NFL Divisional Round Recaps
Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers
Following their first-round bye, the San Francisco 49ers welcomed the Minnesota Vikings, fresh off their win over the New Orleans Saints. With defensive starters Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, and Jaquiski Tartt returning to the 49er defense, Dalvin Cook and the Vikings offense struggled mightily against the NFC’s number one seed. Cook found no room and Kirk Cousins was left without the play-action plays that has allowed him to hit receivers for big plays throughout the season. Meanwhile, the 49ers leaned on their committee backfield approach with 186 total yards on the ground as a team and allowed the defense to lead the way. San Francisco pulled off the win 27-10 and will host the Green Bay Packers next week.
Dalvin Cook Stuffed
After watching Dalvin Cook shred the New Orleans Saints last week to allow Kirk Cousins to rely on play-action, the clear priority for the 49ers was to stop Cook at all costs. The defense succeeded in taking away Cook’s opportunities as they not only stuffed the run, but also covered any potential screens that Cook could have used to rack up yards after the catch. As a result, Cook was often forced to run laterally while looking for openings and only gained 18 yards on his nine carries along with eight yards on six catches. Without being able to rely on play-action, Cousins was sacked six times while completing 21 of his 29 passes for 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception. After some early success, the passing game began to falter and the offense couldn’t manage to get any points in the second half. Cousins threw nine passes of ten air yards or deeper, but only completed four of them as he struggled with the lack of time granted by the typical Vikings play-calling.
49ers Committee Backfield, Defense Pave the Way
As has been the case throughout the year, the multiple talented running backs for the 49ers were incredibly productive, with Tevin Coleman leading the way with 105 yards on 22 carries for two touchdowns, Raheem Mostert adding with 58 yards on 12 carries, and Matt Breida accounting for another 17 yards on eight carries. Meanwhile, the defense sacked Cousins six times with defensive end Nick Bosa accounting for two of them. With the running game and the defense both going according to plan, the 49ers were able to dominate based on time of possession as they held the ball for almost 17 minutes more than the Vikings. Jimmy Garoppolo was asked only to keep the ball safe as he only threw 19 passes, completing 11 of them for 131 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Still, he played his part as he threw a block when receiver Deebo Samuel took the ball on a reverse.
Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens
The Tennessee Titans, fresh off their upset win over the New England Patriots, traveled to face the number one seed in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens, as they sought to continue their unexpected playoff run. The Titans ended their first drive in a punt and the Ravens looked to be putting together another drive from their record-breaking season when MVP candidate Lamar Jackson threw an interception. In the next three drives, the Titans scored, then stuffed Jackson’s fourth down run, and then scored again on a 45-yard pass to silence the home crowd. With running back Derrick Henry running hard and bullying his way through the Ravens defense on his way to 195 rushing yards, the Titans grinded out a 28-12 win over the Ravens to pull off their second upset in a row.
Drops, Mistakes Drown Ravens Hopes
It only went further downhill after tight end Mark Andrews saw a pass bounce off his hands and into the hands of Titans safety Kevin Byard on the first Ravens offensive drive of the game. The crowd quieted a little after Tennessee’s first touchdown, then further when the Ravens were unable to convert a fourth down that they easily have multiple times in the regular season. Once Ryan Tannehill threw the 45-yard pass to Kalif Raymond for a touchdown, the crowd was practically silenced. With drops by Seth Roberts, Willie Snead, Nick Boyle, and others, the offense stalled constantly and were put into situations that they rarely found themselves in during the regular season. Lamar Jackson carried the offense as far as he could with 31 completions out of 59 attempts for 365 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions, and 143 rushing yards on 20 carries. Dealing with his calf injury, Mark Ingram only rushed six times for 22 yards, while Gus Edwards gained 20 yards on three carries.
Derrick Henry Continues Dominance
With 195 yards rushing on 30 carries, Derrick Henry continued to add to his remarkable post-season despite facing a stacked box on two thirds of his carries, after already leading all running backs in rushing yardage during the regular season. Henry was logged as the most efficient north-south runner of the week and the Ravens defense simply could not keep up with his power. He also accounted for a touchdown pass of three yards as he threw a jump pass to receiver Corey Davis for the score. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill stayed in his background role in the offense and completed seven of his 14 pass attempts for 88 yards, once again failing to top 100 yards passing after only throwing for 72 yards last week against the Patriots. Despite the lack of passing yards, Tannehill still threw two touchdowns, including a deep 45-yard pass to receiver Kalif Raymond, as well as having a rushing touchdown. The defense stepped up against the explosive Ravens offense with two interceptions and forcing a fumble by Lamar Jackson to set up two of their scoring drives.
Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs
An overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills courtesy of quarterback Deshaun Watson brought the Houston Texans to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a battle of two quarterbacks drafted two spots apart in 2017 and the high-scoring affair did not disappoint as the first half was filled with wild plays by both teams. The Texans jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter before the Chiefs came back to lead by four at halftime after Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdowns of his own in one quarter and the Chiefs scored 41 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter.
Patrick Mahomes Roasts Texans Defense
It took a blocked punt for a touchdown, two successful punts, and a 24-0 deficit for the Chiefs to shake off their bye-week rust. For any other team, such a start would have doomed them for the rest of the game, but for 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes, it only set the stage for one of the biggest games of his young career. Eight straight scoring drives later, Mahomes kneeled to run out the clock in a game where he led his team on such an amazing comeback in the second quarter, it barely felt as if the Chiefs were ever in danger of losing at all. With 321 passing yards, completing 23 of 35 passes, throwing five touchdowns, and never being sacked once while also leading the team in rushing with 53 yards on seven carries, Mahomes was the fire that kept the Chiefs in the game. 12 of his passes were thrown ten air yards or deeper past the line of scrimmage with eight of them being completed. Tight end Travis Kelce was his target of choice with a team-leading ten receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Damien Williams contributed with 47 yards rushing on 12 carries with two rushing touchdowns and a third touchdown through the air from Mahomes.
Texans Squander Chance to Top Chiefs
Against nearly any other team, a 24-0 lead in the second quarter would be more than enough of a head start to stay ahead for the rest of the game. Then, an ill-timed fake punt at Houston’s own 31 gave the Chiefs an opportunity just 33 yards away from scoring. A fumble on their very next kickoff return gave the Chiefs the ball at Houston’s 6. Whereas everything went against the Chiefs in the first quarter, everything went worse for the Texans in the second quarter, which was capped off with a missed 51-yard field goal going into halftime. Although Deshaun Watson played a mistake-free game, he simply could not keep up against the Kansas City team that put up points at will against the Texans defense, even as Watson completed 31 of his 52 passes for 388 yards on his way to two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown along with 37 rushing yards. By the time the Texans offense came to life to try and mount a comeback, drops and mistakes by offensive skill players led to three failed fourth down conversions to end the game.
Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers
The Seattle Seahawks traveled to face the Green Bay Packers after a close game against a battered Philadelphia Eagles team led by Josh McCown. With Aaron Rodgers and the Packers refreshed after their bye week, the offense was off to a great start as they put up a 21-3 lead over the Seahawks going into halftime. Although the Seahawks made adjustments in the second half and came within a score of taking the lead after keeping the Packers to only one second-half touchdown, Rodgers was simply too much for the defense to handle as he orchestrated a clutch nine-play drive to run out the clock after the Seahawks burned all their timeouts.
Valiant Effort By Wilson
For most of the first half, the Seahawks did their absolute best to get their running game going but Marshawn Lynch ended up with only 26 yards on 12 carries, most of which were in short-yardage situations near the goal line as he scored two touchdowns. With the lack of running game, the offense was handed over to Russell Wilson instead and he embarked on a second-half comeback attempt that nearly went the distance as he demonstrated what made him the greatest player on the Seahawks roster. To watch Wilson dancing around the pocket was a true wonder to behold as he did everything in his power to beat the Packers, completing 21 of his 31 passes for 277 yards, one touchdown, and leading the team with 64 rushing yards on seven carries. The Seahawks were only down five points when they were forced to punt with 2:41 left on the clock with all three of their timeouts, but the defense failed to stop Aaron Rodgers on two third downs and Wilson was never given his shot at one last comeback drive.
Vintage Aaron Rodgers Playoff Performance
While the numbers weren’t overwhelmingly spectacular for Rodgers, he was consistent and efficient throwing the football and dead-accurate when he needed to run out the clock in the second half. Completing 16 of his 27 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, Rodgers threw seven passes that went ten air yards or deeper downfield and completed all seven, two of which were for touchdowns. Wide receiver Davante Adams was his main target with a team-leading eight receptions for 160 yards and both of the team’s receiving touchdowns as he accounted for 68% of the team’s targeted air yards. Running back Aaron Jones added 62 yards on 21 carries as he put up another two touchdowns on the ground. With all of the weight on Russell Wilson’s shoulders to carry his team without a rushing game, the Packers defensive front pressured him constantly, forcing him to flee the pocket and picking up five sacks and ten hits on the elusive quarterback.