I am not one that is prone to hyperbole, but this season’s divisional round may have provided the single-greatest weekend of playoff football that I have ever witnessed. All games were decided by one score. And not just that, all games ended with a game-winning score. Drama like this is why the NFL will always have a special place in America’s heart.
Bengals unseat Titans, advance to the AFC Championship
Before the season began, many pundits pegged the Bengals as an up-and-coming team, postulating that they were only a player or two away from being a real contender in the AFC. After a 19-16 victory on Saturday against the first-seeded Titans, the Bengals have proven that their time is now. Granted, it did look rocky late in the fourth quarter for the Bengals.
After the Bengals blew a 16-6 lead in the second half, the Titans were driving with only seconds remaining when QB Ryan Tannehill threw his third, and most consequential, interception of the game. The Bengals were able to capitalize, moving into field goal range by way of a 19-yard completion from QB Joe Burrow to WR Jamarr Chase. Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson booted a 52-yard field goal as time expired to complete the upset, sending the Bengals to their first AFC Championship game in 33 years.
It is no secret why the Titans were upset. You simply cannot afford to throw three interceptions in a playoff game and expect to win. Granted, I get the feeling Titans fans were not all that surprised by the result. The last three seasons that the Titans have earned the top seed have all ended in the Divisional round, failing to win even one game. Titans fans were dejected to say the least.
49ers cancel Packers, set up rubber match with Rams
When I think of playoff football, I think of below-freezing temperatures, low-scoring games, and last-second winners. By that metric, the 49ers 13-10 win over the Packers was quintessential playoff football. The Packers opened the game with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that ended in a six-yard AJ Dillion touchdown run. At that time, it would have been a hard sell to convince me that that would be the only Packers touchdown of the game. As evidenced by the score, both defenses played spectacularly, stymying their respective counterparty.
Down 10-3 with less than five minutes to play, the Niners offense was in desperate need of some scoring succor. The 49ers special teams unit would answer the call, DE Jordan Willis blocked Corey Bojorquez’s punt and Safety Talanoa Hufanga returned it for a touchdown to knot the game at 10. The Niners would then get the ball back with a little over three minutes remaining after a Packers punt, which proved to be just enough time to get into field goal range. 49ers’ Kicker Robbie Gould connected on a 45-yard field goal as time expired to send the 49ers to their second NFC Championship game in three years.
This is now the third year in a row that the Packers failed to advance to the Super Bowl after earning the one seed in the NFC. Perhaps nobody was happier to see America’s number 1 persona-non-grata lose than the internet, reveling in Aaron Rodgers’ misery. It is this rampant, unchecked schadenfreude that is threatening to tear this country apart. I can’t help but feel for Rodgers because I know that Aaron Rodgers, if ever presented with the same opportunity to thumb his nose, would consider the wellbeing of his fellow man and society’s collective good before ever deciding to act in such a self-righteous, jejune way.
Rams avoid collapse, oust defending champion Bucs
Leading 27-3 with a little over 18 minutes remaining, the Rams appeared to be the only team escaping from the Divisional round without a few added gray hairs. Ignorance is both blissful and downright dangerous if you have never watched a Tom Brady playoff game before. Brady led the Buccaneers on an absolutely furious comeback attempt. Brady connected on a 55-yard bomb to WR Mike Evans to pull the game within one score with a little over three minutes remaining. At that point in the game, all the Rams needed to do was take time off the clock and not turnover the football.
Unfortunately, Rams RB Cam Akers did not get the memo, coughing up the football at his own 30-yard line to give the Buccaneers a chance to tie the game. A chance is all Brady and the Bucs would need as RB Leonard Fournette took a fourth-and-one handoff nine yards for the game-tying touchdown.
The Rams, however stunned they seemed, were not content on regrouping and playing for over time. Rams QB Matthew Stafford – a comeback captain in his own right – connected on two completions, totaling 64 yards, to All Pro WR Cooper Kupp to get the Rams in field goal position. In a common Divisional round theme, Rams kicker Matt Gay hit a buzzer-beating 30 yard field goal to advance the Rams to the NFC Champsionship game. Questions began to swirl after the game as to whether we just witnessed the final game of the most-storied career in NFL history. For the nearly two decades that I have been watching football, Tom Brady has served as the lone constant. If this truly is his last game, he has been a joy to root against and I wish him nothing but the worst in retirement.
Chiefs best Bills in heavyweight bout, will host the AFC Championship Game
The English language may not possess the words required to describe what happened on Sunday night in Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City. The Chiefs and Bills exchanged one knockout punch after the other, accounting for a total of 25 points in the final two minutes of regulation. Bills’ QB Josh Allen engineered a 17-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 27-yard Gabriel Davis touchdown reception to give the Bills a three-point lead with a little under two minutes remaining. Two minutes was of course plenty of time for Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes. Only a couple of plays later, WR Tyreek Hill outraced everyone on the field when he took a crossing route 64 yards to reclaim the lead. Getting the ball back with about a minute remaining, the Bills pieced together a six-play, 75-yard drive capped again by another Gabriel Davis touchdown, his playoff record-setting fourth of the day. With the 13 seconds left, the Bills led 36-33, and the Chiefs appeared to be dead in the water.
And that is why this game will forever be considered a classic.
Two long completions, one to Tyreek Hill for 19 yards and one to Travis Kelce for 25 yards, allowed the Chiefs to get into field goal range. One 49-yard field goal later and the game was somehow heading to overtime. In his only mis-step of the night, Josh Allen – employing a tails never fails strategy – lost the coin toss, giving the Chiefs a chance to finally end the game. The Chiefs would make good on their fortune, driving 75 yards to finish the game off with an 8-yard Travis Kelce touchdown reception. The Chiefs, who have now advanced to the AFC Championship game for the fourth straight season, are quickly putting together the NFL’s next great dynasty. A trip to the super bowl is at stake when they play host to the Bengals next Sunday.