Six Pack of Observations: Eagles at Giants

Here are six quick-hit thoughts on the Eagles’ 23-11 divisional round playoff victory over the Giants.

1. Don’t be shocked – the writing was on the wall for the Giants.
There’s no question that this was an upset; No. 1 seeds rarely fall in the divisional round, although ironically both the Giants and Titans did just that this weekend. But while this was considered an upset, an Eagle victory was hardly shocking. The Giants haven’t played a complete game since beating the Redskins in Week 13, the absence of Plaxico Burress severely hurt Eli Manning and the passing game over the past month, and the Eagles were just flat out a bad matchup for Big Blue. Throw in the fact that Philly beat the Giants in East Rutherford in Week 14 and this upset was in the making as soon as the Eagles knocked off the Vikings last Sunday.

2. Plaxico Burress’s selfishness cost his team in the end.
I don’t care what the players or coaches say – not having Burress killed the Giants’ passing game and destroyed their overall offensive balance. New York was able to move the ball effectively on the ground against the Eagles but when it came down to the Giants making a play in the passing game, they couldn’t. Obviously a lot of that falls on Eli Manning’s shoulders, but it’s hard to make plays when your receivers can’t get create separation with the defenders. Burress cost his team dearly because he didn’t care enough about his teammates or his profession to not carry a loaded weapon into a club. The Giants should part ways with this selfish idiot in the offseason and rid themselves of this massive distraction.

3. Confidence is a scary thing.
The Eagles have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL this season but when they play with confidence and momentum, they’re hard to beat. They’ve always been one of those teams (like the Ravens and Steelers) that have played with swagger. And when their opponents can’t mount up and punch them in the mouth right out of the gates, the Eagles gain confidence throughout the course of the game. That’s what happened today. The Giants held the ball longer, gained more total yards and had fewer penalties than the Eagles. But they never took control of the game and you just had the feeling that once the Eagles built a two-possession lead, the Giants wouldn’t recover. And they didn’t.

4. Donovan McNabb finally has another playmaker.
In both of their playoff wins, rookie DeSean Jackson has made big plays. Last week he had a huge punt return to set the Eagles up with great field position against the Vikings and today, his 48-yard reception essentially put the final dagger in the backs of the Giants. With a little more maturity, Jackson could develop into one of the best playmakers in the NFL. For now, he’s been an outstanding addition to the Eagles’ offense and he’s making up for the lack of postseason production by Brian Westbrook. There’s no doubt McNabb loves what Jackson has brought to the table and the veteran QB finally has weapon in the passing game again.

5. Stop it with the respect card.
I love Brian Dawkins. Love him. I think he has easily been one of the best safeties over the past decade and his leadership is unrivaled. But his on-field interview at the end of the game where he cried (literally) about the Eagles not getting any respect was ridiculous. The “respect card” is a tired act in sports and players need to stop using that as their go-to after games. No Brian, not everyone in the free world thought the Eagles could beat the defending Super Bowl champs on their home field. (Although for the record, I did.) Get over it.

6. Gary Myers screwed the Giants.
Local columnists should learn to play things a little more conservatively after Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Gary Myers of the New York Daily News jinxed their teams this postseason. Bradley predicted a Falcon win before their Wild Card game last Saturday in Arizona and earlier this week, Myers so boastfully claimed that there was no way the Eagles would beat the Giants on Sunday. Word to the wise for Philly and Arizona newspaper columnists – stay away from predictions next week.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Did the officials cost the Titans a win?

From Ed Hochuli’s blown call in the Chargers-Broncos game to the conclusion of the San Diego-Pittsburgh contest, officials have made some huge blunders this season in the NFL.

Did they blow yet another call Saturday to aid the Ravens in their victory over the Titans?

Titans-RavensAnother game, another officiating error in the NFL. On a key 3rd and 2 with 2:52 remaining in today’s divisional playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, the play clock clearly expired well before Joe Flacco received the snap, but no delay of game call came from the officials.

The Ravens converted the first down on a long pass to Todd Heap, and ended up kicking the game winning field goal later in the drive.

It’s not uncommon for officials to miss the play clock hitting zero, but when they do the ball is snapped nearly immediately afterwards. On this play, the ball was snapped 1.35 seconds after the play clock expired (yes, I timed it). That might sound trivial, but it’s really, really not. It’s a long time. Watch the replay, it’s preposterous how long the back judge had to make the call.

