Despite what this score says, it appeared as though the Seahawks were going to take complete control of this game in the second quarter. Up 10-7, Devin Hester sprinted for a long punt return, taking the ball back inside Atlanta's 20-yard line. Seattle was going to have a great chance to take a 17-7 lead, but a holding penalty was called on Kevin Pierre-Louis on the return. The penalty was probably correct, but the hold didn't have anything to do with the play. As a result of the hold, the Seahawks were pinned inside their own 5-yard line. Their backup right guard, playing in place of the injured Germain Ifedi, stepped on Russell Wilson's foot, resulting in a safety. The Falcons then took the lead with a field goal on the ensuing possession, and they never looked back.
The end result of this game was definitely misleading, but what's not is Atlanta's yardage total. The Falcons accumulated 422 net yards of offense, as the Seahawks had absolutely no answer for anything Atlanta was doing. Earl Thomas was clearly missed, and it didn't help that No. 2 cornerback Deshawn Shead was knocked out of the game when his knee buckled while trying to cover Taylor Gabriel. The Atlanta receiver actually pushed off, and Shead went down instantly. It's unclear why offensive pass interference wasn't called. The Falcons were flagged just twice all game. Hopefully official Gene Steratore makes great use of his new yacht.
With Seattle's defense struggling big time, Matt Ryan torched the formerly dominant Legion of Boom with ease. Ryan went 26-of-37 for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He validated his possible MVP status, as the Seahawks couldn't do anything to slow him down. They didn't put much pressure on him, and even when they did, he still found open receivers, punishing them for blitzing him. Even when Julio Jones was knocked out, Ryan still torched Seattle's secondary mercilessly. Atlanta punted just once in meaningful action.
Speaking of Jones, he left the game temporarily on the opening drive of the third quarter with a toe injury, as he was hobbling around on the sideline. Jones reentered the game, but left prior to the end of regulation. I imagine he still would've played had the contest not gotten out of hand, but it still has to be disconcerting for the Falcons. They'll obviously need Jones to beat a tougher opponent in the NFC Championship. Jones caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. He also dropped a pass. His score, the first of the game for the Falcons, was an obvious pass interference call - blocking downfield prior to the ball being released - that Steratore didn't call for some reason. The FOX announcers, including Mike Pereira, were befuddled as to why no flagged was tossed.
If Jones is hobbled next week, the other receivers will obviously have to pick up the slack. Gabriel (4-71) was top wideout producer as far as yardage is concerned, while Mohamed Sanu (4-44) found the end zone. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were big factors as receivers as well. Freeman hauled in four balls for 80 yards, while Coleman snatched three passes for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Speaking of Freeman and Coleman, they ran well versus the Seahawks, which was surprising. Freeman (14-45, TD) and Coleman (11-57) combined to eclipse the century mark.
Atlanta moves on to the NFC Championship. It'll either host the Packers or travel to Dallas. If the Cowboys beat Green Bay, this will have been the final game in the Georgia Dome.
As for the Seahwks, they were hot offensively early on, as they engineered a 14-play touchdown drive to start the game. The possession lasted 8:34. There were some great runs, while Russell Wilson was precise. However, bad luck ensued; the Ifedi injury, the aforementioned penalty on the Hester return, and Wilson falling down all hurt. Then, Atlanta held the ball forever, and Seattle's offensive chances were limited as a result. The Seahawks' decision to punt on one occasion on a fourth-and-1 from around their own 40-yard line also hurt. They pinned the Falcons down at the 1-yard line, but Ryan put together a 99-yard touchdown drive.
Wilson went 17-of-30 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and a couple of interceptions in garbage time, one of which should've been called a reception down by contact. Wilson played well, but once again had issues on the offensive line. He constantly had to run out of the pocket, and many of his incompletions were thrown away.
If there's a silver lining for the Seahawks, it's that they may have found something in Paul Richardson. The young wideout had a terrific performance last week, and he led the team in receiving at Atlanta. He caught four passes for 83 yards, and he nearly came up with a 50-yard bomb in the fourth quarter, but the ball barely hit the ground. The officials initially ruled it a reception, but it was correctly reversed after review. Richardson also appeared to score a touchdown early, but replay review saw that he was touched.
Elsewhere, Doug Baldwin (5-80) and Jimmy Graham (3-22) both caught touchdowns. Outside of those two, Richardson and Alex Collins, no other Seahawk logged multiple receptions.
The Seahawks, as mentioned, ran well early, but they had to abandon the ground game by the third quarter. Rawls gained 34 yards on 11 carries. He had just three attempts following halftime.
Seattle moves into the offseason desperately needing to address the offensive line. I have the team taking a tackle in my 2017 NFL Mock Draft. A better pass rush is also needed.
