Okay, everyone who figured the Seahawks would outscore the combined efforts of the Eagles and Green Bay, raise your hands.
Did you also know that LaDainian Tomlinson would account for more touchdowns than Peyton Manning?
That the highlight of the weekend would be a run by Bills castoff Marshawn Lynch, in which he broke nine tackles while going 67 yards for Seattle’s clinching score?
Or James Starks of the can’t-run Packers would account for 123 yards on the ground, 22 more than his career total to date?
Besides that, it was a routine Wild Card Weekend, one in which the road teams took three out of four matchups, the only home victory being one of the biggest playoff upsets ever.
It was not surprising that New Orleans scored 36 in Seattle, since that was only a field goal more than the Seahawks’ opponents had averaged from Week 8 to Week 16. It was stunning that Seattle scored 41, since they’d topped 20 points in only nine of their last 27 games.
In Indianapolis, the Jets frustrated the Colts offense, forcing Indy to settle for field goals with the exception of one Manning-to-Garcon 57-yard thunderbolt. The Colts ran just four plays from inside the Jets’ 20, and could only watch as the Jets ground out a 17-play, ten-minute touchdown drive midway through the second half. Still, Indy might have advanced if its coach, Jim Caldwell, had not called an inexplicable timeout with a two-point lead, 29 seconds left, the clock running, and the Jets on the Colts’ 32. The stoppage gave Mark Sanchez time to set up and regroup, and he hit Braylon Edwards for 18 crucial yards that turned Nick Folk’s game-winning attempt from a 49-yard hit-or-miss into a 32-yard chip shot.
There were no sure figgies in Green Bay’s 21-16 survival-fest against Philadelphia. The usually reliable David Akers missed from 41 and 34, the first one on the Eagles’ opening drive, the second in the fourth quarter with the score 21-10.
The missed field goals were only two of the many things that went the Packers’ way in the game. The rookie Starks took advantage of Philadelphia’s concentration on the wide receivers to bust through big holes. The Pack had just two bigger team rushing games all season. Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions, the Packers converted 8 of 13 third-down attempts, and the defense kept Michael Vick from making big plays on the ground. The Eagles were further hampered by an early injury to DeSean Jackson, who missed most of three quarters before returning in the fourth.
Yet with all these factors favoring Green Bay, the outcome remained in doubt until the end. The Pack lost two fumbles, and saw several passes bounce off their receivers’ hands, including a bomb to James Jones right before halftime that would have opened up a 21-3 lead.
Still, the score was 21-10 with nine minutes left when Vick led the Eagles 74 yards in twelve plays to the Packers 1. Facing fourth and one with four minutes to play, coach Andy Reid decided to go for the touchdown, a debatable move but probably the right one. Unfortunately, he needed to take a timeout before making such the decision; Vick scored on a quarterback sneak, then failed on a two-point effort. The Eagles kicked off deep and then forced the Packers to punt, but when the Eagles got the ball back on their own 34 just after the two-minute warning, they had no timeouts left.
A quick strike over the middle to Jackson took the ball to the Green Bay 38. After two incompletions and an 11-yard pass to Riley Cooper for a first down, Vick tried to throw high in the left side of the end zone for the 6’3” Cooper, but he didn’t get the ball high enough or deep enough, and 5’11” cornerback Tramon Williams picked off the pass to give the Packers the victory.
The Michael Vick Experiment was successful in bringing life and excitement to Philadelphia, but the Eagles’ struggles to score down the stretch – 14, 13, and 16 points in their last three games, all losses – raise the usual questions about whether a running quarterback like Vick takes too many hits to maintain his effectiveness through the long grind of the season.
Green Bay will go to Atlanta to face the Falcons on Saturday night, where they’ll take on a team that ranked 22nd in the league in passing yards allowed. Atlanta beat the visiting Packers 20-17 in week 12, in a game where the Falcons took the lead three times and saw Green Bay get even each time, the last with 1:06 to go, before four short Matt Ryan passes set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning 47-yard field goal.
The Falcons’ main advantage will be the rest they got while the Packers (and Baltimore) face the shortest turnaround of the four Wild Card survivors. The second week of the playoffs generally favors the home teams, but the Pack may be finding its stride at the right time.