Tag:Aaron Rodgers
Posted on: January 16, 2011 11:25 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 11:30 pm
 

Packers-Bears sets the stage for epic NFC finale

Posted by Will Brinson



Unfortunately for NFL fans, the NFC divisional round games weren't entirely compelling -- Green Bay pantsed Atlanta on Saturday and the Bears beat the Seahawks 35-24 Sunday in a game that seemed to last approximately 43 hours and, cliche aside, wasn't nearly as compelling as the scoreboard might indicate.

Fortunately for FOX executives, people still love football, and ratings probably weren't bad. Also fortunate for them: the Bears and Packers will meet in Chicago for the NFC Championship, and likely provide an unbelievably compelling matchup.

You see, despite being bitter division rivals who play twice a season, Green Bay and Chicago aren't exactly familiar postseason foes. Back in 1941, the Bears beat the Packers 33-14 in their only playoff meeting ever.

Obviously, the stakes -- a chance to play in the Super Bowl -- couldn't possibly be higher and the lack of postseason history only escalates what should be a pretty stout matchup.

The Packers, oddly enough, are favored by three points for a game that will be played in Chicago -- that probably has as much to do with their obliteration of Atlanta and current hot streak that Green Bay's riding. Chicago just doesn't get as much credit for whipping their opponent because that opponent happened to be the clearly overmatched Seahawks.



However, nothing from this season (the teams split the series with the Packers outscoring the Bears 27-23 and Chicago playing its starters through the fourth quarter in Week 17 despite clinching the second seed already) or previous seasons (the all-time series is tied 92-83-6) should give the world any reason to think this won't be one of the most compelling championship games in recent history.

Neither team has a whole lot of historical trepidation hanging around their respective franchise (like, say, the Cubs or something), but both Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers still have "something to prove" in the minds of many. Making it to a Super Bowl would at least move the rhetoric about their careers to the debate involving the finality of the "big game."

And while Cutler's prone to make mistakes, there's no question when he's on, he's REALLY on -- as Clark Judge wrote earlier, the "Good Jay" is ridiculously good -- and the same goes for Rodgers, who put in one of the all-time great playoff performances against Atlanta on Saturday.

Both defenses clearly bring an elite level of play, which means there's no reason to think the first postseason matchup between these rivals in over 70 years will end in anything other than an exciting finale.

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Posted on: January 16, 2011 5:05 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 6:13 pm
 

Matthews makes fans dream come true

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

UPDATE (5:12 p.m.):
The video on WBAY.com is no longer available. Which is, um, interesting.

Since it’s hard – not to mention slightly unfair – to pass judgment on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in the video below, we’ve chosen instead to highlight the decentness of LB Clay Matthews.

In this video taken by WBAY, (H/T to Pro Football Talk for the link) the TV station runs a package of the Packers arriving at the airport for their flight to Atlanta for Saturday’s Falcons game.

One of the fans were there waiting for autographs was an older woman wearing a pink “breast cancer” Packers hat who, herself, is fighting cancer. She told the interviewing reporter how much she wanted an autograph from Rodgers, who then blew right by her without so much as glancing at her.

But we won’t judge. We don’t know how the video was edited. We don’t know if he simply didn’t see her. We don’t know if he was talking to somebody on the phone (with ear buds on). So, we won’t take this opportunity to blast Rodgers.

Instead, check out the reaction from Matthews as he enters the airport and walks right over to her to meet her and sign an autograph. It is, one supposes, what you want out of the athletes who play for your favorite team.

Here's Rodgers' supposed snub:



And Matthews being a good guy:



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Posted on: January 15, 2011 11:38 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 12:00 am
 

Everyone's ready to say Rodgers is elite, right?

Posted by Will Brinson



Mercifully, thankfully, the world can stop complaining about Aaron Rodgers's resumé; after dismantling the Falcons in Atlanta (to the tune of 48-21), everyone can officially hold a call him "elite" and -- finally! -- fawn over him publicly.

Wins are important in football, of course. And playoff wins are even more important. But you simply can't judge a quarterback -- in his third year as a starter, no less -- based entirely on his won-loss record in the postseason.

