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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills 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.
Minnesota Vikings 10 at San Francisco 49ers 27
Bryan Knowles: The Vikings open, surprise surprise, with a rush. Right at the returning Kwon Alexander, which is a smart call; test that injured pec early. So far, everything seems fine there. The Vikings go run-run-incomplete pass and have to punt.
I said in our preview that the 49ers' running offense was overrated -- not that they're bad at it, per se, but the offense really flows when Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing. And, indeed, on the first drive, the 49ers rush two times for 4 yards and throw five times for 57 yards, with Garoppolo hitting Deebo Samuel, Emmanuel Sanders, and George Kittle for chunk plays, and then hitting Kendrick Bourne for the touchdown. Garoppolo's one incomplete pass bounced off of Kittle's hands, too. A 7-0 start for San Francisco early in the first, and they couldn't have scripted that much better.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, remember last year when the Rams roasted the Vikings and they kept getting inside wide receivers lined up on Anthony Barr? The 49ers do.
Bryan Knowles: Barr's a pretty darn good coverage linebacker. As an emergency default slot guy to make up for the Vikings' injuries at corner, he may be a bit out of his depth.
Aaron Schatz: Hey Bryan, did you say something in your preview about the Vikings picking on Akhello Witherspoon?
Scott Spratt: Why does every quarterback bit use the magician comparison?
Bryan Knowles: And, game on.
The weakness on the 49ers' defense is Ahkello Witherspoon on the left -- watch that all game long. On that last drive, he was called for pass interference, gave up a 12-yard pass to Adam Thielen, and then fell over and let Stefon Diggs go for a 41-yard touchdown. I would not be at all surprised if Witherspoon is pulled before the game ends. Vikings tie at 7.
Bryan Knowles: There's a reason the 49ers pulled him against Seattle two weeks ago, Aaron! I was a little surprised that he was starting this week!
Dave Bernreuther: Ahkello Witherspoon is pretty clearly the weak link in this otherwise stout defense. Rather than stifling the Vikings drive early, he gave them a first down via DPI, and just now, on a pretty horrible short heave by Cousins, he misplayed it terribly, allowing Stefon Diggs to waltz in for the tying touchdown. The Niners are going to need to get him some help, fast.
Scott Spratt: According to Sports Info Solutions charting, Witherspoon is allowing 7.8 yards per target with a 54% coverage success rate. Meanwhile, backup Emmanuel Moseley is allowing 6.3 yards per target with a 63% coverage success rate.
Derrik Klassen: I honestly think Jimmy Garoppolo was throwing that third-and-10 pass to Kyle Juszczyk but got too much air on it because he got hit. A bit fortunate someone else got under it. Still impressive he got that ball out at all, though.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, quite a catch by Kendrick Bourne to save them from the run for 0 on second-and-10.
Bryan Knowles: Garoppolo did not look good on that second drive -- the wounded-duck catch, a near-interception defended by Kittle, running out of bounds on third-and-forever. Nice recovery by the Vikings defense, getting plenty of pressure and bringing Garoppolo to the ground a couple times. Danielle Hunter versus Mike McGlinchey may be a mismatch.
Bryan Knowles: And yup, here comes Emmanuel Mosley. Thought Shanahan might give Witherspoon one more series, but you can't blame him for the quick hook.
Vince Verhei: I thought Not-Sherman Corner was going to be a weakness that would haunt San Francisco all year, but they did OK there for the first 15-and-a-half games. I guess it took nearly a whole season for teams to figure that out.
Dave Bernreuther: Arik Armstead obliterates Cousins on the opening play of the next drive. He made that one look far too easy. I expected a lot of that in this game, so that got a whoop out of me.
Scott Spratt: Huge play there for the Vikings to force and recover a fumble on a Deebo Samuel run. It may get overturned. But the important thing is that Jimmy Garoppolo pancaked Anthony Barr on a block. Incredible.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh man, what a bad job on that reverse by Deebo Samuel. He had all sorts of room with blockers in front of him but was indecisive as he started to turn upfield. He's Deebo Samuel, though, and impossible to tackle, so running straight into a crowd instead still shouldn't be a bad choice, but he did it slowly and got stood up a bit. Just as things were starting to look good for the 49ers again, the Vikings get a takeaway.
Bryan Knowles: It is indeed overturned -- nice job by the linebacker to get back up after the Jimmy G pancake to make the strip, but Deebo's knee was down.
Carl Yedor: Garoppolo just had a very awkward, slow-motion pancake of Anthony Barr on a reverse to Deebo Samuel, which probably happened more because Barr looked like he was off-balance and trying to change direction while being blocked than because Garoppolo laid a punishing blow. It would have been much more exciting had Deebo Samuel not temporarily fumbled (overturned on review), but I hope Collinsworth gets to point it out soon so that it doesn't get lost to history.
Vince Verhei: Two details on the Deebo Samuel end-around that was originally ruled a fumble:
1) Kyle Juszczyk taking the handoff to the right, handing off to Samuel coming back to the left ... and then faking the pitch to the tailback. Awesome.
2) Jimmy Garropolo pancaking Anthony Barr.
Jimmy G vs. Anthony Barr did NOT go as expected. pic.twitter.com/Tds7zw6oUB
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) 11 January 2020
Dave Bernreuther: Now THAT is the Deebo Samuel I was expecting to see on the non-fumble play. Catch at the 10, needed three guys to take him down at the one.
Two plays later, Coleman gets in mostly uncontested.
Vince Verhei: Tevin Coleman scores on a dive to put the 49ers up 14-7. One thing that's clear, the 49ers are the more physical team today. They're gang-tackling and stopping guys in their tracks, but their own runners are dragging defenders down the field. That's probably in part due to the bye and the week of rest, but the quarterback is getting involved too -- the block on the end-around, and the attempted sneak on first-and-goal. That tells me it's at least somewhat a mindset and attitude thing.
Bryan Knowles: And then Deebo catches another pass for 10 yards, and nearly zips into the end zone. If he stretches the ball out, it's a score, but you can tell ball security is on his mind, and he tucked it into his body instead. Fair enough.
Garoppolo fails on the Patented Brady Sneak the next play, but Tevin Coleman scores the next play (with Juszczyk paving the way), and it's a 14-7 49ers lead.
Vince Verhei: Physicality. The Tweet mentions Kittle but every 49ers blocker here wins his matchup.
lol Kittle completely washes out Griffen pic.twitter.com/HdL08H7upn
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) 11 January 2020
Derrik Klassen: Feels like Minnesota is going to end up in "Kirk Cousins has to play exclusively from dropback" territory. 14-7 isn't insurmountable by any means, but four minutes is plenty of time for San Francisco to score before this half closes. If San Francisco scores here and forces Minnesota to get into more clear pass looks, I don't like Minnesota's chances to get back into it.
Bryan Knowles: Ah, there's the Weekly Mandated Inexplicable Jimmy Garoppolo Interception. He just completely missed Eric Kendricks dropping back into zone coverage. He does that all the time!
Derrik Klassen: OK, well, Jimmy G decided he didn't want to run away with this game just yet. Second time today he has thrown right at Eric Kendricks, got deservedly picked off this time.
Rivers McCown: Eric Kendricks picks Jimmy Garoppolo by paying zero respect to the play-action game. You love to see it.
Dave Bernreuther: Imagine how good this 49ers team would look if their quarterback wasn't determined to throw the ball to the other team.
As noted, they're dominating everywhere else. The pass rush is making Cousins have to sprint backward for his life just to throw short screen passes, which really feels like playing with fire. The tackling is good, the non-Witherspoon coverage has been good, the offense has been 10/11 good ... and yet the Vikings are knocking on the door of a tie game going into the half.
Bryan Knowles: I wonder if the 49ers didn't make a mistake not calling a timeout after the first-down stop. The defense holds, Minnesota kicks a field goal, and the 49ers have 31 seconds to respond with one timeout left.
Typically, Kyle Shanahan has gotten conservative in these situations this year, so we may just be going into the half at 14-10. The 49ers get the ball to start the second half, so that might influence the call.
Bryan Knowles: Yup, it's the knee.
NBC flashed Garoppolo's next-drive stats after an interception -- 36-for-39, 419 yards, two touchdowns. That's great -- but it's not the statistics that's worrisome; it's the sample size.
Carl Yedor: Would have been tough to really mount much of a drive with how little time was left, but I would have liked to see San Francisco at least try to take a shot downfield to see if they could eke out a field goal before half. If nothing's there, Garoppolo can always take a sack in that situation because the alternative approach (kneeling) has the same effect of running the clock. If it gets to second-and-10 with a stopped clock and about 20 or 25 seconds left, it's unlikely that Minnesota would have actually had time to do anything too. Obviously, they're getting the ball again, but I do feel like it might have been worth the minor risk of a turnover there.
Vince Verhei: Vikings have a first down in the red zone after the interception. They go: screen pass for a loss, missed throw on an open Stefon Diggs (on the left side, of course), third-down sack, field goal, and it's 14-10 at the half.
