In this week's NFL playoff chatter, the guys offer their take on the Packers' shocking ousting to the Giants, the 49ers impressive win against New Orleans, the Patriots putting an end to Tebowmania, plus the good and bad Baltimore Ravens.
The New York Giants stunned the Green Bay Packers with a 37-20 victory at Lambeau Field. But the score is misleading as the game was much closer than the final outcome. Did the Giants earn this victory or did the Packers give it away?
Jason Davidson: A combination of both. When you turn the ball over four times (should have been five) there is no way you are going to win the football game. This game should have been 13-10 at the half, not 20-10. The Pack allows the Giants to get into a position where Eli Manning can take a crack at the end zone. That's just poor defence. On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps simply weren't on the same page. Dropped passes, throws way off the mark, you name it. A lacklustre effort on all accounts. That being said, full credit to the Giants for picking up the win. Manning was thoroughly impressive in every aspect of the game with the exception of his one interception.
Jesse Campigotto: A bit of both. But, man, the Packers were out of sorts. Four turnovers (and it should have been five if not for the head ref unfathomably upholding that no-fumble call on Greg Jennings), plus Aaron Rodgers missing open receivers by a mile, plus many of those receivers committing some head-scratching drops, is not an arithmetic anyone expected. I found it interesting that, while a lot of people predicted the Giants would win, most figured it would be by some combination of the pass rush and the running game. Instead, New York's secondary stole the show, taking away the big plays that Rodgers and the Green Bay offence feed off. Oh, and the good fortune of recovering all three Packers fumbles didn't hurt either.
Tony Care: Make it unanimous. The Giants used an aggressive offensive game plan and a relentless pass rush to dethrone the champions. Eli Manning was special once again at Lambeau Field, shredding the fragile Packers' secondary all day, including that Hail Mary TD pass to Hakim Nicks to end the first half. It took a while, but the Giants' defensive got to Aaron Rodgers, who wasn't comfortable in the pocket from the second quarter on. Overall, I felt the Packers' offence blew this game. Rodgers misfired on at least three big-play passes and the receivers - depending on which stats sheet you go with - dropped as many as eight passes - not to mention the four turnovers. When the players put the tape of this game on, I suspect a few chairs will be tossed across the room. As good as the Giants played, Green Bay missed a golden opportunity for a second straight Super Bowl title.
The San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints staged one of the most memorable post-season playoff games in recent years. In the end, the 49ers came away with a last-second victory. How did San Francisco knock off the high-powered Saints?
Jason Davidson: Now this was fun to watch. Give credit to the Saints for hanging around though. They were down 17-0 in the early stages of the game and came back to make things very, very interesting. So in all reality, jumping out to an early lead was a huge factor in 'Frisco advancing to the NFC championship game. That and fumble recoveries, naturally. One of those fumbles go the other way and the Giants could very well be on their way to the Superdome as opposed to Candlestick Park.
Jesse Campigotto: I found this result much less surprising than the Giants' win. New Orleans' offence is not as effective away from the Superdome, San Francisco's defence is one of the best in the league, and the 49ers excelled all year at winning the turnover battle. Great recipe for an upset. Still, like the Giants, the Niners benefited from great fumble-recovery luck in a game where it seemed no one could hang on to the ball. Both teams put the pigskin on the turf three times, and San Fran scooped up five of them. In a four-point game in which the teams' yards per play were almost identical, and the kicking games more or less off-set, that's the difference right there.
Tony Care: Alex Smith simply outplayed Drew Brees when it mattered most. I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's the truth. When the chips were down Smith beat Brees at his own game. He orchestrated two straight touchdown drives in the final 2:11, including three picture perfect passes to tight end Vernon Davis. What I loved most was seeing Smith not satisfied with a field goal to send the game into overtime. With seconds remaining, he hit Davis between two defenders for the touchdown instead of playing it safe and settling for the check down. It was a well-deserved victory for the 49ers and a huge statement game for Smith.
It took the New England Patriots all of one half to dismantle the Denver Broncos. Should we be surprised the game was so one-sided?
