Wild Card Weekend was just that: Wild!
Last year's Super Bowl teams were eliminated, and a few quarterbacks came of age. The Patriots and Falcons have to be happy the Colts and Saints are gone, taking Peyton Manning and Drew Brees out of the equation.
No strangers next week, as all of the divisional showdowns are regular-season rematches, with the AFC matchups pitting division rivals for a third time.
As I say all the time, beware the rematch. Seattle had a rematch game with New Orleans, and we all watched a 7-9 team pull off an improbable upset.
With that in mind, here are the six things that jumped out at me from Wild Card Weekend:
1. How did the Sea-Shocks do it?
I talked with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll a few times last week, and he said two things that really stuck with me about his team: One, they were really confident and didn't need any pep talks to get ready; and, two, they were really relaxed. That's a dangerous combination.
The Seahawks clearly were ready to face the defending Super Bowl champs with the proper mindset, but other things contributed to the win. For me, the biggest issue was how much they won the field-position battle all day. Three times on kickoffs they made the tackle inside the 20-yard line, and they also downed three punts inside the 20. The Saints played on a long field all day.
In those six drives, New Orleans scored two touchdowns, punted three times and fumbled once. Seattle played on a short field most of the day, with their average series starting at its 40-yard line. Of the four touchdown passes Matt Hasselbeck threw, the drives to score averaged 6.75 plays. The Seahawks did not have one drive of more than 10 plays and still put 41 points on the board.
2. The officials let them play
The officials, for the most part, didn't get in the way of the games, which I appreciate. The four winning teams -- Seattle, New York Jets, Baltimore, and Green Bay -- were flagged for just 13 penalties combined. Even the four losing teams had a modest 21 penalties called against them.
Thank you, zebras, for letting them play. Hopefully, that will keep up.
|Reggie Wayne has seen better days than Saturday, when he was held to just one catch for 1 yard by Darrelle Revis. (AJ Mast/Associated Press)|
3. No. 1 receivers shut down
The top receivers of each of the four losing teams are stars in their own right. As a group, New Orleans' Marques Colston, Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson entered the playoffs with a combined 314 receptions for 4,596 yards and 34 touchdowns. Their weekly average would indicate they combined for 20 receptions, 287 yards and at least two touchdowns.
What a difference the postseason makes.
They exit the playoffs with a combined seven receptions for 114 yards and no touchdowns: Wayne, one catch for 1 yard; Bowe, zero catches; Jackson, two catches for 47 yards; and Colston, four catches for 66 yards.
The winning defenses did a great job of taking these guys out of the game.
4. Deferring in OT: An advantage?
There is a new postseason-only overtime procedure, but it never came into play. But it was a hot topic where I was in CBS Studios, and it could present a few coaching decisions next week. I had a long discussion Saturday about the strategy of the new overtime with Bill Cowher, and I was hoping to see it come into play.
The new rules basically state that if the team that receives the kickoff scores on a field goal, the opposing team gets a chance to tie the score with a field goal or win it with a touchdown. Of course, if the first team to possess the ball scores a touchdown, instead of a field goal, the game ends.
The question of deferring if you win the toss came up with Coach Cowher, which would never come up in the regular-season sudden-death structure. Cowher agreed with me that if, after regulation, in a low-scoring game, say 10-10, and my team is based on defense, like Pittsburgh, and at home in tough weather conditions, we might see a coach defer and play defense first knowing only a touchdown can beat him on the first possession. Stop the team and make them punt, or in the worst case kick a field goal.
Point is the team that deferred might have an advantage. Next weekend there are three games outside, where weather could be a factor, and I wonder what the coaches will do if put in this situation.
5. Can't call them busts
Sure there have been many draft busts when it comes to first-round quarterbacks. We all remember the Ryan Leaf, Cade McCown and Akili Smith debacles, to name a few, but this year's final eight is a reminder that the first round is still the place to shop for a signal-caller. Granted, Tom Brady is the poster child for looking elsewhere, but six of the remaining eight quarterbacks are former first-round picks: Aaron Rodgers, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler.
I was really impressed with Rodgers and Flacco this weekend, both winning on the road and throwing five touchdown passes between them. Flacco got his fourth playoff win on the road in his young three-year career.
6. Adjust, and you can win
Coaches like to use the expression "pressure busts pipes," which means the bigger the moment, the more likely pressure will make a team break down. Most teams can't wait until halftime to fix a problem, but occasionally it takes halftime to get things right. This weekend's playoff games really drove home the notion that teams that can adjust will win and move on.
The Ravens really struggled against the Kansas City's run game in the first half, giving up 96 yards in 12 carries. The Chiefs gained just 12 more rushing yards. The Ravens stuffed the Chiefs without giving up anything in the passing game. The Ravens had no sacks or interceptions in the first half, either, but finished with three of each.
The Jets, meanwhile, couldn't score in the first half against the Colts, but they put 17 on the board to win the game. And their defense didn't give up a passing touchdown to Manning in the second half.
Simple point is you've got to be able to adjust.