compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions 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.
Los Angeles Rams 18 at Green Bay Packers 32
Bryan Knowles: One of the announcers (I think it was Kevin Burkhardt) argued that Aaron Rodgers had the best season of his career this year. He did lead the league in DVOA for the third time, but it's hard to honestly argue that he was better this year than he was in 2011, where he had a 46.6% DVOA. There's an argument for putting 2014 over this year as well, though the two DVOAs are very similar (33.7% this year, 32.7% in 2014). Of course, he won MVP in both of those two seasons, and might well make it three for three this year.
Aaron Schatz: Here's the thing: This was Aaron Rodgers' best season if you're talking about raw stats without comparing him to the league average. But the league average of 2020 is so much higher than the league average of 2011...
Packers easily went down the field on their first drive. Rodgers caught the Rams with the 12th man getting off the field, that was smart, typical Rodgers play. Jalen Ramsey not strictly covering Davante Adams so far. Packers slowed down at the goal line, ending with a pass dropped by Allen Lazard on third-and-goal. Camera showed Rodgers mouthing "catch the fucking ball" after the drop. Field goal, 3-0 Packers.
Scott Spratt: Big time announcer curse with the graphic showing the Packers were the most efficient touchdown-scoring team in the red zone since 2000 (would that have been the Greatest Show on Turf Rams?). Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete on second- and third-and-goal, and the Packers are up 3-0 instead of 7-0.
Bryan Knowles: Something to watch -- Aaron Donald was only on the field for five of the 11 snaps on that drive, including none in the red zone, I believe. He's not at 100%, so how much he's able to play and how effective he'll be is something to keep tabs on.
Carl Yedor: Green Bay moves the ball pretty effectively up until they reach the goal line, but the Rams' defense holds once they get there. The Packers got a big play when they caught the Rams substituting that set them up with first-and-goal, but they couldn't capitalize from there. I'm paying close attention to how defensive coordinator Brandon Staley deploys Jalen Ramsey vis-a-vis Davante Adams, and it seems like whenever Adams is isolated to one side, Ramsey is following him. Other than that, the Rams aren't breaking their defensive structure just to get Ramsey on Adams. Green Bay has countered that by moving Adams around, sending him in motion on the play that resulted in his only catch of the opening drive. Rodgers appears to be taking the avoid-Ramsey approach in the passing game, which was a strategy he typically utilized against Richard Sherman during the Legion of Boom's heyday.
Dave Bernreuther: Huge missed opportunity there after a first down at the 4. Rodgers missed just a couple of inches high on the throw to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on what should have been a touchdown, and after a well-defended pass (also off the hands, but neither a bad throw nor a drop in my view) the Packers only get three.
Aaron Donald was barely on the field for that drive ... the first-down stuff of AJ Dillon was two other defensive tackles. And now the announcers note that Donald left the field and didn't come back. That's ... not so good.
(On another note, who else has pictured this game as Packers vs. Dickerson-era white Rams uniforms and gotten incredibly sad about the reality of this one? Just think of how good that'd have looked! Jared Goff looks especially ridiculous in the dishwater jersey with the long white sleeves.)
Aaron Schatz: Rams find Josh Reynolds and Robert Woods open on consecutive plays for 28 and 19 yards. They will happily take all the Packers zones that leave Jaire Alexander covering Cam Akers on the outside. Rams were going to go for fourth-and-1 at the 14 but wasted a timeout because they weren't ready to go for fourth when they failed on third-and-2, and then a false start turned their go-for-it attempt into a field goal instead. Now tied 3-3.
Vince Verhei: Really ugly sequence for L.A. on the next drive. A couple of big passing plays to hole in zone in the middle of the field get them into field goal range and some good runs set up a fourth-and-1. They make the correct decision to go for it, but since they substituted late, the refs held up the play so Green Bay could match, and L.A. ended up burning a timeout. That's both sides of the ball for the Rams that have had trouble switching personnel. Then, after the timeout, they false start, and end up kicking the field goal anyway. At least the kick was good and the score is tied 3-3, but it cost them a timeout to get there.
Vince Verhei:First quarter ends tied at three. You can see the Packers trying to exploit L.A.'s relative defensive weakness, allowing short runs. They got 10 runs and only eight passes, and those 10 runs have picked up 46 yards and four first downs already. Three carries each for Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and Dillon.
Bryan Knowles: The Packers are just killing the Rams via papercuts. That was a 14-play drive where the longest gain was an Aaron Donald unnecessary roughness call, clearly frustrated because he's not at 100%. No deep shots, no attempts to gain chunks of yards. Just a quiet confidence that they can pick up 4 or 5 yards every time they hand the ball off and just march right down the field. That wasn't exciting, but it sure as hell was impressive.
The touchdown comes on some nice double-motion by Adams. Ramsey, shadowing him, had to follow Adams as he motioned across the formation, and then back to his original side -- Ramsey couldn't keep up, and it was an easy pitch-and-catch to give Green Bay the 10-3 lead.
Vince Verhei: And the Packers force a three-and-out after that 14-play drive. Key play was a Za'Darius Smith sack where he stunted right into the hole left by a pulling guard. Perfect call and/or lucky guess by the Green Bay defensive staff.
Za'Darius Smith moved inside of the blitzing Christian Kirksey (58) off the edge. pic.twitter.com/ciPkXWNxW4
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) January 16, 2021
Dave Bernreuther: What was Jalen Ramsey throwing a tantrum about after Adams' touchdown? It looked like the kind of thing a defensive back might do if an assignment or OPI was missed ... but it was clearly not the latter and definitely looked like straight man coverage against a play you couldn't defend in that short a distance when timed that way. Nothing he could've done, so the tantrum just looked really strange to me.
Bryan Knowles: The Rams might have had a call there to switch off in a situation like that. Or, at the very least, they should have, as there was no way Ramsey was going to get into position in time. If there was a switch that didn't happen, I could see Ramsey being rightly peeved.
Or maybe it just sucks to give up a touchdown in the playoffs!
Tom Gower: Pretty sure Ramsey thought the call there was that another defensive back -- presumably 33 Nick Scott -- should have taken Adams when he went outside and ceded the new interior player's coverage to Ramsey since Ramsey had absolutely no chance of covering Adams with the motion.
Carl Yedor: I haven't been timing it or anything, but it definitely feels like Rodgers has had all day to throw for much of the game when he wants to sit back there. Some of their plays have been getting the ball out of his hands immediately, though I don't think it has been all of them. Donald being at less than 100% can't help for Los Angeles, and the Packers have mostly been content to dink and dunk their way down the field. It has been very effective so far, as they have been in the red zone on all three of their drives. The L.A. defense is great, and the best way to attack them is by taking the small open pockets of space when they do show up. One of the merits of forcing offenses to take little bites over and over in order to move the ball is that eventually they are likely to blow an assignment or commit a penalty, putting them behind the sticks. Green Bay had one of those hiccups on this drive when a holding penalty brought up second-and-14, but Adams in space more than made up for it to get them back on schedule for a short third down. Rodgers runs in a touchdown on third-and-goal by pump-faking Leonard Floyd into the air to put the Packers up 16-3 after a botched extra point.
Bryan Knowles: Rodgers has attempted one (1) deep pass so far this game -- the shot to Equanimeous St. Brown on the first drive. I'd put the over/under the rest of the way at 1.5; the Packers are just doing whatever they want to the Rams defense.
Except snap the ball well on extra points. I suppose everything couldn't have been perfect all day long; they'll have to settle for the 16-3 lead.
Vince Verhei: Green Bay's first three drives against the league's top scoring defense:
- 12 plays, 63 yards, field goal
- 14 plays, 84 yards, touchdown
- nine plays, 47 yards, touchdown
Bryan Knowles: Worth noting --on that botched snap, JK Scott lateraled to kicker Mason Crosby. That obviously didn't work, and Crosby was being looked at on the sideline. He came in to kick off, so hopefully he's alright, but "kicker getting tackled by, like, eight guys" generally speaking isn't on the play sheet.
Scott Spratt: I can't find the video, but Scott did an awesome job of fielding that extra-point snap that was basically behind him and placing it. If Crosby had just trusted the process, I think that extra point would have been fine.
Aaron Schatz: Rams are back in it. They went no-huddle and even though they took plenty of time off the clock with Akers runs, it was a 75-yard drive for a touchdown that took three minutes and gives Green Bay just 29 seconds on the other side of the kickoff. Green Bay defense looked pretty weak on that one. 16-10 Packers.
Bryan Knowles: Hell of a response drive for the Rams -- they basically needed a touchdown on that drive, considering the Packers start with the ball in the second half. More running than I would have expected, but Akers was effective, and Reynolds found some space in a soft, soft zone to take the ball to the edge of the red zone, and so on and so forth.
