10 Players Already On The Radar At Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 4:52 pm

After 6 months of paying exclusive attention to NFL players during training camp, the preseason, the regular season and the playoffs, it’s now time for the Vikings and Vikings fans to turn the lion’s share of their attention to college players. Teams are pedal to the metal in draft preparation mode, and it’s time for the rest of us to join in on the action.

We’ll be down in Mobile, Alabama this week covering the Senior Bowl and filling you in on what’s going on and who looks good. As I did last year when I made my maiden voyage to the Senior Bowl, I’m sure players will emerge and standout that I had not previously known. It will take a few days for that to happen, but it will happen.

In the meantime, here are 10 players who are already on my radar and who you will hear about as the week goes on…

HB Kenjon Barner (Oregon) – Some say the biggest difference between the college game and the NFL game is speed. I’m not sure if that is indeed the biggest difference – some might argue that point. But I do know there’s a huge difference in the speed of the game between the amateurs and the pros. However, if there’s been a program of late that has closed that gap even a little, it’s been the University of Oregon. They’ve run an up-tempo offense under head coach Chip Kelly (he’s now the Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach), rarely huddling between plays and averaging 49.6 points per game the past season. Yes, 49.6. Points. Per game. The success that LaMichael James, a former Oregon Duck, has had with the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers has me intrigued about the Barner’s chances. He didn’t average below 6.0 yards per carry in any of his 4 seasons at Oregon, and his last season was his best. Barner had 1,767 rushing yards and 21 TDs on 278 attempts to go along with 20 receptions for 256 yards with 2 more TDs.

LB Michael Buchanon (Illinois) – Call me silly if you want, but the reason I put him on this list is that he plays LB and he played at the University of Illinois. The Vikings Director of College Scouting is Scott Studwell, a great player for a long time for the Vikings, and he also played linebacker at the University of Illinois. I know that doesn’t have a practical correlation, but it’s an interesting nugget and it provides a reason to put a kid many of you haven’t heard of on this list.

WR Aaron Dobson (Marshall) – To be honest, this might be the player I’m looking forward to seeing the most this week. He measures in at 6-3, 200 pounds and has the frame you see in prototypical NFL WRs. Dobson made perhaps the catch of the year (look it up as “Aaron Dobson – The Catch”) and he might be the type of receiver this Vikings offense has been missing. Dobson is a solid character guy who has been the face of Marshall’s program of late. Last year (2011) he had 668 yards receiving and 12 TDs on 49 receptions, while his senior season featured fewer TDs (3) but more receptions (57) and receiving yards (679).

DT Jonathan Jenkins (Georgia) – On the ESPN Scout’s Inc. Top 32 board, Jenkins is ranked 16th and Mel Kiper has him going 25th to Seattle in his first mock draft. Georgia’s defense was pretty good this season. The Vikings are a team that could be looking to add depth along their defensive line (you can never have too many good defensive linemen). It all adds up, so we’ll keep an eye on Jenkins this week. For what it’s worth, Kiper describes Jenkins as “an interior defender who can occupy blockers, occasionally penetrate and even wreck the pocket from the inside is a need.” Kiper also says that “Jenkins was a little uneven at times in 2012, but has the upside of an impact interior lineman.”

LB Nico Johnson (Alabama) – He played linebacker for Nick Saban at Alabama. Enough said?

WR Denard Robinson (Michigan) – Robinson played QB for the vast majority of his career at Michigan and was one of the most exciting and electric players in all of college football. At the Senior Bowl, though, he’ll practice and play as a wide receiver. It will be interesting to watch him make that transition. I’m also hopeful the North coaching staff will have him return kickoffs and punts.

TE Michael Williams (Alabama) – I noticed Williams during the Crimson Tide’s title game victory over Notre Dame. He scored a TD early in the game and looked like an NFL athlete in doing so. I’m anxious to see him in person – it’s a whole other ballgame seeing a guy move in person, especially at a position like TE where a player can be asked to do a variety of things.

