Captain Comeback: Wild Card Only Wild in the Tebow Zone

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 09, 2012



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Comeback King


You didn’t think we’d get through the entire Wild Card weekend without a single close game in the fourth quarter, did you? Especially when last week, the Pittsburgh/Denver game was specifically picked as the game most likely to feature a fourth quarter win.
 
It happened, and it came in overtime, introducing the new playoff overtime rules, which we never even got to think about, because it was the fastest ending to an overtime game in NFL history.
 
Unless you’re a Pittsburgh fan, it was a welcome sight after three games that were decided by 21, 17 and 22 points. But in the playoffs, events are magnified, and each game featured a significant turning point (or two) that could have drastically shifted things the other way. This happens in the regular season too, but it doesn’t carry the same attention as the playoffs.
 
Home teams went 4-0 for the first time on Wild Card weekend since 2006, and two teams (Houston, Denver) each won a playoff game after finishing the regular season with three straight losses.
 
There are several records to cover, as for the second time in less than a week, the Detroit Lions rewrote the book on the biggest passing shootouts in NFL history. Meanwhile, coaches Mike Smith and Marvin Lewis dropped to 0-3 in the playoffs.
 
But we begin at a place we figured to be our starting destination, from another dimension. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Tebow Zone.
 

Drive of the Week

Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Winner: Denver (29-23 OT)

Type: GWD
Quarterback: Tim Tebow (6 4QC, 7 GWD – table)
 
It’s the playoffs, so the Captain’s raised his game with an upgrade to “The Tebow Zone”, as you can see.
 
Pittsburgh was an undeserving 8.5 point favorite heading into Denver. Why undeserving? The facts should have been too cold and hard to ignore. The perfect storm was brewing for the Broncos to pull out the close win.
  • Pittsburgh averaged just 15.6 PPG on the road this season (9.7 PPG in their last 3).
  • Denver allowed an average of 17.0 PPG during their 6-game winning streak.
  • Teams like Kansas City and Cleveland had held the Steelers in check on the scoreboard and were right there at the end of the game, trailing by 4 points.
  • Pittsburgh had just 15 takeaways, tied for the 3rd fewest ever in a 16-game season.
 
Then there was the health factor.
  • Pittsburgh had just lost RB Rashard Mendenhall for the season with an ACL injury.
  • They were already missing RB Mewelde Moore, their only receiving back.
  • Ben Roethlisberger was still not recovered from his high-ankle sprain, and suffered a setback during the last game.
  • Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) went from questionable to out during the week.
  • Of all the 32 teams in the NFL, Denver is the one venue where Ryan Clark is unable to play due to a blood disorder.
 
It was a beat up Pittsburgh team, about to suffer some more injuries, which rolled into Denver. Nothing but a low-scoring, ugly, 60-minute affair should have been expected.
 
Of course, things don’t always happen as planned.
 
The Steelers began the game with a drive that ended in a 45-yard field goal, and a 3-0 lead. Tim Tebow’s first pass of the game was way off the mark, resulting in a three and out. Jerricho Cotchery would drop a big pass on a third down, ending a possible scoring drive by the Steelers. But Denver again could not gain a first down and punted.
 
Another Shaun Suisham field goal made it 6-0, and the Broncos ended the first quarter with Tebow not completing either of his two passes. The Steelers’ lack of respect for the passing game quickly backfired, as on the second play of the second quarter, Tebow had plenty of time to find Demaryius Thomas for a 51-yard gain on 3rd and 12. He beat Ike Taylor, which was a sign of things to come.
 
Two plays later it was Tebow passing to Eddie Royal for a 30-yard touchdown in the end zone, and Denver had the 7-6 lead. Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel would leave the game with injuries, leaving an all-backup defensive line in the game for Pittsburgh.
 
Mike Wallace seemed to have caught a 52-yard pass, but a challenge overturned the play, showing he let the ball hit the ground, and the Steelers went three and out. Two plays later it was another bomb from Tebow to Thomas; this time for 58 yards. Tebow would run for an 8-yard touchdown to cap the drive, and a 14-6 lead.
 
