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 Bills 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.
Buffalo Bills 19 at Houston Texans 22 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: Josh Allen, playoff quarterback. Whoda thunk it.
Scott Spratt: The ESPN pregame show did a bit on Deshaun Watson as the Houston Houdini. Bryan, they can’t all be Houdinis, can they?
Bryan Knowles: That sounds like a classification for Vince’s next QB Styles chart, though we might need to go to five or six axes to fit all these things.
Scott Spratt: Josh Allen quarterback sweep for 42 yards down the right sideline, he is Houdini!!!
Bryan Knowles: Allen with a 42-yard run and a 16-yard touchdown reception. Which quarterback from the 2018 draft should have moved out to wide receiver again?
Scott Spratt: Oh awesome, did the Bills run the same play the Lions did last week with quarterback David Blough catching a touchdown? This time, it was John Brown to Josh Allen, 7-0 Bills.
Bryan Knowles: The Texans weren’t particularly bad defending against quarterback runs this season. Only two quarterbacks ran for more than 50 yards in a game against them — Lamar Jackson (79) and Gardner Minshew (56). Allen’s not quite in Jackson’s league as a rusher, but he’s not far behind; the third best in our quarterback rushing numbers. He’s not going to run for 42 yards a carry or something, but if they can keep Allen’s legs working, Houston’s in for a long day, defensively.
Bryan Knowles: Fitting that after the pre-game Houdini talk, Jerry Hughes sacks Deshaun Watson on his second dropback of the game. And that’s booing I’m hearing, five minutes into first quarter of the first playoff game. C’mon, Houston fans, dial it back just a tad.
Scott Spratt: Classic Bill O’Brien, already challenging a non-called defensive pass interference penalty. Hope he doesn’t need to challenge anything in the second half!
Scott Spratt: Are the Texans fans booing or are they saying “Duuuuukkkkkeeee Williams”?
Scott Spratt: How did Josh Allen not throw a pick-six to either Bradley Roby or J.J. Watt just now? Allen stared down his receiver on second-and-20 so Roby could jump the route. He just dropped it. And then Allen throws a pass right through the circle Watt was making with his arms with his hands up to try to bat down his pass. I doubt Allen could throw it through a ring that small if he was doing it on purpose.
Aaron Schatz: Bills really bringing the pressure early. Watson moves out of the pocket with just the slightest hint of pressure. He has escaped a lot of it but two sacks already for the Bills including Trent Murphy right there to force fourth down.
Bryan Knowles: Two drives, two punts inside Bills territory for Houston. Neither were short fourth downs, so it’s perhaps a little more forgivable, but that sack on third down on that last drive really killed Houston. It was prime four-down territory; even an incomplete pass gives them a good shot to go for it. Probably would have been good to run on third-and-3, and set up a fourth-down play if necessary.
Scott Spratt: Allen was inches away from catastrophe again there. Not sure where he was going on that designed run, but his left knee went down just before the punch-out and Texans fumble return. After the impending review, it’s going to be Bills ball in field goal range.
Ben Muth: Announcers should only talk about tight ends being former basketball players when they give up horrific sacks. Everyone wants to talk about their hoops careers after the make a 12-yard catch but when they get killed in pass pro it’s crickets. This rant brought to you by Darren Fells getting killed for a sack by Jerry Hughes
Rivers McCown: Unlike last year’s pants-pooping, I made sure to stay home for this one so I could crack into the whiskey early. Not disappointed.
Aaron Schatz: We’re seeing an awful lot of Duke Williams today for the Bills, a guy who didn’t play from Week 9 to Week 16 and I think was a healthy scratch at least most of that time. He just made a nice catch to convert a third-and-8.
Scott Spratt: At the time, I thought the Bills traded Zay Jones to open the door for Williams to play more. Turns out, they just tightened the rotation of targets. At least until today.
Scott Spratt: Ugh, that first-down handoff to Frank Gore with 30 seconds left on the 23-yard line was such a give-up play.
Aaron Schatz: 13-0 at halftime and it feels like Bills should be winning by more. Watson has twice as many sacks (4) as he has targets of DeAndre Hopkins (2) and Hopkins has zero catches despite playing a lot in the slot to stay away from Tre’Davious White. I feel like what has kept the Texans in the game has been Buffalo’s insistence on trying to really run the ball from heavy sets and stuff it down Houston’s throats. It’s not resulting in three-and-outs but it is slowing down their offense.
Ben Muth: After two quarters I’ve been underwhelmed with how Watson has looked. He has been pressured but he has been very conservative. Everything has been underneath. When he has extended plays he’s looking to run and not looking to throw, too many short scrambles, doesn’t seem like he’s keeping his eyes down the field.
For Buffalo the first drive was brilliantly scripted. Allen has gotten away with a couple of should-be picks, but has played well otherwise. Singletary has looked like the best skill player on either team.
Bryan Knowles: Well, bright side, Houston! You’re only down 13-0 this time, rather than the 21-0 you were down last year. So that’s progress and improvement!
One the one hand, the Texans are a little unlucky to not be doing better — they dropped that pick-six and Josh Allen’s knee was down just a hair before his fumble. On the other hand, man, their entire strategy has been terrible. They’re not getting pressure just rushing four; they’re going to have to blitz more in the second half to try to disrupt Allen, but that’s going to leave their corners on islands, and yikes. On offense, max protect isn’t working — it feels like they could keep ten guys back to block, and Buffalo would still be getting pressure. For all the pregame Houdini talk, Watson is finding himself on the turf more often than not. They’ve gotta speed up the passing game, go to some quick, short routes, and just try to get something going on offense.
Vince Verhei: Fun way to experience a game when you don’t have a rooting interest: Listen to the game on the radio, then get caught up on the DVR on TV. When you know something’s coming, it’s a lot easier to understand how it happened. On that big Allen sweep, you could tell it was going to be a big play before Allen even got to the outside. There were three Bills blockers to the outside, and not even any Texans defenders out there to hit.
For most of the first half, Allen was what Josh Allen has usually been: a fantastic athlete who is still a bad quarterback. Most of his throws were off target. How he avoided pick-sixes on those back-to-back throws I’ll never know. And he’s very lucky his knee was down on that near-fumble. But he looked much better on that field goal drive at the end of the half, converting a bunch of third-down throws.
It’s funny about the Houston offense — it feels like they’re playing very well aside from pass protection (and some of that is on Deshaun Watson’s pocket presence — he has taken sacks he should have avoided). But I’m looking at the stats, and Watson’s not even up to 50 yards gross passing, and DeAndre Hopkins hasn’t even caught a pass yet. Which, I guess, is why they’re being shut out.
Rivers McCown: The Bills know every route combination because they haven’t changed since 2015.
Bryan Knowles: … the refs ruled the second-half kickoff ended in a Bills touchdown, because the returner flipped the ball to the referee after catching it and left the field.
Had that stood, that would have been the dumbest thing to ever happen on an NFL football field.
Carl Yedor: Definitely feels like Buffalo is mostly sticking to their high-level formula from this whole season (good defense, just enough offense), though I wasn’t thrilled with how they managed the end of the half given that they spent nearly six minutes driving methodically for a field goal.
We almost just had an all-time goof/miscommunication on the opening kickoff, but the refs did end up ruling the play a touchback instead of a touchdown, which is a huge relief for Houston’s comeback hopes.
Vince Verhei: The Texans just gave up a touchdown zero seconds into the second half. Fitting.
And now they are declaring it’s not a touchdown! Why?! The returner did not take a knee. He did not signal for a fair catch. He did nothing to indicate the play was dead, he just threw the ball away. Buffalo just got screwed out of a touchdown.
Scott Spratt: Haha, has that ref in the end zone never reffed before? When DeAndre Carter flipped him the ball, he jumped back so the “fumble” wouldn’t hit him. Incredible.
Ben Muth: The right guard for Houston is having a rough one.
Aaron Schatz: There are lots of reasons Houston should lose this game. Not making a touchback clear enough really shouldn’t be one of them.
Bryan Knowles: Vince, I bet we could find five more plays where returners do the same thing.
