NFL 2011-2012 Wild Card Recap
The NFL Playoffs are finally here, and 32 teams have been whittled down to 12. To quote Jim Mora “Playoffs? Are you kidding me?”
Yes, it is time for the playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans–Both of these teams backed into the playoffs as the Bengals began 6-2 and went 3-5 down the stretch while Houston lost their last 3 games to fall to 10-6. This is the first playoff game in Texans history. The Texans have been rocked by injuries while Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had the flu earlier in the week. TJ Yates gets the start for Houston. In Week 14, The Bengals led 19-10 in the fourth quarter at home before Yates led a late comeback for a stunning 20-19 Texans win. Former President George Herbert Walker Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush were in attendance, yet one celebrity surprise lit up the crowd before the game. Wade phillips is the Texans defensive coordinator, and his father Bum Phillips came out to raucous applause through the tunnel. The former Houston Oilers coach is still beloved three decades after his last game with the “Luv Ya Blue” crowd.
The Texans punted twice and the Bengals once, with CIncinnati taking over at their own 26. Andy Dalton went deep, and a 52 yard defensive pass interference penalty on Glover Quinn put the ball on the 20. On 3rd and 17 from the 17, Dalton hit Leonard for 16. Cedric Benson took it in from one yard out as the Bengals led 7-0. After a touchback, Arriun Foster ran for 4 and 20. TJ Yates hit Owen Daniels for 21 yards, with 15 more tacked on for a personal foul. From the 20, Foster did the rest, running for 8, 4, and the final 8 for the touchdown to tie the game 7-7.
Dalton moved the Bengals from their own 20, and began the second quarter at the Houston 46. Dalton hit AJ Green for 21 yards, but on 3rd and 8 from the 23, Dalton was sacked for a 9 yard loss. From 50 yards out, kicker Mike Nugent was no good as the game remained tied early in the second quarter. Cincy got it back at their own 20. on 3rd and 1 Dalton gained 2. Dalton then hit Lee for a 36 yard gain, with unnecessary roughness adding 15 more. The drive stalled. but this time Nugent was good from 37 as the Bengals led 10-7 midway through the second quarter.
After a touchback, Yates hit Kevin Walter for 11. On 3rd and 4 from their 37, Yates hit Daniels for 8. Marvin Lewis challenged the catch and lost the challenge, leaving the Bengals without challenges the rest of the game. Foster ran for 12. On 3rd and 9 from the Cincy 42, Yates hit Andre Johnson for 17. At the 2 minute warning, on 3rd and 6 from the 21, Yates threw incomplete. Neil Rackers hit the 39 yard field goal as the game was tied 10-10.
Cincinnati got it back at their own 20 with 1:48 left in the half. Dalton scrambled for 15, but with one minute left in the half from the Cincy 34, the key play of the game meant disaster for the Bengals. Red Rifle Andy Dalton fired over the middle, and Watt, in position to knock it down, actually intercepted it. The lineman broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, and big man with football made it 29 yards for the touchdown to have the Texans up 17-10 at halftime.
With 6 minutes left in the third quarter, the Texans took over at their 17. Yates hit Foster for 15 and again for 12. On 4rd and 6 just shy of midfield, Yates hit Johnson for 9. From the Cincinnati 40, Yates went deep to Johnson, and the beast did what he does. The touchdown had the Texans up 24-10 after three quarters. After a touchback, Dalton had the Bengals at their own 46 when the fourth quarter began. Daltonw as sacked for a 9 yard loss and on 3rd and 19 a completion to Gresham went for 16. Marvin Lewis decided to go for it on 4th and 3 from the Houston 47. Dalton was trapped in the backfield, and with defenders closing in on him, threw a prayer that several defenders were in position to intercept. Joseph obliged with the pick at the Houston 24 with 13 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
The Bengals got it back after an exchange of punts at their own 9 midway through the fourth quarter. On 2nd and 3 Dalton went deep and was intercepted for the third time by Manning. The Texans took over at the Bengals 45. On 3rd and 7 Foster raced around the end, broke several awful attempts at tackling, stayed in bounds near the sidelines, and got to the end zone for the final nail in the coffin. With only 5 1/2 minutes left, the Texans led 31-10.
