- Also, the Patriots and Titans played a football game! All the action from an unforgettable weekend of playoff football
Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened on Sunday afternoon. Get the full Sunday breakdown from Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling on The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast. Subscribe now and it will be in your feed first thing Monday morning
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Keenum to Diggs: In an incredible play that will surely get a stupid nickname but it won’t be any less incredible.
STEFON DIGGS GAME WINNING TOUCHDOWN SAINTS VS VIKINGS pic.twitter.com/hiHNmBU4Pu— oof city (@episness) January 15, 2018
Marcus Williams Will Be Violently Ill: A fantastic season for the rookie, but he might never sleep again. My guess is that he was in fear of a defenseless receiver penalty, which would have extended the game by an untimed down and added 15 yards at the spot of the foul. That would have been almost as devastating as the whiff.
Keanu Neal Plays Hacky Sack: Sweet jester, guy! (Nick Foles could throw this ball one million more times and this outcome would never be replicated.)
Foles gets hit as he throws, Keanu Neal muffs the interception and Torrey Smith hauls in this 20-yard reception after it bounces off his knee. Then Foles hits Jeffery along the sideline for 15 yards, leaving 1 second on the clock for Elliott from 53 yards! pic.twitter.com/QqjRMN9trf— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) January 13, 2018
That 34-Yard Pass Interference Call on Ken Crawley: If that is a 34-yard penalty, your rulebook is hopelessly broken. Perhaps this is the embarrassment that leads the competition committee to act on pass interference. Either go with the Pass Interference I vs. Pass Interference II split, or just cap the penalty at 15 yards. (Though this also would have been a horrific 15-yard penalty.)
Things That Made Me Giddy
The True Value of the Jaguars Playing With a Lead: The basic thinking is that “Once the Jaguars have the lead, they can run the ball.” And that’s true, but the advantage is much bigger. When the Jaguars are playing with a lead and the run game is recognized as their main threat, they can do things like throw on first down and get a little more bang out of their play-action, which makes life infinitely easier on Blake Bortles. Bortles has proven that when things are simple and he essentially has one defined read to worry about, he can thrive. That’s what happened on Sunday. If the Jaguars had fallen behind by a possession or two, there’s no chance they could have done what they did to the Steelers D.
Nick Foles and the Eagles’ Brain Trust: With the possible exception of the sideline throw to Alshon Jeffery that set up the long field goal before halftime, at no point on Saturday did you say, “Wow, big-time throw by Foles.” And yet, the Eagles are moving on. That’s great coaching. The Eagles went back to the future with a heavy dose of Chip Kelly-style RPOs in the second half, and had a couple of brilliant misdirection designs to set up big plays. Lots of credit for Foles for executing the game plan, but even more credit to this staff for not asking too much of him.
That Case Keenum Lobs: Are the most dramatic plays in football. Something is going to happen on the other end of those rainbows, and that something will range from wonderful to atrocious (depending on your rooting interests).
The Patriots Win and Cover: That’s seemingly all they do. Despite entering the season as the prohibitive favorite to win Super Bowl LII, New England has still managed to go a league-best 12-5 against the spread so far.
Opportunistic Jaguars: Both turnovers they forced were more good defense than bad offense (though the ratio was in the 70/30 range). The Myles Jack interception was a forced throw by Ben Roethlisberger, but that’s still a play many linebackers don't make. And the scoop-six was a combination of great coverage and always-opportunistic strip-sack specialist Yannick Ngakoue. Those turnovers led directly to 14 points.
Fletcher Cox Is Incredible: The Eagles are unfairly good across that defensive line, but Cox, with his size and movement skills, looks like he’s from whatever the next evolution of humans will be. The Falcons aren’t good in that interior offensive line, but they often looked like children out there against Cox.
Kai Forbath, So Cool: Only way he could have been cooler on that late 53-yarder would have been if he came out with the Gary Anderson-style single-bar facemask.
Le’Veon Bell on the Wheel Route: I’m old enough to remember when the Steelers would try this wheel route to Bell four times every week and maybe hit it once a month. The connection on Sunday was outstanding.
Michael Thomas Is a Force: Part beast and part bully, even when it’s Xavier Rhodes matched up on him.
Nathaniel Hackett: He deserves a ton of credit for what he did this season in Jacksonville, and on Sunday Hackett called a near-perfect game. This is how you outscore the Steelers in Pittsburgh with Blake Bortles as your quarterback.