It feels like the 49ers are dominating this game, and the numbers back that up: they're outgaining Minnesota 159 to 83, and crushing them in first downs, 14 to four. But three or four mistakes have hurt them severely, leaving us with a one-score game.
Vince Verhei: 49ers at the half are averaging 3.5 yards per carry but have already run for six first downs. That includes a sneak by Garropolo right before his interception -- I don't remember the last time I saw a team use two QB sneaks in the first half.
Bryan Knowles: 41 of Minnesota's 83 yards came on the Diggs catch where Witherspoon fell down rather than try to make a tackle or something. Minnesota's basically in this right now because of two huge plays, but they are still in it.
NBC's halftime show is saying that the Vikings need to stick to their game plan and keep feeding the ball to Dalvin Cook. That seems like a terrible idea; it's not working. If Minnesota's going to come back, it's going to be Cousins with play-action passing finding some holes deep.
Scott Spratt: Beyond just not seeing Eric Kendricks on a couple of throws, Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown some really inaccurate passes in the middle of the field in this game.
Bryan Knowles: Mmm, not a fan of Shanahan kicking a field goal on fourth-and-2. It goes through, and the 49ers do extend their lead to 17-10, but that was a chance for a knockout blow there instead of just a jab.
Rivers McCown: Bryan: "If Minnesota's going to come back, it's going to be Cousins with play-action passing finding some holes deep."
Kirk Cousins: "What about one more screen or checkdown to Dalvin Cook on each drive?"
Bryan Knowles: I'm also not a fan of Kirk Cousins throwing at Richard Sherman. He was targeted just once in the first half, and on his first target in the second half, Sherman picks him off. It looked like there was some miscommunication between Cousins and Thielen, but man. Don't challenge Sherman!
Rivers McCown: Raheem Mostert playoff fantasy football owners are on tilt as Tevin Coleman scores again to put the Vikings in a big hole. 24-10 with roughly 20 minutes to play.
Bryan Knowles: Eight straight runs after the interception, and the 49ers plow into the end zone again. I stand by my point that the 49ers' run game isn't as good as the standard statistics would have people believe but, uh, that was an impressive imposition of will. The Vikings look exhausted -- some of that's the five-day rest, some of that is just the 49ers running forward over and over again.
49ers are up 24-10 late in the third. Game's not over yet, but the Vikings have to get on their high horse right now.
Bryan Knowles: The Vikings immediate response drive: decent pass to Thielen; screen pass that goes nowhere; Cousins throwing the ball away rather than scrambling for the first down; punt on fourth-and-4.
Yeah, I think this one is more or less over.
Carl Yedor: Well, Minnesota had somewhat of a chance after quickly forcing a punt from San Francisco, but Marcus Sherels muffed it, giving the 49ers the ball on the doorstep. They only get a field goal, but a) it's now a three-score game and b) San Francisco was able to bleed some more time off the clock in the process.
Aaron Schatz: The Vikings are still calling runs and screens. This offense is clearly not designed to come back from being down 17 in the fourth quarter.
Bryan Knowles: Kevin Stefanski might be calling his way out of a head coaching job today, especially with Robert Saleh a candidate for the same job.
Vince Verhei: San Francisco's fourth sack -- and it feels like a lot more than that -- forces a punt with nine minutes and change to go.
Vikings are now up to 41 yards on the Diggs touchcown, 40 yards on their other 32 plays. They have not picked up a first down in the second half, and now trail in that category 20 to four.
49ers were clearly the better team in the first half, but they made all the big mistakes so Minnesota was still in it. They have also been clearly the better team in the second half, but now the Vikings have made all the big mistakes, and the score shows that.
Cris Collinsworth compared the 49ers to a pro wrestling team and name-dropped Gorgeous George. While I appreciate the nod to history, could we get a more current reference? Look at George Kittle's shoes for god's sake!
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) 11 January 2020
Bryan Knowles: And, of course, Nick Bosa getting up after the wind was knocked out of him and posing is definitely Hulking up.
Rivers McCown: Nothing epitomizes this game more than the Vikings running on third-and-1 with less than 3 minutes left, down 17, and not getting it.
Derrik Klassen: Minnesota ended up in "Cousins can only go dropback now" territory and it went about as well as expected: awful. Sacks, hits, errant throws, things of that nature.
Was expecting (and hoping) this game would be a bit closer because I don't expect Baltimore vs. Tennessee to stay interesting for very long. Hope I'm wrong and Tennessee can stay in it!
Bryan Knowles: That 49ers defense is something else when it's firing on all cylinders.
Garoppolo will need to play a bit better to win in the NFC Championship Game, but hey, that's a problem for next week.
Vince Verhei: Game effectively ends when Irv Smith gains 21 yards on fourth-and-22. He could have picked up the first down but Jimmie Ward lays him out with a big hit. A fitting end. San Francisco won for lots of reasons, but largely because they were the bigger, stronger, tougher, more violent team. Which is refreshing.
I really don't know where Minnesota goes from here in 2020. It'll likely be the same roster coming back, maybe with a new offensive coordinator. They'll just have to hope everyone plays just a little bit better.
Bryan Knowles: They also really, really need to rethink their run-first philosophy. Dalvin Cook's a good player, but they are so much more dangerous when running the play-action pass than they are when they're handing off on first down for the Nth time.
Tom Gower: So I got home with less than five minutes to play and per the box score saw almost half of Minnesota's first downs for the entire game? Reading over this thread, that seems like how the game went.
Rivers McCown: I mean if you're the Vikings you've got to consider trading up for a quarterback if you can, right? I don't know how deep Zimmer influences play calling but even if I think Cousins is a solid-to-good quarterback, we've got to admit he limits their ceiling to some extent. They clearly didn't feel comfortable asking him to air it out, and that was what they needed to do to win the game.
(Nothing will change because NFL teams generally shy away from risk.)
Bryan Knowles: I don't think Minnesota has the juice to trade too far up without killing drafts in future years; it's a hard sell to go that far all-in on any one player, especially if you can't get to the top of the draft.
I wouldn't be shocked if they grabbed a falling Jake Fromm or Jacob Eason, though. Surprised, but not shocked.
Dave Bernreuther: Re: rethinking run-first philosophies ... they employ Gary Kubiak and are guaranteeing money to a quarterback that's not very good. That's not happening.
Which is a shame, because I have always been a huge fan of the players on that defense and of Zimmer. But it really does feel like they've reached their ceiling.
Tennessee Titans 28 at Baltimore Ravens 12
Bryan Knowles: The Titans probably need a few lucky bounces to have a chance here, and they get one on Baltimore's opening drive. Lamar Jackson's pass is a tad high, but Mark Andrews is playing on a bum ankle and can't elevate for it. It's tipped into the hand of Kevin Byard, who not only has a nice runback, but gets 15 yards tacked on after the Jackson tackle. It looks like Baltimore's defense is going to stiffen up and keep Tennessee to just a field goal after Earl Thomas comes through absolutely untouched on second-and-goal from the 4, but on third-and-long, Ryan Tannehill hits Jonnu Smith -- an incredible catch, barely getting half his butt down in bounds -- for the touchdown. A 7-0 Titans lead late in the first.
Vince Verhei: Let's all just ignore the part where Dan Fouts asked, during a playoff game, "Can you split the cheeks?"
Bryan Knowles: Look, if a quarterback throws the ball so hard it lodges in his receivers' posterior and he scores a touchdown, it's the greatest play in NFL history. Fouts is just on the cutting edge of posterior play calling.
Vince Verhei: I was so focused on whether or not Smith came down in bounds that I didn't appreciate how great his one-handed snag-and-juggle was.
Jonnu Smith with an unreal one-handed grab to put the Titans up 7-0! pic.twitter.com/FEy9J2X87G
— Rotoworld Football (@Rotoworld_FB) 12 January 2020
Aaron Schatz: Props to the Tennessee defensive interior, which just stopped the Ravens on a fourth-and-1 for the first time this season by stuffing Lamar Jackson up the middle.
And the Titans follow it up with a 45-yard touchdown bomb to Kalif Raymond, who is almost exclusively a return man. Raymond had only nine catches all year.
Bryan Knowles: Wow. What a time for the Ravens to get stuffed on a fourth-and-1. The broadcast says it's the first time they've been stuffed there all season long.
And, striking while the iron is hot, the very next play sees Tannehill hit Kalif Raymond on the deep shot for a 45-yard touchdown. 14-0 Titans, and I don't think ANYONE saw that coming.
Vince Verhei: Lamar Jackson stuffed on fourth-and-1 on the Ravens' side of the 50. If the Titans go up 14-0 here, we might not see a fourth-down try in 2020. Great play by David Long knifing into the backfield for the stop.
And sure enough, Titans go play-action and Ryan Tannehill finds Kalif Raymond for a 45-yard score.
