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- Pokorny's Playoff Thoughts - Round 2

Chris Pokorny January 17, 2006
Chris Pokorny
PFC Owner & Writer

Tell Chris your opinion.

What a weekend of football. What started as two decently thrilling games on Saturday led to the best two games of this year's playoffs on Sunday. We were all stunned at how the Colts couldn't get it going early, how the Panthers dominated the Bears defense, how the Seahawks survived without Shaun Alexander, and how the Broncos finally handed Tom Brady his first postseason loss. Let's start with the Saturday games.

Washington Redskins vs. Seattle Seahawks
From the start of the game, it looked like the Seahawks were ready to take over. Matt Hasselbeck made some nice throws on the opening drive and the Seahawks were ready to punch the ball in for six. Then, Shaun Alexander lost his second fumble of the season - and second in two football weeks for Seattle. When Alexander left a few minutes later, I knew right away that he would not return from a concussion. Things almost got worse when Darrell Jackson had to leave the game, but thankfully he was able to return rather quickly.

The Redskins did not play a bad football game. They were underdogs on the road against arguably the best team in the NFC. After an embarrassing offensive performance against the Buccaneers, the Redskins somewhat returned to their potential. Although Mark Brunell was off-balance on many of his throws, the Redskins were able to get the ball to Santana Moss and Chris Cooley enough to stay in the game. Clinton Portis never really got things going, but Washington kept themselves in the game and almost made it 20-17 late in the game. After that, who knows if an onside kick would have worked or not.

The Redskins clearly need another receiver next year to go along with Moss. Brunell isn't the best quarterback, but he rebounded with an outstanding season by his standards after not showing up in recent memory. The Seahawks survived without Alexander, the MVP of the league. It would have pained me to watch Hasselbeck lose another game in the postseason in the final seconds of the game. It'll be tough to beat Seattle, especially with how loud their stadium can get.

New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
With all due respect to the Broncos, I still think the Patriots should have won this game. Both teams were very evenly matched and were playing competitive football until Kevin Faulk fumbled under two minutes. Granted, Faulk fumbling is the Patriots fault. The pass interference call on New England is what really bugged me. I know that the referees are human, but there was not even the slightest appearance of interference on that play, and the referee was standing right there. No, that doesn't mean he had a better "look", it just means he made a horrible call. If that absurd penalty is not called, the Broncos probably would have kicked a field goal and gone into the half 3-3.

After the half, the Patriots would not have panicked. They would have played like themselves still, Brady would not have thrown a long interception play in all likelihood, and New England would have gone on to win barely. However, you have to give all of the credit in the world to the Broncos for executing. Anytime the Patriots gave them an opportunity to make a play, they put points on the board. New England's defense pretty much shut down the Broncos early on, and the Patriots offense pretty much had their way with them as well. When it came down to the critical moments though, accepting the fact that the penalty had to happen before the half, the Patriots blew it. Ellis Hobbs fumbled, Troy Brown fumbled, and Brady threw a pick that basically went the distance.

By the way, what a hustle by Ben Watson. I'm pretty sure that the fumble he caused went out of the end zone for a touchback, simply based on logical reasoning. However, since the cameras did not show a clear shot of that occurring, I have to agree with the referee's decision. In the end, I'm still not convinced that the Broncos are better than New England. The victory is what counts though, as we found out during Sunday's first game.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts
I'm not trying to make excuses, but I really do believe this: if the Colts had played a meaningful game one week before facing the Steelers, they would have won this game. Granted, the Steelers brought the best gameplan they could against the Colts and Troy Polamula is one of, if not the, most exciting defensive player in football. The pathetic display of offense that the Colts showed throughout the first three quarters simply looked like a team that never played together though. Part of it was the Steelers blitzing, but when Manning throws somewhere and the receiver doesn't look, they're not in sync.

In that fourth quarter, I saw the Colts true offense. I know the Steelers played somewhat conservative, but Manning and his receivers were on the same page. If that was the case from the get go, the Colts could have scored three touchdowns in the first half if they wanted to. One thing you can't excuse is the Colts' defense though. Ben Roethlisberger was simply amazing and took the Steelers offense to a new level. The Steelers know that Big Ben has his best success early, so they wanted to jump ahead early and postpone their running attack until later. When the Colts got hot, what did the Steelers do? They ran the football, what was it, 11 straight times it seemed? That is where the Colts were definitely out-coached by Pittsburgh.

It seemed to be all over when Manning got sacked at the two-yard line on fourth down. I couldn't believe my eyes when Jerome Bettis carried the ball. I anticipated him heading into the end zone, when all of a sudden Nick Harper scooped up the ball and ran down the field. Why he did not continue running outside I'm not sure, but Roethlisberger sent his team to the AFC Championship with his tackle. The Colts should have been able to move the ball for a touchdown so that they didn't have to rely on Vanderjagt, who missed big time. Before I finish talking about this game, I want to mention the Troy Polamula "called-back" interception. As much as I wanted the call to be overturned, I knew Dungy was challenging simply out of desperation. What? It was overturned? That was the most shocking overturned call I've ever seen, but it only added to the most exciting playoff game thus far in the 2005-2006 playoffs.

Carolina Panthers vs. Chicago Bears
When I made my pick for this game, I was dying to predict it would be a shootout. I was somewhat influenced by the general consensus that it would be a defensive game though, so I went in the middle and predicted average offense by both teams. Although the game contained plenty of defense, this game was a shootout more than anything. The Panthers passing game couldn't be stopped, and the Bears passing game did surprisingly well.

Is it just me, or would Jake Delhomme rank up their with Tom Brady as the best postseason quarterback in today's age? He has not struggled in a single postseason game and always torches the opposing defense. His only playoff loss came in the Super Bowl two years ago, and he was amazing in that game too. It helps that he has some of the best chemistry in the league with Steve Smith, though. It was ridiculous how open Smith was after the Bears' defenders fell down, but why wouldn't you double cover him to begin with? The other Panthers' receivers didn't do too bad, but do they really concern you that much that you don't double Smith? The Panthers moved the ball with ease all day against the best defense remaining in the playoffs, even after losing Foster.

Rex Grossman impressed me. After falling behind by two possessions, I felt Chicago had no chance to come back. Grossman fired the ball downfield all day long to any receiver he could find, showing his potential for next year. Although he was unable to lead a game-tying drive to end the game, he was simply brilliant at times. The Panthers defense performed better than the Bears overall, but the most credit may have to go to the Panthers offensive line. After Delhomme was sacked eight times by Chicago earlier this year, pressure was not even an issue for him.

Final Thoughts
This week, we'll have the Steelers taking on the Broncos and the Panthers challenging the Seahawks. I seriously believe that two wildcard teams can make the Super Bowl for once, but all four of these teams seem so evenly matched. Both games should be competitive and thrilling to watch. Stay tuned to PFCritics.com by bookmarking our site or signing up to our free newsletter. We will bring you exclusive previews of the AFC and NFC Championship over the next few days.

-Chris Pokorny

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