What a breathtaking weekend of Wild Card games that took place this past Saturday and Sunday, as it saw an Incredible performance by Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota single-handedly carrying the Titans to a thrilling comeback victory in Kansas City, after the Chiefs had looked like that had the game under full control at the halftime break.
The Atlanta Falcons looked good in their Wild Card game against the Los Angeles Rams on the West Coast, as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan used his experience to guide his side to a win in their NFC clash on the return to playoff football at the Coliseum. Sunday’s games started off with a dull game between Jacksonville and Buffalo to which it was anything from ‘must watch TV’ in Florida, but the Jaguars did enough to progress.
The remaining game saw the New Orleans Saints marching on to the Divisional games next weekend after they picked up a tough win against Carolina at the Mercedes Benz Superdome. Drew Brees shone for the Saints against the Panthers, as he faced his rival in Cam Newton in the battle of the star quarterbacks.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 21 – 22 TENNESSEE TITANS
Saturday night saw a thriller at Arrowhead Stadium in the first of the AFC Divisional Wild Card games, after Tennessee Titans overturned an 18-point deficit, thanks largely to a second-half winning performance from quarterback Marcus Mariota, as the Titans playmaker helped to engineer a stunning come from behind victory to set up a meeting with New England next weekend at Foxboro.
The first half was dominated by the home side, as Kansas City got on the board first after Tyreek Hill had got the Chiefs up to the Titans 30-yard line and saw two plays later Kareem Hunt crashing his way into the end zone for a 1-yard score. Towards the back end of the first quarter, it saw Alex Smith finding Travis Kelce in space to throw into and he completed a 13-yard pass to the Tight-End for a Touchdown and moved the Chiefs 14-0 up.
Tennessee was simply being shut down by a solid Kansas City defensive unit, that didn’t allow the Titans any joy at all on offense and saw the Titans making a total of 127 yards in the first half. It saw the Titans yards numbers dwarfed by the home side who made 264 yards in the half, while the telltale statistic of the first half was Kansas City picking up sixteen First Down’s, compared to Tennessee’s five. Things weren’t helped either when Mariota threw a pass intended for Delanie Walker and saw the Titans man in double coverage and instead saw Marcus Peters picking it off for Interception.
Kansas City wasn’t just hitting Tennessee hard on the scoreboard, but they were doing just as much on the field too as Marcus Mariota could attest to, as the quarterback was sacked in a crunching tackle by Derrick Johnson on the Chiefs 30-yard line and set up the only points for Tennessee in the half, after Ryan Succop kicked over a 49-yard field goal. With 1.34 remaining in the second quarter, it saw a massive blow to the Chiefs when Travis Kelce suffered a big hit that kept the Tight-End out for the rest of the game.
Tennessee fell further behind with just five seconds left to go in the half when DeMarcus Robinson went in for a score after some ‘average’ tackling allowed the Chiefs to extend their lead and go into the break 21-3 points up at the interval. At the half, it seemed like the home side would be heading to a bit of lop-sided win and saw the Titans needing some inspiration from somewhere on their side. The way it looked they could do with another miracle that mirrored their infamous ‘Music City Miracle’ if they were to overcome Kansas City.
Marcus Mariota would prove to be that inspiration that the Titans was looking for, as firstly, he scrambled on a 3rd down to pick up a much needed first down for his side and then had handed off a pass to Derrick Henry who bulldozed his way through the Chiefs defense to get deep inside the Kansas half.
Later, while on a 3rd and goal, it saw Mariota having no options of which to pass to and saw him scrambling to make a play and threw into the end zone and saw the pass deflected back towards him and he went in for a touchdown. No matter how fortunate the end result, it gave the Titans a foot back in the game and see perhaps a new miracle for the Titans.
It felt like that score had sent the momentum shifting in favour of the Titans, but when Adoree’ Jackson spilt a punt return and saw Kansas City recovering it looked like that momentum would dissolve. As it turned out, the Chiefs were unable to make the most of the field positioning and saw Kansas City kicker Harrison Butker striking the post on a 48 yard FG attempt to see a chance go begging and sensed that perhaps the game was slipping away from the Chiefs. That miss boosted the Titans and despite trailing by 11 points with still a quarter to go it had Tennessee looking the better side.
Derrick Henry then ran for a 35-yard touchdown to bring the gap down to five points and saw the Titans trying a two-point conversion which failed miserably. With just over six minutes left to play, it saw the Titans taking advantage of a tired Chiefs defense that had been out on the field for the majority of the second half and saw Mariota throwing a pass to Eric Decker for a 22-yard touchdown. With Tennessee ahead in the game, they tried to put more daylight between themselves and their opponents, but their attempts to score on a two-point conversion were foiled again by a tired looking Chiefs defensive unit.
