Following the NFL is akin to watching your favorite soap opera. The twists and turns that continue to occur keep you on your toes and the edge of your seat. Let’s recap this past weekend’s playoff games.
The surprising Tennessee Titans went into Gillette Stadium to face the New England Patriots. Earning a hard-fought victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium helped the Titans to have some momentum coming into Foxborough.
However, the playoff savvy Patriots were rested and ready for the challenge. Tennessee would jump out to an early lead on a touchdown reception by wide receiver Corey Davis. The upstart Titans were quickly reminded that they weren’t in Kansas (City) anymore, as their lead was short lived.
Being behind both angered and awakened the Patriots, as they ran off 35 straight points. Tom Brady added to his already extensive playoff resume by throwing for three touchdowns, breaking a tie with Joe Montana for the most playoff games (10) with three or more touchdown passes. Davis caught a garbage-time reception for his second touchdown of the day to make the score somewhat more respectable.
When the dust settled, the final score was 35-14. The Patriots are on their way to a seventh consecutive AFC Championship.
Shocker In Steel City
The Jacksonville Jaguars have enjoyed a renaissance this season. Having just three wins last season, the Jaguars won the AFC South with a 10-6 record this year to earn a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2007. After winning a 10-3 defensive battle against the Buffalo Bills in the wild card round, Jacksonville headed north to face the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coming off a first round bye, Pittsburgh was rested and ready to welcome back All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who missed the final two weeks of the season due to a partially torn calf muscle. Le’Veon Bell was prepared to rebound from last season’s disappointing finish, as he had to leave the AFC Championship game versus New England prematurely with an injury.
Ben Roethlisberger wanted to put the ugly memory of his regular season encounter with Jacksonville behind him, one in which he threw five interceptions. Injured linebacker Ryan Shazier visited the team at practice that week providing an inspirational boost.
Everything seemed aligned for Pittsburgh to earn a rematch with New England in the AFC Championship game. The Jaguars cared nothing about any of those factors. They went into the game supremely confident and stood toe-to-toe with Pittsburgh. With a surprising final score of 45-42, the Jaguars did what few outside of Jacksonville thought was possible. It would be Jacksonville, not Pittsburgh, going on to face New England for a chance to go to Superbowl LII. With Jacksonville preparing to face the Patriots this Sunday, Pittsburgh is left with many questions to be answered this off-season.
The Philadelphia Eagles went into their divisional round game against the Atlanta Falcons as the NFC’s number one seed, having earned home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. They also had the unfortunate distinction of being the first number one seed not to be favored in the divisional round.
Playing the six seeded Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles faced the team that had been constantly reminded of last year’s Super Bowl meltdown against New England. Ever since losing MVP-candidate quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury in early December, the Eagles chances of playoff success had been dismissed by many. Philadelphia used the disrespect to its advantage, with some players going as far as wearing dog masks, thus further embracing their underdog status.
While the Falcons hadn’t performed at the offensive juggernaut level they did last season, the prevailing thought was that Matt Ryan would easily be able to outduel his counterpart, second-string quarterback Nick Foles, who hadn’t offered much hope with his performances since stepping in for Wentz.
Riding its defense, Philadelphia held Atlanta to 10 points. A last gasp attempt by the Falcons fell short when Ryan’s pass to Julio Jones fell incomplete in the end zone. The Eagles did just enough to earn a 15-10 victory, propelling them to the NFC Championship.
The Minnesota Vikings trailed the New Orleans Saints 24-23 in the fourth quarter with ten seconds remaining. Case Keenum dropped back looking for someone to throw to in hopes of getting into field goal range for a potential game-winning try. What happened next will go down in NFL lore as the “Minnesota Miracle.”
Keenum’s pass found the hands of wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Saints safety Marcus WIlliams missed the tackle and Diggs raced up the sideline as time expired to score the winning touchdown. Vikings got the improbable win 29-24.
U.S. Bank Stadium erupted with joy after the heart pounding last second victory, with their Vikings having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The hopes of being the first team to host a Super Bowl in its home stadium live on for another week, as Minnesota now heads to Philadelphia for the opportunity to play in Super Bowl LII as the NFC’s representative.
In addition to the shock of the heart-breaking loss, New Orleans must quickly turn its attention to its quarterback, Drew Brees who is now a free agent. Brees has indicated he wants to remain in the Crescent City as opposed to testing free agency. Instead of preparing for a game, the Saints now face the off-season earlier than they would have hoped. Thanks to a miraculous ending, the Vikings prepare to face the Eagles, hoping to follow their final road game of the season, with the ultimate home game, the Super Bowl.