Scott Spratt: Wow, what a shocking turn. The Ravens fail to convert a fourth-and-1 for the first time all year, and then with the resulting good field position, Tannehill connects deep with Kalif Raymond for a touchdown. 14-0 Titans.
Rivers McCown: Anti-analytics hive is gonna rally around that fourth-and-1, I fear.
Scott Spratt: The EdjSports team is saying that going for that fourth-and-1 improved the Ravens' Game-Winning Chance by 6%.
Carl Yedor: One of the best ways to neutralize a dominant rushing attack is to take a sizable lead that forces that team to pass instead. There's plenty of time left, so Baltimore doesn't have to completely stop rushing yet. But if this 14-point lead holds, Baltimore will likely be less able to turn to their bread-and-butter run game in the second half. With all that said, Baltimore is more than capable of putting up points in a hurry throwing the ball. It isn't panic time yet.
Rivers McCown: What if Seth Roberts decided to catch a football?
Aaron Schatz: Good play so far by the Titans cornerbacks, who have straight-out slapped away a couple of passes to receivers. Ravens forced to kick a 49-yard field goal when Jackson gets bottled up on a keeper and then Willie Snead drops a pass slightly behind him. 14-3 Titans.
Bryan Knowles: Man, drops are going to kill the Ravens. Three drops already, and the Ravens have to settle for a field goal. Still 14-3 Titans midway through the second.
Vince Verhei: This feels lazy and cliched to write, but the Ravens just look flat. They pick up a couple of first downs to move into Titans territory, but then on third down Jackson throws a negative-ALEX pass to Willie Snead, who would have been tackled short of a first down even if he hadn't dropped the ball. Justin Tucker bails them out with a 49-yard field goal. He remains their most reliable player.
Scott Spratt: Interestingly, Bryan, the Ravens and Titans had 18 and 16 drops in the regular season according to Sports Info Solutions, the second-fewest and fewest in football. Obviously, run rates influenced those low totals, but the Ravens' 4.1% drop rate was still eighth-lowest in football. They picked a bad week for this.
Scott Spratt: The Ravens have to call timeout there with all three left and less than a minute left in the first half. They need plays to score a touchdown here.
Carl Yedor: Yes, griping about announcers is low-hanging fruit, but with about a minute and 40 seconds left in the half, Tennessee getting to keep one of their two timeouts would not have made much of a difference. Running the ball on third-and-16 is essentially giving up on the drive. There was more than enough time for Tennessee to score with about 1:25-ish to play given that they would likely have gotten good field position on the ensuing punt had Baltimore elected to run a give-up run play.
Instead, Baltimore converts the third down and ends up driving all the way down to the 5 before kicking a field goal, which has the added benefit of keeping the ball out of Tennessee's hands before halftime. No touchdown, but definitely better than conceding the drive to Tennessee and potentially a field goal the other way. Plus, Baltimore gets the ball again to start the second half as well.
Aaron Schatz: Most teams would wuss out on third-and-16 from their own 9, they would run a draw and punt. Baltimore knew they couldn't let Tennessee get another scoring drive in and they went for the whole thing and converted.
Most teams would get conservative on third-and-14 from the opposing 42, try to just get a couple more yards for a long field goal. Not Baltimore. They went deep and Hollywood Brown made an outstanding catch.
Ravens couldn't get it in on one shot at the end zone, though, so chip shot field goal with three seconds left, 14-6 Titans.
Bryan Knowles: Disappointing that they only came out of it with a field goal, but Jackson made some insane passes to drive the Ravens down the length of the field. That Hollywood Brown one-handed catch is one of the best I've seen.
Still, the Titans will take 14-6 at the half all day, every day.
Bryan Knowles: So, the drops. Are we blaming them on Baltimore sitting their starters in Week 17? I don't think it has really affected Jackson much at all, but the receivers aren't exactly in Jackson's league. I tend to think Tennessee's lead is more about the Titans secondary playing well than anything else, but could two weeks off have affected Snead and Roberts? That seems to be the narrative going around the Twitterverse at the moment, and I don't think I buy it.
Vince Verhei: If the Ravens win this thing, that drive is going to be a big reason why. If they punt from their own 9, the Titans take over near midfield and probably tack onto their lead. Instead Baltimore very nearly gets a touchdown, settling for the field goal to cut things to a one-score game.
I'm having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around this game. Kind of feels like Tennessee got lucky to get their lead. Kind of feels like Baltimore is still lucky to be in it. I have no idea who I think is going to win.
Vince Verhei: Average starting field position in the first half:
Baltimore: BAL 18.0-yard line
Tennessee: TEN 38.4-yard line.
One of the reasons this game is so perplexing. So many of Baltimore's yards have just gotten them out of a hole without even entering scoring range. Their field goal drive at the end of the half covered 91 yards. You get 91 yards, you're supposed to get more than three points.
Scott Spratt: The broadcast camera was a little behind that first pass of the second half, but I think Nick Boyle dropped that one. That would be four for the Ravens today.
Scott Spratt: And now Nick Boyle is down clutching his ankle. With Mark Andrews already out of the game -- anyone know what happened to him? -- the Ravens' normal battery of tight ends is down to just Hayden Hurst.
Bryan Knowles: To Vince's point: there were 78 drives of 91-plus yards in 2019. Only six ended in a field goal, the rest were touchdowns.
As for Andrews, he was coming in with a bum ankle, and I think he's at least on a limited snap count today.
Scott Spratt: Andrews is back in the game.
Scott Spratt: The Ravens have converted a third-and-16, a third-and-14, and second-and-17 on their last two drives.
Bryan Knowles: Wow, ANOTHER fourth-and-1 stuff by Tennessee. If the Titans hang on to this one, that's why.
Going for it on fourth down is the right call over the long term; it maximizes your chances to win. Coming up short multiple times in one game, however, is a massive swing...
Vince Verhei: Hayden Hurst did not have a target in the first half. He catches an 8-yard gain on second-and-10 and screams at his coaches to throw him the ball.
And then Gus Edwards is stuffed on third down and Jackson is stuffed on fourth-and-1 again. Ravens' last three drives: 39 plays, 208 yards, six points.
Bryan Knowles: Derrick Henry runs, Derrick Henry throws, Derrick Henry caries the Titans on his back.
After Henry rumbles 66 yards to bring Tennessee inside the 10, the Titans offense bogs down. They put Tannehill on the sideline on fourth down and snap it to Henry, and he throws a perfect little jump pass to Corey Davis for the touchdown. 21-6 Titans, and the Ravens are on the ropes...
Scott Spratt: This is stunning. After another fourth-down stop and forced turnover on downs, Derrick Henry breaks one for 66 yards and then throws a touchdown on third-and-goal. 21-6. This is dire for the Ravens.
Bryan Knowles: If this score holds, it would be the 18th time in NFL playoff history that a 9-plus-point favorite lost. The last time was the Ravens, beating the Broncos in 2012. Depending on exactly when you got your money in, this could be the biggest Vegas upset since the Chargers beat the Colts back in 2007.
And now Jackson fumbles, and Tennessee takes over again!
Aaron Schatz: Henry's yardage seems a lot more about him breaking tackles tonight than it did last week when it was some dominant offensive line blocking.
Scott Spratt: That makes sense, Aaron, since the Patriots defense was second-best in allowed broken tackle rate (7.8%) while the Ravens are 24th (11.5%).
Bryan Knowles: That might be the ugliest option touchdown I've ever seen, but Tannehill punches in, and the Titans are piling on. 28-6 with 4:16 left in the third? I think ... even with how good the Ravens can be ... I think that's pretty much ballgame, ladies and gentlemen, with the way both teams have been playing today.
Vince Verhei: Did I think the Titans had a chance to win tonight? Sure. Teams worse than Tennessee have beaten teams better than Baltimore before.
Did I think they would take a 28-6 lead at any point in the game? Not a chance in hell.
Carl Yedor: And now, a strip-sack! Tennessee comes up with it! Even more dire for Baltimore now. Baltimore was a dominant team this year due in part to them maximizing edges where they had them by taking calculated risks (like going for it). Today's a good example of what happens when those small edges you can use to stack up a big advantage over the course of the season go against you all at once. Tennessee has managed two fourth-and-short stuffs, snagged a tipped interception, recovered the only fumble to this point in the game, and scored touchdowns on all three of their red zone opportunities. That's everything you're looking for if you're trying to win as the underdog. Now, they just need to hang on with a 22-point lead.
Scott Spratt: The Titans led football by scoring a touchdown on 75.6% of their red zone trips in the regular season. Six offensive touchdowns in, they've yet to settle for a field goal in the playoffs.
Bryan Knowles: Already seeing the "See? This shows your computers and numbers are all useless!" takes on the Twitters.
I mean, this would be (...is?) one of the 20 biggest upsets in postseason history. Upsets happen, and it's what keeps us coming back to this stupid game year after year.