I found it hilarious the ref from the sideline, in the black, running onto the field — I think that’s the guy who’s in contact with the NFL league office, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that guy run onto the field before. He must have had the league screaming at him to fix that.
Aaron Schatz: Let the record state that Ben is calling out Kansas City refugee Zack Fulton, I believe.
Rivers McCown: Zack Fulton has many rough days.
Derrik Klassen: Bill O’Brien is too bad to enable the Texans to do anything that resembles consistent offense and the Bills defense is too good to let Deshaun Watson do any of the superhero stuff. Still 25~ minutes left, but they’re going to have to look like an entirely different team from here on out to make it work. Seems doomed for them.
Vince Verhei: Bryan, I’m calling your bluff. Find me five plays where a returner catches the ball and flips it away without taking a knee.
Ben Muth: I’m with Vince. There are rules. He can take a knee, he can fair catch it, he can let it bounce. Can’t judge intent, have to judge what actually happened.
Vince Verhei: It has been pointed out to me on Twitter that the pass was clearly intentional, not a fumble. So the Bills were screwed out of a safety, not a touchdown.
Rivers McCown: I’m honestly OK with them calling a touchdown on that. I’d have understood.
Anyway DeAndre Hopkins just fumbled so this feels done.
Bryan Knowles: I’m not going to reactivate game pass to watch 2,500 touchbacks! I do not get paid nearly enough for that.
DeAndre Hopkins finally gets a catch, and fumbles. Houston can’t win for trying.
Bryan Knowles: Houston holds Buffalo to another field goal. It’s STILL a two-score game, technically. I don’t think the Texans are going to come back in this one, but the Bills haven’t slammed the door shut, yet.
Dave Bernreuther: Why on earth did Tre’Davious White backpedal 5 yards past the marker when covering Nuk Hopkins on a critical third-and-8? Hopkins didn’t even need to work for that. They more or less conceded the first down.
If they give Watson the same spot they gave the Bills on the play preceding the third-and-1 that Allen got on a sneak last drive, that’s an easy touchdown on the next play.
Bryan Knowles: Weellll … Watson charges his way into the end zone, and Buffalo’s inability to put the ball into the end zone suddenly looms a lot bigger.
And I love Houston going for two. I was convinced Bill O’Brien wasn’t going to do it, and now we have a one-score game…
Vince Verhei: Watson runs for a touchdown to make it 16-6 with 1:33 left in the third quarter. I’m thinking they should kick the PAT — there’s enough time left to win with a touchdown and field goal in regulation, you don’t need to force the tie yet.
But they go the other way and it pays off, as Watson runs it in again. 16-8, and now the tie to force overtime and the win in regulation are both still on the table. (Assuming the Bills don’t score again, obviously.)
Ben Muth: I’m at a bar with sound on and it’s literally my first Booger experience all year. Usually I mute it and listen to music on Monday nights. My god is he awful. Everything he says is either incredibly obvious or completely wrong.
Vince Verhei: He also won’t stop talking about Jadeveon Clowney, who has not been on the Texans this entire year.
Bryan Knowles: For the record, both Mike Pereira and the unaffiliated Football Zebras (a great follow, if you’re not doing so already!) agree with the NFL that the second-half kickoff was correctly ruled a touchback, though a careful reading of the rules always says that “giving yourself up” involves going to the ground, in all three places it’s mentioned.
“The Competition Committee liberalized the touchback rules specifically to get players to disengage in these situations, so to give the play extra life goes against that philosophy when there is a clear outcome in a touchback. Had Carter immediately flicked the ball away, or had started to juke forward, then he really doesn’t have the benefit of the doubt. … And quite frankly, I’m very puzzled not only that Corrente did not shut this down when it was clearly going to be a touchback, but also to allow the play to continue as a fumble. At the very least had this been a live play, this was an illegal forward pass that was incomplete as soon as it touched the ground. In that case, a safety would be ruled. But, to say the least, I’m disappointed that Corrente allowed this play to devolve into such a travesty.”
I’m sure the NFL is now hoping the Texans do not win by less than a touchdown, just so this becomes a weird footnote and not a game-changing play…
… and as I type this, Josh Allen fumbles, and the Texans get the ball back. Wuh-oh.
Vince Verhei: And then Houston kicks a field goal on fourth-and-5 from the 23 to make it 16-11. Playing very passive-agressive with some of these decisions.
Bryan Knowles: So … do we like the field goal, down eight? I mean, I’m assuming we don’t love that Houston’s offense sputtered out, but with the figgy basically replacing the two-point conversion they would have needed, it’s kind of six of one, half-dozen of the other, right?
Ben Muth: Watson is killing me. The sack before the field goal that cut it to 16-11 is on him. If they show an all-out blitz like that you can’t hold the ball, because even if the guys end up dropping you have to account for them as an offensive line. The quarterback has to know who isn’t accounted for and beat them with the throw. You can’t hold the ball and forever.
Aaron Schatz: I don’t mind the field goal since it was fourth-and-5, not 1 or 2, and it now might make a two-point conversion unnecessary .
Scott Spratt: The field goal also protects against another Bills field goal.
Bryan Knowles: Buffalo has been letting teams hang around all year, and it may have just come back to haunt them tonight. As poor as Bill O’Brien’s coaching is, sometimes stars shine, with Watson and Hopkins hooking up for a big play to set up another score and two-point conversion. It’s 19-16, Houston, which seemed impossible after that first half.
Aaron Schatz: Bills go three-and-out and then Hopkins gets open past White for a huge 41-yard gain. Watson threw that off balance with guys in his face.
Vince Verhei: And Watson hits Carlos Hyde for a go-ahead touchdown, and then hits Hopkins for the two-pointer, and the aggressive two-point calls pay off — now the Bills can tie with a field goal instead of taking the lead with one.
Bryan Knowles: I think Josh Allen taking that sack/intentional grounding to get knocked out of field goal range is the easy choice for Keep Chopping Wood this week. Holy cow.
Vince Verhei: I hate kicking long field goals. I especially hate long field goals to tie instead of taking the lead.
I’m trying a 60-yard field goal to tie instead of going for it on fourth-and-27 every single time.
Scott Spratt: Can’t you punt here too? Still have three timeouts.
Bryan Knowles: And Allen can’t even get a pass off on fourth-and-a-billion, and takes a sack to give Houston even BETTER field position. Jeez.
Game’s not over, but now you need a three-and-out, using all your timeouts, and then a touchdown. Josh Allen, wow.
Andrew Potter: I can’t believe they ran an actual play there instead of some kind of pooch punt.
Vince Verhei: You know what? They could have.
And in hindsight they should have, rather than having Josh Allen take a sack on fourth-and-forever.
What a complete mangling of the end of this game by Buffalo. Terrible coaching by Sean McDermott. Even worse performance by Josh Allen. The awful decision-making with the game on the line, but on top of that I don’t remember him making a big throw in the second half — the big completion to Singletary was all after the catch.
But Watson is stuffed on a sneak and Buffalo is getting the ball back. Unbelievable. You have Watson’s legs and have him run right into Ed Oliver and company?
Can both these teams lose?
Bryan Knowles: Buffalo gets the turnover on downs! Houston tried for the win with the QB sneak on fourth-and-1 — I think it’s the right call, but man, will that be talked about if Buffalo can pull something out of their hat here.
Aaron Schatz: O’Brien made the right choice to go for it but Watson just kind of dipped straight down on the QB sneak instead of moving up and across the line.
Carl Yedor: Houston gets a fourth-and-short and elects to go for it to ice the game rather than taking the field goal to make it a six-point game. And when they need 1 yard, they can’t get it. If the Bills come back to win this one, we might never see another aggressive fourth down from O’Brien again.
Andrew Potter: I can’t believe they ran a quarterback sneak against that defensive front.
Yes, I’ve spent the rest of this game also in disbelief at the coaching. It’s just so much more significant now.
Bryan Knowles: Josh Allen nearly gave up the game by lateraling randomly after getting tackled. What the hell is going on?
Scott Spratt: That’s where the Bills’ lack of receiver height really hurts them, when Josh Allen is trying to lateral the ball on a crazy scramble.
