If any readers are fans of the Saints, let it out in the comments. This is a safe space.
The first weekend of the 2019-2020 NFL Playoffs had everything you could want. Exciting finishes, outstanding plays, and mind-boggling coaching decisions (*cough* Sean Payton *cough*). We also saw many other happenings, such as a brutal injury and a possible dynasty-ending loss.
There is a lot to get to, so let’s take a look back at all four of the games from a few days prior and deep-dive into some critical areas of each contest.
1. BUFFALO’S COLLAPSE MAY BE THE LEAST OF THEIR CONCERNS
For the Bills Mafia, this one is going to sting for quite some time.
On Saturday afternoon, the Buffalo Bills looked as though they were going to ease into victory against the Houston Texans using the same formula they’ve used all season: Play great defense, run the ball, and control the clock. Things started off swimmingly for the Bills, as they scored first following a Philly Special-esque play where John Brown hit Josh Allen for the score. After that, it was the Steven Hauschka show. The veteran kicked nailed two field goals and Buffalo carried a 13-0 lead into the half.
During that half, the Texans couldn’t get anything going. Deshaun Watson had 46 yards, Carlos Hyde was being neutralized, and their bottom-tier defense was on display. It wasn’t looking good at all for Houston. Then, Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt happened.
After a third Hauschka kick made it 16-0, Watson drove down the field and scored on a 20-yard run. The former Clemson star then ran in the 2-point conversion to cut the lead in half. This was the part of the game where Josh Allen began to fall apart. He fumbled the ball on his next possession and the Texans were only able to get three out of it, cutting their deficit to five. After another punt, Houston drove down again and scored to get a 19-16 lead. Allen did have a nice closing drive and was able to get the Bills into field goal range for Hauschka once more. 19-19. Overtime… time.
The first few drives were a bore-fest, but eventually, the Texans were able to move the ball thanks to the magic of Deshaun Watson. This man had two defenders ready to tackle him, and just shook them off and hit Taiwan Jones for the big gain. Kai’mi Fairbairn kicked the game-winner, and Houston moves on to take on Kansas City.
It was a brutal loss for Buffalo, and as I said at the beginning, this loss is going to hurt. The Bills were super impressive this season, and deserve a lot of credit for the moves they made and coaxing ten wins. Unfortunately, is it possible they have hit their ceiling?
Josh Allen, for his many positives, is still an awful passer. It doesn’t matter how athletic you are and if you can run all day. If you complete around 55% of your passes in today’s NFL, you will not succeed. He is still too careless with the ball, and that is a huge detriment for the Bills.
It just feels like, for the team that Buffalo wants to run, they need more of a game manager type in there. For example, if a Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr was on this team, I don’t believe the Bills lose this game. Can Allen work on his weaknesses and improve? I wouldn’t doubt it with his character. However, if he doesn’t, he’ll be known as the guy who held the Bills’ potential back.
2. IS THIS THE END?
For the first time since 2009, the New England Patriots have failed to surpass the Wild Card round of the postseason after falling to the Tennessee Titans 20-13. This result is a combination of several factors:
- Tom Brady just hasn’t looked the same this season. It’s not quite on the level of Peyton Manning his last season (you’d barf if you look up the stats), but he’s certainly trending down. You can make the excuse of lack of offensive weaponry, but his offensive line is still good, Julian Edelman, albeit banged up, is still a starting receiver, James White and Sony Michel have been solid, and N’Keal Harry hasn’t looked terrible. Is it the best group Brady’s ever had? Certainly not, but let’s not act he’s got a group worse than a team like Miami.
- While the New England pass defense is one of the best in the league, the front seven really wore down during the last stretch of the season. The Patriots’ run defense has been horrific, and they allowed Derrick Henry to just have his way with them in this game. Bill Belichick has never been known to prioritize elite pass-rushers, but they certainly could’ve used one in this game.
- The loss of Brian Flores may have a bigger impact than once anticipated. There is a history of assistant coaches who have left New England and faltered (Matt Patricia may be the worst coach in the league), but Flores took a team that many pegged going 0-6 and finagled five wins out of them, including a Week 17 upset over New England. Steve Belichick has the best teacher in the world, but his first year as the defensive play-caller certainly didn’t end on a high note.
So what does this mean? First off, hats off to Mike Vrabel and the Tennessee Titans. They were able to pull out the win even with Ryan Tannehill getting shut out and their leading receiver was Anthony Firkser with 22 yards. They face a potential buzzsaw in the Ravens, but they certainly cannot be counted out.
