(#5) JETS 24, (#4) BENGALS 14
- The Jets recorded their first playoff win since 2004.
- Two rookies, head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Mark Sanchez, won their playoff debuts.
- Sanchez is the fourth rookie QB to win a playoff game, but he did so with a quarterback rating of 139.4; the other three (Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco) had ratings in the 50’s in each of their first postseason victories.
- Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene became the first rookie tandem to combine for a touchdown pass and a touchdown run in a postseason game in 34 years.
- Kicker Jay Feely played a huge role, doing well after being pressed into last-minute double duty after regular punter Steve Weatherford was sidelined right before kickoff with dizziness and an elevated heartbeat.
- Bengals’ kicker Shayne Graham missed two chip shot field goals (of 35 and 28 yards), both in the second half.
- The Bengals have gone 19 years without winning a playoff game.
- Sanchez completed all but three of 15 of his pass attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown.
- Running back Shonn Greene rushed for a game-high 135 yards on 21 carries, including a big 39-yard, second-quarter touchdown which tied the game, 7-7.
- Jets’ tight End Dustin Keller picked a great time to have a season high 99 yards on 3 catches, including a 45-yard touchdown catch from Sanchez to put the Jets up 14-7 in the second quarter.
- Shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis (who should have won the defensive player of the year award which mistakenly went to Green Bay’s Rod Woodson) held Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco to just two catches for 28 yards.
The Jets were lucky to be in the posteason (after blowing a big chance at home against the Falcons, they caught one huge break with Bill Polian forcing the Colts’ players and coaches to lay down against their will, and another, with a disinterested Bengals taking the night off the following week). And, it was obvious that the Bengals were not the same team as the one that won the AFC North title this season whether from an execution standpoint, emotionally, or in terms of overall focus ever since the tragic death of former wide receiver Chris Henry. Nevertheless, the Jets made the most of their opportunity in Cincinnati on Saturday, with the Bengals, this time, playing the Jets for real. Sanchez needed to play mistake free. He not only did that by avoiding a turnover, and thus not being the reason for a Jets’ loss, but he was surprisingly a major reason the Jets advanced to San Diego. Throw in the running of Shonn Greene, the Jets defense doing what it’s done all season, and Jay Feely being a major factor as an emergency punter, and it all led to a playoff victory in the first postseason chance in the Ryan-Sanchez era. The Jets head coach has some huge “Rex-pectations” for Gang Green, and he talks a good game. For one week, the Jets’ play came up as big as their coach’ mouth. One down, three to go. Their run figures to end in San Diego on Sunday, but two years ago, we all remember another five seed from the Meadowlands, who likewise, won its first round playoff game on the road by the same 24-14 score, en route to a magical run to a Super Bowl title. That team was of course, the Giants, who, like this year’s Jets, did it with defense first. With the Jets’ defense and very solid running game, if Sanchez continues to avoid miscues and pick his spots, the Jets may yet be able to duplicate the Giants’ run of a couple seasons ago.
(#3) COWBOYS 34, (#6) EAGLES 14
- The Cowboys ended the longest drought without a playoff victory in team history, winning a postseason game for the first time in 4,760; the Cowboys’ last playoff win was on December 28, 1996.
- With 92,951 in attendance, the game was played in front of the largest non-Super Bowl postseason crowd in NFL history.
- Dallas continued its recent defensive domination, allowing just 31 points over its past four games, for an average of just 7.75 points per game.
- Head coach Wade Phillips (who had been 0-4) and quarterback Tony Romo (who was 0-2) each won their first playoff games, while Dallas stopped a postseason losing streak of six straight games, and won its fourth straight game this season.
- The Cowboys set a team record for postseason points in a quarter with 27 points in the second period.
- Dallas nearly doubled Philadelphia’s time of possession, holding the ball for 39:34 to the Eagles’ 20:26.
- Running back Felix Jones gained 9.3 yards per carry, rushing for a game-high 148 yards on 16 carries, including a 73-yard touchdown run.
