NFL 2014 Week 18: Wildcard Round – The Start of a New Season
At long last, another National Football League season is in the books. It’s playoff time for eight teams. The first week of the postseason, the wildcard round, was not an exciting beginning. In fact, the weekend was filled with blowout wins in the first three games. The fourth provided all the weekend’s excitement with a call which renewed the eternal question of gridiron fans everywhere: how many officials does it take to screw up a game?
The first round started with a typically one-sided victory for the Carolina Panthers over the Arizona Cardinals, 27-16. Viewed one way, this score seems shocking: the Cardinals had the best record in the League for a good deal of the season and turned in one strong performance after another. Then they lost first starting quarterback Carson Palmer and his main backup, Drew Stanton, to knee injuries in short order. Third-string QB Ryan Lindley could only lead Arizona to 78 yards of offense against a once-woeful, now-strong Carolina team.
Despite suffering broken vertebrae in a car wreck late in the season, Panthers QB Cam Newton ran an effective passing attack that advanced the team to the next round. This may be a good-news, bad-news situation because the Panthers’ reward for the victory is a date with the Seattle Seahawks, the #1 seed in the NFC who currently resemble the juggernaut that ran over everyone on their way to a surprisingly easy Super Bowl win. Still, Carolina got hot at the right time and their season no longer looks like such a disappointment.
Next up was the latest renewal of one of the League’s most brutal grudge matches, a trip by the Baltimore Ravens to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers. These teams can usually be counted on to play hard-hitting, low-scoring contests but someone forgot to tell the Steelers. The Ravens won a surprisingly easy 30-17 game in which the Steelers did not score a touchdown until well into the second half. A great deal of the credit goes to the Ravens’ two biggest stars. Quarterback Joe Flacco has won his last five playoff games including Super Bowl XLVII (he was the game’s MVP); his effort here shows he saves his best performances for the postseason. Defensive lineman Terrell Suggs actually made an interception of Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger that he caught between his legs. Next up for Baltimore is a trip to New England to play the Patriots. Win or lose, the Ravens probably have achieved something much greater with this victory: Ray Rice is no longer the first thing we think of when this team is mentioned.
In Indianapolis, the Colts won a perfectly anticlimactic 26-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite keeping the game close until after halftime, the Bengals’ playoff losses are beginning to appear inevitable; they last won a postseason game in 1991. Indy QB Andrew Luck led a steady if unspectacular attack that won him a trip to Denver to face off against his predecessor with the Colts, Peyton Manning.
It was only in Dallas that any excitement occurred in the weekend. The Detroit Lions had already won a victory off the field on Tuesday when defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh won an appeal of his one-game suspension for intentionally stepping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ injured left calf; he was fined instead. Well into the third quarter, the Lions had a 20-7 lead over the host Cowboys. A questionable reversal of a pass interference call (the official nearest the play, who had a clear view, threw the flag and announced the penalty, then reversed the call) took a first down away from Detroit. Late in the game, the Cowboys had clawed back to cut the deficit to three points.
Tony Romo led Dallas on a touchdown drive but there was enough time for one more Detroit possession. Rookie pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence picked up a fumble by Lions’ QB Matthew Stafford but had it knocked out of his hands and recovered by Detroit. Soon after, he got a shot at redemption: forcing another fumble, he fell on the ball. This recovery allowed the Cowboys to run out the clock on the 24-20 win. This game illustrated the highs (the Dallas comeback and the tight score) and lows (the ridiculous non-call of pass interference) of playoff football.
The days after a season ends brings another tradition: Black Monday. This is the name given to the day following the season because coaches are usually fired that day if they are going to be at all. This year was no exception: Atlanta, the New York Jets and Chicago let their head coaches go that day. One team that looked happy with their head guy was the Buffalo Bills. After all, Coach Doug Marrone just led the team to a 9-7 record, the Bills’ first winning campaign in over a decade. The team nearly made the playoffs as well.
Unfortunately for the team, Marrone had an out clause inserted in his contract. A concession likely offered because he was being hired by an owner (Ralph Wilson) in his 1990s, the clause allowed Marrone to break his contract early when an ownership change occurred. Wilson died during the off-season but that did not seem to matter, as the Bills were bought by new ownership that vowed to keep the team in Buffalo. Apparently such reassurances were not enough; Marrone exercised his out clause. No doubt the $4 million payout influenced his decision.
Also, the Jets may have tampered with Marrone; the team’s rapid expression of interest in him leaves a clear impression that they had let the coach know of their interest in interviewing him. No matter the cause for his decision, Doug Marrone has become the first playoff winner of the NFL WOW (Weasel of the Week) award. Quite an impressive accomplishment when you consider he did it without making the postseason. Don’t forget to pack your trophy when you clear out your office, coach.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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