WOW!! I don’t remember an NFL divisional playoff weekend like the one we just saw! It was amazing. Let’s take a look at each game in the AFC Conference:
Baltimore Ravens 38 - Denver Broncos 35:
The first game of the NFL divisional playoff weekend may very well have been the best. This game had it all: it went into double overtime, making it the fourth longest game in playoff history.
How about Broncos return specialist 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 Ravens LB 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? The Denver defense played like one of the NFL’s best all year, but in this game, they played terribly. 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 Denver’s kicker Matt Prater would have been able to get a shot had the Broncos tried to win the game. It was a horrible coaching decision. No one knows 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. The Baltimore Ravens started to gain momentum when QB Joe Flacco found WR Jacoby Jones on a touchdown that ESPN’s Chris Berman has dubbed the “Rocky Mountain Rainbow.” The Denver secondary allowing a wide receiver to get that far behind them is simply unacceptable.
The other defining play of the game was Peyton Manning‘s interception. He threw across his body, and Corey Graham picked it 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.
New England Patriots 41 - Houston Texans 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 stellar TE Rob Gronkowski (who re-injured his forearm and is done for the postseason) and RB Danny Woodhead.
As usual, the Patriots were able to replace important players. RB Shane Vereen stepped 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.
My reactions to the NFC Divisional games will be posted at 1 p.m. Dallas time.