I am not the world’s biggest NFL fan partly because I don’t really have a team (I’m from Southern California, our saga is well documented) but come playoff time every game has my undivided attention. Correction once we get to the Divisional round because the Wild Card round is unbearable at times. I’m looking at you Chiefs vs. Texans. What a snoozer. This weekend was one of the more memorable divisional rounds I can remember. We’ve had some memorable games: 2005 Steelers vs. Colts in “Immaculate Redemption”, 2003 Packers vs. Eagles “4th and 26”, 2001 Raiders vs. Patriots “Tuck Rule” but this one could take the cake.
The lasting memory of this weekend will be Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary touchdown and Larry Fitzgerald’s overtime heroics. The touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jeff Janis will go down as one of the greatest throws in NFL history. From the line of scrimmage the touchdown will stand at 41 yards but from where Rodgers released the ball (under pressure, rolling away from his throwing side with his feet not set) it was at least 55 yards in the air. Unfortunately for him that touchdown only tied the game and the Packers lost the overtime coin toss and never had a chance to touch the ball again. In OT Carson Palmer connected with Larry Fitzgerald on a 75 yard catch and run bringing the ball to the 5 yard line. After an incomplete pass, Bruce Arians went deep into his playbook and called a shovel pass to Fitzgerald who scored the game winning TD giving the Cardinals their first playoff win since 2009.
1. Since 2003 there have only been four quarterbacks to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Joe Flacco did it once in 2012 and the rest belong to Tom Brady (03/04/07/11/14), Peyton Manning (06/09/13) and Big Ben (05/08/10). As of Sunday afternoon the three QBs remaining in the AFC? Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger. With the Broncos defeating the Steelers it will once again come down to Brady vs. Manning one final time. It’s not the same feel being Broncos/Patriots rather than Colts/Patriots but it’s a fitting end for possibly Manning’s last year. These two have squared off 16 times in their career (11-5 Brady), 4 in the playoffs with the record tied at 2-2.
2. I’m not an expert in football strategy and there are a ton of smarter people on the subject than myself but even an babbling idiot could tell you that Kansas City’s clock management in the 4th quarter against the Patriots was one of the worst of all time. Never in my life have I seen a team put themselves in a worse position to win a winnable game. The Chiefs were playing like they were down one score and not two. There was no urgency, seconds ticked off the clock as the team huddled up and deliberated plays. They ran the ball more times than they should’ve also letting precious time burn away. Their final scoring drive felt like it lasted half of the 4th quarter, in reality just 5 minutes and 16 seconds. Apparently this is Andy Reid’s “MO”, if you look back on Super Bowl XXXIX he did the same thing with the Eagles trailing New England by 10 points. The loss snaps the Chiefs 11 game winning streak.
3. The Panthers brought the wood to the Seattle Seahawks in the first half off their divisional game. Carolina jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead. Jonathan Stewart set the tone of the game rushing for 59 yards on the first play from scrimmage. He’d finish the drive with a short touchdown run, for the game he eclipsed the 100 yard mark which is a rarity against this Seattle defense. Two plays into the Seahawks’ first drive Panthers LB Luke Kuechly intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass and returned it for the touchdown. An 86 yard drive ending with a Newton touchdown pass put Carolina up 21-0. Seattle once again threw another interception on their next possession virtually killing any chance to get back into the game.
4. You have to wonder what the outcome would’ve been had the Pittsburgh Steelers been at full strength. No Antonio Brown and no DeAngelo Williams is a killer. Big Ben statistically had a strong game passing for 339 yards but their offense was no where near the dynamic scoring machine we saw a month ago. Martavis Bryant picked up slack catching nine passes for 154 yards and rushing for 40 yards. It’s the most yards from scrimmage by a Steeler in the Super Bowl era. Where Brown is dearly missed was third down where Pittsburgh only converted 2-of-12 (16%).
5. If the Broncos are going to beat the Patriots then they will have done so because of their defense. Denver’s offense is putrid and there is nothing to make think that they will show up any different against New England than they did against Pittsburgh. Denver settled for 5 field goals. Okay so we learned the Broncos kicker has a boot, so what? Denver averaged 4.6 yards per play and only converted on 3-of-15 3rd downs themselves. Peyton Manning was barely serviceable completing 21-of-37 attempts for 222 yards and 0 TD, 0 INT. His 35.9 QBR is his second worst rating in the playoffs in the last 10 years. That’s not going to cut it against Bill Belichick.
6. What more can you ask of Aaron Rodgers? In each of the Packers last three playoff losses with Rodgers at QB, he led game tying drives in the final six minutes in the 4th quarter. The numbers will definitely show that Rodgers wasn’t spectacular against the Cardinals but he was good enough to keep them in the game. Passing for 261 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT on 24-for-44 passing is very good for some but it’s pedestrian for A-ARod. Whatever the numbers show and I know for the Packers it’s all about winning but Rodgers gave us the gift of not one but two miraculous Hail Mary’s this season. Let’s not forget the throw against the Detroit Lions silencing a sold out Ford Field. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, YouTube both of the throws. Vintage Rodgers.