Monday, January 7, 2013

NFL Playoffs Week One Wrap Up: NFC Edition

By: Rich Bergeron

Despite an impressive first quarter of football executed by the Washington Redskins Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks made the right adjustments on defense and took complete control in the 4th quarter on the way to a 24-14 win. Washington QB Robert Griffin III (10-19, 84 yards, 2 TDs, 5 carries, 21 yards rushing) came into the game with a bum knee, sporting a knee brace throughout the game and leaving in the fourth quarter after stumbling to corral an errant snap. The Seahawks spent most of the game struggling to assemble scoring drives and had to overcome a fumble near the goal line just when it seemed like they were on the combeack trail. The 14-13 halftime score would hold up right until the final minutes of the game.

Seahawks Rookie Quarterback Russell Wilson (15-26, 187 yards, TD, 8 carries, 67 yards rushing) outperformed Griffin despite getting picked long after Griffin in last year's draft. Wilson also overcame 5 sacks in the game. Seahawks Running Back Marshawn Lynch (20 carries, 132 yards, TD) catapulted his team into the lead with a 27-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter, and the Seahawks defense never let up. The Seahawks offense squandered a few key red zone opportunities, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns at crucial points in the game, but the team's defense kept Washington scoreless through the final three quarters.

Coach Pete Carroll's squad often doesn't receive the respect they deserve, and this is not the first time the team notched a surprise win. Fans may remember the play widely considered to be responsible for the end of the NFL officials lockout earlier in the season when Russell Wilson threw a hail mary "caught" by Golden Tate in the end zone to propel the team to a controversial win over the Green Bay Packers. The team might need that kind of miracle to come out of Atlanta next weekend with a victory. The Falcons started the season carrying an undefeated record into week 10 and only lost three regular season games, though all those losses were against teams that didn't make the playoffs. Still, the Falcons only lost one of those three games at home, and that defeat came in a season finale that was not really a must-win scenario. Look for the Seahawks to bow out of the playoffs next week in a blowout win for Atlanta.

Saturday's NFC Wild Card Playoff featured a "discount double check" rematch of the prior week when the Minnesota Vikings pulled off an upset against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to end the season on a high note and secure their spot in the playoffs. Everything that went right for the Vikings in that final regular season game went wrong for the team in the playoff. The Packers were much better prepared for this do-over and won by a final score of 24-10.

The Vikings had to do without their usual starting quarterback in this rematch with Christian Ponder on the sidelines and dealing with an elbow injury. Stand-in Joe Webb (11-30, 180 yards, TD, INT, 7 carries, 68 yards) had a strong start in the game but fell flat as the game went on. The Packers also figured out how to shut down Adrian Peterson (22 carries, 99 yards), who failed to score and didn't live up to the hype he generated last week in nearly breaking the single season rushing yardage record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers (23-33, 274 yards, TD) looked picture perfect with all his usual receivers back in the mix. Running Back DuJuan Harris put up just 47 yards on 17 carries, but the highlight of his night was a 9 yard touchdown run. He was also the team's second leading receiver with 53 yards on 5 catches. Fullback John Kuhn handled the ball just 5 times Saturday, but two of his touches resulted in scores. He pinballed off two Vikings defenders on a nine yard pass completion for a touchdown and had a three-yard scoring run earlier in the game. Not bad for a player who only had one touchdown to show for the whole regular season.

The Packers will face a daunting battle next week against the San Francisco 49ers, who lost just four games this season. Of all the teams moving on after week one of the playoffs, though, Green Bay might be the only one with a real chance to notch two wins in a row. if Rodgers can continue to put up great yardage through the air and the defense can shut down San Francisco's run game, the Packers could be headed for the conference championship game.

The Seahawks and Packers head into next week's games as underdogs, but both are capable of pulling off huge upsets if they play perfect games. Will their momentum carry over, or will it be one and done for both squads? Only time will tell.
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