Andrew Sendejo Is Very Improved: That first-quarter interception of Drew Brees was a thing of beauty. He was momentarily beaten, then realized the deep shot was coming and had the instincts and incredible range to get back and make a leaping interception. Once a middling guy, he’s a borderline star at this point.
Antonio Brown at 80% Is Still Absurdly Good: He was clearly limited, but Sunday was a reminder that, even with his elite quickness taken away, he’s still so good tracking the ball (and winning those hand fights with enough subtlety to never draw a flag).
Corey Davis: The one silver lining for the Titans on Saturday night. After an injury-plagued rookie year, it was nice to see him make some plays.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers Offense: Is still incredibly good. Super Bowl LIII is well within reach for this team.
Can We Stop the Meaningless Extra Points?: A really dumb moment in the middle of a really incredible scene in Minnesota, right?
Steelers Lose Sight of the Ball: The Jaguars were 8-for-14 on third down, and many of them were throws well short of the sticks, as well as one Bortles run. It was odd for a defense that figured to keep eyes on the backfield and dare Bortles to thread some third-down throws.
Was This the end for Dick LeBeau?: He got Tom Brady once during his time with the Steelers, but that was not the case on Saturday night—the Titans don’t have the back-seven talent to deal with New England’s weapons. With Mike Mularkey’s future in question, that means LeBeau’s is too. If he’s out in Nashville, is there a market for an 80-year-old defensive coordinator?
The Play That Knocked Out Sendejo: Was an unfortunate collision with Michael Thomas, but not dirty.
Terron Armstead as the Guy from Operation: It seems like everything was injured on his body. That, combined with the absence of stud guard Andrus Peat, was a shame against this Vikings front.
The Eagles’ Dog Masks: Were disturbing. And I once wrote a whole book about dog heads on athlete's bodies.
Chris Boswell’s Historically Bad Onside Kick: Sure, it’s an inexact science. But it’s an awfully feeble effort when the attempt doesn’t even go five yards, let alone 10, and that’s why the Jaguars were in position for a game-clinching field goal.
Telvin Smith’s Point: I dunno. I realize it’s a situation you’re rarely in that situation as a defensive player, but to give up 15 yards of field-goal position so you can feebly point? If you’re gonna pick up a taunting penalty, get your money’s worth, guy.
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Conference Championship Games: They’re gonna keep playing football!
Mike Mularkey: It seems pretty clear that GM Jon Robinson has been itching to move on. Mularkey should be commended for the rebuild he oversaw, but on the other hand, the development of Marcus Mariota has to be the No. 1 priority for this organization. Mariota clearly slid back this season. If the Titans are focusing on the process more than the big-picture result (as they should), it’s understandable if they move on and try to find that Sean McVay East to pair with Mariota. (UPDATE: Forget all that! According to Rap Sheet, Mularkey has been offered an extension. Well don't that beat all. UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Mularkey and the Titans have agreed to part ways after all.)
Steve Sarkisian’s Future: Here’s the good news: The season-saving fourth-down conversion at midfield, the over route to Julio Jones, that was brilliant work by Sarkisian. The pre-snap motion resulted in safety Malcolm Jenkins trying to run with Jones, and you can’t ask for anything more with the season on the line. I’ve maintained all year that Sarkisian needs time to make this work, but this season was ugly for the Atlanta offense right up until the very end. I thought back to the Falcons’ early-season loss in Foxboro, and how unfair it was for everyone to freak out over a single play call (that fourth-down jet sweep on the goal line). A couple highly-visible plays can feed into a narrative though, and Atlanta’s season ending goal-to-go series did just that. If ever asked to call play in an NFL game, I’d likely wet my pants multiple times and no one would be able to understand the play-call verbiage through my constant sobbing, so take this all with a grain of salt, but the second-down inside screen to Terron Ward (Terron Ward!) was the equivalent on a kneeldown. That sprint-out on fourth down is forgivable, but you hate to cut the field in half when Matt Ryan is your quarterback. (Also, the Falcons were outstanding in the red zone in 2016, and in part it might have been due to the fact that they worked around the assumption that Julio would draw a lot of attention and took advantage of mismatches elsewhere.) With things devolving down the stretch—two of Atlanta’s three TD drives this postseason were short ones set up by fumbled punts—and Sarkisian reportedly under consideration for jobs elsewhere, you wonder if this is headed toward an early divorce.
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