Bengals, Bills Win On Wild Card Saturday
NFL Wild Card - 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 (or other days during the playoffs), 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.
Las Vegas Raiders 19 at Cincinnati Bengals 26
Scott Spratt: In the pregame, Drew Brees recommended that the Raiders establish the run. Interesting idea from the man who threw nearly 700 pass attempts in a 16-game season.
I do think it's odd how the Raiders play in a dome and the Bengals don't, but the Bengals feel very much more like a dome team. Maybe that matters in the colder temperatures in Cincinnati?
J.P. Acosta: Interesting early the Raiders going to quicker-tempo passes to quell the Bengals pass rush, which has been pretty good this year. The drive flamed out, but a promising start
Vince Verhei: Raiders have a third-and-2, third-and-3, and third-and-3 on their opening drive. First play, the Bengals rush four, an unpressured Derek Carr gets an easy conversion to Zay Jones. Next play, Bengals rush three, Carr gets an easy conversion to Darren Waller. Last play, Bengals rush three again, but this time Sam Hubbard gets pressure off left end, and Carr's pass to Hunter Renfrow is tipped away by Mike Hilton, the Human Defeats Machine. That's some very passive play calling by Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
Tom Gower: Well, the first two third downs the Bengals were in zone coverage when they dropped, then the Raiders put two guys in the same area and the Bengals had two guys on one receiver and the other one got open for the first down, and the third first down was Hilton in what sure looked like man coverage on Renfrow.
Scott Spratt: Ja'Marr Chase dropped his first target today. So here's the early reminder that he led all wide receivers with 12 drops this season.
Bryan Knowles: The Raiders only converted one third down in the Week 11 matchup against the Bengals, so picking up a few on the first drive has to be comforting. I don't think settling for long field goals on fourth-and-short is a winning strategy in the long term, but at least they put together something of a drive.
And yes, Chase dropped his first target, but he made up for it with three receptions and 37 yards on Cincy's opening drive. Joe Mixon, who destroyed the Raiders earlier this year, had a nice catch-and-run as well, and the Bengals take an early 7-3 lead. That was a little bit too easy for Cincinnati.
Aaron Schatz: Brandon Facyson held Chase to 3-32-1 the first time these teams played. He's not doing quite as well so far in this one.
J.P. Acosta: That's a great pass against Vegas' rotating their Cover-3 into the direction Joe Burrow was throwing. Speaking of Cover-3, the Raiders cannot stick in Cover-3 the entire game or they'll get shredded.
Rivers McCown: Gus Bradley Voice: Bet I can!!!!
Vince Verhei: Next third down for Vegas, Bengals finally blitz. Trey Hendrickson gets a one-on-one matchup with Foster Moreau, which is, um, bad for Las Vegas, and it's a sack-fumble and Bengals recovery in the red zone.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure I'd use Foster Moreau to single-block Trey Hendrickson. Call me crazy. Huge sack-fumble there to set up the Bengals.
J.P. Acosta: I would love if NFL teams would stop leaving tight ends to block pass-rushers on an island. It never works.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, Peyton Barber with a MASSIVE mistake on special teams. The Cincinnati kickoff was heading out of bounds, so Barber tried to do the thing where you step out of bounds, establish yourself there, and then touch the ball to get the ball up at the 40. Instead, Barber grabs the ball BEFORE he steps out of bounds, so the Raiders will start at the 2. Massive, massive mistake.
Scott Spratt: From what I'm seeing in Sportradar charting, that was just Peyton Barber's second kickoff return for the Raiders this season. Tyron Johnson was definitely deep on the first kickoff and I assume he was there. I think Evan McPherson's kick was so bad it was good.
Vince Verhei: Which leads to a third-and-long, Bengals blitz again, and it's a sack and a near-safety from Hubbard. Blitzing seems to be working out for Cincinnati.
But then A.J. Cole booms one, and despite forcing a punt from inside the 1, Cincinnati will start in their own territory. If they don't score here, let's remember that punt and how Cole bailed the Raiders out.