Patriots 34, Texans 16
The Patriots may have won this game by 18, covering the spread in the process, but they did not play a good game whatsoever. If they were battling a competent NFL quarterback, they could have easily lost.
New England quickly established a 14-3 lead as a result of Dion Lewis' kickoff return touchdown, but things quickly unraveled after that. Tom Brady threw an interception on a deflection off Michael Floyd's hands, and the Texans capitalized with a field goal. Lewis then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, allowing Houston to score a quick touchdown. Suddenly, this was just a one-point margin, and it was apparent that New England was going to struggle to put Houston away.
The Patriots took just a 17-13 advantage into halftime, and while they eventually pulled away, it wasn't very convincing. They had to rely on a comedy of errors by Houston's inept offense. The Texans' defense, meanwhile, was incredible, as it did a great job of restricting the Patriots despite the 34 points; seven came on Lewis' kickoff return, and some others were a result of turnovers by the Houston offense.
Tom Brady failed to complete half of his passes, going 18-of-38 for 287 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Brady was hit hard throughout the evening by Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. New England's offensive line held up well for most of the season, but that was not the case in this instance. Brady was constantly under siege, and he couldn't do his usual dinking and dunking because the Texans made sure to take that away from him.
Brady, as a result, had to take more deep shots than usual. He did manage to connect on some long passes, but he did uncharacteristically toss two interceptions, which was his exact total from the regular season. I mentioned the first; the second occurred as Brady was hit, and it didn't seem as though he saw Houston linebacker Benardrick McKinney.
Despite Brady not being able to dink and dunk, Julian Edelman still led the team in receiving, catching eight balls for 137 yards, including a 48-yard grab. He just missed out on another long reception. Edelman's only blemish during the evening was a drop on third down, though Brady did throw behind him.
Elsewhre in the receiving corps, Chris Hogan (4-95) was next on the stat sheet; he also drew a long interference flag on stud cornerback A.J. Bouye, but left the game with an injury. Martellus Bennett did the same on a non-contact knee injury. It seemed dire for Bennett at first, but he somehow missed only one snap. Bennett caught just one pass for four yards, while Floyd (1-9) didn't do much outside of being somewhat responsible for Brady's first pick, though the pass was thrown a bit in front of him.
Brady's two passing touchdowns went to Lewis (2-23) and James White (1-19). Lewis, who also scored on the ground while gaining 41 yards on 13 carries, became the first player to have a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a kickoff return touchdown in NFL history. LeGarrette Blount (8-31) was an afterthought after being sick the entire week.
New England covered this spread at the end, negating a possible Houston cover because of Duron Harmon's interception with a few minutes remaining in regulation. Favorites of 6.5 or more are now 45-25-1 against the spread this year, which is utterly ridiculous. The Patriots will host the winner of the Chiefs-Steelers matchup. They figure to be favored by at least a touchdown over both, despite their underwhelming performance in this contest.
I mentioned that the Texans' offense had a comedy of errors throughout the game. It started innocently when Brock Osweiler took a sack on third down of the opening drive because he held on to the ball too long. He then fired a pass way behind Will Fuller, and tossed a minus-1 pass on third-and-1. He spent most of the opening half throwing the ball at his receivers' feet. Following halftime, Osweiler telegraphed a pass to DeAndre Hopkins that was snatched by Devin McCourty. Fuller then dropped a potential touchdown that was placed right into the bread basket that would've brought the margin to 24-20. Osweiler followed that up with a second pick that was thrown too high in Hopkins' direction. Logan Ryan returned the ball to the 5-yard line, leading to Lewis' third touchdown of the evening.
Osweiler finished 23-of-40 for only 198 yards, one touchdown and three picks. His third interception came in garbage time, and it was a fitting end to his night. Osweiler was awful. Sure, he shoud've thrown that touchdown to Fuller (3-16), but he was very inaccurate and settled too often for checkdowns. The Texans need to consider selecting a signal-caller early in the 2017 NFL Draft. Check out our 2017 NFL Draft Quarterback Prospect Rankings for more.
Hopkins led the Texans with six grabs for 65 yards. He was the intended recipient of Osweiler's two interceptions in meaningful action. It's a shame what happened to him; formerly a fantasy star, Hopkins hasn't been able to produce because of Osweiler's incompetence.
The Texans couldn't run Lamar Miller as much as they wanted to because the Patriots led throughout. Miller ripped off some nice carries, gaining 73 yards on 19 attempts.
