Joe Flacco still can't beat Ben Roethlisberger. In the six meetings between the two quarterbacks, Big Ben is an unblemished 6-0.
This one was probably the toughest for Roethlisberger. Baltimore held a 21-7 lead, but self-destructed in the third quarter. In four drives, the team went fumble, three-and-out, interception and fumble. Pittsburgh was up by a field goal in the blink of an eye.
Flacco had a chance at the very end, however. In the team's penultimate drive, Anquan Boldin dropped a touchdown after a bogus holding call wiped out a punt return for a score. On the ensuing possession, T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped a first-down conversion on what would be the final play of the game for the visitor.
As Adam Schefter cleverly tweeted, "Newly-acquired WRs Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were supposed to be the difference for the Ravens. They were."
Flacco was just 16-of-30 for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Though Baltimore scored 24 points, Flacco had very little to do with it. Fourteen points came via Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall lost fumbles. In fact, the Ravens had just 94 yards through three quarters (compared to Pittsburgh's 199).
Ray Rice, who was responsible for one of the third-quarter fumbles, had only 19 touches. He didn't enjoy any success on the ground (12-32, TD) but was predictably very effective in the passing game. One has to wonder what Cam Cameron was thinking by not giving the ball enough to his best player.
Roethlisberger was heavily pressured in this game (6 sacks), so he played remarkably well considering how many defenders were in his face the entire afternoon. Big Ben went 19-of-32 for 226 yards and two touchdowns, which includes a clutch 3rd-and-19 conversion late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown.
Mendenhall had that decisive score. He found the end zone twice, but struggled to find room against the Ravens' front (20-46).
Packers 48, Falcons 21
Wow. I had a good feeling the Packers would win - they were a five-unit pick of mine - but I did not expect this. Green Bay absolutely dominated this game, and the 48-21 result doesn't even indicate how lopsided this matchup was.
The Packers outgained the Falcons, 442-194. All of Atlanta's touchdowns were bogus; the first came off a Greg Jennings fumble. The second was a kickoff returned for a touchdown. And the third came in garbage time. As great as Aaron Rodgers was, the defense was a major part of why this was a massive blowout.
Matt Ryan had no chance. He was sacked five times and intercepted twice by Tramondous Williams (one returned for a score). Ryan finished 20-of-29 for 186 yards, one touchdown, the two picks and a lost fumble. Atlanta's front office will need to add weapons around Ryan this offseason; aside from Roddy White, he has nothing.
And that includes Tony Gonzalez. He's done. The one bad thing about watching Green Bay win was witnessing the end of Tony Gonzalez's career. Gonzalez, a complete shell of his former self, caught just one pass for seven yards. Though he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Gonzalez has never won a playoff game.
The Falcons became the third No. 1 seed in the NFC to lose in the divisional round in the past four years. The previous two No. 1 seeds - 2007 Cowboys, 2008 Giants - failed to make the playoffs the following season.
As for the Packers, Rodgers was nearly perfect. He went 31-of-36 for 366 yards and four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush). Rodgers now has 12 touchdowns in his first three playoff starts - the most by any quarterback in such a span; the previous record-holder was Daryle Lamonica (10).
Rodgers converted third downs all night, showcasing his trademark ability to elude pass-rushers in the pocket and extend plays. Troy Aikman said that Rodgers would be his first choice at quarterback if he were starting a franchise from scratch.
Three Packers had at least six receptions: Greg Jennings (8-101), Jordy Nelson (8-79, TD) and Donald Driver (6-76). Jennings had what seemed like a key fumble that resulted in a Falcons touchdown in the first quarter, but the Packers were so unstoppable on offense - they didn't punt once - that it didn't matter whatsoever.
James Starks didn't post pretty stats (25-66), but ran really effectively. Starks is very talented and should be Green Bay's starting running back entering the 2011 NFL season.
The worst moment in the NFL season occurred after the third quarter in this contest: the announcement of the Punt, Pass and Kick winners. My reaction on the forums when I realized that I'd have to endure this:
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Not the punt pass and kick winners AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH OH GOD MAKE IT STOP MAAKEEEEEEEEEEEE ITTTTTTTTT STOOOOOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPPP
Bears 35, Seahawks 24
The Chiefs were exposed as a fraud last week. The Falcons' supposed homefield advantage at the Georgia Dome was similarly revealed as a farce on Saturday. Unfortunately for my January NFL Pick of the Month, we couldn't go three for three.
