Wild Weekends: Divisionals

When all is said and done, maybe the answer lies in Pennsylvania.

In an NFL playoffs that has seen shocker after shocker only the two teams from Pennsylvania—the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles—have provided people with the same old thing as their winning has not been nearly as big a surprise as the exploits of say the Arizona Cardinals or the Baltimore Ravens.

Fourth quarter collapse stops Giants’ repeat bid

The Eagles made the final fifteen minutes count and that was what put them over the hump and into the NFC title game and put the Giants on a plane back home for the winter.

Two missed fourth downs and two turnovers comprised the fourth quarter for the New York Giants while the Eagles scored and insurance touchdown on the first play of the final quarter and added a field-goal later to ice the game.

Eli Manning suffered the same fate as Tony Romo did last year in this same round when Manning’s Giants upended the #1 seeded Cowboys: he lost his cool.

Manning played an average game through the first three quarters, but it was nothing detrimental to the team because the Giants were still in the game. That would not last long as Manning and the Giants’ fourth quarter collapse went the full final fifteen minutes of this one.

Donovan McNabb erased all doubt as to his value to the Philadelphia Eagles as he turned it a great playoff performance that is only embellished by the fact that the Eagles were a six seed upsetting the top seeded Giants.

McNabb went 22/40 for 217 yards and was responsible for one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. McNabb wasn’t perfect as he threw two interceptions and cost his team a safety with an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone.

Philadelphia’s defense set the tone early as Asante Samuel’s first quarter interception and 25-yard return set up Donovan McNabb’s one-yard touchdown run that put Philly up early.

Steelers turn up offense to fend off Chargers

The Steelers’ 35-24 win over San Diego on Sunday was a story centered on a team built mainly around defense and a team built mainly around offense. Unfortunately for the Chargers, the team built around defense was healthy on that side of the ball at game time.

LaDanian Tomlinson had to sit the game out with an injury and while Darren Sproles did score on a 62-yard pass from Phillip Rivers, that score came after the game was no longer in contention. Simply put, Sproles couldn’t pull another miracle out of the hat.

Ironically, it was the Steelers’ running game—mainly the running of Willie Parker—that spelled doom for the Chargers.

Parker had one of his best games of the year rushing for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Parker’s touchdowns came near at the end of the first half making the game 14-10 San Diego and in the fourth quarter to give Pittsburgh a 35-17 lead and seal the game.

It was this effective rushing mixed with Ben Roethlisberger’s highly efficient day passing that kept the Steeler offense moving and on the field. The Steelers beat the Chargers in time of possession by a decisive margin holding onto the ball for nearly thirty-seven minutes.

Cardinals eliminate Panthers giving them first home loss of the season

I don’t think even the Cardinals expected what took place this past Saturday. The 33-13 victory was sweet enough, but when you think of all the reasons this upset shouldn’t have happened—Carolina being unbeaten at home, Arizona being winless in the eastern time zone, the fact that Carolina beat them in the regular season—it makes it all seem that much more impressive.

The Cardinals defense used Jake Delhomme as their personal plaything for sixty minutes mauling him to the point of embarrassment. Delhomme was responsible for all six of the Panthers turnovers throwing five interceptions and fumbling away a turnover.

Delhomme’s turnovers resulted in 23 points for Arizona all the while the expression on Delhomme’s face became more and more melancholy until defeat was no longer a possibility, but a reality.

Larry Fitzgerald kept the Arizona receiving core together with Anquan Boldin out of the game by catching eight passes for 166 yards and a second quarter touchdown.

While the defense kept the pressure off, Kurt Warner had one of the most businessman-like games of his playoff career not having to rely on the long pass while going 21/32 through the air for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cardinal running game was even able to get its legs wet during this slaughter as Arizona ran for 145 yards as a team with Tim Hightower leading the way with 76 yards.

Baltimore’s defense allows Stover to shock Tennessee

Since when did the Baltimore Ravens’ defense morph back into the defense that won them a Super Bowl eight years ago?

Apparently that is what has happened as the Ravens, despite being out gained by 180 yards, upset the team with the NFL’s best record on their own field to the tune of 13-10 this past Saturday.

Kerry Collins’ first playoff game in years was not nearly what he thought it would be, but all in all was not the worst game of his career. Collins went 26/42 for 281 yards with one interception, but couldn’t provide that spark that lead his team to a 13-3 regular season.

The Achilles Heel for the Titans all year has been the success of their running game. On days when it doesn’t produce it’s not pretty for Tennessee and Saturday proved no different as the Ravens defense had an answer for any Titan who touched the ball.

Titan rookie running back Chris Johnson lead all rushers with 72 yards off of 11 carries. This was not nearly the game the Titans needed out of Johnson and yet they nearly won this one.

What were most detrimental to the Titans were the fumbles and the takeaways, and there were a lot of them. Kerry Collins was intercepted once and fumbled once while four other Titans fumbled at least once with LenDale White and Alge Crumpler turning the ball over.

Joe Flacco’s first career playoff game almost rang true with his entire season: good, but nothing spectacular.

Flacco’s 11/22 161 yard one touchdown performance also proved to be a metaphor for the unproductiveness of the Raven offense this past weekend. The Ravens ran for only fifty yards as a team, were held to only nine first downs and controlled the clock around eight minutes less than Tennessee.

In the end a botched delay of game call on the Ravens’ game winning drive may have proved to be all the difference. The lack of a call and the first down play the resulted from it not only kept the Ravens drive going, but their season as well.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Football’s version of the Final Four is upon us. And everyone is faced with the fact that the two pairings this weekend are very likely not what they envisioned a few weeks ago when the season ended. Surely Kurt Warner wasn’t given a hope in hell to guide his team this far, but that is what happened. Most people saw the Eagles riding high, but still believed that in the NFC, the road to the Super Bowl ran through New York; how wrong they were. I mentioned that both teams from Pennsylvania provided the least shock value to the playoffs so far and that is because they are two of the established powers and thus are expected to be in this situation, and considering how both have played the last month and a half it’s really no surprise that a Pennsylvania Super Bowl could be upon us. Still, the stories of the playoffs are with the bird teams, the Baltimore Ravens and the Arizona Cardinals. While I’ve believed in Warner since the moment he arrived in Arizona, it was only to the extent that he could have a good regular season. Anything involving playoffs was off the radar at the beginning of the season and despite the division title, it was supposed to be written in stone that Kurt and the Cards would be one and done and that would be the end of it. The same could be said about the Baltimore Ravens who are riding the Giants train of being the underdog every week in the playoffs, and they could be riding it all the way to Tampa. Despite great for a rookie play from rookie QB Joe Flacco and a defense that has been tussling with Pittsburgh’s for number one status most of the year, even the Ravens were supposed to have wilted under the might of the Dolphins’ hot streak and division title, and then under the Titans’ might. But none of those things happened and what this coming week comes down to is two teams that are as good as they’ve been playing and two teams that we are just realizing are as good as they’ve been playing. As far as betting odds goes, you’re on your own and good luck to you.