Wildcard weekend, for those that were hibernating in their caves this weekend, had a mix of wild finishes that won’t soon be forgotten, as well as some duds that fans are already trying to forget. Here are some key takeaways from each game:
Kansas City Chiefs 30, Houston Texans 0:
- The Chiefs and their famished fan base are celebrating the franchise’s first playoff win in 22 years, with their last victory in January 1994 also in Houston over a team wearing a lighter shade of blue.
- It’s clear that Brian Hoyer is not the answer at QB for the Texans. He melted down like Chernobyl under the onslaught of the Chiefs pass rush. His five turnovers in one game was the most by any player this season, and one of the worst playoff performances in NFL history.
- The KC defense is no laughing matter for opposing offenses. This is an elite defense capable of wreaking havoc on any playoff opponent still alive with a relentless pass rush, and generating turnovers in bulk. The return of Justin Houston was uplifting to this already potent unit.
- The huge concern if you’re a Chiefs fan is the offense’s inability to convert turnovers and field position into TDs. They must convert these opportunities into points if they’re going to advance deep into the playoffs. The Texans committed four turnovers in the first half and the Chiefs were only able to turn that into six points. Field goals aren’t going to cut it against the likes of New England, Denver or Pittsburgh.
- The Texans have a dominant young core of defensive talent led by JJ Watt, Jonathan Joseph and Brian Cushing. The focus of the offseason will clearly be on the offensive side of the ball.
What’s Next? For Kansas City, they travel to New England on Saturday sans Jeremy Maclin to take on a banged-up, but rested Patriots team. The Chiefs demolished the Patriots in their last meeting 41-17 in Week 4 of last season. The Patriots surely have not forgotten this.
The Texans enter the offseason needing to find a starting QB for next season, either through the draft or a trade. The Texans have a lot to be proud of in turning around their season after a 2-5 start and winning the AFC South. Bill O’Brien took them as far as they could go with the personnel they currently have.
Pittsburgh Steelers 18, Cincinnati Bengals 16
- This game was almost like watching Looney Tunes, with the Bengals being Wile E. Coyote getting Road Runner-ed by the Steelers yet again. The Steelers are the bully that’s in the heads of the Bengals, tormenting them over and over, year after year, and fanning the flames of hatred between these two rivals. Beep-Beep.
- In fairness to the Bengals, Joey Porter should have been flagged for his confrontation with Pacman Jones during that fateful sequence. At the very least, they’re should have been offsetting penalties. Joey Porter, a position coach, had no business on the field and Pacman Jones has a legitimate gripe.
- Vontaze Burflict, who’s a serial cheap-shot artist, should and likely will be suspended for his antics. First, it appeared on his sack of Roethlisburger that there was intent to injure, pile driving Big Ben into the wet turf and then sitting on his shoulder. Then a flagrant hit to the head on Antonio Brown knocked him out of the game. After going from hero with what appeared to be the game-winning interception, Burflict became one of the all-time playoff goats.
- This was an ugly game that escalated when Ryan Shazier KO’d Giovani Bernard on a helmet to helmet collision. This game quickly became a head-hunting match, with the Bengals ultimately losing their composure when it mattered most.
- Yes, there was actually a football game played. When Big Ben left the game, the momentum swung to the Bengals and A.J. McCarron came alive, leading the Bengals back to the lead at 16-15 after trailing 15-0 going into the 4th quarter. After the Burflict interception of Landry Jones, the game appeared over. But Jeremy Hill, who’s battled fumbling issues all season, fumbled the ball right back to Pittsburgh, setting the table for the final meltdown for the Bengals.
- The Bengals are 0-7 in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis, and have lost eight straight playoff games dating back to the 1990 season. The 25 year drought without a playoff win is the longest in the NFL.
What’s Next? This is a devastating loss to stomach for the Bengals, and they may never recover. There appears to be no accountability for the players actions in Cincinnati, and that falls on Marvin Lewis. Ultimately it cost them their season. This team faces a lot of uncertainty with several key players becoming free agents, and one or both coordinators possibly leaving to coach elsewhere. As Michael Silver of NFL.com so eloquently put it, “It’s the Meltdown at Paul Brown — and it left a coach, a franchise and an entire football community smoldering in its ashes.”
The Steelers go to Denver next Sunday with the availability and health of both Big Ben and Antonio Brown in question. With both of them healthy, this team is a legitimate Super Bowl threat. If one or both of them are out next week, it’s difficult to see them leaving the Mile High City with a win.
Seattle Seahawks 10, Minnesota Vikings 9
- Every Seahawks fan and player sacrificed his first born child to get out of Minnesota with that win. Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman were kissing the ground after Blair Walsh shanked a 27 yard field goal attempt to preserve the Seahawks’ 10-9 win. The Seahawks almost seem to plan it this way each postseason.
