Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened in the Divisional Round playoffs...
Things That Made Me Giddy
Andy Reid Fakes the Fake: The Chiefs take full advantage of the trend of gutless “draw them offsides” attempts every time a team has a fourth-and-short at midfield. The Browns relaxed, Chad Henne got the snap and rolled right, and Tyreek Hill obliterated M.J. Stewart on the release for the easy game-clinching fourth-and-inches conversion.
Taron Johnson Runs 101 Yards Into the End Zone . . . and Into Our Hearts: “The 101 yard interception-return touchdown was a big play” is the kind of analysis you come here for. But, honestly, for Johnson, in a game where points were at a premium, to gather himself and take off rather than just taking the touchback was the biggest play of the postseason so far.
This Packers Offense: Aaron Rodgers left a couple throws on the field (including a red-zone miss that cost them four points on the first drive) and Allen Lazard had a pretty nasty drop in the third quarter. Yet when it was all said and done, they had 32 points, nearly 500 yards of offense on one of the league’s three best defenses.
Antoine Winfield Jr. Punch-Out: With the offense stagnant, the coaching staff apparently with no ideas, and the Saints moving the ball and holding a seven-point lead, the Bucs needed the defense to make a play. The rookie delivered, with the punch out on Jared Cook, followed by Deion Jones’s 18-yard return to put the offense in scoring range. Turnovers carried the day for the Bucs.
Leslie Frazier Does His Part to Ruin the QB Duel: Last week, the Colts really had a bead on Buffalo’s zone coverages, and ultimately the Bills were lucky to escape. Facing a much more difficult Baltimore offense on Saturday night, there was no luck needed. as Frazier stunned the Ravens early with a heavy dose of athletic blitzers, and mixed in coverage calls at the right time—like showing blitz then dropping seven on Taron Johnson’s 101-yard pick-six.
Devin White, Carrier of the Ball: His playoff debut went swimmingly, as he was his usual active self. But how about the yards after turnover? He was once a running back at LSU, and it showed on a fumble return of 18 yards, and an interception return of 28 yards on which he gave receiver Marquez Callaway a stiff-arm that he will taste for the next week.
Sean Payton’s Use of the Pinch-Deep Thrower: With Drew Brees’s arm strength limiting their big-play ability, last year the Saints turned to Taysom Hill to deliver a deep ball in the playoff game against the Vikings (Hill connected with Deonte Harris for 50 yards to set up a touchdown). On Sunday, it was Jameis Winston stepping in to stretch the field—though the absolute chaos in the Bucs’ defensive backfield made this a throw Payton himself could’ve hit. (The flag was picked up; the confusion was over the
The Chiefs’ Surgical First Drive: For all their uneven performances down the stretch, their opening playoff drive—10 plays, 75 yards, only one third down—looked like a team that would score 10,000 points on the afternoon.
Tremaine Edmunds Shows Up: He had a down year, but Saturday night might have been his best game of the year, and his athleticism was absolutely crucial in defending the Ravens.
Bucs O-Line Held Up Well: Unlike the first two games with the Saints, in which they got run over. The problem with Tampa’s offense was the play-calling, then quarterback, then receivers.
Picking Up the Excessive Celebration Flag: Kareem Hunt used the ball as a pillow after the fourth-quarter touchdown that cut the lead to five in Kansas City. An official instinctively threw a flag. Was the celebration wholly unoriginal and generally lame? Yes. But does that mean it’s worthy of a penalty in the fourth quarter of a playoff game? No. Nice job by Clay Martin and Co. to get together and pick that flag up.
Marshon Lattimore and the Saints' Secondary: Lattimore once again won his individual battle with Mike Evans decisively, allowing only a goal-line jump ball. And the rest of the New Orleans secondary carried the team on a day when the pass rush was not dominant. The Saints' back end had some issues early in the year, but they came together around midseason and ended up meeting very high expectations.
The Legend of “Guy Named Blake” Continues: Blake Hance got action in a second straight playoff game, which would be wonderful if it didn’t mean Jedrick Wills and Kendrick Lamm both got hurt to force Hance into the lineup at left tackle.
