The Agony and the Ecstasy of the NFL's Wild Playoff Weekend

The NFL also keeps a stat called "hurries" in which, according to an official scorer's opinion, the QB is forced to throw the ball sooner than he would choose. On this day, they could have given Luck a "hurry" on every one of his 54 throws.

Indianapolis, who finished 11-5, are regarded by most observes as the AFC's team of the future. Against Baltimore, though, their young and relatively inexperience offensive line simply couldn't control the Ravens' front seven inside the Baltimore 35-yard line. The Colts got there just six times and had to settle for three field goals from Adam Vinatieri, a missed kick from the 23 yards out, an interception, and a lost fumble.

Flacco may not be the most stylish quarterback in the league, but whether or not his passes have a perfect spiral doesn't matter to the scoreboard. In the fourth quarter, with the Ravens leading 17-9, he threw an 18-yard pass just good enough for his superb wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, to pull in for the TD that crushed any spirit the Colts might still have had at that point.

This gave Flacco the odd distinction of being the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have won at least one playoff game in each of his first five pro seasons. He'll need to do that and more next week, and Ray Lewis will have to pick on someone his own age—the Broncos Peyton Manning, who's 36—when the teams meet in Denver next Saturday.

redskins seahwaks 615 ap.jpg
AP Images / Matt Slocum

Seattle Seahawks beat Washington Redskins, 24-14

Early in the second quarter of the NFC Wild Card match between Washington and Seattle, things looked good for the Redskins. As they say in the movies, a little too good. The Redskins had marched 80 yards on their opening possession, which was capped with a TD pass by Robert Griffin III. Early in the second quarter, buoyed by excellent field position, Washington began another march, which would lead to a second RG3 pass.

But three plays before the TD, the nightmare began. Griffin, the most spectacularly talented passer and runner to appear in the NFL this century, was hit near the sidelines and staggered awkwardly back before falling. One of the radio announcers said it looked as if Griffin was "acting." It looked like that to me, too, when I saw it later on TV. From that moment on, though, the dream season of Griffin, his coach Mike Shanahan, and the entire Washington Redskins team began to fall apart.

Griffin had shown great poise for a first-year man. Many promising rookie passers either throw too much or carry the ball themselves too much; Griffin worked the offense without trying to be the offense. He made everyone around him, including running back Alfred Morris, look better. But with his knee hurting again—he first injured a minor ligament in a December 9 game against the Baltimore Ravens—his minor mobility went with it.

Though he set a rushing record for rookie RBs, RG3, as the season went on, learned how to use his mobility to give his receivers an extra second or two to break loose from coverage. But unable to move quickly to his right or left, he became a rather pedestrian pocket passer, and the Redskins went through six consecutive possessions of three-plays-and-punt. Meanwhile, the Seahawks, who have had the most devastating offensive in the league over the last third of the season, slowly and inexorably went from a 14 point deficit to within just one point at the half, 14-13, and then, finally in the fourth, snowed the Redskins under with 11 unanswered points in a 24-24 win.

With a little more than seven minutes to play, Griffin, playing out of the shotgun formation, failed to hold onto a center snap when his knee again buckled. This time he went down and stayed down for more than a minute. More than 80,000 Washington fans in attendance—along with millions of RG3 fans throughout the country and, no doubt, cores of television executives who had been calculating the ratings Griffin was going to bring them—got a cold feeling in the pits of their stomachs.

Griffin walked off under his own power, went to the locker room, and later came back to root his team on from the sidelines. His replacement, Kirk Cousins, tried to mount an offensive, but every time he went back to throw he was snowed under. He was just three of 10 for 31 yards, was knocked down 4 times, and sacked twice.

The focus of the story, though, should not have that RG3 went down, but that another rookie QB, Seattle's Russell Wilson, was sensational. Wilson, a stumpy, 5-foot-10 200-pounder from the University of Wisconsin, completed 15 of 26 passes for 187 yards, rushed for 67 more on eight carries, and even threw a mean block for Marshawn Lynch on a 26-yard gain. Late in the game, Lynch would go 27 yards for the touchdown that put the Seahawks ahead to stay, 19-14. Then, as if to underline his own brilliance, he threw to Zach Miller for a 2-point conversion that made it 28-14.

The ratings probably won't be as high for a Seattle Seahawks playoff game as for a Washington Redskins game with Griffin at QB, but in notching their sixth consecutive victory, in which they have now outscored their opponents by a ridiculous 217 to 74, they have established themselves as the team to beat in the NFC. They have also earned the right to be considered favorites next week against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta, even though the Falcons have the NFC's best record.

Two months ago Russell Wilson was rated a distant third compared to the league's two star rookie quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. He may not be better than they are—we'll see—but he's the last rookie QB left standing.

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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