Divisional Round Observations

Divisional Round Observations

This article is part of our NFL Observations series.

I don't even know what to say. I feel like I probably should have taken notes. In contrast to a terrible Wild Card weekend, this was one of the more dramatic and enjoyable playoff slates I can remember. So many consequential plays and so many improbable comebacks. The NFL redeemed itself big time. 

  • The Titans lost the game despite sacking Joe Burrow (9.4 YPA) nine times. Every play was either a sack or a downfield throw.
  • The problem for the Titans were the four turnovers. Three via interception, including the final one off Nick Westbrook-Ikhine's hands that led to the Bengals' game-winning field goal, and one via downs. Why not run a QB sneak on 3rd-and-1 rather than out of the shotgun? And again on 4th-and-1!
  • A.J. Brown's (9-5-142-1) casual one-handed 41-yard TD catch was nice. He suctioned it in like he was taking a handoff.
  • In close games it pays to have a good kicker. Evan McPherson went 4-for-4 on FGs, including a 54-yarder and a game-winning 52-yarder. He was the team's MVP.
  • Aaron Rodgers failed to complete only nine passes and at least two of those were drops. But after an opening TD drive, the Packers could not move the ball much the rest of the game.
  • The 49ers averaged 4.1 YPP. The Packers defense dominated all game. George Kittle (6-4-63-0) was their only player to have a 20-yard play, and he also dropped another would-be big catch.
  • I don't think I've ever seen a playoff game swing on a blocked punt TD. But the Packers got the ball back, tied at 10, with 4:28 left and went three and out. The 49ers defense won the key battle, and the offense did just enough for the game-winning FG.
  • Aaron Rodgers is still my pick for MVP, a regular-season award, but though he was unlucky with the blocked punt, he didn't do enough for that not to be a factor. The elements and lack of a No. 2 receiver upped the degree of difficulty, but unlike Tom Brady (more on this below) Rodgers could only inspire himself to greatness, rather than bending the entire quantum field of reality to his will.
  • The Rams-Bucs game was one of the more insane contests I've ever watched. The Rams were almost up 27-3 at the half, but for a Cam Akers fumble near the goal line. Then they went up 27-3 in the third quarter anyway, held the Bucs to a field goal to make it 27-6, but fumbled on the very next play! The Bucs scored a TD at the end of the third quarter to make it 27-13 and gave themselves a small chance. Then the Rams went three and out in 31 seconds, the Bucs got the ball back and fumbled on the first play! Game over. But on the very next play the Rams snapped the ball over Matthew Stafford's head and resurrected the Bucs. It was like Tom Brady had some kind of occult power to will the game back into range.
  • But the Bucs turned it over on downs in the next series, and the Rams drove 50 yards over     5:51 to seal it with a game-winning FG. But they missed! The Bucs got the ball back with 6:31 left, but turned it over on downs again! Game over. But the Rams went three and out in 30 seconds, and Brady connected with Mike Evans for a 55-yard TD, cutting the lead to seven with 3:20 (and no timeouts) left. Two plays later, Akers fumbled again! The Bucs scored the game-tying TD with 42 seconds left. If this went to overtime, Brady would not have been stopped. And on first-down for the Rams, Ndamukong Suh sacked Matthew Stafford, who nearly fumbled.
  • But two completions for 64 yards later to MVP Cooper Kupp (11-9-183-1), the Rams got in place for and executed the game-winning kick. The tear in the fabric of the universe that started with the Tuck Rule and, seven Super Bowls later, saw the 44-yard old Brady come back from a 27-3 deficit yet again, is finally sewn shut.
  • It's a good thing the Rams won because I don't see how Cam Akers (24-48-9, 3-3-20-0, two soul-crushing fumbles) comes back from this otherwise.
  • Of course, as bananas as the Rams-Bucs was, Chiefs-Bills was arguably even more so.
  • Andy Reid made some questionable decisions, punting to Josh Allen on 4th-and-5 from the Bills 46! He got away with it when his defense held, but what a gamble. Then on 3rd-and-1, he lines up backup TE Blake Bell as an option QB, who hands off to Jerick McKinnon, who gets stuffed! Why are you tricking the other team on 3rd-and-1 with Patrick Mahomes as your QB? Moreover, Reid settled for the field goal, up two, on 4th-and-4 from the Bills 10, to go up five with nine minutes left! Of course the Bills would score a TD, and they did, on the very next drive. Fortunately, the Chiefs had plenty of time left for Patrick Mahomes to match, and he did, but they scored too fast on a 64-yard Tyreek Hill (13-11-150-1) TD. Nothing they could do about it because they needed the TD to go up four, so Hill had to keep going, but the Bills had 1:02 left, needed a game-winning TD, and of course they got it. But the truly insane sequence, arguably the most unbelievable in a weekend of insanity, was  the Chiefs getting the ball back, down three, with 13 seconds left and getting a 19-yard pass  to Hill and a 25-yard pass to Travis Kelce to set up a game-tying FG. The Chiefs had timeouts, so they could work the middle of the field, but you cannot let a team drive into field goal range with 13 seconds left.
  • The new overtime rules (first to score a TD wins) are better than the old sudden death ones, but with these two teams, whoever won the toss had a 98 percent chance to win.
  • Despite playing only two games, Gabriel Davis (10-8-201-4) will be on some winning playoff rosters. What a monster game and nice catch on his penultimate TD while Josh Allen was under pressure on 4th-and-13!
  • Josh Allen (329 yards, four TDs, zero turnovers, 68 rushing yards) and Patrick Mahomes (378 yards, three TDs, 69 rushing yards, one rushing TD) were playing at all-time great levels. One of the great playoff duels between two stars at their absolute peaks.
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire (7-69-1, 2-1-9-0) finally looked like the guy they thought they had drafted with the last pick in the first round two years ago.
  • Harrison Butker was shaky, missing a FG wide, missing a PAT and narrowly hitting one of his other kicks, just inside the upright. Of course, kickers don't matter -- unless you're in a close playoff game.
  • I probably left out 50 things. Sean McVay calling a timeout to give the refs time to review the 4th-and-1 and move it closer on the Bucs final drive, Kupp being left unguarded on a long-TD early in that game, Mahomes weaving through defenders on every rush, Josh Allen barely escaping the rush on fourth down to extend a play and scramble for a game-saving first down on his final drive, Aaron Rodgers' and Tom Brady's futures, etc. There was too much to process for one wrap-up article. But it beats the alternative.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Liss
Chris Liss was RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio from 2001-2022.
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