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).
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Tennessee Titans 22 at Kansas City Chiefs 21
Tom Gower: First time since I've been on staff the Titans are playing a postseason game. First time in precisely 10 years I've been at home for a Titans playoff game, since the loss to San Diego in 2007 (I made the trek to Nashville for "delay of game, what's a delay of game?" game).
Rivers McCown: Kind of a surreal TV moment to have Jon Gruden congratulated for joining the Raiders and respond that nothing is official yet.
To take another ESPN thing: C'mon, man.
Bryan Knowles: That HAD to be awkward in meetings, especially with the Chiefs. I wouldn't want to tell him anything if I were Andy Reid!
Andrew Potter: I have to believe that enough changes from one season to the next that it wouldn't be a problem. It's not like the Chiefs have never been on Monday Night Football.
Derrik Klassen: Feels early on like Kansas City's star power can and will take over. Justin Houston has already gotten to Marcus Mariota, and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce ripped off back-to-back receptions to get the Chiefs inside the 5-yard line. Hill did have a couple drops to open the game, but that is uncharacteristic of him and should not continue.
Tom Gower: Titans have been matching Adoree Jackson up on Tyreek Hill for most of the first two drives, which is a fun speed-on-speed matchup. Looked like Jackson got a little lost in coverage on the big Hill reception, though.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm not entirely sure what Gruden was babbling about after the Kareem Hunt touchdown (I suppose this is true most of the time too...) praising the unique Chiefs offense when what happened was about as standard a run play as could be. Nobody pulled, no misdirection, nothing clever, just a run up the gut, where Avery Williamson, the linebacker, was unblocked and properly filled his gap... only to be blasted backward at the point of contact by Kareem Hunt. Nothing exotic or unique about that at all; Hunt just won.
I believe it was just last week that someone here pointed out how historically poor a job Jeff Triplette has done keeping control of a game. Naturally, he has a playoff game, and in the span of four plays just now has called two personal fouls for unnecessary roughness. I don't know if this is a sign he's going to do a better job or a sign that he's on track for yet another donnybrook (or brouhaha, if you prefer). We'll see.
Tyreek Hill looked to be completely covered by Adoree Jackson on a 26-yard completion from Alex Smith; caught a well-thrown ball anyway and just accelerated upfield. That makes Jackson 0-for-2 so far, but it's a little hard to fault him for either of them. The first big Hill play was on a drag route where he kind of snuck through, and it wasn't clear if Jackson was supposed to follow him or not, and the second one wasn't poor coverage at all.
As I type that, Jackson is flagged for hands to the face on a play in which I was certain Travis Kelce was interfered with on what could easily have been a touchdown pass. Tennessee got lucky to only get dinged for 5 yards instead of a spot foul there. Not that it mattered, of course, as Kelce was wide open up the seam for a touchdown two plays later. This one already feels over and it's still the first quarter, given that the Chiefs now have two more touchdowns than the Titans have first downs.
Scott Kacsmar: Brutal drop by Eric Decker on a third down. The ball couldn't have been thrown better. The drive was fortunate to get to that point after a Derrick Henry fumble was knocked out of bounds. We're that close to a huge early deficit here. Then again, 14-0 is a huge deficit for this Tennessee offense.
Rivers McCown: I will buy low on all your Marcus Mariota stock because I just think he's playing hurt. But ye gods he has not looked good for the first 22 minutes of this game. The miss on Corey Davis on the first drive was the most egregious.
Replay shows that Peters was actually covering Corey Davis, who did a crap job of clearing out space for Walker to run a corner underneath him. Peters just peeled off Davis and jumped in front of Walker.
Vince Verhei: That was, as Gruden pointed out, brutally bad play design by Tennessee. You had Walker on the cross, the outside receiver on the fly, and the slot guy on the curl -- that's three receivers all bunched up in the same area, and in the end zone so the fly route didn't even have space to clear his man deep.
Both teams have used a lot of three-man rushes, and that has led to a lot of wide open receivers. The Chiefs are just lucky that Decker had that bad drop.
Kansas City's offense is so good most of the time but looks so bad in long yardage. Just a series of failed screen plays. That seems unusual for a team that's good at passing overall. Just for fun, here's a look at the top ten overall pass offenses this season, and where they rank in third-and-long offense:
- 1. NE, 6th
- 2. LACH, 2nd
- 3. MIN, 24th
- 4. PIT, 17th
- 5. PHI, 1st
- 6. NO, 11th
- 7. LARM, 8th
- 8. KC, 10th
- 9. TB, 14th
- 10. ATL, 23rd
So my impression was wrong -- they've been good in third-and-long situations. Might be a different if we went to very long yardage, 15 yards to go or so, but maybe not.
Andrew Potter: Jeff Triplette's presence in the NFL playoffs is an affront to the sport. Marcus Mariota is sacked on a blitz by Derrick Johnson, and clearly fumbles. Justin Houston scoops it up and heads for the Titans end zone, but the play is blown dead. No problem, we think, Chiefs will get the ball after a review -- except the call on the field was not that Mariota was down before fumbling, it was forward progress, which cannot be challenged. I can think of no excuse whatsoever for that play to be called that way. So for the second time, the Titans keep the ball after a fumble, and this time it directly results in three points. It's a very good job this game isn't tight, because that's the type of inexcusable officiating screwup that costs teams games.
Vince Verhei: Here is the play that was ruled stopped due to forward progress. This is an insane ruling.
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 6, 2018
Carl Yedor: Touchdown Kansas City right at the end of the half. For a second there, it looked like the Chiefs were going to botch the clock management there, as Demarcus Robinson did not run out of bounds after a 15-yard gain and Kansas City did not use their final timeout. However, the Chiefs punched it in on the next play, resulting in what could be a back-breaking score right before the half. Had Kansas City not scored on that subsequent play (also a pass to Robinson), they likely would have ended up kicking a field goal instead of getting another shot at the end zone.
Bryan Knowles: Tennessee with some absolutely terrible defensive work on this one-minute drill. The holding penalty was another "ehhhhh" penalty by our crack referee team, but Tye Smith (I think it was Smith, at any rate) playing 10 yards off of Demarcus Robinson to allow an easy 15-yard gain was indefensible, and then the entire right side of the defense got snookered by a play fake. We're at 21-3 at the half, and I don't think the Titans can physically score 18 more points today, much less stop the Chiefs from adding any of their own.
