Sunday, January 05, 2014

Wildcard Saturday: Hank Stram's Heartache

The New Orleans Saints can be forgiven if they feel forgotten following the first road playoff win in the history of the Saints - this coming thirteen years after the first playoff win of any kind in Saints history.   The game that the world is buzzing about tonight is Andrew Luck's history-making comeback win - erasing a 38-10 gap despite multiple interceptions - over the Chiefs, and it offered plenty to take away.    My own takeaways from the 45-44 Indianapolis wildcard win over Kansas City -

- Bill Belichick is constantly telling his players on the sidelines, "Sixty Minutes!"   This game shows why.

- Down 38-10 and with multiple interceptions, one had to ask questions about Luck's viability as a playoff quarterback, but he answered them before they could be asked.   He did in his second season what Peyton Manning needed six seasons to accomplish - win a playoff game.   Even if the Colts get bounced next week Andrew Luck won't have that stigma that quarterbacks like Manning and Matt Ryan have - being volume stats heroes who can't get it done in the playoffs.

EVEN IN THE PLAYOFFS IT'S ULTIMATELY ABOUT OFFENSE - Long is the complaint about how the rules are slanted in favor of offense, but in the playoffs the flags are usually put away and the referees let the players play.   Kansas City and Indianapolis both posted top-nine scoring defenses.   It begs the question of why anyone is shocked when the flags are put away - and scoring actually increases.  It was on display last season in the Ravens shootout win over the Broncos and the 49ers mini-rout of the Packers; it was on display in 2011 in San Francisco's shootout win over New Orleans and Tom Brady's history-tying touchdown slaughter of the Broncos; and of course in 2009 the Cardinals needed overtime and 51 points to beat Aaron Rodgers' Packers.

Even the subsequent Saints win over the Eagles was about offense despite neither team breaking 26 points; it appeared both teams were spooked by the Colts-Chiefs game and played intimidated to some extent.   Indeed, in the second half the two offenses began to rev it up and might have scored more.

THE LOSS SETTLED THE FUTURE OF ALEX SMITH - That the Colts won is not the surprise; the sheer enormity of scoring is what leaves people taken aback somewhat.   The other non-surprise is that Alex Smith showed anew why he is not the future for the Chiefs - he showed anew that when he has to step up his game there's a limit to where he can do so, and ultimately he just cannot hang with the likes of Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers.    The Chiefs need to face that fact going into the Draft.

CHIEFS INJURIES SHOW THEY DIDN'T DO ENOUGH FOR THE ROSTER  -  The Chiefs lost several players, notably Jamaal Charles in the first quarter, and the impact of those injuries was a running issue in the game.   I don't buy that not losing Jamaal Charles would have changed the outcome, but the injuries showed this - the Chiefs did not build their roster 1-54.    The Patriots build their rosters 1-54 and thus are generally immune to losing key players, as evidenced again this season.   The Chiefs need to address that going into the Draft as well.

HISTORY DOES MATTER FOR CLUBS - The Chiefs had the chance to change their history where they hadn't won a playoff game since 1993.   Instead, all they did was add to that ignoble history, and if they make the playoffs next year they'll still have to carry the weight that they've failed in the postseason eight straight times. 

Indeed, history works against the Colts going forward - the other historic comeback playoff games didn't translate to a championship for any of the winners - the 1992 Bills famously wiped out a 35-3 Oilers lead to win, and then got destroyed in the Superbowl; the 2002 49ers erased a 38-14 gap to the NY Giants and got bounced in embarassing fashion the next week by the Bucs; the 2002 Steelers erased a 24-7 gap to beat the Browns, then fell in overtime to the Titans the next week.  

- His emergence in 2012 was dramatic, but his 224-yard explosion here may make this a career breakout game.

And the end result puts the Wild in Wildcard Saturday with the rest of the weekend to go before the divisional rounds begin.

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