compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Browns fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Atlanta Falcons 10 at Philadelphia Eagles 15
Bryan Knowles: This is how you want to start the game for Philadelphia: A duck of a long bomb by Nick Foles, a good 15 yards short of his receiver, bailed out by defensive pass interference. Follow it up with a fumble on the very next play (like a punt! Cris Collinsworth says, despite it being first down in scoring range), and you have exactly what Doug Pederson and company drew up before the game. At least their defense came in and held Atlanta to a field goal on the ensuing drive, but that's not really the way to get your fanbase (and offense, for that matter) feeling comfortable with Foles behind center.
And then he's even worse on the next drive, overthrowing a couple balls, including a simple screen, and then taking a sack to knock them out of field goal range. Pederson said he wouldn't hesitate to pull Foles if he gets in trouble; we may see that put to the test if he can't zero in his aim. Nate Sudfeld isn't exactly a known quantity on the bench, though.
Dave Bernreuther: Great start for Foles and the Eagles through two drives: three horribly inaccurate throws, two of which were bailed out by pass interference, and a sack out of field goal range. Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount have each fumbled. The Falcons are already across midfield on their second drive, and Eagles fans can't like their chances here if they fall behind by two scores early.
Then again, we all had similar thoughts at this exact same time a week ago...
Scott Kacsmar: Do you think Atlanta was really going for that fourth-and-2 at midfield? Ryan sure threw the pass like it was legit, but it was poorly designed and wouldn't have worked. Falcons bailed out by the delay of game, which isn't always caught when the snap is so close to zero.
Andrew Potter: They sure were. It's the right place to do it: other team's side of midfield, but outside realistic field goal range. The third-down play, an inside run on third-and-4 defeated by Fletcher Cox, was also exactly what I would expect if they planned all along to go for it on fourth. Somehow, despite all that they never quite looked ready for the fourth-down play. The delay of game was that rare instance of a pre-play penalty working out better for the offense.
Other than that play, Atlanta has started pretty well on offense. Bryan mentioned the Eagles holding them to a field goal on the opening drive, but it was still basically a 60-yard drive from their own 26 to Philadelphia's 15, ended by a Taylor Gabriel drop in tight coverage. The Falcons found a lot of success attacking the perimeter of the defense with their outside zone running game and some short passes outside the numbers. Matt Ryan has been kept clean, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu both have their first catch, and both backs have been involved. It's not highlight-reel stuff, but they appear to be laying some useful groundwork.
Aaron Schatz: That Nelson Agholor jet sweep counter will be the most beautiful play of this game.
Well unless Julio goes nuts.
Derrik Klassen: Can anyone confirm that Doug Pederson and Frank Reich met with Paul Johnson this week?
Dave Bernreuther: Right after NBC runs the Mike Florio segment about Foles needing to start hot or he'd dig himself a hole, he completely turns things around and leads a nice drive, showing great awareness and accuracy, while also being aided by a running game that has been getting chunk yardage seemingly every time I look up. Excellent subtle pocket movement on a second-and-9 freed Foles for a nice completion to Zach Ertz, a sneaky jet sweep to Agholor down to the 3, and things looked great for the Eagles... until a THIRD Eagles running back -- Corey Clement this time -- drops the ball (to be fair, this one appeared to be entirely Foles' fault on the exchange), and Foles' swift recovery was correctly ruled short of the goal line.
I love Pederson for going for it, but generally dislike cramming all 22 players on the field into the box like that. But perhaps you can call that misdirection. Blount, always the side-to-side speedster, outraced everyone to the outside, which had no defenders, for an easy touchdown. I'll take credit for the reverse jinx on that one, as since my last email both the Eagles defense and offense have done everything well.
Bryan Knowles: Jay Ajayi never had more than 15 carries in a game for the Eagles this season. He had seven in the first quarter, and counting. I wonder how much of that is Carson Wentz being out and how much was keeping him fresh for the postseason? Either way, Atlanta is having trouble tackling, which they'll have to get sorted out sooner rather than later.
Andrew Potter: That Falcons goal-to-go sequence (after the muffed punt and holding call) was baffling. Levine Toilolo was open for a touchdown almost his entire route on first down, and Matt Ryan was rolling his way, but the quarterback waited, and waited, and waited ... then threw the pass to him the moment the defense got back in position. Really strange play. Then on third down, the Eagles had Ryan dead to rights, but he narrowly escaped the sack and lobbed the ball over Malcolm Jenkins -- who had left his assignment to attack the potential scramble -- to a suddenly-open Devonta Freeman. From one bewildering play he didn't make, to a tremendous one he did, we're seeing a bit of a mixed bag from Ryan so far.
It's crazy to think that the Eagles have now lost two fumbles and haven't even been unlucky with it: they've put a live ball on the ground no fewer than four times in the first half, and even their touchdown came one play after Nick Foles recovered a fumble on a very broken goal-line play.
Bryan Knowles: Nick Foles deep balls are an adventure. Not only do we have a couple big pass interference penalties, but now we have a ball that Keanu Neal accidentally knees 10 yards backwards into the hands of Alshon Jeffery. All those deep ball coin flips comin' up Foles.
Aaron Schatz: I thought, oh, there's no way Nick Foles sticks an out to get this into field goal range. And then he did.
I honestly feel like the Eagles have outplayed the Falcons a little bit here except the fumbles. That play where Clement just left the ball on the ground was awful and yet that one they recovered. Does this game feel like Ryan is playing that much better than Foles? He probably will going forward, but his one deep pass was a duck too thanks to pass pressure. The one thing he did that Foles hasn't is improvise under pressure and right now that's the difference.
Foles even better in third quarter to take 12-10 lead. Goes 5-of-7 on a scoring drive with a bad Ajayi drop on third down to force the field goal. This is the Foles we saw against the Giants, not the Raiders.
Bryan Knowles: Deep ball still isn't quite there, but the medium-ball is beginning to pick up for him. He leaned on Alshon Jeffery on that last drive, which is another wise decision on his part.
Kicking! All the kicking.
Andrew Potter: Collinsworth has spoken a lot about the size of Atlanta's interior linemen compared to last year, but the Falcons defense in general remains undersized and just can't handle the power of the Eagles. Almost every time a back is tackled, he's adding yards to the play before going down. Linebackers aren't able to shed blockers. The pass rush can't gain any traction at all. The play calling is only adding to the mismatch; every time the Falcons think they've broken through for a sack, they discover the ball is behind them on a screen or other misdirection play.