Bryan Knowles: The ball bouncing off of Hurst's chest as he doesn't get his head around in time just sums up this entire game for the Ravens. This one ain't Jackson's fault.
Scott Spratt: And that Hurst drop was the Ravens' sixth of the day. Again, they had just 18 for the entire regular season.
Bryan Knowles: Fill in the blank: the Titans' upset is the biggest since ___________
I'm going with Jets over Patriots in the 2010 divisional round, the last time a No. 6 beat a No. 1. Patriots had a 44.6% DVOA and were going to roll; Jets were a top-ten team but not all that high and had just lost 45-3 to New England in Week 13. Five sacks of Tom Brady and three Mark Sanchez touchdown passes later, and it was clear the Team of the '00s was done. Or something like that, anyway.
Vince Verhei: I would say both Giants-Patriots Super Bowls were bigger upsets. The first one needs no explanation; the second, remember that in 2011 the Giants actually gave up more points than they scored in the regular season. This Tennessee team has been undeniably good for half a season now -- five of their last six wins have been by 14 points or more, counting tonight. I'm not sure they're not the best team left in the AFC. I mean, since Halloween I've been preparing for a Baltimore-New England AFC title game, and in the end neither of them even got there because Tennessee beat them both.
Aaron Schatz: That 2011 Patriots team wasn't anywhere near as good as in 2010 or this Ravens team ... their defense was close to the worst in the league. So yeah, this reminds me of the Jets-Patriots 2010 except that these two teams didn't meet in the regular season.
Vince Verhei: Brilliant point by Ross Tucker about how the last three weeks have unfolded perfectly for Kansas City.
The Dolphins got the Chiefs a surprise bye and the Titans just got them a surprise home AFC Championship game.
They went from 3 games including two on the road to two home games without doing anything.
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) 12 January 2020
Aaron Schatz: Heh. It will only unfold perfectly if we run these Audibles on Monday morning with Kansas City having won on Sunday.
Carl Yedor: By DVOA difference alone the Beastquake game between Seattle and New Orleans in 2010 was a slightly larger upset than Jets over Patriots that year, but Seattle did have the benefit of playing that game at home. That game was more of a matchup of good (NO) versus pretty bad (SEA) as opposed to dominant (NE) versus pretty good (NYJ) though. I wonder whether the latter strikes people as a more massive style of upset than the latter. I'm inclined to lean with Patriots-Jets though.
Bryan Knowles: Talking about poor teams over good teams, I thought about saying the 2008 divisional round game where the Cardinals (-5.0% DVOA) upset the Panthers (18.0%), but I think those Panthers felt more like a fluke, and Jake Delhomme throwing five interceptions feels less like an upset and more like a meltdown. They were 10-point favorites, though!
It has been a while, I suppose is the point.
Tom Gower: 28-12 win. I'm still not sure how to process this game emotionally. The Titans franchise hasn't had many playoff wins in many years, and the playoff wins they have had have all been close. Their most recent playoff wins before this game were the 2017 game against the Chiefs when they trailed 21-3 and didn't take the lead in until just over six minutes left; the 2003 game against the Ravens when they won on a field goal at the end; and the 2002 game against the Steelers when they won in overtime. Not since Derrick Mason took a safety kick back 80 yards in the AFC title game against the Jaguars has a Titans playoff game felt in hand when the fourth quarter began. Heck, if you go by final margin, that and tonight are the Titans/Oilers' only playoff wins by more than since points since literally the 1978 postseason (when, naturally, they didn't win a game by more than seven points in the regular season before winning two playoff games by eight-plus).
A couple of things in particular stood out about this game. Derrick Henry is Derrick Henry, but I'll mostly let other commentary serve on his individual exploits. The Ravens have a good set of defensive linemen, and I thought the Titans might struggle in this game because of their difficulty blocking Michael Pierce, Brandon Williams, and company. That absolutely was not a consistent issue tonight. I thought their interior defensive front might do OK against Baltimore, and they did more than that. What I worried about primarily was how the outside linebackers and other players would handle edge runs and whether they'd get consistently gashed for 8 and then open up inside lanes compensating for that. Lamar can do the spectacular as a runner, and did a couple of times tonight, but it wasn't that bad. Obviously Baltimore had their share of self-inflicted mistakes in the pass game, and you saw the good (ability to hit tight inside windows) and bad (consistency outside the numbers) with Lamar passing tonight. But structurally, these are both largely run-oriented teams and the Titans won the critical matchups in both areas.
Field position was quite significant in this game, I thought. Three of the Titans' four scores came on drives starting in Baltimore territory. The fourth included Derrick Henry's 66-yard run, and only one of their other seven possessions starting in their own half made it into Ravens territory. Baltimore, meanwhile, dealt with long fields all night long. Their best starting field position came at their own 26, and that was the drive that began with Seth Roberts' drop, what was it, 20 yards downfield? But just when I thought Baltimore had the chance to take charge in a game that still hung in the balance, they got stopped on fourth-and-short.
Beyond the Titans' control of both lines of scrimmage, I was interested by how the Ravens chose to play this game on defense in particular. A week after New England's defense played well enough to win spending an awful lot of time playing two-high and being relatively content with Henry getting short gains, Don Martindale and company stuck to their normal pressure-oriented style. Looking at the deep shot to Kalif Raymond that made it 14-0, it's easy to criticize that decision. But I also look at that whole "seven points on long fields" thing and wonder just how much criticism he should get. Baltimore still tried to run the ball plenty, I thought, and they had opportunities in the pass game that just weren't executed. I thought the pass game stuff was more about execution than scheme. That's definitely an area that can and should be upgraded next year, assuming some normal level of non-zero development from Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and whatnot, and maybe not having to rely on Willie Snead and Seth Roberts for big roles. The penalties on punt returns also didn't help, making long enough fields even longer.
Houston Texans 31 at Kansas City Chiefs 51
Scott Spratt: Wow, Kenny Stills was way wide open on that 54-yard touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: They ran a fake bubble screen to Will Fuller and everyone on the Chiefs jumped on it. Great play design by Houston.
Bryan Knowles: Right tackle Chris Clark hobbles off the field on the Texans' opening drive; that leaves Houston's tackle depth chart pretty stretched with Tytus Howard already on IR.
But at least for now, it's OK -- the Chiefs defense loses Will Fuller entirely, and he races for a 54-yard score. The Texans faked a third-down bubble screen, everyone on the Chiefs bit on it, and Fuller was left all alone.
Dave Bernreuther: One play after Chris Clark goes out, I see where on the field the Moo Cows are, turn to a friend, and say "if this was anyone smarter than Bill O'Brien, they'd call a shot play here knowing they'd go for it on fourth down, but it's BOB, so they w-"
Uncontested touchdown for Stills, and I'll just be over here chewing on my shoe.
Carl Yedor: Play was very similar to the one that iced the game for Seattle last week in Philadelphia. Fake screen was set up to the left this time instead of the right, but the end result was still a fast guy (Stills today, Metcalf last week) wide open downfield on a third down.
Scott Spratt: Wow, I know Tony Romo predicts plays and all, but he had just finished explaining how small moments like Travis Kelce's third-and-6 drop could end up being the reason a team loses, and the Texans immediately block the punt and return it for a touchdown to go up 14-0.
Bryan Knowles: Remember the Titans getting a tip-drill interception against Lamar Jackson early yesterday, and then turning that into immediate points? Yeah, Texans working to the same beat today. To beat a favorite, you've got to get early breaks and take advantage of them. So far, so good for Houston.
Scott Spratt: I love that you unintentionally started that comment "Remember the Titans," Bryan.
Rivers McCown: Folks,,,,,
This is fun and new for an AFC divisional round game.
Scott Spratt: And the Chiefs lose another would-be first-down conversion on a drop, this one on a throw behind Demarcus Robinson that he nevertheless should have caught on third-and-5. Anyone here good at spread math? What would a money-line parlay of the Titans and Texans pay if the Texans end up with the upset win, as well?
Vince Verhei: The Ravens were upset last night in large part because their receivers could not catch the football.
The Chiefs' first two drives today when their receivers dropped what would have been third-down conversions. The first by Kelce, and just now by Demarcus Robinson.
Bryan Knowles: Scott: If the numbers I'm looking at are the closing lines, Tennessee was +342; Houston +350.
That's a payout of $1889 on $100.
Lots of time left, of course.
Scott Spratt: Wow, that's crazy. I just don't remember this happening to a conference approaching its championship, assuming as you said Bryan that the Texans can pull this off.
Aaron Schatz: 2008 had a fourth seed and a sixth seed make the NFC Championship Game. The lines of the divisional round games were Panthers -10 (Cardinals won) and Giants -4 (Eagles won).
Scott Spratt: Ugh, Aaron, don't remind this poor Panthers fan. I tried to block that Jake Delhomme collapse out of my memory.
Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill just fumbled a punt and now the Texans have the ball on the goal line to go up three scores. Insane.
