This wasn't the most convincing victory for the Texans, but after what happened last year in the shutout loss to the Chiefs, they'll take it. This time, it was their turn to own the dominant defense to bog down an opposing, incompetent quarterback.
The Texans could've easily utilized the Bobby Boucher offense, kneeling down on every play, because the Raiders couldn't do anything offensively. With Derek Carr out, and Matt McGloin banged up, they had to use Connor Cook the entire afternoon. Making matters worse for them, left tackle Donald Penn was ruled out the day before the game, and then center Rodney Hudson missed some action with an ankle.
Not having Penn was a huge issue for the Raiders, as they had to defend Houston's edge rushers. Cook predictably took some sacks, but even when he had time, he couldn't do anything. He started off by throwing an interception in his own territory. It was a screen to Latavius Murray, but Jadeveon Clowney made an athletic play to snatch the ball. It was horrible awareness by Cook not to recognize that Clowney was even there. This led to a quick touchdown by the Texans on the following play, giving them what would be an insurmountable 10-0 lead.
The Raiders had just one positive drive after that in meaningful action, thanks to a long Jalen Richard punt return. However, they couldn't sustain anything otherwise. Cook's passes were all over the place. He nearly threw four other interceptions in the opening half alone! In fact, one near-pick was so poorly thrown that the defender couldn't intercept the pass because Cook overshot his intended target. Andre Hal then dropped an interception right before halftime. The ESPN announcers said Cook didn't see Hal, but I don't know whom he was throwing to anyway because there were no Raiders in the area. I was shocked it wasn't called intentional grounding!
Cook finished just 18-of-45 for 161 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Believe it or not, but those numbers were enhanced by garbage time, as the Raiders put together a long touchdown drive in the fourth quarter because the Texans stopped blitzing and went into a prevent. Cook, at halftime, had completed only four of his 14 attempts for only 41 yards. He was absolutely horrible; in addition to his poor passing, he also took some sacks because he held the ball for too long, and he generally had a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face the entire afternoon. It's astonishing that the Cowboys reportedly wanted to select Cook instead of Dak Prescott, but couldn't because the Raiders moved up for Cook. It just proves that the NFL Draft can be a crapshoot.
Cook embarrassed himself, but he wasn't the only one to blame on offense. Left tackle Menelik Watson was awful in place of the injured Penn, and the two Houston edge rushers had great performances as a result. Meanwhile, Cook was hurt by countless drops. It started when Michael Crabtree was guilty of one, negating a gain of about 15 yards. I counted five drops, but I may have missed one or two.
Crabtree was guilty of a couple of those drops. He didn't finish the game because of a concussion, but Oakland was better off without him. Andre Holmes (4-50) was actually superior in relief, and he caught Cook's sole touchdown. Amari Cooper (2-10) was awful as well. He was guilty of a deep drop and ran some half-hearted routes. His lack of effort was disturbing.
Murray scored Oakland's other touchdown, and he finished with 39 yards on 12 carries. He didn't have much running room on most of his attempts; outside of an 18-yard burst, Murray gained 21 yards on 11 tries.
As for the Texans' offense, I'm sure Brock Osweiler wishes he could play the Raiders every week. Osweiler has endured an abysmal 2016 campaign, but he's been great versus the Raiders for some reason. Osweiler's numbers weren't great - 14-of-25, 168 yards, one touchdown - but he did a solid job of moving the chains and engineering some scoring drives. He wasn't incompetent for once, and he managed to escape without making a mistake.
Osweiler's best throw was a bomb to DeAndre Hopkins for a gain of 38. That had to be shocking to Hopkins, as most of Osweiler's deep attempts this season have sailed out of bounds. This one did not, as Osweiler's great pass set the Texans up near the goal line. He then found Hopkins in the end zone, giving the Texans a 20-7 lead.
Speaking of Hopkins, he caught five passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. All of this occurred in the opening half, as the Texans took the air out of the ball following halftime. However, Hopkins did draw a pass interference in the end zone that set up Houston's final touchdown.
Outside of Hopkins, only three Texans caught passes: Will Fuller (4-37), C.J. Fidorowicz (2-35) and Ryan Griffin (3-29).
The Texans believed that they'd have to run the ball well to win this game. That didn't turn out to be the case. Lamar Miller had some nice gains, but he finished with 73 yards on 31 carries for an average of less than three. He also scored a touchdown. It turns out that having a great ground game is irrelevant if the opposing quarterback has one of the worst passing performances in NFL playoff history.
Houston will be moving on to New England if the Steelers win. I'm sure the Texans will be rooting for the Dolphins, as they'll travel to Kansas City if Miami pulls the upset.
Seahawks 26, Lions 6
The Seahawks struggled down the stretch, failing to distance themselves from the 49ers and Seahawks, and losing to the Cardinals and Packers. Perhaps it was just the opponent, but this game made it seem as though Seattle hadn't been performing poorly at the end of the season. This was a close game for a while - it was a 10-6 affair entering the fourth quarter - but the Seahawks absolutely dominated the second half en route to a blowout victory.
Russell Wilson was on fire in the second half. His final numbers were 23-of-30 for 224 yards and two touchdowns, but his numbers following intermission were even more impressive (17-of-20, 179 yards, one touchdown). The Lions sacked Wilson a few times in the early going, but as the evening progressed, they suddenly couldn't put any sort of pressure on him. Wilson, as a result, didn't have to scramble at all. In fact, Wilson's only "rushing" stats were three kneel-downs.
Wilson was helped by some outstanding catches by his teammates. Paul Richardson made a couple of amazing receptions, including a one-handed grab through Tavon Wilson while falling down on a fourth-down try to give the Seahawks a 7-0 lead. Richardson then made a one-handed diving catch, and then Doug Baldwin was able to secure a pass in between his legs on the ground, prompting Al Michaels to refer to it as the "butt catch."
While Richardson made the highlight reel more often, Baldwin ended up leading the team in receiving, thanks to some long gains late in the game. Baldwin hauled in 11 of his 12 targets for 104 yards and a touchdown, and he could've had an even greater performance, but barely stepped out of bounds to negate a long gain. Richardson (3-48) also scored, as mentioned. Jimmy Graham (3-37) left the game briefly with an injury, but didn't seem to be affected very much.
Thomas Rawls ran poorly at the end of the regular season because he was still getting over an injury. Well, he's certainly healthy now. Rawls ripped through the Lions' defense with ease, gaining 161 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Rawls picked up a fourth-and-1, and he also had a burst of 26 yards, thanks to a terrific spin move on Ziggy Ansah. There was a slight scare late in the third quarter when Rawls had to leave the game to be checked for a concussion, but he only missed a couple of plays.
While the Seahawks made numerous circus catches throughout the evening, the Lions were guilty of dropping routine passes. Golden Tate opened up with a drop, and then Eric Ebron was responsible for the same thing on a third-and-1. Ebron and Marvin Jones then had the ball fall through their hands as well. The Lions crushed themselves with these drops, as I counted five in total. Anquan Boldin, meanwhile, didn't drop any passes, but was guilty of two personal-foul penalties and should've been ejected. It was an embarrassing effort on Detroit's part.
Thanks to all of the drops, Matthew Stafford had a low completion percentage, going 18-of-32 for 205 yards. Considering the drops, as well as the injuries to Travis Swanson and Riley Reiff, Stafford played relatively well, though he screwed up a fourth-and-1 try in the second quarter on a horrible pass to Matthew Mulligan. I imagine Stafford wished he had a second chance at that play.
I was surprised the Seahawks didn't pressure Stafford more, though they did rattle him on occasion. Still, Swanson and Reiff being out of the lineup was absolutely huge, as Detroit's offensive line was once a strength. The Lions just haven't been the same since losing Swanson, and Theo Riddick as well.
Jones led the team with 81 receiving yards on four catches, while Tate (3-25) struggled. Ebron (2-23) was somehow even worse, converting only a couple of his six targets. He needs to be replaced this offseason.
The team's leader in receptions (6) was actually Zach Zenner, who rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries. The Lions once again didn't run nearly enough with their big back.