We haven't had a good opening wild-card game since 2013. 2016 saw the Connor Cook game. 2015 had Brian Hoyer getting blown out 30-0 against the Chiefs. 2014 had Ryan Lindley, NFL quarterback. 2013 was the Colts' incredible comeback from a 38-10 deficit to beat the Chiefs 45-44. I don't think we'll see Marcus Mariota pull the Andrew Luck and match that tonight.
Tom Gower: Chiefs up 21-3 at the half. Tyreek Hill dropping a pass 30 yards downfield to start the game felt like a good omen for the Titans defense, but no, we got to see them look like they normally did the rest of the half. Adoree Jackson was kind of in place against Tyreek Hill most of the time, but making a play was a different question. Johnathan Cyprien looked like Johnathan Cyprien in coverage. He played a key role in the first touchdown, missing a tackle to limit Tyreek Hill's 45-yard catch-and-run, and was part of Travis Kelce's 27-yard catch to set up the short run. Second touchdown, he was the single high safety as the Chiefs hit Travis Kelce on the seam route with Avery Williamson in man coverage.
Which is another exasperating aspect of this team; their good plays against tight ends were with the safeties, whether Cyprien (yes) or Kevin Byard (who didn't cover himself in glory right before the half), while the linebackers didn't fare much better against the tight ends than they did in contributing to the 32nd-ranked receiving back pass coverage.
The Titans' offense was, once again, exasperating, a mix of plays that didn't work and some good work. I'm pretty sure they ranked last in percentage of runs from shotgun last year and were at/near the bottom of the league this year, so it was nice to see them not only in the gun but actually spreading the field and running the ball. But then you get nonsense like the interception, an ugly pass into a failed route design/execution. This offense just can't stay out of its own way.
Thanks to Jeff Triplette for confirming everything everybody has said about him for years with his game management of that first 30 minutes.
Oh, in a different game, I'd talk about the concussion to Travis Kelce and how that might affect the second half. But as Williamson on him on the touchdown showed, the Titans haven't been matching up to him in the same way they tried to get Jackson on Hill, and the Titans need to score at least 18 points of their own for it to really matter. I'll revisit it if it proves relevant.
Vince Verhei: Thirty-three plays for Kansas City in the first half. Twenty-six were passes/sacks/scrambles by Alex Smith. Only six runs for Kareem Hunt and one for Tyreek Hill, and even that was a backwards pass. That will likely change in the second half, but the Chiefs haven't given a damn about establishing the run today.
Aaron Schatz: Not only that, but Tennessee HAS established the run against the No. 32 run defense by DVOA. Ten carries for 42 yards by Derrick Henry in the first half. Actually 45, because he officially lost three when the fumble went backwards 3 yards. Ten yards on his first two carries of the third quarter. Does it matter? Nope!
Scott Kacsmar: The end of that first half didn't sit well with me. First, the ridiculous forward progress ruling on one of the most bone-crunching sacks I've seen in a while. That's an absurd call. Then there was the Kelce fumble/non-fumble on the play he was concussed on. Does his hand covering the ball on the ground count as a recovery to blow the play dead? Either way, I'm glad nothing came of that, because it doesn't feel right to reward a team for delivering a hit to the head that produces a concussion. Let's hope Kelce is able to play next week, and there should be a next week with this 21-3 lead. Imagine that, we're a touchdown away from back-to-back playoff games featuring a 28-3 lead. Somehow I doubt I'll need to write about a comeback here.
Dave Bernreuther: More Triplette hijinks: After a run by Henry clearly gains the first down past the Tennessee 40, the ball is spotted, somehow, way back at the 38. That Mike Mularkey had to waste a challenge on that is appalling.
And for all the talk of the obvious Mariota fumble that was missed, the hit that took Kelce out of the game very clearly also knocked the ball free, and while Kelce did think to grab for it, it was a Titan who plainly scooped it with two hands. No call, no review.
Aaron Schatz: I thought that Marcus Mariota touchdown throw to himself was an illegal forward pass, but apparently they reviewed it and he didn't cross the line. So we sort of have a ballgame again, 21-10.
WELL THATS A NEW ONE pic.twitter.com/v0jlTNrCpd
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 6, 2018
Bryan Knowles: Well, when your receivers can't catch, throw the ball to yourself. Mariota to Mariota, 6-yard touchdown pass, bouncing the ball off of Revis Island. I mean, that's not exactly how you draw that up, but that was fairly awesome.
That's exactly what Tennessee needed to start this half -- a long drive, chewing up half the quarter, where they actually managed to move the ball with a degree of regularity. Maybe there's a spark of life there, after all...
Dave Bernreuther: Two things about the Tennessee red zone sequence interested me. The first, Mariota's touchdown pass/catch, well, that'll be covered.
One play earlier, on the one that'll go down in the books as a Justin Houston sack from Mariota running out of bounds an inch behind the line, Derrick Henry failed to impress me. On the snap, he stepped up into the A-gap to pick up a blitz. None came, though, and then his center backed into him, so, with the mobile quarterback leaving the pocket to look for a chance to throw to the end zone, Henry ... put his arms down and gave up and stood there.
That wasn't especially helpful.
Also, Triplette announced that the Mariota play was acceptable because he had lined up in shotgun and was thus an eligible receiver. I never knew there was a distinction.
Andrew Potter: Even in making the right call, Triplette screwed it up. He announced that Mariota could catch the ball because he was lined up in shotgun, but that's irrelevant because the ball was touched by an opponent. How does a professional game official make these constant rulebook errors?
It does not matter that Mariota was in shotgun. The pass was touched by the defender which makes everyone eligible. He could have started under center.
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) January 6, 2018
Aaron Schatz: Wait. Does that mean that if line up in shotgun, you could literally toss the ball over an opponent and catch it yourself, without it being touched by a defender? I mean, I don't know why you would want to do this, but...
Bryan Knowles: You sure can, assuming you're playing in a Saturday morning cartoon or a heartwarming family film about a group of ragtag kids learning to come together through the game of football.
Well, then. We buried the Titans too early! A 35-yard run by Derrick Henry means we have a one score game here in the fourth quarter. A ... uh, let's be generous and say "unusual" attempt at a wide receiver screen fails on the two-point conversion, though, and it's still a 5-point deficit.
We were saying something about Kansas City's 32nd-ranked rushing defense?
Aaron Schatz: It's the NFL. We all jump to conclusions too fast when a team takes a big first-half lead. We forget how frequently teams come back these days.
