Tennessee Titans 22, Kansas City Chiefs 21
What you need to know
- The Titans offense started sluggishly but finished strong as Marcus Mariota
led them to three straight touchdown drives in the second half to put up 19 unanswered points on their way to their first playoff win in 14 years. Marcus Mariota
made big plays when it counted, especially with his legs as he rushed for 46 yards and picked up a number of critical third downs. Mariota's first career post-season touchdown pass ended up being to himself on a wild play from six-yards out. He would later find Eric Decker
in the fourth quarter from 22-yards out for the game-winning touchdown. Delanie Walker
would lead the team in receiving as he was Mariota's go-to option on third downs. Derrick Henry
was the star of this offense though, amassing 191 total yards and a touchdown as he had his way with the Chiefs defense all day long.
Kansas City Chiefs
- The Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Tennessee Titans 22-21, in the opening round of the playoffs on Saturday. Quarterback Alex Smith
completed 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, while also rushing four times for 13 yards. Running back Kareem Hunt
rushed 11 times for 42 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for five yards. Tyreek Hill
led the Chiefs in receiving, catching seven passes for 85 yards. Tight end Travis Kelce
got off to a fast start catching four passes for 66 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injury. Kelce’s absence drastically affected the Chiefs ability to move the ball and they were unable to put any points on the board in the second half.
QB Marcus Mariota
, 70 offensive snaps, Pass: 19 - 31 - 205 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 8 - 46 - 0, Rec: 1 - 6 - 1 (1 targets) - Marcus Mariota
got off to a very slow start in his first ever playoff appearance. He looked to have a lack of focus as he was off-target on a number of his passes, including a very poorly thrown ball into double-coverage intended for Delanie Walker
that resulted in his first and only interception of the game. Mariota also took a massive hit just before the two-minute warning, after which it was surprising to see he could even walk based on how hard he went down. It wasn't until late in the first half that the Titans offense actually did something, with Mariota making a few nice passes to set up a long field goal going into halftime. The second half was a big turnaround for Mariota, as he led three consecutive touchdown drives of at least 60 yards each to put up 19 unanswered points on the Chiefs. Mariota used his legs to convert a huge third-and-nine on their first drive of the second half as he tucked it to run 11 yards up the middle before smartly sliding to avoid contact. Later on that same drive, Mariota had another nice run on a designed keeper he took up the middle for 10 yards to get the Titans to the four-yard line. One of the wildest plays of the season then capped off this spectacular drive as Mariota scrambled around in the pocket, first going right, then switching directions to the left side of the field before launching a pass just as he appeared to be crossing the line of scrimmage. Mariota's pass was batted by a leaping Darrelle Revis, but the ball deflected right back into the hands of Mariota before he dove towards the pylon for what would inevitably be ruled as a touchdown. Mariota's first career post-season touchdown pass ended up actually being to himself! One of his best runs of the day, though, came in the fourth quarter as Mariota was facing third-and-nine with no open receivers. With no options, he decided to take it down the sideline himself, cutting back towards the middle of the field to barely stay in bounds for a 17-yard run and the first down. Later in the drive, Mariota overthrew a wide-open Corey Davis
down the sideline, but he followed that play up with an impressive throw to Eric Decker
for a 22-yard touchdown to take the lead for the Titans. As the Titans tried to wind down the game inside of the two-minute warning, while not a typical play for a quarterback, it is worth noting that Mariota got his hands dirty here by throwing an impressive block for Derrick Henry
to set up the 22-yard run that would inevitably put the win on ice for the Titans.
RB Derrick Henry
, 68 offensive snaps, Rush: 23 - 156 - 1, Rec: 2 - 35 - 0 (2 targets) - Derrick Henry
's performance last week was night and day versus what we saw from him in Week 17 against the Jaguars. With 23 carries and two receptions, Henry amassed 191 total yards and a touchdown on what ended up being the best overall game of his career. Henry ran for seven or more yards three times before halftime as he had a respectable half, but he did put the ball on the ground once near the end of the first quarter. Thankfully for Henry, the fumble was knocked out of bounds by a Chiefs defender. Henry really got going in the second half though, where 149 of his total yards came. He started with a bang by hauling in a screen pass that he effortlessly took for 29 yards to move along the Titans' first touchdown drive of the game. Henry followed that screen pass up with a 13-yard run, evading at least three tackles before spinning for an extra few yards at the end of the play. Henry would have capped off this spectacular drive with a goal-line plunge for the touchdown, but Delanie Walker
got called for a false start that negated the score. Henry did manage to find the end zone later in this game though as he had a magnificent 35-yard run early in the fourth quarter. With the help of a late audible to by Marcus Mariota
to switch the run from the right to left side, Henry read his blocks perfectly as he weaved his way into the open field, accelerating beyond the Chiefs safety pursuing him as he made his way to the end zone. Henry then did an admirable job putting this game on ice for the Titans as he accounted for two big first downs within the final three minutes, including a 22-yard run with 1:52 remaining that virtually wrapped up the win.
