20 Things We Learned from the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs
The Wild Card Round brought us little drama, leaving the divisional round to save the NFL playoffs. Boy, did those games deliver.
Whether it was mile-high drama or tears of a Gonzalez, there was no tuning away from the televised slugfests. What did we glean from these contests?
Click through to find out.
Joe Flacco Added a Few Dollars to His Future Contract
While he was helped by the poor coverage of Champ Bailey and Rahim Moore, Joe Flacco had a fantastic game in the freezing temperatures of Denver.
It couldn't have hurt his future contract negotiations.
Happiest man last night? #Ravens QB Joe Flacco's agent Joe Linta. Told me: "If you don't think that’s an elite guy, then you’re crazy."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 13, 2013
Knowshon Moreno Shouldn't Mess with Ray Lewis
Knowshon Moreno had a good game before getting knocked from it with an injury, but when he decided to get up in Ray Lewis' face after a medium gain, many observers cringed.
It's not a great idea to pump up one of the greatest, most intense linebackers of all-time when he's facing elimination in his final season.
Lewis ended up being instrumental in the upset, finishing the game with 17 total tackles.
Peyton Manning Is Just Fine in Cold Weather
There was some bluster about Peyton Manning's cold-weather woes heading into Denver's frigid home matchup with Baltimore.
While Manning's record ultimately fell to 0-4 in the playoffs when the temperature is below 40 degrees, he seemed just fine in the elements, throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns. He turned the ball over three times, but he had his Broncos in position to win the game before Rahim Moore blew it.
Richard Sherman Is Human
Richard Sherman talks a lot of smack.
It is for good reason; the talented cornerback has established himself as one of the league's best. Hence, it was a bit odd the Falcons kept throwing in his direction during their divisional tilt.
Well, they finally cashed in on that lottery ticket when Matt Ryan hit Roddy White on a deep pass for a touchdown. White immediately popped up to return the smack talk.
Twitter promptly exploded with schadenfreude, but I have a feeling Sherman will be just fine.
Champ Bailey Is Finally Showing His Age
Did anyone anticipate Champ Bailey being Denver's weak link on defense?
The savvy veteran was burned by Torrey Smith at least four times in the first half of the game alone. Had Flacco hit on all four of those passes, Baltimore would have scored 35 points by the break.
Colin Kaepernick Is Still Better Than Alex Smith
There was some question about Jim Harbaugh's choice to keep Colin Kaepernick in as the starting quarterback after starter Alex Smith was injured. After all, Kaepernick was supposedly raw in his second year, and Smith had done a fine job over the past couple of seasons.
The beginning of Kaepernick's postseason career was not pretty. The playoff rookie threw a pick-six to spot the Packers a seven-point lead in San Francisco, sparking immediate calls for Alex Smith across the web.
He quickly rectified that in a big way.
The second-year quarterback annihilated the Packers, accounting for 444 yards en route to a San Francisco win in his first playoff start. Kaepernick broke the single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 181.
Colin Kaepernick just put on display the reasons that Jim Harbaugh rolled the dice on him.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 25, 2012
Is there still this mythical debate as to whether Smith should be quarterbacking the 49ers? do those people still exist? really?— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 13, 2013
Icing the Kicker Still Exists for Some Reason
Icing the kicker should be banned from football.
For some Lambeau-forsaken reason, coaches still employ the useless tactic, and it came back to burn the Seahawks. Pete Carroll was furious that the officials let Matt Bryant take a practice kick—one that helped him properly line up his shot—but he should have been furious with himself for calling a timeout in the first place.
Icing Kicker Works: Since 2001, iced kickers made 74.5% of kicks. Those not iced since '01? 81.6% (H/T @espnstatsinfo)— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 14, 2013
It is misguided statistics like this—ones that do not take game situation and average length into account, among other things—that lead guys like Carroll into this abyss.
It's Still Holliday Season
The Broncos might not have even been in the game were it not for one Trindon Holliday.
The return specialist was waived by the Texans, and the Broncos could not have benefited more from the pickup.
Holliday broke the record for longest punt and kick returns for touchdowns in the playoffs, and he did it in one game. There is not much more to say about this fantastic stat.
Sam Koch Has Some Wheels
It practically looked like the Ravens all ran off the field immediately after Sam Koch punted the ball on the first of Trindon Holliday's two touchdown returns. Why else would he have enough space to run a herd of elephants through the route he took to the end zone?
The only man that nearly caught him was Koch, who put on a valiant effort. Holliday was gone, but Koch somehow kept pace with him until the diminutive return man hit the end zone. Maybe Holliday simply let up, but Koch flashed some SEC punter speed.
The Referees Applied Their TV Makeup in Denver
The mile-high matchup between the Ravens and Broncos was a great game, but it could have been one for the ages were it not for one nagging issue: the referees.
