Buccaneers, 49ers, Chiefs Advance
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, 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.
This special edition playoff Audibles covers the Sunday wild card games. You can find discussion of the Saturday games here.
Philadelphia Eagles 15 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31
Bryan Knowles: Tampa Bay's opening drive, notable for three things. First, some solid efficiency, despite missing so many playmakers; no really huge plays, but a lot of plays that gain 6 to 10 yards as they march down the field. Second, more questionable refereeing, as Tom Brady draws a roughing the passer penalty for having his hip lightly touched by an Eagles defender. Third, Tristan Wirfs going down with an ankle injury, because what the Buccaneers needed was more injuries, certainly. He's questionable to return, and that might end up being the biggest impact of this opening drive. 7-0 Bucs early
J.P. Acosta: They used their tight end group in a really interesting way to open the game. Lots of multiple-tight end personnel, especially after Wirfs got injured. Could be something they continue to do.
Aaron Schatz: Buccaneers going fast today, I think to neutralize the pass rush. Aikman's right: Brady clearly not quite on the same page with some of these backup receivers and exactly where they should run their routes. But the Bucs have shown a good running game so far with backup running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
Bryan Knowles: The Buccaneers are just putting everyone and the kitchen sink on the defensive line of scrimmage—I thought I saw Warren Sapp and Lee Roy Selmon out there on a couple plays. They are daring Jalen Hurts to pass to beat them, and so far, well, nothing, really.
J.P. Acosta: Now that almost everyone is back, it's amazing how much speed the Bucs have at every level of their defense. It allows them to do so much, and their margin for error is a little bigger because they're so fast.
Scott Spratt: I feel like it's also tough to run a run-or-deep-pass offense when there are sustained winds near 20 mph. Jalen Hurts may struggle to throw deep accurately in those conditions.
Bryan Knowles: I tell you, I did not have "Ke'Shawn Vaughn pacing the Buccaneers offense," but he looks really sharp so far.
And, on his touchdown, now Ryan Jensen is down. Trading touchdowns for starting offensive linemen is not an ideal long-term strategy.
Rivers McCown: You guys wanna talk about your Wordle scores of late?
Vince Verhei: I only picked it up a week ago, but I think Slant and Snarl are my go-to starter words.
Rivers McCown: I'm a Tango man.
J.P. Acosta: I start with Bread.
Bryan Knowles: Well, Philly got a stop in the red zone! That's something, right? I mean, if this game is going to be competitive at some point, this is how it starts.
Now all the Eagles need to do is, er, generate any offense whatsoever. They're being outgained 190 to 12 at the moment, which feels less than ideal. There have been open receivers out there from time to time; Hurts either hasn't seen them or hasn't pulled the trigger. That has to change starting right now, or we're going to have to vamp for the second half.
Vince Verhei: Well here's an interesting football note:
The #Bucs dropped both Vea and Suh in coverage on this sack.
660 combined pounds. pic.twitter.com/KqiIZM6TcU
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 16, 2022
Vince Verhei: Tampa Bay drops 600 pounds of defensive linemen into coverage and it works.
Philadelphia uses 170-pound DeVonta Smith as a lead blocker on a wide receiver screen and it does not work.
Scott Spratt: DeVonta Smith got completely worked by Jamel Dean on a wide receiver screen that Dean tackled for a loss. I guess that's the downside of weighing 170 pounds in the NFL.
Bryan Knowles: The Eagles pick up a big fourth-and-4, probably one they needed to have to stay in the football game. Hurray!
And then they gain 0 yards, and fail on fourth-and-10. Welp. Any points from Tampa Bay on the follow-up drive and that's probably all she wrote. I can't believe DeVonta Smith hasn't even been targeted once.
Bryan Knowles: Did somebody say Wordle?
Eagles right now pic.twitter.com/9SVrcyl5iC
— Mitch Goldich (@mitchgoldich) January 16, 2022
Carl Yedor: We have been waiting for a truly back-and-forth playoff game this weekend, and it appears that the pressure is going to be on 49ers-Cowboys to live up to that billing. Philly has moved the ball better on recent drives, and the Buccaneers have not been nearly as successful as they were to start the game (due in part to Wirfs' injury). However, it's a tough ask to come back from 17 down against anyone, let alone these Bucs. The Eagles can take solace in the fact that they get the ball to start the second half, but they realistically need a touchdown on the opening drive to make the comeback a reasonable endeavor.
Vince Verhei: Eagles wide receivers in the first half: six targets, three catches, 41 yards, with a long gain of 35.
Mike Evans by himself: seven targets, six catches, 61 yards, long gain of 18.
Aaron Schatz: It looks like the Bucs have bracket coverage on Smith at the start of the third quarter, even though the Eagles have barely been throwing to him. They know where the danger is.
