NFL 2008-2009 Wildcard Recap

In the immortal words of retired coach Jim Mora…

“Playoffs? Are you kidding me? Playoffs? Don’t talk to me about playoffs! Playoffs? We’ll be lucky if we win another game!”

Yet after 17 weeks of regular season grappling, the playoffs are here.

Screw the hyperbole. Football doesn’t need it.

Below is the recap of the wild card games.

Atlanta Falcons @ Arizona Cardinals–Atlanta was one kick away from being the # 2 seed with a first round bye. Instead they came into the wild card game red hot against the limping Cardinals, who won the NFC Worst at 9-7. This was supposed to be a tuneup game for the Falcons.

The Cardinals did not see the game that way, and made a statement by intercepting Matt Ryan on his first pass. 2 time NFL MVP Kurt Warner then went deep to Larry Fitzgerald, who made a spectacular leaping catch between double coverage for a 42 yard touchdown and a 7-0 Cardinals lead. Ryan did lead the Falcons on a  14 play, 7 1/2 minute drive in the second quarter, but the drive bogged down in the red zone. On 4th and 1 from the 12, Coach Mike Smith opted for the field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3. Warner then responded right back with a 71 yard touchdown pass to Anquon Boldin to put the Cardinals up 14-3.

Yet the man known as Matty Ice coolly brought the Falcons back. Another 14 play drive ensued, this one taking 6 minutes and covering 77 yards. Michael Turner ran it in from 7 yards out to make it a 14-10 game. 3 minutes remained in the half, but that was enough time for Warner to get intercepted deep in his own territory. With 2 minutes left, the Falcons took over at the Arizona 23. With seconds left in the half, Ryan hit Peelle from 2 yards out to give the Falcons the 17-14 lead at halftime.

The key play of the game occurred right after the Falcons took the ball to begin the second half. On the second play from scrimmage, Ryan tried to hand the ball off. The play was blown up in the backfield, the ball popped up into the air, and Antrel Rolle plucked it out of the air and raced 27 yards for the touchdown. Out of nowhere the Cardinals were back on top 21-17. Later in the quarter it was Warner that bled the clock, leading a 14 play drive that ate up 76 yards and 8 minutes. Tim Hightower ran it in from 4 yards out to give the Cardinals the 28-17 lead after three quarters.

The Arizona defense came up big again early in the fourth quarter. After a punt pinned Atlanta at their own 3, Ryan went back to pass and was sacked for a safety. The Cardinals led 30-17 with 13 minutes left. The Cardinals failed to take advantage of the free kick, and after another punt, the Falcons took over at their own 42. Ryan moved the Falcons down the field, and his 5 yard touchdown pass to Roddy White had Atlanta within 6 points with 4:15 remaining in the game.

Rather than run out the clock, Ken WHisenhunt decided to continue with what worked for Arizona all season, the Greatest Show in the Desert. Warner began at the Arizona 20 and hit Fitzgerald for 15 yards. Warner then hit Steve Breaston for 25 yards. The deciding play came on 3rd and 16 from the Atlanta 46 with 2:17 remaining and the Falcons out of timeouts. One more stop and Atlanta would have a chance to win. Instead Warner fired to Spach for 23 yards, as Arizona ran out the clock for the shocking upset. The Cardinals travel to play Carolina next week in the divisionals. That’s why they play the games. 30-24 Cardinals

Indianapolis Colts @ San Diego Chargers–For some reason, the Colts cannot beat the Chargers. This game was supposed to be a Colts route. The Chargers had won 4 straight, but were terrible for 12 games. The Colts had won 9 straight. The Colts have Tony Dungy. The Chargers have Norveous Norv Turner. Yet somehow, the Colts just melt down against San Diego.

Peyton Manning had recently joined Brett Favre as only the second player to ever win the NFL MVP award 3 times. In the first quarter he looked every bit the MVP as he led an 81 yard drive in 5 minutes. From the Indy 45, Manning hit Anthony Gonzalez for gains of 36 and 17 yards to set up Joseph Addai from one yard out to put the Colts up 7-0.