DT Sylvester Williams (North Carolina) – He makes the list because ESPN’s Todd McShay pegged him as the Vikings selection in his first mock draft of the season, saying Williams “has good speed and range, power at the point of attack, quick hands and solid instincts.” Should the Vikings actually fulfill McShay’s projection, it may provide the defense with another “Williams Wall.”

WR Terrance Williams (Baylor) – For the same reason Sylvester Williams makes this list, we put Terrance Williams on the list – an ESPN draft expert (Kiper) projected he’d be the Vikings pick at #23. Here’s what Kiper says about this Williams: “Last year, we saw both Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright taken out of Baylor, and Williams has the skill set to join them as a player drafted with the potential to make an early impact. Williams is first a player who can use his size and speed to stretch the field and take the top off a defense, but he also can make big plays on the sidelines, where he’ll tiptoe and make the catches as well as any pass-catching target in the draft. Williams also will beat you with the ball in his hands as a nifty runner with good size. Minnesota needs a dependable pass-catcher next to Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph.”

All the Quarterbacks – We all like to evaluate QBs, so we’ll put all of them on this list but count them as just one player. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this crop. The 6 QBs on this year’s Senior Bowl rosters are: Zac Dysert (Miami-Ohio); Mike Glennon (NC State); Landry Jones (Oklahoma); EJ Manuel (Florida State); Ryan Nassib (Syracuse); Tyler Wilson (Arkansas).

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As Draft-Eligible Underclassmen Numbers Increase, So Does Importance Of Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 11:16 am

As has been the case each year since 2009, the number of underclassmen who’ve declared for the NFL draft has increased. The NFL announced last week that 73 players have been granted “special eligibility” for this year’s draft, a figure that is up from 65 in 2012 and 56 from 2011.

On top of the raw number of underclassmen who’ve declared for this year’s NFL draft, it’s also interesting to note the quality of underclassmen who’ve declared. Widely-projected Top 10 picks such as Texas A&M LT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore, LSU DE Barkevious Mingo, Georgia LB Jarvis Jones, Florida State DE Bjoern Werner and Alabama CB Dee Milliner are all underclassmen.

With the number of underclassmen declaring for the draft continuing to increase and with the number of quality underclassmen declaring increasing as well, event such as the Senior Bowl become that much more important. The Senior Bowl is now the most important moment for the nation’s top seniors because it’s their opportunity to showcase themselves to the NFL at a time when the NFL is not otherwise concerned with underclassmen.

Even more important than the actual game, though, is the week of preparation leading up to the game. NFL coaches and scouts will watch each team practice for several days leading up to Saturday’s game, and they’ll cram in as many interviews as possible off the field with these seniors this week because when NFL teams descend upon Indianapolis in late February for the Combine, much of their focus when it comes to the all-important interview process will be on underclassmen.

Yes, the fact that so many underclassmen are declaring for the draft does take some attention away from the nation’s best senior players at times such as the Combine, pro days and even draft day. But that just makes this week’s event – the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama – even more important.

We’ll be covering the Senior Bowl all week here on and the Blog, so stay tuned for updates.

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Heading To The Senior Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 7:37 am

Much of the talk today in NFL circles will be about the Super Bowl. But my attention, and the attention of 30 of the 32 NFL teams, will be on another “bowl” game – the Senior Bowl.

NFL teams and some of the nation’s top senior football players have descended upon Mobile, Alabama for the 2013 Senior Bowl. The game itself is not until Saturday, but the practices leading up to the actual game is what interests NFL coaches and scouts, and it’s what interests us here at the Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN).

I have an afternoon flight, with a connection in Atlanta, and will be on the ground in Mobile, Alabama for the week-long festivities. While I’m there, I’ll bring you constant coverage and updates from the Senior Bowl practices.

