Judgements: Does this mean we can trust Cowboys and Romo?
So he needed help … and not all of it from his teammates. Nevertheless, maybe we need to start believing in Tony Romo. Until this season he couldn’t win in December. Then he ran the table, throwing 12 TDs and one interception his last four games. Until Sunday, he couldn't win a meaningful game, either, guaranteed to somehow screw it up in the end. Only he didn’t. Not this time he didn’t ... in a triumph that was big for Dallas and bigger for Romo. Maybe, just maybe, his performance proves that people can change after all.
2. Sorry, but I have two words for that non-PI call in the Dallas game … and you wouldn’t want to step in it. “It was DPI, and it was defensive pass holding as well,” former officiating chief Mike Pereira tweeted. Bet that makes Detroit feel a whole lot better.
3. I can’t wait for the NFL’s explanation of that call … er, non-call. And, yes, we deserve an explanation … not an apology that does nobody any good. What happened makes it clear the league either needs to make more calls subject to replay or trash this "all-star crew" idea and keep officiating teams intact for the playoffs.
4. Dallas has the NFC right where it wants it: On the road. The Cowboys haven’t lost there, and that’s another reason to believe in these guys. Only one problem: Green Bay hasn’t lost at Lambeau, either.
5. This is the first time Dallas goes to Green Bay for a playoff game since … yep, since the 1967 “Ice Bowl.” Appropriate. The high next Sunday is expected to be 19. Bart Starr and Jerry Kramer, take your phones off the hook.
6. Carolina should thank Romo and Pete Morelli. Seattle is a better matchup for the Panthers than Green Bay. They played the Seahawks tough earlier this season, plus they have the momentum … and the defense … to stay with them. Remember, Carolina was the NFL’s second-best rushing offense in December, averaging 199 yards a game, and ranked second in points allowed at 10.8 per.
7. Just a suggestion, but maybe Gov. Christie should spend a couple of weekends in New Jersey with the people he’s supposed to represent.
8. I’m with Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post: The Giants and Jets should turn their backs on Christie.
9. Biggest winner this weekend? Peyton Manning. He doesn’t have to play piñata to Baltimore’s pass rush.
10. Tom Brady can't be happy about drawing Baltimore. Not only have the Ravens beaten him twice in the playoffs, both times it happened at Foxboro (the Ravens are 2-1 there in postseason play). Plus, there’s this: Baltimore always is tough for Brady to solve. OK, so he’s 6-3 against the Ravens. He’s also 1-2 in the playoffs, with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions – including his worst passer rating ever in a 2009 loss when he posted a 49.1.
11. Take heart, Tom. All of the Patriots’ eight playoff losses under Brady and Bill Belichick occurred vs. teams they played during the season. New England did not play Baltimore this year. Then there's this: Eight of the last 10 Super Bowl participants had divisional playoff games on Saturday. The Patriots play this Saturday.
12. Not sure what happens first: A Bengals’ playoff win or an NFL franchise in Kabul.
13. Good news for those six teams looking for their next head coach: Todd Bowles and Teryl Austin are now available for interviews.
14. Dear Mike Brown, Please draft a pass rusher. Maybe three. Yours, Marvin Lewis.
15. OK, so Andrew Luck is terrific and all that, but I wonder how he responds in the face of pressure. Wonder no more. It happens next weekend in Denver.
16. Joe Flacco may not be “the best quarterback in football,” as John Harbaugh put it, but there’s nobody I’d rather have on the road in the playoffs. Flacco is 7-4 there, including 2-1 vs. Tom Brady.
17. Add Matt Stafford to guys who need to shake up their lives. That loss makes the Lions 0-18 on the road since his arrival vs. opponents with winning records. Yes, the guy played well in Dallas, butt how do you not once throw to Calvin Johnson on that last series? Someone? Anyone?
18. Too bad Alabama punter JK Scott is a freshman. Otherwise, he should be a high draft pick for Arizona.
19. The ESPN guys referred to Carolina’s win as the best defensive performance in NFL history. Except it wasn’t. It was the worst offensive performance. Arizona averaged 1.7 yards per play. Honest.
20. Look at it this way, Pittsburgh fans. Now you can devote your Sundays to Downton Abbey.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES
1. Carolina LB Luke Kuechly. There’s a reason he’s an All-Pro. He’s all over the field, not only making tackles, but making interceptions and deflecting passes that result in interceptions. Can’t wait to see him mano-a-mano vs. Marshawn Lynch.
