The Fat Lady sung loud and clear on Wildcard Weekend, and the first brackets of the NFL playoffs are set for the Divisional Playoff games. There were a few surprises, well for me there were, along with some great football played this past weekend. You could feel the intense competitiveness before the games got started on the NFL pregame shows. As the analysts went through their lists of what “if,” or “but.” There are two situations they can’t predict, turnovers and in game injuries.
The bottom line in the playoffs, you must be able to run the football, run it effectively and score points on the ground, get the tough yards and take time off the clock while keeping the opponents offense on the sidelines.
Let’s start with the NFC West Champions Seattle Seahawks a 7-9 team that was not embarrassed about their season, overall record and the opportunity to represent the NFC West in the tournament. The only folks that felt embarrassed were those outside of the Seahawks organization. With Pete Carroll at the helm in Seattle, the team and the 12th Man believe in their chances.
Seattle upset the New Orleans Saints and figures to be one of the biggest wins in team history, and one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history. The defending Super Bowl Champions limped into the Pacific Northwest without several starters, playmakers and difference makers either on IR (injured reserve) or those that didn’t make the trip.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle’s quarterback, threw the ball down the field on several occasions, 22/35 272 yards and 4 TDs. The Hawks defense played good enough to win, despite allowing 36 points. But the biggest play of that game was run by Marshawn Lynch, with just minutes remaining to seal the deal. He finished with 19 carries for 131 yards and a 6.9 average per carry. It was a run of pure determination, desire and grit, and will be shown on every highlight film throughout the playoffs and many years to come.
The Saints didn’t have a run game, No Pierre Thomas or Chris Ivory. Newly acquired running back Julius Jones did a good job of carrying the load scoring two touchdowns against his former team, which has never been done before. Drew Brees was 39/60 attempts, 404 yards 2 TD’s and 0 interceptions, crazy! And later mentioned in a post-game interview that they should have scored 50 points. Saints wide receiver Marques Colston was limited to 4 receptions 66 yards, by a good Seattle game plan.
The story of this game was the Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense; the secondary was running in slow motion. This happens when Dome teams have to go play in the elements, and generally don’t fare well in the cold weather. They struggled with the “Bunch” formation, and mis-direction routes which stymied Saints defenders both linebackers and safeties, that were in trail or chase mode all day. This was too much for the Saints to overcome despite Drew Brees efforts that were just short of heroic. Hank Goldberg, ESPN NFL Analyst quoted the late Jimmy the Greek after the huge upset and having no words for what happened” O’will let’s move on” Seattle 41 Saints 36 Final
The New York Jets led by second year quarterback in Mark Sanchez who was efficient with the ball, made big plays when he had too and protected the ball down the stretch. The jets coaching staff allowed the ground game to led the way. Ladainian Tomlinson scored 2 TD’s and was very effective. The play of the game was Antonio Cromartie’s 47 yard KOR with: 53 seconds remaining, after an Indianapolis Colts field goal that gave them the led 16-14, Cromartie slammed the door shut with an outstanding return giving the Jets great field position.
The Jets’ defense did a great job of bending but not breaking. After the game Rex Ryan was quoted as saying, “I finally beat Peyton Manning, WOW”. There was mutual respect for Coach Ryan as Peyton Manning complemented Coach during the week. Peyton Manning was held to 18/26 225 yards and 1 TD. New York Jets 17 Indianapolis Colts 16
The Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco looked very good 25/34 265 yards and 2 TD’s. Good balance of run and pass, and the ability to take advantage of the underneath passing game was exceptional. Running back Ray Rice was difference maker as a runner and receiver. Again running the ball in the playoffs tells the story and the Ravens controlled ball possession, 41:41.
Kansas City is not a team built for a come from behind team and it showed today. It is obvious that the Chiefs need more receivers to complement the run game. The Chiefs defense played aggressively, but lacked the big play or take away ability, and were on the field 70 plus plays, despite being competitive.
The Ravens defense won the take-away battle forcing fumbles and interceptions. They applied pressure with their front and battled each and every play. Ravens defender Terrell Suggs was a force to be reckoned with and played in the Chiefs backfield all day. Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh for the third time this season will be a blockbuster event, more than a game, the clash of the titans and one to remember, they always are. Baltimore Ravens 30 Kansas City Chiefs 7
The last game of the Wild Card Weekend featured the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Green Bay Packers. All eyes were on Michael Vick and the Eagle offense. With Vick nursing a strained quad, and speculation of his health less than 100%, the Eagles offense was well balanced. Once the Eagles fell behind and needed to throw the ball, it was clear that Vick wanted to maintain his presence in the pocket; Green Bay Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers went to work corralling and squeezing the pocket.
Even with Vick 95% Andy Reid and the Eagle coaches felt Vick could deliver with his arm, seeing how he threw for over 3, 000 yards, a completion percentage over 60% during the regular season. Vick was held to 20/36 attempts 292 yards, sacked 3 times, 1 TD and 1 interception and a passer rating of 79.9, Vick struggled to recognize the Overload and account for unblocked defenders. Philadelphia soon would lose DeSean Jackson, Pro Bowl Wide receiver and return man due to a left knee injury. He was laid on from behind while blocking for running back McCoy. Jackson later returned flashing limited production but lacked his difference making swagger.
The Philadelphia defense struggled to stop the Pack attack in the air or on the ground. They completely fell apart in the Red Zone. Akers the place kicker missed two critical mid-range field goals, which would have given the Eagles the led with just minutes remaining.
The true story was with the Green Bay Packers, a star was born in rookie running back James Starks. I graded Starks, a rookie from the University of Buffalo fell in the draft due to a reconstructive shoulder surgery forcing him to miss his Senior season. Starks came off the bench and ripped off runs like a veteran running back and took over the game. It was the missing link that Green Bay had missed since early in the season due to injuries to several veteran backs. He ran for 123 yards a 5.3 yard average and caught a few passes as well. As the Packers celebrated the win, the team gathered around Coach yelling “No regrets”, this turned into the locker room cheer for the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay 21 Philadelphia Eagles 16
For me this is the best part of the NFL season, the playoffs. It is win or go home; nobody cares about your injuries, inconsistent play either on offense, defense or on special teams, and for sure nobody is coming to your rescue.