After 9 years, Bob McNair has finally seen his Texans win their first AFC South division title, their first playoff spot, and now their first ever playoff game. In fact, they are now undefeated in their playoff history, although a trip at Baltimore next week will be a far sterner test. Also after 9 years, Marvin Lewis has seen his third playoff game result without a win. In fact, Mike Brown has not seen his Bengals win a playoff game since after the 1990 season. Yet both coaches were almost replaced last year, and the patience of the owners led to both teams turning it around and getting back to the playoffs. Gary Kubiak held it together through devastating injuries and saw his team shine on this day. 31-10 Texans
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints–This could be a shootout as both of these teams went into Green Bay, New Orleans in the opening week and Detroit in the final week, and both barely came up short. Matthew Stafford had over 5,000 passing yards this year as the Lions went 10-6 while the 13-3 Saints saw Drew Brees shatter Dan Marino’s record with 5,476 passing yards. Jim Schwartz has turned the Lions around while Sean Payton has a team every bit as good as the one that won it all two years ago. In week 13, these teams met in the Louisiana Superdome where the Lions committed 11 penalties in a 31-17 Saints win. In week 13, these teams met in the Louisiana Superdome where the Lions committed 11 penalties in a 31-17 Saints win.
The Lions moved right down the field at the outset from their 20. Smith ran for 7 and Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for 22. On 3rd and 7 from the Saints 48, Stafford hit Young for 15 and 11, Calvin Johnson for 12, and Heller for the 10 yard touchdown as the Lions led 7-0 only 4 minutes into the game. Drew Brees rapidly moved the Saints from their 19 to a 2nd and 2 at the Detroit 31. Brees then hit Marques Colston for 13, and Colston fumbled at the Detroit 18 to end the drive.
The Saints got it back at their own 11. On 3rd and 10 Brees hit Thomas for 11, Gaham for 5, and Colston for 7. Pierre Thomas broke free for a 31 yard gain to the Detroit 35 and Sarren Sproles gained 9 more. Brees hit Collins for 15 as the Saints began the second quarter at the Detroit 11. Sproles gained 5 and Devry Henderson added 4. On 3rd and 1 from the 2, Sproles took it in to the the game 7-7 after the 11 play, 89 yard, 5 minute drive.
Detroit took over at their own 13. Stafford went right to Johnson for 18 yards. On 3rd and 4 from their 37, Stafford hit Tony Scheffler for 7. Smith gained 9 and Stafford found Nate Burleson for 21 yards. From the Saints 26, Stafford hit Smith for half of it and Johnson for the other half as the 13 yard touchdown had the Lions up 14-7 after the 87 yard drive. Brees led the Saints from their 20 to a 2nd and 6 at the Detroit 37. Yet a sack of Brees meant another fumble and another wasted chance.
With 5 minutes left in the half the Saints took over at their own 16. After offsides, Brees hit Colston for 23 yards. On 3rd and 1 from the Detroit 47, Chris Ivory gained 2. Brees hit Meachem for 9 as the 2 minute warning came with the Saints facing 3rd and 1 at the Detroit 36. Brees fired incomplete, and Sean Payton decided to go for it with 1:43 left in the half rather than try a 54 yard field goal. Ivory got the tough yard. On 2nd and 3, Brees hit Graham for 11 down to the 17 as the Saints took their final timeout with 21 seconds left in the half. Brees went to the end zone to Colston, who made a leaping catch that was initially called a touchdown and then overruled incomplete. Yet a defensive personal foul meant 1st and goal at the 6 with 16 seconds left. Under heavy pressure, Brees retreated back to the 22 before firing incomplete with 8 seconds left. Sean Payton gambled on one more play, and Brees fired into coverage, lucky that it was incomplete. Jon Kasay hit the 24 yard field goal as the Saints trailed 14-10 at halftime.
