NFL Tuesday Stew: Divisional Round Recap, Brian Kelly, Mike McCoy, Jovan Belcher and More
Welcome football fans to a weekly column served hot and fresh every week, NFL Soup’s Tuesday Stew. Here, I will recap the top headlines and stories from this past week’s games, go over some absurdly awesome stats and much, much more. So sit back, relax and fill up on everything NFL.
The NFL Playoffs’ Divisional Round (aka the best weekend of the year) is in the books, and it’s time to dish out all the action. Additionally, it’s time to look at the teams building for next season, which includes the losers from this past weekend. So without further ado, here’s what I’m serving up in this week’s stew:
Touchdown: Six Points On The Divisional Round
1. Ravens-Broncos Becomes A Game For The Ages
Last Saturday’s Divisional Playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos was a game for the ages, becoming an instant classic that will surely be talked about (for many different reasons) years down the road.
In a back-and-forth game that featured an interception return for a touchdown by the Ravens and two special teams touchdowns for the Broncos, the Ravens eventually triumphed 38-35 in double overtime. This was the first playoff game to go into double overtime since the Panthers-Rams 2003 Divisional Playoff game.
I don’t know what it is about Joe Flacco, but the criticism of him not being elite needs to stop. Sure, Flacco isn’t Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers elite, but he comes up huge in big games. Though the Ravens lost to the Patriots in the playoffs last year, he outplayed Brady in that game, and he outplayed Manning in this game. Flacco threw three touchdowns and no interceptions, while Manning had a pair of picks to go along with his three touchdown tosses. Lastly, his 70-yard strike to Jacoby Jones to tie the game with 31 seconds left was nothing short of clutch.
As for the Broncos, they are going to think about the lost opportunities to win this game all offseason long. On Jones’ game-winning reception, both the corner and the safety got beat deep. As a defender, you can never ever let the receiver get past you in that situation. You know they need a touchdown and you know there’s not much time left, yet two people let it happen.
Additionally, the Broncos played conservative at the end of both halves, and have to be wondering now about what could’ve been. At the end of the first half, they had the ball with 36 seconds left and two timeouts, but took a knee and went into halftime. Then, with those 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, they again had two timeouts but, again, took a knee and went into overtime. Why? This is the reason you went out and got Manning, for situations like these. At least call a play or two and see if anything happens, then go from there. But you have Manning! Play for the win, this is the playoffs, you don’t get second chances.
And now, while the Ravens move on from this thriller in double overtime, the Broncos will be thinking of the win they left on the field.
2. Colin Kaepernick Runs 49ers To NFC Championship
As a Packers fan watching this game, all I can say is wow. Wow that I’ve never seen a single player dominate a playoff game the way Kaepernick did, and wow does the Packers defense have major problems (more on that later).
After throwing an early pick-six, Kaepernick was nearly perfect. But it wasn’t with his arm, it was with his legs. Though he threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-31 passing, Kaepernick’s biggest part of this game was his ability to run and kill the Packers defense with his legs. He ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries, including a 56-yard read-option run where he went untouched to the end zone.
Though Kaepernick was able to beat the Packers by himself, he did have a nice surrounding cast around him. Frank Gore ran for 119 yards and a touchdown and Michael Crabtree had 119 yards receiving and caught both of Kaepernick’s touchdown passes.
The 49ers defense played their part in the victory as well. They pretty much shut down the Packers running game, forcing Aaron Rodgers to carry the load and play a perfect game, which was too much to ask in this game. Though they only sacked Rodgers once, he was constantly under pressure and having to scramble, and the 49ers defense was able to force a bad interception out of Rodgers.
3. Packers Problems Are Plentiful
Well, the Packers are not as good as everyone, including myself (before this game, mind you), thinks. They are far and away from the 2010 team that won the Super Bowl, and back-to-back one-and-done embarrassing losses in the playoffs have proved that.
