Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened during Wild-Card Weekend...
Things That Made Me Giddy
Kirk Cousins Picks His Big Spots: There was the throw to Adam Thielen in overtime to set them up in the tight red zone. And, of course, there was the nicely placed jump ball to Kyle Rudolph (after almost muffing the snap) to win it. But Cousins also connected with Adam Thielen on a big third-and-long on what might have been a clock-killing drive at the end of regulation (and it came after his second-worst throw of the season, a John Stockton-esque bounce pass intended for a wide-open Stefon Diggs downfield). He also had his best throw of the season, staring down a blitz on third-and-9 and bouncing one off the ceiling to Adam Thielen for 34 yards to set up their second touchdown. He didn’t carry the Vikings to a victory on Sunday, but he played a prominent role in the victory.
This Is Why You Love Deshaun Watson: He’s not a perfect quarterback, and this offense’s shortcomings were on display for the first 40 minutes or so on Saturday. But he has a knack for making these out-of-structure plays where he is mapping the field among absolute chaos, and he often delivers those plays at the biggest moments. You hate to lean on vague descriptors like “grit” and “heart” and “intangibles,” but it’s tough to describe Saturday’s comeback—and Watson's first NFL postseason win—without them.
Derrick Henry As Atlas: Or something like that, I don’t know my Greek mythology very well—though Atlas was a titan, right? Huh? Yeah? (Is that right?) Anyway, 34 carries for 182 yards when they know you’re coming is something to behold, and just about the only way you can justify building an offense around a running back in this day and age.
[Laughing] The Eagles Can’t Cover DK Metcalf: I mean, I’m not sure what the solution was, because every time Jim Schwartz blitzed he left glaring one-on-one mismatches all over the field. And when he didn’t blitz there was no pressure and you have a bunch of guys who can’t cover for more than two seconds. Metcalf did what he wanted when he wanted to against this secondary, to the tune of seven catches for 160 yards.
Getting Kyle Rudolph on P.J. Williams: That’s a nice job by OC Kevin Stefanski to dictate that matchup in the tight red zone—Rudolph has six inches and about 50 pounds on Williams. (And I’m a little surprised the Saints didn’t burn a timeout when they saw that glaring mismatch on the outside.)
Texans 2-for-2 For Two: If they don’t convert one of them the game might play out differently (as in, Houston wouldn’t necessarily have lost by two in regulation), but obviously, both conversions were huge. Deshaun Watson made a Superman play on the first one, then a nice design put DeAndre Hopkins in the slot for a layup on the second one.
Mike Zimmer’s Inside Job: He moved away from it as the game went on, but Zimmer and the Vikings staff aligned Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter inside early on, and they depantsed the Saints interior line (interior pressure is absolute kryptonite for Drew Brees). If not for Taysom Hill heroics, this would have been a decisive victory for Zimmer in the battle with Sean Payton.
Taysom Hill Bails Out Brees: There have been so many days when defenses breathed a sigh of relief when Hill lined up under center. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as Hill proved to be a nightmare for the Vikings while Brees was simply a liability. Hill delivered the Saints’ two longest plays of the day, the 50-yard deep ball to Deonte Harris and an exceptional 28-yard run.
The Unblockable Everson Griffen: The Vikings pass rush was the difference in New Orleans, and Griffen was at his absolute best.
Anthony Firkser Delivers: Who would’ve thought the mismatch of Saturday night would be Firkser on Terrence Brooks? The third-year tight end, who shares an alma mater with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Cameron Brate (New England Tractor Trailer Training School), filleted Brooks on a red-zone third-and-10 for a second-quarter touchdown, and beat him again on a third-and-8 to keep the final clock-killing drive alive.
Adam Thielen Arrives Just in Time: He was off to a brutal start, with a lost fumble on his first catch and an inexplicable drop over the middle. But he bounced back in a big way, torching Marshon Lattimore while delivering two of the season’s biggest catches among his 7-for-129.
Brian Daboll’s Opening Script: Someone is going to have to write their master’s thesis on it. The perfectly designed and executed QB sweep, then pulls the wide receiver throwback to the quarterback to cap the drive.
Brett Kern Punts the Patriots’ Souls Into the Abyss: New England settled for a game of field position, and Kern won it. The 58-yard line drive in the face of a full-on rush, downed at the New England 1 in the final seconds, was the pièce de résistance.
J.J. Watt Is Back, Huh?: He was left unblocked on a blown assignment in overtime (so that one doesn’t count), but he also made a handful of impact plays along the way on Saturday, including a huge third-down sack to keep it a one-possession game. The Texans might not win without him.
Rashaan Evans’s Very Goal Line Stand: The Patriots had a first-and-goal at the 1 in the second quarter and ran it to the left three times, with Evans, the second-year linebacker, knifing in and spoiling the play each time.
Danielle Hunter Saves Christmas: The Saints were driving for at least the tying field goal when Hunter demolished Ryan Ramczyk on a first-down rep, getting to Drew Brees on a play that resulted in Brees’s soft fumble.
Vikings Can Thank Goodness for Eric Kendricks: His status was up in the air earlier this week, but there he was, all over the field.
