NFL 2021-2022 Wildcard Recap

NFL 2021-2022 Wildcard Recap

The 2021 NFL Regular season is now in the history books. The Wildcard matchups are set and will take place from Saturday through Monday, January 15-17.

Las Vegas Raiders (5)(10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (4)(10-7) was the Saturday afternoon game. The Raiders had won a playoff game in 19 years. The Bengals had not won a playoff game in 31 years. This was only the 2nd Raiders playoff game in 19 years and first in 5 years. This was Derek Carr’s first playoff game and the first playoff game ever for the city of Las Vegas. The Bengals rested their starters last week after clinging the AFC North and were well rested. The Raiders were 6-7 and ran the table, winning 4 games by a total of 12 points. They needed an entire 5 quarters to defeat the Chargers on the final play of overtime to make the playoffs. It was also the first playoff game for Joe Burrow. The Bengals were heavy favorites, but the Raiders had a puncher’s chance if they could hang around and survive the first quarter intensity of a jacked up crowd at the Jungle. The weather was 31 degrees at kickoff and dropped to around 20.

After a touchback, Josh Jacobs ran for 5 and 3. On 3rd and 2 from their own 33, Carr went to Zee Jones for 17 to midfield. Carr then hit Hunter Renfrow for 6. On 3rd and 3 from the Cincinnati 43, Carr hit Darren Waller for 8. Carr then found Jacobs for 9. Yet on 2nd and 1 from the Cincinnati 26, a false start messed up the rhythm. On 3rd and 3, Carr went deep incomplete. Daniel Carlson hit the 47 yard field goal to cap the 10 play, 47 yard, 5 1/2 minute drive and put the Raiders on the board first up 3-0.

Yet after a touchback, the Bengals offense made it look easy. Burrow hit JaMarr chase for gains of 11, 17 and 9 and Joe Mixon for 21. The Bengals did not have a single third down on the drive until 3rd and goal at the 7. Burrow hit CJ Uzomah for the touchdown to finish the 10 play 75 yard, 5 minute drive and give the Bengals a 7-3 lead. After a touchback Carr went to Zee Jones for 13, but then disaster struck. On 3rd and 8 from their own 40, Carr had the ball stripped from him. Ogunjobi recovered it for the defense and returned the fumble 11 yards to give the Bengals gift field position at the Raiders 15. Yet on 3rd and 3 from the 8, the Bengals committed a false star. Burrow on 3rd and 8 threw incomplete. Evan McPherson hit the 31 yard field goal to make it 10-3 Bengals.

The Raiders return man made a horrendous mistake on the ensuing kickoff. The ball was headed out of bounds. The rule is if the return man places one foot out of bounds and then touches the ball, the return team gets great field position at their own 40 yard line. Instead, Peyton Barber fielded the ball inbounds and then went out of bounds. Barber’s blunder had the Raiders backed up to their own 2 yard line. A sack of Carr had the Raiders punting on 4th and 11 from their own one. The Bengals had excellent field position at the Raiders 45. to start the second quarter. Burrow hit Chase for 28, but on 3rd and goal at the 4, Burrow was sacked. McPherson hit form 30 to make it 13-3 Bengals. The Raiders defense twice forced field goals when forced to defend a short field, preventing a blowout.

A strong kickoff return had the Raiders taking over at their own 39. Jacobs ripped off  a 14 yard run and then broke free for a 35 yard gain. On 2nd and 8 from the Cincy 10, Carr threw incomplete. On 3rd and 8 Carr had a wide open design Jackson in the flat for what would have been an easy first down and maybe a touchdown. Jackson dropped it for another incompletion. Carlson hit from 28. The Raiders were only down 13-6 midway through the second quarter, but mistakes were killing them.

The Bengals took over at their own 18 and soon faced 3rd and 1 from their 27. Burrow hit Boyd for 5. Burrow then went deep to Uzomah for 29. Evans ran for 9. On 3rd and 1 from the Raiders 31, Burrow threw incomplete. A 49 yard field goal try in cold weather with wind was not ideal, so Zac Taylor went for it on 4th and 1. With the Raiders prepared to defend the run up the middle, Chase took a pitchout 15 yards. At the 2 minute warning, the Bengals faced 3rd and 4 at the Raiders 10. Then came a play even crazier than Joe Montana throwing “The Catch” to Dwight Clark. Burrow rolled all the way to his right. With men in his face, he threw the ball across his body to the back of the end zone. There was a question as to whether Burrow had remained inbounds before he threw the ball. Boyd caught the ball in the end zone but was not celebrating. Officials blew the whistle while the ball was in the air. The defenders stopped. Replay showed Burrow was inbounds, but the whistle automatically blows the play dead. After a lengthy officials conversation, they ruled the play a touchdown rather than a dead ball play, which would result in that rare do-over. The blown call finished the 12 play, 82 yard, 6 minute drive and had the Bengals winning 20-6.

