NFL 2008-2009–Divisionals Recap

The NFL divisional playoffs featured “rematch weekend.” All of these teams squared off during the regular season.

Forget the flowery language. Let’s play football.

Baltimore Ravens@ Tennessee Titans–This game was expected to be a head knocker. These teams both play suffocating defense. For the entire decade, these teams share a mutual respect and bitter hatred. The 2000 season saw the 13-3 Titans and 12-4 Ravens slug it out in Nashville. Earlier in the year, both teams won on the other’s field. A 10-10 game in the 4th quarter was broken when the go ahead field goal by Al Del Greco was blocked and returned for a touchdown. The shocker was complete when a Steve McNair pass for Eddie George was ripped out of George’s hands by Ray Lewis, who took it back for the touchdown and the 24-10 Ravens win.

The 2003 season saw the Titans travel to Baltimore for another playoff game between them. A bitter game saw Eddie George get in Ray Lewis’s face. A 17-17 tie was broken when Gary Anderson nailed a field goal with 29 seconds left to give the Titans the 20-17 win. In this series, the road team often wins.

2008 had McNair and George Retired, but Ray Lewis still as tenacious as ever. Earlier in the year, Tennessee overcame a 10-3 4th quarter deficit to win a 13-10 victory over the Ravens. Again, the road team won. Again it was a bloody and defensive bonelock. The playoff game rematch was every bit as tough, as again a 13-3 Titans team tried to get their best record in the league to a Super Bowl. The 11-5 Ravens were ready.

Tennessee began their second possession from their own 35. Kerry Collins hit Chris Johnson for 28 yards down to the Baltimore 37. From the 28, Collins hit Justin Gage for 20 yards. Johnson ran it on from 8 yards out to put the Titans up 7-0. Just like 8 years earlier, the Titans scored a first quarter touchdown only to not reach the end zone again. The Ravens took over at their own 20. Facing 3rd and 13 from the Tennessee 48, Joe Flacco went deep to Derrick Mason for the touchdown. The game was tied 7-7 after the opening quarter. Neither team reached the end zone again.

The second and third quarters were both scoreless, but the storyline consisted of multiple missed opportunities for the Titans. Chris Johnson ran wild in the first half, but he was injured during the second quarter. He did not play in the second half, and it did matter. The Titans took over a tie game from their own 27. Chris Johnson ran for 9 yards, and then ripped off a 32 yard gain to the Baltimore 32. On 3rd and 3 from the 25, a running play lost 5 yards. Jeff Fisher bypassed a 47 yard field goal attempt. On 4th and 8, a fumbled snap out of the shotgun led to a turnover on downs, and the first missed opportunity.

Tennessee began their next possession at their own 1 yard line. On 3rd and 10 for the 1, Collins hit Hall for 11 yards. Hall got blasted by Ray Lewis, but the first down was picked up. On 3rd and 2 from the 20, Collins hit Gage for gains of 10 and 24 yards. On 3rd and 3 from the Baltimore 27, a penalty backed the Titans up 5 yards. On the next play, facing a blitz up the middle, Collins threw up a duck before being belted. The pass was intercepted by McCareins. An 8 minute drive resulted in no points and a second wasted opportunity.

After another punt the Titans took over at their own 28 with 2:24 left in the half. Collins moved the Titans in position, and with 36 seconds left in the half, the Titans faced 3rd and 4 at the Baltimore 22. Lendale White picked up the first down on the ground, but then put the ball on the ground. The Ravens recovered the fumble. The third missed opportunity, all in the second quarter, left the game a 7-7 tie at halftime in a game the Titans were statistically dominating.

In the third quarter, an exchange of punts led to the Titans starting at their own 45. Collins hit White for 19 yards. On 3rd and 7 from the Baltimore 33, a pass appeared to pick up 5 yards to set up a 46 yard field goal attempt. Yet John Harbaugh challenged the completion, and the call was overturned. A 51 yard field goal by Rob Bironas, who earlier was denied the chance to try a 47 yarder, was wide. A fourth wasted opportunity kept the game 7-7.

Very late in the third quarter, a 29 yard punt return by Leonhard had the Ravens starting at the Tennessee 41. Flacco went deep to Mark Clayton, who mad ean acrobatic catch in double couverage for a 37 yard gain down to the 4 yard line. As the clock clicked into the fourth quarter, the Ravens failed to score a touchdown. A chip shot Matt Stover field goal put the Ravens up 10-7 less than one minute into the final quarter of a game they were getting demolished on everywhere except the scoreboard.

