Three Things We Learned From Wild Card Weekend
As a diehard football fan, I always have mixed feelings at the start of the playoffs. Nothing beats the thrill of elimination games and the epic performances that tend to accompany playoff games, but the fact that there's only about one month left of NFL action is a bit of a downer...a feeling that's made worse by the uncertain labor situation looming in the offseason.
Fortunately, this weekend's slate of games provided plenty of excitement to provide football fans with an exhilarating start to the end of the season. Three out of the four games came down to the final minutes, and the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks managed to pull off a monumental upset against the heavily favored defending champion New Orleans Saints.
In light of this past weekend's games, here are three lessons that football fans can remember for the future.
The New York Jets Still Play Best Under Pressure
After watching the Jets’ up-and-down play all season long combined with the several off-field distractions that plagued the organization, many people probably were wondering if Rex Ryan wished that he could eat his bold preseason pronouncement that the Jets were going to win the Super Bowl.
Anyone still wondering?
Who knows? Maybe the Rex Ryan foot fetish story was leaked by the Jets as a final motivator to rally the team behind their fearless leader. After a slow first half, the Jets looked dominant in the second half last night. However, after Manning effortlessly marched the Colts down the field and Vinatieri delivered yet another clutch field goal, most people probably figured that the Jets were finished. Aided by a great return from Antonio Cromartie, the Jets roared back and Mark Sanchez—whom nobody will confuse with Tom Brady or John Elway, at least not at this point—delivered several clutch throws with the clock ticking down to move the Jets in position for the winning field goal.
This isn’t a new trend. Last year, after sputtering through the regular season, the Jets played great football in the playoffs. The Jets upset the Bengals and Chargers and hung tough against the Colts before losing in the AFC Championship Game.
Sure, the Patriots whupped the Jets when they met earlier this year. Think that’ll happen again? Me neither.
To Succeed In the Playoffs, Teams Need Strong Running Backs
Heading into the playoffs, last year’s Super Bowl teams (the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts) were probably feeling confident about their chances. The Colts entered the postseason on a four-game winning streak, and the Saints came from behind to defeat the Falcons in what many thought was a preview of the NFC Championship Game.
However, both teams will be watching the rest of the playoffs from their couches.
Their running games were abysmal.
Take a look at the last few Super Bowl winners. When was the last time a team won without a dominant running attack?
The Saints entered the playoffs without their two top running backs, and Reggie Bush failed to step up and fill in for the injured Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas.On the most important play in the Saints’ season, they were forced to turn to DeShawn Wynn for the two-point conversion. Yes, the same DeShawn Wynn who had only rejoined the team that same week and had not had a carry all game long. Even if you didn't know who won the game, you probably can guess how that went.
The Colts’ running game, featuring a banged-up Joseph Addai and an aging Dominic Rhodes, failed to convert the first down that would have allowed the Colts to run down the clock before kicking a field goal. (Ironically enough, Addai and Rhodes combined to make up for a less-than-dominant Manning when the Saints won Super Bowl XLI.) As a result, the Jets had enough time to march down the field and kick the game-winning field goal. In contrast, the Ravens were able to use Ray Rice to convert, pick up several first downs and control the tempo of the game.
And who will ever forget watching Marshawn Lynch’s heroic run? He’ll never have to buy his own dinner in Seattle ever again.
Despite The Naysayers, The Baltimore Ravens' Defense Is Still Strong
Commentators have been saying that the Ravens’ defense isn’t as strong as in recent years. Browns fans like myself can only wish that this were actually true, because the Ravens' defense still looks just as strong as in years past.
This weekend all they did was shut down a loaded Chiefs offense that featured the speedy Dexter McCluster, the explosive Jamaal Charles and rugged Thomas Jones at running back, and the dynamic Dwayne Bowe at wide receiver. Without Charles’ long touchdown run, the Chiefs would have been shut out.
The Ravens’ defense forced multiple turnovers, pressured Matt Cassel all game long, and made big stops when necessary. Would the game have changed if the Chiefs had converted on 4th-and-1 in the third quarter while the Ravens clung to a 10-7 lead? Possibly. But great defenses make the plays that keep games from changing, and the Ravens’ defense answered the call.
When the worst thing that I can say about a defense's performance is that Haruki Nakamura is now taking cues from Ed Reed and lateraling (and subsequently losing) interceptions, I'd say that's a good day indeed.
As long as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are on the field, the Ravens’ defense is a force to be reckoned with. Next week’s matchup with the Steelers promises to be yet another bare-knuckle brawl!