Atlanta's offense has had some reasonable gains in their own territory, but keeps stalling out near midfield. Their only points have come on the opening drive after Ajayi's fumble and the 18-yard touchdown drive after the muffed punt. Of his six total punts, Matt Bosher has punted from Eagles territory twice and midfield another twice.
Aaron Schatz: What is Doug Pederson doing with his timeouts? Holy Andy Reid School of Clock Management. The difference between a 21- and 26-yard field goal is nothing. If you are going to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1, you take a delay of game. The only reason to take a timeout would be to go for it.
Matt Ryan with beautiful touch on the fourth-and-6 pass to Julio.
Bryan Knowles: Splitting a fullback out wide on fourth-and-season may not be the best play design in the world. It might still have worked if Julio doesn't slip, though.
So, when it's all said and done, the Eagles held the Falcons scoreless on five straight drives to end the game. Steve Sarkisian will not have a good offseason in Atlanta.
Andrew Potter: The Falcons scored 10 points off turnovers. They scored zero on any other drives. They had one scoring drive over 18 yards long, and even that was a field goal. With Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman available, they split Derrick Coleman out wide on fourth-and-season. Yes, the Eagles defense is excellent, but that offensive performance was unacceptable.
Carl Yedor: Heck of a showing by the Philadelphia defense today. Nick Foles didn't set the world on fire, but he did just enough to get Philly into the NFC Championship Game. So much for Minnesota's chance to spend the entire postseason at home. Atlanta came into this game as a favorite due in large part to their advantage at quarterback, but the Eagles pulled it out at home, sending the Falcons home earlier than hoped for. Another result of this is that Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo will be busy for another weekend, meaning that teams looking to hire him as an offensive coordinator will have to be patient if they want to get their man.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm still a bit in shock that Julio didn't catch that. Didn't love the play design or throw but it did ultimately go right through his hands.
Bryan Knowles: One of the happiest groups of people in the world right now is the NFL. No matter what happens tomorrow, the Vikings won't be at home next week, so they can work on getting U.S. Bank Stadium ready for the Super Bowl. I know they were getting rather concerned about getting everything ready in time.
Aaron Schatz: Doug Pederson's scheme was great today. Lots of misdirection to take advantage of the speed on the Falcons defense. His clock management, though, will come back to bite them in the NFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl.
Tom Gower: Two big takeaways from that game to me are (1) that Nick Foles isn't a disaster as a quarterback. This shouldn't have been news to anybody. He's not as good as his numbers in Chip Kelly's first year, but he's a perfectly respectable backup quarterback. His final numbers weren't great, but he didn't make a game-changing mistake, dove on the fumble, and executed what they asked him to do. The quarterback doesn't always have to win the game for you (hint hint hint). Of course, Foles couldn't do this if Atlanta could move the ball. That lead us to takeaway (2) that the Eagles have a really good defense. Maybe this is just my perspective, but it feels like people have doubted this defense more than it should be doubted. Atlanta had eight possessions that didn't start in the red zone, and got three points out of them. Yes, fine, it could have been six except they had to go for it at the end of the game. But even that would have been just 0.75 points per possession. Fine, maybe Julio should have caught that ball. That still would have been a really good defensive game, and we'd be looking at the Eagles turnovers as the reason they lost. Again, not on the defense.
Vince Verhei: I was at a family function and missed this game except for Atlanta's last drive. The only play call in the red zone I didn't like was the shovel pass on second down. You want to run some clock there so the Eagles won't have a chance at a winning field goal after you score, but on second-and-goal from the 9, you can still just hand the ball off. But since you threw incomplete on second down, you almost have to keep the ball in bounds on third down, and a slant to bring up fourth-and-2 makes total sense to me. And the fourth-down play, we'll never know, but if Jones had kept his footing it looked like he would have been open on the quick hook.
My real takeaway, though, is that holy smokes, watching the game on the Yahoo! App worked like a breeze. Zero buffering or freezing issues, better sound and video than I get on my TV. And this was on an iPhone 5! Someday we'll get the Sunday Ticket available on all devices and this is how we'll watch games. I, for one, can't wait.
Tennessee Titans 14 at New England Patriots 35
Aaron Schatz: It's interesting, we all thought James Harrison was coming to New England as a pass-rush specialist, but the Patriots are using him a lot more as a first- and second-down player. They are clearly stacking against the run early, with a lot of 4-3 instead of the 3-3-5 they've been mostly running. They've got Derrick Henry currently at six carries for 16 yards with 3:21 left in the first.
Great catch by Corey Davis for a touchdown to give the Titans 7-0 lead. Coverage was good by Malcolm Butler but Mariota dropped a dime. He also had a nice scramble for a first down on that drive, and a zone-read keeper for a first down with great blocking. Titans were moving the ball easily. But if right tackle Jack Conklin is out for more than just part of that drive, that's going to be a long-term problem for the Titans.
New England's first touchdown drive was brought to you by the numbers 32, 33, and 28. 32 as in Tennessee's DVOA against running backs in the passing game, and 33 and 28 as in Dion Lewis and James White taking advantage of it.
Tom Gower: And the key to the drive was it wasn't just getting the backs involved one way. The big play to Lewis was a screen, followed by a short pass to Lewis over the middle, then the touchdown "pass" to White off jet sweep action. Note, Andy Reid, they did not just throw a couple quick screens to a back flexed out wide or checkdowns. But, hey, playoff win, thanks!
Dave Bernreuther: The Titans don't have an answer for Dion Lewis yet. Whether it's sneaking through the line and between linebackers or behind the line of scrimmage like on the long non-touchdown, he has been wide open and tough to tackle so far.
He was tired from all that running free, it seems, so he came off the field on first-and-goal. No matter, though, as James White strolled in untouched around left end. That was a pretty effortless drive in response to the Davis touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: I know the Titans are bad at covering running backs, but even taking that into account, Lewis has been amazing. It makes you wonder how he didn't rise to the top of the depth chart in preseason, though I understand that the Patriots had, like, 12 running backs for a month and half or so.
Andrew Potter: He was dealing with a hamstring injury throughout preseason, and those things can linger for weeks even after they disappear from the injury report.
Aaron Schatz: I will admit that I did not see the false start that got reversed into a neutral zone infraction to extend the drive when the Patriots were going to punt deep in their own end. I don't know if it was a shaky call. But damn, it's on the Titans to maybe try stopping them the rest of the way down the field. The second quarter has been a bloodbath.
