NFL 2017-2018 Divisionals Recap

NFL 2017-2018 Divisionals Recap

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles was the Saturday afternoon game. With Reggie White and Jerome Brown watching from heaven, the Eagles tried to get it done without Carson Wentz. On the first play from scrimmage, Nick Foles threw a bomb and drew a defensive pass interference penalty. On the second play from scrimmage, Jay Ajayi fumbled the ball away. The Falcons moved 59 yards in 11 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. Matt Bryant snuck a 33 yard field goal inside the upright for a 3-0 Falcons lead. In the second quarter the Eagles moved 86 yards in 14 plays and 7 minutes. On 4th and goal at the one, Doug Pederson decided to go for it. LaGuerette Blount got in to make it 6-3 Eagles. The extra point doinked off the upright no good. The Falcons got a break when the Eagles fumbled a punt and the Falcons fumbled at the Philadelphia 18. On 3rd and goal 6, Matt Ryan hit Devontae Freeman for the touchdown to make it a 10-6 Falcons lead.

For the rest of the game, everyone on went to sleep except Philadelphia kicker Jake Elliott and the Philadelphia defense. Despite his missed extra point, his field goals were the difference. Elliot hit from 53 to end the half, from 37 in the third quarter, and from 21 in the fourth quarter to cap a 14 play, 8 minute, 80 yard drive and give the Eagles a 5 point lead. The last one came when Doug Pederson decided not to gamble on 4th and 1 from the Atlanta 3 with 6 minutes left. With 3 1/2 minutes left the Falcons faced 4th and 6 at their own 42. Ryan hit jones for 20 yards. With one minute left everything came down to one play, 4th and goal at the 2. Ryan went to Jones, who slipped and fell as the pass was incomplete. The Eagles survived on defense and will host next week’s NFC Title Game. 15-10 Eagles

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots was the Saturday night game. This was supposed to be the men against the boys.The Patriots were supposed to easily dispatch the overmatched Titans. Early on the Titans moved 95 yards in 11 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. Marcus Mariota hit Davis for a 15 yard touchdown as the Titans actually led 7-0 after the first quarter. Then reality set in. In the second quarter Tom Brady hit White for a 5 yard touchdown to cap a 73 yard drive to tie the game. A short punt had the Patriots taking over at the Tennessee 48. White ran for a 6 yard touchdown and a 14-7 Patriots lead they would not relinquish. New England got back and had a staggering 16 play, 91 yard drive that took 5 1/2 minutes. Brady hit Chris Hogan for a 4 yard touchdown for a 21-7 Patriots halftime lead. Last week Tennessee overcame a 21-3 halftime deficit, but this game was the men against the boys.

In the third quarter the Patriots quickly put the game away on a 56 yard drive. Bolden ran for a 2 yard touchdown to make it 28-7 Patriots. In the fourth quarter the Patriots had another 90 yard drive, needing 15 plays and 7 minutes. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 4 yard touchdown to make it 35-7 Patriots. Tennessee would finally get in the end zone again, but this game was expected to be a blowout and it was. New England is in the AFC Title Game for the 7th straight year, an NFL record. They have had 17 straight winning seasons, and 15 straight double digit seasons and playoff appearances. 35-14 Patriots

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers was the Sunday morning game. Earlier in the season Jacksonville went into Pittsburgh and shocked them 30-9, as Sacksonville intercepted Ben Roethisberger 5 times. Yet in cold weather, surely the Steelers would make amends. To quote uber-announcer Chris Berman, “That’s why they play the games.” Jacksonville came out with three straight play-action passes that all worked. On 3rd and goal at the 2, Blake Bortles threw incomplete. Doug Marrone showed major cojones by deciding to go for it on 4th and goal at the 2 on the road. Even more gutsy was a decision to run the ball. Leonard Fournette got the carry and went airborne like Marcus Allen and broke the plane of the goal for a touchdown and a 7-0 Jaguars lead. Then Jacksonville unleashed its defense. With Pittsburgh facing 3rd and 11 at its own 10, a short pass by Big Ben was deflected and then intercepted by Myles Jack. The acrobatic interception by Jack, who somehow got both feet down inbounds, set up Jacksonville at the Pittsburgh 18. One play later, Fournette took a handle off right tackle and got all the way past the pylon again for another touchdown and a 14-0 Jaguars lead in front of a shellshocked home crowd.