Scott Spratt: I wonder if Gardner Minshew petitioned Nick Sirianni to take over in the second half...
Tom Gower: Bucs up 17-0 at the half. The Eagles had more than one first down on precisely one of their five first-half possessions, and that concluded with a fourth-and-10 failure in no man's land at the Bucs 38. Miles Sanders isn't going anywhere on the ground, and Jalen Hurts isn't nearly good enough as a passer or enough of a volume runner to carry the Eagles as a sustaining offense. I didn't rewatch the Week 6 game, but this reminds me of watching the Eagles offense sputter early in the season.
The Bucs offense has been an awful lot of Brady short passing, early on with great success. He had like 24 passes in the game's first 24 minutes; the yards per completion wasn't great, but he was getting the ball out quickly and moving down the field consistently. I know, sounds like Brady his whole career, but that's really hard to do. Then the Eagles got some pass pressure on third downs later on, forcing the field goal and a couple of punts. It could have been worse than 17-0.
Aaron Schatz: You would never guess that the Bucs and Eagles are actually averaging the same 4.5 yards per play after the Eagles' first drive of the third quarter. The problem is the Eagles have gotten a couple of big plays and a lot of plays going nowhere, while the Bucs have steady gains. Bucs have 15 first downs, Eagles six.
Bryan Knowles: I may suggest covering Rob Gronkowski a little tighter than this.
Good d, Eagles. pic.twitter.com/lTt4YHpWM2
— Andy Nesbitt (@anezbitt) January 16, 2022
Scott Spratt: Gotta love that -15-ALEX Jalen Hurts checkdown on a third-and-long.
Vince Verhei: It's the third quarter and the announcers are wondering why Blaine Gabbert is not on the field, playing in what would be his first playoff game.
"First" would also be a pretty good Wordle starter.
Rivers McCown: The NFL has our money and the blowout content is still content, but I don't think we needed seven playoff teams.
Bryan Knowles: The ideal number of playoff teams probably varies from year to year—the Colts last year probably "deserved" to be a playoff team; the Eagles and Steelers this year, not so much.
I'm sure there'd be no controversy at all if the NFL decided how many playoff teams there would be after Week 18, right? A selection committee deciding how many seeds there should be? I'm sure that would go just fine.
Aaron Schatz: I don't think "seventh seed" is the reason this game is a blowout. I mean, Colts-Bills was a 2-7 game last year and that was a great game that ended up 27-24. There's no reason why 2-7 games should have a ton more blowouts than 3-6 games. I'm not a huge fan of the seventh seed, but that's more because I think it's bad to give only one team that bye week advantage, plus six playoff games in a weekend gets exhausting.
Rivers McCown: OK. Here's what I think: If you go two games over .500, you should be a playoff team. And you can have variable bye weeks for teams based on how many in each conference make the playoffs.
Scott Spratt: Every NFC team has to be concerned the Bucs could do this to them. The Chiefs hardly fared better last February.
Bryan Knowles: Troy Aikman, on the upcoming 49ers-Cowboys game: "It's a great game. There's a lot of people who'd like to be calling that game."
Someone's a little upset at how the NFL doled out the games this week!
Scott Spratt: It isn't going to make a difference in the outcome, but DeVonta Smith made an amazing catch on a two-point conversion late.
DeVonta Smith is really special pic.twitter.com/oYKpxN1VpD
— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) January 16, 2022
San Francisco 49ers 23 at Dallas Cowboys 17
Bryan Knowles: If you were worried about the 49ers' offense as a Cowboys fan, that first drive really confirmed all your fears. Ten yards per play, including 6.8 per rush as the 49ers march right down the field. The Cowboys have had a real trouble hitting backs at the line of scrimmage all season long, and that held up very true on the first drive—with the exception of one 1-yard run from Samuel, every other 49ers run or screen saw the ballcarrier get 4 or 5 yards downfield before anyone laid a finger on them. 7-0 49ers, early.
Aaron Schatz: It didn't confirm all your fears. We didn't get to see San Francisco take advantage of Dallas' giving up tons of yards after the catch yet.
J.P. Acosta: Their entire offense is built on taking advantage of over aggression and bad linebacker play. That's exactly what happened to the Cowboys that opening drive. Like a hot knife through butter.
Vince Verhei: 49ers' opening drive lasts seven plays; six of them picked up first downs. Good Lord. Handoffs, pitches, bootlegs, screens—everything worked to perfection.
