Playoff Judgements, Week II: More than one winner when Packers held off Seattle
The scoreboard says there was one winner in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game, and it was Green Bay. But we know better. There were two.
The Packers and their next opponent: The San Francisco 49ers.
The two meet next Sunday in the NFC championship game, with the winner moving on to Super Bowl LIV. It could be San Francisco. It could be Green Bay. But it won’t be Seattle.
And that’s where the 49ers’ victory lap comes in. Because if there was one minefield out there for San Francisco, it wasn’t Green Bay.
It was the Seahawks.
They’re in the same division as the 49ers so they know them. And they know how to beat them. The 49ers’ first loss this year? Came in overtime … at home …vs. Seattle. Then there was the season finale to determine the NFC West winner. That was in Seattle … with the Seahawks falling just inches short of victory – literally -- when tight end Jacob Hollister was stopped at the goal line. The two times they met his year, two points separated them.
OK, so next weekend’s game is in Santa Clara. Advantage: San Francisco, right? Not so fast. As I said, the Seahawks won there earlier this year and, prior to Sunday, were 8-1 this season on the road. In fact, they were much more successful there than at home (4-4).
But it’s not the Seahawks that are next up. It’s Green Bay, and what do we know about the Packers? They’re on a six-game roll. They have Aaron Rodgers. They have Aaron Jones. They have Davante Adams. And they have a far better defense than years past. They also have the same record (14-3) as San Francisco.
“I think these are the two best teams in the NFC,” Rodgers said after Sunday’s 28-23 defeat of Seattle.
The standings say so. The 49ers are the top seed in the NFC playoffs, and the Packers are No. 2.
But Green Bay has more than two Aarons and a remarkable record. It has this: Two of the Packers’ three defeats this season were in California – neither of them close (they were outscored 63-19) and one was to San Francisco. That was a 37-8 blowout where the 49ers’ league-leading pass defense held Aaron Rodgers to a career-low 81 passing yards and sacked him five times. That was also a game where the Packers were 1-for-15 on third downs, a far cry from Sunday night when they were 9-of-14 vs. Seattle.
Granted, that was Nov. 24, or seven weeks ago … and the Packers haven’t lost since. But the 49ers have never been healthier than they are now, and they have one advantage the Packers don’t: They know how to beat them.
Because they have.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Kyle Shanahan has learned how to protect a lead. Last time he was in the playoffs, he blew a 28-3 third-quarter spread. That was as an offensive coordinator. Three years later he has a 27-10 second-half advantage and bleeds the clock. That’s as a head coach. The guy learned from his mistake.
2. When the going gets tough, Green Bay is toughest. With that win, the Packers are 9-1 in one-score games (eight or fewer points).
3. When you’re up 24-7 in the first half you do not … repeat: DO NOT … try a fake punt from your own 32. Enough said. Just needed to vent.
4. It’s never over ‘til it’s over with Patrick Mahomes. Next time you think it’s a good idea to try a fake punt with a 21-point lead, Bill O’Brien, you might want to remember this.
5. Tennessee looks more like the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers. They were a sixth seed, too, and, against all odds, won road games in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver. Then they won Super Bowl XL.
THIRD AND 20
1. If you believe in history, you gotta believe in the Chiefs next weekend. The past six years nobody but the first and second playoff seeds reached the Super Bowl. Kansas City is No. 2; Tennessee is No. 6.
2. That said, consider this: Mike Vrabel’s Titans’ held the modern-era’s greatest quarterback and this year’s presumptive MVP to one TD – combined – in back-to-back road games. Doesn’t get much better than that.
3. Maybe the divisional round isn’t the best weekend of NFL play after all. Every one of last weekend’s wild-card games was decided by one score (eight or fewer points). Outside of Seattle-Green Bay, no divisional round contest was decided by fewer than 16.
4. The more I see Russell Wilson the more I understand why Bill Polian and two others chose him as their MVP. Seattle would be the Bengals without him.
5. I’m taking San Francisco to win it all. Reason: Defense. Now that everyone’s back, there’s none better.
6. Now you know why Aaron Rodgers wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He was 6-for-6 on throws of 10 or more yards downfield. And that 32-yard completion he threaded to Davante Adams to close out Seattle? That was dead … solid … perfect.
7. When I saw CBS plug “God Friended Me” Sunday night, I thought it was a sit-down interview with Patrick Mahomes.
8. Kevin Stefanski? Really? Over Robert Saleh? Wait a minute, it’s the Browns. Got it.
9. Finally, we get to find out who’s Number One this week. Clemson-LSU? Nope. The Jeopardy “Greatest of All Time.”
10. Ryan Tannehill = Nick Foles, 2017. How do you not pull for this guy to return to Miami in Super Bowl LIV?
11. Houston defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is expected to retire. After that collapse, I can see why.
12. It only gets worse for Baltimore fans. Next up: Six months of Orioles’ baseball.
13. Not sure what happens first: World peace or Seattle winning at Lambeau. The Seahawks lost their last nine there.
14. Phil Simms on Derrick Henry: “He’s the modern-day Jim Brown.” Whoa, Nellie. Slow down, Phil.
15. Report: A potential CBA is “likely” to include 17 games. Good to know the NFL makes player safety such a high priority.
16. Don’t tell me linebacker Kwon Alexander doesn’t make a difference for San Francisco. The 49ers are 9-0 when he’s in the lineup.
17. Houston’s Bill O’Brien is beginning to look like a modern-day Marty Schottenheimer. Good enough to get you to the playoffs but not good enough to get you to the Super Bowl. He’s 2-4 in the playoffs but never made it out of the divisional round (0-2).
18. The Centennial Class was Don Coryell’s best chance to reach Canton. He didn’t make it. Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson did. I’m now convinced Coryell will never be enshrined. Not in my lifetime he won’t.
19. Memo to Jerry Jones: This might be a good time to consider Jimmy Johnson for the Cowboys' Ring of Honor.
20. I’ll say this for Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey: At least he’s not backing down from his comment that the Ravens “choked.” Some guys would say they were misquoted. Others? That it was taken “out of context” or “misinterpreted.” Not Humphrey. He didn’t budge.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Aaron Rodgers is making his fourth NFC championship game appearance … and they’re all on the road. The only quarterback since 1970 with more road conference championship starts is Tom Brady with six.
AND ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
The Texans scored 31 points vs. Kansas City but lost. Entering Sunday, teams that scored 31 points in playoff games were 189-25 in the Super Bowl era – a winning percentage of 88.3 percent.
THE WEEKEND'S GOLD JACKET WINNER
Tennessee RB Derrick Henry. Maybe we just retire this category with his name on it. His last three games he’s run for 180 or more yards, including twice in playoff games, and that’s not just startling. It’s historic. Nobody else has done it. He runs. He throws. He runs. And runs. And runs. The guy is big, fast and shows no signs of slowing down … and I call Earl Thomas to the witness stand. He’s the defensive back who criticized the Patriots for not stopping Henry last weekend, saying “they didn’t seem too interested in tackling him. I think our mindset is a little different.” Turns out he was right. It was a little different. Instead of dropping 182 on the Ravens (as he did New England), Henry shredded them for 195, including a 27-yard dash where he stiff-armed Thomas before stepping out of bounds. “The dude is a zone unlike any I’ve played against,” said Baltimore defensive tackle Michael Pierce.
THE WEEKEND'S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“This team’s identity right now is to get to the playoffs and choke. It is what it is. That’s just the hard truth.” – Baltimore CB Marlon Humphrey.
“It was like chasing a chicken in a field with no fence.” – Green Bay LB Preston Smith on Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF