Divisional Round in review 2022
Cincinnati Bengals @ Tennessee Titans
The first game of the divisional round weekend set the tone for the rest of the games as this one came down to the last four seconds of the game. This thriller in Nashville began with Ryan Tannehill throwing an interception on the first play from scrimmage.
Cincinnati was able to take advantage of the early Tannehill mistake as they got a field goal from Rookie Evan McPherson. The offenses stalled out, punting the ball back and forth for three straight possessions after the opening three from the Bengals. After that, the stalling itself stalled.
The Bengals were able to add another field goal late in the 1st quarter to extend their lead to 6-0. At the end of the 1st, it looked like the Titans were never going to show up as they hadn’t scored and showed no signs of doing so at any time soon. After a Titans’ punt to start the 2nd quarter, they needed to make a change on their next offensive drive.
Just a few minutes later, Ryan Tannehill threw a deep bomb to AJ Brown that not only jump started the offense but also got the crowd right back into the game. Following that, a nice mix of short passes from Tannehill and Derrick Henry runs (including a 3-yard touchdown run) was enough to get the game tied at 6. Tennessee proceeded to miss the extra point, which kept the game tied with a few minutes to go in the 1st half.
A series of short passes by Joe Burrow on the ensuing drive was good enough to both take valuable time off the clock and regain the lead. With 54 seconds to go in the half, the Bengals were able to add a field goal (9-6). Tennessee was unable to answer going into halftime.
To begin the 2nd half, Cincinnati received the kick. Joe Mixon carried the load on the drive for the Bengals as he totaled four carries (one for a touchdown) and one reception. At this point, it looked like Cincinnati would take over the game because the Titans were being gashed on every critical defensive play while Joe Burrow looked more than comfortable despite being sacked several times already.
On Tennessee’s first drive to start the 2nd half, Tannehill’s early struggles continued. The running game must have been working too well because after going from their own 25 to 1st and goal all thanks to the run, they decided to throw it. Of course, that backfired as Tannehill was intercepted once again.
Luckily for the Titans, Cincy was unable to take advantage. After a three and out, the Titans started a run of their own. Down 16-6 at that point late in the 3rd quarter, the run couldn’t have
come at a better time. Despite getting down to the 16-yard line, the Titans were forced to kick a field goal to cut the lead to 16-9. While this felt like settling, the next offensive play was proof why you always take your points when you can get them in the playoffs. Joe Burrow threw a short pass to Perine, but after the ball tipped off of his hands, it was intercepted by a diving Amani Hooker.
The play was under review for a few minutes, but ultimately upheld. Tennessee took advantage of this quick change of possession as they scored a touchdown on the second play thanks to a 33-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to AJ Brown.
Going into the 4th quarter tied at 16, we were looking at a game that could become an instant classic. Cincy had to punt on their first drive of the final quarter, but the Titans were unable to convert on the opportunity as they turned it over on downs on the next possession when they could have kicked a 52-yard field goal.
Cincinnati sputtered yet again as they turned another opportunity into a punt. Tennessee was gifted the chance to win the game again. As all Titans’ fans fear, their team choked in the most critical moment of the game. With less than a minute to go, Tannehill was intercepted for a 3rd time after his pass appeared to hit the receiver in the hands. If the pass had been caught, the Titans would have had the ball in Bengal territory with the chance to kick the game winning field goal. Now, Cincinnati stole the opportunity from Tennessee.
Starting near midfield, and with 20 seconds to go Joe Burrow connected to Jamaar Chase for a 19-yard strike. Now in field goal range, and with timeouts, the Bengals were able to run the ball. Inching just a tad closer, Cincinnati was set up perfectly to go to the AFC Championship game.
“Ahh, looks like we’re going to the championship game.” said Evan McPherson
That quote will go down in Bengal history forever as he nailed a 52-yard game winning field goal as time expired. While the Titans were heartbroken, the Bengals were elated. This win gave them their first conference championship appearance since 1988. They are matched up against the Chiefs in a road contest that will be more than challenging. Opening lines show that the Bengals are 7-point underdogs, but don’t be surprised if the Bengals are able to cover that rather large number.
