Monday 21 August 2017 / 04:58 AM

‘Twas a Wild, Wild, Wild-Card Weekend

Please excuse the cheesy pun usage of “wild” in my article title. It’s cliché, passé, faux pas, and whatever the French word is for lazy. But hey, this first weekend of the NFL playoffs has left me shattered. All four games were an emotional roller-coaster ride, and I didn’t even care that much who won. I’ll be an absolute wreck next Sunday when the Saints arrive for their rematch with my beloved Seahawks. But before I give myself irritable bowel syndrome from worrying about a game that’s a week away, let’s take a look at one of the more entertaining Wild Card rounds in recent memory.

 

Indianapolis Colts 45 – 44 Kansas City Chiefs

 

Please tell me that you’re not one of those idiots who turned this one off at halftime. I mean, I understand, it was 31-10 and the Chiefs were rolling on the Colts even without their leading rusher and receiver (Jamaal Charles left the game with a concussion a mere 6 plays into the contest), but it’s the playoffs, does it really hurt you to watch football for another 90 minutes just for the sake of watching football?

For a time there it looked as though Andrew Luck was going to be the latest in a line of Colts QBs who struggle to win in the post-season. Down by 21 at the start of the 3rd, Luck threw his second of 3 INTs on the first play of the second half. Kansas City took advantage of the short field and went up by 4 scores on Alex Smith’s 4th TD toss of the afternoon.

Seriously, Smith played lights out football in what was easily the best game of his career. Not only did he throw for 378 yards with 4 TDs and no INTs, he added an additional 57 yards with his legs. He did give up a crucial fumble on a sack by Robert Mathis in the 3rd quarter, but the subsequent Indy score still left Kansas City up by 14 at 38-24, so if you’re pointing fingers, point them in the direction of the supposedly tough KC defense and not at #11 in the huddle.

But the fourth quarter is where champions are made, and Andrew Luck took full advantage of the final 15 minutes to build upon his legend as “the guy who replaced Peyton Manning.”

The Colts’ improbable come from behind win from 28 down included a fumble recovery scoring run that will be the lead-in for Andrew Luck highlight reels for years to come.

Down 41-31, the Colts were threatening the end zone from only 2 yards out. On a hand-off to Donald Brown, Chiefs’ safety Eric Berry knocked the ball loose for a fumble. The sneakily agile Luck scooped up the ball and snuck through a gap in the line for a diving touchdown that left his hideously stupid beard at the ½ yard line but the pigskin safely breaking the plane for 7 points.

After the Chiefs added another 3 points on a field goal, the Colts needed to get into the end zone to take the lead. On a miracle play appropriately matched to their miracle comeback, Luck found T.Y. Hilton deep down the middle and they connected on a 64 yard go-ahead touchdown bomb.

Down by 1 with 4:21 to play, Alex Smith and the Chiefs had plenty of time to march down the field and kick the game winning field goal, but their drive stalled after Smith was flagged for intentional grounding and once the ball was turned over on downs, Andrew Luck kneeled for the victory in front of a stadium of screaming fans that had been booing as the team headed into the tunnel for halftime.

The Colts will hit the road in the divisional round where they will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Foxboro.

New Orleans Saints 26 – 24 Philadelphia Eagles

 

In a game that was billed as a potential shoot-out, neither team’s offense could get much going during the first two quarters as they marched into the locker rooms with the Eagles enjoying a slim 7-6 margin on a Nick Foles to Riley Cooper touchdown pass.

There was more scoring in the 2nd half, but neither team did much through the air. Drew Brees had an off game as he tossed 2 INTs to go with only 1 TD, and Foles was held for under 200 yards passing for the first time all season. He did, however, throw for 2 TDs to 0 INTs.

Surprisingly, considering the passing firepower possessed by both teams, the game was won between the tackles. But much to the chagrin of the Philadelphia faithful, it wasn’t the current NFL rushing title holder LeSean McCoy that pounded the rock in the sub-zero temperatures, it was Mark Ingram and the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints out-gained the Eagles 185 to 80 on the ground, and this disparity proved to be the difference in the game.

But while the Saints dominated in the trenches and pretty much had their way with the Eagles’ O and D lines all day, they still found themselves down by 1 with 4:44 to play after Nick Foles found rookie tight end Zach Ertz for a 3-yard touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Eagles’ special teams unit made the going especially easy for the Saints as they gave up a 39-yard return to Darren Sproles and then added on an extra 15 for an illegal horse-collar tackle. The combination of return and penalty gave Brees and the offense the ball inside Eagles territory.

New Orleans showed confidence in their new kicker (Shane Graham) who had already connected on two FGs in the first half. The Saints ran 8 running plays out of a possible 9 to slowly inch down the field and grind up the clock. Graham, who had only been with the team for 3 weeks, kicked the game winner from 32-yards out.

The Saints will look to avenge the 34-7 drubbing they suffered at the hands of the Seahawks on MNF at CenturyLink Field in the divisional round.

San Diego Chargers 27 – 10 Cincinnati Bengals

 

You can kindly forget about every single thing I wrote in the preview of this match-up. The Bengals stayed true to history and lived up to their moniker of the Bungles.

In the morning before the games started my buddy Dave messaged me on Skype to ask if I thought Andy Dalton would throw 4 picks again. I told him no, that I thought Dalton was due to break off of the snide and that Cincy was going to win big. Woops, I should have listened to Dave. The Bengals QB was able to cut his INT total in half from the previous week, but he added a pair of fumbles (1 lost) for good measure. The 3 total turnovers were more than enough to give the Chargers the short fields they needed to pull off the upset.

Catch this: the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. That’s 23 years. If it makes Cincy fans feel any better, though, the Chiefs now hold the record for consecutive playoff losses (8) and are only slightly less pathetic with their last post-season win coming in 1993.

Anyhow, back to the game at hand.

Apart from their defense forcing 3 turnovers and disrupting the Bengals’ passing game in the secondary, the Bolts controlled this game by moving the football on the ground (196 yards) with an old school offensive mindset. Philip Rivers only attempted 16 passes on the day, but he was accurate when it counted, connecting on 12 of those passes for 1 touchdown to Danny Woodhead.

This game was easily the least exciting of the round, with the final nail being driven into the Bengals’ coffin after Ronnie Brown busted through the line for a 58-yard touchdown when all San Diego was trying to do was eat up the clock. It was an embarrassing moment for the Cincinnati Defense that looked to have given up.

After the game, Philip Rivers said that his team came ready to battle as they’ve been in playoff mode now for 5 weeks. It’s hard to argue with a guy who just keeps on winning when his back’s up against the wall, but the QB will have to attempt a hell of a lot more passes than 16 if he hopes to continue the win streak next weekend at Denver in the divisional round.

San Francisco 49ers 23 – 20 Green Bay Packers

 

Football fans from coast to coast were expecting a back-and-forth battle in the frozen tundra, and they got one. With 1:13 left on the clock, and barely within long field goal range, Colin Kaepernick escaped the blitz on a 3rd and 8. He scrambled for 11-yards to the left sideline and gave the 49ers a first down. Had the Packers’ defense contained the QB, Phil Dawson would have been forced to kick a very long FG in temperatures that dropped well below -15 degrees Celsius.

By moving the chains the Niners were able to keep pushing down the field to get Dawson to a much more manageable distance. As the final 3 seconds ticked off the clock, the 33-yard kick split the uprights and the defending NFC Champs stayed alive in their quest to return to the Super Bowl.

The game featured 7 lead changes with San Francisco’s 6-0 advantage in the first quarter being the largest scoring spread of the game.

The difference proved to be Green Bay’s inability to contain Kaepernick. Similar to the Niners’ playoff victory over the Packers last year, the mobile QB piled up a ton of yards on the ground (98 yards on 7 carries). However, this time around it wasn’t the QB dazzling the Packers’ D with the read-option, it was instead his ability to scramble and keep drives alive on key plays.

The 49ers defense was also able to contain Aaron Rodgers through the air as they sacked him 4 times and forced 9 incompletions out of 26 passes.

Next weekend the Niners will travel to Carolina to face the league’s #2 defense.

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Michael Airhart

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