Colts Complete Historic Comeback Against Chiefs, 49ers Defeat Packers Despite Frigid Temperatures, and All of NFL Wild Card Weekend—The Monday Morning Realist


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the weekend’s NFL action in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @Li495Akiem.

Don’t Call It a “Lucky” Comeback

Jan 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) makes a catch and scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Trust me, readers, when I say that this one could have been a whole Realist column in itself.

Coming into this week’s Wild Card Weekend playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, the majority of the football press was picking the Colts. They were, of course, also picking Andrew Luck to get his first playoff win of his young career. Remember, this was the same Indy team that was in the midst of a 23-7 victory over the Chiefs with a good bit of their regulars going for them.

And, notably, that game took place in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, not Naptown.

Also, this was a Kansas City Chiefs team where it didn’t seem to matter if they were playing with their varsity or their junior varsity squad, their defense had issues on top of issues, as evidenced by their Week 17 matchup in Qualcomm Stadium against the San Diego Chargers.

Then there’s that whole “history” factor as well. The Chiefs’ last playoff win came against the Houston Oilers (who are now residing comfortably in Nashville, Tennessee as the Titans). Even when they went 13-3 in the 2003-04 season with Dick Vermeil as their head coach, they couldn’t get it done in January.

A 9-0 for the Chiefs went south when injuries started to occur, most notably to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on the defensive side, but the Colts also suffered through adversity when they lost Reggie Wayne for the season with a torn ACL. But, this one had Colts coronation written all over it, right?



Not in the first half.

In the first half, it looked as if the Colts’ defense was on vacation in Hawaii. The Chiefs started out strong and fast when Alex Smith connected with Dwyane Bowe for a six yard touchdown pass to give them the lead at 7-0.

The Colts immediately tied it up when Luck and his offense put together a drive that resulted in seven of their own. Luck threw for ten yards to T.Y. Hilton. 7-7 tie.

The following Kansas City possession saw them with the ball at the Indianapolis one yard line, but had to settle for a 19 yard field goal from Ryan Succop. 10-7 Chiefs.

Kansas City would force an Indianapolis punt, then on a 3rd and 10 play from their own 21 yard line, go 79 yards to Donnie Avery for a touchdown. 17-7 Chiefs. The next Colts drive would only last one possession when Trent Richardson, who has become famous for being a turnover factory since being traded from Cleveland to Indy, fumbled, then Houston recovered the ball for the Chiefs at the Colts’ 24 yard line.

The Chiefs turned that turnover into another touchdown when Smith found Anthony Sherman on a five yard pass for a touchdown. 24-7 Chiefs. The rout was on, and the Indianapolis crowd was stunned.

Indy did recover on their next drive, but their productive drive that went all the way to the Chiefs’ 19 yard line resulted only in a 37 yard line for Adam Vinatieri. 24-10 Kansas City.

Knile Davis’ touchdown on the following Chiefs’ possession extended the Kansas City advantage to 31-10. Davis was in the game at runningback because of an earlier injury sustained by Jamaal Charles. This would be the halftime score, as well.

This is a clear illustration of how badly things were going for the Indianapolis Colts for the first half of the game. They would get the ball first in the second half—and on the first play from scrimmage, Luck was intercepted by Husain Abdullah. Smith would then find Davis on a four yard touchdown pass. 38-10 Kansas City….without Jamaal Charles.

Put this game to bed. Fans in Kansas City might as well begin to book airline tickets to either Denver or New England right now. It was over. Maybe it wasn’t the Colts’ “time to shine”. It was their time to move on to Indiana Pacers basketball, correct?

Not entirely, as Indianapolis’ defense started to step up when it needed to. So did the offense. After that last Chiefs touchdown, the Colts changed strategy as Luck began to run a constant no-huddle offense, one he has success with. Donald Brown would go ten yards for a touchdown on the next Indy possession to cut the deficit to 38-17 Chiefs. Still over if Kansas City scores one more touchdown, right?

