Wild Card Sunday was indeed wild, especially at the end of Sunday. The Broncos/Steelers game was one for the ages. But let’s start with the dud of an early game:
Falcons / Giants – The Giants completely dominated this game. The Falcons, a solid regular season team for the past 4 years are now 0-3 in the playoffs with Matt Ryan as their QB. They offered little resistance after the first quarter. A key to the Falcons poor showing was their repeated failures in 3rd and 4th down with 2 yards or less to go. In not being able to pick up short yardage situations, they kept giving the ball back to the Giants. The worst miss was a 4th and 1 with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Matt Ryan attempted a QB sneak out of an empty backfield formation which telegraphed the play call to the Giants defence making for an easy stop (lousy, uncreative short yardage play calls have doomed Atlanta a couple of times this season). After that, the Falcons rolled over for the rest of the game. Kudos to the Giants for rediscovering their running game in this one. Their OL which has looked pretty bad most of the year has now played 3 good games in a row.
Steelers / Broncos – I’ll get to the main part of the game in a moment, but let me start with the end. For a Broncos fan or a football fan without a rooting interest, to see the first NFL game under the new OT rules end on an 80 yard TD pass is one for the ages. Right off the snap you could see Thomas had Taylor beaten to the inside (more on that in a second) and with Mundy dropping down to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, the middle of the field was wide open with no safety to help Taylor to the inside. After Thomas caught the ball, it was a foot race to the end-zone that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Awesome finish to a very entertaining game.
A couple of things that caught my eye in this one:
a. Ike Taylor had a truly horrible game. He was beaten on the game winning TD, beaten on a number of big pass plays in the 2nd quarter and was flagged for a couple penalties that sustained Broncos drives. When you pay big bucks to a shutdown CB, you need to get more out of him.
b. The Steelers offence took too long to get into a flow. Once Ben got moving around in the pocket in the 2nd half, the down field throws started to open up to him. Backup RB Redman had an outstanding game rushing for 121 yards including a number of big runs in the second half that setup TDs. Their stalled out last drive with less than 2 minutes left lacked urgency and purpose and cost them a real opportunity to get a game winning FG at the end of regulation.
c. The officiating was pretty bad across the board in this one. Ron Winter (my least favourite ref) missed a number of facemask penalties and spent what seemed like a 1/2 hr in total under the replay hood. His crew members blew a few calls that required a video replay to overturn (and one that video replay couldn’t fix because of an arcane NFL rule). At the start of overtime, I was convinced he would find a way to affect the outcome of the game or screw it up somehow.
d. The Broncos showed a very nice game plan mixing up the run and pass and keeping the Steelers defence off balance all night. When Tebow can hit the mid-range and deep passes off play action roll-outs, the Broncos can be dangerous. He only completed 10 passes, but saw those go for 316 yards. The Steelers defenders couldn’t get a read on pass vs. rush plays and weren’t able to flush Tebow to his right to limit his effectiveness out of the pocket. The Broncos may not have a traditional NFL offence, but on any given Sunday….
The Steelers loss puts an end to any household rooting interests the rest of the way. I’m giving my loving fiance some space to grieve right now as she puts her Terrible Towel away for another season.