It’s been said that the divisional round of the playoffs is the best weekend in the NFL calendar. It would be hard to disagree after this past weekend’s games.
With the top two seeds from both conferences getting their playoffs started against wild card weekend winners and a spot in the conference finals up for grabs, it makes for four compelling games.
So many things made this past NFL weekend outstanding: Three of the four games were still for the taking late into the fourth quarter; one notable upset took place; rivalries, uncanny similarities, and history between two teams enhanced the action on the field in three of the four games.
Of course, Seattle was too ultimately good for Carolina (as many expected), but the Seahawks still had plenty of work do in the fourth quarter.
But after the dust settled after the weekend, we’re left with some interesting questions going forward. Here are three of the issues arising from Sunday’s games:
Aaron Rodgers’ Health
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is likely to be named league MVP and as far as the divisional weekend’s individual performances go, his has to be at the top.
Rodgers had no mobility to escape the pocket given his left calf injury. He wasn’t bad in the first half, but the offense he leads only put 10 points on the board. Perhaps he was just getting warmed up.
His second half performance was heroic. His numbers: 15 completions in 18 attempts (83 percent completion) for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns—and, of course, no interceptions.
“That’s as good as it gets,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game.
Rodgers explained that as long as he was able to set his feet and throw, he could manage, but his mobility was lacking. This was a prime example of a superstar player battling through injury with the season on the line and leading his team to victory.
But what about this weekend at Seattle, a place where Green Bay lost by 20 in Week 1, and then possibly the Super Bowl? Rodgers said, “I think I got 120 minutes left in me.”
Rodgers was able to lean heavily on his running game, but Seattle’s better at stopping the run than Dallas is. Eddie Lacy gashed the Cowboys for 101 yards and one would think the Seahawks could put more men in the box to take away the run game early and test Rodgers early.
Seattle’s defense is a different animal and Rodgers and the Packers have been very ordinary away from Lambeau (4–4 record).
Should It Be a Catch?
Despite Rodgers’ heroics, the Dallas–Green Bay game came down to one decision by referee Gene Steratore. Dallas was trailing 26–21 and facing 4th-and-2 with just over four minutes to play. Tony Romo goes deep to Dez Bryant who appears to make a spectacular catch, but in coming down with the ball, stretches for the end zone and the ball touches the turf before the Cowboys’ receiver regains control.
The play was initially ruled a catch, but after McCarthy challenged it, Steratore overturned the call. He merely correctly interpreted the complicated rules of what constitutes a catch.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” said Bryant.
“The calls don’t go your way some times,” said Romo. “It’s part of the game.”
McCarthy said, “He didn’t complete the catch. You have to challenge that.” Challenging the call was the obvious thing to do under the circumstances.
“You have to control the ball all the way to the ground,” Rodgers said.
The thing is, many intuitively feel that Bryant made the catch. One function of rules is to merely codify what is intuitive. But that isn’t the case here.
The play will be talked about for years to come like Tom Brady’s incomplete pass (not a fumble) due to forward progress of his arm against the Oakland Raiders in the 2002 AFC divisional round (“tuck rule”). Intuitively, it looked like Brady fumbled, but not so, according to the NFL rules at that time.
That’s sports. There’s human judgment involved and sometimes it directly determines the outcome of a game. It won’t be the last such incident in NFL football, whether rules are revised or not.
Passing the Torch
Was this the last we saw of Peyton Manning? Denver’s quarterback had a game to forget as the Indianapolis Colts booked their ticket to New England in the AFC championship game.
On Monday, ESPN reported Manning played the game with a torn right quad muscle. In his postgame press conference, Manning said it was a thigh injury from the San Diego game that “hung around.”
When asked if he’d be back next year, he said, “I can’t give that simple answer,” and that he still needed to process the game.
Manning’s had a difficult stretch run to the playoffs. His season finishes with one game in the last six with a QB rating of over 100.0 after starting the season with six of his first seven games with QB ratings over 100.0.
Credit Indianapolis’ secondary who made life very difficult for the future Hall of Famer, but Manning was also inaccurate.
Meanwhile, Colts QB Andrew Luck will march into his first AFC championship game. Luck is following in the footsteps of Manning who, of course, was the Colts’ QB for 13 years.
Many were expecting another Manning–Brady showdown in the AFC championship game, but if Brady sticks around a few more years, Luck–Brady showdowns could become one of the most anticipated QB matchup in the AFC.
But it will be hard to imagine the NFL without Peyton Manning, if he decides to call it a career. We’ll see.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports