by Ryan Meehan
Wild card weekend has come and gone, and provided us with our first glimpse of playoff football for 2013. It was a pretty busy two days, and there was more than enough storylines to go around. Ray Lewis announcing his retirement, Ponder injured, how RG3 would perform with that knee brace, how Seattle would play on the road, whether gingers can be elite level quarterbacks, et cetera. I went 3-1, which was much better than I have done the past few years with my only loss falling to a team I should have never picked against to begin with. Let’s take a look at the action.
Texans 19, Bengals 13
This game was much closer than you’d think if you looked at the stat sheet. The Houston Texans had the ball for 23 minutes in the first half and appeared to be closing the deal. The only problem was, they were starting to make stupid mistakes and do things that a playoff team usually can’t afford to do. In the first half, it looked like the Bengals were going to get beaten, albeit very slowly. The Texans moved the ball down the field twice very well and went up 6-0 after the Cardiac Cats weren’t able to come up with any points. Luckily for them, Matt Schaub made a very dangerous throw backed up in his own territory and was picked off by Leon Hall. The Bengals went up 7-6.
In the first 22 minutes, Houston had the ball for 17 and after a half an hour that number was 23. They had the ball forever at times, but the end zone didn’t seem to be anywhere nearby. (I’ll discuss that trend here in a second) They had a certain look of nervousness about them and I’m not really certain why. Even when they were in control, they couldn’t stop themselves from doing stupid shit so it’s a good thing they drew the Bengals’ name in the tourney. Finally they put together a 7 point scoring drive that was capped off by a run from Arian Foster. Cincinnati got back to business with a huge throw to AJ Green, and even though they couldn’t get in the end zone you had the feeling that only down 16-10 when they had been so abused up to that point. Each team would only get another three spot apiece and the game was over.
In this game we really started to see the greatest paradox in NFL playoff football: Why is it that inside the red zone (20) and the dark red zone (10) it is so much harder to score a touchdown in the playoffs? It was rampant as all living fuck this weekend, everywhere you turned. The Texans had five scoring instances and only one of them was a touchdown? It seems easy enough to crack the code: “Well, it’s because defenses step up more in the playoffs”. So offenses just don’t? That’s always puzzled me, and this weekend was another harsh reminder of that.
Andy Dalton threw for two picks, and when all was said and done the Bengals didn’t have one single offensive touchdown. Their running game simply did not hold up and didn’t matchup to the pace that the Texans had dictated this game was going to move at. Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis ran 11 times for 63 yards, but the other running backs that were supposed to make up for his injury didn’t show up at all. From a receiving standpoint, the Texans were much more balanced than the Bengals. Cincinnati put all their eggs in Green’s basket, and Dalton missed the one throw that could have propelled them into the next round.
Going in to this game, you were hearing a lot of analysts ask “What’s been wrong with the Texans the past month”? It was a valid question concerning a team that had looked sketchy at best. When we watched this game we found out what it was: It’s their inability to punch the ball into the end zone. Even in a victory, we saw the side of the Houston Texans that we knew was there but didn’t really want to admit we knew was there.
Packers 24, Vikings 10
About an hour and a half before this game began, news broke out of Green Bay that due to Christian Ponder’s elbow injury, he would not be playing. This meant of course that backup quarterback Joe Webb would now be the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. It also hit people like me (who don’t have a dog in the fight) like a ton of bricks because it meant that they had no shot at winning and therefore it would not be as close as the afternoon affair. But out of the box the Vikings didn’t look that bad…they went right down the field and it looked like they were going to score. But the Pack held, and then Minnesota settled for a field goal to go up 3-0. At that moment, I did think that if the Vikes could have held on the following drive that they were going to have a legitimate chance at making this game competitive. After a few punts, Rodgers led the Packers on a touchdown drive that ended with a pass to Kuhn who would score twice. They never looked back and the only TD the Vikings scored was when it was too late to matter. They were owned by the green and yellow on this night in almost every facet.
Adrian Peterson ran the ball 22 times in this game for 99 yards, and Joe Webb went 11 for 30 for 180 yards. Were the Vikings even good enough to be in the playoffs anyway? The play selection certainly wouldn’t suggest that they were…Look, I understand you can’t hand it off to Adrian every down, but they asked that kid to throw the ball 30 times? To be fair, a couple of those were last second desperation passes that he had no chance of completing but that kind of speaks volumes about a Minnesota offensive line that we knew was impregnable. (Yes, I did just give you the visual of someone impregnating the Vikings OL. If that’s the worst thing that happens to you this week, I’d say you’re still doing well)
We’ll never know if Christian Ponder would have made this game winnable for the Vikings. However, I think it’s safe to say that the game would have at least been closer. He wasn’t ready at all and the Packers knew damn well that was the case. As for Green Bay, they looked like the alert and decisive team that is unstoppable and can control the tempo of any game. I thought their defense played really well, and Ryan Grant looked good in the few carries he did get. And there was at least some unexpected goings-on in the form of fullback John Kuhn scoring two touchdowns, which was cool to see someone from that position score multiple times. Charles Woodson played his first game since October 21st when he broke his collarbone, and everyone else is healthy. You get the feeling that with Green Bay, they look to be more in control than they were when the end of last year was coming.
