All good things must come to an end, and no, I’m not talking about the Ravens’ season.
The Divisional Round of the 2019-2020 NFL Playoffs is in the book, and we were all beyond spoiled by the games this week. There was everything: great offense, great defense, blowouts, comebacks, upsets, and awful Bill O’Brien play-calls!
The final four teams are set, but how did they get here? That’s what we’re going to take a look at right now as we divulge into every single contest from this weekend. My heart is still racing.
1. IF IT AIN”T BROKE…
Over the past week, there was a lot of buzz about a potential Vikings upset over San Francisco. After seeing what Mike Zimmer dialed up against the Saints a week prior, many saw that game as a possible warning sign for Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers. As it turns out, these individuals picked the wrong #1 seed to choke this weekend (I’m sorry Ravens fans).
The zen that is Kyle Shanahan’s offense continued Saturday afternoon as the 49ers steamrolled past the sleeper Vikings 27-10 in a game that was a tale of two halves. Against one of the best run defenses in the NFL, the Niners gutted out forty-seven (!!!) rushing attempts on the Minny defense which was ultimately the major key to their triumph.
The first drive of the game saw Jimmy Garoppolo methodically drive down the field and hit Kendrick Bourne for the three-yard touchdown. Not to be outdone, Kirk Cousins was able to drop one in the bucket for Stefon Diggs, who absolutely destroyed San Fran corner Ahkello Witherspoon on the play to tie it up. Unfortunately for Minnesota, that was the apex of their offense for the day.
Many close observers of the league would agree that the 49ers have possessed a more impressive defense than New Orleans throughout the year, but Robert Saleh’s defense was absolutely suffocating after the Diggs score, only allowing one more field-goal and picking off Cousins early in the third.
After slicing and dicing through the Saints defense, Dalvin Cook had a nightmare performance in this one, totaling 18 yards on nine carries and a ghastly eight yards on six catches. The pressure that was being created by the Niners’ defensive front disallowed Kirk Cousins to replicate some of the big throws that he connected on in New Orleans. Outside of the touchdown pass and an Adam Thielen completion, the recipe for the Vikings offense this game was either hand-off or throw a short pass and pray for magic. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski called his worst game of the year AND STILL was named the new Browns head coach Sunday morning! What are the odds of that? I’m going to start being bad at my job and hope for a raise (all jokes aside, Stefanski has been excellent overall this year and I like this hire for Cleveland – FIX THAT O-LINE!).
San Francisco showed in this game why they are the cream of the crop in the NFC. Throw in the fact that they are getting healthier, and this team is a serious threat to win it all.
As for Minnesota, they should be playoff contenders next season, but I wouldn’t call them a lock. They still have a great defense and coach, but I worry about offensive regression following the loss of Stefanski. Vikings fans just saw the words “offensive regression” and are now tearing up in a fetal position.
2. A SILVER LINING FOR BALTIMORE
Listen guys and gals. I’m not going to be that jerk that says I had a bad feeling about the Ravens’ chances in this game and a Tennessee win didn’t shock me because to put it simply, that would be a lie.
As much as I have fawned over the Titans this season, I didn’t expect this. The 2019 iteration of the Baltimore Ravens has been one of the more exciting and dominants NFL teams in recent history. They have been shredding teams in their last twelve games, with their rushing attack and the MVP year from Lamar Jackson. Unfortunately, their season is now over following a crushing 28-12 loss against Mike Vrabel’s Titans.
Lamar Jackson hasn’t played a meaningful football game in about three weeks, and it showed tonight. The box score will show inflated stats, such as the 365 passing yards and 143 yards on the ground, but that was all garbage time. The future MVP threw two interceptions and lost one fumble which was crucial in determining the outcome.
Similarly to their game a week before, the Titans made sure to feature Derrick Henry, who rushed for 195 yards on thirty totes. For as awesome as Ryan Tannehill has been all year, he was relegated to game-manager once more with his leading receiver being Khalif Raymond, whose 45 yards came on a touchdown pass early in the second quarter.
It has been in an incredible turnaround season for Tennessee after benching Marcus Mariota, going 9-3 since the switch. As long as Derrick Henry doesn’t get fatigued, he should be the major factor going forward for this team.
Oh, Baltimore. This one is going to sting, and it should. At the beginning of this section, I admitted this result shocked me to the core. However, one component of their team didn’t surprise me at all.
For as dominant as this team has been since Week 5, this is the first time they’ve had to deal with real adversity. The Ravens usually jump out to big leads and extend them to the rest of the game. This was the first time all season (outside of the 49ers game) where they faced a great defense that scored first. You might say, “Well, they’re too good to NOT come back, right?”
This team’s success is predicated on running the ball, and the front seven of Baltimore did a great job neutralizing that aspect. When your team is so clearly run-first, it hurts you when you’re down because passing the ball and getting down the field is how you get back in the game. FYI, I am not saying Lamar Jackson is a bad passer, he’s very much improved and will get better. Yet outside of having 346 tight ends on the roster, their wide receiver corps was super underwhelming tonight. They have some talent, but this will be an area to improve in the offseason.
