NFL Playoffs 2012: Saints Sizzle, Tim Tebow And The New Raji Dance

The Wild Card games lived up to their billing, as a somewhat erratic two-day football bash ended in wild fashion Sunday night. Luke Hughes breaks down Drew Brees record-setting day, the return of Tebowmania and the rest of the action.

The Wild Card name sure lived up to it's billing over the weekend, as a somewhat erratic two-day football bash ended in wild fashion on Sunday night.

Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, an 8.5-point underdog heading into their first round meeting with the Steelers on Sunday, demonstrated exactly why betting against God is never a good choice. The Tebow-led Broncos shocked football fans everywhere and demoralized Pittsburgh's 1st ranks defense with a 29-23 win.

So, aside from the fact that I went a meager 1 of 4 on my Wild Card Weekend predictions, this was one of the more entertaining Wild Card weekends in recent memory.

The scores may not reflect quite the quality of play on the whole, but in all honesty who could have foreseen a Falcons implosion of that magnitude or Tebow's unanticipated passing bonanza.

Anyhow, on with the analysis...

Tebowmania Returns

Tim Tebow, so hot right now.

The unorthodox quarterback/orthodox Baptist has been the main topic on most sports fans tongue for going on months now and naturally with Saturday's epic Mile High victory, there's truck loads more ‘Tebow Talk' on the way.

In his 23-game NFL career, Tim Tebow had but once thrown for more than 300-yards in a game -308 in Week 16 vs. Houston, 2010. As a matter of fact, that was the only time Tebow had ever even thrown for more than 236-yards in an outing.

Surprising, not really. Tebow is a skill-limited quarterback with the frame of tight end and the legs of a stallion. Essentially, Tim Tebow is a fullback with the option to throw the ball every now and again - not exactly the guy you're giving the ball to in the biggest game of the year.

But, as every band waggoner likes to exclaim at first criticism of the holier-than-holy Tebow, ‘he's a winner'. He somehow, someway finds a way to win football games and to appease the likes of his coach John Fox and Broncos' VP and Hall of Fame QB, John Elway.

It's unbelievable really, that a middling quarterback with limited arm strength and pedestrian accuracy is considered as the "savior" of a historic franchise. Yet, he is and even more unbelievable, he deserves it.

The truth is, Tim Tebow is never going to lead the NFL in completion percentage or passer rating, he's never going to break Drew Brees single-season passing mark or compete with Brady's 50 touchdown's in a season, but the 24-year-old produces exactly what any coach seeks from their starting quarterback - wins!

Saturday's effort wasn't another stroke of magic or defensive victory that was inadvertently credited to the young QB, Tebow legitimately earned that win for his team.

Sure, Demaryius Thomas sneaking away with the game winning 80-yard touchdown on the first play in overtime didn't hurt things, but Thomas and the Broncos were in that position because of Tebow's overall performance on Sunday. His 10-of-21 completions doesn't tell the story, his now career-high 316-yards passing is even a bit misleading, but it was Tebow's determination, precision passing (at times) and methodical approach to the game that ultimately gave Denver the chance to win.

-- As a side note, I find the fact that Tebow threw for 316 yards witha 31.6 yards-per-completion average and that his favorite Bible verse is John 3:16 to be rather freaky and or totally awesome. Anyone else? Anyone? Bueller? --

Alas.

I don't know how Tebow will fair in Foxborough come Saturday night, and it's almost needless to say at this point, but with Tebow under center the Broncos at least have a fighting chance... if not God in their corner.

Fourth And Inches

It's always annoyed me when analysts would discuss football using the phrase "it's a game of inches". But, Sunday's Meadowlands' Meltdown was a prime example of why even given my aggravation and the cliché nature of the phrase, it's too true to disregard.

Sunday afternoon's sleeper in New Jersey ultimately came down to three play calls, all on Fourth-and-inches.

Atlanta kicked off the day's theme on the first-play of the second quarter, as Falcons head coach Mike Smith decided to call a QB-sneak on a Fourth-and-maybe-1 play from the Giants 24-yard-line. Nope, Matt Ryan falls just shy on the dive and New York takes over.