Particularly when it's 0-1.

That's what the world's done with Rodgers, though. For some ridiculous reason (it involves either his draft position or having to follow Brett Favre in Green Bay), he's never garnered the respect that his talent deserves. At least until now.

Even if the Packers lose the NFC Championship game to the winner of Chicago/Seattle, there's no question that Rodgers has arrived. His 10 touchdown passes are the most of all-time for an NFL quarterback in his first three playoff games.

Given the way he took the Dirty Birds out to the proverbial woodshed -- an absolutely bananas 31/36, 366 yards, 3 TD performance -- in the ATL, you'd either have to be Stevie Wonder (blind) or Skip Bayless (blindly stubborn) to argue that Rodgers isn't elite. Oh, and humble, and funny, and ridiculously talented to boot.

"It was one of those nights," Rodgers said, grinning, after the game. "Guys made big plays, I felt like I was in the zone, I was able to escape a couple of times, keep drives going -- we didn't punt all night.

"It was a fun night."

Unless you're the Falcons anyway. Speaking of which -- there's good news for people who enjoy badgering really talented quarterbacks! Matt Ryan's now 0-2 in the playoffs. Which means that we can officially start questioning his legacy, even though he's only three years into his career. (He didn't play well against the Pack, but Atlanta inexplicably abandoned a good gameplan -- give the ball to Michael Turner and throw it short to Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White -- for something that involved either throwing deep or just not holding onto the ball.)

But back to Rodgers. This guy -- to coin a phrase from Jon Gruden -- is one terrible defense away from being 3-0 in the playoffs. This guy's 78 yards short of starting his career with three-straight 4,000 yard seasons. This guy's got 86 touchdowns and 31 interceptions as a starter. And this guy is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL.

No, but seriously, he is. And you can worry about debating that if/when he wins a title in 2010.

For now, it's important to note that Green Bay was a 8/10 on third downs with Rodgers in the game, and while Mike McCarthy definitely deserves some love for his playcalling, there were numerous times when Rodgers was about to get sacked on third-and-long, evaded a blitzer or rusher and took momentum for a rollercoaster ride by hitting either Jordy Nelson or James Jones with a laser for a(nother) backbreaking first down.

That's the crazy thing too -- all due respect to Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, who are both very, very talented, but you get the feeling that the Packers could do what they do even if Nelson and Jones were their top two options.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out exactly why that is, either.

It's Aaron Rodgers. And while he probably "arrived" the day he took the starting reins in Green Bay, Saturday night offered an unnecessary, but official, coronation for Rodgers as one of the game's best.

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Posted on: January 13, 2011 1:59 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2011 9:37 am
 

Falcons vs. Packers: 7-Point Divisional Preview

Posted by Will Brinson



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. Green Bay Packers (No. 6, NFC, 11-6) @  Atlanta Falcons (No. 1, NFC, 13-3)

in a week that features two unbelievably potent AFC rivalries, the NFC might actually sport the most compelling rematch when the Packers return to the ATL to try and avenge a 20-17 Week 12 loss . At the time, that game was considered a preview of the NFC Championship, and this time around, nothing's changed, except the two teams are meeting earlier than expected.

The difference in that first tilt essentially hinged on two plays -- an Aaron Rodgers fumble on the one-yard line and a fourth-down conversion during the ensuing drive for Atlanta. Things play out differently if the reverse of each play occurs, of course, but that was a 14-point swing that dramatically altered the outcome of the game. What makes things interesting is that this time around, the Packers have, theoretically, enough of a running game to potentially avoid Rodgers playing the role of "leading rusher" for Green Bay, and, perhaps, a devastating turnover.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



For a minute, I started photoshopping three Mora heads. Then I watched the highlights from the first time these teams met, listened to the video below, and frankly, it's just too good of a matchup not to be worth more. Only the potential AFC overshadow factor keeps it from the full five.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Packers front seven vs. Michael Turner

In 2010, the Falcons went undefeated when Michael Turner (or Jason Snelling, if you want to include their 41-7 whupping of Arizona in Week 2) crossed the 100-yard rushing mark. When Turner rushed for less than 75 yards, they went 3-3, with one of those victories being the meaningless-by-halftime Week 17 game against the Panthers.  The other two sub-75 victories were by a total of 7 points, against San Francisco and Baltimore. In the Falcons three losses, Turner didn't total 100 yards combined

So to say that the rushing game is important for the Falcons is mildly understating things. Against Green Bay the first time, Turner ripped off three runs of 14 yards or more (and a slew of five-plus-yard runs) en route to a 4.8 yards per carry average (his season YPC was 4.1). 