Bryan Knowles: Tennessee's clock management (and their timeout management, in particular) is criminal.
Wait, WHAT? Fourth-and-1, you use your final timeout. Strike one. You decide to run the ball anyway. Strike two. You bounce it outside rather than plowing forward. Strike three, you're out.
Vince Verhei: I walked in the door just in time to turn on the TV and watch the Titans absolutely butcher the end of the first half. My first reaction is to turn the TV off and go back out.
Scott Kacsmar: It's painful that Mike Mularkey needed to trail by two touchdowns to try a fourth down in opponent territory when he passed up a good shot at one earlier in the game. And I don't think that was a no-brainer call before halftime just because the doomsday scenario happened. They botched the play so badly that the Patriots really should have gotten a field goal out of that, but Stephen Gostkowski missed from 53 yards out.
Marcus Mariota looks fine, but I just don't have any faith in the Titans making this one interesting in the second half. I know I said that a week ago, but that was Kansas City, which lost Travis Kelce. There's no answers from Dick Lebeau for Rob Gronkowski tonight, or the running backs for that matter.
Tom Gower: Halftime here at Gillette Stadium, and Tennessee followed 15 minutes of near-perfect game with 15 minutes of a lot closer to what I expected coming into this game. We've seen the Derrick Henry run-heavy game plan I expected coming in. He has 24 yards on 11 carries at halftime, with his lone successful carry for 4 yards on first-and-10. It's been "Marcus Mariota saves the Titans on first down or they have to punt." The touchdown featured a bit of a bust by New England to get them from backed up to midfield, then a couple third-down plays, a scramble and a good design to Rishard Matthews on a stacked route, and then a beautiful throw to Corey Davis for his first NFL touchdown. But they've been backed up the entire game, with their best starting field position the 25 after taking a touchback on one of New England's kickoffs, so they've had to repeatedly execute to get into scoring territory. Their possession at the end of the first half might have been the most exasperating. Starting with 1:52 and three timeouts, they used 1:27 and all three stoppages (the last with the clock stopped after a third down incompletion) to go 30 yards and not even get to field goal range. At least they went for it on fourth-and-1. But when they did, they took out passing game personnel and put in a run-heavy set. So even if they had gotten the first down, they would have had to line up quickly, spike the ball, and run another successful passing play to get into field goal range. Naturally, Henry did what he did to lose him carries in the regular season, run backwards when there wasn't a hole he liked, and lost yardage because of that. A golden opportunity to double-up before and after the half and cut into the 14-point deficit was squandered.
New England's offense ... the tempo stuff killed Tennessee. As soon as the Titans lined up, the Patriots snapped the ball, and Tennessee isn't good enough to just line up and play against the Patriots. They don't have the rush to get there without bringing extra people or guys from unexpected directions, or to stick with them in coverage. Dion Lewis in particular was problematic, and no surprise about that, as I've already noted, while Danny Amendola has moved the chains (low yards-per-catch, but still a key role). And Brady processes things so quickly, and he has so many options most of the time that it's hard to stick with them. The third touchdown, to Chris Hogan, appeared to be a curl-flat ready, like looking to Gronkowski on the flat as his primary read. Tennessee had that covered, but Brady had enough time to find Hogan coming across the back of the end zone from the other side of the field.
One macro-level point is that the first half looked like the Titans offense we saw in the regular season, without the same shotgun, pass-oriented, three-wide receiver looks we saw late in the regular season or against Kansas City. Rather, they went back to what their first instinct is, and with the same results that made Tennessee an average offense by DVOA even if you throw out Matt Cassel's six craptacular quarters. And they got seven points for their troubles even against a defense that isn't very good. And it's not like Mike Mularkey coached aggressively, not that I expected him to anyway, to make up for that expected low base execution level. C'est la vie, unless things really change in the second 30 minutes.
Vince Verhei: Holy crap, that instant replay of the Ricky Jean-Francois sack that included, as Tony Romo called it, "the cool play diagram," was amazing. Has CBS been doing that all year or is that new? I don't remember seeing that before.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know how often we've ever done a playoff game with a grand total of one Audibles email in the second half. That's how dominant this performance was by the Patriots. There is almost nothing to say. The Titans offense did nothing after that first touchdown until they were down 28 in the final minutes.
The one thought I have is that the Patriots really out-chessed the Titans here. Given the Titans' scheme and the quality of the New England run defense, it was blatantly obvious that the Titans should try to run the ball a ton. And so the Patriots packed the line of scrimmage to stop the run. They let Mariota throw in the first half as long as Derrick Henry could go nowhere. And Henry went nowhere.
Tom Gower: The Titans did try to run the ball, at least in the first half. They were 61 percent run on first and second downs before the two-minute warning. Henry just wasn't getting enough yards to get first downs or even to put them into third-and-short on a regular basis instead of third-and-medium. Then in the second half, they got behind the chains and down more and kept throwing. I don't know how you start consecutive possession with false starts down multiple scores in the second half, but Tennessee managed it.
By the commentary on Twitter, there seems to be a lot of blame for the officials. My general view is that officiating is officiating, a hard business that even experts aren't perfect at, and should be judged accordingly. You just hope they're internally inconsistent. The mechanics of the false start/neutral zone infraction were weird, but bad/weird mechanics does not make a call wrong. Maybe that's something I'd have a different view on if I were sitting at home and rewinding, but I'm here.
The things I want to take away are something I noted at halftime, that Tennessee, after a week of glory and light, did the same damn thing they'd been doing most of the year, and with the same damn results. Some credit to the Patriots defense for stopping Derrick Henry, not absolutely a given. On the other side of the ball, Tennessee had a serious defensive problem in terms of how to play, and, well, they did what they did, and none of it worked. Couldn't get pressure. Couldn't get coverage stops. There was some commentary on Twitter about how Brady's late deep throw to Brandin Cooks on third down, and how he hadn't been doing that all night. Well, he hadn't HAD to do that all night, because there was always somebody open that he could get the ball to before the Titans could bring pressure enough to force him to do anything. And it's not like Tennessee's defensive backs covered themselves in glory.
This is a group all season that has struggled to disrupt opposing players in the pass game. Sure enough, it took until the third quarter for them to be credited with a pass defensed, and their first two were a ball tipped at the line and lurking player rather than the defender in coverage. This is something Jon Robinson mentioned in the offseason as a priority for them and something he looked for in players he scouted. Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson are safe, and Tye Smith is young and cheap so he'll be around, but this is an area where he'll look for upgrades.