Dave Bernreuther: Running 22 yards straight backwards on fourth-and-27 and then trying a lateral in the middle of a tackle is such a Josh Allen sequence. That’s even funnier than any of the stuff we’ve previously piled on for these past two years.
But now he’ll probably find someone in the end zone to win, which would also be sort of Josh Allen too, and be exactly why Bills fans tolerate the other crap.
Scott Spratt: Man, Bradley Roby has dropped two interceptions. This one would have ended the game for the Texans win, but Allen has another chance at third-and-10 with 34 seconds left.
Vince Verhei: Hold on. You’re telling me the Bills got a free timeout as the refs reviewed the first-down call, and still didn’t have a play called coming out of it when the ruling went their way? They had to have the punter spike the ball to run another play on second down?
Bryan Knowles: I don’t know how that fourth-down play was ruled a first down, unless it was just inconclusive and they didn’t say that.
And then Bills need their PUNTER to spike the ball, because they had the field goal unit out there awaiting the overturn. When was the last time their punter took a snap from center? That could have been a disaster.
Aaron Schatz: I don’t think the Bills would be allowed to substitute the regular offense on there.
Vince Verhei: Ah. Hadn’t thought of that.
Booger then says the Bills should pick up a few yards and then spike the ball … as the Bills are lining up for third down.
Ben Muth: The Bills coaching staff has so much more faith in Josh Allen than I do. I cannot believe they let him take two more snaps there before kicking.
Rivers McCown: The Bills take a couple deep shots, they fail, and Steven Hauschka ties us at 19, as we head to overtime.
I need more alcohol for this.
Bryan Knowles: Mmm. False start on first down, dropped pass on third down. Not ideal.
Vince Verhei: With a chance to win with a field goal and a two-man rush on a second-and-12, Allen chooses to lob a deep ball to his fullback in double coverage.
Then he converts a third down with a scramble and throw back across his body for a conversion in Houston territory, his best play all day.
Then a penalty moves them out of field goal range, and on third-and-forever he throws the ball 8 feet over the head of an uncovered receiver in the flat.
That’s all on one drive.
Bryan Knowles: This game had to end in a crazy, insane way, and it basically did.
BoB schemed up his best play when he needed it most: Let Deshaun figure it out. pic.twitter.com/Uq2QgIHSPb
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) 5 January 2020
Texans win, they move on.
The Bills had multiple chances to put the Texans away, and they just never could. And that was BEFORE the game got crazy!
Vince Verhei: Of all the wild-card games the NFL has had, that may have been the wild card-iest.
The Bills have still not won a playoff game in Josh Allen’s lifetime.
Aaron Schatz: Watson spent most of the game trying to escape pressure. Sometimes he wasn’t successful. Sometimes he was. On the biggest play of the game, he made his most impressive escape.
Carl Yedor: Technically, Ka’imi Fairbairn won the game with his final field goal, but the functional game-winner was a classic piece of Watson magic (any last Houdini jokes?). Under heavy pressure, he escapes a sack in the backfield and dumps it off to running back Taiwan Jones on the sideline (representing Jones’ only touch of the game on offense), and then Jones takes it down into the red zone where the Texans immediately kick the field goal rather than mess around at all anymore in what had been a wild one. Probably a good idea because they’re off to the divisional round, opponent pending.
Tom Gower: I missed the huge comeback (I went in the car after 16-0 and didn’t even look for the game on the radio), and didn’t see a second of the first 56-plus minutes, yet I still feel like I got a good sense of the game in all its gloriousness and idiocy. So, I approve of what happened.
Bryan Knowles: One last capper for Buffalo-Houston. Since the playoffs expanded in 1990, teams that have scored one touchdown are 20-86 in the postseason. That’s what ended up killing Buffalo; settling for all those field goals early. You can’t rely on just kicking your way past anyone.
Tennessee Titans 20 at New England Patriots 13
Scott Spratt: The Patriots may have used a few too many flea-flickers this season because that one didn’t fool the Titans at all.
Aaron Schatz: Titans offensive line dominated Patriots defensive front on the first drive. 7.0 yards per carry for Derrick Henry. They were really pushing around Deatrich Wise, who was playing a 5-tech defensive end position in a 3-4 and is definitely not that kind of player. Titans end it with a 12-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Anthony Firkser on third-and-10 to go up 7-3.
Bryan Knowles: Yowza, what an opening drive for Tennessee. Just whipping New England down the field. Not what I was expecting right off the bat!
Bryan Knowles: Jayon Brown coming out is going to hurt against the heavy New England offense they’re using.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots offensive line came back and pushed around the Titans defense. A couple of great screen passes for the Patriots so far as well. Julian Edelman jet sweep for 5 yards and a touchdown, now 10-7 Patriots.
Carl Yedor: Screens have been effective for New England here in the first quarter. They’ve been using what feels like a healthy amount of misdirection so far between the screens, the flea-flicker, etc. The Patriots get their first touchdown on the first play of the second quarter on a jet sweep to Julian Edelman with a fake to the running back after handing the ball off to Edelman. They have to be encouraged by their ability to move the ball, though I wonder what Tennessee’s answer to that is.
Vince Verhei: How bewildered were the Titans on that Edelman touchdown run? 1) Watch the guy covering Edelman in the slot collide with his teammate and go flying like Simone Biles. 2) Watch Adoree Jackson at the bottom of the screen — he doesn’t even realize Edelman has the ball until Edelman’s in the end zone.
— NFL (@NFL) January 5, 2020
Bryan Knowles: Near midfield, the Pats tried to pick up a third-and-1 with a fullback drive with Elandon Roberts, but he gets stuffed. I’m surprised they didn’t try on fourth down there, but no, they played it safe and punted it away.
Aaron Schatz: Outside runs and screens have been working all game for the Patriots. Finally stopped working just now when they got down to the 1-yard line and went -1, 1, and -2 yards on three successive plays, the last one an outside run where Sony Michel got tackled going laterally behind the offensive line. Isaiah Wynn has been kicking some ass at left tackle until those three plays. Patriots kicked the field goal instead of going on fourth-and-goal from the 3. 13-7 Patriots.
Scott Spratt: First-and-goal for the Patriots at the 1-yard line, and three carries later, they settle for a field goal. Single-season red zone conversion statistics aren’t always sustainable, but the Pats finished 26th with just a 50.0% conversion while the Titans finished first with a 75.6% rate, well ahead of even the Ravens.
Bryan Knowles: Was Tennessee particularly bad at defending against screens during the season? Because New England was moving the ball pretty easily before they hit the 1.
Aaron Schatz: Rashaan Evans had both of the tackles for loss on that goal-line stand, by the way.
Aaron Schatz: According to ESPN Stats & Info, which is what I have handy right now, Titans allowed 5.26 yards per pass on screens, which was about league-average.
Aaron Schatz: Titans offensive line absolutely brutalizing the Patriots on the next drive. Derrick Henry is up to 13 carries on the game for 105 yards plus a 22-yard screen.
Scott Spratt: Henry picked up all 75 yards of that closing Titans drive. Insane.
Bryan Knowles: I suppose that’s one way to deal with the top pass defense in the league — just pound Derrick Henry over and over and over and over. He had all 75 yards on that drive. Yowza.
Carl Yedor: Tony Romo made a comment about New England being undefeated when they don’t give up X amount of rushing yards, which, moving on, but it’s definitely New England’s relative weakness on defense. I say relative because they’re obviously still pretty darn good in that aspect of defense, but given that Tennessee has a very effective rushing attack (fifth in rush offense DVOA), this feels like a good matchup to attack. It has been extremely effective so far and is a key reason that Tennessee has the lead at half on the road. New England coming away with one touchdown in three red zone trips is another big reason.
That lead would have been even bigger had Logan Ryan not dropped a gift-wrapped pick-six. The ball goes off Ben Watson’s hands on New England’s final drive of the half and just goes straight through Ryan’s grasp. He had an easy touchdown if he was able to secure the interception. Huge break for the Patriots there, even if the interception itself would have been a bit fluky had it occurred.
Scott Spratt: Was that a worse drop for Ben Watson or Logan Ryan at the end of the first half? If Ryan squeezes that deflection, I think he walks in for the pick-six and commanding Titans lead.
