Last minute scores in Indy, Philly and Green Bay were the difference in a tightly contested Wild Card round. And once again, Colin Kaepernick was the difference against the Packers. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
[Sorry this is a day late. This is what happens when your business starts up again and your kids turn into little terrorists on the same day.]
(5) Chiefs 44 at (4) Colts 45
I felt bad for Andy Reid Saturday. For everyone to lash out at Reid is slightly unfair. Reid is absolutely to blame for blowing a 28 point lead and mismanaging the clock for the 7,925th time of his career. However, Reid doesn’t coach the defense, call plays for the defense, or make adjustments to the defense. Reid’s offense posted 44 points ON THE ROAD. Alex Smith was the best quarterback of the weekend. Reid’s best player and league MVP candidate was lost before the game was five minutes old. The Chiefs didn’t lose because Reid screwed up. They lost because the defense collapsed, Andrew Luck turned into a video game quarterback, and the Kansas City secondary couldn’t overcome the loss of Brandon Flowers. Also, the Chiefs took their foot off the gas. Once that happens, there’s no guarantee you can shift back into gear. At home, with a crowd pleading for you to wake up, the Chiefs likely hang on to win, but not on the road.
Let’s not forget how well Alex Smith played. He was phenomenal. Unfortunately, it was the two plays he didn’t make that we’ll likely remember. First was the deep pass down the sideline to a wide-open Cyrus Gay that missed by inches. Had it connected, the Chiefs score and go up 48-31 early in the 4th quarter. Considering the Colts scored a touchdown on every 4th quarter possession and still only won by a point, it’s likely the touchdown to Gay seals a win for the Chiefs. Second was the intentional grounding call that cost Kansas City ten yards when they were a few yards within reasonable field goal range. While there’s no guarantee Ryan Succop connects, I’m sure a field goal attempt from 50-ish yards for a 2 point lead is preferred over a 4th and 11 with your season on the line.
(6) Saints 26 at (3) Eagles 24
Unlike many Eagle fans, I expected a loss Saturday night. While many diehards were devastated and angry, I was devastated and content. All week long I told everyone who asked two things: 1. I think they’ll lose. 2. I’m ok with a loss as long as the Eagles don’t loose by being foolish.
Chip Kelly’s game plan was nearly perfect. He never abandoned the run game despite its struggles. He left the bag of pointless trick plays at home. He was aggressive on 4th downs but never careless. If there were one thing I’d change, it’d be not seeing Bryce Brown at all. I like the change of pace he offers and would have liked to see him get a half dozen touches. But again, that’s a minor request and one that likely would not have impacted the outcome.
Could the Eagles have played better? Of course. Nick Foles was solid but not exceptional. LeSean McCoy was mostly contained. DeSean Jackson was irrelevant until Keenan Lewis left the field with a concussion. The Eagles defense played really well and made some big plays to give the Eagles a chance but ultimately came up short on that final drive when New Orleans just pounded them on the ground.
So yeah, I felt like the Eagles played well and lost to a better team. They didn’t lose because of an absurd run/pass ratio. They didn’t turn the football over. Other than the one Riley Cooper drop and the mishap in downing the punt at the goal line, I thought the Eagles played sound football.
However, if I had to pick one reason the Eagles lost, I’d argue it was their failure to make New Orleans pay for a lousy half of football by Drew Brees. Brees was near awful throughout the first 28 minutes. Two turnovers, missed receivers; he looked discombobulated. For the Eagles offense to only muster 7 points was a missed opportunity. And for the Eagle defense to then surrender a field goal at the end of the 1st half after the offense finally found its groove was deflating. A 7-6 lead at the half just wasn’t enough considering how poor Brees and the Saints offense had been.
All-in-all, I was happy with the game, the Eagles’ performance, and the season in general. If you told me we’d win the division and lose in the playoffs to an 11-5 Saints team on a last second field goal I would have told you to put the pipe down. Am I sold on Chip Kelly? No, but I’m open to where he’s taking the team. Most of all, I had fun watching the Eagles again.
