The Best Single Day of Football All Year

For many football fans, this Sunday is the best single day of football action there is. It's even better than Super Bowl Sunday, because the conference championships deliver two games instead of just one. That means more to watch, and a higher probability of a great game. Rachel Martin and Dan Pashman preview the action with ESPN football analyst Ron Jaworski, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1980.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Thanks, Korva.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Thanks, Korva.

So for most football fans, this Sunday is the best single day of football action there is, even better than Super Bowl Sunday because there are two games instead of just one, which means more football to watch and a higher probability of a really great game. The four teams playing this weekend are the Patriots against the Chargers, and the Packers against the Giants. The winners go to the Super Bowl.

And to talk about this football bonanza, I've brought in Dan Pashman, BPP producer and big-time New York's Giant fan. He's going to sit in here with me. And joining us now to break down Sunday's action is Ron Jaworski. He's an ESPN football analyst and "Monday Night Football" commentator and a former quarterback himself. He led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1980.

Hey, Ron, is it okay if I call you Jaws?

Mr. RON JAWORSKI (Former Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles; Commentator, "Monday Night Football"; Analyst, ESPN): Just go with Jaws…

MARTIN: Jaws.

Mr. JAWORSKI: because it's easy that way, Rachel.

MARTIN: Okay. I'm told this is what people call you, so we're going to call you that, too, because I…

Mr. JAWORSKI: I like it that way.

MARTIN: I've known you for about two minutes…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: …and you've now you told me that we're close friends, so I can call you that. We're just going to get right to it, Jaws. Let's start off with the earlier game, the San Diego Chargers heading to New England to take on the Patriots. Everyone knows by now they're just two games away from the first 19 NFL season in NFL history.

Mr. JAWORSKI: In your introduction, you talked about the last couple of weeks being the best of weekends of football. I believe championship weekend is the best day of football in the entire season. I know the Super Bowl is going to be huge and all those things and the media will be out there in droves, but championship Sunday, to me, is very, very…

MARTIN: So Super Bowl Sunday is amateur. That's when I watch basically.

Mr. JAWORSKI: Yeah. So, you know, that's party time. Everyone is involved for the party, but this is the big Sunday. If you're going to win the championship game, then you know you're going to the Super Bowl.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. JAWORSKI: Now, I'm going to make my move early here. You said that San Diego at New England - New England playing at an incredibly high level this season. You know, I don't see a beat-up, battered, bruised (unintelligible) San Diego team going up to New England winning this football game. And I tip my hat to Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, the entire Chargers team and organization, the way they played last week in Indianapolis. But, oh, this is a far different cast this week.

MARTIN: What else do they have to do, though, Jaws? You've said they don't have very good chances, but if San Diego is going to win, if they are going to be the team to break the Patriots, what do they have to do?

Mr. JAWORSKI: I think that you have to get pressure on Tom Brady. And that is easier said than done. Other teams have tried; they have not been successful. Tom Brady is blitz. In other words, pressure after Tom Brady more than any quarterback in the National Football League. However he gets that blitz, he has been fantastic - he's the highest-rated quarterback when teams do try to pressure him.

But I still believe you have to try to get him out of his rhythm. You got to get bodies around him. You got to make him think a little bit quicker. You got to make - what I call that cabin fever and let him feel the pressure of people getting after him. I believe if you do what Jackson did last week and let him sit back there in the pocket, he'll just pick your defense apart. And I think the key to this game will be the San Diego Chargers' defensive ends - Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips - getting quick pressure on Tom Brady.

MARTIN: Okay. So let's move on to the later game, where the New York Giants are going to take on the Packers in Green Bay. A lot of people are talking about the quarterbacks here - Eli Manning. He's definitely stepped it up in the last few weeks but why? What do you think is going on there? Why is Eli Manning - what's gotten into him?

Mr. JAWORSKI: A quarterback's best friend is the running game. And Eli Manning now has a running game with the New York Giants. And you know, you look at Jacobs, the way he is running at 6-foot-5, 265 pound, running back. I mean, very powerful guy that can run over people and run by people. And Brad Shawn is back up. He's a speedy, quick guy. So they have that thunder and lighting in the backfield. And really, Eli Manning has benefited from that running game. The offensive line has been outstanding.

And I talk about pressure, about Tom Brady a moment ago, and Eli Manning has really handled the pressure well in the playoffs. Tampa Bay, Dallas, they blitzed him 15 times in passing situations. He's thrown the ball 15 times, completed 14; 171 yards, three touchdowns. So the pressure has not bothered Eli Manning in the playoffs. And he needed to just carry that over against the Green Bay defense that will get after him.

DAN PASHMAN: Quick statistic that I looked up. I know you're a big fan of stats. And I agree with you 100 percent that the Giants' increased focus in the running game has been a huge factor in Eli's success. In the first 14 games of this season, he averaged 34 pass attempts per game. Last four games, he's averaging 23. So Eli is throwing the ball less. He's throwing it better. But I want to ask you a question, two guys' names I have not heard mentioned in talking about the Giants unexpectedly making it to the championship game here, and that's Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey.

A year ago, if you said the Giants were going to make it this far without those two guys, people would have said you're crazy. Tiki Barber, who was the best player on the team for a few last years, he retired. Jeremy Shockey, you know, another get player, got injured. But those guys both have had some history of attitude problems, opening their mouths, creating distractions. Are the Giants better off without Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey?

Mr. JAWORSKI: It appears they are. I think they have a much better locker room right now. It appears they have, you know, all the players pulling the rope in the same direction. No one is looking for the media. No one is looking for the cameras. No one is looking for the reporters to, you know, expound their personal beliefs on what's right or wrong with the Giants. I think Tom Coughlin has done a magnificent job of getting this team focused on the job at hand.

