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Playoffs and Layoffs: Black Monday for the NFL

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but who gets the blame.” Blaine Nye

After 17 weeks, 256 games and 11,985 points scored the NFL regular season ended last night when Dallas Cowboys’ Quarterback Kyle Orton was intercepted by Brandon Boykin.  That pass ended the Cowboys playoff hopes and season and sent the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs as champions of the NFC East.

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It was an exciting end to the season. The season went down to the wire for the Eagles, the Green Bay Packers who came from behind to stun the Chicago Bears to take the NFC Central and the San Diego Chargers who swiped the last AFC Wild Card when Baltimore and Miami lost.

The playoffs are now set. The Wild Card round will feature the AFC South Champion Indianapolis Colts (11-5) play the number 5 Wild Card seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) and the AFC Central Champion Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) face off against the number six seed San Diego Chargers (9-7). In the NFC the Eagles (10-6) will square off against the number six seed New Orleans Saints (11-5) while the NFC Central Champion Green Bay Packers (9-7) will face number five seed the San Francisco 49ers (12-4). The AFC West Champion Denver Broncos (13-3)  AFC East Champion New England Patriots, NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers (12-4) NFC West Champion Seattle Seahawks have first round byes.

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Among the teams left out of the playoff picture from last season are last year’s Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons.

As good as some teams were some were very bad and with badness went pink slips. As legendary coach John McKay said of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers years ago: “We stunk. We blocked bad; we were terrible on defense and our kicking game made up for it by being absolutely horrible. I saw nothing that delighted me, we ran on the field fairly well.”

Kansas City Chiefs vs Washington Redskins

But the bigger news today are the firings of coaches. Since Sunday night five coaches had been fired. The pink slips started Sunday night with the Cleveland Browns (4-12) who fired first year head coach Rob Chudzinski, that moved surprised many observers. The firings began in earnest this morning when the Minnesota Vikings (5-10) fired Leslie Frazier, the 7-9 Detroit Lions fired 5th year coach Jim Schwartz after a late season collapse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) fired their Head Coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominick. Lastly the controversy ridden Washington Redskins who finished a dismal season at 3-13 fired the highly paid Mike Shanahan despite still owing him another $7 million dollars. Washington owner Daniel Snyder will be looking for his 7th Head Coach since 1999.

Some player’s like Washington’s fullback Darrel Young blamed themselves for their coach’s demise. Young said “We failed a Hall of Fame coach. It was a lack of execution by the players this year.”

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Not counted among the Black Monday casualties was Houston Texan’s head coach Gary Kubiak who was fired December 6th. The Texans who had made the playoffs last year finished the season 2-14, the worst record in the league. The Texans had lost 11 games in a row after winning their first two of the season and had been pre-season favorites to get to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins and Texans were both so bad this year that John McKay’s statement on when the Buccaneers had lost their record setting 26th straight game: “Three or four plane crashes and we’re in the playoffs.”

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Other coaches could still be fired, rumors are swirling about a number of others but one who seems to be safe is Cowboy’s Head Coach Jason Garrett who still has the public backing of GM and Owner Jerry Jones. However it is expected that several assistants will be let go. Likewise Rex Ryan of the Jets has survived. Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen could be gone soon, he has not been offered any contract extensions and finished with a 4-14 record in 2013. Rumors also swirl about Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbon after a disappointing fish to the season.

So things will be interesting both on and off the field for the next month.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Falcons Win the Battle of the Birds: Defeat Seahawks 30-28

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Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant kicks the winning field goal to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL NFC Divisional playoff. (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Keane)

It has been a long time coming and it looked for a moment that it wouldn’t happen yet again. The Atlanta Falcons finally broke their playoff drought and defeated the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 30-28 to advance to the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

It looked early on that the Falcons would run away with the game. Ahead 20-0 at the half and taking a 27-7 lead into the 4th quarter it seemed that they could do little wrong. But the Seahawks, an explosive offense with rookie Quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm stormed back and went ahead with just 31 seconds left on the clock. The Seahawks led by Wilson who set a team record 385 passing yards passed for 2 touchdowns and ran for another.

