Undrafted journeymen shine, double entendre steals a bad show and a Steel City stunner. The NFL Wild Card Recap lives up to its name.
2020 NFL Wild Card Recap
January 11, 2021, 1:24 AM
No postseason wins since 1994. A whopping 17 straight losses in Pittsburgh. Cleveland quickly, convincingly and relentlessly ended decades of frustration, winning its first playoff game since Bill Belichick was the coach of the Browns, despite playing without five coaches and four players due to COVID. These definitely aren’t the same old Browns — Baker Mayfield is the Petty Godfather, and Kevin Stefanski’s touch is so golden he doesn’t even have to be present on game day to win Coach of the Year.
Conversely, Mike Tomlin has much to answer for after some questionable choices helped drop Pittsburgh from 11-0 contender to losers of five of its final six games. Ben Roethlisberger’s playoff-worst four-INT game, in which he threw way too many times, should be his final act as a Steeler.
It’s a damn shame this game was so bad that the highlight was some double entendre between announcers and Nickelodeon airing an F-bomb for kids to enjoy with their free lesson in fisticuffs when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson got yet another Bears receiver to swing on him.
Chicago, like Washington, is a quarterback away from being really good, but unlike the Football Team, the Bears hired so-called offensive genius Matt Nagy to get the most out of Mitchell Trubisky. I don’t know which set this franchise back further — choosing the wrong quarterback or choosing the wrong coach. (The kids at Nick apparently do.)
Meanwhile, the Saints go marching into a divisional round matchup with the same Buccaneers team they dominated twice in the regular season — setting up a third meeting between 40-something legends Drew Brees and Tom Brady every bit as inevitable as the rematch between Thanos and the Avengers. If New Orleans can dominate the clock the way it did against the Bears, Brees will again snap his fingers to make the GOAT disappear.
Baltimore’s best win ever not only exorcised all the Tennessee-induced demons over the last year and got Lamar Jackson off the schneid, but the Ravens defense also made a statement by shutting down juggernaut rushing champ Derrick Henry. This could be the only unit in the AFC capable of putting an end to Josh Allen’s renaissance season.
The Titans won’t face the Ravens in the 2021 regular season — but whenever these two teams see each other again, the Titans will remember getting punked on their own field. This might be the best active rivalry in the NFL.
Look, I’m not necessarily saying Taylor Heinicke is Kurt Warner 2.0, but his surprising playoff performance and spot duty against Carolina last month was by far the most competent quarterback play the Burgundy and Gold had all season. He has bought himself at least a spot on the 2021 roster and maybe even a starting gig if Washington can’t make a run at a more experienced option. Regardless of what he decides about his future, consider the Alex Smith era in D.C. over.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay finally got its first playoff win since 2002, but that may be as far as the Bucs get. The Saints defense is for real, and with a third shot at Tom Brady, seems highly unlikely to have the sort of letdown Washington’s defense had against the GOAT.
Cam Akers’ historically great playoff debut is drawing the headlines, but Los Angeles will only go as far as its top-ranked defense will take them. Sacking Russell Wilson five times to deal him the first home playoff loss of his career is a big deal — so Aaron Rodgers will have earned his presumptive MVP trophy if he can get the best of Aaron Donald and company.
And Pete Carroll needs to make space in his brain for the fact that Seattle’s 10-game home postseason win streak is over only two weeks after winning the NFC West title there at the Rams’ expense. That Seahawks defense needs a lot of help along the D-line and a more consistent rushing attack if they want to avoid another one-and-done postseason in 2021 — if they make it at all.
It was a win a quarter century in the making.
Josh Allen’s outstanding season now includes Buffalo’s first playoff win in 25 years, snapping the fourth-longest drought in NFL history and moving the Bills closer to the kind of postseason run they enjoyed regularly in the early 1990s. The winner of Bills-Ravens could very well hoist a Lombardi Trophy in Tampa in four weeks.
And regardless of what analytics say, Frank Reich’s questionable decisions did his former team a huge favor and set up Philip Rivers for an undesirable-yet-epic swan song. Indianapolis has a solid roster built to contend in a top-heavy AFC South, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Colts decide Reich running it back with Rivers is better than reuniting him with Carson Wentz.
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