The key player for San Diego was their punter Mike Scifres. 4 times in the game the Colts started at their own 10. In the second quarter, the Colts were forced to punt after being pinned deep, giving the CHargers the ball at the Indy 44. From the Indy 33, Philip Rivers hit Antonio Gates for 30 yards to set up Ladanian Tomlinson from 3 yards out to tie the game 7-7. An injured Tomlinson did very little after that. The problem for the Colts was that Tomlinson’s backup Darren Sproles gashed the Colts for 328 all purpose yards.

Manning came back and hit Gonzalez again, this time for 20 yards. The drive led to a field goal and a 10-7 Colts lead. Yet the Colts were killed by bad field position, and after punting again from deep in their own territory, the Chargers got the ball back at the Indy 44 with 3 minutes left in the half. Sproles ran it in from 9 yards out to give the Charegrs the 14-10 halftime lead.

In the third quarter the Colts began at their own 26. Manning quickly hit Reggie Wayne for 31 yards down to the San Diego 43. Yet on 3rd and 1 from the 34, Addai went nowhere. On 4th and 1, DUngy eschewed the long field goal. Rather than run it again, Manning rolled out and fired incomplete. The CHargers reached the Indy 47 but failed to convert on 3rd and 2. Nevertheless, another punt had the Colts starting at their own 9 yard line. Yet this time Manning simply fired away, and found Wayne for a 72 yard touchdown pass to put the Colts up 17-14.

The rest of the game saw the Chargers try to give the game away and the Colts refusing to accept the generosity. A 6 minute drive by the Chargers went to waste when Sproles fumbled at the Indy 2 yard line. The Colts recovered in the end zone for a touchback as the game entered the fourth quarter. With 12 1/2 minutes remaining, facing 1st and 10 from the Indy 32, Rivers was intercepted. The Colts failed to convert.

The Chargers had a drive stymied when Rivers was sacked, but a punt by Scifres died at the one yard line. 2:41 remained. A couple of runs had the Colts facing 3rd and 2 at their own 9. With the Chargers out of timeouts, all the Colts needed to do was to run 2 yards and then kneel on the ball. In a decision that may haunt the Colts the entire offseason, Dungy called a pass play. Manning was sacked back at the one yard line. Forced to punt from the back of the end zone, the Chargers took over at the Indy 38 with 1:48 remaining. Rivers hit Gates for a pair of 11 yard gains,and on 4th and 2 from the 8, Nate Kaeding tied the game and sent it into overtime tied 17-17.

The Chargers won the toss and never looked back, as Manning never took the field. The Chargers took over at their own 25. On 3rd and 11 from the 24, Rivers hit Sproles for 13 yards. Yet in a game that was played hard, it was a terribly officiated game, and the calls did not even out. 5 or 6 times in the game, Philip Rivers appeared to be guilty of intentional grounding. It was not called once. On 3rd and 8 from the Indy 40, an incomplete pass resulted in a highly questionable defensive holding penalty. On the next play, a run was blown up in the backfield only to result in a facemask that moved the ball down to the 20. From the 22, Sproles ran around the end and took it the distance, as the Colts were shocked by an inferioir Chargers team for the second straight year.

The penalty calls were dreadful, but the 8-8 Chargers defeated the 12-4 Colts. The year before the 11-5 Chargers took down the 14-2 Colts. Once again Norvelous Norv Turner has pulled a Lazarus act, although reality should set in when they travel next week to face Pittsburgh or Tennessee. The Colts just can’t beat the Chargers, no matter what the records. Again, that’s why they play the games. 23-17 Chargers, OT

Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins–These teams are both spectacular turnaround stories. Bill Parcells, Tony Sparano, and Chad Pennington took a 1-15 team and turned them into an 11-5 contender in one year. The only team they beat last year was Baltimore, who with rookie Coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco also came in at 11-5. Baltimore was the team last year that almost prevented New England from going 16-0. Both of these teams knocked New England out of the playoffs this year. Lastly, a few years ago the Ravens went on the road and soundly beat the Dolphins 20-3 in the playoffs, and beat them by two touchdowns in Miami earlier this year. So there was no home field advantage.