Deonte Harris Almost Stole the Show: This young person, in a game that was supposed to be between an old person and another old person, had two huge returns in the first quarter. One set up a field goal, and the other went for a TD but was called back by Carl Granderson’s unnecessary block in the back. Harris later left with an injury, ensuring that we’d have to sit through the slog of a QB battle.
Hook-and-Lateral for Two: Though, one might ask, if we only award two points for this, then are we even deserving of something so beautiful?
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Brady vs. Brees: Tom Brady was not good, but you could put part of it on poor play-calling, weak play designs and a really good performance by the Saints’ secondary. Brees, simply, looked like he didn’t belong. He had played well enough the last couple weeks, but he was missing routine throws in ways he’s never missed before.
Drew Brees’s Likely Finale: It was an ugly finish to a historic career. Brees’s arm strength had been waning, but on Sunday his ball placement was horrific a couple of times—I can’t remember a game where he was just flat-out missing like he did in this one. There’s a sentimentality to wanting him to come back one more time, but this performance—a home loss in the playoffs for a third straight year—raises the question: Are the Saints better off moving on?
Patrick Mahomes Concussed: And terrifyingly wobbly in the immediate aftermath.
The Crown of Daniel Sorensen’s Helmet: Indeed, a difficult one to call real-time, but crown-of-helmet-to-the-earhole is exactly what that rule is for. In this case, it caused a fumble at the goal line, which meant a change of possession and a free 20 yards for the Chiefs. Seems like this should be reviewable at the very least—if you’re reviewing turnovers and scoring plays anyway, why is a penalty that directly led to that turnover not reviewable?
Fumble Through the End Zone as a Touchback: It remains the dumbest, most illogical rule in a rulebook full of them. How do you award the defense possession and a free 20 yards when they never touch the ball? Bring on the reverse touchback (offense retains possession but backs up to the 20).
It Ends Too Early for Lamar Jackson: On a rough night due to high winds, snap issues and a Leslie Frazier defense with a really good game plan, Jackson had to be excellent in this game; the red-zone pick-six was devastating, and one on which he has to use his eyes to move defenders facing him in the tight red zone. But to have a concussion—suffered when having to chase down another bad snap and save a safety—keep him in the locker room for the Ravens’ fourth-quarter comeback attempt seemed especially cruel.
Chad Henne's Interception Unlike Any Other: It will take a while to figure out what happened here.
Tyler Huntley’s Ravens: No offense to Tyler Huntley, who did what he could and scared the Bills back into coverage with that near miss on the Hollywood Brown up-and-out. But it was a bummer watching him try to orchestrate a fourth-quarter comeback.
In Defense of Orlando Brown: He was getting some heat on social media for not making a better effort to tackle Taron Johnson on the 101-yard pick-six, but the broadcast angle was a little deceiving. It would have been nice to see the 340-pound left tackle (No. 78, in the video) sprint and lay out, but if we're being honest: There's no chance he's getting a finger on Johnson.
A Mortal Aaron Donald: Credit to the Packers’ front five, specifically Elgton Jenkins, but Donald looked awfully uncomfortable, probably because it’s difficult to breathe with injured ribs. He was invisible, save for the 15-yard personal foul he committed in the first quarter.
And a Mortal Jalen Ramsey: "Torched" would be overstating it, but he lost a couple battles and the overall war to Davante Adams, and Adams also feasted on other DBs with Matt LaFleur dictating matchups. But the Rams aren't going to win a playoff game with Donald and Ramsey having off days.
Leonard Fournette’s Hands: Whew! It’s an adventure every time they throw his way, like he’s balling up his fists and trying to pop the ball. I’m not entirely sure he caught that third-quarter touchdown. (Maybe the Bucs should’ve watched his LSU and Jaguars tape instead of looking at his box score stats and deciding, “76 catches, he must be a pass-catching back!”)
Josh Allen Earns a Tony Award: He was also singing during this pratfall. It was like something out of Pippin. (Does Pippin have any pratfalls in it? I've never seen Pippin.)
Justin Tucker Keeps Doinking: Midway through the second quarter, he was on pace to become the first kicker to hit each of the field’s four uprights in a single game.