Then again, those are your two starting corners ,and your two starting safeties, Kevin Byard and Johnathan Cyprien, are pretty much locked in (Cyprien for contract reasons, Byard is good), so there's only so much you can do. Dick LeBeau is year-to-year at this point of his career, so I wonder about defensive coaching staff changes, at the coordinator level and below. I don't know if not contesting passes was a hallmark of LeBeau's late time in Pittsburgh, but it's something that was an issue in Tennessee and doesn't seem to have improved much. That's a bigger question for the Titans, though, and not something we'll solve in Audibles. For now, though, it's enough to note the hard-to-solve defensive problem came nowhere close to being solved tonight, and with that, the Titans' season is over.
Jacksonville Jaguars 45 at Pittsburgh Steelers 42
Charles McDonald: This has been a tremendous opening script by Jaguars offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. Play-action passes on a few first downs, attacked the middle of the Steelers defense with Leonard Fournette, and kept the reads simple for Blake Bortles. If Jacksonville is going to win this game, they needed to get out to a lead early. Now their defense gets to play with a lead, which is where they've thrived all season.
Bryan Knowles: And kudos to Doug Marrone for going for it on fourth-and-1 at the goal line; that's the proper strategy when you're the underdog and all that. Despite Jacksonville's fairly easy win over the Steelers back in October, most people I've heard and read haven't given them much of a chance to win this one -- it's the playoffs, the logic seems to go, it's time for the playoff-tested teams to stand out. And if they can't move the ball against the Bills, how are they going to do it against Pittsburgh? Well, that opening drive should help silence that somewhat. Game on.
Derrik Klassen: For Pittsburgh to come out with that conservative offensive script after getting gashed on Jacksonville's opening drive is peculiar. They wanted to finesse the Jags defense with quick screens, but that's not the formula. Pittsburgh ought to trust their offensive line on the ground next time around.
Dave Bernreuther: That was a 2015 Peyton Manning-strength throw on that out route by Big Ben, which meant it had no prayer for success. And one play later, these 2017 playoff refs are making Doug Marrone waste a challenge on the next play, which is an obvious touchdown run by Leonard Fournette.
Has Dan Fouts always been this ignorant of the rules? This replay follows his complete lack of awareness of Bortles' earlier shovel pass. It's not Phil Seeeeems territory, but it's not exactly a good look for CBS either.
Aaron Schatz: Great job by Myles Jack keeping his feet in-bounds on the interception. The league's most inconsistent team is on a high today.
Scott Kacsmar: I'll never understand why a quarterback forces a 50/50 ball short of the sticks on third down. At best you're going to punt. At worst you get intercepted. And now the Jaguars are up 14 and can attack. The problem with "just run the ball" is that sometimes it just doesn't work. We saw Derrick Henry get 12 carries last night and he didn't even break 30 yards. Today, two runs by Le'Veon Bell brought up third-and-long and you're forcing a throw.
Much better start to the next drive for Bell, but Steelers have a huge uphill battle here. Jaguars are showing up in every phase.
Vince Verhei: Dan Fouts took the words out of my mouth on the Steelers' fourth-and-1 play: why the hell do you not just sneak it with Ben Roethlisberger there? And if you're going to give it to a running back, why pitch it to a guy 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage when it's short yardage and you know the opposing defense is going to be crowding the line with guys looking to make a play for a loss?
T.J. Yeldon with the touchdown, as we all anticipated, and Jaguars go up 21-0. They have already run for seven first downs in just 15 carries. They're just plowing through Pittsburgh up front.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not calling it yet, because it's still the Steelers at home and it's the first half and comebacks happen and so on and so forth. But in the long history of Steelers playoff games, from Bradshaw and company through today, they've never overcome a 20-point deficit.
The silence at Heinz Field is incredible. The Jags are just methodically beating the Steelers and their fanbase into submission.
Dave Bernreuther: Antonio Brown is still good at football, so we're back within 14.
They'll still need to do something about stopping the Jags' running game, of course.
Zach Binney: Well, that's one way to slow down the Jags' run game. Fournette is on the sideline in a lot of pain with some kind of foot or ankle injury. Ouch.
Bryan Knowles: In case Fournette is out for the game, it's important to remember the Jaguars averaged over 150 yards a game on the ground even when Fournette was out. Admittedly, that was with Chris Ivory and not T.J. Yeldon, but not all the running success this year has been Fournette.
Zach Binney: Absolutely, 100 percent. My biggest worry with that is just losing a body in the running back rotation for later in the game, not Fournette specifically. But yeah, they've been perfectly successful before without Fournette.
Bryan Knowles: Oh Lord, another turnover, and the Jaguars take it to the house. Yannick Ngakoue, one of the relatively lesser-sung names on that Jaguars pass rush (possibly because his name is harder to spell), forces a fumble, and Telvin Smith scoops and scores. Pittsburgh needs a counter-punch, and they need it right now, before the half.
Aaron Schatz: And then Ngakoue strips Big Ben and Telvin Smith returns it for six and holy crap we're at 28-7 now. The worst possible situation against this Jacksonville defense is to feel like you are forced to throw.
Bryan Knowles: I was thinking that the Steelers should settle for a field goal attempt there; a long one, sure, but they're going to get the ball back to start the second half, and fourth-and-11 is a heck of an ask against this Jaguars defense. The confusion, and timeout they had to use to get everyone on the field, made me even more sure that going for it would be a mistake.
Uh, touchdown, Steelers, on a great throw. Martavis Bryant just outruns everyone and gets the score.
Vince Verhei: Their two touchdowns today have come on deep passes -- which makes you wonder why they have thrown so many screens. As if Jacksonville is known for failing to pursue and missing tackles on defense.
Blake Bortles started 3-of-3 for 53 yards. He is 4-of-11 for 30 yards since.
Bryan Knowles: Over/under on Bortles pass attempts in the second half? In Week 5, he attempted just one after halftime (an incomplete deep shot, down 7-9).
