It may be a bit too highbrow to call this entry "Agony & Ecstasy", but I'll be damned if I can't try to justify it.
Through the last two days, there were four NFL Divisional games. Two went the way I hoped they would. Two went badly. Now there are four teams left in the playoffs: Baltimore, New England, the NY Giants, and San Francisco. The NFC is the disappointment, as far as I'm concerned. I love offensive football with downfield passing galore. We'll probably see some of that in the NFC Championship game, but not as much as we would have had it been Green Bay vs. New Orleans.
Saturday's games were New Orleans @ San Francisco & Denver @ New England.
The Saints had trouble with turnovers and their offense didn't click like it did in the Superdome. Apparently, the 49ers deserve some credit for stopping what looked like an unstoppable machine, because the weather sure didn't do it. Alex Smith looked off for most of the game, but hit the throws he needed to late. Considering how badly he was missing receivers in the first three quarters, it surprised the hell out of me to see him hitting Vernon Davis through tight windows in coverage. It was a well-deserved win, though I can't help but think that seeing the Saints move on would have been better. That said, I think the 49ers have a solid chance of moving on to the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady. Wow. After an impressive first half, Brady and the Pats offense took their collective foot off the gas and had a little bit of mercy on the Broncos. To say he outperformed his opposition is an understatement. Not only that, he got a win when the more-heralded duo of Brees and Rodgers didn't. I suppose a lot of that has to do with the competition...but can you really say that SF or NYG would have stopped Brady the way he was going? Or kept Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez from busting their way through the secondary to get open catches all night? I'm not sure. That's the good thing about the playoffs, I guess. We'll see how he does against Baltimore next week, and maybe, just maybe, against the NFC Champion in the Super Bowl.
Sunday's games were Houston @ Baltimore & NY Giants @ Green Bay.
After one home game and one home win, the Texans went on the road to Baltimore and the result was the same as the last time they were there. The way it got there was a bit different, though. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice weren't at their best, but the Ravens defense was suitably opportunistic, getting three INT's off of T.J. Yates. The special teams forced a turnover too, when Jacoby Jones had an inexplicably bad attempt to field a punt. One thing to look out for: Baltimore's defense was allowing the Texans to move on them somewhat late in the game. If that happens next week and Flacco is inconsistent and off-target, it could be trouble.
Today's late game was the most disappointing of the entire weekend. The defending Super Bowl champions are done, despite their gaudy 15-1 record and bevy of offensive weapons. As it turned out, the defense was what let them down. I had focused on the Packers defense while writing my weekly NFL Power Rankings through most of the season, openly wondering when and if the lack of defensive presence that they had had last season would eventually affect them. As it turns out, it didn't really mean much until their first playoff game. Aaron Rodgers played fairly well given the circumstances, but was far more effective running than passing, mostly due to his receivers dropping balls left and right. There were a couple of passes that sailed on him, as well as a couple plays where the Giants defense got to him before he could make something happen. All in all, it has to be considered a disappointing performance as most expected the Packers to make the NFC Championship game with some ease.
That brings me to the point that I've been considering for the last couple hours. After last year's Super Bowl win, most observers elevated Aaron Rodgers to the rank of elite QB. I was a bit reticent then, as I wanted to see more. He came out in 2011 and was absolutely smoking hot throughout. I think he justified his status as elite QB, but there were people who thought he was better than merely elite. They thought he was on the level of the best in the NFL, Tom Brady & Peyton Manning. You could also include Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees there, considering they also have rings and a history of playing at a consistently high level.
My point I wanted to broach is this: I think people were a bit too quick to anoint Rodgers as "the next big thing" among QB's, and far too quick to elevate him over P. Manning and Brady. Now, I understand the difference in competition that Rodgers was facing compared to Brady. The Broncos looked ill-equipped to handle what the Pats were throwing at them from the get-go. The Giants, on the other hand, looked like they could handle the Packers offense as long as a couple things went their way. In this case, dropped balls and turnovers did the Packers in and allowed the Giants enough time to get their offense going.
Now, if Rodgers was really better than Brady and Peyton Manning, he would have performed better today, right? Somehow, he would have willed those receivers to catch the damn ball, or whatever, right?
But perhaps I'm the one overreacting.
I guess where I stand on it is this: Rodgers is clearly an elite QB. He had a fantastic season. He didn't play his best today; not only did his receivers let him down, but so did his defense. Looking at it objectively, you can explain away the fact that Rodgers could have been slightly overrated. But I can't help but think that perhaps some observers were just a little too quick to jump on his bandwagon.
Whatever the case may be, I'm interested to see how Rodgers performs in next year's playoffs, assuming they get there.
Next week's games should be interesting as well. Baltimore goes to New England, while the Giants head west to take on San Francisco. My heart's telling me that New England and San Francisco will meet up in the Super Bowl. My mind really doesn't want to take sides at the moment.