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2012 NFL Grades, Divisional Round: Matty Ice kills the narrative

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Falcons 30, Seahawks 28

Finally, mercifully, Matt Ryan has won a playoff game. "Matty Ice" entered Sunday's matcup against Seattle the favorite in Las Vegas only, with most of the world believing the Falcons would find a way to choke up in the postseason again.

And they almost did: After paddling Seattle in the first half, Atlanta somehow let rookie Russell Wilson (more on his expectional game here) storm the 'Hawks back and take the lead. It was an insane game, a great game, and just plain wonderful football. But if you hate stupid narratives, it was a scary moment.

Ryan also entered Sunday's game with 15 (!) fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, in combination with 22 game-winning drives, and the Iceman showed up with about 31 seconds left in the game. Atlanta fielded the kick, Jacquizz Rodgers got them 10 extra yards from a touchback and Ryan did the rest, calmly completing two huge passes to get the Dirty Birds in range of Matt Bryant's leg.

And just like that, a silly narrative dies. Matt Ryan is no longer the questionable quarterback who can't win a playoff game. He's been magically transformed into a guy who could do some damage in the postseason. (If this sounds familiar, it should: it happened to Aaron Rodgers in 2010. Ahem.)

He'll have his work cut out for him at home against the 49ers (already a three-point favorite) next weekend in the NFC Championship Game, but the narrative is dead. Long live Matty Ice.

Ravens 38, Broncos 35

Ask any Panthers fan about John Fox and they'll happily inform you how conservative he was in Carolina. Broncos fans, after watching Saturday night's divisional-round game, probably agree.

Fox eschewed the opportunity to score points multiple times using his quarterback named Peyton Manning, instead opting to take knees. And it cost the Broncos big time, as they fell to the Ravens in double overtime 38-35 in an absolute stunner in Denver.

With 36 seconds remaining in the first half and Denver sitting on three timeouts, Fox had Manning take a knee and go to halftime. With 31 seconds and two timeouts and the game tied -- the Broncos having just been stunned by LOL chuckle-worthy coverage from Rahim Moore that allowed Jacoby Jones to score -- Fox again had Manning take a knee.

There were other instances that can't directly be tied to Fox: multiple third-down attempts that featured Jacob Hester. Hester is a nice player, but he's a fullback/running back hybrid who's not necessarily the dynamic player you want trying to pick up crucial third downs. He's also not, you know, Peyton Freaking Manning.

Another example of being conservative popped up late, just before Joe Flacco hit Jones deep to tie it up. Facing third-and-7, the Broncos had Ronnie Hillman run the ball. Hillman didn't pick up the first down but the Broncos did get to melt an extra 40 seconds off the clock. I don't hate the decision, but having your quarterback (again, Peyton Freaking Manning) throw the ball there and step on the Ravens' throat is certainly a viable alternative. You either run it and give Flacco the ball with two minutes or so left, throw the ball and don't get it and give Flacco the ball with two minutes or so left, or throw the ball, get the first down and end the game.

All of this is hindsight, of course. But the reality is the Broncos went uber-conservative on Saturday night, and it resulted in them winning one fewer playoff game than they did in 2011.

TeamGradeAnalysis
Ravens 38, Broncos 35
A-Joe Flacco might not be elite (he's not), but he made himself a pile of money with another big-time playoff performance Saturday. Dude shows up in the postseason. Ray Rice ran well and Jim Caldwell called the game ... well. Major props to the Ravens defense for stifling Peyton Manning, limiting Ronnie Hillman and Jacob Hester (sigh) and making big plays when it needed despite being pretty banged up.
C-Peyton Manning threw two interceptions and his arm looked extremely tired. Champ Bailey was a punch line on Twitter for most of the night, routinely getting torched by Torrey Smith. The running game never got going, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil couldn't get after Joe Flacco, the playcalling was questionable and the Broncos got extremely conservative at extremely odd times. Brutal.
TeamGradeAnalysis
49ers 45, Packers 31
D+Aaron Rodgers had a nice game and looked locked in at one point, but it was all for naught with the way Green Bay's defense played. Which is to say, poorly. The Packers kept blitzing Colin Kaepernick, who unsurprisingly kept destroying their rushing defense, particularly on third down. As good as Rodgers is, not having a running game and not having a defense that can do any damage limits this team's upside. We saw that on Saturday.
A-The ostrich was freed on Saturday, as Colin Kaepernick destroyed the Packers defense repeatedly. Remember when there was a debate about him versus Alex Smith? LOL. San Francisco ran roughshod over the Packers defense and set a 49ers record for most yardage in a single game. The defense gave up more than 30 points, but Aaron Rodgers was dealing. It didn't matter with the way they scored. The only reason San Fran's grade isn't higher is a lack of pressure on Rodgers: If Justin Smith isn't all the way back they're not getting sacks, and that's an issue going forward.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Falcons 30, Seahawks 28
B-Tremendous second half from the Seahawks, especially Russell Wilson. But the Seattle simply dug too big a whole with poor play on offense and defense and even poorer coaching decisions. Pete Carroll not taking field goals cost his team six points, all of which it would like to have back. Bruce Irvin is talented, but he's no substitute for Chris Clemons, especially in the running game. Richard Sherman made some big plays but got toasted by the Falcons wide receivers several times in the first half.
B+Atlanta was the better team on Sunday but didn't do the things you want to see from a championship contender in terms of stepping on the Seahawks' neck. There's no reason they let them back in the game. But Matt Ryan was sensational in the first half, Michael Turner ran the ball well and the Falcons defense stopped up Marshawn Lynch for most of the game. Huge, emotional win that could generate the sort of momentum they need going forward.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Patriots 41, Texans 28
D+The defense did what they could to keep the Texans in this game during the first half, but the offense botched scoring opportunities, including a long kickoff return to open the game that only netted three points. Matt Schaub looked horrible at times, Arian Foster was tenative during stretches and the Patriots eventually wore them down. The Texans never had any urgency late and often looked like the struggling team we saw down the stretch in 2012.
B+The Patriots put this puppy away after halftime with a 14-0 differential in the third quarter. New England's defense is improve and the offense, well, it's awesome. Tom Brady was, per usual, spectacular while Wes Welker piled up catches and yards again. Losing Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the postseason is obviously a huge blow. How about Shane Vereen stepping in as a receiving threat? Classic Patriots.

 
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