The Rams might want to think about playing that up-tempo style throughout the second half, as the Packers didn't really seem to know how to respond.
Bryan Knowles: I, uh, clearly meant that over/under on deep shots for just the last 30 seconds of the first half, not the rest of the game.
Scott Spratt: Yikes, what was Aaron Rodgers doing on those two end zone passes at the end of the half? Either one could have been picked.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm two drives behind now, but what Bryan and Tom said about Ramsey makes sense, and is smart on-the-fly defensive adjustments ... but if that was going to be the case, wouldn't Ramsey have pulled up or at least looked like he was adapting to a different zone/route? That's the part that threw me off. He didn't try to swap with (23?) and pick up Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the other route, or even show a hint of hesitation or deceleration as if he expected that; he was at a dead sprint to track Adams the whole time. That one just seemed to me like a great play design in that situation and not really something he needed to complain about.
Anyway -- two more touchdowns later ... that was a great drive for the Rams to answer the Rodgers touchdown. Down 16-3 they were in some real trouble. Instead, they march right down the field and go to halftime down 19-10 (after two consecutive near-picks in the end zone), which is entirely manageable.
Vince Verhei: Well that field goal drive was a mixed bag for Rodgers. Two great completions get them into field goal position, but then he gets greedy and throws two balls that could or should have been intercepted. Rams can't hang on to either one and Green Bay kicks a field goal to go up 19-10, and they get the ball to start the second half. Counting Rodgers' scramble touchdown, the Packers are now up to 18 carries for 74 yards and six first downs ... and they don't even have a 10-yard run yet. Eleven of those carries -- 61% -- have counted as successes. They're just taking the Rams apart with body blows.
Tom Gower: Packers up 19-10 at the half. They got the ball four times and scored four times, including when they started at their own 25 with 29 seconds to play in the first half. I saw a couple of people on Twitter note that the Rams could have a good chunk of the remaining time had they kicked short enough to force a return, and those people were correct. But you pays your money and you takes your chances and not every coach with a 16-10 lead would have let their offense actually try in that situation, even with a great quarterback playing at a high level (I'm reminded, as I always am, of John Fox kneeling a couple of times at the end of the half with Peyton Manning and the Broncos against the Ravens in 2012, a game Denver would of course go on to lose in overtime). Vince has pointed out the Packers' consistent success running the ball, despite the lack of chunk plays. I'd add to that that the Packers are doing that using all three backs (Dillon has three carries, Williams and Jones seven each) and from a variety of looks and formations. Matt LaFleur is really keeping L.A. off balance. The supposed Davante Adams-Jalen Ramsey matchup hasn't been seen much. Adams hasn't put up big numbers -- until he had a 21-yard catch (not against Ramsey) in the 30-second drill, he had four catches for 22 yards -- but they haven't needed him to.
Goff only has one incompletion, but the Rams had two three-and-outs anyway in their four drives. The first was the one throw he missed, on third down on the opening possession. The second was largely created by the aforementioned sack.
And Aaron Jones just ripped off 60 yards to start the second half. Forget what we said about not getting chunk plays on the ground.
Vince Verhei: Well, if the Rams are giving up long runs now, they're dead. That's the longest run against L.A. since November -- of 2017.
Then Williams runs for a first down on third-and-2 and Jones scores from a yard out. Two-point try is no good, but it's still 25-10.
Bryan Knowles: I mean, I don't know what you do if you're the Rams at this point. We know the Packers can quickly move the ball when they want to pass, but if you add in 60-yard runs, what are you going to do? Even excluding that one, the Packers are up over 4 yards per carry, and it's a consistent 4 yards, over and over and over.
Even if the Rams start scoring on every drive, I'm not sure I believe they can stop the Packers today -- and this is the No. 4 DVOA defense we're talking about. Yowza.
Aaron Schatz: No. 1 in weighted DVOA!
Bryan Knowles: One note about that defense -- Sean McVay was asked if they're limiting Donald's snaps, and he said no. Donald has played 61.4% of the snaps so far today, per Bill Barnwell -- but he never played less than 93% of the snaps in any playoff game before this season, and averaged 85% during the regular season. I do not believe McVay is being honest here.
Dave Bernreuther: I have never seen a quarterback be as calm about pressure while in his own end zone as Aaron Rodgers just was on second-and-17 before throwing a dart to convert as nonchalantly as he'd throw a checkdown.
What's interesting is that he sandwiched it with two overthrows -- although it'd be easy to argue that Lazard should have caught the second one -- when he wasn't really under any serious pressure at all.
Vince Verhei: Video evidence of what Dave was talking about:
No one should have this much poise staring down the Rams' defensive line from their own end zone and yet pic.twitter.com/lFpdxrmYcb
— Curtis Rogers (@AKidFromKent) January 16, 2021
Bryan Knowles: I don't get the point of the Cam Akers Wildcat!
*The Rams score a touchdown on a direct snap to Cam Akers*
I have always loved the Cam Akers Wildcat!
Scott Spratt: Sean McVay just stole that sweet two-point lateral play from Brian Flores. Check out the Dolphins version.
Bryan Knowles: And then here's the Rams version, for comparison.
Just a beautiful pay call for the Rams on this 2pt conversion
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 16, 2021
Tom Gower: Don't forget the 2017 Rams version, not in a two-point conversion!
Rams under McVay have shown this play before, I actually have this clip saved this from 2017 (also when LaFluer was the OC with the Rams) pic.twitter.com/ardTyNvkcV
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 16, 2021
Vince Verhei: Updated Green Bay rushing through three quarters: 26 carries, 166 yards, 10 first downs, 65% success rate.
Carl Yedor: At the end of the third quarter, Green Bay is 7-for-9 on third downs while the Rams are only 1-for-5. Despite all that, the Rams are somehow only down seven points, though Green Bay is driving again right now and could very well push this back to being a two-score game.
Scott Spratt: Oh shoot! I apologize for calling McVay a thief.
Vince Verhei: All the best coaches are thieves. Stealing things that work from other coaches is just smart.
(Really, this applies to everything in life.)
Carl Yedor: Instant update: Rams get a stop on the next third down they see, though on a third-and-7, they were able to use a pressure package instead of having to worry about being sound against the run. Prior to that attempt, Fox showed a graphic displaying Green Bay's average third-down distance at less than 4 yards, so that will definitely help your conversion rate (on top of being a top-tier offensive unit).
Vince Verhei: And on that note, here's Chan Gailey using that play AGAINST Sean McVay's Rams in 2016:
of course the only touchdown scored in the rams-jets game came off a hook and ladder pic.twitter.com/XzLAp3IAXX
— charles (never beefed with fedex) mcdonald (@FourVerts) November 14, 2016
Scott Spratt: McVay is a thief! I knew it all along!
Tom Gower: Urban Meyer ran it at Utah!
and of course there's Urban Meyer's Utah team (led by Alex Smith) running it in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl pic.twitter.com/r9bpZWZgE7
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 17, 2021
(And, to cite the old cliche, I'm sure some high school coach in Texas and/or Ohio ran it 80 or 100 years ago too.)
Aaron Schatz: Rams got the ball back with 13:17 left and attempted to hurry it up but the Packers started getting some real pressure. A sack on second down, then pressure forced a dumpoff to Van Jefferson at the line of scrimmage on third down, so the Rams had to punt. Packers will get the ball again.
Dave Bernreuther: Another Akers Wildcat snap with nothing but a run. I don't care that it worked on the touchdown; it's pointless if you're not actually gaining yourself a blocker, and it's dumb.
That said ... at this point it feels like they're setting things up for a wrinkle. The broadcast team has not been shy at all about mentioning that Akers used to be a quarterback, and you have to wonder if maybe the reason they keep running these plays that don't have as numbers advantage (even when they work) is because it'll open something else up later.
Vince Verhei: Rams, down by seven points in the fourth quarter, have a third-and-16 following a sack. Then they have to burn a timeout to avoid delay of game. Because third-and-16 is so much better than third-and-21.
And then they come out of the timeout and Goff barely evades pressure and checks down to Van Jefferson for a short gain and they punt anyway. That was not good use of a timeout, Sean McVay.
Bryan Knowles: It feels like the Packers were setting up that play-action bomb to Lazard all day long, and they finally pull it out with seven minutes left in the game. 32-18, and we're on to the NFC Championship Game.
Aaron Schatz: I've been waiting and waiting all game for the Packers to take a deep shot. The only time they have been throwing deep was on that drive to end the first half. Well, they finally took one on second-and-6 on their own 42, and they got Lazard totally open, speeding past and splitting Troy Hill and Jordan Fuller. Touchdown. 32-18 Packers.
