One of the more exciting divisional playoff rounds in recent memory finished on Sunday, and because here in Florida the playoffs are nothing but a distant memory and a hope for the future, the Pewter Plank is going to keep you updated with the goings on in the NFL Playoffs. There was plenty of late game drama to be seen this weekend, but let’s start with possibly the most dramatic, and frustrating, game of the weekend.
Atlanta Falcons 30 – Seattle Seahawks 28
Before the game, it was reported that Russell Wilson listens to a particular gospel song before every game to get mentally prepared. Perhaps he needed to listen to Linkin Park once it was over? “I tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter” could be the anthem of Wilson’s performance, overcoming a slow start that is to be expected of a West Coast team playing at 10 AM on their biological clocks. Wilson also triumphed over a costly Marshawn Lynch fumble and some key mistakes by the defense to bring his team all the way back from a massive deficit to take the lead with half a minute left. However, Pete Carroll and his staff would throw it all away, and in the time it took Peyton Manning to pace off the field to get ready for overtime (more on that later), Matt Ryan threw to two open receivers who easily beat very deep shell coverage (the first mistake the Seahawks made) and set up Matt Bryant for a 49 yard field goal.
Bryant was set to take the pressure packed field goal, and as the snap was about to happen, Carroll called timeout. Bryant would proceed to kick the ball anyways, and despite most of the players on the field easing up because they knew the whistle had gone, the long snapper, holder, and kicker executed their normal routine. Bryant hit the kick straight down the hashmark and outside the right upright. Bryant, a savvy veteran with plenty of crunch time field goals to his credit, took the timeout like a champ and kicked a perfect field goal to give the Dirty Birds the lead. The icing the kicker time out is, as I pointed out yesterday, the second mistake the Seahawks made. Bryant would then fail to properly execute the squib kick on the ensuing kick off, and the Seahawks had a glimmer of hope. However, they used the 6 seconds available to them to gain only a handful of yards, instead of using the middle of the field and calling their final timeout, and did not allow veteran kicker Ryan Longwell the chance to make the Falcons pay for the mistake on the kickoff. The playcalling and decision making on the penultimate play of the game is the third and final of the Seahawks mistakes that sent Matt Ryan to the NFC title game for the first time in his young Falcons’ career.
Baltimore Ravens 38 – Denver Broncos 35
In an equally dramatic affair, Ray Lewis’ last ride found more gas in the tank and will soldier on for at least one more week as the Ravens made the most improbable of comebacks, and the Broncos gave up their chance to return the favor. Rahim Moore made one of the worst plays in the history of NFL at the safety position, failing to keep speedster Jacoby Jones in front of him, and then completely misjudging the Joe Flacco pass and allowing Jones to stroll into the end zone to complete a 70 yard miracle. This blunder eliminated the need for the Ravens to work the ball down the field to tie the game, and instead gave the game new life with just a half a minute to go. 30 seconds, multiple timeouts, and Peyton Manning with the ball, at home, in a tied game?
This is the stuff legendary tales are made of!
Fortunately for Baltimore fans, John Fox has no intentions of weaving any legendary tales.
The Broncos knelt on the ball and played for overtime, electing to not give Peyton the opportunity to gain the 40 or so yards needed to get into field goal range with half a minute and multiple timeouts in hand. Overtime was a sloppy affair, with neither team breaking down or showing weakness. Both punters made big plays for their teams, and field position was awful for both teams to start drives. It wasn’t until the first turnover of overtime that the field position tables were turned.
And it wasn’t Joe Flacco who turned it over, but rather Manning, who threw late (bad idea) across the middle (bad idea) across his body (bad idea) on the run (bad idea) in the direction of Brandon Stokely, who was quickly undercut by Corey Graham and Graham secured the ball to give the Ravens possession in Broncos’ territory. The Ravens would play it conservative, get the yards needed to set up Justin Tucker, and the rookie acted like he’d been there before, drilling home the game winning field goal to send the Ravens to the AFC Championship game to play…
New England Patriots 41 – Houston Texans 28
The New England Patriots, who would put the pedal down against the Texans, and never really look back. Despite two key injuries early in the game to players on the Patriots offense, Tom Brady used a plethora of weapons to carve apart the Texans defense, and the Bulls were only On Parade back to Houston to spend the offseason considering the future “identity” of the franchise. Shane Vereen was the weapon of choice for Brady and company, taking snaps from the injured Danny Woodhead, scoring three times in the game. Brandon Lloyd and Stevan Ridley also scored, and Stephen Gostkowski chipped in a few field goals, and the Patriots had all the points the needed to coast through the fourth quarter and let the score get closer than it should have been. The Texans weren’t particularly bad on the evening, but they were not efficient on third down, and the Texans defense failed to earn any takeaways. This is usually a formula for the Patriots to simply overpower a team, because when they’re not forced off the field by a turnover they simply will themselves down the field in key situations and score touchdowns that add up quickly.
San Francisco 49ers 45 – Green Bay Packers 31
In what should have been one of the closer games of the weekend, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense ran wild against the Packers, and the young Nevada signal caller put his name in the record books on his way to his first playoff victory as a starting quarterback. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards, which is the highest total for a quarterback in any game in NFL history, and accounted for four touchdowns as the Packers were hopeless to contain the read option. The defensive ends caved in to pursue Frank Gore and the rest of the San Fran running backs, and Kaepernick read them just as he did the Fresno State defense just over two years ago and used his formidable speed to break into open space and chew up chunks of yards to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. The game was tight for the first half, but the Niners would throw 21 unanswered points at the Packers in the second half and put the game away with little resistance. Can we all concede that Alex Smith is probably better off on the bench? Kaepernick is a special player and it will be great watching him develop his skills even further.
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