NFL Nation: 2014 Wild Card Rapid Reaction

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few observations from the 49ers’ 23-20 win over Green Bay on Sunday:

What it means: The 49ers are moving on. They survived severe cold and vintage Aaron Rodgers to win in the final seconds. San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson hit a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give the 49ers the win. They will play at Carolina next week. The 49ers are 13-4, winners of seven straight and 12 of their past 14 games.

Stock watch: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick won the game with big runs, including a huge 11-yard run on third-and-long on the final drive. Kaepernick had 98 yards rushing on seven carries. It was his third huge game -- and third victory -- against the Packers in less than a year.

Crabtree shines: The 49ers had hoped Michael Crabtree would be ready to dominate in the playoffs, and he did. He had eight catches for 125 yards. It was his best game since returning Dec. 1 from a torn Achilles tendon that he had suffered in May.

Timeout trouble: The 49ers blew two timeouts early in each half. The worst was before the first offensive play of the second half. Apparently, Kaepernick forgot his wrist play sheet. Timeouts were an issue all season, but this took it to the next level.

What’s next: The 49ers play at Carolina in the NFC divisional round at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday. The Panthers beat the 49ers 10-9 in San Francisco on Nov. 10. It was one of the more physical battles of the season.

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

January, 5, 2014

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field:

What it means: The Packers still haven't fixed their Colin Kaepernick problem. The 49ers quarterback beat them for a third time in less than a year and the second straight year in the playoffs. He rushed for 98 yards, the second-highest total of his career behind only his 181-yard effort in last year's playoff game against the Packers. The Packers will finish the season at 8-8-1 and head into the offseason much like they did last year, with major questions about their defense.

Stock watch: It was a workman-like effort by Eddie Lacy, but his ability to keep churning out tough yards seemed to slow down the 49ers pass rush in the second half. On one drive that started late in the third quarter, Lacy ran four straight times for gains of 8, 8, 7 and 3 yards before giving way to James Starks, who picked up 6 and 10 yards on the next two rushing plays. Against the fourth-ranked rushing defense, the Packers rushed for 124 yards.

Elusive Rodgers: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers made the play of the game in fourth quarter. On fourth-and-2 from the 49ers' 30, he was sandwiched between defensive tackle Ray McDonald and linebacker Ahmad Brooks. McDonald nearly sacked Rodgers from the front, and Brooks got a hand on him from behind. But Rodgers escaped. He could have run for the first down but instead fired a pass to Randall Cobb, who got behind cornerback Perrish Cox, for a 26-yard gain. Two plays later, fullback John Kuhn scored on a 1-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 17-13 lead with 12:06 remaining.

Injuries: In addition to losing a pair of defensive starters -- cornerback Sam Shields and outside linebacker Mike Neal -- to knee injuries on the first drive, left tackle David Bakhtiari left in the fourth quarter because of a concussion.

What's next: The Packers will return to Lambeau Field on Monday to clean out their lockers and go through exit meetings before breaking for the offseason. Their 2014 workouts will resume in mid-April.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

January, 5, 2014
CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: Sunday's loss means the Bengals are the exact same team they have been for more than 20 years: losers in the postseason. Yet again, with the regular season over, they couldn't come away with a victory. The city of Cincinnati, one that has waited so long to taste playoff success, certainly appears cursed. The Bengals still haven't won a playoff game since 1990. This loss also means that quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green are 0-3 in the playoffs since getting drafted in 2011. In those three games combined, the Bengals have scored just 33 points.

Stock watch: Quarterback Andy Dalton -- falling. Most of Dalton's issues came in the second half, when interceptions became bugaboos and pressure forced him into making ill-advised decisions. He was trying to jam passes into tight windows that he didn't need to. After his first interception of the game early in the third quarter, Dalton never looked the same. He finished the game 29-for-51 for 334 yards and one touchdown. It was a bizarre ending after a rather impressive first half. Dalton was 12-for-17 for 164 yards and a touchdown through the first 15 minutes.

Adding the kitchen sink: In the opening quarter of the game, the Bengals threw everything including the kitchen sink on offense at the Chargers. Although there were no overhauls to the scheme, they did make a pair of noticeable tweaks. Defensive tackle Domata Peko entered as an extra blocker on three consecutive third-and-1 plays in the first quarter. They had been strictly reserving him for goal-line situations in earlier games this season. Twice with him in there, the Bengals picked up a first down, including once on a 7-yard BenJarvus Green-Ellis run. Along with Peko's inclusion, the Bengals also used offensive tackle Dennis Roland in key situations as an extra blocker on the right edge. He was being used as an extra tight end of sorts for the second straight game. In last week's regular-season finale, he was there because the Bengals were without their top two tight ends thanks to injury.

