By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
The Good, Bad and the Ugly: Wildcard Round
NORTH CAROLINA – The NFL playoffs are here and we had a wild weekend to kick it off. The Cardinals and Chargers pull off upsets, while the Eagles and Ravens win as expected.
Let’s examine the first round of the playoffs in the good, the bad and the ugly from the first weekend of postseason in the NFL.
Cardinals: Arizona shocked the football world by stopping the Falcons’ running game and racking up plenty of yards and points en route to a 30-24 victory in the first round of the playoffs. The two playoff veterans, Kurt Warner and Edgerin James played exceptionally well in leading the Cardinals to only their third playoff home victory in franchise history and the first since 1998. Warner was 19-of-32 for 271 yards and two touchdowns, while James rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries. Defensively, Arizona played surprising well, holding the NFL’s second leading rusher, Michael Turner to 42 yards on 18 carries, and forcing the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Matt Ryan to throw the ball 40 times for only 199 yards and two huge interceptions. The Cardinals move on to play the Panthers in what the experts believe will be an easy victory for Carolina, considering the fact that Arizona hasn’t won a game this year on the East Coast. If their defense can play as well as they did against the Falcons, Arizona can finally win a game in the cold and move on to the NFC Championship game — more on this game later.
Chargers: If you thought Arizona’s victory was a surprise, then San Diego’s win would have to be the biggest surprise so far in the playoffs. Playing with an injured LT and Antonio Gates, the Chargers outplayed the Colts and Peyton Manning, and pulled out a thrilling 23-17 overtime victory to advance in the AFC playoffs. San Diego dominated both sides of the ball and were the more aggressive and energetic team, which was surprising after an emotional win last week against the Broncos to win the AFC West. Darren Sproles was spectacular in the game, rushing for 105 yards on 22 carries, accounted for 328 total yards — the third most in an NFL playoff game — and scored two touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime. Philip Rivers managed the game, throwing for yards in the game and really executed the game plan for Norv Turner. Defensively, San Diego allowed Manning to throw for over 300 yards, but they managed to step up and stop the potent Colts’ offense when they needed, including a crucial third down late in the game that forced Indy to punt the ball and allowed San Diego to tie the game and send it into overtime. The Chargers right now are playing inspired football, despite injuries and their head coach, and will be a tough out this Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Eagles: Philadelphia continued their stellar play with a convincing win in Minnesota 26-14. Their offense wasn’t spectacular, especially in the red zone, but they didn’t need to be, thanks to their defense, which was great against the Vikings’ offense. Outside a big run by Adrian Peterson early in the game, the Eagles did a good job against the run and kept constant pressure on Tavaris Jackson. Donovan McNabb played well throwing for 300 yards and a 71-yard screen pass to Brian Westbrook that resulted in a touchdown, but outside of that play, the offense continued to struggle inside the red zone. The Eagles move on, but will have to do a better job offensively if they want to go into New York and defeat the defending Super Bowl Champions.
Ravens: Baltimore used a similar formula they had in their 2000 Super Bowl season — great defense, a solid running game and a quarterback that just needs to not lose the game for the team. The Ravens’ defense intercepted Chad Pennington four times, including two by all-world safety Ed Reed, and Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee rushed for nearly 150 yards as the Ravens made it 2-0 in Miami, dominating the Dolphins 27-9 in the first round of the playoffs. The usually reliable Pennington was picked four times in the game, which was the most by a Dolphins’ quarterback in a playoff game. His counterpart, Joe Flacco, struggled badly in the game completing 9 of 23 passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns, but he didn’t need to do much as Reed and the Ravens’ “D” controlled the game from start to finish. The Ravens now face the top seeded Titans in Tennessee, in what should be a very hard hitting football game this Saturday.
Falcons: Question: What happened to the Offensive Rookie of the Year in this game? Answer: Michael Turner. I’ve said all season, the best friend of any quarterback in the NFL is a good running back and solid running game. So when the Cardinals shutdown Turner and Atlanta’s running game on their way to a 30-24 playoff win, I wasn’t surprised Matt Ryan struggled. The media over-hyped this kid so much it’s hard to almost see the promising career he may have. Even after the Falcons lost the game, the mainstream media, who wants this kid to be the “great white hope”, still found a way to praise him even after he threw two huge interceptions. Ryan may be the real deal and turn out to be a great player, but right now he is good at best and the only thing great is the following of media people hyping him as the best quarterback since Dan Marino.
