While the Baltimore Ravens saw their Super Bowl hopes dashed this weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs came out of the Divisional Round riding the momentum of one of the NFL playoffs’ all-time comebacks.
On Saturday night, the AFC’s top seed (Ravens) was ousted from the playoffs by the cinderella Tennessee Titans and, on Sunday, the conference’s second seed (Chiefs) needed one of the biggest rallies in post-season history to avoid the same fate.
Ironically enough, that near-death experience could be just the wake-up call the Chiefs need as they prepare to host Derrick Henry’s bruising Titans in the AFC title game.
In the NFC, the No. 1 San Francisco 49ers will host the No. 2 Green Bay Packers, a rematch of a Week 12 blowout.
Here are eight takeaways from the second weekend of the NFL playoffs.
FEAR THE 49ERS’ DEFENSIVE LINE
Back in the first few weeks of the season, when these 49ers took us all by surprise, it was the defensive line that emerged as the team’s most dominant unit. But as the season moved on, and San Francisco dealt with a rash of injuries, the production of that group dropped off a bit.
Well, Nick Bosa and company are back, and they used the 49ers’ first playoff game in six years to put the rest of the post-season teams on notice.
Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstread, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas ravaged the Vikings’ offensive line, combining for six sacks, nine quarterback hits, 14 total tackles and a nightmare afternoon for Kirk Cousins. Maybe the biggest impact, though, came on the ground, as the 17th-ranked 49ers run defence surrendered just 21 rush yards – the fewest they’ve allowed since Week 9 in 2015.
Comprised of five first-round picks, the 49ers defensive line is talented, athletic, deep, healthy, and — a lot like the 2015 Denver Broncos — the type of unit that can win a Super Bowl almost single-handedly.
VIKINGS BEATEN AT THEIR OWN GAME
The Vikings shocked the Saints by dominating in the trenches, overwhelming the New Orleans defence with the run game and pressuring Drew Brees through the interior of the offensive line.
If it was going to pull off another stunner, Minnesota needed to win in trenches again in San Francisco. Instead, the 49ers took the Vikings to school on the line of scrimmage.
Cousins was under constant pressure from the 49ers’ ferocious defensive line, Dalvin Cook was a non-factor, and the Vikings offence mustered just seven first downs.
The Vikings’ defensive line, vital to their win in the Big Easy, were trampled by the 49ers, who ran the ball 47 times for 186 yards. San Francisco had 21 first downs Saturday afternoon, 12 of which came on the ground.
The key to victory for Minnesota was always going to be winning in the trenches, and they lost that battle decisively.
DERRICK HENRY BREAKING TACKLES AND RECORDS
Ryan Tannehill has completed just 15 total passes for 160 yards in these playoffs, totals that seem impossible for a quarterback who’s 2-0 in the post-season and one win from the Super Bowl – unless, of course, that quarterback has Derrick Henry lining up in the backfield.
Henry has literally carried the Titans into the conference championship, and he’s done it in record-breaking fashion. King Henry is the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 180 yards in three straight games, he’s the first to rush for 175-plus rushing yards in two consecutive playoff games and he has the most rushing yards ever by a player in their first four post-season games (561).
The way the Titans’ offence is playing in this post-season feels unsustainable – just stop Henry, right? That’s one of those easier-said-than-done things. The Ravens did everything they could to try and slow down No. 22, and he only got better when Baltimore stacked the box.
We’re witnessing a historic post-season from Derrick Henry. Don’t try to make sense of it. Just sit back and enjoy.
MURPHY’S LAW FOR LAMAR JACKSON AND THE RAVENS
Anything that could go wrong did go wrong for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens on Saturday night against the Titans – and it all went wrong at the worst possible time.
Everything that worked so well for the MVP frontrunner and his team all season long just didn’t work at M&T Bank Stadium this weekend. A lot of that can be attributed to a brilliant game plan from Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, his coordinators – OC Arthur Smith and DC Dean Pees – and the execution by Titans players, but the Ravens did themselves no favours.
Six total drops by Jackson’s receivers, three turnovers (which led to 14 points), the NFL’s best fourth-down conversion team going 0-for-4 on fourth down and uncharacteristic mistakes on defence all culminated in Baltimore’s worst game since September.
The idea the playoffs are too much for Jackson is ridiculous – he accounted for 508 of Baltimore’s 530 yards – but the Ravens will need more from No. 8’s teammates in order to find post-season success.