Vince Verhei: Peyton Barber is a six-year vet with two kickoff returns in his career. Both were this season, one against the Chargers, one against Washington.
Derrik Klassen: If the Raiders are going to continue just rushing four, running games to that right side of the line the way they did on that third down red zone sack is a must. The Bengals offensive line is particularly bad from center to right tackle, in part because of injury, and Maxx Crosby firing off that side is a good player to use as a twist/stunt piece. Really well done by the Raiders to go with the late twist with Quinton Jefferson outside over the top of Crosby gashing inside to get the sack there.
Tom Gower: Bengals up 13-3 after they could only get three from the good field position following Barber's mishap. One key to the Raiders lousy red zone defense keeping the Bengals to a couple field goal attempts: Zac Taylor running on second downs in field goal range. Three such plays at this point, all with at least 5 yards to go, three Mixon runs short of the line to gain, and only one of the ensuing third downs converted.
J.P. Acosta: That second-down run kind of killed the Bengals momentum. I don't hate running the ball there, but the Bengals are at their best running it under center:
Derrik Klassen: On the Josh Jacobs run at 9:30 in the second quarter ... I think the Bengals using Jessie Bates as the down safety to the weak side of the defensive line, leaving him responsible for the B-gap, is an advantage the Raiders can and will take every single time. Just not really where Bates thrives, to me.
Scott Spratt: Joe Mixon saved that fourth-and-1 pitch by blocking Nate Hobbs in the backfield. And after Chase ran for those 15 yards, the Bengals are in the red zone poised to go up by multiple scores near the end of the first half.
Bryan Knowles: I love the pitch to Chase on fourth-and-1. Give the ball to your fastest player, play against the Raiders leaning in to stop the sneak, bait them inside by having Burrow rush up from shotgun to under center—great call. Love it. Yeah, it needed Mixon to make the block, but he did, and it's all gravy.
The fresh set of downs finally leads to another Bengals touchdown and we're at 20-6 with 1:51 left. Cincinnati gets the ball after halftime, too, so the Raiders really need to do something with the ball right here, I think, or this one may be academic.
Aaron Schatz: Touchdown Bengals, Burrow to Tyler Boyd. The problem with rushing three is that there's only so long that the eight in coverage can cover everybody before some receiver is going to get free. Boyd got away from Trevon Moehrig and now the Bengals have a 20-6 lead, plus they get the ball first after halftime. Although the Raiders do have two minutes to try to score before that...
Aaron Schatz: So apparently one of the refs blew the whistle before Boyd made that catch. I will admit I did not hear it, and I have no idea why the ref would have blown it when Burrow didn't go out of bounds before he threw the ball. But there's your controversy for this game.
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2022
Rivers McCown: I, for one, am astonished that Jerome Boger's crew would create something controversial in a playoff game.
Aaron Schatz: The Raiders did get the touchdown. Double post, and Zay Jones as the outside receiver got past Eli Apple. Definitely looks like the Raiders are staying away from Chidobe Awuzie. Looks like we'll go to halftime at 20-13.
Bryan Knowles: The whistle blew as Boyd was in the air to make the catch, so I'm not going to call it the world's gravest injustice or anything, but by the letter of the law, that's no touchdown. Won't matter if the Bengals win by double digits, but if it's a close game, then oofdah. Raiders will be complaining that the refs didn't tuck that whistle away.
And, full credit to Las Vegas, they pieced together their best drive of the game to date just before halftime. Derek Carr scrambling for 19 on third down was huge; a three-and-out wouldn't have just meant no points, but punting back to the Bengals with 1:02 left in the half, and I wouldn't put it past them to score again. 20-13, so we're closer to a contest with 13 seconds left in the half.
Rivers McCown: I've gotta say I never had "Zay Jones breaks out in Las Vegas" on my bingo card. Good for him.
Scott Spratt: Robert Woods got a lot more productive when he left for the West Coast too. I guess Buffalo wasn't a passing haven until Josh Allen blossomed last year.
Vince Verhei: Interesting first half. It does feel like Cincinnati has been the better team, but every time they have threatened to pull away, the Raiders have denied them, either by holding them to field goals, or answering Bengals scoring drives with their own.