The Titans took over on their own 36 and Collins went right to work. He hit White for 14 yards, and WHite picked up another 11 on the ground. On 3rd and 11 from the 40, Collins hit Gage for 14 yards. On 3rd and 9 from the 25, Collins hit Gage for 11 yards. On 2nd and 9 from the 13, Collins hit Alge Crumpler. Then a pair of defenders hit Crumpler at the 6 yard line, and he Crumpled to the ground without the football. The Ravens recovered at the 1 yard line. The Titans had literally squandered a fifth opportunity with 9 minutes remaining in the game.

After a punt the Titans took over at the Baltimore 42 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining. Collins hit Jones for 11, and White then picked up 12 on the ground to the Baltimore 19. On 3rd and 10, Collins hit Gage for 9 yards. On 4th and 1 from the 10, in a game where nothing went right for Tennessee, Jeff Fisher made what appeared to be the wise decision. He had Bironas kick the gimme field goal. The game was tied 10-10 with 4 1/2 minutes remaining, in a game dominated by the defenses.

The Ravens took over at their own 24. On 3rd and 2 from the 32, Flacco hit Todd Heap for 23 yards to the Tennessee 45. Although the play clock appeared to run out, a delay of game penalty was not called. The gain stood. This non-call was not reviewed, and it proved decisive. Replay clearly showed Flacco not getting the snap off in time. On 2nd and 10, McGahee picked up 11 yards to the 34. Flacco hot Clayton for 8 yards. On 4th and 1 from the 25, Matt Stover came in for the go ahead field goal attempt with 57 seconds left. Once again, a Ravens game against the Titans came down to a kick.

Matt Stover was on the original Ravens team that moved from Cleveland. He drilled the kick, and the Ravens led. The Titans took over at their own 35, but in a game dominated by defense, the defense held again. Again, the road team had won a war of attrition. Again, the Titans saw a 13-3 NFL best record go down in flames on their home field against Ray Lewis and the Ravens. These teams should play every year in the playoffs, and refuse to accept home field advantage.

The Titans outgained the Ravens 391-211, and led in first downs 21-9 and time of possession 34 minutes to 26. Yet 12 penalties for 89 yards in addition to 3 turnovers killed the Titans. For the 15th straight year, a top seed has failed to reach the Super Bowl. The one team the Titans did not want to play was the Ravens. 13-10 Ravens

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers–The Panthers were the only team in the league this year to go an unbeaten 8-0 at home. The last time they did was in 1996, when they reached the NFC Title Game. They were expected to crush Arizona to reach their 4th NFC Title game in their 14 year history. Arizona began 7-3 but limped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Somehow despite going 2-4 down the stretch, they beat Atlanta. Nevertheless, their luck was about to run out. Earlier in the year, Arizona did lead Carolina 17-3 in Carolina, but the Panthers came back and won 27-23. They had beaten Arizona 5 straight times. This game was going to be a Carolina laugher, especially since Arizona receiver Anquon Boldinw as out with a hamstring injury.

Cuing the wisdom of the ESPN version of Solomon, Chris Berman, “That’s…why they play the games.” This game was a shocker. The opening kickoff was returned by Jones 39 yards to start Carolina off at midfield. On 3rd and 7 from the 47, Jake Delhomme hit Hoover for 7 yards to the 40. On the next play Deangelo Williams ran 31 yards to the Arizona 9. Stewart ran it on the next play. Only 3 minutes into the game, the Panthers led 7-0, and the easy route was on. The Cardinals did take over at their own 40, but after reaching the Carolina 26, they ended up punting on 4th and 23 from the 39. The easy Carolina route was on.

Except it wasn’t. After a punt, the Cardinals again took over at their own 40. On 3rd and 1 form the 49, Kurt Warner went deep to Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald outleaped 2 Carolina defenders for a 41 yard gain down to the 10 yard line. Carolina has all world Steve Smith, but Fitzgerald ruled on this day. Smith had no catches in the first half. Fitzgerald finished with 166 yards on 8 catches. Warner hit Hightower for a 3 yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7.