For starters, the Packers lack of a running game is laughable. It’s been 43 games since they last had a 100-yard rusher. This comes from having average (at best) running backs and head coach Mike McCarthy’s tendency to abandoned the running game and put the game on Rodgers. Couple that with a shaky offensive line, and every game for the Packers relies on Rodgers’ talent to win for them, which simply cannot work in the playoffs. The formula to beat the Packers is very simple: take away any running game and force Rodgers to throw against seven and eight-man coverages. The Giants and 49ers have followed this formula and have been victorious against the Packers in the past two playoffs.
But aside from offensive problems, the Packers have plenty of holes on defense as well. Yes, they’ve dealt with numerous injuries on that side of the ball over the years (and let’s face it, you can’t constantly overcome injuries to key starters and win the Super Bowl), but the guys on the field are too inept to stop good teams, evident again against Kaepernick and the 49ers. Aside from Clay Matthews, they have almost no pass rush, and the other linebackers are just not talented enough to play in the 3-4 scheme. Brad Jones and Eric Walden aren’t good enough, and A.J. Hawk is more suited for a 4-3 middle linebacker position. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has got to be on the hot seat.
Though I could go on for days about what’s wrong with the Packers and about what they need to do, I’ll stop here. This is enough of a preview to the problems the Packers are faced with. But to all you fans out there of the 49ers, Seahawks and Redskins, you don’t have to worry about the Packers in the playoffs for the next year or two. The roster is not talented enough to face the NFC’s best.
4. Matt Ryan & Co. Finally Win In Playoffs
I can only imagine how relieving of an exhale Matt Ryan took after holding his breath during Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal. Well, the “he can’t win in the playoffs” monkey is finally off his back. The new question is, can he lead the Falcons to the promise land?
Ryan threw for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against a very good Seahawks defense and secondary. But, “Matty Ice” was perfect when it mattered most, and that was when the game was on the line. At his own 28-yard line, down 28-27 with 31 seconds left and two timeouts remaining, Ryan completed a 22-yard pass to Hugh Douglas and a 19-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez to set up Bryant’s game-winning 49-yard field goal.
Since we know Ryan is still clutch and can now win in the playoffs, it will be interesting to see if he and the Falcons can win again at home against the 49ers on Sunday. With a solid offensive line, dynamic duo at running back, and receiving trio that rivals anyone’s in the league, Ryan has a good chance to take the Falcons back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1998 season.
5. Seattle Falls Short Of Stunner
The loss to the Falcons has to be a heartbreaker, especially since the Seahawks came so close to pulling off an epic postseason comeback. Down 20-0 at halftime and 27-7 going into the fourth quarter, the Seahawks proved to be resilient, and that rookie quarterback Russell Wilson is their answer for the franchise.
Wilson led the Seahawks to touchdowns on three of their four fourth quarter drives (before the hail mary attempt at the end), taking the lead 28-27 with those 21 unanswered points. Though they came up just short in the end, the Seahawks are going to be contenders for years to come. And Seahawks fans, you should be very happy. Wilson has exceeded all expectations this year, and has become the piece that was missing from this team for the past few years. Marshawn Lynch is still a top-five back, the defense continues to be one of the best in the league week-in and week-out, and the receiving corps is good enough, but not great. If they can get one more big-play receiver (hint: Greg Jennings), it’s hard to see the Seahawks not being the NFC favorites.
6. Brady Torches Texans, Again
This game was business as usual for Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots, beating the Texans in convincing fashion for the second time this season and setting up a rematch against the Ravens in Foxborough for the AFC Championship Game.
In the 41-28 win, Brady was once again flawless, completing 25-of-40 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Brady’s surrounding cast was just as good, with Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Shane Vereen having 131, 85 and 83 receiving yards, respectively, and Stevan Ridley adding 82 yards on the ground.
The Patriots defense played their part as well, holding Texans running back Arian Foster to under 100 yards rushing, while also forcing a Matt Schaub interception. This defense is fast and physical, giving the Patriots a championship-caliber defense that they have lacked since their three Super Bowl titles in four years nearly a decade ago.
There’s one downside for the Patriots, and that’s having Rob Gronkowski out for the rest of the playoffs with his broken left arm. Though Gronkowski gives the Patriots a huge advantage on the field, they have managed without him for much of this season. And as long as they have Brady, the Super Bowl is never out of reach.
