The only way to stop an elite quarterback is to pressure him very heavily without blitzing. Tom Brady discovered this when his potential 19-0 dream season came crashing to a halt versus the Giants to finish the 2007 NFL campaign. This was reinforced when the Giants defeated Brady a second time four years later. This time, Brady was on the other end of the stick, as Patrick Mahomes was the one constantly under siege.
Despite the Buccaneers sending just five blitzes the entire night, Mahomes was pressured on nearly every play. He was sacked just three times, but that number would have been tripled had Mahomes not scrambled out of pressure and released the ball quickly. The pressure forced so many rushed throws and stalled so many drives. The end result was Mahomes' first double-digit loss of his career.
Of course, none of this was a surprise. The Chiefs were missing three offensive linemen, including both of their starting tackles. They had to use backup guards to block on the edges. With the Buccaneers possessing one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL, this was just too much of an advantage for them. They absolutely dominated in the trenches and gave Mahomes no chance.
Given the severe advantage the Buccaneers had in the trenches, it didn't help that the Chiefs, potentially distracted by the Britt Reid car accident, made some sloppy mistakes. They were guilty of numerous penalties - 11, compared to Tampa's four - including a brutal offsides on a field goal that allowed the Buccaneers to go up 14-3 in the second quarter, rather than just 10-3.
Meanwhile, Brady, with much better protection, was able to enjoy a terrific game in his seventh Super Bowl victory. Brady became the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to complete 80-plus percent of his passes and throw three touchdowns in a single half. The Chiefs sacked him once early and forced a couple of punts on the initial two drives, but couldn't stop the Buccaneers after that. Tampa Bay didn't punt after that until well into the third quarter.
Brady, claiming the MVP trophy in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in his career, posted near-perfect numbers: He went 21-of-29 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. He nearly threw a fourth score in the second half, but his pass was just out of reach for backup tight end Tanner Hudson. Brady made no official mistakes, though he had an interception off a deflection that was negated by a defensive holding penalty.
Believe it or not, Brady was even better than the numbers indicate. There were two defensive pass interferences on the same drive prior to halftime, which would've allowed Brady to reach 250 yards otherwise. Those interference flags were huge, as they allowed the Buccaneers to inflate their lead from 14-6 to 21-6 heading into intermission. With the Chiefs set to receive the initial possession in the third quarter, it was huge that the Buccaneers were able to have a 15-point advantage in that circumstance.
Mahomes, conversely, was a dreadful 26-of-49 for 270 yards and two interceptions that came on deflections. He didn't throw a single touchdown, though Tyreek Hill dropped a ball in the end zone. Despite how ugly those numbers look, they were enhanced by garbage time. Mahomes didn't even eclipse 100 passing yards until there was just one minute remaining in the third quarter.
Of course, none of that was Mahomes' fault. I discussed the poor offensive line already, but it can't be emphasized enough how horrible Kansas City's pass protection was. The Chiefs were able to squeak by all of their opponents in the regular season and the first two playoff games while missing a couple of blockers, but down three offensive linemen, Mahomes had no chance versus a stalwart defensive line.
If Brady didn't win MVP, the award would have gone to Rob Gronkowski. The future Hall of Fame tight end spent most of the postseason blocking, but the Buccaneers unleashed him as a receiver in this game. The result was Gronkowski leading the team in receiving with six catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
Brady's third touchdown was thrown to Antonio Brown, who caught five passes for 22 yards. Mike Evans (1-31) and Chris Godwin (2-9) weren't prominent on the stat sheet. Evans, however, drew two interference flags prior to halftime, which led to a touchdown.
The Buccaneers were able to pound the ball down Kansas City's throat. Both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones had bright moments. Fournette rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while also catching four passes for 46 receiving yards. Many called Fournette overrated when the Buccaneers signed him, but it was a great move that paid dividends. Meanwhile, Jones gained 61 yards on 12 carries, but was stuffed at the goal line on a fourth-down attempt in the second quarter. This was the only blunder the Buccaneers committed in this game, as they should've had Brady sneak instead.
The Chiefs couldn't run the ball nearly as well, which wasn't much of a surprise. The Buccaneers' top-ranked ground defense lived up to its billing, limiting Clyde Edwards-Helaire to 64 yards on nine carries. Twenty-six of Edwards-Helaire's yardage came on one run, so he had just an 8-38 line otherwise. This would've barely outgained Mahomes on the ground; Mahomes scrambled five times for 33 rushing yards.
As with the Buccaneers, the Chiefs' leader in receiving was also a tight end. Travis Kelce was great throughout, as only five of his 10 catches came in the second half. He accumulated 133 yards, and he nearly scored a touchdown, but a deflected pass at the very end led to an interception.
Only one other Chief logged more than 23 receiving yards. That was Tyreek Hill and his seven receptions for 73 yards. As mentioned, he dropped a touchdown. Sammy Watkins (1-13), Demarcus Robinson (1-11) and Mecole Hardman (2-4) were non-factors.
For more on this game, including my thoughts on the commercials and the halftime show, check out my Super Bowl LV Live Blog.
Chiefs 38, Bills 24
There was much concern about Patrick Mahomes' turf toe ahead of this game. Prior to kickoff, Jay Glazer reported that Mahomes was fitted for a special orthotic and that they were very concerned with his health. Glazer is one of the most reliable NFL reporters, so I expected Mahomes to be severely limited. The sharp bettors anticipated the same, as they bet the Bills heavily on Sunday.
As it turns out, this was a completely overblown story. This was evident right away, as Mahomes moved around in the pocket to avoid the Buffalo pass rushers. He was able to buy himself time when he needed to, and he also completed quick passes to his top options very frequently. Following a botched first drive that featured a drop, the Chiefs were an unstoppable force offensively. They converted all but three third-down attempts en route to a 38-point onslaught of one of the best defensive teams in the NFL.
