We’re officially one week closer to the Super Bowl now that the Divisional Round is in the record books. I’m going to briefly recap and run through all four games here and highlight some of the biggest performances.
The two best teams won on Saturday. The Kansas City Chiefs are the first seed in the AFC and they played the sixth seed Indianapolis Colts. The Los Angeles Rams are the second seed in the NFC and they played the fourth seed Dallas Cowboys. The Chiefs and Rams were two of the three most dominant teams during the regular season. While the Colts were on a winning streak going into the game on Saturday, the Chiefs actually had a more complete game than they usually do. As for the Cowboys, only their fans thought they were serious Super Bowl contenders. The Rams have the largest collection of talent and big names on their roster. It would have been shocking if they found a way to lose.
Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs
I know to Indianapolis Colts were on a hot streak headed into the week, but the Kansas City Chiefs were clearly the best team during that game. The Chiefs defense, a unit that has been picked apart and criticized all season long, were without Eric Berry and still had perhaps their best game yet. I wouldn’t say the Chiefs pass rush overwhelmed the Colts offensive line, but they did sack Andrew Luck three times and record six quarterback hits. Luck was sacked just 18 times during the regular season, an average of 1.125 sacks per game. Justin Houston led the charge with two sacks.
The Chiefs secondary also made an appearance. Even without Berry, the defense held Luck to just 203 yards through the air and a 52.77 completion percentage. During the regular season, Luck completed 67.3% of his passes for 287.1 yards per game. The Chiefs also recorded 11 passes defensed, a handful of which were batted down at the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Chris Jones knocked down three such passes.
Patrick Mahomes actually didn’t even throw for a touchdown on Saturday. All of the Chiefs scores came on the ground or on field goals. Four different Chiefs, including Mahomes, ran for touchdowns and kicker Harrison Butker added one field goal during the contest. The ground game was instrumental in the win. Kansas City ran for a total of 180 yards, which more than doubled the 87 rushing yards the Colts put up.
Both Kansas City’s offense and defense were dominant early on. They opened up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, made it 24-7 at halftime, and stayed strong through the end of the game where the score went final at 31-13. The Colts did have a late-game push that was thwarted by a missed field goal and extra point by future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams
The Rams offense was dependent on the run game all day. Jared Goff put up another shaky performance, completing just 15 passes out of 28 attempts for 186 yards. But his troubles didn’t matter because both C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley rushed for over 100 yards. Anderson carried the ball 23 times for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Gurley ran 16 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. Goff did add a crucial 11-yard run to ice the game in the fourth quarter, but he clearly wasn’t the cornerstone of the offense. The Rams finished the game with 48 total rushes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. That’s more than twice the total rushes by Dallas (22) and over five times as many total rushing yards. The Cowboys finished with just 50 rushing yards on the game.
The Cowboys offense, on the other hand, relied almost solely on their quarterback, Dak Prescott. While neither defense was dominant or posted great numbers, the Rams succeeded in containing Ezekiel Elliott. The league’s leading rusher in 2018 finished with 20 carries for only 47 yards. That averages out to a measly 2.3 yards per carry. He did have a rushing touchdown though. Because Elliott wasn’t a major factor, the bulk of the offense went through Prescott who completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown. He finished the game with a respectable 99.2 quarterback rating. He also ran for a touchdown but only had two carries for three yards, further displaying Dallas’ inability to run the ball.
I mentioned that the Rams defense didn’t do much outside of stopping the run, well the Dallas defense accomplished even less. Dallas recorded zero sacks, just two tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and only one quarterback hit. On the other hand, the Rams defense recorded just one sack, six tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and three quarterback hits. The biggest number in all those stats are the tackles for loss, which show how Los Angeles was able to bottle up Elliott and control the Cowboys game plan.
Dallas did get an early lead in the game, scoring first and holding the lead until the second quarter, but the Rams poured on 17 points in the second quarter to bring the game score to 20-7 at halftime. The score at the end of the third was 23-15. Both teams scored touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make the final score 30-22.