Scott Kacsmar: Definitely can get interesting with a double score, but feels like another turnover is just as likely with the way this one has gone. The Steelers aren't getting anything easy, and it's not always because of the defense. That decision to pitch to Bell on fourth-and-1 instead of the quarterback sneak looms large, and it's the kind of mind-numbing mistake that this team has had the whole time that Todd Haley has been the coordinator. If you don't see the value and urgency of the situation (down 14-0 in the playoffs) to risk your giant quarterback lunging forward for a first down, then you never will. I guarantee the Patriots would get an easy first down if facing that same situation, but the Steelers have to do things the hard way. I honestly can't believe they converted the fourth-and-11 after being so uncertain of what they were doing before it. Bryant even ran out onto the field with seconds left on the play clock before a timeout was called. Then he ended up outrunning the defense for a long score. Wild finish to the half. If they can take advantage of Fournette's absence and get Bortles to turn into Bortles when he's not using play-action, then we have a shot at a good finish here.
Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh gets the double score. It's now interesting. 28-21 Jacksonville. Telvin Smith had his hand right in there on the wheel route touchdown by Bell. That's the second touchdown today for the Steelers where the Jaguars couldn't possibly have covered better and Pittsburgh still scored. A.J. Bouye was right in there on the first Antonio Brown touchdown, which Brown caught one-handed while he fought off Bouye with the other hand.
Carl Yedor: Steelers take their opening drive of the second half all the way for a touchdown. The drive was aided by a pretty soft unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jalen Ramsey, but the score now stands at 28-21. The good news for Jacksonville is that Fournette is back out there on the field, and he looked plenty agile on his first carry of the half. Pittsburgh looks plenty capable of moving the ball, so the effectiveness of Jacksonville's running game will go a long way in deciding which of these two get the chance to face off with the Patriots next weekend.
Zach Binney: Quietly important play by Jags return man Dede Westbrook at about 2:15 left in the third. Westbrook tackled one of the Steelers' gunners who was about to catch and down a punt deep in Jacksonville territory. Instead the ball rolls into the end zone for a touchback. Ten or 15 extra yards of field position (I think) for the Jags' offense is not to be underestimated.
Bryan Knowles: Were quarterback sneaks made illegal last night and I missed it? Is Le'Veon Bell not allowed to run the ball generally forward? Does every X-and-1 play call from Pittsburgh have to be something overly cute?
Carl Yedor: Out of curiosity, does Pittsburgh have quarterback sneaks in their playbook at all? Scott's point from earlier suggests that they might not, and after that fourth down incompletion, Pittsburgh is now 0-for-2 on fourth downs with a yard to go.
Dave Bernreuther: The default seems to be to jump all over Todd Haley for that, but he designed a play that had two guys open for first downs; Ben chose Juju over Eli Rogers, and as Fouts illustrated, his jersey had been held, and as the camera from behind showed, it was actually a damn good throw. Against a defense that seemed pretty well keyed in on the handoff and possible sneak, I can't really find too much fault in that call after all.
Credit to Marrone (ugh) for not going full conservative like last game. It was easy to make the Bortles joke after the first deep ball missed badly, but they went right back to it, this time with success, and Fournette's third score puts the Jags in a great spot with 10 minutes left.
Vince Verhei: In his career, Roethelisberger has 54 runs with 1 yard to go, and he has picked up 45 first downs.
In the past five years, it's seven first downs in 10 runs.
Tom Gower: Ben might have audibled on one or both of those plays. I never quite trust the TV angle to tell me if sneaks are a good look. Jacksonville certainly had numbers in the box on the latest fourth-and-1, but I wasn't sure just how much of a real option a sneak would have been.
Bryan Knowles: I just checked. Roethlisberger has one rushing attempt this season on a third- or fourth-and-2 or less -- in the first quarter against Baltimore in Week 14 on a third-and-2. My Game Pass is borked at the moment, so I'm not sure it actually was a sneak.
Aaron Schatz: I checked the SIS data. It was a scramble. So Roethlisberger never had a quarterback sneak all year.
And I just checked the 2016 SIS data. Roethlisberger didn't run a single quarterback sneak last season either.
It looks like the last time Pittsburgh ran a sneak with Roethlisberger was Week 12 of 2015, when Roethlisberger did it twice on third-and-1 against Seattle. He succeeded both times. Those were his only sneaks in the past three seasons.
And holy crap, the Steelers just went for it on fourth-and-5 and they threw deep, and Antonio Brown caught ANOTHER touchdown pass with a defender practically in his lap. I've never seen this many touchdown catches with such tight coverage.
Carl Yedor: Maybe in the future if Pittsburgh has fourth-and-1 they should take a delay of game penalty to back themselves up because Roethlisberger just hit another fourth down deep shot for a touchdown, this time with 5 yards to go. Pittsburgh pulls to within one score with plenty of time to get the ball back and score again.
Bryan Knowles: It's also worth noting that Pittsburgh has been very, very predictable on those really short situational plays.
On December 10, the Steelers had Le'Veon Bell attempt to run in a two-point conversion, breaking one of my favorite weird streaks in football. Their previous 31 two-point conversion attempts had been passes. In fact, if you exclude wide receiver runs (end arounds and the like), it had been 35 consecutive two-point conversion attempts since they had given Mewelde Moore a couple of shots in Week 10 of 2010 (against New England, of course). The third- and fourth-and-short play calling for Pittsburgh has been weird for the entire decade.
So, of course, they go over the top and score a huge touchdown to keep them alive in this one.
Vince Verhei: Aaron's point about Pittsburgh receivers making ridiculous catches is a critical one. Jacksonville's defense is playing much better than the numbers today would indicate. The Steelers just have a half-dozen or so big plays on perfect throws and perfect catches.
Bryan Knowles: Are we sure that there's only one Blake Bortles? That this isn't some kind of Prestige-esque situation, where two identical twins take turns as Jacksonville's starting quarterback? Because the Blake Bortles we're seeing today is not the one we saw last week against Buffalo.
Andrew Potter: Oh, he really is. He was 9-of-21 earlier in this game. He missed Marqise Lee badly on a play-action crosser in the first half. He has forced several passes into coverage, both deep and short. He had that insane near-fumble incompletion where he flipped the ball to the feet of Leonard Fournette while almost being sacked. He just also sometimes has streaks where the game script enables favorable play calling, the reads come together for him, he locks his tongue perfectly in that left corner of his mouth, and the ball gets where it needs to get, when it needs to get there. Nathaniel Hackett has called a beautiful fourth quarter. That four-minute drive was executed superbly, and the touchdown to Tommy Bohanon had all the trimmings.
Vince Verhei: Surprised nobody has noted this (here or elsewhere), but the touchdown to Bohanon exploited the absence of Ryan Shazier.