The Steelers then drove to a 4th and inches at the Jacksonville 20. We then saw the difference between the two teams in terms of players and coaching. Jacksonville jumped offside, but the Pittsburgh center never snapped the ball, allowing the defender to get back onside. Jacksonville smartly called timeout to try and resolve their confusion. Mike Tomlin decided to go for it. Rather than have Big Ben sneak across, offensive coordinator Todd Haley called a pitchout. The lateral run was blown up in the backfield by 3 Jacksonville defenders for a 5 yard loss. Jacksonville kept rolling, going 75 yards in 11 plays. TJ Yeldon ran for a 4 yard touchdown in the second quarter as the Jaguars built a 21-0 lead.

Pittsburgh finally got a spark when Toussaint returned the ensuing kickoff 34 yards to the Pittsburgh 36. On 3rd and 7 from the Jacksonville 33, Roethlisberger hit Rogers for a 10 yard touchdown. On the next play Roethlisberger went deep to Antonio Brown. Despite being well covered, Brown made the great catch for the touchdown to get the Steelers on the board down 21-7. Pittsburgh got it back and with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half had the ball at the Jacksonville 47. Roethlisberger went back to pass and was hit and fumbled. The ball was picked up at midfield by Smith, who raced for a defensive touchdown and a 28-7 Jaguars lead.

A taunting penalty on the Jaguars after the touchdown meant a short kickoff and a 22 yard return that had the Steelers taking over just shy of midfield. With 30 seconds left in the half, the Steelers faced 4th and 11 at the Jacksonville 36. A 54 yard field goal try in the cold is not easy so Mike Tomlin decided to go for it. Roethlisberger went for it all and Martavius Bryant made the touchdown catch as the Steelers were only down 28-14 at halftime. The Steelers took the second half kickoff and soon faced 3rd and 1 at their own 32. Roethlisberger hit Vance McDonald for 2 yards. On the next play a terrible personal foul call on Jacksonville had Pittsburgh at the Jacksonville 47. Contact was made, but Juju Smith-schuster shoved the defender into the receiver and officials missed that. On 3rd and 9 from the Pittsburgh 19, Roethlisberger went to LeVeon Bell for the touchdown. 3 great catches had the Steelers right back in it down 28-21 after three quarters.

The Steelers had all the momentum and the home crowd exploded at the start of the fourth quarter when the Steelers partially blocked a Jacksonville punt. Pittsburgh took over at the Jacksonville 48. Bell gained 6 and 3 but on 3rd and 1 got stopped. Mike Tomlin again went for it on 4th and 1 from the Jags 39 and another awful play call by Todd Haley doomed the Steelers. Rather than bang it ahead, Big Ben threw deep incomplete. On 3rd and 8 from the Jacksonville 41, Bortles found Marques Lee for 11 yards. On the next play Bortles went for it all deep, and Cole out-jumped double coverage for a 45 yard gain to set up 1st and goal at the 3. On the next play Fournette ran it up the gut for the score to make it 35-21 Jaguars with 10 1/2 minutes left in regulation.

Every time it looked like the Steelers would tie it, Jacksonville broke free. Yet every time it looked like Jacksonville would put the game away, Pittsburgh came back. After a touchback, Roethlisberger hit Brown for 27 yards. On 2nd and 5 from the Jags 43, twice Big Ben threw incomplete and was lucky not to be intercepted. Again Mike Tomlin decided to go for it and again Todd Haley had a terrible play call. Yet this time it worked as Roethlisberger avoided a sack and threw it deep again. Brown caught it in the end zone for a 43 yard touchdown. Again, the defense was good. Again, the Pittsburgh receivers caught a perfectly thrown ball. Roethlisberger’s 4th touchdown pass had the Steelers within 35-28 with a full 9 minutes remaining.

Last week at home Jacksonville’s defense won an hideously ugly 10-3 slugfest. This week their offense was up to the challenge on the road. On 3rd and 5 from their own 30, Bortles found Yeldon for a swing pass that went for a 40 yard gain. On 3rd and 4 from the Pittsburgh 24, Bortles hit Westbrook for an 8 yard gain. In easy field goal range and expected to just grind down the clock, a perfectly executed play action pass allowed Bortles to hit a wide open Bohanon for a 14 yard touchdown. With 4:24 to play, the Jaguars led 42-28.