After looking immobile to start the game, Roethlisberger was sacked after LT Max Starks was rolled into his injured left leg, and Starks too would leave the game with an injury. On 3rd and 16, Roethlisberger was intercepted, and Denver was clearly riding a major wave of momentum.
 
They had to settle for a field goal on each of their next two drives, taking a stunning 20-6 lead. Pittsburgh had just over a minute left, and Roethlisberger used the no-huddle to try and get points before the half.
 
With a 3rd and 4 at the DEN 32, the first noticeable impact of Doug Legursky starting at center for the injured Pouncey reared its ugly head, as the snap was very high, and the Steelers had to recover the fumble for a 23 yard loss that essentially ended the half.
 
The Broncos went with a conservative play in the third quarter, using the Wildcat for a minimal gain on 3rd and 5 at the PIT 38. They punted, and the Steelers took over at their own 13.
 
On the fourth play of the drive, Roethlisberger appeared to throw a backwards-pass to Wallace, who was hit and lost the ball, recovered by Denver. But the officials blew an early whistle (a theme of the weekend) and Denver did not challenge as they had no way of getting the ball back.
 
The Steelers would drive the final 77 yards, with Wallace scoring on a nice college sweep play from the 1-yard line. It was now 20-13 with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
 
Tebow went back to the Thomas/Taylor matchup, and drew 32 yards for pass interference. Tebow used the zone-read to great effect in the game, carrying the ball 9 times for 51 yards (one kneel down already excluded). He was never sacked, as he often confused Pittsburgh’s defenders and got out of trouble all game long.
 
Denver would settle for a field goal and a 23-13 lead with 13:10 left.
 
Roethlisberger began to show more of his mobility, moving the Steelers 61 yards. But after Heath Miller couldn’t make a tough third down catch in traffic, they settled for another field goal.
 
On a crucial 3rd and 7, Tebow listened to John Elway’s advice of “pull the trigger” this week, and found Thomas for a 15-yard gain, working on Ike Taylor once again. But on the next play Willis McGahee fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by LaMarr Woodley.
 
The Steelers drove to the DEN 31, and Roethlisberger attempted to throw a touchdown to Wallace in the end zone, but there was double coverage and Champ Bailey dropped the interception. It would be costly, as on the very next play, Roethlisberger scrambled to his right and threw a strike to Cotchery in the end zone, who held on and absorbed a hit for the 31-yard touchdown. The game was tied with 3:48 left.
 
Expecting Tebow to lead the team down the field for the winning field goal, the drive abruptly ended after two bad passes fell incomplete.
 
Roethlisberger had the ball back with 1:37 left and two timeouts at his own 24. After getting sacked to start the drive, he found Antonio Brown for 17 yards, and Emmanuel Sanders for 18 yards to the DEN 45.
 
Then with 0:29 left, Roethlisberger couldn’t find a receiver and was sacked by Elvis Dumervil, who knocked the ball away, and it was recovered by Ben. The play lost 11 yards and forced the Steelers to use their final timeout.
 
After Bailey knocked away a pass from Hines Ward, who possibly played his last game, a 12-yard pass to Redman put the ball at the DEN 49 with one second left, but the only option was a Hail Mary. It didn’t happen, as Roethlisberger was sacked for the third time on the drive.
 
The game would go to overtime, which last year had new rules put in place for the postseason. The basic change is you can no longer win the coin toss and simply march down the field to kick a winning field goal.
 
But before we even had a chance to ponder the strategy of receiving first because of the new kickoff rule and other factors, the whole thing was over in a flash.
 
Denver won the coin toss, the kickoff was a touchback, and once again the Steelers showed no respect for the pass with their coverage, despite giving up nearly a season’s worth of big pass plays. They dared Denver to throw the ball, which was an easy decision.
 
Tebow had to just fire a strike to Thomas, who was open against Taylor again, and he outran the defense, stiff-arming Taylor at the 50, for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Thomas finished with 4 catches for 204 yards, becoming the first player to have 100+ yards receiving against the Steelers this year.
 