At this point Jake Delhomme began a day of self destruction. By the end of his worst game as a pro, he had 6…yes 6…turnovers. 5 interceptions killed the Panthers, but the pain started when Delhomme was sacked, resulting in a fumble. This was the first play from scrimmage after Arizona tied the game. Smith got a big paw on Delhomme’s throwing hand, and recovere dthe fumble at the Carolina 13. Edgerrin James gained 9 yards on a pass from Warner, and then ran it in for the final 4 yards to put the Cardinals up 14-7 after the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Panthers began at their own 23. Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammade for 15 yards. He then went deep to Smith. The pass was incomplete, but only because of a blatant defensive pass interference call. From the Arizona 15, the Panthers were in business until Delhomme was intercepted at the one yard line. Warner drove the Cardinals from their own 20 to the Carolina 31. Neil Rackers drilled a 49 yard field goal to give the Cardinals a surprising 17-7 lead.

After a punt, Warner kept firing. He led the Cardinals from their own 38 to a 3rd and 1 from the Carolina 13. A run failed to convert, and Ken Whisenhunt opted for the field goal and a 20-7 Arizona lead. Delhomme again needed only one play to throw another interception, giving Arizona the ball at the Carolina 44. Warner hit Fitzgerald for a 29 yard touchdown to put the Cardinals up 27-7. After a punt, with 1:52 left in the half, Warner led the Cardinals from their own 27 to the Carolina 36. Rackers did miss the 53 yard field goal, but it did not matter.

The second half saw Warner firing passes to Arizona receivers and Delhomme firing passes to Arizona defenders. The Cardinals also ran the ball 43 times and held the ball for 40 minutes. Rackers added a field goal in the third quarter and a chip shot in the fourth quarter after a 7 1/2 minute drive fell 3 yards short. A garbage touchdown with less than a minute remaining did not alter the fact that the Arizona Cardinals, forever lovable losers, are in the NFC Title Game. They even had a chance of hosting the game. Carolina was one play away in Week 17 of regulation from being the top seed. Instead, in a playoff stunner, John Fox and his team are done. The 9-7 Cardinals shocked the football world and the 12-4 Panthers. The game was a blowout, but not as expected. 33-13 Cardinals

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants–Each of these tams won on the road during their matchups this year. Early in the season, the Giants went into Philadelphia and won a shootout 36-31. Late in the season, with the Giants looking virtually invincible, a desperate Eagles team shocked the Giants in the Meadowlands. Philadelphia beat the hell out of them on defense, taking a 20-7 lead before giving up a garbage touchdown with seconds left to create the illusion of a competitive 20-14 game. A snowstorm the night before may have been a factor, but on this day the bitter cold and swirling winds were bad enough.

Ahmad Bradshaw returned the opening kickoff 65 yards to the Philadelphia 35. On 4th and 2 from the 27, Tom Coughlin decided to go for it due to the horrendous conditions for kicking. Brandon Jacobs picked up 3 yards. The Giants did penetrate deep, but on 4th and 3 from the 4, a short field goal put the Giants up 3-0. However, after a punt, the Giants began their next drive at their own 13. Eli Manning was intercepted by Asante Samuel, and his 25 yard return set up the Eagles at the Giants 2 yard line. Donovan McNabb snuck over from a yard out to put the Eagles up 7-3.

In the second quarter it was the defense that got the Giants on the board. After a punt pinned the Eagles at the 5 yard line, McNabb went back to pass from his own end zone. His incomplete pass was ruled intentional grounding, and the safety made it a 7-5 game. The Giants took the free kick and began at their own 32. From just past midfield, Manning hit Kevin Boss for 21 yards down to the Philly 28. However, the drive moved no further, and a 46 yard field goal attempt by John Carney was wide right.

With 4 minutes left in the half, McNabb was intercepted, and the Giants began at their own 20. Jacobs ran for 24 yards, Derrick Ward picked up 5 more, and Manning hit Boss for 25 yards to the Philadelphia 26. On 4th and 1 from the 17, Coughlin decided not to go for it. This time Carney was good from 34 yards out, and the Giants led 8-7 with 1:38 left in the half. Yet that was enough time for McNabb, starting from the Philly 25. He hit Jackson and Avant for gains of 14 and 15 yards. McNabb added a 12 yard scramble of his own as the Eagles reached the Giant 7 yard line. The Eagles failed on one attempt to the end zone before kicking the field goal to lead 10-8 at halftime.