The Chicago Bears will live for another week, thanks to the Seahawks completely beating themselves in every facet of this game. Seattle dropped a whopping seven passes in the first half (Mike Williams 3, Cameron Morrah 1, Golden Tate 1, Brandon Stokley 1, Ben Obomanu 1). Make it eight drops if you count Jordan Babineaux's failed attempt at an interception in the first quarter.
Jay Cutler tossed the ball right to Babineaux, who couldn't come up with the turnover and perhaps subsequent touchdown. That was the turning point of the game - well, one of the two - because Chicago scored a touchdown a couple of plays later to make it 14-0.
The other turning point was John Carlson's concussion on the second drive of the game. Carlson was a major part of the offensive game plan, and his absence was huge for the Seahawks, who couldn't move the chains whatsoever until the fourth quarter. In fact, Morrah, Carlson's replacement, had a huge drop later on that same possession.
Matt Hasselbeck went 26-of-46 for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers could have been even better if it weren't for all those drops (he had two more by Mike Williams in the second half).
Despite a horrendous regular season, Hasselbeck has stepped up and performed well in the playoffs. The Seahawks should bring him back while they groom Charlie Whitehurst or another young signal-caller.
As for the other quarterback, Cutler went 15-of-28 for 274 yards and four touchdowns (2 pass, 2 rush). However, it could have been much worse for Cutler. He had that aforementioned dropped interception in the end zone. He also fumbled, which was fortunately recovered by his own lineman. Additionally, Cutler tossed a couple of sketchy passes that had a chance of being picked off.
Cutler's offensive line played a lot better than most people thought it would. It's unclear though if this was just a result of Seattle sucking or not; remember, the Packers sacked Cutler six times in the season finale, so the city of Chicago should wait a while before throwing a parade for its offensive front.
The line thrived in both pass protection and run blocking. The Seahawks couldn't stop Matt Forte (25-80) or Chester Taylor (11-44, TD), negating opportunities for Cutler to screw up. Seattle consequently also had problems containing Greg Olsen (3-113, TD), as the athletic tight end beat Lawyer Milloy for the game's opening score.
Jets 28, Patriots 21
I'm really speechless. I can't believe the Patriots lost. I thought this game would be close - I had the Jets covering - but I never thought that New York had a chance to win this game.
But this is why the NFL playoffs are great. You never really know what to expect. I'd go off on a tangent about how great a college football playoff system would be, but I'm really not in the mood. Blame Pete Carroll and those stupid Seattle receivers, but I digress.
The Patriots just looked complacent the entire evening. They showed no sense of urgency until there were about four minutes left and they realized, "Ah crap, we might actually lose this thing." New England just took the Jets lightly, and can you blame them? A 45-3 victory over the same team would do that.
Still though, I'm a bit surprised that Tom Brady played so stoically. A week ago, Rex Ryan called Brady "overrated" and a product of Bill Belichick's system. I thought we'd see a furious Brady against the Jets. In fact, this is why I didn't make the Jets a multi-unit selection. Brady generally plays with a big chip on his shoulder, but he just looked like he didn't care.
Note that I don't want to make it sound like it's all on Brady. He went 29-of-45 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He took five sacks and had to hurry a lot of his throws. The play-calling was abysmal as well. But Brady just seemed off.
Fortunately for Brady, he'll get over this one pretty quickly. As Ted Berg tweeted, "Tom Brady's going to be thinking about this one tonight, when he's sleeping with a supermodel atop piles of money."
Having said all that, I don't want to take anything away from the Jets. Ryan came up with an unbelievable game plan. He undoubtedly locked himself in a room after that 45-3 defeat and worked tediously to come up with a solution for the New England offense. Well done, Rex.
Mark Sanchez also deserves a ton of credit. Some of his early throws were off the mark, but he settled in and finished the game brilliantly, going 16-of-25 for 194 yards and three touchdowns. Sanchez's score to Santonio Holmes (3-20, TD) was a thing of beauty, and I'm still not sure how Holmes got his knee down inbounds.
A strong running game helped Sanchez. Shonn Greene (17-76, TD) and LaDainian Tomlinson (10-43) trampled their second straight opponent, as the Jets' offensive line pushed around New England's defensive front.