The road to the Super Bowl begins with a flurry of games of Super Wild Card weekend that ranged from controversial with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders game, to the heartbreaking Dallas Cowboys loss with them running out of time for a potential game winning drive against the San Francisco 49ers in a crushing defeat. We will get into all the Wild Card games, as teams such as the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers had a first week playoff bye. Without further ado, let's get started.
First let's start with the Bengals and Raiders game. The Bengals (11-7) were looking to win their first playoff game since 1991 against the Raiders (10-7) at the Paul Brown Stadium. It was the largest crowd in Bengals history, which probably caused the Raiders three false starts in the first quarter.
Bengals quarterback and the No.1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Joe Burrow showed up big as he has done all season for his team, throwing for 244 yards, two touchdowns on 24-for-34 completions. He brings a cool demeanor and never gets rattled during the big moments which he also showed back in college at LSU during that national championship game he helped lead the Tigers to.
Burrow and his former LSU teammate, now turned Bengal teammate and stud rookie wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase had nine receptions for 116 yards and have been a dynamic pairing all season due to their earlier chemistry from their college days. Whether it was the throw to tight end C.J. Uzomah in the second quarter or the acrobatic, leaping touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd, Burrow dismantled the Raiders defense all day long.
On the other side, the Raiders quarterback, Derek Carr, threw for 310 yards on 29-of-54 completions to go along with a touchdown and one interception. Both teams had seven penalties which cost the Raiders 46 yards and the Bengals 56. But, the story of the game is Jerome Boger’s officiating crew allowed Burrow’s touchdown pass to Boyd in the second quarter to count when it shouldn’t have, to most people, due to him running out of bounce before he threw it.
At the end of the day though the Bengals will move on to the Divisional round to play the Titans who finished atop the AFC standings and should have All-Pro running back Derrick Henry back in the lineup coming back from his foot injury.
If the Bengals-Raiders game was a controversial one, then the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots one was the exact opposite as the Bills demolished the Patriots 47-17 to move on to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round next Sunday.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen was basically on steroids all game, throwing for 308 yards on 21-of-25 completions and set a team playoff record with five touchdown passes, including two to Dawson Knox, and Devin SIngletary ran for two scores in the first half in their throttling victory over their division rival in the Patriots.
The Bills scored a touchdown on each of their first four first-half possessions and Bills safety Micah Hyde made an outstanding athletic play when he made a WIllie-Mays type catch, turning in what would have been a touchdown for Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor into a jaw-dropping interception that evaporated the Patriots early momentum.
The Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw for 232 yards on 24-for-38 completions on two touchdowns and also two interceptions. The Patriots were dominated in all facets of the game in what was Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s largest margin of defeat since his tenure started in 2000.
This will be a learning experience for Jones who had a pretty decent rookie season and should only continue to grow from this experience. For the Bills, this 30-point victory and 47 points scored were the second most by the Bills in a playoff game behind a 51-3 win over the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC championship game on Jan. 20, 1991.
Now they will play their rivals in the Chiefs who knocked them out in last year’s AFC Championship game and are looking to win the AFC and make the Super Bowl for the third straight year. Can the Bills put all that to a halt? Don’t count out the top overall ranked defense this season out.
Speaking of the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes and Chief's nation took care of business at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers by defeating them 42-21 against the Steelers team that looked completely overwhelmed by the Chiefs offensive firepower.
The game started off slow with both teams going scoreless for the whole first quarter, with the Chiefs punting three times and committing two turnovers on their first five possessions. All-Pro Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt forced a fumble on Darell Williams and returned it for a 26 yard score to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead.
That wouldn’t last long though, as the avalanche of points for the Chiefs would quickly crush the souls of the Steelers, scoring 21 points in the second quarter alone to take a 21-7 lead going into the half off a 48-yard pass from Mahomes to Travis Kelce to close out the half. Mahomes was astounding, leading the way throughout the game, throwing for 404 yards, five touchdowns, good for 30-of-39 completions with just one interception.
The Chiefs were without running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But, Jerick McKinnon stepped up and gave them 12 carries for 61 yards that helped give them first downs when they needed to. Kelce had five receptions on 108 yards with a touchdown, he even threw for his first touchdown of his career to guard Nick Allegretti on a perplexing play that caught the Steelers off guard.