WR Corey Davis
, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 35 - 0 (7 targets) - Corey Davis
finished second in targets last week with seven total, hauling in four of them for just 35 yards. His longest play of the game went for 12 yards on a short route designed for Davis on which the slot receiver screened the cornerback on Davis, leaving Davis open to haul in the pass and fight downfield for some extra yards after the catch. Davis should have had a 22-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter as he was wide open running down the sideline, but Marcus Mariota
grossly overthrew him before hitting Eric Decker
with the touchdown strike on the very next play.
WR Eric Decker
, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 21 - 1 (5 targets) - Eric Decker
's struggles continued early in this game as he couldn't haul in either of his first two targets while committing a very ugly drop early in the second quarter. This pass was thrown right at Decker and bounced off his hands on a play that would have converted a third down for the Titans. Decker would redeem himself in a big way later in this game though as he ran an impressive post pattern right down the seam and hauled in a perfectly thrown pass with a defender hanging on his back as he crossed the goal line. This touchdown reception was just Decker's second of the year, but it was one of the biggest touchdowns of the season for the Titans as this inevitably would be the game-winner that moved them forward in the playoffs.
WR Rishard Matthews
, 60 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 15 - 0 (2 targets) - Rishard Matthews
was targeted only twice, hauling in one catch for 15 yards midway through the second quarter while lined up against Darrelle Revis. Matthews was facing coverage from Marcus Peters for most of the day, so it was tough for him to get open. Matthews now has just four receptions in his last three games as he is beginning to fall under the radar for the run-heavy Titans offense that is focusing more on Delanie Walker
in big passing situations.
TE Delanie Walker
, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 74 - 0 (8 targets) - Delanie Walker
finished as the top receiver for the Titans, leading the team in targets, receptions, and yards by a very wide margin. Walker made some big-time plays early in this game as he hauled in four of his six receptions for 51 of his 74 yards before halftime. His longest play of the game on a simple slant route down the middle that Walker took for 22 yards midway through the second quarter. Walker may have only had two receptions in the second half, but both were extremely important plays with each catch coming on a third down. The first was a hook route for 14 yards on third-and-10 to keep the Titans' second touchdown drive alive. His next and what would be his final reception of the game was on third-and-three where Walker simply ran to the first down marker and turned around, easily nabbing a well-thrown ball from Mariota before falling forward for what would be a nine-yard gain.
QB Alex Smith
, 58 offensive snaps, Pass: 24 - 33 - 264 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 13 - 0 - Alex Smith
completed 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, while also rushing four times for 13 yards. Smith got off to a hot start, leading the Chiefs to a 21-3 lead at halftime before being stonewalled by an aggressive Titans defense in the second half. This could very well be the last game that Smith plays in a Chiefs uniform, and it is one that is going to leave a bad taste in his mouth as the game was there for the taking for Kansas City. Smith came out firing in the first half, leading the Chiefs to a touchdown on their second and third possessions, and then scoring another touchdown right before halftime. Smith was able to find Tyreek Hill
for a 45 yard pass in which Hill ran a crossing route from the left side of the formation. Smith hit him perfectly in stride allowing Hill to get to the outside and turn the ball up the field. On the very next play, Smith connected with Travis Kelce
for a 27 yard gain that set up a one yard run by Kareem Hunt
. Smith had success attacking the Titans cornerbacks on crossing and drag routes where Kelce, Hill and DeMarcus Robinson
were able to use their speed to beat their defenders to the outside. Smith came back with a touchdown pass to Travis Kelce
on the Chiefs second possession, as well as Robinson on another crossing route right before half time. However, once Kelce went out with an injury, the Titans defense buckled down, put pressure on Smith and bullied the Chiefs receivers at the line of scrimmage. It was for this reason that the Chiefs were unable to score in the second half and put the game away. The Chiefs will certainly have suitors for Smith’s services in the off-season, and it makes sense that they will move on with 1st round pick Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings.
