Is my knee really supposed to bend this way? - Al Bello
Looking back at the playoff games played this weekend at what comes next.
The NFL playoffs were off and running this last weekend and offenses everywhere decided not to show up. The Redskins, Bengals, and Vikings offenses looked so horrific my eyes actually started to bleed and when Robert Griffin III blew out his knee I started chanting, "Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far far away from here." The Texans and Colts moved the ball well between the 20s but would bog down and tried to win by kicking FGs with mixed results. And the Packers, Ravens, and Seahawks all put up respectable numbers but all three had long stretches where they didn't do a whole lot.
Of course an argument could be made that one of the reasons those offenses struggled was because of the outstanding play of the defenses they were facing, but people who argue that either didn't watch the games or watched them with homer tinted glasses. That's not to say the defenses didn't play well, because many of them did, but missing wide open receivers, dropped passes, and QBs trying to run around with only one good leg made them look better than they were.
Seahawks 24, Redskins 14
When the Redskins jumped out to a 14-0 1st quarter lead this game had all the makings of a blowout. Up until that point the Redskins had gained 134 yards of total offense and 2 TDs while the Seahawks had lost 2 yards in their only possession. But one play would change the fortunes for both teams. Two plays before Griffin threw his second TD pass he rolled out, fell backwards out of bounds and appeared to aggravate his already injured knee. The Seahawks would kick a FG on their next possession and Griffin completed only 4 of his 10 passes for 16 yards while also throwing an interception before his knee bent making him look like a human sized Stretch Armstrong.
It's easy to look back in retrospect and say he should have been pulled out, and I don't even fault Shanahan for leaving him in for the second quarter, but it was obvious something was wrong. Halftime was when I started thinking they should pull him and by the start of the 3rd quarter I really thought they should pull him. Then when he ran (and by "ran" I mean he hobbled horribly and looked about as fast as an 80 year old man) for a 9 yard gain it was painfully obvious he needed to be pulled.
By the time Kirk Cousins came in there was only 5:32 remaining with the Redskins trailing by 10-points. The Redskins became predictably one dimensional and Cousins was still able to throw for more yards (27) in his first 3 pass attempts than Griffin had managed in the Redskins previous 6 possessions (16).
"He said, 'Hey, trust me. I want to be in there, and I deserve to be in there,'" Shanahan said. "I couldn't disagree with him." Uh, well actually you can. You're the head coach, so it's kind of your job to do what is going to give your team the best chance to win not simply what your players want to do.
Now the Seahawks move on to Atlanta to see if they have any better luck stopping Marshawn Lynch, who gained 132 yards and a TD on 20 carries, and the last rookie QB standing Russell Wilson who once again didn't put up huge numbers, throwing for just 187 yards, but he did run the ball well, made key blocks for Lynch, and generally had a knack for making the big play when it's needed.
If you're interested ESPN has an insider story talking about how the Seahawks could win against the Falcons. I haven't read it but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's because the Falcons are overrated and are the only team still in the playoffs that doesn't even have a semblance of a running game. Or maybe it's because the Falcons have the worst defense remaining in the playoffs. Or possibly because Matty Ice has yet to win a playoff game and everyone knows it, talks about it, and all the pressure will be on them and not the Seahawks who's confidence has to be sky high right now. But that's just a guess.
Vikings 10, Packers 24
A few days ago I said the reason the Vikings probably wouldn't win it all was because of Christian Ponder. I didn't realize at the time he could actually hurt his team more by not playing than he could by being out there. Thanks to an injury to Ponder's arm Joe Webb got the start and spent most of the game throwing the ball at gophers. Maybe he just watched "Caddy Shack" or he saw Bill Murray in the stands.
With Webb struggling so bad Chiefs and Cardinals fans thought the Vikings stole one of their QBs, the defense was able to key in on Adrian Peterson even more than normal, which is a lot, and Peterson was held to 99 yards after rushing for 408 yards in their two regular season games. Throw in 3 Vikings turnovers and an efficient performance by Aaron Rodgers (23/33, 274 yards, 1 TD) and you can see why the Packers started game planning for the 49ers at halftime.
"No disrespect to Ponder, but ... it's about one guy and that's Adrian Peterson," said Woodson, who played his first game since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 21. "Our main focus, whether it was Ponder or Webb, was to keep 28 (Peterson) from getting off. And if we were going to keep him from getting off, put the ball in the quarterback's hands, whatever quarterback it was, we felt good about what was going to happen." Wait, so you're saying if you play a one dimensional team and you take away that one thing they do well, they're going to have a hard time beating you? I feel like I'm watching a Guinness commercial, "Brilliant!"
For the Packers the win had to feel extra sweet since they not only advanced but got to eliminate the team that beat them in week 17, which was the whole reason they had to play in the first place instead of getting a bye. Caught up in their thirst for revenge fans could be heard chanting at the end of the game, "Nah-nah-nah-nah. Nah-nah-nah-nah. Hey-hey-hey, goodbye." Oh, those original Packers fans. Did Peterson shout back, "I am rubber, you are glue." Why not sing something new like the lyrics to "Zero" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs:
You're a zero
What's your name?
