The Biggest Surprises from NFL's Divisional Weekend
The field in the 2013 NFL playoffs has been whittled to four, as the divisional round is in the books and the matchups have been set for the conference championship games.
The San Francisco 49ers will travel to face the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC, while in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens kept linebacker Ray Lewis' career going, as they will journey to meet Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
This weekend's games made the so-called "experts" look pretty silly, with things rarely going the way many had expected. Here's a look back at some of the biggest surprises from a slate of games that was filled with them.
Champ Bailey Looks Like Chump Bailey
Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has been voted to more Pro Bowls than any player at his position in NFL history, was named to the NFL's All-2000s team, and will probably one day be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bailey sure didn't look like it on Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens.
In the first half of Denver's stunning loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Bailey repeatedly allowed Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith to get behind him, and Smith converted a pair of those blown coverages into 91 receiving yards and two scores.
Jacoby Jones Is Covered by No One in Particular
If Champ Bailey's struggles were surprising, then what happened at the end of regulation in Denver was just mind-blowing.
Facing a 3rd-and-3 from their own 30 with less than a minute left and trailing by seven, time appeared to have just about run out on the Baltimore Ravens.
Until the Denver secondary committed a gaffe so inexcusable that I still can't wrap my head around it.
Apparently, no one on the Broncos defense thought it necessary to cover wide receiver Jacoby Jones, and the result was a stunning 70-yard touchdown strike that tied the game.
Say what you want about Peyton Manning's three turnovers, but the game turned on that play.
Colin Kaepernick Jackslaps the Packers
There were questions surrounding how second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers would handle the pressure of his first career playoff start against the Green Bay Packers.
Those questions grew louder, when on Kaepernick's first drive of the game he threw a pick-six to cornerback Sam Shields.
However, from there Kaepernick settled down and then some. And by the time the final gun sounded on a 45-31 San Francisco victory, Kaepernick had accounted for over 450 total yards and four touchdowns.
That included 181 yards on the ground, which is an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in any game—regular season or playoffs.
In other words, he did OK.
The Atlanta Falcons Win a Wild One
The Atlanta Falcons entered the NFC playoffs as the conference's top seed after posting a 13-3 record in 2012, but given the team's postseason struggles of late, many expected the Falcons to falter against the Seattle Seahawks.
Atlanta was having none of that early, as the Falcons raced to a 20-0 halftime lead and appeared well on their way to cruising into the NFC Championship Game.
Like the Falcons were going to do things the easy way.
A furious second-half comeback got Seattle back into the game, and with less than 30 seconds to play, a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run gave the Seahawks a 28-27 lead and left the Georgia Dome in stunned silence.
That same stadium would soon erupt in jubilation, as quarterback Matt Ryan was able to guide the team into position for a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal.
After Seattle's last-second Hail Mary was intercepted, the Falcons had the playoff monkey off their backs, tight end Tony Gonzalez had his first postseason victory in 16 seasons, and Atlanta was on to face the 49ers with a Super Bowl trip on the line.
A Game of Inches
For the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday's loss is especially disappointing.
They say that football is "a game of inches," and were it not for a pair of critical first-half mistakes, it would likely be the Seahawks moving on to play San Francisco next week.
The first occurred with about five minutes to play in the second quarter, as the Seahawks were stuffed on successive short yardage plays deep in Atlanta territory, resulting in a turnover on downs.
That in and of itself isn't a huge surprise. What is, is that running back Marshawn Lynch, who was third in the NFL with nearly 1,600 rushing yards this season, was on the sidelines for both plays.
Then, as the second quarter wound down and with the Seahawks out of timeouts, quarterback Russell Wilson took a sack that allowed the clock to expire before the team could get another play off.
Had Seattle converted either of those plays into a field goal in a game that was decided by two points...
I'll let you do the math.
Rob Gronkowski Goes Down Again
It certainly came as little surprise that the New England Patriots were able to dispatch the Houston Texans after throttling the team in Week 14.
However, while the Patriots set up a second straight AFC title tilt with the Baltimore Ravens at Foxborough, Sunday's win came at a high price.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who only recently returned to action after suffering a broken forearm earlier this season, left the game in the first quarter after appearing to re-injure the arm and did not return to action.
The tight-lipped Patriots haven't released details on the injury, but Pro Football Talk reports that the third-year pro will once again require surgery and is done for the year.
Given that Gronkowski led all tight ends in touchdown catches despite missing five games, his loss is a significant one, taking some shine off the Patriots' win on Sunday.