Tom Gower: Bengals up 20-13 at the half. It's probably too simple to say that as third-down conversions go, so go the Raiders offense. But they have five third-down conversions at the half. Two, as I have previously noted, came on their opening drive. The other three came on the touchdown drive at the end of the half, which was absolutely necessary with the Bengals getting the second-half kickoff.
Amateur tip: the Raiders should try not to give up a score on every drive in the second half. The blown call on the touchdown will overshadow a lot—my initial reaction was that Boger's crew was worried they'd unnecessarily take away a touchdown by calling Burrow out of bounds when he was not, so the call on the field after the initial discussion was a touchdown to let replay fix it if he actually was out of bounds. But replay cannot (or in this case did not) fix everything, so they let the touchdown stand. But that just means I won't spend too much time yelling at Zac Taylor at the second-and-5 run to set up that particular third-and-4, and other people probably won't spend enough time talking about that whole "allowing a score every possession" thing.
Bryan Knowles: I suppose we may have a makeup call from Boger and the refs, insomuch at least as bad reffing has now struck twice. The Bengals ran a play with a deep downfield shot to Chase—a play which also featured a roughing call on Burrow and 12 men on defense. The refs let the play run, despite the fact that the Raiders called a timeout before it happened, and then had a lengthy, lengthy discussion before deciding nope, no play, no fouls, no nothing, ignore everything you just saw. They got the call right, but letting the play run (and letting Burrow take a shot!) is just terrible work on their part.
Vince Verhei: The football teams have mostly looked pretty good today, but oy, these officials.
Rivers McCown: I feel like I'm watching the NCAA tournament Day 1, conning myself into thinking this would be exciting when really I'm going to watch five charge calls in 13 minutes and do something else.
J.P. Acosta: Does anyone know what a catch is anymore? Because I sure don't.
Scott Spratt: I don't think Hunter Renfrow caught that sideline lob, but he had the ball as long as C.J. Uzomah did on the first Bengals touchdown. I agree with J.P. No idea what's a catch.
J.P. Acosta: There's the stunt Derrik talked about earlier in the game, Maxx Crosby finally got home on one.
Scott Spratt: I was wondering why Derek Carr wasn't throwing that fourth-and-3 pass to an open Hunter Renfrow. But then I realized Vernon Hargreaves was the injured Mike Hilton's replacement. These Bengals defensive injuries could be a problem for them in the fourth quarter.
Bryan Knowles: Derek Carr led the league this season with 255 DYAR on pass interference calls. On critical fourth-down calls, you go to what your offense does best!
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, the Bengals defense isn't that great to begin with, but they have lost some of their better players now: Larry Ogunjobi, Hendrickson, Hilton.
Have you heard Awuzie's name at all? They're really avoiding him.
Bryan Knowles: Alright, what do we feel about the Bengals kicking on fourth-and-nothin' inside the red zone to go up 26-16 with 6:46 left? I think I kick the field goal, too—I'm not sure the Raiders have enough time to score twice here, realistically.
I certainly wouldn't have wasted the timeout to set it up, mind you.
Vince Verhei: Raiders kick a field goal to cut the lead to 23-16 early in the fourth quarter. Bengals then do a great job on their next drive of snapping the ball with one second on the play clock and kill nearly seven and a half minutes in 13 plays. But a third-and-short run in the red zone is stuffed (as forecast in our preview). Fourth-and-inches, they line up to go for it, then call timeout and kick the field goal. Can't fault them for taking the two-score lead at this point with less than seven minutes to go.
Aaron Schatz: Bengals with a nice, pass-heavy drive. A lot of Ja'Marr Chase. Desmond Trufant not looking good out there for the Raiders. Mixon gets stopped short on a third-and-1 pitch left and after first looking like he's going for it, Zac Taylor decides to kick the field goal to go up 10. EdjSports model had that as a total gut decision, with no difference in win probability between the field goal try and the go-for-it on fourth-and-inches.