San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers
We all thought that this might be the year that Aaron Rodgers would finally get past the 49ers in the playoffs, but I among many others were proven wrong.
This game had the typical write up of what a typical playoff game in Green Bay looks like. First, the temperature was well below freezing and snow was falling throughout the game. Next, the Packers were flat. Lastly, they lost in a heartbreaker.
The start of the game for Green Bay looked just about how the majority of their season went. They drove down the field with ease with an outstanding balanced attack topped off by a AJ Dillon rushing touchdown. Up 7-0, San Francisco was punched in the mouth immediately.
As expected, the San Francisco offense struggled in the frozen tundra up there in Green Bay. What we did expect, however, is how well the defense would play to keep themselves in the game. Although they were unable to respond for the rest of the first half, the Niners survived and kept the lead at 7-0 going into halftime.
San Francisco received the ball to start the second half, and the drive looked similar to the one that ended their first half. The Niners were finally able to move the ball a little bit thanks to Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. Although the drive wasn’t the touchdown they needed to tie the game, getting a short field goal was the spark the Niners needed.
Going into the 4th quarter, Green Bay was up 7-3 and had the ball in the red zone. This was their best chance of the game to really take the game into their hands. However, that’s been the problem for Green Bay for the past few seasons. When the ball is in their hands when the lights are on in the most important situation, they mess it up. Their red zone drive stalled in a goal to go situation, and Green Bay settled for a field goal giving them a 10-3 lead.
The Niners took the next drive into the red zone, but came up short on a 4th and 1. They were able to stop Green Bay in three and out fashion right after that. This is where things got interesting.
Backed up deep in their own territory, Green Bay desperately needed to get a good punt off and rely on their defense to win the game. Well, as you might imagine, the punt was a total disaster. The punt was blocked and scooped up by the Niners for the game tying touchdown with just under five minutes to play.
With that, all of the air came out of Green Bay’s sails as they went three and out on the following possession. To make matters worse, San Francisco drove down the field on the last possession of the game down to the Green Bay 27 yard-line.
Like the first game of the day in Nashville, San Francisco called a timeout with four seconds to go to kick a game winning field goal. Robbie Gould was as good as gold on the kick as it sent the Niners into the NFC Championship game and the Packers plus their faithful into a disarray.
While Green Bay is now stuck again worrying about Aaron Rodgers returning for next season, San Francisco is looking for a return to the Super Bowl. They continue on their wild journey to do so on the road at the Los Angeles Rams this weekend. The Rams, while a slight favorite, have lost the last six games against the 49ers. It is hard to beat the same team three times in a season, so the Niners will have their hands full on the road yet again this week.
Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What’s the difference between the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Rams? The Rams can actually win a game against Tom Brady after having a massive lead in the playoffs.
While the Rams did have a 27-3 lead, they blew it just like Atlanta did a few years ago.
The Rams came out ready to play as they stopped the Bucs on the opening possession of the game on just five plays. For that matter, they looked comfortable for the entire first half on both sides of the ball.
Tampa didn’t score until late in the first quarter, and it was costly. After the opening drive stop by the Rams, they took their own opening drive 72 yards in just 9 plays. Despite the drive only resulting in a field goal, you were feeling good about yourself if you were a Rams fan. Soon after, the Rams extended their lead to 10-0 thanks to a Kendall Blanton 7 yard receiving touchdown pass from Matt Stafford.
Down 10, it was no time to panic for Brady as he found his old buddy Gronk for a 29-yard reception that ultimately led to a field goal. This glimmer of promise didn’t last long in the first half as the Rams scored due to two critical Buccaneer errors on the next possession. First, the kickoff went out of bounds which set up the Rams on the 40-yard line to start a drive. Then, somehow the Bucs secondary decided to not guard Cooper Kupp as he scored on a 70-yard passing touchdown from Matt Stafford.
