PITTSBURGH STEELERS 31, BALTIMORE RAVENS 24
The Steelers appeared to be on the ropes at halftime as the Ravens turned a pair of turnovers into touchdowns and a 21-7 lead. But the Steel Curtain showed up in the second half, generating three turnovers of its own that led directly to 17 points. No shock that this one hinged on the defenses as the teams combined for 106 rushing yards. At least Rashard Mendenhall (20-46-2, 1-13 receiving) rewarded his fantasy owners with a pair of touchdown plunges that bookended the scoring. Ben Roethlisberger (19-32-226-2) constituted the remainder of the offense, with only Aaron Brown (3-75) topping 55 receiving yards—and the bulk of that coming on his huge 58-yard reception that set up the game-winning score.
Things looked pretty good for Baltimore in the first half, with Ray Rice (12-32-1, 7-32 receiving) and Todd Heap (3-43-1) accounting for the bulk of the damage. And that was pretty much it for the Ravens’ offense, as they amassed just 28 net yards and a field goal after halftime. It would be easy to blame Joe Flacco (16-30-125-1-1 plus a lost fumble), but he received little help from his receivers; Anquan Boldin (one catch for negative-two yards) dropped a touchdown pass and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (3-38) let a fourth-down pass bounce right between the “8” and the “4” on his jersey as the Ravens were driving for a tying score.
FANTASY IMPACT: If not for a misguided holding call the Ravens DST would have produced a pair of scores; after a season of looking old, that’s the unit consistently perched atop the fantasy rankings. As for Baltimore’s offseason attempts to upgrade its receiving corps, Derrick Mason was held catchless while both Boldin and Housh gagged at crunch time. Maybe it’s back to the drawing board this offseason. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, looked remarkably deep at the pass-catching positions. Old standbys Hines Ward (3-25-1) and Heath Miller (5-39-1) scored, but while Mike Wallace (3-20, though he drew a long interference penalty that set up the first score) was quiet Brown and Emmanuel Sanders (4-54) more than stepped up in his place.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 48, ATLANTA FALCONS 21
You can’t play a much better game than Aaron Rodgers (31-36-366-3, 2-13-1 rushing) did; if not for an early Greg Jennings (8-101) fumble and a late Mason Crosby missed field goal, the Packers may have scored every time they touched the ball. Rodgers got all four wideouts involved; in addition to Jennings’ output, Donald Driver (6-76) had a solid outing while both Jordy Nelson (8-79-1) and James Jones (4-75-1) found the end zone in addition to rolling up decent yardage.
Things started so well for the Falcons: they forced a turnover, capitalized on the short field with a Michael Turner (10-39-1) touchdown, even answered Green Bay’s subsequent score with a kickoff return touchdown to retake the lead. Then things went horribly awry: Matt Ryan (20-29-186-1-2) threw a pick in the end zone, then threw a pick six as time expired in the first half to send Atlanta into the locker room down 28-14. Turner touched the ball just once in the second half, the Falcons had the ball for less than four minutes in the third quarter, and they coughed up any chance at getting back into the game with two fourth-quarter fumbles.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Falcons are best when they dictate tempo, but with the running game taken off the table their three-legged table was wobbly. Didn’t help that Roddy White (6-57-1) was quiet, outperformed by Michael Jenkins (6-67) and nearly equaled by Brian Finneran (4-47)—or that Tony Gonzalez (1-7) was a non-factor before exiting with an injury. If there’s any skill position help the Falcons need to pursue this offseason, it’s clearly in the complementary receiver area. While James Starks (25-66) touched the ball much more than Brandon Jackson (1-13, 1-7 receiving), all his 2.6 yards per carry did was eat clock; John Kuhn (2-5-1, 2-14-1 receiving) stole the red zone thunder. With the backfield so fractured and the Packers still clearly Rodgers’ show, those banking on Starks to emerge as a serious fantasy factor are bound to be greatly disappointed.
