After the NFL’s wild-card weekend kicked off with a pair of upsets, Sunday’s slate finished more or less as expected despite some late drama. The New Orleans Saints escaped against the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, while the Jacksonville Jaguars did enough to get by the Buffalo Bills.
That leaves next weekend’s divisional round as follows: On Saturday, the Philadelphia Eagles will host the Atlanta Falcons at 4:35 p.m. and the the Tennessee Titans will travel to play the New England Patriots in the nightcap at 8:15 p.m. On Sunday, the Steelers and Jaguars will face off in Pittsburgh at 1:05 p.m. and the Saints head north for a matchup against the Minnesota Vikings at 4:40 p.m.
The Saints will ride an up-and-down performance against the Panthers into next Sunday’s clash with the second-seeded Vikings. In New Orleans’s 31-26 win, Drew Brees finished with 376 passing yards, his second highest total of a season in which the Saints have relied heavily on their formidable ground game. That wasn’t possible Sunday, with Mark Ingram and sensational rookie Alvin Kamara rushing for just 45 combined yards (although Kamara and Zach Line both reached the end zone).
The New Orleans defense, also typically stout, allowed 413 yards of offense, including 349 passing yards and two touchdowns to Cam Newton, and nearly gave up a third TD late in the fourth quarter before forcing a turnover on downs with a sack with 11 seconds remaining.
The Bills absorbed a tough blow late in their wild-card game against the Jaguars when quarterback Tyrod Taylor was knocked out of the game on a big hit.
With the Bills trailing 10-3 with just over a minute left, Taylor’s head hit the turf hard and he was attended by trainers and medical personnel as players took a knee. He walked off the field and entered concussion protocol, only to be replaced by Nathan Peterman, who quickly threw an interception.
The Jaguars got the best of the defensive game, finishing off the 10-3 victory and advancing to a game next Sunday in Pittsburgh. It was a tough end for the Bills, whose fans took the team’s first playoff appearance since 1999 seriously.
They arrived early and in droves, pepping up the scene in Jacksonville.
They were there when Lorenzo Alexander the team arrived Saturday and they were there Sunday, tailgating with their own special leaps into fiery tables. Don’t ask what they’ll do next week if the team beats the Jaguars.
One of the NFL’s wild-card darlings, the 9-7 Bills sneaked into the postseason against the 10-6 Jaguars last Sunday when the Ravens lost to the Bengals on a touchdown pass by Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd. Since then, Buffalo fans have doing more than just leaping onto burning tabled. They’ve been paying their good fortune forward with contributions to the charities of both players.
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If the first two games of the NFL playoffs showed anything, it’s that replay remains a problem.
There were delays — lengthy, distracting delays — as on-the-field calls were referred to the home office on Park Avenue, prompting even NBC’s Al Michaels to gripe during the broadcast of the Falcons-Rams game Saturday night.
The delays, coupled with Ed Hochuli’s interminable explanations, marred what, for the Falcons, was an uplifting win on the first step of what they hope will result in a return trip to — and a better result in — the Super Bowl this season.
They faced the potent offense of the Los Angeles Rams, one of the NFL’s unexpected darlings this season, after a season in which it appeared that there were lingering effects from their meltdown loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The game was in Los Angeles and, to boot, the Rams have a marvel in Sean McVay, their 31-year-old wunderkind coach.
Ultimately, the team with more experience took care of business, with the Falcons eliminating the Rams, 26-13, behind a grinding offense and a couple of special teams turnovers by the home team. The Falcons allowed running back Todd Gurley, a bona fide MVP candidate, to gain 101 yards on just 14 rushing attempts, but kept him out of the end zone. The Rams, who led the NFL in scoring with a 29.9-point average, were stymied by the Atlanta defense, and lost their first game of the season when Gurley rushes for more than 100 yards.
Meanwhile, Atlanta enjoyed a 37:35-22:25 advantage in time of possession, didn’t turn the ball over, and got four field goals from kicker Matt Bryant, including two from over 50 yards, to ensure a trip to Philadelphia to face the NFC’s top-seeded Eagles next weekend.
Kicking off the weekend was an upset in Kansas City, with the Tennessee Titans coming back from an 18-point deficit in the second half to win, 22-21, and knock out the Chiefs. When it comes to the playoffs, the Chiefs have been underachievers and this game could be Alex Smith’s last with the team, which drafted Patrick Mahomes last spring.
“He’s one of the guys we’re expecting to be out there,” a high-ranking executive with an NFL team planning to be in the quarterback market told The Washington Post’s Mark Maske. “He’s certainly a guy we’ll have on our list, and we’ll look into him and his situation.”
With the win, the Titans became just the second road team to win a playoff game when losing by 18 or more in the second half. As for Andy Reid . . .
Carrying a 21-3 lead into halftime had to make the Chiefs and their fans feel pretty good. Not so much though regarding star tight end Travis Kelce, who took a shot to the head while making a catch in the second quarter and looked wobbly, needing help to stand up. He would leave the game and was ruled out with a concussion.
The play of the game, and the one that got the Titans rolling, came in the third quarter, when Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota threw a six-yard touchdown pass to himself to cap off a 15-play, 91-yard drive.
Darrelle Revis, saying the Chiefs were heartbroken by the loss, called Mariota’s TD completion to himself “most bizarre play in football I have ever been a part of.”
In other news
Trouble in Pats-land: Is a bad breakup looming for Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady? (Read more.)
A fatal flaw? Tom Brady’s fanatical aversion to injuries could hasten the Patriots’ downfall, ESPN report says. (Read more.)
Well, this is unusual: The Patriots’ brain trust of Kraft, Belichick and Brady issued a statement together in response to the ESPN report.
Chucky rides again: A deal for Jon Gruden to coach the Raiders again is official. (Read more.)
Speaking of whom: Gruden worked the ESPN broadcast of the Titans-Chiefs game with Sean McDonough and it was , well, awkward, with Gruden dancing around the topic of whether he would be coaching the Raiders and becoming exasperated with McDonough’s references to his future. The Raiders wasted no time announcing the deal, though, almost as soon as the game was over.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy is active after hurting his ankle last week.
Playoff power rankings
Where are the surprises beyond the Big Four? We’ll tell you. (Read more.)
Wild-card predictions and Super Bowl odds: The Jaguars and Chiefs win easily. (Read more.)