Vince Verhei: Special teams are butchering Kansas City. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown, and now Tyreek Hill fumbles a punt away inside the 10-yard line ... and Deshaun Watson makes it pay off with a touchdown to Darren Fells.
The Texans have three touchdowns. The Chiefs have two first downs.
Carl Yedor: The Patriots got eliminated and then everything turned to chaos in the AFC. Kansas City gets a stop but then muffs the punt inside the 5. Houston quickly punches it in. 21-0 before the end of the first quarter. Looks like we get back-to-back days of young quarterbacks trying to lead massive comebacks between Patrick Mahomes and Jackson.
Dave Bernreuther: I am a fan of an AFC South team. I have long said that it is/was, top to bottom, a better division than anyone ever gave it credit for. So this should amuse me to no end...
But I have ZERO desire to watch a Titans-Texans AFC Championship Game. None whatsoever.
It's 21-0 Texans. In the first quarter. In Arrowhead. WHAT IS GOING ON?
Bryan Knowles: Scott, the last time two underdogs won in the divisional round (in one conference) was in 2011, when the 49ers beat the Saints and the Giants beat the Packers -- the 49ers were at home, but the Saints were considered the better team by Vegas. The 49ers were just 3.5-point underdogs, though; not exactly the same level as what we're seeing here.
In addition to 2008, as Aaron pointed out, the other times we've had two underdogs win in the divisional round in the same conference:
- 2006: Patriots over Chargers (-5), Colts over Ravens (-4)
- 1987: Redskins over Bears (-4.5), Vikings over 49ers (-11)
- 1982: Dolphins over Chargers (-1.5), Jets over Raiders (-3.5)
- 1979: Rams over Cowboys (-8.5), Buccaneers over Eagles (-4.5)
- 1970: 49ers over Vikings (-7), Cowboys over Lions (-3)
So, not only is this uncommon, but the scale of this double-upset would basically be unprecedented.
Scott Spratt: By the way, the Chiefs were the No. 1 team in weighted special teams DVOA this season. The Texans were third.
Vince Verhei: OH MY GOD. The Chiefs come out down 21-0. Mecole Hardman muffs the kickoff, but recovers it. They promptly drop passes on first (Damien Williams) AND second (Robinson again) down. A third-down pass hits Hill in the hands but is knocked free by a Justin Reid hit.
GUYS. YOU ARE PROFESSIONALS. ACT LIKE IT.
Scott Spratt: Is this a good or bad time to bring up Marlon Humphrey's choke comments after the Ravens loss?
It's easy to see the randomness play in small sample sizes with things like the Ravens' failed fourth-and-1 attempts. But when they and now the Chiefs are dropping a bunch of passes, what do you guys make of that?
Bryan Knowles: I think that if the Chiefs do lose, it will hopefully stifle some of the "Ravens shouldn't have rested their starters!" talk.
I don't know how a pair of teams which have been so good, both in general and specifically at catching the ball, could have so many drops in their biggest game of the season. It's bizarre. Sports are strange.
Rivers McCown: I would have a lot of desire to watch an AFC South Conference Championship game and I bet Tom would be as well.
Bryan Knowles: For the record, the last time a team overcame a 21-point first-quarter deficit was in 2011, when the Patriots beat the Bills in Week 17. Started 21-0 Bills, ended 49-21 Patriots.
This is not an easy situation to dig yourself out of.
Bryan Knowles: I swear, if we get Rivers vs. Tom and Vince vs. me in the championship games, I am going to explode.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, Bill O'Brien, no no no. Fourth-and-a foot, maybe, inside the 20. The Texans line up to go for it, but then call a timeout and kick the field goal instead. Has to be the wrong call. Just has to be.
Vince Verhei: Bill O'Brien gonna Bill O'Brien. Fourth-and-1 at the KC 13, and he keeps the offense on the field, then panics, calls timeout, and sends out the field goal team. One, obviously, pretty much every team should go for it on fourth-and-1 in the red zone every time. Two, if you're going to kick a field goal from that close, just take the delay of game! Taking the timeout there indicates that you think your kicker can hit from 31, but not from 36, which ... yeesh.
So Houston is down to one timeout, which is bad, but they are up 24-0, which is good.
Scott Spratt: The funny thing about that is that the 21-point lead probably makes any strategic mistakes pretty minor. The Texans went from very likely to win this game to also very likely.
Vince Verhei: Of course it was, though I admit the difference is slighter than I would have expected. Of course, when you're up three touchdowns going into it, nothing will change your GWC much.
Bill O'Brien had the right idea initially, then had a change of heart.
— EdjSports (@edjsports) 12 January 2020
Bryan Knowles: The first 20 minutes of the game notwithstanding, if you had to come up with a scenario where a team comes back from a 24-point deficit, is there anything you'd pick over "Patrick Mahomes throws for a zillion yards?"
Carl Yedor: In that situation, if you are going to change your mind and kick the field goal, just take the delay of game! Obviously not particularly likely to matter, though -- either way 24-0 and 28-0 are both massive deficits.
The good news for Kansas City (beyond the fact that it's a 24-point margin instead of 28), is that Mecole Hardman just ripped off a big return. Good field position on the first drive of what would be an epic comeback if they can miraculously make it happen.
Scott Spratt: To Bryan's point, the Chiefs do seem much better equipped to overcome a multi-score deficit than the Ravens were. They have a ton of big-play threats while the Ravens are built for 5- to 15-yard gains.
And I definitely wrote that before Damien Williams went in for the first Chiefs' touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: *Player 2 has entered the game*
Mecole Hardman returns the ensuing kickoff for 58 yards, and Lonnie Johnson goes out. Tony Romo points out that Johnson's the one covering Kelce, and yup, the very next play, Mahomes hits Kelce for 25 yards. And then on the very NEXT play, Mahomes hits Damien Williams for 17 yards and a touchdown.
Gotta go for the kill when you have the chance, Bill!
Rivers McCown: I am at peace with whatever happens from here.
Vince Verhei: Houston's 24-point lead lasted for one minute, three seconds. Houston still has a big lead, but you can't defend a big lead against Kansas City the way you would against other teams.
Bryan Knowles: Ack, I had forgotten that the Texans went for it on fourth-and-1 last week, failed, and the Bills tied it and went to overtime. How much do you want to think that influenced Bill O'Brien to kick that field goal?
Scott Spratt: I'm stunned that O'Brien faked a punt in its own territory. I don't know why you'd go for the highly variable choice with still a big lead.
Bryan Knowles: Hard to make "kick a field goal on fourth-and-inches" and "fake punt deep in your own territory" work in the same logical framework, though I like the call. Great play by Daniel Sorensen to stop the Texans short.
Vince Verhei: But then they try a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from their own 31! It doesn't work -- Daniel Sorensen makes a great open-field tackle on Justin Reid 2 yards short -- but I love the call!
Dave Bernreuther: I liked it too, because I always like aggression. But it also feels a bit like too much of a risk of giving them hope and putting life in the stadium.
That said, even if the Chiefs get another quick touchdown here, they're still going to be down two scores. So it's not a catastrophe that it failed. And it would've been demoralizing if it had worked, which it very nearly did.
Kelce just had another drop. Yeesh.
Aaron Schatz: I know you run a fake punt based on things you see on film, and the Texans saw something to believe that the up-back sweep would convert for a first down. But it seems like being up 24-7 in the second quarter is a weird time for a fake punt. It's a David strategy, something you use when you are losing, not winning by a lot. On the other hand, it would have worked if not for a great one-on-one tackle by Justin Reid on Daniel Sorensen.
Bryan Knowles: And now it's 24-14, thanks in large part to Lonnie Johnson interfering with Travis Kelce on a shot play.
I assume the Texans GWC is still floating around 60%, but man oh man oh man.
Carl Yedor: Pretty strange timing for a fake punt from Houston. If you're going to be aggressive, go for it on fourth-and-1! Additionally, you're up 17 points. Yes, it's way too early to turtle up and try to take the air out of the ball given that you're playing Mahomes. Houston's defense isn't amazing. But if that's the case, maybe run-run-pass isn't the right way to approach that. Maybe it's a 4D chess strategy to try to convince the opposing team into thinking that you're going to play conservatively and then be aggressive? I'm not sure. Even still, Sorenson had to make a heck of a play to stop the conversion from happening, which he definitely did.
With the benefit of excellent field position again, Kansas City quickly punches in another touchdown. Only a 10-point lead for Houston now.
Bryan Knowles: For the record, the largest first-quarter deficit ever overcome in the playoffs is 14 points, most recently done by the Saints over the Eagles in last year's divisional round.
Vince Verhei: Shortly after the Kansas City touchdown to make it 24-14:
Kansas City is a live favorite on Bovada right now
— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) 12 January 2020
And then Houston fumbles away the ensuing kickoff return and Kansas City has first-and-goal. Sorenson forced the fumble! He's the MVP!