CHICAGO BEARS 35, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 24
Right up until the misguided decision to let Matt Forte (25-80, 3-54 receiving) throw a pass—which was picked off and led directly to Seattle’s first touchdown—the Bears were playing an almost perfect offensive game. Forte and Chester Taylor (11-44-1) combined for 124 rushing yards, complementing the passing and running of Jay Cutler (15-28-274-2, 8-43-2 rushing). Cutler all but eschewed his wideouts, with Greg Olsen’s 3-113-1 accounting for much of his total and fellow tight end Kellen Davis (2-42-1) snaring his other scoring strike. All told, only 65 of Cutler’s 274 yards went to wide receivers, paced by Johnny Knox’s 4-48.
By the time Matt Hasselbeck (26-46-258-3) started throwing touchdowns in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late. The running game was non-existent, and Chicago’s physical corners held Seattle’s receivers in check for most of the afternoon. Eventually Brandon Stokley (8-85-1) and Ben Obomanu (4-68) got open, but it was after the outcome had been decided.
FANTASY IMPACT: Mike Williams (4-15-2) may have had the softest two-TD outing in playoff history. Just prior to his first score he had been manhandled by Charles Tillman, absolutely giving up on a fade route. Two plays later he found himself matched against the Bears’ nickel back instead and he found the end zone. His second score came when he again gave up on a route; this time Tillman tipped the ball and a fortunate bounce saw it land in Williams’ hands. Obviously, not every team can press Williams like the Bears did, but as a marked receiver he’ll now be facing more aggressive coverage—and the book is clearly to get physical with him. Olsen’s strong showing is further proof of how Mike Martz has adapted his offense to fit the Bears’ personnel. You’d be hard-pressed to find the last time a Martz offense got three-fourths of its passing yardage from tight ends and running backs, but that’s where Chicago had the advantage so that’s where Cutler went. Dare we say both the stubborn Martz and the erratic Cutler are maturing?
NEW YORK JETS 28, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 21
It was a solid but not overwhelmingly impressive offensive showing from the Jets; however, coupled with a standout defensive performance, it was more than enough to take down the Patriots in Foxboro. While the running game was decent behind LaDainian Tomlinson (10-43, 2-2-1 receiving) and Shonn Greene (17-76-1, 1-9 receiving), it was key big plays by each of the Jets’ wideouts that clinched the win. Mark Sanchez (16-25-194-3) was efficient, helped tremendously by a 58-yard catch and run from Jerricho Cotchery (5-96), a fight to the end zone from Braylon Edwards (2-52-1), and an acrobatic touchdown grab from Santonio Holmes (3-20-1).
For the most part Tom Brady (29-45-299-2-1) had time to throw; he just had trouble finding someone to throw to. New England tried just about every trick in the book: seven different players carried the ball, including two wide receivers and safety Patrick Chung on a botched fake punt; eight different Patriots caught passes from Brady, four of them for more than 50 yards but none of them for more than 65. But after an opening drive that looked like a continuation of New England’s 45-3 regular season drubbing of the Jets ended with an errant Brady pass picked off and nearly returned for a touchdown, the Patriots seemed off kilter the rest of the game—and you have Rex Ryan’s defense to thank for that.
FANTASY IMPACT: With New England unable to get into an offensive rhythm, there was no standout fantasy contributor. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (9-43, 2-11 receiving) was upstaged by Danny Woodhead (14-46, 6-52 receiving)—and it was Sammy Morris who came on to tally the Patriots’ two-point conversion late in the third quarter. Rob Gronkowski (4-65) led the receiving corps, but Alge Crumpler (3-39-1) swiped his touchdown. Wes Welker (7-57), benched for the opening series for a foot-reference-laced interview earlier in the week, was harassed all day, as was Deion Branch (5-59-1). All put up okay numbers, but ultimately the Jets held them in check. The Jets added Edwards and Holmes for precisely what they provided Sunday: big plays in big games. Holmes has demonstrated a knack for making seemingly impossible end zone grabs, but Edwards’ not-to-be-denied bull rush to the end zone had to have Browns fans wondering where that was for the previous five years—if they could get over that he even caught the ball in the first place.