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Posted at 04:11 PM ET, 01/09/2012

NFL wild-card weekend: Four quick takes from the first round

Saints 45, Lions 28

Lions fail to do the basics. There have been plenty of Detroit fans that have voiced their displeasure over the refereeing from Saturday night’s loss to the Saints, which is certainly understandable. But it’s hard to win when your defense can’t get off the field on third and fourth down, when your players don’t wrap up, when you turn two first-half turnovers into zero points, and when two of your defensive backs drop sure interceptions.

There’s no question that Detroit got the short end of the stick when it came to penalties. No question. There were several missed holding calls on the Saints’ Pro Bowl linemen throughout the night, a bad spot on a third down conversation in the second half that gave New Orleans a first down (which led to a score), and of course, a blown whistle that most likely would have led to a Lions’ touchdown on Drew Brees’ fumble in the first half. But the Lions failed to do the basics in their first playoff game since 1999 and it cost them.

Bad officiating or not, when you can’t tackle, can’t get off the field defensively, and can’t take advantage of turnovers then you’re not going to win most games (especially when your opponent is the Saints). That said, I don’t think Lions fans will have to wait another 12 years to watch their team play in the postseason again. Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson is just too good a combination to hold back.

Giants 24, Falcons 2

Mike Mularkey may have just cost himself his next head-coaching gig. Before the Falcons did a face plant in East Rutherford on Sunday, Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was drawing interest from Miami and Tampa Bay for their open head coaching vacancies. But considering his own defense outscored him in a 24-2 Giants rout, one would think the Dolphins and Buccaneers have jumped off the Mularkey bandwagon.

Mike Smith and Matt Ryan deserve just as much of the blame for yet another lackluster playoff performance by the Falcons, but Mularkey’s days in Atlanta should be numbered. His game plans are predictable, his schemes are unimaginative, and he fails to use his full assortment of weapons. (Underrated playmakers Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers were often an afterthought in his game plans and he somehow turned Julio Jones into a complementary piece in that offense.) Granted, the offensive line underachieved this season and the interior got destroyed on Sunday by the Giants’ defensive tackles, but it wasn’t the sole reason the Falcons’ offense was so wildly inconsistent. There’s something seriously wrong when an offense with that much talent musters zero points against a New York team with a suspect secondary.

Broncos 29, Steelers 23

Good things happen when you're aggressive and unpredictable. Hopefully Atlanta owner Arthur Blank didn’t catch the Denver-Pittsburgh game following the Falcons’ debacle against the Giants or else Mularkey may have lost his job on the plane ride home. That’s because the Tim Tebow-led Broncos, the same team that mustered only a field goal last Sunday against the Chiefs with the playoffs on the line, scored 29 points against the vaunted Pittsburgh defense (which did suffer some injuries but still had enough talent to take down a previously punchless Denver offense).

Dick LeBeau did accomplish what he set out to do: Force Tebow to beat the Steelers through the air. Unfortunately, Ike Taylor never got the memo that the last thing he could do is get beat deep. He’ll see Demaryius Thomas in his nightmares for the next six months. But the lesson to be learned here is that the Broncos, whom everyone thought would be conservative with their game plan, opened things up and stayed aggressive throughout. Even though LeBeau essentially got into the situation he wanted, give the Broncos credit for beating the Steelers vertically when that was really their only shot of pulling off an upset. Again, Taylor helped the Broncos by turning in his worst performance of the season and it’s not like Mike McCoy got the best of LeBeau with some genius game plan. But it worked because he was aggressive and unpredictable. Those are two words with which Mularkey is apparently unfamiliar.

Texans 31, Bengals 10

Another defensive line takes over a postseason game. Many times during the postseason we see a defensive line take over a game and that’s exactly what Houston’s front four did on Saturday. Outside of one or two passes, Andy Dalton simply didn’t have enough time to go through his progressions and get the ball downfield because the Texans’ D-line was up his backside on a consistent basis. The Bengals’ running game didn’t do him any favors but credit Wade Phillips for putting together a great game plan — a game plan that turned A.J. Green into a ghost. Dalton had some success moving the ball in the first quarter but once the Bengals got further from of their opening script, their offense crumbled. And on a related note, J.J. Watt will be fun to watch for the next however many years.

More from Washington Post Sports:

With Tim Tebow, ‘everything you see is true’

Tracee Hamilton: Broncos’ dramatic win saves football weekend

Sally Jenkins: Eli Manning belongs among NFL’s elite QBs

NFL playoffs: scores, schedule

By Anthony Stalter  |  04:11 PM ET, 01/09/2012

Tags:  Anthony Stalter

 
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