The Raiders took over at their own 20. Knowing the Bengals would get the ball to start the second half, the Raiders needed to score in the final 1:51 of the half. Carr hit Renfrow for 7 and on 3rd and 3 from their own 27 hit Bryan Edwards for 19. On 3rd and 10 from their own 46, Carr scrambled for a 20 yard gain. On 3rd and 6 from the Cincinnati 25, Carr hit Darren Waller for 11. With 13 seconds left in the half, Carr hit Zee Jones for the touchdown to get the Raiders within 20-13. The Bengals scored on all 4 of their first half possessions not counting the kneel down to end the half. The Raiders defense needed to stop Burrow if they were to have a chance.

The Bengals began the third quarter at their own 35 and moved easily to a 1st and 10 at the Raiders 29. Then the Bills were called for an illegal formation. Burrow threw 3 straight incompletions. McPherson hit the 43 yard field goal to put the Bills up 23-13. The Raiders after a touchback moved to a 3rd and 4 at their own 42. Carr went deep to Renfrow who caught the ball for a 22 yard gain, had the ball chopped out of his hands, but saw the ball harmlessly roll to the ground. The Raiders tried to rush up to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball but Zac Taylor challenged the catch. After further review, Taylor won the challenge and the call was incomplete. The Raiders punted. The Bengals took over at their own 29. They had scored on 5 straight drives discounting the kneel-down and another touchdown would turn out the lights. Yet an illegal block set up 3rd and 12 from their own 27. Burrow was sacked. For the first time all game, the Raiders defense forced a punt.

The Raiders took over at their own 27 and had a drive that showed their very best and very worst. On the first play Carr went deep to Jackson for a 35 yard gain. The play was wiped out by offensive holding to set up 1st and 20. On 3rd and 11, Carr hit Renfrow for 16. Jacobs banged out runs of 8, 7 and 5 to set up 2nd and 5 at the Cincy 38. Jacobs got the carry again and got just enough. Yet offensive holding wiped out that gained and instead had the Raiders facing 2nd and 15 from the Cincy 48. Carr hit Jacobs for 7 and on 3rd and 8 hit Renfrow for 5. On 4th and 3 from the Cincinnati 36, a field goal try in less than ideal conditions would be 54 yards. Rich Bisaccia decided to go for it. Carr threw incomplete but defensive pass interference meant an 11 yard gain. Carr hit Edwards for 16. After an incompletion, Jacobs banged ahead for 8 in what should have been 3rd and goal at the one. Yet instead offensive holding meant 2nd and goal at the 19. Three offensive holding penalties by three different guys killed the drive. Carlson opened the fourth quarter by hitting a 34 yard field goal to get the Raiders within 23-16. The 13 play, 57 yard drive took 7 1/2 minutes off the clock but red zone inefficiencies that plagued the Raiders all season remained.

The Raiders defense had time to rest but it didn’t matter. The Bengals on 3rd and 1 from their own 34 saw Mixon get hit in the backfield but not wrapped up as he gained 2. On 3rd and 7 from their own 39, Burrow hit Chase for 19 and again for 11. Burrow then went to Tee Higgins for 10. On 3rd and 1 from the Raiders 10, Mixon got stopped short. The Bengals lined up to go for it on 4th and inches but it was a bluff to draw the defense offside. The defense didn’t bite. Zac Taylor took no chances, understanding a field goal would again make it a 2 score game. McPherson hit his 4th field goal from 28 to culminate the 13 play, 65 yard, 7 1/2 minute drive and put the Bengals up 26-16 with 6:49 left in regulation.

