Just when you think you’re out, I pull you back in! Wild card weekend is in the books and for better or for worse (depending on your perspective), the weekend in review’s continue. Things started off with a bang as the Tennessee/Baltimore game went down to the wire, then Indianapolis dropped the hammer on Denver like you will read about. Green Bay/Seattle was worth watching to the last play, while Dallas/Carolina was a bit of a snoozer. As usual, we’re reporting here with a fantasy slant, and out of the four games, only ten individual players did well enough to earn a mention here for their performance. As is the case many times in the playoffs, offense suddenly becomes a premium with so much at stake. All in all it was an exciting weekend with four more games on tap next weekend. Let’s get right into the games.
Tennessee 20, at Baltimore 17
The weekend’s action got underway with what was arguably the closest matchup of the four games. Many figured Tennessee was slightly the better team, but since the game was in Baltimore, that probably evened things up. Add to the fact that the Ravens had beaten the Titans the last five times they met and that Steve McNair was hurting, it had the makings of a Raven victory. On top of all that, with the league’s leading rusher in Jamal Lewis, surely Baltimore would run early and often to victory. Not so. Taking a page out of Mike Martz’s “we have the best rushing attack in the league, so let’s cross up the other team and not rush the ball” book, Jamal Lewis only touched the ball 16 times in this one as the Ravens suffer the close loss.
The game started out with the Ravens getting the ball, but three plays later they were forced to punt. Tennessee went right to work, and even up against a tough defense, Eddie George got the ball early and often, and many times he was very successful. The Titans ended the ten play opening drive with Chris Brown plowing into the endzone from six yards out. Baltimore was unable to get a first down on their next possession, but the defense was make their first mark on the game, intercepting McNair on Tennessee’s first play, Will Demps taking the pick 56 yards for the tying score. A couple of punts later, and again the Ravens picked off McNair, and in the process Eddie George was injured on the play. Yet the Ravens were unable to get it going, three and out again. It wasn’t until late in the half were they able to simply move the ball, getting into range for a field goal that gave them the 10-7 halftime lead.
Despite the injury, George was back in the second half, but it was defense on both sides again making their mark. The Titans were able to retake the lead on their second possession of the half, McNair hooking up with Justin McCareins on a 49 yard pass play. Twice more Baltimore went three and out (seeing a pattern here yet?), and the Titans held the slim lead entering the final frame. Three and out wasn’t the order on Baltimore’s initial fourth quarter possession, an interception was deep in their own territory. Despite the good field position, Tennessee settled for a field goal to give them a seven point lead. Finally, Baltimore put it together, got a couple of first downs, and with 4:30 remaining, Anthony Wright hooked up with Todd Heap (6 catches for 80 yards, TD) for the tying score (PAT good).
The stage was set, someone was going to have to step up and be a hero. Two plays into the ensuing drive, Baltimore picked off McNair again. Four plays later the offense was punting and time was running out. Before the punt, Baltimore tackle Orlando Brown got into his second scuffle of the game, and again he cost his team 15 yards for his actions. Those yards would come back to haunt the Ravens. McNair and George were able to move the ball just enough for Gary Anderson to come onto the field and attempt a 46 yard field goal that just made it over the crossbar for the three points. Baltimore could do nothing with the seconds they had remaining and Tennessee moves on to the next round.
at Carolina 29, Dallas 10
Let’s face it, even though this was in the weekend’s prime time slot, it was a “who cares” type of game. Meaning, no one really expected the winner of this game to go any further than this. If you check your playoff pools and fantasy contests, there will be very few Panthers and Cowboys on any roster. Those are just the facts.
The Cowboys had a very nice season making the playoffs and Carolina took advantage of a weak division, both teams in the playoffs when it wasn’t expected. Carolina opened things up on their opening drive, Jake Delhomme hooking up with Steve Smith (5 catches for 135 yards, TD) on a 70 yard pass play to put the ball at the Dallas one yard line. The Dallas D then went to work, and John Kasay (5 FG, 2 PAT) booted the first of his many field goals. Kasay was good again a little later in the quarter, but both times it was a victory for the D in keeping the Panthers out of the end zone.
Dallas, as had been the case in most of their games, had trouble getting things going offensively, yet they were hanging around by keeping Carolina out. That ended midway thru the second quarter, Stephen Davis (104 rushing yards, TD) rumbling in from 23 yards out.
The Cowboys finally got things going on the ensuing possession, and they got a field goal of their own to get on the board. With 1:12 remaining, it looked like that was how the half would end, but Muhsin Muhammed broke free for 57 yards, he fumbled but recovered and Carolina again had a first and goal this time from the two yard line. But those two yards were too much, and again Kasay did the deed just before the half.
