Plenty of shocking outcomes and high-scoring games to talk about today. Here's what we learned after this weekend:
Ravens upset No. 1 seeded Broncos at Mile High
This was an instant classic. On one hand we have arguably the best team in the postseason and an MVP candidate/Hall of Fame-bound quarterback looking to further cement his legacy. On the other, we have a motivated and rejuvenated Baltimore defense whose legendary linebacker was facing possibly his last game ever. What did we get? A shocking upset that went into double overtime.
We, along with all 18 NFL Network analysts, picked the 13-3 Broncos to manhandle the Ray Lewis-led Ravens. Instead, we got a match-up for the ages and finally saw quarterback Joe Flacco step up and prove he can keep up with the big boys of the league.
Running back Ray Rice got his touches and went for 131 on the ground while adding a touchdown, but what impressed me the most was the fact that Flacco stuck in there and was able to out-pass Peyton Manning (Flacco: 18/34, 331 yards, 3 TDs, 116.2 rating; Manning: 28/43, 290 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 88.3 rating). Denver failed to put any pressure on Flacco as they sacked him just one time all game, and he was able to hit WR Torrey Smith on a couple of clutch touchdowns.
I mentioned that it would take a flawless game from Flacco for Baltimore to pull this one out (which even then I wasn't so sure they'd manage to do so), and that's exactly what he did. Shocking, right? That's not the only shocking feat we saw on either side. Denver stayed in the game because of great special teams play from former Houston returner Trindon Holliday. The 5'5" Holliday returned a punt 90 yards for a TD and a kickoff 104 yards for a TD in the game, accounting for close to half of the points.
The game was back-and-forth from the start, as each team traded touchdowns all the way through. This game, which didn't end until Justin Tucker nailed a 47-yard field goal with 13:18 to play in the second overtime period, saw five different ties and never saw a team leading by anymore than seven points. Down 35-28 with under a minute to play in the game, Flacco hit Jacoby Jones (another former Texans return man) on a 70-yard TD bomb to tie the game with :31 to play.
The play saw a blown coverage on Denver's defense and could have easily been avoided had he not taken a bad angle. Either way, Baltimore was back in it and finally came away with the victory thanks to Tucker.
Key mistakes was the difference in this game. A Manning interception returned for a TD (there was a questionable pass interference non-call on the play that may have overturned the play) early in the game cost the Broncos seven points. Two interceptions and 10 penalties for 87 yards made all the difference in the world as Flacco and his Baltimore offense managed to take advantage of those opportunities and make the most of them.
*This was the first double overtime game since the Panthers defeated the Rams 29-23 in two overtimes on January 10, 2004.
*Flacco improves to 7-4 in postseason, recording his second career 300-yard passing game in the playoffs. His 3 TDs are a career-high in postseason play.
*Ray Lewis made 17 combined tackles
*In Peyton's 20th career postseason start he falls to 9-11 and it was the eighth different time that he's been one-and-done in the postseason.
Kaerpernick, Niners Pull Away from Packers in 2nd Half
The Saturday night cap was poised to be yet another great match-up, and that's exactly how it started out. Much like the previous game in Denver, this one saw multiple tie games and lead changes, as the two teams swapped touchdowns and field goals on its way to four ties, three of which came in the opening half.
Green Bay got the scoring going with a 52-yard Sam Shields interception touchdown. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick came right back, however, scoring and tying the game at seven with a 20-yard TD dash. DuJuan Harris, Green Bay's leading rusher with 52 yards on 11 carries, gave the Pack the lead back late in the first quarter with an 18-yard TD run. Back-to-back Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree touchdowns gave San Fran the 21-14 lead as Crabtree broke out for the game of his life (9 receptions, 119 yards, 2 TDs in his third career postseason game).
Aaron Rodgers isn't the kind of quarterback to step down, especially against an unproven, 25-year old Kaepernick. Rodgers came back out and led the Pack on a 69-yard drive, capped with a 20-yard strike to James Jones. Tied once again at 21. But just before the half Kaepernick one-upped the Super Bowl champion Rodgers, driving the Niners 79 yards down the field to set up a 36-yard field goal from seasoned veteran kicker David Akers.
Green Bay managed to tie the game for a fourth time on its second drive of the second half, setting up a 31-yard Mason Crosby field goal. But, it was all downhill from there. Green Bay couldn't seem to stop the running game, between running back Frank Gore (119 yards yards, 1 TD on 19 carries) or the speedy Kaepernick. Kaepernick has been a running threat all season, topping 400 yards with 5 TDs in his seven starts. On Saturday night vs. Green Bay, there were gapping holes which Kaepernick exploited. He finished the game with an NFL record 181 yards on the ground, adding two touchdowns 20 and 56 yards out. The rushing total is an NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game. Any game, not just a postseason game. Michael Vick was the previous record holder.