All the talk of a new overtime process was halted before it could even start. At just eleven seconds, it was the shortest overtime in NFL history. The Broncos move on, with Tebow-mania at an all-time high, and the Steelers are just left to wonder what could have been this season.
 

The Ridiculous Numbers from the QB “That Can’t Throw”

A week after his 6/22 for 60 yards passing performance against Kansas City, Tim Tebow turned in one of the most dominant, big-play passing performances in NFL history, and against a defense that was supposed to be the best in the league at preventing such plays.
 
Tebow completed 10/21 passes for 316 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT. That is 31.6 yards/completion and 15.05 YPA.
 
With a minimum of 10 completions, Tebow easily set the record for highest yards per completion in a playoff game:

Highest Yards Per Completion - Playoffs (Min. 10 Completions)
Rk QB Team Date Opp. Result Att. Comp. Yards YPC
1 Tim Tebow Denver 1/8/2012 Pittsburgh W 29-23 OT 21 10 316 31.60
2 Tobin Rote Detroit 12/29/1957 Cleveland W 59-14 19 12 280 23.33
3 Jeff Hostetler LA Raiders 1/9/1994 Denver W 42-24 19 13 294 22.62
4 Craig Morton Denver 1/1/1978 Oakland W 20-17 20 10 224 22.40
5 Johnny Unitas Baltimore 1/3/1971 Oakland W 27-17 30 11 245 22.27
6 Terry Bradshaw Pittsburgh 1/20/1980 LA Rams W 31-19 21 14 309 22.07
 
You could set the minimum to 5 completions and no one is ahead of Tebow in the playoffs. By setting it to 2, Tebow still ranks 6th.
 
Highest Yards Per Completion - Playoffs (Min. 2 Completions)
Rk QB Team Date Opp. Result Att. Comp. Yards YPC
1 Bob Griese Miami 1/2/1972 Baltimore W 21-0 8 4 158 39.50
2 George Corbett Chicago 12/17/1933 NY Giants W 23-21 3 2 79 39.50
3 Hal Van Every Green Bay 12/14/1941 at Chicago L 33-14 6 2 75 37.50
4 Bernie Masterson Chicago 12/12/1937 Washington L 28-21 18 4 130 32.50
5 Norm Van Brocklin Rams 12/23/1951 Cleveland W 24-17 6 4 128 32.00
6 Tim Tebow Denver 1/8/2012 Pittsburgh W 29-23 OT 21 10 316 31.60
 
What about including the regular season? Using data back to 1960, Tebow ranks favorably there as well.
 
Highest Yards Per Completion Since 1960 (Min. 8 Completions)
Rk QB Team Date Opp. Result Att. Comp. Yards YPC
1 John Hadl San Diego 10/20/1968 Denver W 55-24 18 9 321 35.67
2 Johnny Unitas Baltimore 10/30/1960 at Dallas W 45-7 16 8 270 33.75
3 Tony Banks Baltimore 12/12/1999 at Pittsburgh W 31-24 26 8 268 33.50
4 Joe Namath NY Jets 9/24/1972 at Baltimore W 44-34 28 15 496 33.07
5 Bill Nelsen Pittsburgh 11/28/1965 Cleveland L 42-21 22 9 285 31.67
6 Tim Tebow Denver 1/8/2012 Pittsburgh W 29-23 OT 21 10 316 31.60
7 Milt Plum Cleveland 10/2/1960 Pittsburgh W 28-20 14 10 308 30.80
8 Jack Concannon Chicago 11/19/1967 Cardinals W 30-3 24 11 336 30.55
 
It’s the 6th highest YPC game since 1960 (min. 8 completions), and one of only eight above 30.0 YPC. Notice how the Steelers have been on the receiving end of three of these games, and had a fourth as the offensive team (in a losing effort).
 
The Tony Banks game is best remembered as the Qadry Ismail game, when he caught 6 passes for 258 yards and 3 TD. All three of Ismail’s touchdowns were 50+ yards, which is the last time the Steelers allowed three completions of 50+ yards in the same game. Fitting that this time was also three completions to the same receiver (Demaryius Thomas).
 
