Monday, January 14, 2013

The Weekend That Was (Divisional Round Recap)

Baltimore Ravens 38 – Denver Broncos 35
Ray Lewis and the Ravens live to fight other day.

Let me start by saying this game was one of the greatest playoff games I’ve ever seen. Defensive TDs, special team TDs, big runs, big passes, ties, lead changes, defensive stances, overtime; I mean this game had it all. All but the outcome we all expected that is. Seems like every year, in this round, someone loses that “shouldn’t” lose and it happened to be the top-seeded Broncos in 2013. Now, I’m not the type that believes in God having anything to do with sports, as far as the outcome of games goes, but someone is answering Black Tebow’s Ray Lewis’ prayers. The Ravens defense played much better than they did last week. They forced one more turnover against Denver than they did against the Colts. Plus, Denver had two overtimes and still didn’t outgain the Colts’ effort last week. (419 yards of total offense vs. 398. Andrew Luck’s 288 yards were only two yards shy of Peyton Manning’s passing yard total. And both teams ran the same number of plays, 87.) The first INT you can live with. (Not really because it was a pick-six.) Tipped ball, I get it, it happens but the last one was nothing more than your classic “cold-weather-playoff -game Manning INT”. I’m starting to think there’s a reason why he's tied with Brett Farve for the most career playoff losses. It’s because he’s just not as good in the playoffs as he is in the regular season. (Now you want to know something really scary? Tim Tebow has a better winning percentage in playoff overtime games and a better win-lost record in Denver home playoff games than Peyton Manning. Ouch.)  Champ Bailey has clearly lost a step, or five, and doesn’t deserve to go to the Pro Bowl this year. He got burned over and over but the biggest story of this game is the clutch play of Joe Flacco. Can we all stop saying he sucks now? I’ve always liked him and I wasn’t as down on him as some people have been this year. (I'll admit it, I was down on the team as a whole.) He throws the best deep ball in the NFL. He’s won at least one playoff game every year of his career. He’s tied with Eli Manning with the most career road playoff wins. He always seems to play well when it really counts and he’s the only QB to make $100 million off of one throw. Great year for the Broncos but they were coached to lose this game every way possible in crutch time. I can get past them not passing on 3rd Down to stop the Ravens from getting the ball back. Even after the horrible coverage that allowed that $100 million completion, I was still thinking the Broncos would win, but not even “trying” at the end of regulation, with two timeouts and Peyton Manning, was all I needed to see to jump ship. No way you want to go into overtime when your defense has proven they can’t get a stop. Without Trindon Holliday making NFL playoff history by returning both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns, this game isn’t even close. (Even more surprising when you learn that the Ravens have the best special teams unit in the NFL. So it was really a fluke that Denver even made it a game.)

