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Here is a recap of Wildcard Weekend of the 2016 NFL Playoffs with a Monday Afternoon QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
AFC Wild Card
5 Chiefs 30, 4 Texans 0
HOUSTON (AP) — After 22 years without a playoff victory, the Kansas City Chiefs were determined not to give up the lead this time.
The Chiefs had enough points to win after jumping ahead 7-0 in the first 11 seconds, and they used relentless pressure, five turnovers and a ball-control offense to dominate the Houston Texans 30-0 in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs on Saturday.
They were especially cognizant of not letting up after blowing a 28-point lead in a loss to the Colts in their last playoff appearance in 2013.
“What happened to us a couple years ago, everybody remembers that even the coaches included, so our entire mentality is about finishing,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “The mentality doesn’t change.”
They finished off the Texans early, and they had the hometown fans booing by the second quarter. Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer had the worst game of his career with four interceptions and a fumble.
Houston’s defense kept the Texans close in the first half, but J.J. Watt left with an injury in the third quarter, Jadeveon Clowney never even put on his jersey and the Chiefs were able to close the game out in the second half.
The Chiefs extended their NFL-best winning streak to 11 games and will face New England on Saturday.
“We wanted to come in and dominate,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. “Right now we are locked in and ready for next week.
On the opening kickoff, Knile Davis got three good blocks around the 10-yard line and then simply outran the rest of the defenders for the 106-yard kickoff return score, the second-longest kickoff return TD in postseason history.
“It was a huge deal, man. It set the tempo,” Davis said. “It quieted everybody, kind of made everybody relax.”
The defense took over after that, forcing Hoyer into a fumble and a three of his career-high four interceptions before halftime to help the Chiefs (12-5) take a 13-0 lead.
“I made some bad decisions that really hurt the team,” Hoyer said.
Houston coach Bill O’Brien said he never considered benching Hoyer, but backup Brandon Weeden told a different story, saying he was warming up late in the game.
“We had talked about me going in there with Brian,” Weeden said. “Brian wanted to finish the thing out. I don’t blame him.”
Smith threw a touchdown pass late in the third and Spencer Ware added a 5-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 27-0.
Travis Kelce, who also had more than 100 yards receiving in the first meeting with the Texans this year, had another big day, finishing with eight receptions for 128 yards.
The victory breaks a streak of eight straight playoff losses by the Chiefs and is their first postseason win since beating the Oilers in Houston on Jan. 16, 1994. That team was led by Joe Montana and Marcus Allen.
“Was it 1994? I didn’t feel it, but I know how important it is, too,” coach Andy Reid said. “You get to the playoffs, and first round, if things don’t go well, that rips your heart out.”
Hoyer was 15 of 34 for 136 yards as Houston (9-8) lost a home playoff game for the first time. Hoyer’s performance cast more doubt on his future as the starter.
Watt missed most of the second half after injuring his groin in the third quarter. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year and the NFL sack leader didn’t have a sack as Houston’s defense played well but couldn’t hold off an offense that got so many extra chances because of turnovers.
Watt returned a few plays after he was initially hurt, but soon left the game again when he was pushed to the ground by the head by tackle Eric Fisher.
“That’s just a dirty play,” Watt said. “But the injury was before that moment.”
Fisher said he didn’t know the play was over. Kansas City receiver Jeremy Maclin strained his right knee on the same play and didn’t return.
The Chiefs capped that drive when Smith found rookie Chris Conley in the back of the end zone for 9-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 20-0.
Houston defensive end Jared Crick got a personal foul late in the third quarter when he hit Fisher after a play, in an apparent retaliation for the Watt hit.
Down 7-0, the Texans were driving when Hoyer was sacked by Allen Bailey and fumbled. Dontari Poe recovered it at the Kansas City 42 and the Chiefs extended their lead to 10-0 on a 49-yard field goal.
Trailing 13-0, a 49-yard run by Alfred Blue got Houston to the Kansas City 13. The Texans got a first down at the 2 and Watt and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork came in on offense, with Watt lined up as the wildcat quarterback and Wilfork blocking. Watt took the direct snap but had nowhere to go and lost a yard on his first career carry. Hoyer was intercepted on the next play by Josh Mauga.
Hoyer had also struggled against the Chiefs in the season opener, being benched in the fourth quarter of a 27-20 loss.
NOTES: Clowney, the top overall pick in the 2014 draft, was inactive with a foot injury. … Maclin will have an MRI on Sunday. … Kansas City right tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif suffered a concussion in the first half.
