Many will look at this 30-0 result and assume that the Chiefs dominated the Texans in a lopsided victory. Sometimes, blowout scores can be misleading, and this is a perfect example of that.
The Chiefs and Texans played evenly until late in the game, and the numbers back that up. By halftime, the yardage was about even, while Houston actually had accumulated more first downs. The score was 13-0, however, and the difference was two-fold, though the second was the direct result of the first.
The first was Knile Davis' kickoff return at the very beginning of the game. Davis, who scored on the second-longest return in NFL playoff history, was able to set the tempo of this contest, as a quick lead prompted Brian Hoyer to force the issue. Hoyer, the second difference, was an absolute train wreck. He put together one of the worst performances in postseason history. The Texans had multiple chances to score and keep this close - and perhaps even take the lead - but he absolutely murdered his team with horrible mistakes.
It went from bad to worse toward the end of the third quarter, when Watt got hurt. He left the game, and it appeared as though the Texans stopped trying. They began missing easy tackles - Johnathan Joseph and Jared Crick had huge whiffs - allowing the Chiefs to score two touchdowns, extending their lead from 13-0 to 27-0 rather quickly.
The Chiefs prevailed, but this was a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory. Jeremy Maclin went down with a knee injury in the third quarter. He was helped off the field and was seen crying on the sideline. It's possible that he may have torn his ACL, which is obviously terrible news for a Kansas City offense that has just two play-makers. Travis Kelce will be the only one remaining.
Alex Smith threw to Maclin just four times, with the receiver being able to catch three passes for 29 yards. The numbers are obviously meager, but Maclin still drew attention from the other players. Smith will have to result to throwing to third-round rookie Chris Conley instead. Conley caught a 9-yard touchdown in garbage time.
Smith, meanwhile, went 17-of-22 for 190 yards, the score to Conley and an interception, which was behind his intended target. Smith also scrambled five times for 27 rushing yards. He did more of the same - he dinked and dunked for the most part. He took a deep shot early downfield to Albert Wilson, who torched first-round rookie Kevin Johnson, but he overthrew his receiver. Smith is not a good quarterback, despite ESPN gushing all over him, and he'll definitely be worse without his No. 1 receiver.
Being too mediocre to spread the ball around, Smith was able to connect with only three players on multiple occasions: Maclin, Travis Kelce (8-128) and Wilson (2-9). Kelce was guilty of a drop, but that was his only blemish on the afternoon. The Texans had absolutely no answer for Kelce. They tried to have various defenders cover him, yet no one had any sort of success.
The Chiefs ran the ball pretty well despite battling a Watt-led front for nearly three quarters. Spencer Ware shouldered most of the workload, gaining 67 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Charcandrick West managed just 26 yards on eight tries. West was thrown to just once, catching a 9-yard pass.
Going back to the Texans, I wasn't exaggerating when I said Hoyer had such a bad game that it'll go down as one of the all-time worst playoff performances. It was apparent that Hoyer was in for a rough afternoon when he started by throwing behind Nate Washington and missing an open Cecil Shorts on the opening drive. He then began committing horrible turnovers. The first was hurled right to Eric Berry. The pass was inexplicable; it appeared as though Hoyer thought Berry was on his team - that's the only explanation. Hoyer then lost a fumble in field-goal range. The second pick was a back-breaker, as the Texans drove down to the 2-yard line. Instead of scoring a touchdown, Hoyer, being under pressure on second down, forced the issue. The third occurred on a horrible deep shot right before halftime, while the fourth came at the end of the game on a putrid pass attempt.
The sad thing is, Hoyer could've easily tossed more picks. Sean Smith dropped an overthrow. An out pass hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity. These are just a couple of examples, and it was absolutely ridiculous. Hoyer, who also wasted a timeout early in the third quarter, finished just 15-of-34 for 136 yards, the four picks and a lost fumble.
Houston's only play-maker, DeAndre Hopkins, snatched six balls for 69 yards. He also drew a pass interference on Marcus Peters. Hopkins' numbers would've been better, but a deep reception of his in garbage time was overturned by a ticky-tack interference call.
Alfred Blue saw most of the workload, but wasn't very effective. He tallied 99 yards on 17 carries, but half of that (49 yards) came on one carry in the second quarter. I have Houston taking a running back in the first round of my 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
Steelers 18, Bengals 16
This was the weirdest game I've ever seen. I feel like Broadway could eventually create a musical or a play based on what happened in this contest. In fact, let's do this recap by breaking it down into acts.