Dave Bernreuther: And there's that special teams luck starting to even out...
This game is bonkers.
Bryan Knowles: And now it's 24-21, as Mahomes finds Kelce for his second touchdown of the game.
And now, GWC favors the Chiefs again, because they're the better team.
Oh my oh my oh my.
Scott Spratt: What's the record for the biggest deficit overcome still in the first half haha?
Carl Yedor: "The Patriots got eliminated and then everything turned to chaos in the AFC." Yes, I'm quoting myself. A fumble on the kickoff sets the Chiefs up with goal-to-go. This game has made no sense whatsoever and we haven't even hit the two-minute warning. Kelce picks up another score, and it's 24-21. If you had told me this morning that it would be 24-21 Houston halfway through the second quarter, I wouldn't have been stunned. Houston and Kansas City are both capable of explosive drives throwing the ball deep down the field. But the sequencing has been completely bizarre.
Bryan Knowles: Scott: Believe it or not, 21 points. Done three times, most recently by the Steelers last season ... against these Kansas City Chiefs, back in Week 2.
Dave Bernreuther: Somewhere in the bowels of Arrowhead Stadium is a fan that went to the bathroom down 24-0, got stuck typing a text or something, and just missed ALL of that.
Three touchdowns in 3:24 of game time, and not too much more in real time. Unreal.
So, with the reset button hit ... let's see if Deshaun Watson can do Deshaun Watson things and avoid putting the ball back in Mahomes' hands again too quickly.
Vince Verhei: They're reviewing it to see if Mahomes was across the line, but for the moment the Chiefs have taken the lead with maybe the craziest play yet in this game. He threw that pass DOWN to Kelce. The ball was released at head height and started descending immediately.
Bryan Knowles: 28 points in a quarter, and the Chiefs have the lead. What an incredible quarter -- what an incredible half.
And there's 44 seconds left. By not running once, the Chiefs have left time on the clock for the Texans to do something here.
Vince Verhei: Big pass to Hopkins to the edge of field goal range. Bet Houston wishes they had that timeout from the earlier field goal now.
Bryan Knowles: So! Uh. That was a half of football that definitely happened.
I suppose if you told the Texans they'd be down just four points at halftime, they'd have taken it?
Dave Bernreuther: That second-down escape by Watson is one of the best incomplete passes I've ever seen. Saved them a chance to kick this field goal.
51 yards outdoors in January is still a dicey proposition, of course. And it's not even close. Oh well. Still a great sequence there by Watson to get them that chance.
Vince Verhei: Pro Football Reference puts that half into perspective.
— ProFootballReference (@pfref) 12 January 2020
Roger Goodell needs to step in and extend halftime to 45 minutes. We all need to catch our breath.
Dave Bernreuther: I'd assume that depends on when you told them, Bryan...
Carl Yedor: This game has the chaotic feel of Chiefs-Rams from last year. No defensive touchdowns so far but plenty of points. Fairbairn's end-of-half field goal misses wide right, but it's still 28-24 at halftime. Honestly the only surprising thing that could happen in the second half would be if the game ended at 28-24. Everything else is on the table.
Vince Verhei: Checking in on some insane halftime stats from a insane first half:
- Patrick Mahomes has four touchdowns in 12 completions. He is 12-of-22; I believe the Chiefs have dropped five passes, three by Robinson.
- Kansas City running backs have three carries for 1 yard, all by Damien Williams.
- Mahomes has 35 yards on two carries. His career high is 59, against the Chargers in L.A. in November.
- Travis Kelce: 10 targets, eight catches, 83 yards, three touchdowns.
- Houston leads in plays (38-28), total yards (237-174), and time of possession (almost two-to-one), but Kansas City leads in first downs (13-11) and on the scoreboard (28-24). Each team has one turnover and is averaging 6.2 yards per play.
Dave Bernreuther: Last night we saw some bad luck ignite a lot of bad takes online about aggression because the Ravens failed on two fourth downs.
Today, then, isn't going to help, after the way the Chiefs came on after that fake punt. Even more ammunition for the naysayers.
But the real error O'Brien made was that ludicrous sequence where he wasted a timeout before kicking a chickensh-t field goal on fourth-and-inches when he had them on their heels. That was the opposite of aggression AND a major tactical error wasting that timeout to boot.
The ease with which the Chiefs have scored ever since they stopped dropping things shows exactly why the Texans need to be MORE aggressive, not less.
Naturally, most of twitter seems to be defending the field goal and attacking the fake punt. Which would've worked if not for a great play by Sorensen, who is having a heck of a game so far.
Rivers McCown: Well. This is certainly Houston Texans football.
Scott Spratt: The Texans can't afford for DeAndre Hopkins to be hurt, but he apparently suffered a rib injury at the end of the first half. He did just jog back from the locker room to the Texans sideline during the Chiefs first possession of the third quarter.
Aaron Schatz: Mahomes with 56 yards rushing on four scrambles. Houston playing almost entirely man coverage, Mahomes taking advantage of the big holes with the scrambles. But where is Travis Kelce in the second half?
Bryan Knowles: And we pick up right where we left off, with Mahomes running for big gain after big gain against the Texans' man coverage. Wouldn't have called Mahomes having more rushing yards than Watson at this point, but the Texans are uninterested in stopping him at all.
Damien Williams finishes the drive in the end zone, the Chiefs take a 35-24 lead, and the Texans really need to score now.
Bryan Knowles: Oops, 34-24. Missed PAT. Teaches me to assume things.
Dave Bernreuther: Did the Texans have the option of accepting that taunting penalty on the PAT?
I was suggesting to a friend that they should have, rather than getting 15 yards of field position, but that was made moot when Harrison Butker missed from the normal distance. The KC 12-minute run of good fortune has ended!
Vince Verhei: This is my new favorite dots play ever.
Frank Clark's third down sack on Deshaun Watson took 10.8 seconds from snap-to-sack, the second-longest sack this season.@TheRealFrankC_ traveled 42.2 yards of in-play distance, the second most distance traveled on a sack.#HOUvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/mIXHegNvFM
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) 12 January 2020
Thanks to a pair of holding calls on Houston, Kansas City gets a first-and-goal from the 5, and Damien Williams runs it in for the score. Chiefs have scored touchdowns on six straight possessions. Texans have done barely a thing this whole game to stop them -- two of Kansas City's punts were set up by third-down drops, and the other by drops on first and second down.
Bryan Knowles: Texans go three-and-out, Chiefs march right back down and score yet another touchdown; it's 41-24, and this game is basically over.
This seems like the game that will be the focal point of a potential America's Game: The Kansas City Chiefs.
Scott Spratt: The Chiefs mascot, K.C. Wolf, changed shirts after the rough start. Rally shirt???
Bryan Knowles: Football Perspective is all over this one with the cool stats today.
The Chiefs are the 11th team to score 41 unanswered in the postseason, and it's the fourth time a Houston team has allowed 34-plus unanswered, although the first three were obviously Oilers teams.
The Chiefs are now just the 11th team to score 41 unanswered points in a playoff game.
Also, this is the fourth team a Houston team has allowed 34+ straight points in a playoff game.
Here's all 29 times a team has scored 34 consecutive points. pic.twitter.com/VmiUhKG4pO
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) 12 January 2020
Those streaks will end there, as Houston has found the end zone, making it 41-31.
Aaron Schatz: One thing that I think is a little silly is people on Twitter pointing out that the Chiefs' comeback came after Bill O'Brien decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1. As if all the good play from the Chiefs since that decision was solely based on some kind of momentum shift and not, you know, Kansas City being an excellent overall offense that wasn't likely to keep dropping passes all game.
Dave Bernreuther: Right. The field goal call didn't start the comeback or change the momentum or anything. It was just dumb because the Chiefs can score a lot of points, so to beat them you should score as many as you can.
Case in point: Blake Bell goes in for Kansas City's seventh touchdown of the day. With almost 14 minutes left. This is like a Big XII game.
Rivers McCown: Bill O'Brien belongs in the Big XII so that's an apt comparison.
Scott Spratt: The Chiefs have 48 points and 45 offensive plays.
Bryan Knowles: Fourth-and-4, on the Kansas City 42, 12 minutes left, down by 17. Obvious, obvious go-for-it situation.
Bill O'Brien uses a timeout to think about it.
Aaron Schatz: Why Houston had to use a timeout in order to know to go for it on fourth-and-4 down 17 points is beyond me.
Rivers McCown: No it's not. You know why they had to do it. If nothing else can come from the scars I will wear forever it's that the emperor has no coaching staff.
Vince Verhei: The Texans are going to lose because their defense couldn't stop Kansas City even one time. That's more important than any of Bill O'Brien's goofy decisions. In the long run, O'Brien's goofy decisions are going to be irrelevant.
But man some of them are GOOFY. Calling a timeout because you had sent the punt team out on fourth-and-4? Down 17 in the fourth quarter? IN CHIEFS TERRITORY?