RB Kareem Hunt
, 41 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 42 - 1, Rec: 3 - 5 - 0 (3 targets) - Kareem Hunt
rushed 11 times for 42 yards and a touchdown, while also catching three passes for five yards. Hunt was effective in the first half, scoring on a one yard touchdown plunge for the game’s first points, but was quickly phased out of the game plan by Andy Reid. Stop if you have heard this one before, but Reid and the Chiefs coaches should shoulder much of the blame for the loss to the Titans. While the Chiefs came out with a solid attack, predicated on attacking the edge of the Titans secondary, they also went away from that strategy once they were up 21-3. Hunt only managed to rush for 17 yards after halftime, and this was a big reason why the Chiefs lost the battle of field position, and allowed the Titans to score 19 unanswered points in the second half. Had the Chiefs just stuck to giving Hunt the ball, they would have surely been able to grind out at least a second half field goal, which would have been the difference between winning and losing this playoff game. As the NFL’s leading rusher, Hunt at least deserved the chance to put the Chiefs on his back after Travis Kelce
was injured, however Reid did not give him that chance.
WR Tyreek Hill
, 56 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 14 - 0, Rec: 7 - 87 - 0 (11 targets) - Tyreek Hill
led all Kansas City receivers in yards, targets and receptions, catching seven of 11 targets for 87 yards. Hill also gained 14 yards on his only carry of the game. Hill had an up and down game, gaining 84 yards on four catches in the first half, including a 45 yard gain that set up the opening score of the game for the Chiefs. Hill ran a shallow crossing route from the left side of the formation, and Alex Smith
hit him in stride as he hit the right hash mark. Hill showed off his incredible speed by turning the corner and bursting up the sideline, beating the Titans secondary all the way down to the Tennessee 26 yard line. It wasn’t all good for Hill though, as he dropped a long pass that Alex Smith
put on the money down the left sideline where Hill ran a straight go-route, but initially turned to look over the wrong shoulder before dropping the ball. Hill was targeted five times in the second half but only managed three yards on three catches in the third and fourth quarters. The Chiefs desperately needed a big play from Hill to jump start their stagnant offense, but once Travis Kelce
was lost due to a concussion, the Titans secondary bracketed Hill with double coverage and prevented him from getting into space.
TE Travis Kelce
, 29 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 66 - 1 (4 targets) - Travis Kelce
caught four passes on four targets for 66 yards and a touchdown before exiting the game late in the second quarter due to a concussion. Kelce was unable to come back in the game, and his absence played a big part in the Chiefs offense stalling for the entire second half. Kelce was able to stretch out the Titans secondary and linebackers by beating them to the edge on crossing patterns and drag routes. His 27 yard reception set up Kareem Hunt
’s one yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Kelce then came back on the very next possession, scoring a touchdown and extending the Chiefs lead to 14-0. Kelce lined up on the left edge of the offensive line and made a quick stutter step before exploding past the Titans linebackers up the seam. Alex Smith
hit him in stride, but Kelce was so wide open due to the Titans linebackers underestimating his speed, it was a throw that any NFL quarterback could make. While Smith has been very good for Kelce’s career, it will be exciting to see what a quarterback like Mahomes, who has a much bigger arm can do for Kelce’s totals in 2018, assuming the Chiefs move on from Smith.
Buffalo Bills 3, Jacksonville Jaguars 10
What you need to know
- Buffalo's season came to an end against Jacksonville on Sunday. LeSean McCoy
played well after last week's ankle injury but got very little help. Buffalo's wide receivers struggled, and Tyrod Taylor
did not elevate above their play. Charles Clay
was limited with a hamstring injury which forced him to miss time during the game.
- The Jaguars offense was absolutely anemic against the Bills, outside of Blake Bortles
turning into Michael Vick
on a handful of scrambles. They ran the ball well on their lone touchdown drive but outside of that, it truly was a performance that is less than forgettable. Only one Jaguar receiver even caught a pass!
QB Tyrod Taylor
, 73 offensive snaps, Pass: 17 - 37 - 134 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 7 - 27 - 0 - Tyrod Taylor
struggled in the passing game against a very good Jacksonville secondary. Taylor threw an interception that was not his fault on a ball that was deflected by TE Logan Thomas
. Taylor did not get help from his teammates, with Zay Jones
and Deonte Thompson
notably struggling, but did not do a lot to create in the passing game. Taylor's best chance at a touchdown was a fade where Kelvin Benjamin
was called for offensive pass interference. Taylor also overthrew Nick O'Leary up the seam in the red zone. The game is a feather in the cap of Taylor critics who will be quick to the criticisms Tony Romo
expressed during the game about Taylor's inability to throw the ball on the deep and perimeter. Taylor left the game on a bad looking hit that was a scary where he looked like he was unconscious for a brief time. Taylor was able to walk off under his own power, but entered the concussion protocol.