From there, Tampa Bay missed a field goal on what was a pretty good drive to begin with. As was the theme in this game, Los Angeles converted on a Tampa Bay mistake. Their next drive took nearly seven minutes off of the clock, leading to a field goal and giving them a 20-3 lead late in the second quarter.
The response from Tampa Bay going into halftime was less than ideal. On just the second play of the next drive, Tom Brady was intercepted in his own territory. Luckily for the Buccaneers, the Rams fumbled this opportunity to score again before halftime both literally and metaphorically. It appeared that the Rams were going into score to make their lead to 27-3 before halftime, but Cam Akers fell on the 1-yard line after being hit and left the ball behind him.
Although they were unable to convert on this opportunity, Los Angeles was able to extend their lead to 27-3 midway through the 3rd quarter thanks to a huge punt return that set up the Rams’ drive at the Tampa Bay 28-yard line.
Up 27-3 midway through the 3rd quarter, my thoughts went straight back to Super Bowl 51 in which Tom Brady led the Patriots to a 28-3 comeback over the Atlanta Falcons. Given this, there was no way that Tom Brady and Tampa Bay would lay down lightly.
Unfortunately for everyone besides Tom Brady/Bucs fans who were watching, this is exactly what happened. After going down by 24, Tampa responded with a field goal to cut the lead to 27-6. While not over, the game was still out of reach. In desperate need of a break, Tampa Bay got exactly what they were hoping for. On the very first play from scrimmage on the next Los Angeles’ drive, Cooper Kupp fumbled and the ball was recovered by Tampa Bay.
As expected, Tom Brady took full advantage of the opportunity and passed the ball beautifully down to the 1-yard line. From there, on 1st and goal, it was a walk-in touchdown for Leonard Fournette. Now down 27-13, you could sense the air coming back into the stadium and the Buccaneers as well.
Early into the 4th quarter, the Rams fumbled again with a snap that went over the head of Matt Stafford. Tampa recovered on the 50-yard line and it was clear that the Bucs were going to make this near impossible comeback.
On the next two Buccaneer possessions, they turned the ball over on downs and it appeared like the game was over with about four minutes to go. The Rams had the chance to go and end the game with a score, or even a few first downs. Unable to do either one of those things, Tom Brady got the ball back again with just 3:56 to go.
Thanks to a 55-yard bomb from Tom Brady to Mike Evans, the Bucs got within just seven points with just over three minutes to go in the game. Still in need of a miracle, of course, Tom got things to go his way.
There must have been grease on the ball or something because the Rams fumbled yet again as Cam Akers lost control of the ball for the second time of the game. Tampa Bay took over at the Los Angeles’ 30-yard line just before the two-minute warning down by just seven. Playoff Lenny decided to step up yet again as he got in the end zone on a 4th and goal with 42 seconds to go.
Now with the game somehow tied, these last 42 seconds would turn out to be the biggest of Matt Stafford’s career. While Stafford to Kupp was great all year long, it was even greater in this situation. The two connected twice for 64 yards on the drive, and after a spike with six seconds to go, the Rams were set up to go to the NFC Championship game. From one Matt in the clutch to another, Matt Gay nailed the 30-yard game-winning kick to send the Rams into the NFC Championship and the Buccaneers to an early offseason.
The Rams will be hosting their divisional rival, the 49ers, next weekend in what will be their 3rd matchup of the season. San Francisco not only won the two regular season matchups, but they have also won the last six against Los Angeles. Despite all of that, the Rams are currently a 3.5-point favorite. Don’t be stunned if the 49ers win yet again against the Rams, but I personally don’t expect that to happen.
Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs
To close out the divisional round weekend, we may have had the best game of the year. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen both had outstanding games. Not only that, it seems like those two will be the Tom Brady and Peyton Manning of the next generation.
Buffalo took the opening drive of the game down the field just like they were still in New England as a beautiful mixture of running and passing got them into the end zone. This near flawless drive was matched by Kansas City thanks almost exclusively to Patrick Mahomes as he was extremely effective in running the football, one of those for a touchdown. Although there had been just two offensive possessions in the game, the first quarter was near over.