6 Steelers 18, 3 Bengals 16
CINCINNATI (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading to Denver. The Cincinnati Bengals are heading to another long offseason after a meltdown as ugly and ill-timed as it was complete.
Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining as the Steelers somehow pulled out an 18-16 victory in the AFC wild-card game Saturday night.
Pittsburgh (11-6) moved into field goal position after a pair of 15-yard penalties on the Bengals, one on linebacker Vontaze Burfict and another on Adam Jones after Burfict hit defenseless Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Boswell drilled his fourth field goal of the game to give the Steelers their first playoff win since the 2010 AFC championship game.
The Bengals appeared to be in position for their first postseason win in 25 years before Jeremy Hill’s fumble gave Pittsburgh one last shot.
Roethlisberger left with a right shoulder injury on the final play of the third quarter but returned for Pittsburgh’s last-gasp drive. Unable to throw with any real authority, he still managed to get the Steelers near midfield with 22 seconds to go when he threw high to Brown in Cincinnati territory.
Burfict, whose sack of Roethlisberger sent the quarterback to the locker room, lowered his shoulder as Brown landed. The volatile linebacker earned a personal foul. Jones compounded the problem when he lost his cool, easily putting Boswell within field goal range after Cincinnati’s eighth — and final — flag of an unsightly night.
Roethlisberger finished 18 of 31 for 229 yards and a touchdown in rainy conditions. Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 123 yards rushing filling in for DeAngelo Williams.
Still, it hardly seemed like it would be enough. AJ McCarron put together a late rally after Martavis Bryant’s somersaulting touchdown grab gave the Steelers a 15-0 lead heading into the final quarter.
Cincinnati (12-5) ripped off 16 straight points, the last six on a 25-yard strike from McCarron to A.J. Green that put the Bengals in front. They missed the 2-point conversion.
When Burfict intercepted Landry Jones on Pittsburgh’s ensuing possession, Cincinnati and coach Marvin Lewis appeared ready to end the sixth-longest postseason drought in NFL history.
Then, the team that said it would keep it together fell completely apart.
Hill saw the ball pop out as Cincinnati tried to run out the clock and the Steelers recovered at the Pittsburgh 9 with 1:23 left. Just enough time for Roethlisberger — with plenty of help from Cincinnati — to send the Steelers to Denver and a rematch with the Broncos, whom Pittsburgh beat 34-27 on Dec. 20.
Another long winter looms in Cincinnati.
The Bengals controlled the AFC North, easily winning their fourth division title under Marvin Lewis even with QB Andy Dalton breaking his right thumb during a loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13. Yet all a dozen wins did was set them up for a third showdown with their longtime tormentor in an increasingly acidic rivalry.
Pittsburgh survived a bumpy four months that included significant injuries to Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Kelvin Beachum. The Steelers needed a win in Cleveland and a Buffalo upset of the Jets on the final Sunday to make the playoffs for a second straight year.
A trip to Cincinnati hardly seemed a problem: The Steelers have lost in Paul Brown Stadium only three times since it opened in 2000, a sea of Terrible Towels turning the Bengals’ home into Heinz Field West. It served as the launching point of a Super Bowl run in 2005.
Both teams pledged to be on their best behavior with so much at stake, and for a while tempers were kept largely in check. There were no pregame fisticuffs this time — unlike Pittsburgh’s previous visit — thanks in part to assistant coaches on both sides creating a black-clad DMZ at midfield.
The first personal foul penalty came from an unlikely source, Pittsburgh Hall of Fame offensive line coach Mike Munchak, flagged for grabbing Reggie Nelson’s hair after the safety found himself mixing it up with a couple of Steelers after pushing Todman out of bounds.
McCarron, so effective while replacing Dalton, could do little. The Bengals managed just 56 yards of total offense yet trailed just 6-0 as the Steelers and the league’s third-ranked offense could muster only a pair of Boswell field goals.
As the game proceeded, it got more contentious, nearly out of control in the fourth quarter. And it cost the Bengals dearly.
NFC Wild Card
6 Seahawks 10, 3 Vikings 9
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks needed more than three quarters to warm up at Minnesota, their quest to avenge last year’s Super Bowl loss nearly frozen before it began.
