RG3 and Luck out; Wilson, Rodgers and Lewis still in NFL playoffs

What will Dr James Andrews have to say about this one? On Saturday the orthopaedic surgeon told USA Today that he had never given his blessing for Robert Griffin III to return to the field after the quarterback injured his knee during Washington's week 14 win over Baltimore.

The Redskins should care more about RG3's health

RG3 took just one play off before returning to the field, only to come back out again shortly afterwards – apparently in significant pain.

The Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan subsequently told reporters that Andrews had approved RG3's return, a claim which the surgeon denies. "[Griffin] didn't even let us look at him," Andrews told USA Today. "He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn't our opinion. We didn't even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me."

Who knows why it took Andrews so long to air his side of the story, but it would be fascinating to hear his take on events this Sunday. Already by the time RG3 had helped his team to a 14-0 lead, it was clear that the quarterback was playing in some discomfort. He limped heavily as he left the field after connecting with Logan Paulsen for the team's second score, and from there his play swiftly deteriorated.

He had completed six of his first nine passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns to that point. Thereafter, he would hit just four of 10 for 16 yards, as well as being intercepted once. And yet he remained in the game until late in the fourth quarter, when he appeared to aggravate the injury.

On so many levels, the decision to keep him in the game seemed like a wrong-headed one. Not only was Shanahan putting his franchise player's long-term health at risk, but his team were not even deriving any real benefit from doing so.

Second-string quarterback Kirk Cousins had already shown himself to be a more than capable back-up – throwing the game-tying touchdown against Baltimore before steering his team to a comfortable road win in Cleveland a week later. The second coming of Joe Theismann he might not be, but better than a hobbled RG3 he almost certainly was.

Instead, by the time Cousins was finally thrown into the fray, the game was already up. RG3 had fumbled on his final play, setting Seattle up for a short field goal that gave them a 10-point lead with just over five minutes remaining. Cousins could not come up with the requisite miracle, and Seattle prevailed, 24-14.

Afterwards, Shanahan both disputed Andrews's version of events from that Baltimore game, and defended his decision to keep RG3 in this one.

"Robert said to me, 'Coach, there's a difference between injured and being hurt. I can guarantee I'm hurting right now, give me a chance to win this football game because I guarantee I'm not injured.' That was enough for me."

Many others will argue that a coach should know when to take greater responsibility. Of course only Griffin knows how much pain he was truly in, but he would certainly not be the first to play down the extent of an injury to prevent a coach from pulling them out of a game.

The Seahawks move on to face the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. They certainly did their part, recovering from a slow start to put things right on both sides of the ball. But the greatest talking point coming out of this game will not be their performance, but instead that of the Washington coaching staff.

No52's NFL career is not over yet

Ray Lewis has played his last-ever game in Baltimore. But not his last-ever game in the NFL. Having begun the afternoon with one last pre-game shimmy at M&T Bank Stadium, he finished it with a rare cameo in the Ravens' victory formation – lined up behind the quarterback on the kneel-down play that sealed a 24-9 win.

This was Lewis's first game since tearing his triceps in week six, and also the first all season in which Baltimore had been able to start him alongside Terrell Suggs on defense. Together they did their part for a defense that was resolute, rather than dominant. The Colts amassed 419 yards of total offense but never got into the end zone. Four times they had to settle for short field goals, and Adam Vinatieri missed the last of those wide to the right.

Perhaps things would have been different with Bruce Arians present. For most of this season the Colts' offensive co-ordinator was called on to serve as the team's interim head coach, while Chuck Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia. But after Pagano returned to the sideline last weekend, Arians himself was absent from it this Sunday – having been hospitalised on the morning of the game.

Details on the coach's condition are sketchy, though a Colts spokesman said that Arians was "doing fine". On Saturday, the Indianapolis Star had published an open letter from Pagano to the city, in which he thanked everyone who had supported him through his illness:

"On behalf of the Pagano family, thank you for helping me heal and for showing our country that we do have the best fans in the entire world. Fans whose love for their coaches and players extends way beyond the football field."

Notwithstanding Sunday's defeat, this has been a successful season for the Colts – who, with a rookie quarterback under center - won nine more games than they had a season previously. Andrew Luck has shown more than enough to suggest he can be a special quarterback for years to come.

But the Ravens, and Lewis, have unfinished business after last year's gut-wrenching AFC Championship game defeat to New England. To return to that stage they would have to beat the Broncos in Denver next week.

It would help if Ray Rice does not cough up another two fumbles. And also if Anquan Boldin can put on another performance like he did in the second-half here. His 145 yards receiving - all of which came in the final two quarters - represented a franchise record for a postseason game.

Dalton's struggles leave Cincinnati with more questions than answers

On paper, the Bengals ought to be feeling pretty great about Andy Dalton. In his two years in the league so far, the quarterback has led his team to back-to-back playoffs berths – something Cincinnati had not previously managed for three decades. He has completed more than 60% of his passes and thrown for 47 touchdowns against 29 interceptions.

