The second 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. The home teams came oh so close to pulling off the sweep until the Saints decided to give their game away. How generous!
Anyway the NFL is down to its final four teams and big shocker my Super Bowl pick is still alive. I've got a good feeling it's going to survive Championship weekend as well. Then again that could just be gas.
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.
Green Bay Packers 32 Los Angeles Rams 18
The tundra wasn’t exactly frozen in Green Bay yet Los Angeles was still left out in the cold as the Packers defeated the Rams 32-18.
This game featured the NFL’s #1 offense (Packers) facing off against the #1 defense (Rams). In a sure sign of the times the offense won easily. Green Bay moved the ball efficiently in the air and on the ground, retaining a huge edge in time of possession: 36:12 to 23:48. Hamstrung by an injured Aaron Donald, who spent large chunks of the game on the sidelines, the Rams failed to sack Aaron Rodgers even once.
Both teams kicked a FG in the 1st quarter. In the 2nd quarter the Packers started to pull away. TDs on back-to-back drives gave them a 16-3 lead as a bad snap led to a missed extra-point. To the Rams credit they fought back with an unusually accurate Jared Goff to squeeze in a TD before the half ended.
Unfortunately for the Rams they left :29 seconds on the clock, all the time Aaron Rodgers needed to quickly move the Pack into FG position. K Mason Crosby kicked the 39-yarder to give Green Bay a 19-10 lead at the half.
The Packers took the opening possession in the 3rd quarter and needed only 6 plays to drive 75 yards, all on the ground, for a TD. Surprisingly the Pack went for two and failed. They had to settle for a 25-10 lead. The Rams went three and out after the kickoff and Green Bay had a chance to finish them off early. However WR Allen Lazard dropped a surefire TD bomb and the Packers had to punt for the first time.
Getting a reprieve, the Rams took advantage by utilizing RB Cam Akers to score a TD and make a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 25-18 heading into the 4th quarter. For a game Green Bay was dominating, the score was awfully close.
That changed in the final quarter as Lazard redeemed himself by hauling in a 58-yard TD pass from Rodgers.
The Green Bay defense squashed the Rams after that play and the offense ran out the final five minutes to give the Packers the 32-18 win.
The Packers used a balanced offensive attack to move the ball all afternoon. Aaron Rodgers (23/36, 296 yards, 2 TDs) predictably played at a MVP-like level while RB Aaron Jones (14 carries, 99 yards, 1 TD) and RB Jamaal Williams (12 carries, 65 yards) battered the defense. The defense harassed Jared Goff with 4 sacks and let the Rams only convert 2 of 8 third down attempts. All around top notch performance for the Packers, who will host the Buccaneers next week.
Gutsy showing by the Rams, who lacked the firepower to fully comeback from an early deficit. The combination of Goff (21/27, 174 yards, 1 TD) and RB Cam Akers (18 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD) made the game interesting for three and half quarters. The defense however didn’t have any answers for Rodgers and Co.
Buffalo Bills 17 Baltimore Ravens 3
This game fooled me. I thought the offenses were going to release some fireworks, but it was the defense that shined as the Buffalo Bills outslugged the Baltimore Ravens 17-3.
Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale both deserve a ton of credit for coming up with game plans that stymied the opposing offenses for most of the very windy night. Both of them used the weather to their advantage.
Frazier loaded the box to slow down the rushing attack and dared Baltimore to use Lamar Jackson to try to throw the ball in the windy conditions. Martindale, who is normally very aggressive with his blitzing, backed off his defenders into coverage instead knowing it would be hard for Josh Allen to have any accuracy downfield with the wind. Both plans worked, however the Ravens were done in by special team failures and the games lone turnover.
The first half was just ugly for both offenses. The Ravens took the opening possession and drove the ball into FG range. However the normally super reliable K Justin Tucker clanked the 41-yard attempt of off the left goalpost. It was obvious early kicking was going to be difficult with the wind blowing so hard.
The Bills did squat with their first possession and punted back to Baltimore. Baltimore couldn’t get anything going and prepared to punt back. Their special teams failed again as punter Sam Koch shanked a 23-yard punt to set up the Bills on the Baltimore 38-yard line. Buffalo drove the ball down to the ten, but the drive stalled there and they had to settle for a 28-yard FG. The 1st quarter ended with Buffalo ahead 3-0.
The 2nd quarter didn’t get much better for either team. Both teams missed FGs and then proceeded to trade the ball back and forth with punts. As the quarter wound down, Lamar Jackson finally found some rhythm in his passing game and led the Ravens down to the Bills 16-yard line. With time running out the Ravens had to try another FG and Tucker was finally successful with his third attempt. The score was knotted up 3-3 at the half.
The 3rd quarter was where the Bills took control of the game. Taking the opening kickoff, Buffalo put together a drive with a combination of passing and rushing. Nearly a third of their total offense for the game was gained on this drive. Josh Allen hit Stefon Diggs in the endzone with a 3-yard pass for the games first TD as Buffalo went ahead 10-3.