That Derrick Henry run was some bad defense but also was set from the very start because the Chiefs were trying to rush the passer with an overload by having three guys on one side, one guy on the other. Just send the running back up in the direction where there's only one guy, and the blocking's going to be a lot easier. Henry broke a couple tackles to finish it off.
Third-and-2 trying to ice a small lead, you have no choice but to throw to Orson Charles, kids. You gotta design the play for him.
Tom Gower: At 21-16 with 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter and Kansas City now facing a third-and-2, Derrick Henry has 17 carries. By my count, 13 of them are from shotgun. He had 27 carries from shotgun in the regular season. The Titans have finally discovered what every other team in the NFL knows, that you can spread the field and have success running the ball into beneficial numbers. Useful that they discovered it now, yes; exasperating that they've spent two years not knowing it. But I sound like a broken record. Orson Charles drop. That's a Kelce play. In-game injuries matter a lot.
Rivers McCown: Going down big early might have been the best thing that could have happened to the Titans, in retrospect. The Chiefs have no idea how to manage a lead and the Titans seem to get much more effective when they're out of exotic smashmouth and running a normal spread catch-up offense.
Aaron Schatz: And the Titans just took the lead with a 22-yard pass on a skinny post to Eric Decker. There were a couple of weird run-pass options on that drive (The screen to Eric Decker with just one blocking wide receiver? No thanks.) but the Titans are ripping off big chunks with Henry runs and passes to both tight ends.
Now the Chiefs need to try to come back without Travis Kelce and apparently without running Kareem Hunt since they seem to have forgotten about the concept. At least they only need a field goal for the lead, since Tennessee missed another two-point conversion and it's now 22-21.
Bryan Knowles: Alright, so officially scrub that "no exciting first wild-card games since 2013" thing. This isn't going to go down as an all-time classic or anything, but full credit to the Titans for taking the lead. I did NOT think they had it in them at all after that first half, but as Rivers pointed out, the Titans are much better when they're not trying to play like ... well, the Titans. Does Mariota really have the most fourth-quarter comebacks this season? Makes sense, I suppose.
Now, we're going to hear about the two-point conversion strategy. I'm fairly sure going for the first one made sense at the time, but now that they've missed two, they're only up by one rather than three. That could come into play. But I do think the choices were right, and there are plenty of other strategic question marks to point at before going there.
So far the game has been kind of Kansas City's entire season in microcosm: a world-beating start, a miserable middle. Now, will they bounce back for a competent ending?
Tom Gower: No issue with going for two the first time. Going for two the second time up one was unquestionably the right call. With two-point conversion rates where they are (47 percent?), you expect to hit one of those. Just didn't that time. You pays your money and you takes your chances.
Derrik Klassen: Those last two plays (before the second extra point) are an embodiment of the Chiefs' defense this season. First, a safety and a cornerback appeared to miscommunicate their coverage responsibilities, leaving a receiver free down the sideline. Mariota missed the throw, but it was a free touchdown. On the next play, two defenders get split down the seam and Mariota make a good throw, surrendering the Chiefs' lead.
Rivers McCown: Titans take a 22-21 lead after Mariota misses an open Corey Davis to his right, but hits Decker on a cross in the end zone. Jeff Triplette blows the two-point conversion dead because he's Jeff Triplette, preventing the Chiefs from having a chance to return it to the other end zone when it looked like Mariota was about to fumble.
Aaron Schatz: Blowing that two-point conversion dead for forward progress made a lot more sense that the earlier forward progress call. Mariota had been pushed back 10 or 15 yards.
Dave Bernreuther: I thought both two-point conversion attempts were no-brainers. The execution of each, however, left a lot to be desired. Gruden mentioned that they hadn't run one all season. They looked like they hadn't practiced one either.
The Titans are winning in the fourth quarter now, just like I predicted. I don't know if I can live in a world where Mike Mularkey has won a playoff game. And I don't think anyone other than Patriots fans has much of an interest in seeing the Titans go to New England next week. But now, improbably, there's a very good chance we could see both of these things, as Alex Smith decided to pull it down and run straight into some defenders on third-and-9 just outside of field goal range. With the clock ticking close to the two-minute warning, the Chiefs are ... going for it? From the 44?
Well, well. That is very, VERY interesting. And a damn ballsy call too, on a deep pass to Albert Wilson. With a safety present, that wasn't a high-percentage play, but it could've been caught if Smith had been perfect. It sailed juuuuust a bit on him, though, and now the Chiefs are in serious trouble.
Bryan Knowles: It seemed like the ball was snapped too early on that fourth-down play -- or, at least, that not everyone on Kansas City knew what was going on. Not exactly the execution I would have looked for on fourth-and-season.
I think I just had multiple heart attacks there. Running out the clock, Derrick Henry gets clobbered. It's ruled a fumble and returned for a score, but we're in replay review, and it looks like it was down.
That was ... I mean, wow. If that had stood, that would have been one of the most remarkable plays ever, there.
Dave Bernreuther: I think it's pretty clear that Henry was down before that ball started coming out, but either way, that was one great run blitz call by Bob Sutton to send Peters there.
Aaron Schatz: Derrick Henry's butt wins Most Valuable Butt.
Bryan Knowles: The last Chiefs quarterback to win a playoff game at home was Joe Montana. I think that says everything you need to know about the Chiefs' playoff struggles and their long-term failures to develop a quarterback in-house.
Vince Verhei: So, to recap: the Titans won a playoff game because Marcus Mariota caught a touchdown pass to start the comeback, then threw the key block on the game-clinching run.
Dave Bernreuther: OK I love making fun of Mularkey and his offense. And I am among those with no interest in seeing him become Belichick fodder next week.
But when your quarterback throws that block on a running play to ice a game, I will be the first to praise the EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH.
Scott Kacsmar: I haven't had dinner yet, but I guess I'll just be eating crow after one of the biggest road comebacks in playoff history. That is just absolutely devastating if you're a Chiefs fan.
Bryan Knowles: Alex Smith, Arizona Cardinal? It's more likely than you think.
I have no idea how the Chiefs seemed to forget about ... well, all their playmakers. How does Kareem Hunt get 11 carries in a game where you're trying to run out the clock for essentially the entire second half? Especially with Kelce out; wouldn't you think you lean on your star rookie and keep the clock going? Some serious questions to ask Reid and Matt Nagy in the aftermath of this one, and no easy answers.