And yet, the jury remains out after Dalton's Bengals fell to Houston on wildcard weekend for the second year running. The quarterback completed just 14 of his 30 attempts for 127 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. En route to a 19-13 defeat, Dalton was guilty of both overthrowing open receivers and repeatedly locking onto his primary target even when they were well covered.

He was hardly the sole author of Cincinnati's demise – with a number of receivers, and notably the tight end Jermaine Gresham, dropping catchable balls. Gresham was supposed to be a key component of the offensive gameplan, with Bengals coaches believing he could use his size to create mismatches against the Houston secondary.

But Gresham caught just two of the five passes that he got his hands to, gaining a total of seven yards in the process. Worse yet, the focus on getting him the ball meant that not one pass was thrown in the direction of the team's top playmaker, AJ Green, through the entire first half. For that, the coaching staff must also be held responsible.

Houston deserve credit too, looking much sharper in coverage than they had in recent weeks. But the Bengals' struggles also need to be placed in context. Over the last three games, Cincinnati have managed just a single offensive touchdown. That is one fewer than their cornerback Leon Hall.

For the Bengals, a long offseason of introspection beckons. Houston can look forward to a rematch against the New England team who humiliated them 42-14 just four short weeks ago.

The Texans got back to doing what they do best on Saturday – running the ball and playing stout defense, but the fact that Cincinnati still had a shot to win this game deep in the fourth quarter despite being outgained by 420 yards to 198 is a cause for concern. Houston's quarterback, Matt Schaub, has thrown three interceptions and no touchdowns over the last three weeks.

They, too, have questions to be answered. But at least Houston will get the chance to address some of them next week.

The Packers are getting healthy at the right time

It was easy to poke fun at Joe Webb on Saturday night. As the Vikings' second-string quarterback – thrust into the starting line-up 90 minutes before kickoff – heaved yet another desperate, wobbling pass away in the direction of no one in particular, the folly of pre-game suggestions that he could represent an upgrade over Christian Ponder quickly became apparent.

But if Webb played like exactly what he was – a backup quarterback who had not thrown a pass all season – then it would be naïve to assume that the outcome would have been totally different with Ponder under center. Although he had played well a week previously at the Metrodome, the conditions at a frosty and hostile Lambeau Field were hardly comparable to those in the Vikings' climate-controlled home stadium.

More importantly, these were not the same Packers who had lost to Minnesota in week 17. On offense, Green Bay had all of their top four wide receivers in the line-up for the first time since September. On defense, the eight-time Pro Bowl safety Charles Woodson made his first start since October.

It was Woodson who derailed the Vikings' promising first drive, cutting down Adrian Peterson for a two-yard loss on second-and-five at the Green Bay 13. On the next play Webb recorded the first of his 19 incomplete passes, and the Vikings had to settle for three points instead of a potential seven. Woodson would finish with six tackles – tied for second on the team.

His impact was felt on many more plays besides, and for as much as Webb was struggling, the quality of Green Bay's coverage downfield was notably improved from a week previously. That is not just down to Woodson, of course, but after a season in which other starters such as linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Sam Shields have also missed time through injury, the benefit of having everyone healthy was very apparent.

The same goes for the offense – Rodgers connecting with a playoff record 10 different receivers on Sunday. A unit that was hardly shabby before will only be harder to contain with all of Greg Jennings, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson lining up together.

Green Bay face a long road trip to San Francisco next week, to take on a 49ers team who beat them at Lambeau Field back in week one. Jim Harbaugh's team, just like Minnesota, have changed their quarterback in the interim. But that is about where the similarities end.

Quick Hits

• First up, here's the full schedule for the divisional playoff round. You'll note we have the exact same four teams in the AFC as at the corresponding stage last year – albeit this time in a slightly different configuration.

Ravens @ Broncos – Saturday 4.30pm ET/9.30pm GMT
Packers @ 49ers – Saturday 8pm ET/Sunday 1am GMT
Seahawks @ Falcons – Sunday 1pm ET/6pm GMT
Texans @ Patriots – Sunday 4.30pm ET/9.30pm GMT

• NFL coaching carousel update. The Buffalo Bills have reportedly hired Syracuse's Doug Marrone to replace Chan Gailey. And the former Eagles head coach Andy Reid wasted no time in taking the Kansas City job.

• Post-game handbags dept: Richard Sherman and Trent Williams get into it after the Seahawks' win over the Redskins.

• Players having fun with their video ident dept: Idaho State alum Jared Allen cites the Culinary Academy as his alma mater.

• TV high-jinks go wrong dept: a Minnesota TV reporter gets flattened by a member of her crew during a piece to camera before the Packers-Vikings game.

We will have liveblog coverage of all next weekend's NFL playoffs plus Monday's BCS Championship game: Notre Dame vs Alabama.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paolo Bandini in Missouri, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 7th January 2013 12.00 Europe/London

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image: © Keith Allison