Mahomes, remarkably, misfired on just nine occasions, and that includes the aforementioned drop on the initial possession. He went 29-of-38 for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He also scrambled twice for eight rushing yards. He was walking a bit gingerly after a handful of plays, but looked like his usual self for the most part. Even if he's truly very banged up, he'll have two weeks off to heal, which obviously bodes well for him and his team.
Unfortunately, it wasn't a completely great night for the Chiefs. They lost left tackle Eric Fisher to an Achilles injury in the fourth quarter. Fisher was consoled on the sidelines, which indicates that he won't be available for Super Bowl LV. If that's the case, and Mitchell Schwartz can't return from injury in two weeks, Kansas City will be missing three offensive linemen versus one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL. It'll be quite the challenge, but Andy Reid will have two weeks to figure out a game plan.
The Bills had a 9-0 lead in this game, thanks to a Mecole Hardman muffed punt in the opening quarter. However, they had trouble scoring after that. Josh Allen saw lots of pressure, and on the drives in which he moved the ball well, he and his offense got bogged down in the red zone. To my disappointment, Sean McDermott opted for too many field goals, including a kick on a fourth-and-3 when the Bills trailed by 12 in the third quarter. They trimmed the lead to nine, but were still down two scores. Going for it on fourth-and-short would have been the better option.
Allen missed out on those touchdown opportunities, which is why he threw just two scores amid going 28-of-48 for 287 yards and an interception otherwise. He had major problems dealing with the Kansas City pass rush, and it didn't help that the Chiefs bracketed Stefon Diggs with great coverage. Allen's pick occurred when he tried to fit the ball into a tight spot to John Brown, and he should have tossed two other interceptions. The pair of potential picks were dropped. One was especially bad, as Allen stared down his receiver.
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were both amazing in this game. Hill began the game poorly with a drop, but he ended up catching nine passes for 172 yards, including a 71-yard burst to set up a touchdown when this affair was still close. Kelce also topped the century plateau, snatching 13 of his 15 targets for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Kelce nearly scored a third time, stepping out of bounds inches shy of the goal line on one play.
No one on the Bills eclipsed the 100-yard barrier. Cole Beasley led the way with seven grabs for 88 yards, followed by Diggs' line of six receptions for 77 yards. Diggs didn't play as well as those numbers indicate, as much of what he did occurred in garbage time. The Chiefs completely erased him, forcing Allen to look elsewhere amid heavy pressure.
As you might expect, neither team ran very well. Allen led the Bills in rushing with seven scrambles for 88 yards. Devin Singletary (6-17) was a major disappointment, dropping a pass and then losing some receiving work to T.J. Yeldon. Meanwhile, Darrel Williams (13-52) outgained Clyde Edwards-Helaire (6-7) by a wide margin. Both scored touchdowns.
Buccaneers 31, Packers 26
The Packers' season ended just as it seemed to begin back in April. Green Bay shocked everyone when it selected Jordan Love rather than a receiver in the opening round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Packer brain trust evidently didn't believe Rodgers could bring them great success in the coming years, as they seemingly wanted to move forward with a new signal-caller. Rodgers, however, proved them all wrong with an MVP season in 2020. He earned the Packers the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture with a truly amazing year.
Though the Packers were down 28-10 in this affair, they were never truly out of it because of Rodgers. Thanks to some miscues by the Tampa Bay offense, including three Tom Brady interceptions, Rodgers was able to mount a near-comeback. Trailing 31-23, Rodgers drove his offense into the red zone, but was suddenly faced with a fourth-and-8 with 2:09 remaining. Conventional wisdom said that the Packers would go for it, but they opted for a field goal instead. The Green Bay brain trust once again refused to rely on Rodgers, choosing another option instead. As with the Love selection, this was another epic failure. The Packers closed the lead to 31-26, but Rodgers never saw the ball again. The Buccaneers converted a trio of first downs, including one on a pass interference, to run down the clock to zero.
Rodgers played a great game, but it didn't matter because head coach Matt LaFleur didn't trust him. There was no excuse for kicking the field goal. Even if the Packers failed on fourth down, they still could have gotten the ball back and still been in the same position as they would have been with the route they took. I'm sure some nerds will claim that it was mathematically advantageous to kick the field goal, but don't listen to that nonsense. Taking the ball out of the hands of the MVP was just as dumb as spending a first-round pick on another quarterback.
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are going to the Super Bowl, becoming the first team to host it. They established a 28-10 lead despite numerous drops. Two major events sparked this 28-10 lead. The first was a deep bomb from Tom Brady to Scotty Miller with one second remaining in the opening half. Kevin King allowed Miller to beat him, and there was no safety help, thanks to an inept defensive scheme. The second event was an Aaron Jones lost fumble that set up a quick touchdown.
Tampa Bay, however, had to hold on for dear life. Despite having a 28-10 lead, Brady began throwing interceptions, though not all of them were his fault. The first one was, as Brady heaved an errant pass into double coverage. The second pick bounced off the hands of Mike Evans. The third was similar to the second, though that pass was a bit high.
Brady finished 20-of-36 for 280 yards, three touchdowns and the trio of picks. The interceptions were nearly a killer, but Brady's completion percentage should have been better. He endured five drops from his teammates.
Rodgers, conversely, went 33-of-48 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The pick wasn't Rodgers' fault, as defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting got away with a hold of Allen Lazard. Rodgers, as mentioned, played a stellar game, but was ultimately betrayed.
