Wild Card weekend couldn’t have been better for a non-Chiefs, Eagles, Bengals, or Packers fan. Exciting finishes highlighted the weekend, as it has been for a majority of 2013 – over 65 percent of games were decided by one score or less. The road teams performed well, going 3-1. Aaron Rodgers was himself, but it wasn’t enough to beat the 49ers.
Here’s what else stood out throughout Wild Card Weekend:
The referees are letting the players play.
Throughout the four games, especially the Packers-49ers game, the referees didn’t call many penalties. I thought there was obvious pass interference early in the game – Michael Crabtree was getting held often. While Aaron Rodgers made a great play on the 4th and 2 conversion that set up a touchdown, there was obvious offensive holding that wasn’t called. At least it was consistent both ways.
“Ground and Pound” is still effective.
The teams that established their might on the ground ended up with a victory. (Alright, maybe besides the Colts, but Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton could be the next Manning-Harrison). To the surprise of nobody, those were the road teams. On Saturday night, the Saints racked up 185 rushing yards and beat the Eagles at the Linc. The Chargers ran all over the Bengals and didn’t rely on Philip Rivers at all –Rivers completed only 12 of 18 passes for just 128 yards. Colin Kaepernick rushed for 98 yards against the Packers including a key 3rd and 8 conversion on the game-winning drive.
The four teams which played better defense won.
The Colts held the Chiefs to 6 points (while scoring 35 on offense) in the final 27 minutes of the game. Although the unit was bad early, it stepped up in the second half and allowed Luck, Hilton, and company to win the game. The Saints held LeSean McCoy to 3.7 yards per carry and under 270 yards of total offense. The Chargers’ defense took the ball away four times (although three of them were bad mistakes by Andy Dalton) and won by 17. And the Packers held Aaron Rodgers to 20 points, including holding the Packers’ offense to a field goal on its final drive which forced a tie instead of a Green Bay lead.
Michael Crabtree is a significant difference-maker.
Crabtree had his best game of the year after tearing his Achilles last spring. His eight catches for 125 yards, including a clutch conversion on 3rd and 10, helped power a 49ers passing attack that was average at best since Week 1. The addition of Crabtree to a receiving corps which features Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin makes the rematch against Carolina more difficult for the Panthers’ defense this time around.
Colin Kaepernick is hitting his stride.
With Crabtree back, the passing game has seemed to improve. Kaepernick also rushed for 98 yards, something we didn’t see during the regular season. If Kaepernick manages to catch fire (not literally) during the playoffs as he did last season, the 49ers could be a top 3 team in the playoffs and emerge as a Super Bowl contender from the fifth seed.
The Packers’ season this year started and ended the same way as it did last year.
2012 started with a loss to Alex Smith and the 49ers and ended with Kaepernick shredding Green Bay’s defense for 181 yards on the ground in the Divisional round. The Packers again fell short in Week 1 of this year, and one more time in Wild Card weekend. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, surrounded by Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones, the Packers are set at the offensive skill positions. However, the offensive line has been banged up for a few years now and needs to be revamped. Mike McCarthy also has an important decision to make regarding the job status of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Every Wild Card game was close.
The Colts-Chiefs matchup was decided by a point, Saints-Eagles by two, and Packers-49ers by three. The latter two were decided by game-winning field goals and the former was capped off by Dwayne Bowe’s foot being out of bounds. The game between the Chargers and Bengals was closer than the final score indicated – Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense gave the game away with four turnovers and two significant failed fourth downs. We shouldn’t have expected anything less in a season that’s been filled with exciting finishes.
Who’s going to come out on top this week in the Divisional Round and then the following week in the Conference Championships? If you’re a fan of any of the remaining, you can buy 2014 Super Bowl tickets now while they are still available!
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