The NFL script writers are on fire. A week ago they gave us two play-in games, plus the madness at the bottom of the AFC that resulted in the Chargers even getting a chance to win an actual playoff game.
Here are five things about the 2014 Wild Card Weekend that were either just the best, or pretty surprising:
1. The closeness of it all: I’ve noted this a few times, but it needs to be repeated because that’s what we do with facts which are difficult to believe. If we exclude the Andy Dalton stinker, the other three games were decided by an average of two points, one of which required a 28-point comeback.
2. And about that Dalton disaster: Yes, he was mostly horrible, especially in the second half. But despite his three turnovers — two of which took place deep in his own territory — the Chargers scored only six points as a direct result of those gifts. The game was still within reach with three minutes left on the Bengals’ final drive (or at least their final meaningful one) until Ronnie Brown scored on a 58-yard run. His longest run this season before that? 13 yards.
3. Colin Kaepernick’s playoff rushing yards: Kaepernick showed once again that although the mobile, read-option quarterback is often inconsistent, when the scheme works, it sizzles. He ran for 98 yards on just seven carries in San Francisco’s win over the Packers, much of which came on a crucial 42 yarder, and that run alone was more than his total rushing yards in 11 games this year. But what’s especially crazy is this: both of Kaepernick’s top two single-game rushing performances have come in the playoffs, and they’ve both come against the Packers. In those two games over the past two years he has 279 rushing yards.
4. Road team dominance: Three of the four games were won by the team that had to travel a vast distance, and all three had to play in varying degrees of cold horribleness. The exception required a 28-point comeback.
5. John Kuhn is a white guy stereotype: Among all the moments that prompted a laughing sound of some kind this weekend, this is the clubhouse leader for me…
Lambeau Leap fail. https://t.co/RseGCEyxl5
— NFL Jesus (@NFLJesus) January 6, 2014
More notes, reading, stray thoughts, and other such randomness
Thoughts on Mike Munchak
The Titans became the fifth team to fire their head coach since the regular season ended and the seventh overall on Saturday afternoon, news that came down just a few hours before Wild Card Weekend officially kicked off when I was attempting to spend a few moments doing non-football things with my life.
So belatedly, I think this, and it’s not at all shocking: Munchak’s firing serves as a reminder during coaching carrousel season that there’s always far more that we don’t know about going on in rooms with closed doors where men with expensive suits talk.
The Titans didn’t make the playoffs under Munchak over his three years, a stretch in which they finished with a record of 22-26, so change was coming. It was even easier to expect change after a season when the Titans invested so heavily in their offensive line to protect Jake Locker between Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, while also plugging in Bernard Pollard in the secondary. Of course, Locker crumbling again didn’t exactly help Munchak’s employment cause, but that’s a tale for another time.
It was widely reported that Munchak could have saved himself by firing a number of assistants and coordinators, a report that turned out to be true after the now former coach said as much to Jim Wyatt of the Tennesseean. Specifically, that would have required firing two of Munchak’s best friends (offensive line coach Bruce Matthews and linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio), and up to six more assistants. The entire direction of the team was set to change then, and as the head coach, Munchak had plotted the current direction.
He declined to make those moves, so then owner Tommy Smith and Ruston Webster made their own move, firing everyone to pursue that new direction. The lesson learned here is that in the NFL, it’s difficult to remain employed while being a man of principle.
More playoff teams does not mean good things
This morning what seemed inevitable began to be confirmed: the NFL is looking to add two more playoff teams in the form of another wild card team in each conference.
Dan Patrick says he’s been told that the NFL will add a wild card team in both conferences.
— Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) January 6, 2014
I deeply respect the opinion of every person and their right to have it. With that disclaimer out of the way, if your immediate reaction to this was “SWEEEEEET!” you’re wrong.
There’s absolutely nothing at all amiss with the current playoff system, but that’s not entirely why I don’t like this, because I’m no curmudgeon. It’s easy to slot this system into this year and note that a deserving Cardinals team in the NFC that finished 10-6 (and very nearly 11-5) would have made the playoffs. But then in the AFC, one of four 8-8 teams at the bottom would have been given a chance to contend for a championship (tie breakers this year would have handed that to the Steelers).
The beauty of the NFL playoffs is that with so few teams qualifying (currently 12), merely advancing into January is viewed as an accomplishment, the sort of accomplishment that often keeps coaches employed. That’s true even if it’s done with a little luck (see: the Chargers, though they did win four straight games to end the season), and even if you needed a play-in game (see: Eagles and Packers).
Consider: had Tony Romo been healthy and the Cowboys still lost their play-in game, there would be calls for Jason Garrett’s melon, calls that still existed to some degree. But one win that earned the right to play even a single playoff game would have silenced everything.
Adding more playoff teams for a total of 14 subtracts from the accomplishment of playing vitally meaningful January games, and saturates a system that was perfectly fine.
These people are happy
Go crazy, you crazy kids.
Philip Rivers: Still the absolute best
He is now and forever both the happiest and scariest man in the NFL…
You know what this morning needs? MORE BOLO pic.twitter.com/KFwDmrbTIv
— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) January 6, 2014
Yes, this is probably true
Multiple Chargers tell me Bengals did NOTHING offensively that they hadn’t prepared for. No tweaks, no surprises.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 5, 2014
After Giovanni Bernard’s fumble late in the second quarter, the Bengals’ offense became far more conservative with the exception of a few deep attempts. But Andy Dalton’s utter lack of execution didn’t help matters.