As in most plays, nothing happened at the beginning, save for the introduction of the characters. The Bengals and Steelers did nothing but trade punts for the first quarter-and-a-half. We saw tension begin to rise when Steelers' offensive line coach Mike Munchak pulled the hair of Reggie Nelson. The Bengals matched Pittsburgh's personal foul with one of their own when Domata Peko, who was standing on the sidelines, inexplicably ran onto the field and shoved a Steeler in the back, negating what would've been a third-and-13 for Pittsburgh.
Speaking of Nelson, by the way, the stud safety was later hurt on a Ben Roethlisberger sack. His absence was absolutely huge going forward. The same can be said for Dre Kirkpatrick, who got hurt later.
The Steelers gained some momentum with about five minutes remaining in the second quarter. With no points on the board for either side, McCarron hurled a horrible pass that looked like a punt. It was picked, which the Steelers turned into a field goal. McCarron nearly had another interception after that, but Ryan Shazier dropped it. That was a rare blemish for Shazier, who had an unbelievable performance. Pittsburgh was able to get three more points prior to intermission.
McCarron was almost picked again to begin the third quarter, thanks to a miscommunication with A.J. Green. The Steelers were able to turn him over on that same drive, as he appeared to be strip-sixed near the red zone. The Pittsburgh defender was ruled down, but the Steelers were able to go up 9-0 instead of the Bengals drawing to within 6-3.
This was when the game started getting out of control. The Steelers extended their lead to 15-0 when Martavis Bryant made one of the most ridiculous catches you'll ever see. Bryant snatched the ball and was somehow able to hold it behind his legs all while flipping to the ground, which was the only way he could have kept control of it.
With this contest appearing as though it was about to get out of hand, the officials lost complete control when they failed to call the Steelers for a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit on Giovani Bernard, which knocked him out. The Bengals were whistled for that exact penalty a bit earlier, so the team was understandably visibly frustrated. Adding insult to injury, Mike Tomlin challenged, and it was ruled a fumble even though it was way too close for the officials to change the call.
Cincinnati fans, who were furious, began launching debris onto the football field. I don't blame them at all for doing that. The officials, clearly favoring Pittsburgh, had screwed them twice on the same play.
I actually had this thought at the moment: Ben Roethlisberger better not throw again because the Bengals might be going for his knees. It wasn't the knees, but Vontaze Burfict slammed Roethlisberger into the ground on the next possession. Roethlisberger had to be carted off with a shoulder injury. As this was happening, Cincinnati fans showered him with water bottles and other debris, prompting Jim Nantz to call the people in the fans "disgraceful." That adjective can be used to describe the commentary of Nantz and Phil Simms, which was absolutely abysmal. In fact, their audio feed cut out at one point of the game, and it was the best moment of the evening. That, and Simms saying the "tables have switched." I don't even know anymore.
With Roethlisberger knocked out, it appeared as though the Bengals finally realized that they had a chance. McCarron caught fire, leading the team down the field for three scoring drives. The first, capped off by a Jeremy Hill touchdown, was set up by an A.J. Green-drawn pass interference at the 6-yard line. The second, which ended in a field goal, saw Tyler Eifert (5-58) making a great diving catch for 18 yards on third-and-9 just one play after committing a terrible drop. The third concluded with a beautiful McCarron-to-Green touchdown.
Just like that, the Bengals came back from down 15-0 to take the lead, 16-15. And to top it off, Landry Jones, who had replaced Roethlisberger, threw an interception to Burfict that appeared to end the game...
All the Bengals needed to do was run out the clock, but they couldn't do that. Jeremy Hill lost a fumble, giving the Steelers one last chance. Roethlisberger took the field to replace Jones. It didn't appear as though he could throw the ball very far at all, but he still did a decent job of connecting with his receivers on short routes. That said, it didn't seem as though Pittsburgh was going to move into field-goal range in time - until Burfict inexplicably crash into Antonio Brown's helmet. It was one of the most obvious unnecessary roughness calls you'll ever see. If this occurred in the second quarter, it'd be bad enough, but the penalty helped move the ball into kicking range.
Brown, by the way, was down on the ground for a while, and he appeared to sustain a concussion. That will be important going forward, but this game was still in doubt because the Steelers would have to try a 50-yard kick. That changed when the Bengals were flagged for yet another personal foul for pushing an official. The thing is, Pittsburgh assistant coach Joey Porter ran onto the field. How he wasn't penalized for this was mystifying, to say the least. There should have been offsetting penalties.
The officiating in this game was completely one-sided and horrible. It's absolutely embarrassing for the NFL that they had John Parry, who had no control of the previous Pittsburgh-Cincinnati meeting, officiate this particular matchup again. Whoever thought this was a good idea should be fired.