San Francisco 49ers 45 – Green Bay 31

This kept happing a lot.
If you had told me Aaron Rodgers would play bad in this game I would’ve believed you. He was going against one of the two or three best defenses in the league so I guess it’s possible. (This is the team that passed on him for Alex Smith in the ’05 NFL Draft. The one team that he’s been dying to play in a do-or-die game, so you know the motivation for Rodgers should be at an all-time high.) But if you had told me Rodgers would get out played by a guy making his first career playoff start and 8th career start overall, I would have told you to get your head checked. I knew the Packers defense would give up points and yards but DAMN. 31 points use to be more than enough to beat the 49ers. With Kaepernick pulling the trigger that’s not the case anymore. I said it in my season review, the 49ers offense is so much scarier with Kaepernick under center and we saw why and in full-force this weekend. (The 49ers outscored everyone in the biggest scoring weekend in playoff history.) Michael Crabtree finally looks like the All-Pro receiver the 49ers thought they were getting when they drafted him. Crabtree’s emergence is a complete indictment of just how bad Alex Smith was at QB. With Smith as the QB, tight end Veron Davis was the 49ers’ number one passing option and the tight end is suppose to be a safety net, not a main threat. (Unless your last name is Gronkoski that is.) Good QBs pass the ball to their receivers. Something Smith didn’t do at all in the playoffs last year and don’t even get me started on how amazing Kaepernick looked running the read-option. The Packers didn’t know what to do or what was coming. Was it going to be a Kaepernick run, Gore hand off or a Kaepernick pass? I like Kaepernick in this system because he’s a much better runner than RG3. He’s not a better runner I should say, just a smarter one. Kaepernick doesn’t try to juke guys out or go head first at the defense like RG3 does. He takes what he can and gets down. I also loved the way he bounced back after that first drive pick six. It shows he’s not easily rattled and you can trust him to rebound after a big mistake. Kaepernick is totally making Jim Harbaugh look like a genius for dumping Smith. I still haven’t heard Smith’s thoughts on this whole thing but boy do I want to. (The irony of Alex Smith on the bench for that game is too much for me. The whole QB dynamic in that game in general was crazy. It’s like a guy (49ers) choosing a hot chick (Alex Smith) over an ugly duckling. (Aaron Rodgers) The ugly duckling then uses it as motivation and gets really hot. I’m talking hair coloring, working out, acne treatment, breast implants; the works. The guy (49ers) really knows he’s made a mistake and it’s made worst by the fact that the hot chick (Smith) starts getting fat. So the guy gets a new chick on the side. (Colin Kaepernick) The hot chick (Smith) notices this and starts making changes. She loses the extra weight, dresses better and all that jazz but the guy still dumps her for the new hot chick. So the once ugly duckling (Rodgers) goes to a huge party, where everyone knows she’s going to rub it in the guy’s face. She’s in a great dress and tries to make a grand entrance but falls on her face, while the new hot chick (Kaepernick) steps right over her with the guy (49ers) in tow, as the old hot chick (Smith) is forced to watch at home.)

Atlanta Falcons 30 – Seattle Seahawks 28

Matt Bryant kicks the Falcons one step close to the Super Bowl.
I really thought the Seahawks would win but I forgot won HUGE factor in the game. Seattle was being coached by Pete “I got fired from the NFL before for making these mistakes” Carroll. That being said, the Falcons really tried to be the “Falcons” in this one. They did everything they could to give this game away. Ryan throws the untimely INT, their defense starts choking, the offense starts stalling, Bryant misses the first field goal attempt, they mess up the kickoff, I mean the Falcons did everything but put a bow on this game for the Seahawks. But you know what they say, “a win is a win”. I’m sure Matt Ryan and the Falcons will definitely take it, but they shouldn’t sleep too well on it. (I’ll tell you why in the “Next Up” part of this post.) The one silver lining for Atlanta is the way Ryan played on their final drive. He had been pretty horrible up to that point in the second half and while I thought they had a chance because of their weapons, I didn’t think Ryan would capitalize. He went 2 for 2, kept his team calm and made the plays he had to make to win so there’s that. As for the Seahawks, what a fight in the end! Atlanta had ZERO pass rush and Russell Wilson had all day to throw the ball. He was single-handedly killing the Falcons and almost pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. He threw for over 300 yards in the second half alone and clearly out played Ryan down the stretch. The Seahawks have their longterm answer at QB and their future looks really bright but Pete Carroll killed them. Two rules. One, in a playoff game, or any game for that matter, you always take the points. Especially if you’re team is putting up a goose egg so far. You just need to get on the board at that point. You never want to leave points on the field or time outs in your pocket. Two, NEVER EVER DO THE ICE THE KICKER RIGHT BEFORE THE BALL IS SNAPPED AGAIN! I don’t care what the numbers say, don’t do it! It’s a lose-lose. You're giving a guy the chance to practice something he shouldn’t be able to practice. Why do you think some Broncos fans are still mad about the Baltimore kicker going out on the field between the overtimes? If the kicker misses it, like Bryant did, you look silly and like you just cost your team a chance to win the game when you call that timeout. There’s no advantage to letting a guy get to do something twice that he should ONLY HAVE THE CHANCE TO DO ONCE! You also take a metric ton of the pressure off of him by letting him have the free kick. Pete Carroll I blame you for this!

