I’m a little late on this, and for that I apologize. I came down with an awful illness. But don’t worry, I wasn’t nearly as sick as the Packers offense or Joe Flacco. Sadly, one of those two still advanced.
(3) Texans 13 at (2) Ravens 20
Early last week I went through the remaining eight teams in the NFL playoffs. If you missed it, I boldly anointed the Houston Texans Superbowl champions … IF … they had their starting quarterback, Matt Schaub. Sunday’s events confirmed that declaration.
The Texans dominated Sunday. Anything the Ravens were able to accomplish offensively was given to them courtesy of Houston’s four turnovers. Jacoby Jones’ boneheaded fumble early in the 1st quarter was especially devastating. Yes, TJ Yates’ three interceptions cannot be overlooked, but no one expected a rookie quarterback to walk into Baltimore and play a perfect game. Jones is a veteran special teamer. His decision to take that punt off a bounce with a defender closing in was inexcusable.
What’s worse, prior to that fumble the Texans successfully drove to the Baltimore 21 on the game’s first possession for a field goal. The Houston defense then forced a three-and-out. The crowd was quiet. Momentum belonged to the Texans. That turnover changed everything. If it weren’t for a dominant 2nd quarter by Arian Foster, the Texans may never have had a chance.
Foster and a merciless pass rush proved why the Texans would have been the most complete team in the playoff field with a healthy Schaub. Foster gashed the Baltimore defense for close to 90 rushing yards in the 2nd quarter alone. When the Ravens adjusted in the 2nd half to contain Foster, big plays were available in the passing game. Though Yates couldn’t take advantage of those opportunities, Schaub no doubt would have.
Furthermore, the Houston defense proved they belong among the elite defenses in the NFL. The pass rush kept Joe Flacco out of sync all afternoon and the Texans front seven bottled up Ray Rice to the tune of 60 yards on 21 attempts – a lousy 2.9 yards per rush. As a unit, the Ravens offense was limited to just 227 total yards. Again, a stellar defense and an unstoppable running game paired with a healthy Matt Schaub would have propelled Houston to the Superbowl. I’m not sure I could be convinced otherwise.
As for the Ravens, I’m not sure I’ve seen a team perform so poorly and still advance. Baltimore was both bad and ugly on Sunday. While the defense “forced” four turnovers by taking advantage of a deer-in-headlights rookie quarterback, they were bullied at the line of scrimmage. With Tom Brady on the horizon, the Ravens can’t be encouraged by their performance against the shorthanded Texans.
More importantly, Flacco must improve dramatically to even give his defense a chance. We always talk about guys that excel in big game situations. Guys that have the “it” factor. Guys like Eli Manning or Tom Brady. Well, at this point, despite a playoff win in each of his four NFL seasons, Flacco clearly doesn’t have “it.” Although New England’s defense isn’t near the level of Houston’s, they’ll no doubt be at the top of their game Sunday. If Baltimore doesn’t get any improvement out of Flacco, they’ll find themselves on the short end of Sunday’s score.
Finally, let’s credit the Patriots for being the weekend’s big winners. Amazingly, the Patriots could advance to the big game by beating Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco – two quarterbacks that combined to throw for 4,339 yards, 32 TDs and 18 INTs at a completion rate of 53.7%. (Brady’s numbers: 5,235 yards, 39 TDs, 12 INTS, 65.6% completions.) With Peyton Manning injured and Philip Rivers suffering through an off year, the AFC lacked elite quarterback play. Still, a road to the Superbowl that goes through Tebow and Flacco is the draw of a lifetime. Maybe this is just the Patriots year.
(4) Giants 37 at (1) Packers 20
It’s never ideal to play your worst in the biggest game of the year. Unfortunately, the Packers did just that, somehow topping their ugly outing against the Kansas City Chiefs last month. First off, I owe a half-hearted apology to my brother, who warned me the Packers chronic case of the dropsies combined with the New York pass rush could spell disaster for the Pack. Although he didn’t pick the Giants to win, he was right.
I knew the Packers had issues with dropped passes. It killed my fantasy team all season. I also knew the Giants pass rush was a force. I just didn’t expect Aaron Rodgers to play like Joe Flacco. Nor did I expect the Green Bay defense to fold like Asante Samuel in the open field. What an all-around embarrassing day for the Packers. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the fortuity of facing TJ Yates instead of Eli Manning.
Speaking of Manning, I’d also like to formally apologize for criticizing his preseason declaration that he belonged in the same conversation as Brady, Brees and his brother, Peyton. In fact, we’re two wins away from possibly restructuring the Manning family pecking order. Does Eli pass Peyton with a second title? Maybe not on a skill or statistical level but certainly in the “played his best when it mattered” category. Peyton often struggled in the postseason. Eli has excelled, especially this year. Of course, it helps when you play the NFC North – the only division in football that can’t figure out how to defend the Hail Mary. Sure, it happened early enough in the game for Green Bay to recover, but heading into the half down 10 is significantly more daunting than trailing by three.
The Hail Mary wasn’t even the worst of the Packers first half debacle. No, the failed onside kick was. While it didn’t hurt Green Bay on the scoreboard, it showed weakness. It showed fear. Onside kicks in those situations are for the desperate underdogs; the team that knows it needs something extra to gain an advantage. The Packers were the hands-down favorite to repeat as champions and playing at home, no less. The onside kick proved something wasn’t right. I’m almost certain the Giants gained confidence just because the Packers made the attempt. They smelt blood in the water. Champions don’t resort to desperate acts. The Packers did. The Giants were more poised, more confident, and executed flawlessly. Green Bay grew frustrated, committed stupid mistakes, and missed plenty of opportunities to either tie or take the lead throughout the afternoon. Even Joe Cool aka Aaron Rodgers started panicking.
Credit the Giant defense for the win. The pass rush kept Rodgers under pressure and the secondary played its best game against the NFL’s best passing attack. Combine that effort with another successful running day (something I didn’t think the Giants could do) and Hakeem Nicks’ second monster performance in as many playoff games, and you have the formula for the Giants domination from start to finish.
New York exacted revenge on Green Bay after a loss in the regular season. They’ll have the opportunity to do the same in San Francisco. This time, though, a better defense and a lights-out Eli Manning await Alex Smith and the 49ers.