Day 2 of the NFL Wildcard Weekend started off slow, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t start off well. Let’s jump right through a table and get into the good stuff.
#6 Buffalo Bills (9-7) vs. # 3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
The first half of this game was a bit arduous to watch, but that’s kind what you should have expected from two teams with serious playoff droughts. I’m not gonna beat that dead horse by talking about the Bills 18-year playoff lapse or the Jaguars decade of ineptitude, but I’ll say this:
For two teams with very little playoff experience, they are performing at exactly the level you would have expected.
The first half of this game was a staring contest of sorts. Both teams inexperienced, tip-toeing around each other, settling for a field goal apiece. It was like watching two awkward teenagers navigate a slow song at a middle school dance. Seriously. Blake Bortles was having trouble negotiating the wind, that’s some week 3 stuff.
But that’s what’s great about football. It’s a small game that seems big. For example, the Bills possession right before the half. After failing to get into the end zone from within the 5-yard line, Buffalo went to the line on fourth down to attempt to draw the Jaguars offsides. They didn’t. So they called a timeout and sent the kicking team on for the field goal. The next play, they were able to draw the Jags offsides.
That’s a small victory, but when you’re involved in a staring match kind of game, it’s huge. The Bills had a new life, but failed to score on the next three plays, and then kicked a field goal. That could have been disastrous for the Jaguars, but they stiffened up and fought. What an amazing set of downs.
The Second Half
And of course, after going to the locker room, both teams came out looking much more confident then they did in the first half. Especially Blake Bortles.
Bortles came out in the second half ready to take the reigns of the game. That’s the funny thing about a staring contest, sometimes you’re so afraid to blink, you’d rather share control than try to grab it. Not Bortles. If the Jaguars were going to win, he’d have to take control.
The place Bortles really took the reigns was on the ground. We saw what he could do with wide open space in the first half, but he expanded on that putting up 75 yards on the ground or 20% of this total rushing yards in 2017. That’s a guy stepping up and putting the team on his shoulders.
On the other side of the field was LeSean McCoy, who up until today was questionable for today’s contest. Not today. Not after 18 years. McCoy came out ready to play and outran Fournette to the tune of 19 attempts and 75 yards, which really should have been more. However, for you to step up and say “give me the ball” and take 19 rushing attempts on a bad ankle and up against a solid Jacksonville Defense, is ballsy as hell and I love it.
But in the end, it was the #SACKsonville Defense who ruled the day, capping the victory with an interception. For real, this Jacksonville Defense was advertised yesterday, stifling the Buffalo Bill offense, keeping them to 130 yards on the ground and 148 yards through the air. The biggest number on the day is 3. That’s all the Buffalo Bills were able to muster against this defense. That’s what made all the difference.
AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND
#3 Jacksonville Jaguars vs. #2 Pittsburgh Steelers
#5 Tennessee Titans vs. #1 New England Patriots
Get Ready. It’s gonna be a good AFC Divisional Round!
Game 2: #5 Carolina Panthers vs. #4 New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is a surgeon with the football, carving up secondaries as if he had a scalpel. The guy is immaculate through the air, and Sunday night was no different. The way Brees manhandled the Carolina secondary was masterful, in only a way that Drew Brees knows how to do.
Drew Brees came into this game with a 4-0 record at home and 72% completion percentage, the highest single-season completion percentage ever. So when I tell you that Drew Brees, who is known to be a prolific passer, is in the best form of his career, you know it’s gonna be a rough day for the Panthers defensive backs.
Last night was no different.
Troy Aikman put it best when he said, “The Carolina Panthers need to stop trading Touchdowns for Field Goals.” All of their points in the first came off the leg of Graham Gano, and only one of them was deep enough to be considered a non-TD trade-off. That’s not great.
With Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey getting little to no yardage on the ground, it’s easy as to why the Panthers continued to go to the air. Through three quarters, Brees had amassed almost as many yards passing as the Panthers entire offense. Cam Newton seemed lost when looking downfield, and while Stewart and McCaffrey struggled to get consistent yards on the ground.
And then the fourth quarter began and the Panthers found the end zone. And then Cam Newton took a shot from David Onyemata and it seemed like the air was let out of the Panthers. They began to play desperate, or perhaps they were playing desperate the whole time, we just didn’t know it.
And then McCaffrey breaks for a 50+ yard TD catch and the game feels within reach. And Cam gets the ball with two minutes and no timeouts remaining.
These are the bottom of the ninth, two out, full count kind of moments you have to live for a sports fan. These do or die moments, where everything hangs in the balance, where millimeters feel like miles, and seconds feel like hours.
And boy did we have a great ending to this one.
FOURTH AND 23? COME ON!?
From the minute this game started, it was New Orleans to lose. They just had too many weapons to deal with over the course of the game. Coming into the game Ron Rivera had to account for the Saints dynamic duo of a backfield and they were, for the most part, quelled, being kept to 68 yards combined. So that’s something that the Panthers can hang their hat on at the end of this, but at the same point, how can you leave Michael Thomas wide open, deep downfield, with 5 minutes left in the game?
But also how can you go for it on 4th and 2, and almost hand the momentum to Carolina? BALLS. That takes BALLS.
The Saints just have too many weapons for a team to plan for, and they let everyone in on the fun, and now they’ll travel to play Minnesota. Perhaps the change in climate will cool off Brees and the Saints Offense.
Or perhaps not.
NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND
#4 New Orleans Saints vs. #2 Minnesota Vikings
#6 Atlanta Falcons vs. #1 Philadelphia Eagles