This weekend was another reminder how close the Washington Redskins really were.
Yes, they lost to Seattle in a wild-card game a week ago and then lost quarterback Robert Griffin III after he needed knee surgery. But that Seahawks team nearly upset Atlanta in the divisional round Sunday.
Seattle rallied from a 20-point deficit to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds remaining. Washington fans surely were cursing at that point; the Redskins had a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter last week, and even die-hard supporters wanted coach Mike Shanahan to pull the ailing Griffin with that margin. That Atlanta beat Seattle on a last-second field goal did little to sooth Redskins fans' simmering resentment.
A quarterback change could have put the Redskins in the NFC championship game against San Francisco, just one game from possibly meeting Baltimore in the Super Bowl.
In any case, it was a fantastic playoff weekend. San Francisco dominated Green Bay behind a very Griffin-like effort by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had 181 yards and two touchdowns rushing and another two scores passing. What a matchup Kaepernick vs. Griffin would have been.
The only upside of Seattle winning would have been San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh getting a chance for the final word against counterpart Pete Carroll, with whom he had a confrontation in 2009 when Carroll coached Southern Cal and Harbaugh was at Stanford. Of course, you remember Carroll's great teams before he fled to the NFL to avoid NCAA sanctions.
"Here's the deal," Harbaugh could have said after beating Seattle. Carroll has been wondering "What's your deal?" since Stanford beat Southern Cal 55-21 that year. An attempted late two-point conversion led to a heated postgame queries.
Instead, Harbaugh must settle for teaching the Falcons who should have been the No. 1 seed. After Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 385 yards and two touchdowns plus ran for 60 yards against Atlanta, Kaepernick will dazzle the Falcons.
The second half of a potential all-Harbaugh Super Bowl may follow with coach John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens, who look like a team of destiny after stealing a double overtime victory against AFC top-seed Denver.
Certain first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis is retiring come season's end. Some thought his last game would be in the first round -- before Baltimore hammered Indianapolis. Then Denver was a heavy favorite to end Lewis' career, but Baltimore's offense led the Ravens to a shocking upset. Now Ray Ray and Co. are in the AFC championship game.
Did you see Lewis' mangled ring finger being treated in the final moments against Denver? It's reminiscent of former Redskins defensive end Charles Mann, who couldn't pick up coins off a countertop because of twisted digits. Lewis just let the trainer wipe off the blood and tape the finger before returning to the field.
That kind of passion can't easily be extinguished. And that's why nothing outside of March Madness matches the NFL playoffs -- and why Redskins fans are mad about the team's exit.