Jets get revenge on Patriots in huge upset. Up next -- the Steelers. The Packers look scary, but will have their hands full against the Bears.
By Jim Buzinski
How I saw the divisional round of the playoffs, where both top seeds were eliminated.
Wow! The Jets’ 28-21 win at New England was a total stunner and there was nothing fluky about it. Rex Ryan outcoached Bill Belichick and Mark Sanchez outplayed Tom Brady. I certainly didn’t see that coming.
Sanchez threw three touchdowns, with no interceptions or sacks. In contrast, Brady was erratic, throwing an awful interception that killed one drive (his first in 339 throws) and showing no urgency in the fourth quarter when they were down 10. He also had more throwaways then I’ve seen from him (being sacked five times made him a bit jittery). Brady looked really confused by the Jets defensive game plan, which called for coverage over blitzes. It also didn’t help that he had a touchdown pass dropped on a drive that ended in a field goal.
|Hot player of the week: Tony Gonzalez|
The Patriots had looked unbeatable since midseason, and had crushed the Jets, 45-3, in Week 13. So Sunday’s result was that much more shocking. The Patriots never got in a rhythm and energy seemed to be missing.
The key play was a totally dumb decision by Belichick to call a fake punt from his own 38 late in the first half, down 7-3. Patrick Chung bobbled the snapped and was tackled for a loss. The Jets then drove down on a short field and took a 14-3 lead. Had the Patriots punted, it is likely they would have pinned the Jets deep and gone into halftime down only four.
I also was baffled by the total lackadaisical attitude the Patriots offense exhibited on a 14-play drive that consumed half the final period. Even Belichick looked frustrated at how much time was being burned on each play. It doubly hurt when the Pats turned the ball over on downs.
Belichick is a brilliant coach but he has now lost his last three playoff games, a Super Bowl and the last two at home, and all three where his team was a favorite; he seems to have lost his mojo. It is now six seasons since the Pats won a Super Bowl and this was a golden chance for them, being the top seed. They will be a contender again in 2011 but the aura of invincibility has been totally stripped away.
It's also time to question one of Belichick's stranger personnel moves -- the trade in 2009 of Richard Seymour to the Raiders for Oakland's first pick in 2011. The Pats not only traded their best pass rusher, they got no compensation for him for two seasons. They have not replaced Seymour and their pass rush has been mediocre the kast two years and nonexistent against the Jets. I was never sure why some people thought the Seymour trade was a coup, but that shows the power of the Belichick aura, where he is assumed to never do wrong.
Another win: Sanchez is now 4-1 as a playoff quarterback but he's still not close to being elite. He was awful against the Colts a week ago and was bailed out by his special teams and defense. He was much better against the Patriots, playing the best he has in the playoffs, and he'd to do the same if the Jets hope to beat the Steelers. It helps to have a wideout like Santonio Holmes, who made an amazing TD catch to give the Jets a 21-11 lead.
Championship game picks. I am 4-4 picking so far in the playoffs:
Jets (13-5) at Steelers (13-4), 6:30 p.m. EST
This reminds me of 2008, when the No. 2 seed Steelers wound up hosting the AFC title game when the Ravens upset the top-seeded Titans. Pittsburgh wound up winning the Super Bowl. Outside of New York, there were no bigger Jets fans Sunday than people in Pittsburgh.
The Jets won at Pittsburgh, 22-17, in Week 17 in a thriller and their upcoming game looks similar. The Steelers have a shaky offensive line, so look for more blitzes from the Jets to try and rattle Ben Roethlisberger (the Jets sacked Big Ben three times in the first game). Expect the same from the Steelers, who will use their zone blitz scheme to try and confused Sanchez.
This is a hard game for me to pick since I think the teams are pretty well matched. But I will take Roethlisberger at home to make more plays. Steelers 20, Jets 14.
Packers (12-6) at Bears (12-5), 3 p.m. EST
While these teams have been playing each other since 1921, this will only be their second meeting in the postseason (the Bears won 33-14 in 1941).
