Audibles at the Line: Wild-Card Saturday
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.
Indianapolis Colts 24 at Buffalo Bills 27
Bryan Knowles: Indy's defensive strategy has to be "rush four, have DeForest Buckner and company win up the middle, play Cover-2 behind it, and hope." Pinning Josh Allen inside the 5 probably doesn't hurt, either!
Scott Spratt: That was a really weird offsides from Bills linebacker Matt Milano. He looked like he was trying to time the snap with his blitz, but then he stopped as soon as he landed in the neutral zone. I guess he was faking? But if so, why even flirt with the neutral zone, especially right near the center where the ball is easily visible?
Philip Rivers capitalized on the free play with a long completion to T.Y. Hilton, and a few plays later, the Colts have a 3-0 lead.
Bryan Knowles: I have to think that settling for a field goal after the Bills punted from their own end zone has to be disappointing for the Colts. Not arguing against the field goal call or anything, but going conservative with two runs and a screen once they got into the red zone does not strike me as the best way to beat the Bills.
Aaron Schatz: The Colts are getting Allen out of the pocket so far in the first quarter but he has still been firing the ball to his receivers on this second drive.
Vince Verhei: After the field goal, Rodrigo Blankenship's kickoff hits the turf near the sidelines and just dies. Bills have no chance to advance it, and they just fall on it to prevent the long onsides recovery. If Blankenship can get the ball to do that regularly, it's worth doing all the time. Even if it goes out of bounds, say, one-third of the time, I'd still take those results.
Aaron Schatz: The Bills marched down the field and Josh Allen ran QB power near the goal line and when the Colts defense had it stopped, he looked up and somehow flipped the ball over the defenders to Dawson Knox wide open in the end zone. Quite a play. 7-3 Bills.
Bryan Knowles: Allen's arm strength has always been crazy-nuts; he's flicking the ball around effortlessly. And this year, he's actually throwing in the same general galaxy as his receivers, so it's a beautiful thing to watch -- that 40-yard throw to Stefon Diggs was effortless. I also have to give Allen and his offensive line a ton of credit on the touchdown. Allen was running a quarterback draw, it was not there, and he had the presence of mind to find Dawson Knox in the back of the end zone for a score. I was sure someone would have been illegally downfield, but nope. Legal play, 7-3 Bills lead. That was a hell of a thing.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) January 9, 2021
Carl Yedor: One underrated piece of this matchup that I admittedly wasn't super familiar with was how good the Bills have been on third downs this season. They have been at nearly 50% on the season, so of course they went three-and-out on their first drive. In their response to the Colts' field goal, they don't even bother with third down, going down the field in eight plays and punching it in with an improvised flip from Allen to Dawson Knox. It looked like Buffalo was trying to run QB sweep/power (didn't see the blocking) at the goal line, but Allen was about to be taken down behind the line of scrimmage when he flung it in Knox's general direction. Knox was all alone on the play because it was pretty clearly a run up until the moment Allen chucked it, and he was able to haul in the score.
Vince Verhei: Well, that Buffalo touchdown was weird. Allen tries to run, but doesn't get anywhere, so it looks like he ad-libs a pass to a wide-open Dawson Knox in the end zone. But if that was really a designed run, as the announcers think it was, there's no way the Bills don't get a lineman downfield. So was it a "play-action" pass where Allen was faking a run to fool the defense? Was it a case where Allen would run if a seam opened up but always had the pass option? I'm sure it was NOT a designed run, but what it actually was, I have no idea.
Bryan Knowles: Vince, either the Bills' offensive line was pass-blocking, or they were getting beaten badly off the line of scrimmage. With the Colts' interior defenders, take your poison -- but I doubt Knox is running into the end zone if the pass wasn't at least a designed option!
Cale Clinton: If you're going to be settling for field goals and punting, Indianapolis has one of the few units you'd like to be doing it with. The Colts special teams unit has been impeccable early in this game. Rigoberto Sanchez' first punt of the afternoon pinned Buffalo at their own 3-yard-line. Roderigo Blankenship also took a rare kickoff, which stopped on a dime and died inside Buffalo's 10.
... but pin a team back all you want, it might not matter with this Bills offense. Buffalo marched 85 yards down the field in eight plays. Josh Allen missed his first throw of the drive, then went 5-for-5 with 67 yards and a touchdown. Not sure which was the more impressive pass of the drive, Allen's 36-yard strike to Stefon Diggs in the middle of the field or his touchdown-scoring shotput to Dawson Knox.
Dave Bernreuther: I disagree, Bryan. I paused and both 76 and 65 were 2 yards downfield at the time of the throw.
That was awfully close, though, and inconsequential. What was interesting to me was that the three linemen that did advance all turned to their right and started coming back (one had fallen), even though by that point Allen had really committed to running. Maybe he just sold it REALLY well but that did not feel like an RPO; more of just a really smart improvisation.
Pretty terrible outcome after the Colts had been playing really well through 20 (or so) plays; two great special teams plays, moving the ball well despite stalling in the red zone again, and definitely getting a good pass rush on most plays. That's not too far off from the best you could have asked for them, and yet after one quarter now they're facing a four-point deficit.
Vince Verhei: Just rewatched that touchdown. Knox is obviously running a route. All the linemen are past the line of scrimmage, but they have got a yard or 2 of forgiveness, right? And they're careful not to go any farther. Definitely some kind of RPO where the quarterback's first read is the run.
Carl Yedor: Even on designed runs teams will have receivers running routes from time to time to keep defenders out of the run fit, so it's hard to say for sure from my perspective. I don't know if I would explicitly call them RPOs because reads on those can be predetermined by a pre-snap look too. At the goal line, everything happens so quickly that linemen going downfield aren't quite as much of a concern.
That said, this is from coaching Twitter so it looks like it was a designed pass.
Scott Spratt: That second-down Jonathan Taylor drop could prove back-breaking for the Colts. There was no one near him, so he would have had an easy first down if he had made the catch. When Rivers threw deep on third down, I assumed Frank Reich would go for it on fourth down on the Bills side of the field. Instead, they punted, and now the Bills have the ball with a chance to build a multi-score lead.
Scott Spratt: Taylor had just one drop on 37 catchable targets this regular season based on Sportradar charting. His 2.7% drop rate was fourth-best of the 33 running backs with 30 or more catchable targets.
Dave Bernreuther: I hated that punt, especially after teasing us with the offense.
Anyway, I wasn't trying to argue that a flag should have been thrown; just that I would have understood if they had. That's one of those cases where I'm OK with some leeway unless it's a guy that could actually throw a block that affects the pass (like on a screen).
Darius Leonard just form-tackled Allen on a play that I think is huge for the outcome of this game; if Allen had converted that and that drive got rolling, the Colts were going to be in trouble, I think, because Allen has looked great so far.
Did they say Leonard weighed 215 pounds, as in fif-teen, not fif-ty? That's a full 15 pounds lighter than either Cato June or Gary Brackett, two famously undersized former Colts that were often exposed against the run. And he was just named All-Pro! Wow. I had no idea he was that light.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know where 215 comes from, NFL.com lists Leonard at 230.
Carl Yedor: The broadcasters said that based on talking to him, so it's entirely possible that after a long season he's playing at a lighter weight than what he's officially listed at.
Scott Spratt: I found this article from 2019 with some Leonard quotes that seem to support that he lost weight after his rookie year and could definitely be 215.