Vince Verhei: To be fair, they had some deep shots on that third-quarter drive that ended in a punt, but Rodgers overthrew Valdes-Scantling on what should have been a 90-yard touchdown, and I think it was Lazard who dropped what could also have been a big play.
Aaron Schatz: Sorry, my mistake. The Packers threw deep a couple of times in the third quarter. But that Lazard pass was the first time they really hit one of their shot plays.
Scott Spratt: That conservative game plan has helped Rodgers avoid taking any sacks from the No. 2 defense in adjusted sack rate. Matt LaFleur crushed it tonight.
Vince Verhei: Wide receiver screen to Robert Woods goes nowhere as Jaire Alexander tackles him for a loss. Woods now has eight catches for only 48 yards, while Davante Adams has only 58 yards on eight catches. Both teams have seen their top guys largely shut down by elite corners (Alexander and Jalen Ramsey) and so they have decided they must force short completions to them even though those catches really haven't gone anywhere. Wouldn't you be better off just throwing to your other receivers? The Packers, obviously, have done just that, with all the deep shots to Valdes-Scantling and Lazard. I guess the Rams would probably be doing it more if Cooper Kupp were active.
Scott Spratt: It looks like Rodgers has graduated from the champion belt (discount double-check) to a crown, which he just pretended to put on Lazard for the game-sealing deep touchdown catch as the Packers can now take a knee and end this game with a 32-18 win.
Vince Verhei: Just a masterful game by the Green Bay offense. They end the game taking knees in the red zone -- if they had kicked the field goal there, they would have tied Buffalo's 35 points back in Week 3 as the most against the Rams this season.
Final Green Bay non-kneeldown rushing numbers: 33 carries, 193 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 12 first downs, 64% success rate.
Tom Gower: Significant difference in this game, maybe ultimately the key difference: Aaron Rodgers is capable of doing wonderful things if what's called isn't there, in terms of extending plays and avoiding mistakes (zero sacks and one quarterback hit, officially for the defense with the league's second-best adjusted sack rate and, yeah, Aaron Donald's injury matters), and Jared Goff, when he had to extend plays, got sacked or threw the ball away.
Baltimore Ravens 3 at Buffalo Bills 17
Scott Spratt: Not sure what linebacker A.J. Klein was doing on that fourth-and-1. He was lined up even with the ball prior to the snap, and he had his head turned just staring at it. That was the easiest offsides penalty the refs have probably ever called.
Bryan Knowles: Buffalo's defense gets off to a terrible start. Their linebackers are being very overzealous, and Baltimore just killed them with the counter and misdirection -- and when they did manage to get the Ravens into a fourth-down opportunity, they lined up offsides and granted them a free first down.
And then one sack puts Baltimore in second-and-a-mile, and when you get the Ravens' offense off rhythm, they sputter. It's three-and-out from there, and Justin Tucker bangs it off the upright. Still 0-0.
Scott Spratt: It seems like the Ravens could have just run every play and scored a touchdown. I'm not sure why they called a pass.
Bryan Knowles: It worked last week! Get the defense's head spinning against the run; toss the ball outside. They're the fifth-best offense when passing on first down, though they do it more rarely than almost anyone else in football. When defenses have to put so many resources against the run, it opens up shots for the receivers. But that sack was an absolute killer.
Vince Verhei: I'm pretty sure Klein was looking at the back of the center's head on that offsides play. No idea what he was thinking.
Also no idea what Greg Roman was thinking with that first-down pass when the run was working so well. Or what Lamar Jackson was thinking when he saw the unblocked blitzer in his face and still couldn't find a way to get rid of the ball. Honestly, not a great start to this game for anyone.
Vince Verhei: And the Ravens' second drive ends in a terrible third-down drop by J.K. Dobbins, which sets up a 23-yard punt. This is an awful game so far.
Scott Spratt: Woof, that Josh Allen flop that drew a roughing the passer penalty was egregious.
Vince Verhei: Bills get a field goal for a 3-0 lead. In two drives for each team, we're up to 10 runs and four pass plays for Baltimore, eight passes and zero runs for Buffalo. It's like watching Mike Leach coach against Army or something.
Vince Verhei: Buffalo's 14th play of the game is their first run. Unfortunately it's a Josh Allen scramble that comes up way short of the sticks on third down, and then Tyler Bass misses a field goal on what has already been a brutal night for special teams, and we're still at 3-0.
Bryan Knowles: The Ravens are very lucky not to be way behind after that first quarter. Allen has missed some knock-out shots. Instead, it's just a 3-0 game -- no consequences for some early-game jitters for Baltimore.
Bryan Knowles: Justin Tucker has played in 153 games, including both the regular and postseason. This is only the fifth time he has missed two field goals in one game. He has had one such game since 2016. This is ... baffling.
Scott Spratt: Tucker didn't miss two field goals all season in either 2016 or 2019.
Carl Yedor: The Ravens defense has been pretty impressive throughout this year, but I wasn't expecting a defensive struggle to this extent tonight. The missed field goals have definitely played a role, and the Bills have had open receivers down the field that Allen just hasn't been able to hit. The wind could definitely be playing a role in how rough this game has been going for the offenses.
Scott Spratt: Man, Josh Allen just fumbled on a sack for the second straight week. And for the second straight week, one of his offensive linemen was able to fall on it and retain a ton of field position. That could prove huge.
Andrew Potter: It's a good job penalties are capped at half the distance to the goal, because otherwise following a sack and three straight penalties, the Ravens would be taking this next snap from the concession stands.
Scott Spratt: I can't believe the Ravens were able to produce a new first down after being backed into a second-and-28 from their own 1-yard line.
Aaron Schatz: Bills are blitzing the hell out of the Ravens' pass plays. No fear of getting beat deep. It's working well.
Bryan Knowles: Well, that half sure was a half of professional football. The wind's obviously wreaking havoc on the Bills' passing game and the Ravens' kicking game, but oof. That was ugly to watch.
The Ravens haven't been blitzing as much as they did in the 2019 matchup, or as much as they have done in general this year. Considering how Allen has played against the blitz this season, that's a smart call; they're doing a decent job taking away the underneath passes and the wind is taking away the long ball. Now, if they could only open the oft-rumored and mysterious tome called "the Ravens passing offense," they might have something -- the Bills just have decided not to care at all about Lamar Jackson throwing the ball, and so far, they haven't had to.
That was kind of how Baltimore-Tennessee started too, now that I think about it, and the Ravens came out like an entirely different team in the second half. They'll need to do that again, I think.
Vince Verhei: We go to halftime tied 3-3 in one of the weirdest, ugliest games of the year. The teams have combined for three fumbles (all recovered by the offense), three missed field goals, five different punts that have netted 40 yards or less, seven penalties, and a 4-for-15 performance on third downs. Josh Allen leads the Bills with 4 rushing yards (ignoring his kneeldown). J.K. Dobbins was Baltimore's leading receiver until Hollywood Brown passed him on that last drive. Obviously the wind is playing a huge part in that, but it feels like the first team to get a turnover or big special teams play is going to win.
Bryan Knowles: Per ESPN, the Bills ran zone coverage on 87% of Jackson's pass attempts, compared to 56% in the regular season (our numbers are close). They are NOT going to let Jackson run through a vacated middle of the field.
Bryan Knowles: The end zone! We found the end zone!
And the Bills found a way to get Stefon Diggs lined up against Tramon Williams, which does not seem like a great plan -- that went for 20 yards to convert a second-and-16. You'd think, on a sure-fire pass down like that, you'd staple Marcus Peters to Diggs, and maybe add a safety or two, but what do I know?
I do know that you probably want more defenders than blockers in short-yardage pass situations. But on the Bills touchdown, Diggs was lined up for the screen, with two blockers ahead of him and just two Ravens defenders. That's a fairly simple touchdown, and we have a 10-3 game.
Scott Spratt: The Bills were 1-for-6 on third downs in the first half and just went 2-for-2 in their touchdown-scoring opening drive of the second half.
Bryan Knowles: The touchdown -- note Josh Allen trying to hike the ball fast when he saw three-on-two on the outside. The ref stopped him, but the Ravens STILL didn't catch on.
Josh Allen saw Baltimore only had two guys out to cover & tried to go even quicker but the ref stepped in pic.twitter.com/hOZ9oq56fK
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 17, 2021
Vince Verhei: The dots make that advantage even more obvious.
Josh Allen & Stefon Diggs (3-yard TD)
Route Type: WR Screen
The Ravens matched only 2 DBs on the 3 Bills WRs aligned out wide. Allen is the only QB with multiple TD passes on WR screen passes this season (including playoffs).#BALvsBUF | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/Hgh3EcUojI
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: That's Patrick Queen who didn't get over in time. It has not been a rookie season to remember for Queen.
