NFL Wild Card Weekend: Cardinals, Packers play a classic

Arizona beats Green Bay in highest-scoring playoff game ever; the Patriots fall apart; who's smarter than Wade Phillips?; conference semifinal picks and hot player of the week.

By Jim Buzinski
Outsports.com

How I saw wild card weekend:

After three relative snoozers, the last game of the weekend was a playoff classic - Arizona 51, Green Bay 45, overtime. It was the highest-scoring playoff game in history and featured 1,000 yards of offense and 62 first downs (and only two punts). A defensive struggle it wasn't.

It was ironic, though, that the winning points were scored by the defense, when Karlos Dansby recovered a fumble that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers kicked up in the air as he was being sacked and ran it back for a touchdown. Rodgers was brilliant in the second half, leading the Pack to five touchdowns. But his first pass of the day was intercepted and the last was returned for the first walk-off fumble touchdown in playoff history; shades of Brett Favre and his turnovers that killed several Packer seasons.

Packer fans are up in arms over what they say was a missed facemask call against the Cardinals on the final play. Check out this pic from AP, which seems to clearly show Rodgers' facemask being grabbed during the play. I wonder what the NFL will say about this?

Rodgers won't sleep much this week, thinking about the final play. He will also play back in his mind the first play of overtime when he overthrew Greg Jennings on what would have been an 80-yard game-ending touchdown; a little more loft on the ball and the Packers convert the third-largest comeback in playoff history, having been down 31-10 in the third quarter.

On the other side, Arizona QB Kurt Warner was in one of his zones, where nothing goes wrong - 29 of 33 for five touchdowns. Warner had more TD passes (five) than Baltimore QB Joe Flacco had completions (four) against New England. The key to picking the Cardinals is to try and gauge which Warner will show up.

The only flaw in that wild game was that it was called by Fox's Joe Buck, a dreadful football announcer. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk channeled my thoughts: "Buck is calling one of the most memorable postseason games in league history, and he's acting for the most part like it's inning five of a Saturday afternoon baseball game between the Blue Jays and the White Sox."

Collapse: Wow. Watching the New England Patriots fall apart in a 33-14 home playoff loss to Baltimore was one of the most shocking things of the the past few seasons. Not that they lost, since I thought the Ravens had a good shot. But the way they lost - a total capitulation from the first play, an 83-yard TD run by Ray Rice, made this the most embarrassing loss of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era (the worst loss was still the Super Bowl loss to the Giants, but it took a heroic drive for the Giants to win). This was the first home playoff loss for Belichick-Brady and their first at home this season.

Brady stunk, plain and simple. He threw three interceptions and fumbled once, and said after that he didn't blame the Patriot fans for booing early and often. But Brady wasn't playing defense, which allowed 234 yards rushing, so there is plenty of blame to go around. Randy Moss disappeared, the running game was non-existent and the special teams were anything but.

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wolfork summed it up: "For them to come in here and do what they did, they could basically have been playing out there with a JV football team and they probably would have given a better effort than we did. You saw one team come in here and play it like it was a playoff game and then you seen another club that just went out there going through the motions.''

I will be curious to see whether this was the end of the Pats' run as an elite team (we only know these things in hindsight). It's been five seasons since their last Super Bowl win and the mystique is gone. The defense has no leaders and really missed key players of the past like Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Ted Johnson, Asante Samuel and Richard Seymour. Those players always stepped up in the clutch, while the 2009 Pats found a way to fall apart in the clutch.

The key going forward will be the health of Brady, who in 2009 was never his pre-injury self. QBs like Carson Palmer and Daunte Culpepper never regained their form they had prior to similar injuries, and the jury is out on Brady. He still has three to five good years left, so it's too early to write the Pats off. But this team scares no one anymore and I don't see that coming back any time soon.

Tacky: Ravens receiver Kelly Washington (a former Patriot) was caught on camera telling the crowd, "The era is over!" as he made the throat-slashing sign. It was bush, and expect the league to fine Washington for the gesture.

Challenge this: Hard to believe, but Cowboys coach Wade Phillips is smarter than JP, my big-shot brilliant lawyer friend, and Jim Allen, an astute sports observer and my football-watching bud. They both thought Phillips was nuts to challenge an Eagles interception at a key point in Saturday night's game. I thought the play was so close and potentially pivotal that a challenge was warranted. Phillips agreed, threw the flag and the interception call was reversed. Dallas went on to break a 7-7 tie and never looked back.

I am not sure what is scarier - Wade Phillips being smarter than someone, or me agreeing with him.

Weird: This is the first time since the 2000 season that both the Patriots and Steelers are missing from the AFC's final four. That tells you how those two teams, along with the Colts, have been the elites this decade.

jullian100Hot player of the week: Julian Edelman, Patriots receiver. Edelman, 23, was a college quarterback at Kent State who the Pats converted into a slot receiver. He's 6-feet, 198 pounds with a classic jock's body. He was about the only good thing to watch Sunday for Patriot fans.

I wrote more about the Cowboys-Eagles game on the blog, and don't have much to say about the Jets' 24-14 win over the Bengals, so on to the divisional round picks:

In the wild card round, I picked the Bengals, Patriots, Packers and Cowboys (1-3), so take these with a grain of salt.

AFC
Ravens (10-7) at Colts (14-2)

The Colts have the better of this matchup and have won seven in a row over the Ravens. But their game this season was close, with Indy hanging on for a 17-15 win. That game, however, was in Baltimore; these teams played in Indianapolis last season and the Colts won, 31-3.

The Ravens' best shot is to force turnovers and keep the game close for its running game to take over. With the Colts not having played a meaningful game in five weeks, rust will be an issue, so a fast start is imperative for Indy. I see the Colts coming in fresh and healthy with too much firepower from Peyton Manning and company. Colts 27, Ravens 13.

Jets (10-7) at Chargers (13-3)
Last season, I called the Cardinals playoff frauds and the reached the Super Bowl. I said the same about the Jets this season, which means they'll roll all the way to Miami. The Jets matchup well with the Chargers - they play the pass better than the run, which is good since the Chargers are not a good running team. And they run the ball well, which is good since the Chargers allowed a weak 4.5 yards per rush.

In many ways, this is similar to the Colts-Ravens, with the Jets needing to keep it close into the fourth quarter to have a shot. I give them a puncher's chance, but think the Chargers have too many weapons. Chargers 23, Jets 14.

NFC
Cardinals (11-6) at Saints (13-3)

Flip a coin here and the closeness of the game depends on what Kurt Warner we see. The Cards will score their points and the Saints have stumbled as of late. But I think the home crowd and a weak Arizona defense make enough of a difference for the Saints to win a shootout. Saints 38, Cardinals 34.

Cowboys (12-5) at Vikings (12-4)
With the always-hated by many Cowboys and the newly hated by many Brett Favre playing each other, I know some fans who are rooting for both teams to be somehow disqualified. This should be a terrific matchup, though. Dallas is playing inspired defense, allowing a combined six touchdowns in its last five games to the likes of the Eagles (twice), Chargers and Saints.

The Vikings are 8-0 at home and play better there in all phases. But I like the way Dallas is rushing the passer and Favre has laid many a playoff egg this past decade. This is my only upset pick of the weekend. Cowboys 24, Vikings 21.

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