New England Patriots 41 – Houston Texans 28

Tom Brady leads the Patriots to their
7th AFC title game under his watch.
I don’t always go 0-4 when I pick playoff games because if I come close, I always got the Patriots to cover my butt by beating a team in the divisional round. The Patriots offense has been damn near unstoppable at times this season. Tom Brady seems to have so many options it’s like he’s at a freaking buffet, (Four different receivers with five or more receptions.) but the main reason for the Patriots offensive success is they’re balance. They can actually run the ball now and that’s just an added weapon for Brady. The Patriots ran for 122 yards and two TDs on Sunday, which means they can control the clock and run play action. Their defense is still “hit or miss” but they’re much better than they were a season ago. When you’re defense is THAT bad you’re getting nowhere, even with a great QB. (Cut to Packers fans nodding.) The defense isn’t as good as it was when they were winning Super Bowls but it’s good enough to win again. (The loss of Gronk doesn't hurt them this season because they've already played a chunk of their season without him.) The Texans had no real shot and they’re forced to look in the mirror. They even seem to have that “it” about them. The Texans just seem like another “good” team and not a “championship” team. They really missed Brian Cushing and they need someone on the other side to free up J.J. Watt. Matt Schaub couldn't seem to drive the ball down the field at all and he’s honestly looked hurt for a few weeks now. Not sure where Houston go from here but they need to do something to take that next step.
Will the Harbaughs reunite in New Orleans?

Next Up: AFC Championship Preview: The Patriots should have been praying as hard as Ray Lewis for a Broncos victory because the Ravens aren’t scared of them at all. They won big in the playoffs in ’09. (First home playoff lost in Gillette by the way.) They’re a caught pass and made field goal from beating the Patriots in the AFC championship game a year ago. Plus, Baltimore beat New England already this season. Sometimes a team has your number and Baltimore at least seems to have what it takes to beat New England. They’re like the AFC version of the Giants. Flacco outplayed Brady last season and I think he does it again this year, but will it be enough this time. I don't know what it is but something special is happening with this Ravens’ team. Maybe it’s destiny, maybe it’s they’re time or maybe it’s just Black Tebow. I’ve learned my lesson. No more betting against the Ray Lewis’ retirement world tour. If he got away with murder, he can get away with stealing a Super Bowl on his way out. (IT’S A JOKE, IT’S A JOKE. I KID, I KID.)

Next Up: NFC Championship Preview: Remember when I said the Falcons shouldn’t sleep too well about their victory over Seattle? It’s because running/read option QB’s have killed them all season long. Cam Newton beat them once and it should have been twice. (No INTS, four TDs passing, 196 yards rushing and 2 rushing TDs in two games.) RG3 doesn’t get hurt and the Falcons lose that game. The Falcons don’t do the two things they need to do in order to stop Kaepernick. The Falcons don’t generate anything close to a decent pass rush and this last game against Seattle not withstanding they don’t stop the run. I still count that game as a lost because Seattle kicks one FG and they beat the Falcons. I still don’t trust them because they’re still the Falcons and they needed Pete Carroll to bail them out of what would have been the worst collapse in team postseason history. I'm going out on a limb and saying Jim Harbaugh doesn’t make those coaching mistakes. So in the end, the Harbaugh family is going to have a very confused/torn time this year as both Jim and John will lead their teams to the Super Bowl. And don't forget, we were a few plays from that happening last year. 

Thanks for reading and don't forget to subscribe and share the blog. Join in the discussion by leaving a comment below. Follow me on twitter @ParisLay. Until next time... Enjoy the View!

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