Vince Verhei: I believe a 101-yard pick-six would qualify as that big turnover I was looking for. I couldn't believe Taron Johnson was even getting up to run that out of the end zone but, uh, it worked out for him.
Bryan Knowles: Oh no, Lamar...
The Ravens finally get a good drive going -- some passes to the outside, some runs against quarters, taking what the Bills were giving them. It looked inevitable that we'd be tied at 10 ... but Jackson just entirely misses Taron Johnson, sneaking underneath.
That would be bad enough, but no one stops Johnson -- he races 101 yards for the score. After a drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock, the Ravens are now down 14 points. I don't know if they can score fast enough to get back in this one.
Aaron Schatz: So much for the Bills blitzing. That time it was the opposite, it was the player dropping into coverage that Jackson didn't see.
Scott Spratt: And that was the play after Jerry Hughes blew up what looked like a blown coverage and easy touchdown pass to Marquise Brown in the left side of the end zone.
Aaron Schatz: Pick-six dots:
101-yard pick-six dots!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/ONpmtYJi3R
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: That was Lamar Jackson's first ever interception in the red zone. That's incredible, and it may well have ended Baltimore's season.
Carl Yedor: Now THAT is a swing. Ravens have third-and-goal after an instant pressure on second down prevented Jackson from getting an accurate throw off to a wide-open Hollywood Brown, and Taron Johnson steps in front of Mark Andrews in the end zone for a pick. Johnson takes it all the way back for six, and now, instead of potentially being tied, this game is 17-3. Baltimore seriously needs to score here, and fast, if they're going to mount the comeback.
Vince Verhei: And the quarter ends when a bad snap goes over Jackson's head (you could almost feel that coming -- they have been having issues with snaps all night), leading to a big loss on intentional grounding. Worse, looks like Jackson was hurt making his desperation pass.
Baltimore had a first-and-goal with a chance to tie not even two minutes ago.
Bryan Knowles: Jackson is, in fact, going to the locker room. Tyler Huntley is the backup tonight.
Vince Verhei: Meanwhile, Allen has been playing a lot better in the second half. The Bills started the third quarter with two straight handoffs; since then, Allen has gone 9-of-13 for 82 yards. Lots of YAC in those plays, but he does look way more comfortable with just a hint of a running game. Maybe Pete Carroll is on to something...
Scott Spratt: And apparently Lamar Jackson has been ruled out with a concussion from that shot he took after the fumble in front of his own end zone. Tyler Huntley will have to try to lead the Ravens comeback in the final seven minutes.
Carl Yedor: Oh my goodness. Right after Lamar Jackson is declared out for the game, Baltimore is forced to go for it on fourth-and-long in their own territory due to game situation, and Buffalo brings the blitz. Hollywood Brown beats his man going deep, but Tyler Huntley's throw under pressure is overthrown and falls incomplete. An accurate throw is a touchdown and a one-possession game. Instead, this game is pretty much over.
Vince Verhei: After yet another missed field goal (do a shot, I guess), Huntley gets the Ravens into the red zone, but his fourth-and-goal pass goes over everyone's head, and NOW we're over.
More evidence about how weird this game is: the Ravens are actually beating the Bills in yards per play, 4.7 to 4.4. Goes without saying, but that Taron Johnson pick-six changed the whole game, although the Ravens had so many other chances. They somehow turned three red zone trips into a net loss of four points.
Bryan Knowles: Story of the game, really -- the Ravens had five drives inside the 30. They came away with three points, and gave up seven.
Cleveland Browns 17 at Kansas City Chiefs 22
Bryan Knowles: I know there's not really any real, analytical evidence to back this up, but I have to think deferring and letting the Chiefs get the ball first is a mistake from Cleveland. If the Chiefs are firing on all cylinders, I don't see how the Browns win this one. Why not take the ball first and try to quiet the crowd with a long scoring drive of your own?
Because, yeah, the Chiefs marched right down the field, mostly behind Tyreek Hill -- two rushes and a 26-yard reception, both aided by some poor tackling attempts in space from Cleveland. It was just too easy, and the Chiefs march right down and score. An ugly extra point goes wide, so it's only 6-0 Chiefs, but still -- not an ideal start for Cleveland.
Scott Spratt: It looks like the Chiefs may try to make up for Clyde Edwards-Helaire's continued absence by giving Tyreek Hill more carries. He took two on that opening drive and converted a third down in the red zone that helped the team snag six points rather than just three.
Aaron Schatz: The Browns did a good job helping Kendall Lamm at left tackle after Jedrick Wills went down on the first play but that injury is going to be a problem for them.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not in love with the "call a timeout on third-and-21 to avoid a false start penalty." Especially not when the ensuing play is a 3-yard dump-off. I guess avoiding the 5-yard penalty made it a 46-yard field goal attempt rather than a 51-yarder, and it is still the first half, but ehhhh.
Vince Verhei: My favorite plays after two drives have all been built around options and/or quarterback runs. That Hill play that converted a third down in the red zone was a zone read, and Patrick Mahomes' touchdown run was a speed option. The Chiefs know how dangerous Mahomes is on the option, but they save it till the playoffs to avoid injury, which makes total sense.
Then the Browns come back on the Kansas City side of the 50, and Baker Mayfield converts a third-and-4 with a 6-yard gain on a quarterback sweep. I have said many times, I am a total sucker for a well-executed quarterback sweep. Next play, however, they try a SHOVeLL pass with an option pitch tacked on, but the Chiefs are not fooled and Jarvis Landry is tackled for a loss. Then a jailbreak sack really turfs the drive. Browns waste a timeout to avoid delay of game on third-and-21 (why, why, why???????) and kick a field goal and we have a 6-3 game.
Bryan Knowles: Credit to Myles Garrett for racing downfield to catch Mecole Hardman 42 yards later. Of course, when your defensive end has to make a tackle 42 yards down the field, something is probably going wrong with your defense.
The Chiefs are planning around Garrett, it looks like -- not in the sense that they're doubling him or anything, just that they're quickly operating the offense in the other direction when he's on the field. That's both a sign of respect, and something that's working way better than it has any right to, as the Chiefs are just marching down the field. Even a holding call doesn't slow them down, as Mahomes finds a wide-open Travis Kelce, who bowls over his own teammates into the end zone.
Cleveland better get on their high horses, and soon, because the Chiefs offense doesn't seem to show any sort of rust.
Dave Bernreuther: I saw an awful lot of data and pundits that seemed to think that the betting line for this game was too high, based on Cleveland's offense, Kansas City's margin of victory of late, the matchup, and whatnot ... but I wonder if people were just overreacting to certain recent narratives while forgetting another that's tried and true: you don't want to bet against Andy Reid after a bye week.
It's really early, of course, but this is NOT the same Chiefs offense that started out slowly in their playoff games last year or didn't-quite-dominate teams this year. Cleveland does still have the ability to score a lot of points and keep it close, of course, but the first three drives of this game should make it quite clear: you're not going to win this one trading field goals for touchdowns. And for that reason I think I agree with Bryan about the coin toss. If you can't stop the Chiefs, that two-for-one possibility isn't going to be that helpful. Might be better to take your chances by jumping out and playing with a lead.
(Then again, it's not hard to point to a year ago as a very strong counterpoint to that idea.)
Vince Verhei: I'm happy Myles Garrett is so fast, but ... who the hell is supposed to be setting the edge for the Browns here? Because Garrett's the only one in remote position to do that, but he cuts inside.
Mecole Hardman takes a pop-pass 42 yards (+28 YAC over expected).
Myles Garrett, who ran 54.1 yards from snap to tackle, reached 19.27 MPH in pursuit, fourth-fastest by a DL on a tackle this season. Garrett also reached the 5th-fastest (19.21).#CLEvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom | #Browns pic.twitter.com/WFCvcHnZTL
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 17, 2021
Rivers McCown: The Chiefs threw the last two months of the season to make analytics look bad. Very disrespectful.
Scott Spratt: Also, the Browns are 18th in DVOA and 25th in defensive DVOA. They were the weakest regular season team to make the playoffs, Bears (15th) and Washington (16th) included.
Aaron Schatz: In the preview, Rivers wrote about how both Mayfield and Mahomes have been strong against the blitz. The Browns aren't blitzing Mahomes at all, but the Chiefs are blitzing Mayfield a ton so far and he just hit Donovan People-Jones against it on a go route for 23.
Vince Verhei: I don't think holding penalty, Nick Chubb drop, Nick Chubb drop, tip-pass completion to quarterback for loss of 8 is the kind of sequence that's going to beat Kansas City very often.