Packers 34, Cowboys 31
Aaron Rodgers told the media that his team was going to run the table back in late November, and now he's just two victories shy of fulfilling his promise. The Packers overcame their greatest challenge yet, defeating the No. 1 seed Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Though the Packers led throughout, it certainly wasn't easy. They established leads of 21-3 and 28-13, and the Cowboys came roaring back twice. Dallas actually tied the game on two separate occasions - at 28 and 31 - but with 40 seconds remaining, Rodgers was able to engineer an improbable game-winning drive. It was improbable because he was stuck in a third-and-20 with less than 20 seconds remaining. It seemed as though the Packers would just punt and settle for overtime, but Rodgers fired a 36-yard laser to Jared Cook, who impressively tapped his toes down along the sideline while falling out of bounds to set up Mason Crosby in field goal range. Crosby, who had already connected on a 56-yarder, drilled a 51-yard attempt to send the Packers to the NFC Championship with a showdown at Atlanta. It's a far cry from where the Packers once were; they were 4-6 following a Sunday night loss at Washington, and it appeared as though they weren't even going to make the playoffs.
Rodgers was his usual tremendous self, going 28-of-43 for 356 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The pick was his first in 318 attempts, and it occurred when he uncharacteristically telegraphed an errant throw to Davante Adams, who was wide open downfield. Still, Rodgers proved that he's just as worthy of being the MVP, if not more, than Matt Ryan. Rodgers, despite missing Jordy Nelson, made tremendous throws all evening. The only times the Packers stalled, aside from the aforementioned pick, occurred when Geronimo Allison ran a wrong route, and when the officials missed blatant defensive pass interference calls. They made up for it with a very sketchy penalty in the fourth quarter; the referees had a terrible performance in this contest and really need to be downgraded.
It's not all good news for the Packers, however, as they suffered some injuries in this game. They lost Morgan Burnett on the first drive, and the stud safety was sorely missed, especially in the fourth quarter when his teammates were worn down. Linemen David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga were also banged up, but they remained in the game (Bakhtiari missed a series). The Packers will need both Burnett and Nelson back for next week's contest in Atlanta.
Cook was the big hero for the Packers for his spectacular catch. Cook was huge, logging six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. He was guilty of a drop to negate a long gain, but he more than made up for it on the final drive.
Adams finished with five catches for 76 yards, ranking second in yardage. He could've had a better day had the Cowboys not been constantly guilty of tugging on his jersey and not being called for it. Randall Cobb (7-62) also had a solid performance. Richard Rodgers secured Aaron Rodgers' other touchdown, a 34-yarder on the opening drive.
The Packers didn't run often, but they were often successful in doing so when they did. Ty Montgomery gained 47 yards and scored two touchdowns on just 11 carries, while Aaron Ripkowski picked up 24 yards on four tries.
Dallas, meanwhile, will be criticized for choking in this loss, but don't blame either of the rookies. Both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott was tremendous. The man who was most responsible for this defeat was Jason Garrett, who was thoroughly out-coached by Mike McCarthy. Garrett looked like he was caught with his pants down when his substitution packages repeatedly resulted in penalties. Garrett also deserves harsh criticism for not recognizing the "free kick after a fair catch" rule. The FOX announcers completely missed it, but the Cowboys had an opportunity to attempt a kick off a tee - i.e. a kickoff - from around midfield right before halftime. Had Dan Bailey hit this kickoff through the uprights, the Cowboys would've scored three points. This happened because Dallas signaled for a fair catch on a punt as a half expired. Garrett didn't recognize it even though numerous readers did and asked me about it.
As for Prescott, he was brilliant in the fourth quarter. The Burnett-less Packer secondary had no answer for him, as Prescott made numerous clutch plays, including a third-and-14 throw to Jason Witten inside the red zone, a game-tying touchdown to Dez Bryant, and a rushing two-point score.
Prescott went 24-of-38 for 302 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, a telegraphed throw snatched by Micah Hyde. There was some question as to how Prescott would perform as a rookie in his first playoff game, and aside from the pick, he passed with flying colors. In fact, his numbers could've been much better had his receivers not dropped a few balls. There's no doubt that Tony Romo will be traded this offseason. The only question is to which team.
Elliott, meanwhile, registered 125 yards on 22 carries. He moved the pile on most of his attempts, and one of his best runs featured a sick spin move to avoid Clay Matthews. Elliott also had a gain of about 15 wiped out by a Doug Free holding call.
Bryant was perhaps Dallas' top offensive player in this contest. The Packers had no answer for him, as Bryant hauled in nine of his 12 targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Witten (6-59) reeled in Prescott's other score.
Bryant and Witten were Prescott's only reliable downfield options. Terrance Williams (4-68) and Bruce Butler (0 catches) were responsible for a combined three drops, and Butler was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty that ruined a promising early drive. The Cowboys should think about adding a receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here are our 2017 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Prospect Rankings.