Bills Stuff the Sneak: Star Lotulelei has been something of a disappointment since arriving in Buffalo on that big free-agent deal, but he was crucial in blowing up the fourth-and-inches, would-be-game-clinching Deshaun Watson sneak to keep the Bills alive.
A Rested Dalvin Cook: The numbers won’t wow you (28 carries for 94 yards), but on Sunday Cook looked every bit as explosive as he has all season.
What Did the Bills Think When the Bears Jumped In Front of Them Last Spring . . . : to take a running back, and it was David Montgomery instead of Devin Singletary? The nervous laughter must’ve been deafening.
Patriots Spent a Second-Rounder on a Decent Punt Returner: Mohamed Sanu had a 23-yard punt return to set up a field goal in the second quarter, so don’t say they got nothing out of him.
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A Mystery for the Ages: How Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t flagged here is beyond belief. Though—to be fair—what NFL official would be watching a quarterback with the ball in his hands during a play? (To be clear: I don't think this hit is any dirtier than any other defender trying to get a free lick in on a quarterback. But the NFL is trying to "make the game safer"—at least according to that ad that even casual football viewers saw 12,000 times this season. This is a penalty whether it's on a quarterback or any other player. That's why they give the officials those little yellow flags.)
Drew Brees’s Arm Strength: For a second consecutive January, it was problematic. Protection was an issue, but on his interception late in the first half Brees had a runway and clearly tried to throw it on more of a line to get it there, but instead it hung up well short. That turnover led to a Vikings touchdown. His lost fumble, on a first down in the red zone when trailing by three with four minutes to go, was exceptionally soft. You can count on one hand the number of worse games Brees has had as a Saint.
Buffalo Let ’Em Off the Hook: Early on it felt like it was going to be different. Two postseasons ago, the Bills went into Jacksonville with Tyrod Taylor under center. That day, Taylor played so conservatively that it made you want to claw out your eyes—it was just short of an all-out refusal to try to score points, even as Buffalo trailed late. On Saturday, it looked like they would unleash Josh Allen after that first drive, especially against a flat-out bad Texans secondary. While a couple of holding calls, a Duke Williams end-zone drop and a John Brown failure to toe-tap were game-changing failures, there’s no doubt that the Bills went too conservative after the opening drive. They played for field goals and that’s what they got, never stretching it to a three-possession lead. (When Denver did this to the Texans a couple weeks ago, they just kept collecting touchdowns in the first half and led by four possessions at halftime.) That’s how you end up playing the role of the Washington Generals against Deshaun Watson.
Buffalo’s Ultra-Conservative Drive to Wrap Up the First Half: With one timeout, 30 seconds left, a 10-0 lead and a first down with the ball on the 23 against a Texans defensive backfield on its heels, they . . . hand it to Frank Gore? That was the most disappointing playcall any team made this season. The running play (for one yard) forced a spike, setting up a third-and-9 and essentially a single shot at the touchdown (which was a Duke Williams dropped touchdown, but still . . . ). It’s NFL football in 2019; go get seven points and put the game out of reach.
Harrison Smith’s Disrespect of Taysom Hill: Smith abandoned the deep middle on Hill’s 50-yard completion to Deonte Harris to set up the Saints’ first touchdown. Hill scored the second touchdown when he lined up as a receiver and Smith, assuming the ball would go to Alvin Kamara in the left flat, passed Hill off to no one down the left sideline.
The Illegal Blindside Block Flag: I don’t want to overstate this, because the Bills lost this game first and foremost because they chose to settle for field goals. And if this play isn’t flagged, Steven Hauschka is going to be attempting a 55-yarder (he was 1-for-5 from beyond 50 this season). But, simply put: This is not a penalty. I understand why an official might have flagged this play while watching full-speed in real-time, but to throw this flag in overtime of a playoff game on a team in field goal range, an official has to be 100% certain there was an infraction. And there’s no way an official could have been 100% certain there was an infraction here, because there wasn’t an infraction. (And it’s all a shame, because at least on first viewing it was a pretty well-officiated game.)
Bill O’Brien With the First-Ever Playoff Pass Interference Challenge: And what a terrible challenge it was. DeAndre Hopkins initiated contact on the route in the form of a vicious head slap, after which DB Taron Johnson grabbed him. It was either offsetting penalties or no penalties, and 99% of the time it’s the latter. It was a waste of a challenge and a timeout.
Why Is Jim Schwartz Calling Cover-0 on Third-and-Long on the Final Play?: DK Metcalf one-on-one with anyone in your secondary is a free first down.
Tony Corrente Pleads Temporary Insanity: The fact that he even considered calling the second-half kickoff a live ball (and Bills touchdown) when Texans return man DeAndre Carter clearly had no intention of returning the kick is deeply troubling. Corrente is a veteran referee doing a playoff game. Whatever Al Riveron is feeding these guys, it’s melting their brains.
Those Baker Mayfield Progressive Ads: There was a time when it probably felt like a great idea to run those through January.