Steelers 30, Dolphins 12
Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards against the Steelers in the first meeting between these teams in Week 6, as the Dolphins prevailed, 30-15. This was a complete role reversal, with Pittsburgh winning by nearly the same score. This time, it was Le'Veon Bell who dominated on the ground.
Bell was terrific. He was ripping off six to eight yards on almost every carry in the opening half, as the Dolphins' depleted defense appeared helpless to stop him. Bell showed great patience to find holes to burst through, and he ultimately hit a big gain of 26 to seemingly score a touchdown. He was ruled down at the 1-foot line, but he reached the end zone two plays later.
Bell ultimately set the Steelers' franchise single-game playoff rushing record. He did this when he scored his second touchdown. Bell gained 167 yards on 29 carries, a stat line that could've been even better had Pittsburgh given him carries in the second half of the final quarter. This game was out of hand, however, so DeAngelo Williams entered the game. Bell caught only two passes, but expect him to be a greater factor as a receiver next week, as the Steelers try to take advantage of Derrick Johnson's absence.
Ben Roethlisberger's stat line could've been better as well, but the Steelers took the air out of the ball with such a huge lead in the second half. Roethlisberger attempted only six passes after halftime, though one occurred with 4:30 remaining in regulation. Roethlisberger was picked as he was getting hit hard by Cameron Wake, and he walked off the field, wincing and holding his shoulder. I have absolutely no idea why the Steelers were throwing with less than five minutes remaining while holding a 30-12 lead. If Roethlisberger is injured, heads will need to roll for that decision-making.
Roethlisberger finished 13-of-18 for 197 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He was on fire to start the game, completing his first 11 passes. The first misfire was actually a pick, as Roethlisberger scrambled out of pressure and overshot Antonio Brown as a result.
Speaking of Brown, he had a huge performance despite the limited passing. He caught five balls for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins, missing three of their starters in the secondary, had no chance to cover him, and Brown scored on gains of 50 and 62 yards. No other Steeler logged more than two receptions.
The Steelers will play in Kansas City next week. They've been installed as one-point favorites. As a result of the Pittsburgh win, Houston will travel to New England.
As for the Dolphins, they will be under some scrutiny for how they handled a vicious hit that Matt Moore took in the second quarter. Bud Dupree smacked Moore in the jaw, drawing a roughness penalty. Moore sat out one play, as it didn't appear as though he went through concussion protocol, even though he appeared to be out of it upon getting crushed. Moore reentered the game and instantly lost a fumble, his first of three turnovers. Moore didn't look like quite himself until late in the game when he engineered a garbage-time touchdown drive.
Moore was actually playing well beforehand; he was 10-of-13 for 140 yards by halftime. The turnovers were killers, however. He was strip-sacked by both James Harrison and Michael Mitchell, and then he threw an interception when he didn't see Ryan Shazier. Was that bad field vision, or was it because he was playing concussed? I suppose we'll find out later. At any rate, Moore finished 29-of-36 for 289 yards, one touchdown and the pick. He wasn't close to the reason why the Dolphins lost this game.
Ajayi didn't get to 200 rushing yards this time. In fact, he didn't even reach the halfway point to 100. He was limited to 33 yards on 16 attempts, and he was knocked out in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. The Steelers tackled sloppily in the first meeting, but they made sure Ajayi wasn't going to do much in the rematch. Of course, it helped that the Dolphins were without Mike Pouncey. They have not been the same since losing their Pro Bowl center.
Jarvis Landry was perhaps Miami's best player. Despite getting banged up in the third quarter, he caught 11 of his 14 targets for 102 yards. Kenny Stills (5-82) also had a big game, making a couple of spectacular catches. DeVante Parker (4-55) was next on the receiving list.
The Dolphins never really had a chance in this game, as they were missing four very talented players (Reshad Jones, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Mike Pouncey, Byron Maxwell). They'll need to fix their back seven this offseason. Check out my 2017 NFL Mock Draft for more.
Packers 38, Giants 13
Anyone who didn't watch this game might assume that the Packers won very easily, based solely on the final score. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. The Giants led for most of the first half, and it appeared as though Aaron Rodgers was going to put together one of the worst performances of his career. Green Bay generated only seven net yards in the first quarter and was stuck on zero points for most of the opening half, as Rodgers took some bad sacks and was inaccurate on several of his passes. He also was flagged for intentional grounding to push his team out of field-goal range.