The Saints began the third quarter at their own 22 and made it look easy. Thomas gained 18 and Ivory added 19. Brees then went deep to Henderson for a 41 yard touchdown as the Saints led 17-14 less than 2 minutes into the second half.
The Saints got it back and soon faced 3rd and 11 at their own 7. Brees found Colston for just enough. On 2nd and 13 from the 15, Brees hit Graham for 14 and Sproles for 9. On 3rd and 1 Ivory got stopped. Facing 4th and inches from their own 38, everybody knows you punt the football. There is no way you go for it. Sean Payton is the guy who called the successful onsides kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl two years ago, but this was different. Yet the Saints lined up to go for it. It had to be a ploy to draw the Lions offsides.
Brees did snap it, took the quarterback sneak, leapt over the top, and got the first down. Sean Payton has balls of steel, and the drive kept going. From their own 40, Brees hit Thomas for 10 and Arrington for 7. Brees then went deep to Colston for a 40 yard gain down to the 3. On the next play Brees hit Graham for the touchdown as the Saints led 24-14 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter after the 13 play, 92 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive.
Detroit took over after a touchback and Stafford went to Johnson for 15, 21 more, and then deep to him for a 42 yard gain down to the 2. On 3rd and goal at the 1 a runner leapt over the top but without the ball, as Stafford executed the fake, rolled out, and just got to the pileon as the Lions were right back in it down 24-21 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Saints began the fourth quarter facing 3rd and 2 at their own 28. Brees hit Meachem for 5. On 3rd and 8 from their 35, Brees hit Colston for 17. On 3rd and 2 from the Detroit 40, Brees threw incomplete. Again Sean Payton decided to go for it, this time with the game on the line. Sproles gained 3, and Payton’s balls of steel are now titanium. On 3rd and 2 from the Detroit 29, Brees hit Sproles for 12. On the next play Sproles raced up the middle for the 17 yard touchdown as the Saints again had some breathing room, up 31-21 with 10 minutes left in regulation.
After a touchback, Stafford went deep on the first play and was quickly intercepted. The Saints took over at their own 39 looking for the knockout blow. Facing 2nd and 17 from their own 44, Brees delivered. The bomb to Meachem went for a 56 yard touchdown as the Saints led 38-21 midway through the fourth quarter.
Detroit kept fighting, and on 3rd and 1 from their 30 Stafford hit Young for 6, Johnson for 11, Pettigrew for 8, Burleson for 20, and on 3rd and 3 from the 12, to Johnson for the score. The Lions were within 38-28 but only 4:45 remained. The onsides kick failed, and the Saints had the win. Yet the Saints are not the type to run out the clock. From the Detroit 42, Brees went deep again to Meachem for a 41 yard gain down to the one. Thomas crashed in to complete the scoring with 3 1/2 minutes left. The Saints racked up 626 yards of offense, with Brees going a ridiculous 33 of 43 for 466 yards and 3 touchdowns with 0 interceptions. The Saints did not punt in the game. Stafford went 27 of 41 for 367 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception. He was fantastic, but it was not enough.
The Lions were game, but the Saints have so much firepower and so many weapons. The Lions can now bury the 0-16 season of 2008. They were 10-6 in 2011. Jim Schwartz has a good young team with some serious playmakers on offense and defense. The Lions lost this game, but they are no longer losers. As for the Saints, they are every bit as good as the team that won it all two years ago. Next week they play at San Francisco, and Sean Payton will be ready for their defense. 45-28 Saints
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants–The 10-6 Falcons have a high octane offense while the Giants are about defense. Tom Coughlin saw the Giants triumph in a winner take all showdown with Dallas last week to get to 9-7. Mike Smith has Matt Ryan airing it out while the Giants will try and pound it on the ground, although Eli Manning to Victor Cruz is an exciting matchup. As for excitement, the first half of this game featured none of it.
