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NFL Game Recaps: 2021 Playoffs
NFL Game Recaps of previous weeks and seasons can be found via links at the bottom of the page.
Rams 23, Bengals 20
The prevailing narrative entering this game was that the Bengals would have no chance of scoring because the Rams' star-studded defensive line would dominate Cincinnati's poor blocking unit. That was hardly the case in the opening half, as the Rams sacked Joe Burrow just once prior to intermission. This allowed the Bengals to enter halftime with just a 13-10 deficit, which quickly turned into a 20-13 third-quarter lead when Burrow hit Tee Higgins with a deep pass and a Matthew Stafford throw was intercepted when it bounced off Ben Skowronek's hands.
The Bengals were able to hang on to 20-13 and 20-16 leads for a while, but they were never able to extend their advantage because the Rams' pass rush came alive in the second half. Los Angeles was able to sack Burrow on seven occasions in total, with Aaron Donald and Von Miller leading the charge with two sacks apiece.
Despite this improved defensive pressure, the Rams couldn't quite get over the hump until they began a drive with nearly five minutes remaining in regulation. The offense, which had struggled ever since losing Odell Beckham Jr. to a first-half knee injury, finally came to life. Cooper Kupp took over, generating 43 yards on the possession, ultimately scoring the go-ahead touchdown after numerous questionable Cincinnati penalties gave the Rams countless opportunities.
The Rams suddenly had a 23-20 lead, but they needed one final stop because the Bengals had a chance to tie or take the lead with about 1:20 on the clock and two timeouts remaining. Cincinnati crossed midfield, but a horrible decision to run Samaje Perine up the middle on a third-and-short put the Bengals into a fourth-down situation. Burrow dropped back to pass, but immediately had pressure in his face. He flipped the ball in desperation, but the pass fell incomplete, giving the Rams the victory in Super Bowl LVI.
Kupp was named Super Bowl LVI MVP, and deservedly so. He didn't do much in the first half, but he was dominant on the decisive possession of the game. He caught eight of his 10 targets for 92 yards and two touchdowns, and he also had a 7-yard run that converted a key fourth-and-1 on that final offensive drive. It's hard to believe that Kupp was just a third-round pick, but he has truly evolved into the best receiver in the NFL.
As for the Rams' other star wideout, Beckham had a big impact early in the game with two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, but left the contest when his knee buckled while trying to make his third reception of the afternoon. His absence bogged down the Rams' offense, as neither Van Jefferson (4-23) nor Skowronek (2-12) was able to step up in his absence. In fact, the two leading receivers beyond Kupp and Beckham were third-string tight end Brycen Hopkins (4-47) and Darrell Henderson (3-43), who made a heroic return from injury.
The man delivering the ball to these players went 26-of-40 for 283 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Stafford had a great final drive, but missed some throws in this contest. One pick wasn't his fault because the ball bounced off Skowronek's hands, but the other was an underthrown heave into the end zone that never should've been attempted. Still, it was nice to see Stafford win a Super Bowl after enduring the hardship he faced in Detroit for so many years. I would not put him into the Hall of Fame at the moment, but if he compiles three more years' worth of huge passing volume, he'll be ranked highly on the all-time passing yards list, so it would be difficult to exclude him in that scenario.
Whereas the Rams' passing offense came up big in the clutch, the running game never worked, which was surprising. Cam Akers had no room to speak of, as he was limited to just 21 yards on 13 carries. Neither Henderson (4-7) nor Sony Michel (2-2) had better luck.
The leading rusher in this game, by far, was Joe Mixon, who dashed for 72 yards on 15 carries. He also threw a touchdown pass to Higgins on a trick play. Mixon's positive production begs the question: Why was Perine on the field instead of Mixon on the final drive? If the Bengals were going to give a back a key carry late in the game, it should have been Mixon.
Burrow, meanwhile, went 22-of-33 for 263 yards and one touchdown. He looked great at times, but he suffered a knee injury early in the fourth quarter and never quite looked the same after that. He never tried to scramble following the injury, so perhaps the final drive would have gone differently had he not gotten hurt.
Prior to the Rams' game-winning possession, Higgins was the MVP frontrunner. He caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard score to open up the third quarter. There was some controversy to that play because he shoved Jalen Ramsey in the face mask.
Ja'Marr Chase was right behind Higgins on the stat sheet with five grabs for 89 yards, followed by Tyler Boyd (5-48), who was guilty of a colossal drop on third down during the final quarter that would've moved the chains.
Kyle Shanahan has a penchant for blowing big leads in the playoffs, most recently doing so in the Super Bowl versus the Chiefs. He nearly coughed up a double-digit lead in the opening round versus the Cowboys, but managed to hang on thanks to Dallas' own incompetence. When the 49ers took a 17-7 lead in the third quarter, none of their fans had to feel as though this lead was safe.
Lo and behold, Shanahan's team choked yet again. This wasn't the same sort of collapse the Chiefs endured earlier in the day, but the 49ers blew it with numerous mistakes. The first one was a horrible call on a third-and-1 in Los Angeles territory early in the fourth quarter. Shanahan called a fullback dive up the middle with Kyle Juszczyk, which predictably failed. Most sharp coaches would have gone for it on fourth down - and not even run a fullback dive - but Shanahan inexplicably opted to punt.
The 49ers' defense made the next blunder. Matthew Stafford lofted up a horrible pass that resembled a punt. The ball sailed right to safety Jaquiski Tartt's arms, but he dropped what would've been the easiest interception of his life. On the very next play, Stafford drilled a pass to Odell Beckham Jr. for 30 yards, plus 15 more for a hit to the helmet. The Rams ultimately tied the game later on the drive.