The next Chiefs’ possession resulted in a sack of Alex Smith by Robert Mathis, then a fumble that was recovered by Kelvin Sheppard.

In playoff games like this, it was imperative that possessions like that where your defense forces turnovers get converted into points by the offense—preferably seven instead of three. The Colts did just that on their next possession when Luck threw for three yards to Brown. 38-24 in what had turned into a two possession football game. And if that wasn’t bad enough for the Chiefs, Brandon Flowers also sustained an injury.

The Chiefs offense was forced into another three and out, giving the ball again to Luck and a surging Colts offense. Except, he was picked off again by Abdullah. Luckily for Indy, their defense didn’t bend and made the Chiefs have to settle for a 42 yard field goal from Succop despite them being close to the Colts’ red zone. 41-24 Kansas City.

That became 41-31 Kansas City when the following Indianapolis possession resulted in a Luck touchdown pass to Coby Fleener for 12 yards.

Indianapolis would then get the ball again in the early portions of the fourth quarter, and they were in the midst of a long drive that saw them with the ball at the Chiefs’ two yard line. A 2nd and goal play from the 2 resulted in a Donald Brown run that he fumbled, then recovered by Luck at the five, who lunged in for a Colts’ TD. 41-38 Chiefs. The scoreboard may have been the only thing that mattered, but slowly, but surely, this one was clearly getting away from Reid and the Chiefs.

The objective of the following Kansas City drive with just over ten minutes left to play in regulation had to be to score while eating time off the clock. In addition, Knile Davis was also out of the game due to injury, giving the runningback duties to Cyrus Gray. Kansas City did get over five minutes off the clock, but the Colts’ defense once again bended without breaking. Another 43 yard field goal from Succop made it 44-38 Chiefs.

That lead of six points wouldn’t last long. On the next Colts’ possession on a 1st and 10 play from their own 36 yard line, Luck threw a strike to T.Y. Hilton on a catch and run for 64 yards to give Indianapolis their first lead of the game at 45-44. Indy had finally come back to take the lead, but the one concern had to be if they had scored too early.

There was still 4:21 left on the play clock, plenty of time for a Chiefs’ drive to result in a game winning Succop field goal. Except on a 4th and 11 from the Colts’ 43, Smith found Dwyane Bowe on a play that would’ve been ruled a catch just a few short years ago. But, in this NFL, force outs mean that the receiver can be deemed out of bounds and the pass was ruled incomplete. Also, during that drive, Andy Reid, not exactly known for being a model coach in terms of clock management, burned timeouts (as Eagles fans know well), even once after the two minute warning.

So, begins the petitions from folks in Kansas and western Missouri for those receiver rules regarding force outs to be restored to what they were previously, prior to the recent rule changes. Colts won 45-44.

Luck (and his Daniel Bryan-esque beard) was 29/45 for 443 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He also carried the rock seven times for 45 yards. Brown had eleven carries for 55 yards and one touchdown. T.Y. Hilton went off for 13 receptions, 224 yards, and two TDs.

As for Kansas City, Smith was 30/46 for 378 yards, and 4 TDs of his own. Davis, prior to his injury, carried the ball 18 times for 67 yards. Charles had 57 yards on eight carries before his injury. Bowe had 150 yards on 8 receptions including his touchdown.

Kansas City did suffer through a rash of injuries throughout this game, including three simultaneous concussions. But even with all of the injuries that they sustained to Charles, Bowe, Houston, and others, there was no excuse for them to give up a 28 point lead the way they gave up a 28 point lead. They let the Colts’ back into the game and gave Luck and his team all of the confidence in the world that they could come back and accomplish the impossible.

And the last Chiefs win still came against the Oilers. As for Indianapolis, they will travel to New England next week as the Patriots will be coming off their bye week.

Who Dat Say They Need a Dome?

Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham (3) celebrates with Saints tight end Benjamin Watson (82) after kicking the game winning field goal in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints won 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For about 13 or 14 weeks, the New Orleans Saints looked to be sitting very pretty in terms of the NFC’s playoff standings. They were the number 2 seed, only behind the Seattle Seahawks. Then, they lost to the Carolina Panthers which put them in a precarious spot—the possibility that they would lose the division to Carolina, and that they’d have to start the postseason on the road.

This scenario did indeed happen as the Panthers defeated the Falcons in Week 17 to earn them the second seed and a bye week in the NFC’s portion of the playoffs. This made the Saints’ thrashing of the Buccaneers irrelevant. New Orleans had to begin the playoffs on the road.

Destination—Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

Not only would the destination be Lincoln Financial Field, but it would be Lincoln Financial Field in cold weather. The Eagles clinched their division title via its victory on the road in Dallas at the Cowboys in Week 17 where Kyle Orton started for the Cowboys. That of course resulted in Orton, literally, throwing a division crown for his team to the Eagles.

The Saints having to start on the road and in the cold was a statistic not lost on many as the Saints on the road are not the same Saints team at home in the confines of the Mercedes Benz Louisiana Superdome. This is why plenty o’ people predicted that the Eagles would win this football game. After all, all 5 losses for the Saints came on the road, and being a six seed means that they were guaranteed to play all of their games these playoffs away from the Superdome.

Adding to what looked like a long day for the Saints—Pierre Thomas was ruled out of this game as he suffered an injury. That’s somewhat important in a game where it would be important to run the football.

Plus, in what registered as a zero on The Realist’s scale of shock this week—this game had the most expensive tickets of the four Wild Card games this week.

Philadelphia won the coin toss, but deferred to the Saints. Both teams seemed to put together long, productive drives in the first half, but no points were scored. Towards the end of the first quarter, a Drew Brees pass intended for Kenny Stills was picked off by Brandon Fletcher at the Eagles 3 yard line.

New Orleans then got a productive drive together to begin the second quarter. They got to the Eagles’ 20 yard line, and Brees completed to Jimmy Graham, but DeMeco Ryans forced a fumble of Graham in which Fletcher Cox recovered. But, on a close review, Graham was ruled down prior to the fumble being forced and the Saints kept the ball. The result was a Shayne Graham 36 yard field goal to give New Orleans their first points of the game at 3-0.

On the next Saints possession after an Eagles three and out, it would end quickly on another big defensive play by Ryans that would stand, this time. Ryans intercepted Brees on a pass intended for Lance Moore at the Eagles’ 33 yard line. Philadelphia went ahead 7-3 when they converted that pick into points with Nick Foles throwing to Riley Cooper for 10 yards.

7-3 became 7-6 at the half when the Saints closed the half with one more drive that resulted in another field goal from Graham, this one from 46 yards.

Philadelphia got the ball first to start the half, but were forced into a three and out. The Saints retook the lead on their first possession of the half when Brees connected with Lance Moore for 24 yards and a 13-7 New Orleans lead. The next few minutes of the 3rd quarter resembled the first few minutes. Another Eagles three and out, another Saints touchdown. Mark Ingram’s short run for 4 yards increased the lead to 20-7.

Such a deficit was cut from 20-7 to 20-14 on the following Eagles possession when LeSean McCoy went up the middle on a 4th and 1 from the 1 yard line.

Philadelphia began their next drive with decent field position—from the Saints’ 40 yard line, and would get as far as the New Orleans’ seven yard line. But, despite that decent field position, the Eagles would only put 3 on the board instead of the 7 that would’ve given them the lead back. Alex Henery made a 31 yard field goal to bring the Eagles to within 20-17.

New Orleans answered with another field goal of their own on their next possession. Graham, this time, went from 35 yards to extend the Saints’ advantage back to 23-17.

23-17 Saints became 24-23 Eagles when Nick Foles threw his second touchdown pass of the game—this one to Zach Ertz for 3 yards.