There were several stretches of the game where it felt like there was a penalty flag thrown on every play. Many of the penalties were legitimate, but it was almost like Bill Vinovich and his crew needed to justify putting on TV makeup by getting as much airtime as possible.
There were two 10-plus-minute delays because of officiating, which helped send the game past the four-hour mark. The crew made us pine for the days of replacement referees, which is never a good thing.
The crew in Atlanta showed how it's done; the referees were virtually invisible in a fantastic game between the Seahawks and Falcons.
Dom Capers Thought He Was Playing Against Alex Smith
Green Bay had no answer for the pistol offense. The Packers were seemingly unprepared for the onslaught, to the point where it seemed like they were preparing for Alex Smith instead of Colin Kaepernick.
How else can we explain this quote from Charles Woodson (via Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel): “We didn’t anticipate the quarterback running the way he did. I guess that was the X-factor.”
Apparently the Packers watched old Dennis Quaid films or something instead of studying Colin Kaepernick, who, you know, can run.
Rahim Moore Should Just Retire
There is no coming back from this.
Via Mark Kiszla, Denver Post:
Since the Broncos first pulled on uniforms in 1960, nobody has ever made a worse error than Moore. In an instant, what appeared to be a safe 35-28 Denver lead and a date with destiny turned into nightmare that will make coaches, players and fans afraid to close their eyes from now until the Super Bowl.
Okay, so that was part of a bigger column that also praised Moore for standing up and taking the blame, as he should. Admirable as that was, that was simply an indefensible lapse.
John Fox Needs to Take Some Risks
The Broncos still had 31 seconds and two timeouts left after Rahim Moore's blunder. They also still had Peyton Manning, who was having a pretty good day, and a big-legged kicker despite his earlier shank.
Naturally, what did John Fox decide to do rather than go for a game-winning field-goal drive? Why, take a knee, of course.
The pusillanimity of the moment ultimately doomed Denver to an overtime loss, and Atlanta's ability to drive the field for a game-winning field goal in nearly identical circumstances the following day drove the point home. But it was just one decision in a host of poor ones at the end of the game.
Coming out of the two-minute warning and facing a 3rd-and-7 with a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Broncos elected to play it safe by running the ball to wind down the clock an extra 40 seconds rather than go for the first down and ice the game.
A Certain Morning Show Will Have Plenty of Fodder
There is a subset of American football fans that defend and pine for Tim Tebow no matter what, and their joy about Peyton Manning's failure was perfectly encapsulated by Tebow's brother:
Am I the only one in Denver who's happy right now?— Peter Tebow (@petertebow) January 13, 2013
And America's favorite troll wasted no time either:
Tebow Time.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 13, 2013
There is no doubt that Denver's "karmic" loss will be the subject of much "debate" this week.
The Harbaugh Bowl Is Alive and Well
We may not be in store for a Packers-Seahawks rematch of the "Fail Mary" bowl, but the potential Harbaugh Bowl is still intact.
After the Ravens pulled an improbable comeback in Denver and the 49ers stomped the Packers, Jim and John Harbaugh are, yet again, one win away from respective Super Bowl berths.
Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff and Kyle Williams are nowhere in sight, either.
Michael Turner Refilled His Gas Tank
The bye week was good for Michael Turner.
The Burner reeled off big runs all game long en route to a 98-yard day on seven yards per carry. Who saw that coming?
The bigger question is whether he can even come close to that performance against that San Francisco run defense.
Russell Wilson Should Be the Rookie of the Year
The voting is long over, and the postseason has no bearing, but Russell Wilson has shown why he should be the Offensive Rookie of the Year in his two playoff games.
The rookie brought the Seahawks back from a 14-0 deficit in Washington, and he put them in a position to beat the Falcons on the road after falling into a 20-point hole twice.
Devin McCourty Is Fast
Danieal Manning opened Houston's game at New England with a huge kickoff return. It would have been for a touchdown were it not for Devin McCourty.
The Patriots defensive back gave Manning a 15-yard head start on the kickoff return, but he ran the returner down with 12 yards to spare. The hustle saved a touchdown on the play, and ultimately the Texans were forced to settle for a field goal on that drive.
Maybe McCourty and Sam Koch can race in the offseason.
Matt Bosher Nearly Made Himself a Goat
Just a few minutes after Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning field goal, Matt Bosher gave the Seahawks new life.
What was supposed to be a squib kick wound up being an onside kick that Seattle recovered at midfield. That allowed the the Seahawks to throw a Hail Mary pass in an attempt to create some more magic.
It ultimately failed, but there was no need for the drama—Atlanta fans had already gone through enough.
The Patriots Never Miss a Beat
The Patriots had a bit of a Pyrrhic victory against the Texans.
Danny Woodhead was knocked out of the game after the first play. Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm again on the second drive. Chandler Jones injured his ankle in the second half.
Shane Vereen picked up most of the slack, and the Patriots were as dangerous as ever. It's no wonder they are the envy of many fanbases.