The Arizona Cardinals took care of the Atlanta Falcons in Phoenix. Yes, the same Cardinals who looked like they should be demoted to the CFL or some other JV league around the world. Just awful down the stretch. But put them back in the climate controlled confines of University of Phoenix Stadium, and presto, they're back to playing impressive and competitive football.
The Cards held the league's 2nd leading rusher Michael Turner to under 50 yards. Kurt Warner had ample time to throw the ball, finishing with 275 yards and 2 TDs. His lone INT was on a miscue by his #4 WR. Not the same Warner we saw wilting down the stretch. And was there really an Edgerrin James sighting? I believe there was for one of the first meaningful times this year for the Cards. His running mate Hightower was solid too. They combined for 96 rushing yards between the two of them (James 73, Hightower 23).
Arizona next will travel to New York or to Carolina. If Philadelphia (#6) wins tomorrow at the Metrodome, the Eagles head to New York to take on the defending champion and #1 seed Giants. If Minnesota (#3) wins, they'll head to Carolina (#2) and Arizona will head to New York.
In the night cap, the Chargers won a thriller against the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers made the one final stop they needed late in the game with Indy pinned back against its goal line. A nice punt return from the game's offensive MVP Darren Sproles (324 total yards!) and a couple first downs later and SD ties it at 17-17 with less than 30 seconds to go in regulation.
The Chargers won the coin toss, marched down the field with the aid of three Indy penalties, and that was that. Sproles scored from about 25 yards out, punctuating a breakthrough peroformance for the 5'6" and soon to be paid utility man.
But really though, the hero of the game was San Diego punter Mike Scifres. At the risk of sounding like Bill Walton here, Mike Scifres performed his job tonight better than any player in the history of the NFL has ever done at his assigned position. That sounds hyperbolic and ridiculous, but to clarify, I just mean that no single player can do what he's supposed to do better than Scifres did, whether that be at the LB position, OL, QB, whatever. You always hear coaches preach 'do your job.' Scifres did just that, in spades.
He had 6 punts on the evening:
1) M.Scifres punts 51 yards to IND 10, Fair Catch
2) M.Scifres punts 58 yards to IND 15, Center-D.Binn. K.Ratliff to IND 19 for 4 yards
3) M.Scifres punts 50 yards to IND 3
4) M.Scifres punts 67 yards to IND 5, Center-D.Binn. K.Ratliff to IND 7 for 2 yards
5) M.Scifres punts 38 yards to IND 9, Fair Catch
6) M.Scifres punts 52 yards to IND 1
Sick. So impressive. You know as Steelers fans, we should be able to appreciate this kind of performance even more. No, we haven't been blessed with outstanding punting (it's been pretty good though), but we know damn well the difference special teams makes. In 2007, special teams cost us multiple football games, including our Wild Card game against Jacksonville in the playoffs. This year, the special teams play has masked some offensive deficiencies and quietly played a big role in why we're 12-4 and hosting a playoff game in the Divisional Round.
I'll wrap this up, but we saw both home teams today advance in games that most people thought they wouldn't win. Trends change slightly from year to year, but at the end of the day, it's hard to make the argument that home field advantage in the playoffs doesn't matter, regardless of recent playoff triumphs by lower seeded Wild Card teams.
This is why I continue to lean towards Miami tomorrow. We saw what Matt Ryan did on the road in his first playoff game. Let's see what Joe Flacco is made up of, because you know Tony Sporano and the Fins defensive coordinator is going to make sure that Joey Porter et. al get some early shots on him. And a few words most likely as well. Ryan didn't crumble necessarily, but he was a shell of himself compared to what we saw all year from the steady Boston College product.
We'll see, but something tells me Flacco will miss a few crucial opportunities as well with the pace of the game accelerated. I think it will be a great game, just like both of the Saturday games we were treated to start the 2008 playoffs.