Divisional Weekend Reaction
By: Patrick Snow | 1/17/11, 2:10 AM EST
Steelers 31 Ravens 24
This one will sting John Harbaugh’s crew for a while. The Ravens turned two early Pittsburgh fumbles into touchdowns and led 21-7 at the half. That would change in the critical third quarter when Baltimore committed three turnovers, and those were converted into 17 points for the Steelers. While Dick LeBeau’s defense was stellar as usual, the tough part for the Baltimore offense is that the turnovers came at a time when the one thing they could do to lose the game was give Pittsburgh short fields.
The fumble by Ray Rice (first fumble in 405 touches) on a third and long dumpoff, the bad overthrow by Joe Flacco on first down, and the botched snap were so unnecessary. With the way the Baltimore defense was playing, the Steelers were not going to drive up and down the field for 17 points. Add in an Anquan Boldin dropped TD and a T.J. Houshmandzadeh drop on the Ravens’ final play, and you have too many mistakes to overcome.
Baltimore did have some bad luck. The flag on the punt return touchdown by Lardarius Webb and the defensive holding (when the Steelers had an obvious hold in the backfield) on the Steelers’ winning drive were horrible calls. I know NFL fans are not shocked that a) Jeff Triplette’s crew had a bad game, or b) the Steelers benefited on critical calls in a postseason game. However, this game is on the Ravens and their unforced errors.
Packers 48 Falcons 21
It’s unusual to see a number six seed so heavily predicted to beat a number one, but that sentiment turned out to be correct in Green Bay’s systematic beatdown of the Falcons. Atlanta led early by scoring off a Greg Jennings fumble and then getting an Eric Weems 102-yard kick return score (after a Green Bay touchdown). However the Falcons’ defense was no match for the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the play calling of Mike McCarthy, as Atlanta could not force a Packers’ punt all night.
It probably would not have made a difference in the end, but the death knell of Atlanta’s season came on the last play of the first half. After taking a sack with ten seconds to go and trailing 21-14, the Falcons called timeout and decided to run another play instead of kicking a 52-yard field goal. Matt Ryan made an ill-advised throw to the sideline, and it was intercepted and returned for a 70-yard score by Tramon Williams. You could just feel the energy leaving the Georgia Dome with that play.
The Falcons do not have a comeback offense, and they look defeated at the half. After two more Green Bay TDs in the third quarter, the blowout was in full effect. Rodgers had one of the better postseason performances – 31-for-36, 366 yards and three touchdowns – that we’ve seen in years. And kudos to McCarthy, who has his team in the NFC Championship after a ton injuries this season.
Bears 35 Seahawks 24
This one went pretty much as expected. There’s a reason the Seahawks entered this game with eight wins and nine losses: they’re only good half of the time. Pete Carroll’s bunch surprised us all by taking out the Saints last week at home, but it would be a different story in the Windy City. The Seattle 2-6 road record was a good indicator that a blowout could happen, even though they won in Chicago much earlier in the year. The Bears improved a ton – especially on offense – in the second half of the season, and they went up and down the field on the Seahawks for a 28-3 halftime lead.
Seattle was not going to stand toe-to-toe with the Bears. They needed to make a few big plays but whiffed (Cameron Morrah drop right after John Carlson’s injury; Jordan Babineaux’s dropped interception, etc.) on the few chances they had early. Matt Hasselbeck would add three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter when the Bears were playing prevent defense, but it would not be enough.
Green Bay and Chicago have only met once in playoffs – in 1941. The second meeting should be a classic this Sunday.
Jets 28 Patriots 21
Once a playoff weekend, there is a game that generally surprises you. Last Saturday, it was Seattle lighting up the New Orleans defense. This week, it was Rex Ryan’s defense getting the best of the Patriots’ offense. The Jets defenders, who had 45 points scored on them during their last New England visit, were able to mix the perfect combination of pressure and coverage throughout the game. They had five sacks of Tom Brady, who is not used to experiencing much pressure in the pocket. After an early interception, Brady seemed hesitant to throw unless his receivers were wide open. The veteran quarterback had to throw away a ton of passes, something rarely seen during the regular season.
Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez struggled at times, but he had three touchdown throws and no turnovers. The second-year signal caller had a ton of help from his receiving crew of Jerricho Cothchery, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, who all made huge contributions. Cotchery’s 58-yard catch and run was probably the biggest play of the day, as it happened right after New England had cut the lead to 14-11. After a spectacular touchdown catch by Holmes, the Jets had killed the Pats’ momentum.
There was a lot of trash talk before the game, but Ryan’s team was able to back it up on the road. The talk for the Jets will now focus on their second straight AFC Championship Game. For New England, it will be about their third straight playoff loss (postseason life seems a little different after ‘Spygate’?). Going back to Super Bowl XXLI, the common theme of the three Patriot losses has been the defensive pressure on Brady. During the regular season, he was hardly ever touched. But the Jets, much like the Giants in ’07 and the Ravens in ’09, were able to solve the New England scheme and claim a resounding victory.
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