The leading receiver in this game wasn't someone anyone expected. Somehow, Marquez Valdes-Scantling led the way with four catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. He was the only Packer to outgain Davante Adams (9-67), who also scored. Adams nearly caught a second touchdown, but was able to get just one foot inbounds.
The Tampa receivers, meanwhile, were led by Chris Godwin and his five catches for 110 yards. Godwin also received a 6-yard carry, which he converted for a first down to ice the game. Evans (3-51) was next on the receiving chart. Despite a tough matchup against Jaire Alexander, Evans caught a touchdown, though Alexander wasn't covering him on the play.
Leonard Fournette chipped in with five catches, though for only 19 receiving yards. He also rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Fournette also dropped two passes. Ronald Jones (10-16) did very little.
Aaron Jones, as mentioned, had a killer lost fumble. This was actually his second fumble of the game, but Robert Tonyan pounced on the first loose ball. Jones gained just 27 yards on six carries, as he had to leave the game with an injury on the play in which he fumbled.
Buccaneers 30, Saints 20
This was a highly anticipated game because of the matchup between two legendary quarterbacks. Though this was a tight battle that was decided in the fourth quarter, it was nothing like the offensive explosion most people anticipated. Instead, this third affair between the Buccaneers and Saints was marred with constant blunders.
Both teams tried their hardest to crush themselves with mistakes. Early on, the Buccaneers made two mistakes when they allowed to great kickoff returns. One was taken into the red zone, but the second, resulting in an apparent touchdown, was negated by a dumb block-in-the-back penalty. The Saints had control of this game in the early stages, but that changed when Drew Brees was intercepted while under heavy pressure. This set up the Buccaneers with great field position, allowing Mike Evans to score to give the Buccaneers a 10-6 lead.
Tom Brady was lucky he wasn't picked on an ensuing drive, as safety Marcus Williams had just one foot inbounds. However, a touchdown opportunity was ruined by drops from Leonard Fournette and Chris Godwin. Rather than scoring six - Godwin's drop was in the end zone - the Buccaneers had to settle for a field goal, tying the game at 13 heading into halftime.
Brady and Brees exchanged dropped interceptions to begin the second half. However, the Buccaneers were able to capitalize off a Jared Cook lost fumble at midfield, with Fournette finding the end zone to force another tie. Tampa took a 23-20 lead despite Brady seeing a potential pick dropped, and a Ronald Jones 44-yard gain negated by a field goal, but that's when they stopped making mistakes. The Saints weren't done doing so, however. Down three, Brees fired an interception on a miscommunication with Alvin Kamara. The Saints had one more chance after that, but not after Kamara committed a drop, and a Brees pass was picked on a Lavonte David tipped pass. This final turnover sealed the victory for the Buccaneers.
Brady was very lucky to escape with a win. He finished 18-of-33 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, but as mentioned, he was fortunate he wasn't intercepted three times. Brady will have his work cut out for him next week when he battles a great Green Bay pass defense.
Brees, conversely, wasn't so fortunate. Though he had one potential pick that was dropped, the Buccaneers were able to capitalize on his blunders, snatching three interceptions. Brees was just 19-of-34 for only 134 yards, one touchdown and the three picks. If this was Brees' final game as a pro, it was a very ugly way to end such a prolific career. Brees will obviously be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but this loss will sting for a while because Brees made so many errors against a usually poor Tampa Bay aerial defense.
Speaking of the Buccaneers' secondary, the unit somehow held Michael Thomas to no catches. It was truly baffling. Thomas saw four targets, but couldn't reel in a single one. I never would have imagined Tampa Bay doing this in a million years. I have to believe it was some sort of fluke, but if not, the Buccaneers will at least give themselves a chance of not being humiliated by Davante Adams next week.
Elsewhere in the New Orleans receiving corps, Tre'Quan Smith caught three passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns, with one score being a 56-yard bomb thrown by Jameis Winston on a trick play. Emmanuel Sanders (6-48) contributed well off his nine targets, while Cook (5-28) killed his team with the aforementioned fumble.
Kamara was targeted six times, but caught only half of those balls for 20 receiving yards. He ran surprisingly well, given the tough matchup; he gained 85 yards on 18 carries.
The Buccaneers out-rushed the Saints as a whole, with Fournette and Ronald Jones serving in a committee. Fournette edged out Jones by a single yard, 63-62, getting there on four more carries, 17-13. However, Fournette did a healthy amount of damage as a receiver out of the backfield, catching five passes for 44 receiving yards and a score.
Surprisingly, Cameron Brate was the only Buccaneer with more receiving yards than Fournette; he reeled in four of his five targets for 50 yards. Chris Godwin (4-34) was next on the stat sheet, while Antonio Brown and Evans caught a single pass for 10 and three yards, respectively. Brown missed a chunk of the game with an injury, while Evans was locked down by Marshon Lattimore, though his sole catch was a touchdown.
Chiefs 22, Browns 17
During the run in which Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl, the Patriots had to get through a playoff game with their backup quarterback, as Drew Bledsoe entered took the field for an injured Brady versus the Steelers in the AFC Championship. Similarly, the Chiefs had to use their backup signal-caller to win a playoff affair for Mahomes to win his second Lombardi Trophy.
The difference was that Bledsoe, at the time, was an established starter, while Chad Henne hadn't thrown a meaningful pass in years. Henne was thrust into action for a concussed Mahomes when the Chiefs were up 22-10 upon completion of their drive. The Browns scored a touchdown to draw to within seven, so the Chiefs had to hold on for dear life, especially when Henne lobbed a punt-like pass into the end zone that was intercepted. It looked like the Browns would steal this victory, but the Kansas City defense came up with a big stop to force a punt. It was then up to Henne to drain the clock, which looked unlikely when he took a sack on second down. However, on third-and-14, Henne scrambled for 13 yards to allow Andy Reid to call a fourth-down play. Reid showed some guts, signaling a pass for Henne, who connected with Tyreek Hill for the first down. This sealed the victory for Kansas City.
