The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs got underway Saturday night with the AFC’s top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Indianapolis Colts. A week off did nothing to slow the Chiefs’ offensive momentum.
Led by Patrick Mahomes, who did not find his first career playoff start nearly as intimidating as the pundits thought he would, the Chiefs jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, and never looked back. The Colts hardly looked ready to play, nothing like the team that rode a 10-1 streak into the weekend. The Chiefs went on to win by a final score of 31-13.
The Cowboys and Rams met in LA for the late game on Saturday night to decide the first of the NFC Championship entrants. The Rams’ running game had no troubles against a usually stout Cowboys defense, and the home team rolled on for a 30-22 win.
Winner: Michael Thomas
The postseason hasn’t been filled with inspiring performances from offensive skill players. But the Saints wide receiver changed that. He and Drew Brees single-handedly got the Saints offense rolling again after a slow start. His best catch of the day — and there were A LOT of them — was on the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Just watch it.
He finished the game with 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.
Loser: Nick Foles’ magic
You can’t impugn what the guy did prior to this game. The Eagles wouldn’t have been playing this weekend, or last, if Foles hadn’t stepped up as the team’s “closer” again this season with Carson Wentz hurt. But he turned into a pumpkin again, underthrowing his receivers and just unable to get the ball to his receivers when the Eagles needed it the most.
With free agency looming this spring, Foles may have cost himself some money with his performance this week, maybe not much, but enough to notice.
Winner: Time of possession
It feels like we haven’t had a good conversation about time of possession since the early days of the Chip Kelly experience in Philly. This time it was the Saints putting on the clock clinic.
It happened in the third quarter. Trailing 14-10, the Saints got the ball at their own 8-yard line. From there they put together a grinding 92-yard touchdown drive over 18 plays and 11:29 minutes, essentially monopolizing the entire third quarter.
Winner: The Patriots defense
Absent most of the season, the Patriots defense looked like one of the NFL’s most fearsome in the first half of the game. Philip Rivers never had a chance against a pass rush that was previously dormant.
the Pats defense ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate and 26th in PFF's pass rush rankings this season. and they've made Rivers' life absolutely miserable today.— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) January 13, 2019
Just look at this:
The Patriots pressure on Philip Rivers has been the key to the first half. No QB has faced a higher rate of pressure than Rivers in a game this season (71%).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 13, 2019
No Pressure: 5/5, 100 yards, 1 TD (158.3 passer rating)
Pressure: 2/11, 21 yards (39.6 passer rating)#LACvsNE | #GoPats pic.twitter.com/hU97P5sDS5
Patrick Mahomes, consider yourself warned.
Loser: Philip Rivers’ legacy
He’s got more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions over the course of his career than either Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but unlike those other two first-round picks from the 2004 draft, he does not have a Super Bowl ring. Instead, he and J.P. Losman have something in common.
what the FLEEBIN' FLABBIN' HECK pic.twitter.com/Bb76a8l0Cu— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 13, 2019
Winner: Patriots running backs
The Chargers defense put on a clinic for how to stop a creative running game in last week’s win against the Ravens. Apparently, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was able to find some holes in their game plan.
Sony Michel rolled up nearly 100 yards and scored three touchdowns ... in the first half. He’s the first rookie running back in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game. He finished the day with 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
James White, who led the team in receptions during the regular season with 87, was Tom Brady’s favorite receiver on the day, catching 15 of 17 passes for 97 yards.
The Patriots chewed up the clock with their running backs, leaving little time for Rivers and Co. to put points on the board. It also helped keep the workload light for their defense, and teased out what their game plan might be next week against Kansas City.
Winner: C.J. Anderson
The Rams signed C.J. Anderson in mid-December, when Todd Gurley was dealing with a knee injury. Anderson had been released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season and was really just supposed to be a warm body while Gurley could heal up.
Instead, Anderson has bulldozed every defense he faced. In two games to end the season, he carried the ball 43 times for 299 yards and two touchdowns — that averaged out to 7 yards per carry. But that was against two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Cardinals and 49ers. Next up was the playoffs — and a Cowboys defense that ranked fifth in the league against the run during the regular season. Last week, they held the Seahawks’ top-ranked rushing offense to just 73 yards on the ground.
Anderson had more than that in the first half alone: 12 carries for 78 yards. Even with a healthy Gurley back in the lineup, Anderson was a force in the Rams’ first playoff win in 14 years. He used his, uh, rotund frame to help the Rams dominate the time of possession and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Anderson was the leading rusher with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he did this:
when you sneak into the lower bowl seats and everyone knows you belong in the bleachers pic.twitter.com/zUaNxZ08AE— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 13, 2019
Loser: “In the grasp”
On third down late in the second quarter, Dak Prescott was trying to buy some time to find an open receiver. HIs teammate La’el Collins tried to help him stay upright and avoid a Dante Fowler sack:
Prescott never touched the ground, but the ref blew the whistle.
The Referee must blow the play dead as soon as the passer is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler behind the line, and the passer’s safety is in jeopardy.
Let’s ask the sacked QB expert:
If Dak was “In the grasp” then I was sacked 1,879,987 times— David Carr (@DCarr8) January 13, 2019
It didn’t matter because the Cowboys were forced to punt yet again.