Just a few punts later, Patrick Mahomes looked his normal self again. Midway through the 2nd quarter, the Chiefs got the ball and went on a long drive. Mahomes found five different receivers on the drive that ultimately ended with a short touchdown pass to Byron Pringle with a little less than two minutes remaining to go in the first half.
This was no problem for Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense. Down by a score of 14-7, Gabriel Davis began to make his mark on the game. The two-minute drive was executed to perfection as the Bills went down the field with ease topped off with an 18-yard strike to Gabriel Davis to tie the game at 14 with 37 seconds to go before halftime.
Thanks to Tyreek Hill’s great speed, a couple of receptions got the Chiefs into field goal range. Although Harrison Butker missed the 50-yard field goal to win the half, Kansas City should have felt pretty good going into halftime as they were able to move the ball whenever they wanted to.
Starting the second half, Butker made up for his prior mistake. The short passing game and quarterback scrambles resulted in a near eight-minute drive. On a 3rd and 8 from the Buffalo 18-yard line, Mahomes scrambled for the 1st down. However, due to a holding call, the play was called back and the drive stalled out. Thanks to a 39-yard field goal from Harrison Butker, the Chiefs regained the lead at 17-14.
After a three and out from Buffalo, Kansas City had the opportunity to take the game significantly into their favor. That is exactly what they did thanks to a nice run from Mecole Hardman, topping off a short two-minute drive from the Chiefs.
Now down 23-14, the Bills needed an answer. Gabriel Davis, the unsung hero for the Bills in this game, struck gold again. On the first play from scrimmage on the drive, Davis broke lose for a 75-yard score to cut the lead to two.
Kansas City was unable to answer, but they also stopped Buffalo on the next drive. The Buffalo punt was returned by Tyreek Hill for a 45-yard return, setting up the Chiefs at the 16-yard line. In what was the biggest possession of the game at the time, Buffalo’s defense stood tall and forced a field goal.
Midway through the 4th quarter, things got spicy. Down 26-21, Buffalo needed their best, long drive of the season. Josh Allen looked ridiculously good on the drive and he connected with Gabriel Davis yet again for the score on a 4th and 13 just after the two-minute warning.
As was the case just before halftime, Tyreek Hill’s speed was a weapon. After Mahomes threw 3 out of 4 incompletions to begin the drive, Mahomes found Hill coming across the middle and he threw up the deuces on his way to the go-ahead touchdown with a minute to go.
Allen, on the responding drive, was cool, calm, and collected yet again in the clutch. You know who else was? You might have guessed it, Gabriel freaking Davis. This man caught 3 passes for 59 yards on the drive and scored what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds to go.
For most teams, that would have been the knockout punch. Then again, most teams don’t have Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes found his best two weapons, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce for around 20-yard receptions each. After both, a timeout was called. Following the Kelce reception all the way up to the Buffalo 31-yard line, Butker nailed a 49-yard kick to send this instant classic into overtime.
They say that games like these can be decided with just one play, and that play was the coin toss to begin overtime. Kansas City won the toss, and the rest was history. As was the case for most of the game, the Chiefs had no problem marching down the field for the game-winning touchdown. Mahomes’ short passing was on point, and it broke the hearts of the Bill’s faithful. Thankfully, in my prop bets article last week, I put Chiefs to win and Travis Kelce anytime touchdown because Travis Kelce caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
That coin toss going in favor of either team likely would have sent the other home. This has sparked many conversations about whether the overtime rules should be changed to where both teams get a chance to score. Regardless of how you might feel about that, Kansas City won the toss and did what they had to do to win the game.
Next weekend, they host the AFC Championship game against Joe Burrow and the Bengals. Last time they matched up, Cincinnati was victorious. While I don’t think this will happen again, wouldn’t we all love to see Joe Brr/Joe Shiesty in the Super Bowl?