Now we'll see what happens with the Raiders offense. The Bengals defense is very hurt. Surprisingly, the Raiders have outgained the Bengals per play tonight, 5.7 to 5.3 so far.
Scott Spratt: I think the Bengals went for two fourth-and-1s earlier tonight, Bryan, and they ran pitches on both. Is Joe Burrow not a sneaker? If they don't love that play, then the aggressive choice had a big downside there.
Aaron Schatz: Raiders had second-and-3 from the Bengals 10 and ended up kicking a field goal. First Carr threw the ball away, then a pass went off Sam Hubbard's helmet. I think the Raiders should have gone for fourth-and-3 there. It's likely that even if they get the ball back for one more drive, they'll end up having to go for it on fourth-and-more-than-3 because they didn't want to go for that fourth-and-3.
Aaron Schatz: Derek Carr, what an actor. Bengals go three-and-out, Raiders get the ball back with less than two minutes to try to tie, and Carr sells a roughing the passer on Khalid Kareem when Kareem didn't appear on replay to ever have actually touched Carr in the head. Free 15 yards.
Aaron Schatz: Raiders get to first-and-goal on the 9 with a great Darren Waller catch. Derek Carr throws a down away by spiking the ball. Surprised they didn't just have a play called to hurry up on first down. Even an end zone fade would have at least been a try. You want four tries at the touchdown, not three. Jessie Bates makes a big play on second down. Carr has tons of time on third down but Hunter Renfrow slips. On fourth, everybody is covered, so Carr tries to force the ball to Zay Jones and it gets intercepted and that's ballgame. Bengals move on, 26-19.
Vince Verhei: Third-and-goal, Bengals rush three, Carr has an hour in the pocket, and Renfrow might have been open, but Carr throws wide. If they had beaten the three-man rush again...
And fourth-and-goal, Bengals rush four, and Carr throws into double-coverage and is intercepted. Ballgame.
Bryan Knowles: After the Phantom Roughing, the Raiders move the ball down field, inside the 10 ... and spike it on first. That's the blown timeout from earlier coming back to haunt them; surely they would have just stopped the clock if they had the option. Probably should have run a fade anyway.
That means the Raiders' third shot at the end zone is their last. Carr tries to force it, but Germaine Pratt picks him off. Bengals win a playoff game for the first time since 1990.
Aaron Schatz: Strange play call on fourth down, with neither Waller nor Renfrow in the end zone.
Curl-Flats on 4th and goal for the season, and neither Renfrow or Waller near the EZ??? pic.twitter.com/FsuXfIDjsF
— Andre Weingarten (@Swami_EA) January 16, 2022
Rob Weintraub: It's hard to overstate how the playoff drought weighed on us Bengals fans. I mean, we're talking my entire adult life here. Winning a single, solitary wild-card game shouldn't feel like scaling Kilimanjaro, yet here we are. I couldn't even watch—went into another room and talked anime with my daughter, for god's sake. For all the confidence I have in Joey B., the karmic weight on my shoulders was too great. O ye of little faith!
Now, the playoff dubs will flow like fine wine.
Now if you all will excuse me, I have to go run naked through the snow...
New England Patriots 17 at Buffalo Bills 47
Bryan Knowles: News, directly from my Buffalo source: it's really freaking cold. Six degrees and dropping; we could well get into the negative figures before all is said and done. But! Little to no wind, and no snow or anything, so that minimizes the impact of the weather. They have had a tarp on the ground to try to keep the ground from freezing, so hopefully this game won't be decided too much by the conditions.
Build a dome, Buffalo.
J.P. Acosta: Every time we talk about these cold weather games it reminds me that people seem to think this is true "football guy" weather. It's not! Tackling in the cold sucks!
Bryan Knowles: Well, J.P., it can reveal important things about the character of both teams. Like, on the broadcast, Boomer Esiason based his pick on which team was wearing fewer long sleeves. We pride ourselves on pushing the envelope here, but garment-based analytics is beyond our toolset at the moment.