Winner: Going for it
On the Cowboys’ first drive of the game, Jason Garrett, surprisingly, went for it on fourth-and-1 at midfield. They easily picked it up with Ezekiel Elliott. One play later, it paid off with an Amari Cooper touchdown to put the Cowboys, temporarily, ahead.
The Rams countered on their next drive by going for it on fourth-and-1 and Jared Goff got 3 yards out of it. They’d later add a field goal.
The Cowboys faced a similar situation in the third quarter, but this time they REALLY needed a score, trailing 23-7. Once again, it was fourth-and-1 at midfield and once again, Elliott got the ball. They scored a touchdown (and two-point conversion) on the drive to get it to a one-score game.
In the fourth quarter, the Rams basically sealed the game on fourth-and-goal. Sean McVay could’ve kicked a field goal to go up by 9. But this is OFFENSIVE GENIUS Sean McVay and he wanted a touchdown. C.J. Anderson obliged.
Loser: Going for it when your play call sucks
The Cowboys were riding a bit of momentum after FINALLY forcing the Rams to punt for the first time all game — in the second quarter. Trailing by 8, they faced another fourth-and-1. At this point, they were perfect on fourth downs. Going for it was the right call. The play call was not, though:
STUFFED.— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 13, 2019
It all started with this from the defense. pic.twitter.com/izA06anNzo
Yeah, don’t run right at Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
That was where the Cowboys’ hope really ended. The Rams scored a touchdown on the next drive to turn an 8-point game into a 15-point one.
Loser: The Cowboys’ playoff history
The Cowboys haven’t been past the Divisional Round in 23 years, since their Super Bowl XXX win. They’ll have to wait a little longer, while the Rams advance to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in 17 years (they went on to lose to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI).
Winner: Celebrity sightings
The stars showed up LA Saturday night — fans of both teams. LeBron James moseyed on over from the Staples Center to cheer on his Cowboys — and then the Rams?
Peyton Manning and his son were in attendance, the latter sporting a Todd Gurley jersey:
It appears Peyton Manning brought his son... in a Todd Gurley jersey. pic.twitter.com/YK5BRc6l9E— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) January 12, 2019
Danny Trejo and Ty Burrell — the guy from Modern Family who isn’t a Chiefs fan — were there for the home team, too.
For the Chiefs and their fans, it was impossible to escape talk of last year’s loss to the Titans and a brutal 28-point lead frittered away in a 2014 Wild Card game against the Colts. Kansas City made it clear on its first possession of the game that this was a new day. The Chiefs covered 90 yards in five plays to jump out to a 7-point lead and never looked back.
When the Colts finally cut into the lead with a touchdown on a blocked punt in the second quarter, the Chiefs responded with a touchdown to make it 24-7.
Winner: Patrick Mahomes
Not bad for his first every playoff game. People who need things to talk about because they’re paid to talk about football nonstop spent the last two weeks warning us about Mahomes’ lack of postseason experience. Surprise, everything you heard on TV was a waste of time.
Winner: The Chiefs defense
The Chiefs haven’t had much of a defense to speak of all season. Maybe they were just saving it for the playoffs. They had Colts receivers blanketed in man coverage, leaving Andrew Luck nowhere to go with the football. Justin Houston had two sacks. Dee Ford had another. Chris Jones pressured Luck all night and batted down three passes along the way.
If the Chiefs defense can play this well next week, this is going to be a tough team to beat, maybe impossible.
Loser: Fun and sexiness
A few young people (old enough to drink, obviously) in the stands at Arrowhead decided to throw a few snowballs. Chiefs coach Andy Reid wanted NONE of that. It started when someone almost hit the Colts punter with an impressive 25-yard bullet. They delivered more icy artillery later in the first half when Reid shut it down.
"USE YOUR HEAD"— TRSN Kansas City (12-4) (@TRSNKansasCity) January 12, 2019
-Andy Reid pic.twitter.com/4D0c7cmr44
Stopping fans from throwing snowballs onto the field kind of makes sense. Flagging a player for a sexy hip shake does not.
Colts defensive lineman Demico Autry decided to do a little celebrating after a fourth down sack of Patrick Mahomes in the third quarter. Apparently the smooth grind of his hips were just too much for the prudish refs.
He did do it right in front of the ref, though.
Was Denico Autry taunting the ref? Got a 15-yard penalty for this....pic.twitter.com/G7KTLoPndH— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 12, 2019
It was a rough night all around for the Colts, but Adam Vinatieri had the worst of it. He missed an easy 23-yard field goal at the end of the first half that would have cut the Colts’ deficit to 10 points. It was the shortest miss of his entire long-ass career.
The 23-yard try was the shortest missed field goal of Adam Vinatieri's career.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 12, 2019
He was 97-of-97 on field goal tries from 23 yards and in entering today's game (including playoffs). https://t.co/pPlXFVNE5u
When the Colts offense finally scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, he missed the extra point. It was the first time he’s missed an extra point in the playoffs (70 for 70 before that). Sorry it was 17 years too late, Charles Woodson.