San Francisco's offense had two more chances to score after that. The first possession was a failure, thanks to a delay-of-game penalty, which had to be frustrating for the 49er supporters because the Rams should have been flagged four times separate times during the evening for allowing the play clock to drop to zero. The second drive resulted in a Jimmy Garoppolo interception, thanks to heavy pressure. The Rams weren't able to generate much heat on Garoppolo during the evening, but it hounded him when it mattered most. The pick ended the game, as it allowed the Rams to kneel down thrice to completely drain the clock.
Stafford will be heading to the Super Bowl in his first season with the Rams. He had a mixed evening. He should've been punished for the aforementioned Tartt drop. He also had some misses, including one where he threw behind Beckham on third down. Stafford was otherwise lethal on third down, converting 11-of-18 such opportunities. He also missed out on a touchdown because of a Ben Skowronek drop in the end zone.
Stafford finished 31-of-45 for 337 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which was a deflection in the end zone in Cooper Kupp's direction. It would've been interesting to see if Stafford would have rebounded from the potential pick to Tartt, but we'll never know.
Speaking of Kupp, the All-Pro receiver had yet another terrific performance. He caught 11 of his 14 targets for 142 yards and two touchdowns, doing much of his damage on third down. His only blemish was a dropped pass.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Beckham was right behind Kupp with nine receptions for 113 yards. Tight end Kendall Blanton, taking over for an injured Tyler Higbee, hauled in five balls for 57 yards.
The Rams struggled to run the ball against the 49ers' stalwart ground defense. Cam Akers managed just 48 yards on 13 carries.
Surprisingly, the Rams had a more effective ground attack than the 49ers. San Francisco pounded the ball extremely well in the Week 18 victory over the Rams, but in this contest, Elijah Mitchell was limited to only 20 yards on 11 carries. He caught three passes for 50 receiving yards as well.
Mitchell actually didn't lead the 49ers in rushing. Deebo Samuel held that distinction with 26 yards on seven carries. He also paced the team in receiving with four grabs for 72 yards and a touchdown. He suffered an injury prior to halftime, but didn't miss much action. Brandon Aiyuk (4-69) and George Kittle (2-27, TD) were behind him on the stat sheet.
In what may have been his final game in a 49er uniform, Garoppolo had a mediocre performance, going 16-of-30 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and the pick at the very end. He was great in the first half, save for an instance in which he overthrew a wide-open Kittle. Otherwise, he was 8-of-12 for 137 yards and a touchdown heading into intermission. Garoppolo was just 8-of-18 for 95 yards, one touchdown and an interception following the break. This is not the first time we've seen Garoppolo melt down in the second half of a playoff game, but it will probably be the last time he does so for San Francisco, as Trey Lance is expected to be the starter in 2022 and beyond.
Bengals 27, Chiefs 24
After so many close games in the divisional round of the playoffs, this was bound to be a blowout. That's where this game was headed in the early stages of the afternoon, as Kansas City's offense couldn't be stopped. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on each of their first three drives, establishing a quick 21-3 lead. The Bengals made some careless errors that could have made the game closer, including a dropped touchdown by Tee Higgins, but they were getting crushed otherwise.
Cincinnati had no answer for Mahomes. He went 18-of-21 for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the opening half alone. He was showcasing his usual magic, with his best play occurring on his second touchdown. He avoided heavy pressure from two pass rushers, scrambling left and then right, and ultimately firing a ball to Travis Kelce into the end zone. The only blemish Mahomes made was throwing a ball to Tyreek Hill short of the end zone as time expired prior to halftime, but given how lopsided this affair was, it didn't seem to matter.
Remarkably, those three points would come into play in the second half because the Chiefs ultimately found themselves down a field goal with a few minutes remaining in regulation. Mahomes, who struggled mightily following intermission - including a stretch in which he went 3-of-10 for 17 yards and an interception - managed to finally break through Cincinnati's heavy pass rush and lead his team into the red zone. Mahomes, however, was strip-sacked on third-and-goal despite only needing a field goal to tie. Harrison Butker connected on the kick to send the game to overtime, but the earlier missed opportunity would've allowed Butler to make a game-winning kick rather than a tying field goal.
The Chiefs won the coin toss in overtime, but it didn't matter this time. Mahomes continued to struggle, as a potential pick-six was dropped by Eli Apple, and then the next pass was an interception heaved into double coverage. Burrow drove his team down the field against a hapless Kansas City defense to set up an Evan McPherson 31-yard field goal. The kick was good, clinching the improbable victory for Cincinnati.
Kansas City's defense will take the blame for this loss, but Mahomes was horrendous in the second half and overtime. He was intercepted twice and nearly lost a fumble while in easy kicking range. He also had a potential pick-six that was dropped. Following intermission, Mahomes was just 8-of-18 for 55 yards and two picks. Cincinnati's pass rush rattled him, but Mahomes made some uncharacteristic mistakes.
Mahomes' overall numbers were 26-of-39 for 275 yards, three touchdowns and the two interceptions. The Chiefs need to add another offensive lineman to bolster Mahomes' pass protection, and they must also secure a legitimate No. 2 receiver because Kansas City really missed Sammy Watkins' downfield ability. The defense obviously needs some help as well.