Mahomes had a rough afternoon. He hurt his toe early and was limping around at times. This didn't affect his passing all that much because he was 21-of-30 for 255 yards and a touchdown to go along with three scrambles for 14 rushing yards and a second score. Mahomes felt good enough to scramble for a first down on one third-quarter play, but he slid awkwardly and seemed to injure his knee when he couldn't get up right away. That was no longer a concern when he ran into the locker room, but the independent neurologist ruled out Mahomes for the rest of the afternoon.
Playing a quarter-and-a-half, Henne went 6-of-8 for 66 yards and the aforementioned interception. He came up big with his scramble, but the Chiefs won't stand a chance if he has to start against the Bills next week.
Despite Henne being on the field for a chunk of action, both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce both had big games. Hill caught eight of his 10 targets for 110 yards, barely edging out Travis Kelce and his eight grabs (11 targets) for 109 yards. Kelce reeled in Mahomes' sole aerial touchdown. Save for Mecole Hardman (4-58), no other Chief registered more than 16 receiving yards.
With Clyde Edwards-Helaire ruled out, many expected Le'Veon Bell to handle the workload. Bell , however, was given just two carries. Instead, it was Darrel Williams who shouldered the full workload. Williams looked good, gaining 78 yards on 13 carries to go along with four catches for 16 receiving yards.
The Browns didn't get to run the ball as much because of the constant deficit. Nick Chubb tallied 69 yards on 13 carries, but he dropped two passes. It's unclear why Kareem Hunt wasn't the target of those throws. Hunt was given just six carries, but he turned those into 32 yards and a touchdown.
Baker Mayfield had a mostly positive performance. He went 23-of-37 for 204 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The pick was horrible - Mayfield threw late across his body - but wasn't penalized it because Harrison Butker missed a chip-shot field goal. Mayfield didn't have as much time in the pocket as he's used to because rookie left tackle Jedrick Willis left the game with an injury on the first offensive play from scrimmage.
Rashard Higgins led the Browns in receiving with five catches for 88 yards. Jarvis Landry caught a touchdown amid his seven receptions, but logged just 20 receiving yards. David Njoku (4-59) was second on the team in receiving, while Austin Hooper (2-16) didn't do much outside of making a great, diving grab on fourth down to preserve a touchdown drive.
Bills 17, Ravens 3
Given that this was a battle between Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, two of the bright young stars in the NFL, many expected an explosive shootout. Those who did were disappointed, as the two teams engaged in a defensive struggle. This game was just 3-3 at halftime.
Both teams made mistakes to account for the lack of scoring. The Bills screwed up when Gabriel Davis dropped an early touchdown, and then Josh Allen missed Stefon Diggs for a deep touchdown. The Ravens, meanwhile, saw two rare misses from Justin Tucker, who doinked two field goals off the uprights in very windy conditions. J.K. Dobbins also dropped a pass on third down. Both defenses were performing terrifically, so the offenses can't be blamed for all the ineptitude.
The Bills scored a touchdown in the third quarter when Allen hit Diggs for a short touchdown. Jackson moved the chains well on the ensuing drive to enter the red zone. It appeared as though Jackson would tie the game, but a pass to Mark Andrews in the end zone was telegraphed. Jackson didn't see Taron Johnson, who snatched the ball and ran the other way. He scored the defensive touchdown to give Buffalo a 17-3 lead.
The Ravens, of course, were not out of it because Jackson is capable of mounting two-touchdown comebacks. Baltimore's hopes ended quickly, however, when Jackson banged his head on the final play of the third quarter. He was taken into the locker room and eventually ruled out with a concussion. Backup Tyler Huntley gave the Ravens no chance, as evidenced by his overthrow of a wide-open Marquise Brown for what should've been a deep touchdown.
Allen's having a great year, but this was a game to forget because if he plays this way against the Chiefs, Buffalo won't stand a chance. Allen went 23-of-37 for 206 yards and a touchdown. The wind certainly affected his deep passes, and Davis' aforementioned drop hurt the final stat line, but Allen should have done better, even against Baltimore's defense. He didn't have a terrible game, but next week's battle against the Chiefs will be a shoout, and Allen must be at his best.
Only two Buffalo players logged more than 18 receiving yards: Diggs (8-106) and John Brown (8-62). Both saw 11 targets. As mentioned, Diggs scored the only offensive touchdown of this game. Both were targeted deep on plays in which they were smothered on double teams.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Cole Beasley didn't log a single reception and was targeted twice. The NBC crew speculated that Beasley wasn't healthy despite what he accomplished the prior week.
The Bills didn't bother running the ball until they were up two touchdowns. In fact, Devin Singletary logged just one carry in the opening half, finishing with 25 yards on seven attempts. The Bills, recognizing what Baltimore's defense did to Derrick Henry last week, knew that throwing on the Ravens was the correct strategy, despite the wind.
The Ravens' ground attack was better by default, and it looked like the Ravens' running backs would trample the Bills from the onset when Gus Edwards popped off two double digit-yard carries to open the game. Interestingly, both Edwards and Dobbins finished with identical rushing stat lines: 10 carries, 42 yards. Dobbins caught three passes for 51 receiving yards, but dropped two passes.
Jackson, however, didn't do much as a rusher. The Bills' defense had a great game plan prepared for Jackson as a scrambler, limiting him to 34 yards on nine carries. They bottled him up very well, sacking him four times. He was only mediocre as a passer as well, going 14-of-24 for 162 yards and the killer interception.
