Another wild NFL weekend is in the books with the usual mix of upsets, blowouts, refereeing clangers and kicking ineptitude. Get the lowdown on the weekends games with our below snapshots. WildCard Weekend certainly lived up to its name this weekend, with a dizzying combination of blowouts, twist, turns and bona fide meltdowns. Never in the history of the NFL postseason had all 4 road teams emerged victorious – until now. Experience can count for so much more in the postseason than any previous regular season record and success and that showed again this past week, as all 4 home QBs were making their first ever postseason starts and came up against postseason veterans.
Kansas City Chiefs 30 – 0 Houston Texans
• As it was, so shall it be. All season long Houston struggled to get consistent production from the Quarterback position and this deficiency is what cost them the chance at a playoff win. There is no way to say it other than that Brian Hoyer was abysmal, turning in one of his, and postseason history’s, worst performances. A combination of the 85 Bears, 200 Ravens and 2013 Seahawk defences would not have been able to overcome a 15 / 34, four interception performance as Kansas City raced away with their 11 straight victory. • Credit Andy Reid and the offensive staff for the game plan that neutralised JJ Watt even before he had to leave the game with a groin injury. Using a combination of read option, jet sweep and chipping RBs, Watt was largely a non-factor in the game as Kansas City stretched away. • Alex Smith continued to cement his status as one of the most under-appreciated QBs in history as another, efficient, 17 of 22 performance was more than enough to propel the Chiefs to a meeting with the New England Patriots in the divisional round. In 3 career playoff games Smith now has 10 TD passes to just 1 interception. Things may be tougher next week however, with Jeremy Maclin potentially sidelined, Smith will need to be at his best to overcome Belichick at Foxboro in a rematch of last years ‘on to Cincinnati’ game.
• Cincinnati fans surely thought they had left the days of the ‘Bungles’ behind, with the consistent improved play of the franchise in Marvin Lewis’s tenure. They plumbed new depths on Saturday night however, with the most incredible implosion the NFL has ever seen. Jeremy Hill fumbled deep in Pittsburgh territory with just over a minute to play and somehow managed to avoid being the goat as his defensive teammates decided to help him out by drawing the ire of fans themselves instead. 30 yards of completely unnecessary penalties later, Chris Bowell kicked a 35 yard FG to give Pittsburgh the victory. It all came at a cost to the Steelers as well though, with the status of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown up in the air for next week’s clash with the Denver Broncos. • AJ McCarron turned heads in the last few weeks by appearing to compare himself to Tom Brady. To be fair to him, he did channel his best Brady impression in this game, with a stellar 4th quarter performance that should, by all measures of probability, have won the game for his club. McCarron led the Bengals to 16 points in the quarter and, excluding his desperation heave when time expired, was 9/14 for 98 yards with a TD. Unfortunately for him, McCarron has Burflict and Jones as teammates where Brady had Bruschi and Law. • However much Cincinnati’s meltdown was caused by their own indiscipline in this game the referees too, have much to answer for. The lack of a penalty for the hit by Ryan Shazier that concussed Giovanni Bernard was particularly galling for Cincinnati fans, particularly when a marginal hit by Williams on Markus Wheaton drew a flag. Further, given that Pittsburgh had already had a coach penalised for unsportsmanlike conduct earlier in the game, the fact that Joey Porter was on the field at all to draw a flag from Adam Jones, is something that should not have been permitted and should have resulted in offsetting flags for that penalty.
• Oh, the joys of being a kicker in the NFL! What will be forgotten about in this game is that for 59 and a half minutes of play Blair Walsh put on a kicking masterclass, connecting from 22, 43 and 47 yards in temperatures so cold that putting foot to ball meant the risk of toe loss every time. Walsh’s 27 yard hook is, however, the only thing that will be remembered from this game. By the way Blair – Ray Finkel feels your pain #lacesout • Perhaps unlike any other team in the NFL, a single play, or single moment, can transform the Seahawks, energising the entire roster to a higher level of play. When Russell Wilson mishandled a snap, with the team down 9-0 in the 4th and seemingly unable to get anything going, things looked bleak for Seattle. Wilson however, had other ideas, picking up the loose ball, outrunning the pursuing defenders and finding Tyler Lockett open down the field for a 35 gain down to the 4 yard line. 2 plays later, Wilson to Baldwin, touchdown, Vikings lead is down to 2. On Minnesota’s next drive Kam Chancellor stripped the ball from Adrian Peterson, Seattle recover in Vikings territory, kick a Field Goal for a 10-9 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. • You have to feel a little sorry for Teddy Bridgewater. Under pressure all game long, with Michael Bennett a fixture in the Vikings backfield, Bridgewater was able to stay calm and composed. That he was able to complete 17 of 24 passes in the conditions was commendable as was his ability to avoid the big mistake in a game that was always going to come down to fine margins. Minnesota fans can be encouraged by the play of their young QB and, when they are able to get past the heartbreak of the ending to this season, will be excited about their future prospects.
• Welcome back Aaron Rodgers. After a brief hiatus Rodgers returned to the upper echelon of QB performance, shrugging off a slow start in this game to lead Green Bay to victory. In the first quarter of the game it looked as though Green Bay’s offensive troubles would continue, particularly when backup LT JC Treer got beaten all ends up allowing Preston Smith to coral Rodgers for an early safety. However, when the teams changed ends at the end of the first quarter Rodgers, with the wind at his back, took over the game and never looked back. Aaron Rodgers at the top of his game gives the Packers the ability to beat anyone. • There was also a welcome return to the headlines for Clay Matthews. Somewhat restricted this year by playing in the Inside Linebacker spot Matthews stats (but perhaps not his play) have fallen below what we have come to expect from the perennial Pro Bowler. Matthews tallied just 6.5 sacks this season but, when the lights shone brightest, put on a pass rushing clinic last night, with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble not a full reflection of his dominance on the night. Kirk Cousins was continually harassed by the Green Bay rush and never able to settle into the kind of rhythm he found in the regular season. • Green Bay also found the much needed balance that Mike McCarthy strives for with a dominant running game emerging in the second half – Green Bay nearly topped the 100 yard mark for rushing in the 3rd quarter alone. This helped to slow down the pass rush and give Rodgers the extra half second he needed for his receivers to get open. If the Packers are to get past Arizona next week, we will need to see a repeat performance from Eddie Lacy and James Starks.