The NFL Divisional round is behind us and although this weekend was not as exciting as the last, just try and tell that to the fans of the teams still alive in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy. Three of the four favorites and home teams prevailed, sans the San Diego Chargers.
On Saturday, the New Orleans Saints rebounded after a lackluster end of the regular season with a convincing 45-14 knockout of the Arizona Cardinals. last season’s NFC representative in the Super Bowl. Reggie Bush scored two touchdowns as the Superdome rocked and rolled. Not much of a surprise there, as the Saints were expected to dispel of a team that may have still been showing the affects of an exhausting overtime win against Green Bay the week before.
That evening, the Baltimore Ravens were ousted by Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, 20-3. They took a two-touchdown lead at half time and coasted the rest of the way. Three turnovers did the Ravens in, setting up Indy to play host next weekend one game away from Super Bowl XLIV. Although they played extremely well in taking out the Patriots in the Wild Card round, Baltimore was clearly outclassed versus a well-rested Colts squad.
On Sunday, Brett Favre turned back the clock and led his new team to the conference championship. The 40-year-old former Packer and Jet threw for four touchdowns (three to Sidney Rice) to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the 34-3 victory over Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones’ boys may have exorcised some December (and early January) demons by winning their division and then dispatching the Eagles, but were never even competitive in the dome.
Saving the best for last, the game of the weekend came in San Diego pitting the Chargers against the upstart New York Jets. Given no chance to move on, the Jets came out and played the 11-win Bolts tooth-and nail. They trailed by a mere seven points heading into the locker room and were clearly the team ‘hanging around’ against a formidable opponent.
Jay Feeley hit a 46-yard field goal to cut into the lead during the third quarter. Then the turning point in the game occurred towards the end of the quarter. The Jets downed a punt deep in the Chargers zone and a few plays later, Philip Rivers was intercepted by Jim Leonhard. A Chargers personal foul moved the ball inside the 10 at the start of the final stanza, which set up Mark Sanchez’s two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller and a 10-7 advantage.
Sanchez is not the only Jet rookie to be making a name for himself in the postseason, as running back Shonn Greene had another 100-yard performance and a long run for a score. He scampered 53 yards to give the Jets a 10-point lead with 7:26 left in the game. San Diego scored with 2:14 left when Rivers dove in from a yard out, but Kerry Rhodes recovered Nate Keading’s onside kick. The game wasn’t decided until Thomas Jones moved the chains on fourth and one with 1:09 left in the contest.
Keading, the AFC’s Pro Bowl representative, had a forgettable day with three missed field goals (36, 57 and 40 yards), which opened the door that the Jets kicked in on their way to Indianapolis for their first appearance in the AFC Championship Game since 1998.
Say what you want about the Jets and their outspoken rookie head coach, but Rex Ryan will have another week in the spotlight to psyche up his charges. The strategy has clearly worked and this team is going into Indy believing in themselves.
When the two teams met up in Week 16, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell pulled Manning in the third quarter with a 15-10 lead. The Jets rallied against back-up quarterback Lance Painter and that began their ascent towards where they are today. Once again, the Jets will be heavy underdogs and that is exactly the way they like it.