A Divisional Round for the Ages
That’s it, the Divisional Round for this NFL season is over, and it was a particularly exciting one for football fans around the world. For the first time in more than a decade, all four of the home teams managed to emerge victorious, setting up some mouthwatering clashes in the Conference Championship games.
Fans will be able to enjoy watching what could turn out to be the last ever clash between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning when the Patriots meet the Broncos. The other game sees two solid defenses come together when the Panthers go up against the Cardinals. The four best teams in the nation all still have a chance of Super Bowl glory, but before we look too far ahead, let’s do a recap of the latest action by looking back at the Divisional Round games and highlighting some of the key things we learned.
Seahawks at Panthers
Let’s talk about the Panthers to start off. Carolina fans have got to be feeling good about their team’s chances of attending the Super Bowl after that magnificent display against the Seattle Seahawks. The defense in particular was outstanding, completely nullifying almost every attempt the Seahawks made to get the ball moving. The Panthers’ defensive line of Kawann Short, Jared Allen, Charles Johnson and Star Lotulelei was as solid as a rock from the first minute to the last.
Lotulelei particularly stood out, but every man in that line did his job to perfection. The Panthers managed to get 5 sacks throughout the game and made life very miserable for Russell Wilson. It was a game of two halves, with Carolina putting up 14 and 17 uncontested points in the first two quarters, before being forced to resist a surging comeback from the Seahawks. However, the work done by Lotulelei and friends in the early stages of the game really helped to secure the victory.
Packers at Cardinals
Now let’s move on to talk about another team who proved its dominance in the Divisional Round: the Arizona Cardinals. In particular, the name of Larry Fitzgerald has to be mentioned. The 32-year old WR is such an important part of the Arizona team and proved that against the Packers. He finished the game with 176 receiving yards, 8 receptions and a touchdown. The TD literally won the game for his team and that session of play was all about Fitzgerald.
In overtime, the WR caught a simple pass from Carson Palmer and helped his team gain an astonishing 75 yards. He then went on to score the resulting touchdown and send his team to the Conference Championship. His second half performance was mind-blowing and Cardinals fans must be very glad that Fitzgerald decided to stick around.
On the other side of that game, we have to give a special mention to Aaron Rodgers. The Packers lost the game but Rodgers gave everything he had to keep them in it. The signal caller proved exactly why he is regarded as one of the biggest stars and best players in the NFL. His stats for the game were impressive as he set up two touchdowns, got an interception and also earned 261 passing yards, but it was his last-minute play that fans will surely remember. With only seconds left on the clock and with his team losing, Rodgers sent an incredible 41-yard pass to Jeff Janis for a dramatic touchdown. Rodgers was able to keep the game alive and without him, the Packers could easily have suffered a humiliating defeat.
Steelers at Broncos
Another memorable moment from the Divisional Round games came for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Fitzgerald Toussaint. The 25-year old running back will surely be having nightmares about his fumble for many years to come, with many fans and experts going as far as to blame him for his team’s loss. The moment occurred during a good period for the Steelers. Only ten minutes were left in the game and the Pittsburgh players were narrowly leading the score 13-12.
They were gaining ground on the Broncos and seemed set to record a historic victory. All of the momentum was on their side as they approached field goal territory. Unfortunately, Toussaint then went on to have his unfortunate fumble as Bradley Roby punched the ball out of his grasp. Many now regard this moment as the turning point of the match, as the Broncos charged down the field and Manning set up C.J. Anderson for a TD.
Chiefs at Patriots
One of the biggest losers of the Divisional Round has to be Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. Yet again, Reid’s management skills are being called into question, particularly due to the way he and his team failed to effectively manage the clock at the end of their game against the Patriots. With six and a half minutes to go in the final quarter, the Chiefs were pretty far behind but still had a chance of getting back into the game. Unfortunately, it took them until the 1:18 mark to finally get a score on the board.
During those moments, fans were repeatedly frustrated as the Kansas City team wasted time with huddles, a run for a loss and even a false start penalty. Reid defended his players and management, but fans will remain angry that the team wasted so much time at such a vital part of the game.
Our final mention goes to the Seahawks. In particular, we want to highlight the shocking weakness of the Seattle defensive line in the game against the Panthers. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Ahtyba Rubin and Brandon Mebane are big, strong players who are usually very reliable. Unfortunately, from the very first moments of the game, fans realized that the Seattle defense was going to struggle. Jonathan Stewart ran right through the middle and that play set the tone for the rest of the game. Even the linebackers, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin were simply bullied and overpowered from start to finish, leaving many fans disappointed.