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Wild Card Weekend is in the books, and the first weekend of the NFL playoffs did not disappoint.
In the AFC, we saw rivals go head to head for a third time this season, then Andrew Luck drop Andy Dalton to 0-4 in the postseason. In the NFC, we saw just how different the Cardinals are when Ryan Lindley is their lone answer at quarterback, then in the weekend finale watched Tony Romo lead a second-half rally to make history.
Before we look ahead to the NFL Divisional Round, let’s look back at Wild Card Weekend. Here are five takeaways:
Panthers get contributions from three backs to oust Lindley-led Cardinals
For the first time in NFL history, the Panthers have advanced to the divisional round two years in a row. How’d they get there?
The NFC South champions received touchdowns by third- and fourth-string running backs Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert in the span of 92 seconds in the third quarter, in which the Panthers pulled off a 14-point swing thanks to a botched kickoff return by Ted Ginn Jr.
Once Carolina was able to grab hold of a lead, it put pressure on Lindley to engineer the Cardinals back into the game. In other words, the win was already in hand.
Lindley completed 16-of-28 passes for 82 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions as Arizona’s offense as a whole accounted for 78 yards. There’s no typo there. A Bruce Arians-coached team totaled a playoff-low 78 yards of offense and 1.7 yards per play. The drop-off from Carson Palmer to Drew Stanton was palpable, but from Stanton to Lindley was even more glaring.
With the win, Cam Newton moved to 15-5 since 2011 in December and January games. Only Tom Brady (20-5) has a better record in that regard. Jonathan Stewart continued his late-season surge with 123 yards and a touchdown, his third consecutive 100-yard effort over the last five weeks.
Ravens snap postseason streak to top rival Pittsburgh
For the first time since winning Super Bowl XLVII two years ago, the Ravens are again in the playoff win column. The Ravens knocked out their AFC North rival on the road, and did so in convincing fashion.
Overall, Baltimore’s 10 road playoff victories are tied for most in that category in NFL history. The Packers also have 10.
Joe Flacco passed for 259 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 10th career playoff victory gives him twice as many wins as any other NFL quarterback since entering the league in 2008. His coach — the other Harbaugh — John Harbaugh, moved to 8-4 all-time on the road in the postseason and 10-4 overall. That’s the same record as Bill Walsh, and only Vince Lombardi and Tom Flores have higher playoff win percentages
The absence of team MVP Le’Veon Bell hurt Pittsburgh, as the AFC North champions mustered 68 yards rushing and had no balance in their offense. Putting the pressure on Ben Roethlisberger was a bad formula, especially against this Baltimore defense, as he tossed two interceptions and was likely concussed down the stretch. Big Ben was sacked five times and hit at least another five in the loss.
Baltimore had lost three consecutive playoff games against its arch-rival, but finally snapped that losing streak to advance to the second round.
Colts find balance in their offense, continue Dalton’s playoff woes
Andrew Luck pieced together his third consecutive 300-yard passing performance in the playoffs, the second-longest streak in NFL history behind only Dan Fouts, who did it in four straight playoff games from 1978-1981.
The Colts’ rushing attack had been wildly inconsistent since the late-season loss of Ahmad Bradshaw, but Daniel “Boom” Herron shined on the biggest stage, generating 141 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown to finally balance out the offense.
The combination of quarterback Andy Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis dropped to 0-4 in the playoffs. Overall, Lewis fell to 0-6 in postseason, tied for worst in league history among head coaches, as Cincinnati failed to notch a playoff victory, a drought that’s lasted since 1990.
Interestingly enough, Dalton has yet to throw a touchdown pass in the postseason while his team was leading in the game. He finished 18-of-35, without a touchdown, and looked lost without the assistance of top wide receiver A.J. Green, who missed the game due to a concussion.
The question remains whether Cincinnati can continue to go forward with this head coach-quarterback tandem, or is a change coming for 2015?
Romo continues MVP-worthy season as Cowboys rally, stun Lions late
Cowboys entered Sunday 2-7 in the playoffs since winning Super Bowl XXX back in 1995, but reversed the trend thanks to some late-game heroics.
Tony Romo helped Dallas score 17 points over the final 18 minutes Sunday to earn just his second career playoff victory, and the game’s decisive play came from the MVP candidate, who fired a game-winning touchdown to Terrance Williams with 2:32 remaining to lift the Cowboys into uncharted territory.
The 24-20 triumph marked the Cowboys’ 34th franchise win in the postseason, the most of any team in NFL history.
Dallas trailed by two touchdowns after the first quarter and by 10 points at the half before DeMarco Murray‘s third-quarter score brought the ‘Boys to within six. Following a 51-yard Dan Bailey field goal, Romo engineered an 11-play, 59-yard drive, capped by the 8-yard touchdown to Williams. Dallas iced the win as rookie defender DeMarcus Lawrence sacked Matthew Stafford on a fourth-down play near midfield in the final minute.
The loss dropped Stafford to 0-2 in his career in the playoffs and 0-18 on the road against opponents .500 or better. He’s the 11th quarterback to commit at least three turnovers in the second half of a game. The Lions have still not won in the postseason since 1991.
A quick look ahead to the division round
For the fourth time in the last six postseasons, the Ravens and Patriots will battle it out for the right to go to the AFC Championship game. These two teams last squared off in the postseason two seasons ago when Flacco and Co. upset Brady and the Patriots en route to winning the Ravens’ second Super Bowl title. Like that game two years ago, the Patriots are the top seed in the AFC.
Yet again, we’ll see an Andrew Luck–Peyton Manning showdown, this time with a championship game berth on the line. The Colts and Broncos met in their season opener on Sept. 7, when Denver edged the Colts, 31-24. In his career, Manning has split the series against his Indianapolis predecessor, throwing for 655 yards and six touchdowns compared to one interception in two games against his former club.
Points should come at a premium when defensively inclined Carolina meets another defensive powerhouse in Seattle in the Pacific Northwest this weekend. However, the Panthers defense now has a much greater task in trying to slow down Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch instead of Ryan Lindley. Seattle defeated Carolina, 13-9, in Charlotte back in Week 8, as Wilson threw a game-winning touchdown in the final minute to get the win.
Dallas will make its first postseason visit to Lambeau Field since the famous 1967 Ice Bowl. The No. 2-seeded Packers watched Romo’s clutch performance against Detroit a week ago, and it’s been that kind of year for the Cowboys quarterback. Of course, Dallas was a perfect 8-0 away from Jerry’s World in the regular season. However, Green Bay was equally as dominant in its home stadium with an 8-0 mark.
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