The Atlanta 4th quarter meltdown was of epic proportions. It seemed the the Seahawks who appeared to be on the verge of certain defeat were on their way to the biggest 4th quarter comeback in NFL history. Fox Sports commentator Brian Billick seemed to think so even after the game that they had won stating: “This win legitimizes the Seattle Seahawks as the #1 seed and the team to beat.” It was a great quote and misstatement as Billick obviously meant the Falcons who are the number one seed in the NFC but who was outspoken in his belief that Seattle would win the game. One thing is sure is that Pete Carroll and Seattle will be undefeated next week especially since they will be watching the 49ers and Falcons play. It is hard to lose when you don’t play. Come to think of it it is hard to win as well, but I digress.

The only problem was that Seattle hadn’t won. Somehow the Falcons managed to come back. Jacquizz Rodgers returned the kickoff 34 yards and then Matt Ryan struck. Hit hit Harry Douglas for 29 yards and completed a 19 yard pass to Tony Gonzalez. Calling their final timeout the Falcons set up for a 49 yard field goal by Matt Bryant. Just before the snap Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called timeout to freeze Bryant. It was a critical call. Bryant’s kick went wide and would have given the Seahawks the win. However on the second attempt his kick went straight through the uprights to put the Falcons up 30-28 with 8 seconds left in the game. Despite an onside kick by the Falcons that gave the Seahawks great field position Wilson could not rally rally Seattle his last pass, a Hail Mary being intercepted with no time left on the clock.

For the Falcons it was a vindication and for their fans a relief. Over the past 5 years they have won more games in the regular season than any time other that the New England Patriots. Until today they had never won a playoff game and Ryan was 0-3 in previous playoff appearances.

The Falcons now move on to host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game next week.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Run Away By the Bay: 49ers Thrash Packers 45-31 in NFC Division Matchup

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick runs for a 56-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC divisional playoff NFL football game. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The San Francisco 49ers ran all over the Green Bay Packers in the first NFC Divisional Playoff Game on Saturday night. Second year Quarterback Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 45-31 win over the Packers, going through the Packer defense like a knife through hot Brie. The 49ers offense pounded the Packers defense gaining 579 yards against a defense that had only allowed 324 against the Vikings a week ago and forced 3 turnovers.

Kaepernick passed for 263 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Michael Crabtree was Kaepernick’s primary target catching 9 passes for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kaepernick ran for 181 yards and an addition two touchdowns. Running Back Frank Gore ran for 119 yards and a touchdown. Kaepernick recovered from a pick six interception during the 49ers first possession on his way to a record setting playoff performance.

The 49ers led at the half by a core of 24-21 and never looked back dominating the second half. Although the Packers and Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had decent offensive numbers they never really got completely in sync while the Packers defense was no match for Kaepernick and the 49ers machine. The 49ers also capitalized on Packers turnovers including a fumble on a punt near the Green Bay goal line.

The win demonstrated why 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh stayed with Kaepernick even after starter Alex Smith recovered from an injury sustained in week nine. Kaepernick’s passing was deadly and his running ability was impossible for the Packers to counter.

San Francisco will now advance to play the winner of the Seahawks and Falcons game on Sunday.  It will be the first back to back appearance in the NFC Championship for the 49ers since 1993-1994. Should the 49ers and the Ravens both win next weekend it would set up the first matchup between brothers serving as head coaches of Super Bowl teams.

Well until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Wild Finish to a Wild Card Weekend: Steelers “Tebowed”

Tim Tebow passing to Demaryius Thomas (Photo Jeff Gross Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the New England Patriots in the AFC Division playoff game next Sunday…well that was what I heard all this week. The Steelers though hobbled by key injuries on their offense and defensive were nine point favorites to defeat the Denver Broncos and move on in the playoffs.  That did not happen. Since i listen to and watch a great amount of sports radio and television I can say that if there were “experts” out there picking the Broncos to win this game they were not saying so with any conviction. The best that I heard was that the Broncos would likely cover the point spread but not win.  That was even the talk before the game today.

And why not? Who could blame the experts? The Steelers were 12-4 during the regular season. The Broncos had lost their last three games and had not scored a touchdown in their last 22 offensive drives. The magic seemed to have disappeared for Tim Tebow, the defense was porous and a week ago the Broncos just looked bad against he Chiefs. They won the AFC West because the Oakland Raiders lost their final game against the hapless San Diego Chargers looking every bit as bad as the Broncos.