Scott Spratt: Harrison Butker just made a 50-yard field goal with at least 10 yards to spare despite the wind, and the Chiefs may have an insurmountable lead of 16-3 with three minutes left in the first half. That said, the team has to be concerned with Patrick Mahomes' toe injury. Apparently he injured it on his touchdown pass to Travis Kelce; I didn't see whatever hit he took there. But he seems to be struggling both on his scrambles and planting his foot on throws. He has made a couple of inaccurate easy throws the last couple of series.
Scott Spratt: The Browns are making a slow and steady drive to try to end the first half, aided by a handful of Chiefs penalties. But I think that latest pass interference call on Daniel Sorensen was a bad one. Aren't you allowed to contact a receiver after a ball is deflected at the line?
Aaron Schatz: Yes. The booth would have had to review that the ball was deflected; there's no pass defensed listed in the play-by-play.
Bryan Knowles: Oh no. The Browns are driving, but as Rashard Higgins dives for the end zone, he fumbles. The ball rolls out the side of the end zone, and it's a touchback. That is brutal.
Rivers McCown: Whatever happens here, I have to say, Baker Mayfield has made some throws I didn't think he could.
Scott Spratt: Woah, and Sorensen just made up for the penalty whatever the call should have been. He forced a fumble on Rashard Higgins right at the goal line, and if he wasn't down, then that bounce out of the side of the end zone means this will be a touchback for the Chiefs.
Vince Verhei: Feels like a dozen ticky-tack flags thrown both ways. And then just when it looks like the Browns are going to make a game of this, the stupidest rule in football, maybe all of sports, strikes again, and the Chiefs are going to get the ball even though they never recovered the fumble.
Aaron Schatz: Complicating things, the replay shows that Sorensen launched himself with his helmet and hit Higgins in the head but you can't review for unnecessary roughness. Just a brutal turn of events for Cleveland.
Bryan Knowles: Fumbling out the back of the end zone should be an offensive touchback -- move the ball back to the 20, but the offense keeps the ball. Penalize them for not holding on to the ball, but don't credit the other team for not recovering it.
Whether it's first-and-10, first-and-goal, or whatever down it was beforehand, I could care less. But that is such a backbreaker on a play that would be forgotten if it was 5 yards further back on the field.
I'm less concerned about the missed helmet-to-helmet call; I'm not sure how else Sorensen is supposed to get in there to make a stop. But the touchback is no good.
Dave Bernreuther: So on third-and-7, which I understand is still a piece of cake for the Chiefs offense, the Browns don't try to stop the clock (as pointed out by Romo) with 40 seconds left. And yeah, if you get a stop and a punt, you're facing a long field without timeouts and it's incredibly unlikely.
But you're down 13 and the entire point of deferring was to get the double possession you likely need in order to hang with a team you can't stop ... shouldn't you at least *try*?
I guess the Chiefs getting only three there makes them "lucky," in that they're still technically only down two scores, which was also the case at 16-3.
Vince Verhei: If you're going to give that ball to the defense, why not give ***all*** fumbles to the defense? Why bother with recovering fumbles at all?
I'm furious about this stupid, stupid rule, but I'm trying to focus on what's going on in the rest of the game ... for example, at halftime, Patrick Mahomes is 19-of-25 for 233 yards with one touchdown passing and another rushing and we're all like "Geez, you can see the injury affecting him." We really do take that guy for granted.
Aaron Schatz: There's a big difference between needing two touchdowns and needing two touchdowns with two two-point conversions, though.
The biggest surprise of this game at halftime is the "Cleveland 3." We knew Kansas City would score on the Browns defense. But even if Higgins had not fumbled, 10 points would have been disappointing from a Browns offense that has been on fire (over 30% DVOA not counting Week 16) since Week 12.
Bryan Knowles: The NuBrowns have only come back from a 16-point deficit three times in their history, once each in 2014, 2006, and 2002. The Mahomes Chiefs have never given up a 16-point lead, though Andy Reid's Chiefs have done so twice (notably in the playoffs against the Colts).
I don't know. Even with Mahomes' toe injury, I feel that the Browns are just looking at too much to climb out of. Turn that fumble into a touchdown, make it a 16-10 game, and we have a contest. As it stands, at 19-3 ... I just don't see the Browns outscoring the Chiefs by double digits in 30 minutes.
Andrew Potter: It feels a lot like the NFC equivalent last night between the No. 1 seed and a wild-card opponent. I felt then that the Rams needed to play the second half as though they weren't stopping the Packers on defense and take any stops they did get as a bonus. It's the same for Cleveland: they should probably start playing four-down offense from their first possession of the half, absent any crazy prohibitive fourth-and-long situations.
Aaron Schatz: What they shouldn't do is throw an interception on the first drive of the second half. Oops.
Dave Bernreuther: Well, yeah, that's why I said "technically." It's the same logic involved in kicking the extra point to "get within one score" and all that nonsense when obviously the math of NEEDing the conversion changes everything. I guess ultimately, a timeout could very well have just given the Chiefs enough time to score a touchdown instead ... but there's also the possibility that it could have helped them get a better defensive call in and force a punt too. (Hey! An extreme long shot still counts as a "possibility.")
There's almost zero chance any of this matters, of course (also still a possibility), and with Baker Mayfield throwing a ball straight to Tyrann Mathieu on the opening drive, and then Myles Garrett getting hurt on the very next play, things are looking really bleak for the Browns.
(And maybe for the Saints as well. When's the last time all four home teams in the divisional round not only won but covered?)
Scott Spratt: I feel like calling your shot with a pointed arm as a quarterback isn't as smart as calling your shot with a pointed bat as a baseball player. Tyrann Mathieu read that decision and jumped the passing lane for the interception.
Carl Yedor: Well, it may not be completely over yet thanks to a Harrison Butker doink off the left upright, so we essentially reset the situation with slightly different field position for Cleveland and one minute off the clock. Unfortunately, losing Myles Garrett will make it even harder for Cleveland to get stops, though they managed to get off the field there.
Bryan Knowles: Dave: the answer is 1990. The Giants beat the Bears 31-3; the Raiders slipped past the Bengals 20-10; the Bills out-gunned the Dolphins 44-34; and the 49ers handled Washington 28-10.
So, it has been a bit. We did have three in both 2019 and 2018, though -- the Ravens blew it against the Titans last year, and the Saints failed to cover against the Eagles in 2018.
Dave Bernreuther: As terrible as that all seemed for the Browns, Butker's second easy miss of the day hands Cleveland the ball back at a cost of only 33 seconds and two yards.
Aaron Schatz: A lot of discussion on Twitter of the Browns going for the extra point after they scored a touchdown to make it 19-9. EdjSports model has their GWC at 11.4% with a go for two, 10.9% with an XP try.
Bryan Knowles: Oh no. Mahomes tried to rush for the first down and took a shot. He's out on his feet -- that's a concussion, at best. Chad Henne is in the game.
Scott Spratt: I didn't see him take a shot to his helmet on the replay. I'm not sure what the injury was.
Aaron Schatz: No, it didn't look like a helmet-to-helmet hit to me either, looked like it may have been helmet to ground.
Bryan Knowles: His helmet hit Mack Wilson's as the two were going to the ground, it looks like.
Vince Verhei: There is zero helmet-to-helmet contact. It's either a neck injury, or concussion caused by forehead hitting the turf.
Patrick Mahomes got taken down by the neck and was wobbly getting up off the ground.
He heads immediately to the medical tent.pic.twitter.com/DsFw9HAhN9
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) January 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Or perhaps I was wrong -- judge for yourself.
Andrew Potter: Man, Andy Reid's injury luck with his key players in the playoffs in Kansas City is horrendous. From Jamaal Charles' concussion in the massive comeback loss to Indy in 2013 to Travis Kelce in the massive comeback loss against Tennessee in 2017 to Patrick Mahomes today, it's crazy how many of his postseasons have changed on one hit. Even if the Chiefs hang on here, there's a very strong chance they'll have to play Buffalo without Mahomes. Ugh.
Dave Bernreuther: When he left the field he looked alert, but was running oddly (surely the toe) ... will be interesting to see what happens on the next drive after they have had time to evaluate him.
On the CURRENT drive, though, we have reason to applaud: if ever there was an excuse to punt from midfield, it'd be after just losing your MVP quarterback while holding a two-score lead. Did Andy Reid? Heck no. And the Chiefs convert on the pitch and get points on the drive, even with Chad Henne in the game. I was honestly a little surprised that they even sent Butker out on the next fourth-and-short.
Scott Spratt: Meanwhile, Tyreek Hill just shoved his position coach on the sideline, so that's not great.
Vince Verhei: 22-10 at the end of the third with the Browns driving. If they get a touchdown here, they're still in this thing. I'm trying to figure out how and I think the key is Kansas City struggling in scoring range -- two touchdowns on offense, but four field goal attempts, one of them missed.