Bryan Knowles: Crazy backwards lateral touchdown, and we have a one-score game, on THIS side of the two-minute warning. We have a very, very interesting decision on the ensuing kickoff.
Aaron Schatz: I gave a standing ovation in my living room. That was amazing improvisation by Big Ben, to know it was legal to throw to Bell past the line of scrimmage as long as he threw it backwards.
Vince Verhei: With two timeouts and the two-minute warning and Blake Bortles, the Steelers very obviously should have kicked deep. Instead they executed the worst onside kick I ever saw.
Aaron Schatz: Worse than this?
Vince Verhei: OK, that Boswell one was for sure worse execution. But when you consider that Pittsburgh's onside kick never should have even happened, I still say it's the worse play overall.
Bryan Knowles: Not taking the timeout before the two-minute warning seems like a blunder, as well. Tomlin and company have some serious explaining to do after this game, one way or another.
Zach Binney: If you told me before this game the Jags offense would score 35 points, I'd have been certain they won.
If you told me before this game the Jags defense would allow 35 points, I'd have been certain they lost.
Both have happened. What the heck IS this game?
Bryan Knowles: I get that the field goal essentially ended the game, but this has been a terrible drive by Pittsburgh. With 1:45 on the clock, needing two scores, you have to have a certain sense of urgency, and knowledge of the situation. You have to work the sidelines, get out of bounds.
Instead, they use all 105 seconds to score one touchdown. Congratulations! You only lose by three.
Scott Kacsmar: I'd sneak in a comment, but that's apparently not allowed in Pittsburgh.
Same old, same old. If it's not getting crushed in the same manner by the Patriots or someone like Aaron Rodgers, then it's getting outdone by a team with Tim Tebow or Blake Bortles at quarterback despite the offense's best rally efforts.
Dave Bernreuther: As the three contested touchdown catches showed pretty clearly, this team has a ton of talent. The hype was always real about that offense, the defense was better than advertised (though losing Shazier hurt, of course), and we'd have a hard time coming up with a team in the AFC with more talent, top to bottom.
And for that to be the case and to be as unprepared and commit all the mental errors they have, not just in this game ... that has to fall on the coaches at some point. They had three weeks to prepare for a home game against Blake Bortles and that happened. Those ridiculous plays made it close enough to be entertaining for all 60 minutes, but they trailed wire to wire, often by two scores, and needed a miracle that they never got. It has been over a decade of odd decisions, lack of situational awareness, poor clock management, and basically every other hallmark of terrible coaching, bailed out by the fact that they're a talented team with an accurate, Sasquatch-sized quarterback.
I don't have a better suggestion, but we all know damn well that Belichick isn't going to let that happen next week. And I fully admit to this statement being sour grapes, but fans of 30 other teams deserve better. Next week we'll be watching Brady and Belichick against Blake Freaking Bortles for a spot in the Super Bowl. What a joke.
I don't care if every word Seth Wickersham wrote is 100 percent true -- why would anyone in that power triangle in Foxboro ever consider changing it up? The gap between them and the rest of the AFC has never been greater.
Scott Kacsmar: I think I know my AFC all too well. From almost two months ago:
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 14, 2018
New Orleans Saints 24 at Minnesota Vikings 29
Dave Bernreuther: It has been 15 full games now, and I keep liking what I see out of Case Keenum. He's not going to carry a team, but he doesn't have to, and he hasn't really shown us a Bad Bortles-ish stretch of play this year. He starts things off here with a beautifully soft pass to his right to Jarius Wright, who was wide open, but still, a lot of quarterbacks don't have that kind of touch or accuracy. Jerick McKinnon's subsequent 14-yard score puts the Vikings out in front quickly, and we're already off to an interesting start here.
And with all that said, I'm still pessimistic for all the reasons that led me to rant in the Steelers game; as much as I like what I see, and trust the Vikings defense ... I still don't trust Keenum against Bill Belichick with two weeks to prepare. Sigh.
(Drew Brees, that run game, and Sean Payton, however ... Well, either way, I apologize to Eagles fans. I will not be rooting for your team next week.)
I liked the misdirection with the jet sweep to Ted Ginn, forcing Minnesota to respect that kind of thing and defend the whole field, but boy, Ginn got a little lucky. Everson Griffen was thiiiis close to getting to him in the backfield. That defense is just so solid everywhere, but so anonymous about it. I'm having a hard time thinking of any other team in my lifetime quite like these Vikings.
I don't know what Troy Aikman is talking about; Ken Crawley pretty clearly arm-barred Stefon Diggs and had a hold of his jersey. Still, it seemed to me like the reason Diggs fell was less the hand and more his own fault. Much worse went uncalled in Pittsburgh earlier today.
Mike Periera agrees with Aikman though, so that shows what I know.
No mention of the pushoff by Kyle Rudolph on the third-down fade attempt, which Keenum threw a bit too high, and the Vikings settle for the easy three. 10-0 is still a really nice start though after two drives per team.
Bryan Knowles: OK, Minnesota's defense is tremendous, we all knew that coming in. But there's "tremendous" and then there's "holding Drew Brees to 3 yards in the first quarter," which has happened precisely one time in his career as a starter.
Vince Verhei: There were eight third downs in the first quarter, three for New Orleans and five for Minnesota. the Vikings won six of those plays, including all three on defense. Most confusing there was the run on third-and-short -- the Saints were weak in short-yardage runs, the Vikings were strong, and you have Drew Brees.
Carl Yedor: Minnesota goes up 17-0 with 10 minutes left in the first half. Some of their offensive drives have been aided by penalty, but at the same time, the Saints haven't been able to get anything started offensively. There is still plenty of time, but the Saints need to put together some semblance of a drive here to give their defense a little help. At this point, Minnesota has run 29 plays to New Orleans's 12 (as of the most recent Minnesota touchdown), which could lead to some fatigue later on when New Orleans is looking for a big stop later in the game.
In the time it took me to type this up, New Orleans is already at the Minnesota 30. A touchdown here would go a long way toward making a New Orleans comeback attempt more doable.
Bryan Knowles: ... Except Griffin backhands a ball, deflected right to Anthony Barr. That was the Saints' best chance to do something, and they come up with zero. This 17-0 lead feels a lot safer than Jacksonville's 21-point lead from earlier in the day. I'm not sure why that is, other than residual "wait, Jacksonville?" syndrome.
