Wildcard Round Recaps
Buffalo Bills @ Houston Texans
In Houston, the Buffalo Bills arrived to battle it out with the Texans on Saturday afternoon. The Bills took an early lead over the Texans with 16 points before the Texans finally put up their first points at the end of the third quarter. From there, they took their first lead with 19 unanswered points until the Bills pulled off a tying field goal in the last five seconds of the fourth quarter. A costly blindside block penalty brought a promising Bills overtime drive to an end and allowed Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to make magic as he drove his offense within ten yards of the endzone for the game-winning 28-yard field goal to kick off the weekend’s playoff games.
Tale of Two Halves for Allen
Bills quarterback Josh Allen was unstoppable in the first half as he drove the offense down the field in three out of their four drives for scores to go up 13-0 at halftime. The strong-armed, long-legged quarterback threw for 131 yards in the half and had a 42-yard run on their first drive that was capped off with a receiving touchdown by a receiving touchdown by him as he quite literally did everything for the team. Allen was in the midst of putting together one of his greatest games in his first playoff appearance when a fumble brought the Bills offense to a halt as Allen struggled on the two subsequent drives. Even when they put up the game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime during the final drive of the fourth quarter, Allen nearly gave the ball away on the very first play when he attempted to lateral the ball at the end of a scramble to another Bills player. In overtime, they managed to accrue only 13 total yards in nine plays before having to punt it away for what would ultimately result in the game-winning drive for the Texans. Allen finished with a respectable 264 yards passing with 24 completions out of 46 attempts, as well as leading the team with 92 yards rushing on nine carries and catching the team’s lone touchdown reception. Rookie running back Devin Singletary added 58 yards rushing on 13 carries and 76 yards receiving on six receptions, while veteran back Frank Gore had 22 yards on eight carries. The defense held the Texans scoreless for nearly three quarters with seven sacks and 12 hits on the elusive Deshaun Watson, but it would not be enough.
Watson Carries Texans to Win
Deshaun Watson only needed a little more than a quarter to score 19 unanswered points that the Bills barely managed to tie at the end of regulation, but they were only delaying the inevitable as Watson drove his team 73 yards in nine plays for the game-winning field goal. Up until their first scoring drive that went 75 yards at the end of the third quarter, the Texans never gained more than 33 yards in a drive. Four of Watson’s seven total sacks were taken in the first half despite the Bills not blitzing, while completing six of eight passes for 49 yards. The second half was a different story as Watson brought the Texans downfield for touchdown drives of 75 and 74 yards and displaying his determination and willpower to bring the team back from the brink of defeat. In the final drive of overtime, Watson pulled off his typical slick escapes and clutch plays to deliver a loss to Buffalo to send them home for the season. Watson finished with 247 passing yards, completing 20 of 25 passes, with 55 yards added on 14 carries.
Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots
In a rare occurrence, the New England Patriots found themselves without a post-season bye week as the Tennessee Titans arrived in Foxboro to take on the defending Super Bowl champions. Both offenses were evenly matched in the first half and went into halftime with the Titans up 14-13, and both defenses were evenly matched in the second half but it would come down to the coaching as Titans head coach Mike Vrabel took a page out of Bill Belichick’s book by using self-inflicted intentional penalties to drain the clock and give the Patriots even less time to attempt their comeback. Once the Patriots were forced to punt with 3:10 left in the game and the Titans were able to drain the clock past the two-minute warning, the game was over for the Patriots. The interception return for a touchdown with nine seconds left was simply the cherry on top as the Titans upset the Patriots 20-13 in what may be Tom Brady’s final game as a Patriot.
Drops, Punting Mistakes Sink Patriots
The Patriots offense was off to a great start in the first quarter with a field goal and a touchdown to start the game, but it would only go downhill after that as they only scored one more field goal towards the end of the second quarter before failing to cross midfield the rest of the game. Drops and penalties hurt a few offensive drives, including a deep pass in the third quarter to tight end Benjamin Watson for 38 yards on third down that was called back due to an ineligible lineman downfield. Two punts that ended up as touchbacks and a third that only went 30 yards didn’t help the field position battle and better punting by the Titans kept the Patriots pinned in their own territory for the rest of the game. Tom Brady was unspectacular with 209 yards on 20 completions out of 37 attempts and the interception that erased all hope at the very end of the game. Brady ended up with a league-low average of 3.5 air yards thrown per completed pass. On the ground, Sony Michel had a respectable 61 yards on 14 carries but ultimately could not carry the team. Fellow running back James White, known for his great post-season production, continued his career with 62 yards on five receptions.
Derrick Henry’s Birthday Dominance
Ryan Tannehill only threw 15 passes and completed eight of them for 72 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but he didn’t need to do any more than that with Derrick Henry carrying the load on offense. The regular-season leading rusher led the way with 18shing yards on 34 carries for a touchdown, while also adding a 22-yard reception as the team’s second-leading receiver to put him over 200 scrimmage yards on the day. The Patriots couldn’t stop the 6’3, 238-pound monster from tearing through their defense and he allowed the Titans to run out the clock in the stalemate that was the second half.