A scoreless opening quarter deserves no elaboration. Atlanta finally got something going, and the second quarter began with them facing 4th and 1 at the Giants 24. Riverboat Gambler Mike Smith decided to go for it. Ryan took the quarterback sneak, and a Big Blue brick wall stopped him. Yet the Giants offense was worse. On 2nd and 21 from their own 13, Eli Manning went back to pass from his own end zone and faced heavy pressure. He rolled out and threw it away to avoid the sack. The officials ruled intentional grounding as the safety had the Falcons up 2-0. Atlanta took the free kick and moved from their 38 to a 4th and 1 at the Giants 42. This time Mike Smith decided to punt, and the Giants took over at their own 15.
On 3rd and 2 Eli Manning scrambled for 14. On 3rd and 2 from their 45, Manning hit Ahmad Bradshaw for 7. Brandon Jacobs rumbled 34 yards and Bradshaw added 9 more. Yet on 2nd and 1 from the 6 Bradshaw got stopped and Jacobs got stopped on 3rd down. On 4th and 1 from the 6, this time Tom Coughlin decided to go for it. Jacobs got 2 yards. On the next play Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for the touchdown as the Giants took a 7-2 lead with 3 minutes left in the half after the 13 play, 85 yard, 7 1/2 minute drive.
In the third quarter the Falcons punted and the Giants soon faced 3rd and 8 at their own 26. Manning hit Nicks for 19 yards. On 3rd and 12 from their own 43, Manning hit Victor Cruz for 22. Bradshaw broke off a 30 yard run to set up 1st and goal at the 5. Yet a failed run and a pair of incomplete passes meant the Giants would settle for a 22 yard Lawrence Tynes 22 yard field goal and a 10-2 lead.
Atlanta moved from their own 21 to a 3rd and 15 at the Giants 35. Ryan hit Roddy White for 14, and again Mike Smith gambled on 4th and inches. Again Ryan took the quarterback sneak. Again Ryan got blasted backwards by the Giants defense. Rather than be within 10-8, Atlanta was still down 10-2. The Giants soon faced 3rd and 3 from their own 28. Manning found Nicks over the middle, and Nicks split the seams and raced for a 72 yard touchdown and a 17-2 Giants lead with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.
Atlanta got it back and soon faced 3rd and 1 at their own 28. This time Michael Turner got the carry but the result was the same as Turner lost a yard. The Giants began the fourth quarter at their own 15. Manning hit Nicks for 8 and Bradshaw ran for 7. On 3rd and 6 from their 34 Manning hit Bradshaw for 18. From the Atlanta 37, Jacobs gained 9 and 1. Manning then went deep to Manningham for a 2 yard touchdown as a tight defensive first half was now a 24-2 Giants blowout after another 85 yard, 10 play, 5 1/2 minute drive.
Even during garbage time the Giants defense would not give up their shutout. With one minute left the Falcons had 4th and 10 at the Giants 17. Ryan was sacked for an 8 yard loss by Osi Umenyiora. Ryan would finish 24 of 41 for only 199 yards. Turner was held to 41 yards on 15 carries. Manning was 23 of 32 for 277 and 3 touchdowns in the win. Neither team turned the ball over, but the suffocating Giants defense in short yardage situations was the difference.
