The opening round of the NFL Playoffs featured defensive battles, backup quarterbacks, the death of underdogs, and perhaps the most significant injury of a season that is still nine months away. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
If you came here last week looking for gambling advice, I apologize for all the money you lost in the Wildcard round. Wait, what’s that you say? I went 4-0? Oh. Well then…
(6) Bengals 13 at (3) Texans 19
The Bengal defense was better than a year ago, and the Texan offense was a little worse, so instead of a 31-10 blowout we were treated to a 19-13 battle for the right to get crushed in the Divisional Round. … Crushed … Two months ago I thought the Texans could win the Super Bowl. Now I’d be shocked if they hang with New England next week. Three red zone field goals may be enough to knock off Andy Dalton but not Tom Brady. Houston struggled to put the Bengals down once and for all and could have easily let the game slip away had the Cincinnati offense not been so inept. Let’s not forget this is the same Bengal team that needed a flurry of turnovers to beat the lowly Eagles and struggled to knock off Baltimore’s scrubs in recent weeks. Saturday’s loss to Houston demonstrated how bad the Bengals really are. It also proved how far the Texans have fallen.
Here’s what drives me crazy about the Texans: They think Matt Schaub is Peyton Manning. Were the Texans steamrolling the Bengals on the ground? Not exactly. They were, however, consistently moving the football on the ground and chewing up clock at the same time. Given their success with Arian Foster, you’d think Houston would go to their bread and butter in critical situations, right? Wrong. On their 2nd, 4th, and 5th drive, the Texans faced a 3rd and 2, a 3rd and 3, and another 3rd and 3, respectively. Guess what they did on each of those 3rd downs? Yep, they dropped Matt Schaub in the pocket and threw the football. You’re not gonna believe this, but Schaub went 0-3 on those throws and the Texans failed to convert. Actually, I was wrong, Schaub did complete one of those attempts… to Leon Hall for a pick six. The other two failed attempts forced Houston to settle for field goals.
Here’s an idea: You have the best back in football outside of Minnesota. Perhaps give him a chance to pick up a 1st down on 3rd and 2 or 3 or even 4? In the playoffs, do what you do best. Arian Foster is what the Texans do best. Though he got 40 touches Saturday, I’m still not sure the Texans have figured this out. The longer they rely on Matt Schaub’s noodle arm, the harder they’ll fall, because Schaub vs. Brady in a shootout is laughable.
(6) Vikings 10 at (3) Packers 24
Joe Webb still gives me nightmares. In 2010, with the Eagles riding high and poised to nab a 1st round bye in the playoffs, their game with the Minnesota Vikings was moved to a Tuesday night due to a winter storm. The Vikings were truly bad then and the Eagles were a shoe-in for a playoff bye. And then Joe Webb showed up, tormented the Eagles defense and that was the beginning of the end for the 2010 Eagles, and really, Michael Vick and the Andy Reid Era. So forgive me for panicking about my pick Saturday evening after I learned Webb was going to start.
If you watched, Webb was as dangerous as the toothless Abominable Snowman. He tried to escape the pocket and run too early, often leading to negative yardage. His worm burners thrown at his receivers’ feet… scratch that… thrown a yard short of his receivers’ feet made any Eagles fan appreciate Donovan McNabb just a little bit more. Webb was exactly what you’d expect from a backup quarterback that didn’t play all season; awful. Poor Adrian Peterson did his best but even his greatness couldn’t overcome Webb’s stink.
Aaron Rodgers was great, obviously. He and the Packers offense dominated the first 35 minutes of the game and built a lead big enough that Webb and Peterson had no shot at rallying the Vikings. On the other hand, the Packer offense flat out disappeared after taking a 24-3 lead with close to 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Don’t believe me? On Green Bay’s next five drives, they converted zero first downs. The Vikings even gifted the Packers a muffed punt at the Minnesota 39, and nada. The Packers finally gained a 1st down on their final drive of the game as they ran out most of what remained on the game clock.
I highly doubt Mike McCarthy called off the dogs that early in the contest, but Green Bay’s offensive production in the second half after their opening drive was inexcusable regardless. This is the playoffs. You can’t be concerned with running up the score. If the offense is rolling, keep it rolling. Aaron Rodgers and the offense lost a ton of momentum in that 2nd half. Momentum that would have been helpful as the Packers head to San Francisco to take on one of the NFL’s elite defenses and more importantly, a unit that stymied the Packers way back in Week 1.