Be sure to stay tuned to and the Blog for complete coverage of Senior Bowl week, including practice reports and press conferences. Players will be available to speak after practices, and both head coaches (Detroit’s Jim Schwartz of the North team and Oakland’s Dennis Allen of the South team) will also speak after practices as well as hold a press conference each afternoon.

You can also receive updates on Senior Bowl week by following me on Twitter (@wobby).

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Former Vikings Set To Meet In Super Bowl 47

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 21, 2013 – 7:29 am

After a pair of dramatic Championship Games, the matchup is set for Super Bowl 47 – it’ll be the San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

This game is not short on storylines. First, and the storyline that will capture the most attention, you have the Harbaugh brothers – Jim (49ers) and John (Ravens) going against one another. It’s an improbable and remarkable feat accomplished by the two brothers. I thought it was incredible that a pair of brothers – Eli and Peyton Manning – were starting QBs and MVPs in back-to-back Super Bowls. But a pair of brothers coaching against one another as head coaches is even more remarkable. Other storylines include: Ray Lewis playing in the Super Bowl in the last game of his career; Joe Flacco coming of age before our eyes; and Colin Kaepernick budding into a star.

From a Vikings perspective, we should be paying more attention to the Senior Bowl this week (more on that in a bit) than the Super Bowl next week. But of course we won’t completely ignore the pinnacle of the sport.

With that being said, it’s interesting to note that three former Vikings will meet in the Super Bowl on February 2, and all three played major roles on past Vikings teams.

– Randy Moss is a member of the 49ers and is looking to win a ring in his 14th (and final?) season. Moss was a 1st-round pick of the Viking in 1998 and burst onto the scene with one of the greatest rookie seasons in League history. He played for the Vikings from 1998-2004 and then again for part of the 2010 season.

– Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie occupy the same starting positions for the Ravens that they did for the Vikings. Birk was a 6th-round pick of the Vikings in 1998, earning 6 Pro Bowls and 2 All-Pro selections at center while with Minnesota. He also played in 2 NFC title games while with the Vikings – following the 1998 and 2000 seasons. McKinnie was a 1st-round pick of the Vikings in 2002 and held down a starting job at LT through the 2010 season, starting 80 consecutive games at one point blocking for high-octane offenses.

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Kiper Projects WR Terrance Williams As Vikings 1st-Round Pick

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 16, 2013 – 11:19 am

No, it’s not time to launch this year’s Mock Madness, where we select a handful of draft prognosticators to follow on a weekly basis. That will happen once we get into March and the 2013 NFL Draft is fast-approaching. But we are in the offseason, so it is time to pay more attention to this year’s NFL prospects and what the prognosticators are, well, prognosticating.

We  got an early jump on this front last month when we pointed out that ESPN’s Todd McShay had already released his first mock draft of the season and projected the Vikings to take DT Sylvester Williams. McShay’s colleague at ESPN, Mel Kiper, Jr., is now officially on the board with his mock draft. Per usual, Kiper disagrees with McShay’s assessment (not surprising, though, at this stage in the process and with the Vikings selecting 23rd). Kiper sees the Vikings addressing the other side of the ball – offense.

Kiper projects Baylor WR Terrance Williams as the Vikings pick at #23 overall. Here’s what Kiper wrote about Williams:

“Last year, we saw both Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright taken out of Baylor, and Williams has the skill set to join them as a player drafted with the potential to make an early impact. Williams is first a player who can use his size and speed to stretch the field and take the top off a defense, but he also can make big plays on the sidelines, where he’ll tiptoe and make the catches as well as any pass-catching target in the draft. Williams also will beat you with the ball in his hands as a nifty runner with good size. Minnesota needs a dependable pass-catcher next to Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph.”

Terrance Williams, Jeremy Reeves

The part of Kiper’s analysis that stood out to me was Williams’ ability to make plays on the sidelines. As I stated earlier this week in providing thoughts about Atlanta’s victory over Seattle, a receiver’s ability to make plays along the boundary does a lot for a QB. If a QB knows his receiver has the ability to pull down a pass along the boundary, that presents more opportunities for big plays because that QB will be more willing to throw that receiver a pass even in coverage.

