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JUMbotron Friday Huddle: Wildcard Week
John U. Miller
January 5, 2012

The JUMbotron studied each matchup and gazed into the crystal ball.  ESPN, I’ll save you the time and payroll -- and post your game recaps right now.  You guys just get hammered and enjoy the games! 

Bengals prevail in overtime, pick off T.J. Yates to seal win
Disassociated Press
4:30 PM ET, January 7, 2012 - Coverage: NBC

HOUSTON, TX – Jake Delhomme is no stranger to throwing interceptions in the post-season. He once threw five picks against the Cardinals in the 2009 wild-card game.  “Yeah, I’ve been there man,” Delhomme said. “I feel for T.J. because it will haunt him for a long time.  Six months after my meltdown I was still kicking my dog in the ribs.”  QB T.J. Yates threw three interceptions in Houston’s 26-23 loss to Cincinnati, the third one in overtime as the Texans were moving into Bengals territory for the game-winning field goal.  On second-and-11 from the Bengals’ 44-yard line Yates overthrew Andre Johnson, who was coming across the middle and couldn’t get up high enough to haul in the pass.  Johnson tried to absorb the blame.  “I would have caught it if it weren’t for my G—damn hamstrings… I got no hops,” Johnson growled to reporters at his locker while fishing through stacks of fantasy football hate mail (postmarked as early as October 3rd), looking for his Degree deodorant hidden amongst the hundreds of envelopes.

Cincinnati (10-7) controlled the game for the first 52 minutes, building a 23-7 lead late in the third quarter on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Jerome Simpson.  Prior to that play the Bengals had entered the red-zone five times, though they only came away with four field-goal attempts (Mike Nugent made three and missed one) and a first-quarter 10-yard touchdown run by Cedric Benson.  Benson finished with 102 yards on 25 carries.  Nugent drilled his fourth field goal, a 43-yarder, to send the Bengals into the divisional playoff to face the New England Patriots on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 8 pm ET. 

Dalton missed practice time this week with the stomach flu but shook it off and completed 19 of 25 passes for 239 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  He also broke a 21-yard run on a third-and-13 in the second quarter that put the Bengals in position for a field goal and a 13-0 lead.  That was the pivotal play in the game according to Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.  “That Dalton kid, we knew he could make plays,” Kubiak.  “That one broke our backs.  If we stop Cincinnati there we’ve got the ball back with a chance to cut it to 10-7 before halftime.  It’s funny, back in the draft we targeted Dalton with our second-round pick (No. 42) but the Bengals surprised us and snagged him (at No. 35).  I had a feeling Matt (Schaub) would go down again this year – he was due, that pantywaist – and my gut always told me Leinart would somehow let us down as a backup.”  Dalton was especially thrilled to win at Reliant Stadium – he grew up in nearby Katy, TX where he played two games in high school and another at TCU.  He’s now 4-0 at Reliant.  “Golly, it was awesome.” Dalton said. 

The Texans (10-7) will look ahead to 2012 when they’ll have a healthy Schaub, Johnson, and Mario Williams.  However, their 2012 opponents have just been announced and it’s a much harder schedule thanks to their AFC South crown:  They play four division champions: Baltimore, Denver, New England, and Green Bay… plus Detroit, a wild-card team.  Three of those five are on the road.

Lions no match for Saints in raucous Superdome
Disassociated Press
8:00 PM ET, January 7, 2012 - Coverage: NBC

NEW ORLEANS, LA – What would Breesus do?  He would do what is expected of him… and record his 14th 300-yard game of the season in the Saints’ 40-24 win over the Lions.

Brees completed 32 of 44 passes for 358 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, posting a 132.2 passer rating; and reinforcing the growing sentiment that Brees and Aaron Rodgers should share the MVP award.  “Can't we just name Rodgers and Brees co-MVP and call it a day?” FOX Sports' Jay Glazer tweeted.  “How can either NOT get the honor?”  In his last eight games going back to November, Brees has averaged 354 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Matthew Stafford completed 34 of 52 passes for 340 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.  He made a costly error on the first play of the fourth quarter too – a botched snap that was recovered by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (his team-high fourth fumble recovery of the season). “It’s my fault,” said Stafford. “Sometimes I get so excited… picturing my next rainbow toss to Megatron, that dynamic man-stud, and I simply forgot the snap count.  Plus I picked Calvin and myself in Smack Bowl so there was extra pressure to deliver.  What can I say?”

