Our own Evan Silva has called the Divisional Round of the playoffs the best football weekend and this season’s version certainly did not disappoint. If you missed any of the weekend’s games or any of the weekend’s news, here’s your recap in Monday’s Dose.
In a low-scoring affair in which both teams were affected by strong winds, the Eagles got the win thanks in large part to their defense and kicking game. QB Nick Foles led multiple impressive drives, especially in the second-half, but Philly just couldn’t find the end zone much of the night and had to repeatedly settle for field goal attempts. After trailing 10-9 at halftime, that was just good enough. The Falcons had their chance to win and advance as QB Matt Ryan led his team on a long, late drive in the closing minutes of the fourth-quarter, but a fourth-down pass to WR Julio Jones was incomplete and that essentially ended the Falcons’ season.
For the Eagles, Foles threw for 246 scoreless yards, spreading the ball around as six different players recorded at least three receptions. Philly was led by WR Alshon Jeffery’s 61 yards on three receptions. The running game never really got going either, but RBs Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement did combine for 75 receiving yards on eight receptions. WR Nelson Agholor caught three balls for just 24 yards, but his surprising 21-yard run in the first-half eventually led to the Eagles’ only touchdown of the game on a one-yard run from RB LeGarrette Blount.
The Falcons’ offense was dominated by star WR Jones, who caught nine passes for 101 yards, but his last miss was the one many will remember. Ryan finished with 210 passing yards and a touchdown, which went to RB Devonta Freeman, who struggled in the running game, rushing for seven yards on 10 carries. Freeman did acknowledge after the game that he has been playing through MCL and PCL sprains, which has clearly affected him this season. RB Tevin Coleman totaled 93 yards in the game. WR Mohamed Sanu chipped in a 3/50 line.
New England- 35
Entering the AFC Division Round game between the Patriots and massive underdog Titans, there was at least some question about how New England would play following a week filled with off-field drama centering on the report of unrest between the team’s quarterback, head coach and owner. For a while, those who were hoping the Patriots’ kingdom would come crashing down may have seen a ray of hope. The Patriots got off to a slow start, failing to advance the ball across mid-field in the first quarter and the Titans took an early lead as rookie WR Corey Davis made an amazing diving catch for his first career touchdown. The Titans lead 7-0 after one quarter. To the surprise of no one, that quickly changed as QB Tom Brady and the Patriots rolled off 35 consecutive points to roll to another easy win and advance to their seventh straight AFC title game.
Brady ended with 337 passing yards and three touchdowns, becoming the oldest quarterback to win a playoff game. The Pats were again short-handed in their backfield as RB Rex Burkhead sat out, but RB Dion Lewis totaled 141 yards. Veteran WR Danny Amendola took his turn to lead the team in receiving, catching 11 passes for 112 yards, while TE Rob Gronkowski added a 6/81/1 line. RB James White (4/29/1) and WR Chris Hogan (1/4/1) also caught touchdowns. Hogan made his return to the field after missing much of the season’s second half, but was used sparingly.
Titans QB Marcus Mariota was under fire all night, being sacked a whopping eight times, but still managed to throw a pair of touchdowns along with 254 yards. We learned after the game Mariota was dealing with a quad injury for much of the contest. Both scores went to the rookie WR Davis (5/63/2), who ended his season on a high note after dealing with injuries for much of his first season. Mariota also led the team in rushing with 37 yards, which means RB Derrick Henry struggled. A week after carrying the offense to an upset win over Kansas City, Henry found few lanes against the Patriots, rushing 12 times for 28 yards. He did add three receptions for 21 yards. We can still expect this to be Henry’s job as the Titans are expected to part ways with veteran RB DeMarco Murray. Veteran WR Eric Decker led the team with six receptions for 85 yards, while TE Delanie Walker add a 3/49 line. Rookie TE Jonnu Smith, who most view as Walker’s eventual replacement, suffered a torn MCL, but is still expected to be ready for OTAs. The news wasn’t so good for starting RT Jack Conklin, who tore his ACL and is now a candidate to begin the 2018 season on the PUP list, which would cost him at least six games. The Conklin injury surely had a lot to do with Henry’s struggles in the running game. After the game, the Titans reportedly offered HC Mike Mularkey a contract extension. He was on the hot seat just a few weeks ago.
If Saturday’s games were a bit of a disappointment, the Sunday slate more than made up for it, beginning with the Jaguars going to Pittsburgh. Jacksonville, even after winning their division and sporting one of, if not the best defenses in the league, was still somehow being disrespected. It was not only the media and fans who were looking ahead to a potential Patriots/Steelers AFC title game, even Pittsburgh’s players were vocal about that. All the Jags did was march into Pittsburgh and lead wire-to-wire, taking out the second seed in the AFC and securing a trip to Foxboro for the conference championship.