Luckily for the Falcons, an errant Eli Manning pass resulted in an intentional grounding and was ruled a safety, giving Atlanta their only lead of the day at 2-0. But, that was where the scoring stopped for Atlanta.

It was on the Giants ensuing possession that the same type of 4th-and-inches call keyed New York's first score. Head Coach Tom Coughlin called a right-side lead dive for bulldozing tailback Brandon Jacobs, picking up 4 yards on the play and setting up the first of Manning's three touchdown passes on the day for a 7-2 Giants lead.

Midway through the 3rd quarter, Smith called for another sneak on 4th-and-inches with the Falcons down only 10-2, but yet again the Giants D snuffed out Ryan's dive and capitalized on the possession change three plays later, scoring on a 72-yard Manning to Nicks TD pass.

New York tossed 24-unanswered points on the board before the days was through, ending Atlanta's playoff hopes early yet again. And all the blame should fall squarely on Smith's shoulders.

Going for it on fourth down is always a risk and Smith is a gutsy coach with uber confidence in his players, all admirable qualities, but at some point sense has got to play a role in your job as a game manager.

If nothing else, can you at least run a different play than a sneak with your 6'3" athletically limited quarterback? It's as if Mike Smith believed that Matt Ryan were Cam Newton out there.

I love the ballsy play calling of Smith and the win or die attitude he brings every week, but to be honest guts-or-not they were bad calls. Taking the points on that first-drive should always be the priority, especially when you're sitting at 0-0 in the first half, and if you are going to go all-in a second time, then at least switch up the play call -- it didn't work the first time for a reason.

Now, the Giants get to visit Lambeau for the first time since their 2007 win on the road to im-perfecting the Patriots and winning Super Bowl XLII. Who knows, maybe the pieces are aligning for another championship run?

Texans Show Their D

Tied 10-10 with under a minute remaining in the first half, Andy Dalton snapped the ball from under center dropped deep into the pocket and tossed a lob ball up in the face of a defender. The Texan in his face: J.J. Watt; the result: a pick-6 and a momentum killer.

Watt was certainly a catalyst for the Texans defense on Saturday, finishing the day with not only a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown but he added in one of Houston's four sacks on the day as an added stroke of success on the Texans 31-10 win.

The Texans forced Dalton into three interceptions on the day and held Cincinnati's powerful rushing attack to just 76 yards, including 7 carries for 14 yards out of starting tailback Cedric Benson.

A game that going in was so hyped about quarterback experience, starting two rookies under center, and the polish of Dalton over Yates inabilities proved to be more a defensive demonstration than anything.

Given a healthy Matt Schaub starting at QB and the Texans may even be favorites heading into Baltimore this weekend, but if the Texans D shows out the way they did this weekend then the Ravens may be in for a world of trouble.

Saints March On

Sitting in the locker room with a 14-10 deficit on Saturday night, Drew Brees had to be steaming mad. The NFL's passing leader was being held in relative check by a mediocre Detroit secondary and the Saints were getting almost embarrassed in front of their home crowd by an opposing quarterback finishing just his first full NFL season.

Apparently the steam was all Brees needed to get New Orleans' offensive engine rolling again, as the quarterback went off for an all-time playoff-record 466 yards passing and three touchdowns, all coming during a record breaking 35-point second half.
In total, the Saints offense racked up an all-time playoff record - there seems to be a theme here - 626 total yards and Brees was certainly the leader, converting a fourth-and-1 from the Lions 38 with a ball-stretching leap over the pile en route to another Brees TD putting the Saints up 24-14.

The Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection on the afternoon - 380 yards of passing by Stafford and 211 yards receiving for Johnson -- is definitely nothing to scoff at. Simply put, Brees was just better.

The surgeon-like approach to Brees' game is awe-worthy. His pin-point accuracy is astonishing and given one-on-one coverage he's always going to beat you deep, it's honestly like clockwork watching him work his maestro magic.

Brees's game is as smooth as the jazz that fills the New Orleans streets and at this rate the band could be playing right on up to Indianapolis.

***
Player of the Week: Demariyus Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

There were plenty of praise worthy performances over the weekend but while the likes of Drew Brees and Tim Tebow stole the show, and most of the headlines, it was Tebow's favorite target that turned in the best performance on the weekend.

