The Jets pulled off a huge upset. What else did Athlon learn from Divisional Weekend?
The Mouth That Roared
The guy will just not shut up, but maybe that’s part of the master plan. Rex Ryan spent the week leading up to Jets-Patriots sucking up all of the media oxygen, leaving his players free to focus on a gameplan that had the Patriots frustrated for the first time in what seems like years. The Jets’ 28–21 win in Foxboro was shocking to everyone but the Gang Green, who strutted into Gillette Stadium like they were the favorites, reflecting the brashness of their boss. It was a day chock full of shocking developments — Tom Brady threw his first interception since Week 6; the inconsistent Mark Sanchez became only the third player to throw three TD passes against Bill Belichick’s Patriots in a playoff game; the P-men left the field riding a two-game home playoff losing streak; the Jets became only the second team in history to beat Brady and Peyton Manning in consecutive weeks (both on the road). But if you listen to Ryan, it all unfolded according to plan. “Maybe everybody else never believed, but we believed,” Ryan said. “We’re moving on. Same old Jets, back to the AFC championship. The only difference is this time we plan on winning.”
Da Bears Dominate
Did anyone sincerely believe that a Seattle Seahawks team that went 2–6 on the road this season had the remotest of chances to beat the Bears at Solider Field amid Bear temperatures and lake effect snow? Okay, full disclosure — I did. After all, one of the Seahawks’ two road wins came at Chicago in Week 6. Plus, the Bears always seem to be a Jay Cutler pick-six away from collapsing. On Sunday, that didn’t happen, although it could have, as Seattle’s Jordan Babineaux dropped a sure interception at the goal line three plays prior to a touchdown that made it 14–0 and essentially ended any suspense as the Bears cruised 35–24. I’ve been a persistent Cutler-basher, and he was lucky not to throw a couple of picks, but credit where it’s due: In his first postseason start, Cutler became the second player in NFL postseason history to have two rushing and two passing touchdowns in the same game. Of course, those touchdowns did come against what was probably the worst playoff team in NFL history. But we can thank the inept Seahawks for meekly stepping aside and giving us a Bears-Packers showdown for all the NFC marbles. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Big Ben Has Ravens Eating Crow
The Ravens felt pretty good about themselves at halftime of their AFC Divisional encounter with the Steelers at Heinz Field. Turnovers led to a 21–7 lead for the bullying birds, who had silenced the towel-wavers and were doing plenty of chirping of their own. They should have remembered who they were playing, and where. The Steelers’ second-half comeback and ultimate 31–24 triumph was no surprise given Pittsburgh’s playoff dominance over this team, this division and this conference. Here’s a sample:
• The Steelers are now 12–1 at home in the divisional round since 1970.
• Pittsburgh is 3–0 in the postseason against the Ravens, holding them to averages of 16 points and 158 yards in those three games.
• Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 9–2 as a postseason starter and possesses the second-best winning percentage (.818) among quarterbacks with at least 10 postseason starts, behind only Bart Starr.
“He may not be Brady or all those other guys, but when I see him in the huddle I know we've got a chance to win,” said Hines Ward, who scored a touchdown. “He's a proven winner. And history shows he's a proven winner against Baltimore.”
That win was in doubt until Big Ben found rookie receiver Antonio Brown streaking down the right sidelines, hitting him for a 58-yard gain to set up the winning touchdown, a two-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall. The Steeler defense then closed out the win to set up an AFC Championship matchup with the Jets in Heinz Field.
“What better way to put the Ravens out of the tournament,” Ward said after a defensive effort that held the Ravens to 126 total yards, 28 in the second half. “They keep asking for us and we keep putting them out of the tournament. They’re going to be ticked about this for a long time.”
Matty Iced out of the Postseason
Much has been made of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s home success, and his proficiency indoors. This game could have been held in Ryan’s rec room and it would have been just as embarrassing. The Packers marched into Atlanta like Sherman, torching the Falcons 48–21 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the lopsided score. Ryan performed miserably in falling to 0–2 in the playoffs with six turnovers and a safety in those two losses. His counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, was unstoppable, completing 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns and posting the second-best postseason completion percentage in a 300-yard passing game in NFL history. “This probably was my best performance — the stage we were on, the importance of this game,” Rodgers said. “It was a good night.” If he can replicate it next week in Chicago, it will be even better for Packer Nation.
-by Rob Doster