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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 Titans 22, 4 Chiefs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Marcus Mariota did everything he could to help the Titans advance in the playoffs, throwing a crazy touchdown pass to himself , running for crucial first downs and providing the kind of spark that Tennessee needed to rally from a 21-3 halftime hole.
Heck, he even threw a crucial block on the run that clinched the game.
It all added up to a heart-stopping 22-21 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, the first postseason win for the Titans in 14 years and one that will provide some relief — for the week, at least — for embattled coach Mike Mularkey and his remarkable bunch of underdogs.
“Special,” said Mariota, whose 205 yards passing included the go-ahead 22-yard strike to Eric Decker with six minutes left. “I’m part of a great team. I’m part of a group of guys that really believe in each other. And it’s something special.”
Now, the Titans will find out Sunday whether they’re headed to New England or Pittsburgh next.
Derrick Henry added a career-high 156 yards rushing and another score for Tennessee (10-7), while a defense fileted by Alex Smith and the Chiefs (10-7) in the first half pitched a shutout in the second half — dooming the Kansas City franchise to another humiliating postseason defeat.
The Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game since January 1994.
“I’m in shock,” Smith said. “The swing at halftime to the final whistle, definitely a shock. Yeah. Didn’t feel like we played up to how we’re capable of playing and that’s disappointing.
Smith threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns , but most of that came before halftime. He couldn’t get going in the second half and misfired on fourth-and-9 at the Titans 44 with just over two minutes to go, denying the Chiefs a chance for Harrison Butker to kick a go-ahead field goal.
Adding to the depression? Henry appeared to fumble as Tennessee tried to run out the clock.
The Chiefs’ Derrick Johnson picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown with 1:47 to go, and the crowd went wild as fireworks shot off over Arrowhead Stadium. But a replay clearly showed Henry down, the call was overturned and Tennessee succeeded in running out the clock. Mariota threw a block that helped spring Henry for a 22-yard gain on third-and 10 late that helped finish off the comeback.
“Grit. It’s just grit,” Henry said. “We told them we’ve got 30 minutes left, all we’ve got to do is play our game. Execute the plays and everything will take care of itself.”
In the first half, the Chiefs looked every bit the team that had won four straight in convincing fashion, and the Titans looked every bit the team that backed into the playoffs.
Kareem Hunt, the league’s top rusher this season , plunged in from 1 yard for a 7-0 lead. Smith hit Travis Kelce, who later left with a concussion, with a 13-yard touchdown pass. And he added another TD toss to Demarcus Robinson on the final offensive play for a 21-3 lead at the break.
“We were feeling good,” Johnson said. “We came in 21-3 and that’s all we were talking about: ‘Finish. Don’t get complacent. We have bigger goals than this game.'”
But it was the Titans who finished, and it was Mariota who led the way. He capped a 91-yard TD drive to start the second half in the bizarre fashions: Mariota threw a TD pass to himself.
His throw to the end zone was batted right back at him by Darrelle Revis, and Mariota hauled it in and dived for the goal line. It was the first time a player has thrown a TD pass to himself in the playoffs, and the first time in any game since the Vikings’ Brad Johnson during the 1997 season.
“Right place, right time,” Mariota said with a smile.
Tennessee nearly squandered its momentum when Adoree Jackson fumbled a punt, but the Chiefs were unable to pick up a first down and Butker knocked a 48-yard field goal off the upright. And the Titans capitalized when Henry rumbled nearly untouched 35 yards for a touchdown a few minutes later.
The Chiefs’ offense had been rendered impotent by that point, unable to move the ball after Kelce left with a concussion in the first half. And the Titans blanketed Tyreek Hill whenever he touched the ball, and they stacked the box to slow Hunt down in obvious rushing situations.
Finally, the Titans pulled ahead on Mariota’s strike to Decker, and that led to more controversy from the officials. Tennessee went for a 2-point conversion and a field-goal edge, Mariota fumbled as he was getting sacked and Frank Zombo scooped up the ball for two points the other way.
But the officials had blown the play dead, ruling Mariota’s progress had been stopped, and the Titans retained the slimmest of margins — one that would stand up to the final whistle.
“I feel really good around our football team,” Mularkey said. “I know what I’m going to get from them every week. That’s a good feeling, knowing how they’re going to come out, no matter what.”
