The NFL playoffs kicked off with Wildcard Weekend on Jan. 4 and 5, and it did not disappoint one single bit. The playoffs were truly a … Wildcard.
Enough bad jokes aside, if you wanted overtime games, you got two. You wanted an upset, you also got two. And if you wanted to see a possible end of an era for one team, well, you also got that.
There’s a reason 32 teams fight and claw to be in this position that is the NFL playoffs, because once you get it, who knows what’ll happen next. Homefield advantage may ring true for some teams, but three of the four teams won on the road.
And it’s not entirely surprising given the makeup of the eight teams that played in Wildcard Weekend. But enough generalization of the teams we saw play, here are takeaways from each team that played.
Wildcard Weekend: AFC Playoffs
Buffalo Bills: Buffalo fans waited so long to reach this point in their franchise rebuild to finally get a taste of the playoffs. Yes, they also qualified a few seasons ago, but that team relied heavily on a plethora of things happening to make it in.
Not the case with the 2019 Buffalo Bills. A 10-6 record, a stingy defense, and the leap you want to see in second-year quarterback Josh Allen. Buffalo had everything going for it — including a shot at the AFC East division crown late in the season. However, inexperience reared its ugly head at the worst time.
Nursing a 16-0 lead into the second half, Buffalo was in full control of the game …until they weren’t. You could sense that Buffalo started playing the clock rather than adding to their score. Perhaps, a bit cocky knowing that if they were to surrender the lead, it would require two touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
The inexperience of a majorly first-time roster of playing its first playoff game can loom large in critical situations. Still, Allen managed to orchestrate a game-tying drive to force overtime, and what happened next will forever haunt Buffalo.
A sandwiched sack of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson that would’ve forced a punt or a very long field goal attempt, disappeared right before their eyes before Watson would somehow escape for a crucial first-down pass to Taiwan Jones to set up the game-winning kick two plays later.
Buffalo was in every position to put Houston away and failed to do so, and will have to live with it heading into the offseason. It’s a sickening feeling for the team and its fans, but as the old adage goes: they’ll learn from this and get better.
This is more likely to happen given the crumbling state of the New England Patriots, but we’ll get to them later. For now, Buffalo can play the what-if game all they want knowing they let a playoff win slip away.
Houston Texans: The Texans had no business winning this game. They were severely outplayed by a Buffalo team making play after play on offense and defense while the Texans failed to show up.
In fact, it wasn’t until the final moments of the third quarter in which they would finally score points — cutting the score to 16-8. Previously, the Texans hadn’t scored in almost six quarters dating back to last year’s shutout loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
You can’t help but look at this team — and as gifted as they are with the return of an emotional J.J. Watt –and wonder why they continue to face mental challenges in the playoffs.
Be that as it may, they were the only home team to win on Wildcard Weekend, if not for some Houdini Magic, of course. But before we got to that magical moment, Watson and Co. failed to do anything succumbing to Buffalo’s will.
But as good teams prove, they find ways to win in the ugliest of ways. Needing a plethora of points on top of two-point conversions, the Texans never waivered behind No. 4 in Houston. If DeAndre Hopkins wasn’t making tough catch after tough catch, then it was Watson’s legs that put it in the end zone.
And in overtime, forcing a three-and-out for Buffalo, somehow avoiding a major sack, and completing the most improv of improv throws, Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked the game-winning field goal to move on to Kansas City in the Divisional Round.
Again, this Houston team seemed to hit another mental wall that would send them into the offseason after another impressive year. But as they say, mental hurdles are meant to be overcome.
Tennessee Titans: What happens when you lead on the physical toughness of the 2019 rushing champion, Derrick Henry? Henry rushed for 182 yards and a score while adding 22 yards one reception for a total of 204 all-purpose yards.
When you get production from one of the best running backs in the league, you’re usually in good shape to win a football game, let alone a playoff football game. While New England had no answer for Henry, Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill made sure to make the throws given to him and not turn it over.
Despite the one interception Tannehill did throw, their defense made crucial stops never letting New England find its rhythm. When you go into New England with hopes of defeating Tom Brady in a venue he almost never loses in, it’s a tall task — but a task Tennesee executed to near perfection.
Also, an execution that quite possibly ended the empire that is the New England Patriots. Which was also sealed by Logan Ryan‘s pick-6 of Brady in a stadium he once called home. If there’s imagery for the Titan’s sword through the dagger of New England, this is surely it.
The roadwarrior mentality will carry them into Baltimore where they’ll once again be the underdog, but maybe Tennesee likes it that way. Let them ride Henry to another 200-yard performance and a smothering defense of the probable league MVP, Lamar Jackson.
New England Patriots: There won’t be a bigger storyline than the decision of Brady deciding if he’ll come back for his age-43 season, or if that truly was the last time we’ll see him lace them up. Ending your storied career on a pick-6 may not be ideal, but Brady isn’t getting any younger, and their offensive woes may not get better by September.
Should Antonio Brown sort himself out and possibly reunite with New England could happen, but there’s not much talent that’s going to be drawn to this team outside the NFL Draft.