QB Nathan Peterman
, 4 offensive snaps, Pass: 1 - 3 - 14 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 4 - 0 - Nathan Peterman
came into the game in relief of Tyrod Taylor
, and performed predictably poor. He struggled with pocket presence, taking an intentional grounding in the two-minute drill, then throwing a game ending interception. The two times Peterman was relied on by the Bills this season he hurt their playoff chances against the Chargers then ended their playoff appearance.
RB LeSean McCoy
, 57 offensive snaps, Rush: 19 - 75 - 0, Rec: 6 - 44 - 0 (8 targets) - LeSean McCoy
suited up against Jacksonville after being a limited participant in practice late in the week with a sprained ankle. McCoy was handled with kid gloves early, rotating with Mike Tolbert
, but did not appear limited in his play by the ankle injury. McCoy's best success came on interior runs where Buffalo's offense found its best success against the strong Jacksonville defense. McCoy was able to get loose for a big catch and run in the second half that had the potential to be a scoring drive, but the play was called back on a hold by Deonte Thompson
on what was likely an inconsequential block. McCoy was arguably the most important non-QB to a team's offense in the NFL this season, and has not shown to be slowing down entering his age 30 season.
RB Mike Tolbert
, 20 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 15 - 0, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (1 targets) - Mike Tolbert
worked to spell LeSean McCoy
during the game. He ran physically, and was able to run through a tackler on a truck stick type run for the second consecutive week. Despite a yeoman like effort from Tolbert this season, the Bills figure to add to the running back position in the offseaon.
WR Deonte Thompson
, 65 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 9 - 0, Rec: 2 - 23 - 0 (6 targets) - Deonte Thompson
struggled against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was called for a bad holding call that negated a huge gain by LeSean McCoy
. Thompson functioned as the deep threat in the Buffalo offense for the latter portion of the season, but was not able to get open deep in a game played very close to the vest.
WR Zay Jones
, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 20 - 0 (4 targets) - Zay Jones
's disappointing rookie season was encapsulated in Buffalo's loss to Jacksonville. He had a ball he should have caught in tight coverage where he was overwhelmed by the physical corner play at the catch point. Jones struggled with drops all season, after entering the NFL with reliable hands. Jones struggled to get open and was overwhelmed by the speed and the strength of NFL secondaries.
WR Kelvin Benjamin
, 64 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (2 targets) - Kelvin Benjamin
struggled against a stout Jacksonville secondary. Benjamin's most important opportunity was an end zone fade, where he was called for offensive pass interference. The play was called on first down inside the five yard line, and the penalty ultimately forced Buffalo to settle for a field goal.
TE Charles Clay
, 37 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 15 - 0 (5 targets) - Charles Clay
left the game for a brief period with a hamstring injury but was able to return. Clay was unable to create against Jacksonville's defense and did not appear to be at full strength. For this Buffalo team to win, Clay needed to create mismatches in the passing game which he was unable to do against Jacksonville on Sunday.
QB Blake Bortles
, 60 offensive snaps, Pass: 12 - 23 - 87 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 10 - 88 - 0 - Bortles played a terrible game when it game to passing the ball. He looked scared in the pocket, sailed passes, and was generally inaccurate and ineffective. He didn't attempt any passes downfield and threw several near interceptions. With that said, he threw the games only touchdown, a perfect bullet pass off play-action into the back of the end zone. His running ability was also the only reason the Jaguars were able to move the ball all game. He showed good awareness for when to pull the ball down and run as well as toughness. The team started using more zone-read plays in the second half which should be a staple going forward.
RB Leonard Fournette
, 51 offensive snaps, Rush: 21 - 57 - 0, Rec: 3 - 21 - 0 (5 targets) - Outside of one drive where he had gains of 9 and 15 yards, Fournette was not able to get anything going. This was mostly because of the Bills selling out completely on the run. They filled the box and sent run blitzes at every turn, hitting Fournette before he could get to the LOS on several attempts. Fournette got 2 goal line carries but could not convert either into a touchdown. He showed good toughness on runs as well as better burst than past weeks. His best run came on a toss play where the hole opened and he exploded downfield. He lined up at wide receiver on a few plays, seeing one target, which he dropped. From the backfield, he still looks comfortable as a pass catcher and is able to gain good YAC.
WR Dede Westbrook
, 36 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 48 - 0 (8 targets) - Westbrook was the only Jaguars wideout who caught a pass. He showed terrific hands and quickness, getting easy separation all day. He picked up two first downs thanks to his YAC ability. Every catch was a short target that let him run after the catch but he was the only wideout who was able to make a play on the day. He also prevented an interception by breaking up an awful Bortles pass.