After receiving the kick, Baltimore responded with one of their best drives of the game as well. Facing a 3rd and goal from the Buffalo 9-yard line, Lamar Jackson dropped back to pass and disaster struck.
Taron Johnson’s pick-six gave Buffalo a 17-3 lead. To make matters worse for Baltimore, Jackson was sacked on his next pass attempt and had to leave the game with a concussion at the end of the 3rd quarter. Backup QB Tyler Huntley made a little noise in the 4th quarter, but it wasn’t enough as the Bills held on for the victory at 17-3.
Buffalo’s offense has been explosive all season, but on a night where they struggled the defense stepped up to save the day. Josh Allen (23/37, 206 yards, 1 TD) only did damage when throwing the ball to WR Stefon Diggs (8 receptions, 106 yards, 1 TD). The running game was nonexistent, gaining only 32 yards on 16 carries. Still the Bills were able to put together the only TD scoring drive of the game. They’ll have to do better next week in Kansas City.
The Ravens defense did everything they could to win, but they got no help from the offense or special teams. Losing Lamar Jackson (14/24, 162 yards, 1 INT) for the final quarter hurt, but the Ravens didn’t do much in the three quarters he played. Baltimore needs to find more balance on offense for next year because they are too one-dimensional. They are great when they can run, when they can’t they get beat badly.
Kansas City Chiefs 22 Cleveland Browns 17
Cleveland got a break when Patrick Mahomes was injured, but they couldn’t make enough plays to pull off the upset as the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Browns 22-17. I imagine every church in the greater Kansas City area was packed with people praying for Mahomes Sunday night.
I was impressed by the Chiefs hot start. Head coach Andy Reid rested most of his starters in Week 17 and after the first round bye those players hadn’t played any meaningful snaps since December 27th. I expected the Chiefs to be rusty and start the game off slowly, which they tend to do anyway.
Whoops, I was wrong. The Chiefs received the opening kickoff and quickly drove 75 yards in 10 plays for a TD. K Harrison Butker missed the extra-point so KC took a quick 6-0 lead. The Browns responded with a FG and the Chiefs went right back to work, only needing 7 plays this time to drive 75 yards for another TD and 13-3 lead.
It isn’t being talked about much today, but at some point in the 2nd quarter Patrick Mahomes injured his foot. He was able to stay in the game, but he was clearly limping in pain and started missing some easier throws. It certainly effected the Chiefs because they went from scoring TDs to settling for FGs.
With 3 minutes left in the first half, the Browns were down 16-3 and desperately needed to make a move. QB Baker Mayfield answered the call by getting hot and passing the Browns down to the KC 26-yard line. On the next play, Mayfield hit WR Rashard Higgins with a pass and he streaked towards the endzone. As Higgins dove towards the pylon Chiefs S Daniel Sorenson crashed into him, dislodging the ball into endzone and out of bounds. Instead of a TD for Cleveland, the ball was turned over to the Chiefs on a touchback.
It was a devastating turnover for Cleveland when a score would have brought them back into the game. And not without some controversy either. Today many people are bitching about the rule that turns possession over when a player fumbles into the endzone and out of bounds. Well the rule has been around forever and players should know the risk when they dive for a score.
Also many people think Sorenson should have been flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Higgins, a flag that would have set up the Browns with a 1st and goal on the 1-yard line instead of the turnover. We are playing football here right? It’s a violent game, get used to it. Sorenson didn’t target Higgins, they were both diving to the same spot and vicious contact was made. It happens.
The Chiefs kicked another FG after the turnover to take a 19-3 lead into the half. It looked like a rout was coming on, but the fates turned against KC in the second half. After KC missed a 33-yard FG attempt, the Browns running game finally began making some traction. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt ripped off some good runs and Baker Mayfield capped off the drive with a TD pass to cut the lead to 19-10.
Kansas City took possession and began another drive when disaster struck. Patrick Mahomes was tackled head first into the ground after a run, coming up wobbly and needing help from his teammates to get off the field. Mahomes was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Enter backup QB Chad Henne, a 13 year veteran who made his first start since 2013 in Week 17 and had never played in a playoff game. RB Darrel Williams had a few nice runs to move KC into FG range and this time Butker hit the kick to give the Chiefs a 22-10 lead.
With Mahomes gone the Browns smelled blood in the water and scored another TD on their next possession to cut the lead to 22-17 with 11 minutes left in the game. KC took the ball as Henne hit Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill with passes to move into Cleveland territory. Then Henne showed why he is a backup by throwing a horrible INT into the endzone. Nobody saw it coming but the Browns were taking possession with 6 minutes left and chance to take the lead. Could they upset the almighty Chiefs?
Of course not, they are the Browns after all. Cleveland could only gain 12 yards and punted back to KC. Now the question was could KC run out the clock without giving Cleveland another chance at a comeback? The Chiefs came out of the two minute warning facing a 3rd and 14 when Chad Henne escaped the pass rush with a run for 13 yards. Now the Chiefs faced a 4th and one at midfield with 1:20 left on the clock and the Browns were out of timeouts. Surely the Chiefs would punt the ball, right?
