The NFL Divisional Rounds: Truly Anybody’s Game
By Peri Kahn
On Saturday afternoon, the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers faced off at Lambeau Field in Madison, Wisconsin, vying for one of the coveted spots in the NFC Championship game. The Rams, with the number one ranked defense in the league, faced Aaron Rodgers, a quarterback like no other. Rodgers, who leads the league with 48 pass touchdowns and the highest quarterback rating of 121.5, gave the LA Rams a good run for their money.
LA came out of the gate with a three and out drive, quickly giving up the ball to the powerhouse Green Bay offense. This disappointing opening drive could have been because John Wolford, the Rams starting quarterback, was out with an injured hand, so they were relying on their second-string quarterback, Jared Goff. Whatever the reason, Green Bay came to play, and it showed on their defensive performance on the Ram’s first drive. Green Bay then answered with a field goal after a huge red zone stop for Sean McVay’s defense.
As the game continued, the Packers began to gain momentum, utilizing their running game, with their Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones and their highly underrated running back Jamal Williams. Ending their time-consuming drive with a touchdown reception by the Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams, gave him his 19th touchdown reception this season.
The real advantage that the Packers had during the first half was their use of time. They took up the majority of the first half’s 30 minutes, allowing for long thorough drives that put points on the board. The first half ended with the Packers up 19-10, but the Rams still had a little bit of gas left in tank.
During the second half, the Rams utilized their starting running back Cam Akers, who began to gain momentum. However, the strength and skill of both the Green Bay offense and defense overpowered the grit of the LA Rams. The Packers used their running game strategically so that when they would attempt long risky throws, they would have a higher success rate due to the Ram’s defense being faked out. And a final touchdown by Allen Lazard near the end of the fourth quarter sealed the win for Green Bay.
After the entertaining Rams Packers game at Lambeau, the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills faced off on a windy day in New York to gain a spot in the AFC Championship Game. Lamar Jackson, straight off his first playoff win, was ready to win again, and the elite quarterback Josh Allen and his dangerous Bills team came to play as well.
The game began with the running machines Lamar Jackson, the first quarterback to go for over one thousand yards rushing in three seasons, and his two running back sidekicks Gus Edwards and J.K Dobbins. But wait, the Buffalo Bills defense is ready to face off against this running team. They used zone defense and created a strong pass rush in order to stop the running game, especially that of Lamar Jackson.. The Ravens opening drive did not go as planned, with a huge sack and a missed field goal by Justin Turner.
On the other hand, the Bills started to gain momentum, utilizing their highly skilled wide receiver Stefan Diggs, a former Minnesota Viking, and their starting running back Devin Singletary in order to work their way down the field and into scoring positons. Even though the Bills have a strong offense with an incredibly accurate quarterback, they only put up three points in the first half. After their not-so-great first drive, the Ravens also ended up putting a field goal on the board, tying the game 3-3 at half time.
But the second half was really when the game picked up. The Bills drove down the field with rifled passes and strong runs that allowed them to make first down after first down, putting them in advantageous field position. Also, all of this momentum allowed Buffalo to eat up the clock, keeping the Ravens’ defense on the field and completely exhausted. The Bills scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, with one being a pick six by number 24, Taron Johnson, making the score 17-3.
As the fourth quarter commenced, the Ravens started to look sloppier and sloppier. Their center snapped the ball way over Lamar Jackson’s head putting Baltimore at their own two-yard line, as opposed to their previous position at their own 25-yard line. After this play, Lamar Jackson seemed to be hurt with a concussion, forcing him to be replaced with the Ravens’ backup quarterback, Tyler Huntley. With Lamar out and the Bills defense still playing strong, the fate of the game was sealed, sending the Buffalo Bills to the AFC Championship.
With a new day comes new matchups, and to start off Sunday’s exciting games was the 14-2 Kansa City Chiefs, playing at home, versus the all-mighty Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs, ready to get back onto the field after a bye week, and Baker Mayfield and the Browns, right off the franchise’s first playoff win since 1995, both teams are ready to play their hearts out.
This may seem like just a normal division round playoff game to most, however to these two quarterbacks, former MVP Patrick Mahomes and rising star Baker Mayfield, it is a rematch of their many former matchups in college. Baker went to elite Oklahoma University, and Patrick went to Texas Tech. Mayfield and the Sooners often beat Mahomes and the Red Raiders, so this day was a chance for Patrick Mahomes to display his excellence and beat Baker once and for all.
Throughout the season, the Chiefs have displayed greatness in all elements of their game, from their defensive schemes, created by their defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and their extremely intricate and flawless offensive plays, scripted by the veteran head coach Andy Reid. Kansas City came out with an opening drive touchdown made by their prized quarterback. However, the Browns, the underdogs in this game, answered with a field goal on their opening drive.
Throughout the first half, the Chiefs had an advantage because they had a better read on the Cleveland defense and more precise passing routes and running plays, as opposed to the Browns who had a turnover and not as many successful play calls. This strong approach allowed the Chiefs to put up 19 points in the first half over the Browns’ three.
Throughout the second half, the Browns began to come back, emphasizing their run game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, putting two more touchdowns on the board. Patrick Mahomes,
the all-star Chiefs quarterback, also had to leave the game with a concussion, which took away a huge strength of the Kansas City offense. Chad Henne, the backup quarterback, stepped in for Mahomes, however, he did not have the same sense of urgency. Even though the Browns showed some fight in the second half, their destiny was revealed with a final field goal made by the ferocious Kansas City Chiefs, sending them on to play the Bills next week.
The last game of the weekend, Saints versus Buccaneers, a matchup featuring two veteran quarterbacks, each with plenty of playoff experience under their belts, in addition to Super Bowl wins. Drew Brees and the man known as the G.O.A.T, Tom Brady, faced off under the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, fighting to see who would play the Packers.
The Saints started out the game strong, using Alvin Kamara, their Pro Bowl running back to make their way into the red zone. They also utilized their wide receivers Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris in planned long and slant passing plays. These schemes led the Saints to an opening drive field goal and another field goal later in the first quarter, resulting from a long punt return. While the Saints offense put up six points in the first 15 minutes of the game, their defense was able to hold Tom Brady and his explosive offense to zero.
Even though the Saints have one of the league’s top 10 offenses, they were missing a key player, Taysom Hill, who adds tremendous dimension to the plays called by Sean Peyton, New Orleans’ head coach…Taysom Hill is the Saints’ second-string quarterback and is not just someone who steps in for Brees when he is hurt, he acts as a running back and wide receiver as well. Since Drew Brees is almost 42 years old, Hill steps in when a designed quarterback run is called. These plays add variation to the play selection throughout the drive, keeping the opposing defense on their toes, however without this variety, the Buccaneers defense was able to quickly learn the Saints’ strategy.
Although the Saints played well in the first quarter, the entirety of the Tampa Bay team got into a groove in second quarter and brought that excitement into the second half. Their defense forced four turnovers, intercepting the ball three times and recovering one fumble. These four turnovers created more time for possession for the Buccaneers offense, allowing them to score touchdowns and field goals.
In the end the turnovers killed the Saints and caused them to not have as many scoring opportunities and advantageous field positions. The game ended with the Bucs defeating the Saints 30-20, sending Tampa Bay to play Green Bay. But what went on after the game was the most special moment of the weekend. After the game, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, both older players, gathered with their families on the field after the game. Brady threw a touchdown pass to one of Drew Brees’s sons and the two talented quarterbacks shook hands and shared their deepest respect for each other. For Brees, this might be the last time fans see him on the field as he is expected to retire.