No one's gonna ask you
Better find out where they want you to go
Try and hit the spot
Get to know it in the dark
Get to know it whether you're
Crying, crying, crying oh oh
Can you climb, climb, climb higher
Bengals 13, Texans 19
The Texans dominated this game in just about every conceivable way. They outgained the Bengals in total yards 420-198, first downs 24-12, passing yards 262-118, rushing yards 158-80, and time of possession 38:49-21:11. The Bengals also went 1 for 11 on 3rd and 4th down conversions.
Yet with just over 3 minutes to play the Bengals found themselves on the Texans 35-yard line down by only 6 points. They had been totally and completely outplayed for 57 minutes and still found themselves needing only 35 more yards to take the lead. It would be like getting beat in a boxing fight for 6 rounds only to land a knockout blow for the win. Only Pacquiao (Texans) didn't get knocked out in this one. The defense stiffened, the Bengals turned it over on downs, and the offense ran off the rest of the clock.
Arian Foster gained 140 yards on the ground to set the tempo for the Texans offense while Matt Schuab completed 29 of 38 passes for 262 yards in his first career playoff game. I know, it feels like Schuab's been around forever yet this was his very first playoff start.
So how were the Bengals able to hang around until the end? First off the Texans had to keep settling for FGs. Four times the Texans drove inside the Bengals 10-yard line and three times they had to settle for a FG. Then there was the fact the Bengals only TD came on defense when Leon Hall intercepted Schuab's pass and returned it 21-yards for the score. Turn just one of those FGs into a TD and get rid of the pick-6 and the Texans win this thing 23-6. But as they say, "If ‘Ifs' and ‘buts' where candy and nuts, every team who lost this last weekend would have a lot of candy and nuts, especially the Redskins." At least I'm pretty sure that's how the saying goes.
Now the Texans are looking at a rematch with the Patriots, a team that crushed them by 28 points just a few weeks ago. The last time the Patriots crushed a team in December (45-3 over the Jets) and met them again in the playoffs they...lost? The Jets actually won their playoff game 28-21. So you're saying there's a chance.
Foster is already playing the respect card and changed his twitter avatar to something Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe wrote:
The 2012-13 New England Patriots just became the first team in NFL history to get back-to-back byes before advancing to the conference championship game.
Could this get any easier?
I mean, seriously? The planets are aligned and the tomato cans are in place. The fraudulent Houston Texans are the only team standing between the New England Patriots and a trip to the AFC Championship game. All the Patriots have to do is beat the terrible Texans. One week from today. At Gillette Stadium.
Is it just me or does it seem like most of the biggest trash talkers live back East? Well, now that I think about it there are quite a few in Texas as well. Besides, the first team to get back-to-back byes before advancing to the conference championship game was the Bears when they played the 8-9 Seahawks in the divisional round, so the Patriots aren't the first.
Colts 9, Ravens 24
In Ray Lewis's last home game the Ravens won the way they've won for most of his career in Baltimore, with the defense leading the way. The Colts didn't score until their 5th offensive possession and they made only one trip into the red zone as their first two scores came on 50+ yard FGs.
Offensively the Ravens combined a strong running game to bring defenders in with a solid long strike air attack to loosen them back up. Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice combined for 173 rushing yards and Joe Flacco completed 12 of his 23 passes for 282 yards and 2 TDs which is almost 24 yards per completed pass.
It was a disappointing end for the Colts in what had been an emotionally up and down season. "The foundation is set, and we said we were going to build one on rock and not on sand," Pagano said. "You weather storms like this and you learn from times like this." Nice Bible reference but does anyone say they're going to build on sand? Maybe the Jets with Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan with his tattoo of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey on his arm are built on sand, but every other team at least says they're trying to lay a solid foundation. By the way, did Ryan fake that tattoo?
Just like the Packers and Texans, the Ravens are getting a rematch of a team that beat them earlier in the season. And while the 34-17 final score gives the impression the Broncos easily handled the Ravens, it was actually a lot closer than the score would indicate. At one point just before the half the Ravens were down 10-0 and had driven inside the Broncos red zone. That's when a Flacco interception was returned the other way for a TD. That's a potential 14 point swing that if you get rid of shows a much closer game. But you know what they say, "If ‘Ifs' and ‘Buts' were candy and nuts Lewis would have some for dropping that easy interception Sunday."
The Ravens may be underdogs next week but they feel confident they can win. "I came to Baltimore to win a championship," Anquan Boldin who had 5 receptions for 145 yards and a TD said. "We all did." And here I thought you went there because they offered you more money than Arizona. He then went on to say, "I wanted Denver because they beat us." The problem is you can hardly swing a stick without hitting a playoff team that beat the Ravens this year including the Bengals, Redskins, and Texans.
They must be hoping for a rematch of their 43-13 drubbing in Houston. All we would need is an article by an overconfident Dallas writer saying what pretenders the Ravens are and how the Texans are the first team in history to get a bye in the Conference Championship game for the irony circle to be complete. Which means the AFC Championship game will probably be the Patriots in Denver.