Bryan Knowles: At this point, I think that Texans fans have to be rooting for O'Brien to make enough goofy decisions that the owner gets the hint and moves on. That's the win at this point.
Vince Verhei: A stop! A stop! The Texans made a stop! Damien Williams gains 4 yards on a third-and-6 screen, and Kansas City is FORCED to settle for a Harrison Butker field goal and a 20-point lead!
Carl Yedor: The Chiefs did not score for the first 20 minutes of this game.
They have 51 points.
Vince Verhei: Pretty simple to write the postmortem on Houston. They spent an entire offseason dismantling their defense, which was lousy all season and then shredded in the playoffs like wheat before the reaper . Now they have to rebuild it without first- or third-round draft picks. In a division where Tennessee has found their way and Indianapolis isn't going away. Good luck guys!
Vince Verhei: Organizational-level swag.
Oh my god the Chiefs ran out of TD fireworks pic.twitter.com/Q8nMvmmkQJ
— Aaron Reiss (@aaronjreiss) 12 January 2020
Seattle Seahawks 23 at Green Bay Packers 28
Vince Verhei: Anyway, there's another football game today, and Seattle got some good injury news: Duane Brown is going to play at left tackle, his first game since meniscus surgery in December. His backup, George Fant, who played in his place last week, is also available. There was concern he would miss the game with a groin injury.
The bad news is that Ezekiel Ansah and Mike Iupati are both out.
Bryan Knowles: Meanwhile, everyone on Green Bay has the flu.
Slight exaggeration, but it's been going around and around, and has Bryan Bulaga on the sideline. Something to watch for.
Bryan Knowles: Pretty easy start for the Packers on their opening drive. Lots of gashes on the ground, capped off by Aaron Rodgers hitting Davante Adams for a 20-yard score. Pretty bad busted coverage; easy throw-and-catch. 7-0 Packers, early.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks move Jadeveon Clowney around a lot anyway, but he spent most of that opening drive at left end, probably to exploit Bulaga's replacement, Jared Veldheer. And it worked on second down in the red zone as he knifed into the backfield and hit Aaron Jones for a big loss. On third down, though, Packers ran a simple mesh concept to the left side. Tre Flowers and Ugo Amadi both covered the inside man, leaving Davante Adams wide open on the fade for the touchdown.
"Cover Davante Adams" seems like a good adjustment Seattle should make.
Carl Yedor: On Seattle's first play, they go play-action, and Wilson hits Jacob Hollister for what would be a first down. However, he fumbles the ball going to the ground, and the play is ruled down by contact on the field. As a result, they have to overturn it on review, but there was no visible camera angle of the Packers clearly recovering the ball (somehow), meaning it's still Seattle ball. Seattle will take the break and manages to avoid adding to its league-leading six fumbles lost on completed passes this season. The next set of downs goes nowhere though, so Green Bay gets the ball back but loses a substantial amount of field position.
Bryan Knowles: Hey, Jordan Roos is playing center for Seattle. That had been Joey Hunt's role, which he was really floundering in replacing Justin Britt. So that's yet another combination for the ever-changing Seattle offensive line.
Aaron Schatz: It has only been two drives, but I'm surprised how much pass pressure Seattle is bringing so far, given their poor pressure rate this year and Green Bay's low pressure rate allowed.
Vince Verhei: A lot of that penetration is just guys being unblocked, or barely blocked. Green Bay's protections looks out of sorts.
Hunt is back in for Seattle. He dislocated his finger, and they snapped it back into place and sent him back out there. Hope that doesn't affect any snaps going forward.
Seahawks go three-and-out with three Marshawn Lynch runs. Because why would you ever want to give Russell Wilson a chance to make a play when you can hand off to a guy who has already retired twice instead?
Dave Bernreuther: I saw an awful lot of "Seattle needs to get 20 carries out of Lynch as their game plan" chatter today. Which is ludicrous of course, but also sounds like exactly something Brian Schottenheimer would do.
Carl Yedor: After the first run gained 8, I thought that maybe Carroll would be satisfied with their run establishment for that series. Alas. I don't exactly hate the run on third-and-1 in a vacuum, but not letting Wilson throw the ball once in a series doesn't play to this team's current offensive strengths.
Bryan Knowles: There was some pre-game talk about which corner the Packers would use to try to keep up with DK Metcalf. Jaire Alexander is better than Kevin King (by a not insignificant margin!), but he's just 5-foot-10 compared to King's 6-foot-3. Metcalf's also 6-foot-3.
So far, it has been mostly Alexander from what I've seen, and it's working so far, but there has to be a way that Seattle can take advantage of that 5-inch difference at some point. Metcalf isn't going to beat Alexander by his still-poor route running, but he has the physicality advantage.
Seahawks drive down with a big pass to Tyler Lockett, but they stall out and settle for a field goal. 7-3 Packers at the end of the first quarter.
Vince Verhei: First quarter ends with Green Bay up 7-3. Seahawks got into field goal range on a brilliant sideline grab by Tyler Lockett on a pass that looked way overthrown, but the drive stalls after Hollister drops a third-down pass (and he may not have had the first down anyway).
I enjoyed the pinball game earlier, but it is comfortable to be watching a football game again.
Aaron Schatz: Hint: The Packers are going to throw to Davante Adams.
Tom Gower: Following that jet pass to Adams, here are Green Bay's targets by intended receiver on Rodgers' 12 passes:
- Adams: 6
- Thrown Away: 2
- Other Players: 1 each, by 4 players
Carl Yedor: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman mentioned on the broadcast that Seattle's six-lineman personnel groups help their blocking. I don't know the split for their pressure rates, though I imagine that this is true. However, the end result is that there are normally fewer receivers downfield running routes, which can sometimes lead to Wilson sitting there forever with no one coming open.
On Green Bay's side, they've picked up a number of chunk plays on their two touchdown drives, taking advantage of some pretty large swaths of space in Seattle's defensive backfield. Jadeveon Clowney has been in and out of the game with the core injury he has been nursing throughout the season, and when he's off the field, Seattle's defense is offering little resistance. The bright side for Seattle's offense is that one would think they can't afford to keep establishing the run down 14-3.
Bryan Knowles: Don't underestimate Pete Carroll, Carl.
I have no idea if Aaron Jones actually crossed the plane there. Couldn't see a dang thing on replay.
Vince Verhei: Officially, we are up to seven targets for Davante Adams, and six first downs. The only one that was not was the dropped SHOVeLL pass at the goal line.
Scott Spratt: Possibly a big call with the refs ruling a Jadeveon Clowney tackle a grasping the helmet opening penalty to turn what would have been a minimal gain on second-and-10 into a new first down in the Packers' red zone. But beyond even the uncertainty of whether the Clowney tackle qualified as that specific penalty, I'm pretty sure Jace Sternberger stepped out of bounds before the tackle. Could easily be the difference between a two-score Packers lead at halftime and a three-score lead.
Bryan Knowles: And, indeed, the Packers eventually, after five plays inside the five, turn the Clowney penalty into an Aaron Jones touchdown. It's 21-3 Packers, with 1:30 left in the second.
I think the Seahawks have to score before the Packers get the ball back -- either here coming off the kickoff, or to start the third quarter. It's time to open the "let Russell Wilson play" portion of the playbook.
Vince Verhei: Clowney badly misplayed that one. I don't know how you over-run a guy at the sideline so radically. What was he going to do, make a tackle 10 feet out of bounds?
It leads to another Jones touchdown and a 21-3 lead. Green Bay is just crushing Seattle in ball control. Their three touchdown drives have each covered eight plays or more. Seattle only had one drive with eight plays, and it ended in a missed field goal.
Bryan Knowles: And Bobby Wagner was hunched over and had to come off after the PAT, and now another Seahawks' offensive lineman is out ... they may be running out of warm bodies.
Vince Verhei: Oh good, Jamarco Jones has left with a head injury, so Seattle is down to third-string guard Phil Haynes next to backup center Joey Hunt. Sure enough, Green Bay promptly gets a sack right up the middle.
Aaron Schatz: One problem with the first half is that Seattle didn't convert a third down until the pointless last drive, with a quarterback draw right before the Hail Mary. (NFL seems to be calling it a scramble, but I think it was a QB draw.)
Bryan Knowles: Instead of playing short and going for a field goal, the Seahawks throw to the end zone. Incomplete, and we go into the half 21-3.
Sometimes, we sit here and we scratch our heads and try to figure out what it would take for the trailing team to come back -- what delicate offensive strategies, what defensive adjustments, what clever trickery is needed to turn a huge deficit into a close game.
I don't think there's any question for the Seahawks. Cover Davante Adams, and then Let Russ Cook.
Vince Verhei: Seattle gets into Hail Mary range, but it falls incomplete. 21-3 at the half. I still think Russell Wilson can turn things around, but they need to give him a chance. Marshawn Lynch has six carries. He should not get a seventh, unless they hit short yardage.