The Chiefs defense also was incredible, holding the Steelers to just 44 first half yards and 257 total for the game, coming a long way in the second half of the season after being the worst defense in the league to start the season. The Chiefs would basically put the game out of reach off a Mahomes pass to Tyriek Hill after Frank Clark’s recovery of Najee Harris’s fumble that stretched their lead 28-7.
In what was possibly his last game, Steelers quarterback Ben Rothelisberger threw for 215 yards, and two touchdowns on 29-of-44 completions. His team couldn’t get out of their own way though with guys like Diontae Johnson and Harris struggling and the defense allowing plays such as the 3rd-and-20th play when they allowed for Mahomes to Kelce for the touchdown to close out the second half is not going to win you a football game.
The Chiefs have now won 10 straight games and will play against the top ranked passing defense in the league in the Bills, which should make for a very interesting matchup for the Chiefs as they look to overcome the Bills for the second straight year.
Now for what may have been the most controversial game of all the Wild Card games this past weekend was the 49ers (11-7) 23-17 win over the Cowboys (12-6) in their first playoff meet in over 20 years. The ending was tendentious but let's talk about the rest of the game first. What comes as surprising is the 49ers are the only team to win in the playoffs without their quarterback throwing for a touchdown, with Jimmy Garropolo throwing for just 172 yards and an interception.
49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel rushed for 72 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown along with running back Eli Mitchell providing them with 96 yards on 27 carries to go with a touchdown. The 49ers defense was elite, holding the highest scoring offense in the league this season to just 17 points.
The 49ers unfortunately lost All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa to a concussion and linebacker Fred Warner to an injury with both of their timetables to return in question. Despite that, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan gave the Cowboys kudos and how they’re trying to still figure things out by stating, “I’m still trying to figure out where I’m at, It’s pretty emotional out there. Lots of opportunities to win the game. Those guys (Cowboys) just kept fightin’. We made a couple mistakes there at the end. We shouldn’t have let it get there.”
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had 254 yards for a touchdown on just 23-of-43 completions and an interception. Both teams struggled with penalties (nine for the 49ers and 14 for the Cowboys) but it hurt the Cowboys more who already led the league with penalties throughout the season and the timing couldn’t have been worse with 14 penalties that cost them a whopping 89 yards and allowed them to run out the clock.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot was basically a non-factor in the game, running for just 31 yards on 12 carries with wide receivers such as CeeDee Lamb and Cedrick Wilson dropping crucial passes. The top ranked scoring offense, second in passing yards and ninth in the league in rushing, converted only 5-of-13 on third downs and 4.4 yards per play.
They were down by 16 heading into the fourth quarter and looked to be making a run by scoring 10 points in the fourth and making it a 23-17 ball game. In the waning moments with the pressure mounting as each second ticked Prescott would make passes to Dalton Schultz, Wilson, and Lamb with just seconds left in the game.
The defining play of the game though was at the end when Prescott took off on a quarterback sneak and slid at the 17th yard line with the clock ticking and the Cowboys having no more timeouts to use since they misused all of them earlier in the quarter. The next moments were devastating for Cowboy fans as with eight seconds to go Prescott gave the ball to the center instead of umpire Ramon George who bumped into Prescott and couldn’t get the snap off in time before the time expired.
According to NFL rules, for the clock to stop outside of timeouts and out of bounds plays, an umpire must touch the ball to confirm live ball therefore there can’t be a snap until then. The Cowboys had their chances though, whether it was the dropped pass by Wilson after the Garoppolo interception, the boneheaded unforced errors with penalties, or if they wouldn’t have misused all their timeouts in one quarter and could have potentially stopped the clock for a potential game-winning drive.
The wait for the Cowboys to reach the NFC Championship game will now expand to 27 years after another disappointing defeat and Prescott’s second first game exit in three trips to the postseason over six seasons for the quarterback. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy will also be under scrutiny for some of his decisions as they now head into a long offseason.
Meanwhile, the depleted 49ers will now face MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field Saturday.