Unfortunately, for Philly, their defense could not get the Saints into a third and long situation on their last drive, and they “marched” one more time into Eagles’ territory. It provided a perfect opportunity for a game winning field goal by Shayne Graham, which would also be his fourth of the game. His 32 yarder sent the Saints into a divisional playoff matchup in Seattle as they won 26-24 on the road, in the cold, against the Eagles.

Brees—20/30 for 250 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Mark Ingram had 18 carries for 97 yards. Jimmy Graham was their leading receiver with 3 receptions for 44 yards. Robert Meachem only caught one pass, but it was for 40 yards.

Foles was 23/33 for 195 yards for two touchdowns. McCoy ran for 77 yards on 21 carries. Cooper caught six passes for 68 yards and one touchdown. DeSean Jackson caught three passes for 53 yards.

As mentioned earlier, winning in Philadelphia is one thing—winning in Seattle is another. It’s much harder—that’s where the Saints will be next week.

Dalton Interceptions, Inc.—Established 2011

Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead (39) runs the ball away from Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (59) during third quarter of the AFC wild card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

If playoff success is to be personified by any team in recent memory, the conversation will not exactly include the San Diego Chargers or the Cincinnati Bengals.

Even though the Chargers are seen far and wide as a team that tends to improve in the second half of seasons, eventually, the Chargers are a team that will inevitably break your heart and leave you wondering what you are doing with all of your Philip Rivers merchandise, still unsold via eBay.

And, the Cincinnati Bengals, are the Cincinnati Bengals, particularly under Marvin Lewis who have yet to win a playoff game under Lewis. Even when it seemed that they had a foundation for the future nearly a decade ago with Carson Palmer at quarterback and Chad Johnson (or Ocho Cinco, whatever suits your fancy) as a wide receiver, Palmer was hurt, and the ill fortunes continued in Cincinnati.

They have not been much better with Andy Dalton as quarterback either as he has yet to win a playoff game either, despite already playing in playoff games in his young career. Dalton’s career in the playoffs up to this week’s Wild Card game against the San Diego Chargers can be defined by one huge, flashing “INT” sign as he has yet to throw a touchdown pass in the playoffs.

But, if it was any year where the Bengals were going to win in the playoffs, it was going to be this year. Cincinnati had clinched the third seed in the AFC, which meant they were hosting a playoff game at home in the Wild Card Weekend. Cincinnati was undefeated during the regular season at home.

But, given the inconsistencies of the Bengals, the Chargers were still a hot pick for many despite Cincinnati being undefeated at home. Of course, the Chargers came out of nowhere to become the sixth seed as the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens (Baltimore to the Bengals) threw away playoff berths. San Diego got theirs with those losses and by beating the Chiefs in Qualcomm Stadium in Week 17 in overtime.

Don’t tell that to Steelers fans though, they’ll tell you that they were robbed from being in the playoffs after, when Ryan Succop missed his field goal in the 4th quarter that would’ve clinched the game for the Chiefs (and a playoff berth for the Pittsburgh Steelers) a flag should’ve been thrown that would’ve allowed for a rekick.

Even the NFL admitted this.

Regardless, the Steelers were out and the Chargers were in—and on San Diego’s second possession of the game in the first quarter, they assumed a 7-0 on a short 5 yard run by Danny Woodhead. It would take a few possessions for the Bengals to finally tie the game, but they did as Dalton threw to Jermaine Gresham for four yards and a touchdown.

Dalton threw his first TD pass in the playoffs…the Realist sees progress!

Despite later in the quarter when Dalton threw to Giovani Bernard and he fumbled, that was recovered by Richard Marshall of the Chargers, no points were scored on that possession via TD or field goal.

Instead, the Bengals closed out the quarter with a 10-7 lead when on their last drive of the half, Mike Nugent had a 46 yard field goal.

