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NFL Wildcard Weekend Review

“Wildcard” is a fitting name for the opening round of the NFL’s playoffs. As I’m certain you know by now, three wildcards advanced along with the left-for-dead NFC West Champions. Let’s recap what was an entertaining and, for some, excruciatingly painful weekend.

First, raise your hand if you had the Seahawks as the only home team advancing past round one.

Ok, now raise your hand if you picked Matt Hasselbeck to outplay Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Mike Vick in round one.

(Shaking my head while holding back tears…) Only in the playoffs. Only in the playoffs.

(5) Saints 36 at (4) Seahawks 41
The biggest upset of Wildcard Weekend played out exactly how I told you it would… except not. While the Seahawks proved I’m an idiot, they also demonstrated why the NFL’s current playoff structure is just fine. Because as we learned Saturday, once a team reaches the postseason, everything resets.
As I watched the game, it became obvious the Saints were in for a long day after two separate double digit leads did little to intimidate the NFC West champions, or their fans. The Seahawks just kept coming. Matt Hasselbeck played a nearly perfect game as Seattle had the New Orleans defense on its heels. The home run swings on multiple 3rd and shorts paid huge dividends for the Seahawks and demoralized the Saints defense. It didn’t hurt that Saints safety Roman Harper made David Akers look like an MVP, either.
Obviously, Marshawn Lynch’s heroic touchdown scamper in the 4th quarter was the icing on the cake. Normally, “getting posterized” is a term reserved for the NBA, but that’s exactly what Lynch did to the Saints defense. In fact, Lynch did it Blake Griffin style. Anytime a touchdown run sends the home crowd into a raucous that causes earthquake tremors, you know you’re in Qwest Field. And to think I said Seattle’s 12th man wouldn’t matter.
New Orleans played as if they were entitled to advance. They couldn’t match Seattle’s energy. Settling for field goals instead of touchdowns ultimately cost the Saints a chance at defending their crown. The Seahawks had nothing to lose and used that to their advantage. Still, scoring 36 points on the road should be enough to win a playoff game.

(6) Jets 17 at (3) Colts 16
How many times did the Colts fail to convert on 3rd and short? I stopped counting at four, but I’m pretty sure there were at least a few more. I love Peyton Manning, but he’s making it more and more difficult to defend his place as one of the NFL’s greatest. I don’t think Montana, Marino, or Elway would run the ball on 3rd and 7 inside the red zone. Yes, it worked earlier on a similar down-and-distance, but still. It’s the playoffs. Touchdowns win games. Field goals send you home. Ask the Saints and Eagles, they’ll agree.
In my opinion, the game was decided once the Colts got into field goal position on their final drive. For whatever reason, the offense just stopped. The play calling became conservative, the urgency was gone, and the Colts appeared content to kick the field goal without another first down. Do football players and coaches watch football? Sometimes I wonder. If you’re going to leave 56 seconds to a team with two timeouts that only needs a field goal to win, you might as well attempt an onside kick to close out the game. Ok, not really, but you get what I’m saying. Did anyone believe the Jets wouldn’t get into field goal range in less than a minute with two timeouts, in a dome nonetheless? It doesn’t make sense. The Colts needed to kick that field goal as time expired or at the least, exhausted all of New York’s timeouts. Instead, they folded up shop and asked an unreliable defense to stop an offense that already won four games on their final drive this season.
Back to the Manning greatness issue. I don’t recall great quarterbacks ignoring their best receiver because an all-pro cornerback matched up with him. Why has this suddenly become the norm? Great players are supposed to be competitors who always want to dictate the game. Allowing another player to dictate your play isn’t the mark of a great player. Challenge Darelle Revis. Make him play his best to beat you. Don’t give him the day off without earning it. Reggie Wayne was Manning’s best receiver this year. If you’re going to go down, go down swinging with your best weapons. Manning looked like Ryan Howard on Saturday night – losing with his bat on his shoulders.