Conversely, Burrow had a rough start - 10-of-18 for 101 yards in the opening half - but caught fire following intermission. He made one mistake when he was picked on an underthrown ball to Ja'Marr Chase, but was exceptional otherwise. Following halftime, Burrow was 13-of-20 for 149 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
Burrow's final stats were 23-of-38 for 250 yards, two touchdowns and the pick. He had a pair of clutch third-down scrambles in the fourth quarter. Burrow became the first No. 1 overall quarterback to head to the Super Bowl in just his second year. He also tied the 2006 Colts for the largest comeback in a conference championship by deleting an 18-point deficit.
Both of Burrow's talented receivers were a big part of the comeback. Despite his earlier dropped touchdown, Higgins led the Bengals with 103 receiving yards on six catches. Chase also logged six receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Joe Mixon had trouble finding running room in the early stages of the game, but was able to generate some tough runs down the stretch. He rumbled for 88 yards on 21 carries. He caught only three passes for 27 receiving yards.
The Chiefs had more success with their ground attack, yet they stopped running the ball in the second half in typical Andy Reid fashion. Jerick McKinnon dashed for 65 yards on only 12 attempts, while Clyde Edwards-Helaire chipped in with 36 yards on six tries. It seemed like McKinnon and Edwards-Helaire were able to easily rip off seven yards per carry, so Reid deserves criticism for going so pass-heavy following intermission.
Kelce paced the Chiefs in receiving with 10 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. Hill (7-78) and Mecole Hardman (3-52) also scored.
Chiefs 42, Bills 36
This matchup was regarded as the true Super Bowl, and this game lived up to that billing. This was an overtime affair featuring so many big plays by both stellar quarterbacks.
While there were some terrific moments early in the game, the real fireworks began when the Bills were down 26-21 with eight minutes remaining. Buffalo was able to orchestrate a 6-minute touchdown drive that featured a Josh Allen fourth-down scramble conversion and another fourth-down success where he targeted Gabriel Davis in the end zone. Davis made the catch with cornerback Mike Hughes falling down to give the Bills a 29-26 lead. Buffalo, of course, left way too much time on the clock. That exact time was 52 seconds because that's all it took for Patrick Mahomes to fire a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill.
The Chiefs were up 33-29 with 1:02 remaining, but Buffalo had all three timeouts. Allen fired strikes of 28 and 12 yards to Davis, then a 16-yarder to Emmanuel Sanders that featured a declined defensive pass interference that stopped the clock. Allen then zipped a 19-yard strike to Davis for the touchdown that seemed to give Buffalo the 36-33 victory.
Once again, however, the Bills left too much time on the clock even though there were just 13 seconds remaining. The Chiefs, also armed with all three timeouts, were able to advance into field goal range with Mahomes finding Hill and Travis Kelce for gains of 19 and 25 yards, respectively, versus a horrible, ineffective prevent defense. Harrison Butker connected on the 49-yard field goal to send this game to overtime.
The coin toss was crucial, as tails happened to fail for Allen, giving the Chiefs the initial - and only - possession. Mahomes converted a third-and-1 with a 10-yard pass to Kelce, then ran a perfectly orchestrated screen pass to Jerick McKinnon for a 16-yard gain. Once Mahomes hit Mecole Hardman for a 26-yard connection, the Buffalo defense seemed to know it was over. That was the case because on the very next play, Mahomes lofted an 8-yard touchdown to Kelce, which was the decisive score.
Both quarterbacks were incredible in an ongoing rivalry that will be fun to watch for the next 12-15 years. Mahomes went 33-of-44 for 378 yards and three touchdowns, while also scrambling seven times for 69 rushing yards and a fourth score. Allen also found the end zone on four occasions, doing so aerially each time. Allen went 27-of-37 for 329 yards and a quartet of passing touchdowns. He also was a big factor as a scrambler, tallying 68 rushing yards on 11 runs. It's really a shame that one of these quarterbacks had to lose prior to the Super Bowl.
Kelce, who had the game-winning score, finished second on the Chiefs in receiving with eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. He trailed only Hill, who snatched 11 of his 13 targets for 150 yards and a touchdown. Hill's aforementioned 64-yard score was ridiculous, as he ran circles around Buffalo's beleaguered defenders. Yet, these numbers were nothing compared to what Davis produced. Davis was amazing, reeling in eight of his 10 targets for 201 yards and four touchdowns. It's so puzzling as to why the Bills utilized Emmanuel Sanders over Davis earlier in the year. Had Davis been featured more often in the first half of the season, perhaps Buffalo would have hosted this game, though I'm not sure if that would have mattered.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Stefon Diggs had a very disappointing showing, catching only three passes for seven yards. Sanders (1-16) and Dawson Knox (2-9) also struggled, with Knox dropping a pass on the opening possession. Meanwhile, Byron Pringle (5-29) scored Mahomes' third touchdown.
Each quarterback led his respective team in rushing. Otherwise, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the top runner with 60 yards on seven carries, while Jerick McKinnon (10-24) was more involved as a receiver, catching five passes for 54 yards. Devin Singletary, meanwhile, was limited to 26 yards on 10 tries, but he scored a touchdown and also registered four catches for 25 receiving yards.
Rams 30, Buccaneers 27
Tom Brady can't say he didn't have any opportunities to win this game. Down several key players on offense, the Rams were able to overwhelm Brady through the early portion of this game, but Tampa Bay was given numerous chances to crawl back from a 27-3 deficit.
The Rams began shooting themselves in the foot when Cam Akers lost a fumble near the goal line right before halftime. Cooper Kupp then lost a fumble in the third quarter. A botched snap gave the Buccaneers a short field. Matt Gay whiffed on a 47-yard field goal. The Rams basically gave the Buccaneers a comeback on a silver platter.
