2011 NFL Wild Card Weekend Among the NFL's Most Memorable Ever
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The Wild-Card Weekend of the 2011 NFL season is in the books. And wild is the only way to describe it.
In a best-case scenario for players and owners, it should help fans put an anxious and sometimes acrimonious lockout in the rear view mirror.
There were many ground-breaking moments and even some lessons about the importance of remembering the past.
If the first weekend is any indication of what is to come, the season that almost never was may be the best ever.
Here are storylines for each game that could live on for years to come...
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
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Saturday's matchup between the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals marked improbable returns to the playoffs for both cities.
It was the first game in decades in Houston and the first ever for the young expansion franchise.
It can be argued this does not happen unless Indianapolis Colts' future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning misses the entire season, as they had won almost every title since 2003. But the Texans had to endure injuries to their own top two quarterbacks.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the least successful franchises in the NFL for an entire generation. They gave up on former top pick Carson Palmer and star receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson (as he promised to be called if Darrelle Revis shut him down—one catch, nine yards, your name is Johnson again!) in the same offseason.
Because of these quarterback changes, this was the first time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks faced off in a playoff game. Neither team exactly came in on a roll, either: Houston lost three in a row following their division title-clinching one-point win in Cincinnati, one of the Bengals' five losses in their last eight games.
What started out as a close game quickly became a blowout, with Houston winning 31-10 behind 153 rushing yards from Arian Foster against a defense in the top 10 in almost every category.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints
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Like the first Saturday game, the NFC matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions was a rematch of a regular-season matchup won by the same team. It also featured a team with a long history of no success and another with an historically bad recent history.
The Detroit Lions are the only team in NFL history to go winless in a 16-game season, pulling off the feat just three seasons ago. Now, they had won 10 games with the help of the 5000-yard quarterback they got in the draft that followed.
The New Orleans Saints had never won a playoff game until 2006—over 35 years of existence. Although they were only one season removed from an NFL title entering this game, they became the only team to ever lose a playoff game to a foe with a losing record in between.
They had a quarterback who set NFL records in yards (5,476), completion percentage (.712) and 300-yard passing games (13), as well as an NFC record for touchdowns (46). It was the first time in NFL history that two 5000-yard quarterbacks faced off.
This game also started close thanks to two fumbles in the first half from a team that had set an NFL record with only six during the season. Like the day's first game, it also had a final margin of three scores (45-28), thanks to an NFL record 466 passing yards in regulation by Drew Brees.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
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Sunday's first game made NFL history with its first score being a safety. It was also the only score by the Atlanta Falcons, extending the winless postseason career for the most decorated tight end in league history to five.
The Falcons tried to add offensive weapons after being blown out by the Green Bay Packers at home in last year's playoffs. It worked about as well as fourth-down runs have for the Falcons, who obviously did not learn from this blunder at home vs. New Orleans in November.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, prematurely nicknamed "Matty Ice" considering his 0-3 playoff record, threw for just 199 yards and Michael Turner failed to rush for 70 yards against a defense that ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in total rushing yards allowed and yards per carry.
By contrast, the league's worst rushing team gained 172 yards on 31 carries (5.5/carry) against the sixth-ranked run defense.
It was Super Bowl XLII champion Eli Manning's first home playoff win, and it set up a rematch against the Packers that should have the top team in the league sweating on the "Frozen Tundra."
For one thing, the Giants gave the Packers more of a run than any other team that fell to the defending champs, losing on a last-second field goal, 38-35. For another, their last trip to Lambeau Field in January came in 2007, when they got hot at the end of the season and avenged a regular-season home loss, just as they could this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
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Take your victory lap, Tim Tebow.
Sunday, Tebow had one of the strangest individual statistical games of all time, going just 10-of-21 (.476) but amassing 316 yards—over 15 yards per attempt and a record 31.6 per completion—and two touchdowns.
He was not sacked and ran 10 times for 50 yards and a score, giving him 366 yards on 31 plays (11.8 average) with three touchdowns and no turnovers.
I do not care what anyone says, that's an awesome performance. He made more great throws than he did terrible ones while carving up an elite defense. He has done enough to prove he's a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Remember how old and slow the Pittsburgh Steelers looked in starting the season 2-2?
Everyone forgot that after they won 10-of-12, making them heavy favourites to beat the Denver Broncos even after it was determined that three starters would be out, and Ben Roethlisberger would be hobbled.
Remember how the Denver Broncos turned around a 1-5 start by winning six in a row and seven of their eight with Tebow at the helm? Everyone forgot his five fourth-quarter comebacks after three straight losses.
There were other statistics that were bizarre. It was the first overtime game with the new rules instituted for the playoffs before the 2010 season that made it more likely to extend the game but had the quickest score in league history on a pass by the least accurate passer in the NFL this season against its best pass defense.
Meanwhile, the guy he beat was the supposedly clutch Roethlisberger. After going 22-of-40 (.550) for 289 yards (7.2/attempt), a touchdown and a pick, Big Ben is 248-of-409 (.606) for 3,150 yards (7.7), 20 TDs and 17 picks in 14 career playoff games—an 83.7 passer rating.