Someone needed to tell the Bengals that football games end in two halves…and that 30 minutes does not equal a whole football game, because the rest of this one was all Chargers, all the time.

The first Chargers’ possession of the second half resulted in a Rivers’ TD pass to Lardarius Green to give San Diego the lead back at 14-10.

On the next Cincinnati drive, the Chargers defense didn’t just force a three and out, Cincinnati fumbled when Dalton ran for 12 yards, then turned the ball over and it was recovered by Jahleel Addae at the 46 yard line. The ensuing Chargers’ drive began in Bengals territory at the 46. Despite getting to their 6 yard line, Cincinnati had to settle for a Nick Novak field goal from 25 yards. 17-10 San Diego.

A pattern was developing…

The following Cincinnati Bengals possession would also last only three plays as Dalton was picked off by Shareece Wright on a pass intended for Mohamed Sanu. It was made at the Bengals’ 33 yard line and Wright nearly made it into a Pick 6 before being tackled at the 3 yard line.

The Chargers, again, had to settle for a Novak field goal, this one from 23 yards. 20-10 San Diego.

The Realist wonders if at Paul Brown Stadium, more turnovers were being served on the field by Cincinnati Bengals players that at the restaurants inside Paul Brown Stadium. The next Bengals’ drive concluded with a 1st and 10 from the Chargers’ 35 yard line, except Dalton padded his playoff INT stats with yet another pick—courtesy of Melvin Ingram on a pass intended for Tyler Eifert at the 32. No points were scored.

Until two San Diego possessions later, that is.

Two Chargers possessions after the last Dalton pick, Ronnie Brown, on a 2nd and 8 from the 42 yard line, went on a 58 yard run to the house. It was 27-10 Chargers with around three minutes left to play. The next destination for San Diego was the Mile High City of Denver where their AFC West division rival Broncos would await.

Rivers only went 12/16 for 128 passing yards and one touchdown. Ronnie Brown had eight carries for 77 yards and one touchdown. Woodhead also carried the rock 15 times for 54 yards…and one touchdown. Lardarius Green had three receptions for 34 yards and a TD reception. Eddie Royal also had one catch for 33 yards.

Dalton was 29/51 with 334 yards, one touchdown, and two picks in addition to rushing for 26 yards on five carries. Giovani Bernard—12 carries for 45 yards. Benjarvus Green-Ellis also carried for 42 yards on 8 rushing attempts. Marvin Jones—eight receptions for 130 yards. Bernard caught seven passes for 73 yards. Gresham had 64 receiving yards on seven receptions as well.

San Diego will play Denver in the Divisional Round of the playoffs next week. The Chargers already defeated the Broncos earlier this year. In fact, the Broncos are left in the playoffs in the AFC with the three teams they lost two this season—San Diego, Indianapolis, and New England.

Ice On The Field and In the Veins

Jan 5, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lambeau Field. San Francisco won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin certainly lived up to its nickname of The Frozen Tundra on Sunday afternoon for the Wild Card weekend. Temperatures were said to be only as high as 5 degrees, even though the original forecasts from the Wisconsin television stations had the high closer to 5 degrees below zero.

Typical Packers playoff weather, right? It wouldn’t be Lambeau Field in January without Arctic conditions. In fact, the press was already giving the “Ice Bowl II” and “Freezer Bowl” nicknames to 49ers/Packers this Wild Card weekend.

What is remarkable to many, the Realist included, is the idea that the Packers are even hosting a playoff game this week, despite not having Aaron Rodgers for half of the season. That alone shows you that the NFC North will likely be Green Bay’s to lose as long as #12 is wearing green and gold for the Pack. And it was only fitting that the play that got the Packers into the playoffs was a long TD throw from Rodgers to Randall Cobb—who both returned for the Packers for their NFC North deciding matchup at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears.

As for San Francisco, they appeared to be peaking at just the right time. They were on a hot streak just as they were making a run into the playoffs, including in Week 17 when they defeated the Arizona Cardinals to clinch a playoff spot and eliminate the Redbirds of the Desert.

