NFL 2014-2015 Divisionals Recap
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots was the Saturday afternoon game. Three times in the last four years the Ravens have had to go on the road at New England in the playoffs. All 3 times the Ravens outplayed the Patriots, winning two of those games. Now Baltimore had to go through New England again. Again for large stretches of the game Baltimore outplayed New England. Again the Patriots came back
Joe Flacco moved easily against the New England defense. A 19 yard touchdown pass to Aiken and an 9 yard toss to Steve Smith on 3rd and 7 put the Ravens up 14-0. Tom Brady then had his turn, running for a 4 yard touchdown in the first quarter and a throwing a 15 yard touchdown to Danny Amendola to tie the game 14-14. Late in the half Brady was intercepted. Flacco threw an 11 yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels for a 21-14 Ravens lead at the half.
The Ravens kept marching in the third quarter as Flacco’s fourth touchdown pass, a 16 yard toss to Justin Forsett, made it 28-14 Ravens. Again the vaunted Baltimore defense could not close the door like they did two years ago. Brady threw a 5 yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski to get the Patriots within 28-21. The Patriots got it back and Bill Bellichick went to his bag of tricks. Danny Amendola threw his first NFL pass, a halfback option that went for a 51 yard touchdown to Julian Edelman for a 28-28 game.
Every time it looked like one team had momentum, it would shift. With the Ravens facing 3rd and 2 at their own 28, Flacco scrambled around under heavy pressure and was eventually sacked and fumbled. The Patriots recovered all the way at the Baltimore 2 yard line ready to take the lead. Instead defense holding on Darrelle Revis meant 1st and 10 for Baltimore. Early in the fourth quarter the Ravens faced 4th and 1 at the New England 36. Earlier in the game John Harbaugh successfully gambled on 4th and 6. He went for it again and Flacco hit Juszczyk for 11 yards. On 2nd and goal at the 7 Flacco threw incomplete twice. Justin Tucker hit a 25 yard field goal as the Ravens led 31-28 with 10 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
The Ravens thought they had a chance to do further damage when the Patriots fumbled the ball and the Ravens recovered. It was the third Patriots fumbled on the day but the Patriots retained possession the first two times. They would again when the call as reversed and the runner’s knee was ruled down. This continued the 15 year track record of the Patriots benefitting from fumbled that are not really fumbles. Brady then threw a 23 yard touchdown pass to LaFell. With 5 minutes left the Patriots had their first lead of the game despite only 19 yards rushing.
The Ravens faced 4th and 3 from their own 42 with 2:14 to play. Each team took a time out, the second one for the Ravens. Flacco found Owen Daniels for a 17 yard gain to the New England 41 at the 2 minute warning. Offsides added 5 more yards. Flacco then went for all the marbles. He was intercepted in the end zone.
The Ravens got it back at their own 48 with 4 seconds left. Flacco’s Hail Mary was well thrown but still fell incomplete. Steve Smith was shoved to the ground but defensive pass interference on the Hail Mary is never called. The Evil Empire of Football escaped with another playoff win after being outplayed. Flacco finished 28 of 44 for 292 yards and 4 touchdowns, but with the 2 killer interceptions. Brady finished 33 of 50 for 367 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception. New England hosts the AFC Title Game in one week. 35-31 Patriots
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks was the Saturday night game. For three straight regular seasons, the Seahawks went on the road into Carolina and won. All 3 of those games were defensive slugfests. This year Seattle started 3-3 but finished with a 12-4 record. After starting 3-8-1, the Panthers won four straight and then their playoff game. Even though the game was in Seattle, both teams known for defense produced another hard-hitting slobber-knocker.
An interception of Cam Newton led to nothing, but then the Panthers fumbled and Seattle recovered at the Carolina 28. on 3rd and 9, Russell Wilson threw a 16 yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin for a 7-0 Seahawks lead.