Rivers McCown: (Peeks out from behind the brick wall)
Derrik Klassen: San Francisco's 11 personnel package with Kyle Juszczyk as the only "running back" is really annoying in terms of dictating personnel and potentially getting simpler coverages. Their fastball out of that is to put Deebo Samuel in the backfield, but they also like to put Juszczyk in the backfield by himself out of gun from time to time and put Samuel back at wide receiver. Particularly valuable when they are going clear pass and need a better pass-protector in the backfield. Difficult to call plays as a defensive coordinator when they can just move their pieces around like that.
Bryan Knowles: The weak part of the Cowboys' line is the interior, with Tyler Biadasz and Connor Williams. Nick Bosa comes off the delayed stunt and powers through them, getting the sack and setting up fourth-and-23. The 49ers secondary may be Swiss cheese, but you need to be upright to take advantage of it.
Scott Spratt: Micah Parsons is walking gingerly to the sidelines in case the first two drives weren't alarming enough for the Cowboys.
Cale Clinton: Dallas' defense has done a good job getting upfield trying to get pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo, but San Francisco's passing game has incorporated a lot of quick releases to counteract that. Micah Parsons leaving the game with an injury should only make things harder for Dallas, because they have yet to come up with any kind of stop.
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers' loss of 11 yards on the screen to Elijah Mitchell is the biggest loss on a completion this year. Sometimes, you have just got to let the ball drop.
Vince Verhei: Per Stathead, that's the most yards lost on a completed pass since a Russell Wilson completion to himself on a batted-ball play against Green Bay in 2018. For a normal throw-and-catch that lost so many yards, you have to go back to 2017, when Cleveland's Robert Griffin completed a pass to Andrew Hawkins for a loss of 14.
Scott Spratt: Kellen Moore drew up an awesome lateral play on a third-and-long that looked like it would work. Unfortunately, Cedrick Wilson has a bit of Carson Wentz in him.
Tony Pollard was wide open for a trick play first down and Cedrick Wilson launched the ball into the sideline instead pic.twitter.com/gWcFYeCCJ7
— Christian D'Andrea, 2021 PAC champion (@TrainIsland) January 16, 2022
Cale Clinton: San Francisco's plays to the outside are so lethal. The speed of guys like Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk almost ensures they're making it around the edge on jet sweeps, and having George Kittle and Trent Williams lead blocking in open space sounds like a nightmare for any defense to deal with.
J.P. Acosta: The plays to the edge work so well, I think, because everyone on the Niners can block. They ask their receivers to pin edge defenders and block in space, and they're really successful doing it.
Rivers McCown: Kyle Shanahan trying to grease the wheels for future Dallas field goals, I see.
Bryan Knowles: With all the success the 49ers have on the ground, Kyle Shanahan's love of field goals on fourth-and-short continues to be puzzling. Far from his worst choice in this situation, but I'd love to see a little more aggressiveness.
Bryan Knowles: And there's the 49ers secondary coming to play, with Amari Cooper burning K'Waun Williams one-on-one for a touchdown. It was set up by some great play calling by Dallas, too—a number of successful rushes with extra linemen to help slow down the 49ers' pass rush, a sling out to CeeDee Lamb to take advantage of the 49ers' secondary's poor tackling, and then Cooper isolated one-on-one for the score. Cowboys needed THAT, as we go to 13-7.
Vince Verhei: Ah, THERE'S that 32-ranked defense against deep balls. Amari Cooper one-on-one with K'Waun Williams, Prescott throws the deep corner, and it's a 20-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 13-7.
Ooh, CBS with the live dots!
Vince Verhei: TURTLE DOTS. WE HAVE TURTLE DOTS.
— NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2022
Aaron Schatz: Next drive, Brandon Aiyuk just had Trevon Diggs totally turned around. Used his aggressiveness against him to reverse field and get totally open for a 37-yard gain.
Aaron Schatz: Here are the regular dots showing how good Aiyuk's moves on Diggs were:
Brandon Aiyuk slingshotting Trevon Diggs' dot
(NFL Next Gen Stats) pic.twitter.com/eCgJDZI0E3
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 16, 2022
Tom Gower: Zeke Elliott blocking two guys when the 49ers bring an overload blitz is ... *chef's kiss*
Ezekiel Elliott blocking two guys pic.twitter.com/QCpsk8u29n
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 16, 2022
Aaron Schatz: This game is still within reach for Dallas at halftime but I think it's actually not as close as it looks. San Francisco has 6.2 yards per play compared to Dallas with 3.9 yards per play, and that doesn't even count the penalties where Dallas has five and San Francisco only one. The 49ers have kept this close by stalling in the red zone and kicking field goals. Prescott is back to being slumpy Prescott, missing receivers, plus there have been a couple of drops. And the Cowboys keep running the ball for tiny gains, setting up longer yardages for Prescott to have to conquer. Pollard and Elliott have 10 carries for 26 yards.
