NFL Wildcard Monday – More upsets means the Superbowl is as open as ever


After the two heartstoppers NFL fans received on Sunday, they would’ve been forgiven for thinking Wildcard Weekend would return to a more predictable affair on Monday. However, one classic match and another upset away victory in the NFC playoffs proved that this championship race has been blown right open.


First up in the earlier timeslot was perhaps the best NFL stadium available in America. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans plays host to the Saints, who, on the back of champion quarterback Drew Brees, posed a dark horse chance in the title picture. Many pundits had tipped them to be the surprise packet in the Superbowl, as they took on a Minnesota Vikings roster that had a penchant for punching above their weight.


In front of a capacity crowd bordering on 75,000 vocal Louisiana locals, the black-clad Saints started off calmly. Minnesota were all fumbles, as an early drop gave Brees and co the chance to pounce and put up a field goal early. Both teams established tough running games, the defensive backs cutting through the burly line-backers. The Vikings established a foot hole in the contest, temporarily silencing the crowd with a levelling field goal.


Brees sat ominously, launching a rocket pass down the middle to the red zone. In the waning minutes of the first half, he let his rushers to the job for the night’s first touchdown. The Saints had their lead, and the noise was rising to a crescendo behind their hero quarterback.


Just as the Vikings fell into trouble, quarterback Kirk Cousins linked with his strike weapon in tight-end Kyle Rudolph. On a tense third down that promised to give the home side the impetus to run over the visitors, Cousins found Rudolph, and his run after the reception gave them some time in possession that was greatly needed.


None of this dispirited the Saints’ defence, who continually forced Cousins into poor throws and third downs from distance. In a pattern that would sum up the contest, Cousins managed to keep getting the yards just in time, yet cruelly fell short of a touchdown.


With this defensive lockout from New Orleans threatening to leave the Vikings behind the eight-ball, Brees faltered. Often rated as second to Brady in current quarterback rankings, the star Saint launched another long ball, yet this time it was disastrously snaffled by the purple-clad Minnesota defence. Cousins found the going easier, and they somehow managed to snatch a half-time lead when rusher Dalvin Cook snuck through. Much like the big bad wolf, the Superdome suddenly seemed to be all huff and no puff.


The proceedings continued to be tight, as the Vikings had proven their worth in this Wildcard match up. Cook continued to give the Saints headaches with his devastating bursts of pace, while the Saints began to rely too heavily on the potential of Brees. All of this pressure only benefited the Vikings, who used Cousins’ magical touch to score another touchdown. At the final break, all of the pressure lay on the horrified Saints.


The Superdome exploded when they thought a fumble had resulted in a New Orleans touchdown, only for the referees to wave down the jubilation. This wouldn’t deny the Saints, who began to release their runners. With the running game building, Brees backed his arm in and found the end zone. Game on.


In a frantic final quarter, the Saints gritted their teeth and somehow got the ball again. An experienced head at the helm, Brees duly took the field goal option and sent the contest into overtime.


Getting possession first, the Vikings were clearly nervous of giving Brees possession. Luckily, Cousins produced the throw of his life on perhaps the night of his life, setting up his side just inches away from the precious haven of the end zone. Just minutes later he found his trusty friend Rudolph, and the celebrations began. Many NFC opponents breathed a sigh of relief. Just like that, Brady and Brees were gone from playoff contention. The Vikings will ride the wave onto San Francisco.


Following this, the Eagles tentatively welcomed a Seattle line up full of experience, form and purpose. Russell Wilson lies in the midst of a standout year that could see him be crowned MVP, while favourite son Marshawn Lynch returned to the roster just weeks ago with the scent of a Lombardi trophy on his nostrils.


Not living up to the tense heights of Sunday or the Superdome, the Seahawks played a brilliant defensive game that gave the Eagles no chance. The latter were renowned for being incredibly solid, and with quarterback Carson Wentz building form for his first playoff game they appeared to be a dangerous side. When their special teams unit blocked an opening field goal attempt, their plucky nature that saw them dethrone the Patriots in the Superbowl just years ago looked to be up and going.


Yet none of this could stop Wilson. Under pressure, he still found his litany of star receivers. Settling with a field goal on their second attempt, the game busted open when Wentz went down injured. Without their star, the Eagles couldn’t be expected to pull off an upset like they did just years ago in that famous Superbowl.


Wilson continued to perform even when harassed by multiple Eagles. Lynch emphatically sealed this dominance, the returning prodigal son pushing his way over for an emotional touchdown.


Head coach Peter Carroll manoeuvred his side masterfully throughout the second half, securing the lead and using his gun offence to work up the field. Away playoffs are always incredibly tough to win, yet the Seahawks looked in total control once their defence found its rhythm. Not quite the champion line-up they boasted years ago, they managed to balance out the rare breakaway play by the Eagles to control the match.


Despite this dominance, the Eagles pluckily got a field goal out of nowhere. Momentum began to slide back, pendulum swinging back to the home Philadelphia crowd. Enter Wilson and his receiver D.K. Metcalf, who popped up at a painful time for the Eagles. Receiving the ball with balance, he then swung around and stuck one hand into the end zone while in mid-air. This burst of magic would prove telling – Seattle weren’t going to give this opportunity up.


Philadelphia gave everything, given their injury woes in the match. Attacking hard in the last quarter, Carroll and his defence were just too good. Too experienced, too steely, too impenetrable. Freeze out the Eagles and give it to Wilson. Game over. There was limited fanfare, no excessive celebrations. The Eagles knew they had run into a wise outfit who didn’t play flashy football, yet used their strengths to do the job.


Just like that, Wildcard Weekend was over. Four great games, two awesome finishes. All upsets in some way. If the seeded teams watching took away one thing from the weekend, it was that this competition is as even as it has ever been. They’re going to be watching their backs come next weekend, when the battle recommences.



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  1. Cousins pass to Rudolph to seal the win in Overtime was as our own McAvaney would say, centimetre perfect!

    Great report Sean. I was on the edge of my seat. Let’s see if we can knock over the 49ers next weekend!

    There’s about 4 reasons you’d barrack for the Vikings, if you were from Melbourne and don’t really follow the NFL religiously. Dylan, Prince and The Replacements. Oh, and they’re called Vikings!


  2. Was a perfect pass! Will be a very interesting game – if the seeds have learnt anything it’s that they’ll have to be on their toes!

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    Thanks for preparing these reports Sean. I followed the scores but not yet seen highlights. Will now make tome to do so. Was in Nashville in ’08 on a Monday night code blue matchup against the Colts. Have been following the Titan’s fortunes ever since.

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