And outside of Julian Edelman and James White, there aren’t too many postseason heroes for New England to employ. Their vaunted defense — which had been their strength all season — did its best to keep the game close, but it doesn’t matter who you are when you’re constantly on the field.
You get worn down and combine the fact that Henry ran through them for 60 minutes is not a recipe for success. Which you can also attest to a week prior when they let the Miami Dolphins beat them at home, as well. New England had been playing with borrowed time, and unfortunately for them, time ran out.
However, no New England fan should really be heartbroken over the loss with the sustained success this franchise has had. A walk-in Hall of Fame head coach and a quarterback with six Super Bowls in two decades. The stuff of legends. We’ll never see this type of run for a long, long time, but for now, they’ll move aside as Tennessee came, saw, and conquered.
Wildcard Weekend: NFC Playoffs
Minnesota Vikings: Raise your hand if you predicted Kirk Cousins throwing a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to Kyle Rudolph to complete the upset? You may put your hand down now. Going into this game, the crucial aspect of winning this game would be if Dalvin Cook could go off after being sidelined for two weeks.
Spoiler alert: Cook came to play.
With a lot of pressure being placed on Cousins to see if he could deliver the big-time win in the playoffs, Cook’s downhill running kept New Orleans honest all day knowing Cousins was producing through the air.
Experts picked New Orleans to win in a landslide in this one, but Minnesota didn’t let the moment get too big for them. Their defense forced two turnovers on Drew Brees in key situations and their offense was scoring touchdowns instead of field goals.
Mercedes-Benz Superdome has emerged as one of the toughest places to play over the years, but, apparently, Minnesota never got that memo. Despite the game going into overtime, Cousins got the ball first, hit a beautiful deep throw to Adam Thielen, and then hit Rudolph for the walk-off.
There were a ton of what-ifs for Cousins, but he silenced a lot of critics on Sunday with a major statement win.
You like that?!
New Orleans Saints: Let’s get the elephant-sized call out of the way first: did Rudolph push off to catch that touchdown? NFL Head of Officiating, Al Riveron, said they looked at every FOX camera angle and concluded that there was no offensive pass interference. Which is fitting that another quick call came in the very stadium in which the rule for reviewing pass interference was created.
Still, this New Orleans team, that had been averaging 40 points per game, never hit their stride for explosive plays. A lot of credit should be given to Minnesota’s defense for making Drew Brees, Alvin Kamaraand Michael Thomas look, pedestrian.
But in a game where you know there’s no tomorrow, this New Orleans team simply did not play their best football. Which is perplexing given the Super Bowl-talent they’re surrounded with.
Brees will turn 41 soon and we’ll all play the proverbial what-if game on how much gas he left in his tank. You can stack up all the heartbreaking playoff losses this team has sustained over the past three seasons, but they were still in a position to win those games.
It’s an incredibly tough pill to swallow for New Orleans knowing that their window is slipping with each passing season. However, the one person you can not blame the loss on is Taysom Hill.
Whether it’s tossing dimes, leading blocks or catching touchdowns, Hill was everywhere and everything New Orleans needed him to be. But even as valiant his efforts were, it wasn’t enough.
Again, New Orleans will add another heartbreaking loss to the long list of heartbreaking losses.
Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
Seattle Seahawks: How much magic can Russell Wilson produce in a single game? That seems to be the question opposing teams are at the mercy of every time they line up against him. Seattle — who was pretty banged up as their opponents were — keep finding ways to win close games.
Especially, in the playoffs where possessions become crucial with every passing second. This was an ugly win across the board outside of a few plays that Wison always seems to make. Whether it’s scrambling to buy time or showing off one of the best deep balls in the game, you either die by Wilson or live by Wilson.
Marshawn Lynch looked more comfortable in his second week of action, which included a rushing touchdown, but this Seattle team took advantage of a team on the ropes due to injury.
It’s never fair but its part of the game. No one’s going to feel sorry for you and you have to make the most of your opportunities. Which, again, has been a consistent theme of Seattle in 2019. Failing to win the NFC West hasn’t deterred them from winning a road playoff game.
Wilson knows that the bulk of their success will fall on his arm and legs and since he’s been with Seattle, he’s never shied away from it. However, getting production from DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett has certainly helped take some of that pressure off.
Still, their defense knows they have to play better if they’re going to make a deep run on the road. Letting the Josh McCown–led Eagles hang around was a bit dicey but proved up to the task in the end.
Philadelphia Eagles: There’s no secret that Carson Wentz has had his fair share of injury problems since becoming the starter in 2016. But given the fact that he was knocked out of this game because of Jadeveon Clowney‘s hit to the head is not a sight anyone wanted to see.
Wentz had played a full 16-game season for only the second time since his rookie season and started to really come on in the two weeks that led to an NFC East Division crown.
Starting in his first playoff game, we weren’t given the opportunity to see how he would’ve faired against a Seattle team that was hurting just as bad. Philadelphia knew how important this game was — so much so that Zach Ertz played with basically broken ribs.
Whatever the injury hex that is floating over the city of Philadelphia, it needs to be purged knowing this underdog team could’ve possibly made some noise. However, we won’t be able to play that scenario out in 2019.
McCown did all he could to bring his team back, but gutsy performances only get you so far in a game with no tomorrow.
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