WR Marqise Lee
, 36 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets) - Lee did not see any pass targets. He did receive one carry on an end-around.
WR Keelan Cole
, 32 offensive snaps (1 targets) - Cole saw one target on the game and it was not an accurate pass. He couldn't make a play because of the quarterback play.
WR Allen Hurns
, 31 offensive snaps (1 targets) - Hurns was thrown at twice, though neither was a catchable pass. Like the other Jaguar wideouts, the QB play prevented him from making an impact.
Carolina Panthers 26, New Orleans Saints 31
What you need to know
- A lack of true playmaking options and an allergy to touchdowns in the red zone were the undoing of the Panthers in this matchup. Cam Newton
played a pretty solid game, taking what was given by the defense and mixing in some terrific strikes when the opportunities arose. The ground game struggled to get going, with the Saints plugging the gaps well. Christian McCaffrey
was much more involved as a receiver than a runner, and scooted down the field for a 56-yard touchdown along the way. Kaelin Clay
dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have given the Panthers a 7-0 lead, while the other receivers ñ apart from Olsen and Funchess - struggled to make their presence felt. Greg Olsen
dominated all over the field and clicked well with Newton throughout.
New Orleans Saints
- The Saints survived a late scare from the Panthers on Wild Card Weekend to see another day against the Vikings in Minnesota. The newly improved defense was able to step up when needed at the end of the game, but did give up over 400 yards of total offense and allowed a late rally to make the game much closer than it was in the first half. The running game was non-existent, but Drew Brees
came to the rescue as the Saints have now beaten the Panthers 3 times in the same season. Ted Ginn
put up a big game against his former team and showed them the explosive playmaking ability they let go. The Saints lost to the Vikings in week 1 on Monday Night Football but have found their identity on offense and continue to have a revitalized defense. Look for a great matchup next weekend in Minnesota as the Saints try and avenge their early loss and move on to the NFC Championship Game.
QB Cam Newton
, 73 offensive snaps, Pass: 24 - 40 - 349 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 8 - 37 - 0 - Coping as best as he could with a depleted receiving corps, Cam Newton
showed vast improvement from last week against Atlanta. The Panthers looked to get him into a rhythm with some zone read plays and designed runs early, but the Saints kept these under wraps for the most part. It was as a passer, especially towards the end of the game, when Newton shone. A pinpoint pass to Greg Olsen
on the sideline - low and away from the defender ñ augured well for what was to come. The Panthers offense, as it has all season, consisted of little chunks of yardage and Newton was often asked to convert tricky third downs. An early end zone shot to Kaelin Clay
should have been a touchdown, but it was dropped by the receiver. As the Panthers saw the deficit on the scoreboard widen, Newton and the offense had to go more pass-heavy. With that Newton dealt with more pressure and took a couple of unnecessary sacks. Still, he managed to battle on and hit Olsen for a beautiful touchdown pass on a stick and nod route in the red zone. He added a second touchdown pass with a quick ball to Christian McCaffrey
, with the rookie turning on the jets to reach the end zone. Newton got clocked in the head late in the game and appeared to be concussed, but he came back into the game. Newton managed to orchestrate a successful final drive, but was called for intentional grounding that essentially ended the game. Overall, it was a clean game from Newton, who will rue the lack of red zone success as the Saints blanketed the Carolina weapons effectively.
RB Christian McCaffrey
, 59 offensive snaps, Rush: 6 - 16 - 0, Rec: 6 - 101 - 1 (8 targets) - Like backfield mate Jonathan Stewart
, it was a difficult day for Christian McCaffrey
. Nevertheless, after getting involved in the passing attack early and often with simple check downs and passes over the middle against the Saints' zone coverage, he broke a long one. Running a fantastic option route that left the defender for dead, McCaffrey scooted inside after a well-timed Newton pass, split a couple of defenders and scored on a 56-yard play. McCaffrey was later the target of an end zone pass to potentially win the game, but it was too far out in front for him.
RB Jonathan Stewart
, 24 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 51 - 0 - It proved to be a forgettable affair for Jonathan Stewart
who, after busting off a big run on the first offensive play, faded into the background. The Panthers stayed with a physical ground attack as long as they could, but once the Saints built the lead they had to scrap that strategy. Stewart was often met at or behind the line of scrimmage as the Saints remained disciplined. He busted off another big run at the start of the second half to ignite the offense, but was largely kept in check.
