Wild Card Weekend Recap
With the fantasy football season over, football fans can now focus on the NFL playoffs. We wait all season for the single elimination format. There is nothing like it in sports. All 12 teams have a legit shot to win the championship. Will this be a wild card year with a team like the Seahawks making a deep run? Or will Peyton or Brady add to their trophy collection? Just like everyone else, I cannot wait to watch it all unfold. The playoffs started with such a great weekend of football; it was well worth the wait. We had a rematch from the regular season and a rematch from last year’s playoffs. Also, 3 rookie quarterbacks would attempt to lead their teams to victory; an NFL record. It is worth mentioning that no rookie QB has ever won a Super Bowl. With that, let’s recap the first round…
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans
The playoffs kicked off with a rematch from last year’s wild card round in which the Texans won their first playoff game ever as a franchise. If you love defense, this was the game for you. There was just 1 offensive touchdown and a total of 6 field goals made in the game. Cincinnati’s only touchdown came on an interception return in the 2nd quarter; a play that made the final score look a lot closer than it should’ve been. The final score of 19-13 hardly reflected the domination of the Houston defense. The Texans held Cincinnati to 0-9 on 3rd down conversions and the Bengals did not cross the 50 yard line until the 2 minute warning of the first half. AJ Green did not even get on the board until mid way through the 3rd quarter. The Bengals played good D as well, especially in the red zone, allowing just one TD in 4 chances. That one TD was enough for a Houston defense that allowed just 6 points. Despite the domineering defense of the Texans, Cincinnati was still in this one late. The game was over when they turned the ball over on downs with about 2 minutes left in the game, allowing Houston to run out the clock. The MVP of this one has to be Arian Foster who had 32 carries for 140 yards and a TD. He allowed Houston to eat up the clock and win the possession battle. A couple others worth mentioning: Owen Daniels was the top TE of the first round pulling in 9 catches for 91 yards (7 for 73 in the first half) and Shayne Graham was 4/4 on field goals. JJ Watt led the way for the Houston D and finished with 5 tackles, 2 pass deflections, and a sack. Matt Shaub finished 29/38 for 262 but failed to throw a TD pass in his first career playoff win. Next up for Houston is a rematch with Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
This was the 3rd meeting of the season for these long time divisional rivals. The Vikings and Packers had split their regular season matchups with the home team winning each time including a 37-34 Minnesota win just last week. This game would have a different feel to it since Joe Webb would replace the injured Christian Ponder as the Vikings starting quarterback. Webb had not attempted a pass all season and although he looked decent at times, he was mostly lost out there. He lobbed passes straight in the air rather than taking the sack or throwing the ball out of bounds. He often looked like he was more comfortable tucking the ball and running with it instead of making his reads. On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers looked like his normal, amazing self and finished 23/33 for 274 and 1 TD. GB backs combined to net 27 carries for 58 yards and 3 TDs (one receiving). The Vikings had a shot to get back in the game late in the 2nd quarter with a huge defensive stand at the goal line, but Aaron Rodgers led a solid 2 minute offense down the field for the dagger that made the game 17-3 at the half. This one was pretty much over when Joe Webb took the field. The Packers realized that all they really had to do was slow down Adrian Peterson and it was in the bag. Peterson did end up with 99 yards on 22 carries, but that is down from the average of his record breaking campaign. The Vikings did a pretty good job of beating themselves too. In the second half they coughed up a fumble to Clay Matthews, turned a FG into a TD for Green Bay with a penalty, threw an interception, muffed a punt, and turned the ball over on downs. If there was bright spot for Minnesota, it would be that Green Bay didn’t do much of anything after scoring to open up the second half and finished out the game with 5 straight punts, but by then there was nothing the Vikings could do to get back in this one. Final score: 24-10. The Packers head to San Francisco next week in a rematch of the first game of the year.
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
On one side you had a rookie QB in his first playoff game and on the other side was Ray Lewis in what could’ve been the final game of his storied career. Ray led the Ravens defense with 13 tackles and also deflected a pass. He did drop a sure INT, but in the end it did not hurt the team. He did his best to make sure that this would not be his final game. Definitely not at home, not in front of his devoted Baltimore fans that he has played his heart out for the past 17 seasons. The score was 3-3 at the 2 minute warning of the first half before Ray Rice broke a 47 yard gain to setup a Vonta Leach touchdown. The Colts quickly came back with another FG and it was 10-6 at the half. The game looked to be over when Flacco connected with Dennis Pitta in the 3rd quarter, but Indy came right back with a long FG drive to make it a one possession game again. It was iced when Boldin corralled a TD pass from Flacco just after Vinatieri missed his first field goal of the game. Luck was intercepted on the Colts next drive. The final was 24-9, Ravens. The Ravens withstood 2 Ray Rice fumbles and managed to overcome a severe disparity in time of possession (38-22) and the total number of plays ran (87-56). Despite the difference in possession Baltimore out-gained the Colts on the ground and through the air. Andrew Luck led all quarterbacks with 288 passing yards, but it was on 54 attempts and he failed to throw a TD pass. Reggie Wayne (9 rec for 114 yards) and Vick Ballard (22 carries for 91 yards) shined for Indy. Bernard Pierce did a nice job picking up for Ray Rice, who was having an off night. He managed 103 yards on just 13 carries. Joe Flacco (12/23 for 282 and 2TDs) and Anquan Boldin (5 for 145 and 1TD) were the co-stars of the game. The Ravens go to Denver to meet Peyton Manning and the Broncos next week.
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins
I really have to question why RG3 even took the field. He was obviously injured before the game even started and was moving gingerly during the Redskins first couple drives (both went for touchdowns). It was getting worse as the game went on and Washington could not muster a single point after posting 14 points in the first quarter. They slowly let Seattle come back into the game, allowing both Russell Wilson (15/26 for 187 and 1TD; 8 carries for 67) and Marshawn Lynch (20 carries for 132 and 1TD) to dominate them. It was 14-13 by half time and Seattle won 24-14. There really were no bright spots for Washington and the news may get worse… There is word that RG3 could be lost for part of next season. They should have let Kirk Cousins start, as it worked out earlier in the season. Don’t get me wrong. Kirk Cousins is no RG3 and the Browns defense is nothing compared to Seattle’s. However, I feel it could’ve given them a shot to win this game having a healthy QB back there. I think his performance week 15 against the Browns was enough to warrant a discussion. RG3 most likely did not tell anyone how bad it was, but even watching at home I could tell how much pain he was in. It took Seattle all 4 quarters to come back and it was finally over when Steven Hauschka connected for his 3rd FG of the game with about 5 minutes remaining in the game. Seattle was the only road team to win on wild card weekend. It was also their first road playoff win since 1983. This was also the first postseason matchup pitting 2 rookie QBs that each started at least 15 games for their respective team. Russell Wilson became just the 6th Rookie QB to win his first playoff start. Seattle heads to Atlanta next week to face Matt Ryan and the top-seeded Falcons.
Afterthought: Just to show how important it is to have a top tier quarterback in today’s NFL… All four Quarterbacks from the NFC that will be playing in the divisional round (5 if you include both Alex Smith and Kaepernick) are in the top 8 of the overall NFL QBR rankings from the regular season. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are 1-2, respectively. Flacco and Shaub are the only 2 remaining quarterbacks that fall outside of the top 10. Also, of the top 8, only RG3 is sitting at home.