Category Archives: Postgame points

NFC Conference Championship Thoughts

B.J. Raji celebrates his interception for a TD

We’ll look back at the two conference championship games individually. First up, the rivalry game in the NFC, in which the Green Bay Packers advanced to the Super Bowl with a 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears.

*Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the superhuman that he had been in the first two playoff games, but he did enough to get the job done for the Packers. He threw two interceptions (detailed below), and while he didn’t throw a TD pass, he did throw for 244 yards and run for 39 yards and a score. And now Rodgers is a Super Bowl quarterback, with the chance to rightly join the game’s elite with a win in two weeks.
*Obviously, the big headline from this game from the Bears’ perspective is the Jay Cutler knee injury. He had to leave the game early in the third quarter due to an injury that he didn’t remember, and the Bears soon had to turn to third-stringer Caleb Hanie after Todd Collins reminded everyone he was not only old but ineffective. It’s not a good performance by Cutler, who was just 6-for-14 for 80 yards, including an interception late in the second quarter that cost the Bears a scoring chance. The fact that Cutler left the game will obviously be the cause of much consternation from Bears fans, but the fact that Cutler didn’t have his helmet after being pulled may indicate it wasn’t his decision. Regardless, it wasn’t a franchise quarterback performance from a QB for whom the Bears paid a premium.
*Hanie played well in relief of Cutler and Collins, leading the Bears’ first scoring drive thanks to a beautiful 32-yard pass to Johnny Knox that set up Chester Taylor’s one-yard TD run. He also threw a great pass to Earl Bennett that turned into a 35-yard touchdown. Hanie finished the game with 153 yards passing, and definitely provided a spark. But Hanie also threw a Cutler-esque interception to B.J. Raji, a nose tackle who had dropped into coverage on a zone blitz. Raji took the ball 18 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-7, and that touchdown proved to be the difference. And Hanie’s fourth-down interception to Sam Shields cemented the game for the Packers.
*The Packers got off to a quick start with three 20-yard-plus passing plays, all to the same spot on the field. Rodgers picked on the seam in the zone behind the undersized Tim Jennings and in front of safety Chris Harris, who was playing despite a hip injury suffered last week. Those three plays – two to Greg Jennings and one to Jordy Nelson – set up Rodgers’ one-yard TD run for the game’s first score. The Packers exploited that spot at least three more times for big gains throughout the game. It was clear early on that they wanted to test Harris to see just how soft that spot in the zone would be.
*The Packers have stars on defense like Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, but it was the lesser known guys that really starred in this game. Cullen Jenkins produced a ton of pressure, especially early, notching half a sack and two tackles for loss. Nickelback Shields had a sack and forced fumble on Cutler to stop one drive in the second quarter, and then he picked off Cutler to stop the Bears’ last drive before the half and picked off Hanie to salt away the game in the final minute. And Desmond Bishop was also a nice factor for the defense with eight tackles, including a key tackle for loss on the next-to-last Bears snap of the game. Those performances show just how deep the Pack is.
*For the Bears, the defensive star was no surprise – Brian Urlacher. Urlacher piled up stats in several categories – a sack, a tackle for loss, and an interception near the goal line to stop a Green Bay scoring pass – and seemed to be the guy stepping up to make big plays over and over again. Julius Peppers didn’t fill up the stat sheet nearly as much, notching just two tackles, but he provided pretty consistent pressure and drew a holding penalty that was as good as a sack. However, Peppers also got a 15-yard personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Rodgers.
*James Starks had a good game for the Packers, but the best running back on the field was Matt Forte. Forte thrived throughout the game, despite Chicago’s QB problems. Starks ran for 74 yards and a touchdown, while Forte ran for 70 yards and had 90 receiving yards on 10 catches.
*The Bears’ lone glimmer of hope in the first half came on a fluky play, when Donald Driver bobbled a low pass, and then Lance Briggs caught the carom off Driver’s foot for an interception. The play, which was reminiscent of how Seattle’s Mike Williams caught his second touchdown against Chicago’s Charles Tillman in the divisional round, gave Chicago a chance at a two-minute drive, but Cutler threw an interception to quell that rally. Still, the deflection was Rodgers’ first interception this postseason.
*It’s hard to imagine a team having a better fourth receiver than Nelson, who had eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta and followed it up with another big day against the Bears with four catches for 67 yards against the Bears. Rodgers has a lot of trust in Nelson, even though he’s down the depth chart from Jennings, Driver, and James Jones.

