The first round of the NFL playoffs is now in the books so here are the different thoughts and opinions I have on various things I witnessed this past weekend. Not just any weekend, Super Wild Card Weekend! Although some fans aren't feeling so super today. I'm looking at you Yinzers.
Just remember I am a Dallas Cowboys fan and I'm extremely biased. Feel free to agree or disagree about anything mentioned here. All comments are welcome.
Bills 27 Colts 24
In a game that was much closer than I expected, the Buffalo Bills defeated the Indianapolis Colts 27-24. Buffalo got to celebrate their first playoff win in 25 years while Indy has to be wondering if the game could have swung their way if they made some wiser game management decisions.
The Colts didn’t want to get into a shootout with the Bills. They wanted to control the clock by running the ball and play the field position game, a plan they executed well for most of the first half. With less than two minutes to go in the 2nd quarter the Colts held a 10-7 lead and possession of the ball on the Buffalo 4-yard line. Facing a 4th and goal, Indy decided to go for the TD instead of kicking a FG. It turned out to be a major mistake as Philip Rivers pass fell incomplete and the Bills took over on downs.
The defensive stand inspired the Bills offense, who drove the ball 96 yards in 10 plays for a go ahead TD. The Bills continued to hum along on offense in the second half, extending the lead to 24-10 early in the 4th quarter. Indy was forced to abandon their original game plan and starting throwing the ball more. Philip Rivers responded well, finding a connection with TE Jack Doyle.
Indianapolis was able to score two 4th quarter TDs, but the Bills were able to kick a FG between the scores and hold on for the 27-24 victory. Good game.
The Bills running attack never gained much traction, but Josh Allen solved that by having a great performance. Allen (26/35, 324 yards 2 TDs) made big plays through the air and on the ground by running for 54 yards and a TD on 11 carries. WR Stefon Diggs (6 receptions, 128 yards, 1 TD) also had a big day. The win advances Buffalo into the division round where they will host the Baltimore Ravens next week.
The Colts gave a helluva effort, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their own mistakes. The defense got burned by big plays, head coach Frank Reich bypassed an easy three points in favor of a failed 4th down attempt and K Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 33-yard FG attempt. Glaring errors in a three point loss. Indy heads home with lots of questions about their future, mainly about who is going to play QB for them next year.
Rams 30 Seahawks 20
In a brutal defensive battle the Los Angeles Rams bullied the Seattle Seahawks en route to 30-20 victory. It was a long day for the QBs in this one.
The Rams decided to start backup QB John Wolford over Jared Goff as Goff was still recovering from thumb surgery. That didn’t last long as Wolford suffered a neck injury on the Rams second possession. Goff wasn’t sharp, but it didn’t matter as the Rams employed a run-heavy game plan.
The teams traded FGs early on as both defenses were stout. The tide turned to the Rams favor in the 2nd quarter when CB Darious Williams picked off a Russell Wilson screen pass for a 42-yard pick-six. Williams made a great play, he obviously saw it coming because he took off and grabbed that pass like Wilson was throwing the ball to him.
Los Angeles pulled away for good in the 4th quarter with a FG and a short field TD after a Seahawks fumble to give them a 30-13 lead. Seattle added a garbage time TD, but the Rams were able to bleed the clock and secure the 30-20 win.
The Rams defense smothered Russell Wilson despite rarely blitzing. Their front four sacked Wilson 5 times and harassed him all day, despite the fact DE Aaron Donald left the game early in the 3rd quarter with a rib injury. They also forced two turnovers that were converted for two TDs. Just a dominating showing by the defense.
On offense the Rams relied on RB Cam Akers (28 carries, 131 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 45 yards) who responded with a prime time performance. Most importantly the offense didn’t turn the ball over, never giving the struggling Seattle offense a chance for an easy score. Solid win for the Rams who advance to the divisional round next week to face the Green Bay Packers.
This was a game the Seahawks would like to forget, although they now have an entire offseason to remember how bad they got their asses kicked. The defense played well, mainly holding the Rams to FGs but they were betrayed by the turnovers on offense.
On offense Seattle was simply beat up. Russell Wilson (11/27, 174 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) had an awful game as the Rams pass rushers were in his face all afternoon. Seattle was only able to convert 2 of 14 3rd down plays as the Rams refused to let them put long drives together. Seattle started the season with an explosive offense and a sieve for a defense. They managed to fix the defense, but the offense fell apart in the end.
