8 Things We Learned From the Divisional Round | January 15, 2013
Well that was better! After a slow Wild Card Weekend, we had an enthralling and breathless Divisional Round complete with Hail Marys, record breaking feats and legends in tears. We had overtime, 2 game winning field goals and a comeback for the ages. So without further ado...
1. Joe Flacco Is Clutch!
Flacco might never be regarded as an elite Quarterback, but he now has 7 Post Season wins and this one was pretty special. Over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns is impressive enough, but it was Flacco’s arm strength and accuracy that marked this out as a career defining moment. His 2 first half TD passes to Torrey Smith were from the top drawer, but it was his last minute bomb to Jacoby Jones that most people will remember. Needing to go 70 yards in the last 45 seconds, Flacco decided to not worry about dissecting his way to the Endzone and instead decided to go all the way in one go.
Equally impressive, but not as memorable, was his eye of a needle strike to Dennis Pitta from his own Endzone during Overtime. It gave Sam Koch a chance to pin the Broncos back deep in their own half. One Manning interception later and the Ravens were heading towards a famous victory. Whatever happens this week, Flacco has shown that he belongs with the very best in the NFL.
2. Errors Cost Broncos
When 2 teams go toe to toe like the Ravens and Broncos did on Saturday, it’s individual moments that decide the outcome. Unfortunately for the Broncos, their key individual moments ultimately cost them the game. Firstly, the usually excellent Champ Bailey got burned twice by Torrey Smith for long TD’s at vital moments. Secondly, and most shockingly, there was the complete brain freeze from Rahim Moore in the final minute. With the Broncos just needing to keep the ball out of the Endzone, Moore tried to make a completely unnecessary play on Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass. The ball sailed over his head and Moore was left grasping at air as Jones strolled in for a game tying TD. Not only did it send the game into Overtime, but it was a massive momentum shifter and the Broncos never really threatened during OT.
Finally, we had poor Peyton Manning and his fatal interception during the final moments of Overtime. It was a great play by Correy Graham, but the cross body throw from Manning was ill advised and poorly executed. Manning is an all time great, but this was his 11th Post Season defeat and one that will have raise more questions over his big game play. Personally, I think Moore is the main culprit for Denver’s defeat, but expect Manning to account for plenty more column inches over the next few weeks.
3. Colin Kaepernick is Special
If Flacco’s performance was career defining, then Kaepernick’s defined the new generation of NFL quarterbacks. Wilson, Newton and RGIII have blazed the trail for mobile, explosive quarterbacks who also possess a deadly arm, but Kaepernick’s display on Saturday night took the concept to brand new levels. Remarkably, it started with a sloppy pick 6, the kind of thing that can seriously derail a young QB in his first Play Off game. Not so for the Niners QB, who proceeded to run and pass his way into the record books. Green Bay had non answers to either, leading to a convincing and statement making win for San Francisco. Kaepernick has the speed of a running back, the build of a physical wide receiver and a bullet of an arm. It makes for an extremely difficult foe. Kaepernick’s night was highlighted by a storming 58 yard run for a TD. He looked like he was playing against children and just showing off how easy it all was. In fact, it looked like man against boys for much of the evening. Suddenly, the decision to replace Alex Smith looks like an inspired piece of decision making from John Harbaugh!
4. Nobody Told the Packers about Point Number 3!
Talking of Smith, it seemed like Green Bay were expecting him to get a recall on Saturday night. Don Capers didn’t seem to have a gameplan that tackled the issue of a mobile QB. Time and time again, the Packers went one way and Kapernick and the ball went another. It highlighted a shocking lack of preparation on the part of Capers. The Packers have an array of quality defensive players, but if they are standing in the wrong place, they can’t make the plays. All of a sudden Mike McCarthy has a decision to make on the future of his DC. Capers has done a lot of good in Green Bay, but this was a disaster.
5. Matty Ice at last
To be honest, I think it’s an awful nickname. For a start Ryan had hardly been ice like in his previous play off displays, but regardless of that, I just think it sounds stupid! Anyway, personal opinion aside, Ryan had a day to remember on Sunday. Not only was it his first Play Off win, but he was responable for putting together the 30 second game winning drive that edged the nervy Falcons over the line. Ryan’s display was erratic and his late interception was looking like it would cost Atlanta victory. However, Ryan lived up to his sobriquet and gave Matt Bryant a chance to give Atlanta the win.
This is a big monkey (a gorilla?!) off of Ryan’s back and maybe now the Falcons can perform to their peak in the Play Offs. They’ll certainly need to if they are to have any chance of beating the Niners. It promises to be a great game.
6. The Seahawks Will Be Back
Last week, I talked about how the Colts were on the first step of a long journey. Well that applies and then some to Seattle. Russell Wilson yet again highlighted how inspired a draft selection he was, as he almost engineered one of the greatest ever NFL comebacks. If Wilson doesn’t win Rookie of the Year honours he can consider himself very hard done by. When you add in some other high calibre players like Lynch, Rice, Sherman, Browner, Clemons, Okung, Thomas and Unger you’ve got the makings of a team that can make plenty of runs at the Superbowl. Given the rate at which Wilson and co have developed this season, 2013 could be a glorious season for the Seahawks.
7. Rob Gronkwho?
Rob Gronkowski is the most dominant Tight End in the NFL. He is a game changing and can be impossible to defend against. So, you’d think that a season ending injury would be a major cause for concern for the Patriots. Right? Wrong. Tom Brady decided to incorporate Shane Vareen into the passing game and the previously unheralded Running Back responded with 2 touchdown catches and another score on the ground. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez were their usual productive selves and the Patriots trampled all over the Texans. It made the loss of Gronkowski look no more than a mild inconvenience. The Ravens will provide a sterner test, but few would bet against Brady and co going all the way to New Orleans.
8. MOR is Less for Houston
Rank the NFL Quarterbacks and chances are you will have Matt Schaub somewhere around the 16th spot. He rarely has a complete mare, but he rarely carries the team on his shoulders. In short, he’s a decent QB. Unfortunately, in the modern NFL, being a decent QB isn’t enough. You have to go back to Rex Grossman and the Bears, to find a non elite QB that has reached a Superbowl, and we all know how that ended!
Sunday’s defeat highlighted Schaub’s limitations. We had a couple of TD passes, but also too many incompletions and a terrible interception to Rob Ninkovich. The remaining 4 QB’s in the Play Offs have all shown they can make big plays at crucial times and lead their team. Schaub often seems like just AN other member of the Houston team. The Texans are very good, but to get to the next level they need Schaub to improve. It’s not time to look for a replacement yet, but Schaub will have to up his game if the Texans are to reach a Superbowl with him under center.