Our fearless CBCSports.ca writers have plenty to say about New England's stunning defeat to their hated AFC East rivals from New York. Plus, the boys debate Green Bay's place among the NFL's elite teams.
Gentlemen, let's start with the biggest upset of the post-season. Few, if any, gave the New York Jets a snowball's chance to walk out of Gillette Stadium with a win over the No. 1 seeded New England Patriots. But you have to give it to Rex Ryan's boys — they rebounded from their December shellacking on the same field and put away the Patriots with a virtuoso performance. How did they do it?
Chris Iorfida: I picked New England to win but said to Jesse earlier in the week that I didn't think their offensive line or running game were Super Bowl calibre. I just didn't figure it would be the Jets that would exploit them. But the score really flattered the Pats. Nick Folk missed a field goal (surprise!) and if the Jets fall on one of the many fumbles the Pats recovered, it's a bigger margin. And who would've predicted that, as Tom Brady readied to face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl three years ago, that he would go 0-3 in his next three playoff games, with three fumbles, four interceptions and 13 sacks. New York showed that a strong commitment to the running game can do wonders. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene didn't wow, but they chewed up clock.
Jesse Campigotto: Anyone else feel like they were watching a replay of Super Bowl XLII? Once again, a New York team with a tough defence shocks a New England team with a high-powered offence previously thought to be unstoppable. Like the Giants before them, the Jets' pass rushers lived in the Pats backfield all day. Unlike the Giants, they didn't need a miracle helmet catch to win. In fact, you could argue the Jets were a bit unlucky. They forced three New England fumbles and didn't recover any. Didn't matter, though, because they blanketed New England's deep receiving core so thoroughly. To me, that was the big surprise. Not that the Jets won (this is the NFL after all) but how they won. This was no fluke.
Tony Care: Man, I didn't see this coming. The Jets obviously knew how to beat New England, and give them credit for following the game plan to a T. During that Monday night debacle, the Patriots were gashing New York with those short throws across the middle that went for big gains. But Ryan adjusted. On Sunday, the Jets allowed few passes in that area, and when they did, they tackled the Pats receivers on the spot. Of course, none of this happens without New York's pressure, which sacked Brady five times and forced him to make hurried throws. I was also impressed in the way Mark Sanchez responded when New England cut the deficit to only three points to start the fourth quarter. There's nothing like answering a touchdown with a TD on your next drive. Here's an interesting sidebar: After Brady won his first 10 playoffs games and three Super Bowl rings, he is now 4-5 in his last nine post-season games. One reason I'm glad the Pats lost is because Jesse and Brandon predicted New England and Green Bay would meet in the Super Bowl in our NFL preview back in September. I would've been jealous if they hit on those two teams. Ok, I'll admit it: I take pleasure in other people's misfortune. I believe they call that schadenfreude.
Brandon Hicks: I never, ever, ever thought I'd say this… but I am anyway: Bill Belichick got out-coached. Can you believe that? The guy who could dismantle any offence and defence in the NFL, the puppet master behind the near-perfect season, got out-coached by a guy who can't stop swearing even when his mom asks him to. The Jets' defence was absolutely brilliant against the Pats. Brady may have the best line in the league, but it can't catch passes for him. Doesn't matter how long the long-haired wonder has to throw if there's absolutely nobody to pass to, thanks to Revis Island and Co. And I'm not even going to mention how this result completely screws my football pool and pre-season predictions. Oh wait, I just did.Ryan Clark and the Pittsburgh defence spaked the Steelers' comeback win over Baltimore. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
There no doubt the Pittsburgh Steelers loved New York's win, especially since they'll be hosting the AFC title game. The Steelers looked dead in the first half against Baltimore, but a second-half meltdown by the Ravens allowed Pittsburgh time to erase a 14-point deficit and earn another playoff victory over its trash-talking opponents. Was this an impressive comeback on the Steelers' part, or did Baltimore give it away?
Brandon Hicks: I was watching this game here at the office, and I remember saying after the first half something to the tune of, "If the Steelers get a huge turnover, look out." The Ravens' first-half charge was built chiefly on two huge turnovers, both of which led to touchdowns, and I thought if the Steelers could just get one themselves, the momentum would shift and the home crowd would do the rest. Well, they got two. One on the Ravens' first possession of the half, on a Ray Rice fumble, and another on a Joe Flacco interception. If I told you both led to touchdowns too, would you be surprised? When you have a rivalry packed with that much emotion, it's plays like those that define the outcome. And that's why the Steelers have a date with the Jets.
