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Hard to believe: Manning, Turner win playoff games

January 07, 2008|Christine Daniels | Times Staff Writer

Counting down the most remarkable bits of NFL history achieved during Wild-Card Weekend:

6. No team had a running back rush for 70 yards.

5. The Seattle Seahawks defeated an opponent with a winning record for the first time since Week 1.

4. The Jacksonville Jaguars became the first visiting team to win twice at Pittsburgh in the same season.

3. The New York Giants won a playoff game for the first time since the 2000 season.

2. The San Diego Chargers won a playoff game for the first time since the 1994 season.

Those are the runners-up.

The chart topper, of course, is:

1. Norv Turner and Eli Manning won a playoff game on the same day!

Think about that for a moment.

Think back to where Turner and his Chargers were Sept. 30, trying to explain a 14-point defeat at home to the Kansas City Chiefs and a 1-3 start to the post-Marty Schottenheimer era.

Think back to where Manning and the Giants were Nov. 25, unable to explain three Manning interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in a 41-17 defeat at home to the Minnesota Vikings.

Norv and Eli. Eli and Norv. The In Spite Of Twins.

The Chargers won their second consecutive AFC West championship . . . in spite of Norv.

The Giants gained their third consecutive playoff berth . . . in spite of Eli.

They were the two most maligned figures heading into the first round. In fact, it would be difficult to name No. 3; Rex Grossman didn't qualify for the playoffs this year. Yet, within a span of 6 1/2 hours Sunday, Manning and Turner both won.

Manning went first, completing 20 of 27 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Giants' 24-14 triumph at Tampa Bay.

Later in the afternoon, Turner went where Schottenheimer never went with the Chargers, opening his postseason with a victory, at home, over Tennessee, 17-6.

For awhile, though, it was rocky.

The Giants managed minus-two yards of offense in the first quarter and fell behind, 7-0.

The Chargers trailed at halftime, 6-0, and were held scoreless for the first 35 minutes.

Working in the Chargers' favor: Tennessee had the lowest-scoring offense in the 12-team playoff field (the Titans averaged 18.8 points during the regular season) and Tampa Bay wasn't far behind (the Buccaneers averaged 20.9, same as Washington).

Unable to distance themselves from their slow-starting opponents, the Buccaneers and Titans left themselves vulnerable. Giants running back Brandon Jacobs scored twice in the second quarter, Lawrence Tynes contributed a third-quarter field goal and Amani Toomer made it 24 consecutive Giants points with a four-yard scoring pass from Manning in the fourth period.

Tennessee, which won an October game in Houston when Rob Bironas kicked eight field goals, tried that route again in San Diego. Bironas got to two field goals, missed a 38-yard try and stopped there. San Diego went on a 17-0 second-half run and the Chargers finally had tangible evidence that their decision to replace Schottenheimer with Turner last winter might have been the right one.

LenDale White had 69 yards in 19 carries for the Titans, which sounds like a throw-away stat, but not on this weekend. White was the leading individual ground gainer in the first round. New York's Ahmad Bradshaw, with 66 yards, and Tampa Bay's Earnest Graham, with 63, were the only other running backs to net more than 60 yards.

Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard was the weekend's fourth-leading rusher with 58 yards -- 32 coming on the fourth-and-two draw that set up the Jaguars' 31-29 triumph at Pittsburgh. Washington running back Clinton Portis was next with 52 yards, coming in the Redskins' 35-14 defeat at Seattle.

Jacksonville, a 29-22 winner at Pittsburgh three weeks ago, is the first Steelers opponent in 75 years to win twice in Pittsburgh in the same season. Washington is the first opponent with a winning record (9-8) to lose to Seattle since the Seahawks opened their season with 20-6 victory over Tampa Bay (9-8).

The Seahawks next step up to a real challenge -- 13-3 Green Bay at Lambeau Field in one NFC semifinal. In the other, the Giants play at 13-3 Dallas, which would only be 11-3 without games against the Giants.

In the AFC, San Diego moves on to 13-3 Indianapolis and Jacksonville advances to 16-0 New England.

Hours ago, conventional wisdom held that Green Bay and New England were vulnerable in January, where grind-it-out football is said to thrive, because they lacked dominant ground attacks. Then we witnessed a first round where nobody had a dominant ground attack.

At the same time, we witnessed postseason victories on the same day by Eli Manning and Norv Turner. It's the dawn of a new era.

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