Kansas City’s offense then came back onto the field after what felt like an eternity since they were actually out their, but when they jogged on the field they looked like a stunned football team and one that seemed beaten. With the Chiefs on a 4th and 9 and forced into gambling, it saw Alex Smith throwing a pass upfield for Albert Wilson and saw the Tennessee safety’s snuffing out their last chance and saw the Titans pulling off one of the most stunning comeback victories in Wild Card history. The loss for the Chiefs marked a run of six home losses in a row in the playoff football since 1993.
LOS ANGELES RAMS 13 – 26 ATLANTA FALCONS
For the first time in 41 years, it saw an NFL postseason game being played out of the famous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, as the Rams looked to carry on their incredible story this year. Sadly though, much like the last time that Los Angeles played at the Coliseum back in 1977 in a playoff game, it saw the home side coming up short once more as a Falcons side led by Matt Ryan, looking like a team on a mission, as they look to erase the memory of last year’s Superbowl nightmare less than a year ago.
Atlanta got a huge slice of luck midway through the first quarter when a Falcons punt upfield saw the ball bouncing off Blake Countess foot and saw a scramble for the loose football and see the Falcons recovering. That then led to a 29-yard field goal by Matt Bryant that put the Falcons ahead and saw him adding a further kick later on in the quarter to put the AFC South team 6-0 up.
Devonte Freeman put the Falcons in an even stronger position as they led 13-0 after a 3-yard run brought a touchdown for Atlanta and saw the home side falling further behind. LA then replied through quarterback Jared Goff, who threw for his first postseason touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp, as the pass connected for a 14-yard score in the end zone.
The final fifteen-seconds of play in the first half took an incredible nine minutes to complete, as with no timeouts the Rams spiked the ball with nine seconds to go and saw the officials wanting to review a couple of plays previous that saw an incomplete pass being called, and saw the rare occasion of the home fans cheering the decision to not give the catch and helped the Rams out, with time added back on the clock. With the last action of the half, it saw a 35-yard Field goal kicked by Sam Ficken to narrow the deficit and make it 13-10 at the half.
Matt Bryant then kicked a 25-yard field goal to open up a six-point lead for the Falcons before striking a 56-yard effort to make it 19-10 for Atlanta, with still a quarter to play. Jared Goff in his first playoff game looked assured of himself, much like he has for the best part of the season and saw him doing all he could to help his Rams side to stay in the game. Todd Gurley then started to pick up a bit of steam and had LA looking to him to score an get them back in it. As it was, it saw Los Angeles forced to kick a field goal instead and see the lead cut down to six with more than ten minutes left to play.
Mohamed Sanu then ran 52-yards to get the Falcons up to the Rams 10-yard line, before a couple of plays later while on a 2nd and goal, it saw Matt Ryan throwing a high floating pass out towards the corner for Julio Jones to make the grab and score a touchdown and make it a 26-13 game. Los Angeles then thought they had a touchdown when Goff found Tyler Higbee in the end zone, but the replays showed that the Tight-End had dropped the ball and so it was ruled an incomplete pass and saw the hopes of a comeback ended there and then.
It brought an end to an entertaining season for the Rams this year, as a stunning debut season for Head Coach Sean McVay, saw his team posting an 11-6 record on the year. Meanwhile, for the Falcons it saw them moving to an 11-6 record and have them now facing Philadelphia Eagles in Philly next weekend.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 10 – 3 BUFFALO BILLS
Jacksonville and Buffalo played out the remaining AFC Wild Card game in Florida and while no one ran away with the game, it will certainly not be challenging the AFC game the night before between Tennessee and Kansas City for the game of the weekend, but it certainly proved to a case of how to defend at least.
A scoreless first quarter saw only 94-yards in total being recorded between the sides in the opening fifteen minutes of the game until a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Hauschka put the Bills ahead. Jacksonville’s Quarterback Blake Bortles then conjured up a first down conversion late in the second quarter to get the Jaguars within field goal range and have Bortles going to the well too often, and he was stopped by the Buffalo defence and led to a Josh Lambo 44-yard field goal to take the sides into the halftime break all square.
Late in the third, it saw Leonard Fournette trying to leap over the Bills defense for a touchdown, but he was dragged back by the ankles by Buffalo’s Lorenzo Alexander as he made sure that the Jaguars Running-Back wasn’t making the line. However, the Jaguars then gambled on a 4th and goal and it saw them richly rewarded as Blake Bortles picked out Ben Koyack in the end zone to see the Tight-End making the catch and getting the touchdown to put Jacksonville ahead.
