The Seahawks pulled off the upset, but what else did we learn from Wild Card Weekend.
Saints go marching home
This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Saints were the defending champs, after all. Matt Hasselbeck was supposedly dead and buried. Pete Carroll’s rah-rah shtick was proving to be a failure in the NFL for a second time. The Seahawks, the first losing division champ in history, were 10-point home dogs. One 41–36 shocker later, and the Seahawks are dreaming of hosting the NFC Championship game. It’s bizarro world in the NFL, courtesy of one unforgettable Wild Card Saturday, or to be more specific, one unforgettable run. As the guys over at Deadspin observed — move over, Marcus Allen, with your ho-hum 74-yard TD run in the Super Bowl. There’s a new postseason run for the time capsule. Marshawn Lynch’s game-clinching, tackle-shedding scamper, which included possibly the greatest stiff-arm in NFL history, put the cherry on the Seahawks’ sundae and propelled them into a winnable game at Chicago’s Soldier Field, where they’ve already won once this season. “It didn’t matter what I said to them, or what was said outside, and all of the story lines and all that, they just did not buy it,” an elated Carroll said. “Where that came from? If I knew that, we’d have something special here. It came out of an attitude and it came out of a faith in one another.” Coach, you may just have something special already.
Jets cleared for takeoff
A tense back-and-forth battle capped one of the best NFL Saturdays of all time. And it was a Peyton Manning mistake, of all things, that gave the Jets enough wiggle room to escape from Indy with a 17–16 Wild Card win. With the Jets leading 14–13, the Colts forced a punt with 2:45 left. Manning time. As expected, the Colts legend briskly and confidently guided his offense to the Jets’ side of the field, where he faced a 3rd-and-6 from the Jets 32 with 1:02 to go. Knowing that he had the greatest postseason kicker in history warming up, Manning forced a throw to Blair White — a former free agent reject who got eight targets on the day to Reggie Wayne’s one — and, not unexpectedly, White couldn’t pluck the less-than-perfect throw off the turf. Adam Vinatieri did his part, converting the 50-yard kick for a 16–14 lead, but the Jets had their window, and enough time to charge through it. Antonio Cromartie made one of the biggest plays of a big-play weekend, returning the kickoff to the Jets 46, and Mark Sanchez was in position to redeem a largely forgettable day. He didn’t have to do much — just guide the Jets into Nick Folk’s range, which he did, with an assist from Colts coach Jim Caldwell, who cluelessly burned his team’s last timeout. An 18-yard pass to Braylon Edwards set up Folk’s 32-yard game-winner on the final play. Afterwards, Jets coach Rex Ryan enjoyed a belated Thanksgiving after beating Manning, his nemesis. “I'm just thankful for the men I coach,” he gushed. “Thankful for the two backs we got, that pounded it in there. Thankful for that coaching staff. Thankful for Nick Folk, and I’m thankful that I finally got to beat Peyton Manning.” Next question: Is this the signal that Manning is entering his twilight years? He’s got a disgruntled All-Pro wideout and a coach who can’t manage the clock; another title is looking less and less likely.
Ravens set the table for Heinz Field bloodletting
Admit it — it’s the matchup you all want, a steel cage death match between two bullies who’ll bludgeon each other into a bloody pulp. Ravens-Steelers is all set, thanks to a workmanlike 30–7 Ravens win over a suddenly inept and lifeless Chiefs team that was powerless to protect its precious Arrowhead Stadium turf. KC mustered only 25 second-half yards and turned the ball over five times, as Ray Lewis and Co. turned up the heat to a white-hot boil. “To come out and play the way we’ve played in the third quarter all year and the last two weeks, just giving up seven points to opponents, that's championship-caliber football,” Lewis crowed afterwards. Ed Reed, whose fugitive brother went missing over the weekend, got the game ball. “My family kept me focused,” Reed said. “My older brother called me and told me, `Do what you do. You handle your business, we’ll take care of everything over here.”
Pack Shocks Vick
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King points out this morning that before yesterday, James Starks’ most recent 100-yard game came on Nov. 28, 2008, against Kent State. That was before shoulder surgery erased Starks’ senior season and made him the least likely 100-yard postseason rusher in NFL history. The Buffalo product — the Buffalo Bulls of the MAC, not the Bills of the AFC East — was the unexpected hero of Green Bay’s 21–16 win in Philly, as Mike Vick’s season of redemption ended in disappointment. Starks ran for 123 yards and Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in earning his first postseason win as a starter. The goat of the weekend? Not Vick, although he did throw a game-ending interception in the end zone to end the Eagles’ final threat. No, the culprit was kicker David Akers, who missed field goals of 41 and 34 yards in Philly’s swirling winds. “We can all count, and those points would have helped,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
-By Rob Doster