Yes the Steelers were banged up but certainly Tim Tebow stood no chance against their top ranked defense.  That was the line.  Tebow was history and had every possibility of being replaced by backup QB Brady Quinn during game if the Broncos fell behind according to some.

I didn’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t care for the Steelers and because I grew up with the Raiders really am not a Broncos fan. But given the choice I would root for the Broncos something that goes back to Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception against the Raiders back in December of 1972 but I don’t hold grudges, I did root for the Steelers whenever they played the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.

However things did not play to the script of the experts.  I am not a big Tebow fan and don’t believe that he is at the same level as Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. That being said I do believe that Tebow has character and is a leader who can win in the most unlikely circumstances.  I also think that the mean spirited and cynical attacks on his faith are uncalled for and classless and that politicians that compare themselves to him are are even worse than Tebow’s most mean spirited critics.

Today Tebow and the Broncos offense dominated the Steelers defense and the Broncos defensive unit put the hit on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger sacking him 5 times and intercepting him once.  Tebow who had struggled terribly over the past few weeks came though in a big way. He threw for 316 yards and ran for another 50 while throwing two touchdowns and rushing for another without committing the turnovers that plagued him in the last three games of the season.

After giving up two first quarter field goals the Broncos scored 20 points in just under 7 minutes during the 2nd quarter to lead the game 20-6 at the half.  The Steelers tied the game at 23 with 3:48 left in the game sending it into overtime.

The overtime was the first played under the new sudden death rules but those rules became irrelevant on the first play of overtime when the Tebow hit WR Demaryius Thomas on a 80 yard pass scoring 11 seconds into the overtime an NFL record.

It was a stunning play which electrified the Broncos fans and even owner John Elway who appeared exuberant on the sidelines.  The Steelers were stunned. Their season was not supposed to end in Denver.

Tim Tebow and the Broncos now travel to Foxboro to play Tom Brady and the powerful New England Patriots. The Patriots are already big favorites and are certainly the best team in the AFC.  They have been rolling over their opponents even after giving up big leads early.  I do expect that the miraculous season of Tim Tebow and the Broncos ends this week but if there is a quarterback and team that could upset the Pats in Foxboro it is Tim Tebow and the Broncos.  If they keep the game close it could be a classic.

In other playoff action the New York Giants dominated the Atlanta Falcons 28-2, the Houston Texans won their first playoff game in franchise history defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10 after trailing 10-7 at the half and the New Orleans Saints defeated the Detroit Lions 45-28.

Demaryius Thomas stiff arms Ike Taylor on the way to the winning touchdown (Photo  Doug Pensinger Getty Images)

As for Broncos and Tim Tebow the season is the stuff that legends are made of and Tebow, well in my humble opinion he is going to become a legend in the NFL. It won’t be because he is or ever will be the best passer in the game, but it will be because of his athleticism, character and leadership abilities.  Of course I could be wrong but there is something special about him and I think that 10 years from now people will still be scratching their heads and wondering how he does what he does.

As for me, I’m cheering for my 49ers and they will only see the Broncos if they meet in the Super Bowl.

It will be interesting.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Another Wild “Wild Card” Weekend

Marshon Lynch runs for a spectacular touchdown with Matt Hasselbeck following

Well what can we say; it was another wild “Wild Card” weekend that defied predictions and expectations.  As my regular readers know I am not a big football fan being it is not the one true religion of the Church of Baseball, however since it is mildly interesting I do occasionally watch it just so I can converse with those that are faithful followers of that heretical sect. Despite the fact that I don’t follow it religiously I do know a lot about the sport just as I would as a Priest study other denominations.

This weekend was a wild one with a shocker, an upset, a blowout and a hard fought battle decided by crappy field goal kicking.