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Wild-card Sunday Thoughts

Let’s look back at Sunday’s wild-card games. (For a look at Saturday’s games, click here.)

Todd Heap of the Ravens vs. Eric Berry of the Chiefs

 

Ravens 30, Chiefs 7
*Ray Rice didn’t find a ton of room running the ball for the Ravens (17 carries, 56 yards), but he did a great job in the passing game, as usual, with five catches for 42 yards and a score. It seems like Rice needs two or three steps to get going, but once he does, he’s elusive and hard to corral. He’s the best offensive player the Ravens have. But Baltimore got great performances out of TE Todd Heap (a franchise postseason record 10 catches for 108 yards) and WR Anquan Boldin (five catches, 65 yards, and a touchdown), among others.
*Because the running game wasn’t thriving, the Ravens had to rely on Joe Flacco, and he did a good job getting the ball to receivers on crossing routes. The Ravens didn’t make a ton of throws outside, but Flacco killed the Chiefs on inside plays as he threw for 265 yards and two scores. Flacco has now made the playoffs in all three of his seasons and is 4-2 in the postseason despite not having a home playoff game yet.
*Matt Cassel only threw seven interceptions all season, but he threw three in this game, including two early ones that doomed the Chiefs. Cassel still has a bright future, but right now the Chiefs don’t have enough offensive firepower to overcome these kinds of mistakes.
*Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles made a huge play for the Chiefs with a 41-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and his hustle play after a Cassel interception in the third quarter forced a fumble that Charles recovered. But Charles’ second-quarter fumble really stifled the Chiefs’ momentum when they had a 7-3 lead.
*Despite the loss, this might have been the day that Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali became a national star. After finishing second in the league this season with 14.5 sacks, Hali had two sacks and a forced fumble against the Ravens, and a third-quarter pressure forced a field-goal attempt.
*Ray Lewis is already a star for the Ravens, and he showed why in the third quarter with a hit on Dexter McCluster that forced a fumble and led to a field goal. He also had a late sack. Lewis isn’t quite as active as he once was, but he’s still an asset and a physical force. So is Terrell Suggs, who had two sacks in the game and provides a consistent pass rush.
*Despite the loss, the Chiefs have a bright future, and it’s thanks in large part to their first-round picks. On defense, Hali, rookie S Eric Berry (four passes defensed), LB Derrick Johnson (huge stop in a first-quarter goal-line stand), and DE Glenn Dorsey all played well – all are former first-rounders. And on offense, OLT Branden Albert held up pretty well. The one first-rounder who went missing was WR Dwayne Bowe, who had a terrific year but didn’t make an impact at all in this game, going without a catch.

Packers 21, Eagles 18
*Aaron Rodgers had a terrific game – throwing for three touchdowns that should have been four had James Jones not dropped a beautiful deep throw just before the half – but the revelation for the Pack was rookie RB James Starks, who ran for 123 yards after recording just 101 in the regular season. Starks is a big, physical runner who got more from his chunks than Brandon Jackson ever could. (Give Jackson credit, though, for great patience that turned a screen pass into a 16-yard touchdown in the third quarter.)
*Michael Vick had a good but not great game for the Eagles. He threw for 292 yards, but aside from one chunk late in the game, he couldn’t get DeSean Jackson free for a big play. (Jackson was battling an injury.) Vick also threw a critical interception late in the game as he tried to bring the Eagles back. Vick ran for 33 yards, but Green Bay’s decision to spy on him with Charles Woodson kept the quarterback from breaking free very often. The Packers also sacked Vick three times, which was an accomplishment.
*One of the things that makes Green Bay so dangerous is its depth of receivers. Greg Jennings, the Pack’s best outside man, had just one catch, but Rodgers still threw for 180 yards and moved the team effectively. Rodgers’ willingness to spread the ball around definitely paid off in this game.

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Wild-card Saturday thoughts

Let’s reflect on a upset-filled Saturday of wild-card games to open the NFL playoffs.