Tom Gower: Pretty sure Kansas City was 50 percent run on first and second downs in the second half until Titans took the lead. That's perfectly reasonable. They just failed on third-and-short when they got there, while the Titans converted third-and-long (and -short and -medium).
Vince Verhei: It was just an ass-kicking in the second half. Tennessee's touchdown drives went 91, 62, and 80 yards. Kansas City, if I'm doing the math right, had 50 yards of total offense after halftime. The Titans blew Chiefs out of the water in the last 30 minutes. Play-calling may not have helped, but the real issue is that the players failed to do their jobs over and over and over again.
One last note on the Kansas City play-calling today: Kareem Hunt finished with 11 runs, and six of those runs gained 1 yard or less. One of those was a touchdown, but still, the Chiefs might have run more if it had been more effective.
Atlanta Falcons 26 at Los Angeles Rams 13
Bryan Knowles: Weird, weird special teams breakdown for the Rams and (deserving!) All-Pro returner Pharoh Cooper. At first, I thought it bounced and hit Cooper on a fair catch, but it was instead one of the coverage guy's feet it bounced off, rolling 15 yards downfield, Falcons ball.
The Rams should have a huge special teams advantage in this one, but the first major blow goes to Atlanta, there.
One of the big points in our NFC wild card preview was that the Falcons struggle getting off the field, recording very few three-and-outs and having one of the worst DVOAs on third down. So, naturally, they start with a pair of three-and-outs, thanks to heavy pressure by Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley. Rams have been providing equal pressure but, hey, special teams counts.
Derrik Klassen: "Falcons vs. Rams Decided By Special Teams" was not the scenario I was prepared for.
Vince Verhei: I might have been, but in favor of the Rams, not Atlanta.
Aaron Schatz: Not if the scenario was "Pharoh Cooper, the best returner in the league this season, turns into Kyle Williams."
Bryan Knowles: A second fumble on a return, and special teams (and Cooper, specifically) are letting the Rams down tremendously.
Again, the Rams were second in special teams DVOA. They had the second-highest kick return score and the sixth-highest punt return score. The Falcons were in the negatives on both kickoffs and punts. This is not something that should be happening.
Rams defense has limited the damage so far, but, wow.
Scott Kacsmar: Yeah, you could have sold me on special teams winning this game for the Rams, but not the other way around. Weird day so far. Probably to expected when the home teams were all favored so much in what has been a weak season with some weird teams getting in the playoffs.
Bryan Knowles: This is basically exactly what Atlanta needed to have a great shot at winning this one. The Rams' defensive DVOA drops from fifth when leading to 28th when tied/trailing by one score, in part because of their relatively poor run defense. I didn't think the Falcons would be able to jump to a lead this early, but you couldn't really write a better situation for them here. Just stunned by the way this game has started.
Scott Kacsmar: This should be interesting since the Rams are a team that traditionally doesn't come back, and the Falcons have had a hell of a time holding leads, especially in the playoffs.
Aaron Schatz: What on earth is wrong with the turf in Los Angeles? Everyone is slipping on the field or as they go out of bounds.
Rams defense has been fantastic all game, stuck defending short fields because of the problems on offense and special teams. Finally got some help, as the Rams march the ball down the field, touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp. Todd Gurley looked like he got going on that drive as well.
Vince Verhei: I really, really want to go back and diagram that Kupp touchdown. Trips to that side, Kupp ran a wheel from the inner slot, second slot guy runs a slant/pick, outside receiver ran ... a post I think? Seemed like something that would have been a killer in Madden.
I don't have the energy to recap the follies at the end of the half, but the Rams were really, REALLY trying to not score in the red zone, but the refs just wouldn't let them, and they kick a field goal to make it 13-10 Atlanta at halftime.
Bryan Knowles: Credit the Rams for not calling the draw and getting off the field, and getting into position to GET that field goal, but they dodged a couple bullets there at the end. Whenever you're rooting for your own completion to be overturned, something has gone wrong.
Jared Goff threw a couple dimes there at the end, including that touchdown pass to Kupp and the bomb to Robert Woods to get them into field goal range to begin with. The better talent around him, better play design and easier reads have done a lot of good for him, but the Jared Goff of last season wouldn't have been able to hit those passes.
13-10 at the half, and we have a good one here.
Charles McDonald: Unexpectedly, the defenses dominated the first half of the game. Aaron Donald had a dominant first half and the Rams secondary had an answer for just about every concept Steve Sarkisian threw at them (outside of long gain to Julio Jones). The Falcons defense came to play for the vast majority of the first half. They did a good job of limiting Todd Gurley outside of a long run towards the end of the half. Let's see if the offenses can pick up the pace in the second half.
Scott Kacsmar: From a pure viewing perspective, that was another pretty bad ending to a first half today. Just too long on the reviews of these catches. Also, it's funny that in a league where coaches and players are replaced all the time, the referees seem to hang on forever. Guys like Jeff Triplette, Ed Hochuli, and Walt Coleman have been at this for years, and it doesn't seem like there's ever any real penalty for a dismal performance from them. I probably like Hochuli more than most, because I think his detailed explanations have a purpose at times. But we had Triplette in the first game and he was lousy. These are the playoffs. They should be able to find better officials for these games than that.
Vince Verhei: I think the all-star format they use for officials is part of the problem. It's not just Hochuli, it's Hochuli and a bunch of guys he hasn't worked with all year. (And for the record, I am generally pro-Hochuli too.)
Tom Gower: Thirty minutes of football was played on my television. I'm still too preoccupied with the last game to tell you anything interestingly non-obvious about a single thing that happened in it.
Aaron Schatz: The Falcons have clearly figured out by the third quarter that the Rams struggle to stop the run. They're running a lot and getting nice chunks of yardage.
Vince Verhei: One thing the Falcons learned from the Super Bowl: they are letting that clock run. Five seconds or less on the play clock when the snap it. Part of the reason they've been on the field for most of the third quarter. That, and they keep getting first downs.
Scott Kacsmar: Running the give-up draw on third-and-14 with your backup runner is a curious call to say the least for the Rams. I guess the thought is maybe Goff is more likely to throw an incompletion in that situation, so McVay wants to get his struggling kicker the easiest shot possible at a kick he needs anyway in a 19-10 game? Would look a lot worse if this was 19-13.
Bryan Knowles: Not going for it on the fourth-and-short that ensued also is questionable, especially in retrospect. Now, they basically can't afford to let the Falcons get the ball back for the rest of the game (barring a super-fast score).