Bryan Knowles: 16-7 at the half, and we have a competitive game after a couple of blowouts!
The Cowboys' defensive line has done a tremendous job of stepping up after that initial 49ers' drive; they're being more patient and not allowing those massive open lanes for San Francisco to tun through. The 49ers are down to 3.7 yards per carry, which is still good, but not "run you out of the stadium" good. They have yet to stop the 49ers from scoring, but field goals aren't exactly pushing this one out of reach. Offensively, we have to see Dallas open it up a little more in the passing game; there are guys getting open when Prescott has time to throw, but he has just missed guys. If Nick Bosa misses the second half—he took a shot from his own player and went to the locker room—that's something the Cowboys can, and must, take advantage of.
Good game, this, though I will admit I would not have overly minded if you flipped the competitiveness of this one and the BUF-NE game.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I also would not have minded that.
Aaron Schatz: Also, I'm wrong. The 49ers have been stalling out before they even get to the red zone!
Bryan Knowles: Also, this would be a one-score game if Jerry Jones had his TRUE ambition, and controlled the very sun itself!
Chance of one-score game if it was cloudy weather in Arlington or AT&T Stadium was constructed differently. Sun in eyes of Cowboys wide receiver Cedrick Wilson appeared to directly cause third-down incompletion. Cowboys trail 16-7 at halftime. pic.twitter.com/gZE6Kqd3N4
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) January 16, 2022
JerryWorld has a couple problems with construction, I'd say.
J.P. Acosta: He can't get rid of it though, that's how he's preparing for the rapture in the end times.
Rivers McCown: What if the Cowboys simply found a way to use their two all-world wideouts instead of funneling targets to Cedrick Wilson? Is CeeDee Lamb playing today?
Tom Gower: 49ers up 16-7 at the half. The game is simultaneously not close at all and in prime comeback territory for the Cowboys. San Francisco has moved the ball much better, but I have to correct Aaron slightly—the 49ers have technically scored a touchdown on every red zone possession this game. Instead, their drives keep petering out just short of the 20 and Robbie Gould is a perfect 3-for-3 from 40 yards and beyond. As much as I like to rip on him, Jimmy Garoppolo has hit some good intermediate throws and hasn't tried to turn the ball over. Going back to my casual grade on the Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl a few years ago, he's at one Big Pass Play (the one to Aiyuk), zero interceptions. The run game has been a bit up and down, surely part of the reason the "looking for an excuse to be conservative" Shanahan has kicked the field goals, but it has been effective enough.
The big disappointment is the Dallas offense. They had a good stretch of runs on the touchdown drive to make it 13-7, but other than that have struggled to find much running room. CeeDee Lamb hasn't been targeted at all, officially; they have been hit with a couple of holding penalties; the sun is still really bright and annoying (I confirmed this by looking out the window at halftime); and Dak hasn't been as perfect as he has needed to be to overcome that.
Bryan Knowles: The Cowboys have been terrible throwing to Lamb deep all year; Prescott has a -27.5% DVOA targeting Lamb, with five interceptions. They need more Cooper (125.6% DVOA)!
Scott Spratt: I'm not going to have any sympathy for a bright sun when Charlotte where I live is covered in snow and ice and ill-equipped to handle it.
Scott Spratt: The Cowboys just suffered consecutive false starts on their first drive of the second half. Mike McCarthy runs a tight ship.
Scott Spratt: JerryWorld is the big loser so far in this game. First the sun blinded Cedrick Wilson on an attempted catch, and now the Cowboys punted a ball into the jumbotron. That's a redo apparently.
Vince Verhei: Fun with punts! After the Cowboys' brilliant false start-false start-sack sequence, the 49ers bail them out by roughing the punter. San Francisco's special teams are terrible, and that's not even counting penalties like that, or the fake punt touchdown they allowed to Seattle.
But then Dallas wastes the new life they have been given by punting again without a first down. This time Bryan Anger's punt hits the scoreboard, which according to ground rules is a do-over. It would be way more fun if it were a live ball. But between the too-low scoreboard and the blinding sunbeams, the Cowboys have built themselves a football stadium where you can't actually play football.
Scott Spratt: Jauan Jennings caught 11 of his 12 third-down targets in the regular season and had the highest catch rate of any wide receiver on third downs with 10 or more targets. That isn't exactly Hunter Renfrow's 40 third-down targets, but Jimmy Garoppolo seems to be relying heavily on Jennings on third downs today as well.
Aaron Schatz: D.J. Jones just killed Connor Williams and sacked Prescott. The Cowboys' interior offensive line (left guard and center) are having real problems today with the 49ers' pass rush.
And then Prescott throws outside when CeeDee Lamb goes inside and it's an interception.