Colts: Indianapolis looked lethargic and suddenly forgot how to execute and close the deal in their playoff loss on the road at San Diego last weekend. With a three-point lead late in the game, the Colts failed to convert on third down, which included Peyton Manning taking an uncharacteristic sack near their goal line. This led to them punting the ball to the Chargers and the Chargers driving down the field to tie the game on a field goal and win the game on a Darren Sproel touchdown in overtime, making the final score 23-17 San Diego. Manning probably had the most meaningless 300-yard passing game of his career, because it never led to any big plays or lots of points in the game. Indy looked like the Colts that started the season 3-4, rather than the streaking Colts that finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak. Now the doubters of Manning and Tony Dungy are second guessing, criticizing and calling them both chokers. Some are even calling for the resignation of Dungy, a Hall of Fame coach who turned around one franchise (Bucs) and saved another (Colts). Dungy and Manning are two guys that will not be appreciated until they are gone. Then and only then will the mainstream media reflect on their greatness. As for Colts’ fans who want to criticize Dungy and Manning for this and every other Colts’ playoff loss during their tenure, be careful what you ask for, because you may just get it and what you “get” may be far more inferior to these two Hall of Fame men.
Dolphins: Miami’s home loss to the Ravens came down to one of the keys to the game I mentioned in last week’s column: The team that wins the turnover battle will win the game. The Ravens won the turnover battle and won the game, but even I was surprised that the fish turned the ball over five times and I was especially surprised Chad Pennington threw four interceptions. Despite the loss, the future is bright with Bill “The Tuna” Parcells returning in the front office, a good coaching staff, a good nucleus of players and surely more good draft picks and free agents on the way.
Vikings: Okay Minnesota fans, before you blame your home playoff loss to the Eagles on Tavaris Jackson, consider the following: Outside of Adrian “Superman” Peterson, the Vikings have no play makers on offense to make big plays in the game, and their defense did a horrible job trying to tackle, especially on a routine screen pass from Donovan McNabb to Brian Westbrook that led to a 71-yard touchdown and a 26-14 loss. You can also put the blame at the feet of Brad Childress, who crumbled under pressure of ownership and the fans, and benched Jackson after naming him the starter. I strongly believe if Jackson had played the entire season he would have been better prepared for Jim Johnson and the Eagles’ exotic blitz packages, especially since they face teams like Chicago, who try to run similar defensive schemes like Philly. Jackson has a great upside, but we will never know if they continue to start him and bench him. Despite what the critics say, Jackson can be a good starter in this league and for Minnesota, but they need to give him more weapons, but more importantly, they need to give him more time.
Divisional Playoff breakdown
Arizona vs. Carolina
Key match up: Kurt Warner vs. the Panthers’ defense. If Carolina wants to get to the NFC Championship game, they must put constant pressure on Warner. They don’t have to sack him, but they must knock him down and disrupt his timing with his receivers down the field. When the two teams played earlier this year in Charlotte, Warner shredded the Panthers’ secondary primarily because Julius Peppers and the Panthers front seven didn’t get much pressure on him, particularly in the first half. If they allow Warner to sit back in the pocket and throw passes to his receivers, the Panthers will have an early exit in the playoffs. Other players that need to come up big will be Edgerin James of the Cardinals and Steve Smith of the Panthers.
Baltimore vs. Tennessee
Key match up: Ed Reed vs. Kerry Collins. The last few times I’ve matched him with a quarterback, Reed won the battle. For most of the year, Collins hasn’t had to win football games for the Titans simply because of their great defense and running game, but in this game he may have to do so. If Ed Reed can come up with big picks like he did against Chad Pennington and the Dolphins, look for the Ravens to move on to the AFC Championship game. Other players that need to come up big are Joe Flacco (who played below average against the Dolphins) and the Titans offensive line. Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if Collins struggles, gets pulled from the game for Vince Young, and Young leads the Titans to a victory and the conference game? Hmmmm?