As for New England, it’s very early to say this is the end of their historic dynasty. Belichick certainly won’t retire, but will Brady be back? He’s already said he’s unlikely to hang it up, so does he go to another team? People have been throwing out the Chargers as a possible option, but with that offensive line… yikes.
My prediction right now is either one more year in New England, or he signs with a team like the Colts or Buccaneers which either has an elite line or a bevy of offensive weapons.
If this is it, what a run.
3. NO, THE SAINTS DIDN”T GET SCREWED AGAIN
Many would say the Patriots actually losing to Tennessee was the biggest surprise of the weekend, but this game left me floored. I don’t mean to disrespect that Minnesota Vikings in any way because they are a great organization, but I’m still processing the result of this game.
The New Orleans Saints are out of the playoffs following a 26-20 upset to the aforementioned Vikings. There weren’t any fluky plays, game-changing injuries, or terribly blown calls (more on the potential OPI by Kyle Rudolph in a bit). Minnesota simply outplayed New Orleans in the dome.
This Vikings’ defense is absolutely terrifying. Danielle Hunter, one of the top five pass rushers in the league, made first-team All-Pro Ryan Ramcyzk look like a turnstile for a majority of this game, getting past the right tackle with ease. Everson Griffen on the other side had a day as well, and a safety duo of Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith were lockdown in the secondary. Let’s also give some love to Kirk Cousins, who balled out and was able to hit Adam Thielen for multiple big plays, including the overtime bomb to the two-yard line that set up the Kyle Rudolph touchdown for the win. Let’s discuss that now.
I understand why Saints fans are upset, I truly do. This fanbase has been on the receiving end of some of the most gut-wrenching losses in the playoffs the last few years, whether it’s a blatant pass interference or teammates tackling each other. Technically, should Rudolph have been flagged? Yeah, I guess. A call like that is so ticky-tacky and common that it really could’ve gone either way, and it certainly wasn’t egregious.
The real reason the Saints lost this game was not only a poor game from Drew Brees, who was picked off by Harris and fumbled in the fourth quarter, but one of the worst coached games that Sean Payton has ever had. Alvin Kamara needs to get more than seven rushes with the ball, and while Taysom Hill was the most effective offensive player for them in this game, he shouldn’t be relied upon. Payton also had an awful timeout call before the half and his clock management was bordering Andy Reid levels of incompetence.
Congrats to Minnesota, who now has great momentum into what should be a fascinating game against the #1 seed 49ers. As for my NFC Champion pick Saints, I don’t believe Drew Brees will retire and they should be back in the playoffs next year. For a team with this much talent, however, this is a massively disappointing way to end your season.
4. THE UNLUCKIEST SUPERSTAR IN THE LEAGUE
I am by zero means an Eagles fan, but the aftermath of the late helmet-to-helmet hit by Jadeveon Clowney that concussed Carson Wentz has me steaming.
The Seahawks advanced to the Divisional Round following a 17-9 victory over the underdog Philadelphia Eagles. Russell Wilson was excellent, throwing for 325 yards and consistently moving the ball down the field for Seattle. This game will also be known as the D.K. Metcalf coming-out party, as the rookie from Ole Miss was the best player on the field Sunday night. Metcalf caught seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown and showcased the elite catch radius he has thanks to his ungodly athleticism and length.
For Philly, this game will forever be known as a “what-if?” for them. Carson Wentz left the game in the #1st after taking this hit from Jadeveon Clowney while sliding to the ground. Watching it in a replay, it looks much worse than it is. However, in real-time it does look like a bang-bang tackle, so the uproar about this being a targeted play may be far-fetched. That’s not to say that Clowney shouldn’t have been flagged or fined, largely in part to how careful the NFL has been with concussions in recent years.
Let me get back to my first point. What makes me mad is now Carson Wentz will have to endure words from the mouths of idiots who will point to this injury as him having a lack of durability. I mean, how stupid can you be?
Wentz has had his share of injuries in the NFL, and if he would’ve rolled his ankle or something I wouldn’t be that mad about this take, but the guy got speared in the back of the head falling downwards by a chiseled 260-pound player and proceeded to have the front of his head ricochet off the turf. I don’t care who the QB is, that’s not going to be fun!
The Seahawks will now travel to Lambeau to take on the Packers, in what should be a game contrasting in offensive styles.
Massive props to the Philadelphia Eagles, who despite all of their injuries, turned it on late in the year to make the playoffs. Hopefully, better health awaits them next season.