Pittsburgh soon faced 3rd and 10 at their own 25. Roethlisberger hit McDonald fro 15 yards. On 3rd and 10 from the Pittsburgh 40, Roethlisberger scrambled for 15 yards. On 3rd and 5 from the Pittsburgh 18, Roethlisberger, scrambled for 9 yards. From the 9, Roethlisberger scrambled, crossed the line of scrimmage, pitched the ball to Bell, and Bell took it 8 yards for the score. Because Roethlisberger’s pass was a backward lateral, it was perfectly legal. With 2:18 to play the Steelers were within 42-35. Despite 2 timeouts and the 2 minute warning, Mike Tomlin went for the onside kick, sowing zero confidence in his defense.

The onside kick only went 5 yards and Jacksonville recovered. On 4th and 1 from the Pittsburgh 27, Josh Lambo came in for a 45 yard field goal to ice the game. Lambo was good, and the Jaguars led 45-35 with 1:45 left. Pittsburgh soon faced 4th and 10 at their own 25. Roethlisberger hit McDonald for 12 yards. A 42 yard completion to Bryant set up 1st and goal at the 5 with 47 seconds left. Intentional grounding on the next play cost the Steelers a 10 second runoff. Needing 2 scores, the Steelers could have kicked the field goal because they needed an onside kick anyway. Instead, Todd Haley called a West Coast Offense sideways pass that gained 11 yards but kept the clock running. On 3rd and goal from the 4, a pass to the end zone bounced off the fingertips of Xavier Grimble. On 4th and goal, Big Ben hit Smith-Schuster for the score but only one second remained. One failed onside kick later, Jacksonville finally had the stunning upset to earn the right to travel to New England for the AFC Title Game. Bortles finishes a pedestrian 14 of 26 for only 214 yards and one touchdown, but he did not thrown an interception. Roethlisberger threw 58 passes and completed 37 of them for a staggering 469 yards, 5 touchdowns, and the early interception. Yet it was the Jaguars that had the win, courtesy of their offense. 45-42 Jaguars

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings was the Sunday afternoon game. The Saints brought the offense and the Vikings brought the defense. The Saints went 3 and out and a 19 yard punt return by Sherels had the Vikings starting at their own 45. Latavius Murray ran for 4 and 5 and on 3rd and 1 appeared short of the sticks. Yet he got a very generous spot and Sean Payton did not challenge it. On 3rd and 3 from the Saints 38, Case Keenum went deep to Wright for 22 yards. McKinnon got around the end for a 14 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Vikings. Minnesota got it back and soon faced 3rd and 7 at their own 23. Keenum hit Diggs for 17 yards. Then Keenum threw deep incomplete twice, and both times drew defensive pass interference calls of 20 and 34 yards. Yet on 3rd and goal at the one, rather than play smash mouth, Keenum lined up in the shotgun and threw incomplete. Mike Zimmer decided to play it very safe. Kai Forbath hit the 20 yard field goal to make it 10-0 Vikings. With one minute left in the opening quarter the Saints took over at their own 15. Brees went deep and a leaping interception by Sendejo had the Vikings at their own 42.

In the second quarter the Vikings faced 3rd and 8 at the Saints 28. Keenum hit Adam Thielen for an 11 yard gain. On 3rd and 8 from the 15, Keenum hit Diggs for 11 yards. Form the one, Murray got the call and stretched the ball over the plane of the goal for the touchdown to make it 17-0 Vikings. After a touchback the Saints moved to a 1st and 10 at the Minnesota 30. From the 29, Brees went deep to Ted Ginn Jr. for the touchdown. Yet an illegal shift nullified the score. From the 15, Brees then had his pass deflected at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Anthony Barr. Barr returned it 18 yards with 15 more tacked on for a horse collar tackle as the Vikings took over at their own 43.

The Saints got it back at their own 9 with 3 minutes left in the half and moved to a 1st and 10 at the Minnesota 30 with 43 seconds left in the half. On 3rd and 10 Brees was sacked. A 58 yard field goal try was hooked wide no good. The Viking took over at their own 48 with 21 seconds left and 0 timeouts. Keenum threw incomplete but roughing the passer gave the Vikings 15 yards. Forbath tried a 49 yard field goal to end the half also hooked wide no good. After a touchback to start the third quarter, the Vikings moved to a 2nd and 3 at the Saints 29. A run lost a yard. On 3rd and 4, Keenum was sacked for a 10 yard loss to take the Vikings out of field goal range. Despite 7 minutes with the ball, Minnesota came up empty.

