Observations, thoughts and conclusions after the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
Baltimore 38, Denver 35
I would have to research this but I can't think of a playoff game ever where a team allowed a punt return for a touchdown and a kick return for a touchdown and still won. Or, maybe the more interesting part is that any team created a punt return and kick return and still lost? Either way you have to respect the resiliency and toughness of the Baltimore Ravens. When the TV camera panned across the players' bench you could see the fatigue in the body language of the players. With only five days in between games as compared to 13 for Denver plus travel you could sense this was a burned out team. Yet they are moving on and Denver is done for the year. There are a lot of different types of toughness and the Ravens had to experience them all to win. Mental, physical and emotional. They beat a pretty good Denver team and made Peyton Manning one year older and one year wiser. Sometimes it is not how good you are as much as it is how tough you are and your refusal to give up. Game number 19 is coming up and I will be watching to see if they can do it again - win not so much because of talent more because of attitude and willingness to pay the price. Or maybe not so much willing but paying the price anyway.
San Francisco 45, Green Bay 31
I wonder what Colin Kaepernick is thinking right now? After 181 yards rushing and some perfect passes he must be feeling that he has arrived. Every player has a moment where they can say to themselves that they can do this, that the game is not too big, too fast or too intense for them. Colin Kaepernick must have experienced that internal moment of satisfaction Monday morning. And at the extreme opposite, there's Alex Smith. He is the classic example of don't get hurt because the guy behind you will get a chance to shine. Kaepernick sure did and will continue to do so. Some players get cut, retire, traded and so on. But the toughest to handle is to know your time is limited because someone else can do what you do and do it better. What do you do? Stay in denial, move on? Plan for the future or compete in the present. I doubt Smith will be a 49er next year if for no other reason than salary cap issues. But the good news is that there are jobs out there and with the ball security skill set of Alex Smith he will have interest. It just must be difficult to be a good quarterback but not a great quarterback. To have to look at Kaepernick and say "I just don't have what he has". In only his ninth game as a starter Kaepernick is a healthy RG3. Heck, I bet RG3 is a little envious. Looking at the NFC Championship game, Matt Ryan is a great leader and passer, but he can't run for 181 in a playoff game.
Atlanta 30, Seattle 28
I have always admired longevity in football. In a sport that averages three to four years in career length, to play 255 games as Tony Gonzalez did as a tight end is remarkable. Same as London Fletcher has done as the Redskins middle linebacker with over 250 games - that's an accomplishment in itself. And now he has his first playoff win and is one game away from a Super Bowl appearance. Same with Matt Ryan as a quarterback and Mike Smith as a head coach. Finally they have destroyed that stigma of no wins when the wins are the most significant. Playoff football. In the perfect world you play a long time, make a lot of money and win a championship or two. But if you could only have one which would it be? The long career or the championship with a short career? With the long career you can have the satisfaction of the long career and all the memories and financial security that goes with it. And as a champion you have that ring for life and all that goes with that. To reach the top once and be a member of a team that is the best. Tony Gonzalez has the chance to create both and that is very rare in any walk of life.
New England 41, Houston 28
Brady, Manning, Brees or Rogers? Is there a best among the four? Well now that Brady has passed Joe Montana with 16 playoff wins it is difficult not to elevate him to the top of quarterback mountain as Number 1. Playoffs in football are different. There is always daily pressure to be at your best always if for no other reason than many others want your job. But to be at your best when the lights are brightest is unique. What is difficult is to assess the team around the quarterback and did the team assist in his success or did his success assist the team? Considering the quarterback handles the ball more than any other player or person it may be the latter as opposed to the former. If Brady wins another Super Bowl it will be a non-question. Of all the aspects of Patriot football the fact they are Number 1 in number of plays run is amazing. 1,164 plays run over 16 games is 72 a game. That's about 12 more than the average of 60 or so. New England just wears teams out by running play after play after play. Against the Texans, they ran 67 plays to produce 41 points so the new total is 1,231 and counting. Yeah, Brady's the best.