Tony Care: Man you could see this coming a mile away. You knew the Broncos couldn't handle the Pats' offence even if they played with 15 defenders. Add a pissed off Tom Brady, who was seething all week after continually hearing that he'd lost his last three playoff games, and the blowout was just a formality. Brady was razor sharp as he tied a playoff record with six touchdown pass, and he did it the game's first 33:14. I'm not sure who devised the defensive game plan - head coach John Fox or co-ordinator Dennis Allen - but guys, come on. When does playing zone against Brady ever work? For the 15,000th time, the only way to slow down Brady is with man coverage. If he burns you anyway, so be it.
Jason Davidson: What surprised me from the get-go is that the Broncos deferred after winning the opening coin toss. Hmmm, let me understand the logic here? Let's give Tom Brady the ball right off the hop. Oh and yeah, Tebow was a great story all right: 9-for-26 for a grand total of 136 yards against a defence that is far from being among the league's elite. Brady just proved with this performance that he just may still be the best quarterback in the NFL. He went 26-for-34 and six touchdowns. Not bad for a 34-year-old. The Patriots are an elite team, the Broncos on the other hand, got in by virtue of playing in a weak AFC West and that the San Diego Charges endured a horrible slump that cost them their season.
Jesse Campigotto: No. Tim Tebow is a nice story, but we all knew which team had the much superior quarterback and offence in this game. It's one thing to beat an injury riddled and overrated Steelers team at home, and quite another to go on the road and try to match points with Tom Brady and the Patriots. That Brady-to-Gronkowski combo looks literally unstoppable, no? Let's see if the Baltimore defence (No. 1 in Football Outsiders' pass defence rankings and No. 7 against tight ends) has an answer.
The Ravens advanced to the AFC championship game, but it wasn't an easy win over Houston. What positive and negative aspects of this game should we take from the Ravens' win?
Jesse Campigotto: If anyone but a rookie third stringer were playing QB for Houston, would we instead be talking about whether the Texans can upset the Patriots in the AFC title game? I think we learned (again) that Baltimore is in trouble if it has to rely on Joe Flacco against a good defence. Lucky for the Ravens, the Patriots do not have a good defence. They finished the regular season ranked No. 28 by Football Outsiders against both the pass and the run. The New England D survives on creating turnovers, which it did to the tune of 2.1 per game this season (tied for third in the league). Baltimore was pretty good at protecting the ball, finishing in an eight-way tie for eighth with 1.4 giveaways per game. If the Ravens can hold onto the ball, chances are they'll be able to move it and keep this game close.
Jason Davidson: To echo Jesse's sentiment, if Matt Schaub wasn't hurt, the Texans would likely be heading to Foxborough. Rookie pivot T.J. Yates made some crucial errors in this game, getting picked off three times. As for the Ravens, they did little to convince me that they have any chance in the AFC championship. Joe Flacco was ordinary but as is the trademark in Baltimore, their defence is what wins them games. Still, they had tons of trouble penetrating the wall that is Houston's offensive line. Simply put, if the Ravens play like this again, their season is over.
Tony Care: Obviously the Ravens' defence played extremely well, shutting out the Texans in the second half and only allowing 13 points. Another plus was that Baltimore didn't commit one penalty in the entire game while also created three turnovers. The best news was that Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who played a terrific game, didn't seriously injury his ankle on the last desperation play by the Texans. But the Ravens have some concerning areas that, if they continue, won't bold well for their AFC championship game against New England. For one, they registered no sacks. That won't get it done if Tom Brady gets plenty of time to survey the defence. Joe Flacco was sacked five times and the offence, as usual, was simply too inconsistent. Coach John Harbaugh admitted after the game that his team will need to be more productive in New England, but how do you change a culture of conservatism in one week? If I were offensive co-ordinator Cam Cameron, I'd put on the Dallas-New England tape and watch how conservative play-calling burned the Cowboys at the end. Cam, a word of advice: do everything in your power to avoid giving Tom Brady one final drive. No matter how good a defence is, Brady normally finds a way to pull it off. Just sayin'.
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