Monday, January 18, 2010

What was Supposed to Happen?

How does one of the best weekends the NFL has to offer turn to crap?  Home team domination. Traditionally, the divisional round of the playoffs is a spectacle.  Teams hot off a wild card victory matching up with teams cold off a bye week.  Not so much this year (Jets/Chargers was the only good game, we'll get to that). Consider this column to be an explanation as to why the Cards/Ravens/Cowboys/Chargers lost. Here's what was supposed to happen...

Cardinals vs. Saints
The real playoff Cardinals were going to go to New Orleans and play a competitive game. Kurt Warner was going to show us once again that we underestimate him, and he was going to torch the Saints defense. The Saints were going to struggle to find their groove after what essentially was two straight bye weeks (many of the Saints' starters didn't play in week 17). This game was supposed to be a copy of the Ravens/Patriots game last weekend after Tim Hightower took the first play from scrimmage 70 yards for a touchdown. Whoa! The Cards have a running game now! Nope. Discounting the initial play, the Cards massed 31 rushing yards. Not the balanced attack that can keep defenses guessing. So what did happen was Reggie Bush. Bush seemingly found his potential all in one play. His 46-yard touchdown was vintage college style Reggie Bush. He broke the ankles of the defenders by going laterally, then sprinted past their mangled bodies into the endzone. What did happen was a Saints offense running more efficiently than a Prius. Over 50% on third downs, a balanced passing and running attack (32 pass attempts, 247 yards; 34 rush attempts, 171 yards) and zero turnovers.

Ravens vs. Colts
The Ravens were going to dominate with a punishing run game, and an equally punishing defense. Ray Rice was going to chew out the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field. And Manning was going to continue his trend of losing after a bye. What did happen was a classically boring Colts win. No one part of the game stood out. No one play stood out. Indy just had more points at the end. As fans we left the Saturday portion of round two wanting more. Our football fix was not filled. Sunday had to be better. It was... by default.

Cowboys vs. Vikings
The Cowboys were going to prove that they are not the same playoff chokers that they have proven to be the past 14 years. Their defense was going to continue on it's dominating stretch, and Tony Romo was going to take care of the ball. Then Brett Favre to Sidney Rice happened. Turnover. BAM! Turnover. BAM! Game over.

Jets vs. Chargers
Okay here we go.  I put everything I had behind the Chargers. Regrettably, I jumped on their playoff bandwagon, again, and was proven wrong, again. At what point in the game did either team look really good? The Jets were relatively solid on defense the entire game, and their offense put the ball in the endzone when they had the opportunity. But I am convinced that missing a field goal costs a team more than just three points. It's a big momentum swing toward the defending team. The Jets gained confidence knowing that they stopped the Chargers on third down. They gain momentum when Nate Kaeding missed his first field goal. The Chargers psyche is shaken to the point where they press too hard; they get nervous. The Jets ate this up.
But here's what was supposed to happen. The Chargers, on an 11 game winning streak, finally click in the playoffs and kick out the upstart Jets. Why should the Jets be taken so seriously when they've barely beaten anybody. The Bengals were a fringe playoff team; the Colts gave up in their week 16 game. Needless to say, do you think if the Jets win at Indy, there will be conversation about how Indy should have played their starters to the end and put the Jets away for good. We've seen it before: a team rests it's starters against a team fighting for the playoffs, and ends up getting beaten by that same team in the playoffs. It happened to Cincy.  When you have a chance to knock your opponent out, you do it. Underdog's thrive on this.

Wal-Mart is always hiring, Nate.

Round Two picks: 1-3. Playoffs: 4-4

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