J.P. Acosta: Well now I gotta pivot my entire brand to choosing teams based on what cleats they wear.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots start out looking slow. Josh Allen killing them with his legs so far. Twenty-six-yard scramble where he faked Matthew Judon out of his shoes. Fifteen-yard quarterback sweep to the right side where he went through a terrible arm tackle by Dont'a Hightower. Then he scrambled to the right and before he went out of bounds found Dawson Knox at the back of the end zone. The Bills have a lot of variance, but so far this looks like one of Allen's upside nights, which is a real problem for the Pats. 7-0 Bills.
Bryan Knowles: Well, Josh Allen is ready to play today. Two huge runs left Patriots defenders littered across the field, clutching the remnants of their shattered ankles. And then he rolls to his right, dodges pressure, and throws a lollypop up that Dawson Knox hauls in in the end zone. Impressive, impressive opening drive as the Bills strike first.
Scott Spratt: Allen is wearing sleeves, so consider that prediction debunked.
Aaron Schatz: It's honestly possible that Allen was trying to throw that ball away instead of having Knox catch it. Knox got some real height to bring it down.
J.P. Acosta: Before the game, I said the Bills would have to turn Josh Allen loose as a runner. So far he has hurt the Patriots on designed runs and scrambled out of the pocket. Will be interesting to see how the Pats respond.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots' first drive, and Mac Jones throws a lot more than you would expect. And he runs! He's showing, dare I say it, POISE. Converted third-and-long to Hunter Henry, then again with a scramble. Then he had two straight throws dropped by Branden Bolden and Jakobi Meyers. The drive ends when he throws deep to Nelson Agholor on first down, and it's a good throw, but then Micah Hyde comes in from out of nowhere and grabs it, making a sliding interception. Not a bad throw, just a great defensive play.
— NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2022
Rivers McCown: Feel like that entire first quarter was full of haymakers. Allen's running well, both Knox touchdown throws were absurd, Mac Jones looked damn good on the run on two third-and-longs, then Hyde stole the show with that pick.
Aaron Schatz: Another long Bills drive, another touchdown throw to Dawson Knox, this time a bullet. Great call to run quarterback draw with Allen on third-and-4. Patriots fall behind again and are stuck playing catch-up, which has been too often the story recently.
J.P. Acosta: This is the Bills team we all wanted to see. The explosive, dynamic offense that basically can kill man coverage because of the guy they have at quarterback. Josh Allen is playing unbelievably so far.
Scott Spratt: Were the Bills offensive linemen playing rock-paper-scissors? Maybe that's a move to try to stay warm.
Derrik Klassen: This is not analysis, but it's my opinion that if a linebacker puts someone on their butt in pass coverage without holding, it should just be allowed. I refuse to think any more about the logistics of this, I just think it looks cool and Dont'a Hightower should be able to do it freely.
Rivers McCown: Seconded.
J.P. Acosta: Agreed.
Scott Spratt: I know that Devin Singletary has only recently gotten these heavy workloads. But he has looked really good by some advanced metrics ever since he entered the league in 2019. His 2.52 yards after contact per attempt is top-10 among regular backs the last three seasons and almost identical to Jonathan Taylor's rate of 2.53 yards. And he's just 5-foot-7 and 203 pounds!
J.P. Acosta: The Pats are running with lighter box counts to stop the Bills explosive passing attack, but Singletary and Allen have been killing them on the ground too. The Bills offensive line has been dominating the line of scrimmage.
Bryan Knowles: Three drives for Buffalo: nine plays, 70 yards; 10 plays, 80 yards; 10 plays, 81 yards. The Patriots are just getting steamrolled over; it's not like they have given up a couple of big scoring plays. It's not game over yet, but this is getting out of hand VERY, very quickly.
Derrik Klassen: The Bills are never going to be a running team, and they shouldn't feel compelled to be with a cyborg at quarterback, but it's real encouraging to me that they could actually grind out a drive like that primarily on the ground and finish the drive with a rushing touchdown. Definitely a case of them being ahead and dictating personnel, but it's nice when an offense can both set themselves up favorably AND execute on it like that. Bills will need to keep that kind of play up for the rest of the postseason.