Aaron Schatz: Haven't had much reason to say positive things about Steve Sarkisian this year but the receiver screen to Mohamed Sanu with about 6:00 left in the game was the perfect play call at the time. Totally neutralized a Wade Phillips blitz and Sanu went almost the length of the field. That set up Julio Jones to actually score a red zone touchdown a couple plays later, so now we're at 26-13.
Vince Verhei: There are less than six minutes to go in the game. Why did Atlanta kick that extra point?
Dave Bernreuther: I was certain when Matt Ryan threw that that it was going to go the other way for six. With his foot slipping and him falling backward like that, I'm astonished he still put it where only Jones could catch it.
Like Vince, I can't understand why on earth they didn't go for two.
Rivers McCown: Goff has had one of those Scout's Dream days. Has made some absolutely ridiculous throws, but has generally been inefficient otherwise outside of the two-minute drill drives at the end of the half. Lots for the highlight reel, but a lot of passes defensed and wild underneath throws.
Vince Verhei: I had a similar conversation about Goff with some people on Twitter. He has been a very good passer tonight, with three or four tremendous throws. But he hasn't been a very good quarterback -- he has looked hesitant and indecisive a lot too.
And on that note, down 13 points in the closing minutes, look at all these short completions he's making in bounds. Just like at the end of the first half when they were very lucky to get a catch reversed to an incompletion. They're in the red zone now but there's less than three minutes to go.
Bryan Knowles: Getting the touchdown before the two-minute warning is huge. They don't HAVE to onside kick now.
Scratch that, it's being reversed most likely. Good play by Keanu Neal.
Aaron Schatz: Nonetheless, the way the Rams have moved the ball on the two-minute drill here, and then thinking back to Super Bowl LI, I wonder if it makes sense for opponents to always run no-huddle offense against the Falcons. They seem to have problems with it.
Rivers McCown: I was just thinking the Rams hurry up looks a lot like Goff's college offense, myself.
Vince Verhei: Props to NBC for this highlight package of Atlanta tackles. Falcons made a ton of big, difficult tackles in space tonight, and I don't remember too many missed.
Scott Kacsmar: One of the highlights from the Rams' season was that 52-yard touchdown on third-and-33 against the Giants. Just a little screen to Robert Woods to get that one done. So it's kind of fitting that a 52-yard gain on a little screen to Sanu was a dagger play tonight to their season, delivered by the Falcons. I thought the floater from Ryan was pretty ballsy, but he made it work for that touchdown. The Rams had one of those low-scoring losses that we see so many young teams put up in their playoff debut. I think Al Michaels said it well when you "think" this team can be good for a long time, but it's never a guarantee. I think they can get back to this spot next year, but the NFC West will be very competitive with the 49ers and Seahawks.
Buffalo Bills 3 at Jacksonville Jaguars 10
Bryan Knowles: As we get ready for the first Buffalo Bills playoff game of the 21st Century, it's easy to assume that everyone in Buffalo is crazy-excited. As a counterpoint, allow me to introduce exhibit A: one of the most "curmudgeonly local articles I believe I have ever read.
Vince Verhei: I just saw the Jaguars split Leonard Fournette wide and throw him a slant on third down. I need a drink. (He dropped it, of course.)
Bryan Knowles: This game feels like we're just waiting for someone, somewhere to make a big mistake. This game might end 7-0. Or 3-0. Or 2-0.
On the plus side, LeSean McCoy looks to have no ill effects from his ankle sprain. He just has ill effects from all those Jaguars hitting him repeatedly in the backfield. Jaguars are playing a little conservatively on defense, probably realizing the way they lose this game is if someone slips past them on a fluky play and races down the sideline.
Aaron Schatz: This game is setting offensive football back. Good Jacksonville defense is one thing, but Blake Bortles is missing guys wide who are otherwise open. Also, is it possible to put 12 men in the box? And I yelled at my TV screen when Deonte Thompson made a negative-ALEX play on his own by bringing his route back in front of the sticks when he easily could have caught the pass a yard farther downfield for a first down.
Bryan Knowles: And there we go -- Jacksonville interception on a tip-drill! Great play by Myles Jack knocking the ball in the air, and good concentration by Aaron Colvin to get the ball on his second attempt and bring it to the ground.
Hey, someone's across the 50! First time all freaking game, with 11:30 left in the second quarter.
Scott Kacsmar: You might be able to win this game if you realize taking a sack is better than forcing an interception. I'm a little surprised that Taylor was intercepted first, but it was a crazy tipped ball. Buffalo's defense still held after some poor, conservative calls from the Jaguars couldn't even turn great field position into points. Yeah, looks like the under (40) was an easy bet in this one.
Tom Gower: And the Jaguars gain -3 yards and quite reasonably choose to punt from the 38 rather than attempt the 56-yard field goal. Like the neighbor kid in The Incredibles, I'm still waiting for something to happen.
Dave Bernreuther: All that needs to be said about this game so far is that Blake Bortles has badly missed on two throws to guys behind the line of scrimmage. His YPA thus far is sub-2. But he's still a favorite to win a playoff game because AFC.
Rivers McCown: It feels to me like the Jags decided to pull the leash even further on Bortles. Romo has already mentioned that they're playing more off than usual. The Jags are throwing a ton of screens and the Bills aren't biting.
It definitely feels like the Jags don't respect the Bills offense.
Andrew Potter: There is no throw Blake Bortles can't miss.
As Dave alluded to, what really gets me is not just that screens and dumpoffs are falling incomplete, it's that Bortles is missing 2-yard passes by two full yards. That Tommy Bohanon fullback dumpoff looked like he had 10 or 15 yards of open grass in front of him, but Bortles' pass was miles away. The screen almost hit one of the blockers in the back, a good couple of yards away from Chris Ivory. Even better, as soon as he threw it, Bortles started running as though he expected to have to chase down an interception return.
The Jaguars might be using the most conservative game plan, on both offense and defense, that I've seen from any team all year.
Aaron Schatz: I'm a bit shocked that Buffalo is the first team to move into opponent territory, but LeSean McCoy looks perfectly fine and that's the majority of Buffalo's offense. And while I'm usually the biggest fan of going for it on fourth-and-1 ... oh wait ... OMG the Jaguars jumped offside. So the Bills get first-and-goal ... and promptly commit OPI to move back 10 yards.
Dave Bernreuther: Buffalo does the always successful and incredibly bold move of trying to draw them offsides on fourth-and-1, then lines up for a field goal. At which point the Jags jump offside and give them first-and-goal.
