Sunday, January 5
Atlanta's confidence spread onto the field
By John Madden
Both NFL wild-card games on Saturday didn't end up being very competitive. The New York Jets easily handled Indianapolis, while Atlanta gave Green Bay its first-ever home playoff loss.
I had said before the game that when Green Bay plays its best, running back Ahman Green goes well. When he plays well, that gives the Packers balance. Well, he didn't do much -- and nobody else on his team did much either -- and the Falcons had a lot to do with that. They jumped out to an early lead and then never looked back.
When Brett Favre gets behind and he has to play uphill, he tends to force things. He kind of feels the pressure on his shoulders and he had a tough game on Saturday. It was just one of those nights for him and his team. It started off with an interception and it ended with some turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did a heckuva job with his players. He had his guys really playing well together and the Falcons gave Favre a lot of different looks. That was a tough deal for him.
Having said all of that, the guy who really made the difference in the game was quarterback Mike Vick. He was everything I thought he was. He had such an effect on Green Bay's defensive players, and he had them back on their heels the entire night. It's a tough deal when you have to try and stop him and he can run faster than anyone else on the field. He takes away your aggressiveness and you're afraid to be aggressive against him.
And when he throws the football, he really slings it. He zips it in there to his guys and he has such a strong arm. He's something, and you could just tell that he felt very comfortable. His offensive linemen did an excellent job, too. I'm a big offensive line guy and that line did a heckuva job with its pass protection and it opened up some big holes for the running game.
This game kind of reminded me of the NFC championship game in January of 1999. Nobody really gave Atlanta much of a chance against Minnesota and the Falcons beat the Vikings in Minneapolis. Dan Reeves was the Falcons' head coach for that game and he was at Lambeau Field for this game. He's done a really good job with his team this season.
They dominated the Packers in every way you can be dominated. When we talked to Vick on Friday night, he said he knew all about the history of the Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field, the weather, Brett Favre and all that stuff. But he also said that, "Tomorrow night, we're going to make history. We're going to shock the world." Well, he was very prophetic, as his team won a big game and now advances to play at Philadelphia.
The Eagles are going to have their hands full with Atlanta. Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is a heckuva coach and a very bright guy. He always has a plan, but I don't know what that plan's going to be for Mike Vick in that matchup.
Peaking at the right time
New York is really something right now. Congratulations to head coach Herman Edwards, his staff and their players. The last few weeks they have been playing really well and that's what you need to be doing at the end of the season.
They played pretty darn well in December with the exception of a Week 15 loss to Chicago, and I don't know what the heck that was about. They did bounce back, however, to win at New England, and then beat Green Bay in a game they had to win. When you're playing well at the end of the season, that's usually a form of momentum that you take with you into the playoffs and that seems to be the deal for them.
They have a very good offensive line and an excellent running game, led by Curtis Martin and LaMont Jordan, who rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns against Indianapolis. Their defense has played well and they did again in shutting out the Colts.
The defense is the problem with Indianapolis and the Colts had a tough time against the Jets. New York got off to a big lead early and that forced the Colts to play uphill and they don't do that well. Heck, no team plays well uphill.
Earlier in the week, I talked about how if you score first on them, that's a big thing. You want to take away the Colts' running game because that takes away the play-action pass from Peyton Manning. When you take the running game away, you can just go after Manning. Indianapolis doesn't have a shutdown, shutout type of defense and the Jets had their way with them in this game.