages his team than the other team.
Belichick's theory is that even though a good running back is essential, every minute he spends running the ball is a minute that can't be used for pass plays.
When he was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants for Bill Parcells the year they played Buffalo in the Super Bowl, Belichick said, "If Thurman Thomas has a 100-yard day, we'll win."
Thomas was then one of the NFL's great running backs and he did gain 100 yards -- actually 135 -- in that 1991 Super Bowl, and the Giants did win, 20-19, and Belichick was not surprised.
He understood that when Thomas was running, quarterback Jim Kelly couldn't throw, and Kelly was the much greater threat.
Today, when Edgerrin James runs, Manning can't throw, and if the Colts lose when Manning throws five touchdown passes, he simply didn't pass enough.
When LaDainian Tomlinson ran 313 times for 1,645 yards last year, averaging 5.3, the Chargers finished in the cellar (4-12). When Tomlinson changed to become the game's leading receiver, as he was in Kansas City last week with 10 catches, the Chargers became the division leader (8-3).
Earlier this year, it was a Tomlinson injury that forced Coach Marty Schottenheimer to rely on Brees, who, when used properly, has always been this good.
The Patriots, whose parade to the AFC championship isn't likely to be rained on today in Cleveland, won a 24-3 game from Baltimore last Sunday in three inches of mud.
The muddy field helped the Patriots promote two theories:
* A good pass offense succeeds in any kind of weather. The Patriots combined Tom Brady's passes with Corey Dillon's runs to win it in the first three quarters on three field goals, 9-3.
Then, Dillon ran the ball in the fourth quarter to hold the lead and run the clock.
* Good running backs succeed on any kind of off track. Dillon's fourth-quarter rampage in sticky mud continued a long NFL tradition, dating to at least 1949. A surprise rainfall in Los Angeles kept the smaller, quicker and perhaps better team from stirring in the NFL championship game -- the Super Bowl of its time.
In the 14-0 Philadelphia victory, Steve Van Buren, a Hall of Famer, ran through the Rams and the rainstorm as if they weren't there, piling up 193 yards.
Baltimore had two problems last Sunday, the weather and Kyle Boller, who isn't enough quarterback for the otherwise sound and effective Ravens. Though an off track is an equalizer in the NFL, the Patriot defense proved insoluble to Boller.
It remains a mystery why coaches such as Brian Billick of Baltimore and Dave Wannstedt, late of Miami, think they can win with just any quarterback.
Winter weather changes football drastically. New England's Belichick had his players ready for the kind of weather and field they had Sunday, the cold wind and rain that ruined the field.
Yet it could be that Belichick's job that day wasn't all that difficult, because good football is normally hard to play in New England, whether it's humid or freezing.
Against Baltimore, Belichick used the usual tools, Brady and Dillon, but he used them in subtly different ways. Patriot blocking assignments were altered to help Dillon churn through the mud and around Baltimore's linemen.
Disgraceful that day was the field's condition. Football isn't meant to be played in three inches of mud.
Easterners keep saying winter storms bring "football weather," but that's absurd. American football was developed in New England by 19th-century college students who were only seeking a game to play, not any particular kind of weather to play it in or any kind of field to play it on.