So, what turned things around for the Packers? Two plays in particular really swung the momentum in their favor. The first was a Hail Mary on the final play prior to intermission. Rodgers, who is the king of the Hail Mary, hit yet another one, launching a bomb to Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone. The other play was a Bobby Rainey screw-up on a kick return. Rainey fielded a kickoff at the 3-yard line and inexplicably fell out of bounds. That put the Giants in a horrible field position and forced a quick punt, which the Packers turned into a score.
It also obviously helped that Rodgers was on fire in the second half. His final numbers were 25-of-40 for 362 yards and four touchdowns. However, prior to the Hail Mary, he was only 10-of-21 for 113 yards and a score. That means that his numbers in the second half, plus the final play prior to the break looked like this: 15-of-19, 249 yards and three touchdowns. There was simply nothing the Giants could do about that. Sure, they were missing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was knocked out on the first defensive series of the game, but Green Bay lost Jordy Nelson as well when an uncalled illegal hit aggravated his previously injured hip.
With Nelson out, Cobb and Davante Adams stepped up big time. Adams caught eight passes for 125 yards and a score, but the real hero was Cobb, who reeled in five of his seven targets for 116 yards and three touchdowns, one of which was the Hail Mary. I half expected Cobb to tell Rodgers that his stuff was on fire, and that someone had to call the fire department. Cobb has been a non-factor during this running out of the table because he's been banged up, but he definitely looked healthy in this contest.
Nelson wasn't the only player who was hurt, as Ty Montgomery was also knocked out with an injury in the second half. He got hurt one play after hauling in a 34-yard reception. If Nelson and Montgomery miss action going forward, Rodgers will need to rely on Jared Cook (5-48) and Geronimo Allison (1-8).
Montgomery had a big play in the passing game, but wasn't doing much on the ground. He was limited to 27 yards on 11 carries, and he was stuffed by Landon Collins on a fourth-and-1 try from his own 42-yard line. I thought that was a huge mistake on Mike McCarthy's part. I didn't mind going for it, but to run the ball with a receiver, especially with Rodgers heating up and Christine Michael (10-47) performing better, just seemed pretty foolish. The Giants capitalized with their only touchdown of the game, but it obviously didn't end up hurting the Packers.
Green Bay will move on to the divisional round of the playoffs, where it will battle the No. 1 seed Cowboys. Dallas defeated the Packers in Lambeau, 30-16, back in Week 6, but Green Bay had a Thursday night game coming up, and this Packer squad is much better than it was back in October.
The Giants couldn't really do much on offense, thanks in part to numerous drops. Odell Beckham Jr. was guilty of three, one of which occurred in the end zone. Beckham had an awful game overall, snatching just four of his 11 targets for 28 yards. As the FOX announcers opined, it's fair for Beckham to be scrutinized for his trip to Miami just days before the game. Beckham now has an entire offseason to surf, tan and engage in 100-percent USDA Man activites in the Miami sun, so it's puzzling as to why he couldn't just wait at least a week to do so. Beckham arrogantly told reporters that you can't connect this game with his Miami trip, but the three drops say otherwise.
Eli Manning finished 23-of-44 for 299 yards, one touchdown and a late interception in meaningless action. Manning has been a weakness of this team throughout the year, but he actually played very well in this game. He could've easily thrown three touchdowns, but Beckham and Sterling Shepard (4-63) both let him down, dropping balls in the end zone.
New York predictably struggled to stop the run. Paul Perkins was restricted to 30 yards on 10 carries, while Rashad Jennings (5-29) didn't do much outside of an 11-yard burst. Rainey was stuffed on a third-and-1 try. Perkins has talent, but the Giants could use a better back and superior blocking. I have them addressing one area in my 2017 NFL Mock Draft.
I haven't made fun of any of the announcers yet in these recaps, so I'll leave you with this gem from Troy Aikman. I don't dislike Aikman, but this one was a bit of a head-scratcher:
"The Giants dominated 58 minutes of the first half."
Wow, that's some long first half!
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.