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NFL Divisional Playoffs Recap and Thoughts

Reggie BushWe are two rounds and eight games down in the NFL playoffs. Once again the NFL saved a weekend of lackluster games with a fantastic Sunday finale. Who would have thought that the San Diego Chargers and the New York Jets would provide the most intrigue on a weekend that featured the New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Indianapolis Colts?

Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints – As an NFL fan, this game was a bit of a disappointment. Like many, I was fooled last week into believing that the Cardinals may be a team of destiny. After shredding arguably the best defense in the NFC, the Cardinals marched into New Orleans and were less competitive with the Saints than either the Detroit Lions or the Washington Redskins during the regular season.

[adinserter block=”1″]The headline of this game was the coming out party for Reggie Bush. After a disappointing NFL career, Reggie Bush finally did what anyone that watched him at USC expected him to do in the NFL. Bush was a game-changer this weekend and became the nuclear weapon on a team full of weapons. Bush made life a lot easier for the Saints by returning an 83-yard punt for a touchdown as the Cardinals just watched him flash by them en route to the end zone.

Many skeptics were concerned about the way the Saints finished the season. After winning 13 games in a row, the Saints were losers of their last three. Taking a page out of the New England Patriots book, the Saints couldn’t have opened the game any worse. Tim Hightower broke off a 70-yard touchdown run on the Cardinals first offensive play. Unlike the Patriots, the Saints were able to rebound and counter the touchdown with 21 points of their own in the first quarter.

The game just kept getting uglier for the Cardinals. Kurt Warner was nailed and was taken out for a few series. Cardinals’ defensive players Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Antrel Rolle each left the game due to injuries. The Cardinals were inept on both sides of the ball. It was pure and total domination by the New Orleans Saints.

Drew Brees said something interesting after the game. When asked about coming into the game with three losses, he said it was part of their plan that nobody would understand who didn’t play on the team. That was a very interesting statement to me, which has been surprisingly ignored by most of the media. If that was truly the plan, that may be one of the biggest high risk-high reward plans in NFL history. Regardless, the Saints will host the Vikings next week and look better than ever returning to the NFC title game for the first time in several years.

Ironically most of the talk following this game centered on Kurt Warner. Warner will play the role of Brett Favre this season as the quarterback who may or may not retire. Warner has said that it will be a fast decision. Warner has one year left on his contract. I think this guy is the ultimate competitor. Remember, unlike a lot of NFL star quarterbacks Warner started his career late. So as wealthy as Warner is, one more year would mean a lot more to him financially than most quarterbacks. Warner also had years where he made backup QB money. I think between the finances and the way he went out in New Orleans, he comes back to finish out his contract with less drama than Favre.

Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts – Very rarely do all number one NFL seeds make it out of the divisional round with wins. I picked the Baltimore Ravens to be that team to pull off the upset. Boy was I wrong!

[adinserter block=”2″]There isn’t a whole lot to say about this game. The Colts looked better than they have in months. The Colts were on fire and unstoppable on both sides of the ball. It is funny to me that every year around this time that the critics always say how terrible the Colts rushing defense is coming into the playoffs, yet most of the time they do just fine. The Colts held a team to three points that just scored 33 the week before. The Colts held one of the best rushing teams in the league to 87 rushing yards total. This is not the same turnstile rushing defense that Indy has taken with them into the postseason in past years.

The Ravens just had nothing on offense. I like the Ravens a lot. However, this is a team that is old on all sides of the ball. Some of these guys may play great during the regular season, but I don’t think they can sustain that level of play in weeks 18 and 19 in January. I hate to say it but I see a couple of transition years for the Ravens before they get back here. As great as Ray Rice is and will be, he can’t do it alone. Even the great Barry Sanders couldn’t do it himself.

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings – If there was a main-event going into this weekend’s games, this was it. The Dallas Cowboys were the hottest team in the NFC and looked unstoppable. The Vikings have struggled off and on in recent weeks and looked like a team that would be taken apart by Romo and the Dallas offense. I wrote in my blog last week that as great as the Cowboys looked recently, most of their wins came against teams that were nowhere near as good as the Vikings. Well, I was right about something this week.

As much as I hate blowouts, I love seeing the Cowboys get blown out. If there is anything better than seeing the Cowboys get blown out, it is hearing them whine about it like a bunch of babies. Keith Brookings and Wade Phillips look like the biggest babies in football today after complaining about the Vikings running up the score. I guess they had no problems with the Cowboys scoring a touchdown last week in the third quarter when they were up 27-7 on the Philadelphia Eagles right?

All of the talk when Brett Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings was whether he could last a full season. Not only has he lasted, he has gotten better as the season progressed. Favre threw four touchdowns yesterday. How big is that? Brett Favre had never thrown four touchdowns in a playoff game in his entire career. Favre is also the oldest NFL quarterback to win a playoff game. Keep in mind that unlike Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, Favre never sat in his final regular season game. Like him or not, what the guy has done this season is just simply remarkable.