Tampa Bay climbed back to 27-20, but its chances of winning were still slim because the team had no timeouts with 3:15 remaining. All the Rams needed to do was achieve a first down to clinch the victory. Akers looked like he was going to do it with a nice burst, but Ndamukong Suh stripped the ball out of his arms, and Lavonte David recovered it. Down seven, the Buccaneers had yet another chance to complete the comeback with just 30 yards to go. The Buccaneers got to a fourth-and-1 at the 8-yard line, but rather than sneaking for the first down, Brady handed the ball off to Leonard Fournette, who scored the tying touchdown, completing the comeback that would have never occurred had the Rams not shot themselves in the foot repeatedly.
The Rams appeared as though they would suffer a complete meltdown, especially when Stafford took a sack on the first play on the ensuing drive. Stafford, however, came up huge in the clutch when he found Kupp for gains of 20 and 44 yards. This set up Gay with a 30-yard field goal, which he converted this time.
The final possession was a career-defining moment for Stafford. It looked like he would be on the losing end of one of the worst meltdowns in playoff history, but his final two throws saved the Rams from a complete collapse. If Stafford goes on to win the Super Bowl and eventually get inducted into the Hall of Fame, his two throws to Kupp will remind everyone why he earned the NFL's greatest lifetime distinction.
Stafford finished 28-of-38 for 366 yards and two touchdowns. If he still has back issues, they were nowhere to be found. He made no mistakes in this game, constantly delivering perfect passes to his receivers. Aside from the final drive, Stafford's best play was a third-and-20 conversion to Kupp that set up an early touchdown.
Kupp, meanwhile, made a case for why he's the best receiver in the NFL. He caught nine of his 11 targets for 183 yards and a touchdown. His 64 receiving yards at the end were amazing, especially considering that he had to get out of bounds following the first reception because the Rams had no timeouts. He was the leading receiver for the Rams by a wide margin, as Odell Beckham Jr. was next with six grabs for 69 yards.
The Rams struggled to run the ball, which was not a surprise because the Buccaneers have one of the NFL's top ground defenses. Akers was limited to 48 yards on 24 carries in addition to his two fumbles. Stafford and Kupp saved him from being the goat in this game.
Fournette barely outgained Akers, tallying 51 yards on 13 carries. However, he was a huge DFS producer. He rushed for two touchdowns and also caught nine passes for 56 receiving yards.
With Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown gone, the Buccaneer receiving corps was responsible for too many dropped passes, especially early in the afternoon. This would explain why Brady was just 10-of-22 for 112 yards and an interception at halftime. Brady, however, improved as the afternoon progressed, finishing 30-of-54 for 329 yards, one score and the pick, which was a weak floater to Gronkowski.
Speaking of Gronkowski, he and Mike Evans were responsible for dropped passes. Evans had a big game despite the drop, hauling in eight of his 16 targets for 119 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski was next with four grabs for 85 yards, but he was highly inefficient with 11 targets.
49ers 13, Packers 10
It initially appeared as though the Packers would beat the 49ers easily. Green Bay scored a quick touchdown on its opening possession, while San Francisco couldn't get anything going offensively. Despite often having great field position, the 49ers went three-and-out repeatedly, as Jimmy Garoppolo took numerous sacks on third down. Playing in single-digit snowy weather, San Francisco appeared to be completely helpless.
However, the Packers struggled to do much offensively following their initial drive, as the 49er defense did a great job of clamping down on the run and putting lots of pressure on Aaron Rodgers. San Francisco's scoring unit, however, didn't improve. George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings all dropped passes, while Garoppolo heaved an interception in the red zone just prior to halftime when he panicked under pressure. The 49ers eventually scored in the third quarter, but only got a field goal because of an Elijah Mitchell face mask penalty.
The Packers scored another field goal, so with the 49ers down 10-3, it seemed destined that this game would be decided by seven points, especially when Mitchell failed to convert a predictable play call on a fourth-and-1 in Green Bay territory. However, following a Packers three-and-out, which featured a sack on Rodgers, the 49ers blocked a Green Bay punt and returned it for a touchdown. The Packers' special teams had been the Achilles heel of the roster the entire year, and the poor performance on fourth down struck again at the worst time possible. The 49ers, getting nothing on offense, tied the game at 10.
San Francisco forced yet another Green Bay punt after that when a Rodgers third-and-long deep shot to Davante Adams into double coverage fell incomplete. The 49ers then engineered enough offense via a Kittle reception and a Deebo Samuel run to get into field goal range. Robbie Gould drilled a 45-yard field goal at the buzzer to give San Francisco the unlikely upset.
The Packers seemed destined to win the Super Bowl after such a great year, but this was yet another disappointment for Rodgers. He played well - 20-of-29, 225 yards - but he just didn't have enough help. Of his 225 yards, 219 of them went to either Adams or Aaron Jones, with the other six being on an Allen Lazard reception. Rodgers has to be reminded that this wouldn't have happened had the front office drafted Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, Michael Pittman or Brandin Aiyuk instead of Jordan Love in the opening round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Instead, it was just Adams and Jones. Adams caught nine of his 11 targets for 90 yards, while Aaron Jones hauled in the same number of receptions for 129 yards. Rodgers tried throwing to his tight ends, but the passes fell incomplete almost every single time, thanks to a drop made by Josiah Deguara. Marcedes Lewis caught a pass, but gained zero yards before losing a fumble. Randall Cobb, meanwhile, failed to convert his only target, as he was locked down by excellent slot corner K'Waun Williams.
