No Huddle Offense: The Best and Worst of NFL Wildcard Weekend

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One round down, three more to go. This week’s playoff matches seemed more about cutting the fat from the rest of the big juicy hunk of playoff meat—until Sunday. With each of the first three games turning into double-digit blowouts, we looked to Jerry Jones to save us. And save us he did, by instructing the officiating crew to pick up a costly pass interference penalty late in the fourth quarter, setting up the Cowboys dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Lions. Of course, this is only speculation, but it provides perfect fodder for the water cooler (ie. ESPN comment section). Put away that food dehydrator, it’s time to check in on the rest of the wild Wildcard Weekend.

The Best

Cam Newton

The Newton-ian (nickname in progress) took over in the second half to notch his first career playoff win. Two touchdowns in the third quarter sealed the deal and Cam just had to let his defense hold the line against Ryan Lindley and the very-injured Cardinals. Newton completed 18 out of 32 passes for only 198 yards, but he did have two touchdowns and 35 rushing yards. Johnathan Stewart helped control momentum, rushing 24 times for 123 yards and a score. Considering this is only the second team to make the playoffs with a losing record, they’re dreadful start to the season and Cam Newton’s car crash before Week 16, the Panthers are sitting pretty with a chance to knock off the NFC’s top team on the horizon.

Baltimore Ravens Defense

It was an exciting time for football fans looking for a late-night Saturday party as the Ravens and Steelers knocked heads on a cold and rainy night. And knocked heads they did, with the Ravens defense sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times for 37 yards. They also forced three turnovers including two Big Ben interceptions and one miraculous between-the-legs grab by Terrell Suggs. The Steelers managed to make it a game, pulling close by the start of the fourth quarter, but the Ravens—and the best QB in football—held on and put the rivalry to bed for 2014.

T.Y. Hilton

The Colts played Hilton sparingly the last two games of the season to keep his legs fresh for this one. Although it took him a while to get started as the Colts were plagued with a bunch of early dropped passes, Hilton ended the game with six receptions and 103 yards. He didn’t catch any touchdowns, but forced the Bengals secondary ‘s hand, opening up the field for the rest of the Colts’ receiving corps. Andrew Luck hit nine different receivers in his 31 completions and only three of them finished with an average of less than 10 yards per catch.

The Worst

The Interference Call

First of all, let’s put all of the conspiracy talk aside and look at the facts: As far as the rules are concerned, the pass interference should have stood because the defender made contact with the receiver and was not looking back on the ball. We can debate how much contact is warranted, but this is a call the refs have been making all season. The interference call aside, Dez Bryant should’ve been flagged for running onto the field helmet-less to argue the call. It was a critical drive for the Lions that should have been extended, likely leading to at least a field goal with more time being erased from the clock. To make matters worse, not only did the referees pick up the flag, fans were given no explanation as to why until early Monday morning.

Now that that’s settled, it probably wouldn’t have mattered as the the Lions were in full-on meltdown mode. The following play was a shanked punt and that’s all she wrote.

Marvin Lewis

Lewis has the highest win total of any Bengals head coach and has been with the team since 2003. But in those 11 seasons, he’s only made the playoffs six times and has lost all six games in the Wild Card round. He’s gone beyond earning his tenure, but will the Bengals get someone new? Andy Dalton remains winless in the playoffs as well.

Justin Forsett’s Butt Fumble

And by worst, we mean the best. The only thing better than a butt fumble is a playoff butt fumble

Looking ahead…

Saturday, January 10

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

All the buzz is about how the Ravens are the one team the Patriots don’t want to meet, but nobody prepares like New England. That doesn’t mean they’ll get their way against Joe Flacco, but they will be the most knowledgeable set of eyes out there. Try not to choke on how many times you hear and see the word “elite” in the coming week.

Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

Creative playmaking quarterbacks with quick feet meet again in Seattle. This time, the role of Colin Kaepernick is being played by Cam Newton, who’s character issues and overall play is a bit stronger than Kaep’s. Watch for lots of read-option anarchy and dig heavy when the field opens up from the pocket.

Sunday, January 11

Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers

Oooh boy. This will be an exciting one for at least one vaulted quarterback, and if we’re really lucky, both of them will turn up. Hopefully the Cowboys will not benefit from another shady call, but you really couldn’t ask for a better second-round matchup.

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos

The Old Paytons go visit the New Paytons and did we mention Payton played at both of these places? And Andrew Luck is the new Payton maybe? Does he need a win against the old Payton to be anointed? Please check your Payton Mythology textbook and prepare for plenty of Papa John’s commercials.