Vince Verhei: The coolest "Next Gen Stats" output I've seen so far are these animated play diagrams. This is Keenum's scramble-completion to Diggs that set up the Murray touchdown:
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) January 14, 2018
So we see the Saints rushing three, which I could see on the TV broadcast, but we also see that Manti Te'o (51) was spying Keenum, and when Keenum scrambled to the sideline, Te'o abandoned the middle of the field to pursue him. This left space for Diggs to make a play.
Next drive, Keenum tries to scramble, and Te'o is there to chase him down again. It officially goes down as a zero-yard sack, and leads to a punt. But I'm not sure why the Saints are so concerned about Keenum as a runner.
Somebody pointed this out on Twitter, or something close to it: the Vikings don't actually make a lot of splash plays on defense. Tied for 13th in interceptions, tied for 17th in sacks, and they were 26th in stuff rate. They just take away your big plays, make you march the length of the field, and win almost every third down.
Dave Bernreuther: And as you type that, Harrison Smith (or as I like to call him, White Bob Sanders) makes a splash play to win a third down. Safety blitz through the weak side B-gap, completely unaccounted for and untouched, and Brees had no chance. The sack took the Saints out of reasonable field goal range, and Wil Lutz's 58-yarder missed badly. It'll take more than three points to make this a game, but boy was that a big sequence, as now the Vikings have a slight chance at points here, plus they'll take the kickoff to start the second half.
Vince Verhei: Heh. Funny you should mention that. Bomani Jones was just trying to determine on Twitter whether Smith was white or a very light-skinned black dude. Somebody found a picture from high school that shows him with stringy, light-brown hair that pretty much ended the discussion.
we ever get a verdict on Harrison Smith?
— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) January 14, 2018
Halftime third-down update: Saints offense has had four third-down plays, Vikings have had eight. Minnesota has won nine of those 12 plays, including all four on defense.
Carl Yedor: New Orleans is 0-for-4 on third downs, while Minnesota is 7-of-11 after that big sack by Sheldon Rankins to knock Minnesota out of field goal range. If you're looking for a simple explanation for what has happened in the first half and opening second-half drive, there it is. Not groundbreaking by any means, but it's just another example of how the Vikings have been great at winning on third down this season. Add it all up, and they've had 11-of-15 third downs go their way today, which is generally a recipe for success.
Dave Bernreuther: As rough a day as today has been for him, Drew Brees is still really good. That was a perfect throw to Michael Thomas for the score that finally puts them on the board. Officially, anyway. The Ginn score that wasn't was nice too, which reminds me that the one thing I've always found the most inexcusable are formation/motion penalties. The rules are kind of dumb and antiquated, but they're absolutely clear. And while false starts on the road make sense sometimes, there's never, EVER an excuse for lining up improperly. And what an absolute killer that was to take seven points off the board earlier in a game like this.
While I'm here, after agreeing with Scott earlier I want to sort of disagree with something I just saw him tweet:
Funny how Tomlin, Payton and McCarthy lose with such similar patterns. https://t.co/9z7c2w49xY
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 14, 2018
I'm quite possibly too focused on this particular game, but I don't think Payton fits quite the same pattern as the other two. While those two have habits of going conservative at odd times (McCarthy especially), coaching against their own strengths, looking strategically outmatched, and showing up unprepared ... I don't see the same from Payton. I've seen Payton steal games -- 2009 SB for instance -- with calculated aggression and clever planning. And in this game, at least, I don't see the Saints making mental errors (illegal shift excepted) or looking foolish. I see them just plain getting beat soundly by a team that's playing better.
Aaron Schatz: Saints pass pressure has really stepped it up in the second half, ending the last two Vikings drives -- first with a sack to knock the Vikings out of field goal range, then with the pressure that caused Keenum to chuck it up for grabs, where rookie Marcus Williams came down with the pick. We may have a game again, Saints marching down 17-7.
Beautiful play for Saints to make it 17-14, fake toss to Alvin Kamara on the 3 which had the entire Vikings defense going one way, then Michael Thomas snuck in behind and caught the touchdown pass in the middle of the end zone.
Vince Verhei: I would like to point out that New Orleans' first touchdown was set up by their first third-down conversions of the game, a Drew Brees sneak on third-and-1 and a 5-yard catch by Willie Snead, also on third-and-1. Case Keenum then plays like the Case Keenum we saw from 2012 to 2016 and throws up a dumb pass under pressure, resulting in an easy interception for Marcus Williams, and then another touchdown, this one by Michael Thomas. And suddenly we have a football game.
Andrew Potter: Of course, a major factor in that play was the absence of Xavier Rhodes after he was injured trying to shed a block at the goal line two plays prior. Rhodes has been out of the game for two plays: the first was a dive to Kamara, the second the touchdown to Thomas. This also came after Andrew Sendejo was knocked out cold by Thomas on a block during the previous drive. I think the one thing I dislike most about this sport is the massive influence in-game injuries have on the outcomes. I'm not sure there's another sport where injury has this big of an impact on wins and losses.
Bryan Knowles: Hrm hrm hrm. Sean Payton uses both challenges on one drive. The first was on a huge pass play down the sideline, which he had to hurry to throw. That was probably worth it, even though the play stood, because an overturn would have been huge. The second, however, is on a sack/non-sack that would make a field goal attempt a 56-yarder rather than a 48-yarder. That's not nothing, but it didn't look like a sack to me, and it feels like wishful thinking. And now he'll be out of challenges, either way...
Aaron Schatz: Terrible decision by Sean Payton to challenge that throwaway by Case Keenum is a sack that would create a longer field goal. They're going to lose their second challenge, which takes them out of challenges for the last eight minutes of the game. The first challenge, of a sideline catch by Jarius Wright, wasn't very good either. Whoever is upstairs telling Payton to challenge plays is not doing a good job.
Vince Verhei: Bryan, a challenge is only "worth it" if it wins, or it's a big play at the end of the game and you might as well challenge it because you're done for if the play stands. That was a big gain, but only to the edge of field goal range, and it wasn't even third down! If the Saints had won that challenge, the Vikings might have converted the third down anyway. That's two timeouts wasted for no reason, when you're down (now by six points) in the fourth quarter. He actively hurt his team's chances for winning, for no reason other than "I dunno, let's see what happens."
Tom Gower: Payton's ludicrous wish challenge of the Keenum sack would make a lot more sense had it been his first challenge of the game, not his last after I like to think the Vikings suckered him into using his first challenge by rushing to the line.
