The Super Wild Card certainly did not disappoint this weekend with six games full of action. We saw surprise performances, revenge matchups, and some upsets that will go down in the record books.
There was a reason that Buccaneers HC Bruce Arians rolled out all of his starters in Week 17 against the Atlanta Falcons to secure a win. They would face the NFC East champion, which turned out to be the Washington Football Team. On top of increasing their chances of advancing in the post-season against a division that has been abysmal all year, Washington was playing without veteran QB Alex Smith. Instead, backup Taylor Heinicke, who spent some time with HC Ron Rivera in 2018 for the Panthers, would have to lead the Football against the G.O.A.T., namely Tom Brady.
One would think this would be akin to a leisurely stroll through the meadows for the Buccaneers, but Washington wasn’t going to go down that easily. Heinicke, who had been out of the NFL for almost two years, did everything humanly possible to keep Washington competitive. Even though they didn’t win, Heinicke still won a moral victory and earned himself a chance to make a name for himself in the league. He had 26 completions on 44 attempts for 306 and a touchdown, but it wasn’t just his arm that made Heinicke turn heads earn the respect of his teammates. He rushed six times for 46 yards and added a rushing touchdown and even toughed out a shoulder injury to finish the game.
Tampa took the win 31-23, but Heinicke is the one who took the victory.
Heinicke wasn’t the only backup to make a splash. After a big over Arizona, John Wolford started again for the Los Angeles Rams while Jared Goff recovered from thumb surgery. Goff had been practicing, although in a limited capacity, but Wolford got the nod against the division rival Seattle Seahawks.
His time on the field wouldn’t last long after he took a big hit to the head that looked pretty scary. He walked off the field but was taken to the hospital for further evaluation on his neck. Meanwhile, Goff had to resume his role as the Rams’ quarterback with a thumb freshly off surgery and full of pins. He completed only nine of 19 attempts for 155 yards, but he did throw a touchdown and he did a much better job of protecting the football. Rookie RB Cam Akers balled out with 28 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown and shouldered the load for the Rams.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, looked bad. Namely, QB Russell Wilson looked bad. He completed 11 of his 27 attempts for 174 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception and was sacked five times for a loss of 32 yards. RB Chris Carson could only muster 77 yards on 16 carries. WR DK Metcalf, who had Jalen Ramsey’s attention, was able to haul in five receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns before, during, and after a meltdown on the sideline.
HC Sean McVay maintains his winning streak while leading at halftime and they knocked out the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs while at their home in Seattle.
Revenge Is Sweet
Despite winning MVP, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson had yet to win a post-season game since taking over as Baltimore’s QB. In their first playoff appearance last season, the Tennessee Titans clipped their wings and sent them spiraling right out of the playoffs in an upset that left many of us shocked.
This season has looked bad for the Ravens and they were on the verge of being written off if they hadn’t been by some already. Then, Jackson got COVID-19, then he had “cramps” (as the kids say these days) and it’s like we have the Ravens of old and the most valuable players of the NFL back in action and lighting the world on fire.
Of course, they had to face the very team that knocked them out the year before, but Jackson was determined not to let history repeat itself. He ran twice as much as the entirety of the Titans running backs and more than triple King Derrick Henry's yardage, as he only logged 40 yards to Jackson’s 136. Rookie RB J.K. Dobbins found the end zone on nine carries for 43 yards and Gus Edwards helped out with eight carries for 38 yards.
Just to crunch some numbers here, Jackson rushed for more yards than Henry, Dobbins, and Edwards combined. Absolute craziness.
Titans WR A.J. Brown scored the lone touchdown for the Titans on six receptions and 83 yards and was the lone bright spot for Tennessee in their 13-20 loss. The Ravens got their revenge victory and Jackson is getting his revenge on the doubters.
One of the matchups I was looking forward to the most was the first game of the weekend between the Colts and the Bills and it did not let us down. The game was back and forth scoring all game. This was the first playoff game the Bills have hosted since 1996 and they also had 7,000 fans that were allowed to witness their magic in person.
Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs lit up the scoreboard, again, but the Colts didn’t give up. With eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, down 16-27, Philip Rivers went on a war campaign. He went 76 yards downfield to score a touchdown on five plays in under two minutes. Bills players and fans were white-knuckled as Rivers had one last chance at a hail mary down only 24-27, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The Browns Crush the Steelers
We started the weekend of football off with a bang and we ended with an exploding bombshell. With no head coach and no Joel Bitonio, the Browns limped into Pittsburgh to take on their arch-nemesis who they barely beat the week before against the Steelers’ second-string.
All hope seemed lost, even to Browns’ fans. Don’t deny it. You know who you are.
In the first quarter, the Browns scored 28 points and the end was nigh for Pittsburgh.
The first snap is what set the tone of the entire game when veteran C Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over Ben Roethlisberger’s head and the Browns recovered for a touchdown. The rest of the quarter was just as ugly. Roethlisberger threw an interception on the very next drive, his first of two in the quarter, and the Browns just kept scoring. Before you could blink, Cleveland was ahead 28-0 and the Steelers were stunned.
Pittsburgh attempted to mount a comeback in the second half, but the Browns were underwhelmed with the effort. They tacked 48 points on one of the league’s best defenses who were supposed to be fresh and ready to go. Instead, Pittsburgh was on its heels the entire game.
Despite the adversity, despite 2020’s best efforts, the Browns not only got into the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but they won their first playoff game since 1994. The fact they pulled out this victory is astonishing, but it’s sweet, sweet indeed to do it against their hated rival.
And Then There Were Eight
Six teams were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend, but football is hardly over. We will have another Saturday and Sunday full of games starting with the Rams-Packers at 4:35 PM EST and then the Ravens-Bills at 8:15 PM EST.
The Browns will face their biggest test yet as they take on the Chiefs in Arrowhead on Sunday at 3:05 PM EST. Then, the elder statesmen of the league in Drew Brees and Brady will face off that night at 6:40 PM EST.