The Shocker: Seahawks 41 Saints 36: I like chaos in footfall and tend to cheer for the underdogs just to see chaos happen.  I was not disappointed.  Yesterday as I continued to recuperate from the crud that has been kicking my ass I laid on the couch and watched the Seattle Seahawks beat down the heavily favored Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. I think that this was the big story of the weekend. The Seahawks who won the NFC West with a losing record were double digit underdogs at home to the reigning NFL Champs. Never before have I seen a team so disrespected and with good reason even get into the playoffs. However, I wanted them to win and was overjoyed with the hurt that they put on the Saints. The score was 41-36 but it did not seem that close despite heroic performance by Saints Quarterback Drew Brees.  The Seahawks were 10 point underdogs at home facing the defending Super Bowl Champions and they pulled the biggest post season upset that we have seen for some time. Final score Seahawks 41 Saints 36.  I love an upset.  The lowly Seahawks who have nothing to prove will travel to Chicago to play Da-Bears in the Divisional match up.

Nick Folk and the Jets celebrate after his game winning field goal against the Colts

The Upset: Jets 17 Colts 16: The Colts were favored but Rex Ryan and crew finally defeated his personal nemesis Payton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts in the closing seconds of Sunday’s game. The Colts have always dominated the Jets or had Manning steal the game in the closing minutes causing Ryan to remark that this game was “personal.” Once again it looked like Manning was following the same script and that Ryan and his Jets would go down to defeat but it was not so.  With the score 14-13 Jets Manning took the Colts into Field goal range to set up a 50 yard field goal by the future hall of fame kicker Adam Vinatieri to put the Colts up 16-14. With only 53 seconds left it was up to Mark Sanchez and crew to get the job done and Ryan trusted Sanchez and crew to get the team into position to win. Antonio Cromartie returned the kickoff 47 yards and Sanchez took the Jets to the Colt 18 in five plays to set up the winning field goal. The remarkable thing about the play to set up the field goal was that Ryan and his offensive coordinator listened to Wide Receiver Braylon Edwards for a pass play instead of a safe run which they favored. Sanchez connected with Edwards to set up Folk and win the game. It was a stunning blow to the Colts who expected to win at home.  Ryan who had talked about the game being personal was gracious in victory “We’ve been in some close ones this year, but to come out and pull this game out against a great football team, against a great quarterback, it was a Herculean effort…I mean really, I’m just thankful for the men I coach. Thankful for the two backs we got, that pounded it in there. Thankful for that coaching staff. Thankful for Nick Folk, and I’m thankful that I finally got to beat Peyton Manning.” The Jets now travel to Foxborough to play their Eastern Conference rival and nemesis the New England Patriots.

Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a 30-10 win over the Chiefs

The Blowout: Ravens 30 Chiefs 10: The Ravens went on the road as a wild card to face the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs.  The Ravens were favored but the Chiefs did keep the game close through the first half but in the second half the Ravens’ defense strangled the Chiefs’ offense allowing only 25 yards in the final two quarters. The Ravens controlled the ball on offense for 41 minutes and 44 seconds with Joe Flacco throwing for 248 yards with 2 touchdown passes.  The Ravens’ defense held the Chiefs’ to just 8 first downs and forced 5 turnovers.  The Chiefs were simply overmatched, outgunned and outplayed.  The Ravens will now head to Pittsburgh to continue their rivalry in the AFC Divisional playoff.  For the Chiefs it was their 7th consecutive playoff lose dating to 1994.

The end of Michael Vick’s magical season

The Battle: Packers 21 Eagles 16: Michael Vick’s magical season came to an end on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers. In a game marked by tough play the Packers led 21-10 with 8:50 left in the game and Vick engineered a 13 play 4 minute 48 second 75 yard drive to make the score 21-16. The Eagles failed on a two point attempt abut managed to get the ball back with 1:45 left in the game on their 34. Vick brought them back to get the ball down the field to the Packer 27 when with 33 seconds left he threw an interception in the end zone which ended the Eagles’ season.  Aaron Rodgers ran the Packer offense well and the Pack finally produced a running game.  Vick did not have a bad game throwing for 292 yards and a touchdown while running for 33 and a second touchdown. The game was decided by two missed field goals as Pro Bowl Philadelphia kicker David Akers missed from 41 and 34 yards.  The Packers move on to Atlanta to play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome where Atlanta has dominated this season.

Once again the Wild Card round did not disappoint and it will be interesting to see what surprises take place in the Divisional Playoff games this week.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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