NFL Wild Card Saturday Observations

By Josh Satler –

The Cardinals finally got smart. After attempting to play an entire second half of the NFL season without a running game, and getting obliterated by every playoff contender they faced, Whisenhunt got wise: He put Edgerrin James back in the lineup. And his fresh legs showed as he rumbled for 73 yards in the contest.

What this did was keep the Falcons’ defense off balance and make the passing game that much more effective; a tired front four can’t apply the same pressure on QBs late in the game and that’s exactly what happened in this one.

Warner was effective throughout, hitting on one beautiful TD pass to Fitzgerald and then a 70 yard TD pass to Boldin, who managed to catch an eight yard crossing pattern and take it all the way to the house, but the turning point in the game came on the second play of the second half.

On a QB Matt Ryan hand off to RB Michael Turner, who was kept under wraps all afternoon, DE Dockett burst through the line and knocked the ball into the air. S Antrelle Rolle was there to scoop up the gift and take it to the house for six. 21-17 and the momentum had clearly changed.

After going up 30-17 late in the 4th, the Falcons rallied to make it 30-24, but when it came time to get one crucial stop, the defense had nothing left in the tank. On a 3rd and 16, with a chance to get the ball back for the offense with just over two minutes remaining in the football game, the LBs inexplicably left the TE alone and he managed a 1st down. Game over.

So with the win the Cardinals will travel either to the Giants or Panthers, depending on the outcome of the Vikings game today, while the Falcons, who had a heck of a year, are home for the rest of the playoffs.

In the late game, we witnessed quite a thriller. Not that we should have expected anything different after the battles these teams have had over the past few years. The Colts, confident and riding a nine game winning streak, took on the Chargers in San Diego and were upended in OT 23-17.

The Chargers played one heck of a game defensively. DC Ron Turner mixed his blitzes up beautifully and threw Manning’s rhythm and timing off all night, and with no running game to speak of (Addai and Rhodes combined for 58 yards on 20 carries), the Chargers were able to key against the pass.

And aside from one long TD pass to Wayne, which came courtesy of a defense not ready for the play, Manning had another typical playoff performance: Decent numbers but unable to make the crucial play at the key moment.

And the crucial play came with just over two minutes left on a 3rd and two. Had the Colts made a 1st down, they could’ve run the clock out. Instead, the Colts spread out their offense and after Manning pumped to his first guy, who was not open, he was clobbered by the Chargers LB for a sack at the one yard line. The Colts were forced to punt and the Chargers drove for a game tying FG.

On the other side of the ball, the Chargers were equally unimpressive aside from the speed demon known as RB Darren Sproles. After a groin injury limited Tomlinson to just five carries, Sproles took over and was the man of the night. Having to pick up the slack for Rivers, who was off all night, the scat back reached the 100-yard plateau on his final carry in OT as he made up for an earlier goal line fumble and propelled his team into the 2nd round of the playoffs.

So the Bolts are moving on while the Colts, winners of nine straight games, are sent home early once again in what’s come to be expected from Peyton and his crew in the playoffs. Aside from 2006, and a couple of gifts that season—the top seeded Chargers getting knocked out, Manning’s now 7-8 in the post season.

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