For all the fawning over last weekend’s NFL playoff games, I’m finding myself a lot more underwhelmed than most, it seems. There seemed to be a whole lot of sloppy, hard-headed* football that didn’t really hold my attention.
*This is distinctly different from “hard hat,” which I think the vast majority of Wabash football fans, at least, get.
The most entertaining game was most likely the game I thought would be the most entertaining going into the weekend, and that was Seattle going to Atlanta. The beginning of the game was a yawner as the Falcons built their lead. As the Seahawks whittled down to the point getting to within six, I was definitely having shades of the Redskins game, only Matt Ryan’s legs weren’t threatening to explode with every step he took. And, well, clearly they held up just fine. When Seattle took the one point lead with about thirty seconds left on the clock, I would have bet my life savings on the Falcons. I really was that confident, and mostly because I had watched this movie before. I was watching the end of that Falcons-Panthers game towards the start of the year and knew the exact blueprint the Falcons were going to use to pull this off. And it went right according to plan.
There are a couple wrinkles here, and none of them are good for the Seahawks. First off, I don’t think I’ve watched an entire Falcons game all year. I knew what they were going to do to pick up the huge chunks of yards they needed to get into field goal range. You would think the Seattle defense and coaching staff might have an idea, then. Apparently, they did not. Next up, icing the kicker has never seemed like a good strategy at all, and this is just another example. Worse than that was Pete “One Step Ahead of the Posse” Carroll stomping around and acting incredulous because a timeout was called in the first place. And, of course, FOX had the video on hand showing Carroll calling the timeout. I wish I could find video for definitive proof, but suffice to say I’m not the only one who remembers this exact same scenario happening while Carroll was at Southern Cal.* Shameful, Pete, though I suppose that’s kinda par for the course, right?
*Carroll has since said he was upset that the Falcons were able to essentially get a practice kick. He says the officials told him that wouldn’t be allowed. Now, I’m not saying Matt Bryant had his usual timing after that timeout, but it was called close enough to the kick that it certainly wasn’t anything unusual. Not the same situation as what happened in Denver at all. Besides, I have a hard time believing that was actually what Carroll was complaining about due to above incident.
We’ll look at the other NFC game, San Francisco hosting Green Bay. This game was probably lucky to be as close as it was, as things turned out. I was most certainly on the Green Bay bandwagon, and not just because my wife and her family are Packer fans. I really didn’t think there was any way that Aaron Rodgers would screw up his return. And I guess I’m not sure he really screwed it up,* the Green Bay defense was just atrocious. Colin Kaepernick ran wild the entire game, and it didn’t appear that the Packer defense ever made any serious adjustments. They just kept trying to collapse the corners to make Kaepernick stay in the pocket, which clearly didn’t work at any point in the game. Not a good showing by anybody on the defensive side for Green Bay, including the revered Dom Capers.
*Though he did seem awfully tight to me.
Maybe even worse than that, though, was Mike McCarthy. I’ve certainly heard complaints about how conservative a coach he is from my father-in-law, but his decision to punt early in the fourth quarter was more than conservative. That was plainly waving the white flag, and, well, it just seemed far, far too early to do that. I’m surprised Rodgers didn’t have a bit of a hissy fit when being taken off the field in that situation, and I don’t think many would have blamed him. Just a sad showing all around, much like the spanking they got from the Giants in last year’s playoffs.
Over on the AFC side, well, there was the Patriots-Texans game, but there’s not a whole lot to say about that. Houston hung around for longer than I thought they would, but in the end, they were still just outmatched and in over their heads in this game. Enough said.
There is quite a bit more to be said about the debacle that turned out to be the Denver Broncos. In short, there is plenty of blame to go around for how the Broncos choked that game away. The most obvious culprit is the safety, Rahim Moore. I don’t think it was laziness, as Peter King half-heartedly suggested. I’m not even sure it was a lack of concentration, which was King’s other suggestion. Moore had more than enough time and initial cushion to stay behind the receiver. He just had the mother of all bad judgements. You can clearly see he is looking up at the sky and seems to be tracking the ball, much like a center fielder would track a relatively easy fly ball. The problem was he was about ten feet in front of where the ball came down at. I don’t have an explanation for how he so badly misjudged the ball. Maybe he just didn’t think Flacco could throw that far, maybe he lost the ball in the lights for a moment. I really don’t know. But it was embarrassing, and that was the direct cause of losing the lead and going to overtime.
It was not, however, the only mistake. John Fox has to shoulder a lot, if not most, of the blame. To call his gameplan conservative makes Mike McCarthy look like a madman. What was the point of picking up Peyton Manning and his salary if you’re not going to use him? It’s not quite as bad as Tim Tebow and the Jets, but it’s not too far off. You get Peyton Manning to be the stud quarterback with the laser rocket arm. You do not get him to kneel the ball in a tie game with thirty seconds and two timeouts in your pocket. Now, it has been suggested that Manning was having some arm issues. The team has denied this, but I almost have to believe it’s the truth. There is just no other explanation as to why you wouldn’t at least take a shot or two down the field. You don’t need a touchdown. Just get into field goal range, which supposedly is more liberal in Denver thanks to the thin air. The kneel down to end the first half was bad enough. The one to end the game was just criminal.
Speaking of Manning, it’s a much smaller part of the blame, but that was an awful throw on the final interception. Manning knows this, he’s said as much. It was just odd to see that coming from Peyton. As most Colts fans can tell you, he certainly forced his share of balls, but on the run and against his body? That was very un-Peyton-like. He might try to throw a rocket into a tight space when he’s got his feet under him and he can drive the ball, but you rarely saw him do that on the run. And if he did, it was to the sideline. If there was ever a sign of Peyton pressing too hard in the playoffs, that was it. And it’s just a damn shame, too. I really thought the Broncos could beat the Patriots in Denver. And I do want to see Peyton get one more ring. Now it’s another year gone. Hopefully those nerves can heal up just a little bit more this offseason.
I’m running a bit long, but let’s take a quick look ahead to next week. We’ve got the 49ers going down to Atlanta, and the Patriots will host the Ravens. I’ve been calling for the end of Baltimore's season since before the playoffs started, I’m not going to change that now. But, I’m much less confident in saying that now. The Ravens have impressed me, they’ve shown me there was much more left in the tank than I certainly realized. I don’t think I’m alone in that, either. Still, the Patriots look to be their cold, mechanical precision selves. And the game is in Foxboro. Advantage: Patriots. Hate to say that, but there it is. In the other game, wow. I really don’t know. I think it will be awfully close. The 49ers are awfully good, probably the best team in football when everything is firing on all cylinders. Atlanta, though, is not the top-seed for nothing. They have been the model of consistency this year, and I don’t know if you will see the same second-half swoon from their defense now that this group has a playoff win under their belt. This is really too close to call. Still, I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I were to sidestep it entirely.* I’m going to tentatively call this one for the 49ers, but I certainly wouldn’t be putting any confidence points on this game if I were picking for a pool.
*Of course, that’s implying that I am much of a blogger. I guess that’s not really up to me.