The Niners' 21 unanswered points in the second half gave San Francisco a 45-31 victory. Not only did Kaepernick outplay Rodgers, but the 49ers held the ball for 38 minutes and completely dominated all facets of the second half. Green Bay's late 3-yard TD pass from Rodgers to Greg Jennings was a result of San Francisco's defense slacking off, and I'd consider it garbage yards/points. It made Aaron's stats look slightly better, but I believe that the score of the game doesn't even tell the entire story. A great first half, but San Francisco absolutely blew the Pack out of the water in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, Kaepernick led an 11-play scoring drive that took nearly 8 minutes. Nine of those plays were running plays by Kaepernick, Gore and Anthony Dixon. By game's end, three different running backs, in addition to Kaepernick, had run the ball at some point in the game. Truthfully, I'm a little concerned for Atlanta's 21st-ranked run defense next week. San Francisco's running game looks to be unstoppable, and I clearly underestimated Kaepernick this past weekend.
*San Francisco combined for 323 yards and 4 TDs on the ground between four different runners. That's the most, by far, allowed by the Packers all season long. As a team, that's 7.5 yards per rush over 43 carries. Green Bay's rushing defense (17th) was ranked slightly higher than the Atlanta Falcons' this past season.
*Like I already stated, Kaepernick's 181 rushing yards is an NFL record for a quarterback in a single game. Any game. Vick previously held the record.
*The total plays of the game: San Fran 75, Green Bay 56
*Aldon Smith didn't record a single sack for the Niners (Patrick Willis had team's lone sack), and he recorded just two tackles all game, with one QB hit. Imagine what damage could be done if he can get to Matt Ryan next week?
Falcons Fend off the NFL's Newest "Comeback Kid" in Seattle's Rookie Wilson
Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan appears to have finally gotten that monkey off his back. As did future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is likely to retire after the season. Ryan, 27, was in the same draft class as Joe Flacco. But, unlike Joe, Matt is still winless in the postseason. Until yesterday of course.
It didn't come without a bit of a nail-biter, however. After another slow start from Seattle, who was looking to defeat two east coast teams on the road in the past two weeks, the Seahawks didn't give up without a fight.
Seattle's first four possessions ended with two punts, a Marshawn Lynch fumble and a turnover on downs, which came deep in Atlanta territory after head coach Pete Carroll elected to go for it on 4th & 1 (while down 10-0) instead of playing it safe and kicking a field goal. On Seattle's fifth possession of the game, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson drove the 'Hawks down the field on 13 plays but, with no timeouts left, Wilson was sacked for -9 yards on 3rd & 11 at the ATL 11-yard line. Unable to spike the ball and kick a field goal since it was already 4th down, the rookie attempted to just run one more play but the clock ran out prior to the snap. Seattle went into the locker room at the half down 20-0 and with an awful taste in its mouth.
Matt Ryan appeared to be on cruise control to his first postseason victory in four tries, throwing two TD passes to Gonzalez and Roddy White in the 20-point first half. But Wilson came right out of the locker room and led Seattle on a 9 play, 78-yard scoring drive capped off with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. The scoreboard read 20-7, which gave the visiting 'Hawks hope. But that hope was short-lived as Ryan came out a couple minutes later and marched the Falcons into the end zone on a 5-yard pass to Jason Snelling, capping the 80-yard drive.
This drive is what appeared to put the Seahawks out of the game, despite it still being early in the third quarter. Seattle's No. 10 rushing defense couldn't seem to stop Atlanta's 29th-ranked rushing attack, led by veteran Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. On 26 carries throughout the game, Atlanta combiend for 167 yards, which was good enough for 6.4 yards per carry.
But Wilson had yet to give up, as he led his offense to two consecutive scoring drives. It started with a one-yard run from Wilson early in the fourth, and was able to continue thanks to a key interception by safety Earl Thomas. Following the rare Matty Ryan mistake, the Seattle offense went 62 yards on four plays, as Wilson hit tight end Zach Miller in the end zone for a 3-yard TD strike. It was now early in the fourth and suddenly Seattle saw themselves down just six points, 27-21.
Seattle's defense finally stepped up its game in the fourth quarter stopping the Atlanta offense to three-and-outs on two consecutive drives and setting up the offense at its own 39-yard line with 3:00 to play. Managing to move up and down the field with seemingly no problems at all in the second half of play, Wilson once again led the Seahawks on a 60+ yard drive and capped it with a game-changing 2-yard rushing touchdown from Marshawn Lynch. After confirming the play in the booth upstairs, a Ryan Longwell extra point gave the Seahawks its first lead of the day, 28-27.
Once again, we saw the incredible take place in the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan came away with a clutch 3-yard drive with :31 to play, throwing passes of 22 and 19 yards to Harry Douglas and Gonzalez. This set up a game-winning 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to send the Falcons to the NFC Championship game next Sunday afternoon.
*Next weekend is only the third NFC Championship appearance in Atlanta's 47-year history (1-1 in previous two championship games). They are 7-11 in postseason play, and 3-5 in the Divisional round of the postseason.
