WOW!! I don't remember an NFL divisional playoff weekend like the one we just saw ever! It was amazing. The Stack is here to talk abll about it all of the games over the weekend as well as a couple of other newsworthy notes so let's get right to it and see what made "the stack" for today, Monday, January 14:
Baltimore 38 Denver 35
The first game of the NFL divisonal playoff weekend may very well have been the best. This game had it all. Double overtime, fourth longest game in playoff history. How about Trindon Holliday becoming the first player in NFL playoff history with a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown? He had almost as many touchdowns (2) as the Broncos offense did (3). Then there was Ray Lewis, possibly playing in his last career game, recording seventeen tackles and helping lead a defense that came up with several big stands. What about Joe Flacco making some unbelievable throws like the two touchdowns to Torrey Smith and the game-tying touchdown to Jacoby Jones with thirty seconds left? How could the Denver defense play that poorly on such a critical play in the game? That defense had played so well this year. They were one of the NFL's best during the season and in this game, they played like absolute crap. I'm still baffled by head coach John Fox's decision not to try and win the game in regulation after the Ravens tied it up. Thirty-one seconds left and two timeouts. Surely Matt Prater would have been able to get a shot had the Broncos tried to win the game. Terrible coaching move. Don't know if they would have gotten it, but they would have at least shown an effort.
This was an amazing performance by a team that many people gave a chance. And they gained the momentum when Flacco found Jones on a touchdown that ESPN's Chris Berman has dubbed the "Rocky Mountain Rainbow." How the Denver defense could let a wide receiver get behind them is simply unacceptable. The other defining play of the game of course is Peyton Manning's interception he threw across his body that Corey Graham picked off for the Ravens. That set up the game-winning field goal and the rest as they say is history. Clearly Manning was trying to channel his inner Brett Favre, but this does damage his legacy. Manning consistently fails to win his first playoff game. I believe he is now 9-11. Not good. The throw was a bad one, but I don't blame this game on Manning entirely. The defense and coaching was bad in this one and the refs didn't help Denver either. Great win for the Ravens and Lewis and company get to fight another day against a familiar foe.
San Francisco 45 Green Bay Packers 31
How would Colin Kaepernick do in his first playoff game? First drive was not good. Pick six by the Packers put the 49ers in an early 7-0 hole. From there on out, Kaepernick was flawless. He set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 183 and scored two touchdowns on the ground as well as throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers ran by the Packers 45-31. What an incredible performance by Kaepernick. This game really helps vindicate head coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to name Kaepernick the starter over Alex Smith. The Packers defense had no answer for Kaepernick and the 49ers rushing attack. They were fooled so many times. Clay Mathews had no idea on multiple plays whether or not Kaepernick had the ball or not. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made a comment earlier in the week that playing against Vikings quarterback Joe Webb would perhaps help them prepare for Kaepernick's style of play. Obviously it didn't help that much. The 49ers played with such a passion and determination Saturday night that it will be really difficult for anyone to stop that option attack that the 49ers run, especially if Kaepernick throws it as effectively as he did Saturday night.
Atlanta 30 Seattle 28
If Baltimore-Denver was the game of the weekend, Seattle-Atlanta was a very close second. Quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith finally got their first playoff victory together though it was not easy, especially in the fourth quarter. The Falcons started out with a bang. They were sharp and on target, jumping out to a 20-0 halftime lead. The Seahawks left plenty of points out on the field in the first half. They went for it on 4th and 1 and didn't get it. They ran out of time at the end of the first half to even get a field goal. Multiple times in the first half they failed to take advantage of what the Falcons were giving them. The defense wasn't that good either.
Things changed at halftime though. The Seahawks drove right down the field and scored to make it a 20-7 game. The Falcons answered with a touchdown of their own and we were 27-7 entering the fourth quarter. That is when things got crazy. Seattle scored right away in the fourth quarter to close the gap 27-14. Ryan then made one of his classic playoff mistakes with a terrible interception into double coverage. Seattle drove down and scored again. All of the momentum was on their side. The Falcons and their fans had to be on edge. Everything had been going so good. What happened? The Falcons were choking just like they had in the other three playoff games in the Ryan/Smith era. It didn't stop as the Seahawks scored a touchdown with thirty-one seconds left to take a 28-27 lead. All the Falcons had worked for. Done. Finished. Over. But Ryan and company did not panic. Ryan found Harry Douglas for a first down near midfield. The next play, to Tony Gonzalez setting up Matt Bryant for a game-winning field goal. After Seattle took a timeout to ice Bryant (he practiced kicking a field goal after the timeout was called and missed), Bryant banged one through and the Falcons improbably had re-taken the lead 30-28. That drive was very similar to the drive a couple of years ago against the Chicago Bears when Ryan completed two passes to set up a Bryant field goal. This was almost de ja vu. Yet, the Falcons left too much time. A squib kick failed miserably, giving the Seahawks a chance, but Russell Wilson's pass was intercepted by Julio Jones and that was it. The Falcons won, sending the Seahawks packing. It was not easy for the Falcons and they may be in big trouble with Kaepernick and the 49ers attack coming to town. The Seahawks were able to gain yards in bunches in the second half. The Falcons need to shore up their defense to stop that attack.
New England 41 Houston 28
While not nearly the blowout as it was in December, the Patriots still found it pretty easy to get by the Texans. Their offense had plenty of success despite losing Rob Gronkowski who re-injured his forearm and is done for the postseason according to reports. They also lost Danny Woodhead. No problem though for the Patriots. Shane Vereen...step up to the plate. He had three touchdowns (one rushing and two receiving) and Tom Brady threw for over 300 yards. The Texans were inconsistent on offense and ultimately could not keep up with the Patriots. Their season surely will end as a disappointment given how good they looked through the first three months of the year. The Patriots now get a rematch with the Baltimore Ravens. They had an epic AFC Championship game last year and a thrilling game in Baltimore week 3 this year. It is going to be tough, but the Patriots will fight through the injuries and be ready for the test. They made a statement on Sunday.
Brian Kelly staying at Notre Dame
After flirting with the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL, Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly has decided to remain at the school, saying he wants to build the best football program in the country. A new deal is said to be in the works. It's a smart move by Kelly to remain at the school. Notre Dame is coming off of a BCS championship appearance and they have a great recruiting class coming in that will sign with the program. You need to be able to keep those recruits and they need to know that Kelly will be their the entire time they're in school. No more flirting with the NFL. This leaves the Eagles in a bind. Where do they turn now? All three college coaches they tried for (Bill O'Brien, Chip Kelly and Brian Kelly) all spurned them. Who knows where they will go now. After not having to go through this song and dance during the fourteen-year tenure of Andy Reid, it's clear that the Eagles don't really have a smooth process of finding their next head coach.
No more undefeated teams in college basketball
Entering the week, there were still a few undefeated teams in college basketball (Wyoming, Duke, Michigan among them). Now there are no more following losses to every team. Wyoming lost to Boise State, Duke lost to NC State and Michigan lost Sunday to Ohio State. There are a lot of good teams in college basketball this year, but perhaps none that are superior to the rest or without their flaws unlike the Kentucky team we saw last year. It is going to make for one whale of a March. Can't wait.
Finally, both the owners and players have voted for and approved of the new CBA deal and training camps have begun. The NHL drops the puck on their much awaited season this Saturday, January 19. For those of us that love hockey, it can't come soon enough.
Coming up Tuesday: Reaction to top stories from Monday.