Week one of the playoffs is now in the books and what an upside down weekend it was as the dogs ruled the day. A couple of close games that came down to the wire, and a couple that were decided long before the final gun sounded. Let’s get right into this week’s action…
St.Louis 27, at Seattle 20
One would have thought that the third time would have been a charm for the Seahawks, but the Rams take their third win of the season over Seattle, and their season will now continue next week in Atlanta. Ever since Philadelphia rolled over in week sisteen the Rams have been a team on fire, and this week was no different. The Rams took the opening kickoff and took only six plays to move 75 yards into the endzone, Marc Bulger (313 yds, 2 TD, 1 int) finding Torry Holt (108 yds, TD) on a nice catch from 15 yards out. Mike Holmgren challenged the play, but as has been the case all season, it was not overturned in his favor. The next possessions featured both defenses grabbing the interception, but neither side was able to capatalize. The Seahawks would manage a 47 yard field goal, but the Rams marched right back down the field, Marshall Faulk scoring from a yard out. Seattle would respond and moved the ball well, however on the drive Shaun Alexander injured his left wrist on the drive, an injury that would come back to haunt Seattle since it prevented from Alexander from holding the ball in his left hand and thus he could not rush the ball towards the left of center. The drive nearly came to an end when Matt Hasselbeck (341 yds, 2 TD, 1 int) threw a short pass to Maurice Morris that was deflected and intercepted, but as the ball was in the air, Morris was face masked and the interception wiped out. The very next play saw Hasselbeck find a wide open Bobby Engram from 19 yards out.
Fast forward towards the end of the third quarter, the teams exchange field goals, Rams still up by 4. Hasselbeck would get the home crowd going again, this time finding Darrell Jackson (128 yds, TD) from 23 yards out to give Seattle the lead. Now it was the Rams turn, and on a drive assisted by Seahawk penalties, they settle for a kick to tie the score midway thru the last quarter. Seattle would not do well on their next possession, giving the ball back to the Rams on a punt. St.Louis moved quickly down the field, and Mike Martz went for the gold, getting the touchdown that put the Rams up by 7 with a little over two minutes to play. I love it when coaches go for the TD instead of settling for the field goal try. Seattle was not done. Hasselbeck got the Seahawks right back down the field, first and ten at the Ram eleven.
Unfortunately, a sack on first down pushed things back, incomplete on second down. Third down saw Hasselbeck find Engram, moving the ball to the five yard line. With 27 ticks on the clock, and fourth down, it was all on the line here. Hasselbeck dropped back to pass, then had to scramble, he made a move towards the endzone, but with defenders blocking his path he tossed the ball towards Engram but it was too hot to handle, it fell to the ground off his hands and the Rams had the upset win. Another last second playoff disappointment for the Seahawks.
NY Jets 20, at San Diego 17 (overtime)
This game had it all, from heroes to potential goats, and it took nearly the entire overtime to settle things. The upstart Chargers were enjoying an improbable home game, but the weather was not entirely cooperative. The rains fell early, then the rains fell again late, but in the middle there was some darn good football played, albeit mostly by the Jets. This was classic playoff football at its best between two teams with good running games. This meant that the quarters would speed by quickly, and each team would not get too many possessions of the ball to score with. The first quarter sped by without a threat of a score, and in the second it was the home side that would strike first. Drew Brees (319 yds, 2 TD, 1 int) hooked up with Keenan McCardell on a fantastic catch in the back of the end zone that was initially ruled incomplete.
The Jets would come back, “Hanging” Chad Pennington (279 yds, 2 TD) finding Anthony Becht from 13 yards out to tie the score and that’s how the half ended. San Diego had the ball first in the second half, and they did pretty much the same with the opportunity as in the first half – nothing. The Jets defense was keeping Tomlinson in check, and the Chargers weren’t looking for other ways to get him or their other star Antonio Gates the ball. New York would do well on their first possession, Pennington lofting a perfect bomb to Santana Moss (100 yds, TD), where he caught it between double coverage for the 47 yard score. The Jets would later add a field goal giving them a seven point lead heading into the final frame.
Brees finally got some semblence of an offense going, where rookie Nate Kaeding clicked from 35 yards out. The Charger defense would hold, and with just under five minutes to play, San Diego needed some more magic. Finally, they got Ladainian Tomlinson (143 total yds) involved and the results were very good, eventually the Chargers had first and goal from the nine with a minute to play. Tomlinson got a yard on first down, Brees got seven on second down, then Tomlinson was stuffed from the one yard line. Twenty four ticks on the clock, fourth and goal. Brees went back to pass, then back some more, he was chased, got away from one player, then at the twenty yard line he was out of options so he hoisted a prayer straight up into the air towards the end zone. The pass fell to the ground, yet Eric Barton gave Brees a forearm shivver to the head, drawing the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. San Diego would not miss, Antonio Gates (89 yds, TD) hauling in the one yard offering and the point after was good to tie it up. Overtime!
