Recapping Sunday's NFL Playoff Games
Sunday's NFL Playoff action featured six teams who don't like each other at all.
All these games were played between teams who had played each other at least once during the regular season. If you thought those games in the regular season were intense, Sunday's playoff matchups upped the stakes even more.
The Chicago Bears even replicated a dubious feat from their regular season matchup, as one of their wide receiver Anthony Miller was ejected after throwing a punch at C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The New Orleans cornerback also got into the head of Chicago wide receiver Javon Wims in the November matchup, causing Wims to get ejected in that game after he threw a punch at Gardner-Johnson.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar JacksonChristopher Hanewinckel - USA TODAY Sports
Game MVP: Lamar Jackson
Early on in this game it looked like the Titans were going to run the Ravens out of the building in Nashville. Tennessee opened up a 10-0 lead in the first quarter after an A.J. Brown touchdown, followed by a Lamar Jackson interception that led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. There wouldn't be much more offense in the next three quarters from the Titans, as Baltimore put the clamps down on Derrick Henry, holding the 2,000 yard running back to just 40 yards on 18 carries in the game.
After struggling to get any offense going in the first quarter, Baltimore started to find their rhythm in the second quarter. Not only did Lamar Jackson start to make some throws for the Ravens, but the dynamic quarterback added in some electric runs to keep the Tennessee defense on their heels. Baltimore was able to tie the game up on a 48-yard touchdown run from Jackson with just over two minutes left in the second quarter. The Ravens would take the lead for good early in the third quarter thanks to a four-yard J.K. Dobbins touchdown run.
The most controversial play of the game came early in the fourth quarter when Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel opted to punt the football on 4th & 2 from the Baltimore 40-yard line instead of letting his team try to pickup the first down. The defense of the Titans was able to keep Baltimore out of the end zone on the ensuing drive, but Tennessee failed in their last shot to tie the game, as Ryan Tannehill was picked off by cornerback Marcus Peters.
Now Jackson and the Ravens hit the road again to take on the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night. With last year's disappointing playoff performance behind him, Jackson will look to upend Josh Allen, who was taken 25 picks before him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The lights will be shining on two of the bright, young quarterback stars in the NFL on Saturday night.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew BreesBrett Duke - Associated Press
Game MVP: Drew Brees
The only really interesting thing about this game was the Nickelodeon broadcast. Not only did the kids' channel add some SpongeBob SquarePants to the broadcast, but there was also a "slime zone" that was activated when touchdowns were scored. Unfortunately, only four touchdowns were scored in the game, so the fun animation wasn't used all that much.
New Orleans benefitted from the return of Michael Thomas after the wide receiver missed the previous three games due to injury, and the Saints had a full compliment of running backs after the unit was forced to miss the final game of the regular season due to COVID-19 protocols. Drew Brees wasted little time finding Thomas, with the pair hooking up on New Orleans' first drive of the game for an 11-yard touchdown. Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara each added touchdowns in the second half to give the Saints a lead that put the game out of reach.
Chicago was listless all game, with Mitchell Trubisky not striking any fear in the New Orleans defense. Prior to the final drive of the game where he passed for 92 yards and a touchdown, Trubisky had only thrown for 107 yards in the game. The Bears couldn't run the ball with David Montgomery, which put even more pressure on Trubisky. Since Chicago couldn't drives together on offense, the defense of the Bears, which was missing leading tackler Roquan Smith, eventually wore down in the second half.
Next up for the Saints is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who New Orleans has already beaten twice this year. While the Saints do have two wins under their belt against Tampa Bay, it is extremely tough to be the same team three times in a season. This could be the last time we see Drew Brees and Tom Brady go head-to-head on the football field, so expect both quarterbacks to leave it all out there on Sunday night.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker MayfieldCharles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports
Game MVP: Baker Mayfield
While it probably seems pretty lazy to pick the three quarterbacks who won on Sunday as Game MVPs, if any of the three quarterbacks truly deserved the honor, it is Baker Mayfield. Not only was Mayfield making his playoff start for a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs in 18 years, the Cleveland quarterback was also doing so while his play-calling head coach was back at home in Cleveland after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. The odds looked to be stacked against Cleveland, as they had just barely gotten by Pittsburgh's backups the week before to earn a playoff spot.
Cleveland's return to the playoffs got off to a dream start, as on the first play after an errant snap from Maurkice Pouncey sailed over Ben Roethlisberger's head, which allowed Karl Joseph to recover the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. The Browns poured on the points the rest of the third quarter, setting an NFL Playoff record by scoring 28 points in the first quarter. After Mayfield connected with Jarvis Landry for a 40-yard touchdown, Kareem Hunt scored two touchdowns in a three minute span.
Pittsburgh did make Cleveland fans sweat a little bit, cutting the deficit to 35-23 late in the third quarter. While many were wondering if this was going to be a patented Cleveland collapse, the Browns ease the nerves of their fans early in the fourth quarter when Mayfield tossed his third touchdown of the game, finding running back Nick Chubb to push the score to 42-23. Roethlisberger padded his own stats with a couple late touchdowns, finishing the game with 501 yards passing and four touchdowns to go along with four interceptions.
Cleveland will have an even tougher task in front of them this week when they meet the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The good news is the Browns will have head coach Kevin Stefanski back, and they could see the return of key players Denzel Ward and Joel Bitonio. While the Browns will be a heavy underdog against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Mayfield and company certainly won't backdown from the challenge of beating the AFC's top team.