Jones didn't have as much success running the ball, mustering just 41 yards on 12 carries. A.J. Dillon, who scored a touchdown on top of his 25 yards on seven attempts, suffered an injury in the middle of the game.
The 49ers ran the ball better than the Packers, with Mitchell gaining 53 yards on 17 attempts, while Samuel tallied 39 yards on 10 carries. Samuel got hurt twice in this game. He banged his shoulder hard in the red zone early in the third quarter, but returned after missing one play. He later limped off the field during the final drive, but he told the sideline reporter after the game that he was OK.
Garoppolo had a mixed performance. On one hand, about half of his eight incompletions were dropped. On the other hand, he's extremely fortunate that he didn't throw multiple interceptions in this game. He had a terrible pick in the red zone, but he heaved some lazy throws that easily could have gone the other way. He finished 11-of-19 for 131 yards and the pick. He saw lots of pressure, taking four sacks on third down throughout the evening.
Kittle finished as the team leader in receiving with four catches for 63 yards. He and Samuel (3-44) were the only 49ers with more than 18 receiving yards.
Bengals 19, Titans 16
Ryan Tannehill may have been known as the most mediocre starting quarterback in the NFL, but he can now say he is the most symmetrical quarterback in the NFL. Tannehill threw an interception on his first pass of the game, his first throw in the second half, and his final attempt of the evening.
Tannehill, quite simply, blew what should've been a sure victory. Tennessee's stalwart front dominated the trenches, sacking Joe Burrow nine times. They limited the Bengals to just 16 points before the end of regulation, so with Derrick Henry back on the field, the Titans should have been able to easily outpace that total. Instead, Tannehill destroyed his team's chances of prevailing, with two of his three picks setting up Cincinnati scores. The first pick, which was just a telegraphed ball picked by Jessie Bates, gave the Bengals a free field goal. The second nullified a scoring opportunity, though it was more of a great play by Mike Hilton to tip a pass to himself. I wouldn't really blame the second interception on Tannehill.
The third interception, however, lost the game outright. Tannehill forced a throw through a tight window. The ball was tipped again, allowing the Bengals take over possession near midfield. Burrow found Ja'Marr Chase for a 19-yard gain, setting up rookie Evan McPherson for the game-winning 52-yard field goal.
Tannehill, who went 15-of-24 for 220 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, will need to be upgraded because it's going to be extremely difficult for the Titans to win a Super Bowl with him. Here's a link to the 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Prospect Rankings.
Burrow, meanwhile, absolutely needs offensive line help. Jeffery Simmons dominated the trenches, but no quarterback should ever be sacked nine times in a single game. Burrow took some bad sacks, but he didn't have a chance sometimes. Still, he made enough big throws to lead his team to victory; he went 28-of-37 for 348 yards and an interception that was the result of a dropped ball by a backup running back. I'm sure he'll be hoping not to see Buffalo's No. 1 pass rush in the AFC Championship.
Chase was one of the heroes because of his big catch at the end. He ended up with five receptions for 109 yards. Tee Higgins (7-96) and C.J. Uzomah (7-71) also had big performances, though Higgins dropped a pass on third down.
The Bengals weren't able to run well with Joe Mixon. Aside from one drive, Mixon couldn't find any running lanes. He was limited to 54 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, but he was at least a big factor as a receiver with six catches for 51 yards.
Henry didn't have many more rushing yards than Mixon. In fact, he didn't even lead his team in rushing! That distinction was held by D'Onta Foreman (4-66), who broke a 45-yard burst in the third quarter. Henry was restricted to 62 yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts. D.J. Reader blew up many of his runs.
Tennessee's top skill player was A.J. Brown, who caught five of his nine targets for 142 yards and a touchdown. He and Julio Jones (6-62) were the only Titans with more than 13 receiving yards. Brown would've had a much better output had Tannehill not overthrown him for a potential deep score early in the afternoon.
Rams 34, Cardinals 11
Excluding the Cowboys-49ers affair, this game had the lowest spread of all the contests on wild card weekend. The Rams opened as 4.5-point favorites, but dropped to -3 because of heavy sharp action on Arizona. It seemed as though the Cardinals would have a great chance to pull the mild upset against Los Angeles, but it was apparent this would not be the case about halfway through the first quarter.
The Cardinals put together a laughably pathetic display, especially on offense. Kyler Murray was absolutely dreadful, and for some reason, it seemed as though he forgot that he's capable of scrambling. Murray ran just twice for six rushing yards in this game. Rather than moving around, he remained a Drew Bledsoe-type statue in the pocket who held the ball way too long. Somehow, Matthew Stafford had nearly quadruple the rushing yardage that Murray accumulated. There's no way this should have happened, barring a lower-body injury to Murray.
You'd think that Kliff Kingsbury would remind Murray that he could run circles around the Rams defenders, much like he did in the Week 4 victory in Los Angeles. Instead, all Kingsbury could do was dial up deep shots and trick plays on third down. Arizona did not convert a single third down in this game as a consequence, going 0-of-9 in that regard.
Murray, as a byproduct of his pocket passing and Kingsbury's incompetence, went 19-of-34 for 137 yards and two interceptions, one of which was a pick-six. As ugly as those numbers are, they were helped by garbage time. In the opening half, Murray was 7-of-17 for 28 yards and the two interceptions. The pick-six was a reckless flip that he made in the end zone to avoid a safety. The other interception was a hurried toss on a screen that was too high.