Not to be outdone, Kelvin Benjamin immediately pushes off and backs the Bills up to the 12.
AFC Playoff football, everybody.
Bryan Knowles: Points! Glorious, glorious points.
Vince Verhei: Buffalo goes ahead 3-0 on what is officially an 18-play, 71-yard, 8-plus-minute drive. It's going to be overlooked, but the biggest play in scoring range might have been Tyrod Taylor missing Nick O'Leary on what would have been a 23-yard touchdown. You won't get many chances to make a play like that against Jacksonville.
Dave Bernreuther: I won't lie. I was rooting for him to miss the kick, because this game deserves to be scoreless. I found myself daydreaming of a scenario where the game ended 2-0 on a botched punt snap out of the end zone, because such ugliness wouldn't really even be out of character in this game.
Vince Verhei: I am finding it more and more difficult to refrain from using profanity to describe Bortles. He's so heart-stoppingly awful. Threw what should have been an interception and was very lucky his receiver broke it up.
Dave Bernreuther: Vince, that throw was actually far less dreadful than the one he sailed over the head of a wide open Keelan Cole two plays earlier.
Aaron Schatz: He wasn't awful in every game this year. Just remarkably inconsistent and boy oh boy did bad Bortles show up today. I can't see why the Jaguars would consider going forward with this next year. He's never going to be any better than this. This was his best season ever, by far, and it isn't going to be better. No matter how good he ever is, bad Bortles is showing up when you don't expect it.
Rivers McCown: When your pass offense is one based purely on winning by design and not execution, it's going to run in to trouble.
And as I type this, Bortles rips off a huge run out of structure to put the Jags in field-goal range. I know this is anecdotal, but I've always felt the more you try to structure Bortles the worse off you are. Let him play outside the pocket and he at least presents some danger.
Bryan Knowles: Blake Bortles, scramblin' man! The Jaguars maybe should consider coming out in the single wing or something after the half, because it's better than trusting Bortles' arm.
Aaron Schatz: I win the prediction game:
You just know Bortles is going to take a sack here.
— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) January 7, 2018
Bryan Knowles: The last time we had a game this low-scoring at the half in a playoff game was the 2015 wild-card game between the Seahawks and the Vikings -- the Blair Walsh game. That game, at least, had the Vikings semi-consistently driving, with scaredy-cat punts being at least somewhat to blame for the 3-0 halftime score. That really hasn't been the case here. I mean, we've had TWICE the scoring! How lucky we are.
With such a low-scoring performance, one mistake might be the eventual difference. Calais Campbell stopping Taylor from getting into the end zone when they were at the goal line might end up being one of the most significant plays of the game.
Tom Gower: 3-3 at halftime. That first half reminded me of Bills-Colts, minus the snowstorm that made that game so compelling. Key play of the first half might have been Calais Campbell's tackle of Tyrod Taylor on third down before the hut-hut/offside on a field goal/OPI sequence.
Aaron Schatz: There isn't much pressure. Bortles is just throwing wide on everyone.
Dave Bernreuther: CBS surprised me with a graphic showing Bortles to be fourth all time in quarterback yards per rush, at 6.3 yards per attempt. This made me wonder how that stacks up to his yards per attempt. 6.7, it seems, which is less amusing than I had hoped, but if you go with ANY/A that drops all the way to 5.4. So nearly a yard worse than his rushing. Which sounds about right.
If you're Tom Coughlin, and your coach is still going to be Doug Marrone, what is actually the best play to replace Bortles next year? Do you overpay the still not exactly dominant Kirk Cousins? Go out and try to buy low on Sam Bradford maybe? I wonder if that's all they need to become a team that's very hard to beat.
Scott Kacsmar: Unlike yesterday, I don't think I'll be making a halftime proclamation that I'll regret. Some people yesterday wanted to convince me that Jacksonville can win in New England this year thanks to its defense. The problem with that is it would require Blake Bortles surviving 12 quarters of playoff football without screwing things up too badly. That's just not possible if you ask me. This first half was some of the ugliest football I've seen all year, and it's a reminder that this would usually be a D-team game for CBS' crew on a normal Sunday. Yet here we are looking to send one of these teams to the divisional round. I don't think "great defense" is good enough to excuse the constant throws short of the sticks or near-turnover plays. These quarterbacks choosing to take off and risk their bodies might be the only way either offense scores again.
Aaron Schatz: Taylor isn't missing guys anything like Bortles is. When he's missed guys it's mostly been deeper passes, like the O'Leary would-be touchdown. Bortles is missing stuff behind the line of scrimmage. Taylor has also been over a lot more pressure. I think it's fair to say that Buffalo has three points in part because of great defense. Jacksonville offense and Buffalo defense is a different story.
Bryan Knowles: I wonder, if Jacksonville can't extend some drives, if their defense will begin to tire out. With McCoy looking fairly healthy and Taylor a threat with his legs, maybe they can fatigue Jacksonville towards the end of the game. If I'm Buffalo's coaching staff right now, that's what I'm banking on, at any rate.
Full, full, FULL credit to Jacksonville for going for it on fourth-and-goal on the 1. It's been so much of a struggle to get ANYTHING going today that you can't waste these opportunities. Thank you for not kicking the 20-yard field goal.
Carl Yedor: It only took three quarters and a successful fourth-down conversion but we have a touchdown! Jacksonville uses up almost nine minutes but they score the first touchdown of the day. Part of me was thinking that if there was going to be one in this game that it was going to come courtesy of a defensive or special teams score. But fear not, Blake Bortles is here to save the day.
Tom Gower: Fourth-and-goal from the 1 going for it resulting in a touchdown definitely deserves a Tony Khan celebration gif.
A touchdown in Jacksonville! pic.twitter.com/tMUY7YfqPq
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) January 7, 2018
Bryan Knowles: Costly lack of urgency there -- Charles Clay stepped out of bounds, right in front of the Jags sideline. Rather than the Bills running up to snap, though, they took their time, and gave the Jaguars time to challenge. Lack of situational awareness.
Aaron Schatz: Blake Bortles dropping the ball and scrambling for a first down anyway is like the most Bortles thing that has ever happened.
Dave Bernreuther: After yesterday I might contend that the Bortlesest possible outcome would be that he throws a bad interception and somehow still scores a touchdown.