Bryan Knowles: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a legit zero-man rush, like Tennessee employed on the half-ending Hail Mary. I don’t think I ever want to see one again.
14-13 Tennessee at the half, and the Titans get the ball back to start the second half. I still think New England makes the adjustments and slows Derrick Henry down, but that was some impressive, impressive physical football from the entire front line.
Vince Verhei: Titans lead 14-13 at halftime. I said on a friend’s podcast that, if I had to pick a winner in this game, I was picking Tennessee, but I’m still surprised how well Tennessee’s offense has done. They just pushed the Patriots around on their two touchdown drives. They have also not allowed a single sack, for a quarterback whose only weakness was taking too many sacks this year. Tremendous half for the offensive line.
MVP for the Patriots has been Josh McDaniels. They’ve broken some tackles with stiff-arms on running plays, but a lot of their yards have come on easy situations for the ballcarriers — screens where guys get big yards, and the Edelman touchdown where he wasn’t touched. When they have reached the red zone, he hasn’t been able to scheme up easy yards (aside from the Edelman play, of course), and the players have lost their matchups, leading to field goals.
Vince Verhei: This sums up how easy things looked for the Titans for most of the first half: they have 11 first downs, but are just 1-for-3 on first downs. Because the best way to get third-down conversions is to never need them in the first place.
Tom Gower: Through 30 minutes of football, the Titans
- a. have allowed 3 scoring drives;
- b. have two three-and-outs to the Patriots’ zero, with the Patriots’ only punt coming when Belichick punted on fourth-and-1 near midfield;
- c. have completed one pass more than 6 yards downfield;
- d. are winning; and
- e. will receive the second-half kickoff.
This is not the Titans-Patriots playoff game in Foxborough two years ago.
Carl Yedor: Safe to say screens were part of Tennessee’s halftime adjustments. On third-and-15 after an ineligible man downfield penalty wiped out a long gain to Ben Watson, New England dials up a screen and James White is almost on the ground before he catches the ball. The Titans had that one sniffed out quickly. Titans ball again now with good field position halfway through the third quarter.
Scott Spratt: Did that Derrick Henry bit say he had more than 12,000 yards in high school??
Bryan Knowles: Yup: 12,124 rushing yards, breaking a record that had stood since the ’50s. Hard to believe they’d let one kid run that much!
Tom Gower: Gaining 3,000 yards isn’t /that/ unusual in high school, especially in Florida where the regular season is longer than it is in, say, Illinois. But most guys aren’t 2,400-yard rushers as freshmen.
Scott Spratt: He was so much bigger than everyone on the field in the video clip they showed. It was like the Andy Reid punt, pass, and kick video, except more amazing than hilarious.
Carl Yedor: The 55 touchdowns and over 4,200 rushing yards in his senior season feels like what would happen if you set a Madden game to Rookie difficulty and had 15-minute quarters.
Vince Verhei: I did not think Tom Brady was capable of making throws like that third-and-2 conversion to Edelman anymore. Absolute frozen rope delivered right where it had to be. Unfortunately for him, his next third-down pass is broken up, and the Patriots are punting again.
Aaron Schatz: Pats limited Derrick Henry to nine carries for 26 yards in the third quarter. But does that defensive adjustment now leave them vulnerable to the play-action pass?
Aaron Schatz: Apparently not, because Ryan Tannehill launches a bad pass that falls short of Corey Davis and gets picked off by Duron Harmon. But Patriots can’t capitalize, punt from fourth-and-3 at midfield, and end up with their second straight punt touchback. So the Titans are back on offense.
Vince Verhei: Ryan Tannehill is having a terrible game and the Titans still have the ball and the lead in the fourth quarter. That is definitely … something.
Tom Gower: Anthony Firkser’s first-quarter touchdown pass remains the Titans’ only completion more than 6 yards downfield. We have played 47 minutes and 15 seconds.
Bryan Knowles: These coaches apparently have a pact to never, ever go for it on fourth down.
Aaron Schatz: Everybody is too conservative in this game. Patriots punting fourth-and-3 on the Titans 47. Now the Titans punting fourth-and-4 on the Patriots 35. (And taking a delay of game. Then a false start. Then a neutral zone infraction…)
Scott Spratt: What a devastating sequence for the Titans. Ryan Tannehill drops a shotgun handoff that Derrick Henry likely would have converted at third-and-3. Now, they’re taking delay of game penalties to kill clock and punt when they were in the edge of field goal range.
Vince Verhei: I am in love with Mike Vrabel for this penalty-taking, clock-killing silliness.
I would be in love with him more if he had just gone for it on fourth down, of course, but if you’re going to play to win 14-13, commit to it, baby.
Aaron Schatz: All those penalties did manage to take nearly two minutes off the clock.
Carl Yedor: A fumbled snap on third-and-3 puts Tennessee in a bind. Instead of chipping away at the yards to go at the New England 35, they end up losing a yard, and Tennessee’s kicking situation has been such a disaster this season that Vrabel doesn’t trust his kicker anymore. They definitely could (and probably should, frankly, not sure what the numbers say here) go for it, but instead Tennessee does the double-delay trick to burn clock and give more space for their punter. After a delay of game and a false start, New England ends up committing a neutral zone infraction that doesn’t end up mattering, and Tennessee pins them inside the 10 with less than five minutes to play. The third-down play took place with a little less than seven minutes on the clock, so the Titans effectively burned two full minutes of clock on one play there.
Carl Yedor: The more I think about it, all that clock-burning could end up being a bad thing for Tennessee if New England embarks on a methodical drive here. After all, they only need a field goal for the lead.
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, it is a weird, gambly move — a four-minute field goal drive is WELL within the realm of possibility. It’s a riskier call than just plowing forward.
Carl Yedor: But they end up in fourth-and-6 in their own end and punt instead. Never mind.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots don’t embark on a methodical drive because Julian Edelman flat-out drops a sure conversion on second-and-6 and then Brady throws behind Philip Dorsett on third down. And then the Patriots punt, again.
Aaron Schatz: EdjSports has that Patriots punt as costing 19% Game-Winning Chance. Which is a lot.
Carl Yedor: Third-and-8 with under three minutes to play and Tennessee picks up a critical third down. Romo said it was man with a double-team in real time, but I thought it looked like Man-2 (i.e. two deep safeties, man underneath) just based on where the safeties were, as the safety to Firkser’s side was not aggressively covering him in conjunction with the nickel. Would have to see the all-22 to know for sure, but I do find it interesting to note given that Kansas City played a ton of Man-2 coverage late in their playoff tilt with the Patriots last year, which Brady and Edelman shredded on several long down-and-distances. This time, it was Tennessee’s turn. It’s not over yet if the Patriots can get a stop right here, but it’s looking grim after another Henry first down.
Bryan Knowles: Brett Kern is the best punter in the league.
So, the Patriots have to go 99 yards in 15 seconds. No biggie.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots will end this game with more yards per play than Tennessee and win the turnover margin. They lose with red zone mistakes and conservative fourth-down calls. This really feels like the last rodeo, the end of an era.
I wrote that just before the final pick-six bounced off Mohamed Sanu’s hands.
Bryan Knowles: …or they could throw a pick-six, go up eight, and give the Patriots a kickoff return chance, I guess.
Vince Verhei: The Titans just won a playoff game in New England while passing for 76 yards with an interception.
Bryan Knowles: The Patriots’ run of consecutive divisional round appearances encapsulated the entire careers of Rob Gronkowski, NaVorro Bowman, and Dez Bryant. Mark Sanchez, Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Tony Romo, and Peyton Manning were starting quarterbacks the last time the Patriots stayed at home. What a run. What a dynasty.
Is it “over?” There’ll be plenty of time for talking about that this offseason. You can’t really tell if a dynasty is over until a couple years have passed. But this could have been the extinguishing of a hell of a torch.
