Another wild NFL weekend is in the books with the usual mix of upsets, blowouts, refereeing clangers and kicking ineptitude. Get the lowdown on the weekends games with our below snapshots. Following a Wildcard weekend that saw all 4 road teams win for the first time in NFL history, the script was (coin?) flipped on its head in a divisional round that saw wins for all 4 home teams emerged victorious meaning that, for the first time since 2004, both the AFC and NFC Championship games will be contested by the #1 and #2 seeds. With all 4 games being decided by just 1 score there was no shortage of intrigue this past weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs 20 – 27 New England Patriots
- The score for this game says it was only a 1 score difference but it felt more than that. New England dominated this game despite possessing the ball for barely half the amount of time the Chiefs had it and never looked like losing. By winning this game the Patriots have now advanced to, a scarcely believe, 10th AFC Championship in the 15year Brady/Belichick era. To put that in perspective, in the same time frame, the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, Bengals, Chiefs, Texans and Jaguars have not even appeared in the game once. It is also the 5th consecutive title game for these Patriots.
- What a difference Julian Edelman makes. Returning after 10 weeks out with a broken foot, Edelman caught 10 passes for 100 yards despite showing signs of rust early on in dropping 3 catchable balls. The impact of Edelman though, goes beyond the yardage on the stat sheet, as he changes the way New England are able to play. Coming into the game all eyes were on the, recently sieve-like, Patriots OL and the Chiefs stellar pass rush but, by virtue of Edelman’s presence and McDaniel’s scheming, Kansas City’s advantage here was neutralised with Brady getting the ball out so quickly to the short areas of the field Edelman so ably occupies.
- I suppose we should no longer be surprised when an Andy Reid coached team has issues with clock management. An inability to manage the clock late in halves and games dogged Reid during his Eagles days and it would seem nothing has changed in Kansas City. Down by 2 scores with 6 mins to play, Kansas City inexplicably went on a 16 play TD drive that bled more than 5 minutes of the clock due to the Chiefs showing a complete lack of urgency, even huddling inside 2 minutes from the NE 7 yard line! Philadelphia fans better hope that new HC Doug Pederson hasn’t inherited this trait from Reid.
Green Bay Packers 20 – 26 Arizona Cardinals
- Where to start with this game – touchdowns, turnovers, missed opportunities – this game had everything, including a failed coin toss! When all is said and done though, the Cardinals move on to the NFC Championship game thanks, in large part, to the performance of their best player. Great players come up big in big games and Larry Fitzgerald is among the greatest there is. You could see a philosophical change in the Cardinals game plan from the first to the second halves as the team decided to abandon their equal opportunities passing game and focus on Fitz instead. 8 catches for 176 and a TD shows that was a good decision!
- Is there anything more that Aaron Rodgers need to prove? No Davante Adams, Randall Cobb lost early on, no problem, let’s just throw the ball to Jeff Janis (who?) and Jared Abbrederis (who?). For good measure let’s add in 4th and 20 from deep in your own territory – no worries, just launch a 60 yard bomb to Janis for a first down. Still not enough? How about 5 seconds left, ball on the 41, blitz coming, throw off the back foot falling away, 55 yards in the air, Janis again, Touchdown. Tie game. Arizona are just glad Rodgers never got to touch the ball in overtime.
- Carson Palmer finally got his first playoff win, at the age of 36, but it wasn’t pretty. He definitely had his moments of brilliance – the opening TD throw to Floyd was a thing of beauty – but could easily have found himself as the goat in this game if Green Bay’s DB’s, Sam Shields in particular, could have taken the chances he presented to them. He will likely not get so lucky against Carolina’s opportunistic unit next week so Cardinal fans will be hoping that that first win is enough to settle his nerves before the Championship game.
Seattle Seahawks 24 – 31 Carolina Panthers
- Since the 1989 Rams, no team from the West Coast has ever won back-to-back, Eastern time-zone, early window (1pm KO) games. Despite a ferocious comeback, Seattle fell short of doing just that having fallen too far behind the Panthers in the early going. Can we attribute the Seahawks slow start to the early kickoff? It definitely seems it may have been a factor as they weren’t ‘at the races’ in the early going as Carolina ripped them apart.
- At some point the Seahawks playoff luck had to run out. Having often been the beneficiary of ‘gifts’ from the football gods – Brandon Bostick’s botched onside recovery in last year’s NFC Championship game and Blair Walsh’s inexplicable 27yard miss last week – Thomas Davis’s recovery of the onside attempt last night finally put paid to Seattle’s run of good fortune. Having raced back into the game, partly aided by the ‘passive’ and ‘protective’ Panthers approach in the second half, the defending NFC Champions ultimately ran out of time to complete their improbably comeback.
- Given how early and how far they went ahead it is actually quite difficult to examine Carolina’s performance as, particularly offensively, they didn’t actually have to do much following the early blitz. They leant heavily on their rushing attack as they went into ‘bleed the clock’ mode early on. Against a defense that knew they were going to run it they weren’t actually that successful outside of the first play of the game (a 59 yard Stewart scamper) with 37 carries (excluding kneel downs) for just 88 yards. Newton only threw for 161 yards and 1 TD on 22 attempts as the entire team seemed to relax. They will need a 60 minute performance if they are to overcome the Arizona Cardinals next week.
Pittsburgh Steelers 16 – 23 Denver Broncos
- In the end, the cavalcade of injuries suffered by Pittsburgh was too much to overcome as they were outlasted by the Broncos in a war of attrition at Mile High Stadium. The legend of Ben Roethlisberger however, grew still further, as, despite dislocating his throwing shoulder just last week, somehow managed to put up 339 yards passing on the leagues #1 passing defense. Missing Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams was reflected on the scoresheet though as, despite all the yardage, the Steelers were only able to reach the end-zone once.
- Despite the win, Broncos HC Gary Kubiak has to be worried about their offensive output, particularly their inability to finish drives. Brandon McManus tied an NFL record with 5 FG’s in the game as Denver struggled to find pay-dirt. Both Kubiak and Manning are well aware that, against Brady and the Patriots, continually having to settle for 3 points isn’t going to cut it. Perhaps the biggest concern for the Broncos offense, Peyton Manning has not thrown a touchdown pass since the 8th November, a week 9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
- Whatever the concerns about the Broncos offense, the defense is still in good shape and, if Denver make it to Santa Clara, it will be because of the play of that unit. As they have all year, they provided the key play in the game as, trailing by 1 point with less than 10 minutes remaining, cornerback Bradley Roby was able to strip the ball from Fitzgerald Toussaint, setting up Manning and the offense inside Pittsburgh territory when Demarcus Ware recovered the loose ball.