Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, January 5, 2015 at 7:00 AM
THE NFL WILD CARD ROUND WRAP-UP:
SURPRISE, SURPRISE AS COWBOYS’ COMEBACK WIN
HEADLINES THE WEEKEND ACTION
(BUT WE’VE ALREADY GOT EYES
ON THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS) …
CHECKIN’ OUT A COUPLE OF TOP-FLIGHT
EARLY-IN-THE-WEEK COLLEGE B-BALL GAMES
Now, that wasn’t such a long wait between playoff wins … right Dallas Cowboys’ fans?
Yikes, almost five years to the day since the last time the ‘Boys won a post-season game – see Dallas 34, Philadelphia 14 back in January of 2010 – there was the comeback of the weekend that stole the NFL Wild Card Round headlines as suffice to say we didn’t see all that much 11th-hour drama in the other three first-round playoff showdowns.
In fact, after Carolina, Baltimore and Indianapolis combined to win their respective wild card round games by a composite total of 40 points this past weekend – none of the games being any closer than 11 points – it was the Cowboys (and a quizzical pick-up-the-flag penalty) that provided all the theatrics for this opening playoff round and so it’s onto the “frozen tundra” in Green Bay for an NFC Divisional Playoff game and, yes, the first time the ‘Boys will be in a playoff game at Lambeau Field since that “Ice Bowl” game back in 1967.
Dallas’ rousing 24-20 non-cover home win against 6-point underdog Detroit had plenty of twists and turns and more than a wee bit of controversy and we’ll get to all that shortly as we look back at the NFL Wild Card Round tilts in chronological order:
On Saturday, it was …
CAROLINA 27, ARIZONA 16 – Go ahead and put a little asterisk next to this Panthers’ wild card win here because that was not an NFL-caliber offense that Ron Rivera’s crew was up against … geez, a league playoff record-low 78 yards of total offense!
Still, Carolina shook off some sloppy play – the rainy weather didn’t help either side – and a 14-13 halftime deficit to survive-and-advance despite the fact QB Cam Newton was high-and-wide with a ton of throws plus he threw one INT and lost one fumble and generally was hit-or-miss for much of the late afternoon.
True, Newton gets high marks for showing guts – he rushed the ball seven times for 35 yards and they were big yards, folks – but this could have been doom for the Panthers if not having the great fortune to go against journeyman QB Ryan Lindley who was amateurish at best with his 82 passing yards and two interceptions.
What’s Next – Okay, so as it turned out QB Newton was correct in his post-game TV interview with ESPN when he said his Panthers would be next heading to Seattle and so the drama unfolds as to what the famed “Legion of Boom” defense does against a Carolina attack that may have to limit Newton’s runs based on the report of a banged-up ankle. If you can guarantee that Carolina RB RB Jonathan Stewart (24 carries for 123 yards rushing with one TD) will be the best back on the field here, than maybe the NFC South champs have a fighting chance.
BALTIMORE 30, PITTSBURGH 17 – Let’s get it straight here:
The Steelers’ offense was a mere shell of themselves without injured do-it-all RB Le’Veon Bell – hey, we lost count of how many times he would have been a difference-maker on short pass plays, quick handoffs, etc. -- and no doubt that the Ravens were buoyed by the return of NT Haloti Ngata (coming off his four-game suspension) who helped occupy Pittsburgh blockers here and thus allowed more freedom to roam for the likes of LB Terrell Suggs who was great even before he made that unconscious between-the-knees interception in the final quarter of play.
The Ravens flipped the proverbial bird at the notion they couldn’t win a playoff game in Pittsburgh (see 2002, 2008 and 2010) and used a pair of QB Joe Flacco TD strikes in the second half along with five big sacks of Steelers slinger Ben Roethlisberger to wring out their second double-digit win against Pittsburgh this year and here were a couple of other overlooked stats:
The Steelers were minus 100 penalty yards here – Pittsburgh had 114 yards in fouls; the Ravens just 14 – and couldn’t get to Flacco here while registering just one sack. Consider that Baltimore was playing a raw rookie named James Hurst at left tackle – the first time ever an NFL playoff team started a rookie LT – and shame on overhyped Steelers DC Dick LeBeau for not getting in Flacco’s grill more often here.
What’s Next – The Ravens head to top seed New England for an AFC Divisional Playoff bash this Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET kickoff) and already you’re hearing how Baltimore isn’t “scared” and that the Ravens are the “more physical team” but John Harbaugh’s crew better watch its P’s and Q’s because the Patriots have won/covered each of their last three games in this round.
On Sunday, it was …
INDIANAPOLIS 26, CINCINNATI 10 – Nobody here is gonna “pile on” bewildered Cincy Bengals QB Andy Dalton even though he sported the rather pedestrian stats of 18-of-35 passing for 155 yards and no TDs but we will say that other side of the ball helped to sink perennial playoff loser Marvin Lewis (now 0-for-6 in post-season play … hello Jim Mora, you have company!).
Where was the Cincy pass rush?
See one sack on 44 pass attempts by Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck (376 passing yards with one magical 36-yard scoring strike to WR Donte Moncrief) and why did the Bengals’ secondary give Colts’ receivers so much darn cushion on play-after-play?
It’s a couple of questions the Bengals – now 0-for-the-last 24 years in post-season play – must ask themselves this off-season while the Colts got 103 receiving yards from wide out T.Y. Hilton but does Indy have something to worry about with new #1 RB “Boom” Herron who fumbled twice and had head coach Chuck Pagano a tad jittery while trying to protect that late-game lead.
