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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Giants vs. Packers

The NFC was just chockfull of surprises in the Divisional round, as the defending Super Bowl champions fell on the same weekend as the high-powered Saints. Here are quick-hit reactions from the Giants’ highly impressive 37-20 victory over the Packers on Sunday.

New York Giants outside linebacker Michael Boley (59) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) for a 6-yard loss during the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff at Lambeau Field on January 15, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Giants won 37-20. UPI/Brian Kersey

- The Giants proved something back in 2008 when they beat the Patriots and reminded everyone of it again today: If you win the line of scrimmage, you can beat any opponent. It doesn’t matter how much offense a team has or how good the opposing quarterback is: If you win the line of scrimmage, you can win the game. The Giants’ defensive line absolutely took over this game, much like it’s done the past four weeks now. People who said that this New York defense is an entirely different unit when Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are all healthy were 100-percent right. It seems like such an obvious statement but consider how bad the Giants’ secondary has looked at times this season and yet Aaron Rodgers and the mighty Green Bay offense was out of sync the entire night. It’s not just the secondary that those three pass rushers help either: It’s the entire defense. Michael Boley is freed up to make plays. Rocky Bernard has a presence from the interior of the defensive line. Even Antrel Rolle makes plays. The Giants are one of the few teams that built their entire defense around one philosophy: Get to the quarterback and we’ll be successful. And once again they’re getting ready to play in another NFC title game despite all of their injuries and inconsistent play during the regular season.

- Of course, we can’t kneel down before the Giants’ defense without criticizing Ryan Grant and the Green Bay receiving corps. Grant looked like he was trying to hold onto a flaming pile of Jello and the Packer receivers dropped seven passes by my count. Rodgers wasn’t the razor sharp MVP we saw all season but this loss hardly falls at his feet. I thought the death shot for the Packers was when Jermichael Finley dropped that third-down pass early in the fourth quarter when Green Bay was only down by a touchdown. Once he let that pass hit the ground and Rodgers was sacked on Green Bay’s fourth-down attempt, you could feel the seed out doubt set in for the Packers. Of course, it didn’t help that Grant fumbled for the third time on their next possession, which set up an immediate touchdown for the Giants, but the Packers’ fate seemed sealed long before that. Simply put, Green Bay’s offense saved its worst performance for its biggest game.

- Man, talk about a complete 180; Tramon Williams was the defensive star for the Packers last postseason and today he got absolutely served by Hakeem Nicks. I haven’t seen a corner get beaten that badly by a receiver since Demaryius Thomas abused Ike Taylor all the way back to last Sunday. Nicks caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, making Eli Manning’s stats all the more prettier by his run-after-the-catch ability and jump-ball skills. You could have heard a pin drop at Lambeau when he hauled in that Hail Mary pass right before halftime. What an absolute pain he was for Green Bay tonight.

- Green Bay’s defense did a pretty nice job with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, but they both saved their best runs for last. Bradshaw’s 24-yard scamper and Jacobs’ 14-yard touchdown run with just under three minutes remaining in the game were beautiful. Both runs should have been stopped the way they were designed, but both Bradshaw and Jacobs showed great vision bouncing the plays outside. Of course, they were aided by some poor tackling/angles by B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson.

- Packer fans likely want him tarred and feathered right now but I do feel bad for Grant. He just hasn’t been the same player after essentially missing the entire 2010 season. He was on the sidelines last season when the Packers won the Super Bowl and he was one of the key factors in why they won’t get back to the title game this year. Just 29, Grant’s burst is gone and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll return to Green Bay in 2012.

- I thought it was nauseating how the media in New York kept drawing comparisons between the 2007 Giants team that shocked the Patriots in the Super Bowl and this year’s squad. But I’m sold now. You got me, Giants. I’ll buy. You win. This team is so eerily similar to the one in ’07 that I honestly believe that they’re going to win this year’s Super Bowl. For realsies, no foolin’ – I honestly believe that the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl. It’s like they’re on some kind of quest from the land of hey-haven’t-I-already-watched-this-before?

