Posted 01/20/2010 at 03:44 PM
We mentioned last week that the kicking game could prove pivotal and it certainly proved to be the case. In a year where several kickers have struggled, Nate Kaeding will be the goat of the playoffs this season to this point, going 0-3 on field goals in San Diego’s 17-14 home loss to the Jets. Kaeding hit 32 of 35 in the regular season and had a string of 67 consecutive field goal makes from 40 yards or less. His playoff failures are nothing new as this is the fourth time that Kaeding has missed a big kick in the game that the Chargers have been eliminated from the playoffs. An over 87 percent accuracy kicker in the regular season, Kaeding has hit just 53 percent in the playoffs. While the kicks may have been less critical in looking at the final score, the misses from Shaun Suisham were also devastating momentum killers. Suisham’s did make a field goal for the only points for the Cowboys and his misses were at difficult distances but he is another kicker that could have helped his team considerably.
Another big story this week will be the (lack of) experience of the head coaches involved in the final four. Two rookie head coaches face off in the AFC and two relatively inexperienced coaches are facing off in the NFC. In an era where the top coaches are paid nearly as much as top players it is odd to see no head coaches with Super Bowl experience at this point. Sean Payton and Brad Childress are in year four as head coaches in the NFL and only Payton had ever won a playoff game before this season, taking the Saints to the NFC championship after the 2006 season. Only one coach that had ever won a Super Bowl as a head coach was in the playoffs this season (Bill Belichick) and in this era of frequent coaching turnover this shouldn’t be as big of a surprise as it would seem. What is surprising however is that with several coaching legends retiring recently only Belichick, Mike Tomlin, and Tom Coughlin, are active with a Super Bowl title. Mike Shanahan is back in the fold next season however to add to that mix and the Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden rumors will continue to run.
Another interesting storyline is that Childress and Payton are both alumni of Eastern Illinois, along with Shanahan as well. Tony Romo is perhaps the most famous alumni from that school in the football world and it is surprising that neither Childress nor Payton emerged in their careers under the Shanahan coaching tree. Both Childress and Payton have NFC East ties so although the most prestigious and popular division in football will not be represented in the NFC Championship for just the third time in the last decade both head coaches got their jobs by being successful assistants in that division. Whatever shakes out this season it will be a rare quick rise to the top for the Super Bowl champion for the second consecutive year as Tomlin won last year in Pittsburgh in just his second season. Tomlin actually comes from the Childress coaching tree, beating his former boss to the top last season.