Seahawks 41, Saints 36
*Matt Hasselbeck isn’t an elite quarterback, especially not at this point in his career, but he showed Saturday that he can still get incredibly hot and carry a team. His four-TD performance featured some beautiful deep throws to Brandon Stokley, Mike Williams, and Cameron Morrah, and he only turned the ball over once against a Saints defense that will give up yards for turnover opportunities. That performance allowed the Seahawks to overcome a 10-point deficit and build a lead.
*Once the Seahawks built a lead, Marshawn Lynch put the game away with an incredible 67-yard touchdown run on which he broke six tackles and eluded a couple others. That run showed Lynch at his best, after a career in which he was good, not great, in Buffalo, and simply mediocre for the Seahawks. But Lynch showed up incredibly at a crucial time with this run.
*Raheem Brock came up big for the Seahawks again. His solid season turned into a good one with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against the Rams in a win-or-else Week 17 game, and Brock showed up big again with a sack and a forced fumble to help the Seahawks turn the game around in the second quarter.
*S Roman Harper was the goat for the Saints. He got suckered on two big plays, John Carlson’s second TD catch and on Stokley’s big TD catch. He’s not the only defensive player who struggled, but he didn’t help the cause.
*The Saints’ inability to run the ball effectively really stung them in this game. Julius Jones had 59 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had a key fumble and didn’t make yards that weren’t blocked for him. Missing Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, among others, came back to bite the Saints.
*I’m so glad that we got Mike Mayock as the color analyst for the game instead of blowhard Joe Theismann, who butchered the Jets/Bengals playoff game last year. Mayock isn’t flashy, but he sees the game well and stays away from the grand pronouncements that Theismann makes whether or not they’re true. Now that Mayock, who is the NFL Network draft expert, does Notre Dame games on NBC, the Peacock network actually has a great option for a No. 2 team that they don’t need at any time all year. And for that, we are thankful.

Nick Folk celebrates his game-winning field goal

Jets 17, Saints 16
*The key to this game kind of flew under the radar, but it happened on two third-down plays in the second half. Peyton Manning made the “right” decision at the line, based on the defense, by calling running plays, but Dominic Rhodes was stuffed on a third-and-1 and a third-and-7. As a result, the Colts got two field goals and trailed 14-13 instead of getting a touchdown in either spot. Manning is significantly better than either Rhodes or Joseph Addai, and we believe Manning should have taken the game into his own hands on at least one of those plays, instead of simply making the “right” play call.
*The Jets have to be encouraged by their running game, which controlled the ball throughout the second half. LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns, and Shonn Greene ran for 70 yards. The Jets’ running game isn’t as unstoppable as it was in last year’s playoffs, and the Colts’ defense is so banged up and inexperience at linebacker that the Jets should have gouged it, but the trend is still a huge plus for Gang Green.
*Antonio Cromartie could have been the goat for the Jets, after giving up a long touchdown play to Pierre Garcon along with several other big catches, but his two kickoff returns in the second half were monstrous. His 41-yard return to start the second half helped to set up the Jets’ first touchdown, and his 47-yard return in the game’s final minute keyed the drive for the game-winning field goal.
*The Colts were not that talented in this game, after losing key skill-position players and a raft of secondary players. The question is whether the Colts can add talent and, as importantly, depth in time to rally in 2011. If not, we could be seeing the denouement of a great decade in Indianapolis.

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Postgame Points : Super Bowl 43

Now that was a fourth quarter to remember. Thought I’d take a moment and spout off some postgame thoughts after Pittsburgh’s 27-23 Super Bowl win over Arizona.

*Santonio Holmes, welcome to stardom. He’s made big plays throughout the playoffs, and the Steelers don’t win this game without him. As Hines Ward fades with age, Holmes can become the next great Steeler receiver.

*Ben Roethlisberger makes a habit of getting the one big drive at the end of the fourth quarter. You could just smell it coming Sunday night, and he delievered. It’s good to see him have a great Super Bowl game, because that further legitimizes him as a big-time quarterback.

*Mike Tomlin continues to be the truth. He’ll be the truth in Pittsburgh for at least another decade.

*Kurt Warner had another huge Super Bowl game, and Larry Fitzgerald again showed that he’s the best wide receiver in the NFL. As a fan, it’s fun to see big players make big plays. Warner now has the Super Bowl record for passing yards – even though he’s played in only three. (Joe Montana played in 4, and John Elway played in 5.) That’s impressive.

