Wild Weekends: Wild Cards

The term wild card rarely fit the round so perfectly.

After a photo finish of a finale to the regular season, the NFL playoffs began by throwing a monkey wrench into more than a few Super Bowl predictions with two home teams winning that few thought would and two road teams winning with might. The weekend had its climactic and not so climactic moments mixing together to form a very intoxicating divisional round, but at the same time leaves some scratching their heads. Peyton Manning out of the playoffs days after winning the MVP? The Dolphins Cinderella story ends with a whimper? Yep, it’s playoff time.

Chargers eliminate MVP Manning, Colts for second straight year

Darren Sproles jumped out of the shadow cast by Ladainian Tomlinson and helped the San Diego Chargers eliminate the Indianapolis Colts from the NFL playoffs for the second year in a row. Like last year, it was a substitute who lead the way to the upset with Sproles playing the part backup quarterback Billy Volek played so well last year.

Sproles gained 328 all-purpose yards on 37 touches and scored twice including the game-winning touchdown. Sproles gained 105 yards on 22 rushes, 45 yards receiving on 5 catches, 75 yards on three punt returns, and 106 yards on four kickoff returns.

Tomlinson was sidelined early after only five carries, but did tie the game at seven early in the second quarter with a short touchdown run. Tomlinson rushed for 25 yards in the game.

Days after winning the league’s MVP award, Peyton Manning did not crumble, but didn’t come out with the win. Manning went 25/42 through the air for 310 yards and a touchdown. The score was a 72-yard toss to Reggie Wayne in the third quarter making the game 17-14 Indy.

Wayne caught four passes for 129 yards including his touchdown.

Ravens defense takes charge eliminating Miami

Chad Pennington’s revival season came to an end Sunday at the merciless hands of the Baltimore Ravens defense.

Pennington was sacked three times and intercepted four times during the 27-9 beating from the Ravens. It is worth noting that Ed Reed’s 64-yard interception return was the only points Baltimore scored off of Pennington’s interceptions. Of course that may enhance Baltimore’s victory rather than deplete it.

Rookie Raven quarterback Joe Flacco’s playoff debut was not the best going 9/23 through the air for only 135 yards. Flacco did finish off the day’s scoring with a five-yard touchdown run.

Still, when Reed took that ball back this game was over. Despite the fact that the score didn’t say as much and Miami could’ve easily pulled themselves together and won, they had already lost and apparently they knew it.

Westbrook’s late score lifts Eagles past Vikings

Despite having a quiet day, it was Brian Westbrook who became the hero for Philadelphia as the Eagle running back’s 71-yard fourth quarter scamper put away a road playoff win for Philly.

Westbrook had 121 all-purpose yards with 83 receiving and 38 rushing.

Adrian Peterson did what he could do, but only came up with a so-so effort in his playoff debut. Peterson scored twice, but his 83 yards on 20 carries was a pedestrian effort by the standard he’s set and was not the performance that Minnesota was banking on in this one.

The reality was this game was very close statistically, but Minnesota’s mistakes proved more hurtful to them than Philly’s turnovers were to them. The Eagles weathered the storm on both of their turnovers, but the bad snap to Tarvaris Jackson lead to a David Akers field-goal that put the lid on the game.

Warner, Cardinals bounce back beating Falcons

Matt Ryan’s playoff debut ended in disappointment while Kurt Warner’s first playoff game in six years ended with his own revival season marching into Carolina.

Warner went 19/32 for 271 yards and two touchdown passes with one interception in the win. In true Warner style, both touchdowns ended up on the highlight reels that night; the first was a 42-yard jumping grab by Larry Fitzgerald and the second was a 71-yard short pass turned touchdown by Anquan Boldin.

The touchdown would be Boldin’s final catch of the game as he injured himself on the play and did not return.

Fitzgerald finished with 101 yards on six catches and his touchdown.

Despite losing, Ryan put on a great effort going 26/40 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions hurt the Falcons’ efforts in the second half to stay in the game.

The Cardinals’ defense were the real heroes in this game forcing three turnovers and sacking Matt Ryan for a fourth-quarter safety that put the game away. Antrel Rolle’s 27-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first minute of the second half was the real demoralizer for Atlanta. Rolle literally snatched the ball (and the game it turned out) right out of Atlanta’s hands and took it home.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Anyone who thought that the Super Bowl was already set in stone suffered terribly this weekend, especially with Indianapolis being an obvious Super Bowl pick with their great run to end the season and Manning’s MVP award. But all underestimated the power of San Diego’s miracle run that saw them go from laughingstock to juggernaut in a little over a month. Atlanta’s momentum and young stud QB seemed a safer pick than football retirement home guest Kurt Warner and the Cardinals, but a home playoff game from a long-suffering franchise can do crazy things can’t they? The point is that this coming weekend provides more of the same, as none of these games are gimme’s either way. Why would the Giants be so much of a better pick than Philly? Because they’re at home? Weather and crowd mean nothing when it’s a team you’re playing for the third time in a season. And with Philly rolling and the Giants resting the last few weeks, it does set the stage for an upset. Pittsburgh/San Diego offers the most potential for excitement with the obvious offense/defense mentalities of both teams and the lingering thought of Darren Sproles pulling another miracle. The fact that a lot of people see Baltimore beating the team with the best regular season record in pro football shows how crazy these playoffs have already gotten. Such is the nature of the game in recent years as the curtain starting to come down on the Patriots dynasty may cast the end of the dynasty in pro football for the time being with the Patriots being this decade’s only multiple Super Bowl winner and only team to appear in the Super Bowl more than once this decade other than the New York Giants (the Rams appeared in the 1999 season so I don’t count it here). If the Giants should repeat they would be the next potential dynasty in pro football. But that win is a long way away and with the current fad in football being for the top dog to never stay the top dog for long don’t be surprised if McNabb, a man whose very job was on the line just two months ago, doesn’t coordinate an upset among a round full of possible upsets.