In reality, Indianapolis got major use of the aforementioned Herron who caught 10 balls for 85 yards and chipped in another 56 yards rushing but we claim the Colts should have posted more points as they settled for a pair of PK Adam Vinatieri field goals in the first and really flirted with danger – except the Bengals simply can’t help themselves at playoff time and so it was “same old, same old” on the Cincinnati post-season front.
It’s getting tired guys, right?
What’s Next – The Colts trek west for an AFC Divisional Round game in Denver this Sunday and while the never-ending comparisons between Luck and Denver QB Peyton Manning will roll on with media know-it-alls it is worth pointing how early in the week that the Broncos have been unable to cover the all-important pointspreads in their two prior Divisional Round games under Manning after having an extra week to rest/prep (see the thrilling 38-35 double-OT loss to 9-point dog Baltimore back in 2012 and last year’s 24-17 non-cover win against 7 ½-point pup San Diego).
DALLAS 24, DETROIT 20 – All the buzz after this game (of course) surrounded the mid-fourth quarter non-pass interference call when the zebras picked up their flag of what appeared to be P.I. on the Cowboys but keep this in mind:
The Lions started their second-half gag job moments into the third quarter when QB Matthew Stafford – now 0-18 SU (straight-up) lifetime on the road against teams with winning records – was intercepted deep in their own end and gotta wonder why with a 17-7 lead the Motowners were quickly chucking caution to the wind.
Secondly – and forgive us for serving as contrarians here – upon further review we don’t believe that was a pass interference on Dallas LB Anthony Hitchens on a third-and-short pass to Detroit TE Brandon Pettigrew and so whether or not the Lions and their coaching staff received an “explanation” or not, there was no contact and thus no foul.
The mind-boggling part of this game is that the Cowboys displayed no real sense of urgency until it was almost too late – how did the ‘Boys ever allow a 99-yard touchdown drive after they already trailed 7-0 in the first quarter? – plus shame on the Lions for losing a game in which they held WR Dez Bryant to a mere three catches for 48 yards and corralled NFL rushing leader RB DeMarco Murray who rushed for just 75 yards on 19 carries?
The ironic part of this game is that Stafford has become the “old Tony Romo” and that means fourth-quarter failures and premature departures from the post-season as the “new” Romo hung tough despite getting harassed, sacked and generally mauled for much of this game … the stats say Detroit collected six sacks but had to be at least 13 or 14 times when Romo hit the turf hard but he mustered up enough energy for that 11-play, 59-yard scoring drive capped by an 8-yard strike to wide open WR Terrance Williams with two-plus minutes left and let’s just say Dallas rookie DE DeMarcus Lawrence is counting his blessings today after that fumble gaffe late – shades of Leon Lett indeed!
What’s Next – The Cowboys were the NFL’s only 8-and-oh team on the road this year and so maybe this trip to Green Bay isn’t gonna rattle Jason Garrett’s gang – especially when you consider the ability for Dallas to rally from big deficits time-after-time this magical season. The Packers are keeping fingers crossed that the calf injury to QB Aaron Rodgers will be close to 100 percent healed by game time, but might Green Bay have other concerns such as matching up with a Cowboys’ OL that has something to prove after Sunday’s shaky showing?
Your attention, please …
Get the Side/Totals winners on this weekend’s NFL Divisional Playoff Games when you check with us at Jim Hurley’s Network right here online at www.jimhurley.com or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 on game day mornings.
Plus remember we’ll have the College Football Championship Game next Monday – that’s #2 Oregon vs. #4 Ohio State – plus all the NBA and College Basketball action when you check with us each and every day.
Note we’ll have plenty of news/notes/previews from the Oregon vs. Ohio State all this week here at Jim Sez, so don’t dare miss out!
COLLEGE BASKETBALL NOTEBOOK
Tonight, it’s …
#14 NOTRE DAME (14-1, 2-0 ACC) at #19 NORTH CAROLINA (11-3, 1-0 ACC) – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Lots of emotion inside the “Dean Dome” this evening as the North Carolina Tar Heels family first pays tribute to one of their favorite sons – the late Stuart Scott of ESPN fame – and then challenges a rock-solid Notre Dame team that is averaging nearly 86 ppg with G Jerian Grant (17.9 ppg) leading the way for the best shooting team in the land (see 55.3 percent from the floor) while Carolina is a sound defensive unit that proved as much in last Saturday’s rollicking 74-50 win at Clemson in which the Tigers shot a measly 28.3 from the floor (and just 6-of-26 from beyond the three-point stripe).
Watch for North Carolina G Marcus Paige who is looking to bounce back from a slow start this year (see just 13.4 ppg while shooting only 37 percent from the floor).
On Tuesday, it’s …
OKLAHOMA STATE (11-2, 1-0 Big 12) at #9 IOWA STATE (10-2, 0-0 Big 12) – 9 p.m. ET, espn2
No doubt the above-listed ISU Cyclones’ ranking has dropped since that 64-60 upset in Brooklyn against 6 ½-point dog South Carolina but what we can tell you here is Iowa State’s not likely to shoot 1-of-18 from beyond the three-point line here as was the case against the gritty Gamecocks and you can look for more aggressive to-the-hoop play from F Georges Niang and G Naz Long who combined to shoot just 6-of-24 from the field in that neutral court loss last weekend.
NOTE: Plenty of NFL Divisional Playoff News/Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.