Probably the most boring game of the weekend was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-15 defeat over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Buccaneers come in with a depleted offense that is totally different from last year with no Antonio Brown (released), Chris Godwin (ACL), and Leonard Fournette (hamstring), among others still got the job done led by none other than Tom Brady.
In Brady's third postseason career game against the Eagles he threw for 271 yards on an efficient 29-of-37 completions to go with two touchdowns. Mike Evans was his main target with nine receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown himself while longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski also had a two yard touchdown from Brady. Their running game was led by Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard who both rushed for touchdowns.
Meanwhile this was a learning lesson for Eagles second year quarterback Jalen Hurts who had 258 yards and a touchdown but threw for two interceptions and completed just 23-of-43 passes (53%). Hurts didn’t target rookie Devonta Smith enough, who they used a high selection on last season and were down 31-0 heading into the fourth.
The Eagles would put up 15 points in the fourth, but the game was basically over by then. Brady knows it’s a long journey ahead, as the seven-time Super Bowl champion stated, “It only gets tougher from here.” The Eagles will now have to ask themselves if they truly think Hurts is their quarterback for the future while the Buccaneers will play the Los Angeles Rams Sunday in Tampa Bay.
Remember when I said the Buccaneers vs Eagles was the most boring game? Scratch that, as the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams game wasn’t even close with Sean McVay’s Rams dismantling Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals, 34-11, in every way possible. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray looked dazed by the elite Rams defensive attack that consists of All-Pros such as defensive tackle Aaron Donald, outside linebacker Von Miller, and cornerback Jalen Ramsay, just to name a few.
The one excuse the Cardinals could say on why their offense struggled so much and the Rams weren’t phased by their passing game was they were without star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is arguably the best receiver in the game and had been out with a torn MCL injury he suffered in Week 14 against this Rams team in a 30-23 loss back on Dec. 13th.
Without Hopkins and the consistent fury of defenders on every play by the Rams, Murray managed to throw just 173 yards on 19-of-34 completions and two interceptions. The first one was unquestionably the worst of the two, as the Cardinals were deep in their own end as Murray felt pressure and lofted the football to the right side of the field as he tried to avoid the safety. That ball hung in the air and was eventually picked off by Los Angeles and returned for a touchdown that extended the Rams lead to 21.
At that point the Rams defense had more yards of total offense (3) and points than the Cardinals (-1). The Cardinals offense couldn’t get anything going, whether it was their Pro Bowl running back James Conner being held to just 19 rushing yards, or having a paltry 183 total yards for the game. The Cardinals were 0-for-9 on third down efficiency and had seven penalties throughout the game that cost them 50 yards.
Now with their season over and in a playoff game in which their young star quarterback basically panicked, do the Cardinals give Murray a big contract after that type of playoff performance? Will his miniature size always hinder him come postseason? Those are questions the Cardinals must ask themselves after a performance that would even scare Medusa by their team.
On the other end, the Rams absolutely took care of business. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr were both sharp and productive in the first playoff win of their careers. Stafford threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns while Beckham had four receptions for 54 yards and his first career touchdown to go along with a 40 yard throw to Cam Akers.
Guys like Donald, Greg Gaines , and Michael Hoecht kept pressuring Murray and the offensive line all night while Miller, Terell Burgess, and Ramsay made it difficult for the Cardinals to find any rhythm in their passing game. The Rams also played mistake-free football by not turning the ball over at any point throughout the game.
The turning point of the game though was on a second-and-7 play from the Arizona 4-yard line, Murray threw a 22-yard pass to A.J. Green. The veteran receiver initially appeared to make the catch with Rams defender Nick Scott then delivering a big hit to force the fumble, which fell out of bounds.
The referees took a long hard look at it and initially said it was good, but McVay wasn’t having it and challenged the play, arguing that Green did not bring down the catch, which proved to be the right decision as the play was overturned in Los Angeles' favor. What followed was a silly loft pass by Murray that was picked off by David Long Jr., who walked in for the touchdown to further cushion the Rams lead to 21 at that point.
The Rams will now have a tough test ahead as they will be playing the GOAT(Greatest of All Time) in Brady and the defending Super Bowl Champions in the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay on Sunday.
If the Wild Card round was a snippet of what’s to come, then fans should be in for a treat of what’s to come in the Divisional round.