Aaron Schatz: No, I think it’s over. I’ve always thought the desire to prematurely call an end to the Patriots dynasty was a bit absurd. Every loss became a call that the dynasty is over. But this is really it this time. I can’t remember where I’ve written all this — maybe Twitter last week? I don’t think it was in Audibles. The defense will not be as good next year, because we know how defensive regression works, especially when the defensive performance was so built on takeaways. There are also a number of defensive free agents. Even if Brady returns, there’s no reason to believe they can build the offensive weaponry back up, and Brady will likely continue his age-related decline next season. And of course, there’s the widely discussed possibility that Brady leaves in the offseason, and there’s no quarterback in waiting. (Jarrett Stidham is a nobody.) This team could win the division next year at 9-7 with a slightly above-average offense and defense, especially if the Bills defense regresses as well. But the Patriots dynasty as we know it is over now. Speaking as a fan, it was a hell of a ride and we were all very lucky to be able to root for this run.
Rivers McCown: I think the Patriots will live on as long as Bill Belichick stays on. I don’t think they can run back Brady again though, and that’s going to be a hard conversation to have.
Tom Gower: In the light of the next day, I think this game reminded me an awful lot of last year’s Cowboys-Seahawks game in the wild-card round. It was a similarly low-scoring game where both teams were content due to some combination of stylistic preference, game situation, risk management, and necessity to keep up with an at-most moderately effective type of offensive football rather than trying something different. The result was that neither team really threatened to score on offense in the second half, with the Titans’ drive that reached the New England 34 before Tannehill’s third-down fumble and the ensuing game-delaying penalties and punt the deepest penetration by either side.
As with any close game (and I’ll probably forever think of this game as 14-13 notwithstanding the final 20-13 margin), there are a number of plays that partisans on either side could point to as potentially being decisive, and the margin means all of them will be right. Last night on Twitter I highlighted Sony Michel’s 2-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 1 with the Patriots leading 10-7 in the second quarter. Even with Belichick’s conservatism throughout the game, fourth-and-goal from the 1 up a field goal seems like a situation where he might have gone for it. Shaq Mason’s ineligible man downfield penalty negating the 38-yard completion to Ben Watson down to the Tennessee 25 looms particularly large.
I’d love to get a real answer on what Bill Belichick thought of his defense’s performance. Derrick Henry had a fine game and carried the load for the Titans offense, but they didn’t score any more in the second half than the Patriots did. When you only give up 14 points, you have a good chance of winning games. Tannehill only had two completions more than 5 yards downfield the entire game, the first to Anthony Firkser for the opening touchdown and the second also to Firkser on the Titans’ final possession. Both were significant plays, but that’s basically completely shutting down a passing offense that was around 50% DVOA the second half of the year. I’m not saying Belichick did the Super Bowl XXV thing and told his team “if Derrick Henry gets 100 yards, we win this game,” but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. That plan was not without a certain element of risk. I’m sure I’m not the only one who started wondering about the last New England wild-card home game after the opening drive when Baltimore just ran the ball down their throats forever and ever and blew them out with even less contribution from Joe Flacco than Tannehill had tonight, but despite Henry’s success, this game ended up not being that game.
Ultimately, the right takeaway to me is that the Patriots didn’t have enough offensive dimensions. Their non-Edelman receivers — Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, and Mohamed Sanu — were targeted 16 times and ended up with four catches for 38 yards. Watson didn’t do much, and no other tight end was targeted. The Titans were not a good defense, ranking 21st in DVOA (19th run, 22nd pass) from Weeks 10 to 16 (after they lost Malcolm Butler, and not included the A.J. McCarron game), yet the Patriots couldn’t take advantage of even a player like Arizona castoff Tramaine Brock. Belichick tried, with Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, and the trade for Sanu, but ultimately could never find anything that worked. That’s shocking in the grand history of New England always finding ways to win, but likewise reminiscent of 2009. There will be plenty of time later to discuss the future in New England, but continued success even assuming Brady’s non-retirement and return to Foxborough seems to require an infusion of skilled ball-handlers on offense.
Minnesota Vikings 26 at New Orleans Saints 20 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: To beat the Saints, the Vikings are going to have to win in a shootout. Fumbling on the opening drive is not an ideal way to do that! Gives me flashbacks to the ’95 divisional round.
The refs were very, very careful not to blow the play dead after Janoris Jenkins forced the Adam Thielen fumble, though Vonn Bell pretty clearly stepped out of bounds about 30 yards before the end zone.
Scott Spratt: Informal poll for the staff: who gets more screen time for less of an impact on his team’s game, J.J. Watt yesterday or Taysom Hill today?
Bryan Knowles: I imagine Hill, if only because I find taking Brees off the field, in general, to be a questionable decision. Then again, Watt was on camera nearly every other snap; I don’t think FOX highlights Hill quite so much.
Big defensive stop from Minnesota there — had New Orleans marched right down the field and scored a touchdown, we might have been on our way to a rout. Instead, Lutz has to kick the short field goal, and it’s just 3-0 after the turnover.
Derrik Klassen: That third-down sack in the red zone was apparently the first sack Ryan Ramczyk has allowed all year. Not that it should take away from his brilliance this season, but man, what a bad spot to give up the first one. Cost New Orleans a shot at seven, had to settle for three.
Scott Spratt: P.J. Williams maybe could have earned a defensive pass interference penalty for his grabbing of Kyle Rudolph there, but Kirk Cousins still stared Rudolph down and telegraphed a pass that Williams could easily have intercepted. The Vikings may need to go full Titans with an extreme run vs. pass mix to win this game.
Aaron Schatz: Taysom Hill pass play! Deonte Harris, the pride of Worcester’s Assumption College, just turned Xavier Rhodes completely the wrong way on his route downfield for a 50-yard gain. Alvin Kamara takes it in on the next play with a big block ahead of him from … Taysom Hill. 10-3 Saints.
Bryan Knowles: OK, the answer to Scott’s poll is clearly Watt. Taysom Hill just hit the first big play for either team, finding Deonte Harris for a 50-yard bomb. If the throw was perfect, it’s a touchdown. Instead, he’s down at the four, and Kamara carries it in the next play to give the Saints a 10-3 lead.
Rivers McCown: As a frequent hater of Taysom Hill packages, I’ll tip my hat to Sean Payton for that bomb to Harris.
Scott Spratt: I’d like to formally apologize to Taysom Hill. His had only attempted three passes for more than 20 yards in the air in his entire career!
Bryan Knowles: Oh, man, the Vikings kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal inside the 5. I know New Orleans has started sluggish, but I don’t think you’re going to beat the Saints with scaredy-cat field goals. It hurt that Dalvin Cook’s visor cracked, keeping him off the field on first and second downs, but surely, you’ve GOTTA go for it there.
Derrik Klassen: How many times has Kirk Cousins thrown that 10-ish-yard out this drive?
Bryan Knowles: In the Scramble Best of the Rest contest, there was some consternation as to Taysom Hill’s position. Why, people said, should we have to take him as a quarterback? He should be a FLEX. Those people are probably surprised that Hill has more passing yards than Drew Brees with 23 seconds left in the first half, as Brees — one of the best two-minute drill quarterbacks in history — tosses a deep pass into double-coverage, with Anthony Harris coming down with it. Then we get plenty of Cousins-to-Thielen to get us into the red zone, before Cook, repaired visor and all, busts into the end zone to give the Vikings their first lead of the day!
…and then Deonte Harris sparks a big return, Michael Thomas makes a fantastic catch, and the Saints … miss the ensuing field goal?! Woah.
The Vikings couldn’t really ask more than what happened in that first half. Yes, they would have liked that first goal-line appearance to have ended up in the end zone, but if you had told Vikings fans they’d have a three-point lead at halftime, they would have jumped ALL over it.
Aaron Schatz: I’ll note that Stefon Diggs has no targets through the first half. I guess Janoris Jenkins is primarily covering him with Lattimore on Thielen? Great job by Jenkins then. (It’s always hard to tell from the TV camera angles.)
Vince Verhei: Saints miss a field goal on the last play of the half. Vikings up 13-10, and as we all expected, Taysom Hill has been the best passer for either team and also leads the Saints in rushing yards. Just a masterful effort by the Vikings defense, which has neutered the Saints aside from the Hill trick plays. Lots of Giants-style NASCAR packages with the ends moving inside, and it’s having a great effect.
Cousins has definitely had a “well, he’s not killing them” type of game. Minnesota is winning because of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison — and because of the great blocking they’re getting on the outside.
