Friday, April 25, 2014

The best and worst of the NFL's wild card weekend (6 items)

By Mitch Kunzler
For the Deseret News

Jan. 6, 2014

The first round of the NFL playoffs ended over the weekend, one that lived up to every bit of the hype that’s been building up all season long. After the wild card games ended Sunday evening, the league is one step closer to naming a champion.

The weekend matchups had football fans on their feet as they showcased game-winning field goals, big-time upsets and freezing-cold weather. Throughout the games, there were many spectacular moments, as well as some disappointing ones.

With that being said, here are the best and worst of wild card weekend.

You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.

1 of 6. Best: Brees, Saints overcome weather and turnovers to advance

The New Orleans Saints visited the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night in a battle between two quarterbacks — Drew Brees (Saints) and Nick Foles (Eagles) — who both attended the same high school in Austin, Texas.

Coming into the game, the Saints had never won a playoff game on the road in their franchise's history. On top of that, New Orleans has gained a reputation for not being able to perform well in cold weather. Both things considered, the Saints looked as though they would have a tough time in Philadelphia.

To start the game, Brees had two early interceptions, and it looked as though the Saints would add yet another road playoff loss to their history — and that their reputation for poor performances in cold weather would remain.

Brees recovered, however, as he threw for 250 yards and a touchdown to lead the Saints to a 26-24 win over the Eagles. Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal as time expired sealed the deal for New Orleans.

The Saints will suit up against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday in Seattle.

2 of 6. Worst: Chiefs give up 28-point lead

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was on fire. Every pass he made was on the mark. He was playing with a flawlessness that most quarterbacks only dream about.

With 13:39 left in the third quarter, Smith threw his fourth touchdown of the night, extending the Chiefs to a 38-10 lead over the Indianapolis Colts. It seemed that the game was over, and the Chiefs would advance to the second round of the playoffs.

In fact, according to ESPN, the Colts had only a 0.9 percent chance of winning the game with Smith's fourth touchdown pass.

But then everything fell apart for Kansas City, as it allowed Indianapolis to go on a 35-6 run and win the game 45-44. The comeback is the second largest in NFL playoff history.

In addition to the disappointing loss, the Chiefs suffered losses to Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, Donnie Avery, Justin Houston and Brandon Flowers. With the injuries adding up, it was just too much to overcome for the Chiefs.

3 of 6. Best: Red-hot Chargers hand Bengals first home loss

In recent Super Bowl history, the teams that have gone on to win the championship normally are teams that got hot at the right time. If history should continue, then the San Diego Chargers look to be in good shape.

The Chargers needed a lot of things go right for them to even have a shot at making the playoffs in the first place. Once they did, they were generally considered to be the one team that didn't belong in the postseason.

What didn't help San Diego's chances was that it was headed to Cincinnati to play the Bengals — a team that hadn't lost at home all year, including when the Chargers visited earlier in the season. But that wasn't about to stop San Diego.

The Chargers forced four turnovers and moved the ball on offense to set the tone of the game. By the end, the Chargers spanked the Bengals 27-10 thanks to 196 rushing yards, courtesy of running back trio Ronnie Brown, Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews.

The Chargers will play the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon in Denver.

4 of 6. Worst: Dalton, Bengals held scoreless in second half

For a team that hadn't won a playoff game in 23 years, the Bengals sure didn't seem like a team with that much urgency. After leading the Chargers 10-7 at the half, the Bengals went scoreless in the second half, but allowed the Chargers to put up 20 points.

The Bengals looked less like a football team and more like a bakery with four turnovers, three of which were committed by quarterback Andy Dalton. The Chargers were able to capitalize on the mistakes and use the momentum to their advantage.

For the Bengals, the problems lie with Dalton, who seems to choke every year when they need him most. Dalton has one touchdown and seven turnovers in his playoff career.

5 of 6. Best: Kaepernick leads Niners past weather, Packers

The San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers faced off in the final playoff game of the weekend, a matchup that pitted both teams against each other in subzero weather.

The temperature at Lambeau Field was around 5 degrees, with a wind chill factor of minus-10.

Despite the freezing weather, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was quite warm. Kaepernick threw for 227 yards and a touchdown and ran for 98 yards on the ground. His dual-threat ability picked up crucial first-down conversions and ended up being the difference-maker in the game.

In the end, Niners kicker Phil Dawson nailed a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give San Francisco the 23-20 win.

The 49ers will play the Carolina Panthers on Sunday morning in North Carolina.