- Looks like Rodgers and the Packers can now discount double-check their way to their couches. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Sunday Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 11 in the NFL

Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler warms up before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field on November 20, 2011 in Chicago. UPI/Brian Kersey

- December 25th – mark it down. That’s the day the Bears get their rematch with the Packers and it’s going to be a spectacle to watch. There might not be a team playing with more confidence right now than Chicago, which hasn’t lost since its ugly effort in Detroit on Monday Night Football back in early October. Jay Cutler didn’t light the stat sheet on fire today but he made big plays all day. And his lone mistake (an interception to Antoine Cason), wasn’t a mistake at all because Johnny Knox slipped on the play. Besides, the Bear defense picked off Philip Rivers in the end zone on the next possession, basically nullifying Cason’s interception. With guys like Cutler, Matt Forte and Devin Hester, as well as a physical, unrelenting defense, the Bears look playoff ready…

…whoops! Talk about timing. About a millisecond after writing that paragraph I saw a report that Jay Cutler’s season might be over due to a fractured right throwing thumb. If that’s the case, then the Bears could be finished. Caleb Hanie has had his moments, such as leading Chicago to a touchdown on his first series against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game last year. But as B.J. Raji’s interception in that same game can attest to, Hanie is also very inexperienced. If Cutler is indeed out (he’ll undergo more tests on Monday), then his injury dramatically changes the Bears’ offense (and season, for that matter).

- The Falcons would be foolish not to keep Matt Ryan in the no-huddle from here on out. Atlanta ran its no-huddle almost exclusively today in its 23-17 victory over the Titans and Ryan had is second-highest QB rating of the season (110.9), threw for over 300 yards for only the fourth time all year, and didn’t throw an interception for only the third time in 10 games. While they did have issues inside the red zone (they settled for three field goals and Michael Turner coughed the ball up once to allow Tennessee to get back into the game), the Falcons only punted twice in the victory. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has been hesitant to run the no-huddle on a full-time basis but it’s the offense that Ryan is clearly most comfortable running.

- Jake Locker showed why he was once considered a slam-dunk No. 1 overall draft pick. Matt Hasselbeck has done a fantastic job managing games for Tennessee this year but Locker sparked a punchless offense and nearly brought the Titans back from 20 points down in the second half. He only completed 9-of-19 passes but those nine completions went for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also picked up a first down with an 11-yard rush on a third-and-long and showed good zip on most of his passes. Mike Munchak already backed Hasselbeck as the starter in his post-game press conference but with Matt Schaub now out for the year in Houston, it might be time for Tennessee to roll the dice with the kid. Locker was fun to watch today.

- I watched Chris Johnson very closely today and from my point of view, there’s nothing wrong with him. He just doesn’t have anywhere to run as Tennessee’s run blocking is abysmal. Atlanta’s run defense is very sound but Johnson was bottled up almost immediately after receiving the hand off.

- Blaine Gabbert threw for 210 yards and didn’t turn the ball over in the Jaguars’ 14-10 loss to the Browns. He also threw a perfectly placed ball that Jason Hill couldn’t haul in with three seconds remaining in the game that could have won it for Jacksonville. But Gabbert’s overthrow to a wide-open (and I mean WIDE-OPEN) Hill in the end zone with just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter really cost Jacksonville a huge opportunity to tie the game at 14-14. Those are the types of plays that Gabbert hasn’t been making all season. Now, he’s only a rookie and deserves time to develop. But I firmly believe that Jacksonville screwed up by releasing David Garrard and forcing Gabbert onto the field before he was ready. The kid should be holding a clipboard right now.

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten hugs kicker Dan Bailey after Bailey kicked a game winning 39-yard field goal in overtime against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Washington on November 20, 2011. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

- I’m sorry, I know a win is a win and they very well could wind up being tied for first in the NFC East before the night is over (the Giants are currently losing to the Eagles as I type). But that was not a very impressive win by the Cowboys today. The Redskins’ offense has been putrid for over a month and the Cowboys were one 52-yard field goal by Graham Gano away from losing. Jason Witten and Tony Romo made some great plays today and hey, divisional games are usually close. But count me among the people who keep waiting for the ‘Boys to put together that signature win and yet, it still hasn’t come. I picked the Cowboys to win the NFC East this year so I’m not surprised that they’re 6-4. It’s just not a very impressive 6-4 to me.

- Andy Dalton made some big mistakes today, which included throwing three interceptions and being flagged for intentional grounding on the Bengals’ final possession. But it’s clear that he and Cincinnati have a very bright future. This was a team that was without its best offensive playmaker (A.J. Green) and its top cornerback (Leon Hall) and still hung with the Ravens on their home field. On paper, Baltimore should have cruised to victory and it almost did. But thanks to Dalton and the Bengals’ perseverance, they had a chance to at least tie the game in the closing minutes. Assuming Dalton doesn’t go backwards from here, I see no reason why the Bengals won’t continue to challenge the Ravens and the Steelers in the AFC North.

- It was good to see Cam Cameron let it rip today. Sometimes the Ravens’ offense looks like a Ferrari but drives like a Pinto. Joe Flacco took a couple of deep shots, Ray Rice was heavily involved and Torrey Smith (6 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD) had a breakout performance. Speaking of Smith, if he maintains his confidence week in and week out, he’s going to be a star in this league. That 49-yard catch that he hauled in today was a thing of beauty.

