The regular season is over and we are on to the playoffs!! The AFC had four teams competing for the #6 seed yesterday and the most unlikely of them almost squeaked in. Meanwhile, the NFC had two winner-take-all games and a handful of others that sorted out the final seeding. I’m saving the best game for last, just like the NFL did, so let’s look at the AFC first.
After last week, all the AFC division champs – Denver, New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis – were confirmed, as was Kansas City in the #5 slot. The Chargers, Ravens, Dolphins and Steelers had a shot at the second wild card slot, but San Diego was the only team fully in control of its fate.
The Dolphins had an embarrassing showing against the Jets, losing 7-20 at home. Preceded by last week's shutout at Buffalo, it was a rough end to the season for a team that started 3-0 and racked up another three-game winning streak in December. The Ravens hosted the Bengals, hoping for a win that would put them one step closer to the playoffs. Instead, they put up two quick field goals in the first quarter and then allowed 17 straight points before the half. Rookie receiver Marvin Jones has had a great season and catches like this one make it clear why.
Baltimore came back from halftime having suddenly remembered they were still in playoff contention and intercepted Dalton on the Bengals’ first drive, which they converted into a field goal. Cincinnati went three and out and the Ravens responded by scoring a touchdown and completing the two-point conversion to tie the game at 17. The Bengals then proceeded to score 17 another points, including a pick-six with 4:15 on the clock. (Insert your own Joe Flacco “elite interception” joke here or look one up on Twitter where they’ve all been made already.)
While the Ravens and Dolphins crapped away their playoff chances, the Steelers trampled Cleveland 20-7 to hold out hope. The Pittsburgh defense sacked Jason Campbell three times for a total loss of 26 yards, held the Browns to 0-3 in red zone conversions, and didn’t give up a single point until the last six minutes of the game. But the Steelers still needed San Diego to lose to clinch that final spot.
With their playoff spot and seed secured, Kansas City went to San Diego with a lot of its starters on the bench. That should have made for a relatively easy win for the Chargers, but even the second-string Chiefs can put up a fight. The game was 21-14 Chiefs at the half with a field goal in the third adding to that lead. But the Chargers rallied to tie the game at 24 with 3:21 left. Kansas City drove down the field to the San Diego 23, giving Ryan Succop a 41-yard field goal for the win – and a Steelers playoff bid. The field goal went wide right and sent the game into overtime. The Chiefs held the Chargers to a field goal but couldn’t score on their first possession, and thus San Diego earned the #6 spot in the AFC bracket as hearts were torn asunder all across Pittsburgh (and my Facebook wall).
But it wouldn’t be the postseason without a little controversy. Turns out the Chargers defense was in an illegal formation on that missed field goal play. Had the refs noticed and called the penalty, it would have cost San Diego five yards and a repeat down – and could have changed the outcome of the game. My condolences to Steeler Nation. That's a terrible way to miss the playoffs.
Oh, and one last thing before I leave the AFC. Rookie linebacker LaRoy Reynolds may play for the third shittiest team in the NFL, but he has balls of steel.
Over in the NFC, the Saints’ easy 42-17 win over the Bucs secured nothing but the loss of Greg Schiano’s job. (Laterz, Greg. You’ll be missed by approximately no one.) However, the Atlanta Falcons nearly gifted their long-time rivals with a division title and a #2 seed. The Panthers and Falcons duked it out in the Georgia Dome, which was packed with so many Carolina fans that the place was deafening no matter which team was driving. The game came down to the final seconds, but in the end, Carolina had three winning factors on their side.
...and the Falcons offense.
Atlanta recovered that botched snap but lost 17 yards on the play. Then they got a false start, which is a five-yard penalty AND a 10-second runoff for an illegal shift in the final minute of the game. So the Falcons, who only needed a field goal to win the game, went from 1st and 10 on their own 43 to 2nd and 31. Carolina wins 21-20 to take the NFC South, New Orleans gets the #6 seed, and the 2012 NFC South champs end the 2013 season at 4-12. Ouch.
Over at Soldier Field, Aaron Rodgers made his triumphant return to lead the Packers to a victory over the Bears and the NFC North title. This game had a rather strange moment about halfway through. You know how sometimes the ball gets knocked out and someone picks it up and just starts running, and you're sitting there thinking, "This is silly, the play is obviously over"? Turns out sometimes it's not over. The Eagles learned this the hard way in Week 1, and the Bears learned it again yesterday.
The play was ruled a fumble (as opposed to an incomplete pass) on the field, which meant the ball was very much alive when Jarrett Boykin scooped it up, and a scoring review confirmed the call. That touchdown plus a field goal put Green Bay up 13-7 at the half. The Bears scored two touchdowns to the Packers' one in the third, and a third TD just seconds into the fourth gave Chicago a 28-20 lead. To which the Packers responded with an Eddie Lacy touchdown and this:
That second score came with 38 seconds left on the clock, and while the Packers missed the two-point conversion, they intercepted the Bears on the final play of the game. Green Bay wins 33-28. Welcome back, Rodgers.
And last but not least, OH MY GOD THE EAGLES ARE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS!!!!!!! Last night's game against the Cowboys was easily the most stressful three hours of my season so far. After hemming and hawing all week about Tony Romo's back injury, Jason Garrett finally officially placed him on IR Friday morning as Romo underwent surgery for a herniated disc. This led to the Cowboys signing Kyle Orton to start last night's game and pulling Jon Kitna out of retirement as their QB2. This game SHOULD have been easy for the Eagles. Just like the game against the Vikings SHOULD have been easy. "Should" is not a word that means much of anything in the NFC East.
The Eagles recovered a Cowboys fumble on the game-opening drive and were able to convert it into a field goal. The Eagles D held the Cowboys to a punt and the Birds put up seven more points on their next drive. And that's when the game started to get dicey. First, the Cowboys did this.
The Eagles returned the favor to bring the score to 17-7, but the defense couldn't stop Jason Witten and he had two passes for 39 yards on a drive that set up Dan Bailey for a 44-yarder. The kick was good. 17-10 Eagles at the half. That's when I started to get nervous.
The Eagles went three and out on the next drive. Dallas kicked another field goal. Nick Foles fumbled the ball and it was recovered by DeMarcus Ware. Another Cowboys field goal. 17-16. The dread began to set in.
With three and a half minutes left in the third, the Eagles drove down the field and found themselves at 4th and goal on the Dallas 1. A failed QB sneak kept it a one-point game, but then the Cowboys offense was held to a punt and the defense let Bryce Brown, the 2012 Eagles Fumble King, score an easy 6-yard touchdown. (The Cowboys run defense was really not so great in the second half of the game.) Then Dez Bryant and Jason Witten combined for all 80 yards of the next drive, including a 32-yard TD reception for Dez. (The Eagles secondary was really not so great in the second half of the game.)
The Eagles managed to stop the two-point conversion to keep the score at 24-22 but punted on their next drive, giving the Cowboys the ball with 1:51 on the clock. And then, on the first play of the drive, THIS MOST GLORIOUS THING HAPPENED:
After playing an absolutely respectable game all night, Kyle Orton Tony Romo'd the shit out of this play. The Eagles ran the ball a couple times to run down the clock before kneeling on the ball, but that interception ended the game. I couldn't have asked for a better finish to the season. FLY EAGLES FLYYYYYYYYY!!!!