Quarterbacks that break 15.00 YPA almost never lose, compiling a record of 57-2-1 since 1960 (min. 15 attempts). The only two losses came in games where another quarterback also threw 13+ passes for the team. Interesting enough, one loss was by the Steelers, and the tie was against them.
 
How fitting that Tebow would throw for 316 yards? We’ve mentioned before this season about Tebow and the eye-black reference to 3:16 from the Bible.
 
For the game, Tebow had 5 completions of 30+ yards, 4 of 40+ yards, and 3 of 50+ yards. For the 16-game season, the Steelers had allowed just 7 completions of 30+ yards, 2 of 40+ yards, and 1 of 50+ yards.
 
The so-called #1 pass defense from the Steelers was flat out Teb-owned on Sunday, and in such historic fashion.
 
The 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime was the longest in overtime playoff history. It topped Jake Delhomme’s 69-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the 2003 NFC Divisional game against the St. Louis Rams. That was on the first play of the 2nd overtime session in that game, and also produced a 29-23 final score.
 
The last common thread? That makes John Fox the head coach for the two longest touchdowns in overtime playoff history. He also ties his own record with his 4th overtime win of the season, tying the 2003 Carolina Panthers and 2011 Arizona Cardinals.
 

Pittsburgh's Top-Ranked Statistical Defense Meant Nothing

It was a historic game, and another eyesore on the resume of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who refused to respect Tebow’s deep passing ability to the bitter end. Would he have been more willing to keep Ryan Clark back at safety if he played? Didn’t look like it. The Steelers trusted their shaky cornerbacks, which mixed with such little pass rush, was a recipe for disaster.
 
The long touchdown in overtime was another late-game blow to the Pittsburgh defense in recent years:
  • Since 2009, the Steelers have allowed 5 game-winning touchdowns in the last 0:32 of the fourth quarter or in overtime.
  • From 1990-2008, the Steelers had allowed 2 game-winning touchdowns in the last 1:00 of the fourth quarter or in overtime (both vs. Bengals)
This was the third time in 2011 the Steelers had rallied back from a 10+ point deficit in the second half, only to see the defense allow an 80+ yard game-winning touchdown drive.
 
  • After trailing 10-0 in Houston, the Steelers tied the game on the first play of the fourth quarter. Houston would drive 85 yards in 5 plays for the game-winning touchdown.
  • The big one: after trailing 16-6 in the fourth quarter to Baltimore, the Steelers scored a pair of touchdowns for a 20-16 lead. Joe Flacco would engineer a 92-yard TD drive, ending with a 26-yard touchdown pass with 0:08 left.
  • Now on Sunday, after coming back from deficits of 20-6 and 23-13 in the second half to force overtime, the Steelers allowed an 80-yard touchdown pass on the very first play of overtime.
 
When is the top-ranked statistical defense irrelevant? When it’s 2011, and the best teams are moving the ball at will, while giving up the most yards. Because if you’re not forcing turnovers or negative plays, or coming through in the clutch, then you’re not the best defense in the league.
 
The #1 ranked defense of the 1989 Denver Broncos got that same cold taste of reality when Joe Montana carved them up to the tune of 5 TD passes in a 55-10 rout in Super Bowl XXIV. This year Denver spared Pittsburgh the trouble of getting exposed by Tom Brady next week, or a Rodgers/Brees in the Super Bowl.
 
Denver proved the Steelers couldn’t even escape The Tebow Zone.
 

The Teams That Lost By Three Scores

 
While the Steelers and Broncos finished by playing a classic, the rest of Wild Card weekend played out as three pillow fights for about one half. That’s when the home team snuck a brick in their pillow and went on to knock the other guy the f*** out.
 

Detroit Lions Play In another All-Time Passing Shootout

 
In Week 17, the Detroit Lions hoped to get a win at Green Bay so that they could face the New York Giants on Wild Card weekend, rather than another trip to the Superdome in New Orleans, where they had already lost 31-17 this season.
 