It’s a sad way to go out, but learning from these mistakes will only help the Ravens in the long run, and you bet they’ll be back next year.
3. THE SCARIEST TEAM LEFT
I’m so happy I never hedged on the Kansas City Chiefs coming out of the AFC, though I don’t appreciate the near coronary they gave me Sunday afternoon.
The Chiefs are headed to the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year after devouring the Houston Texans 51-31, and they did it in the most spectacular of fashions. You ever need help figuring out how to accomplish a menial task such as jump-starting a car and you go on one of those “how-to” websites? Well, if anybody ever needs to know the absolute worst way how to start a football game, just look up “Chiefs and Texans playoffs 2020”.
That isn’t an understatement by any means, because I, in all my years of watching sports games, have never seen a team start off a game as badly as Kansas City did. It was beyond impressive. From multiple drops on third down to getting a punt blocked, to fumbling a punt return, to giving up 24 points in the first twenty minutes of the contest, Andy Reid was (unfairly) about to berated into retirement. Thankfully, the football gods spared us from an all-AFC South championship game.
After Ka’imi Fairbairn’s field goal to put Houston up 24-0, the Chiefs had an epiphany and suddenly realized that they were the better team. Patrick Mahomes scored KC’s first points within a minute of Houston’s kick on a touchdown pass to Damien Williams. After a blocked punt of their own, Mahomes cut the lead to ten after hitting Travis Kelce in the endzone. Bill O’Brien’s inexplicable decisions on fourth down gave the Chiefs the ball back almost immediately, and Mahomes hit Kelce again. Then, a terribly run fake-punt by Houston allowed the Chiefs’ great field position once more, and you’ll never guess what happened?
Mahomes. Kelce. Six. Again. Kansas City takes the lead going into the half and receiving the ball.
The third quarter begins and they keep their foot on the pedal. Soon the score goes from 28-24 to 41-24 after two separate Damien Williams runs. The Texans got a touchdown back, but Kansas City got ten more in the fourth and walked out with the victory. The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to be down by twenty in a playoff game not only to come back and win but by TWENTY FREAKIN’ POINTS as well.
Houston is a fine team, but they are not constructed properly to make a deep playoff run, even with the magic of Deshaun Watson. They have too many holes, very little depth all-around, and their head coach’s key decisions often result in clown memes on Twitter. This defense will need to improve substantially for anything more than a playoff wins every year at most.
As long as Kansas City doesn’t start off every game like they just rolled out of bed, they are the scariest team in the NFL. We saw it firsthand here, their offense striking like a viper and disemboweling everything the Texans threw at them. Tennessee will be a much greater challenge, but I would be shocked if Patrick Mahomes, who is clearly the best player in the league, and the rest of their team won’t put forth another sublime performance.
4. HE’S A BAAAAAADDDD MAAAAANNNN!
The Divisional Round weekend ended with a matchup between two of the best quarterbacks of the past decade when Russell Wilson’s Seahawks took on the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers.
In the end, it was the Packers who held on and defeated Seattle by a score of 28-23. Throughout this season, Green Bay hasn’t garnered the same respect as the other elite teams in the league despite their 13-3 record. The reason why is games like this one, which has been occurring all season. Their formula has basically been:
- Jump out to a sizable lead in the first and second quarter
- Take your foot off the gas and let the other team back in
- Rely on your defense to hold them off at the very end
It may not be the safest, but it worked out for them once more and now the Cheeseheads are a game away from going to Miami.
#12 in Green Bay got things started with a 20-yard dime to Davante Adams to give his team the lead. In the second quarter, after a Jason Myers’ field goal, it was all Packers. Two separate Aaron Jones touchdowns, on a drive that bled the clock substantially, gave Green Bay the 21-3 lead heading into the half.
Second half time? Time to take a few plays off! Marshawn Lynch was able to wiggle in for a score on the 1-yard line early in the third, but Rodgers followed that score up with another touchdown to Davante Adams, who snatched the soul of Seattle corner Tre’ Flowers on an out route. Those were the last points GB scored.
Tyler Lockett caught a dime from Russ late in the third to cut the lead to 28-17. The fourth quarter saw Lynch score once more, but the Seahawks failed on the two-point and the lead was sliced down to five. Thank god for the Packers’ pass-rush destroying the Seattle offensive line, because they were able to thwart two separate comeback drives from Wilson in the fourth, and Green Bay advances.
The Seahawks are very similar to the Texans – a lot of good individual players, but lacking major depth and an outdated system. As long as they have Russell Wilson, a top-3 quarterback in the league, they will be a perennial playoff team. It just depends on how well a once-great defense steps up.
The Packers miracle season continues, but no face San Francisco a second time after getting walloped by them in Week 12 37-8. Credit to Matt LaFleur, the first-year head coach who has been able to squeeze as much juice from his team as possible. Aaron Rodgers is still, indeed, a bad man, Aaron Jones is a top-10 running back this year, and the Green Bay defense finally poses a threat to their opponents.