Bryan Knowles: Big swing: An illegal block penalty pushes the Cowboys back to first-and-15, which means the Bosa-less 49ers can just pass rush, and D.J. Jones racks up a huge sack. That means that the Cowboys have to pass on second-and-forever, and K'Waun Williams picks Prescott off—I wonder what odds you could have gotten on Prescott, not Garoppolo, throwing the first pick in this one? And then, on the first offensive play, Deebo Samuel picks his way through a crowd, bursts into space, and races 26 yards for a score to make things 23-7, and the life has been sucked out of JerryWorld. Plenty of time left, but the Cowboys need to shake that one off right now.
Vince Verhei: It's 23-7 but feels like 230-7.
Scott Spratt: Deebo Samuel now has seven rushing touchdowns from 10 or more yards away from the end zone. That breaks his tie with Jonathan Taylor for the most in football this season. He isn't a running back.
J.P. Acosta: The funny part is the Niners tried to run that play they scored on early in the first half but had to call a timeout. Same formation and motion too.
J.P. Acosta: I do not understand that play call on third down. Running the ball really well, it's third-and-2, and the Niners chose to run a rollout away from the quarterback's throwing hand?
Bryan Knowles: A punt? At this time of the game, at this time of the season, at this part of the stadium, localized entirely within the Dallas offense?
Rivers McCown: Flawless punt by Mike, I love this for the narrative, no notes.
Scott Spratt: That analytics training is really paying off for McCarthy, Bryan.
Aaron Schatz: Aiyuk really has Trevon Diggs in a blender today, my word. But Jimmy G. just missed him high, wide open.
Bryan Knowles: Diggs' reputation comes from his interceptions, which he can get because he can gamble because the defensive front has been so good for Dallas all year long. When it's not working, he struggles in coverage.
Jimmy G's reputation comes from missing wide-open receivers like that, and it is deserved. Maybe his agents should cut that one from the highlight reel for this offseason.
Vince Verhei: Really stunning to me how San Francisco has just neutered the Dallas offense today. Cowboys have only passed for six first downs today at the end of the third quarter. 49ers just keep forcing underneath stuff. Pass rush is a big part of that, but it seems like Prescott isn't even looking more than 10 yards downfield.
Rivers McCown: Ahahahaha THIS PUNT
Aaron Schatz: Fake punt!
Bryan Knowles: It's a FAAAAAAKE! I don't know why you don't just run your regular offense there, but what works, works.
What didn't work? The Cowboys keeping their punting unit out there, apparently trying to get the 49ers to burn a timeout. And then they rush their regular offense onto the field, but it's too late, and a delay of game. Wow.
Vince Verhei: "This punt," for future reference: fourth-and-5 just short of midfield with 14 minutes to go.
But it's a fake! And it converts! And that's another special teams gaffe for the 49ers.
But then the punt team stays on the field, and the offense only comes running back in with 15 seconds on the play clock. 49ers then get a chance to substitute, so the refs won't let Dallas snap the ball, and it's a delay of game. Way to outsmart yourself, Dallas.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not going to kill McCarthy for the 51-yard field goal, as it means the Cowboys no longer need TWO two-point conversions to tie. A 16-point lead is a two-score lead by the thinnest of margins, and there's still time left.
Still. To turn the fake punt into that is, uh, not ideal.
Rivers McCown: Kellen Moore trying to become the first guy to get fired in the same year he has like five head coaching position interviews.
Vince Verhei: To be fair, that's not too different from how Kliff Kingsbury ended up in Arizona.
Bryan Knowles: Garoppolo makes his third bad throw of the day, and this one finally comes back to bite him. He overthrows Aiyuk and Anthony Brown brings it in. Dallas gets a lifeline!
Rivers McCown: Jimmy G has decided that this will be a ballgame, so at least we have got that going for us.
Aaron Schatz: Just to go back, the ESPN model agreed with the field goal and the EdjSports model only had it as a -0.2% WP error.
Bryan Knowles: Fred Warner goes down, writhing in pain, after a non-contact injury. That's gotta be an ACL or something similar. Less than ideal.
With Warner and Bosa off the field, there's a hole in the center of the 49ers defense, and Prescott scrambles through it for the score, and it's a one-score game, 23-17!
Aaron Schatz: Penalties aren't generally as predictive as normal passes and runs but the Cowboys have spent the whole game trying to disprove this. Neville Gallimore with a huge illegal use of hands penalty to hand the 49ers a first down. But on the next series, Leighton Vander Esch gets Deebo Samuel down a yard short of the line to gain. 49ers take the delay of game penalty and punt. Cowboys will get the ball with 2:42 left and 84 yards to go.
