A Weekend of Football
Posted Jan. 14 at 06:57 AM
It happens every year; I mean, actually every year, as I was reminded of in my column Saturday previewing the games. A heavy favorite gets upset in the divisional round, just like the Ravens managed against the Broncos. And yes it took overtime and some poor playcalling by John Fox and a terrible throw by Peyton Manning for it to happen, but if the Ravens could cover a kick they'd have probably won easily. Incredible, unthinkable, but it happens every year.
So why was I surprised? Why didn't I see it coming? I guess it's because even if something happened before, that doesn't mean it will happen again. We say, well, we should have been able to foresee that the Giants/Jets/Ravens were too big of an underdog, but this year is going to be different. Because the Broncos are better on defense and because Peyton Manning is on a mission and all this other stuff that seemed really important before the game but once it kicks off and there's 60 minutes of football to play, does not matter as much any more. Then the only thing that matters is who makes the big plays when they need to be made, and that's why it's a mistake to think too much about point spreads or regular-season encounters. Just think about which team is going to make more plays.
And when you do that, every game becomes more of a tossup, or at least most of them do. And you get a weekend like we just had.
Ravens at Broncos: This was supposed to be the ho-hum warmup game, the yawner each playoff weekend figures to start off with, setting the table for the classic games to come. Instead it was the classic, the one you couldn't turn away from because it was just too dramatic. How could the Ravens let the opening punt be returned for a touchdown? How could they do it again with a kickoff? How could nobody (?) consider the possibility that Torrey Smith could run right by Champ Bailey over and over again? Underestimate the impact of cold weather on a veteran quarterback (especially me, having seen it happen to my favorite quarterback once or twice in his football twilight years)? Underestimate the respective coaches, with the conservative to a fault John Fox making the key decisions? I know some small minority of people called this game correctly, but I thought there was no way, no how, the Broncos could lose this game, and was wronger than wrong.
A few random comments: The Ravens clearly need to lock Joe Flacco up this offseason, because quarterbacks who can step up like that in a big road playoff game are hard to find. Flacco of course did it at New England last postseason, but it was kind of forgotten because Baltimore lost. If Flacco gets away maybe he's not going to go and be the next Drew Brees or Kurt Warner, but Baltimore needs to make sure he goes nowhere. ... It was a strangely old school and yet effective game plan from Baltimore. Running Ray Rice for 3-4 yards on the first two downs, taking shots downfield on third and short. And it kept working. ... I know Denver's safety blowing his coverage is the big moment here, as well as Denver running it on third and seven, and taking a knee at the end of regulation. Still, Baltimore might have won the game anyway, even if Denver had acted differently in each of those situations. Baltimore was better. And I am stunned that they are 10-point underdogs at New England next week. Stunned. ... Manning's overtime interception looked literally exactly like Favre's pick at the end of the Saints-Vikings NFC Championship. Rolling right, throwing back over the middle of the field. Same play. Just crazy.
Packers at 49ers: So when Colin Kaepernick threw that pick-6 to open the game, I said to myself, that's right, you can't trust a young inexperienced quarterback in this kind of game, that's why I picked Green Bay. But when that quarterback has a rifle arm and can run like a deer (yes, that's a Santa Claus is Coming to Town reference), I guess you can overcome it. I think he's basically the only real story from this game; oh sure, the fumbled punt hurt, and Green Bay's offensive line had some issues, and their defense doesn't seem to work that well come playoff time. But mostly it was Kaepernick making the kind of plays with his arm and his legs that were if not completely unexpected, certainly remarkable. He hadn't run like that in a game all season, so to see him do it in that game was simply striking. I won't be picking against San Francisco the rest of the way, since it doesn't seem likely any defense left is going to adjust quickly enough to stop that kind of game.
Seahawks at Falcons: I'm not even sure how to talk about this game, which was all kinds of crazy. Atlanta dominates it for three quarters, then falls apart, then loses, then wins, then seemingly tries to lose again. I do know that when Atlanta went up 26-7 in the third quarter, I said, hey, why not go for 2 here? It was late enough that realistically Seattle wasn't going to be scoring 2 TDs and 2 field goals; they'd be going for touchdowns the rest of the way. So why not try to go ahead by 21 and risk being up by only 19? I know coaches have these little sheets that tell them when to go for 2 and when not to, but it doesn't mean they're always correct. I'd have gone for 2 there, and not risked losing by 1 freaking point.
Now, after Seattle's insane comeback and inevitable lead, things got kind of crazy. I can't fault them too much for Atlanta's two plays to get into field goal range, which were just fantastic throws by Matt Ryan. Leaving Harry Douglas open isn't the same as leaving Roddy White free, for example, and Tony Gonzalez is just really good. I can fault them, however, for that ridiculous Icing the kicker timeout, since it seemed to me like Bryant was going to miss the kick before the timeout gave Atlanta a chance to settle down. Somebody needs to run numbers on how often kickers make or miss that kick after a timeout, because my guess is it will show the kicker makes it more often after getting a chance to collect his thoughts. Atlanta kicking it with 13 seconds left was just stupid; you run a sideline route and you still have a chance to spike the ball, at worst, or just sail the throw out of bounds. I don't even know what to say about the squib kick/onside kick which followed, beyond it being the stupidest thing I've ever seen in a football game. Oh sure there have been inane penalties or throws or whatever, but this was a decision someone made with time to think about, not a heat of the moment gaffe. I haven't read enough to know if it was the kicker acting on his own or whatever, but good grief it was bizarre. That would no doubt have gone down as one of the worst losses in the history of losing, so in that respect I'm glad Atlanta got the ugly win. But beware Seattle next year, because they'll get this game at home and it won't be close.