Extra Point: The Final Four
We’re down to the final four now in the NFL Playoffs, with the 49ers and Falcons fighting for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVII, and the Ravens and Patriots rematching to be the AFC counterparts.
It’s going to be one hell of a Championship Sunday, with two great games featuring four great teams. Here’s a quick preview of the action:
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
The NFC’s top two seeds face each other in the conference championship for the first time since the Vikings and Saints in the 2009 playoffs. The biggest story is going to be the matchup between the Falcons offense and 49ers defense, and rightfully so, but there’s a lot to dissect in that matchup, as well as other matchups in this game.
For starters, the Falcons have a quarterback and receiving corps that is similar to the Packers one that lost to the 49ers. Though the 49ers secondary is going to have their hands full with covering Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, this game could come down to Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers versus the 49ers front seven, which consists of four All-Pro linebackers in Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons defense is going to be on their heels against the 49ers option-running game with Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore. Not only will the Falcons have to be able to generate backfield penetration, they will also need to read their keys and stay honest in order to contain Kaepernick’s outside running speed.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
A rematch of last year’s AFC title game features Ray Lewis’ last hurrah to get to the Super Bowl. But, like last year, it won’t be easy against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense.
Though it’s hard to slow down, let alone stop, Brady, the key for the Ravens in this matchup is to shut down the running game and force Brady to throw. If they are able to do that, it is imperative for the Ravens to generate a pass rush with four or five guys (aka do what the Giants do against Brady). If not, Brady will find the mismatch and pick the Ravens secondary apart.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots secondary faces a huge challenge against the Ravens deep-threat wideouts in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. At the same time, Anquan Boldin has the potential to have a big game as well, but the Patriots front four, led by Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, have the capabilities to get to Joe Flacco and force erratic decisions and throws.
Five Absurdly Awesome Stats
1. Tom Brady now has 17 playoff wins, surpassing Joe Montana for most all-time. Additionally, Brady will be playing in his seventh AFC title game in his 11th season as the Patriots starting quarterback.
2. Since 2003, only the Patriots, Steelers and Colts have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. Once again, the Ravens have the opportunity to end this unique streak.
3. Peyton Manning has gone one-and-done in the playoffs eight times in 12 appearances.
4. Of Colin Kaepernick’s 181 rushing yards against the Packers, all but three yards came before contact. In other words, Kaepernick ran for 178 yards before being contacted (if he ever was at all).
5. The 49ers are the first NFC team to make it to back-to-back title game appearances since the Eagles made it to four straight from 2001-2004.
Coaching Carousel Updates
Despite interviewing with the Eagles, Brian Kelly has decided to stay at Notre Dame.
Mike Garafolo of USA Today reports that the Eagles have interviewed former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt for the team’s head coach job.
The Eagles have also interviewed former Ravens head coach and current FOX analyst Brian Billick for the team’s head coach job, reports Houston Mitchell of the Los Angeles Times.
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is now officially a hot commodity for a head coach job. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com reports that the Cardinals want a second interview with McCoy. Gantt also says that McCoy is scheduled to meet with the Chargers for their head coach job.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jaguars are interviewing their defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, as well as Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, for the team’s head coach job.
The autopsy results of former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, who Belcher killed in a murder-suicide on December 1st, have been released.
Christine Vendel of The Kansas City Star reports that the autopsy on Belcher revealed that his blood-alcohol level was .17 when he died. The autopsy on Perkins showed that she died from nine bullet wounds, some of which could indicate she attempted to shield herself before falling to the floor where Belcher continued to shoot her. Belcher died from a single gunshot wound to his head.
Michael Cellars currently attends Kent State University, where he is majoring in English with minors in writing and psychology. In addition to his studies, he serves in the Ohio Army National Guard. During his free time, he surrounds himself with as much of the NFL as possible, and writes for football websites NFL Soup and Football Nation. Michael’s favorite team is the Green Bay Packers, who he has been an avid fan for his entire life.