The Raiders took over at their own 23. On 2nd and 7, Carr hit Jacobs for a 19 yard gain. Yet an ineligible man downfield penalty on rookie Alex Leatherwood, who also had a holding penalty and a false start in this game, instead meant 2nd and 12. A completion lost a yard, but defensive holding meant an automatic first down. Carr hint hit Waller for 13 and Renfrow for 5. On 2nd and 5 from their own 44, Carr threw incomplete twice. With 4 1/2 minutes left down by 10, the Raiders were down to their last gasp. On 4th and 5, Carr went deep to Jackson for 26. Carr then went to Jacobs for 13 and Jones for 7. Yet on 2nd and 3 from the Cincy 10, Carr threw incomplete twice. Again, the Raiders could not finish a drive. Carlson hit his 4th field goal from 28. The Raiders again got back within 7 points but only 3 1/2 minutes remained and the Raiders only had one timeout plus the 2 minute warning. To have a chance, the Raiders had to stop Burrow, which they failed to do throughout the game.

After a touchback, a couple of conservative runs had the Bengals facing 3rd and 11 as the Raiders took their last timeout with 2:35 to play. The Bengals had a big decision to make. An incompletion would stop the clock and save the Raiders 30 to 40 seconds. Zac Taylor decided to trust his quarterback. Burrow completed a pass to Uzomah, but Uzomah was swarmed and held to a 7 yard gain as the clock hit the 2 minute warning. The defense got the stop. The Raiders had life. A short 33 yard punt gave the Raiders the ball at their own 35 with 1:51 to play and 0 timeouts. This was plenty of time for Carr and the rest of these cardiac Raiders.

Carr hit Jacobs for q 15 yard gain, with more tacked on for roughing the passer. The Raiders had moved 30 yards in only 7 seconds. A sack of Carr had the Raiders facing 3rd and 17 from the Cincinnati 42. Carr fired over the middle to Waller for 23 yards to the Cincy 19 as the clock ticked below one minute. On 3rd and 10, Carr fired to Jones over the middle for just enough. Carr then spiked the ball to stop the clock. 30 seconds remained. The Raiders had 2nd and goal at the 9. They would have 3 chances to tie the game or win it if Rich Bisaccia was crazy enough to go for a 2 point conversion. Carr fired over the middle incomplete. On 3rd and goal, Carr went to Renfrow but Renfrow slipped and the ball fell incomplete. With 17 seconds left, it came down to 4th and goal at the 9. The Raiders had lived on the edge for the entire season. Carr fired over the middle at the goal line into double coverage. Pratt made the interception. The Raiders fought to the bitter end, but came up one touchdown short. The Bengals won their first playoff game since the 1990 season. The Bengals travel to Tennessee for the Divisional round. 20 years after the Tuck Rule, the Raiders lost a close playoff game. Yet this time it was not stolen.

Any talk of Mark Davis blowing up the team and starting over from scratch must end now. This team had to overcome obstacles that when combined no team has ever had to deal with. The Jon Gruden mess was bad enough. The Henry Ruggs tragedy will reverberate far beyond football for years. Then Damon Arnette had his incident. This team lost their coach, their fastest wide receiver, and a promising cornerback. Rich Bisaccia and Derek Carr held the team together. This team needs a few pieces. Replacing Bisaccia is not the answer. Trading Carr should be a non-starter. Pay him. Let’s see what Mike Mayock can do as general manager with complete decision making authority over personnel. He started the season as the only general manager who answered to the coach. The NFL Draft is 3 months away. It will be held in Las Vegas. So will the Pro Bowl. As for the Super Bowl, the Raiders are a few pieces from being a legitimate contender. Al Davis would love this team. For 4 straight week, they took “Just win baby” to a new level. They went on the road in a hostile environment and freezing cold and almost pulled out a miracle win. Mr. Davis has a good team. He needs to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Keep it together and see if good can become great. Expectations will be high next year if this team is allowed to continue. They deserve to stay together. They’ve earned it. 26-19 Bengals