Instead, the Lions played in the biggest passing shootout in regular season history, and allowed 45 points to the Packers in a loss. That gave them the #6 seed, and that dreaded trip back to the Superdome. It doesn’t help that the game was in primetime, as the Saints have been deadly under the lights, while the Lions hadn’t been in the playoffs since the 1999 season.
 
They would go on to lose their 7th straight playoff game, but Detroit was impressive for a half, with Matthew Stafford leading an 80-yard touchdown drive on his first ever postseason possession. Marques Colston would fumble for the Saints, and suddenly things looked like they did opening night of the season when Colston fumbled in Green Bay.
 
The Lions didn’t capitalize on the turnover, going on to punt. Drew Brees would get in a rhythm, and the game was tied 7-7. Stafford threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson for a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
 
That’s when the turning point came. Brees fumbled the ball on a close play, and the Lions were there to recover for what would have been a touchdown. Only problem was the whistle was blown prematurely, and the play was ruled dead. Detroit would get possession, but they went three and out. A very possible 21-7 lead remained at 14-7, and the Saints would get a field goal to end the half.
 
It only took four plays into the third quarter for the Saints to take their first lead, after a 41-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Devery Henderson. On their next drive, the Saints would get a very favorable spot on a 3rd and 11 play deep in their own territory, and finished the drive with a touchdown to an uncovered Jimmy Graham.
 
Detroit answered back with a 1-yard touchdown run on a Stafford scramble, but the Saints continued converting their third and fourth down plays, adding a fourth quarter touchdown and 31-21 lead.
 
Stafford threw a pass up for grabs, which doesn’t work as well when the intended receiver is Titus Young rather than Calvin Johnson. It was intercepted by Jabari Greer, and four plays later, a completely blown coverage left Robert Meachem wide open for a dagger of a 56-yard touchdown.
 
Calvin Johnson would make his second touchdown catch of the day, but the onside kick recovery gave the Saints another short field, and they were back in the end zone for a 45-28 lead with 3:36 left. Stafford threw his second interception, and the Saints would try something suspicious.
 
The Saints have obviously not hid their intentions of playing for records the last two games. The NFL playoff record for passing yards in a game is 489 by Bernie Kosar. Brees was sitting on 466. On a 3rd and 7 at the DET 30 with 2:50 left, Brees threw a deep pass down the right sideline, and it just so happened to draw an interference flag for 23 yards.
 
466 + 23 = 489, which would have given him the record with a completion and likely extra gain of yards after the catch. It’s just something that makes you think.
 
Sort of like how the Saints could take a knee on 4th down at the DET 4, with 0:38 left on the clock, and the referees just let everyone walk on the field to run out the clock. Either this is officially going down as the longest play in NFL history (wow, that 38 seconds is going to kill Brees’ average drop back time), or else the referees just didn’t care about the rules.
 
Maybe they knew they intervened with their blown whistle enough already. Just run out that clock and start the party. Or maybe they knew if this game ran any longer, Brett Favre's wife was going to lose control. That was an unpleasant image of the couple in the crowd.

Detroit could have called one more timeout and didn’t, so it’s not likely they were going to do anything through the air. If they did, they may have helped set another record.
 

All-Time Shootout? Play the Lions!

The game was billed as the first ever between 5,000 yard passers, and it didn’t disappoint in that regard. Brees threw for 466 yards, making him the first player to have consecutive 400-yard passing games in the playoffs. It also ties him with Peyton Manning and Dan Marino for most 400-yard passing games in the playoffs (2). Stafford was solid in his playoff debut, throwing for 380 yards, with 211 going to Calvin Johnson.
 
But after allowing a consecutive 460+ yard passer and 45 points again, the Lions are now responsible for one of the craziest stats you’ll ever see. It’s one that perfectly sums up the 2011 passing onslaught.
 
Most gross passing yards, regular season – 1,000 (Detroit at Green Bay 1/1/2012)
Most net passing yards, regular season – 971 (Detroit at Green Bay, 1/1/2012)
Most gross passing yards, postseason – 856 (San Diego at Miami, 1/2/1982)
Most net passing yards, postseason – 839 (Detroit at New Orleans, 1/7/2012)
 
Ever want to see the biggest regular season passing shootout, and the biggest (net) passing shootout in playoff history? Just watch the last two games the Detroit Lions played, only six days apart.
 