A strong kickoff return to start the second half had the Eagles starting at their own 47. However, McNabb was intercepted again, as Fred Robbins returned it 17 yards to the Philadelphia 33. Jacobs picked up gains of 11 and 5 before the drive stalled at the 17. A field goal had the giants leading 11-10 in this see-saw game. The Eagles came right back as McNabb led a 12 play, 5 minute drive that went from the Philly 25 to the Giants 17. On 3rd and 20 from their own 15, McNabb somehow avoided traffic to hit Avant for 21 yards. On 3rd and 10 from the Giants 41, McNabb hit Buckhalter for 19 yards. David Akers nailed the 36 yard field goal to put the Eagles back in front 13-11.

The Giants took over at their own 31. From the 36, Manning went deep and hit Dominic Hixon for 34 yards to the Philadelphia 30. The drive stalled, and a 47 yard field goal attempt by Carney was wide left. His second miss of the day was critical because it came with the wind. Even more critical was what happened next. The Eagles took over at their own 37. On 3rd and 5 from the 42, McNabb hit Curtis for 8 yards. A 6 yard toss to Smith with a 15 yard face mask tacked on had Philadelphia at the Giants 29. McNabb then hit Curtis for 15 yards to the 14. On 3rd and 1 from the 5, Westbrook picked up 4 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter, McNabb hit Celek for the 1 yard touchdown. The Eagles led 20-11, and the Giants had to go into the wind in the fourth quarter.

The Giants took over at their own 24. On 4th and inches from their own 44, Coughlin decided to go for it. Eli Manning ran the quarterback sneak straight into Broderick Bunkley and the rest of the Eagles defense. 12 1/2 minutes remained. On 4th and 2 from the Giants 37, Andy Reid decided to punt rather than attempt a 54 yard field goal. Even with the wind, it was the right call.  The Giants took over at their own 11 with 10 1/2 left. On 3rd and 2 from their own 47, out of a Wildcat formation, the Giants failed to convert. On 4th and 2 the Giants gave it to the big bruiser Jacobs. Again the Eagles held as the Giants turned it over on downs with 6 1/2 minutes left.

Despite being a good football team, won of the main weaknesses of the Eagles is their running game. Too often they pass on 3rd and 1 because they do not have the ability to run it. So the Eagles did what they do. Rather than try to keep grinding down the clock, they kept passing. McNabb went deep, and a catch had the Eagles with 1st and goal at the one yard line. A pair of attempts by Westbrook to leap over the top had him being knocked back one yard. The Eagles settled for a field goal and a 12 point lead with 4 minutes left.

Manning needed only 2 plays to be intercepted by Mikell to end any threat. Last year it was the Giants that went on the road and shocked heavily favored Dallas. This year the Giants were the favorites, and Philadelphia simply smacked them around in the 4th quarter. Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid are going to their 5th NFC Title game in 10 years together. To think McNabb was benched and considered done in Philadelphia only a few weeks ago is unfathomable. 23-11 Eagles

1993 was the last year that both top seeds made it to the Super Bowl. Almost every year since then, exactly one top seed went down in flames before reaching the big dance. Yet during that 14 year span, one of the top seeds survived. 1992 and 1997 saw both top seeds go down. 1992 had the 13-3 Cowboys upset the 14-2 49ers 30-20 in an NFL classic. The 11-5 Bills defeated the 11-5 Dolphins 29-10, although that was not considered much of an upset as both teams had won on the road that year during the regular season. 1997 saw the 12-4 Broncos defeat the 13-3 Chiefs in a 14-10 war of attrition. It was not considered an upset. The 13-3 Packers throttled the 13-3 49ers 23-10, although the Packers were favored going in. 2008 saw the Titans and Giants go down. In the NFC, the top 3 seeds all lost, with the # 4 seed hosting the NFC Title Game for the first time ever.

San Diego Chargers @ Pittsburgh Steelers–The snow was coming down for this game, but the conditions were much worse during their regular season matchup. Near blizzard conditions saw the Steelers survive 11-10. All the road teams had won on this weekend coming into this game, and favorites were going down in rapid succession. If Norvelous Norv Turner and the 8-8 Chargers defeated the 12-4 Steelers, the league might declare seeding and home field advantage meaningless. Landanian Tomlinson was on the sidelines, proving that a San Diego win would turn Norv Turner into the reincarnation of Lazarus.