It would be shocking if Kingsbury survived this game. He looked so shell shocked by the playoff atmosphere that he seemingly forgot the basic rules of football. This was nothing new, as Kingsbury has been greatly out-coached in almost every big game this year. Arizona will never win with him, and Murray, despite his many blunders in this contest, deserves better.
As for the Arizona defense, the team struggled to contain the run despite J.J. Watt's return to the field. Both Sony Michel (13-58) and Cam Akers (17-55) ripped off some big plays, though they didn't completely dominate. The Cardinals generated 375 net yards of offense, which wasn't an insane amount, though they kept the chains moving, converting 6-of-13 third downs.
Stafford didn't get to test his back, as he was able to benefit from using play-action fakes to create easy passing opportunities. He misfired just four times as a result, going 13-of-17 for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
Stafford's two touchdowns went to Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. Kupp caught just one pass in the opening half, but ended up leading the team in receiving with five grabs for 61 yards and a touchdown. Beckham (4-54) was next on the list.
The third-leading receiver in this game was Christian Kirk, though he caught all but one of his six passes (51 yards) in garbage time. Rondale Moore (5-32) was next on the box score. Arizona sorely missed DeAndre Hopkins, but given how bad Murray and Kingsbury were in this game, Hopkins' presence probably wouldn't have mattered very much.
Given the huge, early deficit, the Cardinals couldn't run very much. James Conner at least salvaged his DFS night with a late touchdown, though he rushed for only 19 yards on four carries. Chase Edmonds gained 28 yards on eight attempts.
Chiefs 42, Steelers 21
Anyone who didn't watch this game may find it hard to believe that this victory was once in serious doubt for Kansas City. The Chiefs began the game very sluggishly with numerous three-and-outs, as well as a Patrick Mahomes interception where he fired the ball late across his body while in field goal range. If it wasn't for mistakes by the Steelers, like multiple drops by Diontae Johnson, the Chiefs may have been in a deficit in the opening quarter. However, Kansas City found itself down 7-0 in the second frame when Darrel Williams fumbled twice on the same play. T.J. Watt scooped and scored, giving the Steelers an unlikely lead.
It appeared as though the Chiefs might suffer a completely embarrassing defeat despite being 13-point favorites, but it didn't take very long for them to snap out of their funk. They quickly tied the game and then scored two more touchdowns on top of that to finish the half. They then added another pair of scores in the third quarter to open up a 42-14 lead before the Steelers scored once in garbage time, which was almost certainly Ben Roethlisberger's final touchdown pass of his career.
Despite the slow start and early pick, Mahomes compiled a monstrous performance. He misfired on just nine occasions, going 30-of-39 for 404 yards, five touchdowns and the interception. He was a pristine 11-of-11 for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Mahomes didn't have all of Kansas City's passing touchdowns in this game. Travis Kelce hurled a pass into the end zone on a trick play, finding Tyreek Hill. This was just a part of Kelce's big night. He caught five of his seven targets for 108 yards and another touchdown. As for Hill, he snatched all five of his targets for 57 yards and a touchdown. He nearly scored twice, but replay review showed that he was tackled inches shy of the goal line in the third quarter.
Elsewhere in the Kansas City receiving corps, Demarcus Robinson was third on the team in receiving with four catches for 76 yards. Byron Pringle, meanwhile, hauled in two touchdowns. He snatched five of his seven targets for 37 yards otherwise.
The Chiefs didn't run as well as expected on the Steelers. This is because Williams was barely able to play. Instead, Jerick McKinnon handled the full workload. He gained 61 yards on 12 carries, but was even better as a receiver out of the backfield. He reeled in all six of his targets for 81 yards and a receiving touchdown.
McKinnon easily outgained Najee Harris, who struggled to do much of anything. He mustered just 29 yards on 12 carries, while his two catches actually lost a yard. Even worse, Harris lost a fumble that led to a Kansas City touchdown.
Somehow, Roethlisberger was Pittsburgh's best offensive player in this contest. The future Hall of Fame quarterback went 29-of-44 for 215 yards and two touchdowns in what was likely his final game. Roethlisberger's stat line would've been much better had his receivers not let him down with numerous drops.
Speaking of drops, Diontae Johnson was guilty of a couple, including one that would've moved the chains on third down. He ended up second on the team in receiving with five catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. He trailed only James Washington, who hauled in two balls for 37 yards and a score.
49ers 23, Cowboys 17
The Cowboys have endured terrible coaching for years, and everyone but Jerry Jones knew this would continue when the team hired Mike McCarthy. The former Packers coach squandered so many promising teams in Green Bay, and he was up to his old tricks in this contest. The Cowboys sabotaged a potential victory with 14 penalties, and yet none of them equaled the final offensive snap from scrimmage when the Cowboys, with no timeouts, called a quarterback draw to get into field goal range despite being down six. Dak Prescott slid with a few seconds remaining and then scrambled to the line of scrimmage, only to be bumped by the official, who needed to place down the ball. As a result, time expired, and Dallas lost another playoff game in embarrassing fashion.
It could be argued that the Cowboys shouldn't have been put in such a position in the first place. The only reason they even had a chance was because of a horrible Jimmy Garoppolo interception and a San Francisco false start that negated a potential game-winning quarterback sneak. Dallas obtained possession with 32 seconds remaining and managed to zip down to the San Francisco 41-yard line in just 18 seconds. They were in position to take a few shots into the end zone for Hail Marys, but never even attempted such a pass because of the nonsensical quarterback draw.