However, I don't know about their defense. Adams has gotten most of the focus, but pretty much everything else Green Bay has tried has worked too. I guess you go blitz-happy with lots of press coverage, but that goes against their philosophy and seems dangerous when Aaron Rodgers is sharp tonight.
They for sure need to play better on third downs, on both sides of the ball. They have converted only one of five third downs. Packers are five-for-seven.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know if a Seattle second-half comeback is as simple as "let Russ cook." The Packers are covering guys really well, he doesn't have the open receivers.
Carl Yedor: Wilson hasn't looked 100% dialed in today, which is a bit of a problem with all the offensive injuries they've had to manage entering the game. If Myers hits that 50-yard field goal, it's still technically a two-possession game with Seattle getting the ball to start the second half, but banking on making that long of a kick in the freezing cold is not a recipe for success. The Seattle offense for the last few weeks has felt a lot like it did in 2017, when a shoddy offensive line resulted in most running plays going nowhere, forcing Wilson to carry the load entirely on his own. The non-Wilson Seahawks players who have received carries have 20 rushing yards this week, which counts as a slight improvement over last week but obviously won't turn into many points if you continue to hand the ball off. Green Bay is three-for-three converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns while Seattle hasn't even made it that far, due in part to their third-down issues. Now down 21-3, it's looking pretty grim for Seattle, but I personally don't see either of these teams going into San Francisco and upsetting the 49ers next week.
Bryan Knowles: I hear what you're saying, Aaron, and you too, Carl, but I've seen this script from Seattle far too many times to be comfortable if I were the Packers. And, indeed, here we go -- 22-yard scramble, 24-yard toss to Metcalf...
Bryan Knowles: And, with the Seahawks now required to go for it on fourth down, they convert inside the 5, and let Marshawn Lynch plow in from the half-yard line to score their first touchdown of the game. 21-10...
Vince Verhei: Lynch gets three carries on that drive, for 5 yards. His comeback is now up to 60 yards in two and a half games ... with three touchdowns.
Bryan Knowles: Davante Adams. Wide open. Touchdown.
This is not a replay.
Vince Verhei: And Green Bay scores again, easy-peasy. Another third-down conversion, this one to Jimmy Graham. Another big catch by Adams, burning Tre Flowers for a 20-ish-yard gain, then burning him again for 20-ish more yards after the catch and a touchdown.
Green Bay has really fixed their protection problems. Seahawks can't breathe on Rodgers anymore.
Aaron Schatz: What I noticed was two plays before, third-and-6. If that was man coverage, I don't know why K.J. Wright hesitated a little bit before running with Jimmy Graham. That allowed Graham to catch a 27-yarder up the seam, and that led to the Adams touchdown.
Carl Yedor: The biggest reason that I was pessimistic about Seattle's chances was not necessarily because of Wilson's ability but because the defense has been giving up chunk plays for most of the night. Wilson very well could put up some serious points in the second half, but Green Bay has been able to consistently create favorable matchups in the passing game (Jimmy Graham against K.J. Wright running down the seam, Davante Adams against pretty much everybody). They extend the lead to 18 again on another big play to Adams. Seattle's season-long pass rush problem is rearing its head again. Green Bay's up to 6-of-8 on third downs tonight.
Aaron Schatz: I think Jaire Alexander has been on DK Metcalf most of the game, but he was just on Lockett on the goal line but slipped as they were hand-fighting and Lockett was open for the touchdown to make it 28-17 Packers.
Aaron Schatz: Amazingly, Seahawks make it downfield again and give it to Marshawn Lynch twice inside the 5 to make it 28-23. They blow the two-point conversion with a great play call by the Packers, a cornerback blitz by Jaire Alexander that Wilson never saw coming.
Bryan Knowles: After the Lockett touchdown, the Packers go three-and-out real quick, and then the Seahawks march right BACK down the field, basically all of it on Russell Wilson's arm until they get inside the 5, where they give the ball back to Marshawn Lynch for yet ANOTHER touchdown. The Packers have no answer for the Russell Wilson version of the Seattle offense.
The two-point conversion is no good, so it's still a five-point Packers lead with 9:33 left.
This is EVERY Packers game -- jump out to a big lead, watch it dwindle away, and hold on at the end.
This is EVERY Seahawks game -- fall behind, switch away from their run-first offense, and come back for a victory. Would we expect anything else out of this one?
Vince Verhei: Packers are running out of pass-rushers. The game stopped twice to deal with injuries, and the guys on the field look gassed.
Scott Spratt: The math isn't super complicated down five points after a touchdown, but I'll throw in that the two-point attempt improved the Seahawks' odds of a win by 1.4% over an extra point kick attempt.
Carl Yedor: One thing that you count on the Seahawks for is compelling television. They always seem to find a way to make things close in the fourth quarter, even when their trademark frantic comeback attempts fall short. Particularly when those comeback attempts seem to defy logic with how the game has gone up to that point. Green Bay already has a nice little drive here, though, in Seattle territory.
Scott Spratt: Haha, can the audible "yellow weasel" become the new "Omaha?"
Vince Verhei: Seahawks finally get a third-down stop as the Griffin twins come through on an elaborate play with Shaquill coming in on a corner blitz and Shaquem stunting from the left end up the middle. Seahawks take over down five with less than five minutes to go. Whatever happens the rest of this game, that was such a great moment.
Bryan Knowles: One thing they need to fix this offseason is the "repeated false starts to drain the clock" sort of thing. The Packers only did it once, thankfully, but man, it's compelling television to watch people stand around for a minute and a half with no intention of running a play.
Aaron Schatz: It also made no sense as a strategy because the Seahawks have plenty of time to get downfield and score even with that time taken off the clock, and Green Bay wants to leave time in case they need to respond to that (hypothetical) score.
Carl Yedor: Wonder if Seattle was alerted to a run to the left there by the fact that the words "yellow weasel" have a combined three L's in them.
Bryan Knowles: If so, Carl, we should all watch out for "orange ferret" next week.
Scott Spratt: I would say Malik Turner just Julian Edelman'd that catchable throw on a first-and-10, but that phrase probably has a different meaning after Edelman's vandalism arrest today.
Vince Verhei: But Preston Smith quickly kills that drive with a third-down sack. Turns out leaving your third-string tight end one-on-one against a quality edge rusher is a bad scheme!
Bryan Knowles: Germain Ifedi touched no-one on that third-down sack of Wilson.
I'm a little surprised the Seahawks are punting. Or, rather, I think I would have gone for it there, rather than trust my defense in this situation. I know Pete Caroll thinks otherwise.
Aaron Schatz: EdjSports has an 8% GWC error on Seattle punting on the fourth-and-11. That was a really bad sack for Wilson to take, because fourth-and-5 is a lot easier than 11, but with the blown block he had no time to do anything else. And I'm guessing Pete Carroll punts on fourth-and-5 too.
Vince Verhei: Packers gift the Seahawks a timeout with a second-down incompletion, but then hit their 400th third-down conversion when Adams burns Ugo Amadi for a big gain. That was enormous.
Aaron Schatz: How did they end up with Amadi on Davante Adams on a must-have third down?
Bryan Knowles: Adams went to the slot, which I don't think he has done much of this game. But there is no way you let Amadi try to single-cover Adams on third-and-almost-game.
Aaron Schatz: I don't get the single-high safety on the Jimmy Graham catch on third-and-9. Who cares if you get beat deep? Anything past the sticks is the ballgame.
Vince Verhei: Well, that's game. Two more third-down conversions to kill the clock. The Seahawks trusted their defense to make a stop rather than trusting Russell Wilson to convert a fourth-and-11, and the defense let them down. Too many big errors in critical situations, asking Hollister to block Smith and asking Amadi to cover Adams. Seahawks were outcoached for sure tonight.
Aside from not getting to watch Russell Wilson play football for eight months now -- which sucks -- the Seahawks obviously need major-league defensive help. A pass-rusher, a pass-rusher, my kingdom for a pass-rusher.
And it would be nice if they would embrace their quarterback and just let him play four quarters instead of two, but I've given up on that ever happening.
Carl Yedor: Green Bay finishes the game 9-of-13 on third down while Seattle only ends up 3-of-9. That right there is probably your story of the game. Green Bay was able to get Adams lined up in favorable one-on-one matchups all night, primarily against Tre Flowers and, crucially at the end, Ugo Amadi. On the point about converting fourth-and-11, you still have the chance to try to stop the other team if you don't get it. Ironically, Seattle won last year's matchup with the Packers in part because Mike McCarthy elected to punt on a fourth down and never ended up getting the ball back. Carroll returned the favor one year later on a much bigger stage.
Bryan Knowles: Unsurprisingly, in his post-game press conference, Pete Carroll said he gave no thought to going for it on fourth-and-11. Punting was always the move from there; the odds were to great to pick up a first down at that distance.
I wonder what he thought the odds of getting a three-and-out defensively were.