The Steelers’ defense looked old and tired as QB Blake Bortles rebounded from his abysmal performance the previous week, throwing for 214 yards and a score. Rookie RB Leonard Fournette ended with 109 rushing yards and three touchdowns, even though he was forced to leave the field with an ankle injury in the first-half. RB T.J. Yeldon actually led the team in receiving with 57 yards on three grabs. WR Keelan Cole caught one pass for 45 yards and WR Marqise Lee added a 3/28 stat line.
Trailing 28-14 at the half, the Steelers were in comeback mode virtually the entire game, though at times, they seemed to lack the urgency that was expected. Pittsburgh put up 28 second-half points on a pair of scores from RB Le’Veon Bell and touchdown grabs for WR Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster, but it wasn’t enough. QB Ben Roethlisberger posted video game numbers of 469 yards and five touchdowns, while Bell totaled 155 yards on 25 touches. Brown (7/132/1) and WR Martavis Bryant (2/78/1) had big games, but the team was actually led in targets (16) and receptions (10) by TE Vance McDonald, who finished with a new career-high 112 yards. Following the game, Roethlisberger, who flirted with retirement a year ago, announced he would be back for the 2018 season.
New Orleans- 24
I really can’t do this game justice. If you somehow missed the finale of the Divisional Round of the playoffs, go find a replay of the Saints facing the Vikings in Minnesota. This game looked like a blowout through the first-half as the Vikes led 17-0 at halftime and the Saints had two three & outs and a turnover in the first quarter. The second quarter brought another interception for QB Drew Brees and a missed field goal for K Wil Lutz. The second-half was a different game. Brees hit WR Michael Thomas late in the third-quarter for the team’s first score of the game and quickly turned a QB Case Keenum interception into another Brees to Thomas touchdown, cutting the score to 17-14 early in the game’s final quarter. After the Saints scored again to take the lead with three minutes remaining, an exchange of field goals gave both fan bases hope with under two minutes left in the game.
After the final Saints’ field goal from Lutz, the Vikings got the ball back trailing 24-23 and hoping for a game-winning field goal to advance to the NFC title game. The drive began with a 19-yarder to WR Stefon Diggs but with 10 seconds left, the Vikings were still on the wrong side of mid-field and essentially down to their last chance. A Keenum deep pass once again targeted Diggs. When Saints rookie DB Marcus Williams inexplicably dived towards Diggs, the Vikings receiver made the grab and was behind the defense. The rest was easy as Diggs ran for a 61-yard game-winning score as time expired, giving the Vikings the win and setting up a date with the Eagles for the NFC title.
Brees finished with 294 passing yards and three scores, but also threw a pair of interceptions. Rookie RB Alvin Kamara once again made an impact, totaling 105 yards and a touchdown, though his counterpart RB Mark Ingram managed just 25 yards on 10 rushes. Thomas, Brees’ top target, finished with 85 yards on seven catches and the two scores. WR Ted Ginn added an 8/72 line.
For the victorious Vikings, Keenum threw for 318 yards and a touchdown and the hero Diggs caught six passes for 137 yards. WR Adam Thielen added six grabs for 74 yards. RB Latavius Murray rushed for 50 yards on 19 carries, while RB Jerick McKinnon totaled 50 yards. The Vikings still hope to play in their home stadium for the Super Bowl, but first they must travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Patriots DC Matt Patricia will be the next head coach for the Lions, though that won’t become official until the Patriots’ season is over. … Ian Rapoport of NFL Network called Patriots OC Josh McDaniels the “clear favorite” to get the head coaching job in Indianapolis. … The Bills fired OC Rick Dennison after just one season and quickly replaced him with former University of Alabama OC Brian Daboll. … Rapoport also called Vikings OC Pat Shurmur a “strong candidate” for the Giants head coaching job, though they too will have to wait until the Vikings’ season is complete. … Schefter reported the Seahawks are expected to hire former Colts QB coach Brian Shottenheimer to be their new offensive coordinator. … The Oakland Raiders brought back former HC Tom Cable, recently of the Seahawks, to coach their offensive line, despite the struggles his group had in Seattle. … After hiring former Bills VP of player personnel Brian Gaine as their new GM, the Texans gave both Gaine and HC Bill O’Brien five-year deals. … The Bears re-signed DC Vic Fangio to a three-year contract…The Browns fired QB coach David Lee and RB coach Kirby Wilson…
Bills WR Zay Jones will undergo shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, which hampered him much of the season. … Reports out of San Francisco say both sides are confident a long-term contract will get done for the 49ers and QB Jimmy Garoppolo. … 49ers rookie LB Reuben Foster was arrested in Alabama on charges of possession of marijuana. Since Foster failed a drug test at last year’s NFL Combine, he will now likely face a suspension under the league’s substance abuse policy. … Broncos rookie WR Carlos Henderson, who missed the season with a hand injury, was also arrested for drug possession. … Panthers veteran LB Thomas Davis announced the 2018 season would be his last in the NFL.
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