Had the Cowboys prevailed at the end, it would have spoiled a terrific performance by the 49ers' offense, save for Garoppolo's pick. San Francisco rammed the ball down Dallas' throat with both Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel extremely effectively. They had nearly double the yardage the Cowboys accumulated at halftime and outgained Dallas by 2.3 yards per play at that point. Dallas was able to mount a comeback, thanks to the Garoppolo interception and injuries to Nick Bosa and Fred Warner.
Mitchell dashed for 96 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, while Samuel scampered for 72 yards on just 10 attempts. He also scored. Samuel finished second on the team in receiving as well, catching three balls for 38 yards. He trailed only Brandon Aiyuk, who caught five balls for 66 yards.
Garoppolo, as mentioned, nearly gave the game away with a pick that was a horrible overthrow. He was excellent in the first half - 11-of-14, 133 yards - but was just 5-of-11 following intermission. One of his incompletions was a brutal miss of Aiyuk for what should've been a big gain. San Francisco fans undoubtedly had flashbacks to the collapse in the Super Bowl when Garoppolo barely could complete a pass in the fourth quarter.
Prescott, meanwhile, had a rough game for the most part. He missed numerous receivers during the early stages of the game, accumulating just 89 yards in the first half. He caught fire toward the end, especially on the final possession, but ruined it with the dumb quarterback scramble. He finished 23-of-43 for 254 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which occurred when he released the ball. He also scored a rushing touchdown.
Prescott's lone aerial score went to Amari Cooper, who caught six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. He trailed only Dalton Schultz (7-89) on the stat sheet. Conversely, CeeDee Lamb had a miserable game. He caught only one pass for 21 yards, and he also dropped a ball. He made a big play at one point, but his own procedural penalty negated it. Dallas was somehow guilty of six procedural infractions.
Ezekiel Elliott ended his miserable season with yet another disappointing performance. He mustered just 31 yards on 12 carries. It's unclear why the Cowboys didn't give Tony Pollard more of an opportunity, given that he's much more explosive. His four attempts went for 14 yards.
Buccaneers 31, Eagles 15
The Eagles never had a chance to win this game because they didn't really belong in the playoffs. They beat one team with a winning record all year, and that was a New Orleans squad missing numerous players due to injury and illness (including Alvin Kamara and both offensive tackles.) The Buccaneers dominated the entire afternoon, but there are some concerns moving forward that must be addressed.
The Buccaneers were already down two key receivers in Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, but now they have concerns with their offensive line, as Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen suffered injuries in this game. Jensen eventually returned to action, but Wirfs was sidelined for most of the afternoon. Perhaps Wirfs will be able to play next week, but if he doesn't, that'll create some major protection issues. Tom Brady took four third-down sacks in this game, and it's not even like the Eagles have a stellar pass rush.
Despite the pressure, Brady had an excellent performance with just eight incompletions. He finished 29-of-37 for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Brady looked a bit rusty to begin the afternoon, but eventually got into a rhythm and carved through Philadelphia's secondary with ease - at least when he wasn't being harassed on the right side by Philadelphia's edge rushers.
Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski caught Brady's touchdowns, which can't be a surprise to anyone. Evans was the receiving leader in this game, hauling in nine of his 10 targets for 117 yards. Gronkowski didn't do as much - five catches, 31 yards - despite having a great matchup against a Philadelphia team that has struggled against tight ends all year.
With Leonard Fournette sidelined, Giovani Bernard and Ke'Shawn Vaughn split the workload almost evenly. Vaughn had four more carries than Bernard (17-13) and outgained him, 53-44. Both scored touchdowns. However, Bernard was more involved in the passing game; he caught five passes for 39 receiving yards, while Vaughn made just two grabs for nine receiving yards.
As for the Eagles, this 31-5 score is misleading. Tampa Bay led 31-0 before it took its foot off the gas. The Eagles generated just 159 net yards entering the fourth quarter before the Buccaneers allowed a pair of touchdown drives with a lazy defensive effort.
In real action, Jalen Hurts could barely complete any passes, missing numerous receivers throughout the afternoon. He logged just 88 passing yards in the opening half, as he heaved some inaccurate balls downfield. He also threw a hideous interception in the red zone when he telegraphed a late throw. Hurts finished with some misleading stats - 23-of-43, 258 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions - but don't be fooled. Hurts, while being a capable scrambler (8 carries, 39 rushing yards), has not demonstrated that he can be a consistent passer at this level, and this game was a perfect example of that.
This was an extremely rough matchup for the Eagles because they love to run the ball, while the Buccaneers, when focused, are terrific against rushing attacks. That would explain why Miles Sanders was limited to just 16 yards on seven carries.
Thanks to garbage-time yardage, Dallas Goedert was able to approach the century mark. He finished just shy of that plateau, hauling in six of his 12 targets for 92 yards. He was guilty of a bad drop in the second quarter. DeVonta Smith, who caught just one pass in the first half, was also able to do some damage in meaningless action, finishing with four grabs for 60 yards.
Elsewhere in the Eagles' receiving corps, the receivers not named Smith struggled. Quez Watkins was responsible for a failed deep completion because he stopped running a route. He caught just two passes for 35 yards. Meanwhile, Jalen Reagor, who notched just one reception for two yards, muffed a punt to set up a Tampa Bay touchdown.
Bills 47, Patriots 17
It's hard to believe that the Bills lost to the Patriots on this field earlier in the season. That was a tight, defensive battle in heavy winds decided on the final play. Conversely, this game was a one-sided blowout dominated by the Bills from start to finish.