“The Epic in Miami” is safe for now, but when we have potential games like Giants/Packers, Saints/Packers and Saints/Packers vs. Patriots on the horizon, it’s only temporary.
 
“Gross” is probably the perfect word for it too, and in more ways than one.
 

Defensive Lineman Changes Game in Houston

The Texans were playing their first playoff game in franchise history, while the Bengals were looking for their first playoff win since 1990, which coincidentally came against the Houston Oilers.
 
Right from the start it was apparent you had rookie quarterbacks starting for each team, as T.J. Yates and Andy Dalton both missed third down passes that were wide open. Things would settle down, and each team’s top running back (Cedric Benson, Arian Foster) would find the end zone for a 7-7 tie.
 
The teams would exchange field goals in the second quarter, and that’s when things turned. With 1:48 left, Dalton took the field in hopes of leading a two-minute drive to go to halftime with the lead. After a 15-yard scramble, Dalton dropped back to pass, and what happened next made Tom Hammond shriek like the handsome old woman he often looks like on TV.
 
Defensive end J.J. Watt jumped into the passing lane and made an athletic play to catch the ball before taking off 29 yards for the touchdown and a 17-10 lead. It’s not the kind of play you ever expect from a defensive end, but he did it. He would finish the half with a sack of Dalton on the final play.
 
In the third quarter, Bengals’ safety Chris Crocker had an opportunity for a pick six of his own thrown by Yates, but he dropped the ball. Safeties are supposed to be better receivers than defensive ends, but Crocker failed to make the play while Watt did for Houston.
 
It was critical, as the Texans would score after Andre Johnson ate up Pacman Jones on a double move for a 40-yard touchdown. The Texans had a 24-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
 
Dalton was faced with a 4th and 3 at the HOU 47, and the Bengals decided to go for it. He scrambled around in the backfield before finally throwing up a pass, which former Bengal Jonathan Joseph shockingly intercepted. If he just let it go, the Texans would have gained 23 yards in field position.
 
It’s hard to say how many playoff games Andy Dalton will ever start in his career, but it should be noted this second interception actually was a good attempt, as many players would just throw a pass so poor it couldn’t be caught by anyone (helping their interception stats only) – or worse, take a sack. Dalton threw one up and Joseph was foolish enough to take it.
 
Houston would burn about six minutes of clock and punt the ball back. Dalton had to make something happen quick, but threw his third (and by far worst) interception of the day. Arian Foster rushed for a 42-yard touchdown on 3rd and 7 to ice the game at 31-10.
 
Dalton was 27/42 for 257 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT, 51.4 rating. He actually outrushed Cedric Benson, 17 yards to 14. Yates was a solid 11/20 for 159 yards, TD, 97.7 rating. Foster was the star with 24 carries for 153 yards and 2 TD.
 
Right now Yates is somewhere in between a Gifford Nielsen and Jeff Hostetler as he attempts to lead Houston on a shocking championship run.
 
The Texans became the 6th team to ever start three or more different quarterbacks in the regular season, and go on to win a playoff game without their primary quarterback. Yates would be a “QB2” on that list, seeing as how he started 5 games (10 for Matt Schaub, 1 for Matt Leinart).
 
Meanwhile, Marvin Lewis dropped to 0-3 in the playoffs. In 2003, he lost the lost two games of the season as the Bengals were in the driver’s seat for the AFC North. In 2005, they lost their last two regular season games, before losing the Wild Card game at home to Pittsburgh. In 2006, they were 8-5, but lost their last three games, including a “win and you’re in” finale at home against Pittsburgh. In 2009, they half-assed a game against the Jets, which allowed New York to make the playoffs, and the Jets would eliminate the Bengals at home. This season they could not win in Week 17 to get in, but backed in due to other teams losing. Add it all up and that’s a strong dose of late-season losing when a playoff seed is on the line for Marvin Lewis in his 9 years.
 