I will be perfectly honest with you, I did not agree with Tom Coughlin when he decided to play all his players and go out and try to beat the New England Patriots week 17. They lost by three points in a game that the Giants could have won. I believe they grew from that game. They now believe that they are the second-best team in the National Football League; that they can go to the Super Bowl and play the Patriots and go toe-to-toe with them. It was a heavyweight fight. So I think they grew up in that game and they realized if they have all the players and coaches going hand in hand to get the job done, they can be successful. They have played two outstanding team-oriented games against Tampa Bay and Dallas. And right now, I expect them to get the Packers all they can handle on Sunday.

MARTIN: But what about the weather? Isn't it supposed to be freezing? How do you deal with those conditions?

Mr. JAWORSKI: It's supposed to be like 11 degrees, Rachel. I believe we would consider that cold.

PASHMAN: You played quarterback in the NFL. You played at Lambough field. You played in those tough conditions. What is the secret on a technique level playing quarterback in those kinds of conditions throwing the ball successfully?

Mr. JAWORSKI: It is very difficult. The fact I can think back to the coldest game I've ever played in was the NFC championship game in 1980 against the Dallas Cowboys. The wind chill factor at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia was 15 below zero. It was that cold.

MARTIN: That is wrong.

Mr. JAWORSKI: Yeah, that is really…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Don't you people ever call snow days?

Mr. JAWORSKI: Yeah, and of course, you have to be macho…

MARTIN: I mean, can't you just say no?

Mr. JAWORSKI: And you only need to have your short-sleeves on and everything else. So it was all right as long you were sitting on the bench near the sideline where those heaters were. And the heated benches also, and you had to go on the field. And within 30 seconds, every extremity was tingling maybe because you were freezing. It was a very cold day. And it makes it very difficult to feel the football. And obviously a center, a quarterback, receivers, running backs, touch the football so often it makes it very, very difficult to control the football.

So, you know, what you have to really be careful of is when being careful with the football. Where are you going to throw it, how are you going to hand up, and because of that concentration, you sometime limit what you're going to do in your offensive scheme.

MARTIN: Okay. Now, I want some help from you.

Mr. JAWORSKI: I'll try.

MARTIN: As you have deduced from our conversation, I am not the most learned individual in this esteemed sports, this National Football League, as we…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JAWORSKI: The greatest game on earth.

MARTIN: But I am learning. I am totally learning. And I'm up for it. And so since I'm talking to someone of your caliber, what can you tell me to look for? I understand you study a lot of game film. You understand the nuance of that and you can pick apart things based on that film. So when I'm watching the game on Sunday, Tom Brady, I get it that he's awesome, everyone loves him, he's great. But to my untrained eyes, what can I look for? What can you tell me now? Rachel, look for this. Tom Brady's going to do this and it's going to be awesome? What can I look for?

Mr. JAWORSKI: The one thing I always look for in Tom Brady is when he gets what we call the top of his drop. It's his dropping back the throw. He'll take one hitch step and the ball comes out. The man is absolutely by far the best technician in the National Football League. He's having a quarterbacking season that has never been had in the National Football League. I mean, this is one for the ages.

And, you know, you mentioned that, you know, I watched the tape, and I have an office at NFL films. And on Tuesday, I start watching all the games played that weekend, on the coaches' tape, all 22, and I watch all the other quarterbacks. And no one, not even a Peyton Manning, who I love dearly, and a Carlson Palmer, a great quarterback, you know, are playing at the level of Tom Brady.

And when I say for one thing to look for with Tom Brady, when he drops back in that pocket, the ball is out.

MARTIN: We can't let you leave without asking you to do a little professional speculation. Who are you picking to win?

Mr. JAWORKSI: A little forecasting?

MARTIN: A little forecasting, if you will.

Mr. JAWORKSI: I believe the Super Bowl with the Pats and the Packs. How's that?

MARTIN: The Pats? Nice and alliterative.

Mr. JAWORSKI: The Packers and the Patriots.

MARTIN: Hey, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

Mr. JAWORSKI: Thanks, Rachel. Thanks, Dan. You guys are great.

PASHMAN: Thanks, Jaws.

MARTIN: Ron Jaworski, ESPN football analyst, Monday night football commentator, and friend of THE BPP now.

(Soundbite of music)

PASHMAN: So, Rachel, if you didn't fully 100 percent follow what Jaws, as we just can call him, was just saying about what you should watch when I boil it down even more for you?

MARTIN: Okay. Because I understood, you know, he steps back, and basically, it's over. I mean…

PASHMAN: Basically, it's how quickly and decisively Tom Brady throws the ball.

MARTIN: Okay.

PASHMAN: That's it. You got to understand that it may look simple for you. When a quarterback drops back to throw the ball, he has to make probably dozen decisions in a matter of seconds. He has to go from a first to second to third to fourth option. He has to evaluate the defense. He has to see where the weakness in the defense is and he has to decide who he's going to throw the ball to, where is he going to throw it and when in all in a matter of seconds.

MARTIN: And Tom Brady does that?

PASHMAN: Tom Brady makes that decision faster and more often correctly than anyone else.

MARTIN: How do you know if he's not just guessing and he's very lucky?

PASHMAN: Because you couldn't be that lucky for that long.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Well, we'll see you on Sunday. Thank you, Dan Pashman, producer, Giants fan. Thanks, Dan.

PASHMAN: Thank you, Rachel. Go, Giants.

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