Is it possible for both teams to show up for a game at one site?--not this weekend. All four games of the NFL divisional round were filled with boredom. Sure there were some exciting plays but most of them were made by the team which decided it was a good idea to bring at least their B game to the field instead of the other squad which was helplessly thrashing about on live TV.
Out of the morass of Saturday and Sundays' games, a pattern emerged. The NFC was the place for blowout games, the AFC on the other hand, is where Lady Luck decided to blow on some other guys' dice.
Arizona Cardinals 14, New Orleans Saints 45.
The Cardinals' defense which got eviscerated by the Packers showed up again. The Cardinals offense which tore through the Packers' defense did not. Kurt Warner never had a shot in this game, well except for this one. Things started off well for Arizona when Tim Hightower took the opening handoff from scrimmage and ran 70 yards untouched for a score. That was the worst possible outcome for the Cardinals. Hightower's run showed Reggie Bush what running the football is supposed to look like. Or at least that's the only explanation I can think of for what the guy wearing the Bush jersey for the Saints was doing. Bush ran North and South (and that includes over some pathetic tacklers for the Cardinals) for the first time in his entire career. Drew Brees was back to doing his thing carving up secondaries. The Saints big play defense returned and forced a couple of turnovers. Arizona was only able to convert one (1) third down all game. The Saints even broke out the flea flicker when the game was 21-14 to show the Cardinals they meant business. Who Dat Nation was thrilled but this game was essentially over when the Saints were up 21-7 at half. Reggie Bush ran onto the field during pregame with a black bat inscribed with the words "Bring The Wood", a theme which continued without a prop in the other NFC divisional game.
Dallas Cowboys 3, Minnesota Vikings 34.
The number 3 was important in this game. Tony Romo had 3 fumbles (he lost 2). Sidney Rice caught 3 TDs for the Vikings. The Vikings 3rd score in the 4th quarter was a TD pass with 1:55 left which gave Brett Favre passing 4 TDs for the game. Dallas LB Keith Brooking was very upset over what he thought was a lack of sportsmanship. I liked what Jimmy Johnson said about the situation on the postgame show, "if you don't like it, stop it." Maybe if Brooking's defense had been stopping Favre at some point during the game before the whipped Cowboys quit on the last Vikings play (a 4th and 3, by the way, from the Dallas 11 yard line) the result might have been different. Brooking doesn't play on the offensive line which let Tony Romo get hurried (and sometimes hit pretty good) all game long. Brett Favre is 40 but he looked much younger when he was celebrating his career best 4 playoff TDs or singing "Pants on the Ground" in the locker room after the game.
Baltimore 3, Indianapolis 20.
The Ravens need to think about getting a symbol of luck on their helmets, it sure worked out for the Colts on Saturday having a horseshoe on their head gear. Every bad bounce that could possibly have occurred for the Ravens did happen. Ed Reed picks off Peyton Manning (who was not having a great game) towards the latter part of the 3rd quarter with the score 17-3 in favor of the Colts. Reed returns the INT about 40 yards before the intended WR Pierre Garcon chases him down and knocks the ball out. Dallas Clark was right in position and fell on the fumble. Five plays later, Ed Reed got another INT from Manning. Dallas Clark had clearly been interfered with and the ball went back to Indy again. The odd drive ended with a Colts FG to make it 20-3. On the ensuing drive, Ray Rice rumbled for 20 yards down to the Colts 28 yard line and then got pelted by Raheem Brock. The ball squirted free and landed near Colts LB Clint Session who recovered the fumble. Ray Rice is an explosive player who is fun to watch. His 67 rush yards and 60 receiving yards were not nearly enough for the Ravens offense. The 3 points the Ravens did score came in the first quarter. After that the Colts underrated defense buckled down and salted the game away by picking off Joe Flacco twice and forcing the above mentioned Rice fumble in the 4th quarter. The Colts cannot run the ball and it's shameful that they can make it to the Conference Championship game by "running enough to keep you honest", as it was described during the telecast. The Colts leading rusher, Joe Addai, was nowhere near 1,000 yards on the season and the whole team couldn't manage 1,300 yards on the ground. In that sense, it makes the Colts winning 14 regular season games and Peyton Manning throwing for 4,500 yards even more impressive. Ray Lewis and his defense didn't have a bad game holding the Colts to 275 yards and 20 points, but miscues and unnecessary penalties hurt them. Manning's Colts finally won a playoff game after winning the conference during the regular season (0-3 coming into Sunday).
New York Jets 17, San Diego 14.
If Nate Kaeding makes his 3 FG attempts, San Diego wins this game. He made none of the three. CBS jinxed him by putting up the graphic showing how long it had been since he had missed a FG from 40 yards or closer. Kaeding missed 2 tries 40 yards or closer on Sunday. Just as the Ravens committed too many penalties, the Chargers racked up 87 yards on 10 flags. Phillip Rivers was just shy of 300 passing yards but most of those were wasted when the Chargers could not convert 3rd downs (they finished 4-13). Their running attack was pretty bad (61 yards). Healthy or not, LaDainian Tomilinson was powerless to help his team. Darren Sproles picked up 33 yards on 3 carries but only had 3 carries! The Chargers secret weapon (FB Jacob Hester) was rolled out in the second quarter. He ignited the first scoring drive for either team by first making a 15 yard catch. Both teams had trouble making first downs up to that point. Hester made a crucial block to give Rivers enough time to throw his only TD of the game to WR Kris Wilson. Hester nearly blocked a punt in the 4th quarter. The Chargers scored on the short field created by the tipped punt. Ultimately, this TD only produced the closer than reality final score of 17-14. Hester creates instant hustle when he is on the field and the Chargers needed such a spark throughout the game. The Jets defense was great from a bend but don't break standpoint (especially if you include the FG defense which made Kaeding choke). They were also the beneficiaries of Lady Luck. Darrelle Revis made one of the most incredibly fortunate INTs you will ever see on his own 17 yard line in the 3rd quarter with San Diego up 7-3. The Chargers defense didn't allow a point until the first drive of the second half. Rivers' second INT set up a short field and the go-ahead score for the Jets in the 4th quarter. After a Chargers punt, RB Shonn Greene destroyed arm tackles on a 53 yard blast up the middle of the field for the second Jets TD. The Chargers lethargic offense was suddenly down 17-7 with about 7 minutes left and that was too much to overcome. Mark Sanchez won his second playoff game and was not good in barely hitting the 100 yard mark in passing. He threw 1 TD and 1 INT. Sanchez was nearly perfect in the first round of the playoffs so Sunday's game was more like a return to normalcy. San Diego had won 11 straight games coming into the first playoff game and the week off seemed to coat them in a layer of rust. The Jets were the only road team to win a divisional round game.
Next week's NFC championship has the Vikings travel to the Superdome to take on the Saints. Both Brett Favre and Drew Brees were outstanding in their first playoff games, if both can keep it up we should see the shootout that Arizona v. New Orleans was supposed to give us. The Vikings and the Saints brought the wood in their divisional games, which one will bring it again? The AFC title game features two offensively flawed teams. The Colts don't have a running game. The Jets don't have a reliable passer. The Colts have a better defense than the Jets, but which team will get the lucky breaks?