YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Four NFL wild-card winners to face tough tests on the road

Solid defense keys victories by Baltimore, Houston, Green Bay and Seattle, and they'll need much more of it when they take on some of the league's most potent offensive teams.

January 06, 2013|Sam Farmer
  • Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Cary Williams pursue Colts tight end Coby Fleener after he made a reception Sunday.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Cary Williams pursue Colts… (Patrick Smith / Getty Images )

LANDOVER, Md. -- Each of the four teams that emerged victorious from wild-card weekend — Houston, Green Bay, Baltimore and Seattle — ranked among the top 10 in scoring during the regular season.

But in their first tests of the postseason, it was their defense that pulled them through.

The point totals of the four losing teams were 14 by Washington, 13 by Cincinnati, 10 by Minnesota, and nine by Indianapolis.

The Redskins had the last game Sunday, and rang up touchdowns on Seattle on their first two possessions. Then the Seahawks clamped down, however, and the Redskins couldn't get traction for the rest of the game.

Washington had nine first downs in the opening period, and only six more in the three quarters that followed.

"They had a good scheme; they knew how to attack," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. "Once we figured out how they attacked us, we just manned up and everyone stood up."

The challenge now will be for those four winners, three of whom won at home, to take their act on the road in the divisional round against some of the league's most potent offensive threats.

Houston plays at New England, where Tom Brady directs the NFL's highest-scoring team, one that averages 34.8 points per game.

Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, who play host to Baltimore, are second in scoring at 30.1.

Seattle heads to Atlanta to face Matt Ryan and the Falcons, ranked seventh at 26.2.

And Green Bay plays at San Francisco. Although the 49ers finished 11th in scoring at 24.8, they scored at least 30 points six times.

Three of those divisional games are rematches, with Seahawks-Falcons being the only matchup that didn't happen during the regular season.

The 49ers beat the host Packers, 30-22, in their season opener.

Houston was clobbered by New England, 42-14, in a Week 14 game in Foxborough, Mass.

Denver doubled the Ravens' score, 34-17, in a Week 15 game in Baltimore.

Those games weren't close — the eight-point win by San Francisco was more lopsided than the score suggests — but every team has changed and matured.

The Patriots certainly know they can't coast. Two years ago, they blew out the New York Jets in a December game, 45-3, then suffered a 28-21 loss to Rex Ryan's team in the divisional round.

Often, the playoffs are a markedly different story.

Likewise, the Texans aren't likely to fixate on their most recent loss at New England, even though it happened only a month ago.

"I don't know how much I'm going to look at that, man, honestly," Houston running back Arian Foster said, when asked how much he plans to study the video from that four-touchdown loss. "[The Patriots] are a good team. We're a good team. I'll glance at it. But I'm not going to sit there and burn a candle and watch it."

Devoting too much time to that particular game probably wouldn't be too productive for the Patriots, either. Surely, the Texans will tweak their approach. But, just as they did in preparations for that game, New England defenders plan to use tennis rackets during some drills to simulate the astounding reach and pass-swatting ability of Texans tackle J.J. Watt.

As for Baltimore, the Ravens are facing a familiar foe. Manning was 2-0 against them in the postseason when he was the Indianapolis quarterback.

But the defense-minded Ravens are riding on emotions too. Their heartbeat on that side of the ball, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, is retiring after 17 stellar seasons. Sunday, he played his last game in Baltimore, torn right triceps and all, performing his trademark dance at midfield after ceremoniously lining up at fullback for a final kneeldown.

"I knew how it started, but I never knew how it would end here in Baltimore," he said. "To go the way it did today, I wouldn't change nothing."

Defensively speaking, the Packers wouldn't change much about their Saturday night performance against Minnesota, when they "limited" Adrian Peterson to 99 yards rushing. He had run for 210 and 199 yards against them during the regular season.

Next, they will see a changed San Francisco team, one quarterbacked by Colin Kaepernick instead of Alex Smith (who had a lofty 125.6 passer rating against them in the opener).

"We're going to stay in tune to who we are as a team, and the first game is definitely something we'll use as far as our game-planning and go back to the matchups and so forth," Packers Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Sunday. "But they're a different team too. I mean everybody is."

Los Angeles Times Articles