Scott Spratt: CBS announcer Ian Eagle just relayed that Colts head coach Frank Reich motivated his team by showing them statistics that had them as top 10 on offense, defense, and special teams and said they were the only team that was. Those stats weren't DVOA rankings because the Colts are just 12th on offense in DVOA. However, they are one of just three teams in the top 12 in all three phases in DVOA -- and Buffalo is another.
I'm just curious which metric didn't see the Saints in the top 10 in all three phases. They're no worse than seventh in any phase in DVOA.
Carl Yedor: It isn't ESPN's FPI either; the Colts are 12th on both offense and defense there.
Bryan Knowles: Dave, that Leonard tackle was massive. If the Bills keep driving and get up multiple scores, I'm not sure the Colts are built to come back from that. Instead, a healthy dose of Jonathan Taylor and a nice pass to a wide-open Michael Pittman leads to a Taylor touchdown and a 10-7 Colts lead.
Sean McDermott was livid on the sideline -- the Colts ran one of those "bring Jacoby Brissett in to run the sneak" plays, and he didn't think the Bills had time to match personnel. Didn't matter, as Buffalo stuffed Brissett there, but that might be something to watch going forward.
Scott Spratt: The Bills' first four drives have started on their own 3-, 15-, 11-, and 6-yard lines.
Vince Verhei: Brian Daboll has had a great season, but that last drive was an old-school Brian Schottenheimer special: a three-and-out with three straight handoffs. They only had two or three handoffs in the game up to that point, so it's not like Allen hasn't had his opportunities today. But I don't get how you can waste a possession without giving him a single play.
Dave Bernreuther: They're not built to come back from it, Bryan, and in fact I was fully prepared to say how glad I was to have bet the Bills to cover and suggest that we were already in the "Colts will need a big takeaway and possibly defensive score to win" territory if they had gone down 14-3.
Instead, they finish the ensuing drive - their fourth in Bills territory already -- and capitalize on as huge a field position advantage as I can ever remember this franchise having in a playoff game, and my pessimism/jinx has been set aside. For now. And I'll be more than happy to lose my spread bet. (I've also already won my Pittman receiving yards prop, so I'm in the money either way.)
The Colts defense looks really solid so far. Even on the touchdown drive, they were getting pressure and closing well on guys (well, except Knox in the end zone), but Allen just made great plays. But they have gotten the ball back quickly in the two drives since, and now the Colts begin yet another drive with excellent field position.
Carl Yedor: Michael Pittman Jr. is having a day for this Colts offense. So far, he has amassed 91 receiving yards on four catches (five targets) and picked up an 11-yard rush along the way. His 102 total yards of offense would be his second-highest game total this season, and he has picked that all up in just a half.
Bryan Knowles: Pittman is also gaining a ton of those yards via YAC and broken tackles -- and the Bills had 127 missed tackles during the season, sixth-most in the league.
Dave Bernreuther: I was typing during that drive and missed that, Vince, but I had earlier said out loud that if not for the slight value in play-action, the Bills would probably be better off without any designed running back runs.
It ended up not mattering, because Rivers hit Mo Alie-Cox on the next play to convert, but it looked to me like the officials shorted Jack Doyle about a half-yard on a reception to make it third-and-2. Not egregious, but had they thrown incomplete, that half-yard would have influenced the fourth-down call from the 20 by quite a lot. I was very nervous that that might've led them to maybe take the field goal attempt there, and three points would have felt like a huge missed opportunity.
Instead, we have a third-and-goal at the two-minute warning, which is a great place to be with a three-point lead.
Scott Spratt: I believe the only regular-season game the Bills had three three-and-outs this season was Week 14 against the Steelers. They have already had three in the first half today.
Bryan Knowles: The announcers are BEGGING the Colts to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 4, and I'm having trouble not throwing a brick through the screen.
Rivers slightly overthrows Michael Pittman, but it hits him in the hands in the end zone, and he can't haul it in while diving. Big fourth-down stop there.
Andrew Potter: As a Buffalo defense staff fantasy manager but a fan of Michael Pittman's game, I'm simultaneously relieved and disappointed that Pittman didn't haul in that fourth-down pass. We're getting the Pittman today that I thought we'd see more of during the regular season. Philip Rivers loves his big receivers.
Scott Spratt: This may not change the answer, but kicking makes more sense in the final two minutes of the half since you can't benefit as easily from the field position on a failed touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Our model had it as a go for the Colts but only by 0.5% GWC. Ben Baldwin's model said kicking the field goal was better. Probably fine either way.
Dave Bernreuther: I think I've mentioned this before, but as a Colts fan that still follows the Bills (my hometown team) closely, it has been really interesting to see how both teams have ended up improving on defense since the Colts let go of both Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, who now play prominent roles on the Bills front seven. It was Addison who threw off the third-down pitch to Taylor (which I didn't love; they didn't ever look like it was even possible to have that one blocked, and while Jared Veldheer is a great story, he's still not exactly a dominant left tackle), and Hughes was part of the gang that brought him down for a loss.
No complaints whatsoever about Reich still going for it there, even with the outcome. Not a huge fan of Rivers backpedaling so damn far, but the play was ultimately inches from succeeding. Ten points in five drives into Buffalo territory in the half is a really bad outcome, though. But heck, there's still a chance they'll get the ball back again.
Scott Spratt: I was going to call Kemoko Turay the Colts' goat (the bad kind) after he went offsides when the Bills were obviously hard-counting to try to get a free first down. But then Josh Allen may have thrown an end zone interception ... review will have to decide this one.
Bryan Knowles: Hell of an effort by the rookie Isaiah Rodgers, with Xavier Rhodes on the sideline and Rock Ya-Sin not playing today, but that hit the ground. No interception.
Bryan Knowles: And on the next play, the Colts leave the middle of the field wide open; Allen's QB draw picks up 16 yards. And then he pulls it down the next play, too, and scores the touchdown -- deadly with his legs.
That's 96 yards in 1:32 for the go-ahead score, and I think that makes me feel more comfortable about calling for the Colts to go for it on fourth down near the goal line. If the Bills can march down the field in 90 seconds, I'm not sure "three extra points and kicking off" is all that much of a better situation.
Dave Bernreuther: Lots of very close calls in the last few minutes, but I agree, no catch on that one. Shame, since he had caught one on the free play earlier.
As a Colts fan, I definitely let the expletives fly when Turay jumped off. That was a BIG mistake. Allen goes in and the Bills get to double dip on possessions. There's very little chance that the Colts will maintain their field position advantage in the second half, and now they're behind.
Aaron Schatz: The Colts played the first half they wanted to play and they're going to be behind at halftime anyway 14-10, because they just missed Michael Pittman in the end zone by inches and then Gabriel Davis got his feet in-bounds barely, twice.
Scott Spratt: I agree, Aaron. It wasn't about coaching. The Bills just had a bunch of close and critical plays go their way that half.
Vince Verhei: I hate to say this, but this feels like a classic Philip Rivers gut-punch playoff loss. That last Buffalo drive made the yardage and first down totals close to even. but it still feels like the Colts dominated the half and should have a comfortable lead. Instead, they're behind. Still 30 minutes to go, and I'm sure they would have been happy with a 14-10 halftime score coming into the game, but it feels like they have missed their best shot to win.