Missed tackles: Although a lack of offensive firepower was what ultimately hurt the Bengals late in the game, their defense struggled early to bring anyone to the ground. Missed tackles led the Chargers to compile 80 yards of rushing offense in the first half. That rushing performance seemed to give San Diego life and confidence early, making it a closer game at halftime than the Bengals likely anticipated. Cincinnati led just 10-7 at the break. Entering this game, the Bengals had averaged more than 34 points per game at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

What's next? The offseason. Free agency, the NFL draft and OTAs are all that's on the horizon for the Bengals now. What many believed was a Super Bowl year is now no more.
CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC wild-card round:

What it means: San Diego’s Cinderella season lives on. The Chargers kept Cincinnati’s 22-year playoff-victory drought alive and in the process earned their first postseason win since the 2008 season. San Diego advances to the AFC divisional round, where the Chargers will face a familiar foe in the Denver Broncos. The Chargers split with the Broncos during the regular season, losing 28-20 in San Diego on Nov. 10 and winning 27-20 in Denver on Dec. 12.

Turnover bonanza: San Diego's defense forced the Bengals into four turnovers on Sunday -- a fumble by running back Giovani Bernard and three costly miscues by quarterback Andy Dalton, a fumble and two interceptions. The Chargers scored only six points off those turnovers, but defensively, they did a nice job of putting consistent pressure in Dalton’s face.

Cool-hand Rivers: While Dalton again struggled in the postseason, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers showed the value of having a franchise quarterback. Rivers didn’t throw for a ton of yards, but he didn’t need to. Rivers finished 12-of-16 for 128 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown to tight end Ladarius Green. More importantly, Rivers and the San Diego offense finished with zero turnovers.

Stock watch: Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Chargers linebacker Donald Butler showed why San Diego should consider keeping him around. Butler finished with a team-high 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a tackle for a loss.

What’s next: The Chargers travel to face the Broncos in the AFC divisional round playoffs at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday in Denver.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

January, 4, 2014

PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Saturday's NFC playoff opener, which sends them to Seattle for the divisional round next week.

What it means: Can't win a big game on the road? Can't win out in the cold? The Saints finally made their counter-argument, making this one of the biggest victories in franchise history. It was their first road playoff win of all time, snapping an 0-5 skid. They also snapped a three-game losing streak on the road this year.

However, it won't be any easier to repeat that feat next Saturday at Seattle against the top-seeded Seahawks. The Saints' ugliest performance of the year came at Seattle on a Monday night last month, when they were routed 34-7. They'll need to bring the same run game and defensive effort with them next week that they brought to Philadelphia.

Stock watch: Saints running back Mark Ingram improved his stock about as much as anyone possibly could in one game. After three somewhat disappointing seasons in New Orleans, the former Heisman Trophy winner delivered with a huge performance in one of the biggest games of his NFL career to date -- 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. Fellow running back Khiry Robinson also ran eight times for 45 yards as the Saints relied on their run game as much as ever. Fittingly, they even ran out the final four-plus minutes to set up the game-winning field goal by Shayne Graham.

Game balls all around: Who doesn't deserve credit for this win? The run game was huge. The defense was huge. Graham was huge. And Drew Brees was huge after bouncing back from two ugly interceptions in the first half. Last but not least, coach Sean Payton was huge for pushing all the right buttons all week long. (The Gatorade, Popeyes and sweatsuits worked! So did the game plan.)

Up next: Obviously the Saints (12-5) will remain underdogs at Seattle next week. It would be huge for them to get cornerback Keenan Lewis back from the concussion he suffered in the second half at Philadelphia. The Eagles started picking on the Saints' secondary after that.

I absolutely think the Saints can play a much cleaner game at Seattle than they did the first time around. But whether that will be enough against the NFC's top team remains to be seen.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

January, 4, 2014

PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 26-24 playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints Saturday night:

What it means. Chip Kelly's impressive first season as coach of the Eagles ends with an erratic performance in a playoff loss. Kelly's offense was thrown out of rhythm all game by the Saints' defense and was never able to gets its uptempo, aggressive approach into gear. Quarterback Nick Foles' dream regular season ended with an inconsistent performance. Foles wasn't to blame for the loss, but he didn't deliver the heroics necessary to beat Drew Brees and the Saints. The Eagles can feel good about their progress from a 4-12 record in 2012 to a 10-6 record and a division title, but they also know they let a winnable home playoff loss slip away.

Game changer. Foles threw an ill-advised pass to Jason Avant in the third quarter. Avant had to turn and jump and was an easy target for Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis. Lewis drilled Avant, knocking the ball loose. But Lewis also knocked himself out of the game with a head injury. Moments later, Foles threw a jump ball to DeSean Jackson, who had been held without a catch up until that point. The 40-yard gain kick-started the Eagles' comeback from a 20-7 deficit to a 24-23 lead. Corey White, the victim on that completion, committed a 40-yard pass interference penalty to set up the Eagles' go-ahead touchdown.