- If I’m a Lions fan I’m ecstatic that my team scored 49 points as Matthew Stafford threw for five touchdowns and Kevin Smith rushed for 140 yards and two scores. But I would be extremely concerned about the number of times they’ve had to stage a big comeback because they’ve dug themselves a huge hole in the first half. Three of the Lions’ seven wins this year (Dallas, Minnesota and Carolina) have come after they’ve fallen behind by 20 points or more and while it’s impressive that they’ve been able to persevere, it would be more impressive if they figured out a way to play four quarters more consistently. Because this is obviously a very dangerous team when they’re firing on all cylinders.

- Cam Newton is extremely fun to watch and he’s making a lot of pundits look very stupid for doubting him (and the Panthers for that matter) back in April. That said, he certainly helped his team lose today. Carolina’s defense turned in a brutal second-half effort against Detroit but Newton’s inaccuracy was a major issue as well. He often missed high to his receivers and wound up throwing four interceptions in the loss. Recklessness simply can’t be a part of his game.

- Kellen Winslow (9 receptions, 132 yards, 1 TD) had a monster game but he cost the Bucs’ twice in their 35-26 loss to the Packers. First he was flagged for an obvious pass interference call in the end zone on a third-and-3 from the Packers’ 4-yard-line, which led to a Tampa Bay field goal instead of a potential touchdown early in the third quarter. Then he dropped a pass on a two-point conversation attempt that would have tied the game at 21-21 early in the fourth. Granted, the Bucs’ defense couldn’t come up with that one big stop in the fourth but they were also trailing by nine points virtually that entire quarter because of Winslow’s mistakes. Still, Tampa certainly gave Green Bay all it could handle. There are no moral victories but the Bucs finally showed some punch on offense (including LeGarrette Blount’s unbelievable touchdown run).

- All of those weapons on offense and the Packers’ first two touchdowns today came on a 1-yard B.J. Raji run and a Tom Crabtree five-yard reception, respectively. As if opposing defenses don’t have enough to worry about when it comes to Green Bay, now they have to try and tackle 337 pounds of B.J. Raji and defend some guy named Tom Crabtree.

- Want to know the biggest reason why the previously 0-7 Dolphins have won three games in a row? Try the fact that they haven’t allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters now. Miami’s defense absolutely stifled the Bills today, allowing just 41 rushing yards in a 35-8 rout. They also stuffed Buffalo at the goal line early in the fourth quarter and intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. And who needs Andrew Luck? Matt Moore has thrown six touchdowns in his last three games.

- Somebody stick a fork in the Bills because they’re done. They made believers out of a lot of people earlier in the year but they’ve looked absolutely horrendous the last three weeks. Do you think the front office is regretting signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to that extension? He signed his new deal on October 28, beat the Redskins two days later and hasn’t won since.

- His play is indicative of a rookie quarterback but Christian Ponder is absolutely maddening to watch sometimes. One minute he’s using his athleticism to make a big throw downfield and the next he’s literally throwing the ball directly to a defender (see his interception to Stanford Routt in the fourth quarter today). He did extremely well to lead the Vikings from 20 points down against the Raiders without Adrian Peterson (who left the game early with an injury), but Ponder made some really bad decisions. Again, this is what you expect out of a rookie but he’s liable to make Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave insane.

- Some teams don’t have one capable starter at running back and Oakland has two. It must be nice when Darren McFadden goes down with an injury to have Michael Bush step in and take his place. Bush has lifted the Raiders into sole possession of first place in the AFC West the past two weeks. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the Chargers are absolutely imploding.

San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh (R) discusses a call with Line Judge John Hussey during play against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on November 20, 2011. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 23-7. UPI/Terry Schmitt

- Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jim Harbaugh is not the fact that he has gotten Alex Smith to play well or that the Niners’ defense is one of the best in the league. Albeit, those things are impressive but not nearly as impressive as the focus and discipline that he’s instilled in this San Francisco team. The Niners were a talented squad under Mike Singletary but the problem was that he was completely overmatched as a football tactician. And because he was so overmatched both on and off the field, his team began falling apart at the seams. But under Harbaugh, the Niners have played sound football, don’t beat themselves and not once have they been caught looking ahead. With a Thanksgiving Day matchup with his brother’s Ravens coming up in just four days, Harbaugh and the Niners could have easily overlooked Arizona today. Instead, they nearly shut the Cardinals out. Again, under Harbaugh they’ve been highly impressive.