Steelers 18, Chiefs 16
I don't think anyone during the middle of the season would've expected that the Steelers would win a playoff game with their defense as their offense sputtered, but that's exactly what happened in this game. Pittsburgh, for once, didn't light up the scoreboard, but won instead in a defensive grinder. Either way, they got the job done, so they'll be moving on to the AFC Championship at New England.
That's not to say the Pittsburgh offense played poorly. On the contrary, the scoring unit was very proficient in between the 20s. The Steelers generated 389 net yards (227 for Kansas City) and averaged 5.9 yards per play (4.6 for Kansas City). They also won the time-of-possession battle by about nine minutes. They were great on third down, converting 7-of-15 tries.
So, what was the problem? Pittsburgh was brutal in the red zone. And it wasn't like the Chiefs just stiffened deep in their own territory; the Steelers' incompetence in the red zone was more of their mistakes, plus some fluky plays. The first trip ended because Ben Roethlisberger threw some uncharacteristically errant passes toward Antonio Brown. A second-quarter try was spoiled by a Brown dropped touchdown, though Marcus Peters had a hand in it. Later, Frank Zombo tipped a Roethlisberger pass, allowing Eric Berry to make a diving interception. Then, in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger took a sack on a rare occasion in which his excellent offensive line allowed heavy pressure.
Roethlisberger finished 20-of-31 for 224 yards and the tipped interception. He played well, and was extremely clutch on a third-down pass to Antonio Brown at the very end to finish the game, but he and the rest of the offense needs to be better in the red zone against the Patriots.
Brown opened and concluded the game with big plays. He started by hauling in a 52-yard bomb, which Roethlisberger made after nearly getting tripped for a sack. At the end, Brown caught a third-down pass to move the chains and ice the game. Brown finished with six grabs for 108 yards. As mentioned, he nearly caught a touchdown, but Peters helped force a drop.
Aside from Brown, only three Steelers caught multiple passes. Those were Jesse James (5-83), Eli Rogers (5-27) and Le'Veon Bell.
Bell didn't do much aerially - his two receptions went for minus-4 yards - but he was exceptional as a runner, gaining 170 yards on 30 carries. He once again displayed his trademark great patience, and Kansas City's struggling run defense had no answer for him.
Pittsburgh's "Killer Bees" all performed well, and tha trio might now be a quartet in the wake of Chris Boswell's record-setting performance. Boswell connected on an NFL playoff record six field goals - the Steelers' only scores of the evening.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, once again failed to win a home playoff game, as they haven't done so since Joe Montana quarterbacked them in 1993. And no one is going to confuse Alex Smith with Montana, obviously, but that's not to say Smith performed poorly. Smith wasn't great - he missed some opportunities downfield because he wanted to check down instead - but he made some nice throws, including a connection to Jeremy Maclin for 20 yards on a third-and-20. Smith was also victimized by numerous drops. I counted five, but there could've been one more.
Smith finished 20-of-34 for only 172 yards, one touchdown and an interception that occurred because he was hit upon releasing the ball. Smith faced pressure for most of the evening, as James Harrison ate Eric Fisher for breakfast. Fisher was once again abysmal, and the Chiefs have to regret giving him a big contract last offseason, which was an obvious foolish move. Fisher effectively ended the game, as a potentially tying two-point conversion was negated when he held Harrison. Travis Kelce complained about the call, but it was an obvious hold; Fisher hooked Harrison around the neck and took him down.
Kelce led the Chiefs in receiving, with five receptions for 77 yards. He was the only Kansas City player with more than 28 receiving yards. Kelce had a rough game despite the decent stat line, being guilty of a deep drop and then committing a dumb unnecessary roughness penalty, shoving a Steeler way after the whistle was blown. Kelce will also be fined for remarks he made about the officials after the game.
The two Kansas City wideouts were limited by Pittsburgh's improved secondary. Maclin (2-28) and Tyreek Hill (4-27) were barely factors, outside of the former's 20-yard reception on third-and-20. Maclin dropped a pass, while Hill was covered well often, but also had some opportunities downfield, but Smith didn't try to hit him very often.
Spencer Ware scored what could have been the game-tying touchdown had the ensuing two-point conversion been successful. Ware didn't get to run the ball very much, as Andy Reid once again abandoned the run; Ware tallied 35 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, but he was guilty of a drop and a face-mask penalty on an attempted block. Reid, meanwhile, also had a blunder on the final offensive drive when he burned a precious timeout for no good reason.
The Chiefs head into the offseason needing to upgrade their offensive line, which I have doing in my 2017 NFL Mock Draft.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.