Jesse Campigotto: Give the Pittsburgh defence credit for shutting down a good-but-not-great quarterback in Flacco. Now the Steelers must be licking their chops at the thought of facing Sanchez. OK, the Jets QB produced a pretty efficient performance against New England, and you're going to hear a lot of pundits this week raving about how "clutch" Sanchez is. But, as I mentioned in this forum last week, he's been really lucky in the defences he's drawn in his five career playoff games. Neither Cincy, San Diego nor Indy had a good D last year, and same for Indy and New England this year. The run is over, though. The best defence in football awaits next week in Pittsburgh.
Chris Iorfida: The game was fascinating, but can we stop with the reflexive "classic" label just because it's these two teams playing. There were 167 penalty yards (and there should have been more), poor offensive line play (Pittsburgh in one half, Baltimore in the next) and a couple of bizarre turnovers. You put that stat line on the Lions vs. Browns and you don't quite have the hosannas. I thought it was ironic that the game turned on that big pass play. A big reason why the offensive lines struggled much of the day was because the secondary play was excellent, with Ryan Clark and Chris Carr leading the way for their teams. It must be said: The final stats show he was in on nine tackles, but Ray Lewis has never been less impactful in a playoff game. As for Jets-Pittsbugh: a fascinating matchup when you consider that Big Ben won the Super Bowl in his second season, and Sanchez is again just two wins away from that distinction in his second season. People forget that Roethlisberger was great in that playoff run, but didn't do very much in that Super Bowl win. Much has been made of the Jets winning in spite of Sanchez, but he's picking the right targets even if he's occasionally off the mark. Which means Brian Schottenheimer will likely be a head-coaching candidate this time next year.
Tony Care: I tend to think it was more a case of Baltimore giving it away. The Ravens were playing so well for the last five game, it was hard to understand why they self destructed in the final 30 minutes. Yes, the Steelers scored 17 points off three Baltimore turnovers in the second half. Yet it was more than that. In spite of the turnovers, the Ravens still had a chance to win. Trailing 24-21 in the fourth quarter, a touchdown by punt returner Lardarius Webb was wiped out because of a holding penalty on Marcus Smith. Then Anquan Boldin drops a touchdown pass at the goal-line on the ensuing drive. So instead of leading 28-24, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal and a tie score. And just when you thought the craziness would end, this happens: after the Steelers scored a touchdown to go up 31-24, receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped a fourth-and-18 pass that would've set Baltimore up in Steelers' territory with 1:03 remaining. Unbelievable!Tramon Williams (38) has made a big interception, including this one for a touchdown against Atlanta, in both of Green Bay's playoff wins. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Led by the brilliant performance of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers destroyed the NFC's top seed Atlanta Falcons. Since the start of the post-season, several pundits, including a couple of us CBCSports.ca folks, have been saying that the No. 6 Packers are the most dangerous team in the post-season. But the better question should be is Green Bay the best team?
Tony Care: I not only think the Packers are the best team right now, I truly believe Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. There is nobody playing at a higher level. Rodgers killed the Falcons in every way: passing, scrambling, throwing on the run. Brett who, indeed. Do you think the 49ers regret passing Rodgers up six years ago in order to draft that bust Alex Smith with the first overall pick? Sorry, I just love sticking it to teams when it's not the Cowboys. Lost in all the Rodgers hoopla has been the play of rookie cornerback Tramon Williams. First the guy saves the Packers' season in Philadelphia with a last-minute interception of Michael Vick. He then goes out and picks off Atlanta's Matt Ryan in the final seconds of the first half, essentially putting away the game with a pick-six. I mean, Williams has six interceptions in the regular season and gets snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting. Expect him to play with a major chip on his shoulder for the rest of his career. And it's also important to mention that Green Bay has 14 players on injured reserve, yet the team continues to roll.