Williams, who measures in at 6-2, 205 pounds, is a senior who averaged 18.9 yards per catch and had 12 TDs last season, and for his career at Baylor he hauled in 202 catches and 27 TDs while averaging 16.5 yards per reception. He is scheduled to attend the Senior Bowl next week in Mobile, Alabama, and I’m slated to arrive on Monday so he’ll be one of the many players we keep an eye on next week.

Anyway, we might be getting ahead of ourselves. But it’s fun to speculate on the draft, and we’re now officially underway for 2013 draft season.

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Maxwell Football Club Names Peterson Its Player Of The Year

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 16, 2013 – 9:22 am

Maxwell Football Club President Ron Jaworski announced on Tuesday that Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has been selected as the winner of the 54th Bert Bell Professional Player of the Year Award. Peterson, a unanimous 1st-team All-Pro selection who became just the 7th player to rush for 2,000 yards in a seson in 2012, also won this prestigious award in 2008.

Click here to view a running tally of the postseason awards collected by Peterson and his fellow teammates.

Also on Tuesday, the Maxwell Football Club announced that the tandem of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians of the Indianapolis Colts have been selected as the winner of the 24th Greasy Neale Professional Coach of the Year Award.

The formal presentation of the 54th Bert Bell Award and the 24th Greasy Neale Award will take place at the Maxwell Football Club National Awards Gala which will be held on Friday March 1, 2013 at the Harrah’s Atlantic City Resort. Several other awards will be presented at the event as well. Event tickets are available on the Maxwell Football Club website or by calling 215-643-3833. Tickets for the event are available on a first come first serve basis and seating is limited.

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Division Rival Bears Hire Former Vikings Assistant As New Head Coach

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 16, 2013 – 7:14 am

The NFC North will welcome a new head coach to the mix in 2013, as the Chicago Bears have concluded their extensive search by hiring for NFL assistant and Canadian Football League (CFL) head coach Marc Trestman. A coach at the major college and professional level since 1981, including a pair of stints with the Vikings, Trestman brings with him a wealth of coaching experience and offensive acumen to the Windy City and will be the 14th  head coach in Chicago Bears history.

Trestman spent the previous 5 seasons as head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, where he was named CFL Coach of the Year in 2009 and won back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010. Prior to his success in the CFL, Trestman was an NFL assistant for 17 seasons. He was the Vikings RBs coach in 1985 and 1986, and then returned to the Vikings in 1990 and 1991 as QBs coach. His best work may have come in San Francisco in 1995 and 1996, though. He was San Francisco’s Offensive Coordinator and QBs coach in 1995 when the 49ers led the NFL with 457 points and 4,779 passing yards, working closely with a pair of Hall of Famers in Steve Young, who threw for 3,200 yards and 20 TDs, and Jerry Rice, who caught 122 passes for an NFL-record 1,848 yards and 15 TDs.

As Vikings fans surely know, Trestman is not the first former CFL coach to join the NFL. Perhaps the greatest figure in Vikings history, Bud Grant, spent 10 years as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach before taking the head coaching job in Minnesota in 1967. Also, former Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy came to the NFL from the CFL.

There were reports that a pair of current Vikings assistants – Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and Special Assistant to the Head Coach/co-LBs coach Mike Singletary – both interviewed for the Bears head coaching vacancy.

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Clarification On Vikings Draft Picks

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 15, 2013 – 1:44 pm

Some clarification is needed about how many – and which – draft picks the Vikings possess for the 2013 NFL Draft. That clarification has arrived.

Earlier in the week here on the Blog, we took at a look at the Vikings draft position, explaining that the Vikings had the 23rd pick in the 1st round but didn’t select 23rd in every round. That was all good, no clarification needed. But as part of that entry, I also listed each of the Vikings draft picks. And that’s where the need for clarification – and correction – arises (it’s not the first and it won’t be the last time I need to be corrected).