The Vikings, after gritting through this grind-it-out wild-card round playoff game, booted their chance to beat the two-time defending NFC champions. Blair Walsh’s 27-yard field goal try into the frigid wind hooked left with 22 seconds remaining, handing the Seahawks a 10-9 victory over the stunned Vikings on a Sunday in below-zero weather that tied for the third-coldest NFL game on record.
“A lot of people would’ve folded up and said, ‘That’s it,’ but we’ve got a team full of fighters,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said.
The Seahawks (11-6) didn’t score until Russell Wilson’s short touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin early in the fourth quarter. Then, a fumble by Adrian Peterson for the Vikings on the next possession set up a field goal by Steven Hauschka.
The Vikings (11-6) took the ball for the deciding drive with 1:42 left at their 39 and, aided by a pass interference penalty on Kam Chancellor, drove deep into Seattle’s territory. After draining the clock for the seemingly inevitable win, Walsh simply missed the winner after making all three of his earlier attempts.
“That’s called grace,” Chancellor said. “That’s all it is.”
Seattle will play next weekend at Carolina, where the Panthers had a first-round bye in balmy mid-50s weather.
“I think we were fortunate that we got the win,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “A lot of those times, guys make those kicks. There’s a high percentage that they make them, but you’ve still got to do it.”
Walsh didn’t hide. Holder Jeff Locke had the laces turned in, not out, but there were no excuses to be made.
“You’re confident, but you never think that you have it or take it for granted,” Walsh said, subdued with glassy eyes in the locker room afterward. “I just didn’t put a swing on it that would be acceptable by anybody’s standards.”
Huddled around sideline heaters and wearing huge capes on the shaded side of the stadium, the Seahawks were subdued themselves for much of the game. Trailing 9-0 at the 13-minute mark, Wilson nearly took a huge loss on first down when he fumbled a shotgun snap he wasn’t ready for. But the guy Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called “Houdini” during the week darted right, dodged a sack and found Tyler Lockett wide open for a 35-yard completion to set up the score to Baldwin.
“Just tried to extend the play,” said Wilson, who went 13 for 26 for 142 yards. “Find a way.”
Chancellor, who ripped the ball away from Peterson that Ahtyba Rubin recovered, missed a tackle on tight end Kyle Rudolph’s 24-yard reception that let the Vikings advance to the 18 with 1:26 left. But Peterson’s next three carries left the Vikings a yard short of the first down. Walsh, whose third kick was nearly blocked by Sherman, jogged out for the defining moment. And the Seahawks were suddenly celebrating an improbable win, not unlike their rally past Green Bay in the NFC championship game last year.
“It’s a chip shot,” Zimmer said. “He’s got to make it.”
The Seahawks left their last visit to Minnesota with a 38-7 victory, pure domination on both sides of the ball that left no doubt that Dec. 6 afternoon they’d be a legitimate contender to reach their third straight Super Bowl even without the ear-splitting advantage of their home by the bay at CenturyLink Field.
For all their skills, experience and swagger, though, the combination of these conditions and a well-prepared, embarrassed-by-the-previous-performance Vikings team proved to be quite the challenge.
This was a fittingly frigid finish for Minnesota’s two-year stint outdoors at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium during construction of the new covered downtown stadium. For the first au naturel postseason game here since the NFC championship game in 1976, the grizzled coach of that team, Bud Grant, served as an honorary captain. He strolled out for the coin flip in a Vikings cap and a purple short-sleeved polo shirt, looking ready for a round of golf.
The 88-year-old Grant got a roar of approval from the crowd, most of which was dressed in as many layers as those purple replica jerseys would allow. The announcement of the minus-25 degree wind chill factor a few minutes later drew an equally loud cheer.
Every mistake and break was magnified in a game like this, and the Vikings benefited for the majority of the first three quarters.
Punter Jon Ryan had to pick up a low snap on Seattle’s first possession and, avoiding a potential block, tried to run up the middle before being upended by Jason Trusnik well shy of the first down. Ryan landed on his face, breaking and bloodying his nose, and the Vikings turned the shortened field into their first field goal.
Wilson, who led the NFL in passer rating after racking up a remarkable 24 touchdown passes with only one interception over the last seven games, was essentially reduced to a scrambler in the deep freeze.
Facing the wind in the second quarter, he had Baldwin wide open behind the safeties at the goal line, but the ball hung in the air and was easily batted down. Headed the same direction toward the open end of the stadium in the third quarter, Wilson overthrew Chase Coffman, and Trae Waynes intercepted the deflected pass to set the Vikings up for another field goal. Cliff Avril’s roughing-the-passer penalty gifted Minnesota 15 yards on that drive.