(6) Chargers 27 at (3) Bengals 10
I can’t remember the last time I watched a playoff game and thought the starting quarterback was the worst player on the field. Andy Dalton was that guy yesterday. Even TJ Yates two years ago in Baltimore was light years better than Dalton was Sunday. I’m not a Bengals fan, but even I was yelling at my TV. If I were a Bengals fan, I’d want Dalton gone. I’m not sure what the final tally was, but I counted five times when he took off running like he was Michael Vick instead of waiting for a receiver to get open. His three interceptions were some of the worst throws you’ll see from even a college quarterback. Dalton topped it off with a classic Eli Manning “no one touched me but I’ll fumble the football anyway” headfirst dive. It was pretty clear what happened to Dalton. He panicked when his team fell behind, tried to do too much, and ultimately made everything worse.
I knew either the Packers or Chargers were going to win. I just picked the wrong one. I trusted a team known for failing in big moments. I know the Chargers played well and were the better team, but all San Diego had to do was connect with one haymaker and then the Bengals would unravel on their own. And they did. Three consecutive 2nd half drives that ended with an Andy Dalton turnover sealed Cincinnati’s fate.
I’ve heard plenty of people argue the Giovani Bernard fumble late in the 1st half swung the game. Yes, it was a big play, but the Bengals forced a Chargers punt and then drove down the field to kick a field goal right before the half, taking a 10-7 lead to halftime. Cincinnati’s defense was in complete control of the game. All Dalton needed to do in the 2nd half was to continue what he did in the first 30 minutes; manage the game. Instead, he tried to be Superman and wound up giving his team their first home loss of the season and an early playoff exit for the third season in a row.
(5) 49ers 23 at (4) Packers 20
Colin Kaepernick has rushed for more than 70 yards four times in his brief NFL career. Two of those games have come in the postseason. Both were against the Green Bay Packers. The other two times Kaepernick surpassed 70 yards on the ground were in losing efforts, one even a blowout loss to Seattle. My question is this: HOW ARE THE PACKERS THE ONLY TEAM IN THE NFL THAT CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO CONTAIN COLIN KAEPERNICK?
I mean, let’s not beat around the bush, Kaepernick has been pretty mediocre as a quarterback this season. He ranked 20th in yards, 17th in TDs, and a hide-your-eyes 31st in completion percentage. Anyone who’s watched him this season knows he can’t beat you with his arm alone. He needs his legs to attack a defense. Take away his scrambling lanes and his ability to gash you on the ground, and Kaepernick is pretty much a sitting duck. Look at his regular season numbers against the remaining NFC playoff teams; 56/110 (51% completion percentage), 520 YDs, 3 TDs, 6 INTs. Dude can’t throw the football well enough to beat you with his arm. Even against Green Bay he was 16/30 and missed a wide-open Vernon Davis deep downfield on at least two occasions.
My favorite part is how Kaepernick’s coach and teammates referred to him as clutch following the game. And they’re right. Kaepernick has been masterful in his two postseasons thus far. However, isn’t it funny how one play can change perception? Kaepernick was a dropped ball from throwing what would have likely been the decisive interception. It was a horrendous throw, one millions of people saw from their couches right as he wound up to throw it. All the Packer defender had to do was come down with the football. He didn’t. Kaepernick lived to see another down and made Green Bay pay. This is why we love sports: Kaepernick went from goat to hero because another player couldn’t hold onto a football.
As for the Packers, I thought Aaron Rodgers’ slow start was crippling. If it weren’t for two red zone stands by the Packer defense, the 49ers may have cruised. Rodgers eventually found his groove and looked unstoppable the rest of the way even though James Jones didn’t feel like catching the football. Also, are we sure the hand off to Randall Cobb on 1st and goal on Green Bay’s final possession was a good idea? How do you not give the ball to Eddie Lacy once you’re inside the 10? Regardless, kudos to San Francisco for staging a red zone stand of their own and giving Kaepernick and the offense the opportunity to win the game.
Finally, congrats to the officials for not ruining football for the first time this season. Sure, they missed some calls (especially the holding on Green Bay’s 4th down conversion), but it was nice to see football played as football and not some pansy sport where you can’t place your hands on the opponent. I know several pass interference calls could have been made, but I thought none were so egregious that a call absolutely, positively should have been made. With the possible exception of the KC/INDY game (because I don’t know which team is better), I thought the best teams won this weekend, and they did so without the intrusive calls of overly sensitive officials. Welcome back, football. I’ve missed you.