Bryan Knowles: The worst thing here for Indianapolis is that the Bills get to start the second half with the ball. It's entirely feasible they're down 21-10 before they ever get the ball back again, and I don't like their odds of coming back from two scores down. Getting a stop out of the half is going to be critical.
All in all, a lot of the stuff we looked at in the pregame preview is coming to pass -- Bills tackling issues, Colts getting pressure up the middle, so on and so forth. But a couple of close plays going against the Colts and a terrible penalty, and the Bills are back in control of this one.
Dave Bernreuther: Rivers once actually WON a gut-punch playoff game (Robo-Punter, 2008), so there's an extra frustrating element here for Colts fans to have that kind of edge for a half and still come out behind ... and other than Turay jumping there, it's hard to point to anything they really did wrong. Josh Allen has just been great.
(I still can't believe how normal it is to type that sentence now.)
Tom Gower: The last year he was playing, the Jaguars finally stopped lying and started listing Telvin Smith at 215, so Leonard being 215 wouldn't be unheard of.
I thought their bad field position in the first half might have led the Bills to be a little conservative in how they approached the game. They knew they're better than the Colts, and are favorites for a reason. Further, we know the Colts are a game script-dependent team and will probably struggle if forced to play from behind. That makes it important to not make a mistake when you're backed up and force them to execute rather than giving them easy scores. But when that leads you to go three-and-out a couple times like Buffalo did, and the Colts even after a good punt (say, Cody Bojorquez's 54-yarder with no return) have much better field position than you do, it's not a great exchange. They were able to drive the field once to get a touchdown. I thought the Colts did a better job of stringing plays and drives together than I thought they might, always useful for an underdog because increasing the variance plays in their favor, but you've pointed out their critical failures and some places where Reich could have been more aggressive.
Building on that, I think the key play of the first half was Reich's decision to eschew the field goal and go for it up 10-7. Normally, I'd be in favor of that move, largely for the +3 vs. +6 reason. But it's the first half -- late in the first half, so the benefit of field position isn't as large as expected -- and, building on what I was just saying, it had an important influence on what the Bills did. With their earlier three-and-outs, they knew they had the risk of giving up a cheap score, so instead of, say, running the ball three times and punting, they actually tried. And Allen made some fantastic second-reaction plays to get yards in great chunks and they finished off the drive. The first 28 minutes went probably 75% as good as a Colts fan had any right to expect and they STILL go into halftime trailing.
Dave Bernreuther: Colts running backs are getting less than 3 yards a carry while Rivers has nearly 9 yards per attempt, the Colts are trailing, and Phil Simms suggests at halftime that the Colts need to just keep running the ball. Phil Simms is a cretin. So glad we don't have to listen to him call entire games anymore.
I'm going to go back to my "Colts need a big turnover here to have a chance" call. At least we can take comfort in knowing that if anyone knows how to engineer a January comeback in Rich Stadium (it will always be Rich Stadium to me, dammit!), it's Frank Reich.
I should probably stop comparing a four-point deficit to a 32-point deficit though. Might be just a *bit* alarmist.
Dave Bernreuther: Our friend Bill Barnwell made a good point about that failed fourth-down series from the first half; what was the point of the Brissett package they were showing all year if not to bring it out in that situation? Especially when the Bills had to know that Reich considered that four-down territory. Actually, the Wildcat snap to Nyheim Hines that preceded it was just as puzzling in that context.
With the way Allen is playing and the strengths of the Colts defense, it really feels like the Bills are doing the Colts a favor every time they hand the ball off to Zack Moss or Devin Singletary. When they leave the ball in Allen's hands, they're moving down the field easily. It's only the designed runs that are slowing them down.
(Of course, as I type that, they call a designed run for Allen and Al-Quadin Muhammad drops Allen for a 5-yard loss on third down to stall the drive and force a field goal. That's a HUGE stop.)
Scott Spratt: Normally I would lament that Frank Reich is starting every new set of downs for a run and getting little out of it. But at this point, the Colts have possessed the ball for more than 10 more minutes than the Bills have. I think this delaying strategy makes sense for the undermatched team.
Scott Spratt: Oof, and there's Taylor's second drop of the game. Again, he had just one all regular season.
Bryan Knowles: And we have the return of Blankendoink, as he bounces the 33-yard field goal attempt off the upright. That's a killer.
Vince Verhei: The Colts have crossed midfield six times, have driven to the red zone four times, and have 10 points to show for it.
Dave Bernreuther: Was it Malcolm Gladwell's Blink that mentioned a guy who could reliably predict when a kicker missed field goals, over a large sample size, without any actual explanation as to why?
Because I've been doing that a lot lately, including on that one. And if this is some kind of power that I hold, I'd like to kindly ask the football gods to take it away from me, please.
I still view field goals as failures, and to me the real issue on that drive was Rivers just throwing a bit behind Pittman on third down when he was open, but ouch. Those points would still have been useful. Really just feels like this is not the Colts' day.
Aaron Schatz: Allen just had Stefon Diggs deep one-on-one against T.J. Carrie and that's a mismatch. 24-10 Bills.
Bryan Knowles: Not only that, Aaron, but the Colts are down to one timeout and one challenge, after they tried to turn a Zack Moss run into a fumble. Moss was carted off; I didn't quite see what happened to him, but that's rarely a good sign. But he held on to the ball, and it was never really close to a fumble, on the replays -- that was a desperation challenge.
And with 14 minutes left, down two scores with just one timeout, I just don't think the Colts are built to make a comeback here. That Diggs touchdown might well have ended this.
Scott Spratt: Oh yeahhh. After a neutral zone infraction, Frank Reich is going for a two-point conversion from the 1-yard line down two scores.
Bryan Knowles: Or perhaps I spoke too soon. I was waiting all day for some of those huge runs, and the Colts start off their drive with runs of 29 and 20 yards. They finished the regular season with the most big-play opportunities for running backs, per the NFL's own Next Gen Stats, but we hadn't really seen any of that yet. I don't know if there's enough time left for them to really get a lot of value out of that down multiple scores, but this was something we were waiting for. Impressive, impressive drive, capped with a Zach Pascal touchdown.
And then when the Bills jump offsides on the extra point, it entices the Colts to go for two -- and they're stuffed. THAT'S an interesting call, turning down a likely seven-point deficit for the chance to pull within six.
Bryan Knowles: And again -- why wasn't Brissett in the game on the two-point conversion?
Aaron Schatz: Good call by the Colts to go for it from the 1 but they forgot to block Matt Milano.
Dave Bernreuther: That's two big plays for Milano, and I won't lie: I've never even heard of him before today. Loved the decision to go for that two-pointer, but again, it just doesn't work out. Really just not the Colts' day. That one could be huge for gamblers.
We are very much in that "Colts need a turnover" territory now.
I'll add to the chorus about what a bad challenge that was; I don't know if the analytics/booth guys were in the bathroom or what, but that was a very un-Reich-like desperation challenge, when the timeout could be very valuable. After wasting one earlier on a late snap, that's just a terrible mistake.
Bryan Knowles: Another big rushing play, another big hole to run through, another missed tackle by Bills linebackers. I was expecting this all throughout the game; it just waited until the fourth quarter.
Scott Spratt: If the Colts had known their offense was this good, they could have just run hurry-up all game.
