The playoffs lived up to the hype this weekend with four overall great games. All came down to the final minutes where one play really decided the fate of eight teams. Half will be going on to the conference championship games this next weekend whereas the other half start the offseason earlier than originally hoped. Let's get right into the action and see what exactly happened.
Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6
Once again, picking against the Colts was a bad decision. Apparently, I have underestimated Indianapolis in the playoffs. The Colts defeated the Ravens 15-6 on Saturday in similar fashion to their win over Kansas City last week. That similar quality was a dominating defense that completely shut down the opposition. Steve McNair just couldn't get anything going, which eventually led to Baltimore losing.
The biggest stat of this game is the number of touchdowns scored: 0. That's right, not one time did either of the teams make it to the endzone. However, the Colts ended up kicking 5 field goals, making the decision to sign Adam Vinatieri a great one. Indianapolis advances to the AFC Championship game.
New Orleans 27, Philadelphia 24
In a game that was back and forth the entire night, the New Orleans Saints kept its storybook season alive with a late defensive stop. The scoring between the two teams wasn't absent as both of the competitors piled it on. But when it came down to it, the Saints defense made the big plays.
With time running out, the Eagles faced a 4th and 10. Electing to go for it, Jeff Garcia made a perfect pass that was enough for the first down, but a flag came out for a false start penalty. That made it 4th and 15, and Andy Reid decided to punt the ball instead of going for it again. Many criticize the decision as it gave New Orleans the ball back with hardly any time left. The Saints needed a first down to clinch the win and got one on a run by Deuce McAllister. New Orleans is the first team to hold a spot in the NFC Championship game.
Chicago 27, Seattle 24 (F/OT)
The excitement from the previous night's games continued in Sunday's first game. The Bears, facing questions around quarterback Rex Grossman, battled through the adversity to just get by Seattle. Seattle led towards the end of the game, but a late field goal by Robbie Gould put the Bears in position to send the game to overtime.
In the overtime period, the Chicago defense held Seattle to a three and out to give the ball back to Rex Grossman. Grossman made a big pass play complete to for 30 yards to set up the game-winning kick. Robbie Gould delivered from 49 yards out to win the game, giving Chicago a ticket to the NFC Championship game.
New England 24, San Diego 21
It would be hard to top the overtime finish in the Windy City, but I think this game may have done that and more. The Patriots and Chargers faced off in a match-up of the league's best this season and the league's best of year's past. Who would win would come down to a few crucial plays.
Fast-forward to the fourth quarter with about six minutes to go. The Patriots, trailing 21-13, faced a fourth and five on the San Diego 41 yard line. New England decided to go for it and caught the break they needed. Tom Brady threw an interception that appeared to end any hopes of coming back to win for the Patriots. However, Marlon McCree, who intercepted the pass, tried to advance the ball after the pick and actually had it stripped by Troy Brown. With the ball on the field, the Patriots' Reche Caldwell jumped on it to give New England the ball back with a fresh set of downs. Not only was the INT unnecessary, but by not immediately falling to the ground, the chance for a fumble was there and it happened.
Riding on that momentum, Tom Brady drove the Pats down the field and eventually into the endzone. Since the score was still a 2-point lead favoring San Diego, it was necessary for the Pats to go for 2. On the 2-point conversion attempt, Tom Brady faked having the ball snapped over his head and in turn the ball actually was directly snapped to Kevin Faulk, who ran straight ahead into the endzone to tie the game at 21.
With no momentum whatsoever, San Diego went three and out and put the ball back into the hands of Tom Brady. Brady got New England into position to win the game after completing a 49 yard pass to Reche Caldwell on a third down play. A few plays later and Stephen Gostkowski came out and successfully kicked a 31 yard field goal to put New England up by 3 with only a minute and some change left. Gostkowski stepped in and made the kick in a way we saw so many times with his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri.
With the lone minute remaining, San Diego worked quickly to set up a last ditch effort in continuing their season. The Chargers actually did have one last chance to tie the game on a 54 yard field goal attempt by Nate Kaeding. Kaeding's kick was short and wide, ending the game and the Chargers season. New England wins 24-21. The ironic thing about the final field goal was that it was Kaeding's first miss at home since he missed a kick against the Jets in the playoffs two years ago. Talk about bad timing.
Next Sunday the playoffs continue as the Colts host the Patriots for the AFC Conference Championship and the Bears host the Saints in the NFC. The two winners clinch a berth into Super Bowl XLI and move one step closer to the ultimate goal. Check back later this week for predictions on both games.