The Lions-Cowboys game saved a Wild Card Weekend. But, even though three of four games in Round 1 were unstimulating, the results set up a divisional round with thrilling potential. And the hot takes are flying around.
We separate fact from fiction in this edition of Schein Nine.
1) Tony Romo is elite.
This is an absolute fact. I've said it before. And I'll say it again. Tony Romo is elite. I'm sorry, but this point deserves to be hammered home.
On a night when the Cowboys' vaunted offensive line allowed Romo to get smacked around to a stunning degree, this franchise quarterback hung in there and saved his best for last.
I'm purposely addressing this topic first, before we get into the rest of the Detroit-Dallas drama. How often is the play of Tony Romo overshadowed? The good play, that is. Of course, this is never an issue when Romo performs poorly.
Romo eradicated a two-touchdown deficit. He threw a third-down strike to Terrance Williams late in the fourth quarter to give Dallas its first lead of the game at 24-20, which ended up being the final score. In fact, earlier in that go-ahead drive, Romo had a huge fourth-down completion to Jason Witten. Jason Garrett easily could've punted in that situation, but he rightly had faith in Romo, and the quarterback delivered a 21-yard gain on fourth-and-6. It was clutch. It was game-changing. Can you imagine the chorus had Romo's pass been errant? Yes, haters, take note: Tony Romo won a playoff game with big throws in the fourth quarter.
Romo's always been great, but he's never been surrounded by the kind of structure and balance he's enjoying this season. On Sunday, despite taking shot after shot from the Lions' ferocious front, Romo completed 19 of his 31 passes for 293 yards (a healthy 9.45 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. He finished the game with a 114.0 quarterback rating, a touch higher than his regular-season mark of 113.2 -- which, by the way, led the NFL.
2) The pass interference non-call cost Detroit the game.
Honestly, I've never seen anything quite like what we witnessed on Sunday: a pass-interference call was announced by the head official, discussed on television ... and then, moments later, the call was abruptly reversed. It was odd. Jim Caldwell wasn't satisfied postgame with the reasoning he got from the officials, and I don't blame him.
All that said, this is fiction.
The sequence was weird. I thought Anthony Hitchens was clearly guilty of pass interference on Brandon Pettigrew. But there was a lot of game left after this controversial play -- 8:18 to be exact. The Lions blew this game. They blew it before that play -- and after, starting with Sam Martin's disastrous 10-yard punt directly following the flag that wasn't. Truth be told, I wouldn't have punted that ball in the first place. Fourth-and-1 in Dallas territory? Go for it!
The Lions looked great early, jumping out to a two-touchdown lead, but they didn't step on Dallas' throat. And the Cowboys capitalized. Detroit scored three points in the second half of a playoff game. That's unacceptable. Romo made plays. Matthew Stafford did not. And while we're talking about the Lions quarterback ...
3) You can win a championship with Matthew Stafford.
That's fiction -- at least from what we've seen over his first six seasons in the NFL.
Yes, Stafford has the ability to turn heads with that cannon of an arm, but his in-game decision-making is rather putrid. And he simply cannot beat winning teams on the road.
In an era where we analyze quarterbacks at length based upon performances in big spots, I don't think Stafford gets enough criticism for consistently coming up short with the Lions.
4) Joe Flacco is New England's worst nightmare.
This is a fact. John Harbaugh called Flacco the best QB in the game after Baltimore's 30-17 win in Pittsburgh. While that's not accurate, I understand why the coach feels that way. Harbaugh and Flacco are a fantastic coach-quarterback combo. And the QB doesn't feel pressure in the playoffs, which is why I posited last week that the Ravens could kick-start another January run with a win on Saturday night.
Now, I'm not exactly pulling the trigger on Baltimore beating New England this weekend. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski should make plays against the Ravens' defensive backfield. But Flacco and Harbaugh -- along with Baltimore's pass rush and run game -- will take this one down to the wire. As I intimated before, this is the team the Patriots didn't want to see in their playoff opener.
5) Carolina can beat Seattle.
The above statement is fiction. In fact, I'll be stunned if this game is even close. Cam Newton certainly wasn't great in Saturday's 27-16 win, turning the ball over twice. How will he perform against the "Legion of Boom" in a huge spot at the NFL's most hostile venue? And Russell Wilson represents quite an upgrade from Lindley, to say the least. Something tells me this quarterback will be able to produce more than 78 yards of offense against the Panther D.
6) Injuries buried the Bengals.
Still, this is fiction.
The Bengals are coached by Marvin Lewis and quarterbacked by Andy Dalton. I've written it approximately 1,000 times, but I'll do it again: The Bengals are going nowhere in the playoffs with that combo. Dalton's weapons were compromised, for sure, but he also did nothing to help the cause against a beleaguered Indy team ripe to be picked off.
Nothing will change in Cincinnati until changes are made at two prominent spots.
7) The Colts are ready to make a run.
This is straight fiction.
Andrew Luck is special -- no doubt about that. Unfortunately, his supporting cast is not. Meanwhile, his counterpart in next Sunday's bout, Peyton Manning, has numerous weapons at his disposal, including Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and breakout stud C.J. Anderson. The Broncos will light up the scoreboard, while the Colts' issues (at running back, along the offensive line and all over the defense) will be on full display.
8) The divisional round of the playoffs is the best weekend in sports.
Oh, yes -- this is most definitely a fact.
Sometimes on Wild Card Weekend, you don't get the best games. And, as mentioned above, that was the case -- for the most part -- this past weekend. But in the coming weekend, the four best teams in the league enter the fray. This always makes for amazing drama. The Cowboys are visiting Lambeau Field in the playoffs for the first time since the Ice Bowl. Classic! And the other matchups carry juicy storylines of their own.
Don't get me wrong: The NCAA tournament is great. But there's nothing like a double-dip of playoff action on consecutive days in January featuring the best teams from America's most popular sport.
9) The Jets should hire Doug Marrone.
Wanted to slip one non-playoff topic into this file ... And yes, this is an absolute fact.
Christmas came late for teams in need of a coach when Marrone opted out of his contract with the Bills on New Year's Eve. As I've said many times -- in this space, on the radio, on TV -- Marrone is a fantastic coach. After all, this is a guy who just won nine games in Buffalo without a legit quarterback and without Kiko Alonso playing a single down. And this kind of overachievement is nothing new for Marrone's teams. He took over a Syracuse program that the overmatched Greg Robinson had completely run into the ground (see: 10–37 record from 2005-08) and rebuilt the Orange into a winner over the span of four years.
Hall of Famer Curtis Martin recently gushed about Marrone to the New York Post. (Marrone was an assistant with the Jets when Martin was on the squad.) Drew Brees cherished his time with Marrone, who was the Saints' offensive coordinator during Brees' first three years in New Orleans.