The Packers can't blitz as much as they might against a team with a less, um, traditional offensive set -- Atlanta's old-school run game (two tight ends, big backfields) doesn't present a whole lot of holes where Dom Capers can send attackers, and Mike Mularkey specializes in deflecting the brunt of tacklers to give Turner room to work.

Additionally, Turner getting his motor running keep Matt Ryan from having to force things and opens up the Falcons ability to exploit Tony Gonzalez' receiving talents against an increasingly run-wary (and weary) group of linebackers. 

In other words, if Green Bay manages to limit the run game even somewhat substantially, their odds of strolling out of the Georgia Dome with a win increase exponentially.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

The people involved in this game aren't exactly old-school players (although Atlanta's style might be), but they're not new-school fools either. But if you like fish n' grits and all that, well, do you know what I am saying? (NSFW lyrics may apply if you click play. You'll also likely be fired if you keep throwing your hands in the air and waving them like you don't care. Please be warned.)



5. The Packers will win if ...

If Aaron Rodgers can grow up and leave less than 56 seconds on the clock when the Packers score for the last time in the game. I kid, I kid. The Packers need to match Atlanta's ability to sustain drives by incorporating the running game (thereby opening up the passing game) before taking some shots downfield. Oh, and stop the run and force Matt Ryan to make mistakes. It's really that simple. 

6. The Falcons will win if ...

They can limit big plays from the Packers passing game and get Turner over the magic 100-yard mark. Him hitting that high number means there's some salting-away of the clock and/or long, sustained drives going on, and that's good news for Atlanta.

7. Prediction: Falcons 23, Packers 20


Posted on: January 12, 2011 12:44 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2011 12:47 pm
 

Hot Routes 1.12.11 coaches fighting SNOW!?

Hot Routes


Posted by Andy Benoit

Former Bengals bust Peter Warrick is joining Cincinnati Commandos, an indoor football club where, we believe, all the players eschew underwear.


The unattractive Seahawks-Bears matchup (unattractive by divisional round playoff standards) is hurting ticket brokers in Chicago.


In his introductory press conference, Ron Rivera said the Panthers defense would remain a 4-3. (Rivera ran a 3-4 in San Diego but a 4-3 in Chicago.)


Bucs special teams coach Rich Bisaccia is jumping ship to San Diego. The Bucs replaced him with former fringe journeyman Dwayne Stukes.


Because of the snow in Atlanta, Mike Smith and some of his colleagues have turned the Falcons’ Flowery Branch headquarters into their personal residence.


Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter touted his head coaching experience during his interview with the Broncos. (The former Boise State head coach is obviously familiar with leading a Broncos team.)


Aaron Rodgers, who notched his first playoff win this past Sunday, said there never was a monkey on his back.


The Raiders are holding one of their near-annual head coaching searches.


After Drew Brees won it last year, Matt Hasselbeck is looking to take the “Best Postgame Celebration Photo With Your Kid” title for 2011.


Vernon Davis would love for Donovan McNabb to be a 49er.


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Posted on: January 10, 2011 1:01 pm
 

NFL Wild Card Podcast Review

Posted by Will Brinson

This past weekend was one of most exciting wild-card weekends in NFL history.

But was it the most exciting? That's one of the questions Andy and I answer in this week's podcast review. We also debate whether or not Seattle fans should be sending such vitriolic emails, where Marshawn Lynch's powerful scamper ranks in the pantheon of all-time single runs, just how impressive Dom Capers' defense was Sunday, whether Jim Caldwell's seat should be hot, how clutch Mark Sanchez really is, and whether or not we should have seen the Ravens pummeling of the Chiefs coming.