Give the Cowboys credit, but don’t read too much into their recent success just yet. Dallas has certainly put an end to all of the negative talk surrounding past December swoons and early postseason exits. However, let’s look a bit deeper at the Cowboys’ recent surge. It started with the win in New Orleans. Impressive, but the Saints, undefeated at the time, were due for a loss. Next, a win in Washington. An easy win, but let’s be honest, it was the Redskins. Then, consecutive wins over the Eagles, who it turns out, might have been more overrated than most though when many were jumping on their bandwagon. And now, the Cowboys’ bandwagon is getting full. Take nothing away from Dallas. The Cowboys finally got it done in the postseason after a very long drought. The defense has been terrific of late, the running game has remained among the best in the league, and through two free agents –- Tony Romo and Miles Austin –- Cowboys passing game has done its part. There seem to be few flaws of late for the Cowboys, as demonstrated from the second quarter on, against Philadelphia on Saturday night. However, the usual hype surrounding the Cowboys is starting to grow perhaps a little too prematurely, as it usually does each year. If they can win in Minnesota, then its warranted, and then Dallas may get to prove again that the Superdome win that started all the hype in Week 15, was no fluke. But, before all that, let’ see a win in Minnesota against the two seed, instead of three wins against inferior NFC east opponents since that win over the Saints.
(#6) RAVENS 33, (#3) PATRIOTS 14
- After five losses in the all-time series (including a 27-24 loss in New England earlier this year), the Ravens finally beat the Patriots for the first time ever.
- The Patriots lost for the first time in 12 home playoff games (covering 32 years), and lost for the first time ever in eight playoff games at Gillette Stadium.
- New England had been the AFC’s only unbeaten team at home (8-0), and was one of only two teams in the NFL (Minnesota, the other) which hadn’t lost at home this season.
- In a 19-point win, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco threw only 10 passes, completed just four, and passed for only one more yard (34) and than the Ravens scored points (33).
- Though Baltimore was outgained 132-34 through the air, the Ravens dominated the ground game, 234-64, with Ray Rice leading the way with 159 yard on 22 carries.
If the folks from Sesame Street were calling the game, they would have told you early on that this game was brought to you by the Letter ‘R’ and the number ’17.’ Why? Well, after the Patriots won the opening toss, they deferred. So, what did Baltimore do with the first opportunity of the game? Well, former Rutgers running back Ray Rice gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead taking the first play of the game from the Baltimore 17-yard line, 83 yards for a touchdown just 17 seconds into the game. And, on the Patriots’ first possession? Baltimore recovered a Tom Brady fumble at the New England 17, leading to a 14-0 Baltimore lead just 4:29 into the game. With 3:55 left in the opening quarter, Baltimore cashed in on the first of three Brady interceptions, with Mr. double ‘R’ himself, Ray Rice, scoring again, to make it 21-0, en route to a 24-0 Raven domination in the first quarter. There was no looking back after that. The Ravens’ running game and its solid defense took care of the rest as quarterback Joe Flacco pretty much took the day off, in an easy wild-card round win which gives the Ravens a rematch in Indianapolis, with the top-seeded Colts, who barely hung on for a 17-15 victory over the Ravens on November 22nd.
(#4) Cardinals 51, (#4) Packers 45 (OT)
- The highest scoring postseason game in NFL history ended ironically, on what else? … defensive score.
- The Packers forced overtime by rallying from deficits of 17-0, 31-10, 38-24, and 45-38.
- Kicker Neil Rackers, who had made 16 of 17 field goals during the regular season, and who hadn’t missed since Week 2 in Jacksonville, badly hooked what should have been a 34-yard chip shot to win the game with the score tied at 45, with just 9 seconds left in regulation.
- Each team punted just once.
- The game ended in controversy as an obvious facemask by Karlos Danbsby on Rodgers before Rodgers’ fumble which led to the winning touchdown, was not called.