Philadelphia vs. New York
Key match up: Jim Johnson vs. Kevin Gilbride. It will be a battle of coordinators when these two NFC East rivals meet next weekend. This will be the ultimate chess match with Johnson’s defense trying to stop Gilbride’s offense. If the Eagles can get to Eli Manning, sack him and keep pressure on him, “happy feet” can kick in with the Super Bowl quarterback and that could lead to turnovers and a loss, but if Gilbride’s offensive line can protect Manning and the Giants can run the ball successfully, the Giants will move on and the Eagles’ late season magical ride will come to an end. Deshaun Jackson of the Eagles and Kevin Boss of the Giants need to come up big for their teams, too.
San Diego vs. Pittsburgh
Key match up: The Chargers’ pass rush vs. the Steelers’ offensive line. Plain and simple, the Steelers offensive line must protect Ben Roethlisberger and give him time to throw the ball down the field. If “Big Ben” is constantly on his back looking up at the sky, the black and gold will be going home and San Diego will be moving on. If they protect him, it will be a long day for Norv Turner and the Chargers. Pittsburgh must contain Darren Sproles, especially since he had over 300 yards of total offense against the Colts. The Steelers need Willie Parker to finally get going and run the ball like the Parker of two years ago, since he seems to be healthy again.
My top 12 teams after Wildcard round
1. Tennessee 2. Giants 3. Pittsburgh 4. Carolina 5. Philadelphia 6. San Diego 7. Arizona 8. Baltimore 9. Indianapolis 10. Minnesota 11. Atlanta 12. Miami
Best Division 1 basketball team of the week:
Boston College: Tyrese Rice scored 25 points and Rakim Sanders added 22 to help Boston College stun North Carolina 85-78 knocking the Tar Heels from the ranks of unbeaten and out of the top spot in college basketball. Reggie Jackson had 17 points for the Eagles, who led by six points at halftime and pushed the lead to as many as 15 before holding off the Heels for the victory in the ACC opener for both teams.
Worst Division 1 basketball team of the week:
Boston College: Talk about going from the “penthouse” to the “outhouse”! Jeremy Lin scored 27 points to lead Harvard to an 82-70 upset over Boston College three days after the Eagles upset previously top-ranked North Carolina. The Eagles, who had their 10-game winning streak snapped, defeated the unbeaten Tar Heels 85-78 in Chapel Hill for one of the school’s biggest regular season wins to move into the Top 25 only to allow the Ivy league school to come into their gym and defeat them convincingly. It was Harvard’s first win over a ranked opponent. BC’s loss was the fourth straight time that, following an unranked team’s upset of the No. 1 team, that unranked team has lost its next game.
Best HBCU basketball team of the week:
Morgan State: Reggie Holmes scored 25 points, and Morgan State rallied from a 14-point deficit in the final 12 minutes to shock Maryland 66-65 Wednesday night, ending the Terrapins’ seven-game winning streak. The historically black college from the MEAC based in Baltimore, were 0-5 against the Terrapins before the game in a series that began in 1988. Dave Neal tied it at 63 with two foul shots, and after Holmes buried another 3, Landon Milbourne made a basket for Maryland and was fouled with 29.8 seconds left. He missed the free throw, and the Terrapins subsequently misfired on several opportunities. The Bears held Maryland to 35 percent shooting and 1-14 from the 3 point line. With the win, the Bears improve their record to 6-8.
Best HBCU basketball player of the week:
Darshawn Johnson, Fayetteville State: Johnson turned in a career-high 21-point performance in the Broncos’ 90-78 win over Lincoln (PA). Johnson has started in all of the Broncos’ games thus far. His previous career high was 17 points against Virginia State in late November.
Don’t forget to check out my show on blogtalkradio.com called “The Batchelor Pad.” It airs Monday through Friday 6pm-8pm EST. We discuss the world of sports from a social, economic and racial standpoint. Just go to the site and type “batchelor” in the search section.
Until next week…….Stay positive, be safe and enjoy the games!