Aaron Rodgers was absurdly good against the Falcons and if he plays anywhere close to that, the Bears are done. I am still not sold on Chicago as a Super Bowl-caliber team and beating a bad Seattle team in the playoffs did nothing to change my mind.
The Bears won the first game between the two in Week 3, 20-17, in an ugly game that saw Green Bay commit a team-record 18 penalties. In Week 17, Green Bay held on for a 10-3 win despite the game meaning nothing to the Bears.
The Packers won't be able to run much and I don't see Jay Cutler and the Bears having much success passing, so this will be an interesting contest. The wild card could be Devin Hester, capable of running a kickoff or punt back for a touchdown any time. The Packers are the better team, but with this being a division rivalry, anything can happen. Packers make the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997. Packers 20, Bears 13.
Crash and burn I: The Ravens total collapse against the Steelers in the second half - outscored 24-3 - can be attributed to their offense, which was totally inept. Their first four drives of the second half were fumble, punt, interception and fumble, which led to 17 Pittsburgh points.
Most peculiar was their stubbornness in throwing on first down. They did that on all four drives and the result was a sack, sack, interception, incompletion. I kept yelling to run the ball to set up manageable second downs, but they insisted on passing and the results were disastrous.
People make a lot out of Raven QB Joe Flacco's 4-3 playoff record, but last week at Kansas City was the only time Baltimore won and he played a very good game. In the other three wins, the Ravens won on the strength of a running game and defense. Flacco was not helped by several key drops against the Steelers, but he and the offense need to step it up for Baltimore to finally break through in the playoffs. They signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Aquan Boldin in the offseason and both had huge drops when it counted.
The Ravens defense, which played well most of the game, also let them down, somehow allowing Antonio Brown to get open deep for a 58-yard completion from Ben Roethlisberger on 3rd and 19 with 2:13 remaining. It was a stunning defensive lapse, compounded by the Ravens rushing only three people. That's crazy, since it allowed Big Ben time to set up the throw. That's the time to blitz and force a quick throw. As they say, the prevent defense prevents you from winning.
Crash and burn II: I heard a lot this week from Atlanta, where the Falcon faithful were playing the no respect card despite being 13-3 and the top seed. After watching the Falcons get rolled by the Packers, there was a reason people doubted Atlanta. They are a good team, not an elite one and had a charmed regular season aided by good fortune and getting to play the four weaklings in the NFC West.
Atlanta simply does not have big play capability (they were last in the league in plays longer than 20 yards) and once they got down by 14 to the Packers, it was over. Matt Ryan is budding star at QB but he was awful Saturday, with two interceptions (one returned for a back-breaking pick six) and a fumble. Matty Ice melted. I see Atlanta slipping back to 8-8 or 9-7 next season. They simply aren't that good.
Slippery seed: The top seed in the NFC has now lost its first playoff game in three of the last four years (2007 Cowboys, 2008 Giants and 2010 Falcons). Prior to 2007, the last time a No. 1 NFC seed failed to win a playoff game was 1987; top seed used to mean an automatic pass to the conference title game, but no more.
Malfunction: Can anyone tell me what the Fox robot brings to a telecast? Or, for that matter, what Tony Siragusa does?
Speaking of Fox, what a hideous promo they have for a Super Bowl day interview of President Obama by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. "O'Bama. O'Reilly. Oh yes! See the interview everyone will be talking about." I am not one normally big on ceremony, but this is an interview of a sitting president, not an episode of WWE Raw; a little dignity would be in order ... oh, wait, it's on Fox, where dignity is a foreign concept.
Predictable: There's not much to say about Seattle getting drilled in Chicago. The Seahawks (8-10) are not a good team and beating the Saints last week was the biggest upset in playoff history. In any other year, the Seahawks would not have made the playoffs. It's good that their brief run is over.
Hot player of the week: He's around the league forever but Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is still hot, hot, hot. A vegetarian and animal rights supporter, Gonzalez even got naked for a PETA campaign.