New England Patriots (6)(10-7) at Buffalo Bills (3)(11-6) was the Saturday night game. The Bills won the AFC East for the 2nd straight year, ending the Patriots nearly 19 years of dominance. These teams both won on the opposing team’s field to split the series.The Patriots won a 14-10 slugfest in Buffalo by running the ball 46 times as Mac Jones threw only 3 passes. Yet the Bills then went into New England and won 33-21. The temperature at kickoff was only 6 degrees. While both teams are used to bitter cold, only one team showed up early on. The Bills began at their own 30. Josh Allen hit Stefan Diggs for 9. Allen scrambled for a 26 yard gain. On 3rd and 3 from the New England 24, Allen ran again for 15. On 2nd and goal from the 8, Allen rolled out all the way to his right, threw a high pass to the corner, and somehow Dawson Knox came down with one knee down inbounds. One knee equals two feet and the Bills led 7-0. The Patriots moved from their own 13 to the Buffalo 34. Jones went to the end zone to tie the game but was intercepted by Micah Hyde for a touchback. The Bills took over at their own 20 and Allen went deep to Knox for 24. Ian McKenzie gained 7 and Devin Singletary added 6. Allen went to McKenzie for 19. Allen went to Diggs for 6 and ran for 5. Allen found Knox again for an 11 yard touchdown as the earlier 70 yard drive was followed by this 10 play, 80 yard, 5 minute drive to make it 14-0 Bills.

The Bills got it back in the second quarter at their 19. Singletary gained 9 and 3. Allen hit Singletary for 5 and Davis for 22. Allen ran for 8, with a defensive facemask on the next play adding 15. Singletary did the rest, running for 4, 9, one, and the 3 yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked but the 10 play, 81 yard, 6 minute drive had the Bills up 20-0. The Bills got it back at their own 11 with 3:44 left in the half and made it look easy. Allen hit McKenzie for 19 and then went deep to Diggs for 45. Allen ran for 9. At the 2 minute warning, Singletary ran for a 16 yard touchdown as the Bills were winning a laugher up 27-0. For the first time in their long franchise history, they scored 4 touchdowns on their first 4 possessions in a playoff game. The Patriots managed a field goal to end the half but still faced the largest postseason deficit in their franchise history.

The Patriots began the third quarter moving from their own 24 to just past midfield. Yet any hope of a comeback was quickly dashed when Jones had a pass batted up in the air and intercepted by Wallace at the Buffalo 42. On 3rd and 4 from their own 48, Allen hit Singletary for 9. McKenzie ran for 15. On 1st and 20 from the New England 34 after an offensive penalty, Allen went to Emmanuel Sanders for the touchdown. For the second time on the day, Tyler Bass had his extra point blocked, the only thing going wrong for the Bills on a day they led 33-3. They became the first team in the history of the Super Bowl era that began in 1967 to score a touchdown on their first 5 drives of a postseason game. The 1992 Bills came back from a 35-3 deficit, but this time the roles were reversed and their would be no comeback. The 1990 Bills won a game 51-3, but these Bills fell short. The Patriots managed a touchdown, but in the fourth quarter the Bills kept up the carpet-bombing.

The Bills from their own 23 saw Singletary run for 10. Allen hit Knox for 8. On 3rd and 1 from their own 42, Allen gained 3. Allen hit Beasley for 19. Early in the fourth quarter, Allen hit Davis for a 19 yard touchdown to make it 40-10 Bills. Special teams got in the act when Hyde returned a punt 52 yards and nearly broke it the distance before falling down at the New England 39. Allen went deep to Knox for a 38 yard gain down to the one. Sean McDermott pulled out all the stops as Allen threw a one yard touchdown to Doyle on a tackle eligible for a 47-10 Bills lead. The Bills scored a touchdown on their first 7 drives. The Patriots got one more garbage touchdown with 1:44 left. Mitch Trubisky came in place of Allen to take 3 knees to end the game. Those kneel downs were the only thing preventing the Bills from having a perfect offensive game. Critics will say they did not score a touchdown on every single drive, since the 3 knees count as a drive. Reality says this was close enough to perfect. The Bills did not punt, turn the ball over, or attempt a field goal. The Bills travel to Kansas City for the Divisional game. It has been a long time since a Bill Belichick team took such a royal beating. 47-17 Bills

Philadelphia Eagles (7)(9-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)(13-4) was the Sunday morning game. Early in the regular season, the Buccaneers went into Philadelphia, took a 28-7 third quarter lead, and coasted to a 28-22 win. The rematch in Tampa was not expected to be competitive. The Buccaneers were considered vulnerable due to some key injuries on offense, but the Eagles were overmatched. The Buccaneers got the ball first and set the tone right away. On the first play from scrimmage Vaughn went up the middle for a 17 yard gain. Roughing the passer a couple plays later added 15 more. On 3rd and 7 from the Philadelphia 40, Brady hit Mike Evans for 8. On 3rd and 2 from the Philadelphia 24, Brady hit Giovanni Bernard for 9. Bernard ran for a 2 yard touchdown to cap the 12 play, 75 yard, 5 minute drive and make it 7-0 Buccaneers. The Buccaneers got it back at their own 30. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for 13 and 8, Johnson for 17, and Evans for 16 and 8. Vaughn ran for a one yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Buccaneers after the first quarter. The Buccaneers got it back in the second quarter at their own 31 and moved on their third long drive. Yet this time despite 1st and goal at the 5, the Bucs went backward. On 3rd and goal from the 9, Brady was sacked. Ryan Succop hit the 34 yard field goal to have the Buccaneers up 17-0. 