Ravens 24, Colts 9
As it was to be the last home game ever for Ray Lewis and the Ravens, he delivered in brutal Raven fashion. He racked up 13 tackles, and forced one key fumble. He danced, he looked awkward, he played passionately. But Baltimore did not exactly fly out of the box on offense. They needed some motivation from their defense and they got it, and went into halftime up 10-6. In the second half, they broke away and Indy really didn’t have a shot. Anquan Boldin had a touchdown catch and came up big on a couple of drives, and had over 100 yards receiving in the third quarter.
The Ravens did a lot of typical Ravens things. There was a lot of the extra playoff chippiness that you get in Baltimore after the whistle blows, that’s just who they are. Indy is a younger team so they figured they could rattle the Colts. Baltimore only had the ball for 22 and a half minutes and they still ran the Colts in this one. The pushed them at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football and were just more bully than Indy was. What really amazed me was the fact that Ray Rice fumbled twice but they still won. On defense they continued to stay in Luck’s face and put him on his back constantly. Corey Graham tipped a pass that was intercepted by Jeremy Williams and then from that point on the life was completely sucked out of the Colts.
While Luck had an amazing year, he also had a lot of accuracy issues as well. This game was full of passes where it seems like they were just far off enough for it to become a serious problem, and that was the case because they never found the end zone. Everyone is behind the Chuck Pagano story, but as a from a coaching standpoint they could have done a much better job managing the game. Luck threw the ball 52 times this afternoon, and only completed 28. Draft priority for the Colts is 1) running back or halfback/tailback, and then 2) offensive line.
Best tweet from this game: @DougStanhope “Did Shannon Sharpe play Mush-Mouth on The Cosby Kids? #NFLTodayblows”
Seahawks 24, Redskins 14
Entering this game, Russell Wilson was the highest rated quarterback in the entire NFL over the last two months. At the outset they were throwing all sorts of stats like that and it was all well and good, but the Skins got the ball first and got moving. Alfred Morris was killing it as he had two big runs, and RG3 capped off a great drive with a TD pass to Evan Royster on an option route. It looked as if Seattle was going to have to play catchup. The Seahawks got the ball back, and to say it was disappointing after all the pregame hype was an understatement. 3 and out, and they would punt leaving the Skins with great field position and the Redskins would do it all over again. Another drive, another touchdown pass on third down. By the end of the quarter, Washington had 104 total yards and the Seahawks had -2. The buzzards were circling on the Seahawks season, and it looked like they didn’t have a sense of pace at all.
Then, the Seattle Seahawks climbed back into this game in a manner that I can really respect even though I don’t like Pete Carroll. They dominated the second quarter, where that stat from earlier is now in their favor 109 to 11. They were having some issues with their field goal kicker but tacked on three points after a short drive. Washington goes three and out again and Wilson answers by hitting Robinson off of that corner route. Tack on another FG and they go into halftime down only one. They had their “almost” moments, but for the most part I was impressed. It was as this point they retained a better sense of where the pace of the game lied. Griffin was intercepted by Earl Thomas and they put together a nice drive but Marshawn Lynch fumbled on the 2 yard line, that’s gotta be killing him the rest of the game. Baldwin had some great catches on that drive though. Headed into the locker room, Seattle looked to be on top of the world.
When both teams came out to play the second half, you got the feeling Washington was a little bit more nervous because they had the chance to blow the game up and failed. The third quarter sort of dragged, and then not a lot got going on although I thought at one point the Skins really had an opportunity to make a statement drive that could have swung the pendulum back in their wheelhouse. Instead, the Hawks had that drive for themselves on the back of one Zack Miller on which Marshawn Lynch scored to pay back his debt from the fumble. They went for two, and there was Miller again for the catch as much pressure was sent for Russell Wilson.
The Skins probably had one last shot to get back in it, but Robert Griffin’s knee injury was finally getting the best of him. A bad snap and he went to bend down, and even with the brace he couldn’t fight it off any longer. When Griffin went down, it was kind of a very telling omen about how far you can push a guy. He had to start but he could have come out. The play that they ran late in the third quarter where he just ran a diagonal to the out of bounds line for a quick pickup he looked hurt as hell, so I can imagine by the fourth quarter it wasn’t going to get any better. I feel bad for the kid that it ended like that but he is a fighter and the Redskins will be back next year.
On the other hand, the Seahawks are in good shape – Other than that kicker position, everybody’s going to be healthy for next week, and while they wouldn’t likely stand a chance against Green Bay or San Francisco, beating Atlanta divisional round isn’t that far fetched. Lynch did fumble in a key situation where they had to come away with points and they got none, and Wilson is all over the place sometimes but overall they should be able to play in Atlanta if they got rowdy in Washington.
Next Week’s playoff matchups:
Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
Could be a tough matchup but I’m sure early lines are going to go heavily in Denver’s favor.
Houston Texans (13-4) at New England Patriots (12-4)
I’m just going to go ahead and say it right now: The Texans have no shot at winning this game. None.
Seattle Seahawks (11-6) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
Of all of the wild card teams that made it through, the Seahawks have the best chance to advance.
Green Bay Packers (12-5) at San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
This is the one I am looking forward to, Saturday night’s alright for fighting.
We will go further into next week’s games in our Divisional Playoff Preview Piece. Look for that next weekend.
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