- The beauty of the playoffs is that crazy things happen in crucial moments. Blair Walsh’s miss of an “easy” field goal exorcised the ghost of Gary Anderson in what will go down as another infamous playoff loss in Vikings history. Walsh had made every field goal 30 yards or shorter all season, but missed the one that mattered most.
- The Seahawks took advantage of opportunities, but they also put themselves in position to lose this game. Using a critical timeout early in the 3rd quarter was almost fatal for the Seahawks, as they couldn’t stop the clock at the end to leave time for a final drive if Walsh’s field goal was successful. Cam Chancellor got owned by Kyle Rudolph on the Vikings’ final drive, getting called for a critical pass interference penalty and getting burned on the next play for a 24 yard pass that put the Vikings in field goal range.
- Adrian Peterson may go down in history as the greatest running back of all time. But his fumbles in big games are going to dog his legacy. His fumble in the 4th quarter set up the deciding field goal for the Seahawks.
- The Vikings defense dominated this game, and the cold was an obvious factor in the Seahawks’ offensive woes. Down 9-0 entering the 4th quarter, it looked like the Seahawks were going to succumb to the Siberian conditions and a hungry Viking defense that was reminiscent of the Purple People Eaters.
- Christine Michael has been admirable in the run game, but he lacks tackle-busting power of Beast Mode and the dynamism of Thomas Rawls. The Seahawks need Lynch back to make a Super Bowl run.
- This was a classic black and blue bruiser in arctic conditions, coming down to special teams and defense. Both teams made critical mistakes, but the Vikings mistakes proved more costly. The other deciding factor was that what Russell Wilson can do, Teddy Bridgewater cannot. Wilson’s huge pass to Lockett after the snap going over his shoulder was Houdini-like.
What’s Next? The Seahawks travel to Carolina to face the top-seeded Panthers in a rematch of their Week 6 clash where the Panthers stormed back to win in the 4th quarter in Seattle. It will be interesting to see if Marshawn Lynch suits up after “pulling himself out” of this week’s game on Friday.
The Vikings have had a fantastic season that exceeded a lot of expectations, and Mike Zimmer has this team in position to be a force for seasons to come. Winning the NFC North with their clutch performance in Green Bay was a breakthrough victory, and they were just a missed field goal from advancing in the playoffs. The defense is imposing and loaded with young talent with players like Sharif Floyd, Anthony Barr, Everson Griffin and Xavier Rhodes, and the offense will only get better. Teddy Bridgewater will eventually need to make more plays downfield than he currently is, but the arrow is clearly pointing up. The Vikings will be a trendy Super Bowl pick entering next season.
Green Bay Packers 35, Washington Redskins 18
- After being dormant for the second half of the season and the first half of today’s game, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense came alive. Now the question is if the Packers offense is really back, or is the Redskin defense just this bad?
- Aaron Rodgers had his best performance in weeks, but the key to the Packers’ offensive revival was the Redskins inability to generate any pass rush. The Packers offensive line, which has been woeful this season, gave Rodgers clean pockets all afternoon after he was sacked in the first quarter for a safety.
- For the first time in months, Rodgers had open receivers to throw to, and Eddie Lacy and James Starks tearing through gaping holes in the Redskins defense in the second half. Washington’s defense could not get off the field in the 4th quarter.
- Jordan Reed is a man among boys on the football field. He’s a special talent, and a one-armed catch he made was just sick.
- DeSean Jackson’s critical mistake in the first quarter when he didn’t reach the ball across the plane of the goal line before stepping out of bounds cost the Redskins a touchdown would come back to haunt them. Jackson is a tremendous playmaker, but his football smarts do not precede his talent.
- Kirk Cousins looked more like Matt Cassel after the first quarter, but Green Bay’s defense delivered perhaps its best performance of the season. Micah Hyde, who was one of a handful of Green Bay defenders that were familiar with Cousins from their college days in the Big Ten, seemed like they had an answer for everything the Redskins were doing offensively.
What’s Next? The Packers are returning to Glendale, Arizona for a playoff rematch with a Cardinals team that blitz-krieged them 38-8 in Week 16. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense will need a repeat of today if they hope to stand a chance of survival.
For the Redskins, there’s a lot to build on. Cousins was not his best today, but he has showed marked improvement and the ability to be the franchise in Washington. All indications are that the Redskins intend to give Cousins an extension. Jay Gruden has done a tremendous job developing him and putting the RGIII drama to bed to keep it from being a distraction. For the Redskins to take the next step, they’re going to need to build up their talent on defense and get better on the offensive line. This is a team that looks primed to compete in the NFC East next season and beyond.