All that (plus much,  much more) -- just hit the play button below and don't forget to Subscribe via iTunes.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .
Posted on: January 10, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: January 11, 2011 1:32 pm
 

10 Divisonal Round Stories Worth Your Attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. Goofy scheduling?

We can only hope that the divisional round is half as exciting as the wild card was. The NFL keeps the at-home viewer first in mind when scheduling the playoff games. But is that fan-friendly outlook coming at the expense of fairness to teams?

The schedule, which was set before the postseason began, looks like this: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh Saturday 4:30 p.m.; Green Bay @ Atlanta Saturday 8 p.m.; Seattle @ Chicago Sunday 1 p.m.; New York @ New England Sunday 4:30 p.m.

Because of when the wild card games occurred, Baltimore and Green Bay both have a six-day week ahead of them, while Seattle and New York get an eight-day week.

The NFL used to wait for the outcome of wild card games before determining the divisional round schedule (some might remember that in the ’02 postseason Bill Cowher was irked because the league gave the Steelers a Saturday divisional game after a Sunday wild card game while the bigger market Jets got a Sunday divisional game after their Saturday wild card contest).

If the Ravens or Packers wanted to raise a stink about the scheduling, they would have a legitimate argument. But the counter argument would also be legit. That counter argument? Television has made the NFL a cash cow. If coaches and players like being millionaires, they can deal with mild scheduling inconsistencies.


Baltimore Ravens (No. 5 seed; 13-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 2 seed; 12-4)


T. Suggs (US Presswire)2. R
aven D playing Ravenesque D

It’s tempting -– and rational –- to opine that the Kansas City Chiefs looked every bit like the young, untested playoff team it was Sunday. This was especially true offensively. Matt Cassel completed 9/18 passes for 70 yards and three interceptions. And, aside from a handful of impressive first half bursts from Jamaal Charles, Kansas City’s top-ranked rushing attack was unimpactful.

That said, Sunday’s game was more a case of the Ravens winning than the Chiefs losing.  Only three of Kansas City’s turnovers were relevant. All three of them were forced by Ravens defenders. The two fumbles resulted from scrawny finesse players getting blown up by thundering hits (Terrence Cody on Charles, Ray Lewis on Dexter McCluster). Cassel’s lone costly interception was a product of Dwan Landry lurking from his centerfield spot (earlier, Cassel’s first pick wound up netting a positive gain for the Chiefs because during his run back, Ravens rookie Haruki Nakamura fumbled while foolishly acquiescing to Ed Reed’s request for a lateral).

It wasn’t just the turnovers. Baltimore’s best linebacker, Terrell Suggs, and the rest of the front seven swarmed the Chiefs backfield all afternoon (Cassel was sacked three times, hit six and hurried umpteen). When the Ravens weren’t blitzing, their secondary, unafraid of a Kansas City receiving corps that boasted midweek free agent pickup Kevin Curtis as its No. 2 starter, sat in a zone and enjoyed free ball-hawking reign.

Expect defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to shy away from that zone concept against Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger is simply too dangerous when he bides time. But also expect Mattison to stay in attack-mode with his front seven, as the Steelers’ makeshift offensive line has struggled with blitz recognition at times this season.



R. Rice (US Presswire)3. Best rivalry in football
?

It’s hard to argue against Steelers-Ravens currently being the best rivalry in the NFL. Colts-Patriots is great, but aside from playoff time, those matchups have not always carried huge implications. The plethora of NFC East rivalries are fun but tend to wash each other out. The AFC West teams don’t like each other, but who cares? Bears-Packers is great rivalry from an all-time perspective, but currently, it’s only average because this is the first time since 2001 that both teams have reached the postseason.

The Ravens and Steelers, on the other hand, have been fistfighting for AFC North division titles for most of the past seven years. Their last six regular season matchups have been decided by four points or less (the Steelers have won four). In ’08, Pittsburgh beat Baltimore 23-14 in the AFC Championship. In Pittsburgh’s previous Super Bowl year (’05) they beat Baltimore 20-19 on Halloween and 16-13 in overtime in November.

