Divisional Daze: What a Weekend of Football
As I watched Seattle’s unlikely rally against Atlanta, I sent out a thought on Twitter that I’ll still defend this morning: the only things more insane than the NFL playoffs are locked away in asylums.
For the football fan, this weekend’s four games were nothing short of euphoric. Those rooting for the Broncos, Packers, Seahawks, or Texans might feel differently right now, but they’ll come around once the saltiness wears off. Of the eight halves of football played Saturday and Sunday, probably six were so closely contended that either team could’ve won them. For the last weekend where will have that much football to play, that was a sweet final treat.
Three of the four teams that were in their conference championships last year are back. And the one that isn’t? That’d be the defending world champions. If you think you can spot a favorite heading into next week, you better look closer.
What more can you say about Baltimore? No one gave them the time of day having to play in Denver on six days’ rest and they didn’t just pull off the upset, they pulled it off with Denver virtually on top of their game. It’d be easy for us to overlook the accomplishment if the Broncos just came out and laid an egg, but they were every bit the team we thought they would be.
In fact, if anything, the Ravens had a little luck in pulling off the victory. I couldn’t help but to see the irony in Peyton Manning’s final interception. A rare mistake from the maestro ultimately cost Denver the game, but how many close calls did Joe Flacco have? How many times did a bad throw or a poor coverage read end in an incomplete pass instead of a turnover? Flacco was ultimately the quarterback that advanced on Saturday but his team practically won in spite of him.
And how about Ray Lewis? I know he’s a bit of a polarizing figure, but with the Colts, Seahawks, and Redskins eliminated, this final Super Bowl run has quickly become the best story still going on in these playoffs. Love him or hate him, you couldn’t help but to feel a share of the emotion Lewis displayed on the field at Mile High on Saturday. There was no brash victory dance, just a grown man reduced to tears in the face of hard-fought victory.
If the Broncos had high expectations they didn’t live up to, though, imagine how the Packers feel. Didn’t the almighty Peter King JUST pick them to win it all? And instead, they fell flat on their face and punched the 49ers ticket back to the NFC Championship.
When I talked about the six extremely competitive halves, I was not referring to the second half in the Niners-Packers game. That was, to say the least, painful to watch. The Packers were supposed to be this battle-tested, championship-caliber team that was finally healthy and firing on all cylinders. Instead, they completely and utterly imploded.
The 49ers young gun slinger Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, had the game of his life. The best thing about it was, when he threw that initial pick-six, all the armchair pundits tore Kaepernick a new one. The same people who once called Alex Smith a bust now chastised Jim Harbaugh for not putting him in the game.
But Harbaugh stuck with Kaerpernick who spent the next 55 minutes or so of the game being otherworldly. If the Packers utter and total collapse in the second half hadn’t been enough to advance San Francisco, the play of Kaep definitely would have.
But Kaepernick wasn’t the youngest, most inexperienced quarterback out there this weekend. That honor belongs to Russell Wilson whose Seahawks nearly pulled off one hell of an upset against the Falcons.
It seemed at every turn the commentators were willing Seattle to get into the game. 13-0: We’ll this right around where they turned it around against Washington. 20-0: Well, this offense is too good to go this long without scoring. As it turned out, that lack of points in the first half ultimately cost the Seahawks the game.
Seattle had their chances. On a 4th Down when Pete Carroll should’ve just kicked a field goal to put SOME points on the board, he instead sent out the offense who failed to convert. Then, as time wound down, there was that horrible series clock management and play-calling mistakes that led to the Seahawks walking away with no points when they were seemingly in arm’s reach of the endzone.
The Seahawks’ first half was bad, laughably bad. So when the team rallied to outscore Atlanta 28-7 in the second half and take a one-point lead over the Falcons, we were rendered virtually speechless. In some ways, it made perfect sense. These Falcons had a rap for being choke artists in the postseason. So why not choke in the most jaw-dropping way when they had the highest accolades — home-field advantage through the playoffs — this current regime had ever accrued.
Well if the Falcons choked, their kicker Matt Bryant performed the Heimlich Maneuver. After he shanked his first attempt which was iced by a Seattle timeout, Bryant but the second one straight through.
After the game, Carroll took issue with the first attempt, saying he was promised there would be no “practice kicks”. I find it a little comical that Carroll took issue with field goal attempts. After all, had he taken one or two of his one, his team might be playing in San Francisco next weekend.
And then there was the final game: Houston and New England. Some wanted to write off the Texans before it even began with the shellacking they took in primetime at Gillette Stadium during the regular season, but I knew better. This game was for a ticket to the conference championship. Houston wasn’t going to come out flat-footed like they did then.
And for most of the game, the Texans put up a good fight. It was only on a horrendous Matt Schaub interception that Tom Brady and the Patriots then took down the field for a touchdown that the game seemed out of reach.
I had Houston as my Super Bowl pick, but I went into these playoffs with serious reservations about that prediction. If there was a team in their path to New Orleans that they were going to lose to, it was going to be New England. Now, the Patriots take their place as my Super Bowl pick. But with it narrowed down to four teams, picking the highest seed still alive in the AFC isn’t exactly a bold stance.
NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans!
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