I like Tyrod Taylor, but I don't have much faith in his ability to lead a tying drive here at all with the way he has been playing, and I haven't seen anything from the Jags defense that makes me feel like it's them that deserve credit.
Bryan Knowles: "Tyrod Taylor isn't any good!" people shout, as the ball hits Zay Jones in the chest.
On the other hand, three or four times this year, Buffalo has had an open receiver on a deep route, and Taylor's just missed him by a yard or so. If one of those hit...
If Nathan Peterman comes in and throws a game-tying touchdown, I am going to flip my lid.
Oh, Peterman. To be fair, that was a good play by Jalen Ramsey, but how else could this game have ended?
Vince Verhei: Jacksonville wide receivers: five catches, 48 yards (all by Dede Westbrook)
Buffalo wide receivers: five catches, 52 yards
Bortles was much better in the second half. In fact, if you said he was better than Taylor after halftime, I couldn't really argue. Taylor missed open throws for big plays, and had receivers open for first downs but wouldn't throw to them. I had heard that critique before, but hadn't seen it so plainly myself. He had a guy open for an easy first down on the third-down scramble where he got hurt. If he had seen the receiver and made the throw, Peterman may never have come into the game.
Rivers McCown: I can see the open underneath guys that Taylor missed. It was interesting to watch. It's almost like he had conservativeness beat into him so much that there's a certain point in a play where he just gives up.
The deep balls I thought were usually decently thrown, just a touch too ahead (usually) or otherwise off.
Tom Gower: The big takeaway from Tyrod is that teams with limited offenses cannot deal with execution errors. Tyrod missed a couple throws, most notably the one to O'Leary that should've been a touchdown, and his receivers failed to haul in a number of passes. One way to live with inconsistent offense like that is to be able to produce big plays, but that wasn't this Bills offense. Of course, none of this was really a surprise.
Carolina Panthers 26 at New Orleans Saints 31
Bryan Knowles: Cam Newton is looking more like Good Cam Newton today, which is helpful. He looked pretty sharp on that 15-play drive, with some solid scrambles to extend the drive and some solid passing. His numbers would look better if it weren't for drops -- Kaelen Clay had a touchdown, Ed Dickson had another one earlier -- but Newton's looking a lot sharper than he did in Week 17.
... And then Graham Gano misses a chip-shot, shockingly. Still scoreless.
Vince Verhei: Panthers get a field goal early in the second to make it 7-3 Saints. Story so far is that the Saints have 80 yards on the touchdown to Ted Ginn and 4 yards on their other seven plays. You have the best running back combo in the league, and the most accurate quarterback in the league, but your play-call on third-and-2 is a pitch to Tommylee Lewis? What in the hell was that?
Rivers McCown: It was adorable, is what it was.
Bryan Knowles: Tackling is important! Alvin Kamara made Luke Kuechly look foolish behind the line, which is really, really hard to do. But there were a number of missed tackles on the Saints' scoring drive there, not all caused by Saints players doing amazing things. And then they just lost coverage entirely on the Josh Hill touchdown, and the Saints are clicking.
Answering touchdowns with field goals does not feel like a sustainable strategy. Carolina's moving the ball fairly well, so don't count anyone out, but they're not finishing drives and not stopping the Saints. 21-9 at the half, with the Panthers getting the ball to start the third quarter. Not over, but Carolina's going to have to find a fifth gear and some sort of answer for the Saints' precision passing game if they want to still be in this for much longer.
Think Drew Brees missed playoff football? Since the first drive, he's 12-for-14 with a pair of touchdowns; nothing is even coming close to slowing him down. If you told me that the Saints would have 14 rushing yards at the half, I would have assumed they were struggling, not comfortably in the lead!
Aaron Schatz: It's 21-9 at halftime but I have very little to say about this game. It mostly seems like chalk. It's played out mostly as expected. The Saints are simply the better and more well-rounded team. The Panthers are really missing quality wide receivers. The one real surprise is how little the Saints have used the running game. The Saints have combined for just five carries by Ingram and Kamara for 17 yards. The other note is that I don't think the Panthers have really made a play on defense that makes you go "Wow, a play!" They're just kind of there, allowing receptions and short gains, and then the one huge one by Ginn for the 80-yard touchdown. But when the Saints have faltered it's mostly been their own fault, like whatever that little pitch to Tommylee Lewis was supposed to be.
Tom Gower: Brees this year threw a ton of short passes, I think at a higher rate than anybody else in the league. That's how you set the completion percentage record. Seam throws -- like the one to Josh Hill, where he had his eyes left, looked off the safety, got his head around, waited a beat for his throwing lane to clear, and then dropped it in against really pretty good coverage -- are how you score points and win games. But Carolina would be in this if they were just executing a little bit better in tight quarters. Instead, at 21-9, it feels like they need seven to start the second half or it could really get out of hand.
Derrik Klassen: Carolina is going to have to beat New Orleans' secondary in the second half and move down the field faster. Carolina has been abusing the linebackers, but that has a been a slow approach that has yet to yield a touchdown. New Orleans, however, is finding the end zone on nearly every possession.
Scott Kacsmar: The longest completion for Brees this season was 54 yards, so the 80-yard bomb was unexpected to a degree. I do find it fascinating, as FOX has pointed out, that the Saints were 0-for-2 on third down in the half, but still scored three touchdowns on long drives. That's great when you can just avoid third down like that, but two attempts in one half is pretty crazy stuff. Carolina on pace for nearly 40 minutes time of possession and it's just irrelevant when you waste time to drop touchdowns, miss field goals, or continue setting up field goals when you clearly need to find the end zone in this tough matchup.
Vince Verhei: I think this actually says a lot about how the game has gone: the Saints did not convert a third down in the first half ... but they didn't have to, because they're only 0-for-2. They didn't get to third down one time in their three touchdown drives. That's 230 yards on three drives, no third downs.
Aaron Schatz: Panthers aren't really getting much pass pressure on Brees, which I think is a large part of their problem.
About three plays after I wrote this, the Panthers brought tons of pressure (six guys) on a third-and-5 and forced both holding and intentional grounding. So I'm a jinx.
Bryan Knowles: Hey, a stop! Kinda! At least if they exchange field goals, the Panthers won't get any further behind.
This game won't get a nickname without a big comeback or something, but it's almost a Ted Ginn revenge game. Ginn's 80-yard touchdown was the longest ever playoff score against a former team, and he's at 115 yards receiving already -- more than Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess combined. Ginn's Carolina's second-best receiver if he sticks around in 2017, yeah? He would certainly do something to fix this lack of separation Carolina is getting.