Shockingly enough, a Baltimore game featured ugly offense and suffocating defense. A 3-3 tie late in the half was broken when Chad Pennington was intercepted by Ed Reed, who raced 64 yards for a touchdown and a 10-3 Ravens lead with 2:30 left in the half. Miami turned the ball over 5 times in the game. After a punt, the Ravens took over at their own 41. From the Miami 48, Flacco hit Derek Mason for 31 yards to set up a field goal and a 13-3 Baltimore lead at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter the Dolphins fumbled deep in their own territory. Baltimore took over at the Miami 19, setting up McClain on the ground from 8 yards out to put the Ravens up 20-3. Early in the fourth quarter Pennington from midfield did hit Bess for a 45 yard gain, leading to a 2 yard toss to Ronnie Brown. The extra point was blocked, but the Dolphins were within 20-9 with 13 minutes left.

Yet Miami got no closer. From just past midfield, Willis McGahee broke off a 44 yard run, and Flacco himself ran it in from 5 yards out to close out the scoring. Baltimore travels next week for a showdown with their old arch nemesis Tennessee. As for Miami, speculation turns to whether or not Bill “The Tuna” Parcells returns. 27-9 Ravens

Philadelphia Eagles @ Minnesota Vikings–This is a mini-walrus bowl. Andy Reid, aka Walrus Lite, was a former assistant to Mike Holmgren. On the other sideline is Reid’s former assistant Brad Childress, aka Walrus III. David Akers nailed field goals of 43 and 51 yards to put the Eagles up 6-0 after the first quarter. In the second quarter, facing 3rd and 2 from the Philly 40, Adrian Peterson broke through and ran for the touchdown to give the Vikings the lead at 7-6. The Eagles came right back, but Dovon McNabb threw incomplete on 3rd and 2 from the Minnesota 13. The Eagles settled for a 3rd Akers field goal and a 9-7 lead.

The key play in the game came in the second quarter when Tarvaris Jackson threw a 44 yard touchdown pass to Asante Samuel. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Samuels plays cornerback for the Eagles, and his return gave the Eagles a 16-7 lead. To Jackson’s credit, he brought Minnesota right back. From the Minnesota 42, he hit Bernard Berrian for 27 yards to the Philly 31. Chester Taylor picked up much of the remaining yardage, and Peterson finished off the drive from 3 yards out as the Vikings trailed 16-14 at intermission.

The third quarter featured each team with a long drive that produced nothing. Jackson led the Vikings from their own 15 to a 1st and 5 at the Philly 44 before having to punt on 4th and 17. McNabb then moved the Eagles from their own 10 to a 3rd and 7 at the Minnesota 35 before a sack took them out of field goal range. A 30 yard punt return had the Eagles at the Minnesota 40, but they fumbled the ball right back.

After a scoreless third quarter, the nail in the coffin came from Brian Westbrook. He took a short swing pass, followed tremendous downfield blocks, and raced 71 yards to put the Eagles up 23-14 with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the game. The Eagles added a fourth field goal just past the 2 minute warning as Minnesota was sent packing for the offseason while the Eagles have their rubber match with the defending champion Giants. Both teams won the road game this year in their series. 26-14 Eagles

Next week comes the divisionals, as 12 teams are down to 8.

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans

San Diego Chargers @ Pittsburgh Steelers


2 Responses to “NFL 2008-2009 Wildcard Recap”

  1. parrothead says:

    I am still not sure how Peyton Manning won the MVP while leading an underachieving team to only a wild card berth while may others in the league (including his brother) led teams to better records than expected.

  2. I think it was Peyton’s numbers, Parrot. They were pretty amazing, especially considering some problems the Colts are suffering these days, with age, injuries, and too many years on the bottom of the draft. Still, I think Rivers should have gotten the MVP, and that last playoff game only proved it.

    That Ravens defense is just plain incredible. It looks like the 2000 squad all over again. What they did to the Fins was just frightening. It’s not that the Fins were all that great, but they’re O-Line IS – that why Penny had the year he had. The Ravens D ate them for lunch, spit them out, and ate them again.


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