2011-01-18 16:19:041 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
- by Rakibul Islam, Sports Staff Writer
The NFL playoffs continued with the Divisional round. This round brought in the top two seeds from each conference, all of whom were awarded with the home game in the round. Still though, home-field advantage does not guarantee success in the NFL, where parity reigns supreme. This weekend confirmed that, as both no.1 seeds fell to no.6 seeds despite playing at home. It set up what should be an exciting pair of conference championships, both being rematches of close regular-season games. Here’s a recap:
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have one of the fiercest rivalries in sports. The AFC North mates are both known for their hard-hitting, defense-first style of play, and their matchups are often low-scoring and filled with borderline excessive hits. On Saturday, they met for the right to advance to the AFC Championship Game. It was their third meeting this season, and their second in the past three postseasons, so a typical Ravens-Steelers game was expected. While the hitting was hard, and the yardage was low, points ended up coming easily on both sides. The Steelers, however, would come away with a 31-24 win. The Ravens jumped to a 21-7 halftime lead, aided by a bizarre fumble recovered by DE Cory Redding for a TD. However, they turned the ball over 3 times in the 3rd quarter, allowing the Steelers to tie the game. An apparent punt-return TD by CB Ladarius Webb was nullified by a penalty, forcing the Ravens to kick a FG to tie the game at 24 late in the fourth quarter. QB Ben Roethlisberger then led Pittsburgh on the game-winning drive, hitting rookie WR Antonio Brown for a 58-yard gain to set up RB Rashard Mendenhall’s second rushing TD. The win gives Pittsburgh the season series over Baltimore, as they split the two regular-season meetings. It also advances them to the AFC Championship Game for second time in the last three seasons. The Ravens have won four road playoff games in the past three seasons, but must spend the offseason evaluating the passing game, which faltered on both sides of the ball in big moments. .
The new elite?
QB Aaron Rodgers was dealt a difficult hand in 2008. He had to replace QB Brett Favre, a surefire Hall-of-Famer, as the starter for the Green Bay Packers. Having sat behind Favre for 3 seasons, Rodgers was adequately groomed to put up incredible numbers, and he has done so in every season. But until this year, they hadn’t translated to playoff success, and that kept him from being mentioned among the best QBs in the league. On Saturday night, Rodgers showed the world that he is indeed a top-tier passer, and possibly the best QB in the NFL. Rodgers and the Packers were in Atlanta to face the top-seeded Falcons, who went 13-3 behind their own young star QB, Matt Ryan. Despite the Falcons having two weeks of rest, and despite the Packers having suffered numerous injuries throughout the season, Green Bay came out and thoroughly dominated Atlanta, emerging with a 48-21 victory. Rodgers was unstoppable all night, as he threw for 366 yards and 3 TDs, achieving an incredible 136.8 QB rating. He showcased his mobility by spinning away from defenders and running in a third-quarter TD. He helped his top four receivers all gain over 75 yards, each more than anyone from Atlanta. The offense was so good, the Packers never punted. It wasn’t all offense of course. LB Clay Matthews led a ferocious pass rush that sacked Ryan five times. CB Tramon Williams had two huge interceptions: one in the end zone to quash a scoring opportunity, the other returned 70 yards for a TD as the first half expired. But the night belonged to Rodgers, who led the Packers offense to their highest point total in a playoff game. The sixth-seeded Packers now advance to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since Favre left. The Falcons, meanwhile, have to examine their defense, which failed in spectacular fashion. Rodgers wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl this year (ironically, Ryan was), but with another performance like this, he’ll be playing in the Super Bowl instead.
They are who we thought they were
Most people assumed the Seattle Seahawks would be one-and-done in the playoffs. Little was expected of the NFC West champions, who became the first team to make the postseason despite having a losing record. Views changed after the Seahawks stunned the reigning champion New Orleans Saints 41-36 in the Wild-Card round. Now they were traveling to face the Chicago Bears, who rode a streak of luck and fortune to the NFC North title. The Seahawks defeated them back in week 6, and with the confidence from beating the Saints, there was hope that they could pull another shocker. The dream was dashed quickly. QB Jay Cutler found TE Greg Olson for a 53-yard TD on the Bears’ first drive, and Chicago led by as much as 28-0 before settling for a 35-24 victory. Cutler was making his first postseason start since high school, and turned in a strong performance with two passing TDs and two rushing TDs. He became the second QB ever to perform that feat, joining Hall-of-Fame QB Otto Graham, who did it twice. He paced a strong offensive effort that gashed the Seahawks repeatedly, finishing with over 400 yards. The Bears defense held the Seahawks to just 34 yards rushing, and most of QB Matt Hasselbeck’s success came in the fourth quarter after the game was already in hand. The Seahawks were not expected to get this far, and will spend the offseason looking at major upgrades across the board. They must also make a decision on the 35-year-old Hasselbeck, who will be a free agent. As for the Bears, their magical season continues, as they will host the NFC Championship Game next Sunday. They will face the Packers, their NFC North rivals. They split the season series this year, each team winning at home, but both were close games. The longest rivalry in the NFL will see its 182nd matchup, but this will be just the 2nd time they will meet in the playoffs. The Bears lead the series 92-83-6, and won their playoff battle back in 1941.
Talk is cheap
The bitter rivalry between the New York Jets and New England Patriots, and between the cities of New York and Boston in general, was at a fever pitch for the final game of the Divisional Round. Barbs were flying all week between the teams. CB Antonio Cromartie talked about how he hated QB Tom Brady. Coach Rex Ryan said the game would be between him and coach Bill Belichick. WR Wes Welker used a press conference to poke fun at the controversy involving Ryan and his wife. LB Bart Scott threatened to knock Welker out of the game. It all set up what was expected to be a fierce battle between the AFC East rivals, but one that would easily end in favor of the 14-2 Patriots and their MVP QB. The Jets backed up their trash talk however, and stunned the top-seeded Patriots 28-21. QB Mark Sanchez had perhaps the best game of his young career, throwing for 3 TDs and recording a 127.3 QB rating. He was not sacked once and never turned the ball over, after having thrown 7 INTs in two previous trips to New England. Each of his TD passes was progressively more impressive, topped by a diving sideline catch by WR Santonio Holmes early in the final quarter. The Jets defense was the star of the afternoon, however. They forced Brady into an ineffective game, despite throwing for 299 yards and 2 TDs. Brady threw his first INT since week 6 and was sacked five times. The Jets used a pass-heavy defense that left Brady waiting forever for his targets to get open. Thanks to the repeated hits he took, some of his throws were just a bit off, enough to slow down the league’s highest-scoring offense. While Brady should take home the MVP award, the season ends in disappointment once again for the Patriots, who haven’t won a playoff game since reaching Super Bowl XLII. The Jets, on the other hand, have now won four road playoff games since Ryan and Sanchez joined the team in 2009. Their reward will be a trip to Pittsburgh for their second consecutive AFC Championship Game. They lost to the Indianapolis Colts last year, and will be hoping not to repeat that result. The Steelers and Jets faced each other in week 15 this season, with the Jets eking out a 22-17 win in Pittsburgh.
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