It was quite apparent how this game would play out almost immediately. The Bills went down the field on the opening drive with a touchdown, as Josh Allen bought himself an eternity and ultimately found Dawson Knox with a Dwight Clark-type catch to go up 7-0. Mac Jones was then picked off on a deep shot into the end zone to Nelson Agholor, and the Bills parlayed the turnover into another touchdown drive. Allen continued to score relentlessly, heading into halftime with a 27-3 lead. We saw more of the same after halftime, with Buffalo scoring every single time it had possession. The team was perfect on third down with a 6-of-6 conversion rate (not counting the final kneeldown). Buffalo outgained the Patriots, 483-305, and averaged a ridiculous 3.9 more yards per play than New England.
Allen was incredible, making Bill Belichick's defense look like this year's New York Jets unit. He toyed with the defenders on numerous devastating runs - six scrambles, 66 rushing yards - and he was even better as a passer. He threw just four incompletions the entire evening. In fact, he fired more touchdowns (5) than incompletions! Allen ended up going 21-of-25 for 308 yards and the five scores. If Allen continues to play this way, no one is going to beat Buffalo in the playoffs.
Two of Allen's touchdowns went to Knox, who led the Bills in receiving with five catches for 89 yards. He was tackled inches shy of the goal line in the fourth quarter, so he could have scored thrice.
Excluding Knox, Stefon Diggs was atop the receiving list with three grabs for 60 yards, but he didn't score a touchdown. The other Buffalo scorers were Gabriel Davis (2-41), Emmanuel Sanders (2-36) and a big man named Tommy Doyle.
Devin Singletary also found the end zone twice. He rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He also caught three passes for 13 receiving yards. Singletary has become a big part of Buffalo's offense in recent weeks. The Bills have been missing this element for years, but they now have a highly productive running back.
As for the Patriots, they were only able to score in garbage time, as they trailed 33-3 before the Bills' defense took their foot off the gas. Jones looked skittish against Buffalo's No. 1 pass rush, and it didn't help that he didn't have Isaiah Wynn protecting his blind side. Jones made some nice plays on the opening drive, especially when he scrambled and found Hunter Henry for a 30-yard gain on a third-and-14, but that possession ended with an interception, and we didn't see much more of Jones' positive play until the final stages of the game.
Jones finished 24-of-38 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The first pick, discussed earlier, really set the tone for the Bills. The second came off a deflection to begin the third quarter.
Both of Jones' touchdowns went to Kendrick Bourne, who paced New England with seven grabs for 77 yards. Jakobi Meyers (6-40) was next, while Henry didn't catch a single pass after he made his 30-yard reception on the opening possession.
The Patriots, down early right away, didn't get a chance to establish the run. Damien Harris was limited to 30 yards on nine carries. Rhamondre Stevenson (8-27) was right behind him.
Bengals 26, Raiders 19
The Bengals hadn't won a playoff game in 31 years, yet it was the Raiders who seemed like they were in such a drought. They made so many mistakes in this game, so even though they outgained Cincinnati, 385-308, and averaged 0.4 more yards per play, they suffered a defeat in which they didn't cover the six-point spread.
The Raiders were guilty of countless errors from start to finish. Their first two drives featured false starts that derailed the possessions. One was committed by Darren Waller. The second put Derek Carr into a third-and-8, resulting in a strip-sack by Trey Hendrickson, setting up an easy field goal for Cincinnati. Peyton Barber then committed a brain-dead kickoff blunder, touching the ball before he stepped out of bounds. Instead of starting at the 40-yard line, the Raiders began at their own 2, so quick three-and-out set up another Bengals field goal.
The blunders continued after that. Desean Jackson dropped a potential touchdown pass, forcing another field goal. Bryan Edwards was guilty of a bad drop prior to halftime. Hunter Renfrow dropped a pass early in the third frame. There was a later drive in which the Raiders were guilty of two holding penalties, including one that negated a Josh Jacobs run that would've set up second-and-goal at the Cincinnati 1-yard line. Instead of scoring a touchdown, the Raiders had to settle for a field goal. If they had gotten the touchdown, they could have kicked at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime.
Meanwhile, the Bengals got all the breaks, save for a bad roughing-the-passer call on the final possession. One of Cincinnati's touchdowns occurred after an official blew the whistle, causing the defenders to slow down. The Bengals should have been forced into a field goal. This, too, would've given the Raiders the opportunity to put the game into overtime. Instead, the Raiders failed at the end when a final Carr pass was intercepted.
Carr nearly tied the game at the end. He played a fine game, aside from the lost fumble, especially when considering all the drops. He went 29-of-54 for 310 yards, one touchdown and the interception at the end. He out-passed Joe Burrow, though Burrow was the better quarterback. He was incredibly accurate on most instances, going 24-of-34 for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
Burrow once again had a great rapport with Ja'Marr Chase, who dominated this game with nine catches for 116 yards. Chase, however, didn't reach the end zone. Instead, Burrow's touchdown tosses went to C.J. Uzomah (6-64) and Tyler Boyd (4-26). Surprisingly, Tee Higgins caught only one of his four targets for 10 yards.
The Raiders' leading receiver was Waller, who hauled in seven of his 12 targets for 76 yards. He made some mistakes, however, as he was guilty of a drop and a false start. Zay Jones (5-61) reeled in Carr's sole touchdown.
Neither running back had much success, which wasn't a surprise, given that both teams have superior ground defenses. Josh Jacobs had a burst of 35 yards, but didn't do much otherwise, gaining 83 yards on 13 attempts. He also caught four passes for 44 receiving yards. Joe Mixon, conversely, didn't have any long gains. He was limited to 48 yards on 17 attempts. Like Jacobs, he caught four passes for 28 receiving yards.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.