United Stats of America #NFL Divisional Round + MMQB

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Hail Mary heaves, coins that don’t flip and a play Bruce Arians had been saving for two years: Everything from the Cardinals-Packers playoff game for the ages. Plus a look at the wins by Carolina, New England and Denver, title game previews and more…

A day later, it still felt unreal to Bruce Arians. All of it. Since 1967, Arians has played high school and college football, then coached college and pro football … 48 years altogether … and on Sunday morning in Arizona, he considered this question: Of all the games you’ve ever played and coached, where does Saturday night’s overtime win over Green Bay rank?

Forty-eight years now. Keep that in mind. Coaching under Bear Bryant, coaching Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck and now Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald—14 coaching jobs in all.

“That probably was the most dramatic up-and-down, end-to-end game and finish of my life,” Arians said. “We stop ’em on fourth down. Game over. Nope. We got ’em fourth-and-20 way back at the goal line. Game over. Nope. We blew that one. Then they throw a Hail Mary on the last play of the fourth quarter and we get good pressure. Game over. Nope.

“And then overtime. They can’t even flip a coin. Then Larry makes that first play—unbelievable—75 yards, thought he was going to score. And then the play I’ve been saving for two years. I love that touchdown play.”……

Continue Reading: Cardinals-Packers craziness headlines NFL divisional playoffs | The MMQB with Peter King


 

+ United Stats of America – Divisional Round – Elias

 

1.

Chiefs @ Patriots

Gronkowski’s two TDs help Patriots knock out Chiefs

For the first time in their 56 seasons of existence, the Patriots and Chiefs squared off in a postseason matchup (they had been the only two of the original eight AFL franchises that never met in the postseason). And it was New England that came away victorious, defeating Kansas City, 27-20, to advance to the AFC Championship Game next week. The Patriots scored a touchdown in each of the first three quarters, including two touchdown passes from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski, who had a TD reception in each of the Patriots’ three postseason wins last year, is the first tight end in NFL history with a touchdown reception in at least four consecutive postseason games. His career total of eight receiving TDs in the postseason is also tops among all tight ends in league history, surpassing Dave Casper and Vernon Davis, who each had seven.

nullBrady passes early and often for New England

Tom Brady, who completed 28 passes for 302 yards, was hard at work right out of the gate for the Patriots. Brady led an 11-play touchdown drive on New England’s opening possession, and all 11 plays were pass attempts (he had eight completions, capped by Gronkowski’s touchdown). The last team before New England to score a touchdown in a postseason game on a drive of at least 11 plays – all passes – was the Falcons in December 1995 at Green Bay. Atlanta had an 11-play touchdown drive spanning the third and fourth quarters; Jeff George went 9-for-11 on the drive, including a 27-yard TD pass to J.J. Birden.

That opening drive was a sign of things to come for the Patriots, as New England passed on 75 percent of their plays from scrimmage – not to mention that four of their 16 rushing attempts were kneeldowns by Brady. Only three other teams won a postseason game with pass plays accounting for at least 75 percent of their plays. New England did so last year in a divisional-round victory over the Ravens (80 percent), as did the Rams (78 percent in Super Bowl XXXIV against the Titans) and the Packers (76 percent in Super Bowl XLV versus the Steelers).

nullPlenty of throws for Smith as well

It was also a pass-happy day for the Chiefs in a losing effort with Alex Smith throwing 50 passes, completing 29 for 246 yards. Smith’s yardage total is the third-lowest in NFL postseason history for a quarterback with at least 50 pass attempts. The top two on that list are Jay Schroeder, who had 195 yards on 50 attempts for the Redskins in a loss to the Giants in January 1987, and Drew Bledsoe, who threw for 235 yards on 50 attempts in New England’s loss at Cleveland in January 1995. Bill Belichick was also on the opposing sidelines for both of those games – he was defensive coordinator for the Giants versus Schroeder and the Redskins and head coach of the Browns against Bledsoe and the Patriots.

2.

Packers @ Cardinals

Fitzgerald finishes off Packers after late scare

It looked like another miracle comeback was in the cards for the Packers after Aaron Rodgers completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Janis at the end of regulation to force overtime. Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals had other plans – the longtime Cardinals receiver had a 75-yard reception to start overtime and, two plays later, crossed the goal line after catching a screen pass from Carson Palmer to give Arizona a 26-20 victory over Green Bay. The game-winning score was Fitzgerald’s 10th touchdown reception in just eight postseason games. No other player in NFL history had at least 10 touchdown catches in their first eight postseason games. The previous fastest to 10 TD receptions in the postseason was Jerry Rice, who scored his 10th receiving TD in his ninth postseason game.