Scott Spratt: The 49ers have the No. 5 rushing offense by DVOA, and Kyle Shanahan is too scared to attempt a fourth-and-1 that if converted would almost definitely win them the game. Yikes.
Vince Verhei: That drive by San Francisco only gained 18 yards and ended in a punt from their own side of the 50, but it also ate more than five minutes off the clock. 2:51 to go and this is probably Dallas' last chance.
Rivers McCown: I don't love this punt for my Mike McCarthy snarkage.
Bryan Knowles: 49ers pass up a fourth-and-1 with three minutes left to go. I believe they should have gone for it.
Aaron Schatz: EdjSports model has that as an astonishing 17% win probability loss for the 49ers.
Aaron Schatz: Shanahan gets away with it when his defense holds. They blitzed Prescott Cover-0 on fourth-and-11 and Prescott heaved it up and it fell just short of Cedrick Wilson.
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers decline a holding penalty, opting for fourth-and-11 instead of third-and-21. That'd be a decision worth debating, if I had any mental faculties left.
San Francisco uncharacteristically brings the house on fourth down, the pressure comes, and Dak can't do anything with it. 49ers get the ball at midfield, but everyone has all their timeouts left...
Vince Verhei: It's close, but I like San Francisco declining the penalty. With that secondary, I don't want two chances to commit a DPI.
Aaron Schatz: Colossal defensive holding penalty on Randy Gregory gives the 49ers a new first down. Fourteen penalties on Dallas today.
Vince Verhei: Fourteen *accepted* penalties today.
Bryan Knowles: Remember yesterday, when I praised the fourth-down run by Ja'Marr Chase? Same basic concept here with the Deebo Samuel run here on third down—everyone's expecting things to go up the middle, so give the ball to your fastest player along the edge and let him make a play.
Rivers McCown: Well, now do you go for it?
Vince Verhei: Yeah, I'm with the crew. Sneak it and book your flight to Green Bay. Don't forget, your special teams suck. You might punt the ball backwards or something.
J.P. Acosta: I do. This run game and it's fourth-and-inches, pretty easy decision to me.
Bryan Knowles: Fourth-and-an-inch, with a great sneaker, you sneak.
Aaron Schatz: Or get a false start and punt it.
Vince Verhei: We're now up to 14 accepted penalties on Dallas, nine on San Francisco. What a beautiful ugly game.
Scott Spratt: This Shanahan collapse would rival the 28-3 Super Bowl loss to the Patriots if not for the stakes.
Vince Verhei: Let's not forget the blown lead against Kansas City in the Super Bowl. But it doesn't matter because Mike McCarthy made the worst call I have ever seen in an NFL game.
Bryan Knowles: ... was that a called quarterback draw with no timeouts left?!?! What the ever-loving...
Aaron Schatz: I'm going to blame the play call on offensive coordinator Kellen Moore until I hear differently. What the ever-loving hell was that?
Rivers McCown: I'm just relieved the game is over.
Vince Verhei: Head coach is responsible for everything. He doesn't get to pass the buck here. You wanna fire 'em both, fine, I got no problem with that.
Carl Yedor: That has to be one of the most anticlimactic ways for a game to end. Dallas goes quarterback draw with Prescott, and while he slides down to give himself up, he does it too late for everyone to get set for them to spike the ball for one final play. They don't get the last play off, and the 49ers escape. Bryan, I hope your blood pressure goes down sometime in the next five hours.
Even though it got hairy at the end, it was a very impressive performance from the 49ers. Dallas was disjointed for much of the day, and that has a lot to do with how San Francisco was playing.
Bryan Knowles: Carl, I'm guessing 49ers-Packers will be a Saturday kickoff. I'm not sure my blood pressure will go down by kickoff.
Vince Verhei: Here's the thing: Even if that play works, you have given yourself one shot from the 24-yard line.
Wouldn't you rather have two shots, MAAAAAAAAAAYBE three, from the 40 instead?
J.P. Acosta: There are too many variables with running stuff over the middle of the field with zero timeouts. Like, I'm not sure why that was even in the plan!
Bryan Knowles: Vince, it's unrealistic to expect a deep pass into the end zone against this 49ers secondary to have any success. What, you're going to get a DPI and a free play from the 1? Crazy talk.
Aaron Schatz: The Cowboys *practice* that draw play.
Mike McCarthy said the QB draw on final play with 14 seconds remaining is practiced each week and he was surprised they didn't get another snap. He was told NY review was likely to put more time on the clock.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) January 17, 2022
Vince Verhei: I can't believe I'm saying this, but as badly as they executed it, perhaps they need to practice it more.
