Jermaine Every: NFL playoffs Divisional Round observations
Sometimes things will go as planned, and sometimes they won’t. For example: you start dating someone who seems to be a good match. You may end up getting married, or putting a restraining order on them. Either way, you hope you end up better off. Football is a crazy game. That’s why you can’t count on what you think you know. You have to rely on what your eyes and instincts tell you. Here’s how this weekend’s games went down…
Atlanta Falcons vs Philadelphia Eagles
As the first ever #1 seed to be a home dog, many picked the Falcons to beat the Eagles. Some thought the Falcons would win easily. That’s all fine and dandy, but the Eagles were out to prove they still are the No. 1 seed even without starting quarterback Carson Wentz under center. After a 42-yard pass interference call on the game’s opening play, Eagles running back Jay Ajayi fumbled, Falcon safety Keanu Neal recovered, and the Falcons went on to score with a field goal (3-0). After trading punts, the Eagles scored the game’s first touchdown (missed the extra point) on a 14-play 86-yard drive that saw the potential goat of the game Ajayi open the drive with 37 yards, including 36 yards on the first four plays (6-3). Eagles special teams ace Bryan Braman muffed a Falcon punt which was recovered by the Falcons on the 18-yard line. They used four plays to score a touchdown on the short filed taking a 10-6 lead. Shortly before halftime, the Eagles managed to get off a 53-yard field goal (10-9) with no time left courtesy of some timely sideline passes and catches. The second half opened with teams trading three and outs, followed by the Falcons crossing into Eagle territory before again punting. The Eagles took their next drive just inside Falcon territory before stalling out and kicking a field goal to take a 12-10 lead. After yet another Falcon three and out, the Eagles went on another methodical drive that resulted in another field goal for a 15-10 lead. With six minutes left in the game, the Falcons were poised to go on a game-winning drive. On a key third and 6, the Falcons first down conversion was challenged and overturned. However, Matt Ryan found Julio Jones for a 20-yard gain to the Eagles’ 38-yard line on fourth & 6. Four plays later, the Falcons found themselves on the 9-yard line. It came down to a 4th & 2 play in which Ryan attempted to find Jones again, but Jones failed to hold onto the ball. This game proved the Eagles are contenders without Wentz. The Falcons scored their points off Eagle turnovers, just as they did last week against the Rams, but couldn’t put enough offense together to pull it out. This Eagles defense is going to be tough to beat at home.
New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans
In a game where the Patriots were heavily favored at home, the Titans came in looking to get another upset road win this playoff season. Marcus Mariota then took the Titans on a 95-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead needing only two 3rd down conversions to do so. That’s when Tom Brady said “hold my beer” and proceeded to show why he’s considered to be the G.O.A.T. He led the Patriots to three consecutive touchdown drives to go up 21-7. After the Titans failed to convert a fourth down, the Patriots missed a 53-yard field goal as time expired going into halftime. Opening the second half, the Titans went three and out on their first three possessions. Meanwhile, Brady was being Brady leading the Patriots on touchdown drives on two of their first three possessions of the second half to go up 35-7 and pretty much ice the game early in the fourth quarter. The Titans scored a garbage time touchdown with almost two minutes left in the game to creep just above the over/under of 48. Brady went 35/53 for 337 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers, and completed passes to seven different receivers. After the game, Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Mariota suffered a quad injury in the first half hampered their gameplan some. Oh really? Was it Mariota’s injury, or the fact that they only mustered 65 yards rushing and 267 total yards of offense? The Titans simply got beat by a better team. Drama aside, this Patriots team will be hard to stop.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Some said this could be a replay of their matchup from earlier in the year when the Jags got five interceptions from Ben Roethlisberger in a 30-9 beatdown as they further established their defense as one of the best in the league. The Steelers have long been known for their defensive calling card. However, this game would be ruled by the offenses. The Steelers’ first three possessions ended in a punt, interception, and a turnover on downs. The Jags followed up the Steelers’ initial ineptness with three touchdowns (with a punt squeezed in) to take a 21-0 lead about three and a half minutes into the 2nd quarter. Then the Steelers remembered they have one of the best receivers in the game when Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for acrobatic catch in the back of the endzone with A.J. Bouye draped all over him to pull within 21-7. Following a Jags punt, Roethlisberger was stripped on a sack and Telvin Smith picked it up for a 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown to go up 28-7. Never ones to lay down, Roethlisberger found Martavis Bryant for a 36-yard touchdown on a fourth and 11 to cut the lead to 28-14 going into the half. One of the best plays of the weekend came on the Steelers’ opening possession of the second half. Roethlisberger made a heads up play throwing behind himself after crossing the line of scrimmage on thirrd and 9 to Le’Veon Bell who scored on what was recorded as a 19-yard rushing touchdown to make it 28-21. Punt, punt, punt on the next three exchanges of possessions by both teams was broken up when the Steelers turned it over on downs early in the fourth quarter. The next four possession exchanges in the fourth quarter went for alternating an on-side kick that had no chance to be recovered. The Jags kicked a field goal to go up 45-35. The Steelers made a valiant effort to come back, but scoring a touchdown with one second left gave them nothing but a hopeless feeling ending the game at 45-42. In a game where the Steelers were thought to have been knocked out early, they absorbed the early body blows, only to come up short on the scorecards.