In that earlier entry, we noted that the Vikings had: acquired an additional 4th-round pick, traded away their 5th-round pick; traded away their 6th-round picks; and acquired an additional 7th-round pick. It’s partially right, and partially wrong. Below is a correct listing of the picks the Vikings possess for the 2013 NFL Draft. Sorry for the confusion, and thanks for your patience.

1st round – #23 (#23 overall)
2nd round – #22 (#54 overall)
3rd round – #21 (#85 overall)
4th round – #5 (#101 overall – from Detroit)
4th round – #23 (#119 overall)
5th round – #22 (#150 overall)
7th round – #7 (#199 overall – from Arizona)
7th round – #23 (#215 overall)

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Important Offseason Dates

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 15, 2013 – 11:21 am

Work in the 2012 season is done. But work for 2013 has only begun. The NFL calendar and news cycle does not slow down in the offseason, so we’ve decided to keep a running account of what to expect as the weeks and months progress to keep you up-to-date.

There are events not listed below that will happen, such as the launch of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and the mandatory minicamp(s). Either those dates haven’t been confirmed or it’s not time to announce them, but at the appropriate time we’ll update this list and make it available to you.

January 19 East-West Shrine Game, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida
This year’s East-West Shrine Game is the 88th annual and will be broadcast on NFL Network, with kickoff slated for 3:00 p.m. CT this Saturday. The East-West Shrine game is a college all-star game that pits top players from the East vs. top players from the west. The game – and the practice sessions before it – attract dozens of NFL scouts. All proceeds from the game benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children®.

January 26 Senior Bowl, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
Another of the many college all-star games, the Senior Bowl down in Mobile is a well-regarded event within NFL circles. This is where the Vikings developed their interest in Harrison Smith a year ago, and it’s also where other current Vikings such as Audie Cole and Christian Ponder performed in front of Vikings coaches and scouts. Seattle QB Russell Wilson, a top candidate for rookie of the year honors, starred in this game last year for the Leslie Frazier-coached North team.

I will head to Mobile on Monday, January 21 to launch VEN coverage of the event.

February 2 Texas vs. Nation College All-Star Game, Eagle Stadium, Allen, Texas
The college all-star game tour continues in Texas with the annual Texas vs. Nation game. Just as is the case with the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, it’s the practices even more than the game that attracts dozens of NFL coaches and scouts.

February 3 Super Bowl XLVII, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana

February 4 Waiver system begins for 2013
A 24-hour claiming period will be in effect through the Friday prior to the last regular season game. Players with at least 4 previous pension-credited seasons that a club desires to terminate are not subject to the waiver system until after the trading deadline.

February 20-26  Scouting Combine, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
An event that has been vital to NFL operations for many years and has grown exponentially in popularity among fans, the Scouting Combine is where the country’s top draft-eligible players are timed, tested and interviewed by coaches and scouts from all 32 NFL teams in what many would describe as the final major pre-draft preparation event (regional Combines and pro days occur after the national Combine).

I will head to Indianapolis on Tuesday, February 19 to launch VEN coverage of the event.

March 12 2013 League Year and Free Agency Period Begin at 3:00 p.m., Minnesota time
– All 2012 player contracts will expire.
– Trading period begins at 3:00 p.m., Minnesota time, for 2013 after expiration of all 2012 contracts.
– All clubs must be under the Salary Cap (top 51 players count against cap at this point).
– Clubs must submit Qualifying Offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.
– Clubs must exercise options for 2013 on all players who have option clauses in their 2012 contracts.
– Clubs must submit a minimum salary offer to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2012 contracts and who have fewer than 3 seasons of free agency credit.

March 17-20 Annual League Meeting, Phoenix, Arizona
NFL owners and front office personnel gather for one of their annual meetings. This is where some rules changes for the following season emerge.