The Eagles had their chances. They moved from their own 17 to a 4th and 10 at the Tampa 37. Rather than try a 55 yard field goal, Kevin Sirianni went for it and Jalen Hurts threw incomplete. Late in the half from the Tampa 21, Hurts went to the end zone but suffered an interception. In the third quarter the Eagles fumbled a punt to set up Tampa at the Philly 48. Brady hit Bernard for 22. On 3rd and 3 from the Philly 19, Brady hit Evans for 17 and Gronk for the 2 yard touchdown to make it 24-0 Buccaneers midway through the third quarter. The Eagles then moved after a touchback to a 4th and 3 at their own 46. Sirianni went for it and hurts had an open receiver. Shaq Barrett made a leaping one handed interception and returned it 17 yards to the Philadelphia 36. One play and 7 seconds later the Buccaneers were in the end zone again as Brady hit a wide open Evans for the touchdown to make it 31-0 Buccaneers after three quarters. The Eagles got a couple of late touchdowns to create the illusion of a respectable score. Brady completed a franchise record 29 passes. The Buccaneers host Arizona or the Rams in the Divisional round. 31-15 Buccaneers 

San Francisco 49ers (6)(10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3)(12-5) was the Sunday afternoon game. These teams have a long history of epic NFC Title Games that is well documented, having met in 5 of them. This time they meet in the Wildcard round under different circumstances. The 49ers had to scratch and claw and get an upset road win over the Rams to even make the playoffs. The Cowboys easily won the NFC East. Both teams had playmakers on offense while the Cowboys had the edge on defense. After a touchback, the first play from scrimmage saw the Cowboys jump into the neutral zone. Deebo Samuel gained 9 and one. Jimmy Garoppolo hit Benjamin for 17 and Brandon Aiyuk for 11. Mitchell ran for 13. Garoppolo hit Samuel for 15. Mitchell ran for a 4 yard touchdown to give the 49ers the 7-0 lead without a single 3rd down conversion. The 49ers got the ball back at their own 42 and moved to a 2nd and 5 at the Dallas 29. A sack of Garoppolo ended the drive but Robbie Gould hit a 53 yard field goal to make it 10-0 49ers. The 49ers got it back again at their own 22 and moved to a 3rd and 3 at the Dallas 24. Samuel only gained 2. Kyle Shanahan decided not to gamble, taking the points on the road. With 10 minutes left in the half, Gould hit the 40 yard field goal to cap the 12 play, 56 yard, 8 minute drive and make it 13-0 49ers. 

After 20 minutes of football, the Cowboys had 7 yards of total offense. From their own 33, they finally got going. Ezekiel Elliott ran for  pair of 5 yard gains, Tony Pollard added 8, and CeeDee Lamb gained 5 more. Dak Prescott hit Cedrick Wilson for 18. On 3rd and 5 from the San Francisco 20, Prescott hit Amari Cooper for the touchdown to get the Cowboys within 13-7. After touchback, Garoppolo went deep to Aiyuk for a 37 yard gain. On 3rd and 6 from the Dallas 34, Garoppolo threw incomplete. Gould hit a 52 yard field goal as the 49ers took a 16-7 lead to the locker rooms in front of a stunned home crowd at Jerryworld Metropolis. A sack of Prescott had the Cowboys facing 2nd and 28 from their own 19. Prescott was then intercepted by Williams at the Dallas 26. One play and 7 seconds later, Samuel was in the end zone on an end around as the 49ers led 23-7 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter. 