*This game was Matt Ryan's first postseason victory (1-3) and first postseason game with 3 TDs. His rating of 93.7 is the best he's posted in the playoffs.
*Atlanta ran for 100 yards as a team only six times all season, and their 167 yards in Sunday's win over Seattle was the most in 2012-13 by 21 yards. They went 6-0 in games in which they ran for over 100 yards.
*As a rookie, Wilson posted a 102.4 rating with 572 yards, 3 TDs and just one interception in his first two postseason starts. He also ran for 127 yards and a TD in his two games against Washington and Atlanta while his Seahawks put up an average of 26.0 points per game (39 of the 52 points came in the second half, and there were zero first quarter points). Not bad for a rookie, huh?
*The win was the first postseason win for ATL tight end Tony Gonzalez in his illustrious 16-year Hall of Fame career (he's now 1-5 with the Chiefs and Falcons). The 13-time Pro Bowler is expected to retire at the end of the season, so next week could be both his and Lewis' final game. If not, then Super Bowl Sunday will be.
Patriots manhandle Texans, Move on to Host AFC Championship in 2011 Rematch with Baltimore
The first two possessions for New England's offense was a little alarming, and it looked as if the Texans defense could maintain the tempo and slow down Tom Brady's roll. Ehh, not so much once the second quarter rolled around.
Sure, the Houston defense forced a three-and-out on the opening drive while putting up three points thanks to a Shayne Graham field goal with its first offensive possession. Another punt on the second New England drive gave J.J. Watt and Houston confidence, and the Texans trailed just 7-3 at the end of the first.
But Houston quarterback Matt Schaub appeared a little too cautious with the ball and, because of that, Houston had several early drives stall and were forced to punt. Settling for two first half Graham field goals diminished the offense's confidence as they trailed 17-13 heading into the half. A scoreless third quarter for the Texans allowed the Pats to jump 31-13, and then extend that lead to 38-13 early in the fourth quarter.
New England's running backs had busy days. The youngsters Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for 124 yards on the ground in addition to two rushing TDs a piece. The hardly-used Vereen (62 carries in 13 games this year) added in two receiving touchdowns from Brady (Brady threw for 344 yards and 3 TDs on the day), totaling a career-high 3 TDs for the game. Already down by 25 points, Houston's 15 fourth quarter points made no difference as the Pats rolled to a 41-28 victory. Putting up 41 points on the 10th-best scoring defense, in a postseason game no less, is pretty impressive. Even if it is the New England Patriots.
There's really not much to say about this one, as this was expected. Watt and Brooks Reed got Brady on the ground early in the game, but that was the only sack of the day. Despite being hit 7 times, Brady stood in the pocket and hit five different receivers for the second-most passing yards in his 23-game postseason career.
There is one big headline that came from this game and will have a major impact on next weekend's match-up at Gillette Stadium, and that's that tight end Rob Gronkowski re-broke his forearm and will miss the rest of the postseason. He may even require a second surgery on it. This injury is likely to effect the beginning of next season as well, although I expect him to be just fine by the time September rolls around. Luckily for New England, Gronk didn't have an impact in yesterday's game (he was re-injured on the only play he was thrown to), so maybe they'll be able to manage without him next week.
*The victory is the 17th of Brady's postseason career, surpassing Joe Montana (Tom's childhood idol) on the all-time postseason wins list by a quarterback.
*In this game Brady also became just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 40 postseason touchdowns. He now has 41 of them in his 23 starts. Joe Montana and Brett Favre were the other two to accomplish this feat. Montana had 45 in 23 starts while Favre had 44 in 24 starts.
*Thanks to his 8 catch, 131 yard performance, Wes Welker now has 61 receptions for 569 yards and 3 TDs in his eight game postseason career. All coming with New England, the Patriots are 5-3 in those games.
*Arian Foster's 1-yard TD run gives him at least one in each of his four career postseason starts over the last two seasons. Houston is 2-2 in those games and he has a total of 6 touchdowns (five rushing, 1 receiving).
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There's no doubt we witnessed some of the best weekend of playoff football in a long time, as we had a much higher scoring slate of games than the previous week. Each of the eight teams managed to put at least 28 points up on the scoreboard and we got to see the highest-scoring weekend of playoff football, with 276 total points being scored throughout the four games. That's an average of 34.5 per team.
What a weekend. But the best part about this is Championship Sunday may even top the excitement we witnessed these last two days.
The 49ers will look to avenge last year's NFC Championship loss to the Giants as they travel to Atlanta to take on the top seeded Falcons (3 p.m. eastern time on FOX). On the AFC side of things, the Ravens will look to get its revenge on the Patriots after falling just short of the Super Bowl, at the hands of the Pats, in last year's AFC Championship game (6:30 p.m. eastern time on CBS).
How about that, three of last year's Championship teams managed to get back to the big game for a second consecutive season. There's even a chance we could see another Harbaugh Bowl on Super Sunday.
The All-Out Blitz's game picks will come later on in the week––we need some time to mull over the match-ups.
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