For those who want to jump all over Mike Smith, keep things in perspective. In the 40 years before he arrived, the Falcons had never had 2 straight winning seasons. In his 4 years, the Falcons have had 4 straight winning seasons and 3 trips to the playoffs. Yet they still have not won a playoff game in that span. As for Tom Coughlin, people are comparing this Giants team to the 2007 team that ran the table on the road and won it all. That team had to travel to Green Bay for the NFC Title Game. They took down 13-3 Green Bay and ran Brett Favre out of town. Now they face his replacement Aaron Rodgers, and this Green Bay team is 15-1. The Packers have a phenomenal offense, but just like 2007, the Giants have a defense. 24-2 Giants
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos–Yes, the Steelers are 12-4 and the Broncos are 8-8. Last year 12-4 New Orleans lost in the playoffs at 7-9 Seattle. Pittsburgh has a banged up Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall is out for the season. Mike Tomlin will not limit the game plan, since he knows he has tested veterans. Denver has Tim Tebow Mania, but they also have a defense led by Von Miller. Denver lost 3 straight and won a division nobody else wanted in a 3 way tie. This could be a major mismatch or a major upset, and the Pittsburgh defense is tougher than most of the defenses Tebow has faced.
The opening kickoff hit the crossbar, bounced back in the field of play, and died right on the 20 yard line for the most unusual touchback of the year. Pittsburgh soon faced 3rd and 3 at their own 27, and Ben Roethlisberger hit heath Miller for 8 and then again deep for a 33 yard gain to the Denver 32. The defense held after that, and a Shawn Suisham 45 yard field goal had the Steelers up 3-0.
Later in the quarter Pittsburgh took over at their own 33. Roethlisberger hit Miller for 7 and Redman ran for 6, 9, and 2 on 3rd and 1. On 3rd and 1 from the Denver 34, Redman gained 13. Again the defense held and Suisham hit from 38 to have the Steelers leading 6-0 after the opening quarter.
After a first quarter as lifeless as their last 3 games, the Broncos began the second quarter facing 3rd and 12 from their own 18. Tim Tebow went deep to Thomas for a 51 yard gain and then went deep again to Eddie Royal for a 30 yard touchdown. Denver had only 8 yards of offense in the first quarter but 2 plays now had them up 7-6.
After a touchback Roethlisberger went deep to Mike Wallace for a 50 yard gain. Yet Jon Fox challenged the completion and the call was reversed incomplete. 3 straight incompletions meant a punt and Denver taking over from their own 27. Tebow went deep to Thomas again, this time for a 58 yard gain. Tebow then took a draw play up the middle for an yard touchdown as the Broncos led 14-6.
Big Ben was getting pounded by the Denver’s defense, and his ankle injury was reaggravated. He stayed in the game, but was immobile from a running standpoint.
On 3rd and 16 from their 14, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Quentin Carter, who returned it 9 yards to the 18. A questionable roughing the passer call after a hit on Tebow meant 1st and goal at the 9. On 3rd and goal at the 2 Tebow fired incomplete. Jon Fox took no chances, and Matt Prater hit the 21 yarder to make it 17-6 Broncos midway through the second quarter.
Denver got it back at their own 31 with 5 minutes left in the half. Tebow went deep to Fells for a 40 yard gain. Willis McGahee added 13 to the Pittsburgh 11. Yet again there would be defensive stand as Prater hit a 28 yarder. The Denver crowd roared with approval as the underdog Broncos led 20-6. Tebow had only 5 completions in the first half, but they were bombs adding up to 185 yards passing. Pittsburgh had one minute to work with and moved from their 20 to a 3rd and 4 at the Denver 32. With 39 seconds left and Roethlisberger in the shotgun, a high snap over his head meant a 23 yard loss to end the half.
In the third quarter Denver moved largely on the ground from their 20 to a 3rd and 5 at the Pittsburgh 40. Willis McGahee got the wildcat snap and gained only 2 yards. On 4th and 3 from the 38, Jon Fox decided against going for it or trying the 56 yard field goal. He punted, and Pittsburgh took over at their own 13. on 3rd an 3 Roethlisberger hit Brown for just enough.On 3rd and 10 from their 23, Big Ben hit Emanuel Sanders for 18. Brown ran for another 18. On 3rd and 2 from the 33, Redman burst up the middle for a 32 yard gain. Wallace got the final yard as the Steelers crept to within 20-13.