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints
Kirk Cousins, the player many have said can never win big games, won a big one as the Minnesota Vikings silenced the Superdome in an overtime upset over the New Orleans Saints. Both offenses and defenses were clicking in the NFC wild-card battle that featured quarterback Taysom Hill of the Saints playing every position and Vikings running back Dalvin Cook tearing through defenders. The Vikings took off in the second half for a 20-10 lead before the Saints tied the game to end the regulation period. Despite the effort, they would ultimately lose as Kirk Cousins took the opening drive 75 yards for a touchdown that invited controversy as the replay appeared to show an uncalled offensive pass interference penalty.
Taysom Hill Takes Spotlight
While Drew Brees may be the undisputed starting quarterback of the Saints, Taysom Hill spent the game demonstrating just how valuable he is to the team on offense with a 50-yard pass, four carries for 50 yards, and two catches for 25 yards and a touchdown. Brees had his struggles with a fumble and an interception to go along with his 208 passing yards and touchdown with 26 completions out of 33 attempts. Besides Hill, the running game did not do him any favors with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray both only accounting for 21 yards each. Meanwhile, the front four of the Vikings provided pressure through the entire game with three sacks and seven hits on Brees despite his 2.57 seconds to throw average, the lowest among all starting quarterbacks of the wild-card weekend.
Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins Drive Vikings Offense
With Cook grinding out yardage on the ground to the tune of 94 yards on 28 carries for two touchdowns, the Vikings continued relying on the formula that had brought them success all season as Kirk Cousins was granted endless time to throw on play-action passes. Cousins completed 19 of his 31 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. 12 of those passes were thrown 10 yards or deeper down field, with six completed. Two of those were deep balls to receiver Adam Thielen for 34 and 43 yards to set up key touchdowns. Though the win has shown Cousins can be clutch under pressure, the storyline for some fans will be the controversy of a missed pass interference call on tight end Kyle Rudolph’s winning touchdown catch.
Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Seattle Seahawks went on the road to play the Philadelphia Eagles to finish up the wild-card weekend, with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz ready to play in his first NFL playoff game. It wouldn’t be in the cards for him, however, as he was knocked out of the game after only two drives with what some have said was a dirty hit by Seahawks edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney. As a result, Josh McCown, the 17-year veteran quarterback that the Eagles had coaxed out of retirement at the end of preseason, made his own playoff debut. For a 40-year old who always found himself as the bridge quarterback on rebuilding teams and whose main accomplishments included the final handoff to Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith for a touchdown and throwing future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s first touchdown pass, it was a dream come true as he finally found himself at the helm of a post-season team. While the Eagles wouldn’t be able to overcome their injury struggles and poor coaching decisions by head coach Doug Pederson as the Seahawks won 17-9, McCown was able to have his shot at playoff glory as he (probably) rides off into the sunset.
DK Metcalf Dominates in First Playoff Game
The rookie receiver that nearly broke the internet with his pictures but fell in the NFL draft due to concern about his agility and route-running ability had yet another of possibly many laughs in his career at doubters as he absolutely thrashed the Eagles secondary with 160 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. Metcalf and Russell Wilson were the offense for the Seahawks as running backs Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch combined for a dismal 19 yards on 17 carries. Wilson threw for 325 yards and a touchdown with 18 completions out of 30 attempts, while also adding 45 yards on the ground on nine carries. The defense made up for the lack of run game by sacking Eagles quarterbacks seven times with nine hits. While cornerback Tre Flowers couldn’t seem to catch a break with two pass interference calls, the secondary performed adequately against a backup quarterback and the handful of uninspiring receiving options the battered Eagles came into the game with.
40-Year Old Hero, Josh McCown
McCown had spent the season largely on the bench, mentoring Carson Wentz and returning home each week to coach a high school football team, but finally got his first shot at the post-season when Wentz was knocked out of the game with a head injury on a possibly dirty play. At 40-years old, McCown looked like a young man again as he scrambled around the pocket and took heavy hits from the punishing Seattle defense with six sacks. With a battered and thin receiver group, McCown focused on hitting tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz as he completed 18 of his 24 passes for 174 yards and adding 23 rushing yards on five carries. The running game worked only in spurts as Miles Sanders and Boston Scott combined for 94 total yards on 20 carries. As the game went on, the running game was largely abandoned with the Seahawks focusing their efforts on containing the ground game and Sanders saw a stacked box on more than 50% of his attempts. Still, McCown continued to push onwards through each blow the defense delivered as he drove the Eagles offense 64 yards downfield in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-four, coach Doug Pederson elected to go for it rather than taking the points in the 17-9 game with six-and-a-half minutes left and Sanders let the pass slip through his hands on what would have been a sure first down, once again bringing attention to the struggle with drops that the Eagles have seen all season. Then, even as the Eagles defense forced a stop and gave the ball back to McCown, who drove the 58 yards to within ten yards of the endzone, they were unable to score. With a little under two minutes left, the Eagles elected to send an all-out blitz on a third-and-ten and Wilson easily lofted a 36-yard pass to Metcalf for the first down and the victory.
Perhaps choosing to take the field goal on the second-to-last drive may have lightened the load on the shoulders of the offense and allowed them to pull off another score later. Perhaps choosing something other than an all-out blitz that Wilson can easily decipher would have given the Eagles another shot at a score. The Eagles had a shot at furthering their post-season and Josh McCown did absolutely everything in his power, even as he himself became more and more hobbled by the hits he was taking. Ultimately, the eyes will turn to Pederson as fans question his decisions to forgo sure points that would make future drives easier and instead risk it all on three separate occasions to end the game.