Buccaneers 31 No-Names 23
As a Cowboys fan I hate having to give Washington any credit, but I must as the No-Names put up a valiant effort despite having to start a 4th string QB who only joined the team a month ago. Still it wasn’t enough to advance as the No-Names fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23.
I thought Washington had a chance to pull off the upset if their defense could get to Tom Brady. They did a bit, but it was the play of QB Taylor Heinicke who kept them in this game into the final minutes.
Tampa Bay took an 18-7 lead into halftime, but the No-Names responded in the 3rd quarter. A FG and a tremendous TD run by Heinicke cut the lead to 18-16. Washington failed to convert a two-point play to tie the game.
The Bucs offense went cold in the 3rd quarter yet heated up after Washington made the game close. They scored 10 points on their next two possessions and after Washington scored another TD added a late FG to claim the 31-23 victory.
Tampa should have pulled away earlier in this game, but only scored one TD in four red zone opportunities. Tom Brady (22/40, 381 yards, 2 TDs) played well and his stats would have even been better if his receivers didn’t drop several catchable passes. RB Leonard Fournette (19 carries, 93 yards, 1 TD) stepped up to provide plenty of support on the ground.
The offense ran cold after a good start, but when the No-Names made their comeback bid they heated back up to keep the game out of Washington’s reach. Good showing by Brady & company. On the other hand Tampa Bay has to be concerned by a defense that made a 4th string QB look like a stud. The Buccaneers advance to the divisional round next week to face the New Orleans Saints.
Washington was able to compete in this game because of the outstanding effort of QB Taylor Heinicke. Making only his second career start, Heinicke showed balls of steel by not being intimidated in facing Tom Brady. Heinicke (26/44, 306 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) had a good game in the air and led the No-Names on the ground too: 6 carries, 46 yards, 1 TD. Unfortunately for Washington they needed the defense to step up and batter Brady to pull off the upset and they failed. Yet Washington did the NFC East proud by putting out a playoff worthy effort. Which is better than I can say for some other squads (cough, Seattle, cough, Steelers, cough).
Ravens 20 Titans 13
In the most anticipated grudge match of Super Wild Card weekend, the Baltimore Ravens avenged last year’s playoff loss by beating the Tennessee Titans 20-13 in Nashville. This game breaks down easy, Baltimore could run the ball and Tennessee couldn’t.
The Ravens got off to a poor start in this game. The Titans drew first blood when Ryan Tannehill hit A.J. Brown with a 10-yard TD pass. When the Ravens took possession Lamar Jackson gave it right back with a horribly thrown INT. Tennessee converted the turnover into a FG and left the 1st quarter with a 10-0 lead. It was all downhill for the Titans from there.
Baltimore scored a FG on their next possession and later found the endzone with a 48-yard QB scramble by Lamar Jackson. The game went into halftime tied at 10-10.
The second half belonged to the Ravens. Baltimore took the second half kickoff and proceeded to drive 77-yards for another TD. From there the defense took over, completely shutting down the Titans running attack. The teams traded FGs in the 4th quarter and Baltimore left town with a 20-13 win.
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense made some big plays to put points on the board, but it was the defense who won this game for the Ravens. Titans RB Derrick Henry had run roughshod over the Ravens in their last two meetings and Baltimore was determined to not let that happen again. The Ravens stacked the box all afternoon and Henry could find no room to run: 18 carries, 40 yards.
Ryan Tannehill made some plays in the 1st quarter to give Tennessee the early lead, yet the Ravens made adjustments in their coverage and stymied the passing game as well. CB Marcus Peters intercepted Tannehill’s last pass to seal the win. The Titans only gained 209 yards of total offense for the game, a measly 51 on the ground. Pretty damning for a team built around Derrick Henry.
Aside from his pick, Lamar Jackson (17/24, 179 yards, 1 INT) was solid in the air. However he did his real damage on the ground as he rushed for 136 yards and a TD on 16 carries. The RB tandem of Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins kicked in with a combined 81 yards and a TD on 17 carries. The Ravens advance to the divisional round next week to face the Buffalo Bills.