Vince Verhei: Next Gen Stats confirming Aaron’s thoughts on Minnesota’s cornerbacks:
Vikings WRs vs Saints CB [1st Half]:
• Janoris Jenkins has lined up against Stefon Diggs on 14 of 17 routes (82%), Diggs has 0 targets
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) 5 January 2020
Andrew Potter: The normal Saints offense has done nothing in this game — the scores have come on a short drive after a fumble, and after the Vikings blew coverage on a 50-yard semi-trick play. The level of pressure on Brees has been stunning; this is one of the best offensive lines in the game, but Minnesota’s front is dominating it, particularly on the interior. Add that the Vikings offensive line is winning against the Saints defensive front, and that goes a long, long way to explaining the course of the game so far. It could very easily be a lot worse.
Aaron Schatz: We noted in the preview that Andrus Peat was the weakness on the Saints offensive line. They just had a third-and-1 tap pass which seemed to be designed for Peat to get up to the second level to block Eric Kendricks. Kendricks was much faster than Peat and Peat never reached him. It really didn’t work. Loss of 6.
Vince Verhei: Sean Payton’s halftime comments stressed the need to play better on third downs. New Orleans’ first two third downs of the second half: swing pass to Latavius Murray (which converts) and SHOVeLL pass to Alvin Kamara (which is stuffed for a big loss). Maybe if you let the all-time leading passer throw actual passes you’d get better results.
Aaron Schatz: Vikings just sacked Brees a second time, then Xavier Rhodes got a pass defensed on the third-down pass to Thomas. Vikings defense, especially defensive line, is winning this game for them.
Scott Spratt: Stefon Diggs still hasn’t seen a target with less than six minutes left in the third quarter, and he’s going crazy over it. For the season, the Saints were the No. 11 DVOA defense against No. 1 wide receivers but No. 22 DVOA defense against “other” wide receivers. I feel like he should know this was the game plan for the Vikings.
Scott Spratt: Seconds after I send that, he makes an excellent first grab on the doorstep of the end zone. Vikings about to go up two scores.
Vince Verhei: Cook does indeed score to put Minnesota up 20-10, but that was Cousins’ best drive of the game: 3-of-4 for 51 yards, including that third-down play where he had a sure-fire conversion on a run but kept his head and hit Diggs at the goal-line for a bigger play.
Bryan Knowles: Minnesota getting theirs against this Saints defense doesn’t shock me — the Titans scored 28 against them a few weeks ago, the 49ers rocked them for 48, Atlanta and Carolina found success — but “New Orleans can’t protect Brees” would have been, like, 20th on my list of ways an upset could have occurred, high Vikings sack rate or no high Vikings sack rate.
Plenty of time left, of course, but now BOTH New Orleans units need to step up.
Vince Verhei: Third-and-6 for New Orleans, swing pass to Kamara behind the line of scrimmage sets up a fourth-and-3. The game isn’t desperate yet, but we’re getting there.
Hill then picks up the first down on a fake punt, but it’s wiped out by a penalty, and the Saints really punt instead.
Carl Yedor: Huge pre-snap penalty here. Saints try a fake punt on fourth-and-3 and look like they convert after giving up the Cook touchdown, but they don’t get set, negating the successful play. Normally having a quarterback on the field like Hill would help with getting everything lined up properly, but if you’re that concerned about making sure everyone is set on a play where you’re theoretically giving up the ball, that might give away the fake. Either way, New Orleans’ offense has been seriously struggling in the second half.
Aaron Schatz: It’s like the Saints have forgotten they have any receivers other than Thomas and the backs. Heck, they’ve even sort of forgotten Thomas, who has “only” six targets.
Scott Spratt: Cue Ted Ginn for 18 yards!
Aaron Schatz: Not to mention two Jared Cook catches, one on his fingertips, and then Taysom Hill in the end zone for a touchdown, beating Harrison Smith! 20-17 Vikings.
Bryan Knowles: I think a second apology to Taysom Hill is probably necessary at this point, as he catches the Brees deep shot to make this a one-score game again.
Scott Spratt: Taysom Hill continuing to roast me.
Tom Gower: Through three quarters, the only Saints players with more than 10 yards receiving are Michael Thomas and Deontay Harris (with only one catch, the deep shot from Taysom Hill). Then on their first possession of the second half, Brees had two 14-yard completions to Jared Cook and an 18-yard completion to Ted Ginn before finding Taysom in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. Finding secondary options like that is exactly what they needed to do, and this game at 20-17 feels a whole lot different than it did at 20-10.
Aaron Schatz: Looks like Harrison Smith was looking at Alvin Kamara who was open for a swing pass, and Hill got behind him.
Vince Verhei: I always forget Ted Ginn is still in the league. Someday we need to do the all “bad players with long careers” team. He’d be a strong candidate.
Hill is going to ruin Quick Reads. I know he’s a quarterback, but he made our wide receivers tables in Week 8.
Bryan Knowles: Where was this Saints offense for three quarters? That last drive was what we’re used to seeing from New Orleans; it’s like they just flipped a switch. I didn’t see any injuries or changes from the Vikings’ defense; this was all just a difference in strategy from the Saints (and perhaps a bit better blocking from the offensive line). Whole plane, black box, etc., etc.
Vince Verhei: Xavier Rhodes is out. I know he has had a bad year but I assume he is still better than his backup.
Bryan Knowles: Rhodes is a rotational player at this point — the only game in the last month he has played more than half the defensive snaps in was Week 17, when the Vikings rested their important starters.
Tom Gower: Bill Barnwell has the dots for that touchdown, and I’m kind of confused about Minnesota’s defense and specifically how much Harrison Smith is to blame. I mean, he obviously could have played it better, but this makes it look to me more like an excellent play design really stressing a zone defense and demanding a strong on-the-fly adjustment from Smith or No. 24 Holton Hill, leaving his man and letting the middle-of-field safety pick him up and dropping off to cover Taysom’s vertical route.
Four verts from the Saints for a TD pic.twitter.com/TeWR3LJHId
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) 5 January 2020
Carl Yedor: If Smith takes Hill on the touchdown, Kendricks is responsible for Kamara out of the backfield. Putting a linebacker on Kamara in space is a seriously tough matchup (and may be what the play was designed to do originally), but it at least doesn’t require multiple defenders to make the on-the-fly adjustments. Either way, it’s a stressful playcall against that particular 5-man pressure.
Scott Spratt: Did the Vikings seriously just hand the ball to Diggs twice in the fourth quarter of a playoff game because he’s upset he isn’t touching the ball more? Priorities, people!
Andrew Potter: Yeah, evidently the Saints using their No. 3 quarterback as a receiver has prompted the Vikings to use their No. 1 receiver as a running back. That might be the biggest chess-checkers victory for Sean Payton so far.
Scott Spratt: It’s like I’ve been saying this entire time, Sean Payton needs to get over his sentimentality and bench Drew Brees for Taysom Hill. Hill runs over the Vikings for 28 yards, and then Brees promptly fumbles under pressure. Vikings ball.
Bryan Knowles: Taysom Hill is Taysom Hilling … and then Saints’ backup quarterback Drew Brees gets put back into the game, is sacked, and fumbles, and now the Vikings have the ball back! What a huge play from Danielle Hunter, but the ball just slips out of Brees’ hands.
Saints defense needs a three-and-out in the worst way.
Vince Verhei: Taysom Hill with another big run, taking a direct snap and breaking tackles for a 28-yard gain. He now has one pass, one target, and four runs, and has gained a first down on all of them.
And then Drew Brees gives it away, giving up a bad fumble on a sack while holding the ball out away from his body. They say that’s his first fumble all year. Well, that sucks.
Bryan Knowles: Wow, that was nearly…
Dalvin Cook is brought to the ground by A.J. Klein (great tackle), the ball pops in the air, and Von Bell returns it for six … except it looks like Cook’s knee was down.
The Superdome is going to explode.
Scott Spratt: This Saints fumble return for a touchdown is going to be overturned by replay. I’m sure Saints fans will handle that well.
Vince Verhei: About once a game, Kirk Cousins does something that makes me think he has never played football before. Taking a sack on third-and-19 against a three-man pass rush qualifies.
