Luck ousts Manning. The Seahawks become the first Super Bowl Champ to win a playoff game in nine years. Dallas falls on the other side of an officiating controversy. And Brady outlasts the Ravens in a barn burner.
Everything lacking in the Wild Card round came out in full force during last weekend’s divisional playoff contests. Here’s what you need to know to catch you up on all of the action.
New England Patriots 35 – 31 Baltimore Ravens
There’s nothing quite as exciting as a football game that comes down to a last-second Hail Mary, in particular when that Hail Mary actually finds its way into the end zone.
But what was most surprising was that the “final prayer” took place at all.
In a rare coaching mistake, Bill Belichick opted to kneel out the clock instead of running the ball after his team had stopped the Ravens on fourth down to essentially win the game. The miscalculation allowed John Harbaugh to call time-out after Brady’s third down kneel to force the Patriots to punt and keep Baltimore’s hopes alive.
If the Ravens catch that Hail Mary, Belichick’s clock mismanagement goes down as one of the all-time classic coaching blunders.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 11, 2015
That was the best, most catchable hail mary I’ve seen in a long time… #Ravens
— Andrew Luck (@FauxAndyLuck) January 11, 2015
Catchable pass, boneheaded clock management, all for naught – the ball was knocked down and Brady/Belichick are headed to their ninth (yes, you read that correctly) AFC Championship game. What a Bro-mance!
Much ado is given to New England’s decade long drought of Super Bowl titles, but the bottom line is that this team may very well be the most dominant dynasty of all time, even if their dominance comes with an asterisk or two.
For much of the game it looked as though the Ravens were once again set to upset the Pats at home in the playoffs. Flacco continued with his postseason brilliance, tossing 4 touchdowns on 28/45 passing (292 yards). Forget about his 2 interceptions, Joe had yet another golden performance to prove that his $100million contract is/was well deserved.
Speaking of contracts, Justin Forsett had a solid outing on Saturday, rushing for 129 yards on just 24 attempts. Following the game he said he wants “out of the friend zone” and into a long-term contract. As a late-blooming running back in the latter half of his career he won’t get the love that he’s dreaming of – but Baltimore would be smart to lock down Forsett and make their 1,000+ yard rusher an instant multi-millionaire.
The Patriots running game wasn’t quite so fruitful; three New England backs combined for a sum total of 14 yards, forcing Tom Brady to hoist up a whopping 50 passing attempts (33 completions, 367 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT).
But perhaps the pass of the day was a trick play that saw Julian Edelman launch a 51-yard bomb to fellow WR Danny Amendola. Amendola has been a fairly plump disappointment since being brought over from St. Louis to replace Wes Welker, but playoff touchdowns go a long way towards making the front office look less inept.
Seattle Seahawks 31 – 17 Carolina Panthers
For a while there the 12th man had to be nervous. Late in the third quarter Cam Newton and the Panthers were still hanging in, trailing 14-10 and putting a clamp down on Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle run game.
But Russell Wilson, who post-game said “I am made for this”, turned on the afterburners in the fourth to complete this weekend’s only blowout. Wilson was an incredible 8-8 on third down with 3 touchdowns and nearly 200 yards.
The Panthers’ fate was sealed when Cam Chancellor scored the longest touchdown in Seahawks postseason history, a 90-yard pick six that was 3 steps further than Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kickoff return to start the second half of last season’s Super Bowl.
I have never seen a defensive player run as fast as Cam Chancellor just returned that INT for a TD. Wow. #Seahawks
— Robb Pozarycki (@robbpoz) January 11, 2015
The Hawks showed flashes of invincibility in the fourth quarter, despite giving up their first fourth quarter points in – catch this – sevens games, but they looked very beatable for the first 45 minutes. Seattle remains as the odds-on favorites to be the first team to repeat since the Patriots a decade ago, but the next two games are hardly written in stone.
Green Bay Packers 26 – 21 Dallas Cowboys
They say that payback’s a bitch.
Dez Bryant and the Cowboys definitely got bitch-slapped on Sunday afternoon.
On a crucial 4th and 2 play from the 31-yard line, Tony Romo appeared to have connected with Dez Bryant for the go-ahead touchdown. Mike McCarthy of the Packers challenged the ruling on the field of a catch and after going 0-6 on replays for the regular season, the coach scored big as the refs reversed the call and essentially handed Green Bay the win.
Just one week after “stealing” their win over the Lions on a picked up flag, the Cowboys saw their own season end on a decision made by the zebras.
Then again, there are plenty out there who reluctantly admit that they did in fact get it right up there in the booth.
— Deion Sanders (@DeionSanders) January 11, 2015
The league has vacillated back and forth on this one over the years, flip-flopping the definition of a catch and confusing the fans – but it’s in the books now and Green Bay is headed to Seattle, where they’ll hope to avenge the ass-whooping they took at Centurylink Field in Week 1.
Aaron Rodgers appeared to be hobbled out there on his bum calf, throwing for a mere 90 yards in the first half, but after the break he was back to MVP form, tossing a pair of TDs to allow his team to take the lead. His final line was 316 yards on 24/35 passing with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Eddie Lacy chimed in with a 101-yard performance to balance out the Packer attack.
Tony Romo was neither heroic nor did he play the role of goat. For once a key Dallas loss won’t be pinned on his shoulders. Heading into the latter years of his career, Romo finally has a solid supporting cast, and we can expect to see Dallas back in the playoffs next season.
Indianapolis Colts 24 – 13 Denver Broncos
Woops, there goes the AFC Championship rematch. (And potential Super Bowl rematch, to boot!)
In a passing of the torch, so to speak, Andrew Luck has won his first “big-time” playoff game and once again Peyton Manning is one-and-done in the postseason.
For the third straight year the Broncos’ all-time greatest free agent signing has failed to bring the Lombardi back to the Mile High City. John Elway spent the entire off-season building up a soft defense to cover the team’s most glaring weakness but now it’s not so obvious what needs to be done to fix this team.
Manning had an off day, throwing 20 incompletions and amassing just 211 yards on 46 passes (1 TD, 0 INT).
Has the elder Manning brother played his final game? Is Peyton’s tank leaning towards empty? Will perhaps the greatest QB of all time retire with just one ring?
For now he says no, but nobody would blame him for walking away.
Andrew Luck is now 60 minutes away from his first Super Bowl appearance, but to get there he’ll need to take down the other candidate for G.O.A.T., once again on the road.
Then again, this feat was accomplished just two seasons ago:
Andrew Luck can become 4th QB to beat Manning & Brady in consecutive games. Last QB to do so? Joe Flacco in 2012 postseason. (@EliasSports)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 12, 2015
To pull off the back-to-back Hall-of-Fame smack-down, Andrew Luck will need to play better than he did in Denver. While NFL.com proclaimed that there’s “a new Sheriff in town”, the reality is that Luck played good but not great.
Luck was 27 of 43 for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns – but he also tossed a couple of picks.
The way Tom Brady is playing right now he can’t give the Pats a short field twice and expect to leave Gillette Stadium victorious.