Despite Huntley missing him for a deep touchdown, Brown led the Ravens in receiving with four grabs for 87 yards. Andrews (4-28) was targeted in the end zone on a couple of occasions, but the Baltimore quarterbacks couldn't connect with him.
Packers 32, Rams 18
Aaron Donald told the media that he was feeling good ahead of this game. What we saw on the field indicated otherwise. Donald's snap count was far less than usual, and when he was playing, he didn't look like quite himself. The Packers were able to block him well, even with a young lineman like Elgton Jenkins. There was one instance when Jenkins frustrated Donald so much that Donald committed a personal foul penalty. This was a big infraction because it gave the Packers a first-and-10 in the red zone rather than a third-and-long on the cusp of field goal range. Green Bay ended up scoring on the drive.
The Packers were mostly unstoppable. They scored on every drive in the first two-and-a-half quarters; they didn't punt until midway through the third frame. The Rams were able to get a couple of stops in the second half, but Green Bay's offense was way too efficient to be stopped with the Rams not having a healthy Donald on the field.
With more time than anticipated as a result of Donald being ineffective, the Packers moved the chains very well on the ground and through the air. In regard to the latter, Aaron Rodgers was mostly unstoppable. He got away with a couple of potential interceptions right before halftime when he recklessly took some risky shots into the end zone. Rodgers also missed Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep shot in the third quarter, but was flawless otherwise.
Rodgers finished 23-of-36 for 296 yards and two touchdowns. His numbers could've been even better had his receivers not dropped a couple of his passes. One dropped ball was a potential score to Allen Lazard.
Despite the drop, Lazard made up for it by leading the Packers in receiving. With Davante Adams tied up with Jalen Ramsey, Lazard was able to snatch four balls for 96 yards and a touchdown. Adams still had a great game despite Ramsey's coverage, hauling in nine of his 10 targets for 66 yards and a touchdown. The score frustrated Ramsey because another defensive back was supposed to pick up Adams, who was in motion.
Elsewhere in the Green Bay receiving corps, Valdes-Scantling had just four catches for 33 yards because of the deep miss. Robert Tonyan (4-60) had a solid performance.
As for the Green Bay ground attack, Aaron Jones was just one yard shy of the century mark, accumulating 99 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. He shared the workload with Jamaal Williams (12-65) and A.J. Dillon (6-27). Dillon got hurt in the second half and fumbled as he went down, but Rodgers was in the right spot to scoop up the loose ball. As you can see, Donald's ineffectiveness really allowed the Packers to run extremely well.
The Rams also moved the chains well on the ground. Cam Akers was given just 18 carries because of the constant deficit, but he was able to turn that into 90 yards and a touchdown. He also scored on a two-point conversion.
Jared Goff didn't really look hindered by his broken thumb. In fact, he misfired on just six occasions, though he was lucky the Packers dropped a potential interception. He was 21-of-27 for 174 yards and a touchdown. He saw plenty of pressure from Green Bay's pass rush, which disrupted several drives.
With Cooper Kupp sidelined, Josh Reynolds led the Rams in receiving with three catches for 65 yards. Robert Woods (8-48) was next, followed by Van Jefferson (6-46), who scored a touchdown.
Browns 48, Steelers 37
It was obvious how this game would play out on the first snap. Maurkice Pouncey air-mailed the ball way over Ben Roethlisberger's head, resulting in a touchdown for the Browns. It wasn't the snap or the score, but rather how the players reacted to what transpired. Both Roethlisberger and James Conner had a chance to pounce on the ball to salvage a big loss, or at the very worst, a safety. Instead, they both just stood there, looking at the ball. Meanwhile, several Cleveland players leapt on it, eventually recovering it in the end zone.
It was obvious then that the Steelers didn't seem like they thought they needed to try very hard in this game. They clobbered the Browns at home earlier in the year, and they knew their opponent was missing numerous starters as well as their head coach. How could they possibly lose to Cleveland under those circumstances? The Steelers never envisioned this scenario.
Down 7-0, things just got worse very quickly for the Steelers. Roethlisberger panicked under pressure and overthrew a target for an interception. This set up a Cleveland touchdown. Following another Browns score, Roethlisberger heaved two more overthrows; one to JuJu Smith-Schuster that fell incomplete, and a second one toward Diontae Johnson that was intercepted. This led to a Kareem Hunt touchdown that made it 28-0. This was the most points scored in the first quarter of any playoff game in NFL history.
The Browns eventually led 35-7, as another Roethlisberger interception was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Despite this, the Steelers mounted a second-half comeback and drew to within 12. However, Mike Tomlin foolishly passed up on a fourth-and-short try near midfield and opted to punt. The Browns punished them with a long drive to seal this victory.
This was Cleveland's first playoff win since Bill Belichick coached the team. While this game was more about Pittsburgh's epic collapse, due to a lack of effort, the Browns should be congratulated for overcoming the odds and prevailing. They have their work cut out for them in next week's matchup against Kansas City.
If you just look at the stats, it would seem that Roethlisberger had an amazing game. H went 47-of-68 for 501 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. However, all of this came in garbage time. By halftime, Roethlisberger logged 177 yards, three picks and no scores. He was awful when the game counted, accumulating his stats against the most prevent of all prevent defenses.
Roethlisberger wasn't the only Steeler making mistakes. There were some drops again, though not nearly as many as we saw during their multi-week stretch. Smith-Schuster, who was guilty of a drop, caught 13 of his 19 targets for 157 yards and a touchdown. Diontae Johnson also eclipsed the century mark, snatching 11 of his 16 targets for 117 yards.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Chase Claypool scored twice, snatching five passes for 59 yards in the process. Eric Ebron, also guilty of a drop, scored as well while hauling in seven balls for 62 yards.