Late in the third quarter a sack of Prescott and a penalty had the Cowboys facing 2nd and 25 at their own 15. Prescott fired over the middle to Wilson for 24. On 3rd and 1 from their own 39, Prescott gained 4 as the third quarter ended. When Prescott threw incomplete on 3rd and 5 from their own 48, Mike mcCarthy gambled on a fake punt. Punter Anger hit Goodwin for 16. Yet the drive stalled again. On 4th and 7 from the Frisco 33, Mike McCarthy decided on a 51 yard field goal try rather than go for it. Greg Zuerlein was good but the Cowboys still trailed 23-10 with 12 minutes left in regulation. The 49ers took over at their own 26. From their own 44, Garoppolo threw high and was intercepted by Brown, who returned it 23 yards to the Frisco 28. Prescott hit Cooper for 11 and Lamb for 10. On 3rd and goal at the 5, Prescott ran for the touchdown. Left for dead, the Cowboys were right back in it down 23-17 midway through the fourth quarter. While many want to blame Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan blew 2 Super Bowls with 2 different teams by refusing to run the ball with a lead in the fourth quarter. 

The 49ers took over at their own 18 determined to give the game away. On 2nd and 7 from their own 42, Kyle Shanahan kept throwing rather than run the ball. Garoppolo threw a low ball to George Kittle, who fumbled it and the Cowboys recovered. Yet the 49ers were bailed out when officials properly ruled that the original pass hit the ground incomplete. On 3rd and 12 from their own 37, Garoppolo threw incomplete but defensive holding kept the drive going. On 3rd and 5 from their own 47, , Garoppolo hit Samuel for 4 as Leyton Vander Esch made the tackle of a lifetime to prevent the first down. The 49ers tried to get the Cowboys to jump offside on 4th and 1, but the attempt was half-hearted and the Cowboys didn’t bite. The Cowboys took over at their own 16 with 2:51 left left and all 3 timeouts plus the 2 minute warning. Prescott went to Lamb for a 38 yard gain. At the 2 minute warning, the Cowboys faced 3rd and 11 from the San Francisco 47, plenty of time. An incompletion meant 4th and 11. The 49ers defense brought the house and Prescott under all out pressure threw a deep ball. Wilson reached out but it bounced off his fingertips incomplete. 

The 49ers with 1:42 left needed a first down because the Cowboys had all 3 time outs. Yet on 2nd and 9, a defensive holding penalty nowhere near the play gave the 49ers a key first down. The Cowboys still had 2 timeouts. The Cowboys took their final timeout with 1:21 left and the 49ers facing 3rd and 10 from the Dallas 47. The idiotic thing to do would be to throw the ball. You don’t even think of throwing the ball in this situation. You run the ball. Every. Single. Time. Kyle Shanahan had Garoppolo line up in the shotgun. Was he going to blow a 3rd playoff game with one pass too many? Shanahan instead went to the bag of tricks. He called a run, a reverse. Samuel at first appeared to have the first down, but on further review Samuel was literally 1 to 2 inches short. This was something out of “Any Given Sunday.” The 49ers let the clock run down to 40 seconds and took a timeout. Everything came down to 4th and inches from the Dallas 43. Shanahan decided to go for it. Garoppolo took the quarterback sneak and with a great second effort got the first down. Yet a killer false start penalty instead meant 4th and 5. The Cowboys were alive. The punt meant to pin them back instead became a touchback. 

From their own 20 with 32 seconds left and 0 timeouts, the Cowboys needed a miracle. Prescott hit Wilson for 9, and Wilson lateraled to Lamb for 11 more. Lamb got out of bounds after the 20 yard gain with 24 seconds left. Prescott then hit Pollard for 10 to midfield, leaving 18 seconds. In 1975, it was Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach who threw the 50 yard Hail Mary to pull off a miracle win. Prescott could easily throw the ball 50 yards. Instead he threw a quick pass to Schultz for 9 more yards. 14 seconds still remained. A Hail Mary from the Frisco 41 would easily reach the end zone. The risk would be throwing it out the back of the end zone. Prescott had time for 2 shots to the end zone. What happened next will be argued forever. For reasons nobody will ever understand, Prescott decided on a quarterback draw. He raced up the middle for 17 yards as the clock ticked down. As the official rushed to set the ball, Prescott handed it to his center to snap without the official spotting it first. The rule is clear. Only the official can spot the ball. Prescott thought he spiked the ball with one second left, but he did not. The clock was at zeroes. There would be no Hail Mary attempt. Dumb play-calling by the 49ers no longer mattered because of even dumber play-calling by the Cowboys. In the battle of who wanted it least, the Cowboys won. Their reward is to be sent home. The 49ers are off to Green Bay, where in Week 3 they lost 30-28 on the final play of the game. 23-17 49ers