2. The Carolina Panthers. No, it wasn’t the defeat of Arizona that was so impressive. It was the victory lap players took for fans that stuck around afterward.
3. Baltimore K Justin Tucker. He nailed a 52-yarder in a stadium (Heinz Field) where 50-yarders are uncommon. So what’s new? The guy is money, making all seven of his kicks in the playoffs.
4. Indianapolis LB Jerrell Freeman. He had his best game of the season, with a team-high 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble of Andy Dalton.
5. Dallas WR Cole Beasley. He had more catches than Dez Bryant, made a couple of huge plays and didn’t miss a snap. Yes, there is more to the Cowboys' receivers than Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME FIZZLES
1. Detroit P Sam Martin. A 10-yard punt with the game on the line? Seriously?
2. Referee Pete Morelli. It was his crew that called pass interference against Dallas, and it was his crew that had the audacity (stupidity?) to pick up the flag. We don't make 'em up. Hey, there’s a first for everything. Morelli’s crew blew the call, and its mistake cost the Lions time, a first down, possible points and maybe, just maybe, a ballgame.
3. Arizona QB Ryan Lindley. There’s a reason the Cardinals cut him in training camp, and you just saw it.
4. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis. That makes him 0-6 in the playoffs, tying him with Jim Mora for the worst record by a coach without a postseason victory. Next time they cast Groundhog Day, make Lewis and Andy Dalton the first calls. Like the man said, you can’t spell Lewis without a capital L.
5. Cincinnati pass rush. There wasn’t any, but what’s new? These guys had a league-worst 20 this season.
WHAT WOULD LOMBARDI DO?
You’re down by three, and there are six minutes left. It’s fourth-and-6 at your opponent’s 42, and your defense hasn't allowed anything in the second half but a field goal. So W.W. L.D.? Punt the ball, naturally, and rely on that defense to stuff his opponent deep in its own end, get the ball back and win on a Bart Starr touchdown pass. Apparently, Jason Garrett doesn’t subscribe to the Lombardi Theory of Success. He went for it on fourth down, with Tony Romo completing a 21-yard pass to tight end Jason Witten to extend what became the game-winning drive. Unusual? Not exactly. Garrett went for it on a fourth-and-1 in Chicago earlier this year and tried a surprise onside kick in the season finale in Washington – a kick Dallas recovered.
FIVE GUYS ON THE HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
1. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. He beat Pittsburgh for the first time in the playoffs (he was 0-2) and won by doing what Ben Roethlisberger could not -- making big third-down plays.
2. Indianapolis PK Adam Vinatieri. The guy never misses. He hit four more, including a 53-yarder, to make him 34-for-35 this season. There’s one pure kicker in the Hall of Fame. There will be at least two after Vinatieri retires.
3. Dallas QB Tony Romo. Now, whenever asks him when he plans on winning another playoff game, he can pull a Marshawn Lynch and say, “Next.”
4. Baltimore LB Terrell Suggs. He did everything. Make tackles. Knock down a pass. Make a key fourth-quarter interception … with his legs. His only failure? Getting on an NBC post-game report. The camera malfunctioned.
5. Detroit DT Ndamukong Suh. He was a load Sunday, twice sacking Romo on successive plays and plugging the middle. I don’t know where he plays next year, but I’d sure like to have him … provided, of course, he completes that anger management course.
THIS WEEKEND’S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE
Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck. Now, that’s more like it. Luck looked the guy everyone has ticketed for Canton, with his first 300-yard game in five starts and no turnovers. Oh, yeah, he also produced his third playoff game with 330 yards or more passing. Rewind that touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief, and you have the best play of the weekend.
THIS WEEKEND’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
“We know when there’s blood in the water, and when there is, our sharks are going to eat.” – Carolina cornerback Josh Norman.
3-32 -- Detroit's record since Matt Stafford's arrival vs. teams that finish with winning records
4-3 -- New England in its last seven home playoff games
5-0 – Baltimore in wild-card games under John Harbaugh
13 -- Jeremy Hill carries
78 – Arizona offensive yards, the fewest in NFL history
10-5 – Baltimore on the road in the playoffs
63.4 – Andy Dalton passer rating
114.0 -- Tony Romo and Joe Flacco ratings
1991 – Last time Cincinnati and Detroit won playoff games