In the fourth quarter, it saw Buffalo struggling to make much on offense and had LeSean McCoy being stifled by the Jaguars defense throughout the game and have the Bills top weapon being grounded. With just over a minute to play, it saw the Bills hopes all but go up in smoke, as quarterback Tyrod Taylor was sacked and had to be helped off the field of play following a hit he suffered and saw his head hitting the turf and saw backup Nathan Peterman coming into replace him for the remainder of the game.
This was the same Nathan Peterman, that in a previous start for Buffalo in Week 11, saw the rookie QB throwing for five interceptions in the infamous game against the LA Chargers in which Tyrod Taylor was benched and was soon thrown back on. With Taylor now done for the game, this was a chance for Peterman to redeem himself in the eyes of Bills fans and those fans around the league that mocked his performance earlier in the season. His first snap saw him scrambling for a first down and lost control of the football at the end of the play but thankfully was out of bounce. His second play saw a throw that was caught and helped the Bills pick up another first down and move upfield.
Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo who was commentating for American television said of Peterman as they moved upfield, “Peterman has a chance to etch his name into the history books with the Bills on this drive right here”. It proved to be the commentator’s curse and saw the backup quarterback sacked for a loss of ten yards. The next play was a 2nd and 20 and saw Peterman throwing a pass that was tipped and eventually Intercepted by Jalen Ramsey and he helped the Jaguars claim victory and see a rematch from Week 5, as the Jags now travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 31 – 26 CAROLINA PANTHERS
New Orleans Saints made it a clean sweep of victories over their NFC South rivals in in the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the final Wild Card game of the weekend, as Drew Brees shown his quality once more as a top performer in the postseason, as he threw for 376 yards and picked up two touchdowns that helped the Saints go marching on into the playoffs against a very stubborn opponent.
After a tight opening quarter of play between these rivals, it then saw a piece of brilliance by Brees to open the scoring, as the Saints Quarterback found former Carolina Wide-Receiver Ted Ginn Jr up the middle and have the now New Orleans man finishing off the play for an 80-yard touchdown pass to move the home side in front.
Earlier in the second quarter, it saw the ‘pride of Arbroath’ in Graham Gano slotting over a 27-yard field goal after the Scottish kicker had missed an earlier attempt in the quarter.
Drew Brees then pick up his second touchdown pass of the game when he found Josh Hill wide open in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 14-3 Saints, as New Orleans looked good in the contest. Graham Gano then kicked over another field goal for the Panthers to keep them still in touch with the home side, as they trailed by just 8-points.
Zach Line then went in for a 1-yard score to have New Orleans on moving further ahead and lead 21-6 as the halftime break was approaching, but Gano had the last say on the half as he drilled over a 58-yard kick to see Carolina down by 12 points at the half.
Cam Newton was trying his best to get the Panthers back in the game and had Gano being the one to chip away at the Saints lead, as he kicked over his third field goal of the game to make 21-12. Wil Lutz then replied with a 57-yard field goal for New Orleans as they looked to hold back a Carolina side at arm’s length.
Carolina then scored a touchdown when Newton found Greg Olsen in the end zone for a score, but the Saints came back later in the quarter, as Brees found Michael Thomas who got the Saints up to the 5-yard line and near the Panthers goal-line
Alvin Kamara then went in on a 2-yard run to get the fourth touchdown for New Orleans in the game and looked to have closed the game out. However, the celebration on the Saints score had hardly calmed before Christian McCaffrey raced into the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown and have a noisy and boisterous Superdome crowd fall silent as the Panthers refused to give up with 4.09 remaining.
With the game coming to the crunch, it saw the Saints going for it on 4th and 2 to see the game out and have Brees being intercepted by Mike Adams and gave Carolina one last chance to steal victory at the death.
As the game reached its dying moments, Carolina just couldn’t find a way to break them down and with 11 seconds left to play it saw the Panthers on a 4th and 23 and needing Newton to come up with something special to get the win for the Panther. Instead was jumped upon by three New Orleans players and saw him go from the Saints 34-yard line to being dumped on his own 45- yard line.
NFC DIVISIONAL GAMES:
Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) v Atlanta Falcons (11-6)
@ Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Minnesota Vikings (13-3) v New Orleans Saints (12-5)
@ U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota
AFC DIVISIONAL GAMES:
New England Patriots (13-3) v Tennessee Titans (10-7)
@ Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) v Jacksonville Jaguars (11-6)
@ Heinz Field, Pittsburgh