New Orleans Saints vs Minnesota Vikings
This was a matchup of contrasting styles. The Saints brought the explosive offense with the sure-fire Hall Of Fame quarterback. The Vikings countered with a shut-down defense and the backup journeyman quarterback. The Vikings started out as fast as the Jags did and looked like they were going to win by beating up on the Saints. They forced a three and out then drove right down the field and scored to go up 7-0. A Saints punt followed, then a Vikings field goal after they were aided on a 79-yard drive with 54 yards in pass interference calls on back to back plays (10-0). After trading punts, Drew Brees was intercepted by Andrew Sendejo. The Vikings turned that turnover into another touchdown to go up 17-0. It seemed as if the Saints were out of it before halftime. After a drive deep into Viking territory looked promising, a tipped pass led to Brees’ second interception followed as things started to look ugly. The Saints defense forced a three and out, but missed a 58-yard field goal. The Vikings obliged by missing 49-yard field goal just before halftime. The Saints were down 17-0 and kicking off to the Vikings, but didn’t give up. Forcing a punt on the opening possession, they followed that with a touchdown drive to cut the lead to 17-7. After forcing Case Keenum into an interception, they scored again to the lead to 17-14 as things started to come together for them. On the Vikings next drive, Saints head coach decided to challenge two plays and lost both, along with two timeouts. The Vikings went on to kick a field goal on the drive to go up 20-14. Losing the two timeouts could have been crucial, but the Saints weren’t done yet. After an exchange of punts, the Saints went on to score the go-ahead touchdown with three minutes left (21-20). What followed was an unbelievable finish that’ll live on in playoff lore. The Vikings used about a minute and a half and kicked a field goal to go up 23-21. Brees engineered what was widely thought to be a game-winning drive as the Saints responded with their own field goal to go up 24-23 with 25 seconds left. Then the unthinkable happened. The Vikings got a completion to their 39-yard line and used their final timeout with 18 seconds left. Two more incompletions followed sandwiched by a timeout. On third and 10 with about 10 seconds left, Keenum completed a pass to Stefon Diggs in Saints territory. Instead of going for the sure tackle, Saints rookie standout safety Marcus Williams went to take out Diggs’ legs, and missed. Diggs was able to recover, and then made a run for the ages into the end zone, game over! Vikings won 29-24 in what has to be the greatest finish in playoff history.
The last two games of the weekend were two of the best games/finishes in recent memory. The first two games were a mixed bag of what we all expected, and somewhat of a surprise. Either way, it shapes up for a hell of a weekend next week. In the NFC, we’ll have a backup bowl with Keenum leading his Vikings into Philadelphia to do battle with Foles’ Eagles. This will pit two of the toughest defenses against each other and ask the backups to lead one of their teams to the Super Bowl. Over in the AFC, we’ll have old faithful Brady and his Patriots welcoming “Sacksonville” and its polar opposite quarterback Blake Bortles. Here, we’ll see if the upstart Jags will dethrone the long-reigning kings of the AFC using their stingy defense and run game, though the Patriots will be counter-punching with the G.O.A.T. For us football fans, I pray we’ll see as good of games next week as we saw this week!