Watch Awhile, Learn a Little

When they weren't shaking heads in exasperation or holding stomachs aching from stupefied laughter, it is hoped the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles were able to do some scouting during wild-card weekend.

If so, here's what they know now that they didn't know Friday:

The league is completely out of control.

(All right, they already knew that. But before Saturday and Sunday, the notion had yet to be licensed as an Official Product of the National Football League.)

The San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants: Dumb and dumber.

Top dozen dumb things done during the 49ers' 39-38 victory over the Giants:

12. Giant tight end Jeremy Shockey, in mid-petulant rookie first-quarter tantrum, throwing a cup of ice over his shoulder, splashing a young fan with the contents and ignoring one of the key commandments of playoff football: When on the road, always take care not to do anything to rile up the home crowd or the home team or both.

11. Giant defensive end Michael Strahan goes "scoreboard" in the face of the best player on the field, 49er wide receiver Terrell Owens, with New York holding a 38-22 lead late in the third quarter. Please see above.

10. The Giants periodically attempt to cover Owens one-on-one with Jason Sehorn. Ought to go without saying.

9. With one of the shakiest field-goal units in the league, including a 41-year-old long snapper just signed last week, Giant Coach Jim Fassel elects to try a 42-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-one with 3:16 remaining and his team holding a 38-33 lead. Bad snap by Trey Junkin, worse kick by Matt Bryant, who yanked it so badly to the left, sideline personnel were scrambling for cover. Ball to San Francisco, new nickname for Bryant: New York Yankee.

8. After San Francisco takes a 39-38 lead with a minute to play, Owens taunts Giant defensive back Shaun Williams and is flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Giants expect to gain 15 yards before the ensuing kickoff.

7. Williams pushes Owens and is flagged for unnecessary roughness. Offsetting penalties.

6. After Will Allen intercepts Jeff Garcia's pass attempt for a two-point conversion and runs it out of the end zone, Owens is flagged for a late hit. That 15-yard penalty the Giants just tossed away? They got it back.

5. Williams attacks 49er lineman Jeremy Newberry in retaliation and is ejected. That 15-yard penalty the Giants just got back? They toss it away.

4. After desperately scurrying up-field to line up a 41-yard field attempt on third down with six seconds left, the Giants get another bad snap from Junkin and holder Matt Allen, rather than spiking the ball to earn a fourth-down do-over, rolls out and flings a desperation pass toward the end zone.

3. San Francisco's Chike Okeafor chases down intended receiver Rich Seubert around the five-yard line, grabs him by the jersey and drags him to the ground as time expires. Pass interference. Giant sideline erupts in jubilation at the thought of a second chance so easy, not even Junkin, Allen and Bryant can foul it up.

2. Seubert is an offensive lineman and is illegally downfield.

1. He's not the only one. The Giants have all sorts of illegal receivers downfield. Yellow flag falls. Pass interference penalty is nullified. Game over. Giants lose.

Meet the new Browns. Same as the old Browns.

The original Cleveland Browns were cursed, or so believed their fans, by The Drive and The Fumble and awful, nightmarish events that conspired to keep the franchise out of the first 30 Super Bowls. But it was widely assumed the Browns took the curse with them when they moved to Baltimore in 1996.

In 1999, the expansion Browns were born and in 2002, the new Browns lost one game to Pittsburgh after blocking an overtime field goal on second down, only to have the Steelers recover and convert their second try on third down. (Matt Allen evidently didn't see that game). In the rematch in Cleveland, the Browns surrendered 20 unanswered points and lost again to the Steelers, 23-20.

And in 2003, in the first postseason game of the new Browns era, Cleveland blew second-half leads of 24-7 and 33-21 and lost for the third time since September to the Steelers, 36-33.

Meet the new Steelers. Not the same as the old Steelers.

The days of defense and riding The Bus are over. Tommy Maddox threw nearly 50 times, completing 30 for a club postseason record 367 yards -- and the Steelers needed every one of them to engineer that fourth-quarter rally. Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress each had at least 100 receiving yards. Antwaan Randle El takes a direct snap and turns a gadget play into a last-minute two-point conversion.

These aren't Kordell Stewart's Steelers anymore.

Home-field advantage in the playoffs: Could be overrated.

Saturday in Green Bay, the Packers lost by 20 points to Atlanta.

Sunday in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the Steelers trailed by 17 points with 25 minutes left and the 49ers trailed by 24 points with 19 minutes left. If not for mind-blowing givebacks by the Browns and Giants, home teams would have gone 1-3 in the first round of the playoffs.

Which isn't the best of news for Oakland, which next plays host to the New York Jets, who outscored Indianapolis, 41-0, in their wild-card game.

Or for Tennessee, which next plays host to the Steelers, the Titans' old AFC Central rivals, who have won two of the last three against the Titans.

Or for Tampa Bay, which next plays host to the 49ers, who scored nearly as many points Sunday as the Buccaneers scored in their last three games combined.

Or for Philadelphia, which next plays host to the Falcons, who have Michael Vick, who defrosted 64 years of wind-chilled history by becoming the first visiting quarterback to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field.

Other than that, it was a restful weekend off for the Raiders, Titans, Buccaneers and Eagles.



Maddox Moments


*--* WEEK OPP RESULT CMP ATT YDS PCT TD INT RAT Week 4 CLE W, 16-13 (OT) 11 13 122 84.6 1 1 99.4 Week 5 at NO L, 32-29 22 38 268 57.9 3 1 95.1 Week 6 at CIN W, 34-7 16 25 216 64.0 1 2 71.4 Week 7 IND W, 28-10 15 23 188 65.2 2 1 101.4 Week 8 at BAL W, 31-18 18 24 172 75.0 2 1 104.9 Week 9 at CLE W, 23-20 23 42 239 54.8 2 1 77.4 Week 10 ATL 34-34 (OT) 28 41 473 68.3 4 1 129.4 Week 11 at TEN L, 31-23 14 28 194 50.0 1 3 44.9 Totals 5-2-1 147 234 1,872 62.8 16 11 91.0



*--* Week 14 HOU L, 24-6 30 57 325 52.6 0 2 55.1 Week 15 CAR W, 30-14 20 33 209 60.6 1 1 76.5 Week 16 at TB W, 17-7 17 23 236 73.9 1 0 120.9 Week 17 BAL W, 34-31 20 30 194 66.7 2 2 79.0 WILD CARD CLE W, 36-33 30 48 367 62.5 3 2 89.5 Totals 4-1 117 191 1,331 61.3 7 7 79.1


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