The NFL finally did itself proud. After a six-month miasma of malaise, mistakes and mishaps, it had a divisional playoff for the ages. The old guard, Ryan, Brady, Brees, and Ben, challenged the new, Bortles, Keenum, Mariota and Foles, and the results were magnificent.
No game could match the Minnesota Vikings nipping the New Orleans Saints at the gun on a 61-yard miracle throw during which the only player who might’ve stopped it made a decision to not attempt a tackle for fear of interference being called. Because games cannot end on a defensive penalty, had one been called, such penalty would’ve allowed the Vikings to line up and kick a chip shot field goal for the win. The Saints player was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. I’ll cut him some slack on that one.
Nobody could’ve asked for more than the Steelers’ Ben Roethelsberger gave in trying to atone for an early season loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he was picked off five times. In another “the last team to have the ball wins,” Ben threw for an unbelievable 468 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-42 thriller. But, inexplicably in a game where the Steelers were playing catch-up all game after falling behind 21-0, when two fourth-and-one situations in Jaguar territory screamed for the 6’5″, 250 pound Ben to quarterback sneak, he did not. (Ben is 18 for 19 successful on fourth down sneaks in his career.) Those two failed moments will gnaw in the craw of the Steeler faithful for a very long time.
In wind-whipped Philadelphia, the Eagles’ Jake Elliott kicked three field goals, none more important than the last-second, first-half, fifty-three yarder that brought Philadelphia within one going into the locker room. Nothing gives a team more momentum than scoring just before the half. Quarterback Nick Foles, a fighter if ever there’s been one, kept Philly alive with two superb long second-half drives, one with the wind and one against it. Atlanta, with Matt Ryan finding Julio Jones time and again, stayed close. In the final minute, the Falcons had the ball at the Eagles nine, first-and-goal, down 15-1. After moving to the two on fourth down, Ryan called a rollout right, looking for the tall and lithe Jones against a defender six-inches shorter. Jones slipped making a sideline cut in the end zone and fell down. The defender, as is his right once the receiver falls down. held him down for a second as Jones desperately tried to rise for the catch. Failing to regain his full balance, Jones was unable to grab Ryan’s pass as it flew through his open arms. After blowing a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl, the Falcons are going to spend another off-season in deep soul searching.
After giving up an early score to the Tennessee Titans, New England dispatched them with their general error free football, en route to an impressive 35-14 win and must be considered a prohibitive favorite against the Jaguars.
But, then again after last week, anything can happen.