Bryan Knowles: I mean, it was better than an incomplete pass, but oof. Oof.
Aaron Schatz: Saints don’t call their last timeout after the sack, letting the clock go down to the two-minute warning. Maybe they’re saving their last timeout in case they need it to set up for a game-tying field goal?
Carl Yedor: It may not cost the Saints a shot at a tying field goal given that they have two whole (almost) minutes and a timeout, but that was some … curious clock management by New Orleans there. Because of how much time remained after the third-down sack, the Vikings were able to run the clock down enough that the punt play hit the two-minute warning, effectively removing one of New Orleans’ two clock stoppages (the other being their timeout) while also using a full 40 seconds of game clock. Maybe they want to make sure their drive is the last one of regulation after how the San Francisco game ended? I’m not sure.
Bryan Knowles: I suppose there’s an argument about whether you want to have 40 seconds but no control over when the clock stops (the two minute warning happens when it happens), or if you want to take the timeout when you need it most, and still have the middle of the field available.
I think I’d rather have the 40 seconds.
Bryan Knowles: And I’d CERTAINLY rather have 10 of my last 21 seconds! Good lord, if the Saints lose this one, you have to question the time management here.
Aaron Schatz: The Saints never end up using the timeout.
Aaron Schatz: The Saints played that last drive like all they wanted was overtime, and the Vikings played that last drive on defense like … all they wanted was overtime.
Scott Spratt: These are subtle things, but on this last drive, Alvin Kamara cut inside after a catch to gain a couple of extra yards but not get out of bounds, fell backward a yard short of a new first down without a defender there to stop him; and then false-started on an attempted spike to cost the Saints 5 yards and spur a 10-second run-off with just 21 seconds left on the clock. Not his best series ever.
Vince Verhei: I’m beside myself. I can’t even process what I just saw. What a brutal, awful, wretched two-minute drill that was. They never even tried to win in regulation. They never even tried to get a short field goal! They dilly-dallied, moped around, sauntered here, moseyed there, and as soon as they got inside a 50-yard field goal they determined THIS IS THE BEST WE CAN DO. I’m actually upset the kick went through. They deserved to lose for that alone.
Andrew Potter: Mike Zimmer called that fourth quarter so conservatively, even Pete Carroll probably thinks they should be a little more adventurous.
Bryan Knowles: Play-action. It’s the one thing the Vikings’ offense does well, and they do it very, very well. Cousins’ pass to Thielen to bring the Vikings to the 2 is the biggest throw of Cousins’ career.
Aaron Schatz: Although I don’t think the play fake affected anything. Thielen just plain beat Patrick Robinson, and Cousins delivered a dime. The linebackers playing run didn’t matter.
Bryan Knowles: Kyle Shanahan versus Kirk Cousins next week. I’m in.
Scott Spratt: Haha, Kyle Rudolph super pushed off for that game-winning catch. It wasn’t reviewed.
Vince Verhei: The Vikings just won a playoff game in New Orleans because Mike Zimmer outcoached Sean Payton and Kirk Cousins outplayed Drew Brees. Thank you and good night.
Bryan Knowles: Lattimore actually had to check out of the game on one of the previous plays; colliding with a teammate. I don’t think him being in the game would have changed things much, but it’s worth noting.
Tom Gower: Smart call by Kevin Stefanski to set up the game-winning touchdown. Lattimore got hurt the play before, and they immediately went after Robinson with the deep shot off play-action. Which reminds me: I should have noted, if I did not, that Firkser’s touchdown last night came against Terrence Brooks in his first snap after Patrick Chung got hurt. Attacking injury replacements their first play in the game feels like one of the hallmarks of good coaching to me, because it’s so easy to do if you have a play designed to target that position available and if you’re flexible enough to respond to game conditions and don’t just try to do what you do.
Andrew Potter: My only reaction through that entire game. (NSFW)
Seattle Seahawks 17 at Philadelphia Eagles 9
Vince Verhei: I went into great detail about Philadelphia’s injury woes in our game preview, but we’re getting late word on some big injuries for Seattle too. No Duane Brown, no Mike Iupati, and of course Justin Britt was lost for the year a long time ago. Also, no Malik Turner or Jaron Brown — behind Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, it’s David Moore and John Ursua at wide receiver, and that’s it.
Scott Spratt: Nearly a crazy start to the Seahawks-Eagles game. First, Travis Homer fumbles, but the Seahawks recover it. Then, Miles Sanders doesn’t pick up Carson Wentz’s audible and lets the pitch sail past him. Good job by Wentz to run that down and calmly throw it out of bounds to not lose a ton of yards.
Carl Yedor: Seattle gets a few first downs on its subsequent drive, featuring a long scramble from Wilson for an explosive play, but they stall out in the red zone, leading to a partially blocked field goal. Still 0-0. Fletcher Cox has been a force thus far, blowing up the play on the Travis Homer fumble on Seattle’s first drive and discarding Joey Hunt in short order on Seattle’s red zone third down on their second drive.
Bryan Knowles: Uh, Brandon Graham limped off the field, and Carson Wentz is going to the locker room.
What was it you said about Josh McCown in that injury graphic, Vince?
Just a reminder, from @FO_VVerhei, about the Eagles’ injury situation coming into this one.
Josh McCown is listed under “hopefully not” pic.twitter.com/up4SO9fESs
— Bryan Knowles (@BryKno) January 5, 2020
Scott Spratt: They just showed Carson Wentz walking to the locker room. The replay they just showed had Jadeveon Clowney spearing him helmet-to-helmet, and so Wentz may have a concussion. This could be Josh McCown time!
Vince Verhei: If the Seahawks lose a playoff game to Josh McCown in 2020 I will retire.
Carl Yedor: Seattle thought they had a free play on the last third down, and as a result of the route adjustments for free plays ended up with multiple receivers in the same area. Pass falls incomplete, and Seattle settles for another field goal attempt. This one is good, so it’s 3-0 Seahawks.
Vince Verhei: And McCown’s day begins with a timeout to avoid delay of game before he has taken a snap.
Scott Spratt: Props to NBC for having the Nick Foles graphics ready to go. I think they may have anticipated a Wentz injury.
Scott Spratt: This also leads to now three quarterbacks over 40 years old playing in wild-card weekend in the NFL. Nuts!
Rivers McCown: Josh McCown is back, baby! I contain no biases!
Bryan Knowles: Things were thrown at the TV when NBC popped up the “oh, all the top passers missed the playoffs!” graphic.
Aaron Schatz: Seattle now at nine runs for 17 yards not including Russell Wilson’s scramble. It’s almost like this offensive line has a lot of backups or something.
Scott Spratt: Also the Eagles kind of snuck up on me as the No. 4 DVOA run defense. Maybe let Wilson throw a bit?
Bryan Knowles: That goes against Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer’s philosophy.
Carl Yedor: Fletcher Cox has been wrecking this game so far. He’s getting plenty of deserved love on the broadcast, but Seattle’s interior linemen can’t handle him at all. Joey Hunt (center) is undersized, and it shows up in a major way against Cox. D.J. Fluker (right guard) is the opposite of that, but Cox has been working him too. He’s forcing penalties, stuffing runs, and pressuring Wilson pretty much whenever he wants. Impressive work from him so far.
Bryan Knowles: I got a lot of flack in a recent Scramble for writing that the Seahawks’ biggest weakness was their center, but man, Cox-vs.-Hunt is such a mismatch.
Bryan Knowles: I’m not sure I call a QB bootleg with a 40-year-old guy with no backup on the roster, but then, I guess that’s why I’m not Doug Pederson. It’s 3-3 with three minutes left in the half — McCown gets Philly into field goal range with aforementioned rush and an actual nice pass to Dallas Goedert down the middle on third-and-7. Not exactly a boatrace here, but you take what you can get, I suppose.
Vince Verhei: Do we have a record for targets in a game by a cornerback? Cre’Von LeBlanc may break it today. Seattle’s throwing it at him at least half the time it seems.