Vince Verhei: Third-and-1, we get Willie Snead passing to Alvin Kamara. And it's schemed great, because Kamara is wide open on the play, but the flaw in the plan is that Willie Snead is not Drew Brees. I dunno, I'd rather have the Hall of Fame passer throwing balls on third down, but I'm weird that way.
This has not been Sean Payton's best day.
Dave Bernreuther: All I can think of is that Payton thought that by challenging that non-sack, he might get them to retroactively call Keenum for grounding. Otherwise that was completely indefensible. And that after I defended Payton for not doing McCarthy/Tomlin-like things. Blowing two challenges and two timeouts when down six in the fourth is incredibly McCarthy-like. If he decides to kick on fourth-and-2 next I'm going to shoot myself in the face. I feel like literally any time I've said anything, either positive or negative, in these playoffs, I have immediately jinxed or reverse jinxed the subject of my email.
I'm with Vince on the wide receiver pass. Decent design, decent throw that may have been caught by a wide receiver with more diving-for-receptions experience ... still, I bet they could also have gotten a guy that open on a regular passing play and an accurate pass by the guy who just set the completion percentage record.
Andrew Potter: The last time they called that play, Tim Hightower was the back and Payton was grinding Gregg Williams' face into the dirt. It's not what I expected to see them call on a crucial third down in a playoff game. Of course, that may be exactly why they called it.
Vince Verhei: Meanwhile, Pat Shurmur draws up a third-down crosser to Stefon Diggs where he gets not just one pick from the slot receiver on that side running a hitch, but then a second pick when the wideout from the other side runs a shallow cross underneath Diggs, and it's a first down and a gain of 22. That was sweet.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, Aikman and Buck really wanted to give Taysom Hill credit for that punt block. You could hear their voices drop some when it turns out it was "just" a huge punt block by a defensive lineman.
Oh, and now the Saints are driving. Think we'll see anyone not named Brees throw another pass this drive?
Aaron Schatz: Nope, touchdown Alvin Kamara. 21-20. Comebacks happen. We have to stop writing games off in the first half or even the third quarter.
Aaron Schatz: That was the pass pressure that made for such an awful throw. So much more Saints pass pressure in the second half, without much blitzing, just four guys getting to Keenum over and over. But they can't get to Thielen too.
Dave Bernreuther: Classic example of bad process, great result. That decision and off-balance throw deserved to be picked. Instead, they're one play from a reasonable field goal.
I wonder if Sean Payton would like to have two extra timeouts right now with 1:44 left and two plays from a possible 2-point deficit...
Vince Verhei: But after the big catch, they go incomplete, short pass out of bounds, incomplete, long field goal. Bully for Kai Forbath for hitting the 50-some-yarder, but how do you get three plays there and not at least make the Saints use their last timeout? Brees now has 1:29 to go, with a timeout, and only needs one field goal to beat you. I don't care how good your defense is, I'd be terrified.
Dave Bernreuther: Yup. It's nice for the Vikings to finally have a kick go their way, but with 1:29 left and Brees at the helm, the Saints don't actually need those two timeouts. (Not that they wouldn't be nice to have, of course...)
The other reason I like Payton over most/McCarthy/Tomlin is that he's not the type to just assume that "field goal range" means "sure thing." Even indoors. And that makes this final minute the best possible television. An aggressive coach playing to win, an all-time great quarterback, and a spectacular defense, with the season on the line. This more than makes up for everything else that has bothered me about the playoffs this year.
Andrew Potter: It is so, so difficult to keep a top passer from gaining 10 yards on four straight attempts, even for a defense of this caliber. Xavier Rhodes blankets Michael Thomas on three straight plays, but on fourth down Willie Snead gets open on the left sideline for the critical conversion. Three plays for 9 yards later, Minnesota's playoff fate yet again comes down to a field goal. This time, however, it's a field goal for the other team.
Bryan Knowles: You can't give Case Keenum that much time!
On a third-and-for-all-intents-the-game, he finds Stefon Diggs, Marcus Williams misses a tackle, and the Vikings win the game! Holy cow!
Andrew Potter: Third-and-ballgame, Marcus Williams in deep half coverage. Case Keenum finds Stefon Diggs on a jump ball down the right sideline. Diggs is content to catch the ball and run out of bounds to set up a long Kai Forbath field goal. All Williams has to do is wrap him up and try to hold him inbounds. Instead, he dives at Diggs' legs, completely whiffs and allows Diggs to run down the sideline 61 yards for the Minnesota Miracle win.
I don't have the faintest clue how to process that (ultimately deserved) Saints loss.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh wow. They circled the two Saints defenders after the failed pass (which Keenum was foolish to throw and lucky wasn't caught), and I said that a corner route thrown well was still open. The Vikings immediately went to it, and an underthrown pass actually worked to their benefit, avoiding the safety. A missed desperation lunge by Marcus Williams meant that we don't even have to bear the drama of a field goal attempt, because Diggs took it in. Wow. What a finish.
Aaron Schatz: I'm with Troy Aikman. I can't figure out what Marcus Williams was doing. The win expectancy turnaround on that play ... I wonder if it comes out higher than the Immaculate Interception in Super Bowl XLIX.
Vince Verhei: "Desperation lunge?" That was a tackle waiting to happen. A junior college safety makes the tackle there and the Vikings have to panic to try to spike it. I could have made that tackle. YOU could have made that tackle. Williams comes in and Diggs is in the air and all Williams has to do is grab him IN THE AIR and drop him to the turf ... and Williams lowers his head and shoulder and never even TOUCHES Diggs. And, well, that's that.
You know ... that position is called "safety" for a reason
— marc tracy (@marcatracy) January 15, 2018
Andrew Potter: 1985 Bears veteran Shaun Gayle is in the UK Sky Sports studio, and can barely speak while analyzing Williams' tackle attempt. He's apoplectic.
Tom Gower: Um. Wow. Uh. Wow. Yeah, wow. Going to be a long time before I forget that play by Keenum. By Diggs. By Marcus Williams. Oh, poor Marcus Williams. Oh no. Crazy ending. Insane ending. Great awareness by Diggs not to just step out, like I thought he would and could have and should have if there was another defender who could have been in position to make a play.
Aaron Schatz: That game is going on the all-time craziest endings list now with the Music City Miracle and the River City Relay and the Immaculate Interception and all the other crazy insane endings.