Kids playing defense learn in junior high school to bat down long fourth down passes so your offense takes the ball back at the previous line of scrimmage. A Carolina defensive back forgot that dictum in the Panthers’ wild card game with the Saints and caused his team to lose. New Orleans had fourth and two at their own forty-eight when they inexplicably chose to go for it with two minutes left, leading by 31-26. Their dynamic rushing duo of Kamara and Ingram had been held in check all game. Drew Brees tried a false count that didn’t work and then rolled out to complete a pass for a first down and the win, Carolina being out of timeouts. The defensive back 20 yards downfield picked it off and ran out of bounds at his own 32. Newton then brings his team all the way to the Saints 18-yard line when the drive runs out of steam and dies. That 20 yards lost by the Panther blunder made all the difference in the world.
Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown pass to himself in leading the Titans to a win over the Chiefs. As strange and flukey as that pass was, what really endeared him to his teammates was a block he threw downfield after handing off to the ball carrier and leading the way around left end. You never see ten guys mob a quarterback for throwing a block. It’s clear Mariota is the true leader of that team. That block got the first down near the game’s end and sent poor Kansas City to its sixth straight postseason defeat.
If Brady isn’t the NFL MVP, Todd Gurley is. But this past weekend, Atlanta did a tune on Gurley, holding him in check as the Falcons beat the LA Rams, 26-13, to advance. Matt Ryan did a good job staying late in the pocket, completing one key pass after another. It doesn’t hurt Ryan that he has the fabulous (what other word fits?) Julio Jones on the receiving end of his throws. Jones is to Atlanta what Calvin Johnson was to the Lions a few years ago. After blowing that 28-3 lead to New England in last year’s Super Bowl, the Falcons were determined not to repeat it. A last second field goal by LA at the half cut the margin to 13-10 but the Falcons responded with a back breaking nine-minute drive to start the second half to put the game away.
In what can only be described as an ugly football game, Jacksonville beat Buffalo,10-3, to advance to play the Steelers. No NFL playoff game should showcase a quarterback rushing for more yards than he gets passing. Blake Bortles did, completing only 12 of 24 passes for 87 yards, but time and again breaking out of the pocket to rack up 88 yards rushing. Go, Jags!
Saints at Vikings. New Orleans must get its ground game going. Drew Brees can not throw for 400 yards again. Or can he?
Titans vs. NE. Brady, Gronkowski, and Belichik. Do the math. Mariota will have to morph into George Gipp to win.
Falcons vs. Eagles. Without Carson Wentz, I like Ryan’s experience to avoid the ugly specter of failing two years in a row.
Jaguars vs. Steelers. Tough one for Jags. Steelers got screwed on top seed by that goofy Jesse James robbery against the Patriots two weeks ago. Ben has been there, done that.