The New England Patriots did what they always seem to do, find a way to beat down any team they face in the playoffs. The game against the Los Angeles Chargers was never close. If anything, it seems like Bill Belichick wanted to remind the rest of the league that his team is still a dynasty and have had a stranglehold on the AFC for a while. Anyone hoping for an upset, which was almost anyone who wasn’t a Patriots fan, was severely disappointed. The New Orleans Saints ended Nick Foles’ second magical playoff run. Despite getting behind early, the team bounced back thanks to a huge performance by Michael Thomas and some late-game luck. Just like on Saturday, all the higher seed teams won on Sunday.
Los Angeles Chargers @ New England Patriots
Many people expected the red hot Chargers and Philip Rivers would dethrone Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC. Boy were they wrong. The Patriots scored on all four of their first possessions, putting up 14 points in both of the first two quarters. At halftime, Brady was 23 of 29 for 233 yards and a touchdown. Rookie running back Sony Michel carried the ball 16 times for 105 yards and three scores in the first half alone. Julian Edelman already had seven receptions for 107 yards and James White had ten receptions for 71 yards by that point as well.
Just before the half Desmond King, the Chargers Second Team All-Pro return man, muffed the Patriots first punt of the day and it was recovered by New England. That gave way to Michel’s third rushing touchdown of the game. Everything was going wrong for the Chargers in the first half. The Patriots actually had more first downs (24) than the Chargers had plays (23).
The Chargers only score in the first half was on a deep 43-yard shot to Keenan Allen, who was left all alone in the Patriots secondary. Rivers was held to just 121 yards in the first half. He completed seven of 16 pass attempts and had that touchdown to Allen. Running back Melvin Gordon carried the ball six times in the first half for just 17 yards, 2.8 yards per carry.
The second half didn’t offer anything new. The Chargers did put up 21 more points and the Patriots added only six, but the gap was too big for the Chargers to bridge. Philip Rivers finished the game with 25 completions on 51 attempts for 331 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Gordon had only nine carries for 15 yards and a touchdown. For the Patriots, Brady completed a total of 34 passes on 44 attempts for 343 yards and a touchdown. Michel finished the game with 24 carries for 129 yards and the three touchdowns he got in the first half. Edelman finished with nine receptions and 151 yards. White had 15 receptions for 97 yards. The Patriots defense sacked Rivers twice and recorded seven quarterback hits. Brady wasn’t sacked during the game and the Chargers defense only recorded two quarterback hits.
Antonio Gates was targeted several times during the day, and he put up good numbers. With about a minute left in the game, Gates caught a touchdown. The 38-year-old has likely played his last game in the NFL, it was fitting that his final catch was a touchdown. He finished with five receptions for 41 yards and that score.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints
The game started out just about as well as it could have for the Eagles. On the first play of the game, Drew Brees threw an interception. Nick Foles capitalized on the mistake, throwing a 37-yard touchdown to Jordan Matthews. I bet the team’s pretty happy they went out and brought the fifth-year receiver back.
The Eagles added another touchdown before the end of the first quarter, jumping out to a 14-0 lead. The Saints came roaring back in the second quarter thanks in large part to a successful fake punt. New Orleans scored 10 unanswered points in the second quarter and drew within one score at halftime. Out of the four games played this weekend, this game was the closest and most competitive through the first half.
The Saints carried their momentum into the second half. They scored a touchdown in the third quarter, the sole points scored in the third and took a 17-14 lead. They added a field goal in the fourth and all the while the Eagles failed to score.
A Wil Lutz miss with roughly three minutes left gave the Eagles hope. The score was 20-14 and the Eagles had one timeout. Foles had all the time he needed to work his magic, but Philadelphia’s hopes were sunk when a pass went through Alshon Jeffery’s hands and was intercepted by Marshon Lattimore. It was Lattimore’s second interception of the game. The turnover, plus some hard running by Alvin Kamara, ended the game and the Saints walked out with a 20-14 victory.
The Eagles only sacked Brees twice and their first quarter interception was the only turnover they forced during the game. Brees finished the game with 28 completions on 38 attempts for 301 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. The Saints as a team ran for 137 yards on 31 carries. The Eagles only managed 49 yards on 16 carries. Thomas torched a beat-up Eagles secondary for 12 receptions, 171 yards, and a touchdown. He really was the difference in the game.