With the first round of the NFL playoffs in the books and having had a couple days to absorb media response, here are a few closing thoughts on the opening sequence of four games…
*There’s been a lot of talk about the Houston Texanschampionship-worthiness, a level of doubt they earned by losing three of their final four games and coughing up both the #1 seed and a first-round bye. Even though the Texans beat Cincinnati on Saturday 19-13, how do you possibly feel any better about their chances to win a road game New England and presumably another one in Denver?
Matt Schaub’s play comes under the most scrutiny, and with the team able to run the ball well and play pretty good defense, that’s fair enough. I have deeper questions about just how badly this team wants it. While I hate to read too much into postgame reactions, Houston was just a little too giddy for a team that barely scraped by a #6 seed whose quarterback played about as poorly as one can imagine.
It was one thing for Houston to be giddy at this time a year ago when they won the first playoff game in franchise history, beating the Bengals in a 3-6 game with a backup quarterback in T.J. Yates. It’s quite another this year. Contrast the enthusiasm the Texans had over their mediocre win, with how dissatisfied Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was over the Packer offense in a game his team dominated throughout.
The Texans’ mindset smacks of being happy to be in the dance, something no longer appropriate at this stage of their organizational development. The Packer quarterback looked and sounded like someone who sees anything less than hoisting a trophy in New Orleans as a failure. Maybe Houston’s enthusiastic postgame reaction just masked that same commitment and I’m reading it all wrong. But if perception is reality, Houston has a long way to go to be a champion and it’s not just about on-field talent.
*I don’t want to spend too much time on RG3 and whether he should have played in Washington’s 24-14 loss to Seattle, because you’ve probably already read or heard every opinion that could possibly be held on the subject. As a Redskins fan, I wanted him to come out in the second quarter at a time when the team still had the lead and Kirk Cousins could have entered a manageable situation. I didn’t rule out RG3 coming back in, but I at least wanted him looked at.
At the same time, I have no criticisms of Mike Shanahan, even as we wait on news for just how bad the injury is going to end up being. Had RG3 been pulled, he would have been subject to a lot of the same criticisms that Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler was when he was pulled from the 2010 NFC Championship Game against Green Bay.
The criticism wouldn’t have been quite as intense—Cutler’s attitude brings a lot of it on himself, while Griffin’s is the exact opposite. And everyone already knew RG3 was hurt and could see him limping. But the mentality in the NFL is that in the playoffs you do whatever it takes. RG3 wanted to and Shanahan let him.
*Am I the only one who doesn’t believe Ray Lewis is going to retire? The Baltimore middle linebacker might be a shadow of his former self, but as his 13 tackles in the 24-9 win over Indianapolis showed, a shadow of Ray Lewis’ talent, mixed with all his motivational ability, is still a formidable asset and he obviously still loves to play. The cynic in me thinks Lewis already knows he’s coming back and this is a motivational ploy. The realist in me just thinks he’ll decide around June that he’s still “got the itch”, to use a now-infamous phrase of Brett Favre’s. Either way, while I don’t expect Baltimore’s season to continue behind Saturday afternoon in Denver, the Ravens are grossly underrated. They were 16-1 to win the Super Bowl when the playoffs started and get nine points in Denver. I’m sorry, they aren’t that far behind the rest of the league.
THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S PLAYOFF HANDICAPPING RECORD
Outright Winners: 3-0
Pointspread Winners: 2-1
Totals Line: 1-2
*Recused myself from Washington-Seattle due to Redskin fan bias