The first day of Super Wild Card Weekend brought last-second drama in Buffalo, an in-division upset and an unexpected QB duel for the GOAT.
From Buffalo’s win 25 years in the making to the Rams’ smothering defensive performance to Tom Brady’s first non-Patriots playoff win, here are our takeaways from Saturday’s NFL playoff action.
BILLS TAKE BIG STEP BUT CAN BE BETTER
As the ball hit the turf after Philip Rivers’ fourth-down heave with the clock hitting triple zeroes in Buffalo, the collective exhale of Bills Mafia could be heard across the continent.
The Bills survived an extra-large scare on Saturday afternoon to win their first post-season game in a quarter-century. It’s an accomplishment the Bills and their fans should enjoy — especially against a good Indianapolis Colts team that came ready to play — but the team will have to improve as the competition gets tougher in the coming rounds.
While a historic one, Saturday’s win was a mixed bag for Buffalo.
Josh Allen carried the Bills offence and showed exactly why he’s in the MVP conversation, but that offence struggled to find its rhythm at times – especially in the first half – and while the defence made big stops when it needed to, it also got burned consistently through the air and on the ground as a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead evaporated.
The hype the Bills entered the playoffs with is well-deserved after a stellar run to wrap the regular season. But a team with the expectations Buffalo has now needs to play better – the issues that let the Colts back into Saturday’s game won’t fly in a loaded AFC that will likely require a road win in Kansas City to get to the Super Bowl.
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES COST COLTS
Give credit to Frank Reich, Philip Rivers and the Colts.
Down 14 points early in the fourth quarter after giving up a 35-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs, Indianapolis looked down and out. But rather than crumble under the pressure, the Colts bounced back to score a pair of quick touchdowns and push the Bills to the edge.
But it was missed opportunities that ultimately lost the game for the Colts, who left points on the field too many times.
A questionable fourth-and-goal call near the goal line inside the two-minute warning of the first half gave the ball back to Buffalo with enough time on the clock for Josh Allen to drive the Bills 96 yards for a touchdown to take a halftime lead. That sequence swung momentum of the game.
And then, after a gruelling 14-play, 60-yard drive took up nearly half of the third quarter, rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship doinked a 33-yard field goal attempt off the uprights.
Ultimately, the Colts still had a chance to win the game on the Hail Mary attempt, but converting even one of those missed chances could’ve saved Indy’s season and given Rivers one more week of football.
Philip Rivers gets emotional talking about the Colts season.#ForTheShoe | @Colts
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) January 9, 2021
RAMS DEFENCE IS CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBRE
If you watched the Rams beat the Seahawks on Saturday, you watched the cliche “defence wins championships” come to life.
The Rams defence, led by first-year co-ordinator Brandon Staley, completely overwhelmed Russell Wilson and the Seattle offence, willing L.A. to an upset road win despite a worst-case scenario unfolding at quarterback.
Jared Goff, who had right thumb surgery just 12 days ago, was forced to take over duties under centre in the first quarter after his backup and wild-card starter John Wolford left the game with a scary injury.
Goff was clearly impacted by the thumb injury, completing just nine of 19 passes as the Rams’ offence struggled throughout the game. But it didn’t matter much because Staley’s defence held the Seahawks offence to just 278 yards, allowed only 11 first downs, racked up five sacks and scored on a ridiculous pick-6 by Darious Williams.
Even more impressive is that the Rams were able to continue that dominant performance without their best player in the second half after All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald left with a rib injury.
The condition of the two-time defensive player of the year is a concern with a road game in the divisional round looming. But, at full strength, L.A.’s defence has the talent to take over games and has made these Rams a factor in these playoffs… even with their QB situation.
ONCE-PROLIFIC SEAHAWKS OFFENCE SPUTTERS
It wasn’t all that long ago the Seahawks were scoring 30-plus points a game and Russell Wilson was an MVP frontrunner, but it sure felt like ages ago on Saturday.
There’s no other way to put it: Seattle’s offence was brutal in its wild-card loss to the Rams.
Wilson had one of his worst playoff performances, the offence had 14 drives but managed more than 30 yards in just two of them, and it converted only two of 14 third-down opportunities. Tack on the five sacks allowed and some awful penalties, and you get a season that once had so much promise coming to an unceremonious end.
The Seahawks’ struggles on offence are nothing new – Seattle averaged just 22 points and fewer than 300 yards over its last three games – but the wild-card loss will lead to many off-season questions for Pete Carroll and Company, who appeared to have unlocked the best of what this offence had to offer only for it all to end with the group falling flat.
AGELESS BRADY MAKES MORE PLAYOFF HISTORY
It wouldn’t be a Tom Brady playoff game without another post-season record being broken.
On Saturday night, Brady became the oldest player in NFL history to throw a post-season touchdown at 43 years, 159 days.
The future Hall of Famer surpassed current Hall of Famer George Blanda to set the record, and even got to show off the impact of the TB12 diet…
Brady had a solid game in Tampa’s closer-than-expected win at Washington, completing 22 of 40 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. The victory gives Brady his 31st career playoff win, extending a record, and his first post-season win as a member of a team other than the New England Patriots.
Up next for the Bucs? A potential rematch against their division rivals, the New Orleans Saints, who have beaten Tampa twice already this season.
HEINICKE HANGS WITH THE GOAT
The pre-game news that Alex Smith would be inactive for Washington’s playoff game came as a shock and disappointment. Not only did Washington’s chances at an upset seemingly take a hit, but one of the best stories of the NFL season wouldn’t conclude with a post-season appearance.
Enter Taylor Heinicke.
The 27-year-old, who served as a backup in the XFL before joining Washington’s practice squad in early December, not only filled in admirably for Smith but hung in a wild-card game with Tom Brady, the greatest of all-time.
Heinicke made plays all night, with both his arm and his legs, but none were more impressive than a ridiculous eight-yard scramble at the end of the third quarter that he capped off with a diving touchdown.
Adding to his legend, Heinicke then left the game with an apparent shoulder injury, his night seemingly over, only to return triumphantly and throw an absolute dime of a touchdown.
In the end, Washington wasn’t able to deliver the shock upset to football fans, but Heinicke’s surprising performance made the game so much more fun to watch than we all expected.