At any rate, Chris Boswell drilled a 35-yard field goal to end the game. Steelers win, 18-16. Can't wait for Broadway's version.
- I'm going to use the epilogue to post some stats. Roethlisberger went 18-of-31 for 229 yards and a touchdown. It's unclear how healthy he is, but Roethlisberger has an extensive history of playing well when hurt.
- Speaking of injured players, Antonio Brown snatched seven balls for 119 yards. He's questionable at best heading into next week's game in Denver. Bryant (5-29) caught Roethlisberger's sole score.
- Replacing DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint ran well, gaining 58 yards on 17 carries. He was also a big factor catching out of the backfield, as he caught four balls for 60 receiving yards.
- McCarron finished 23-of-41 for 212 yards, one touchdown and the aforementioned pick and fumble. He was much better in the second half, going 16-of-27 for 153 yards and a touchdown compared to 7-of-14 for just 59 yards and an interception beforehand.
- Green led the Bengals with 71 receiving yards on five grabs. Hill, who is partly off the hook in the wake of Cincinnati's dual personal fouls, gained 50 yards and a score on 12 attempts. He struggled for the most part, however, as most of his yardage came on a 38-yard burst that featured an impressive cut.
The Bengals have several key free agents this offseason, including Nelson, Pacman Jones and Leon Hall. I have them addressing the defense with three of their first four picks in my 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
Seahawks 10, Vikings 9
This would be an absolutely crushing loss for any other NFL organization, but Minnesota fans are used to this. The Vikings have been snake-bitten throughout their franchise history, so this is nothing new. Most recently, Brett Favre threw an interception to give Minnesota a brutal loss in the NFC Championship during the the 2009 campaign. Before that, Gary Anderson whiffed on a field goal to send the 15-1 Vikings home early following the 1998 regular season.
It appeared as though the Vikings had this game in hand. Down 10-9, Teddy Bridgewater and Kyle Rudolph put together a terrific drive to move the team into short field-goal range. All Blair Walsh had to do was drill a 27-yarder after he connected on three longer field goals earlier in the contest. He whiffed, wide left, and it wasn't even close. And just like that, Minnesota's valiant effort in the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history ended in bitter disappointment.
It's easy to blame Walsh, and he definitely deserves most of the responsibility for this defeat. However, Adrian Peterson needs to shoulder some of the blame as well. Peterson lost a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter in his own territory that set up the Seahawks with what turned out to be the game-winning field goal. Peterson, of course, has a history of fumbling, so it wasn't exactly a surprise to see him cough up the ball. He did so at the worst moment possible, as the Vikings, up 9-7, converted a first down and appeared to be gaining momentum. The Seahawks had barely done anything offensively on the afternoon, save for one drive, so giving them a gift like that was devastating.
Peterson, by the way, couldn't find any room against Seattle's stalwart front, mustering just 45 yards on 23 carries. He was taken off the field following the fumble, but only because Jerick McKinnon is better in the passing game. Mike Zimmer trusted Peterson enough to move his team closer into field-goal position at the very end, but it was all for naught.
Going into the game, I liked the Vikings to keep this contest close, but I wasn't crazy about it to wager more than three units on it because Teddy Bridgewater had never been primarily responsible for winning a big game. Bridgewater certainly played well, completing 17-of-24 passes for 146 yards in an environment in which it was incredibly difficult to air it out. Bridgewater played very well. In fact, he could've enjoyed a much better stat line had McKinnon not dropped a deep pass in the first half. If there's a silver lining for Minnesota, it's that Bridgewater took some major steps, especially on the final drive, which bodes well for the future.
Thanks to the sub-zero conditions and Seattle's terrific secondary, Minnesota's leading receiver had just 26 receiving yards. That was Stefon Diggs, who logged four catches. Rudolph snatched just one pass for 24 yards, but it was a big one, as it moved the team into field-goal range. Rudolph also drew a big pass interference on Kam Chancellor earlier on the drive.
The Vikings could use another weapon to help Bridgewater. I have them selecting a receiver in the first round of my 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
As for the Seahawks, they had some major communication issues in the first three quarters. Lining up late, they had to waste numerous timeouts. This would have hurt them had Walsh drilled the final field goal, as they would've had about a minute remaining to convert a kick of their own instead of 20 seconds because of the extra stoppage they didn't have.
In addition to the communication problems, Russell Wilson also had issues with protection. He was constantly under pressure, as Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd were dominant. The Vikings recorded just two sacks, but Wilson had to throw the ball away on numerous occasions. One instance should've been ruled intentional grounding, but Walt Coleman was too incompetent to make the correct call.