WR Devin Funchess
, 65 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 79 - 0 (8 targets) - Despite having to fight through injury, Devin Funchess
did his utmost to be a factor against vaunted rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The young man struggled to contain Funchess' physical route running at times, and looked visibly frustrated as the rangy Carolina receiver continued to win on in-breaking routes. Funchess and Cam Newton
had a decent connection on this patterns, but otherwise were unable to connect on downfield targets. Funchess was the target of two end zone passes late in the game, one of which could have been the game winner. It appeared as though he misjudged the ball's flight, as he seemed to stop when all he needed to do was reach out his hands.
WR Kaelin Clay
, 42 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 32 - 0 (4 targets) - With the Panthers struggling in the passing game, Kaelin Clay
had some bright moments ñ but also had a crucial error to take a touchdown off the board. Cam Newton
fired a pass to Clay in the end zone on a quick out, but it clanged off his hands despite pinpoint placement. It could have given the Panthers an early 7-0 lead. Otherwise, Clay did well to haul in a pass along the sideline in the two minute drill towards the end of the game, tapping both feet after securing a Newton bullet pass. He could have redeemed himself with a deep touchdown reception, only to be tackled by a defensive back, drawing a pass interference penalty.
TE Greg Olsen
, 69 offensive snaps, Rec: 8 - 107 - 1 (12 targets) - The veteran tight end proved to be the main threat in the Panthers' otherwise mediocre passing attack against New Orleans. Olsen consistently took advantage of favourable matchups inside the hashes, boxing out defenders and making tough catches. He went low for his first catch, an acrobatic effort to slide and maintain his concentration as he veered towards the sideline. He was unfortunate not to haul in an end zone target near the front pylon, but an excellent breakup by the defensive back put that to bed. Olsen found himself uncovered on a couple of occasions, and seized the opportunity with some chunk plays. He capped his day with a well-executed touchdown catch. Lined up in the slot right a few yards short of the end zone, Olsen won at the release and got inside leverage on his defender to give Cam Newton
a throwing window. The tight end ñ and Newton's most trusted target - did not disappoint.
QB Drew Brees
, 58 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 33 - 376 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0 - This was the vintage Brees that everyone has grown accustomed to seeing. With over 300 yards passing and 2 touchdowns, this is the type of game that is thought of when you mention his name. The lone interception came on a 4th down play and actually saved yards for the Saints. Had the defensive back merely batted the ball to the ground, the Panthers would have gained almost 20 yards in field position. With the running game going nowhere, it was Brees along with Thomas and Ginn that really stepped up this week. The first touchdown came on a deep crossing route from Ginn where the former Panther simply outran his corner in coverage and the safety who was late coming over to help for an 80-yard touchdown. The first quarter had been entirely uneventful until this point and set the tone for the rest of the game. The second touchdown pass was a play-action pass where Josh Hill
beat the linebacker in coverage and leaked out into the open flat for an easy 9-yard touchdown. The entire Panthers defense seemed to bite on the play-action as the Saints have run the ball more in the red zone than any other team this season. Brees spread the ball around to 8 different receivers this week but will face a much stiffer test against the Vikings secondary in their home stadium. If the running game cannot get going again next week, Brees will have to lead the team to victory.
RB Alvin Kamara
, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 10 - 23 - 1, Rec: 1 - 10 - 0 (3 targets) - Just like Ingram, Kamara had a game he would soon like to forget. He out-touched Ingram 11-10 and did get the call in a goal to go situation for the touchdown, but he only had 10 carries and averaged 2.3 yards per carry. The rookie backís longest run of the day was a tough 5 yards up the middle and the touchdown came from 2 yards out. Kamara did not even play a big role in the passing game as he only caught 1 of 3 targets for 10 yards. The Panthers talked all week about how they planned to stop the run and that was the only thing their defense succeeded to do. Look for the Saints to try and get back to running the ball next week against the Vikings.
RB Mark Ingram
, 27 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 22 - 0, Rec: 1 - 13 - 0 (1 targets) - Despite holding a lead almost the entire game, the Saints did not commit to the run as it was very ineffective. Ingram only touched the ball 10 times and did not surpass 35 total yards. He had his lowest yards per carry total of the season with 2.4 and was out-touched by Alvin Kamara
11-10. Ingram even lost work down around the goal line as both Kamara and Line took the ball in for short scores. There have not been many games this season where the entire Saints rushing attack fell flat, but this was one of those games. Both Ingram and Kamara are going to have to play much better next week if they want to beat Minnesota. The only real stat of note was Ingram had the Saints longest rush of the day with a 7-yard scamper off tackle.