Rodgers finds Janis for miracle TD

The overtime loss was a bitter blow for the Packers, who drove 86 yards with no timeouts in less than two minutes to conclude the fourth quarter. The touchdown pass by Rodgers to Janis to complete the drive marked the first game-tying or game-winning passing touchdown at the end of regulation in NFL postseason history.

nullAnother OT loss for Rodgers, Packers

The Packers have lost their last five postseason games that required overtime, which now stands as the longest losing streak of its kind in NFL postseason history. Green Bay had been tied with the Colts, who have lost their last four postseason games that required overtime. Aaron Rodgers has yet to register an overtime win in his NFL career – with Rodgers under center, the Packers are 0-4 in regular season overtime games and 0-3 in the postseason.

3.

Seahawks @ Panthers

Carolina dominates first half in victory over Seattle

The Panthers started fast, built a 31-0 halftime lead, and held off the Seahawks’ bold comeback to advance to the NFC Championship Game with a 31-24 victory over Seattle.

Jonathan Stewart opened the game with a 59-yard run that set up Carolina’s first score. During the expansion era, only two other players ran for 50 yards or longer on the first play from scrimmage of a postseason game: Ray Rice, 83 yards for Baltimore against New England; and Tim Hightower, 70 yards for Arizona against New Orleans. They did it six days apart in January 2010.

The Panthers’ 31-point lead was the third largest in a first-half shutout in an NFL playoff game. Oakland led the Houston Oilers, 35-0, at halftime of a 56-7 victory in 1969; and the Giants led the Vikings, 34-0, at intermission in the 2000 NFC Championship Game (Jan. 2001).

Panthers-Seahawks was like two different games

By outscoring Carolina, 24-0, in the second half, Seattle made Sunday’s game the fourth in NFL postseason history in which each team scored at least 24 unanswered points. Predictably, the others were a memorable bunch:

– Chargers 41, Dolphins 38 (Jan. 1982): San Diego led, 24-0, after 15 minutes. But Don Strock replaced David Woodley at quarterback and by early in the third quarter, Miami had tied the game. Strock passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns, but the Chargers prevailed in overtime after each team’s kicker missed a short field-goal attempt in the extra period. Dan Fouts passed for 433 yards, including 13 completions to Kellen Winslow.

– Bills 41, Oilers 38 (Jan. 1993): Frank Reich, subbing for injured Jim Kelly, led Buffalo to the greatest playoff comeback in NFL history. The Bills trailed 35-3 in the third quarter, actually led late in regulation time, and won the game in overtime on Steve Christie’s field goal after Nate Odomes picked off Warren Moon.

– 49ers 39, Giants 38 (Jan. 2003): The 49ers trailed, 38-14, late in the third quarter, after Amani Toomer had caught three TD passes from Kerry Collins. But in the game’s last 18 minutes, Jeff Garcia threw two TD passes and ran for another score. Still, the Giants had a chance to win the game but botched the snap on a 41-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.

nullNewton’s running game shut down by Seattle

It wouldn’t be Elias Says without a bit of pure trivia, right? Cam Newton carried the ball 11 times on Sunday but netted only 3 yards. He became the seventh player with less than 10 yards on more than 10 carries in an NFL playoff game. Among the others were Cecil Isbell, better known for throwing more TD passes than anyone else to Hall of Famer Don Hutson, for the Packers in 1941; and Barry Sanders, who was held to minus-1 yard on 13 carries by the Packers in 1994.

4.

Steelers @ Broncos

Broncos rediscover the end zone in the nick of time

When it mattered most, Denver drove 65 yards on 13 plays for its only touchdown of the game. C.J. Anderson‘s 1-yard run with 3:00 to play was the winning score in the Broncos’ 23-13 victory over the Steelers. It also snapped Denver’s streak of 22 consecutive drives without a TD over its last two playoff games. That was the longest TD drought by any team over the last 10 postseasons.

nullManning joins Favre, Simms

Peyton Manning became the third quarterback to start a postseason game at age 39 or older. The others were Phil Simms for the Giants following the 1993 season (a win against the Vikings and a loss to the 49ers), and Brett Favre for the Vikings following the 2009 season (a win over the Cowboys and a loss to the Saints).

Steelers were missing key players in loss at Denver

Pittsburgh played without Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams on Sunday. It was only the second postseason game in NFL history in which a team was missing its leaders in rushing yards and receiving yards-that is, two different players-from the preceding regular season.

The only other such instance was the 1934 NFL Championship Game, in which the Giants hosted the Bears at New York’s Polo Grounds. The Giants prevailed despite playing without their rushing leader, Harry Newman, and their receiver leader, Red Badgro. Newman had suffered broken bones in his back in a game against the Bears in November; Badgro broke a leg in New York’s regular-season finale.

