NFL wild card Weekend came and went with several surprises and an epic showdown in New Orleans. Here is a look at the highs and lows from a “wild” weekend in the NFL, including the return of the Atlanta Falcons and the fall of the Kansas City Chiefs.
2. Watch out for the Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons entered their game against the Los Angeles Rams as the underdog despite returning almost the entire team from its Super Bowl run last year. Meanwhile, the Rams fielded the top scoring offense in the NFL, led by MVP candidate Todd Gurley. Los Angeles also featured one of the best special teams units in the league with three First-Team All-Pros. Unfortunately for L.A., both units failed them on Saturday night.
Pro Bowl return specialist Pharoh Cooper served up two critical turnovers, and the Falcons masterfully clamped down on the Rams’ receiving corps. Both were major reasons why the Falcons beat the NFC West champions, 26-13.
The Falcons focused on using every advantage to smother the Rams. They employed a gameplan designed to keep pressure on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, and it worked. Their ability to win in the trenches had Goff constantly moving out of the pocket and looking for check-down options. In hindsight, it’s clear that the oddsmakers and experts sold the Falcons short. Atlanta came into the L.A. Coliseum with a chip on their shoulder and left with a ticket to Philadelphia.
1. Drew Brees comes through in the clutch
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees continues to show that despite his age, he can still lead a playoff team. The future Hall of Famer completed 23-of-33 passes for 376 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception in the Saints’ 31-26 thrilling win over the Carolina Panthers. Yes, Brees doesn’t have the same zip on the ball he once had. And yes, the front office has put several playmakers around him. However, Brees still makes the engine go.
Every time the Panthers got close, Brees led a response by the offense. He has the intangibles that many quarterbacks wish they could have. Author Stephen King described it best in his Dark Tower series. The books followed the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain, who somehow became a cold, distant, and emotionless machine whenever faced with a mission. That’s what Brees is. He’s a gunslinger. Nothing shakes him; nothing breaks him.
Whenever his back is against the wall, a deadly calm washes over him. Brees simply finds a way, and that’s one reason why experts are starting to jump on the Saints’ bandwagon heading into the divisional round..
2. Chiefs fall apart
I don’t know how much to devote to this because we saw it several times over the course of the season. The Kansas City Chiefs looked like Super Bowl contenders for much of 2017, but they lost their mojo as the weeks went on. Unfortunately, just when it seemed like they had it back, the Tennessee Titans grew up before our eyes.
The Chiefs jumped out to a 21-3 lead in front of their home fans at Arrowhead Stadium. They appeared ready to move on to the divisional round, but they couldn’t hold on. Somehow, they allowed a team that struggled to even get into the playoffs to come back in the second half. Titans running back Derrick Henry rushed for 156 yards on 23 carries despite struggling for much of the last month. Meanwhile, the Titans didn’t have a wide receiver with over 37 yards. Yet, the Chiefs gave it away, 22-21.
Kansas City head coach Andy Reid will face some familiar questions this offseason. He never quite got the job done in Philadelphia when it mattered most, and the same problems appear to be rearing their ugly heads again years later.
1. Bumbling officiating
We could hit on the horrid Buffalo Bills – Jacksonville Jaguars game here, but it’s hard to ignore the white elephant in the room for the NFL right now: officiating. It’s sad to see Jeff Triplette retiring after such a terrible performance by his crew on Saturday in Kansas City. By all accounts, he’s a good man. Triplette is really just a symbol for a greater problem in the NFL.
Poor officiating stood front and center in both games on Saturday.
The mess in Kansas City was one thing. The consistent uncalled holding penalties in the Rams-Falcons game is another. Oh, and let’s not forget the clear defensive holding in the endzone that should have been called on Atlanta late in the fourth quarter.
None of these games should ever be marred by officiating, let alone postseason matchups with so much on the line. The 2017 season featured several games with poor performances by referees. They continue to ruin the integrity of the game.
The NFL needs to stop making excuses for its crews. Instead, it’s time to hold them to a higher standard. It’s also time for the NFL to look deeper into procedural changes, such as the size of their crews. The game should never feel like it’s in the hands of the refs.