The Lions (10-7) opened the game with a 12-play, 84-yard drive that featured three straight Matthew Stafford completions to wide receiver Titus Young.  Young finished with seven catches for 74 yards, Calvin Johnson five catches for 88 yards and one touchdown, and Brandon Pettigrew led the team with 94 yards on six catches.    

The Saints (14-3) could do no wrong after a shaky start – a fumble by Pierre Thomas, two sacks, a Brees interception intended for Devery Henderson who ran the wrong route – and the offensive line did not allow Brees to get touched after the first quarter ended.  In four consecutive series stretching from the third quarter to the fourth quarter Brees hit Marques Colston (19 yards), Darren Sproles (34 yards) and Jimmy Graham (2, 15 yards) for touchdowns.  In that four-series span he completed 21 of 24 passes, not including a 45-yard touchdown to Sproles off a shovel pass that was called back for holding.  Of course when it comes to penalties, very few teams can match Detroit’s skill.  The defense was flagged 9 times for 80 yards which included three personal fouls; one a vicious facemask call on LB DeAndre Levy who twisted Jimmy Graham’s neck violently.  Graham left the game for three plays then returned to make a sensational sky-walking touchdown grab over… Levy.  He then proceeded to leap clear over the standing 6’1” Levy and dunk the football over the goalpost, Blake Griffin-style. 

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wasn’t surprised at the numerous Lions infractions. “Don’t they rank like third in the league in total penalties?”  Williams asked reporters.  “Jimmy (Schwartz) and I are both from the Jeff Fisher Dirty Coaching Tree.  The whole bully thing, we got that from Jeff in Tennessee…though I gotta say Jimmy has taken it a bit far.  You just can’t give our offense those gifts.  Drew (Brees) will annihilate your a--.” 

New Orleans (14-3) travels to Candlestick Park to face the 49ers next week.  The two teams haven’t met since Week 2 of 2010, a 25-22 Saints win. 

Matt Ryan gets first career playoff win, Falcons edge Giants
Disassociated Press
1:00 PM ET, January 8, 2012 - Coverage: FOX

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – The fifth-seeded Atlanta Falcons (11-6) earned a trip to frosty Lambeau with their 33-27 win over the New York Giants (9-8). 

Matt Ryan completed 25 of 31 passes for 270 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions as he led the offense to touchdown drives of 57, 60, 62, and 80 yards. “He’s a cool customer,” moaned Tom Coughlin as trainers applied salve to his cherry, wind-burned cheeks.  “Our secondary has been a freakin’ mess with the injuries and whatnot and frankly the only reason we made it this far was Victor Cruz running like a scalded dog all year.” 

Ryan hit Roddy White (nine catches, 108 yards, TD) on all nine of his targets and White has now topped 100 yards in five of his last eight games.  “I recall the JUMbotron sayin’ me and Matty were gonna be the next Marvin/Peyton thing,” White said as he laughed. “It took us a while but lately we’ve been off the rip.”  White was also targeted by RB Jacquizz Rodgers on a halfback pass for a two-point conversion but he couldn’t locate the 5’6” Rodgers behind all the linemen.  The ball surprised him when it sailed overhead, as if launched by catapult. “You said ‘short’… not me,” White whispered to a reporter. “Go tell him that to his face.” 

Eli Manning threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns to Cruz (two more 99-yarders, his second and third ones of the season) but tossed three interceptions and fumbled the ball away at his own seven-yard line, setting up one of Matt Bryant’s two field goals.  Running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 23 carries, 88 yards, and zero touchdowns.  They both lost a fumble.  FOX cameras caught Bradshaw getting a fifth screw inserted into his right foot during a timeout.

Michael Turner rushed for 81 yards on 19 carries and punched in a first-quarter goal-line touchdown to open the scoring.  Rodgers played a season-high 40 snaps and carried the ball 11 times for 60 yards.  He also caught three passes for 39 yards. 

