Wild Card Weekend

The NFL playoff picture came rapidly into focus last weekend, as four battles between wild-card teams determined who would advance to face the league’s leaders.

Panthers 29
Cowboys 10

Two years after finishing 1 and 15, the Carolina Panthers have moved beyond the wild-card round of the playoffs. Carolina stepped up in an unexpected fashion, eliminating the Cowboys from further contention. Quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 273 yards, and Stephen Davis rushed for 104. Kicker John Kasay tied a postseason record with five field goals, scoring more than Dallas itself. The Panthers were near perfect: they had no penalties and no turnovers. Though coach Bill Parcells has certainly turned the Cowboys around, the team is still too up-and-down; they gained no offensive yards in the third quarter. Carolina moves on to confront the St. Louis Rams this weekend.

Titans 20
Ravens 17

Despite Steve McNair’s three interceptions and hurt ankle, Tennessee managed to beat Baltimore. Its defense held record-setting rusher Jamal Lewis to 35 yards on 14 carries, his worst performance of the year. Titans’ running back Eddie George ran for 88 yards on 25 carries – with a dislocated shoulder! And McNair vindicated his turnovers by organizing a late drive that set up the go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter. The NFL’s oldest player, 44-year-old Gary Anderson, kicked it through the uprights with 29 seconds remaining to advance the Titans. They will pay a visit the New England Patriots on Saturday.

Packers 33
Seahawks 27

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselback had it coming – at least, according to Green Bay fans. With the game tied at 27 and heading into overtime, Seattle won the coin toss. Hasselback’s amplified voice echoed throughout Wisconsin’s Lambeau Field, “We want the ball, and we’re going to score.” The Cheeseheads couldn’t have disagreed more, and after each side went three-and-out, Seattle began its fateful second drive. Nervous at the sight of an impending blitz, Hasselback decided to audible – and had some difficulty communicating because of the crowd noise. Al Harris, Green Bay’s cornerback, intercepted the ensuing pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown, right past the outstretched arms of a diving Hasselback. Sunday, Green Bay makes its way to Philadelphia for a game against the Eagles.

Colts 41
Broncos 10

The Indianapolis Colts turned the tables when it counted. Two weeks after losing to the Denver Broncos in a regular season match-up, the energized Colts took off at a gallop on Sunday. Peyton Manning threw for 377 yards and five touchdown passes, four alone in the first half. For their part, the Broncos barely bucked. A play late in the first quarter exemplifies their lackluster game: Colts receiver Marvin Harrison caught a pass and lay on the field at the Denver 30 yard-line. While the Broncos secondary argued over who should have covered him, Harrison rolled over, stood up, and ran for a touchdown, having never been touched by a Denver defender. Indianapolis advances to face Kansas City.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.