Tom Gower: It's the two-minute warning of the Steelers-Chiefs game, and I feel like I still haven't come close to adequately processing the end of the earlier game, not nearly enough to write an adequate recap of what happened. I know, that's more for Mike's column than it is Audibles, but now that I have a bit, I'm sticking to it. But without a satisfying-to-me comprehensive recap, I'll settle for bringing up a cliche or shibboleth or truth or truthy statement that "most NFL games are lost, not won" and think about how each team tried to justify that statement in the second half. My really gimmick idea for that was something along the lines of "How did I lose thee / o let me count the ways," but that demands a different mindset than I have right now. So...
- DAL No. 1: Down 16-7 and needing points after failing to score at the end of the first half, the Cowboys commit consecutive false starts from third-and-4 and have to punt.
- SF No. 1: The 49ers then rough the punter.
- DAL No. 2: The Cowboys then fail to do anything with the subsequent possession.
- DAL No. 3: After the 49ers are flagged for holding ("normal" penalties are excluded from this analysis, as I try to concentrate on unforced mistakes) to help set up second-and-10 backed up, Micah Parsons, while lined up by the center, jumps into the neutral zone. The 49ers convert the ensuing third-and-5.
- SF No. 2: Facing third-and-1 at his own 34, Kyle Shanahan throws the ball and then punts, eschewing his effective running game.
- DAL No. 4: Cedrick Wilson shoves a 49ers defender in the back, turning second-and-2 into first-and-20.
- DAL No. 5: Cedrick Wilson turns the wrong way on the ensuing second-and-28, and Dak Prescott's pass is intercepted.
- DAL No. 6: After the Cowboys give up a touchdown to go down 23-7, Mike McCarthy punts on the ensuing fourth-and-2.
- DAL No. 7: On second-and-20, the Cowboys snap the ball before CeeDee Lamb gets out to his wide receiver position, resulting in second-and-25 instead of third-and-2
- SF No. 3: Not thinking the Cowboys would run a fake punt on fourth-and-5 in the fourth quarter down 16.
- DAL No. 8: "We don't think the officials will respect procedure" No. 1: burning clock in the fourth quarter down 16 mucking around with punt personnel on the field after converting a fake punt, resulting in a delay of game when those annoying rules allowing the 49ers to match personnel mean the Cowboys can't get a snap off. The series ends with a field goal attempt.
- SF No. 4: Jimmy G throws a horrible interception on second-and-10, with the Cowboys starting at the San Francisco 28 after the interception return.
- SF No. 4-a: George Kittle on a short pass from Jimmy G fumbles, setting the Cowboys up with great field position for a go-ahead score. Averted by his failure to catch the ball.
- DAL No. 9: Neville Gallimore hands to the face eliminates a third-and-12 conversion (averted by non-call: possible pass interference on Trevon Diggs on that play).
- SF No. 5: On fourth-and-1 at midfield, the 49ers get to the line with about seven seconds left and try to hut-hut before taking a delay of game penalty.
- DAL No. 10: On second-and-11 right before the two-minute warning, Lamb drops Dak Prescott's pass.
- DAL No. 11: On the ensuing fourth-and-11, trying to adjust to Prescott's pass, Wilson falls down and then has the ball literally almost go through his hands.
- DAL No. 12: Randy Gregory is flagged for defensive holding on a run for nothing on second-and-9, giving the 49ers a first down and letting them run more clock even if the Cowboys get a stop.
- SF No. 6: On fourth-and-1 it appeared they converted to seal the game, the 49ers are called for false start, leading them to punt.
- SF No. 7: With the Cowboys needing to go 80 yards in 32 seconds with no timeouts, the 49ers let the Cowboys run a couple of short sideline patterns, allowing them into reasonable Hail Mary range.
- DAL No. 13: "We don't think the officials will respect procedure" No. 2: the quarterback draw.
- DAL No. 14: Spiking on the last play of the game. If you run the quarterback draw out of a timeout, you absolutely must be ready to run another play. You can't know that you have three seconds when you run the draw with 14 seconds left; you must be prepared to not spike.
Tom Gower: And I didn't even mention anything about how many carries Zeke Elliott got with what was revealed after the game to be a partially torn PCL!
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at Kansas City Chiefs 42
Scott Spratt: T.J. Watt just batted a Patrick Mahomes pass into the air so Devin Bush could intercept it. If you remember that as being a problem from early in the Chiefs season, you are correct. Calculated from Sports Info Solutions charting data, Mahomes had 3.0 tipped-pass interceptions more than expected from Weeks 1 to 6. And then that total regressed back to 1.9 in Weeks 7 to 13 and 0.3 in Weeks 14 to 18. The Steelers need some of those small-sample shenanigans tonight.
Vince Verhei: Steelers' first four drives: 14 plays, 12 yards, one first down, 0-for-4 on third downs. They're the anti-Bills.