In the second quarter Newton moved the Panthers 79 yards in 14 plays and 8 minutes. A 7 yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin tied the game 7-7. Wilson came back and fired a 63 yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse for a 14-7 Seahawks lead. As the half ended, Graham Gano twice nearly had a field goal try blocked by Kam Chancellor. After penalties on both teams, Gano hit the 35 yarder on the third try to get the Panthers within 14-10.
The defenses clamped down in the third quarter, but on the first play of the fourth quarter Steve Hauschka hit a 37 yard field goal to make it 17-10 Seahawks. Seattle got it back and Russell Wilson hit his non-relative Luke Wilson for the 25 yard touchdown with 10 1/2 minutes left in regulation. With a 24-10 Seahawks lead, the Legion of Boom did the rest. With the Panthers in the red zone looking to make it a one score game, Kam Chancellor intercepted Cam Newton and raced 89 yards for the dagger with 6 minutes to play. Carolina added a garbage touchdown to complete the scoring as the Seahawks prepared to host their second straight NFC Title Game. 31-17 Seahawks
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers was the Sunday morning game. It was 1966 and 1967 when the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys played two of the greatest NFL Title Games in pro football history. Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry gave us the Ice Bowl. Jerry Kramer wedged Jethro Pugh with, “the block.” In 1995 these teams again met with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Again it came down to the fourth quarter. Emmett Smith ran over Green Bay on the way to a Dallas dynasty. One year later Green Bay ascended to the mountaintop with a gunslinger.
The 2014 Packers would have to play smash mouth to defeat the Cowboys in a battle of 12-4 teams. With Aaron Rodgers nursing an injured calf, pass-happy Mike McCarthy came out running the football. Rodgers capped off the opening drive by throwing a 4 yard touchdown pass to Quarrels for a 7-0 Packers lead. The Cowboys responded with a one yard touchdown pass to Clutts for a 7-7 tie.
Early in the second quarter The Packers were on the move and facing 3rd and 7 at the Dallas 27. An errant snap out of the shotgun led to Rodgers being sacked. The forced fumble was recovered by Dallas at their own 36 yard line. Romo threw a 38 yard touchdown pass to Terrence Williams for a 14-7 Cowboys lead. With 34 seconds left in the half Dan Bailey lined up for a 50 yard field goal to extend the Dallas lead. The kick was blocked, setting up the Packers at their own 40. 30 second was enough time. Mason Crosby’s 40 yard field goal to end the half had the Packers only down 14-10 instead of 17-7.
In the third quarter DeMarco Murray fumbled and the Packers recovered at the Dallas 44. Crosby hit a 30 yard field goal to get the Packers within 14-13 midway through the third quarter. Murray redeemed himself with a 26 yard run followed by a one yard plunge to put the Cowboys up 21-13 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter. The Packers came back but soon faced 3rd and 15 from the Dallas 46. Rodgers zipped a pass over the middle to DeVonte Adams and Adams outraced everyone for a touchdown to get the Packers within 21-20.
In the fourth quarter Rodgers moved the Packers. With 9 minutes left in regulation Rodgers completed a 13 yard touchdown pass to his non-relative Richard Rodgers. The 2 point conversion try failed but the Packers led 26-21. With 4 minutes left Dallas faced 4th and 2 at the Dallas 33. One option was to bring in Bailey for a 51 yard field goal and rely on the defense. Jason Garrett decided to go for it. Rather than just try and move the sticks, play caller Bill Callahan went for all the marbles. Romo went bombs away to Dez Bryant. Bryant was well defended, but somehow made an acrobatic catch at the one yard line. Mike McCarthy challenged the call.
The call will be debated in bars by letterheads for decades to come, but the officials reversed the call and declared an incomplete pass. With 2 1/2 minutes left the Packers soon faced 3rd and 3 at their own 40. Rodgers threw a short pass and again one player from each team wrestled for the ball. Davis came up with the reception and broke free for a 26 yard gain. At the 2 minute warning the Packers faced 3rd and 11 at the Dallas 35 with the Cowboys out of timeouts.