The Saints from their 20 finally put a drive together. On 3rd and 1 from their own 43, Brees snuck for 2 yards. A short pass to Thomas went for 28 yards. On 3rd and 1 from the Minnesota 19, a low throw to Willie Snead was somehow caught for a 5 yard gain. Brees went to the end zone to Thomas for a 14 yard touchdown. The 12 play, 80 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive finally got the Saints on the board down 17-7 with one minute left in the third quarter. After a touchback, Keenum erred terribly. Trying to avoid a sack, he threw a wounded duck that was intercepted by Williams. The Saints took over at the Minnesota 30. Brees threw a 3 yard touchdown pass to Thomas as the Saints were only down 17-14 with 13 minutes left in regulation.

After a touchback, Murray ran for 14 yards and Keenum went deep to Collins for a 27 yard gain. On 3rd and 7 from the Saints 31 Keenum almost made the same mistake again. On the verge of being sacked out off field goal range, as he was going to the ground he threw an incomplete pass. He was not called for intentional grounding. Sean Payton challenged that Keenum’s knees were down before he threw it. Payton lost the challenge. He had lost an earlier challenge as well, leaving the Saints without challenges and only one timeout with 10 minutes left to play. Forbath drilled the 49 yard field goal dead center to make it 20-14 Vikings.

The Saints soon faced 3rd and 1 at their own 36 and Sean Payton went into his bag of tricks. Brees threw a backward slant to Snead, who then threw to a wide open Alvin Kamara. The option pass was overthrown and incomplete. The Saints punted and Minnesota had to punt it back from their own 40 with 5 1/2 minutes left. The punt was blocked and the Saints took over at the same spot. Brees scrambled all over the place and threaded the needle for a 15 yard completion to Ginn. Brees went to Kamara for a 14 yard touchdown. With 3 minutes left, the Saints had come all the way back for a 21-20 lead as Minnesota fans wondered if this was 1998 all over again.

The Vikings faced a critical 3rd and 1 from their own 34. McKinnon got the carry up the gut and got 2 yards as the clock hit the 2 minute warning. Keenum then threw another pass under pressure that should not have been thrown. Despite defensive pass interference, Thielen came down with it for a 24 yard gain to the Saints 40. On 3rd and 5 from the Saints 35, another dangerous pass fell incomplete. Forbath came in with just over 90 seconds to play for a 53 yard field goal try. From Gary Anderson to Blair Walsh, Minnesota fans now had to await Forbath. He drilled it and the Vikings led 23-21. Now it was up to the NFL’s high octane offense against the league’s best defense as the Saints took over after a touchback with one timeout left.

Brees went to Hill for 18 yards and Ginn for 11 more to the Minnesota 46 with one minute left. 3 straight incompletions left 4th and 10 with 45 seconds left. A 64 yard field goal try was not an option, even indoors. Minnesota needed one more stop, and they did not get it. Brees went to Snead for a 13 yard gain. A couple of short passes left 3rd and 1 at the Minnesota 24 as the Vikings took their first timeout on defense to stop the clock with 33 seconds left. Kamara got the carry and lost a yard as the Vikings took their second timeout with 29 seconds left. Now it was up to Will Lutz from 43 yards out. He was also good as the Saints were back on top 24-23 with 25 seconds remaining.

After a touchback, the Vikings had one timeout and needed 40 yards for a 53 yard field goal try. The Vikings started with a false start. Keenum went to Diggs for 19 yards as the Vikings took their last timeout with 18 seconds left. A pair of incompletions left 10 seconds. The Vikings needed a miracle. Keenum threw a deep ball near the sideline that was caught by Stephan Diggs at the Saints 35 yard line. The defender took a bad angle and completely missed the tackle. Rather than run out of bounds to set up the field goal, Diggs saw that there was nothing in front of him but green. Diggs raced to the end zone for the touchdown as the clock read double zeroes. Minnesota was on their way to Philadelphia for the NFC Title Game. Forget Gary Anderson. Forget Blair Walsh. Forget Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson. Forget Brett Favre’s interception. 8 years after these teams had a playoff classic for the ages, they did again. Somebody buy that 100 year old Vikings fan at the game her beverage of choice. Pacemakers for the rest of us. Finally, miracles exist in Minnesota. 29-24 Vikings

The Conference Title Games are set. Both games are played on Sunday, January 21, 2018. All times Eastern.

AFC Title Game: (3) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) at (1) New England Patriots (13-3)(-9) at 3pm on CBS.

NFC Title Game: (2) Minnesota Vikings (13-3) at (1) Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) at 6:30pm on FOX.

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