Yeah, a nickname the Realist made up.

Prior to the game, the 49ers got a little bit of inspiration from someone who knows a little bit about winning championships.

Hint: Wooooo!

They brought in “Nature Boy” Ric Flair to deliver the pregame speech.

The so-called “experts” were split on who would be doing a postgame “strut” of victory as they were split between the cold weather conditions, Aaron Rodgers’ return, and the recent San Francisco hot streak.

Early on, the Packers’ offense looked as if Mother Nature was hitting them in the chest with knife-edge chops. (Wait, aren’t the Packers supposed to be a cold weather team? A dome was not part of the Lambeau renovations this previous offseason.)

They struggled to move the ball for much of the first half. The first 49ers possession got them to the Packers’ 4 yard line, in which they scored 3 via a Phil Dawson field goal from 23 yards out. 3-0 49ers.

The Niner defense forced a Green Bay three and out, then went back to work on their next drive, that also got them deep into Packer territory. It only resulted, though, in another Dawson field goal—this one from 27 yards out. 6-0 San Francisco.

The first three Packers’ possessions were all three and outs. Then, when San Francisco got deep into Green Bay territory once again, a Colin Kaepernick pass that was intended for Vernon Davis was picked off by Tramon Williams at the 13 yard line and returned to the 30.

Williams’ pick served as an alarm clock for the Green Bay offense as Rodgers eventually found Jordy Nelson in the end zone from 5 yards out to score the Packers’ first touchdown of the game. 7-6 Packers.

Green Bay’s advantage would be short lived as the Niners would retake the lead on their next possession when Frank Gore went for 10 yards and a touchdown. 13-7 49ers.

It appeared that it was how the half would end when Rodgers was intercepted by Eric Reid on a pass intended for Andrew Quarless at the 49ers’ 46 yard line. But the Niners were flagged for an offsides penalty, and the Packers’ maintained possession, resulting in a 34 yard field goal from Mason Crosby as time expired for the quarter. 13-10 San Francisco.

It would remain that way throughout the third quarter as zero points were scored by either team, in what was appearing to be a defensive struggle. That changed in the fourth.

Green Bay’s last drive of the third quarter, went over into the fourth, that eventually saw them retake the lead on a one yard run play to John Kuhn. 17-13 Packers.

The last two possessions of the game for the 49ers displayed exactly how Colin Kaepernick defeated Green Bay last year in the playoffs as well—with both his arm and his legs. San Francisco retook the lead at 20-17 on a Kaepernick pass to Vernon Davis for 28 yards and a touchdown.

The Packers tied it on their next possession via Crosby’s second field goal of the game—this one from 24 yards out. 20 all.

Kaepernick put Green Bay’s defensive issues on display in their final possession of the game. In addition, the 49ers managed to milk all five minutes and change off the clock. It was setting up nicely for a game winning 33 yard field goal from Dawson to set up San Francisco for a Divisional playoff game in Carolina against Cam Newton and the Panthers the following weekend. 49ers won 23-20.

Dare, the Realist say, Kaepernick put the Packers in a figure four leglock.

Kaepernick was 16/30 for 227 yards passing, one touchdown, and one interception. He was also their leading rusher with 98 rushing yards on seven carries. Frank Gore, the more conventional runner, had 66 yards on 20 carries. Their leading receiver—Michael Crabtree with 8 receptions and 125 yards.

Rodgers was 17/26 with 177 yards, and one touchdown. Eddie Lacy had 81 yards on 21 carries, most of which where it took nearly the entire 49ers team to finally bring him down. Nelson caught seven passes for 61 yards and one TD. Randall Cobb also had 50 yards on two receptions.

Can San Francisco continue its winning ways? Can they do so against the Panthers, who also have been noticeably hot as of late? Something must give in Carolina next week, where these two teams are strikingly similar.