James Conner contributed in the passing game, catching five passes for 30 receiving yards. That nearly matched his rushing yardage (37) on 11 carries. He scored a touchdown to salvage his DFS performance.
Speaking of running back touchdowns, Cleveland had three of those. Nick Chubb ran for 76 yards on 18 carries and scored on a 40-yard reception. Hunt (8-48) ran into the end zone twice.
Chubb, with his four catches for 69 yards, was second on the team in receiving. Jarvis Landry led the way with five grabs for 92 yards and a touchdown. Austin Hooper (7-46) also scored, but was responsible for a drop.
Baker Mayfield didn't have to do much because the Steelers capsized their own chances. However, he still was accurate, releasing the ball quickly so that his makeshift offensive line wouldn't be as exposed. Mayfield finished 21-of-34 for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Despite making his first-ever playoff start, Mayfield was the better quarterback in this matchup, and it wasn't even close.
Saints 21, Bears 9
We had a great game between the first-ever two-versus-seven matchup when the Colts battled the Bills to the very end on Saturday afternoon. This, conversely, was an extremely lopsided, boring affair. If it weren't for the antics on Nickelodeon, I may have fallen asleep.
This was a truly pathetic showing from Chicago's offense. The defense was outstanding despite not having several starters, but Mitchell Trubisky gave the team no chance. It didn't help that he was hurt by some drops, including a deep missed touchdown by Javon Wims, but Trubisky struggled to complete routine throws. He was so bad that prior to a garbage-time drive with two minutes remaining in regulation, the Bears had just six first downs and didn't convert a single third down. Matt Nagy had such little faith in Trubisky that he just ran out the clock prior to halftime despite having available timeouts to attempt to score. Trubisky finished 19-of-29 for 199 yards and a touchdown. He was lucky he wasn't intercepted on a couple of occasions.
Despite this, Nickelodeon viewers named Trubisky NVP (Nickelodeon Valuable Player), which came with a neat trophy. This is the greatest thing to happen this NFL season, and I say this as someone who finished seventh in the Supercontest. I can now forever refer to Trubisky as "NVP Winner Mitchell Trubisky." This, sadly, is the highlight of his NFL career thus far.
The Saints, meanwhile, were stuck on seven points for a while after an early touchdown in which Drew Brees hit Michael Thomas for a score. This was a 7-3 affair entering the third quarter, and New Orleans struggled to do very much until midway through the third frame. It's a good thing for them that the NVP winner didn't pose any sort of threat.
Perhaps the Saints were just rusty. They made some mistakes, including an interception from Taysom Hill, which occurred because his arm was hit upon release. Brees also appeared to throw a pick, but replay review showed the ball barely scraping the ground. However, New Orleans got its act together and scored a couple of touchdowns after intermission. The scoring count would've been three, but replay review erased a Brees sneak touchdown at the very end.
Brees finished 28-of-39 for 265 yards and two touchdowns. The numbers weren't great, but keep in mind that Brees did this against a strong defense. He'll have a much easier matchup next week against Tampa's secondary.
Thomas caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, yet he wasn't the Saints' leading receiver. That was Deonte Harris, who hauled in seven balls for 83 yards. This was a huge surprise, so it's hard to trust this sort of production going forward. However, there's a chance it could be legitimate, which would make the Saints' offense even more potent.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Emmanuel Sanders was limited to just two catches for three yards, while Jared Cook hauled in four receptions for 40 yards. Cook dropped a potential touchdown.
Alvin Kamara didn't do much as a receiver out of the backfield; he caught just two passes for 17 receiving yards. He ran well considering the matchup, however, gaining 99 yards and a touchdown on 23 attempts. He nearly scored a second time, but was stuffed inches shy of the goal line in the fourth quarter.
David Montgomery didn't come close to matching Kamara's production. He was limited to just 31 yards on 12 carries, and he didn't catch a single pass. In fact, his lone target was a drop, which appeared to be a lost fumble at first glance. It's unclear why Montgomery wasn't involved in the aerial attack.
Allen Robinson did much of his damage in garbage time, finishing with six catches for 55 yards. No other Bear logged more than 36 yards. Anthony Miller (2-22) was ejected in the second half, while Jimmy Graham (2-25) caught a garbage touchdown on the final play of the game.
Ravens 20, Titans 13
Lamar Jackson won MVP in 2019 and has led his team to the playoffs three straight years, but a postseason win has been elusive for him. He's been criticized for dropping two playoff affairs, and it looked like history would repeat itself in the early going. The Titans jumped out to a 10-0 lead to begin this game, thanks to a Jackson interception. He launched a deep, inaccurate pass that was easily picked. It seemed as though this would be yet another disappointing conclusion to Baltimore's season.
The Titans had a great game plan prepared for Jackson, as they limited his scrambling. That fell apart on one play, however, as Jackson sprinted into the end zone when Kevin Byard took a bad angle. This erased Tennessee's lead completely, with this game entering halftime tied at 10.
Jackson was better in the second half, as he kept the chains moving and prevented the Titans from having too many possessions. When Tennessee had the ball, it made some mistakes. Jonnu Smith dropped a pass on third down in the fourth quarter. Mike Vrabel then refused to go for it on fourth-and-short despite being over midfield, giving the Ravens an extra possession that set up a field goal. Then, it was Ryan Tannehill's turn to commit an interception. It didn't appear to be his fault at first glance because Khalif Raymond fell down, giving Marcus Peters an easy take-away. However, Brown was open downfield, and Tannehill didn't see him.
The Ravens never relinquished possession following that pick, as Jackson sprinted for another long gain on the ground. This iced the victory for Jackson, who was finally able to win in the postseason.