Texans at Patriots: Do I have to talk about this one? This game was lost in Weeks 15-17 when the Texans blew the conference's top seed. They could maybe have won this game at home; maybe. Their offense isn't built to match up in a shootout. I imagine Matt Schaub is drawing some heat today, but I think people need to accept that he's a pretty good quarterback, and if Houston tries to replace him, they'll probably do worse. What they need to do is dominate their weak division (for now) and get homefield advantage, where their defense will be able to, maybe, let them play with a lead. And then Schaub is good enough that they can win. As for New England, well, you know. They can win without any one or two offensive players, barring an injury to Brady. They're not really reliant on one guy. Especially at home against a soft pass defense like Houston's.
So I'm thinking we're gonna get the all-Harbaugh Super Bowl, but as always, I'll talk more about that next Saturday. For now, I'm going to go watch more highlights of these games. Maybe by tomorrow, they'll get old as Peyton Manning. But maybe not.
Posted by BEN HOGEVOLL | Jan. 14 at 08:41 AM
After the seahawks falcons game,Smith said the kick was supposed to have been a squib kick.He didnt say who screwed up and why.
Posted by ANDY RICHARDSON | Jan. 14 at 08:48 AM
Yeah, I saw that. I guess the guy who actually kicked it just had a brain lock of some kind.
Posted by PETER DEBIASE | Jan. 14 at 08:52 AM
Andy: Just going off of memory, I can't imagine that the freezing the kicker strategy has worked more than a handful of times so maybe it's time that coaches discontinue this stupid practice. Then you have a coach who has always been a weasel try to weasel his way out of calling the T.O. despite indisputable video evidence to the contrary. Embarrassing. And as far as that 10 point spread goes, I can't imagine NE beating Baltimore by double digits but a lot of things happened this weekend that I couldn't imagine happening either. I assume you did well in the Playoff Challenge since you mentioned that your roster was heavy on 49ers. I got knocked out due to Denver and GB going down. I lost ground in the other game (thanks Gronk) where the leader board is littered with teams that started your boy Kappy.
Posted by ANDY RICHARDSON | Jan. 14 at 09:25 AM
I had some Niners, but I had mostly Broncos. I am toast. Frankly the guys who are going to win got two great weeks out of Arian Foster, and/or they still have Brady. Agreed on Carroll. It is a foolish strategy that I am pretty certain has the exact opposite effect more often than not.
Posted by ERIC SCOLNICK | Jan. 14 at 12:08 PM
Pete Carroll was not arguing that he called a time out but that Matt Bryant should not have been allowed to kick the ball. Maybe in future games there will be a 5 yard penalty for taking a "practice kick" after the play had been clearly called dead. See the article: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000125862/article/pete-carroll-refs-said-practice-kicks-werent-allowed
Posted by ANDY RICHARDSON | Jan. 14 at 12:25 PM
Eric, you are correct. Still, the grounds for complaint seems kind of thin given that the approach of these timeouts is to call them at the last possible instant. Whereas what happened in Baltimore was clearly a practice kick, this was simply an actual one that wasn't stopped. Can we be certain that the snapper, holder and Bryant all knew that timeout had been called? Regardless, I hope things like yesterday put an end to it.
Posted by Matt Mumford | Jan. 15 at 10:25 AM
The reason for icing the kicker is the Janikowski kick where he made it, but the opposing coach had called a timeout. Oakland had to re-kick and Janikowski was wide. Football like baseball tends to be superstitious so Voila! I do think Bryant took the practice kick and that happened a lot this year when the opposing team called a timeout before the kick. If you look back I'll bet many more were made then missed! I agree with a five yard penalty for a practice kick!
Posted by PETER DEBIASE | Jan. 15 at 01:16 PM
I agree with Andy. I'll use a baseball example. How many times have you seen a batter be granted timeout at the last second and the pitcher is already in his windup and he ends up throwing a pitch. Should we penalize the pitcher also? There is no way that under a last second timeout scenario like we saw on Sunday that the snapper, holder and kicker should all have to stop what they're doing or risk being penalized. And if Carroll wasn't trying to say he didn't call a timeout, then I'll blame Brian Billick for saying he did. Add that to the rest of his terrible analysis in that game.
Posted by ANDY RICHARDSON | Jan. 15 at 02:01 PM
Random TV crew comments: I'm sure people heard Phil Simms at the end of Houston-New England, saying that Houston, having driven into field goal range in the final minute, should kick the field goal and try and onside kick....having apparently forgotten that New England had added a field goal a few minutes earlier and was up by 13 points. I had a specific Dan Dierdorf gripe from the game he called, but can't remember it now. And finally, with having to wait until 4:30 for the first Saturday game, I watched some of the CBS pregame show, which I haven't seen all year. That is just a bad, boring pregame show. When they brought out a doctor who used to work for the Los Angeles Rams -- so, many years ago -- to talk about Griffin's knee injury, I felt my soul die a little bit.
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