Aaron Schatz: Even on fourth-and-8, it was absolutely ridiculous for the Patriots to punt the ball from midfield losing by three touchdowns.
Carl Yedor: This is an impressive showing by the Bills to this point. New England has been mostly unable to get anything going offensively, and Buffalo has been moving the ball at will. I don't have a ton to say, frankly, beyond that this is the Super Bowl contender a lot of the analytical types have been expecting this year, in spite of those close losses throughout the season. The Patriots need to get something going, and fast, or their season is going to end in Orchard Park.
I'm not sure there's a real adjustment for New England to make. They won the first game by turning it into a slog and pounding the rock all game, which likely won't be possible when down by 20. In the second game, it wasn't a blowout, but New England was never down by this much early in the game. And now New England's punting again. If the Bills go down and score another touchdown without much time left in the half, this could be a wrap by halftime.
Bryan Knowles: The Bills went down and scored another touchdown without much time left in the half, and this could be a wrap by halftime.
The list of positives for New England from this first half are few and far between. The team bus probably hasn't caught on fire, I suppose. In the regular season, this is one where you suck it up, take your licks, try to find something positive in the second half, and move on. But in the playoffs ... what do you do? The Patriots aren't built to make up a massive deficit on offense, and that's assuming they somehow manage to hold Buffalo in the second half. They're just being outplayed in every possible aspect.
J.P. Acosta: Might be time to turn on the PlayStation.
Scott Spratt: Crafty move by the Bills to kick the extra point there and avoid the possibility of the 28-3 halftime score.
Tom Gower: Bills up 27-3 at the half. What a thoroughgoing whipping for 28:07. The Bills have run 33 plays and faced four third downs. They have 19 first downs, apparently the most ever in the first half against the Belichick Patriots. It's been almost all Great Josh Allen in the first half: 12-of-16 passing and 63 yards on the ground, successful both as a runner and scrambling for yards. I guess Matthew Judon was credited with a quarterback hit, so he recovered from getting whipped by Allen in space on an early run, but otherwise pressure hasn't affected him even when it has gotten close. And the Patriots run game hasn't been effective—Damien Harris is under 2.5 yards per carry, so it has been on Mac to sustain the offense. The terrific interception by Micah Hyde ended the best of their first three drives, and Belichick had those punts where he trusted his defense. They got the field goal in the final two minutes, but they need to do a lot better job of not just letting the Bills score but get them off the field quickly. It's not over yet, especially with the Patriots getting the second-half kickoff, but it could get a lot closer to over very quickly.
Tom Gower: Update: it's now 33-3 with less than 24 minutes to play. It's not over over over, but it's close to it.
Aaron Schatz: Seven touchdowns on seven drives. No punts, no fourth downs at all. All against a top-five defense from the regular season. I'm guessing this will come out as the greatest offensive performance in DVOA history, and I think this was probably the greatest offensive performance in NFL history, period. I don't know what the Bills could have done better on offense.
Bryan Knowles: The Bills never punted. They never kicked a field goal. They never turned the ball over.
That had never happened in NFL history before today, per Football Perspective. And when you consider the quality of the Patriots defense, this may well be the greatest single offensive performance any of us have ever seen.
Aaron Schatz: Addendum: tonight did not come out as the top offensive game in DVOA history. It's No. 2 at 108.1% offensive DVOA, behind the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs in a 37-21 win against Cleveland in Week 9 (124.2%). That Chiefs game comes out so absurdly high because of offensive penalties like holding that don't count in DVOA—the Chiefs actually averaged 10.6 yards to go in the first three quarters of that game and still gained 11.5 yards per play. The Bills averaged 7.5 yards to go in the first three quarters tonight and gained 9.5 yards per play.
Aaron Schatz: Addendum Sunday morning: It looks like I missed a game last night when reviewing all-time best offensive games, so this game is actually No. 3 behind the 2018 Chiefs and a 2005 Chargers game against the New York Giants. I'll be writing more about this in Monday's DVOA commentary with a big table comparing the games.
compiled by Andrew Potter