Wow. Mike Smith said it entering the postgame news conference after his Falcons won in dramatic fashion Sunday. Ray Lewis exuded it after his Ravens pulled off a miracle Saturday evening. The entire nation uttered it time and time again as Colin Kaepernick torched the Packers with the zone-read option that buckled knees and Cheeseheads across the country.
Simply put this was the best weekend of NFL football we can remember. Each of the four playoff games was compelling. Each was well-played, even if two of them were double-digit victories. Each included a slew of winners and losers on each side. Each left a career-altering or even career-defining question on the outcome. Each opened the door to the possibilities that the conference title games this Sunday may be just as special.
Trying to breakdown every big play or significant moment of each game would be like naming the sand grains in Destin. So let's take a top five from the NFL weekend in the following categories.
From the "Talks too much studios," let's kick the tires and light the fires.
— Matt Ryan and Mike Smith: The Falcons were impeccable in the first half in all phases. In the fourth quarter, they were completely peccable. And with as much heat and head-scratching as Ryan and Smith have received and generated by their high-level success in the regular season and their empty postseason showings before Sunday, if the Falcons had not rallied in the last 31 seconds for their 30-28 win the wake could have been complete and all-encompassing. Think of it this way, this Falcons' season is now a success because they have won a postseason game. If they had lost Sunday after the Seahawks scored 21 fourth-quarter points to take a 28-27 lead, the doubts about Ryan in big games would have been on a Chia-Pet type growth schedule. Now, he has a big-moment win — two huge completions — and the Falcons have a money kicker in which they can believe. As great as this game was, the win is more meaningful because of what an Atlanta loss would have potentially meant, if that makes sense.
— Joe Flacco. Talk about picking your moments. Dude was money Saturday night and made a big-time, big-boy throw — 50-plus yards in the air to hit Jacoby Jones for a 70-yard, game-tying touchdown. And you want even better timing? How about delivering an 18-for-34, 334-yard, three-touchdown showing on the road in a playoff win and consider that Flacco is about to be a free agent in a league in which a third of the teams are starving for a quarterback? If the Flacco family was the most happy Saturday night, the family of Flacco's agent was close behind.
— Colin Kaepernick. Wow. Think anyone is second-guessing Jim Harbaugh about switching quarterbacks this morning? Kaepernick, who we still believe looks like Humpty Hump from Digital Underground, looked like a cross between Michael Vick and, with his elongated delivery and spiraling strikes across the middle, Randal Cunningham. Dude was that impressive.
— The NFL viewer: Raise your hand if after the Patriots finished their win Sunday evening you clicked up and down the dial looking for more football. (And keep your hand up if you stopped on some of those replays in mid-320-330s on your cable dial? Yeah, us too.)
— Denver safety Rahim Moore. Rahim fell victim to one of the classic blunders — the most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia. Rahim tried to make a play on Flacco's Fling to Jones and the ball floated over his hand and became a game-tying touchdown with 31 seconds left. If Moore runs straight at Jones and tackles him at say the 15- or 20-yard line, the Ravens would have had to sprint to the ball and clock it. Without any timeouts, maybe they get one or at most two shots at the end zone. Instead, Moore tried to deflect the pass and the Broncos are packing their gear this morning.
— Anti-spread guys in the NFL. It's coming gang. Colin Kaepernick. Russell Wilson. RG III. Each had big-time success this year, and yes, RGIII's injury magnifies the risk aspect of a running QB. This is especially true if more and more college teams go spread and fewer and fewer "pro-style" quarterbacks are developing at the college level.
— Folks who took the 5-at-10's entertainment suggestions: We went 1-3 on the games and 2-0 on the over-unders, so technically we went 3-3, but man it felt like a lost weekend. Maybe it was the fact that the Falcons turned a sure cover into a betting loss (they were laying 2.5 when we picked last Thursday) with a fourth-quarter fit of nervousness. Or that the Broncos felt secure until they didn't. That said, we nailed our "Honey, where's our mortgage payment, we need to invest some entertainment" lock of the week with the Pats, and we're now 8-4 for the playoffs.
— Green Bay punt returner Jeremy Ross. In a game that was closer than the final score, Ross's fumbled punt inside the Packers' 10 was monumental.
— The NFL viewer. As great as the product, Fox and CBS need to develop a better No. 2 announcing team than the cartoon show that is Moose and Goose or Dan Dierdorf and whichever Gumble (it may have been Harpo). Seriously. In truth we listened to Wes Durham do most of the Falcons game, and that guy is aces.