Andy Reid had other ideas, he wasn’t taking a chance on a screwy Hail Mary ending. Showing balls of steel, Reid put the game in Henne’s hands by calling for a pass. Henne rewarded Reid for his confidence by hitting Tyreek Hill for a 1st down. One kneel down and it was game over as the Chiefs escaped with the 22-17 victory.
Damn this ended up being a helluva game. It probably wouldn’t have been if Mahomes hadn’t got concussed, but that’s life in the NFL. Mahomes (21/30, 255 yards, 1 TD, 1 rushing TD) had KC in control before he got knocked out. WR Tyreek Hill (8 receptions, 110 yards) and TE Travis Kelce (8 receptions, 109 yards, 1 TD) were the top targets as usual. The Chiefs better pray Mahomes gets healthy in a hurry as they host the Bills in the AFC championship game next week.
Cleveland put up a fight and made the Chiefs earn this win. The fumble by Rashard Higgins was the game changer, costing the Browns at least six points in a game they would go on to lose by five. Ouch. Still it was a good showing in the playoffs for the Browns, who were making their first appearance in 18 years. They have something to build on for next season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 New Orleans Saints 20
The final game of Divisional weekend was a matchup featuring the two QBs who between them hold the 1st and 2nd slot in most career passing categories. That means both were great and both are old. And they looked it on Sunday. Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady wasn’t great, but New Orleans QB Drew Brees was much worse as the Buccaneers beat the Saints 30-20.
This was not a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination. The Bucs only scored 30 points because the Saints couldn’t stop turning the ball over and handing them easy scores. Otherwise Tampa’s offense was stagnant. The Saints were a little better at moving the ball when not giving it away, but still needed to bring in backup Jameis Winston and use a trick play to finally score a TD.
Tampa Bay had a 1st quarter to forget, only accumulating 38 yards of offense. The Saints were a little better. KR Deonte Harris returned a punt 54 yards to set up the Saints on the Tampa 21-yard line, but New Orleans had to settle for a FG. After another Tampa punt, the Saints put together a decent drive that K Will Lutz capped off with another FG. The Saints left the 1st quarter with a 6-0 lead.
The Bucs showed some life to start of the 2nd quarter by driving down to the New Orleans 8-yard line, but the drive died there and they settled for a FG. The Saints took possession and promptly made their first of many big mistakes on the day when Drew Brees was intercepted by CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, who returned the pick 36 yards to the 3-yard line. Brady found Mike Evans with a short TD pass to give Tampa a 10-6 lead.
The Saints needed to respond and with Brees struggling head coach Sean Peyton inserted Jameis Winston into the game for the same trick play the Bears ran against them the week before. Unlike the Bears, the Saints were successful.
The flag was on the Bucs so the TD was good and the Saints retook the lead 13-10. Tampa was able to sneak in a FG before the quarter ended and the game went into halftime tied up at 13-13.
The Saints received the kick to start the second half and put together their best drive of the game. A nice balance of runs and passes culminated in a 16-yard TD pass from Brees to Tre’Quan Smith that gave the lead back to New Orleans, 20-13.
Tampa couldn’t do much with their next possession and punted the ball back to the Saints. This was an excellent opportunity for New Orleans to take control of the game, instead they began to give it away. TE Jared Cook fumbled the ball near midfield, the Bucs recovered and returned the turnover to the New Orleans 40-yard line. For the second time, Tom Brady made the Saints pay for their mistake by driving for a short field TD. The game was tied once again at 20-20.
The Saints failed to move the ball on their next possession and punted back to the Bucs, who drove down for a FG early in the 4th quarter. New Orleans needed to answer back and they quickly did. With another turnover when Brees was picked off by LB Devin White, who returned the ball to the New Orleans 20-yard line. Once again Tom Brady took advantage of another short field, rushing 1 yard for a TD and putting the Bucs up 30-20.
Getting the ball back with less than 5 minutes left to play and facing a 10 point deficit, the Saints needed to score in a hurry. Instead Drew Brees threw his 3rd INT of the game. Not needing another score, Tampa bled out the clock and went home with the 30-20 victory.
Tampa Bay scored 21 points off of the New Orleans turnovers, needing to gain only 63 yards to score those 3 TDs. Good thing for them because otherwise the offense wasn’t very impressive. Tom Brady (18/33, 199 yards, 2 TDs) made the Saints pay by taking advantage of short fields and didn’t turn the ball over. The RB duo of Leonard Fournette (17 carries, 63 yards) and Ronald Jones (13 carries, 62 yards) helped set up some FGs and bleed out the clock. Tampa will face a stiffer test next week in Green Bay.
It looks like Drew Brees is retiring and it’s a shame his final performance was so awful. Brees (19/34, 134 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs) was inaccurate and couldn’t drive any passes downfield. All of his picks were deserved, they were terrible throws. The Saints could have won this game if they hadn’t given it away.
As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave your thoughts on divisional weekend in the comments below. Who is going to go to the Super Bowl?