Sunday, January 17, 2016

Week 2 NFL playoff notes

Last week, all four road teams won their playoff games, arguably because the winners’ quarterback was the more experienced hand. This weekend, all of the home teams won, although in two cases just barely, and in one case, “unexpectedly” from the view of the “experts.”

Patriots 27 Chiefs 20. The term “game manager” has various interpretations. Sometimes a game-managing quarterback who is fortunate enough to have great playmakers around him (Troy Aikman) can have pedestrian numbers yet be voted to the Hall of Fame (or not, as in the case of Phil Simms). But more usually the term is applied to a quarterback with limited skills and is not asked to do much more than hand the ball off or occasionally throw short, “high percentage” passes. Such is the Chiefs’ Alex Smith. Coming into this game, he was just good enough to lead the Chiefs to 11 consecutive victories, including last week’s 30-0 shellacking of the Texans. In this game, the Chiefs ran 83 plays from scrimmage compared to 56 for the Patriots, yet they barely gained more yardage. 

Listening to the national radio broadcast, the game commentators did everything but yell out through a bullhorn for Smith to throw the ball downfield instead of wasting precious minutes and seconds dinking and dunking when the Chiefs were down by two touchdowns late in the game. By the time the Chiefs’ leisurely stroll down the field on their last possession ended to make it a one-score game, there was no “excitement” about it, just the realization that it was just a wasted effort. 

Cardinals 26 Packers 20. Nobody was expecting the Packers to make this a “competitive” game, but Aaron Rodgers’ reputation is such that anything is possible. Things went from bad to worse when Randall Cobb was knocked out of the game early, and his replacement was a footnote of a footnote in the footnote section. The Packers’ defense frustrated Carson Palmer throughout most of the game, but like in last year’s NFC title game, the Packers’ offense could not take advantage of this to close the deal. While the Packers were able to run the ball effectively for the most part, Rodgers was somewhere between awful and just plain bad again; until the Packers’ final possession, he had thrown for just 160 yards on 39 pass attempts—including misfiring on three consecutive passes and losing the ball on downs on their own 25-yard line, which allowed the Cardinals to extend their lead to 20-13 with a minute to play. That field goal would prove to be critical for the Cardinals, for when Packers went into do-or-die mode, Rodgers threw a 60-yard pass to the footnote (Jeff Janis) on fourth-and-20, and then a 41-yard Hail Mary to the same as time expired (note that because of negative yard plays, Rodgers threw a yard more than the field is long), and sending the game into overtime. 

Unfortunately, the Packers never got the chance to complete a miracle win, because on the first possession of OT, the Packer defense took the opportunity to look completely incompetent, as Palmer threw a dangerous across the body pass that if any defender was in the area would likely have been intercepted (just ask Brett Favre about those kind of passes), but instead was caught by Larry Fitzpatrick who looked like he had a twenty-yard force field around him, and raced 75-yards downfield to set-up a five-yard shovel pass into the end zone. 

Broncos 23 Steelers 16. Once more, the team that was supposed to lose lost because of a power failure just before they crossed the finish line. The Broncos’ running game was kept in check most of the game, and Peyton Manning proved to be a just barely competent “game manager,” as the Broncos were held to just four field goals until late in the fourth quarter when the Steelers appeared ready to extend a 13-12 lead--when a fumble in Broncos’ territory turned the game, as it allowed Manning an opportunity to make his only productive play of the game, a 31-yard pass on third down that kept the Broncos’ eventual game-winning drive alive. But only 13 points on 400 yards of total offense by the Steelers was pathetic. Next week’s AFC championship game now features two teams and quarterbacks I dislike (but Manning more than Brady), and somehow I see the match-up as a migraine-inducing affair.

Panthers 31 Seahawks 24. Now for the game of the weekend, or so it was styled by the “experts,” most of whom thought that the Seahawks were the better team and most likely the only road team good enough to win. All week long I heard the local radio sports personalities arrogantly claim (some more brazenly confident than others, like Dave “Softy” Mahler) that there was no doubt that the Seahawks would win, whether because they had the “heart” of a “champion” and that the Panthers just didn’t have the players to match-up with the super-studs the Seahawks would put on the field, or the coaching on the sideline. 

When the Panthers rolled out to a 31-0 halftime lead before taking a second half nap, I could already hear the apologists blame everything on everyone except the sainted Russell Wilson. Just ask Tom Brady how to operate an offense with a banged-up offensive line--by making quick reads and getting the ball off just as quickly; Wilson will not or cannot do that. Sure, the Seahawks scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to make it at least look like a game, but the damage had long been done. In the first half, it was as if the Seahawks were so puffed-up by all the fawning press that they couldn’t adjust to seeing their own blood. It wasn’t the offensive line or Darrell Bevell that made that bad decision or threw that bad pass that was intercepted and run in for a touchdown, it was Wilson, and it was that kind of critical turnover that ultimately is the difference in a “close” game. After the game, I wondered where all those arrogant fans parading about proudly in their Seahawk gear were hiding themselves.

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