A Perfect Weekend (Except the Bengals)
Wild-card weekend certainly lived up to its name, with three thrillers being decided by a total of six points. There was an epic comeback, and epic wind chill. Unfortunately, though, Andy Dalton and co. threw in an epic letdown to put a damper on things
Seven teams playing scintillating playoff football (some even dabbled with defense), and then Cincinnati. You know, the same old Bengals. Isn’t that what the weekend felt like? Great, great football on a 139-point Saturday, and drama galore in the last game of the weekend Sunday evening, the modern-day Ice Bowl in Green Bay (where the Packers, suddenly, have a home-field playoff disadvantage). But what an Akili Smith-sized egg the Bengals laid, and the resurgent Chargers were only too happy to take the win they overwhelmingly deserved.
Which of these things doesn’t belong:
a. 45-44, with a team winning after trailing 38-10.
b. 26-24, on a field goal at the gun by a kicker who was unemployed three weeks ago.
c. 27-10. Drama-free.
d. 23-20, in minus-14 wind chill, on a field goal at the gun by a 15-year NFL kicker who’d never won a playoff game.
Not to break any hearts in the Queen City, and not to set an NFL record for overreaction, but a snapshot of the 2011 and 2012 drafts show how sick Bengaldom must be today.
|Overall Pick||Player, Pos., School||Status|
|35. Cincinnati||Andy Dalton, QB, TCU||0-3 in the playoffs. Not exactly a fan favorite today.|
|36. San Francisco||Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada||3-1 in the playoffs. Pretty darn good.|
|53. Cincinnati||Devon Still, DL, Penn State||289 mostly futile snaps in two years.|
|75. Seattle||Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin||The second coming of Drew Brees, perhaps.|
The Bengals have to be despondent this morning. They should be. They’re not sure if their 4,000-yard quarterback is the future of the franchise.
So much to talk about after one of the great playoff weekends in memory, and let’s not be all Debbie Downer about it.
* * *
The divisional round schedule:
Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET: New Orleans (No. 6, 12-5) at Seattle (No. 1, 13-3). They met five weeks ago tonight, at CenturyLink Field, and the Seahawks embarrassed the Saints 34-7. Seattle’s shown signs of mortality since.
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET: Indianapolis (No. 4, 12-5) at New England (No. 2, 12-4). The only game that isn’t a rematch of a regular-season game this year. They did meet last year, and the Pats put up 59 on the Colts. But T.Y. Hilton wasn’t T.Y. Hilton then. Come to think of it, Julian Edelman wasn’t Julian Edelman either.
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET: San Francisco (No. 5, 13-4) at Carolina (No. 2, 12-4). The Panthers won with stifling defense Nov. 10 at Candlestick, 10-9. Colin Kaepernick was smothered that day (107 total yards, six sacks). Left tackle Joe Staley will have his hands full with rising-star pass rusher Greg Hardy.
Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET: San Diego (No. 6, 10-7) at Denver (No. 1, 13-3). Split during the regular season, including San Diego’s win at Denver 25 days ago. If you’re a Broncos fan, this should concern you: In eight 2013 quarters, the composite score was Broncos 48, Chargers 47.
First thoughts after a thrilling weekend of football (and don’t take my word for it; 30.8 million people watched Saturday’s twinbill, up 15 percent over last year):
• Every game’s a revenge game now for the Niners. They’ve played four of the seven other teams in the playoffs and lost to all four—Seattle, Indy, Carolina and New Orleans. But they’re playing better now, winners of seven straight, and Colin Kaepernick has two trustworthy things he didn’t have in midseason: his own legs (he’s running with more confidence now) and Michael Crabtree.
• The Chargers can’t win a scoring contest against Peyton Manning, but they’re uniquely equipped to challenge Denver. Defensive coordinator John Pagano has the chess pieces to frustrate Manning, and no opposing coach knows the refurbished Manning like Mike McCoy—his 2012 offensive coordinator—does.
• Cam Jordan’s quick pressure could be the key for New Orleans in Seattle. Russell Wilson had tons of time the last time they played, and the emotion of the night will be hard to duplicate, even in a playoff game. Jordan was in Nick Foles’ grill consistently Saturday night. Protection of Drew Brees will be vital. It killed the Saints a month ago.
• Andrew Luck is so rare, so precocious and so able to put the past behind. The distant past, the recent past. He did it in the middle of a 38-10 debacle Saturday that became a 45-44 win over Kansas City. And he did it a year ago, after a four-turnover game at New England. Last year, I remember his quarterbacks coach, Clyde Christensen, telling me, “He’s a great forgetter. He came in that Monday [after losing 59-24 to New England], and I said to him, ‘Look, I know you beat yourself up all night, but you’re a rookie, on the road, playing Belichick, big game, and you drive us 80 for touchdowns in your first two drives. That’s big-time. We’ll work on the other stuff.’ And he knows.”
It’s highly doubtful next weekend can match the one we just had, even with the stinker in Cincinnati. But for different reasons, I love every one of these games.