These games have been like prize fights – most of which have been decided with 12th-round knockouts.



New York Jets (No. 6 seed, 12-5) @ New England Patriots (No. 1 seed, 14-2)


4. Or is THIS the best rivalry?

It depends if you view NFL coaches and players as athletic competitorsR. Ryan (US Presswire) or entertainers. Football-wise, Patriots-Jets is good but not great. The Patriots embarrassed the Jets 45-3 in the last meeting, though Rex Ryan’s Jets had won two of three before that.

It’s Rex Ryan’s personality that has given this rivalry most of its juice as of late. Months after getting his first head coaching job, Ryan famously said “I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s, you know, rings.” Just recently, Ryan complimented Peyton Manning’s work ethic by taking a jab at Tom Brady’s.

Garrulous as Ryan is, it’s that other coach -- the cranky, taciturn one -- that built the foundation for this rivalry. Recall that long before all the Eric Mangini handshake drama, Belichick was Bill Parcells’ top assistant with the Jets (’97-’99). He was nabbed as the Tuna’s successor in 2000 but announced his resignation during his introductory press conference. Shortly after that, he wound up in New England (the Jets received the Patriots’ first-round draft choice in exchange).



5. New York’s unheralded defensive lineman

Defensive end Shaun Ellis is the longest-tenured Jet (11 seasons). Aside from 14-year veteran Trevor Pryce, injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins is the most recognized name along the defensive line. Backup Vernon Gholston is the next most recognized name, but only because the former No. 6 overall pick has been a monumental bust.

The most important name on New York’s three-man line this Sunday, however, will be Mike Devito. The fourth-year pro from Maine was the primary reason that Indy’s recently-surging rushing attack was stifled Saturday night. It’s a shame there wasn’t a way for Devito’s constant penetration and destruction of interior blocking schemes to show up next to his six tackles in the box score.

The Patriots are pass-first team, though they fed BenJarvus Green-Ellis the rock at least 18 times in six of the team’s final eight games. They have the talent to block Devito -- Logan Mankins has been the most dominant left guard in football since Thanksgiving and left tackle Matt Light has some of the best feet in the game -- but every team has the talent to block the former undrafted free agent. Matching Devito’s energy and tenacity is a different challenge.



Green Bay Packers (No. 6 seed, 11-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (No. 1 seed, 13-3)


6. That Packer defenseB. Raji (US Presswire)

Second week in a row the Packer defense has been highlighted here. Did you see the job this unit did on Philadelphia’s explosive playmakers? Everyone, including Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, was expecting Dom Capers to blitz the daylights out of Michael Vick. Capers did so late in the second half, but for much of the game, he had superstar Swiss Army Knife Charles Woodson spy the quarterback. He dropped his linebackers into a safe zone coverage, which took away running lanes and Philly’s potent screen game. And, most surprisingly, Capers trusted that corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields could contain wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin -- which they did.

What gave Capers the confidence to burden his back seven with intense coverage assignments was knowing that Eagles right tackle Winston Justice -- who was eventually benched for King Dunlap -- could not handle Clay Matthews. (It’s curious that Philly did not slide protections and align help-blockers to the right side.) Capers also correctly figured that B.J. Raji would be too much for Philadelphia’s interior offensive line to handle.

Raji will be key in Green Bay’s next game, as Atlanta employs the purest downhill rushing attack the NFC has to offer. Michael Turner broke tackle after tackle en rout to 110 yards in Green Bay’s fruitless Week 12 visit to the Georgia Dome. To prevent a repeat performance, the Packers front seven will have to get stout and adjust from Reid’s speed-oriented West Coast sets to Mike Mularkey’s power-oriented two-back, two-tight end formations.