Tony Gonzalez caught four passes for 51 yards, marking the fifth time in five career playoff games he’s failed to top 55 yards.  He’s aware of his postseason woes but wants to concentrate on Green Bay. “They blew us out of the playoffs last year (48-21) and I only caught one pass for seven yards. Their linebacker, Bishop, I think – he was all over me like a coat.  I promise it will be different this time.” 

Atlanta scored 31+ points for the fourth time in five weeks, continuing to gel as one of the league’s most promising offenses.  Their 33 points was also the most they’ve scored on the road since Week 15 at Seattle (a 34-18 win), a trend reporters asked Ryan about afterwards.  “Yeah, I hear this stuff about how we aren’t as good on the road, can’t score outside the dome,” Ryan snarled with a Camel Snus tucked under his lip. “But really, it’s our defense’s fault when you think about it.  C’mon, I remember back in the opener when Chicago pasted us like 40-7 (it was 30-12) and I’m like dude, you try to go out there and throw touchdowns when… Wait, what did you say?  Of course man, I know we won today – I’m just sayin’ we need to improve in that area.  What is your problem anyway?  Don’t talk to me alright – Knock it off!

Tebow drops 4th straight game, Steelers rout Broncos
Disassociated Press
4:30 PM ET, January 8, 2012 - Coverage: CBS

DENVER, CO – Broncos VP John Elway faced reporters after Denver’s 27-9 loss to Pittsburgh, clutching his wife Paige tightly.  “Okay look, no more Tebow questions,” he hissed.  “Let’s talk about my new wife, did you know she was a Raiders cheerleader?”  Visibly perking up as Paige gazed longingly at his snowy Caspian horse teeth, Elway offered one hint about Tebow’s future.  “Well, he’s completed 36 passes in our last four games – all losses – while that Stafford kid’s completed 70 in his last two games.  You do the math.  I want a Stafford.  When’s our first pick in the draft?”

The Steelers (13-4) held the ball for over 35 minutes despite losing Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore to knee injuries last week.  Isaac Redman got his first career post-season start and made the most of it: 27 carries, 130 yards, and two touchdowns.   He also had a 25-yard reception off a screen pass, getting tackled at the one-yard line where Ben Roethlisberger pounded it in on the next play.  “I’m 27 years old and this is my chance,” Redman told reporters. “I’ve barely made a million bucks in three years and I’m gonna be a free agent.  I would hope The Big Man (owner Dan Rooney) sees that I’m every bit as talented as Rashard Mendenhall.  I’m bigger, stronger and my career average is 4.5 yards per carry.  Sorry Mendy, but yours is 4.1.  Why can’t I get a fair shot?  Why not me?”

Denver (8-9) never advanced the ball past the Steelers’ 22-yard line and had to settle for three Matt Prater field goals.  Prater also attempted a 54-yarder with :02 left in the first half – with Tebow holding because punter Britton Colquitt was in the bathroom.  Tebow didn’t line up the laces right -- and Prater doinked it off the post.  He gave Tebow an icy glare and muttered something to him as they trotted to the locker room amidst the booing. “I’m not a lip-reader but I think he called Tebow an evil boy,” said CBS’ Phil Simms.

Roethlisberger completed 19 of 30 passes for 256 yards and no touchdowns.  He threw an interception and fumbled twice, losing one.  CBS cameras showed his special customized titanium ankle-brace shoe seven times to make sure that viewers knew how tough Roethlisberger was.  ESPN Stats & Information reports Roethlisberger has now only thrown for 300+ yards once in 14 career playoff games.  His average is 223 yards… but his won-loss record is 11-3 with two Super Bowl titles.

The eighth-year quarterback hopes a third ring is on the way.  “That’s the goal and we won’t rest until it’s done,” Roethlisberger said, wincing from the pain.  “By the way, have you seen my special customized titanium ankle-brace shoe?”

JUMbo Cheerleader Series – Wild-Card Chicks:

Saints, Bengals, Broncos, Texans (Twins!), Falcons, 49ers, Saints, Bengals, Texans… 
and just because… Buccaneers, Buccaneers, Buccaneers.

JUMbo Tunes of the Week:

1 Nirvana – Aneurysm (live), 2 Snow Patrol – Hands Open (live), 3 Death Cab for Cutie – Grapevine Fires, 4 Alice in Chains – Man in the Box (live)


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