Aaron Schatz: The Kansas City run defense is proving to be a problem, the Browns haven't given up on the run and they have 95 yards on 15 carries between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Scott Spratt: Kareem Hunt just cut this to a single score, but I think we should highlight this amazing Mayfield throw and Austin Hooper catch on a fourth down a few plays before the touchdown.
— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) January 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: The Browns wear the Chiefs down with an 18-play drive, Austin Hooper makes a hell of a catch to convert fourth down, Kareem Hunt finds the end zone a few plays later, and the Browns have cut this to a 22-17 lead.
And, no surprise, Mahomes has been officially ruled out, so it's down to Chad Henne to keep the defending champions on top.
Vince Verhei: So the Browns score after converting, in order, on fourth-and-1, third-and-4, third-and-3, fourth-and-3, and third-and-goal from the 3. It's 22-17 now and Mahomes has been ruled out. Jason Lisk points out that this entire Chiefs season has been getting just enough Mahomes magic to win games that are closer than they should be. Now they'll have to do it without him.
Aaron Schatz: Chiefs had 31.2% pass offense DVOA in Week 17 with Henne at quarterback, and that's without Kelce or Hill. The scheme is good. Kansas City's season is far from over.
Scott Spratt: Haha, that Tyreek Hill jump-ball catch that Kevin Stefanski is challenging is a callback to the touchdown catch Hill made but didn't realize he made pinned against his hip in the regular season.
Bryan Knowles: Ooh, not sure that Stefanski should have challenged that Hill catch. It looked, at best, borderline -- and timeouts might mean a hell of a lot going down the stretch, here.
Aaron Schatz: I have a feeling that second-half timeouts are worth enough that you shouldn't challenge anything that isn't a turnover or a long third-down conversion, unless it's completely obvious.
Carl Yedor: Cleveland converted three third downs and two fourth downs on that drive, including a fourth-and-1 on their own 34. I wonder how much those fourth downs will get mentioned in the postgame coverage if they do manage to come back and win, specifically the own-territory fourth down. Intuitively, it seems that teams that can run the ball effectively should do better on short fourth downs, so as teams continue to be more inclined to go for it all over the field, I could see having a strong rushing offense become a bit more important. If you're willing to go for pretty much every fourth-and-1, having the rushing attack to convert at a high rate could provide more of an advantage. It came up huge for the Browns here.
Scott Spratt: Aaron, are you saying you wouldn't take second-half timeouts to prevent delay-of-game penalties for your offense? Or is the key in your mind the uncertainty of a catch/no catch play.
Vince Verhei: We talked about never blitzing Mahomes, but I guess you should never blitz Henne either -- he just burned a blitz for a 24-yard gain to Kelce for a third-down conversion.
Aaron Schatz: I'm thinking of the catch/no catch play. Unless it's obvious or it's a conversion or it's like 50 yards, you just can't gamble that timeout.
Bryan Knowles: There are many worse backup quarterbacks than Chad Henne -- but he's still a backup. Henne just airmailed everyone, and Karl Joseph caught an interception like he was fielding a punt. Browns have the ball, down five, with 8:10 left. If there was ever a time for the Chiefs' defense to step up...
Vince Verhei: And now Browns have to call timeout to avoid delay of game on first-and-10. JUST TAKE THE PENALTY. They pretty much have to score on this drive now.
Vince Verhei: And they don't, they get to fourth-and-9 and have to punt. Browns lost a timeout AND nearly four minutes of clock on that drive. Very much not ideal.
Bryan Knowles: With two timeouts lost, the Browns are in bad shape. They have a fourth-and-9 from their own 32, which isn't a great go-for-it situation -- but without timeouts, they may never touch the ball again.
Those lost timeouts are huge. They opt to punt, rather than risk giving the Chiefs the ball in Browns territory, but that is NOT a fun decision to have to make.
Dave Bernreuther: Can we talk about that third-and-11 play? Mayfield missed Hunt badly on the throw, but even if he hadn't ... that's a -15 ALEX throw with an unoccupied defender in the area. Maybe that wasn't the first read (looked to me like it was his second), but ugh. Even a good throw had almost no shot. There had to have better designs to get to at least something like fourth-and-3 as the backup option.
Myles Garrett is back and just sacked Henne and that is HUGE on the Cleveland defense's last chance.
Bryan Knowles: The Chiefs call a pass on third-and-long, and Chad Henne tucks and runs for it! It's going to be CLOSE; they're ruling him short, but I think he picked it up.
Will this spot get reviewed?
Aaron Schatz: Chad Henne scrambles on third-and-14, and he got 13 yards. He dove for the sticks just a little too early.
Bryan Knowles: Ack, never mind -- just saw his elbow on the replay. He's a half-yard short.
NOW what do you do?
Bryan Knowles: Andy Reid, calling shotgun on fourth-and-inches-and-game -- and picking it up.
Chiefs-Bills, next Sunday. Woooow.
Scott Spratt: Well I would have sneaked it, but Andy Reid did something way cooler.
Rivers McCown: As I wrote in the preview, you never want to run into Chad Henne with homefield advantage.
Vince Verhei: Going back to that last Cleveland play, if Mayfield doesn't throw that pass to Hunt, Chris Jones sacks him. He had no choice but to throw.
Andy Reid calmly having Chad Henne taking a shotgun snap on fourth-and-inches at midfield and asking him to ice it rather than punting is a legacy coaching moment. What a ballsy call.
Bryan Knowles: I wonder how much control Henne had on that last play -- if it was "we're running this no matter what," or if it was "if you see an opening for the slant, take it; otherwise, we're calling a timeout"
Andrew Potter: That call is going in Andy Reid's Hall of Fame inauguration highlight reel.
Dave Bernreuther: I went back and forth on who I wanted to see win several times in the last 20 minutes. Calling a play for Henne from shotgun on fourth down is absolutely impossible to root against, though. That was awesome.
How huge was that fumble-touchback now? Browns fans must be in agony right now...
It's OK, though. This was just Year 1. They're ahead of schedule. Lots of reasons for optimism. (Finally.)
Tom Gower: I'm not sure what to think about today's Browns defense. It's a bad defense going against maybe the league's best offense. But they didn't really give up deep shots. The Chiefs' only play longer than 26 yards was the 42-yard play to Mecole Hardman where Myles Garrett made the tackle, and that was completed behind the line of scrimmage, as I recall. With, yeah, the aid of a backup quarterback, they got an interception in at least the edge of scoring territory. They forced field goals. They got a missed field goal. But at the same time, the non-scoring drives ended with (a) the missed field goal, (b) the interception, and (c) the end of the game. All eight Chiefs possessions ended in Browns territory. And the Chiefs had multiple first downs every possession except the three-and-missed kick, and outside the interception didn't start past their own 28, so it's not like the offense was being gifted good field position most of the game (and Kansas City's offensive success meant that Cleveland similarly started backed up every drive, never starting past their own 25). So, bad but well enough to win had the offense played well?
Which goes back to Aaron's point that it's the "CLE 3" in the first half that was the issue for the game. Yeah, the touchback fumble will draw plenty of heat for that. Also the Browns having to kick after getting penalties, in contrast to Mahomes' ability to overcome second- and third-and-longs (in fairness, the Browns did convert a second-and-20 on the fumble drive with that terrific screen to David Njoku), might be this game's version of what I said yesterday about Rodgers vs. Goff and their respective ability on second-reaction plays.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 at New Orleans Saints 20
Dave Bernreuther: Can't believe I'm saying something positive about a pre-game show, but Fox's "Nickle-old-eon" segment about Tom Brady and Drew Brees was amazing. Even funnier than the History Channel image Brady shared on social media earlier this week.
Scott Spratt: In the Week 9 blowout, Tom Brady tried several deep throws on third downs that led to the Bucs' four three-and-outs to start the game. I'm really surprised to see Brady launch another deep shot on his first third down today. That's another three-and-out, and after a massive Deonte Harris return, the Saints are continuing what they started in the regular season.
Rivers McCown: (softly) Free Jameis.
Bryan Knowles: I know this second one is coming back, but that's two huge punt returns for Deonte Harris on two opportunities. Tampa Bay ranked 26th in special teams DVOA coming in and, yeah, that seems about right.
Vince Verhei: Oowee, Bucs go for in on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter in their own territory, only down 6-0 ... that's really ballsy, and I think the fear of another Deonte Harris return had something to do with it.
Aaron Schatz: It also helps that it was just inches, and they could have Tom Brady sneak it.
Vince Verhei: The two all-time great quarterbacks end the first quarter a combined 6-of-16 for 39 yards because these defenses are both among the best in the NFL. Really enjoying watching these guys fly around and hit people. We have seen some bad offense this postseason but this definitely feels more like great defense.