7. Coming out party

As was suggested late last week, the Packers found a new backfield weapon in James Starks Sunday afternoon. The sixth-round rookie may be a star in the making (only time, or another 100-yard rushing performance, will tell) but the story heading into Saturday night is the man under center. Same goes for the Falcons.
M. Ryan (US Presswire)
No matter what happens Saturday, an indisputable star will be born. Or, more accurately, baptized. Either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan is going to lead his team to a conference title game. Both are stars already, though without celebrated postseason success, the only observers who truly appreciate the young flamethrowers’ greatness are those who study film for a living or those harbor a marriage-jeopardizing passion for fantasy football.

The national notoriety these two quarterbacks receive is not quite commensurate with their level of skill. This is especially true for the 25-year-old Ryan, who will be looking to do what the 27-year-old Rodgers just did: win his first playoff game (prior to 2010, both men had 0-1 postseason records, courtesy of the Cardinals).

Ryan and Rodgers will come away as majestically illuminated stars if their performance matches the one both gave when their teams squared off in Week 12. In that game Rodgers, who threw for 344 yards, tied the score at 17 with a 10-yard touchdown strike to Jordy Nelson with 56 seconds to play. But following that, one of Eric Weems’ many outstanding kick returns wound up giving Atlanta the ball at the 49 with 47 seconds to play. From there, Matty Ice calmly completed passes of nine, four, four and three yards to set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal.

Rodgers and Ryan have a similar skill set. Rodgers offers slightly better arm strength and scrambling speed, while Ryan plays with slightly more fluidity and fundamental integrity. Both will be a blast to watch, one will take that “next step” in the eyes of fans.



Seattle Seahawks (No. 4 seed, 8-9) @ Chicago Bears (No. 2 seed, 11-5)


8. Mea Culpa (sorta)

M. Lynch (US Presswire)

I have received harsh emails from two different fan bases this season: Chicago’s and Seattle’s. Bears fans called me out early in the season for saying their team’s success was a mirage; Seahawks fans called me out late last week for saying their team didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs

To Bears fans: I’m more than happy to admit I was wrong. I incorrectly believed Mike Martz would be unwilling to compensate for Chicago’s shoddy offensive line by altering his complex offensive system. Martz was shrewd in the way he employed help blockers into his pass protections and he showed admirable humility (and sensibility) in substituting a few passes for runs.

To Seahawk fans: sorry, no mea culpa here. And no mea culpa is on the way, either. Even if the Seahawks go on to win the Super Bowl, it won’t change the fact that they did not deserve to be in the postseason in the first place. I know, I know, the rules state that a division champion gets a playoff spot. So, from a technical standpoint, Seahawk fans are right when they say their team deserved to be in. But it’s a flawed system when a sub-.500 team plays in the tourney while a pair of 10-6 teams (Bucs and Giants) sit home.

Divisions are cyclical -- I get that. That’s why I’m fine with a 9-7 division champ – and maybe even an 8-8 division champ -- beating out a 10-6 non-division champ for a playoff berth. But when you talk about a losing record getting in? Sorry, the math is too ugly at that point.

Unfortunately, because the Seahawks upset the Saints (again, a well-deserved win, as Seattle clearly outclassed New Orleans on Saturday), the NFL probably won’t amend the playoff rule by establishing an eight-win minimum. If this is the case, the league will be putting too much emphasis on the postseason and not enough emphasis on the regular season. That may sound silly, but look at what an uphill battle this kind of distortion has given the NBA.

All this being said, Seahawk fans, this is your time. Make no apologies for your team. Keep gloating and boasting. And keep sending harsh emails with words like moron, idiot, loser and jackass in the subject line to any sportswriter who criticizes your club’s postseason presence. Seriously -- that’s part of what being a fan is all about. All I ask is that if you were one of the fans who, before Week 17, said that you’d prefer to see Seattle lose to St. Louis and maintain a top 10 draft position, you at least refrain from sending your hate email in all caps (some things should be left for only the true fans).