That game lives in NFL lore as the “Sneakers Game,” in which the Giants overcame a 13-3 deficit by scoring 27 fourth-quarter points for a 30-13 win, ruining what would have been a perfect season for George Halas’ Bears, who went 13-0 during the regular season. The Giants were aided by a change of footwear. Having played the first half of the game on an icy field, several Giants players changed at halftime from football cleats to basketball shoes. The sneakers were borrowed from the Manhattan College locker room by Andy Cohen, a part-time Giants trainer who happened to work at the college and had a key to the storage room.

nullBryant stars in Steelers’ loss

In Antonio Brown‘s absence, wide receiver Martavis Bryant was a noteworthy performer for Pittsburgh, with a pair of long gains: a 40-yard run and a 52-yard pass reception. Only four other players had gains of 40 yards or longer on both a run and a reception in the same postseason game: Hugh McElhenny (49ers vs. Lions in 1957), Oscar Reed (Vikings vs. Redskins in 1973), Chuck Foreman (Vikings vs. Rams in 1976), and James Lofton (Packers vs. Cowboys in Jan. 1983).

Bryant also had a 44-yard run against the Bengals in Pittsburgh’s Wild Card win a week ago. Five other players had runs of 40 yards or longer in consecutive postseason games, but all were running backs: Joe Cribbs, Marcus Allen, Merril Hoge, Terrell Davis, and Brian Westbrook.

Source: Elias Says: Sports Statistics – Stats from the Elias Sports Bureau

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Peyton Manning responds to HGH allegations; #NFL Week 16 upsets – MMQB with Peter King

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A strange weekend of football

The 10 stories that hit me over the head Sunday:

There’s one head-to-head division title game in Week 17, and it will be game 256. Minnesota (10-5) at Green Bay (10-5) was flexed to the Sunday night game next week, meaning the last game of the regular season will be a second straight frigid Sunday night game in the Great North. Forecast for Green Bay next Sunday: no snow, wind chill of about 10 degrees. But will the friendly confines help? Green Bay, trying for its fifth straight NFC North title, is 4-5 since Halloween (and would be 3-6 if not for Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary of all Hail Marys on Dec. 3 at Detroit). Incredible to think the team that started 6-0 with visions of home-field through the playoffs is now one loss away from traveling to Washington to play a wild-card game in two weeks. “We will bounce back,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s the way we are wired.” Perhaps. But the Packers haven’t looked like the Packers since September, and it’s too late to think McCarthy can just flip a switch and life will return to normal.

Pittsburgh? Really? My Pittsburgh friends shrieked “Tomlin must go” after Sunday’s totally embarrassing 20-17 loss at Baltimore, which made Pittsburgh’s playoff chances sub-50 percent. For the Steelers to make the postseason, they’d need to beat the Browns Sunday while Rex Ryan beats the Jets … or while Denver loses Monday night to the Bengals and next week to the Chargers, both games at home. Who knows? Rex would trade five years off his life to keep the Jets from the playoffs, so we shall see. But the Steelers were my fifth-ranked team last week, and to see them dominated by first-time Ravens starter Ryan Mallett was a stunner. The Steelers forgot this was a rivalry game, and Ben Roethlisberger was surprisingly mediocre, with his second touchdown-less game in the last three weeks.

Pop the corks, Dolphins. For the 43rd straight season, there won’t be a perfect NFL team. Formerly 14-0 Carolina is now 14-1 Carolina. This one felt different for the ’72 Dolphins, though, because coach Don Shula’s son Mike is the Carolina offensive coordinator, and Mike Shula said his dad wanted Carolina to be unbeaten more than he (Mike) did. But Carolina was flawed for the second straight week. Last week they gave up a 28-point lead to the Giants before pulling out a late win; this week they were flat, and Cam Newton played his first average game in a while. Carolina could still lose home-field in the NFC with a loss to Tampa Bay and a Cardinals win over the Seahawks on Sunday.

Did Cam open the MVP door a bit for Carson Palmer? I discuss below, but it’s not impossible.

There’s a difference in the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. It’s called offense.Against the best team in the AFC on Sunday, New York rushed for 143 yards, threw three touchdown passes, protected the quarterback serviceably against a good Patriots pass rush, and drove 80 yards to start overtime after New England coach Bill Belichick chose to begin OT by giving the ball to the Jets. In all, the only thing that could have made the day better for the Jets would have been Rex Ryan losing.