*Told you to take Warner and Fitzgerald over the yardage totals. Didn’t get much else right, but at least we have that.

*Anquan Boldin is good, but he’s not on Fitzgerald’s level. And with Steve Breaston there, if Boldin’s contract blows up, it wouldn’t be a death blow for the Cardinals. A body punch, yes, but not a death blow.

*Speaking of Breaston, he’s a valuable guy to have. Good punt returner, good third receiver. The same is true for J.J. Arrington, who seems to have finally found his role with the Cardinals. His fourth-quarter catch and run was a huge play.

*James Harrison got all the pub because of his pick, but Lamarr Woodley had another 2 sack game. He had 2 sacks in each of Pittsburgh’s 3 playoff games, which is pretty impressive.

*Arizona’s offensive line just had no chance.

*Darnell Dockett showed up big for the Cardinals. When  he wants to play, he’s terrific. Hopefully this taste of success will inspire him to continue to want to play at this level, because he’s fun to watch. I’d put Karlos Dansby in that category as well.

*Holmes’  TD catch was dramatic and amazing, and Fitzgerald’s first TD catch was vintage as well. But don’t forget that Arizona No. 3 TE Ben Patrick made a really nice TD grab as well. That’s a memory he’ll have for a lifetime.

That’s it for now. I may add to this post as more thoughts come, so check back. Hall of Fame review coming tomorrow.

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Two outlandish predictions, two wins, and a bunch of thoughts

So I’m trying to think of what to say about the conference championship games – both of which we predicted correctly, just for the record, both straight-up and against the spread – and here are some postgame points. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

*That Pittsburgh D is serious. James Harrison may have won defensive player of the year honors, but Lamarr Woodley is almost as good, and when Troy Polamalu gets going, he’s a difference maker. Polamalu is a little more hit-and-miss than Ed Reed, but Polamalu definitely can change things. His interception return was a great, great play.
*Santonio Holmes is coming of age, and he gives the Pittsburgh offense a dimension it hasn’t had in a long time. Holmes had one big touchdown and should have had another, if not for an indecipherable replay review.
*Terrell Suggs was a man, playing with an injured shoulder and having two sacks.
*When Willis McGahee got hurt, I couldn’t help but think back to the national championship game in which he blew out his knee. That dude deserves better luck.
*Joe Flacco is going to be just fine. Yes, he had a below-average game Sunday. But the guy’s a rookie, and he’s a lot further along than anyone expected at this point. He got further than Roethlisberger did in his first playoff run. I think those two guys will end up being pretty good comparisons for each other by the end of their careers.
*Pittsburgh played a murderous schedule this year, and the fact that they put up the record they did and have now advanced to the Super Bowl shows that this was the best team in the league this year. They may not be the best team Feb. 1, but they have been the most consistent performer in the league.
*Mike Tomlin is the truth. He just had better be ready for revenge of Ken Whisenhunt stories for the next two weeks

 *The Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. I had to say that out loud at least 5 times yesterday just to get it through my thick skull.
*Larry Fitzgerald is a superstar. He’ll be the guy who is the media darling this year. And he deserves it.
*Kurt Warner is a good quarterback and a better leader. Name me another quarterback who could have won the starting job in the last week of the preseason and taken this team through highs and lows like he has. I’m still not sure he’ll end up in the Hall of Fame, but he deserves to be remembered as a great one.
*Ken Whisenhunt is a really good coach. Arizona finally got that part of the equation right.
*The Cardinals defense isn’t consistent game to game or even quarter to quarter, but there is some serious talent there. I’d put Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the top of that list.
*Donovan McNabb is still really good. He bounced back from a pitiful first half to lead his team back to the lead. One of the great what-ifs of this decade will be what McNabb could have done if he had ever had top-level receivers. Imagine McNabb in Minnesota with Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Or in Arizona with Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Heck, even in Houston with Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter.  The Eagles haven’t served him well in that area.
*Speaking of that, picking a wide receiver third overall is a good thing. Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, and maybe Michael Crabtree this year. But that’s a research project for later.
*Good for Edgerrin James, who missed out when the Colts finally made the big game but now gets his shot. He’s earned it, too, with his play in the postseason.

We’ll start up Super Bowl coverage in the next few days. We have big ideas and big plans, so stay tuned.

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