January 24, 2022
Blowouts defined the first week of the NFL Playoffs, but the Divisional Round featured four exciting matchups with dramatic finishes. Overall, it was a tremendous bounce-back week for the league, which endured plenty of criticism for the 14-team playoff format following the Wild Card Round.
Let’s take some time to examine the best performances from each game.
The Cincinnati “Bungals” became a popular nickname for the Bengals as the team blew countless opportunities over the years. However, the first and second years running the show nowadays don’t care about the franchise’s previous failures. Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Evan McPherson all played large roles in the 19-16 Bengals win over the first seed Tennessee Titans.
Burrow connected with Chase and Higgins 12 times for 205 yards even as the Titans overwhelmed Cincinnati’s battered offensive line for nine sacks, including three by Jeffery Simmons. Tennessee’s defense bent but didn’t break for most of the afternoon, only surrendering one touchdown despite three Ryan Tannehill interceptions.
Unfortunately, the Titans wasted great performances by A.J. Brown and their defense as Tannehill threw an interception with 20 seconds left in regulation. Three plays later, McPherson kicked a 52-yard game-winner as time expired.
The freezing conditions at Lambeau Field brought a light snowfall as the Packers and future 2021 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers drove downfield to score a touchdown on the game’s first possession. The race was on, or so it seemed. Green Bay failed to reach the end zone again as DeMeco Ryans’ defense, led by Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa, stunned the Packers.
Jimmy Garoppolo entered the game dealing with thumb and shoulder injuries, which might explain some of his horrible throws. Garoppolo nearly threw the 49ers out of the game, but timely plays by George Kittle and Deebo Samuel kept San Francisco’s offense from collapsing.
Special teams ultimately made the difference in this game. The 49ers blocked a punt deep in Packers territory and returned it for a touchdown, tying the game at 10-10 with under five minutes left. Green Bay went four-and-out, which led to a 45-yard game-winner from Robbie Gould as time expired on the game and perhaps Rodgers’ career as a Packer.
Los Angeles’ 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the greatest overtime game that never happened. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers came all the way back from down 27-3 thanks to over half a dozen mistakes by the Rams, including two Cam Akers fumbles, a bad snap to Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp fumbling, Matt Gay missing a field goal, and Jalen Ramsey blowing one-on-one coverage against Mike Evans.
Akers’ second fumble gave Tampa Bay an easy path to the game-tying touchdown. Stafford got the ball back with less than a minute remaining, and Sean McVay finally abandoned his conservative second half play calling. Stafford hit Kupp for 20 yards and went back to the All-Pro for a streaking 44-yard play right down the middle of the field.
Matt Gay hit the winning field goal as time expired.
Buffalo and Kansas City combined to score 25 points in the final two minutes of regulation, including a 49-yard field goal by Harrison Butker to force overtime. Patrick Mahomes got the ball first and ended the game with a touchdown to Travis Kelce. Kansas City will host the AFC Championship Game for the fourth consecutive year.
The Bills and Josh Allen played their hearts out. Gabriel Davis scored a playoff record four receiving touchdowns as Allen raised his touchdown total to nine this postseason. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to beat Mahomes.