(5) Ravens 30 at (4) Chiefs 7
Joe Flacco had his best playoff performance, completing 73% of his passes while connecting for two touchdowns. The running game was able to grind out 142 yards, allowing the Baltimore offense to control the tempo of the game by maintaining possession for almost 42 minutes. That’s unbelievable. I guess six Kansas City turnovers and 161 total yards offer a reasonable explanation.
As many expected, the Raven defense dominated the young, inexperienced Kansas City offense. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs made their share of big plays. Baltimore performed its patented, “create and commit a turnover on the same play” routine. Matt Cassel looked out of sync all day and was terrorized by the Ravens relentless blitzes.
On the Kansas City side, Todd Haley once again made a handful of boneheaded decisions. The wasted time out and challenge early in the first quarter, the decision to go for it on 4th and short in a 3 point game – never a good idea against a defense that takes that stuff personally, and I can’t find where I wrote down his other coaching blunders, but trust me, he made them.
I also didn’t understand limiting Jamaal Charles’ touches. Sure, he fumbled, but the playoffs are no time to punish young players. Even without his 41 yard TD run, Charles was averaging five yards per carry. The Ravens clearly struggled to match his speed and quickness. Charles was the Chiefs best chance at winning and Haley essentially benched him after the fumble. Need proof? Charles had four touches post fumble.
Still, for most of three quarters, the Chiefs remained close thanks to the play of their defense (most notably, Tamba Hali and Eric Berry) and its ability to limit Baltimore to field goals. That changed when Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for a touchdown after another Kansas City turnover late in the third quarter. From then on, the Chiefs were finished.

(6) Packers 21 at (3) Eagles 16
It’s still way too soon for me to coherently recap another devastating playoff loss. Therefore, I’ll just list the plays, mistakes, and missed opportunities that culminated in yet another disappointing end to a once promising season.

  • David Akers missing not one, but two field goals. I’m not one of those, “the Eagles win if he makes one of those,” because the Packers would have been more aggressive on their final possessions, but it would have certainly improved Philadelphia’s chances.
  • Brent Celek deciding to expand the field of play – the most underrated biggest mistake of the day for Philadelphia. If Celek wears a size 7, the Eagles only need a field goal to force overtime on that final drive.
  • Ernie Sims over-running a handful of tackles, most of which would have prevented Packer first downs.
  • DeSean Jackson (injury or not) disappearing in a playoff game for the second consecutive season. The big bucks go to big players who make big plays in big games. Jackson is nothing more than a big mouth in big games.
  • Michael Vick looking like Donovan McNabb at times. Completing only 55% of his attempts, failing to read a blitz, and missing open targets.
  • Most notably, throwing behind Jason Avant on a critical 3rd down. Yes, Avant should have made the grab, but if you’re going to blame the receiver for that, you have to blame the quarterback for the poor throw, too.
  • Vick’s decision to give Riley Cooper (RILEY COOPER) a chance to make a play with the season on the line.
  • Vick’s throw to Riley Cooper (RILEY COOPER) with the season on the line.
  • The right side of the offensive line letting Green Bay defenders through like the EZ Pass Express lane.
  • The defensive line struggling to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers consistently. If Trent Cole would have played, things may have been different. Oh, that’s right, he stops playing after week 10.
  • Clock management
  • The Eagle defense had 13 chances to force Green Bay off the field on 3rd down. They failed on eight of them.
  • Missed tackles, missed tackles, and more missed tackles.
  • Throwing to LeSean McCoy six yards short of the end zone on the second two point conversion attempt. Think the Eagles knew they only get one play to score there? Me neither.
  • The continuing trend of giving opposing offenses first downs due to defensive penalties.
  • Surrendering 123 yards to a running back that didn’t accumulate 123 yards the entire season
  • The Philadelphia offense once again failing to convert on 3rd and 1 on two separate occasions, one of which came in the fourth quarter before Akers’ second miss.

And my two favorite;

  • Number One: Inside the ten yard line with time precious and less than five minutes remaining, the Eagles call a QB draw. This is astonishingly dumb because A. If Vick doesn’t score, the clock continues to run. B. Vick is clearly injured/exhausted/near death. He essentially tried to crawl his way in. C. Vick is still needed for at least one more drive. Why expose him to more hits? What do the Eagles do two plays later? They run it again, of course! Only now, reasons A, B, and C are twice as significant. Seriously, I need to re-evaluate my choices if this is the coaching staff I allow to control my state of happiness for 20 weeks every year.
  • Number Two: After the Eagles finally scored to cut the lead to four, the defense surrenders an 11 play, 80 yard touchdown drive that puts Green Bay back up by 11. The drive completely eliminates the momentum the offense just generated and silences a crowd ready to explode. What’s worse, the Packers converted on two consecutive 3rd downs; one of 5 yards, the other a back-breaking 3rd and 10 conversion. For the 999th time this season, the Eagle defense couldn’t get a stop when the team needed one. Thank you, Sean McDermott. Thank you.

That’s enough for me. I’m only on day 3 of my mourning cycle. I should be ok after another 37.

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