Obviously in that situation you do not even think of throwing the football. You run the ball and bleed the clock. Instead Mike McCarthy called a pass. Rodgers threw a risky pass over the middle knowing an incompletion would stop the clock. If Aaron Rodgers was not the league MVP before, he certainly is now. His 13 yard completion to Randall Cobb allowed the Packers to kneel on the ball.
Both quarterbacks played well. Romo finished 15 of 19 with 2 touchdowns. Rodgers was 24 of 35 for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns. Neither one was intercepted. Both of these coaches played to win rather than not to lose in this fine football game that is now an instant classic. Last week the Cowboys benefitted from a controversial call. This week the call went against them. As for the Packers, they are back in the NFC Title Game for the first time since 2010. They will be on the road, but they were then as well. 26-21 Packers
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos was the Sunday afternoon game. I was supposed to be a mismatch, a tune-up for Denver before the AFC Title Game rematch from last year that seemed pre-ordained before this season started. Early on Peyton Manning threw a 32 yard pass to Julius Thomas to set up a one yard touchdown pass to Denarius Thomas for the 7-0 Broncos lead.
Then the game changed. The second quarter began with Herron running it in from 6 yards out to tie the game. Then with the Broncos facing 3rd and 12 from midfield, Manning was sacked and fumbled. The Colts took over at the Denver 41. On 3rd and goal from the 6, Andrew Luck threw incomplete but Aqib Talib was called for defensive holding. Luck threw a 3 yard touchdown pass to Allen for a 14-7 Colts lead. The Colts missed a chance to extend the lead when a 43 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal try was no good. After a near interception of Manning was ruled out of bounds incomplete, Connor Barth hit a 45 yard field goal to get the Broncos within 14-10 at halftime.
In the third quarter the home crowd got very nervous when Luck led an 11 play, 72 yard, 5 minute drive. A 15 yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks had the Colts up 21-10. Denver was in deeper trouble when they quickly went 3 and out on their next series. Yet the Broncos received a break when the Colts return man got belted and fumbled. There was no penalty since a member of the Colts blocked the Denver coverage person into the return man. The Broncos recovered the fumble at the Indianapolis 30. On further review, the officials reversed the call and ruled the return man down by contact. This one seemed like a blown call as the Colts retained possession.
It did not matter. On 3rd and 13 from their own 39, Luck went deep and was intercepted at the Denver 24. The Broncos finally got going on offense. On the last play of the third quarter the Broncos faced 4th and 1 at the Indy 36. John Fox decided to go for it. CJ Anderson was stopped cold in the backfield but somehow broke free of a couple tackles to change a multi-yard loss into a 7 yard gain. On 3rd and 4 from the Indy 23, Manning threw incomplete. Barth hit from 41 as the Broncos trailed 21-13 one minute into the fourth quarter.
After both teams went 3 and out, the Colts just pounded and grounded the Denver defense into dust. 13 plays bled over 8 minutes off of the clock. Vinatieri hit a 30 yard field goal as the Colts had a shocking 24-13 lead with 4 minutes left. Denver quickly faced 4th and 8 at their own 46. A dumpoff pass to Anderson came up inches short of the first down marker with 2:50 to play. John Fox challenged the spot and lost. The Broncos were done, forced to add 2014 to the ghosts of 1984, 1996 and 2012 playoff heartbreak at home.
The Colts were supposed to be tomato cans. Instead they just hit Denver in the mouth. Chuck Pagano’s team showed that “Chuck Strong” now applies to life on the football field as well as off of it. The Colts will be expected to lose badly on the road in the AFC Title Game. They will not care. They were supposed to lose this one. The AFC Title Game dream matchup of Manning against Brady will not take place this year. For the eleventh straight season, a lower seeded team knocked off a team with a first round bye.