AFC North will be represented for at least another week after the Steelers dismantled the Dolphins.
The NFL wild card weekend gave home team fans something that cheer about, but unfortunately it left the remaining viewers around the globe channel surfing for excitement. Four games, four blowouts. Ironically the two games with the “closest” final scores were never in doubt, and the two with the largest score differentials were competitive until 4th quarter collapses.
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers
It was the Bell and Brown show in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon as the Steelers dominated the undermanned and dazed Dolphins into submission. Antonio Brown’s day was essentially just two pass plays in the first two Steelers drives, but those two just happened to be 50 and 62 yard TD receptions leading to a 14-0 first quarter lead. That’s all Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers needed. The Dolphins defense adjusted, and Bell ran for 149 of his 167 yards after those two early TDs. To give this some perspective, the rest of the team TOTALED 42 yards gained after those two Antonio Brown touchdowns.
On defense, the Steelers game plan was obviously to stop the run as Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi netted 12 yards on his first 8 carries after rushing for nearly 1300 yards at 5 yards per carry during the season. While the Steelers were bottling up Ajayi, they were able to contain the Dolphins passing game just enough. Backup QB Matt Moore went 8 of 11 for 82 yards in his first three drives that ended in just two field goals.
This game was never in doubt but was not without controversy and head-shaking. The Steelers were up 20-3 before the Dolphins third possession, but on a 2nd down from the Steelers 32, Moore was crushed by a Bud Dupree helmet-to-jaw. Dupree was flagged for the hit (and will likely be fined), as were The Dolphins after a Ajayi bumped Dupree. The result was a puzzling 1st and 25 for the Dolphins. The call was correct if going by the letter of the law, but not if using common sense. Punishing a team with a 1st and 25 is something that is rarely seen when such an incident occurs. It normally results in offsetting personal fouls, or the bump is overlooked due to the nature of the play and emotions (unless severe enough). The play’s controversy didn’t end there. Inexplicably, Moore passed the NFL “concussion protocol”. He was hit squarely in the jaw by a 260lb helmet moving into him at 20 mph. Again, common sense was severely lacking. Moore may have had some success before the hit, but over the next three drives he fumbled twice and threw an INT. To be fair, he was under pressure by a Steelers relentless pass rush knowing the Dolphins had to throw, but it almost looked like he was playing with a… concussion? Either way, the score was 20-3 at the time, and the Dolphins defense had no answer for the Steelers dual threat.
And lastly in the lacking-common-sense category: with 4:34 left in the game and the Steelers in Miami territory up by three scores, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass on 3rd and 8. Instead of a quick pass or perhaps taking a sack to keep the clock running, competitive Ben extended the play with his feet, and was hit as he threw into coverage. The result was not just an interception, but possibly a high ankle sprain. At the very least it will limit his mobility for the divisional round.
Next up: The Steelers take a trip to KC’s sound garden, and whether that noise is organic or aided CenturyLink-style is for you to decide.
Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans
The Raiders looked like the mistake-filled Derek Carr-less team that showed up in Denver week 17, and Houston did just enough to win. The Texans first two drives netted nearly as many points (10) as yards (12). After that, there were flashes of sustained drives, but any offensive excitement was overshadowed by the combined 19 punts in the game. Houston won strictly on the defensive side of the ball against an ill-prepared rookie QB. The Texans offense netted 168 yards passing and 2.8 yards a carry, which were only that good because they recovered each of their three fumbles.
Next up: The Texans head to Foxboro for a game that will likely be over half way through the first quarter.
Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks
The Lions entered the game one-dimensional and looked overmatched. As much as Seattle tried to give them the game early, Matt Stafford and the Lions could not make a play. The Lions actually attempted to run the ball with med-student-turned-starting-running back Zach Zenner, who (shockingly) could only muster 31 yards on 11 carries. He was the only Lions RB to have a touch. Eventually offensive anemia will catch up to a Seahawks opponents, and the 4th quarter proved that.
Next up: The Seahawks head to Atlanta in a perfect scenario for Seattle to again advance to the NFC Championship game against a team and fanbase severely lacking in post season confidence.
New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
This was by far the most entertaining game of the weekend and was close until Green Bay rattled off the last 24 points in a 15-minute span. If the Giants reputation of playoff past held true in terms of making plays, the outcome of this game would have been drastically different. Multiple critical drops by Odell Beckham and failing to defend a Hail Mary at the end of the 1st half gave the Packers all the help they needed. The Giants actually seemed defeated earlier in the 3rd quarter until Packers head coach Mike McCarthy attempted to keep this game close with an ego-over-logic decision to go for a 4th and 1 on his own 42 up 14-6. Fortunately for him, the Giants decision making and execution during the game brushed a horrible decision under the rug. Now Odell Beckham and company will have plenty of time in the offseason to sail, destroy property, and take to Twitter.
Next up: The Packers head to the Dallas Fort Worth area in what will likely be the best game of the weekend