Aaron Schatz: Milano's actually a huge part of the Bills defense. One of the reasons the defense struggled early this year is that Milano was hurt with a pec injury. But he just got stuck in coverage thinking he had deep help when he had no deep help and the Colts find Jack Doyle wide open in the end zone. They went for two again this time they get it to Doyle and it is 27-24 Bills.
Andrew Potter: And that, Charles Davis, is why you go for two the first time. Because even if you miss, you can get it back on the second.
Bryan Knowles: And that's a postseason octopus, as Jack Doyle catches the touchdown and the ensuing two-point conversion!
Vince Verhei: Patrick Mahomes: pro-going for two.
Analytic guys everywhere rejoice
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) January 9, 2021
Scott Spratt: The Colts can't buy a 50/50 ball! Josh Allen fumbled on that massive sack, but the Colts couldn't jump on it!
Vince Verhei: I just mentioned on Twitter what an epic loss this would be for Buffalo when virtually every close play was going their way ... and then rookie Josh Allen rears his ugly head with a terrible fumble. Bills do recover the ball, but it's a second-and-33 now. That leads to a punt, and the Colts have the ball at their own 14, down 27-24, no timeouts, 2:30 to go.
And I remind you that every single Philip Rivers game ever ends with him having the ball down one score in the fourth quarter.
Carl Yedor: Ohhhhhh no, Josh Allen. As he's in the midst of taking a sack, Allen gets the ball ripped out of his hands for a fumble. Buffalo manages to hop back on it, but not before it has skittered around and bounced back towards their own territory for a 23-yard loss. Allen then short hops a throw to Diggs on second down and his third-down attempt comes up well short of even getting back into field goal range for Tyler Bass. Indy uses their final timeout after that play, and the ensuing punt gives them the ball at their 14 with 2:30 to play, needing a field goal to tie it. In other words, Philip Rivers is now in his natural habitat: down one score late in the fourth quarter with a chance to take his team down the field. By the two-minute warning Indy has a third-and-medium at about the 30, but it's four-down territory from here on out until they hit field goal range.
Bryan Knowles: You joke, Vince, but according to Stathead's database, going back to 1994, Rivers has attempted 765 passes in the fourth quarter, down one score. Only Tom Brady has more.
Vince Verhei: Yup, Bryan. Think I'll be updating this piece in Quick Reads on Monday.
Scott Spratt: And there's a Nyheim Hines drop! Brutal, Colts.
Bryan Knowles: I am surprised it took the refs so long to review this Zach Pascal fumble. Pascal got back up and tried to run again; I think that's a fumble and ballgame.
Oh, Chargers. I mean, uh, Colts. Whoever.
Scott Spratt: That was Dave's guy Matt Milano that forced the fumble.
Dave Bernreuther: Ruling stands. Well that's a surprise. And a bit of a gift.
Bryan Knowles: Woah, ruling on the field STANDS? I don't see that at all.
Scott Spratt: It took me forever to find a video of the play.
— Sports Gambling Guides (@SGamblingGuides) January 9, 2021
Carl Yedor: I know we're an analytical website, but I think Rivers is just cursed. After the questionable "call stands" ruling, the Colts' drive immediately stalls out, forcing a Rivers Hail Mary attempt as time expires. The throw doesn't even make it to the end zone. Game over.
Dave Bernreuther: Another play in which I wonder why it wasn't Brissett on the field, not that it matters.
Losing by three points is not going to do wonders for my irrational dislike for Blankenship.
Bryan Knowles: That game had no right to be as close as it was down the stretch. Full credit to the Colts for not wilting when the Bills went up 24-10, and hell of an overall game from them. They just ran into a better football team.
Aaron Schatz: It's a little embarrassing that the Colts got the ball back with 2:30 left and couldn't get into field goal range. That should be enough time.
Vince Verhei: Agree with Aaron's last point. The Colts had SO many chances to win this game, but they played so poorly in so many critical opportunities that it's hard to argue they Buffalo wasn't the better team today.
Scott Spratt: I'm not sure that game was great evidence the Bills were the better team, Bryan. The Colts missed a touchdown that hit fingertips, missed a field goal, failed on a two-point conversion from the 1-yard line, and couldn't recover a Josh Allen fumble that they had surrounded by defenders. I feel like the Colts could have scored 35.
Vince Verhei: Well, now I'm seeing Scott's point. If the Colts hit their 30-some-yard field goal and the Bills miss theirs from 50-plus, the Colts win.
Dave Bernreuther: As a Colts fan, hard to be too upset about that one. They missed a ton of opportunities, but other than the offsides, which for all we know wouldn't have mattered anyway, it's hard to be TOO upset by any of them individually. Allen played great and the Bills are better, and they got a tad unlucky (until that last non-fumble, I guess), and in the end, the result seems fair. I suppose it helps that the Bills are likable and exciting and not too many Colts fans had super-high hopes about this year, so the sting of this loss is pretty non-existent. To be honest, I'm more upset that I lost my bet. I'd be more sad for Rivers if not for the fact that he taunted us on his way off the field in 2007 during the Billy Volek game, but I'm still generally bummed for him. He greatly exceeded my expectations this year, and he played well enough to win today too. I guess his luck is sort of the opposite of Tom Brady's. Sorry, (Philip) Rivers.
Tom Gower: After starting the game conservatively, the Bills actually tried for almost the entire second half. The one exception came when they got into field goal range at the start of the half, calling three straight runs. That included a couple of Allen carries. Now, Allen was an effective runner on times, but it seemed to me those were on QB draws where there was an initial threat to pass, not the obvious runs like those plays where. Next drive, heavy passing, touchdown. Next drive, heavy pass, then the field goal. Next drive, also heavy pass, but Bad Josh Allen turned a bad play into an even worse one and mostly buried that drive.
Speaking of throwbacks, the other side of the ball in the second half looked like the Bills defense we saw the first half of the season. Blankenship doinked the field goal, but they got a couple of big chunks in the run game, and they finished off plays in the pass game. That included what sure looked like a bust in zone coverage by one of the best zone corners in the game, Tre'Davious White, on the big score to Jack Doyle. The pass rush was similarly not much of an issue for Rivers for most of the game. No sacks, only one credited QB hit (by Vernon Butler), and it's not like he got the ball out incredibly quickly (average time to throw per NFL Next Gen Stats of 2.54 seconds, just a tick above his season average of 2.52).
That sure didn't look like the best team in the league to me. I do think there's more to the offense than we saw today. A playoff win is always something to be savored, especially after a long absence. But next week will probably have to be better.
Los Angeles Rams 30 at Seattle Seahawks 20
Scott Spratt: If John Wolford is his listed 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, then Darius Leonard is at least 240.
Carl Yedor: It's Wolford starting at quarterback for the Rams. In the game between these two teams a couple weeks ago, there were several instances where Jared Goff had running room but either chose to throw it away or only picked up a minimal gain. While I don't know what to expect with Wolford as a passer, his mobility could pose a different sort of threat if Seattle tries to defend the bootleg component of the Rams' play-action passing game similarly. On the first drive, the Rams pick up one first down with three straight runs before going nowhere with three straight passes.
Bryan Knowles: Well, Wolford was starting, but he just took a shot to the head, and Jared Goff, bad thumb or no bad thumb, is warming up on the sideline. That's just a wee bit of a story, yeah?
Scott Spratt: Well that Wolford start was fun for a series and a half. On a designed run, Wolford just took a Jamal Adams shoulder to the crown of his helmet, and he may be forced to exit the game. I guess it's good Jared Goff is active. But hopefully Wolford is OK.