Defense was the order in the second half, but again Carolina struck first, Steve Smith making a great catch for a score and Carolina began to pull away. The Cowboys had yet to get anyhing going offensively, and Kasay again tacked on three more to start the fourth. Dallas was desperate, and finally moved the ball. Facing a fourth down from the Carolina nine, Quincy Carter scored to perhaps make things slightly interesting. The Panthers were content to milk some clock, and Dallas never really threatened again. The Panthers move on to face St.Louis.
at Green Bay 33, Seattle 27 (overtime)
As the ‘overtime’ would reflect, this ended up being the best game of the weekend. Of all the matchups, many thought this would be the easiest game for the home team, but that was anything but the case in this one. Seattle opened up the scoring on their initial possession, moving the ball well but settling for a field goal and the early lead. That lead would last until the second quarter, when Green Bay finally got into range for a kick of their own to tie things up. Seattle ripped right back down the field, and booted another three pointer to get back on top. Green Bay answered, Brett Favre (319 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 int) hooking up with Bubba Franks from 23 yards out. The Green Bay D held on the ensuing possession, and again Favre got things moving and the Packers got another field goal to take the 13-6 halftime lead.
Seattle opened up the second half by putting on an offensive clinic, Shaun Alexander (3 TD) doing the dirty work from a yard out on fourth and goal from the one yard line to tie things up. The Seahawk D then did their part, and again Seattle ripped down the field, Alexander again doing the honors. Favre got the Packers offense clicking again, and their ensuing drive proved fruitful, Ahman Green (110 total yards 2 TD) scoring from a yard out. Role reversal: The Packer D did their part, and again Green Bay ripped down the field, Green again doing the honors. 2:44 remained.
The Seahawks had the ball on their own 33 yard line, and given their recent offensive success, the Packer faithful couldn’t have been feeling good about themselves. Their fears were well founded, and Seattle went on the move. They moved to the Green Bay 42 yard line and huddled up for the two minute warning. Matt Hasselbeck hooked up with Bobby Engram on a nice 34 yard play and they were in business on the Packer eight. Yet inexplicably, they called a quick time out, stopping the clock with 1:47 to go, a major mistake. Hasselbeck was incomplete on first down, again stopping the clock. Alexander picked up a couple of yards on second down, and inexplicably, Green Bay did not call one of their three remaining time outs to stop the clock for a potential game winning drive of their own. The clock wound down, and on the third down, the Packers were guilty of pass interference in the end zone. Alexander again hit paydirt from the one yard line, and with 55 ticks left on the clock, the Packers went to work.
Working well, three plays into the drive, Favre hit Javon Walker for 27 yards to the Seattle 30 yard line. Conserving their final time out, they rushed to the line to spike the ball. Ryan Longwell was getting ready, and cameras spotted him indicating that he wanted five more yards. Green Bay would not get it, strangely calling for Ahman Green to run into the Seahawk line for a single yard so a 47 yard kick was to be attempted. Longwell’s boot was on the mark, but fell about four yards short as regulation ended. Seattle was let off the hook for their clock management, and Green Bay was punished dearly for their mismanagement.
Seattle won the coin toss, and Hasselbeck brazenly called out, “we want the ball and were gonna score.” They did not score, and in fact they did not record a first down and had to punt on the opening drive. Green Bay was unable to get a first down on their drive, and Seattle got the ball back. The Seahawks clicked on third and four to keep the drive alive, but their confidence was short lived. On third and long, Hasselbeck threw to the left sideline but it was Green Bay’s dreadlocked Al Harris that was on the receiving end of the throw. He jumped the route, and with only Hasselbeck to outrun, 52 yards later he was in the endzone sending the Packer faithful home happy.
at Indianapolis 41, Denver 10
The Broncos had a lot going against them before this game even started. Two weeks ago, they embarrassed these same Colts on their home turf in a prime time rout that clinched their spot in the playoffs and nearly cost the Colts a home game. Not learning from Bronco history, Mike Shanahan punted on the final week of the season, essentially giving all of his starters the week off. To top it off, Tennessee had already pulled off the upset, satisfying the “three and one” rule (three favorites and one dog usually win every playoff weekend). Of course, when you’re facing the league’s co-MVP who desperately wants to finally win a playoff game and has pefect game, that doesn’t help either.
The Colts took the opening kickoff and easily marched down the field for the opening score, Player of the Week Peyton Manning (377 passing yards, 5 TD, 0 int) hooking up with Brandon Stokley (4 catches for 144 yards, 2 TD) from 31 yards out. Undaunted, Denver did get their offense going, moving into position for a Jason Elam field goal. Manning again went to work, and when he hooked up with Marvin Harrison (7 catches for 133 yards, 2 TD) for a sixteen yard gain, the Bronco defenders shook their heads knowing they were in for a long day. They should have touched Harrison, who got up and ran uncontested the remaining 30 yards for the score. That was a sign that Manning would be having his way with this defense all day.
When the Denver offense began to sputter on the ensuing drive, the downhill slide was starting to get steep. Manning to Harrison was again good for six to extend the lead. Denver was unable to score on their next drive, and with just over two minutes to go, the Colts put the game away. Manning linked with Stokley again on the first play, 87 yards later he was in the end zone and the rout was on. To add insult to injury, The Colts D forced a punt, leaving even more time for Manning to go to work, though with time running out, they settled for a field goal and 31-3 half time lead. Denver found no answers in the second half, not scoring on their opening second half drive, and you know what was next. Manning to Reggie Wayne this time and this one was over. The Colts advance to Kansas City next week.