AFC North

A Divisional Round to Remember

A Divisional Round to Remember
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The result of each game this weekend could have changed on a single play.
 
 
 
It didn’t matter whether the games were close throughout, began as blowouts, or were fairly one-sided for the majority. All four divisional playoff games were just inches away from the loser becoming victorious.
 
 
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
 
The Patriots were the better team on Saturday, probably had more breaks in terms of penalties or non-penalties, ball bounces, certainly the better pre and in-game coaching (minus the near-disastrous pass play call with seconds left), and much better clock management. This description may sound like the game was a blowout, but the final result rested that play call in question with seconds remaining, the bad pass that ensued, and the lucky deflection that ended up as a completion and game ending first down for the Patriots, instead of a potential game tying pick-6 for the Chiefs.
 
The Patriots mostly dinked and dunked their way through the Chiefs defense with much success, and this game may have taken a different turn early if not for the multiple drops from Patriots receivers, with an occasional bad Tom Brady pass thrown in the mix. On the flip side, the normally opportunistic Chiefs let those Brady mistakes hit the ground, potentially altering the outcome as well. New England was thankful that Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski were healthy enough to play in this one. Although Edelman was one of the reasons they struggled catching the ball early, the two receivers made plenty of key plays throughout the day.
 
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
 
In a game where former Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer attempted to go all Big-Game Bengals on his team’s chances Saturday, Arizona’s defense saved the day… except of course during the Packers last drive of regulation when they allowed Aaron Rodgers to essentially complete two Hail Mary’s in one drive. The first was on a 4th and 20 from his own 4 with 0:55 on the clock and no timeouts, and the second and more traditional version resulted in a 41-yard TD with 0:04 remaining. 2 plays 101 yards later (including a 5-yard illegal motion penalty) the game was tied.
 
Carson Palmer had plenty of chances to put this game away, but made at least a half-dozen questionable decisions and/or bad throws (in the red zone more often than not) to keep the game close. Luckily Larry Fitzgerald decided it was time to take over and quickly ended the game with a 75-yard catch and run, and a 5-yard shuffle pass. Both teams struggled to get anything going for the first 56 minutes (13-10 Packers), and the ended up scoring a combined 23 points (3 TDs and a FG) in the game’s final five minutes.
 
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers
 
This game was over after two quarters, so why even watch the second half… afterall, Carolina scored late in the first half and went into the break up 31-0. Nobody told Russell Wilson it was over. He promptly threw a TD pass less than 2 minutes into the 2nd half, and put up 24 points in the first 24 minutes as Carolina hung on and weren’t out of the woods until they recovered an onsides kick late in the 4th to preserve the victory. A Seattle recovery could have led to an epic comeback, one for the ages.
 
The Panthers amassed 220 first half yards including a 59-yard Jonathan Stewart run and a beautiful 19-yard TD Cam to Olson throw and catch. They apparently napped at halftime and were blanked on the scoreboard while gaining just 75 total yards.
 
On a side note: Advice to Seahawks fans (or any fan)- if you don’t want a player to take and throw a flag, sign, towel, or whatever you are waving in the player’s face, don’t wave it in his face, whether its to be annoying or whether its despiration to get camera time.
 
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
 
For 50 minutes, this game was about game managing and field position. In the end, a key fumble and possibly key decisions to forgo field goals cost the Steelers a shot at an appearance in the AFC Championship game. This game may not have been a matter of inches, but certainly it could be argued that a split second later, Broncos hero Bradley Roby would have been blocked out of the way of Toussaint, and would not have been in position to cause the fumble.
 
The game was also decided by a yard or two:
 
At the 8-minute mark of the 1st quarter, Tomlin opted to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Denver 32-yard line instead of attempting a 50-yard FG. Denver’s kicker booted a 51-yarder on that same side of the field in the 2nd quarter.
 
At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Steelers drove to the Broncos 24. After a critical penalty and solid Bronco defense, the drive stalled at the Denver 34 early in the 4th. Up 13-12, Tomlin opted to punt rather than risk a 52-yard field goal. It looked like a good decision as the Steelers defense held and started the game deciding drive at the 11:33 mark of the 4th. 4 plays and 44 yards later, Toussaint fumbled at the Denver 31 and the Broncos never look back.
 
 
This was one of the most exciting weekends of football in recent memory. Whether victories were a matter of inches, yards, or split seconds, the 2015 NFL divisional round was one for the memory banks.

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