Pittsburgh Steelers (7)(9-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)(12-5) was the Sunday night game. Three weeks ago the Steelers went into Kansas City and got blasted 36-10. Charvarius Ward and L’Darius Sneed were both playing for the Chiefs, marking the very first game featuring a Charvarius and a L’Darius. More importantly, Juju Smith-Schuster returned to the Steelers after being on injured reserve for 12 weeks. Big Ben Roethlisberger is widely expected to retire at the end of this season, so a loss would make this his final game. Mike Tomlin knows defense and Walrus Andy Reid knows offense. Yet with Patrick Mahomes, Reid clearly had the advantage. Last time the Chiefs jumped to a quick lead and put the game away by halftime. This time it was much more competitive early on. The first quarter was scoreless. With 11 minutes left in the half and the Chiefs at their own 31, chaos ensued. Mycole Hardman took a wildcat snap and Handed off to Damien Williams. Williams fumbled the handoff but was lucky to get the ball back. Rather than stay down, he tried to get up with bodies all around him. Williams got hit and fumbled again. TJ Watt recovered the fumble and returned it 26 yards for a defensive touchdown. Earlier this year Watt tied the NFL single season sack record. Now he had his first touchdown as the Steelers led 7-0. 

All that did was make Mahomes mad. From his own 24, he went to Tyreek Hill for 20 and 2 and McKinnon for 14. Mahomes scrambled for 23. Mahomes then went to Travis Kelce for 15 and then hit McKinnon for 5 and again for the 4 yard touchdown to make it 7-7. The Steelers went 3 and out and the Chiefs got it back at their own 26. Mahomes connected with Kelce for a 31 yard gain. McKinnon gashed the defense for gains of 15 and 13. On 3rd and 7 from the Pittsburgh 12, Mahomes went to Pringle for the touchdown to make it 14-7 Chiefs with 2:12 left in the half. The Steelers again went 3 and out ad the Chiefs got it back at their own 20 with 52 seconds left. Mahomes hit McKinnon for 15 and Robinson for 27. Yet Mahomes was then sacked for a 10 yard loss to push them out of field goal range with 30 seconds left. An incompletion meant 3rd and 20 from the Pittsburgh 48 with 22 seconds left. Rather than a short pass to get back in field goal range, Andy Reid went for it all. Mahomes went bombs away to Kelce for the touchdown. The Chiefs led 21-7 at the intermission.

The Chiefs began the third quarter at their own 32 looking for the kill shot. McKinnon gained 12. Mahomes hit Robinson for 29. A sack had the Chiefs facing 3rd and 12 at the Pittsburgh 28. Mahomes went to McKinnon for 23. On 3rd and goal at the one, it was big man with football as Mahomes hit Allegretti on a tackle eligible touchdown for the 28-7 Chiefs lead. On the next play from scrimmage from their own 30 the Steelers fumbled and the Chiefs recovered at the Pittsburgh 29. Two plays later Mahomes threw a 31 yard touchdown pass to Hill.  Mahomes’s 5th touchdown pass of the night made it 35-7 Chiefs. The Steelers did manage an offensive touchdown late in the third quarter, but the Chiefs kept coming. 75 yards came easily and Andy Reid finished with a trick play. Kelce took the direct snap and threw the option pass to Pringle for the 2 yard touchdown to make it 42-14 Chiefs. The Steelers added a garbage touchdown. Mahomes finished 30 of 39 for 404 yards, 5 touchdowns and one interception. Roethlisberger tried to get one more touchdown before ending his 18 year career, but his receiver was tackled 2 yards short. Reid and Mahomes hugged Roethlisberger after the game.5 years from now, Big Ben is a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio. For now, the big blowout win has the Chiefs hosting Buffalo next week, making Andy Reid a most happy walrus indeed. 42-21 Chiefs

Arizona Cardinals (5)(11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (4)(12-5) was the Monday night game. Both teams got a superstar back from a devastating injury early in the season as JJ Watt returned for the Cardinals and Cam Akers came back for the Rams. The Rams missed out on the two seed by bowing a 17-0 home lead last week and losing 27-24 to archival San Francisco. Yet they still won the NFC West. Meanwhile, the Cardinals missed out on a chance to win the NFC West by losing their regular season finale as well. That is why the Cardinals were at the Rams instead of vice versa. The Cardinals started 10-2 but went 1-4 down the stretch. On the year the Cardinals went 8-1 on the road but only 3-5 at home. Kliff Kingsbury and Sean McVay both run high-powered offenses with creative play-calling. The winner of this final Wildcard playoff match would be at defending champion Tampa Bay next week. Each team won on the other team’s field. 