San Diego won the toss and obviously elected to recieve as the rains started to once again fall. They went three and out, yet so did the Jets. Brees got the Chargers moving on their next possession, Tomlinson doing most of the work easily on the ground. The Chargers were well within field goal range, and yet the offense was moving the ball effortlessly….but Coach Shottenheimer, as he usually does in the playoffs, froze up. First and ten from the Jet 22 he went conservative, calling for running plays harmlessly straight ahead on first and second down. The it got more bizarre, instead of kicking on third down, he called for a run to the right which moved the ball to the right hashmark. I think you know where this is going, Kaeding’s 40 yard offering for the win sailed just right and the Jets were still alive. They would take advantage. When Lamont Jordan went down the left side for 15 yards moving the ball to the Charger 19, the Jets were within range. They would move five yards closer, and on third down Doug Brien was true from 28 yards out and the Jets pulled the upset.
at Indianapolis 49, Denver 24
When the Colts went three and out on their first possession, that was a good sign for the Broncos. When Denver went three and out on its first possession, maybe that was a sign that this was going to be a defensive struggle. On Indy’s second possession, they moved downfield like hot butter on breakfast toast, co-Player of the Week Peyton Manning (457 yds, 4 TD, 1 int, rushing TD) tossing the first of his many TDs, this one to James Mungro from 2 yards out. Three and out for Denver, Indianapolis touchdown, Edgerrin James from a yard out. Denver picked off, Indy driving the field again. Not looking pretty.
Then perhaps the Colts got greedy, as Manning was intercepted in the end zone, but this would only prove to extend the time that the Broncos would have on life support. Denver would again not register a first down, and in four plays Manning led the Colts on a 52 yard scoring drive. The Broncos would finally respond, getting a field goal. Coach Shanahan tried to catch the Colts napping, but the onsides kick was not successful. Two plays later, co-Player of the Week Reggie “Bruce” Wayne (221 yds, 2 TD) on the recieving end of a 35 yard Manning TD pass. Need I even have to say these words once more: Denver three and out, Colts score a touchdown for the 35-3 halftime score.
And that was pretty much that. Denver would put up a bit of a fight, Jake Plummer (254yds, 2 TD, 1 int) piling up some offense and Rod Smith (99 yds, TD) getting into the end zone. But for all intents and purposes, this was was over. Game, set, match.
Minnesota 31, at Green Bay 17
And so the final game of the weekend was also between two teams that had already played each other, the Packers beating the Vikings twice, by the identical score, in the exact same manner (last second field goal). Green Bay won the right to host the game and they were hoping their home field magic would once again be the charm. But their opponent this time was a danger, a team that snuck into the back door of the playoffs, a team that many said did not belong in the tournament. They lost ugly in week 17, and the team was in serious inner turmoil. All that, plus the coach was on the hot seat. All those ingredients spelled doom for the Packers.
The Vikings would come out on fire, putting together a game opening three play drive of 76 yards. Daunte Culpepper “Steak” (284 yds, 4 TD, 0 int, 54 rushing yds) would be flushed from the pocket and on the run, he drew Moe Williams’ defender to him, tossed Williams the ball and he did the rest. Green Bay would go three and out, the Vikings would blitzkrieg the endzone again, four plays and 55 yards, Culpepper to Randy Moss (70 yds, 2 TD) this time getting it done. Brett Favre, who had one of his worst games, tossing four interceptions, would toss his first of the day on the ensuing drive, the Vikings would cash that in for three more points. Green Bay would then respond with a three pointer of their own. All of this taking place in the first fifteen minutes.
Favre would get things going early in the second, Bubba Franks hauling in a 4 yard offering to close the gap. When the Vikings lined up for a short field goal on their next possession, the poor field conditions got in the way as Mort Andersen fell as he tried to kick, the ball never got off the ground. Given the new life, Favre would throw it away on the very next play, interception. Two plays later, Nate Burleson was in the end zone. Favre would settle down on the next possession, however the drive stalled inside the five yard line, then Longwell’s kick was wide left, keeping the score 24-10.
Both teams were largely ineffective in the third frame, no scoring on either side. The Packers would strike first in the fourth, scoring on the ground to close within a touchdown. The Vikings had the ball, and were having some trouble moving since Randy Moss injured his ankle and was not moving well on the field. Yet it seemed that all Culpepper had to do was look to Packer cornerback Ahmed Carroll’s direction and he’d be called for a penalty, as he was twice on this drive. They were close to field goal range at the Green Bay 34 when Culpepper decided to take advantage of Moss’ single coverage, and injury. He pump faked on the slant rout and the corner bit, leaving Moss hobbling free behind him where Culpepper hit him for the score that put the game out of reach. The Packers would not generate much from there and their defense was unable to keep Minnesota, specifically Ontario Smith, from getting first down after first down. The Vikings move on to Philadelphia next week.