Playoff takeaway/future story lines
— We know that masked in the beauty of this weekend is that football has become the ultimate team game. One through 53, you need people to contribute, and whether it's a safety (Moore) or a punt returner (Ross) or the guy that started the season as your back-up QB (Kaepernick) or your kicker (Matt Bryant), you never know who will be the story line or the season savior.
— We know that the NFL's timing could not be better as it tightens its hold as the clear favorite professional sport out there and there's no close second. As the NHL watches its season burn with labor issues and the NBA languishes unless it's LeBron or Durant or maybe the Knicks, the NFL is a power ballet of physicality and finesse. As baseball's old guard flips the bird at fans, leaving them some what hopeless, with their Hall of Fame ostrich-like, head-in-the-sand stance that if they don't vote in alleged steroid users then PEDs didn't happen, the NFL is leaving fans breathless.
— We know that Tom Brady is two more wins from being the best NFL quarterback ever. Yep, we said it and we mean it. And yes, maybe we tie winning too much to quarterback value, but if Brady wins a fourth Super Bowl that's going to be enough of the blend of individual performance, team performance and stats and numbers. Heck, if he gets to his sixth Super Bowl, that could very well be enough in the free-agency era of today's NFL.
— We know that watching Ray Lewis play with the passion of a warrior poet and the enthusiasm of a an 11-year-old is good for the soul. This is not to dismiss that night in Atlanta 13 years ago, this is merely to say that after 17 years in the NFL, Lewis — a first-ballot Hall of Famer who may be the best ever to play his position — embraces the game like a rookie covering kicks or the 53rd-man on the roster. We'll miss watching him play. (And can you name some one that looks the part more than Lewis on Sundays? Wow, with that dark shield and the pads and the arm protector, dude looks part Terminator, part Darth Vader and part Dick Butkus... only scarier.)
— We know that we'll spend a bunch of this week discussing the conference championships, but we'd be remiss if we did not recap the final minute in the Georgia Dome that capped the Falcons' head-scratching, jaw-dropping win. Consider the following: Seattle scored the go-ahead TD when their stud-duck running back fumbled into the end zone (and Seattle recovered). You can make an argument that Atlanta having two timeouts was the best thing the coaching staff did in the second half. Pete Carroll tried to ice Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal with a timeout, but as the ref was blowing the play dead the ball was snapped and Bryant kicked the ball. He missed of course on the one that didn't count, and as every golfer who has ever taken a swing knows, Bubba can flat play. Bryant was true on his mulligan. Which set up the worst squib kick in the history of the free world that traveled like 20 yards and gave the Seahawks a chance at a Hail Mary, which of course was picked off by the Falcons best wide receiver. Wow.
This and that
— There are no more unbeaten college hoops teams after Duke and Michigan fell this weekend.
— The SEC looked a little more balanced with Texas A&M winning in Rupp and Ole Miss topping Missouri. While the Rebels' win makes them look the part of a tournament team (despite losses to Indiana State and MTSU), the story of the weekend has to be the Aggies. Think of it this way — as an SEC school Texas A&M is unbeaten at Bryant-Denny and at Rupp. You like apples? How about them apples?
— The PGA Tour's Sony Open was dominated by Georgia golfers.UGA rookie Russell Henley cared a 24-under to win in his PGA Tour debut (he also earned a Masters invite and collected a smidge more than $1 million, which means he's averaging $1 million per event as a card-carrying PGA Tour member which is likely a record). Augusta-born Charles Howell III was tied for third, former Georgia Tech star Matt Kuchar was tied for fifth with former Georgia player and Woodstock native Chris Kirk. Harris English, who was born in South Georgia, prepped at Baylor at went to UGA was tied for ninth and made $145,600 for a weekend of golf in Hawaii.
— Lance Armstrong is ready to speak "candidly" to Oprah. Hmmmm, Lance, let us speak candidly. Go ride your bike of a short dock. You're going to lie, hide, play in the shadows for decades and then wait to speak "candidly" to Oprah. Anyone want to take odds his story? We'll say it involves a heavy dose of pressure, and not wanting let down his fans and the occasional cancer reference. Is there any way this ends well?
It's Monday, so knock yourself out.
Hit us with your NFL reaction. Deliver the goods.
Need a question? Here you go:
We said earlier that Brady will go down as the best ever with one more Super Bowl win and maybe even just one more trip. How about this: Bill Belichick will go down as the best NFL coach ever with one more Super Bowl stroll.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...