Jackson rebounded from his early interception to finish 17-of-24 for 179 yards and the pick. He did most of his damage on the ground, however, running for 136 yards and a touchdown on 16 scrambles.
Marquise Brown had a nice performance, catching seven passes for 109 yards. He got injured in the second half, but was able to return to action after missing a few snaps. Mark Andrews was the only other Raven with more than 26 receiving yards; he logged four catches for 41 yards.
Baltimore didn't run very well on the Titans, outside of Jackson's two long scrambles. J.K. Dobbins gained 43 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, while Gus Edwards (8-38) was close. Mark Ingram didn't play.
Many expected Derrick Henry to trample the Ravens like he did back in Week 11. That didn't happen, as Henry was visibly frustrated on the sideline in the second half. He mustered just 40 yards on 18 carries to go along with three catches for 11 receiving yards. Henry simply had nowhere to run. He nearly broke free for a long touchdown in the fourth quarter, but was tackled at the last second, limiting him to just an 8-yard scamper. That was the longest gain for him on the afternoon.
Tannehill had a mediocre afternoon, going 18-of-26 for only 165 yards, one touchdown and the interception. He had some nice completions, but whiffed on some throws he should have completed. Failing to see an open Brown downfield and forcing a ball to a backup receiver was inexcusable, even if that wideout fell down. Curiously, Tannehill did very little running, scrambling just twice for six rushing yards. Tannehill has played above expectations this year, but it's fair to wonder if he's good enough to lead the Titans to a Super Bowl victory. For the record, I don't think he's is.
Speaking of Brown, the dynamic receiver caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. He and Anthony Firkser (2-44) were the only Tennessee players to record more than 17 receiving yards. Corey Davis, who dropped a pass, didn't log a single reception because he got hurt at some point.
Buccaneers 31, Redskins 23
The Redskins seemingly had no hope to win this game. That was the consensus thinking, as this spread rose to -10 prior to kickoff. Taylor Heinicke was starting for the underdog, after all, so how could Washington possibly stay competitive with the juggernaut Buccaneers?
The answer? Taylor Heinicke. The unknown quarterback put together a great game in his first playoff start. He was accurate and mobile, and he took some fierce hits from Tampa's talented defensive line. He even went into the locker room for apparent X-rays at some point in the fourth quarter, but he didn't miss a single snap. He fought the Buccaneers to the bitter end, and he even had a chance to tie on the final offensive drive of regulation.
The Buccaneers, however, finally clamped down on Heinicke, sacking him for a big loss, forcng him to launch a pass deep downfield to keep the chains moving. The pass fell incomplete, giving Tampa its first playoff win since Jon Gruden and Warren Sapp celebrated a Super Bowl victory to cap off the 2002 season.
Heinicke did all he could to keep the Redskins competitive in an impossible situation. Despite the loss, he may have made a case to have the starting job next year. Chase Young even proudly pointed to Heinicke's name on the back of the quarterback's jersey at one point. Heinicke was that good. He went 26-of-44 for 306 yards, one touchdown and an interception on a tipped pass. He also scrambled into the end zone, running six times for 46 rushing yards and a third touchdown. Heinicke was even better than the stats indicate because he endured three drops from his receivers.
Despite Heinicke's great game, Tom Brady was the best quarterback in this matchup. Quite the surprise, right? Brady went 22-of-40 for 381 yards and two touchdowns despite battling one of the top defenses in the NFL. Brady didn't see much pressure from the Redskins' dominant defensive line, taking "just" three sacks. One of the sacks, which occurred at the very end, prevented the Buccaneers from covering. This would have negated Heinicke's back-door score to Steve Sims on the previous drive.
Brady's touchdowns went to Chris Godwin (5-79) and Antonio Brown (2-49). Godwin was third on the team in receiving despite dropping a deep pass, trailing Mike Evans (6-119) and Cameron Brate (4-80). Evans appeared to get hurt in the fourth quarter, but didn't miss much action. Brate, meanwhile, appeared to score a touchdown in the same frame, but replay review saw that the ball grazed the ground before Brate could possess it.
Leonard Fournette handled the full workload with Ronald Jones being a surprise scratch. Fournette gained 93 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries as Jones iced his knee on the bench the entire evening. My condolences if you played Jones in DFS.
The Redskins didn't have as much success running the ball, which wasn't a surprise, given that Tampa has the No. 1 ground defense in the NFL. Antonio Gibson was limited to 31 yards on 14 carries. J.D. McKissic (2-5) vultured a touchdown.
McKissic was expected to log plenty of receptions, but he caught just two passes because Heinicke was more aggressive on his downfield throws. Cam Sims led the team with seven catches for 104 yards, while Terry McLaurin (6-75) and Logan Thmas (5-74) weren't too far behind.
Rams 30, Seahawks 20
Aside from injuries, there's nothing more detrimental to a good team than a disgruntled receiver who begins yelling at everyone on the sideline because he feels as though he's not getting the ball enough. D.K. Metcalf fit that profile in this game. He barked at everyone on the sideline, including Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson. It's unclear why Metcalf was so furious. Wilson didn't have time to throw in the pocket, so it's not like he was blatantly avoiding Metcalf.
Wilson tried to appease Metcalf on one play, which effectively decided this game. Wilson fired a pass to the flat, where Metcalf was stationed. However, Darious Williams sensed this was happening, so he jumped the route and snatched the interception, taking it to the house. As a result of this, the Seahawks trailed throughout the entire afternoon and were trying to play catch-up. They would have been in position to either tie the game or take the lead on the final drive, though their attempt to do so probably would have failed anyway because the offensive line couldn't protect Wilson.