RB Zach Line
, 13 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 1 - 1, Rec: 1 - 7 - 0 (1 targets) - It has been Ingram and Kamara all season long from the 1-yard line, but Lineís name was called this week in the Saints biggest game. The big fullback took the ball the last yard right behind his guard for the Saints touchdown. Last week he caught a touchdown and this week he runs for one. However, do not expect Line to see increased usage for the rest of the playoffs.
WR Michael Thomas
, 49 offensive snaps, Rec: 8 - 131 - 0 (9 targets) - Thomas was Brees favorite target, as usual, this week, but was held out of the end zone as the rest of the Saints receivers stepped up. Thomasí best chance at a touchdown came on his 46-yard reception where he was tackled at the 5-yard line. Brees was able to escape the pass rush and rolled to his right, Luke Keuchly had sucked up in case Brees was going to run, and Thomas was able to settle into the void just behind the defense. IT became a foot race to the end zone that Thomas just barely lost, but the Saints were able to cash in a touchdown 2 plays later. Thomas was targeted 9 times to lead all receivers again this week and surpassed the 100 yards receiving mark. By motioning Kamara to the outside of Thomas, the Saints were able to get him into the slot and against a backup corner for much of the game. Brees was able to exploit this matchup all night but never cashed it in for a touchdown. Thomas will face Xavier Rhodes next week and will have a much tougher time getting open.
WR Ted Ginn
, 34 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 115 - 1 (6 targets) - It is always a sweet feeling to go against a former team and put up a huge game. Ginn showed the Panthers just what they let walk out the door with over 100 yards and an explosive 80-yard touchdown catch. Ginn has never been a stranger to the big play but has battled injuries and drops over the course of his career. This week he made sure to show the Panthers what he was capable of. The 80-yard touchdown came on a 2nd and 10 play that the defense bit on a play-action from Brees and Ginn ran a deep crossing route. Brees put the ball just far enough into Ginnís outstretched arms that the speedy receiver did not even have to break stride on his foot race to the end zone. The safety took a very poor angle and Ginn went untouched into the end zone. There was also a very impressive 15-yard contested catch across the middle on 3rd down. Ginn could be seen jawing with the opposition all game and seemed to relish in the fact that he could stick it to a former team.
TE Josh Hill
, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 49 - 1 (4 targets) - Hill played a bigger role this week than he has at any other point in the season. He managed a big 25-yard reception for a key first down and a 9-yard pitch and catch touchdown with no defender in the area. The 25-yard reception came on a skinny post that Brees laid the ball right over his shoulder. It could have been a much bigger play had the corner not made a diving tackle. His touchdown catch was the benefit of a beautiful play fake where the entire defense seemed to bite. Hill only needed to beat a linebacker in coverage as he leaked out into the flat for the easy score. In a week where the running game was not effective, The Saints needed Hill more than ever.
Atlanta Falcons 26, Los Angeles Rams 13
What you need to know
- The Falcons got out to a 13-point lead in the first half because of two Rams turnovers on special teams. Matt Ryan
was under constant pressure but consistently moved the offense after a slow start. Devonta Freeman
and Tevin Coleman
were both effective in spurts and Julio Jones
moved the chains multiple times in key drives. Mohamed Sanu
added long catch and run to key a scoring drive.
Los Angeles Rams
- The Rams had a hard time getting anything going in this game as most of this was due to a negative game script created by two Pharoah Cooper turnovers early in the game. Once the Falcons got out o an early lead, they sold out to stop Todd Gurley
in the passing game daring the other Rams receivers to beat them one-on-one. Outside of Robert Woods
who had a tremendous day, the Rams receivers struggled to consistently get open in this game which created issues as Gurley was often being double-teamed. Cooper Kupp
did score a touchdown on a nice throw from Goff on a wheel route late in the first half to keep this game close. On the ground, Todd Gurley
got off to a slow start and only had 14 carries in this game, but was able to break some long runs in the fourth quarter to get over 100 yards for the third straight week.
QB Matt Ryan
, 73 offensive snaps, Pass: 21 - 30 - 218 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 6 - 5 - 0 - Ryan wasn't able to get much going early, as the Rams strong rush flushed him from the pocket. He was unable to make big plays downfield with the exception of one extended play, but Ryan was solid in the short game to put together scoring drives, including one long drive in the third quarter to accelerate the outcome of the game. Ryan converted a fourth-down quarterback sneak on the drive. He made an excellent touch throw on the score to Julio Jones
to lead him away from coverage. Ryan played more than well enough for the team to win this game,
RB Devonta Freeman
, 45 offensive snaps, Rush: 18 - 66 - 1, Rec: 1 - 3 - 0 (2 targets) - Freeman scored one of Atlanta's two touchdowns with a very strong goal line run that included a won collision and strong leg drive to push through a would-be tackler to the end zone. He was a big part of the long drive in the third quarter, including a long run that saw him bowl over a tackler and drag him for extra yardage.