Thomas, a first-round pick in 2010 - taken 4 picks ahead of Tebow in fact - had struggled through his first two NFL seasons (54 catches and just 6 TDs total) and was starting to look like another physically gifted bust receiver. I was even beginning to wonder if Matt Millen had any influence on Denver's draft room that year.

But, Sunday's performance proved exactly why Thomas was so highly regarded coming out of Georgia Tech. The 6'3" 230-pound monster managed just 4 reception on the day but lit up the stat sheet with 204 yards receiving and an 80-yard touchdown catch on the first play of overtime to clinch the win for the Broncos.

If I'm the New England Patriots, I'm definitely re-watching the game footage from Week 15, especially given Thomas already lit up the Pats secondary for 7 catches and 116 yards.

"Oh, What a night!"

Now, that line's not just the most memorable quote from any Frankie Valli and the Four Season's song but it's definitely a great way to encapsulate Thomas's impressive coming out party on Sunday.

Performance To Forget: Atlanta Falcons

2 points. Really?

I understand the Giants pass rush is beastly and that Jason Pierre-Paul may not be human, but let's be serious here you're offense didn't score a single point all day...

This is two year's running that Mike Smith has failed to motivate his team for a playoff game. Shame. It's really a waste of great talent - Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones - such a terrible showing of the so-called "clutch gene".

Also I'm seriously beginning to think that there may be something more to this whole Tony Gonzalez never winning a playoff game thing. Did he make a deal with the devil once he realized his basketball career wasn't quite panning out? I don't understand, how can arguably the best tight end of all-time be an absolute stud in the regular season, but never caught more than 4 passes or exceeded 55 yards in any of his 5 playoff appearances? Something's going on here...

Either way, I hope the thought of those botched 4th and inches weighs on Smith's mind every time he picks up his putter over the next 7 months. Disgusting!

Overlooked Performance Of The Week: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

In the midst of New Orleans punishing 45-28 win over Detroit on Saturday night was the playoff debut of one of the NFL's best receivers - Calvin Johnson.

A 17 point shellacking would typically indicate that the best player on the losing team just didn't live up to his expectation, in this case it's on quite the contrary. Not only was Calvin Johnson's playoff premiere a smashing success - understatement -- it was one for the record books.

Johnson caught 12 balls for 211 yards and 2 TDs on the night, finishing but one reception short of the All-Time single game playoff record (13).

What's more, after falling behind 38-21 with under 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Johnson almost single-handedly kept the Lions in contention, grabbing three balls for 38 yards and a 12-yard TD on the drive to pull the game back within reach, 38-28 - although, to no avail.

As a whole, the Lions first playoff game in over a decade (1999 to be exact) was a bit of a disappointment but after witnessing Johnson's showcase, Detroit loyalists have got to be encouraged and NFL fans everywhere else should be cowering in fear.

***

Just for Fun: Discount Double-Check Out B.J. Raji

He may have been off on a BYE this week, but former BC Eagles standout B.J. Raji definitely found a way into the action over the weekend.

After a long night of football watching on Saturday, I woke up Sunday morning to a call from my brother talking some nonsense about a new State Farm commercial.

The original Discount Double-Check commercial, featuring All-Pro quarterback and perennial Emmy Award nominee Aaron Rodgers, quickly became a cult classic -- at least among my friend group -- so, I was obviously excited. As Vice-President Joe Biden would say "This is a big F***in' deal."

Even still a little groggy, I pounced up from my stupor, grabbed my computer and did a quick Youtube search. Naturally, Youtube -- the ever reliable video watching/time-wasting site -- was up on it's hilariously useless content and I was excited about the DDC sequel.

Once I clicked in and spotted Raji's mug sitting on my screen, I just knew that this was going to be pure comedic GOLD. If you remember B.J's "Teach Me How To Raji" touchdown dance from the 2011 NFC Championship game, then you know how unintentionally comical the 300-pounder can be.

As if screaming "Rodgers!" while wrapping my imaginary DDC belt around my waist through the streets of Boston on a regular basis isn't obnoxious enough, now at least I've got a sweet new dance move to pair along with it.

Watch and Enjoy!

For more 2011-2012 NFL Playoff coverage, follow along with our playoff stream.

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