Aaron Schatz: That hit to Wolford's head -- legal, by the way, it was shoulder-to-helmet -- came from Jamal Adams. The Rams are actually picking on Adams in coverage so far, four of their first six passes. Adams has been unexpectedly singled-up on Cooper Kupp.
Vince Verhei: John Wolford in an empty backfield is a sure sign of a QB draw. No surprise the Seahawks were prepared for that one. And that can't be a flag -- Wolford was running and dived forward. If that's a penalty, that means you're never allowed to touch the quarterback on a sneak.
Bryan Knowles: As a note, Blake Bortles is inactive today. I'm assuming Wolford's going into concussion protocol, and Goff has the bad thumb. This could be an issue.
Carl Yedor: I wouldn't have been surprised if they ruled that a foul on Adams there. In that position his only real option is to completely pull up given that the quarterback is diving like that, but it's a really tough instinct to combat if you think he might keep running. Neck injuries are always scary, so the fact that they sent Wolford straight to the locker room is definitely concerning.
Scott Spratt: Is it wrong that I want Goff to exit so punter Johnny Hekker can play quarterback?
Dave Bernreuther: This is the first time all year the Rams have gone with the blue pants and dishwater jersey combo, and man ... it really just highlights how awful that off-white/bone/dishwater color is even more than usual. They look terrible.
John Wolford was lucky that he sailed a pass to Cooper Kupp on the sideline early, because if he had actually thrown it to him more directly, it could have been a pick-six since he was staring Kupp down the whole way. I'm no Goff fan, and he's not exactly good at throwing to anyone besides his first read either, but he's a better thrower than that. I wouldn't call him quite as bad a playoff starter as, say, Matt McGloin or Ryan Lindley, but so far, from what I've seen, he's up there, and frankly I'm shocked that the line on this one was only three points.
And now Goff in the game anyway, because Wolford took a shoulder to the head on a designed run ... which looked to me like he chose to go right when he should have gone left, in one of those slow-developing "why are you calling this?" Taysom Hill-type plays.
The Rams still have Aaron Donald, though, so really anything is possible.
Scott Spratt: Slightly more seriously, I believe Cam Akers was a quarterback in high school.
Bryan Knowles: Scott, earlier this week, McVay suggested that Cam Akers or Cooper Kupp would be the emergency quarterback should things come to that.
Aaron Schatz: The Seahawks have apparently decided to single-up Aaron Donald all game. This does not seem to be a good strategy. He has overwhelmed both Mike Iupati and Damien Lewis as he moves around the defensive line. Wilson just got sacked twice in one series.
Bryan Knowles: Seattle ... DOES know that Aaron Donald is pretty good, right? Up to 1.5 sacks already.
Dave Bernreuther: That's one heck of an endorsement of Blake Bortles.
While I'd certainly enjoy seeing Hekker put his exceptional passer rating on the line here, I think I might enjoy seeing McVay win with Bortles even more, if only because it would improve his legacy/aura even more.
Vince Verhei: Tyler Lockett beats Darious Williams for the big play on the last play of the first quarter. As noted in the preview, Williams had the highest depth of target of any qualifying cornerback. Teams like to pick on him deep -- not ideal against Seattle.
Carl Yedor: The Rams have essentially had each of the Seahawks' shot plays covered up perfectly so far this game. Wilson hit the big one to Lockett on that last drive, but Williams was really in perfect position. Some degree of quick passing on early downs might help them move the ball a bit better, but it's hard to draw any sweeping conclusions off of 10 plays. Seattle's guards are totally overmatched against Aaron Donald in the passing game when they have to hold up for any length of time (for obvious reasons), which makes taking deep shots very difficult. Combine that with the fact that Seattle's first down runs have gone for gains of 2, -10 (holding), and 6, and it's not surprising that they haven't moved the ball well in the early going.
Vince Verhei: Pete Carroll opts for a 50-yard field goal try on fourth-and-1. Do a shot.
At least Jason Myers hit the kick and we're tied 3-3.
Scott Spratt: I doubt the Rams feel great about this big completion since Goff underthrew it rather dramatically. But it was pretty cool to see slot receiver Cooper Kupp win the jump ball over Jamal Adams.
WHAT. A. CATCH.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 9, 2021
Bryan Knowles: I was just digging up stats on playoff games without a touchdown, when Russell Wilson tries to throw a quick screen to DK Metcalf. Darious Williams was ALL over it, however, jumping the route and taking it back to the house for six. Freddie Swain tried to interfere, but his block didn't move Williams off his line at all.
Carl Yedor: Freddie Swain can't make a block on a wide receiver screen, allowing Darious Williams to jump the route for a pick-six. Aikman and Buck are saying Seattle is trying to "force it" to Metcalf, but that's pretty lazy analysis. It's a wide receiver screen. That should never happen, regardless of who the quarterback, receiver, or defenders are.
Vince Verhei: Seattle's stars are killing them. Per Next Gen Stats, 78 of L.A.'s 79 passing yards have come with Jamal Adams in coverage. Now the offense tries to force a screen to DK Metcalf and Darious Williams knifes in for the pick-six. The expected completion percentage on that play was 0.0%.
Vince Verhei: Carl, they *are* trying to force it to Metcalf, and have been for a while now. He hasn't hit 11 yards per catch in any of his last four games. He can't get open downfield anymore so they're forcing short passes to him, but he's not a YAC guy -- remember how dreadful his shuttle and three-cone times were at the combine?
Scott Spratt: According to Sportradar charting, only two interceptions this season came on wide receiver screens. Jared Goff threw one. That checks out. The other? Patrick Mahomes, apparently, in Week 14 against the Dolphins.
Bryan Knowles: Would that count as forcing the ball to DK Metcalf?
Wilson pulls one of his patented Houdini acts, and slings the ball, on the run, to Metcalf -- who had outdistanced the entire Rams secondary. THAT'LL work.
Dave Bernreuther: Williams' pick was amazing.
That throw from Wilson running to his left might have been even better. THAT is what I was betting on with my preseason and staff fantasy picks.
How do you drop that in there as a right-handed quarterback running for your life to your left?
Vince Verhei: Here's the Wilson touchdown to Metcalf. Note the direction of Wilson's feet, the direction of the pass, and how perfectly he drops this in the bucket. This is basically impossible.
The escape. The throw. The catch. The touchdown.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) January 9, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Cam Akers picked up 44 yards on third-and-9 -- big play.
And Pete Carroll challenges that Jared Goff was beyond the line of scrimmage. He was easily 2 yards behind it. THAT'S a waste of a timeout.
Scott Spratt: I think the blue line on TV was a yard in front of the actual line of scrimmage, but that still wasn't enough to make a difference. The call stands.
Aaron Schatz: Rebound of the Rams offensive line was a big part of the offensive success they had this year. Great blocking on that Akers touchdown, especially by right tackle Rob Havenstein and right guard Austin Corbett who made the big cutback hole. 20-10 Rams.
Bryan Knowles: John Wolford has been taken away from the stadium in an ambulance, per the AP. Fingers crossed he'll be alright.
Scott Spratt: Bobby Wagner is limping into the locker room a play before the half. It looked like he may have knocked knees with a Rams player. The Seahawks cannot afford to lose him for the second half.