April 22  Launch of the Vikings Offseason Program
Players will return to Winter Park for the launch of the Vikings offseason program. We’ll have more details on the offseason program at a later date.

April 25-27 Annual Player Selection Meeting, New York City, New York
The most popular offseason event the NFL has to offer – the NFL draft – takes place in New York City, as the next class of NFL stars is born.

May 20-22 NFL Spring League Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts

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Notes From Divisional Round Games

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 14, 2013 – 2:53 pm

The Divisional round of the playoffs is typically my favorite weekend of NFL football every year. There are two games on both Saturday and Sunday, so basically you’re whole day each day is about football. Plus the 8 teams playing are all legitimately good teams because 4 of them had 1st-round byes and the other 4 have already won a playoff game.

This year’s Divisional round games lived up to the hype. We had a double-overtime upset to start things off on Saturday and then we saw San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick put together a performance for the ages in defeating our rivals (Green Bay) for a nightcap. On Sunday, the action got going right at noon CT with Seattle nearly completing an improbable comeback but then falling short on a last-second FG by Falcons K Matt Bryant. The last game of the weekend was another masterpiece by New England QB Tom Brady as he out-dueled a talented Houston Texans team that just wouldn’t go away.

When all was said and done, this past weekend’s game combined for 276 points, making it the highest scoring postseason weekend in NFL history. I believe it’s great timing for the NFL, too, because my sense is more eyes are on the NFL on Divisional round weekend than any other weekend of the season, barring the Super Bowl and maybe the NFL draft.

Let’s get to a few notes I took while watching each of this weekend’s games…

Baltimore Ravens 38, Denver Broncos 35 (2OT)
– It’s not often when you see a special teams TD and a defensive TD in the same game. But we had both in the 1st quarter of this nail biter, with each team getting in on the action. Denver’s Trindon Holliday took a punt back 90 yards to open the scoring, and then Baltimore CB Corey Graham returned a tipped Peyton Manning pass 39 yards to put the Ravens up 14-7 early in the game. Then to open the 2nd half, Holliday struck again for Denver by racing 104 yards for a kickoff return TD to give the Broncos a 28-21 lead.
– Manning may not throw a great spiral, but he can still fit the ball into tight spaces, and he can do it with consistency. His first 2 TD passes – one to Brandon Stokely and another Knowshon Moreno – were great throws that were put right on the money, with little room for error on both occasions.
– How about the Joe Flacco-to-Torrey Smith connection? Wow, impressive. They kept Baltimore in the game during the 1st half with a pair of long TD connections. I remember the knock on Smith coming out of college was his hands – he would drop routine passes on a consistent basis (a problem for a, you know, wide receiver). And he had the problem even as a rookie. But he’s obviously fixed those issues. It’s also notable that Smith had his success on Saturday against a future Hall of Fame CB in Champ Bailey.
– It’s fair to question John Fox’s decision to try a 52-yard FG with just over a minute to go in the 2nd quarter. Just 3 plays earlier he elected to go for it on 4th down rather than try a long FG, and the decision to try the 52-yarder was after gaining just 3 yards following the 4th-down conversion. The missed FG gave Baltimore possession with great field position, and they would up tying the game before halftime. It’s also fair to question Fox’s decision to kneel on the ball with 31 seconds left in the 4th quarter, the game tied, 2 timeouts at his disposal and Manning on his side. I can see both sides of the coin on this one, but with Manning running the show and 2 timeouts in your pocket, it seems like a reasonable risk to take at that stage in the game.
– Baltimore’s defense may be getting older, but they can still defend the run. At the end of the 3rd quarter, Baltimore had the momentum and I think a large reason why is the way their defense played against the run. Credit also goes to the pass rush for pressuring Manning and forcing a fumble that set up the game-tying TD near the end of the 3rd quarter.
– The classic “throw across your body” INT near the end of the first overtime was obviously a turning point in the game. And it came from one of the greatest QBs to play the game – Manning. Vikings fans are familiar with this mistake because Brett Favre made it during the NFC title game after the 2009 season and Christian Ponder made the same mistake in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers. Every QB – from young, inexperienced QBs to decorated, veteran QBs – makes this mistake frequently. Most times, the mistake doesn’t result in a turnover, and most times when it does result in a turnover it’s not in as big a spot as Manning was in on Saturday. But this time for Manning, it was in a big spot and it cost the Broncos the game because Baltimore kicked the game-winning FG just a few moments later.