LaAdrian Waddle—yes, that LaAdrian Waddle—could all of a sudden be a key player for the Patriots. Waddle, waived by the Lions and picked up by New England two weeks ago, became the fifth left tackle for the Patriots in 15 games Sunday when Sebastian Vollmer went out against the Jets with an ankle sprain. New England is the black hole of injury reporting, so no one knows how bad Vollmer is … and then Waddle went out with what appeared to be shoulder or neck injury. Cameron Fleming finished the game on the left side. Waddle and Fleming combined to give up five pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and Tom Brady was pressured, sacked or hit 17 times against the Jets. Seemed like more……(continue reading)

Source: Peyton Manning responds to HGH allegations; NFL Week 16 upsets | The MMQB with Peter King

Brock Osweiler leads Broncos over Patriots; more #NFL Week 12 | The MMQB with Peter King

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This was toward the end of Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler’s second start in the NFL on Sunday night—his first against a 10-0 team led by the greatest quarterback in football today—as flurries swirled near the Rockies. The wind chill, 19 degrees, made even the diehards think three-and-a-half hours outside was just about enough.

Two minutes into overtime. Denver 24, New England 24. Third-and-one, Patriots’ 48-yard line.

In the huddle, Osweiler called two plays; coach and play-caller Gary Kubiak told Osweiler before the play, “You get us the best one.” Osweiler would give a signal once he saw how the Patriots aligned on defense. As the huddle broke, the quarterback told running back C.J. Anderson, “Hey man, just go. Make a play.”

Osweiler got to the line, under center, and surveyed the New England front. He was going to run C.J. Anderson to the weak side (that was his first call in the huddle) but saw something he didn’t like there—maybe an unblocked Rob Ninkovich hovering on the quarterback’s right. Whatever, he switched to a strong-side sweep to the left. “KILL! KILL! KILL!” he called, arms stretched out parallel to the ground. To the left, tight end Vernon Davis and a strong blocking wide receiver, Bennie Fowler, got ready to seal the left side for Anderson.

“It’s a wide toss,” said left guard Evan Mathis, “and if the play goes the way it’s designed, there should be one of our guys on every one of theirs, except for the deep safety. Then the back’s got to make that guy miss.”

“OMAHA!” yelled Osweiler.

(Hey! Isn’t that Peyton Manning’s cadence-starter? Well, it was.)

“Set!”

altx-logo-white_SMALLAnderson, seven yards deep in a classic tailback position, bolted left and took a pitch from Osweiler. Mathis was right. There was a hat-on-a-hat throughout the left end, right tackle Ryan Harris going out to sweep away cornerback Malcolm Butler, Davis eliminating safety Devin McCourty, and, most impressively, center Matt Paradis sprinting out after snapping the ball and cutting down linebacker Jonathan Freeny. The only player left, just as Mathis said, was safety Duron Harmon, angling to the sideline to push Anderson out at the 30-yard line.

“My job,” Anderson said from Denver near midnight, “was just run to the open space, then make the guy miss.” Hugging the sideline, Anderson did that. For the last 30 yards he was all alone, and the Patriots weren’t unbeaten anymore, and there was some mystery in the AFC.

And then there was one: Carolina, the only undefeated team left in the NFL entering December.

If you’re New England, the only worrisome thing is the condition of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who went down in agony with an apparent right knee injury late in the game. But Adam Schefter reported the injury wasn’t believed to be serious. If it isn’t, the verdict in Denver isn’t that big a loss. The Patriots (10-1) played without both top wideouts, with a makeshift offensive line, without impact linebacker Jamie Collins, and without breakout back Dion Lewis. A crucial turnover was made by an undrafted free agent, Chris Harper, the seventh wide receiver to play for the team this year; he dropped a punt, and Denver recovered and later scored. The Patriots don’t play a team better than 6-5 in the last five games, while the 9-2 Bengals and 9-2 Broncos play each other Dec. 28. Denver also is at Pittsburgh in three weeks. So New England is still very much in control of home field throughout the AFC playoffs.

But Denver has to feel reborn this morning. With Manning playing so unreliably—14 interceptions in his last six games—Osweiler’s efficiency in his two starts and his 2-0 record should ensure he’ll keep the job as long as he continues to play low-error football.

Every year the NFL produces a story or two or three as good as this one. The Osweiler story will be told a lot in the coming weeks … a 6-foot-8 Montana kid who turned down a basketball offer from Gonzaga to play quarterback at Arizona State. He caught the eye of Denver football czar John Elway before the 2012 draft and got picked late in the second round to learn the pro craft behind Manning. It was Manning who sat upstairs Sunday to watch the New England defensive tendencies and came down to the locker room at halftime to spend a few minutes spilling what he’d seen to Osweiler.

Osweiler is quite sure of himself. He threw a few 95-mph fastballs Sunday through the snowflakes, and you can see that the moment is not too big for him. He does have to learn to throw the ball away instead of taking big sacks; one of those cost Denver a possible field goal Sunday night.

Brock Osweiler is 2-0 since taking over for an injured Peyton Manning.

Photo: Andy Cross/Getty Images

“Even when he wasn’t starting,” Mathis said from Denver on Sunday night, “he was getting a lot of reps this……(continue reading)

Source: Brock Osweiler leads Broncos over Patriots; more NFL Week 12 | The MMQB with Peter King