Arizona Cardinals over Atlanta Falcons, 30-24
The matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons was one I looked forward too since these teams have not been in the playoffs recently and both have rather interesting storylines this season. Both teams looked like they belonged in the playoffs and played a hard fought, entertaining game.
Arizona played poorly the last month of the season but they have been good at home this year so going into the game I gave them the edge against a young team with a rookie quarterback. The Cardinals did exactly what I thought they needed to do to win the game. They established at least a semblance of a running game, which helped keep the pressure off Kurt Warner so the offense could move the ball. They abandoned the run in the middle of the game, but as soon as they went back to it in the fourth quarter they once again had better production on offense.
This game, however, came down to what most playoff games come down to – turnovers. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions, which hurt. But the biggest play of the game was when DT Darnell Dockett burst into the backfield causing a fumble on the handoff between Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, which Antrel Rolle returned for a touchdown. Add to that two big offensive plays on passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in the first half, and a safety late in the fourth quarter, and that it was it for the Falcons.
Despite the prolific offense the Cardinals won this game on defense. The defensive line did a great job of bottling up Michael Turner and constantly seemed to be playing in the Falcons backfield. As the commentator noted at one point, it was almost as if the Cardinals defense knew the snap count. But the Falcons offensive line really let them down.
For the Cardinals the key to the game offensively, as noted earlier, was running the ball just enough to keep the defense honest. And a round of applause for Cardinal left tackle Mike Gandy for controlling Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham for much of the game.
Despite this nice win in the playoffs, I fear the Cardinals are in for a rude awakening when they travel to Carolina. They have played awful on the road this year and they are facing one of the four best teams in football.
MVP: Darnell Dockett, DT, Arizona Cardinals
San Diego Chargers over Indianapolis Colts, 23-17 OT
I had a feeling the Chargers would come out of this game with a win, even though I picked the Colts after hearing LaDanian Tomlinson and possibly Antonio Gates would be unable to play. The Chargers proved they belong in the playoffs despite their 8-8 record with a gutsy performance against the Colts. They mostly outplayed the Colts but two costly turnovers almost cost them the game: one when Darren Sproles fumbled the ball out of the end zone at the one yard line taking away an almost definite touchdown, and an interception in the end zone by Philip Rivers.
Despite his fumble, Sproles had an outstanding game replacing LaDanian Tomlinson. In fact, he recorded the third highest total yardage (rushing, receiving, and returns) in NFL postseason history with 328 all-purpose yards. Frankly, though, it was the phenomenal punting by Mike Scifres that was the difference in the game. He continually boomed punts and pinned the Colts back near their goal line, leaving them a very long field to traverse for a score.
I would not call this game a choke by the Colts, even though they tend to do so in the postseason. I didn’t think Manning played a great game, especially when he was out of the pocket. But the Colts inability to establish a running game and very solid coverage of the Colts’ receivers put Manning in very tough spots. And this may be one of the least effective games I’ve seen Colts center Jeff Saturday play. He struggled against DT Jamal Williams. The Colts eventually started double teaming Williams to get the ground game going.
As well as the Chargers played against the Colts, Pittsburgh’s defense is not the Colts defense. I see the Chargers limping out of Pittsburgh licking their wounds worse than they did last time they played.
MVP: Darren Sproles, RB/KR, San Diego Chargers
Baltimore Ravens over Miami Dolphins, 27-9
Five turnovers, including an Ed Reed interception return for a touchdown. I really could end the game summary right there because that is it.
Going into this game I thought the Ravens defense would ravage the Dolphins and they did. Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed had their way with the Dolphins and Chad Pennington played a terrible game.
On the flip side, while they played reasonably well, the Ravens offense didn’t do much to help the cause. But they did enough to come out with a win.
Next up are the Tennessee Titans who the Ravens played very well in Baltimore earlier this year, and could have won the game but for a bad face mask call against Terrell Suggs. This time the matchup is in Tennessee and it should be quite interesting.
MVP: Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens
Philadelphia Eagles over Minnesota Vikings, 26-14
Of the Wildcard games this one was the least satisfying. I felt like I was watching a regular season game between two mediocre teams — at least on the offensive side of the ball.
The key difference in this game is Tarvaris Jackson just is not a good quarterback. His interception in the second quarter that Asante Samuel ran back for a touchdown really proved to be the difference in a close game.
Despite his 300 yards passing, I wasn’t too impressed with Donovan McNabb either. He did just enough to get the win, with a lot of help from his defense.
Both the defenses actually played fairly well, but they gave up big plays as well. The Eagles bottled up Adrian Peterson except for a 40 yard run in the second quarter for a touchdown and a 7-6 lead. But otherwise “All Day” was just “One Play” against the Eagles. Of course it didn’t take long for Tarvaris Jackson to chunk up his pick six to Samuels to squander the lead.
The Vikings also bottled up the Eagles Brian Westbrook most of the day. But he is not a player you bottle up for long. He broke off a 71-yard run after catch for a touchdown to make a slim 16-14 lead early in the fourth quarter a 23-14 lead. And that was the game.
I was actually rooting for the Vikings for no particular reason and thought, just maybe, they could pull it out. But with Jackson at quarterback, playing from behind, the Vikings were all but doomed.
No, I don’t think the Eagles will beat the Giants next week. But I hope they do. One Manning down, one to go.
MVP: Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Offensive Player of the Week: Darren Sproles, RB/KR, San Diego Chargers
Defensive Player of the Week: Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens
Offensive Lineman of the Week: Mike Gandy, LT, Arizona Cardinals
Special Teams Player of the Week: Mike Scifres, P, San Diego Chargers