9. No extended bathroom breaks
D. Hester (US Presswire)
Better stay in the room when specials teams units take the field this Sunday. For the first time in modern NFL postseason history, we have a kick returner with three touchdowns on the season (Leon Washington) facing a punt returner with three touchdowns on the season (Devin Hester). Washington’s contributions are remarkable; midway through last season, the then-New York Jet suffered what appeared to be a career-ending broken leg. Hester has also had a resurrection in 2010, though granted, he was never injured. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in non-defensive touchdown returns, but prior to Week 3 of this season, Hester had not scored a return touchdown since 2007.

10. Quick Hits: what went wrong for the wild card losers

  • New Orleans’ sixth-ranked ’09 ground game dropped to 28th in ’10 and proved problematic down the stretch. Of course, the ground game had nothing to do with the plethora of missed tackles and blown coverages at Seattle.
  • Peyton Manning’s genius was not quite enough to overcome Indianapolis’ copious injuries (yours truly turned out to be wrong about that one). By the way, did you happen to catch Reggie Wayne’s quote after the loss? After Darrelle Revis held him to one catch for one yard Saturday night, Wayne told Mike Chapell of the Indianapolis Star, “It's bull. It's bull, man. I give everything I've got no matter what. Every day, I give it everything. And . . . one ball, that's all. I shouldn't have even suited up. I should have watched the game like everybody else. I was irrelevant."
  • Chiefs rookie safety Eric Berry looked every bit like the No. 5 overall pick Sunday. Berry – like Seattle’s first-round rookie safety Earl Thomas, in fact – might have a little learning to do, but athletically, he’s outstanding.
  • With the offense regressing in the final weeks of the season, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Eagles use a franchise tag on Michael Vick, rather than invest a long-term contract in the 30-year-old. Vick’s vulnerable health and inconsistent decision-making (wild card game aside) might give a few people in that organization a bit of pause.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Posted on: January 9, 2011 8:45 pm
Edited on: January 9, 2011 9:35 pm
 

Packers have (gasp) a running game (VIDEO)

J. Starks had a breakout game vs. Philadelphia (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With their win vs. the Bears in Week 17, the Packers established themselves as the “non division winner nobody in the NFC wants to face in the playoffs.” Tonight, they showed you why.

Aaron Rodgers continued to establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league – if you had to pick between Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning to lead your offense, that would be a tough choice at this point – and the Packers are tough on defense (Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, et al).

But here’s the scariest part about Green Bay. The Packers now apparently have a running game. And with a running game, they very well might be the best team in the NFC.

Funny, they haven’t had one of those for most of the year. After Ryan Grant was lost in the season-opener, Packers fans have been subject to watching Brandon Jackson be rather mediocre and John Kuhn try to convert himself from a fullback into more of a tailback (Kuhn has been pretty decent, actually).

But with the emergence of rookie RB James Starks, the Packers become that much more dangerous, because they take less pressure off Rodgers and because they make the play-action pass that much more effective.

Here's Rodgers talking about his running game:



Against the Eagles, Starks carried 23 times for 127 yards, including a key first down late in the fourth quarter that kept Green Bay’s last drive alive for another three plays, and behind that performance, Rodgers threw for three touchdowns. And think about this: Starks only played THREE games in the regular season (he was on the physically unable to perform list for much of the year). Most notably, he had 18 carries for 73 yards in Week 13 vs. the 49ers, but then he only played once in the next three games.

After tonight, I doubt he will be absent again.

So why hasn’t he been playing lately? Well, there have been whispers about his practice habits. Not necessarily his work ethic, but about what he actually accomplishes while at practice.

"Keep in mind this is a young kid who is still continuing to grow and continuing to develop," Packers running backs coach Edgar Bennett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week. "Each and every one of our backs, they have a role and when their number is called they'll jump in and respond. He certainly has all the capabilities of being (an every-down back). He's talented."

Yes, we saw that tonight.

And now the Falcons have to figure out a way to stop him. The last time these two squads faced off – in Week 12 with Atlanta needing a last-second field goal to pull out the victory – Green Bay’s running game was obsolete. Jackson carried the ball 10 times for 26 yards (actually, Rodgers led all rushers with 51 yards), and the Packers passing game was what led them to their near win.

Now, Green Bay has Starks, and he might just be the difference.

That's what the Eagles will tell you, anyway.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com