(Not that the Chiefs have done much better so far.)
Rivers McCown: As we sit here 0-0 early in the second quarter, I'm starting to feel like the entire season for each team has culminated in a game the Chiefs should be winning handily but that the Steelers absolutely cannot help but win somehow, I'm riveted.
Bryan Knowles: Pittsburgh needed some wild and crazy things to stay in this one, and so we get the rare DOUBLE FUMBLE, with Darrel Williams dropping the ball twice on one play, T.J. Watt scooping and scoring. That's one crazy thing; they'll need two or three more, but it's a start...
Vince Verhei: The Chiefs, as they tend to do, get too cute. The fumble came on a direct snap to Mecole Hardman with Patrick Mahomes twiddling his thumbs out wide at the top of the screen. Maybe just let your MVP-caliber quarterback do his thing?
— NFL (@NFL) January 17, 2022
Scott Spratt: Well, Diontae Johnson had improved his drop rate from 12.7% per catchable target in 2020 to 4.4% in the regular season this year. I guess his tennis-ball drill is wearing off because his drop cost the Steelers a first down, and the Chiefs have the ball at 7-7 with just under five minutes left in the first half.
Scott Spratt: Jerick McKinnon may be this year's Playoff Lenny. He had just 25 touches in 13 regular season games, but he has been a workhorse tonight with 83 yards and a touchdown on 10 touches. Darrel Williams has just one touch and may have been benched for that weird fumble, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire isn't active, still dealing with his collarbone injury.
Vince Verhei: It would be a great story for McKinnon to have a great playoffs. He was a good player in Minnesota and looked primed to take off in San Francisco before tearing his ACL and missing two years.
There's roughing the passer on Pittsburgh on Mahomes' touchdown to Byron Pringle. Kansas City takes the penalty on the kickoff, so they're kicking off from the 50 ... and the kick still comes up short of the end zone? Why not just take the penalty on the PAT and go for two then?
Rivers McCown: I think Ben should be allowed to throw tennis balls for the rest of the game.
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs deliberately kicked short of the end zone, hoping to tackle the return man before he got to the 25. Better than a touchback.
Bryan Knowles: Ben Roethlisberger: 5-of-14 for 24 yards, and some limp noodles I probably could have thrown better.
Patrick Mahomes: 19-of-28 for 241 with three touchdowns and an interception, and he has completed the trifecta: overhand, sidearm, and underhanded touchdown tosses.
So, Titans-Bengals is the undercard and Chiefs-Bills the headliner, right?
Vince Verhei: Pittsburgh's offense in the first half (throwing out the kneeldown):
- Seven drives
- Seven punts
- 26 plays
- 45 yards
- Two first downs
- 1-of-8 on third downs
Bryan Knowles: And the seven points were defensive, too!
Vince Verhei: This may be my favorite touchdown catch of the year. His route was "completely emasculate the defender you're engaged with and then just stand there."
Nick Allegretti BIG MAN TOUCHDOWN. #ChiefsKingdom
— NFL (@NFL) January 17, 2022
Rivers McCown: How are there still 24 minutes of game time left in this?
Scott Spratt: Big-man touchdown!
That's offensive guard Nick Allegretti. The Chiefs are playing with their food here up 28-7. At least we had the Cowboys-49ers game.
J.P. Acosta: The Steelers offense causes me literal pain.
Bryan Knowles: Najee Harris had no fumbles in the regular season, on 381 touches. One so far tonight...
Vince Verhei: Mahomes to Hill, touchdown. It's 35-7. The Steelers' longest play tonight has gained 8 yards.
Bryan Knowles: Don't blame me; I voted for The Tie.
Rivers McCown: We all did.
Scott Spratt: Roethlisberger maybe included. Probably not the sendoff he wanted.
Vince Verhei: Now I'm annoyed at the Chiefs for letting Travis Kelce throw their last touchdown instead of Mahomes. Mahomes has five and had a real chance to be the first ever to throw eight, but that idea's dead now.
Scott Spratt: The Chiefs defense just allowed the Steelers to go 75 yards and score touchdowns on consecutive drives. The Chiefs are still doubling up the Steelers 42-21. But it seems like they might have taken their feet off the gas...
Tom Gower: The Chiefs scuffled around at the start of this game, with three first downs in their first four possessions, and their only time in Pittsburgh territory was when they started there, a drive that ended on an interception on the first play. And they were still up 28 less than six minutes into the third quarter. The game was over at the point because of the Steelers offense, and it felt pretty much over at 21-7 at the half, but that would be a pretty good performance even against just a spot-drop Cover-3, and we had the Steelers as a significantly better pass defense than that.