Lost in all of the Favre talk was the terrible job by the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys actually had some shots in the first half of the game. However, the Vikings rushed and confused Tony Romo throughout the game thus containing the offense. Romo was never able to get comfortable and looked skiddish as the game moved on. The old postseason mistake-prone Tony Romo came to Minnesota as Romo coughed up the ball several times for a total for four turnovers between fumbles and an interception. I don’t think I have ever seen a defense get into the head of a quarterback like what the Vikings did to Romo.

Like the other NFC game, the story here is more about the losers than the winners. Once again head coach Wade Phillips will find himself on the hot seat. Better coaches have gotten fired for worse in the NFL. Phillips has a team option for next year that is in limbo right now. Jerry Jones has said all season that he would wait until the season was over to evaluate the coach. It will be very interesting to see if their rout at home last week will save his job.

Tony Romo will also enter the 2010-2011 NFL season with more criticism than ever. As much as people like to say he has gotten rid of the December-January jinx, he really hasn’t. Winning one post season game in five years against the Philadelphia Eagles at home while nice, is nothing that will get him into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think that the Cowboys make any kind of change next year. However, I think anything less than an appearance in the NFC title game next season will be enough to get Jerry thinking about the following season. Now that is a lot of pressure for a quarterback!

New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers – I apologize to New York Jets fans. I called the Jets a fraudulent team a few weeks ago. In looking back, if it wasn’t for the Colts sitting their starters, the Jets would not have made the playoffs. At the same time, it doesn’t matter how you get there, it matters what you do when you get there. In retrospect, a team like that can sometimes be the most dangerous team in the playoffs.

I like Marvin Lewis a lot, but how do you not give Rex Ryan Coach of the Year? The guy has turned this team into a defensive juggernaut andshut down some of the most explosive offenses in the NFL this season. On top of that, as a rookie head coach he took a team with a rookie quarterback to the playoffs. This isn’t a team that had Bubby Brister quarterbacking last season. He took a team that had Brett Favre at quarterback further with a suspect rookie quarterback. On top of even that, he lost his x-factor Leon Washington and didn’t miss a beat. I loved his father and I have become a huge fan of Rex Ryan.

Oh to be a San Diego Chargers fan today. If the Cowboys were the hottest team in the NFC, the Chargers were the hottest team in all of football. The Chargers rolled into the playoffs winning eleven straight. Not only that, but the Chargers beat some good teams and came back from losing situations to do so. Philip Rivers looked to be playing the best ball of his career. Even the coaching brilliance of Norv Turner couldn’t stop this team…until yesterday.

It was as if I closed my eyes and woke up to see Andy Reid coaching the Chargers. The overall ranked fifth best offense in the NFL was shut down for most of the game yesterday. The Chargers had no answer for Darrelle Revis or the crazy blitzing scheme of the Jets. At one point Philip Rivers threw back to back interceptions in the game. The Jets kept it close all game long and wound up sealing the deal with a Shonn Greene 53-yard touchdown run.

I can’t talk about this game without mentioning the kicker. In one of the biggest shockers of the weekend, Mr. Automatic Nate Kaeding missed three field goals yesterday. While I wouldn’t get too crazy about missing a 57-yard attempt , he missed two easy chip shots. Obviously by looking at the final score, even just making one of those field goals would have made this a different game. However, in the end it is up to the team and the coach to pick things back up and compensate for his inability to make these shots. A team as explosive as the Chargers who were shut down to just 14 points can only put so much blame on their kicker.

There hasn’t been a team as hot for three straight weeks as the New York Jets. The book on beating the Jets is simple. Teams need to score and score big all game long. Rex Ryan loves to keep games close and wear teams down with the rushing attack. That is exactly what happened here. The Chargers had a hot second-quarter but only managed to put seven points on the board. That isn’t enough separation when you are playing the Jets. Blame the missed field goals all day long, but the running back and quarterback were just awful yesterday for the Chargers.

Like the Cowboys, Norv Turner entered the season on the hot seat. Reportedly, Turner had been assured a few weeks ago that he would get an extension. If you are a Chargers fan, you have to put this loss on the coach. Turner had no answers for Ryan’s defense and looked more confused as the game played out. Marty Schottenheimer was fired by the Chargers for losing to the Jets in almost the same scenario a few years back. Even more like Turner, Schottenheimer was first told he’d be back but wound up leaving the organization. San Diego has a very good team here, but their coach just hasn’t gotten it done.

There will also be talk about the future of LaDainian Tomlinson. L.T. is due a healthy roster bonus coming up. L.T. was held to just 24 yards on the ground yesterday. L.T. has gotten his touchdowns this season, but most of them have been short runs. L.T. is not going to be breaking off big runs anymore. I do think he will get a shot with another team, but I would be very surprised to see him back with the Chargers.

I couldn’t think of a worst scenario for the Colts. I will talk more about this game later in the week, but this is the kind of a game that can beat a team mentally. It is real simple. If the Colts wouldn’t have sat their starters, they would be playing someone else next week. Hey, if they beat the Jets than none of that matters. If they don’t, they will be second-guessing themselves for their rest of their lives. The NFL Gods will be rooting for the Jets next Sunday.

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