Happy returns. Big special teams plays made a huge difference in the fourth quarter. Jackson, frustrated on offense much of the game, danced down the left sideline for 29 yards to give the Eagles good field position. They turned it into a field goal, closing to within 20-17. After the Eagles scored a touchdown to take a 24-23 lead, Darren Sproles got outside on the kickoff return. He might have gone the distance, but Cary Williams dragged him down from behind. The 39-yard return and 15-yard horse-collar penalty gave the Saints the ball at the Eagles 48 for their game-winning drive.

Stock watch. Steady: Chip Kelly. Let's put it this way. Kelly coached a much better season than he coached in this particular game. There's no shame in getting outmaneuvered by a couple of veteran coaches like Sean Payton and Rob Ryan. But there's no denying that's what happened, either. The Saints couldn't get anything going in the first half. It took a field goal as time expired for them to get to six points. But they came out sharper and better prepared in the second half, building that 20-7 lead and then driving for the game-winning field goal in the final minute.

What's next. The Eagles will go into the offseason knowing they have a coach and quarterback they can win with, and that is a huge step. They also know where their biggest needs are. The future is bright, even if the Eagles missed an excellent opportunity to do something special in this postseason.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

January, 4, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- A few quick thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

What it means: The Colts made history. They went from looking like they were on their way to starting their vacation immediately after the game to pulling off the second-largest comeback in playoff history. The Colts were down 38-10 when quarterback Andrew Luck worked his magic and receiver T.Y. Hilton was on the receiving end of most of those passes. Luck shook off three interceptions to go 29-of-45 for 443 yards and four touchdowns. The Colts completed the 28-point comeback when Luck hit Hilton down the middle of the field for a 64-yard touchdown with less than five minutes remaining. Buffalo's 32-point, come-from-behind victory over the Houston Oilers in the 1992 playoffs is the largest.

Hilton plays big: Luck deserves a lot of credit for bringing the Colts back -- and for why they fell behind -- but he got plenty of help from Hilton, his go-to receiver since Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Hilton finished with 13 catches for a franchise-playoff record 224 yards, including the game-winning 64-yard touchdown that put the Colts up 45-44.

Toler leaves the game: Colts cornerback Greg Toler’s day went from bad to worse when he left the game with a groin injury in the first half. Toler’s bad game started when he missed tackling Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe twice on a 63-yard reception during Kansas City's second offensive series. Then former Colt Donnie Avery blew by Toler for a 79-yard touchdown on the third play of the second quarter. Toler left the game later in the quarter with the groin injury. Toler missed seven games during the regular season with a groin injury.

What’s next: The Colts will travel to Denver or New England next weekend, depending on the outcome of the Cincinnati-San Diego game Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

January, 4, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The 2013 Chiefs are among history's most infamous playoff teams. The Chiefs led 38-10 early in Saturday's third quarter before an epic collapse. The blown lead of 28 points is the second-biggest in NFL playoff history, behind the 32-point margin coughed up by the Houston Oilers against the Buffalo Bills in 1993. The Chiefs lost their eighth consecutive playoff game in a streak dating back 20 years.

Stock watch: Quarterback Alex Smith set a franchise record for touchdown passes with four. The touchdowns went to four different receivers. Joe Montana held the old record of three, in Kansas City's most recent playoff victory, in January 1994 against the Oilers. But Smith lost a fumble in the third quarter with the Chiefs ahead 38-17, and it led to an Indianapolis touchdown. Wide receiver Donnie Avery left the game late in the first half with a concussion and caught only one pass, a 79-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Chiefs a 17-7 lead, their first double-digit advantage of the game. They never led by fewer than 10 points until the fourth quarter. Outside linebacker Justin Houston had a sack and a fumble recovery in his first game since suffering a dislocated elbow Nov. 24 against San Diego. Nickel safety Husain Abdullah had two interceptions. After missing the potential game-winning field goal attempt in the final seconds of Sunday's game in San Diego, Ryan Succop made all three of his tries.

Concussion for Charles: The Chiefs lost running back Jamaal Charles on their first possession with a concussion; they still scored a franchise record for points in a playoff game without him. His backup, rookie Knile Davis, scored on a 4-yard run in the second quarter and a 10-yard catch in the third quarter. Davis left the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, leaving Cyrus Gray and Dexter McCluster to finish the game at running back. The Chiefs also lost starting cornerback Brandon Flowers to a concussion. Houston injured his leg late in the game and did not return.

What's next: The Chiefs lost five of their final seven regular-season games before collapsing against the Colts.