Shotgun Snaps in Western New York: Was it really a wind thing like Michele Tafoya reported at halftime?
A Broken PAT: What would you do in an emergency situation? Would you run toward the danger, or run away from it? Or would you shovel the ball to your 36-year-old kicker with the expectation that he’ll weave his way into the end zone?
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Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
The Henne Scramble: Or, as it will be nicknamed in Chiefs lore, “The Time Chad Henne Scrambled for 14 Yards to Set Up the Game-Clinching Fourth-Down Conversion.”
Marshon Lattimore Attends PBU:
Travis Kelce on Denzel Ward: Kelce has six inches and 60 pounds on Ward.
Davante Adams in Motion: Adams coming full speed on the motion is a nightmare—and, surely, Jalen Ramsey isn’t expected to chase him down. But this causes beautiful chaos in the Rams’ defensive backfield.
Josh Allen Overcomes Uncontrollable Falling Down Syndrome: Remember, from Brad Goodman’s Feel Bad Rainbow?
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What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Mahomes’s Status for the Conference Title Game: There’s nothing to say about it right now—concussion protocol has to play itself out. But the Chiefs are likely significant underdogs against Buffalo if Chad Henne is under center.
Who Is the Saints’ Next Quarterback?: As he showed earlier this season, Taysom Hill would give the Saints a chance to really meld that multi-purpose rushing attack with the passing game and do some neat things—the tradeoff is you don’t have much of a chance if you get behind schedule. Jameis Winston would give them something more traditional, but as he showed in limited action earlier this year, the tradeoff is he’s going to continue to cram throws into linebackers’ chests. So, Taysom? Jameis? Or…
Was That Michael Thomas’s Last Game in New Orleans?: Unthinkably—especially after he looked good last week—he was shut out on four targets. After a tumultuous year, with a lot of quality receivers set to hit free agency and another tremendous class of receivers in the draft, his market might be a lot softer than you think.
Get the Baker Mayfield Bandwagon Rolling Again: By midseason, he was sitting on a shaky season-and-a-half threatening to set up an interesting offseason decision on his fifth-year option. The decision is no longer interesting for the Browns; in the second half of the year and the playoffs, Mayfield looked like the more complete and refined collection of the star qualities he flashed as a rookie. On Saturday, save for one forced throw across his body his decision-making was excellent, his processing speed was crisp and he did more than enough despite an injury-plagued supporting cast and drop-prone receivers. The Browns have their guy; the discussion now is about a long-term extension.
So Help Me God if We Have to Relive Lamar-in-Big-Game Debates: He walked into a buzz saw against a very good Bills defense in some very difficult conditions. He made a brutal red-zone mistake—with seven zone defenders staring into the backfield in the tight red zone, he has to be able to manipulate them with his eyes. But he’s 24, he has a come-from-behind road playoff win under his belt, and he did it while surrounded by a lot of fill-ins. He will lose some big games in the future, and he will also win many.
Brandon Staley Has Some Interviews Coming Up: I suspect the 38-year-old will grab one of the remaining open jobs and further grow the Sean McVay coaching tree. So someone teach him how to tie a Windsor knot. Because they don’t like it when you wear one of those t-shirts with the tie painted on it.
What of Jared Goff?: He played pretty well at Lambeau all things considered (“things” as in the pins in his thumb), but for all the neat ways they attacked horizontally the lack of explosive plays in the Rams’ passing game this year was noticeable. Goff is indisputably their guy next year, and perhaps deceptively fast Van Jefferson emerges as a field-stretcher, but it will be interesting to see what Sean McVay cooks up to get those chunk plays back again.
Is the New Jake From State Farm Also in a Hyundai Commercial?: Is that allowed? I feel like we all should have had to sign off on that.
Matt LaFleur Has Been Successful: 26-6 in the regular season and now back-to-back trips to the conference title game is pretty good.
Brady-Rodgers Rematch: Will be Sunday, if you have a chance to watch it.
A Bills-Chiefs AFC Title Game: And, yes, here’s an image of the last time they met in the conference championship. It's been awhile, but I believe that is Brent Smith standing over Chiefs legend Ira Montana.
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