Carl Yedor: Tampa Bay went for it in their own territory! Hasn't Bruce Arians been notoriously conservative with respect to going for fourth downs this season? This seems a little out of character for him, though it would fit well with his standard no-risk-it, no-biscuit mantra. The Buccaneers took advantage of that conversion and beat a blitz with a wide receiver screen on a subsequent third down, but they eventually stalled out in the red zone and cut the lead in half with a Ryan Succop chip shot. Still, that go-for-it decision netted Tampa Bay some points. Maybe Arians might want to try that whole fourth down aggression thing some more.
Scott Spratt: Arians has been overly conservative, Carl. He finished 30th in EdjSports' critical call index.
Vince Verhei: Yes, some schizophrenic decision-making from Arians as he kicks the field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 8. Why not sneak it again?
Scott Spratt: Hrm, it does say it was a fourth-and-1 in the play-by-play, but I thought the broadcast listed it as fourth-and-2. Maybe it was more than an even yard, which would have made the sneak impractical?
Rivers McCown: (A little more confidently) Free Jameis.
Aaron Schatz: Brees makes a bad throw to Michael Thomas and Sean Murphy-Bunting undercut it. The weakest of the Tampa Bay corners but he does seem to be a playmaker. Tampa Bay immediately goes to Mike Evans because it's harder for Marshon Lattimore to cover him well when it's just 3 yards from the goal line. 10-6 Bucs.
Vince Verhei: Oh, goodness, that Brees interception to Sean Murphy-Bunting was so horrible I gasped out loud. There was a throw there if Brees had put some air on it and lofted it over the defender, but he tried to throw it through him instead. Next play, Mike Evans boxes out Marshon Lattimore for a six-point rebound, and Bucs go up 10-6.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, that was a terrible interception by Brees. Sean Murphy-Bunting had been beaten, but the pass went right to him.
Carl Yedor: Free Jameis?
Scott Spratt: Rivers should buy a lottery ticket!
Rivers McCown: (Much, much more confidently) Free Jameis!
Bryan Knowles: Jameis Status: Freed.
Aaron Schatz: The Bucs probably should have considered that the answer to "why is Jameis Winston in the game?" was "to throw deep," no matter where he was lined up before the snap.
Andrew Potter: Sean Payton is the troll every online video game or forum troll wishes they could be.
Aaron Schatz: It looks like almost half the Bucs defense followed Alvin Kamara while nobody covered Tre'Quan Smith.
Bryan Knowles: Just for posterity, so we know what the hell we were talking about, the Saints lined up Kamara in the Wildcat, and he handed the ball to Emmanuel Sanders, who tossed it to Winston (who was in the game at wideout), who threw it to Tre'Quan Smith 50 yards down field for the touchdown
— NFL (@NFL) January 18, 2021
Kind of telling the Saints had to put in a trick play to throw the ball more than 15 yards downfield, but you know what, they'll take it.
Vince Verhei: I understand pulling Brees for Taysom Hill if you're going to run. But if you're pulling Brees so Winston can throw ... why isn't Winston starting?
Midway through the second quarter:
- Winston: 56 yards
- Brees: 31 yards
- Brady: 35 yards
Scott Spratt: I would have said the reason is because Brees knows what throws not to make, but that interception from earlier isn't going to support that opinion.
Bryan Knowles: So, Tom Brady almost matches Brees with an interception of his own, a deep shot on third-and-1. It turns out the cornerback is out of bounds, so no harm, no foul. And the reason you bomb it on third down is to set up going for it on fourth down, right?
No, the Bucs punt away on fourth-and-nothin'. Did we all hallucinate Brady picking up a fourth earlier in the game?
Scott Spratt: I still don't understand why the Bucs take their deep shots on third-and-1s all the time.
Vince Verhei: I can't process any decision that the coaches are making in this game. Are they drunk? Am I? (This is a joke, I have not been drinking.)
Dave Bernreuther: To me the most interesting part of that touchdown was what made the refs throw the flag in the first place. It escaped Joe Buck and Troy Aikman's notice, but the guy that reported eligible -- James Hurst -- was lined up in the usual left tackle slot (two left of the ball) while Terron Armstead was ineligible on the strong side. That unbalanced line was similar to the trickeration that the Pats pulled against the Ravens a few years back, but it went unnoticed because of the backfield and Jameis stuff too, not to mention that it had nothing to do with how the Bucs covered the actual receiver -- Smith -- on the play.
Sometimes I swear that Sean Payton is just calling counterproductive trick plays to make the degree of difficulty higher ... because for as interesting as that all was, and I love a good unbalanced line and tricking people with ineligible receivers, I can't see how it helped them on that play. At all. The Kamara part? Sure. (In fact, I could see the argument for that being more effective than any play in which Hill came in with Brees still on the field.) But the unbalanced line? Feels like they showed their hand for no reason.
Unless later tonight they throw a pass to an uncovered Hurst. Which I consider extremely unlikely but am putting in writing anyway just in case they do it and make me look way smarter than I actually am.
Scott Spratt: I guess maybe Brady would stop with the deep third-and-short shots if either Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones could catch a pass. The former just dropped an easy one on a second-and-7, and we've hit the two-minute warning.
Dave Bernreuther: I was critical of the Browns and Mayfield earlier for a negative-ALEX throw on third-and-11, so I think it's fair to mention that the Saints just did pretty much the exact same thing on the exact same down-and-distance. The difference, of course, is that Brees hit Kamara in stride, and the rest of the team was prepared for a screen. Kamara made it 9 yards, so it still didn't work ... but at least it had a shot.
On the following play, they went with the hard count to try to draw the Bucs offside ... and false started. At home. On the "draw them offside" play. That's not the best execution I've seen.
Scott Spratt: Fournette just burned me by converting that third-and-7 with a catch-and-run.
Scott Spratt: Haha, and since that comment, Fournette has three catches in five plays and is now Brady's leading receiver for the game. Clearly, I'm no Rivers-level prognosticator.
Bryan Knowles: We're tied at 13-all at the half, and my primary takeaway from this so far is I think the Packers are going to win next week.
Aaron Schatz: Defenses definitely winning over the offenses as we are 13-13 at halftime. Saints are at 3.8 yards per play without the Winston touchdown. Bucs were at 3.0 yards per play until that last drive where they moved slowly up the field and got themselves up to 4.0 yards per play. I'm a little surprised at how few blitzes we have seen especially from the Saints defense since our numbers showed that Brady struggled against the blitz this year while the Saints were very good when blitzing. But the coverage has been strong from both defenses.
Vince Verhei: Bucs get a field goal at the gun and we are tied 13-13 at halftime.
So many defenders balling out in this game. Murphy-Bunting has that interception and a tackle for loss on a screen pass. Devin White is flying everywhere and smashing everything. Malcolm Jenkins is all over the place for New Orleans. Lattimore has limited Mike Evans to 3 yards (and a touchdown, but still). Rock stars, all of them.
Rivers McCown: Did I imagine someone talking about how the soul of the Saints run game was Taysom Hill in the pregame show? This Alvin Kamara drive seems to be saying otherwise loudly.
Bryan Knowles: Kamara's up to 96 all-purpose yards; he had 116 in the first two games against Tampa Bay combined. I'm surprised it took New Orleans as long as it did to get him into action today, but he had half the touches on the Saints' drive to start the second half.
We take plenty of time to wince at Brees' arm strength, so it's worth noting that the touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith was placed very nicely. Smith now has caught touchdown passes from both healthy New Orleans quarterbacks, and the Saints take a 20-13 lead.
Vince Verhei: Well, the Saints come out in the second half going run-heavy, six straight runs at one point, most by Kamara, though Brees also had a sneak to convert a third-and-1. And that seemed to open things up in the passing game -- Brees hits Ty Montgomery on a slant for 13 yards, then his best throw of the day, dropping one in the bucket for a 16-yard touchdown to Tre'Quan Smith.
Because, as we all knew, Tre'Quan Smith was going to be New Orleans' best fantasy player in the postseason.
Scott Spratt: The Tre'Quan Smith thing may be matchup-related, Vince. The Bucs' coverage numbers go down sharply beyond top two corners Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis. Sean Murphy-Bunting was bottom-five in yards allowed per target and coverage success rate.
Vince Verhei: And, as Warren Sharp pointed out, that's Ross Cockrell in coverage, and he's only in the game because Davis just left with a leg injury.
Rivers McCown: Watching Drew Brees feels a lot like watching 2012 Matt Schaub in a better offense.
Aaron Schatz: He overthrew a deep pass to Emmanuel Sanders that was REALLY wobbly.
Vince Verhei: Well, add Antoine Winfield to the list of defenders having big days -- just as the Saints are driving again, he Peanut-punches the ball away from Jared Cook, and White recovers for the Bucs.
