Sid the kid is all grown up and playoff proven.
Sidney Rice took a breakout, Pro Bowl season from his 2009 regular-season performances and turned it into one of the most productive days receiving in NFL playoff history. Rice caught six passes for 141 yards – a 23.5-yard average – and three touchdowns.
“I think he is in a category by himself,” quarterback Brett Favre said of Rice. “There are faster guys. There are taller guys. There are quicker guys. But the thing about Sidney, and I’ve played with guys like him as far as the work ethic, is he wants to be good. It matters to him.”
Rice’s offseason workouts with Larry Fitzgerald and Cris Carter have been well-chronicled. He’s spent time working with Cowboys running back Marion Barber in Miami. And he’s paid attention to his diet more in order to help him stay healthy.
All of the sacrifices converged to help him toward a record-breaking playoff performance Sunday in a 34-3 divisional-round win against the Dallas Cowboys. He tied an NFL postseason record with three touchdowns and set the franchise record. He also tied the team record for most touchdowns and most points in the postseason.
But for all the physical gifts that Rice has, he said communication with Favre was the key to his success Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
“When he first got here, Coach always said we need to communicate, over-communicate, and Brett’s a guy that likes to talk, and anytime he sees something he’s going to talk about it,” Rice said. “So he’s been in this game a real long time, and anything he says I’m definitely going to listen to him. As I said before, I look at him as a player and a coach at the same time.”
It was a good thing that Rice and Favre were on the same page Sunday because they used plenty of adjustments to make it happen.
On Rice’s first touchdown, a 47-yard reception in the first quarter, he and Favre recognized a mismatch. Rice saw a Cover-2 defense and recognized that he had a lane outside. Despite safety Gerald Sensabaugh having tight coverage, he never looked back to see the ball, which fell perfectly into Rice’s hands.
“It was in the perfect spot. The safety wasn’t even looking at the ball. It dropped right into my arms,” Rice said.
“The guy was running around with him, never saw the ball and didn’t even know he caught it,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. “That was the strangest play I had seen in a long time. He didn’t know he threw the ball to him. If he had turned around he could have intercepted it or knocked it down. He had him covered. It was amazing that it happened.”
Even more amazing was that Rice continued to produce throughout the game and the Cowboys didn’t stop it. In the second quarter, the route was completely different and the improvisation was in full theatrical mode.
While Favre faked a handoff and rolled to his right, Rice was busy trying to cut down DeMarcus Ware at the line of scrimmage. Favre avoided one would-be sack by stepping up while Rice got off the ground and found an open zone in the middle of the field. After making the catch, he turned and headed for the end zone for his 16-yard touchdown.
Rice wasn’t supposed to go into a pass route, but that’s what happens when he gets a feel for the game and knows that Favre isn’t giving up on making a read that shouldn’t even be there.
“I had to cut the defensive end, Ware. I got him down on the ground, and I popped back up and I just started easing back towards the end zone,” Rice said. Brett was scrambling and dropped it right off and I back-peddled a couple of steps, turned and got into the end zone.”
The last Rice touchdown was a deeper route like the first, but this time the coverage was different and Rice was on the left side of the field. The Cowboys blitzed, leaving Rice one-on-one with cornerback Mike Jenkins. Favre saw it, lofted a pass and Rice went and got it, peeled off contact from a diving Jenkins and coasted into the end zone for his third touchdown.
“(Favre) sends me texts from time to time about certain coverage, or a play, and we’re talking on the sidelines. He’s not the only one, but on top of the talent part of it, that’s what makes him a good player,” Rice said.
Three touchdowns. Three different routes, three different coverages, three different areas of the field. One was a 47-yarder with a safety in coverage, another was a 16-yarder finding a soft spot in a zone and the last was a 45-yarder with a cornerback in coverage.
So much for not being a deep threat, and so much for Rice thinking that the deep shots wouldn’t be available against the Dallas defense.
“We weren’t thinking we were going to get anything down the field,” Rice said. “Watching them on film, they keep their safeties real deep. They don’t give up the big play, but, things happen.”
Rice was a big reason those things happened.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.