By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and Baltimore exacted revenge on Tennessee for last year’s playoff upset, defeating the AFC South champion Titans. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson finally has the first playoff win of his career, with the former MVP overcoming a slow start to lead the team in rushing (136 yards) while also racking up 179 yards as a passer. The Ravens defense also deserves significant credit for doing the seemingly impossible: slow running back Derrick Henry. Baltimore committed to stopping the run, and the effort yielded tremendous results. Henry managed a meager 40 yards on 18 attempts. Baltimore is rolling right now, with six straight victories.
It only took a few seconds for the Cleveland Browns to take the lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, turning a botched snap into an easy touchdown. From there, it was all Browns on the scoreboard as Cleveland surged to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. The Steelers managed to rack up yardage and post points during the second half, but Cleveland’s lead proved to be insurmountable. Ben Roethlisberger was awful with four interceptions in what could prove to be his final game in the NFL. The Browns are moving on to face the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon.
A non-reversal on a late fumble set up a potentially controversial ending in the showdown between the Bills and Colts, but Buffalo’s defense prevented Indianapolis’s last-second scoring charge to hold on for the win. Josh Allen was in MVP form on Saturday, showcasing his rushing ability as well as multiple jaw-dropping throws. Stefon Diggs was on the receiving end of a few of Allen’s gems, erupting for 128 yards and a score. On the downside, Buffalo’s defense struggled to stop the run (163 combined yards for Colts’ running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines). All season, the Bills have struggled with missed tackles, and while it hasn’t doomed the team yet, the defense’s inefficient tackling is Buffalo’s lingering weakness heading into a second-round date against the Ravens.
Despite losing quarterback John Wolford early to a neck injury, forcing an injured Jared Goff back into the lineup, the Los Angeles Rams pulled off the upset over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday afternoon. The Rams received expectedly awful play from Goff, who struggled through a thumb injury, but L.A.’s defense picked up the slack. Led by a customarily dominant Aaron Donald, the Rams defense stifled Russell Wilson, generating consistent pressure while turning a mistake into a pick-six. It is unclear whether Wolford will be cleared for next week’s game or if Goff will be in a better position to be something other than terrible, but the Rams defense proved it is good enough to carry the team to victory and a looming match-up against the Packers.
Washington was without starting quarterback Alex Smith, though fill-in Taylor Heinicke was excellent in relief, passing for 306 yards and two scores while also adding a rushing TD that was an easy addition to the highlight reel. Unfortunately for Washington, it was not enough to defeat the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady passed for 381 yards and two scores, including 119 to receiver Mike Evans. Despite the win, Tampa Bay’s defense was far from impressive, and it was the failings of the Buccaneers that made Heinicke look like a star. Winning a road playoff game is a good start to the playoffs, but Tampa Bay needs a better showing from its defense in the coming weeks to be a Super Bowl threat.
Awaiting Tampa Bay next Sunday evening is a showdown against the New Orleans Saints. The teams have met twice already this season, with the Saints winning both contests. To punch a ticket to the second round, New Orleans made quick work of the Chicago Bears in a thoroughly uninspiring game. New Orleans’ offense was far from effective against a stout Bears defense, but the Saints did more than enough to outscore an overmatched Bears offense lead by Mitchell Trubisky. Like the Buccaneers, the Saints can celebrate the win, but New Orleans has to be better to be a genuine Super Bowl threat.