Historically the first two weekends of the NFL playoffs are two of my favorite weekends of the year (topped by wild card Saturday — is there a reason this isn’t a national holiday yet?). This year didn’t break that trend as last weekend saw the Jets, Seahawks, Packers and Ravens all win, arguably all upsets except maybe the Ravens. Part of what makes the NFL so exciting is the parity, and at no time is this more apparent than during the playoffs.
In a season that has been all about parity (even the Patriots, the league’s undisputed best team, got beat by the lowly Browns) most experts came into this week’s games with no clue as to what was going to happen. The Ravens and Steelers were meeting for the third time this season and the wild card Packers seemed to be suddenly gaining popularity against the number one-seeded Falcons. At the beginning of the day, NFL fans had lots of questions — and by the end of the day, we had answers. Here’s the top things we learned from today’s games:
The ghost of Matt Millen still haunts the GMs of the NFL
It’s astounding to me that NFL GMs have yet to figure out the wide receiver position. The Ravens came into the season with three top receivers — check that, three former top wide receivers. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and T.J Houshmandzadeh were all number one receivers at some point in their careers — Mason with the Titans, Boldin with the Cardinals, and T.J. (no way I’m typing that name again) with the Bengals and later the Seahawks. All three were the top receivers on their teams, but for various reasons their former teams cut ties with them and they all landed in Baltimore.
When teams decide to go their separate ways with a wider receiver, it has historically been a bad sign. These same situations seem to happen every year, and yet GMs continue to throw money at these players. Look at Roy Williams in Dallas, Randy Moss in Minnesota or Terrell Owens on every team he’s ever been on (which at this points seems to be approximately half the teams in the NFL).
Today in their game against the Steelers, the Ravens’ receiving core repeatedly dropped passes, costing them scoring opportunities. This was typified by the Ravens’ last offensive play when, trying to drive and tie the game, Joe Flacco threw an almost perfect pass on 4th and 19 to Houshmandzadeh, who had run a deep curl route. Houshmandzadeh was past the first down line when the ball hit him right in the numbers, and then promptly fell through his hands and hit the ground.
Maybe now Ravens’ GM Ozzie Newsome can see why Seattle (who, by the way, isn’t exactly fielding the ’01 Rams receiving core out there) chose to cut him, knowing they would still have to pay him $7 million, rather then have him on their team. Think about that — they paid him 7 million dollars to go away. Sound like a guy you want on your team? Apparently Ozzie Newsome thought it sounded awesome, and for that reason he’ll be watching the AFC championship game on his couch.
Ben Roethlisberger is always a threat to score
Look, I know Big Ben has had his off-field issues — a motorcycle crash, repeated drunkenness, an appearance on Shaq Vs. and the fact that he’s a complete pervert have all greatly hurt his public image. In all that, we may have lost the fact the guy has won two Super Bowls, and is one of the most clutch quarterbacks we’ve seen — maybe ever.
The guy just wins. He’s got that last-minute greatness DNA that Peyton would kill the third Manning brother for. Today, with the game tied and just over two minutes remaining, the Steelers were looking at 3rd and 19 and, if they failed to convert, they would be giving the ball back to the Ravens with enough time remaining to put together a drive and win the game with a field goal.
In this situation most quarterbacks are looking for that pass that just gets them the first down, because the defense is trying to prevent a 20-yard play. Oftentimes quarterbacks will check down to someone on a short route, hoping they can break some tackles and fight for a first down. Not Big Ben. He set himself up in the shotgun, received the ball, took five steps back, calmly looked at his options, and then flung the ball 55 yards down the right sideline. The ball was perfectly on target to a streaking Antonio Brown who caught the ball and stepped out of bounds setting the Steelers up close to the goal for a game-winning touchdown.
If you go back and watch that play again, Roethlisberger throws the ball long before Brown is past the defense — in fact, to anyone else watching it doesn’t even seem clear that Brown will be open. The fact that Roethlisberger was able to anticipate where his receiver would be in that situation, and then throw the ball with such precision 55 yards downfield, is absolutely incredible.
If you haven’t seen the play again, go back and watch it from all the angles. In that situation, I’m not sure there’s another quarterback who makes that throw. The fact is, despite his obvious character flaws, Roethlisberger is a born winner — and if I was a coach I would want him on my team.
Aaron Rodgers has made Green Bay forget about the quarterbacks from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s — or, in other words, Brett Favre
I’ve been on the Aaron Rodgers bandwagon for awhile. I had him on my fantasy team last year and was really impressed by the numbers he put up week in and week out. This year I’ve been impressed with his toughness, fighting back from two concussions.
What he did against the Falcons tonight was an absolute clinic. He diced up their secondary with amazing precision, he escaped their rushers with surprising speed and agility, and he led the Packers with all the intangibles you want to see from your starting quarterback. His mechanics, accuracy, arm strength, mobility, reads, leadership and guts were all of the highest caliber.
Let’s put it this way: Of all the NFL games I’ve seen this year, if I had to pick one game to show a young quarterback to say, “This is the way you play the position,” I think it would be this game against the Falcons.
In his post-season career, Rodgers now has a 10:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He beat the Eagles (many experts’ pick to win the NFC) on the road last week, and he beat the number one-seeded Falcons this week. After what we’ve seen the last two seasons and (in particular) this post-season, I think it’s time we officially move him into the “Top Three QBs In The League” discussion. Considering the truly lackluster efforts of Manning, Brees and Vick this post-season, can we say Aaron Rodgers might be the best quarterback not named Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger? Right now, if I had one game to win, I would pick Brady, then Rothelisberger, but after that I’m pretty sure I would take Aaron Rodgers. He’s that good, and a seemingly decent guy to boot.
Rodgers spent three years patiently waiting in the wings for Brett Favre to take his texting talents elsewhere, and then the next three years flying under the radar in Green Bay. Hey Aaron, you’re on everyone’s radar now — pretty soon you may even have Rachel Nichols camping out on your lawn.
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