Carl Yedor: Wagner seems to have returned to the sideline to watch the last play of the half, so the apparent injury may not be as bad as it looked initially.
Bryan Knowles: Wagner being able to back in will be huge, because the Seahawks have not shown any ability to slow Cam Akers down to this point.
The Seahawks look less like the defense that ranked third in DVOA over the last five weeks and more like the one that was lost through the first three months of the season. The offense isn't doing much better; 0-for-5 on third downs and kicking on a pair of fourth-and-1s in the second quarter. They're averaging more yards per play than the Rams are, but that's due to the broken play to Metcalf; take away both team's biggest play, and they're both averaging 4.5 yards today.
I don't know. I don't have much to say other than neither team has looked great offensively. You expect that for a team playing an injured quarterback, not so much for one led by Russell Wilson.
Vince Verhei: (I'm just going to ignore whatever the hell that officiating clusterfuck at the end of the first half was since it didn't end up mattering.)
So, in the preview, I wrote that turnovers would probably decide the game, and that L.A. needed to get big plays to build a lead. Well, we all saw the pick-six, and the deep ball to Kupp and catch-and-run by Akers have made up 123 of their 216 total yards, and L.A. is up 20-10. Wilson's Seahawks have just one win against the Rams when losing the turnover battle, and that was back in Goff's miserable rookie year in 2016. Gonna need to get more big plays of their own and probably force a turnover of their own to get back in this.
That said, Goff is just 4-for-10, so they're probably going to get their chances. They just showed Wolford going into an ambulance to go to the hospital, which is very scary. Best wishes for a quick recovery for him.
Carl Yedor: I think Wagner may have actually been on the field for the final Rams throwaway too.
It's 20-10 at halftime with Seattle getting the ball to start the second half. The Rams' defense has been all over most of what Seattle has been running today, with three sacks, three tackles for loss, and the pick-six. Cam Akers and Cooper Kupp have made up almost the entirety of the Los Angeles offense, with 220 total yards between the two. Part of that stems from Akers accounting for most of the Rams' skill player touches, but he's still having a heck of a game.
Seattle has had trouble moving the ball consistently, with Wilson being consistently under duress when the Seahawks try to take their patented deep shots using play-action. When the Seahawks have tried to throw quick, like on the screen to Metcalf and some short throws to Jacob Hollister, the Rams have had those covered up. I'm not sure exactly what the explanation for that is beyond the Rams having a lot of talented, well-coached defenders and a scheme that prioritizes having more guys available in coverage. Seattle might try to move the pocket around more in the second half, but it will likely still be tough to move the ball. The Los Angeles defense is no joke, especially when they know that you need to throw trailing by 10 points.
Vince Verhei: Well, I also wrote that Seattle had a big special teams edge. Second half opens with a big D.J. Reed kickoff return, Jason Myers hits from 52, and the Seahawks get three points on a three-and-out drive.
Carl Yedor: Seattle continues to be conversion-less on third down. Aaron Donald beat Mike Iupati immediately on his pass rush and hit Wilson as he threw. It's a good thing for L.A. too, because Metcalf was open deep, and if Wilson had time to set up and throw, we could be looking at a tie ballgame. In not-as-good news, Donald appeared to pick up some sort of injury on the play, though it didn't look super serious at first glance.
Bryan Knowles: It may well be super-serious; Carl -- the Rams have announced Donald is doubtful to return with a rib injury of some description.
Carl Yedor: I'm wishing I'd held my last message until the broadcast came back from commercial. Donald's absence didn't really diminish the Rams defense on the last possession as they forced another three-and-out from Seattle. The Seahawks beat the Vikings earlier this season without converting a third down, but they only faced seven of them during the entire game. At this point, they're 0-for-8.
Vince Verhei: But then the Rams punt the ball right back. Seattle blitzed on third down, but used a three-man rush earlier, which they don't often do. Looks like they have realized Goff is 4-of-14, he can barely throw at all, and they can sit back and let him struggle on his own.
Blake Bortles being inactive looking like a really questionable decision right now.
Vince Verhei: Still 20-13 at the end of the third quarter, but the Rams just got a first down on the edge of field goal range.
Russell Wilson has thrown for three first downs. That's only one more than Wolford had in his two drives.
Carl Yedor: Brandon Staley may not be a serious head coaching candidate yet, but another season with defensive play like today's showing will definitely get him some looks this time next year. Wilson has had absolutely nowhere to go with the ball for most of the afternoon. Most of the times where there has been an open receiver have come from Wilson scrambling around, and he hasn't had many opportunities to do that either. Wilson has missed some throws and nearly thrown another pick or two, but the offense is completely out of sorts. The only somewhat positive piece of it has been Chris Carson, but just running the ball decently won't result in many points.
Bryan Knowles: Fourth-and-1 from the 18, the Rams kick the field goal to go up 23-13. I'm sure our model calls that a must-go situation, but I can understand wanting to go up two scores against a Seahawks team which has not shown the ability to move the ball forwards.
Scott Spratt: Haha, Next Gen Stats disagrees with Sportradar because the broadcast just showed there hadn't been any interceptions thrown on wide receiver screens this year.
Bryan Knowles: How on earth do you get a false start on a fourth-and-possibly-game situation when you had two minutes to get ready for things due to an injury? What on Earth are the Seahawks doing?
Vince Verhei: Seahawks have a fourth-and-1 at their own 34. Down 10 in the fourth quarter, you have to go for this ... and they do. Or, they're going to, but there's a false start, and they were up against the clock anyway, and now they will punt. The ball just barely goes into the end zone for a touchback. Rams have the ball up 10, 9:21 to go.
Carl Yedor: Regardless of how this game ends, Seattle needs to seriously reflect on what happened to the offense over the second half of the season. I don't think there is one simple explanation for what happened. Part of it has been Wilson playing poorly at times. Part of it has been strength of schedule. Part of it has been a lack of open receivers for Wilson to find. Obviously those things can be related, but when the offense took such a major nosedive even when healthy over the latter part of the year, something is clearly broken with the system.
Scott Spratt: Part of the problem was the Seahawks had to play the Rams three times in the second half of the year, Carl. Judging by today's game, that isn't fun.
Bryan Knowles: Seahawks force a quick three-and-out after the punt -- just what they needed.
But then, on the punt return, Samson Ebukam punches the ball out of D.J. Reed's hands, and the Rams recover the fumble in Seattle territory. That might well be the final nail in the coffin, at least if the Rams can add anything on to their lead. Either way, that's another couple of minutes running off the clock...
Carl Yedor: And there's your ballgame. Robert Woods gets left wide open on a deep crossing route for a walk-in touchdown, and this one's done with 4:40 to play. 30-13 now, and that seems unlikely to change.
Vince Verhei: And Goff hits Woods on play-action for the touchdown and a 30-13 lead with less than five minutes to go and this one's done.
Usually at this point in the season I talk about a team's biggest needs going into the year, but this is different -- Seattle lost today because their best players played badly, and they were bad at the things they're usually good at. They need a psychotherapist as much as they need anything else. What a disappointment this performance was.
Bryan Knowles: Vince, you're absolutely right in that Seattle didn't really play well enough to win, but they might have had more of a chance if Pete Carroll hadn't turned in an uber-conservative performance. So many fourth downs passed up on throughout the game.