San Francisco 49ers 45, Green Bay Packers 31
– You have to give Colin Kaepernick a lot of credit for rebounding the way he did after throwing a pick-6 on the first drive. The game could’ve gone the wrong way very quickly for San Francisco after that interception, but it clearly went the right way. Kaepernick was brilliant, rushing for 181 yards and 2 TDs on 16 carries and going 17 of 31 for 263 yards with 2 more TDs and 1 INT.
– On a similar note, 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh deserves credit, too, because he made the tough call of benching Alex Smith, who had been playing well, for the 2nd-year youngster. It was a much-maligned decision, but it paid dividends down the stretch and it was the reason San Francisco won the game. I have respect for Smith and the way he plays the game and the way San Francisco plays with him under center, but I don’t see the 49ers winning that game without Kaepernick taking the snaps.
– Green Bay’s run defense has been suspect all season, and it killed them in this game. The 49ers had 323 rushing yards on 43 attempts, an average of 7.5 yards per carry.
– The muffed punt by Jeremy Ross was a huge turning point in the game. Ross was effective as a returning against the Vikings in Week 17, so you can understand why Green Bay chose to go with him as their returner as opposed to Randall Cobb, who handled those duties for most of the season. Unfortunately for Ross and for Green Bay, his mistake in the 2nd quarter that gave the 49ers the ball inside the 10 with Green Bay already ahead by a TD turned the game in favor of San Francisco.
– What can you say about San Francisco’s defense? They are good-to-great on every level of the defense, from Aldon Smith and Justin Smith up front, to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis in the middle to a very talented secondary that includes a top-notch safety tandem in Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner along with Carlos Rogers and Co. at CB. That’s a championship-caliber defense, for sure, and it’ll be fun to watch them battle Atlanta in the NFC title game, the second consecutive NFC title game for this 49ers team.
– I am more and more impressed with Packers WR James Jones the more I see him. I think it’s a widely unknown fact that he led the NFL in receiving TDs this season – not Calvin Johnson, not AJ Green, not one of those Atlanta WRs. It was James Jones, with 14.
– It almost took you aback at the end of the game when the FOX cameras were showing Donald Driver and Greg Jennings sitting helpless on the sidelines. Those two have been staples on good Green Bay teams for many years, and it appears now that they’ve played their final game in those colors. Driver may even retire now, and Jennings appears set to hit free agency in search of another team.


