Vegas Wiseguy Report: The NFL Final Four
We’re down to the Final Four in the NFL Playoffs, with two compelling championship game matchups set for next Sunday. I’ve spent all year writing about these teams using my own words. This week, I thought it would make an interesting read to focus on the numerous quotes offered by various players and coaches. Who’s saying what heading into the biggest games of the season? Read on to find out.
The Falcons finally got the monkey off their backs with their first playoff victory in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era. And Atlanta has one advantage that the Packers didn’t have facing a mobile QB in Colin Kaepernick on Sunday – they’ve already faced Cam Newton (twice), Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson. However, former 49ers head coach and current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan saw his defense get picked apart in three of those four games (allowing 28+ points), and the one that they didn’t (against the Redskins) was a game where RGIII left early due to a concussion.
Head coach Mike Smith was pretty darn pumped following Atlanta’s last minute win over Seattle, after Matt Ryan threw a pair of strikes to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez to put the Falcons in field goal range for kicker Matt Bryant’s game winner from 49 yards. “Our quarterback is a special player. They call him Matty Ice, but I feel like we've got two Matty Ices. There's Matty Ice Ryan and Matty Ice Bryant.”
Ryan: '”Nobody flinched (following Seattle’s comeback). We just kept battling, kept doing what we do. That's been the makeup of our team all season….. The one thing I've learned during my five years in the league, and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard…..But our goal is not to win one playoff game. Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has.”
Matt Bryant: “When they scored their touchdown, I walked down (the sideline. I told the offensive line, I told Matt (Ryan), I told all the receivers, 'We've done this before’.
Future Hall of Fame tight end following the first postseason victory of his 16 year career: “I was on the ground crying, like a little baby.”
Cornerback Asante Samuel: “(Too many) busted coverages. Was I worried. Uh, yeah. It was a little stressful.”
Of the four teams still standing, no squad looked better than Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers in their second half rout of the Packers on Saturday Night. I thought some Green Bay quotes following their defeat would be worthy of inclusion here. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy: “The execution for the 49ers on the read option was excellent. We did not do a very good job of keeping (Kaepernick) in the pocket.”
Packers cornerback Charles Woodson: “I didn't know how fast (Kaepernick) was. Coming in I really never paid attention to it. But he is fast…..We expected them to try to get him out on the perimeter. But we didn't expect to let him do what he did. Give him a lot of credit. He played a great game. He made a lot of great plays out there today. It was hard to swallow.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “We just didn't get it done in the second half. I knew we were going to have to score some points. We knew we were going to have to put up at least 38 points.”
Kaepernick: “It feels good. We're one step closer to where we want to be. I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team….Our offensive line did an amazing job. They shut everybody down inside. Our receivers, our tight ends, blocked great outside, and our running backs were running hard, so it made it easier on me.”
Jim Harbaugh, talking about how Kaepernick reacted to his early pick six that swung momentum in Green Bay’s favor: “He does a great job of responding. He has done that any time there has been an interception he has thrown, a safety or a turnover, he's responded with a scoring drive. That's rare. I think that's a rare quality. So far he's shown that he's got that ability to come back.”
All the Patriots quotes come straight out of ‘Coach Speak 101’ – New England is not a great team for publicizing what’s going on internally, and they certainly won’t say anything to give their opponent any sort of motivational edge. That being said, there was legitimate concern on the roster following the season ending injury for their top red zone threat, tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Tom Brady following his NFL record 17th postseason victory: “I love playing, I love competing. I love being a part of this organization. I think I've just been fortunate to play on some great teams over the years. I never take it for granted….I think the two best teams are in the final. Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we.”
Tight end Aaron Hernandez, talking about Gronkowski’s injury: “It’s hard to replace a player like him. He’s a freak of nature.”
Bill Belichick: “You don’t win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it. You’ve got to go out there and attack.”
Linebacker Brandon Spikes, talking about the Patriots sense of unity: “With us, we know it takes all of us to win. We all have to play well, all 11 guys on each side of the ball, special teams, everything. It’s a team-based game. You need an entire team to accomplish your goals.”
Baltimore’s quotes, as a group, sound like they’re coming from a team that is physically and emotionally spent following their epic double overtime win over the Broncos. And history certainly isn’t on Baltimore’s side next Sunday in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. This is the sixth time since 1970 that the same teams are playing in the conference championship game in consecutive seasons. The teams that won the first meeting in the championship game have gone 5-0 in the rematch.
Ray Lewis: “I’ve never been a part of a game so crazy in my life… I think we are special just by what we've been through all year, injury-wise. For the first half last week, that was the first time me Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata actually played together because of the injuries we've dealt with. So as a team, what we've done is the reason why we're here now."
Head coach John Harbaugh: “Thanks for bearing witness to one of the greatest football games you're ever going to see. That football game did football proud….This is, in its own right, incomparable. We've never been through anything quite like this, but that's how life is.”
Rookie kicker Justin Tucker, the anti-Billy Cundiff, following his game winning 47 yard field goal: ''I always feel good when I go out on the field. Not many people get to do this. This is a heck of a lot of fun.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco: “We fought hard to get back to this point. We are definitely proud of being here, and we feel like it is going to take a lot for someone to come and kick us off that field come the AFC championship game. We are going to give it our all and we know what it felt like last year. We walked off that field without that win. We know what we've put in to get back to point. It's going to be a great game.”
Safety Bernard Pollard summed it up: “We just have to keep moving forward. This is a blessing. We're just excited to be moving forward [but] it won't mean nothing if we don't win.”
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