Despite being extremely excited by the prospect of playoff football in the wildcard round (even though my team where nowhere near it) apart from the final NFC match up I was pretty disappointed by the games this weekend. And not just because my accumulator bet (a whole 5 English pounds) was lost after the first one.
I’m going to save the best till last (as the NFL seemed to this weekend) and not even mention THAT flag until later…
But first; poor Ryan Lindley. I put on twitter that I felt sorry for him and a couple of responses of ‘why’ came back my way. I know he’s playing sport at an elite level, I know he earns a lot of money and I know he just isn’t that good but surely this was the definition of ‘in at the deep end’. Only a few weeks ago he was on the practise squad at San Diego, I guess trying to learn that offense just in very unlikely case something occurred to both Philip Rivers & Kellen Clemens . To be thrown back into the Cardinals, to revert to that playbook and oh….how about a playoff game – seemed a bit of a tall order from the start. Lets not forget that Arizona do have a fourth round rookie QB in Logan Thomas who it seems was ‘not ready’. It was an unfortunate situation for Lindley – everyone knew he wasn’t good enough to start with but seemingly the Cardinals believed there wasn’t another viable option. I mean…the Houston Texans had to take Case Keenum out of a tree. The game was recording breaking for the Cardinals; for all the wrong reasons – the Panthers holding them to only 78 yards total offense (the worst ever in the playoffs).
The 27-16 victory was Cam Newton’s first since being drafted first overall in 2011 and continued the Panthers recent run of good form; Jonathan Stewart putting in a notable performance with 128 rushing yards. The Panthers were solid; not spectacular but poor special teams play compounded the Cardinals offensive woes – by the end of the third quarter I was wondering how long until the Steelers/Ravens…the answer was too long!
Well it wouldn’t have mattered for my bet if Arizona had won, because my next pick, the Steelers fell pretty hard to the power of the Baltimore Ravens in a slightly less expected 30-17 defeat. It was a story of fumbles, sacks and interceptions for Big Ben and the Steelers’ offense as the Ravens defense forced number 7 into numerous mistakes; and an apology to the entire Steelers fanbase and organisation in the post game press conference. Flacco, on the other hand, with no interceptions, 259 yards and 2 touchdowns was consistent, leading the Ravens to score 10 points in each quarter except the first.
Onto Sunday and Andy Dalton did it again…not really much more to say. Maybe I was being too optimistic when I suggested that this could be the year- clearly Mr Dalton can just not win playoff games. This interesting graphic pretty much sums up the Bengals post season form in recent years (and makes me feel better as a Jets fan!)
Aside from that pretty poor showing from the injury plagued Bengals who struggled without star wideout AJ Green, the game really belonged to Andrew Luck who put up 376 yards. Coach Chuck Pagano described Luck’s play as ‘outstanding’, particularly his 36 yard on the run pass to Donte Moncrief for a third quarter TD. The 26-10 score reflected well on the Colts impressive offense … Less so on Dalton and Marvin Lewis. Surely something needs to change in Cinci. I guess the problem is that good QBs aren’t easy to find – that’s how the Cardinals ended up with their problems…but how many more years of this will the Bengals take without a change?
And finally…onto big ‘D’- a game of controversy which provided the best entertainment of the weekend. It was the only game I didn’t want to switch off, which was great considering it was still going on in the early hours of Monday morning – the curse of the UK NFL fan! I’m not going to dwell too much on the mysterious case of the disappearing flag except to say it clearly was a penalty. It seems like the ‘dream team’ approach to providing officiating teams in the playoffs was part cause of the bad communications. Although it came at what could have been a game winning moment for the Lions (the penalty would have given a first down within scoring distance to increase their lead), it wasn’t the only factor in the Lions loss. Whereas Jason Garrett showed real confidence in his team successfully going for it twice on fourth down (including the crucial 4th& 6 in the 4th quarter). Jim Caldwell was less fiery, choosing to punt on 4th and 1 which in the end was botched & led to that just mentioned winning drive by Dallas. Dallas however were not perfect, Romo was sacked 6 times and the powerful Lions defense all but shut Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray down, especially in the first half. It was another game of fumbles : no more so than DeMarcus Lawrence’s fumbled recovery of Stafford’s fumble in the last 2 minute. Luckily (for Dallas) he redeemed himself shortly after by sacking the Lions QB and this time safely recovering the ball to effectively end the game in the Cowboys favour. The refereeing controversy will continue to irk Lions fans and dominate analysis of this game but what’s done is done and Romo and his crew march on.
So that was wildcard weekend. Not the best weekend of football ever seen but some interesting moments both positive and negative.
As for my accumulator picks, I finished 0-4. I think next week I’ll save the fiver.