This doesn’t excuse the Titans for giving up the first down on the 3rd and 2. Nor is it intended to suggest that the Ravens couldn’t have converted on 3rd and 7 after the penalty. The point is, they should have had to.

The game clock on the TV broadcast is not official, but it did look like the Ravens got away with one. Still, the Titans blew the game with their three turnovers, 12 penalties and inability to find the end zone without Chris Johnson. One play/call doesn’t make or break a game for a team.

Six Pack of Observations: Cardinals at Panthers

Here are six quick-hit thoughts from the Cardinals’ 33-13 victory over the Panthers in Saturday’s divisional playoff game.

1. Everyone was wrong about the Cardinals…
…especially me. I couldn’t have been more wrong about this team, but I make no apologies. The Cardinals were absolutely hammered on the East Coast during the regular season and played awful down the stretch outside of a Week 17 win over a hapless Seattle team with nothing to play for. But they have been beyond impressive the past two weeks and they not only beat the Panthers on Saturday, they crushed them in every facet of the game. I followed the masses and just chalked up a loss for ‘Zona because they were on the road. I thought a Panther win was a lock and I couldn’t have been more wrong or shortsighted. What a dominant performance by the surging Cards, who are now one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. Amazing.

2. Jake Delhomme is the most overrated quarterback in the NFL.
Jake Delhomme is brutal, terrible, horrible – beyond awful. He’s the most overrated quarterback in the league and I don’t just write that because he threw five interceptions against the Cardinals; I write that because he is. I realize Carolina collapsed when Delhomme got hurt last year, but everyone made it sound like he was the missing link to the Panthers not going to the playoffs. But Steve Smith makes him look better than he is and the team’s outstanding running game masked his weakness this season. The Panthers are overdue in grooming a young quarterback and after Delhomme’s performance tonight, it would be a shock if Carolina doesn’t draft a signal caller come April.

3. If you can’t get off the field on third downs, you’re not going to win.
The Cardinals were 10 of 18 on third downs tonight, which meant the Panthers’ defense couldn’t get off the field when it mattered most. Arizona kept drives alive all night and all Carolina’s offense could do was stand by and watch as the clock continued to tick away. The Cardinals created a perfect storm by capturing the lead, converting on third downs and taking the Panthers’ two backs out of the game. Of course, Carolina’s six turnovers certainly helped, too.

4. Where did this Arizona run defense come from?
Last week the Cardinals held Michael Turner to under 50 rushing yards. Tonight, they held the explosive duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to 75 combined yards on the ground. Granted, they did jump out to a big lead early so the Panthers had to get away from their run game, but still – the Cards’ run defense has been fantastic so far this postseason. Clancy Pendergast has drawn up two excellent game plans the past two weeks and his players have executed those game plans to perfection.

5. Larry Fitzgerald is sick.
It was so easy to call, wasn’t it? Anquan Boldin was ruled out before the game and you just knew Carolina would double Larry Fitzgerald and destroy Kurt Warner’s day. Well…not so much. Fitz was incredible, hauling in eight passes for 166 yards and a 29-yard touchdown before half. The Panthers’ secondary, which hadn’t played that bad all season, clearly had no answer for him. It also helped that Warner delivered the ball in a timely manner all night and continues to play like playoff veteran he is. Warner has played fantastic all season.

6. The NFC South was a playoff dud.
Before the regular season wrapped up, many NFL pundits claimed that the NFC South was the best division in football – even better than the tough, physical NFC East. But after watching the Falcons and Panthers perform the past two weeks, the NFC South certainly wasn’t represented well. Atlanta and Carolina combined for nine turnovers in two games and their standout running games were foiled by an Arizona run defense that allowed over 110 yards per game in the regular season. The NFC South was a tough division all season, but what a brutal showing in the postseason.

Six Pack of Observations: Ravens at Titans

Here are six quick-hit observations on the Ravens’ 13-10 victory over the Titans in Saturday’s NFL divisional round playoff game.

1. Chris Johnson’s injury destroyed the Titan offense.
It’s no mystery how the Titans opened the game with a touchdown and then went scoreless until late in the fourth quarter. Johnson totaled 100 yards before an ankle injury in the second quarter sidelined him for the rest of the game. The rookie was clearly the most explosive player on the field in the first half and once he went out, LenDale White was a huge drop off. No disrespect to Justin Gage (10 receptions, 135 yards) who had a solid day, but the Titans’ offense lacked explosiveness and this game was a great example of how good Johnson was this season.