Wilson went 13-of-26 for 142 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which was a tipped pass on a fourth down. He did not look comfortable whatsoever in the frigid weather. Wilson did, however, make a great play when he mishandled a snap, scooped up the ball 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, avoided some defenders and found Tyler Lockett for a huge gain that helped set up Seattle's first score of the game.
Wilson's sole score went to Doug Baldwin (5-42), who made an amazing, one-handed catch to convert a third-and-10 in the second quarter. Lockett caught that one crazy pass, but he made it count, as it went for 35 yards.
Christine Michael looked pretty solid, as he gained 70 yards on 21 carries. Had the Seahawks lost, it wouldn't have been because of Marshawn Lynch's absence. It appears as though Michael is finally living up to his ability.
One final note: It's an absolute embarrassment that Coleman was officiating this game. Not only did he miss the obvious intentional grounding, he also failed to overturn an easy call when replay showed that a Seattle player was short of the first-down marker early on. Only the top officials are supposed to be on the field during the playoffs, so that begs the question why the senile Coleman was allowed to officiate a postseason contest. Coleman is one of the most incompetent, corrupt refs in the NFL, so whoever made the decision to assign him to this game should be fired immediately.
Packers 35, Redskins 18
The Packers won this game convincingly, at least in terms of the final score, but things looked bleak early on. Aaron Rodgers, backed up near his own goal line because of a J.C. Tretter false start, took a sack in the end zone on a safety, thanks to rookie pass-rusher Preston Smith getting by Tretter, who was playing for the injured David Bakhtiari.
The Redskins turned their 2-0 advantage into a 5-0 lead, but it could've been 9-0 had DeSean Jackson put forth some effort when running near the end zone. Jackson, who dogged it on the play, nonchalantly waltzed out of bounds when he could have dived for six. The Redskins still had first-and-goal on Green Bay's 1-yard line, but couldn't punch it in. They were, however, able to score shortly afterward when Kirk Cousins hit Jordan Reed. Up 11-0, Washington looked like it was in great shape, while a reeling Rodgers was just 1-of-8 for 11 yards, missing open receivers and looking skittish.
And then, everything changed, and I mean everything. The Redskins scored just one touchdown after that, while Rodgers caught fire. Following his 1-of-8 start, Rodgers went 20-of-28 for 199 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way. The quarterback who couldn't fire a pass within 10 yards of his receivers disappeared, and the Rodgers of old abused Washington's miserable secondary. He was the primary factor for the Packers outscoring the Redskins, 35-7, following that 11-0 start by Washington.
Rodgers' final numbers were 21-of-36 for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He sparked the Packers' offense surge in the second quarter, while the running game capped things off. Rodgers threw just eight times following intermission, which was for the best, given the windy conditions.
Eddie Lacy and James Starks trampled the Redskins in the second half. I was surprised they didn't accomplish that prior to intermission, given how poor Washington was versus the run to close out the season. However, they got rolling as the game progressed. Lacy and Starks each were given 12 carries, which they turned into 63 and 53 yards, respectively. Both scored as well. Lacy had a sequence in which he converted a fourth-and-1 with a 13-yard burst, followed by a 30-yard gallop, setting up the Starks score, which put the Packers up for good.
Rodgers' two scores went to Davante Adams (4-48) and Randall Cobb (3-38). Both had some negative moments, however. Cobb dropped a pass, while Adams sustained a knee injury in the second half. It's a shame, as Adams was having a rare, great performance, which included an amazing catch. James Jones (7-81) paced the team with 11 targets.
Unlike Rodgers, Cousins regressed as the evening went on. Cousins went 12-of-18 for 127 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but couldn't do anything following the opening drive of the third quarter. The Packers put a great amount of pressure on him, sacking him a whopping six times.
Cousins ultimately finished 29-of-46 for 329 yards, two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) and a lost fumble. He was very fortunate not to be intercepted, as Green Bay had chances to pick him off on multiple occasions. Cousins played well overall, but Green Bay overwhelmed him in the second half. The offensive line will have to be upgraded, which is what I have happening in the day-two rounds of my 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
Cousins had the most success throwing to Jordan Reed, whom the Packers couldn't cover. Reed caught nine of his 17 targets for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Aside from Reed, only two Redskins logged more than 20 receptions: Chris Thompson (8-89) and Pierre Garcon (5-70). Jackson, who snatched two receptions for 17 yards, was predictably ineffective against a strong opponent.
Matt Jones didn't play, so Alfred Morris handled the entire workload. He gained 50 yards on 11 carries, but most of it came on a 19-yard burst.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.