NOTES: Previous record cold games for each franchise: Vikings, minus-2 degrees (Dec. 3, 1972, vs. Chicago). Seahawks, 16 degrees (Dec. 3, 2006, at Denver). … Lockett’s catch (35 yards) was the longest play of the game, followed by Rudolph’s reception (24 yards).
5 Packers 35, 4 Redskins 18
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — For Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Packers’ offense, the first quarter of their playoff game Sunday looked quite similar to the stagnant way their regular season wound down.
Not a lot of progress. Not a lot of points. Not a lot of fun.
Rodgers opened the NFC wild-card game against the Washington Redskins by going 1 for 8, and the Packers’ first four drives went: punt, safety, punt, punt. They gained all of 11 yards heading into the second period, and they trailed by double digits.
And then, spurred by using the hurry-up approach he loves, Rodgers played like a two-time NFL MVP. Drawing defensive penalties with quick snaps, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and running the show the way few QBs can, Rodgers threw for a pair of TDs while Eddie Lacy and James Starks each ran for a score, and Green Bay came back to overwhelm the NFC East champion Redskins 35-18.
“We got the tempo up, and they couldn’t keep up,” said Rodgers, who finished 21 for 36 for 210 yards and no turnovers. “We became a snowball, kind of going downhill, and it was tough for us to stop.”
That was missing while the Packers were losing their final two games and six of their last 10 after a 6-0 start, letting the NFC North title slip away. And it was missing early Sunday, when Washington grabbed an 11-0 lead.
“I talked a lot the last couple weeks about being able to turn it on, and a lot of you probably thought that was lip service,” Rodgers told reporters. “But we just needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going. I said this week that it just takes one. It just takes one performance to get us going back in the right direction and believing that we can make a run.”
Green Bay (11-6) will play at the No. 2 seed Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night. It’s a rematch of a Week 16 game that Arizona dominated 38-8.
“The main thing is everybody just needs to realize the taste they had in their mouth last time,” Packers receiver James Jones said.
In the other NFC game next weekend, the No. 1 seed Carolina Panthers will host the wild-card Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
With the Packers and Seahawks joining the AFC’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, it’s the first time road teams went 4-0 in the wild-card round under the current NFL playoff format, which started in 1990.
Washington (9-8) had won four games in a row, but its season ends without a single victory over a team that finished with a winning record.
“I mean, it’s a little sick feeling any time you lose a game at the end of the year, not matter when it is,” Washington’s Jay Gruden said after his first playoff game as an NFL head coach. “The opportunities we had out there today — it makes you ill.”
His quarterback, Kirk Cousins, made his first playoff start after a breakthrough season and was 29 for 46 for 329 yards. He threw for one touchdown, ran for another, lost one fumble and was sacked six times.
Rodgers smirked when asked about chatter in the Washington area about which QB folks would want for the next five years.
“We don’t really care about any of the expectations, whether talking about picking Kirk over myself or talking about how everybody expected us to lose this game,” Rodgers said. “We don’t care about those opinions out there.”
He spoke about his team staying confident despite being down 11-0. Asked where that self-belief came from, Rodgers replied: “‘Cause we’ve been there, done that.”
Sure have — unlike the Redskins, last-place finishers six of the past eight seasons.
“They made adjustments and we didn’t,” Washington nose tackle Terrance Knighton said. “That’s why they’ve won championships — and that’s who their quarterback is.”
Indeed, Rodgers, the 2011 Super Bowl MVP, turned things around in the second quarter, twice catching Washington with too many men on the field. He went 5 for 6 for 68 yards on a drive that ended with a 12-yard TD pass to Randall Cobb. When he hit Davante Adams for a 10-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 17-11 halftime lead, Rodgers danced a little jig and threw some fist pumps.
In the second half, the running game took over. After 17 yards at halftime, the Packers finished with 141 yards on 32 carries.
“That’s the way you want to play offense. When you get into playoffs, you don’t have to talk about the regular season no more,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Notes: Preston Smith’s sack of Rodgers produced the first safety for the Redskins in a playoff game since December 1984, against Chicago. … Redskins DE Jason Hatcher is considering retiring after 10 NFL seasons. He said he will discuss it with his family, adding: “I still love the game, but I’ve got to do what is best for me.” … Adams left in the third quarter after hurting his right knee.