You can cross the Texans off the list of longest droughts without a playoff win. The Bengals are still leading the way at 21 seasons and counting.
 

Atlanta’s Offense a No-Show in New York

In the first 14 games this season, the New York Giants allowed at least 16 points every week. Then they held the Jets and Cowboys to 14 the last two weeks as they earned the No. 4 seed with the NFC East title.
 
Either this is a defense gearing up for another deep postseason run, or these offenses like the Jets/Cowboys and now Falcons just have some serious problems. It’s already well known that the Falcons are a dome team, and a home team for that matter. Matt Ryan is 26-4 at home, but 17-15 on the road.
 
His 0-2 playoff record was brought up this week, and you’ll hear more and more about that until the win column changes. This was the worst of those losses, as the Falcons didn’t muster a single point offensively.
 
Despite owning a Super Bowl ring, Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin know something about losing in the playoffs, as they are 0-3 outside of that championship run in 2007. None of the wins were at home, so this was unfamiliar territory for them as well.
 
The offenses were stagnant early, with each going three and out on the first two drives. But the Falcons were moving the ball as the first quarter ended, and were faced with a big decision to start the second quarter.
 
It was 4th and 1 at the NYG 24, and they went with a quarterback sneak. This play works all the time if you’re someone like the Patriots, but the Giants clogged the middle and Atlanta got no push with Ryan. Though this wasn’t all bad, as two plays later Eli was rushed in his own end and threw the ball away to avoid the sack in the end zone. That’s intentional grounding, and Atlanta took the rare 2-0 lead.
 
They wouldn’t do anything with the next drive, and then the Giants got their offense going with an 85-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks.
 
Into the third quarter, Manning converted two third and long passes to Nicks and Victor Cruz, and the Giants went up by a 10-2 margin. The Falcons put together one of their better drives, but were once again facing a 4th and 1 at the NYG 21.
 
Mike Smith is no stranger to fourth down decisions, and once again decided to go for it. Unfortunately for him, it was another bad play call, and the Falcons went 0/3 this season on their most noteworthy fourth down attempts.
 
Ryan tried the quarterback sneak for a second time and came nowhere close to the first down. Now the math may say this was the right decision, but it’s harder to defend this one than the first attempt.
 
When a team is down 10-2 in the third quarter, it’s obvious that points have been hard to come by. Getting the touchdown is not a must at this point in the game, so why not just kick the easy field goal, make it 10-5, and go for the touchdown later? You still have to score twice to win the game anyway.
 
This failed conversion was huge, as only three plays later Nicks caught a 72-yard touchdown pass by outrunning the defense. Just like we seen in the other games, it was one team failing to make a play and the other taking advantage of it.
 
The Falcons went three and out, and the Giants added another touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 24-2 lead. Marino Manningham caught a 27-yard touchdown from Eli, who had a career-best day statistically in the playoffs, setting playoff-highs in yards (277) and touchdowns (3). After that point, the rest of the game was rather forgettable.
 
Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez fell to 0-5 in the playoffs, and has never had more than 55 yards in any of the games. It was the worst showing yet by one of his offenses. He had 4 catches for 44 yards.
 
Ryan finished 24/41, but for only 199 yards. He has completed 63.6% of his passes in the playoffs, but his 5.31 YPA is ranked 92nd out of 95 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in the playoffs.
 
Playoffs - Lowest YPA (Min. 100 Attempts)
Rk QB Record Att. Yards YPA
92 Matt Ryan 0-3 110 584 5.31
93 Drew Bledsoe 3-3 252 1,335 5.30
94 Kordell Stewart 2-2 142 744 5.24
95 Jay Schroeder 3-2 158 791 5.01
 
The Falcons traded a lot to get Julio Jones, but it didn’t translate to a more explosive offense. You won’t win in the playoffs if your quarterback is still in that range in YPA.
 
NEXT WEEK: It’s the best weekend of the playoffs, and someone is getting upset at home. Picks later this week when the history of fourth quarter wins in the Divisional Round is completed.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He only has four games to cover and still cranks out 5,000 words. The playoffs are supposed to be magnified, after all.  You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback

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