Chris Iorfida: I get it now. Ryan's called "Ice" because he freezes in the playoffs. Hows about before we confer a clutch nickname on someone, they have to establish some post-season pedigree? You don't hear football fans of a previous generation talking about Danny "Cool Hand" White or Scott "Bank" Norwood. It didn't matter that James Starks didn't get a ton of yards. Green Bay finally seems to have understood that if you make the effort to run enough times, it's going to make Rodgers even more dangerous
Brandon Hicks: With the Patriots in, the answer is tough. Now that the Patriots are out? It's a definite yes. You could feel Rodgers' confidence leap to new heights when he won that first playoff game against Philly. And it's not an insignificant fact that it was on the road against an Eagles team that was turning into the darling of the NFL, and a very trendy Super Bowl pick. That confidence was shining all throughout the game against Atlanta, as Rodgers absolutely shredded the wilting Falcons. And jeez, please don't forget the defence that has suffocated Vick and Ryan in back-to-back weeks. And now they have a shaky Jay Cutler to toy with next week in Chicago. Take a good gander, guys. You are now looking at the favourites to win the Super Bowl. And Tony, I'd just like to point out that though one half of my pre-season Super Bowl matchup is out, my pick to win it all (Packers!) is still on the way to glory.
Jesse Campigotto: Best team? Maybe. Hottest team? For sure. Green Bay beat probably two of the best three teams in the NFC (the Packers themselves are the other) over the last two weeks, both times on the road. The NFC title game presents the easiest matchup yet for the Packers. Yeah, Chicago's defence is capable of causing Rodgers a lot of trouble, but the Green Bay D looks even tougher right now. Especially the pass D. It's highly unlikely that Cutler accounts for four touchdowns again, as he did against Seattle.Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looked good in an easy win over Seattle, but a tougher Green Bay defence awaits in the NFC title game. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The bubble finally burst on the Cinderella Seattle Seahawks, who were buried by the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Let's face it: this post-season has played perfectly into the hands of Chicago to this point. Yet with Green Bay coming to town, can they overcome the hottest club in the NFL?
Jesse Campigotto: Well, based on some early research, there's a potential monkey wrench for the Pack: special teams. According to the stats on the terrific website Football Outsiders, Devin Hester and the Chicago return teams have a major edge over Green Bay's coverage units. Will that be enough to propel the Bears to an upset? Remember, the Packers gave up a kickoff return TD against Atlanta and still destroyed the Falcons. Oh, and before we forget about Seattle, a note on Pete Carroll: all week, we heard all about how the coach "has the guys playing together" and "believing in themselves" and blahblahblah. Well, the real good coaches earn their money not as motivational speakers, but by designing and calling plays, and Carroll showed his limitations when he decided to punt on fourth and one from the Bears' 40 in the first quarter, when it was 7-0 Bears. The Seahawks were never really in the game again.
Chris Iorfida: It took precisely three minutes, five seconds for Seattle to be jarred back to reality. A touchdown and scary injury to one of your players will do that. So I guess Mike Martz finally figured out how to use Greg Olsen, huh? If Ryan's bad pick was the game changer of the weekend, Jordan Babineaux's missed interception at the goal-line was not far behind.
Tony Care: I'm not even going to get into Chicago's win over the Seahawks. That was basically a bye week for Jay Cutler and company. I know the Bears are a different team than the one that started the year, but remember back in that early Monday night game when the Bears kicked a last-second field goal to upset Green Bay at Soldier Field? Well, they were only in that game because the Packers committed a mind-blowing 18 penalties. In the final regular-season game in Green Bay, Bears coach Lovie Smith played all of his starters for the entire contest even though the outcome meant nothing to Chicago. Why? Well, Smith wanted to eliminate the Packers so he wouldn't have to face them in the playoffs. Lovie's instincts were correct — too bad for Bears fans the team couldn't knock Green Bay off.
Brandon Hicks: No. Nope. Non. Nein. How many other ways can I say this? I wasn't sold on the Bears to get past the NFC title game when the playoffs began. An underwhelming performance against Seattle isn't changing my mind. Yes, I said underwhelming. I know what you're saying, "But Brandon! The game was pretty much over after the first half! LOL." Wanna know why? The Seahawks were afflicted with their "Dropped Passes Syndrome" that plagued them when they were in the playoffs with an actual winning record a few years back. Make no mistake: Seattle had chances on offence, and Cutler gave the defence plenty of opportunity to come up with big plays (hate to say it, Jordan Babineaux, but your botched interception would've completely changed the game), but those dropped passes killed 'em. And guess what: Seattle still got it respectable by out-scoring the Bears 21-7 in the fourth quarter. Championship teams don't let that happen. Not in the playoffs. Just ask the Packers.