Bryan Knowles: Speaking of LeBlanc, he whiffs on a David Moore reception, which turns into 30-plus yards after the catch — a huge, huge play on third-and-10. It takes Seattle four plays from the 5, but Marshawn Lynch eventually punches the ball in for Seattle’s first touchdown of the day. 10-3, Seahawks.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, a run finally worked for the Seahawks.
Scott Spratt: I don’t have a long-term record, Vince, but Sportadar data shows that the Vikings’ Mike Hughes saw 18 targets, the most targets in a game this season by a cornerback, in Week 10 against the Cowboys. He rotated between defending Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup that week, for the most part.
Bryan Knowles: And now Miles Sanders goes down hurt, as we go to halftime.
Anyone in the Philly area? You may have to suit up!
Vince Verhei: Things are going all sorts of wrong for the Eagles at the end of the half, the clock is running, they’re out of timeouts, they should just hand off and go to the half. Instead they’re out there throwing panic balls, McCown is getting hit and sacked, and on the last play Sanders is slow to get up. Way to go guys.
Tom Gower: Seahawks running backs have 11 carries for 24 yards at the half and their win probability feels huge because (1) Wilson has 21 pass attempts to those 11 handoffs through 30 minutes and (2) oh, yeah, Carson Wentz is hurt and we’re looking at Josh McCown trying to outscore the Seahawks and nanobubbles by more than a touchdown with a motley collection of ball-handlers.
Vince Verhei: It’s halftime of a playoff game, and the Eagles have six completions for 30 yards. Seventeen of those yards came on one play.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks running backs have 11 carries for 24 yards. Twelve of those yards came on one play.
Seahawks need to quit running. Eagles need to quit passing.
Derrik Klassen: Oh, what I would give to see 2017 NFL MVP Josh McCown win a playoff game in the year 2020.
Anyway, back to reality. Philly has more than just quarterback issues. Russell Wilson played a much, much better half than 10 points on the scoreboard would suggest. Feels like that good play has to bear fruit eventually and result in more than 10 points in the second half. If Wilson and the Seahawks can start to finish drives a bit better, it’s going to be tough for the Eagles to catch up considering they have an offense that’s fielding as many NFL players as it is people from the local YMCA.
Vince Verhei: Meanwhile, 181 yards for Wilson in the first half is apparently a career playoff high.
But never mind that because the Eagles come out bombing. Thirty-two yards on a deep crosser to Zach Ertz, 20 yards on a DPI to Tre Flowers in coverage against Greg Ward. The drive stalls out after McCown A) takes a delay of game, B) fumbles a snap, and C) takes an unnecessary hit on a third-down scramble, but they get a field goal. Hey, this is what they need to do. They’re not going to put together 12-play drives. They need to hit shot plays if they’re going to stay in this.
Bryan Knowles: Philadelphia comes out with a bunch of vim and vigor. A big shot to Zach Ertz, a pass interference call, a 15-yard Boston Scott run … but bogs down in the red zone with penalties and execution mistakes, almost like they’re running with a backup quarterback or something. Normally, I’d still say go for it on fourth-and-goal, but 8 yards is a big ask for a squad of backups. Lead’s cut to 10-6.
Bryan Knowles: Instead, it’s the Seahawks who hit the big shot play. DK Metcalf takes advantage of a blown Eagles coverage, catching a 53-yard bomb to give the Seahawks a 17-6 lead. Game is beginning to slip away…
Vince Verhei: I can’t believe it took the Seahawks so many years to hook Wilson up with a poor man’s Randy Moss. (And before anyone gets upset I do want to stress POOR MAN’S Randy Moss — a big fast guy who spends most of his time running deep routes.)
Rivers McCown: I bet the Eagles would rather have DK Metcalf than J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at this very moment.
Carl Yedor: Philly does look like it has some offensive answers now that Pederson and company have had a chance to really adjust at halftime. They’ve been getting guys open downfield in holes in zones, and with McCown having some time to actually get some reps, he seems to be settling in. Nothing too crazy, but against this Seattle defense, it doesn’t have to be.
Vince Verhei: Third quarter ends with Seattle up 17-9, facing a third-and-10 near midfield. Because all Russell Wilson games end up close eventually.
Carl Yedor: Eagles finally get off the field on third-and-long with a sack, forcing Seattle to punt. The Seahawks may have had another big play to Metcalf had pressure off the edge not impacted his throw at the start of the drive, but Wilson came back with multiple crucial plays on third-and-forever to extend the drive for as long as it went. Eagles ball now only down 8.
Bryan Knowles: Oooooh, the Eagles had something cooking before that Miles Sanders drop on fourth down. Still an eight-point game; Philly will probably get the ball back once more, but now they need a stop.
Scott Spratt: That wasn’t a bunny catch like the one Julian Edelman dropped on the Patriots’ final drive, but that Miles Sanders’ drop on fourth-and-4 is a heartbreaker for the Eagles deep in Seahawks territory.
Vince Verhei: Eagles driving again, but they have a fourth down in field goal range after a false start. Down eight, they go for the touchdown, which is probably the right call. But Miles Sanders drops a swing pass for what I think is McCown’s first incompletion of the second half. Pass wasn’t perfect, a little low and behind Sanders, but you’ve got to make that catch in that situation.
Carl Yedor: Big break for Seattle there. On fourth-and-4, Philadelphia looks to have Miles Sanders open for what could have been a touchdown running down the sideline, but the throw is ever so slightly behind him on his back hip, resulting in Sanders being unable to haul it in. Sanders definitely could have caught that, but a better throw might have been six points for the Eagles and a potential tie ballgame.
Vince Verhei: Seattle’s running backs at the point of that fourth-down play: 15 carries, 19 yards.
Bryan Knowles: A couple weeks ago, I tweeted out a graphic about what would happen if you flipped every one-score game in the league; the Seahawks fell down to nearly the bottom of the league. The reality isn’t that dire, obviously (how unlucky would you be to lose every single one-score game, plus Ty Schalter took the idea and ran with it showing that not all “close” games were close), but man, they seem to always be trying to run out the clock on a close win, and they always seem to struggle. A quick three-and-out, and now the Eagles get another chance.
Scott Spratt: McCown looks to me like he tweaked his hamstring a few plays ago. Tired of running around on it, he unloaded deep and drew a defensive pass interference penalty at the Seahawks’ 13-yard line. Eagles are in business now!
Vince Verhei: 39-yard DPI on Tre Flowers. The DPI to Flowers has been Philadelphia’s best play.
Vince Verhei: Eagles have another fourth down, this one at the two-minute warning. Why did they let the clock run down instead of running a play? If they get stopped on fourth down, they’ll need every clock stoppage they can get.
Scott Spratt: I was wondering that, Vince. Do you think they are being optimistic that they’ll convert and then will want to limit time for Wilson to answer? I don’t expect that calculus works out, but I’m not sure.
Aaron Schatz: “Take a sack” was not the correct answer for the Eagles there.
Bryan Knowles: I am stunned, stunned, the Seahawks called a pass on third-and-10.
Wilson hits Metcalf; the Seahawks are moving on. Wow.
Andrew Potter: It’s better to be in the next round than heading home, but of all the ways to win a playoff game, scraping a one-score victory thanks to a fourth-down drop against a team quarterbacked by Josh McCown might be the least encouraging. At least that final play call was finally a tiny smidge more aggressive than Mike Zimmer.
Bryan Knowles: Metcalf’s 160 yards sets a record for yards by a rookie in a playoff game. Who needs to change direction? Forward is a perfectly fine direction.
Scott Spratt: The Seahawks play one-score games against bad teams and against good teams, though, Andrew. It’s uncanny.
Carl Yedor: I was about to talk about how the Seahawks were going to need another stop at the start of the drive, given how their rushing attack was completely unable to get anything going against the Philadelphia front, but on third-and-long they run the fake screen with two routes down the field and Wilson hits Metcalf to ice the game. Next stop, Green Bay.
Vince Verhei: Eagles go cover-zero on third-and-10. I have often said that cover-zero against Russell Wilson = touchdown. Well, not every time, but DK Metcalf’s final big play of the game will do. Seahawks win.
On to Green Bay. I’m having trouble thinking of any memorable Green Bay-Seattle games. Have they ever played against Russell Wilson before?