It’s well known the easiest way to beat the Titans is to stop Derrick Henry. Of course that is easier said than done, but Baltimore pulled it off. Ryan Tannehill (18/26, 165 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) made plays in the 1st quarter yet was held mostly in check afterwards. The Titans leave the playoffs a disappointing one and done after reaching the AFC championship game last season.
Saints 21 Bears 7
In my predictions post I stated this game featured two very good defenses but only one team had a good offense. Nailed it! The New Orleans Saints defense suffocated the Chicago Bears offense in a 21-7 victory.
This game was like a war of attrition. The Saints offense was content to move the ball slowly and steadily, keeping the Bears defense on the field for long stretches of time. Eventually the Bears wore down and New Orleans was able to score a couple of TDs in the second half.
The Bears knew they were going to struggle to move the ball. Trailing 7-0 in the 1st quarter, they busted out a gadget play to jump start the offense. It worked to perfection except for one small detail, WR Javon Wims forgot to catch the ball.
Ouch. I always heard the hardest passes to catch were the ones that hit you right between the numbers when you are wide open in the endzone. That play represented the Bears best chance at scoring a TD until they manufactured a garbage time score at the very end of the game.
The Saints didn’t make spectacular plays that gained large chunk of yards, but just kept grinding to keep drives alive. That strategy gave them a nearly 15 minute edge in time of possession and tired out the Bears defense as the game wore on. Drew Brees (28/39, 265 yards, 2 TDs) was efficient as was RB Alvin Kamara (23 carries, 99 yards, 1 TD). The Saints will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week in the divisional round.
It was the same old story for Chicago. The defense played at a championship level, but the offense sputtered along. The Bears failed to convert a 3rd down play until very late in the 4th quarter. Chicago is going to need to find some firepower in the offseason if they want to be able to compete again next year.
Browns 48 Steelers 37
Covid restrictions prevented the Cleveland Browns from practicing all week and head coach Kevin Stefanski was forced to watch the game from home. Yet it was the Pittsburgh Steelers who looked unprepared to play as a comedy of errors befitting of the Three Stooges let Cleveland build an early 28-0 lead and hold on for the 48-37 win.
Seriously Pittsburgh, what the hell was that? The Steelers looked like they should be moved to the NFC East. This is what they did on their very first play of the game:
Nothing like giving an underdog some hope with a gift TD to start the game. Ben Roethlisberger compounded the problem by throwing two 1st quarter INTs and the Browns raced ahead 28-0 by the time the quarter ended. It was a hole the Steelers couldn’t dig out of although to their credit they tried.
While the Steelers were feeling very generous by giving up 5 turnovers, the Browns didn’t turn the ball over once. Cleveland converted those 5 turnovers into 24 points. Baker Mayfield (21/34, 263 yards, 3 TDs) didn’t force any plays as the Steelers were unable to generate a pass rush. The Steelers led the NFL in sacks, but couldn’t bring down Mayfield even once. Kudos to the offensive line that was missing their only Pro Bowl starter due to Covid.
Cleveland’s RB duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt had little problem rushing the rock as they combined for 124 yards and two TDs on 26 carries. Chubb added a 40-yard TD reception on a screen pass in the 4th quarter. With their offense turning the ball over like crazy Pittsburgh needed their defense to step up in a big way and they failed miserably. The Browns will face an even bigger test next week in the divisional round as they travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs.
Remember when the Steelers were 11-0 and it looked like a perfect season was possible? That seems like eons ago. What an epic collapse to end the season. Pittsburgh finishes the year with a 12-5 record while watching their AFC North rivals Baltimore and Cleveland move on to the next round. Ouch.
As a Dallas Cowboys fan it breaks my heart to report the Philadelphia Eagles fired head coach Doug Pederson on Monday. It was a pleasure to watch him take a Super Bowl winner down into the cellar of the worst division in football in only three seasons.
Why did the Eagles wait a week after Black Monday to make this move? My best guess is they spent the last week trying to gauge the interest in somebody trading for Carson Wentz and found no takers. No way the Eagles could bring both Pederson and Wentz back for next season.
So that wraps it up for Super Wild Card weekend. We've got four big games coming up for the Divisional round this weekend and I'll make a prediction post later in the week. Unlike last season my Super Bowl pick survived the first round of the playoffs. Hooray!
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments about the playoffs below.