Cleveland took advantage of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ failed slam in the game’s opener, falling on the ball in the end zone. Pittsburgh’s next three possessions were the interception, treble, interception, and the Browns converted all of their subsequent practices to touchdowns.
In the blink of an eye, the Browns had a 28-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
“Cleveland fans, you don’t dream of that,” NBC broadcaster Al Michaels said when Browns running back Kareem Hunt slipped into the end zone for his first of two scores. “The Pittsburgh fans wish they were – it’s a nightmare.”
Against a plethora of odds – including the Browns’ positive COVID-19 results, the on-road gaming environment, and their general bad luck as a franchise – Cleveland has survived and progressed.
Yes, they’ll face the Kansas City No.1 Chiefs in next week’s divisional round, but a brief moment of celebration is warranted first. The same is true for the other winners in Sunday’s playoffs.
Here are the rest of our takeout from the second half of the NFL Wildcard Slate.
Steelers need to regroup, reassess after spraying until end of season
The Steelers’ 11-0 start makes it look like it happened a year ago, doesn’t it?
OK, for all the wise men of the calendar year, this is technically true. But at the same time, Pittsburgh was still perfect in the first week of December. Much of the issues that have arisen since have been about offense, which may seem silly considering quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards on Sunday (although you have to keep in mind that most of the damage The Steelers’ offensives came up against a preemptive defense as they trailed by two or more scores).
Pittsburgh finished the regular season 1-4, starting in Week 13. During that time, the offense averaged 308 yards per game (would have ranked 30th in the NFL this season) and 19.8 points per game (29th in the NFL).
An offensive overhaul could come naturally, given that two of Pittsburgh’s 18 pending unrestricted free agents are running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Both have seriously underperformed during their contract years.
Then there’s Roethlisberger, who turns 39 in March but still has a year under contract. He’s reportedly planning to return for one final season – dragging his $ 41.25 million cap with him – but is it in Pittsburgh’s best interests?
After a four-steal performance in a crushing loss, it may not seem so. But hey, these wounds are fresh. A long offseason awaits you, and Pittsburgh will have plenty of time to mourn its collapse – while planning its next moves.
The band is back in New Orleans
Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara arrived on Sunday, something New Orleans Saints fans haven’t seen much this season.
At the start of their clash with the Chicago Bears, the Brees / Thomas / Kamara trio had played only 10 quarters together this season (out of 64 possible). A combination of injuries and stints on the reserve / COVID-19 list caused a myriad of individual absences for these three.
But they were together when it mattered – much to Chicago’s dismay. Brees had 265 passing yards and two touchdowns, including one to Thomas (his first in 13 months), while Kamara had 23 carries for 99 yards and one score.
– Saints of New Orleans (@Saints) January 10, 2021
Despite Taysom Hill’s impressive performance in four quarterback starts this season – as Brees recovered from several broken ribs – it’s clear the Saints are at their best with their future Hall of Famer at the helm.
And when Brees has his two favorite weapons available, the Saints have an offense as deadly as any in the league.
The bear offensive succeeds in a great act of disappearance
Life is unfair. We know it. That’s why the Saints were allowed to hog the ball on Sunday, mostly playing against the Bears.
Chicago was in 49 games against 75 for New Orleans and had 21:02 of possession time versus 38:58 for the Saints. Surprisingly, the Bears actually won the turnover battle (1-0) and were barely outscored on a yards per play basis (5.1-4.9).
So, what happened? Well, the Bears were completely desperate on the third and fourth failures, converting only once – in garbage time – out of 11 opportunities.
Remember the reborn Mitchell Trubisky who we’ve seen averaging nearly 250 yards / game in his last five starts, leading the Bears to a playoff berth? Yeah, he’s gone. Or at least he never showed up against New Orleans.
In a cruel twist of fate, Trubisky was voted the Nickelodeon Valuable Player (Nickelodeon aired a more kid-friendly version of the telecast). If that isn’t a well-executed troll job, I don’t know what it is …
Chicago ended their season on a high note, I guess, as tight winger Jimmy Graham landed a one-handed touchdown against his former team in the last game of the game. It may have been Graham’s last game in the NFL – and possibly Trubisky’s last game as a bear.
The real Lamar has finally risen
Lamar Jackson continued to run. Even when he was out of the ball and the last seconds of his first playoff victory were ticking.
After running 136 yards and a touchdown in just 16 carries, Jackson headed for the tunnel at Nissan Stadium in Tennessee. His work was finished.
Well, not exactly. Jackson had media obligations with ABC, the game’s broadcast partner. So he was called back to the field, where he happily spoke about finding his way through the playoff winning column.
” It feels good. I’m glad we did, ”Jackson said. “They beat us twice when I came here. I’m just glad we got the win… We’re done, finally. We finished. ”
Jackson himself put the finishing touches to the game, attempting to gain 33 yards on the Baltimore Ravens’ final possession to help drain the clock and secure a 20-13 victory. But his most impressive run came in the second quarter, when he slipped through back traffic on a third and well before pulling away for a 48-yard touchdown.
Of course, Jackson is first a quarterback. He was pretty efficient, passing 179 yards on 24 attempts (with one interception). But we all know the reigning MVP is his most dangerous being when carrying the ball onto the pitch.
The remaining playoff teams are on notice.
Crows dethrone King Henry
Did you know Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushes, rushing yards and touchdowns this year for the second consecutive season? And that he’s the first running back to do that since the NFL / AFL merger?
Whether Henry knows it or not, I can almost guarantee he doesn’t care.
In the playoff spotlight, Henry failed to make an impact against a Ravens team he had passed through in previous encounters. Baltimore held the NFL’s final 2,000-yard rusher to just 40 yards on 18 carries, with a length of eight yards and zero first downs.
Last year, when the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans knocked out the top-ranked Ravens, Henry had 195 rushing yards. In their Week 11 game this season, he rushed for 133 and one score.
But Baltimore this time had the pincers on “King Henry”, dethroning him in his own domain.
It was never more evident than when the Titans followed, 17-13, with 10:06 to go and faced a 4th and a 2 from the 40-yard line from Baltimore. Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel opted for a punt, instead of giving in to his giant back who averaged 5.4 yards / range this year.
The surrender index never lies, my friends.