SPECIAL TEAMS DIG CHIEFS A HOLE THEN PULL THEM OUT OF IT
Before the Chiefs completed a historic comeback against the Texans, K.C. faced a 24-0 deficit early in the second quarter.
Oddly enough, it was the Chiefs’ top-ranked special teams unit that dug them that hole.
After a blown coverage gifted the Texans their first touchdown, a blocked Chiefs punt and a muffed return by Tyreek Hill led to Houston’s next 14 points.
As the first quarter came to a close, it looked as though the Chiefs would suffer the same fate as the Ravens. But then that No. 1-ranked special teams unit took it upon itself to get its team back in the game.
First, Mecole Hardman returned a punt 58 yards to set up the first Chiefs TD. Then, the Texans ran a fake punt on fourth-and-four on their own 31, which Daniel Sorensen sniffed out and stuffed. Three plays later, K.C. cut the lead to 10. On the ensuing kickoff, Sorensen forced a DeAndre Carter fumble that the Chiefs recovered on Houston’s 18-yard line. Three more Chiefs plays, another TD. 24-21.
We all know what happened the rest of the way. The Chiefs took the lead before the end of the half and scored 51 of the game’s final 58 points to win a game none of us will soon forget – a game in which K.C.’s special teams got and took a rare opportunity to redeem itself.
TEXANS’ PLAYOFFS END WITH JUST TWO GOOD QUARTERS
Last week, we watched Bill O’Brien’s Texans play incredibly poorly for most of three quarters against a Buffalo Bills team that let Houston hang around, only to be saved by late-game heroics from Deshaun Watson – and a Superman play in overtime.
On Sunday, the Texans flipped the script and jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, added three points in the second, and were then outscored 51-7 on the way to one of the worst losses in NFL playoff history.
When it all comes out in the wash, Houston played well for a total of two quarters (maybe a few plays more) – and the first 15 minutes in K.C. probably came down more to Chiefs’ mistakes than the Texans executing any type of game plan with effect.
There’s not much to say after a loss like that, but O’Brien’s in-game decision-making will rightly come under fire in the days following Houston’s playoff exit. From his mind-boggling offensive “game plan” against the Bills to some head-scratching calls throughout the K.C. game (a fake punt on fourth-and-four on your own 31, up 24-7?!), there will be a lot of questions asked of O’Brien as the Texans march toward a 2020 season that will have sky-high expectations.
PACKERS’ OFFENSIVE STARS COME UP BIG IN CLUTCH
Despite being the second seed in the NFC, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Packers entering the Divisional Round. The loudest one focused on Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s middle-of-the-pack offence, and whether a unit that hasn’t been all that convincing could get it done in the playoffs.
It did, and it leaned on its superstars to get it done.
It started with Aaron Rodgers, whose numbers won’t pop off the stat page but who made clutch throws with the game on the line, including a pair of third-down throws late in the fourth to seal the game.
The other Aaron, Jones, was held to just 62 yards on 21 carries but rumbled into the end zone twice on the night.
The offensive MVP, though, had to be receiver Davante Adams. No. 17 racked up a franchise playoff record 160 yards receiving and hauled in a pair of scores on eight receptions, including one of those clutch third-down Rodgers throws inside two minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Packers now travel to San Francisco to take on a 49ers team that shellacked Green Bay to the tune of 37-8 on Nov. 24. It was the last time the Packers lost a game, and they’ll need their stars to step up again to book a ticket to the Super Bowl.
SEAHAWKS COMEBACK ATTEMPT FALLS JUST SHORT
In what is a microcosm of Seattle’s 2019 season, the Seahawks came up inches – if that – short of getting a shot at Sunday’s second unlikely comeback.
Down 28-10 late in the third quarter, Russell Wilson did what Russell Wilson did all season long and put his team on his back. The Pro Bowl quarterback led the Seahawks to 13 unanswered points to move within five of the Packers.
But it was too little too late, as when the Seahawks needed a big stop from their defence, they couldn’t get one. On third-and-nine with two minutes left in the game, Rodgers hit former Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham for, you guessed it, nine yards. The play was so close that if the referees had of called it short, it couldn’t have been overturned.
In the final play of their regular season and the final play their post-season, the Seahawks came up just short. Who knows where Seattle would be if both plays had gone the other way.