In the regular season there can be moral victories. “The team lost but the star running back got over 100 yards rushing…The defense as a whole played poorly but the star pass rusher was able to record three sacks…The team finished 9-7 and although they did not make the playoffs, that is an improvement over past seasons.”
In the playoffs, there are no moral victories. Recording a 100-yard game is nice, having three sacks is alright, but if the team loses the game it doesn’t matter. The harsh reality of the playoffs is win or go home.
Here are the top storylines from the reality that is Wild Card weekend:
Tony Romo leads Dallas Cowboys to a difficult win
Romo did not have his best day. At times, it appeared that he could not muster enough strength on some of his throws. He was pressured constantly by the Detroit Lions front seven. Ndamuknog Suh and company frustrated Romo at times. Nevertheless, when the game was on the line late, he found a way to make enough plays to win.
Early on, it appeared the storyline would be same-old Cowboys. The team was down multiple scores early and it was fair to wonder, could this team overcome. It started to look like it wouldn’t be the Cowboys’ day. As kicker Dan Bailey was approaching for a field goal, the Fox broadcast put up a graphic that showed statically he is the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He would miss the 41-yard kick, pushing it wide right.
The challenge now for the Cowboys is much greater. The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers present many challenges to any team, especially when they are at home. This week Romo was able to keep his composure and lead his team to victory. His composure will be tested heavily again next week in Lambeau Field.
Shorthanded Cincinnati Bengals struggle in Indy
It is easy to point to the fact that Andy Dalton once again struggled in a playoff game. It is easy to jump on Marvin Lewis again after his team was unable to get out of the first round of the playoffs. This time, there are legit reasons why the Bengals offense struggled so much. Dalton’s top two targets all season were both out for this game, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham. That meant the Indianapolis Colts defense could key on the running game because they did not have outside weapons to worry about.
If Lewis is removed from his coaching duties, what is actually being stated is that he should have been removed last season. With Dalton under center, it is hard to think that any coach could have overcome losing their top receiving threats.
Difference between college and the pros
The Ohio State Buckeyes took a third-string quarterback and prepared him to face Nick Saban and his vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide. Coach Urban Meyer was able to make Cardale Jones look like he had been playing all season and was able to win a playoff game with the third-stringer. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Bruce Arians. Arians tried his best but Ryan Lindley was nowhere near competent enough to try and lead a team to victory in a playoff game. Lindley locked on to receivers and threw the ball late consistently.
The Carolina Panthers were trying to give the game away to the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night, but the Cardinals did not have a quarterback who could take advantage of the charity that was being given.
Cam Newton won his first playoff game and he should be sending a huge thank you basket to the Lindley household.
Pittsburgh Steelers miss Legarrette Blount
Injuries happen to every team in the NFL. The aforementioned Cardinals feel no sympathy for the Steelers. The Steelers’ opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, were missing their starting left tackle and right tackle. The difference was the depth teams built on their roster. Coming into the season the Steelers had a quality backup running back in Blount. He became frustrated over lack of playing time and walked off the field early during a Week 11 game. The team reacted by cutting him.
Fast forward seven weeks later and Le’Veon Bell is injured and unable to play. Had the Steelers only suspended Blount for a game, he would have been available to carry the load. Instead he is a member of the No. 1 seed New England Patriots and the Steelers are one-and-done.
The Steelers not only missed Bell’s run production but his pass catching ability and his pass protection. The Ravens took advantage of the Steelers upfront, ending up with five sacks and several more hits on Ben Roethlisberger. A season rarely, if ever, comes down to one decision but this one could have changed the outcome of the season.
Losing coaches can now interview guilt-free
During the playoffs, top assistant coaches have to balance preparation for next week’s game against preparation for their coaching future. Yearly, assistants were questioned about interviewing for other positions while game planning for the upcoming week. For a coach whose team loses, it actually helps them on a personal level. Todd Bowles and Todd Haley both will be attractive head coaching candidates for the multiple openings around the NFL. Now they do not have to attempt to divide their attention and can just focus on selling themselves well in the interview.
Photo Courtesy: AP