Bryan Knowles: Ah hell, did Cooper Kupp just go down with a non-contact injury in mop-up time? That's the last thing the Rams need going forward -- his health, along with Donald's and the Myriad Quarterbacks', are going to be the story for them this week.
Dave Bernreuther: I can't even imagine how frustrating this must be, Vince. I'm VERY salty, but mainly in the immature "my preseason picks and Scramble team get screwed because naturally they revert to their mid-decade form so now I don't look as smart" bratty way, not because they're actually my team.
So much talent, so much potential, improving defense, plus a golden opportunity with Goff having a broken thumb and Donald being out ... and they just lay an egg. It's not even because the defense reverted to early-season wet napkin form either. Goff only threw for 155 yards. Ugh.
I've mentioned them once today already, but in a few ways this is similar to the 2007 Colts, who also managed to blow a home game (against Philip Rivers' Chargers) by just collectively laying an egg and failing to capitalize on the opposing quarterback getting hurt.
I do like McVay, though, so I guess with all the nonsense selfish reasons out of the way, I can at least appreciate that I get to watch him be clever and this defense -- hopefully with a healthy Aaron Donald -- for an extra game or so. Even if it's just running into a meat grinder at Lambeau.
(Speaking of which, can we talk about how lucky it is for Tom Brady that before he even takes the field for his first game ever as a wild card, the quarterback of the losing team he's facing is ruled out AND now they don't have to play at Lambeau next week? He really is the anti-Philip Rivers...)
Dave Bernreuther: On the less childish side: kudos to the Rams and Brandon Staley. That was an awesome effort. They looked great even after Donald went off, and made that halftime lead feel very secure the whole way. It wasn't just their stars playing well; everyone did. It's not a surprise, given our numbers, but we've seen Wilson do some amazing things against great teams and players before, so I'll definitely admit to expecting Seattle to come back fairly easily once Donald got hurt.
Carl Yedor: I am looking forward to a potential matchup between this Rams defense and Aaron Rodgers, so I guess I can take solace in that as the other Seahawks fan in the group. The Rams have always been a tough defensive matchup for Seattle in the Wilson era just based on personnel due in large part to Donald and now Ramsey, and they absolutely deserved the win today. This is a bit of a different feeling than what happened during the playoffs last year when Seattle lost to the Packers. In both 2018 and 2019, there was the feeling that a team that should be oriented around its offense was trying to play a style that worked from 2012 to 2016 when the defense was awesome. This year, the defense finally got back to being actually above average in the second half of the year, but the offense completely fell apart outside of a blowout against the Jets.
There was a much clearer explanation for what went wrong last year, but this one seems a bit messier. Was it scheme? Did Wilson's brain just break after his midseason turnover binge? Why did they not have better answers for the coverage looks they were getting late in the year? The degree of difficulty was obviously higher later on, but the explosive plays almost completely dried up. The defense as currently constructed is not good enough to be a Rams-like unit that can win games by itself, so by the end of the season, I wouldn't put losses on the defense at all. I'm sure the offensive issues are partially exacerbated by playing six of their final nine games against teams in the top 10 by defensive DVOA, but they struggled against the Giants too in that stretch.
Carroll publicly said "everything is fine" with regard to the offense for much of the latter part of the season, but it was clear to anyone watching that things were not nearly as easy as they had been early on. Wilson was never going to throw over 10% of his passes for touchdowns for the entire season, but even with some regression in that department, something clearly had to have changed. Converting third downs was a struggle even when things were going well, which may improve just by better variance but could also be a scheme problem if no one is getting open. Carroll isn't going anywhere, and Schottenheimer will be less likely to get a head coaching gig if recency bias plays an effect in any of the upcoming hiring decisions. So philosophy-wise, there isn't much reason to expect differences. They started the year going more pass-happy, but after that turnover-prone stretch in Weeks 7 to 10, they reduced their early-down pass frequency slightly (from 63% to 59%), which doesn't seem like a massive drop-off, per rbsdm.com.
Seattle managed to finish fifth overall in DVOA (and fifth in weighted DVOA) with a 12-4 record and a good (but not great) point differential. A lot of teams would happily take that. But expectations are higher in Seattle because of the success they had early in Carroll's tenure, and that Super Bowl XLVIII blowout against the Broncos seven years ago gets further and further away every year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team
Bryan Knowles: It's disappointing that Alex Smith can't play tonight, still bothered by his busted calf.
That DOES mean we get a start from Taylor Heinicke, so if you were sorry that you couldn't support former Arizona Hotshots passer John Wolford earlier, you at least get to support ex-St. Louis BattleHawks signal-caller Taylor Heinicke. XFL 1, AAF 0.
Aaron Schatz: Tom Brady laughs at your Cover-2 zones. Antonio Brown in the space between the safety and the cornerback, 36 yards for a touchdown. Extra point blocked, now 9-0 Tampa Bay.
Bryan Knowles: Brady averaged 8 yards per attempt against zone defenses this year, compared to 7.2 against man-to-man coverage, though he was slightly more interception-prone. And if the holes in your zone are going to be that big, I have a slight hunch that Tom Brady will be able to find them.
Aaron Schatz: Taylor Heinicke looks ... good? He's finding open guys. His interception was tipped by a pass-rusher. The Washington running game is getting absolutely nothing against the No. 1 Bucs run defense though.
Vince Verhei:After 15 minutes, I think Heinicke would have been the second-best quarterback in the two early games today.
Bryan Knowles: I don't know if I'd go that far, Vince, but that was an impressive drive by someone who was unemployed at the beginning of December. Some nice passing -- nothing mega-dramatic or anything, but he hasn't been overly phased by pressure, he's got some zip ... it's certainly not a give-up start, and Washington marches right down the field to make the score 9-7.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure I get Washington's ensuing kickoff. I assume it was supposed to be a surprise onside kick that just failed, rather than just a mis-kick, but it gave Tampa Bay great field position, and they were able to convert that into a fairly easy touchdown.
Chris Godwin's score made it 15-7, an eight-point lead. But, because they missed the extra point after the first touchdown, Tampa Bay decided to go for two here. Leonard Fournette slips, and so it's still a one-score game. Why not kick the extra point there and go up nine?
Dave Bernreuther: I loved the David Strategy surprise onside kick from Riverboat Ron ... looked like he got too much of it, but that's the kind of thing you need to do against a much better team when you're behind.
The ease of the ensuing Bucs drive shows exactly why that was a good risk and the lost field position not so big a deal ... a bit of misdirection seemed like it slowed the rush a bit and Brady hit Godwin for an easy score. It's early still, but gamblers nationwide had to be upset that Fournette was stopped short on that two-point conversion. Looked like he may have slipped.
I'll join the chorus of folks impressed by Heinicke. He looks like a far more experienced quarterback, and while he may be staring his first read down just a bit (maybe it was just the last two I noticed), he's throwing accurately and with confidence. Even his incompletions -- including a deep-ish ball just now off the hands of Isaiah Wright and a third-down pass where Carlton Davis got away with one -- are on the money.
That's a bad call not to get, trailing on third-and-9, though. That really should have been flagged.
Bryan Knowles: The 7-9 team is still competitive in a playoff game against the 11-5 team at halftime. I don't really know if Washington could have asked for much more.
If the Football Team is going to win the football game, they need that defensive line to do more. They have one sack in the first half; they'll need quite a few more to slow Tom Brady and company down in the second half. Full credit to the Tampa Bay line for holding up so far; I would not have had "Washington has only one sack" and "Washington is still competitive" as things that could happen simultaneously.