A field position game had the Cardinals punting on 4th and 11 form their own 8 and the Rams taking over at their own 48. Matthew Stafford hit O’Dell Beckham for 17. Akers ran for 7 and 2. On 3rd and 1 from the Rams 26, Stafford took the quarterback sneak and got the yard. On 2nd and 13 from the Arizona 28, Stafford hit Tyler Higbee for 22. On 3rd and goal at the 4, Stafford hit Beckham for the touchdown to cap the 10 play, 52 yard, 6 minute drive and make it 7-0 Rams. The Rams got it back at their own 32. After losing 2, Akers gained 15. Stafford then hit Higbee for 14 as the first quarter ended. In the second quarter on 3rd and 2 from the Arizona 33, Stafford went deep to Beckham for 31. On 3rd and goal at the one after getting stopped on a quarterback sneak, Stafford tried the sneak again and was ruled stopped again. Sean McVay challenged the spot and on further review it was ruled that Stafford barely broke the plane of the goal for the touchdown and the 14-0 Rams lead.

Midway through the second quarter a great punt pinned the cardinals at their own one yard line. Kyler Murray went to AJ Green for 22 yards, but Green got blasted and fumbled the ball out of bounds. McVay challenged the catch and on further review it was changed to an incompletion. On 3rd and 7 from his own 4, Murray was about to be sacked for a safety. At the last moment he threw an underhanded pass and was possibly going to be called for intentional grounding, making it a safety anyway. Yet a worse scenario occurred for Murray when Long intercepted the ball and glided 3 yards into the end zone. The defensive touchdown had the Rams up 21-0. The Rams began the third quarter facing 3rd and 3 at their own 32. Stafford hit Higbee for 10. On 3rd and 8 from their own 44, Stafford went deep incomplete but defensive holding meant 5 yards and an automatic first down. Sean McVay then went to the bag of tricks. Stafford fired a lateral across the field to Beckham, who then threw the option pass deep to Akers for a 40 yard gain. Stafford then fired to Kupp for a 7 yard touchdown to have the Rams cruising up 28-0. 

After a touchback, Murray hit Rondale Moore for 11. On 4th and 4 from their own 44 midway through the third quarter, they had to go for it. Murray ran for 7. Murray hit Christian Kirk for 7 and again for 23 with defensive unnecessary roughness adding 7 more. James Conner finished the 12 play, 75 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive with a 2 yard touchdown run. Kliff Kingsbury for some reason went for 2 and Murray hit Wesley for the conversion to get the Cardinals within 28-8. The Rams took over at their own 31. Stafford went bombs away to Van Jefferson for a 41 yard gain. On 3rd and 1 from the Arizona 15, Akers got stopped in the backfield for a 4 yard loss as the third quarter ended. Matt Gay began the fourth quarter by hitting a 37 yard field goal to make it 31-8 Rams.  After a touchback the Cardinals moved to the Rams 27 where a run went nowhere and Murray threw a pair of incompletions. On 4th and 10, Murray escaped the pressure and found Kirk for 16. Yet the effort was wasted by offensive holding. On 4th and 20,  Kliff Kingsbury brought in Matt Prater to kick a 55 yard field goal. Prater was good but the Cardinals still trailed 31-11 with 10 minutes left. The Rams bled the clock with a 6 minute drive. Gay hit a 46 yard field goal to make it 34-11 Rams with 4 1/2 minutes left. The Rams are off to Tampa for the Divisional game. 34-11 Rams.

The Tennessee Titans (1)(12-5) and Green Bay Packers (1)(13-4) had the bye week.

The Divisional playoff games are set.



Cincinnati Bengals (4)(10-7) at Tennessee Titans (1)(12-5) at 4:30 p.m.


San Francisco 49ers (7)(10-7) at Green Bay Packers (1)(13-4) at 8:00 p.m.



Los Angeles Rams (4)(12-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)(13-4) at 3:00 p.m.


Buffalo Bills (3)(11-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)(12-5) at 6:30 p.m.


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