- Considering how brutal their schedule was in the first half and the amount of injuries they’ve had to suffer through (particularly in the defensive backfield), it’s not surprising to see the Rams sitting with only two wins. That said, that’s a pitiful football team they have in St. Louis and if Billy Devaney doesn’t have a better offseason than the one he did this past year, the Rams will continue to lose. Devaney better find some gems in next year’s draft; I’m talking about finding a couple of guys that can make an impact right away or else both he and Steve Spagnuolo will be out of jobs very soon.

- I just can’t wrap my head around the play of Philip Rivers this year. This can’t be the same guy who almost single-handedly kept the Chargers in the playoff hunt last year without his top two playmakers. It just can’t. The interception he threw at the end of the game to Corey Graham was one of the worst throwaway attempts I’ve ever seen. And this came after Major Wright picked him off earlier in the quarter when San Diego’s defense put the Chargers in great field position with an interception of their own. Brutal. Philip Rivers has been brutal this year.

I’m Just Saying…the Black Eyed Peas are best left in the studio.

Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas performs during half-time at the NFL’s Super Bowl XLV football game in Arlington, Texas, February 6, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL ENTERTAINMENT)

I’m just saying…

- Christina Aguilera had at least two weeks to prepare for the National Anthem and she still managed to change a word and skip an entire verse. Did someone forget to rub her the right way before she went out to midfield? Because you know you have to do that with her, right?

- What a game by Jordy Nelson: Nine catches, 140 yards receiving and one touchdown. Now imagine how good his numbers would have been had he not dropped two first down passes right in his hands.

- Speaking of drops…James Jones is lucky the Packers held on to the win because his drop in the third quarter was setting up to be the turning point in the game. Nobody can make a potential touchdown disappear faster than James Deandre Jones.

- I want to commend Bruce Arians for his decision to be aggressive when the Steelers were backed up to their own 7-yard line late in the first quarter. Rashard Mendenhall had just ripped the Packers for 24 yards on two carries in the previous series, so naturally Arians wanted to prove how smart he was by taking a shot downfield. Nick Collins and the Packers want to thank you for the gift, Bruce.

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Five future stars of Super Bowl XLV

Green Bay Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji (90) returns an interception for an 18-yard touchdown during the fourth quarter of their NFC Championship playoff game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago on January 23, 2011. UPI /Mark Cowan

With the Super Bowl less than seven days away, the names Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews will continue to be talked about ad nauseam over the next week. So for one article, let’s focus on some of the other players in this year’s title game that are on their way to becoming future stars. You know, the “little guys” of the big game. (Actually, there’s nothing “little” about B.J. Raji so pardon my poor choice of words.)

1. Tramon Williams, CB, Packers
Williams has already arrived, so it’s kind of cheap to call him a “future star.” He made the Pro Bowl this year and received a contract extension a few months ago, so obviously the Packers and the rest of the league are well aware of how good he is. That said, it wasn’t until this year before he really emerged as one of the best corners in the league, so it’s fair to talk about his future prowess. He intercepted a career-high six passes and has three picks in the postseason alone. His two interceptions of Matt Ryan in the Divisional Round turned that game on its head and basically catapulted the Packers to an easy victory. There isn’t a more underrated matchup than his upcoming battle with Steelers’ receiver Mike Wallace in this year’s Super Bowl. (Assuming that Charles Woodson covers Hines Ward, that is.)

2. Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers
The second-year receiver out of Ole Miss has already made headlines this season with his deep-threat ability. Observers were worried about how the Steelers would cope after trading Santonio Holmes to the Jets last offseason, but Wallace has made everyone forget about the former Super Bowl MVP. He finished the regular season with 60 catches for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns, which included seven 100-yard games. He’s a rising star on an already stacked Steelers team and should be a player to keep an eye on for years to come.

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Could the Steelers be without Pouncey for the Super Bowl?

He still has two weeks to receive treatment but Steelers’ center Maurkice Pouncey may not play in the Super Bowl after suffering a high-ankle sprain against the Jets on Sunday.

Pouncey is having a tremendous rookie season and has been the rock in the middle of Pittsburgh’s offensive line. Doug Legursky came in and played very well in the AFC title game, but Pouncey is one of the main reasons the Steelers’ offense has been clicking over the past month or so.

If Pouncey can’t play, his injury could potentially open things up for Packers’ nose tackle B.J. Raji to have a big game. He’s been a dominant force in the postseason thus far and although his main responsibility is to absorb extra blockers in run defense, he’s shown a great burst as a pass-rusher as well. He also dropped back into coverage on Sunday and took a Caleb Hanie pass back to the house for a pick-six in the fourth quarter against Chicago.

The Steelers need Pouncey in uniform in two weeks and while he says he’s “definitely” playing in the title game, we’ll have to wait and see how his ankle responds to treatment.

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