8 Things We Learned in Wild Card Weekend | January 8, 2013
It was meant to be brilliant!
On paper, Wild Card Weekend looked like an amazing spectacle, full of potential classics, rookie sensations, all time greats. I hadn’t been this excited about a weekend of sport since Mo Farah started putting his hands on his head. Surely nothing could go wrong?
So much for anticipation. Wild Card Weekend was often about as “wild” as a Cliff Richard house party. It wasn’t until the last of the 4 fixtures that we got a vaguely exciting game. Well it was, until Mike Shanahan failed to acknowledge that a) his QB had the mobility of a 95 year old and b) his back up was actually pretty good.
Nope, Wild Card weekend was a disappointment, however it did set up some intriguing battles for the Divisional Round. So what exactly did we learn from the week’s action:
1. The Bengals are Still Not There
For the first time in franchise history, Cincinnati reached the play offs 2 years in a row. In relative terms, this is a golden age for the Bengals. However, they are still not quite good enough to trouble the “big boys” of the NFL and there are still a few areas of concern for Marvin Lewis and co. Primarily, the fact that Andy Dalton looked out of his depth for the second Post Season in a row. He regularly cowered up and failed to take shots downfield. He missed plenty of targets, and aside from one deep pass, AJ Green was barely a factor.
For a second year, second rounder, Dalton has made a very good start to his NFL career. Nonetheless, he now needs to kick on and prove that he can be a big game player and a difference maker. He’s got one of the best targets in the NFL at his disposal; he sometimes just needs bit more confidence when it matters most.
2. The Texans Need to Improve…and Fast
A wins a win, but Bill Billichik won’t be having many sleepless nights after watching Houston earn themselves a trip to Gillette Stadium. If we’re being generous, then it was a workmanlike display from the Texans. The defence were strong and the offence did enough to move the chains. On the flip side, you can point at a pick six from the average looking Matt Schaub, a quiet day for Andre Johnson and the ineptitude of the opposition. Certainly, you get the impression that if the Texans are to beat the pats, they need a monster day from Arian Foster, some solid game management from Schaub and another Herculean effort from the D. It’s possible, but my money is firmly on New England to reach the AFC Final.
3. Lambeau isn’t a Great Place to make your Season Debut!
Poor Joe Webb. He must have dreamt about this moment, a chance to make his name on a massive stage. Indeed for the first series of the game it looked like me might just do it. The Vikings moved the ball efficiently and got within Field goal range thanks to some typical Adrian Peterson runs a couple of nice scampers from Webb. Then Webb had to throw the ball and it all went wrong. Webb has the potential to be a good NFL QB, but this wasn’t the time or place to get your first start of the season. The Packers quickly wised up to the fact that stopping the run meant stopping the Vikings and that left Minnesota relying on Webb to make the big plays. Those “big plays” turned out to be a series of wild overthrows, one bounce embarrassments and even a couple of absurd lobs into the air whilst he was being sacked.
A garbage time 50 yard TD to Malcolm Jenkins improved Webb’s stats, but the reality was that Christian Ponders injury had effectively ended the season for Minnesota. Now there’s a sentence I never though I’d type!
4. Under the Radar
It’s an unusual position for the Packers, but in amongst the marvellous stories around the NFL this season, their progress has often gone unnoticed. It’s as if Aaron Rodgers excellence is bit passé nowadays. We just assume he’ll have a strong game and do enough to win. This is exactly what he did on Saturday night and if he does it again this week in San Francisco the Packers will be one step away from a trip to New Orleans. As is often the case, Rodgers stats weren’t gaudy, but they don’t tell the full story of how he controlled the game. Made the necessary throws, kept the chains moving and allowed the Packers to cruise to victory.
Of course, the 49ers will be a much tougher test than the Vikings, but it’s hard to bet against Rodgers, and I can Green Bay squeezing past San Fran and setting up a potential rematch with the Seahawks. I wonder what the media would focus on in the build up to that one?
5. Victory in Defeat
As expected, this was a step too far for the young, inexperienced Colts. The O line were a mess, subsequently Andrew Luck struggled and looked like the rookie he is. The secondary allowed a few Joe Flacco bombs to find their target and it generally looked like a team had reached the Post Season a couple of years early. However, as a whole this season has been a remarkable success for the Colts and a wonderful story.
With Luck at the helm, they will be a force in the NFL for years to come. They’ve also unearthed a few gems and with improvements to the O line and secondary they can be regulars in the Play Offs. For now they can reflect on a glorious rebirth and be safe in the knowledge that the “Curtis Painter” era is a distant memory.
6. Security Issues in Baltimore
In the end, the 2 fumbles from Ray Rice didn’t prevent the Ravens from cruising to victory over the Colts. But it’s hard to imagine Peyton Manning and the Broncos being so careless when presented with a cheap possession. Rice is one of the best runners in the game, as he demonstrated here with a number of incisive runs. Unfortunately, the manner in which he carries the ball – with one arm and low down – means he is susceptible to being stripped. If Baltimore are to have any chance of beating Denver they need to stop turning the ball over., they’ve got plenty of the key pieces in place to worry the Broncos. Joe Flacco had a good game;, Anquan Boldin was everywhere, whilst the Defence had a field day against the fragile Colts line.
Oh, and as for Ray Lewis’s dropped catch? Just whack “Mike Gatting drop” into YouTube for evidence that it wasn’t the easiest drop in the history of sport.
7. Worst Coaching Decision of the Season!
Mike Shanahan has had a great couple of months, the Redskins have stormed into the Play Offs and he has been rewarded for his faith in his younger players. However, any goodwill towards Kyle’s Dad disappeared on Sunday night as he completely failed to spot what the rest of the world could see. The fact that RGII was injured and should have been nowhere near the field of play. We even had the bizarre 1st half sight of Mr Majeika lookalike Dr Andrews, taking a limping Griffin to a small building that resembled an allotment shed. When Griffin emerged still limping, we assumed it was time for Kirk Cousins to step in. Except that RGII naturally wanted to play on and Shanahan didn’t have the guts or gumption to pull him out. The Redskins offence ground to a halt and the Sehawks gradually imposed themselves on the game and eventually cruised to victory. Given how well Cousins has played this season, it seems absurd to think he was a worse option than an ailing RGIII. We can just hope that Griffin’s injury isn’t going to hamper his career and that Shanahan learns how to protect his players a bit better.
8. Last Rookie QB Standing
Winning the Superbowl is about getting hot at the right time (see the Giants last year for proof). That makes Seattle a very dangerous force at present, they are red hot and showing no signs of slowing down. They even gave the Redskins a one quarter head start on Sunday and still cruised by them. Every franchise that has had QB troubles this year had a chance to Draft Russell Wilson, but only Pete Carroll and the Hawks had the guts to take a punt on the undersized signal caller. Wilson has grown (metaphorically!) as the season has progressed and is now a major weapon for Seattle. It helps that he has a beast of a running back alongside him, as well as a formidable Defence. They’ve even started winning regularly away from Qwest Field and will go into Atlanta next week confident of springing an upset. I think the Falcons may prove to be ever so slightly too strong for them, but it’s going to be a fascinating battle and could be the tie of the round. Although I seem to recall thinking that about all 4 games this week!