Jan. 10, 2020
Who Fed It And Who Ate It: 2019 Wild Card Weekend
The NFL's wild card lived up to the moniker, as road upsets made the biggest headlines. As the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, & San Francisco 49ers all rest and prepare for their respective playoff games next week, the lower seeds duked it out to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive.
The Houston Texans played a crazy one, coming back from 16 down and scratching out a victory over the Buffalo Bills This game started out looking like a laugher, with the Bills playing their game, keeping the Texans offense in check while running Houston's defense ragged. Then Deshaun Watson took control. On their comeback, Watson was on lock passing (13 of 14 for 193 yards, TD for a 142.6 passer rating) while also scoring a 20 yard rushing touchdown and throwing two 2 point conversions to give the Texans a late fourth quarter lead. The Bills would tie it up at 19 all at the end of regulation, where Watson made the play of weekend by doing a pirouette on a blitzing Buffalo defender, then finding RB Taiwan Jones on a 34 catch and run that set up a 28 yard Ka' imi Fairbairn game winning field goal to send the Texans to the next round while sending the Bills home. For Buffalo, this loss will sting for a bit. For two and a half quarters, the Bills were playing lights out with the offense putting up a three score lead while the defense was pitching a shutout. But when Watson got rolling, the youth and inexperience in playoff football would be the Bills' demise. QB Josh Allen made plays early on, but made baffling decisions late. Allen's development as a pro quarterback took an important, if painful, step with this playoff performance. How he responds in 2020 and beyond will be worth watching as the Bills look to make January football a franchise staple once again. As for the Texans, Watson showed on a national broadcast television platform why Houston management invested a first round draft pick on the Clemson product. His astounding play on this day may or may not put Watson's name on the map, but a similar performance would certainly do so. But where would that next game be, in Baltimore or Kansas City?
The Tennessee Titans scored the upset over the New England Patriots, as the 20-13 result could be Tom Brady's final game as a Patriot On the surface, this looked like a case of David versus Goliath. Tennessee has been one of league's better teams in the latter half of the season, going 7-3 after an abysmal 2-4 start, but clinched a wild card spot on Week 17. RB Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing while QB Ryan Tannehill was tops in the league in passer rating. On the other side, New England put up a 12-4 record, won the AFC East handily, and were seen by many as (once again) the odds on favorite to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIV. But the Patriots did not look impressive, especially late in the season, while the Titans started playing for their postseason lives in November. When these two teams met at Gillette Stadium on a drizzling Saturday night, the conditions favored Tennessee. Henry became an unstoppable force for the Music City warriors, as he ran for 182 yards on 34 attempts. In that, there was a Titans drive where Henry accounted for all 75 yards of it, culminating in a 1 yard end zone plunge that gave them the go ahead score that held the rest of the game, enhanced by a late pick six by DB Logan Ryan that would close out the scoring to end the Patriots' reign over the AFC. For the Titans, they travel to Baltimore to face the top seeded Ravens in a return bout of the 2000 AFC Divisional Playoff. This could be a compelling game given each team's style. As for the Patriots, this defeat would end the Patriots 3 year run as AFC champions, 8 year streak of AFC Championship game appearances, 9 straight years of playing in the Divisional round, and the first wild card round defeat in a decade. Any singular accomplishment would be noteworthy, but one team with all of them is simply mind blowing. And there is a likelihood that we may have witnessed Brady's final game in a Patriots uniform. The mortal lock first ballot Canton enshrinee will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Because of his length of service, Brady cannot be franchise tagged, so the Patriots have no mechanism to force him to negotiate solely with the Pats. But would Brady play anywhere else? Also, Brady will be 43 years old at the start of the 2020 season. Despite just how great he is, any GM worth their salt have to be concerned about Brady's age, as quarterbacks over 40 historically deteriorate at a sudden rate. Obviously, owner Robert Kraft would like to see his most famous and most accomplished player be a Patriot for life. But head coach and general manager Bill Belichick looks at all parts of his roster with dispassion, paying attention to current ability and not hung up on the glories of years gone by. So for the Boston Bling Company, this could be it, at least in its current form. Brady could play in a strange uniform in his final years, much like Johnny Unitas & Joe Montana. But maybe after some time passing and deliberation with his family, he may decide to hang it up. And if he does, Tom Brady will have set the bar for generations to come. His immense list of accomplishments will only enhance his legend as the years and decades pass. And if this is it, may this humble scribe who witnessed Brady's career from the start tip his Lions cap and raise his glass of iced tea to a one of a kind journey that spanned nearly two decades. Thank you for the memories, Tom. Good luck and Godspeed to you.
The Minnesota Vikings go into the Mercedes Benz Superdome and upset the host New Orleans Saints 26-20 in overtime No matter the regular season records of playoff teams, it still boils down to how they each match up against one another. Many wrote off the Vikings, believing that when the moment gets too big, they come up small. Plus, playing the Saints in Louisiana in January is a veritable suicide mission, as their lone postseason loss under head coach Sean Payton was the controversial 2018 NFC Championship game. But the Purple Norsemen had two strengths that could, and ultimately would, make the difference, and that RB Dalvin Cook and a defensive front four that is among the most disruptive in the league. Cook may have only put up 94 rushing yards, but the Vikings' offensive line gained control of the line of scrimmage, which gave the unit the ability to post 362 total yards and held the ball for an eyelash under 37 minutes (36:56, to be precise). Defensively, Minnesota made life miserable for Drew Brees, who was responsible for 2 giveaways (interception and a lost fumble) and could not get into a rhythm until late in the game. In truth, the Saints can owe The Swiss Army Knife QB/WR/ST Taysom Hill a lot to keep the Old Gold & Black in this game, who became the first player in the Super Bowl era to pass for 50 yards, rush for 50 yards, and receive for 20 yards all in one game. New Orleans tied the game in regulation, but the coin toss won by the Vikings was the turning point, as they never relinquished possession in overtime and scored a touchdown to send Minnesota to San Francisco next week and the Saints to the golf course. Can the Vikings shock the world again in ousting the 49ers? And can the Saints psychologically recover from three straight walkoff playoff heartbreaks?
The Seattle Seahawks defeat an injury ravaged Philadelphia Eagles squad in a 17-9 result to post the weekend's third road victory The Eagles entered this game as underdogs in the sportsbooks, that's not an unfamiliar position for the Super Bowl LII champs. But here, it's the plethora of injuries across the board that led the Seahawks to be favored. If Philly had any path to victory, it would lie with QB Carson Wentz, who had been on a tear to close out the year and lift the Eagles to the NFC East title. So, what happened? Wentz was put into concussion protocol after being tackled by Seattle DE Jadeveon Clowney, ending Wentz's night and the Eagles' season. Backup QB Josh McCown played valiantly, but the loss of Wentz was the straw that broke the camel's back for Philadelphia. Please understand, this is not to take anything away from the Seahawks. QB Russell Wilson was still his spectacular self (18 of 30 for 325 yards, TD for a 108.3 passer rating). And the defense notched seven sacks of Wentz and McCown. Penalties were ugly as sin (11 accepted for 114 yards), and the Seahawks will not get away with that when they head north to face the Green Bay Packers in the Frozen Tundra. And this game is fascinating when it comes to what story will written. Will the road warrior Seahawks notch a win in the Wisconsin cold? Or will the most disrespected 13-3 team arguably in history put the naysayers in their place by upending Seattle and their MVP candidate in Wilson?