RB Tevin Coleman
, 29 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 40 - 0, Rec: 3 - 28 - 0 (3 targets) - Coleman had only modest gains to start, but he contributed a third and long conversion later on with a rare broken tackle. Coleman also set a goal to go situation with strong play in the third quarter and helped fuel a field goal drive with effective running.
WR Julio Jones
, Rush: 1 - 13 - 0, Rec: 9 - 94 - 1 (10 targets) - Jones was a mainstay in the offense and was a big part of two drives, along with finishing another with a score. He had back to back big plays on a field goal drive in the first quarter, including an end around. He also had two big plays to get the team into Rams territory on a third quarter field goal drive. Jones had two receptions on goal to go downs that were unsuccessful before finally scoring in the second half on a play that had him go across the formation after the snap. He ran under a perfectly placed floater by Matt Ryan
that led him away from coverage for the score.
WR Mohamed Sanu
, 53 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 75 - 0 (8 targets) - Sanu was part of the short passing game to get drives going and convert third downs. He also had a very long catch and run play on a screen where he just took off straight after an accurate pass and advanced the ball deep into the Rams end of the field.
TE Austin Hooper
, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 15 - 0 (5 targets) - Hooper made small contributions in the short game, including a reception to set up first and goal. He had an end zone target, but it was just off and fell incomplete.
QB Jared Goff
, 68 offensive snaps, Pass: 24 - 45 - 259 - 1 TD / 0 INT - Goff struggled throughout this game with being able to put consistent drives together as he appeared bothered and thrown off when his check-down to Gurley was not available as it had been the past few weeks. Goff did look more composed in the second half, adjusting to the defense and pairing up with Robert Woods
instead of quickly looking to check down to Gurley as he did in the first half, but overall this is going to be something he is going to need to work on heading into the off-season as if teams game plan to take Gurley away which Atlanta did, how will Goff respond will be the question.
RB Todd Gurley
, 62 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 101 - 0, Rec: 4 - 10 - 0 (10 targets) - Gurley in the first half had very little going as he was taken out of the game due to stacked boxes and the Falcons put Keanu Neal as a spy on Gurley for most of the night instead of doing what most teams have done and put a linebacker on him. After a rough first half, Gurley was able to get it going in the late parts of the second half once the defense backed off the stacked boxes and Gurley was able to pick up some big plays once he got out into space on a 33-yard run in which Gurley remained patient for the hole to develop and once it was there he used his speed and power to hit the hole and was not touched for the first 20 yards of the run. From a receiving standpoint, Gurley had a tough go of it in this one as the aforementioned Keanu Neal did a great job preventing Gurley who had ten targets from doing anything with them as Gurley did catch four passes but was hit almost immediately each time he caught the ball.
WR Robert Woods
, 64 offensive snaps, Rec: 9 - 142 - 0 (14 targets) - Robert Woods
was tremendous in this game as he was a major reason that this game remained close as Gurley struggled in the first half. Woods got back to the role that he was playing pre-injury in which he was more than just a possession receiver as he was also running deep routes down the field and was the primary focus lining up on the right side of the field which is Goff's preferred side to throw from. Woods' best catch of the day was a full-extension diving catch with 35 seconds left in the first quarter for a 40-yard completion that set the Rams up for a field goal right before the end of the half.
WR Cooper Kupp
, 67 offensive snaps, Rec: 8 - 69 - 1 (13 targets) - It took a while for Kupp to get going in this game as he was relatively quiet for the first 28 minutes of the game or so. With two minutes left in the half, Kupp scored a much-needed touchdown for the Rams on a play in which almost looked like a wheel route as he acted as if he was going to the flat for his first several steps and then turned up field on a play in which he was wide open. The second half when the Rams were behind, they utilized Kupp more than what they did in the first half, but the overall results were mediocre as he was primarily used as a possession receiver with short underneath safe routes.
WR Sammy Watkins
, 65 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 23 - 0 (4 targets) - Watkins was largely a non-factor in this game, and his entire game could be summed up by a critical drop that he had on fourth and goal with two minutes left to go in the game that would have scored a touchdown to keep the Rams in the game, but Watkins was unable to hold on. He was very sparingly used as while he was on the field he was primarily used as a decoy running deep routes for most of the game. They did look for him on the quick slant play we have seen so many times this year from inside the ten, but if we have noticed it throughout the year, Atlanta was all over it and sniffed it out from the start.