The ghosts of 1994 were lurking in the background. That was the year that the Chargers, led by miracle worker Bobby Ross and tough as nails quarterback Stan Humphries, went into Pittsburgh and shocked the heavily favored Steelers in the AFC Title Game. The Steelers led 13-3 in the 4th quarter, but a pair of deep passes had the Chargers leading 17-13. Neil O’Donnell led the Steelers to a 4th and goal at the 3 yard line, where his final pass was broken up. San Diego went to their own only Super Bowl while the Steelers would have to wait until the following season under the banner of “3 more yards.”

2008 began with the possibility of a repeat shock. The Chargers went right to work from their own 25. Philip Rivers hit Antonio Gates for 21 yards. From the Pittsburgh 41, Rivers went deep to Vincent Jackson, who made an acrobatic touchdown catch 2 minutes into the game to put the Chargers up 7-0. A short kickoff had the Steelers starting at their own 42. They drove to the San Diego 34, but on 4th and 8 Mike Tomlin decided against a 51 yard field goal in terrible conditions. Ben Roethlisberger lined up to go for it, but instead Big Ben punted the ball to the San Diego 9. San Diego punted back, and Santonio Holmes brought it back 67 yards for the tying touchdown. Holmes evaded the kicker, leapt over a tackler like an Olympic hurdler, and took out the cameraman in the end zone.

Midway through the second quarter, the Steelers decided to punt on 4th and 1 from their own 48. Tomlin called a fake punt that was blown up in the backfield for a 4 yard loss. San Diego took over at the Pittsburgh 44, and reached the 24 before settling for a 42 yard Nate Kaeding field goal and 10-7 Chargers lead with 1:56 left in the half. Pittsburgh took over at their own 34, and Roethlisberger hit Holmes for 15 yards. From the San Diego 44, Roethlisberger went deep to Hines Ward for a 41 yard gain down to the 3 yard line. Willie Parker ran it in on the next play, giving the Steelers the 14-10 halftime lead.

The Steelers took the second half kickoff and went 77 yards in 13 plays, eating up 8 minutes of clock. On 3rd and 7 from the Pittsburgh 41, Roethlisberger hit Holmes for 10 yards. On 3rd and 11 from midfield, Big Ben hit Nate Washington for 18 yards. On 3rd and 8 from the 30, Big Ben hit Heath Miller for 18 yards. An 8 yard touchdown pass to Miller completed the drive. The Chargers ran only one play in the entire third quarter, resulting in an interception of Rivers. A muffed San Diego punt had the Steelers at the San Diego 28 as the Steelers led 21-10 after three quarters.

Roethlisberger hit Ward for 19 yards, with a defensive penalty tacking 5 more yards on. Yet on 2nd and goal and 3rd and goal from the 1, Russell failed to score. The first play of the fourth quarter had the Steelers going for the knockout blow on 4th and goal from the 1. Davis was stuffed, and the goal line stand gave the Chargers hope. The hope did not last long. AFter a punt, the Steelers took over just past midfield. From the San Diego 45, Roethlisberger went for all the marbles to Washington. Defensive pass interference in the end zone placed the ball on the one yard line. This time Russell did break through, and the Steelers led 28-10 with 13 minutes left in the game.

The Chargers took over at their own 27. On 3rd and 10, after a sack, Rivers hit Brandon Manumaleuna for 14 yards. On 3rd and 10 form the Pittsburgh 48, Rivers hit Chris Chambers for gains of 15 and 25 yards. Rivers tossed the 4 yard touchdown pass to Nannee to pull the Chargers to within 28-17 with 9 minute left. Yet the Steelers had too much fire power. Willie Parker took over, with rushes of 27 and 7 yards. Parker ran it in from 16 yards out to put the final nail in the coffin. This time, the heavy favorites actually won. 35-24 Steelers

AFC Title Game: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC Title Game: Philadelphia Eagles @ Arizona Cardinals


3 Responses to “NFL 2008-2009–Divisionals Recap”

  1. […] here: NFL 2008-2009–Divisionals Recap | THE TYGRRRR EXPRESS baltimore, cardinals, carolina, eagles, game, giants, ground, half, over-at-their, panthers, […]

  2. I am just real happy that the Chargers lost. . .


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