2. Joe Flacco played a perfect game.
If someone checked the stat sheet and saw that Flacco was 11 of 22 for only 161 yards and a touchdown, they would probably note that his performance was far from perfect. But in his first two career playoff games, Flacco has not turned the ball over once. For a rookie, he’s played flawlessly because he hasn’t turned the ball over, has made just enough plays in the passing game and he’s given his defense a chance to do what it does best – shut opponents down. For a rookie, he’s played two perfect games and now he’s one win away from playing in a Super Bowl.

3. Tennessee saved its worst performance for the most important game of the season.
Tennessee totaled 12 more first downs (21 to 9) than Baltimore and out gained the Ravens by 180 yards (391 to 211). But they turned the ball over three times, were penalized 12 times and were just 4 of 14 on third downs. The Titans had one of the best seasons of any team in the NFL, but not even good teams can win like this – especially not against a great defense like Baltimore’s.

4. Derrick Mason can still play.
Mason might have well been the Ravens’ entire offense today. On his lone touchdown of the afternoon, Mason snuck by the Titans’ secondary and Flacco put a perfect pass on the numbers. Then on Mason’s 37-yard reception late in the third quarter, Flacco threw into double coverage but the 34-year old vet made an outstanding adjustment on the ball and came down with the catch between two Titan defenders who couldn’t keep their balance. NFL pundits like to note how Flacco has nobody to throw to, but Mason proved once again that he could still excel at this level.

5. Alge Crumpler was a dud free agent pick up
Some football purists criticized the Falcons for cutting Crumpler – an experienced, veteran leader – in the offseason and then lauded the Titans’ decision to sign him to a two-year, $5.25 million deal. Word this preseason was that Crump was healthier than ever, his knees were stronger than they had been in previous years and he was glad to be out of the mess that was Atlanta. Then the season started and the veteran promptly disappeared. He caught just 24 passes for 257 yards and one touchdown this season, then cost the Titans dearly when he fumbled in the red zone against the Ravens on Saturday. One play doesn’t cost a team a win, but if Crumpler would have hung onto the ball the Titans might put six on the board that drive and come out with a victory.

6. Overall, this was a brutal game.
With all due respect to Sunday’s Eagles-Giants game, this was supposed to be the best matchup of the weekend. But penalties (20 total to be exact), turnovers (three to be exact – all from the Titans), injuries and cheap shots from both teams ruined an otherwise excellent matchup. And the officials were no bargain either – how does a Tennessee offensive lineman get flagged for helping Chris Johnson up after multiple Raven defenders bent him backwards after the whistle blew? Ugly doesn’t begin to describe how this game played out.

The Eagles aren’t the matchup the Giants want

Brian WestbrookTom Coughlin and the New York Giants aren’t going to admit it (at least not publicly), but the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t the matchup they wanted for their first playoff game.

Thanks to Donovan McNabb’s 300-yard passing day, Brian Westbrook’s 71-yard touchdown reception off a screen pass and Jim Johnson’s blistering defense, the Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-14 in their Wild Card playoff game Sunday at the Metrodome.

Had the Vikings won, the Giants would be hosting the Arizona Cardinals next weekend – the same Arizona Cardinals that have played like complete crap on the East Coast all season. But thanks to the Philly’s victory, the G-Men “lucked out” and get the sixth-seeded Eagles. They luck out by getting a team that has already beaten them once at Giants Stadium, has a seasoned playoff quarterback in McNabb, a secondary that rivals any defensive backfield in the league, and will face a defense that blitzes more than Chris Berman stutters through a highlight.

Even though the Eagles have largely been inconsistent this season, they aren’t your typical sixth-seeded playoff team. That said, Philly has to do a better job against the run next week because unlike the Vikings, the Giants have a quarterback in Eli Manning that can make plays in the passing game.

The Eagles allowed Minnesota to rush for 148 total yards and were gashed by a 40-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown run. If they can’t stop the Giants’ dynamic rushing game, Manning will likely strike for big plays via the pass. Philly definitely has the edge in terms of their secondary vs. the Giant wideouts, but it won’t matter if the Eagle safeties have to sell out to stop the run every play and leave the corners on an island. Eventually Manning will pick them apart.

Again though, there’s no doubt the Giants would have rather faced the Cardinals and allowed the Carolina Panthers to take their chances with the Eagles. But with Philly’s win, fans are treated to an NFC East clash with everything on the line. And what makes this matchup even more compelling is that both of these teams know each other so well. It’s going to make for a great week leading up to the contest, and the game itself will likely live up to expectations.

Next weekend couldn’t get here soon enough.

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