(5) Colts 9 at (4) Ravens 24
Ray Rice did his best to help the Colts advance and Joe Flacco was clutch in the postseason yet again. It was pretty clear in the 2nd half the Colts were simply overmatched, especially defensively. Had it not been for Rice’s two fumbles (both inside the Colts 30), Baltimore could have easily hung another 10 points on the Colts.
I thought the Colts had a chance after Rice’s 2nd fumble until Adam Vinatieri missed a 40 yard field goal that would have cut Baltimore’s lead down to five (17-12) with just under 12 minutes to go in the 4th. Instead of cutting into Baltimore’s lead, the Colts watched as Flacco marched the Ravens down the field for a touchdown in only 2 ½ minutes. The Colts were done. Though there was still plenty of time to rebound, Vinatieri’s miss emptied the wind from Indy’s sails. Chuck Pagano, Andrew Luck and the Colts fought valiantly all season long, defying the odds on and off the field. On Sunday they ran into a team with more pedigree, more talent, and more on the line.
(5) Seahawks 24 at (4) Redskins 14
Naturally, everyone got excited after the Redskins opened up a 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter of Sunday’s home playoff game. Here’s the thing, though; great defenses are always suspect early in games. They come out overhyped, miss assignments, play on instinct instead of playing within the system and often settle down after they get coldcocked to the floor. You can blame Robert Griffin III’s injury if you prefer, but Seattle was winning that game with or without Griffin re-aggravating his knee. (Now, if Griffin were, say, “November healthy,” then that’s an entirely different story, but he couldn’t run or throw last week against Dallas, so it doesn’t make sense to blame the injury for Sunday’s loss.)
Furthermore, the Seahawks could have put up close to 40 on the Redskins if it weren’t for a boneheaded red zone fumble and some questionable red zone play calls that led to field goals instead of touchdowns. (Seattle needs to watch film on how the Redskins and Panthers use RG3 and Cam Newton, respectively, inside the red zone and use Russell Wilson similarly. Rolling out a quarterback like that doesn’t make sense. It traps him to the sideline. Give him the whole field to work with. Sandwiching him between the sidelines and a defense that knows he has no escape plays right into the defense’s hands.)
Miraculously, Washington managed to hold on to its early lead until halfway through the 4th quarter. I thought Mike Shanahan blew the game in the 3rd quarter. It was clear at this point Griffin had nothing to offer the team. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t throw, he could barely drop in the pocket. If Shanahan didn’t want to remove Griffin from the game, fine, at least feed Alfred Morris and chew up clock. Morris inexplicably finished with only 16 carries despite totaling 80 yards at 5 yards a carry. The Redskins were nursing a one point lead for nearly an entire half. HOW DOES ALFRED MORRIS END THE GAME WITH ONLY 16 CARRIES?!?! Shanahan’s call to keep Griffin in the game was questionable. Shanahan’s call to ignore Morris was downright stupid and it certainly cost the Redskins any shot of winning the game.
Credit Russell Wilson for settling in and playing a good, though not great, game. He made big plays when his team needed them and most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. But make no mistake, if Seattle is to upset the Falcons next week in Atlanta, Wilson must be better in the passing game. Atlanta’s secondary is leaps and bounds better than Washington’s.
And finally, did Mike Shanahan’s decision to keep Griffin in the lineup these past few weeks cost him the 2013 season? We should find out today, but what a way to smash a year’s worth of momentum just for a chance at winning a playoff game. Let’s be honest, Washington was never winning the Super Bowl without a fully healthy Griffin (and they weren’t winning it with him healthy, either). Why risk an entire season just to win a playoff game? Where’s the pay off? You know who’s thrilled by Shanahan’s decision? The Cowboys, Eagles and Giants. If Griffin is out for all or most of 2013, the division will again go to the least crappy team as none of the four will be flirting with greatness in 2013.
More importantly for the Redskins, Griffin may have torn the ACL in his right knee for the second time. For a player that relies heavily on speed and quickness, that would scare the $%&# out of me if I were a fan of or involved with running the Redskins. And let’s stop with the, “well, Adrian Peterson came back within a year and look what he did,” nonsense right now. Peterson is an anomaly. Watch the hits Peterson takes and how he responds and then watch the hits Griffin takes and how he responds. Their bodies are different. It’s not a knock on Griffin’s toughness. It’s a statement of truth. Griffin was blessed with a human body with unbelievable speed and athleticism. Peterson was blessed with a body that may not be human. Let’s just hope, for Mike Shanahan’s sake, that Griffin won’t need to recover from the same injury Peterson essentially shrugged off.