Dave Bernreuther: I have been amused and/or confused all game by the fact that both of these teams have corners with hyphenated last names. Switching between Murphy-Bunting and C.J. Gardner-Johnson has thrown me off all game.
I'm among the last people on earth that'll give Tom Brady the benefit of the doubt, but he has played significantly better than his passing numbers today ... to my eyes, Brees has absolutely not. That was a really bad throw.
So of course, as I say that, Brees throws a perfectly fine pass and it ends up being fumbled away to give the Bucs another short field. I think I'm just going to stop talking now. My early-season jinx seems to be back in effect now.
Scott Spratt: The way to tell them apart, Dave, is that Gardner-Johnson is usually getting flagged for personal foul penalties for starting fights.
Carl Yedor: These New Orleans turnovers are seriously keeping the Buccaneers in it. After securing a catch on third down that would have brought the Saints into Tampa Bay territory, Jared Cook gets the ball punched out. The Buccaneers get down into the red zone almost immediately, and Leonard Fournette catches a short pass over the middle to get in for the score on third-and-5. All tied up at 20 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Bryan Knowles: And the fumble takes us back into a tied game. Great play by Winfield on defense -- he was beaten on the reception, but stuck with it to pop the ball out.
Both Buccaneers touchdowns have come off of Saints turnovers. That second one, at least, was not Brees' fault.
Vince Verhei: Heh. Another catch for Fournette gives him a team-high five (sorry, Scott) and this one's a 6-yard touchdown that ties the game at 20.
Scott Spratt: Fournette may not have caught that touchdown pass. But they gave it to him.
Dave Bernreuther: Didn't Gardner-Johnson manage to get two Bears receivers thrown out of separate games for the fights without getting flagged himself?
This Tweet is not really meaningful in any way, but is still amusing.
Andrew Potter: He was. We wrote a little about that in last week's Scramble. CJGJ was also spotted sucker-punching a Bucs lineman earlier in this game. He seems like a perfect Gregg Williams defender, which, from a Saints fan, is not meant as praise.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh you're right. I forgot that, but yes, I did read that they fought in practice as well.
I'd love to know what CJGJ says on the field to be that effective. That's world-class trash talk.
Vince Verhei: Second-and-9, Saints go empty. Buccaneers respond with 10 defenders within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage, and Dean breaks up a slant to Sanders. Cockrell breaks up a 2-yard pass to Kamara on third-and-9. These tactics are disrespectful to Brees but there's nothing he can do about it. The Bucs know he can't throw deep anymore and there's no reason to defend long passes.
Vince Verhei: Still tied at 20 going into the fourth quarter.
You know how we were all anticipating the Saints secondary getting called for a bevy of DPIs tonight? The Saints have picked up five first downs on defensive penalties tonight. The Bucs have zero.
Scott Spratt: I was going to celebrate the Bucs for running the ball on a third-and-1, but Ronald Jones just had his 44-yard scamper called back for holding, and he was definitely favoring his injured hip after the run. That was a worse result than the incomplete deep passes!
Aaron Schatz: Bucs have had a couple of nice deep passes today that just missed by inches. Just had another one that would have been a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. Settle for a field goal instead, now up 23-20. Can the Saints come back given that the Bucs are sitting on all their short passes with like 10 guys near the line of scrimmage?
Vince Verhei: Big stick by Lavonte David to stop Ty Montgomery in his tracks on a run. David has been a beast against the run tonight.
Rivers McCown: (with the fury of a thousand sons) Free Jameis!
Aaron Schatz: Total miscommunication with Alvin Kamara and Brees throws it right to Devin White as Kamara runs past him. Bucs get the ball at the edge of the red zone. That's probably the ballgame.
Scott Spratt: That one at least seemed like a miscommunication since Alvin Kamara never turned around.
Bryan Knowles: The interception alone didn't end it; holding Tampa Bay to a field goal would have kept this a six-point game.
But Brady sneaking in? Yeah, that'll more or less do it. Not sure the Saints can score twice in five minutes; not when they have no deep passing game with their starting quarterback.
Vince Verhei: Per Stathead, Brady is now the oldest player ever to throw or run for a touchdown in a playoff game.
Dave Bernreuther: Tom Brady absolutely outperformed his passing numbers (and Brees), but man ... getting to start touchdown drives from the opponent's 40, 20, and 3 in the same game is just some sold-your-soul kind of luck.
Rivers McCown: Well, good night to Drew Brees. A great quarterback in his prime, and not now.
Scott Spratt: I'm not sure it was luck per se, Dave. I would wager Brady took a look at the 2019 DVOA leaderboards or something similar when he decided to sign with Tampa Bay. They were sixth in defensive DVOA last year and fifth this year.
Bryan Knowles: The Saints are -4 in turnover differential today. Only one playoff team has ever won with a -4 turnover differential or worse, and the 1977 Raiders might as well be three lifetimes ago.
Not all the turnovers were Brees' fault, but enough of them were.
Andrew Potter: It's over for this game. It's over for Drew Brees. It's over for this iteration of the Saints. I'd love to say it has been a great run, and I guess at in terms of the Saints franchise history it has, but wow is this a deflating way to end a career whose individual excellence should have led to so much more team success.
Aaron Schatz: Saints currently project to be $95 million over the cap. They're going to be wrecked next year. This was their last chance. Our numbers have loved them the last four seasons so I'm a little bummed.
Vince Verhei: Good game for Brady, very bad game for Brees, but man, what a performance by the Tampa Bay defense tonight. I know the Packers had their way with another elite defense yesterday, but that matchup next week just looks fantastic.
Tom Gower: Say what you will about Sean Payton and the Saints, but they went out their way. This one isn't about the vagaries of the coin toss, or crazy long field goals, or miracle winning plays. It was the New Orleans Saints offense turning the ball over repeatedly, giving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers short fields they could convert into scores. On the seven possessions the Bucs started in their own territory (excluding the drive that ended in kneels at the end of the game), they scored nine points. On the three short fields courtesy of the Saints offense, they scored 21 points. The Saints got one short field at the beginning of the game, got a field goal, and otherwise started backed up all day (own 30 on second possession, nothing past own 25 thereafter), and even when they moved the ball (no three-and-outs, at least one first down every possession, to three for the Bucs), either turned it over or had trouble finishing in the end zone.
Given their cap situation, and what Jay Glazer reported pregame on Brees (even if it was just confirmation of the inevitable and accepted), it feels like the real end of an era.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh, the whole "fleeing the sinking ship" element and picking the perfect destination is a whole other conversation, Scott, but not one I consider worth having because, well, who wouldn't have done that. And unlike some of the other things from which he has benefitted, he actually had control over that situation.
Again, I thought he looked pretty good tonight, despite the reduced completion/yardage stats. I was certainly more impressed than, say, the Lions game. It's just crazy how much good fortune he has also gotten on top of his abilities.
As for the other old quarterback in this matchup ... while he has certainly been unlucky in the past few years against the Rams and Vikings, it's fair to put a lot of the blame for this one on him. As sad as it'd be to see him retire, it's also tough to make the case that he's a good bet to come back strong next year.
Maybe we'll all be wrong, and he'll discover some new mobility regiment like Alex Guerrero (no, that is not an HGH joke; I am actually fully on board with his mobility/tensegrity/"pliability" methods that Brady follows) that brings him back for another year. We'd all be better off for it. But if not, cheers to Drew Brees. Let's never forget just how unlikely his second act even was after that injury 15 years ago, and how great he has been ever since.
Dave Bernreuther: Well if nobody is going to respond, I'll just counter myself with this absurd trivia nugget that undoubtedly transcends mere good fortune:
Next week will be Tom Brady's FOURTEENTH conference title game. If his opponent, Aaron Rodgers, a certain Hall of fame talent, had made the conference title game in every year he has been a starter, he would still not have reached 14 of them.
I was expecting that matchup to be this week instead of next, but I am really, *really* excited for it. It's going to be a good one.
Bryan Knowles: I'll add one last trivia nugget on top of yours, Dave.
The Saints have now lost as home playoff favorites three years in a row. That has only happened one other time -- the Chiefs lost in 2016 to the Steelers, 2017 to the Titans, and 2018 to the Patriots.
The next year they won the Super Bowl. I doubt New Orleans' immediate future is quite so bright.
Dave Bernreuther: This is a Tweet worth posting, if the moisture in my eyes has anything to say about how we end this thread...
As Tom Brady and Drew Brees hug and say goodbye after a long talk on the field, Brady throws a touchdown pass to Brees’ son. One walks off to play in the NFC championship, the other stays to play with his kids. pic.twitter.com/wdWDro9YD4
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 18, 2021