Vince Verhei: So, uh, not as much excitement so far in the night game, huh? The backup quarterback has played well but has been hurt by drops by his receivers; the Hall of Fame quarterback has played great, but his team has struggled a bit in the red zone. So it's 18-7 instead of 24-7 or something like that.
Scott Spratt: It did seem weird to me that this game and the Steelers-Browns game landed in prime time. I've been the most excited about the Ravens-Titans rematch.
Carl Yedor: I agree, Scott. From a neutral perspective, I felt that the best two games of the weekend ended up in the early slots for both days.
Dave Bernreuther: I like Jack Del Rio, and he definitely got a raw deal in Oakland and has done good work this year, but man does he seem to struggle with Tom Brady. I believe his defenses are 1-9 against him coming in -- of course, many coaches have similarly putrid records in 10-game samples against juggernauts -- and even with the pass rush talent this team has, Brady has mostly had time to pick them apart calmly. The sack, which came just before halftime, looked to be a coverage sack, as Brady was caught from behind, but even that one wasn't some dominant collapsing of the pocket; in fact I'm surprised he didn't throw it away. (Curious what he got so angry at when he popped up after; my sound is off so I didn't get to hear what the broadcast said on the replay.)
This isn't like Jags-Pats playoff game level bad or anything, and we've all seen what a difference Ali Marpet makes on the Bucs' line and surely he deserves some credit, but it's not nearly as ferocious a pass rush as some of us were expecting. Certainly not good enough to slow this offense down or win this game by themselves.
But ... maybe they don't have to. Heinicke continues to impress me. He looks every bit as good as several recent first-round picks, and the Football Team got him off the scrap heap. He was lucky to avoid a second pick just now, but even that one wasn't too bad a throw. Just a tad off target and still perfectly catchable. Settling for a field goal there is a bit of a downer, but it's a one-score game again. Not bad at all.
Scott Spratt: Woah, that was crazy. A Washington punt nearly hit a couple of Bucs returners, and so Troy Apke grabbed the ball (still in the field of play) and ran it into the end zone for a possible touchdown. It turns out it didn't hit a Bucs player, which fine. But the refs ruled that a touchback? That's ridiculous. They should have had that downed inside the 5-yard line!
Scott Spratt: OK, karma struck in the form of Daron Payne, who Peanut-punched the ball out of the hands of running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Washington recovered the fumble and starts their next drive in Bucs territory.
Bryan Knowles: A somewhat phantom horsecollar tackle moves the Football Team into the red zone, but it's the legs of Tyler Heinicke that is the story of the drive -- he had a 13-yard run where Kevin Minter whiffed on him in open space, and now an 8-yard touchdown to bring Washington within two points, pending the ensuing two-point conversion...
Bryan Knowles: Conversion is no good, but at 18-16, we have a ballgame!
Aaron Schatz: Heinicke is playing so well, I have no idea how this guy didn't have an NFL job until a few weeks ago. His pocket movement is fantastic.
Vince Verhei:The pocket movement, the processing, the arm strength, the mobility. Heinicke has been fantastic. In all seriousness, is this the best game an NFC East quarterback has played since Dak Prescott got hurt?
The two-point play was awful -- looked like a wide receiver tunnel screen with no tunnel -- but I won't mention that.
Dave Bernreuther: The afternoon game makes a lot more sense now that it's clear that Russell Wilson switched bodies with Taylor Heinicke somehow.
I kid, but everything about that escape and score looked like Wilson, right down to his posture as he rolled left. Incredible series for him. Shame the conversion got stuffed, but even without it, we've got a ballgame.
I'm also impressed with Payne's forced fumble ... he was at a really awkward angle without much leverage, and Vaughn was falling. I'm surprised he was able to punch so accurately and effectively.
Vince Verhei: Per Next Gen Stats, Heinicke has been the fastest ballcarrier in the game so far.
Taylor Heinicke reached a top speed of 19.29 MPH on this 8-yard TD run, traveling 39.1 yards from snap to the moment he crossed the pylon.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 10, 2021
Bryan Knowles: To save you some work for Audibles, Vince, the highest passing DYAR for a non-Prescott NFC East quarterback this season belongs to Andy Dalton against the Eagles in Week 16 -- 135 DYAR. 22-for-30 for 377 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.
That's the only non-Prescott game to pass 100 passing DYAR in the NFC East this year, though rushing value might have pushed a few people over the top.
Rivers McCown: I feel like every time I've looked up at this game I've seen Chris Godwin drop a ball.
Scott Spratt: Godwin had three drops on 68 catchable targets during the regular season. He may have dropped three tonight.
Vince Verhei: Funny you should mention that, Rivers:
Chris Godwin is the first player with 4 drops in a playoff game since Brian Westbrook against the Saints on Jan. 13, 2007.
Godwin entered the game with 4 drops in his entire career. pic.twitter.com/nOfmJWIfsQ
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2021
Bryan, we've got the top 50 quarterback games of the year compiled, and there's only one NFC East game on there -- Dak Prescott had 169 DYAR against Atlanta in Week 2.
Rivers McCown: :siren: STEVEN MONTEZ ALERT :siren:
Vince Verhei: Oh god, now Heinicke's going to the locker room and Steven Montez -- an undrafted rookie out of Colorado -- may be quarterback number FIVE for Washington this season.
Dave Bernreuther: The Bucs defensive line just dominated that series. Usually when a young quarterback has a chance at an upset against a good team, I wait for the opposing defensive coordinator to foil him with some exotic looks or just send the house at him and force a bit of panic ... Todd Bowles hasn't had to. They're getting great pressure with four.
Looked like it was the second-down play where they got to Heinicke and he landed oddly on his left arm/shoulder. It would be really awful if he couldn't continue.
Meanwhile, they're back to getting nowhere near Brady, and he just sliced them apart after the punt. Funny how much easier things get when your receivers don't drop passes.
Bryan Knowles: I think the Heinicke injury, coupled with Tampa Bay's recent touchdown, probably is all she wrote for Washington. I just can't imagine the backup backup backup backup quarterback putting together two scores in 9:11.
I suppose crazier things have happened.
Aaron Schatz: Crazier things like Heinicke coming back hurt and marching down the field for a touchdown to Steven Sims?
Bryan Knowles: Except Heinicke ISN'T hurt! Or, well, he is, but not enough to keep him out, so add "toughness" to your list of accolades for the day.
Scott Spratt: Daron Payne has been outstanding tonight. He just had his second sack of Tom Brady on a drive that Washington has to hold to a field goal or nothing. He also forced that fumble of Vaughn earlier.
Dave Bernreuther: Two-minute warning entertainment:
Bruce Arians looks like the Arizona Cardinal pic.twitter.com/fl8fEfwbbs
— Tate Frazier (@tatefrazier) January 10, 2021
(Just found this extremely funny.)
And THERE is the big blitz I was expecting earlier. Loss of 11 to make it fourth-and-21. That is not a good spot to be in with the season on the line.
Bryan Knowles: A hell of an effort, and Heinicke has got himself a backup quarterback job somewhere in 2021, but fourth-and-21 was just too much of a miracle to ask for. The desperation shot falls incomplete, and Tampa Bay will come out on top.
Fun while it lasted, though!