Vince Verhei: Saints up 24-12 at end of three, and like Aaron said, there's not much to say about a game that has gone like most of us expected. Biggest surprise is that the Panthers have taken Ingram and Kamara out of the game (57 yards from scrimmage combined), but that has just left things open for Ginn, Thomas, and on one occasion Hill. I've been on the Saints bandwagon for the past third of the season or so, and this is the biggest reason why: they have so many different ways to beat you.
Bryan Knowles: Panthers finally, finally punch it into the end zone, and we have a one-score game. A healthy Greg Olsen is a heck of a weapon.
Saints could use a nice, time-consuming drive here, if for no other reason than to give the defense a chance to rest up.
Aaron Schatz: They don't get it, because the Panthers are finally bringing the
pressure. Saints have to punt at midfield after a couple first downs.
Vince Verhei: One of the things I wrote about on Friday was how Carolina needed to win on third downs on both sides of the ball.
That last Saints punt left them 1-of-6 on third downs. Carolina currently 8-of-15.
Of course, I also said the Saints wouldn't use much play-action ... then they get their biggest play of the second half on a fake pitch to Kamara and a bomb down the sideline to Michael Thomas. That sets up a short Kamara touchdown run and a 31-19 lead that is going to be tough for Derek Anderson to overcome.
Bryan Knowles: Even with Newton coming back into the game (and how much do I wish I had some truth serum to figure out how hurt Newton really is!), this is probably too much to overcome.
Andrew Potter: Cam Newton is reportedly coming back in, because the only big negative this weekend lacked was a concussion protocol controversy.
Aaron Schatz: Well. We'll see. Christian McCaffrey just made an awesome juke on Craig Robertson and then ran upfield, putting on the jets to go past everyone, 56-yard touchdown. Now it's 31-26.
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) January 8, 2018
Vince Verhei: Ahem.
Also wrote this. pic.twitter.com/QtyYulDaBN
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) January 8, 2018
Aaron Schatz: If the Saints punt this fourth-and-2, the Panthers will get back to the 47 in like 30 seconds because prevent defense. So I say they should just go for it. And it looks like they will.
Bryan Knowles: And they do, and it's intercepted!
Love the Saints going for it; we can debate if it's the right play or not, but the decision is great. The interception bails them out somewhat, too -- as if they had a bad punt.
Aaron Schatz: They should have reviewed the interception and fumble out of bounds. I thought it was an incomplete pass. Doesn't matter much, Carolina gets all the yardage back on the first pass.
Where has the Saints pressure gone on this final Panthers drive?
Dave Bernreuther: I can't be the only one wondering how they didn't call a false start on Trai Turner on the first play post-interception.
Bryan Knowles: I thought Devin Funchess could have made a better play on third-and-a-mile at the end of the game; he just kind of gave up on the pass early. It feels like a top target could have fought for that one more.
And then on fourth-and-season, the Panthers run the "don't block anybody" play, and all three guys in a three-man rush meet at the quarterback. Game over, Saints survive.
I am ready for some Saints-Vikings, let me tell you.
Andrew Potter: That Devin Funchess play in the end zone is typical of his, and Kelvin Benjamin's, time in Carolina. Both of those guys play much smaller than their size, and don't have the quickness to make up for it. I'm not asking Funchess to be Calvin Johnson; but even Brandon Coleman has a better understanding of how to use his dimensions in those situations.
Aaron Schatz: So the big controversy seems to be over whether Cam Newton was in the pocket or out of the pocket on the intentional grounding call. Anyone have a strong opinion either way?
Bryan Knowles: It's close, but looking at this video, I think he was JUST inside the tackle box. It looks like grounding because the right tackle goes in very, very quickly, but I think Newton never clears his initial position.
INTENTIONAL GROUNDING. HUGE SAINTS PRESSURE. pic.twitter.com/Ttxi8MiA2s
— Tailgate Sports (@_TailgateSports) January 8, 2018
One more thing on the punt, from Brian Burke at ESPN:
His WP model said the Saints would have been better off punting:
WP [Punt]: 90.7%
WP [Go for it]: 87.8%.
Needed a 69 percent change of converting that fourth-and-2 to make it worthwhile, by those numbers. I think I still trust Brees and the Saints offense.
Tom Gower: Intentional grounding: there's an argument he got to the edge of the pocket with Jordan hanging on to him, enough that it wouldn't be called a throwaway with most circumstances. I'm not sure I really buy it, but I'm one of those sad souls who would like to see grounding called more frequently.
That after Tony Corrente and crew called the grounding penalty they (a) didn't run the required 10 seconds off the clock and (b) didn't start the clock on the ready and had to be saved by the alternate official was a travesty and, from an officiating evaluation perspective, probably worse than anything Jeff Triplette did Saturday.
Non-grounding notes: the Saints really got away with one on third down. A more aware receiver than Devin Funchess makes a better play on the ball and catches a touchdown. Vonn Bell is the almost-and-nearly goat for just missing the sideline pass to Clay and not doing a better job on Funchess. Instead, the Saints get another chance and Dennis Allen wins fourth down with Bell getting the game-winning sack.
Dave Bernreuther: I thought he got to the right tackle area and got the pass far enough, at least close enough not to decide the game on it.
Even though it shouldn't have, because Funchess decided for some reason to jump for a ball thrown short of him. If he stayed on his feet it would've been an easy catch.
All four road teams covered this weekend, but only the Titans end result surprised me.
Rivers McCown: I was happy about the intentional grounding call because I think the NFL gives quarterbacks too much leeway on anything close on that.
Devin Funchess was really the difference to me. He looked hurt all game, and as great as Carolina's offense was in general, Funchess closed down a couple would-be drives and that last throw to the end zone.
Vince Verhei: A few late thoughts:
- Let's credit Cameron Jordan with the pressure on the bull rush that forced the intentional grounding.
- On the third-down play, it wasn't just Funchess, it looked like all the Saints defensive backs gave up too. Did everyone lose the ball in the lights or something?
- There are people out there who still think Cam Newton is a bad quarterback. What silly people.
I'm all fired up now. Can't wait till next to week to watch the Seahawks --
Oh God dammit.
Aaron Schatz: We're the stats people, but we need to remind some of our readers that quarterback stats are not reflective of the quarterback only without filtering out his teammates, and Cam Newton is an example of a player who overcomes the weaknesses of players around him. Well, sometimes he does.