Denver began at their own 20 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. On 2nd and 8, a defensive pass interference call meant a 32 yard gain. Rebow then ran for 3, 8, and 11. On 3rd and 5 from the Pittsburgh 19, Tebow hit Lance Ball for 6 as the third quarter ended. The fourth quarter saw a critical offensive holding penalty kill another drive as another short Prater field goal from 35 yards out had the Broncos up 23-13 with 13 minutes left in regulation.
After a touchback Roethlisberger hit brown for 20 and Redman for 9. Redman then ran for 28 yards. Yet on 3rd and 6 from the Denver 19, Roethlisberger threw incomplete. Suisham hit his 3rd field goal from 37 yards as the Steelers were within 23-16 with 10 minutes left to play. From the 20, Tebow gained 10, and on 3rd and 7 from their 33, Tebow hit Thomas for 15. Yet on the next play McGahee ran for 8 yards and fumbled. Pittsburgh took over at their own 45 midway through the fourth quarter.
On 3rd and 1 from the Denver 46, Redman gained 4. Redman gained 4 and Roethlisberger gained 6. Redman added 5. Roethlisberger then went deep to Jerricho Cotchery, was belted by 2 defenders yet somehow held on to the ball for the touchdown. With 4 minutes left the game was tied 23-23. Now all eyes would be on Tebow and the Broncos.
From their 15, Tebow hit Fells for a 17 yard gain. Yet on 3rd and 8 from their 35, Tebow threw incomplete. Pittsburgh took over at their own 24 with 1:37 to play. A sack lost 4 yards but Roethlisberger hit Brown for 17 and Sanders for 18 as the Steelers took their second timeout with 29 seconds left at the Denver 45. Needing only a few yards for very long field goal range, Big Ben was sacked again by Elvis Dumervil and fumbled. The Steelers retained possession. On 3rd and 21, a delay of game meant 3rd and 26 from their own 39 with 12 seconds left. Roethlisberger hit Redman for 12 to the Denver 49. Mike Tomlin decided against a 67 yard field goal try and Big Ben came in for the secular Hail Mary named after him. He was sacked for a 15 yard loss and the game went into overtime.
This was the very first overtime game with new rules. Overtime used to always be sudden death. If the defense scores a touchdown the game ends immediately. If the offense starting scores a touchdown, the game is over. Yet if the starting offense only kicks a field goal, the other team gets one shot with the ball. If they tie it, then the next score wins. These rules only apply in the playoffs. This changed was enacted after the Saints beat the Vikings 2 years ago in a very controversial NFC Title Game, and some have considered the change a consolation prize to Brett Favre. Anyway, Denver won the toss and elected to receive.
The old rules never had to apply in what would be the shortest overtime game in NFL history. From the 20, Tebow went deep to Thomas, who stiff-armed a defender at midfield and raced down the sidelines for an 80 yard touchdown. After one play and 11 seconds, the game was over and Denver had the shocking upset. Let the record show that Tebow won the game with a long touchdown pass. Mike Tomlin and the Steelers would not get their expected third game with Baltimore. Instead, Denver would be traveling to New England.
In 1984, the 13-3 Broncos lost in the playoffs at home to the 9-7 Steelers. In 1997 the Steelers had home field throughout the playoffs and lost in the AFC Title Game to the Broncos 24-21. Both of those games saw John Elway at the helm for Denver. In 2005, they met again in the AFC Title Game, this time in Denver. Ben Roethlisberger led a Pittsburgh throttling 34-13. Finally the home team won. Roethlisberger was 22 of 40 for 289 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Tim Tebow threw only 21 passes, completing 10 of them. That was enough for 316 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Tebowmania continues. 29-23 Broncos, OT
The Divisional round games are now set:
# 6 Denver Broncos @ # 1 New England Patriots
# 3 Houston Texans @ # 2 Baltimore Ravens
# 4 New York Giants @ # 1 Green Bay Packers
# 3 New Orleans Saints @ # 2 San Francisco 49ers