Atlanta Falcons 30, Atlanta Falcons 28
– When you lead by 20 points at the start of the 4th quarter, you should not have to drive 41 yards in 23 seconds to attempt a game-winning 49-yard FG. But that’s exactly what happened to Atlanta. Credit their offense and special teams group for getting the job done in the final moments, but you can be sure they’ll take a good, long look at the final 15 minutes to see what went wrong.
– One thing that I thought went wrong was Atlanta’s playcalling. I’m typically not one to question playcalling after a game because there is so much that goes into this part of the game that outsiders have no idea about, but there were times in the final quarter when it was as if Atlanta had forgotten they had a double-digit lead and time was on their side.
– With that being said, Atlanta running the ball so well in the 1st half was an underrated aspect of this game. The highlight was when Jacquizz Rodgers steamrolled through Seattle S Earl Thomas along the way to a 45-yard run at the end of the 1st quarter.
– Atlanta had a great mix of playcalling all 1st half, and perhaps the best illustration was the 50-yard TD pass from Ryan to White just moments after the Falcons defense forced a turnover on downs following Seattle’s ill-fated decision to go for it on 4th and 1. Going for the jugular was a great call by Atlanta, especially because they were in control of the game and had shown an ability to convert on 3rd down the entire 1st half.
– Seattle going for it on 4th and 1 from inside the 15 in the middle of the 2nd quarter was a mistake. Some will point to the decision being Pete Carroll showing confidence in his team, but it’s a 13-0 game in the 1st half and points are clearly at a premium. Why turn down 3 of them, especially when Atlanta has settled for a pair of FGs themselves? It’s always easy to second-guess playcalling decisions after the fact, but even before that snap it was apparent to me that Seattle was making a mistake by turning down a high-percentage FG to go for it on 4th and 1.
– Atlanta’s receivers were so good on the boundary against Seattle. Several tip-toe catches along the sidelines and endlines were impressive. When receivers are able to make those kinds of plays, they are a great weapon for their offense and they can make an already very good QB in Matt Ryan that much better.
– Seattle CB Richard Sherman made two key plays on opening drive, knocking down a pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White on the first snap of the game and then doing so again later in the drive to break up what would’ve been a TD reception by White. Later in the 1st half, Sherman defended yet another deep pass from Ryan to White. It was an impressive first 1.5 quarters for Sherman. Later in the 2nd quarter, though, White got over the top of him and scored a long TD.
– While the Vikings clearly made a great decision in selecting Blair Walsh in last April’s draft and watching him have a historic rookie season, I think Vikings fans will always have a place in their hearts for Ryan Longwell. So it was cool to see him on the Seahawks roster for a playoff game this past weekend.


New England Patriots 41, Houston Texans 28
– If before the game you would’ve told me that Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski would be lost for the remainder of the contest in the early stages of the 1st quarter and Houston would score 28 points in the game, I might have guessed Houston could pull the upset. But it would’ve been a bad, bad guess, and it’s all because of how good Tom Brady is. The 3-time Super Bowl winner put together another classic performances, guiding New England to 41 points while going 25 of 40 for 344 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. My favorite moment of the game came when Brady delivered a pass with pinpoint accuracy to RB Shane Vereen in the front left corner of the end zone for a 33-yard score, giving the Patriots a38-13 lead early in the 4th quarter. There was literally no celebration from Brady as he trotted back to the sidelines. Just a straight-forward, assassin-like approach from Captain Cool as he salted away yet another postseason victory. Brady is now the NFL record-holder for career postseason wins.
– New England got tremendous production from their RBs. Vereen had 124 total yards and 3 TDs while Stevan Ridley had 95 yards and 1 TD.
– A lot of questions have been raised about Matt Schaub’s ability to lead Houston to the ultimate goal – a Super Bowl title. I’m not sure those questions are fair. Is Schaub an elite player? No, not with consistency. But he’s most certainly a “B” level player with consistency, and if you had an entire team of “B” level players you’d win a lot of Super Bowls. So I won’t place the blame for Houston’s lack of Super Bowl titles in recent years entirely on Schaub. Yes, it’s reasonable to want your QB to put the team on his shoulders and win a game by himself for you. But the fact that Schaub hasn’t done that yet doesn’t mean he’s not the right guy in Houston. It just means the players around him also have to play better.
– I’m sure New England is not pleased with the fact that they were unable to put the game away for good after the 33-yard Brady-to-Vereen hookup early in the 4th quarter. Houston responded quickly with a pair of TDs and a 2-point conversion to pull within 10 points at around the 5-minute mark. Obviously the Patriots eventually pulled away and advanced, but that New England made enough mistakes to allow Houston to remain in the game late will be part of Bill Belichick’s coaching/motivating strategy this week. Not something the Baltimore Ravens will be thanking the Houston Texans for on Sunday in the AFC title game.

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