Wildcard Weekend lived up to billing last week in the NFC. Close finishes; comebacks; blowouts; questionable calls; amazing plays: game clinching plays. You name it. You got it, last Saturday and Sunday. NFC Divisional Weekend seemed to to have a lot to live up to. Mission: Successful.
It started in Seattle with the Seahawks hosting the Panthers. In week 8, this same match-up was paired up on Carolina’s home turf. Seattle won the game, 13-9, but it’s how the Seahawks won the game, that really kick-started the foundation, to the latest tear the Seahawks are on. Seattle never led in this contest until late in the game. And, I do mean late. After engineering a 3:50 drive that spanned 80 yards on 9 plays, Russell Wilson threw the game winning touchdown to TE Luke Wilson, with :47 seconds to go in the game. Spoiler Alert! That foreshadows a moment in Saturday’s game. This game was also the beginning of Seattle returning their performances to the playoff form of last season.
At the time, it was a much needed win, just to stay above .500 for Seattle and dropping the Panthers to 3-4-1, who were still in the division lead in the NFC South. After 8 weeks, Seattle was 4-3, trailing the division, to then 6-1, Arizona.
Fast forward to Saturday’s game: Carolina comes in as the NFC South Champions, salvaging their season, even after being 3-8-1 at one point. The Panthers went on to win four straight games, behind the arms of Cam Newton and Derek Anderson. Anderson filled in more than admirably, throwing for 277 yards and 1 touchdown in a 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay, to keep Carolina alive in the division through Week 15. Newton was dealing with a broken back, stemming from his car accident on December 10th.
At the same time, Seattle was in the midst of their own run. Coming into Saturday’s playoff game, the Seahawks had won six straight games and nine of their last ten. So sticking to the age old adage of “something’s gotta give” in this situation.
At first, you couldn’t tell which way things were going to go. I think most media types, like myself, were expecting a low scoring game, much like Week 8, and much like the last 3 meetings between these two opponents. However, if there was any capability of a high-scoring game, the edge would’ve also have gone to the Seahawks. That’s exactly what was seen, but it wasn’t until the game was 24-10 in the fourth, where safety Cam Chancellor and the rest of the Seahawks, changed the entire complexion of the game. Let’s get to my foreshadow/deja vu moment though. With the Seahawks up 17-10, it was the Wilson to Wilson connection that put the necessary separation between the two teams for Chancellor to, in effect, seal the deal for the Sea-town. It was Russell Wilson finding Luke Wilson-no, not Owen Wilson’s brother nor Hollywood actor Luke Wilson-for the game separating 25 yard touchdown. A huge play considering it was on a 3rd and 10, to increase the lead to 24-10. However, an underlying huge play was a couple plays prior. It was a play on 3rd and 6, to avoid a three and out, where Wilson found Wilson for a 29 yard scamper to extend the drive, thus leading to the aforementioned touchdown.
Now to Chancellor! With the Panthers creeping into scoring range, for a 2nd and 4 from the Seattle 13 yard line, Cam Newton thought he was taking the safe route, by checking down to the receiver, Dickerson. Unfortunately, for Newton, Chancellor was waiting on that check down. Realizing he could lean on his defense for help, Chancellor was able to read Newton’s eyes and pick the ball off for a ninety yard touchdown return and that was the “dagger” that finally finished off the scrappy Carolina Panthers’ 2014 season.
Carolina became the first NFC South division champ to repeat, since the most recent divisional shift up took place. The Seahawks will host the NFC Championship game and are looking for a Week 1 repeat by beating the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay was thumped 36-16 in that showdown. Tough situation for Green Bay to travel to Century Link Field, but that head-to-head loss is why. Both teams were 12-4 in the regular season, earning the top 2 spots in the NFC. Who says early regular season game don’t matter?!
Playoff success is something that is all too familiar in Seattle. The Seahawks have now won their last eight games at home in post-season play. Their last last loss in the 2004 NFC wildcard round vs. the Rams.
With that being said, what a tremendously crazy ending in Lambeau. The “Calvin Johnson Play” has now turned into the “Dez Bryant, ball at the half yard line, turned incomplete play”. The irony is so rich on a few levels. One, being the situation that happened last week with the Lions and the Cowboys and how that game went down with penalties or lack there of. And on Sunday, a pivotal play being overturned in effect backfiring on the Cowboys. Albeit, the right call, but a rule that has the Detroit Lions and New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. weighing in on the controversial overturned call.
Nevertheless, this game between Green Bay and Dallas lived up to the hype, seeing 3 lead changes, that really emphasized the running game. Both DeMarco Murray and Eddie Lacy carried the load for Dallas and Green Bay, respectively, rushing for over 100 yards and nearly 5 yards/carry. It’s true, Aaron Rodgers came in banged up with the strained and partially torn left calf. Having said that, Tony Romo wasn’t dismissed from being roughed up, either. Romo was seen many times being hit after throwing the ball, even coming up limping in the third quarter after being hit by a Packers defender.
Ultimately, this game falls under two factors: the rise of Aaron Rodgers in the second half, specifically the fourth quarter. Rodgers went 9 for 9, passing for 116 yards and 1 touchdown. The entire second half saw the Green Bay quarterback go 14-19 for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns. Compare that to 100 yards passing, 1 touchdown and 1 fumble lost by the All-Pro quarterback, in the first half; the second factor is the Dez Bryant catch at the Packers one yard line that could have been. Yes, Bryant caught the ball. There is obviously no arguing that, but the rule, whether it’s horrible or not, is still a rule and the league must abide by the rule and Bryant did not complete the catch upon hitting the ground. The fact is: this play has happened before and consistency must be maintained, so as to avoid the debacle that was the game between the Lions and Cowboys, during wildcard weekend. Not saying the Lions would’ve won the game, but it does feel like the football gods intervened while I watched the Cowboys and Packers. I couldn’t help but see this game unfold in favor of Dallas, only to have the game ripped right out from under them in questionable fashion. A “they were due to get theirs” mentality was never in my vocabulary at that point, and still to this point. Sometime, teams go on runs in the National Football League and it’s always interesting to see what it was that could propel a team to make it to the next level. Sometimes, luck is involved. It truly is better to be “lucky than good” in many instances. I was just wondering if last weeks instance, for the Cowboys, was going to be something that stemmed from an unheard of/questionable/game changing play, that involved a truly great battle to the end!? Crazy thing… it only took a week, for an equally, more unheard of/questionable/game changing play, to end a once promising threat from the Dallas Cowboys, in the 2015 NFC Playoffs.
Next up: A Week 1 repeat of the Seahawks and Packers, from Century Link Field, with the winner either playing the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts… Let the Andrew Luck era shine bright vs the Dynasty of Brady and Belichick. Otherwise, I’d like to see a great game between the Colts and Pats. Scary thing is: It’s only Luck’s third season in the NFL. Yikes! Here’s to a great NFC Championship game in Seattle, as well!
Featured Image by: Drew McKenzie