That was the prevailing theme throughout this game. Wilson was constantly hounded by Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams' elite front. The Rams seldom sent blitzes, constantly causing havoc in the backfield despite rushing just four players. This, of course, is the formula to beat elite quarterbacks, and Wilson was no exception. Wilson took six sacks, and that figure would have been much higher if the talented quarterback couldn't escape pressure.
As a result of all this pressure, Wilson had a horrendous stat line, going 11-of-27 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and the pick-six. Believe it or not, these numbers were influenced by garbage time. A late score was thrown to Metcalf, who was likely happy in that moment even though his team was still down double digits.
Wilson was betrayed by Metcalf, his horrendous offensive line and terrible coaching staff. Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer were severely outmatched, and they weren't able to make appropriate adjustments. At least one must be fired.
Meanwhile, the Rams couldn't muster much offense. They generated a couple of nice drives, but most of their possessions concluded with three-and-outs. This was mostly because Jared Goff was horrendous. John Wolford made the start, but was knocked out of the game with a neck injury on the second drive. He was ultimately taken to the hospital, forcing Goff into action despite having a broken thumb.
Goff was mostly terrible. He completed some passes, but was fortunate in those instances to have broken coverage. He finished 9-of-19 for 155 yards and a touchdown. If Goff's defense didn't bail him out, he wouldn't have had a chance to win this game.
Cam Akers' back must really hurt because he carried Goff and the rest of the offense. Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 attempts. He was as excellent as those numbers indicate.
Despite coming off an injury, Cooper Kupp led the Rams in receiving with four grabs for 78 yards. Robert Woods also made four catches, but for 48 yards. Woods caught a touchdown, but dropped a pass.
Speaking of dropped passes, Metcalf was guilty of two of those. However, he still finished with a great stat line because of garbage time, plus a broken play in the second quarter. Metcalf logged five receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Lockett (2-43) didn't do much beyond hauling in an impressive, one-handed catch.
Seattle didn't get to run as much as it wanted to because of the constant deficit. Chris Carson racked up 77 yards on 16 carries.
The Seahawks lost to the Rams, but there's a dark cloud over Los Angeles' victory. Several Rams got hurt in addition to Wolford. Aaron Donald suffered a rib injury, while left guard David Edwards also left the game.
Bills 27, Colts 24
This was Buffalo's first home playoff game since 1996, and there were some apparent jitters from them in the early stages of this game. Stefon Diggs dropped a pass, while Josh Allen was lucky that a potential interception was dropped by a defender. Meanwhile, thanks to some poor special teams decisions by Buffalo, the Colts won the field position battle to give themselves a 10-7 lead prior to intermission.
The Bills, however, engineered a great drive right before halftime to take the lead, which they would hold throughout the second half. They opened up a 24-10 lead and seemed fully in control of this contest. However, Frank Reich knows a thing or two about generating a comeback at Orchard Park. Attacking the Buffalo linebackers, Philip Rivers led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to draw to within 27-24. All the Bills needed to do was run out the clock, but Allen took a sack for a loss of 17 yards, giving Rivers one more chance with 2:30 remaining in regulation.
Rivers, however, had just one timeout remaining, so some dubious throws that were completed inbounds quickly drained the clock. Indianapolis barely got over midfield to attempt their final play. Rivers would have to heave a Hail Mary, but unlike Kyler Murray, the veteran quarterback couldn't quite hit his receiver in the end zone. In fact, the ball didn't even get there. The Bills hung on for dear life, as they escaped with a three-point victory.
Allen had some ups and downs in his first home playoff start. He should have thrown an interception, and the sack he took was potentially devastating. He was also just 2-of-9 on third down. However, he was very accurate for the most part and made enough big plays to lead the team to victory.
Allen finished 26-of-35 for 324 yards and two touchdowns. He also scrambled 11 times for 54 rushing yards and another score on the ground.
Despite the drop, Diggs had a big game. He caught six of his nine targets for 128 yards and a touchdown. Dawson Knox (2-5) reeled in Allen's other aerial score.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Gabriel Davis (4-85) made a couple of phenomenal sideline grabs in the 2-minute drill prior to halftime. Cole Beasley (7-57) also did well, considering that he was doubtful to play earlier in the week. Conversely, John Brown was a huge DFS bust. He saw four targets, but couldn't snatch any of them. He dropped a pass, and he was targeted in the end zone on the play in which Allen had a potential pick dropped.
The dark cloud over this Buffalo victory - aside from the failed cover - was that Zack Moss was carted off the field with an injury. Moss gained 21 yards on seven carries, all while catching four passes for 26 receiving yards. The Bills wasted too many downs feeding the ball to him, so his injury could be a blessing in disguise. Besides, Devin Singletary is a superior player. Singletary had as many rushing yards on three attempts, and he also snatched three passes for 23 receiving yards.
The Colts had much more success running the ball, as they exposed Buffalo's leaky ground defense. Jonathan Taylor had a couple of great runs, ultimately gaining 78 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts. Nyheim Hines (6-75) nearly met Taylor's rushing total, thanks to a 33-yard burst in the second half.
Rivers failed on the weak-armed Hail Mary, but finished with a respectable stat line, going 27-of-46 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. The numbers could have been better, however, as he endured three drops from his play-makers, two of which came from Taylor.
The other Indianapolis drop was courtesy of T.Y. Hilton, who had an underwhelming stat line of two catches for 32 yards. Those figures paled in comparison to Michael Pittman's five grabs for 90 yards.
Pittman didn't score a touchdown, but Jack Doyle (7-70) and Zach Pascal (3-37) managed to reach the end zone. Pascal lost a fumble on the final drive of the game, but is very lucky that the officials made an incorrect ruling after looking at the replay. Fortunately for the Bills, this incompetence didn't cost them.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.