Bills Can’t Get Off the Field on Third-and-18: If that was a game of Madden 98, John would have piped in with a “the only thing a prevent defense prevents is wins.” It was one of two key plays on Houston’s game-winning drive. The fact that there was little pressure didn’t help matters, but second-year linebacker (and future stud) Tremaine Edmunds dropped way too deep and allowed Duke Johnson to get the first down on a throw well short of the sticks.
A Bad Marshon Lattimore Kind of Day: Lattimore has been a bit up-and-down since his spectacular rookie season for the Saints, and he was as good as anyone in the first half of this season. But Adam Thielen took his juice money on Sunday, a bitter way to wrap up the season.
NFL Timing Rules Are Stupid: Did you enjoy the pure drama of the Titans taking multiple penalties before they punted in the fourth quarter because the clock doesn’t stop after all penalties like it should? (It does stop in the final five minutes, but the Titans were able to take it from 6:39 to 4:44 without snapping the ball.)
John Brown Versus the Sideline: Smoke had a wonderful first season in Buffalo and is a great fit with Josh Allen. But he sacrificed an and-goal series when he didn’t get his feet down on the sideline on a third down in the first half. And on a desperation drive, with his quarterback (not surprisingly) extending the play, Brown inexplicably ran out of bounds as the ball was being delivered.
Tyler Lockett Is Gonna Play for Italy in the Next World Cup: He’s a tremendous player, but no one in the NFL is guilty of more frequent or obnoxious flops. Just play, guy, officials in this league have enough problems.
The Bills and Their Blocking Assignments: They twice gave up immediate pressure against a three-man rush on a desperation drive. Then, early in overtime, J.J. Watt was left inexplicably unblocked. Then, tight end Dawson Knox whiffed on an otherwise promising first-down QB sweep on the edge of field goal range in overtime, dooming what would be the final series of the season. As uneven as Josh Allen was, his supporting cast was just as wildly inconsistent and mistake-prone on Saturday.
Tre Flowers With His Back to the Ball: The Seahawks corner got beat and gave up long (and blatant) pass interference penalties against Greg Ward and Shelton Gibson. Yeesh.
That Doorbell Camera Ad: So, like, you’re just gonna rip off Jon Glaser’s visual gag from Delocated and pretend you didn’t?
Man, That Tom Brady Is One Pathetic Loser: Go home to your six Super Bowl rings and undisputed standing as the greatest player of all-time and billionaire supermodel wife, loser.
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Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Vintage Large Intimidating Creature Mode:
Deshaun Watson Surviving This Blitz:
This Cousins-to-Thielen Connection: It was even better than the one in overtime. (Told you Cousins is good against the blitz.)
Tom Brady’s Aural Chicanery: “Julian, get in your spot!”
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What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Is Carson Wentz "Too Injury-Prone"?: No, not unless this concussion was severe enough to be career-ending. Wentz had back problems last season that were concerning, but the back wasn't an issue this year. Other than that, he tore his ACL on a single play, and he got brained by Jadeveon Clowney on a single play. Sure, Wentz can do a better job protecting himself, but so can half the quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Sheer Madness of Josh Allen: I’d rather my QB lean reckless as opposed to overly conservative, but Allen took reckless to strange new places on Saturday. On one hand, you could cite five out-of-structure plays that only he or Patrick Mahomes could have made. On the other hand, you could cite about twice as many near-disastrous decisions on the same night (my personal favorite was the late-in-the-down 60-yard overtime prayer intended for . . . fullback Patrick DiMarco?). Things will get interesting when they (presumably) get Allen a true No. 1 receiver this offseason to go with John Brown and Cole Beasley (shoulda taken DK Metcalf!) so that Allen is not relying on a dropsy Duke Williams in key moments. Bills fans are rightfully excited—and if under the influence of truth serum, probably simultaneously terrified—about Allen’s future.
A Great Sunday in Green Bay: Rest assured, the Packers did not want to be hosting the red-hot Saints in the conference semifinals. Instead, they’ll get a Seahawks team whose 12 wins to this point defy logic for a number of reasons, a team that just survived a Josh McCown-led Eagles team that would be, what, about the 29th-best team in the NFL?
People Who Want Offensive Pass Interference on Kyle Rudolph: Need to get a hobby. That’s the same hand-fighting you see in every contested-catch situation.
Pete Carroll and the Seahawks Are Living Well: Hey, they’re one of the last eight teams standing, and anything can happen over the next three games. But this is a team with a lot of indicators that said “7 or 8 wins.” And they just got to play the most banged up team in the NFL, who then lost their stud quarterback in the first quarter (on a quite illegal hit that was not flagged, to boot).
What Will the Titans Pay Derrick Henry, Anyway?: The pending free agent is a power back who has 356 touches so far on the season—the wear and tear could catch up to him soon (and surely the Titans are looking at what happened with Todd Gurley). Still, it’s hard to imagine this offense without him.
Brady & Belichick: The End?: It might be! But honestly, no one knows, so spend the rest of the weekend wildly conjecturing. I’ll say Brady signs on with the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks, and Belichick leaves football to develop a line of gluten-free pizza crusts.
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