- The 96 combined points were most ever scored in an NFL playoff game.
- 13 combined touchdowns were scored, setting an NFL playoff record.
- The Packers scored on 7 of 12 possessions; the Cardinals scored on 7 of 10 possessions.
- The teams combined for 1,024 yards of offense, with Green Bay amassing 493 total yards (403 passing), and Arizona surpassing that amount with 531 total yards (375 passing).
- The teams combined for 62 first downs (32 for the Packers, 30 for the Cardinals).
- 12 different receivers (6 per team) had multiple receptions.
- 3 different receivers had over 100 yards receiving (Green Bay’s Jermichael Finely, 6-159 and Greg Jennings, 8-130; and Arizona’s Steve Breaston 7-125).
- In his first playoff game, Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers set a team record with 422 passing yards, completing 28 of 42 passes for a 10 yard per attempt average, while throwing for four touchdowns and just one interception, which came on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
- As good as the young budding star was however, the ageless veteran, Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner, was even better: Warner had a near perfect quarterback rating of 154.1; more touchdown passes (5, tying a career best) than incompletions (4); while completing 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards for an 11.5 yards per attempt average.
If you love offense, this was the game you HAD to see. The highest scoring game in NFL playoff history. If you like defense, this was a game which would have made you sick, and yet it still might have entertained you. In and absolute shootout that had enough action packed into a single game for the entire wild-card weekend slate, the Packers got off to an awful start with a couple of early turnovers leading to a quick pair of Cardinal touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers was picked on the first play of the game. But that would be his last turnover, ironically, until the last play of the game which won it for the Cardinals. Even more ironic, is a game with nearly 100 points scored being decided on a defensive touchdown. It’s clichéd, but this was definitely one of those games in which it was a shame that either team had to lose. Rodgers and Warner were locked in a duel that was one for the ages, especially with the young, budding star in his first playoff game, battling to the bitter end, the 38-year-old veteran with the Super Bowl hardware and his eventual spot in Canton. In the end, Warner was just slightly better, but he and his Cardinals needed some help, because the greater shame was the officials missing a huge call on the final play of the game. Rodgers’ facemask was clearly grabbed on the blitz by Michael Adams, whom Rodgers has picked on all game. But, unfortunately, no call. As a result, Karlos Dansby picked the ball out of the air and romped 17 yards for the winning score in overtime. Even more unfortunate for Rodgers and the Packers was that Rodgers kicked the ball in mid air as he was being sacked by Adams. Had he not, it’s quite possible that we could have revisited Tom Brady’s tuck and the rule that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl against the Raiders. If the ball hits the ground, after Rodgers tried to bring it back in, it’s likely ruled incomplete via the tuck rule. So, a bad break, and a missed call, and it’s the Cardinals who are going to New Orleans for what could very well be another high-scoring shootout in another dome. Still, it’s hard to feel that bad for the Packers. Rodgers and the Green Bay offense did a phenomenal job of rallying form deficits of 17-0, 31-10, 38-24, and 45-38, to force the extra session, but the Packers’ defense, which came in ranked among the best in the NFL, had absolutely no answer for Warner, Steve Breaston, or several other Arizona offensive weapons. And, although the Packers missed an early field goal themselves, they caught a huge break when Neil Rackers, who almost never misses, somehow badly hooked a 34-yarder with a chance to win it with just 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Add to that, the first play of overtime, when wide receiver Greg Jennings had the Arizona secondary badly beat for what would have been a game-winning touchdown, but Rodgers just flat out missed him. Remember this game for the future. The Pack will be back, and Rodgers will be leading the way. And, when that happens, many will point back to this one as the time Rodgers was for real, showing up well and going toe to toe with a future Hall of Famer in Rodgers first playoff game ever, and doing it on the road. For now though, we will get to see if Arizona, counted out last year, can keep on answering the doubting critics in the postseason, and if Warner can outduel Drew Brees and company this time, in New Orleans.