The Chiefs also complained about the officials blowing their whistles on a play late in the first half, when Mariota fumbled while getting sacked. He clearly lost the ball and the Chiefs picked it up, but the play could not be reviewed. Tennessee wound up kicking a field goal.
Only two other road teams have rallied from at least 18 down to win a playoff game in NFL history. The Cowboys came back from 21-3 in the first half to beat the 49ers 30-28 in December 1972, and the Lions came back from 27-7 in the second half to beat the 49ers in December 1957.
Kelce sustained his concussion on a wicked blow from Titans S Johnathan Cyprien late in the first half. Kelce, who had four catches for 66 yards, lay stunned on the turf for a moment before wobbling to his feet. Trainers quickly took him to the locker room and he did not return.
The Titans’ opponent in the divisional round will be decided Sunday. If the Jaguars beat the Bills in their wild-card matchup, Tennessee heads to New England to face the No. 1 seed. If Buffalo wins, the Titans head to face No. 2 seed Pittsburgh.
6 Bills 3, 3 Jaguars 10
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Blake Bortles never had a game like this.
Not in college. Not in high school. Not in peewee football. Not even in the backyard against family and friends.
Bortles put together one decent drive all day, doing as much with his legs as his arm, and the defensive-minded Jacksonville Jaguars eked out an ugly and sometimes unwatchable 10-3 victory against the Buffalo Bills in an AFC wild-card game Sunday.
Bortles became the second starting quarterback in the past 25 years to win a playoff game with more rushing yards (88) than passing (87). Atlanta’s Michael Vick also did it against the St. Louis Rams in the 2004 playoffs.
“That’s usually not ideal for a quarterback,” Bortles said.
It was enough to help the third-seeded Jaguars (11-6) get to the next round against No. 2 seed Pittsburgh.
The sixth-seeded Bills (9-8) will head home after ending the longest, current playoff drought in North American professional sports.
“We had bigger goals,” Buffalo linebacker Preston Brown said. “Once we got in the dance, we didn’t want to be one and done. We didn’t want to treat this like a bowl game, go down to Florida and everybody relaxes. We wanted to move on.
“This really stings to lose in this way when you hold them to 10 points. We just didn’t find a way to hold them to zero points to win the game.”
Bortles was a big reason Jacksonville won its first playoff game since January 2008. He was big reason it was so close, too.
This was far from a passing clinic. It was more like a painful exercise in overcoming poor passing.
Bortles made up for it with his scrambling ability. He had several long runs, with the highlight coming in the fourth quarter when he fumbled a shotgun snap, picked it up and outran two defenders for an 18-yard gain.
The play prompted a Bills assistant to slam his clipboard to the ground, which left Bortles smiling as he flipped the ball to an official.
“We weren’t sharp. We made some bad plays and did some stupid stuff,” Bortles said. “But we found a way to win, and that’s all that matters.”
He completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards, with a touchdown. His TD pass to backup tight end Ben Koyack late in the third quarter was his best throw of the game. It also was a gutsy call on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Bortles did the rest on the ground, picking up first downs and helping Jacksonville win its first playoff game at home since the 1999 season.
“He found a way,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “You’ve got to find a way. Whatever it takes, we’ve got to get to these goals we talked about. All this work we put in in the offseason is for moments like this. For him to find a way and do it with his legs, I have the utmost respect for him.”
The Bills had plenty of chances down the stretch, but a huge penalty against tight end Charles Clay, a dropped pass by Zay Jones and then a tackle that knocked quarterback Tyrod Taylor out of the game ended any threat of a comeback.
Taylor’s helmet slammed hard against the ground after getting thrown down by Dante Fowler Jr. He had to be helped off the field, forcing backup Nathan Peterman into the game with 1:27 remaining.
All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey tipped and then intercepted Peterman’s third pass, and the Jaguars ran out the clock.
“I don’t care what people call it, we got a playoff win,” Ramsey said. “We’re going to come to work for another week while other teams are sitting home.”
The Bills finished with 263 yards, 119 of those coming from hobbled running back LeSean McCoy (ankle). The Jags had a measly 230 yards, the team’s third-fewest total of the season. Leonard Fournette ran 21 times for 57 yards.
Trailing 10-3 with about six minutes to play, the Bills looked as if they picked up a first down on an 11-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Clay. Jacksonville players standing on the sideline pointed to Clay’s feet, and coach Doug Marrone threw the challenge flag. Officials overturned the completion, saying Clay was out of bounds and setting up a third-and-10 play from the Jacksonville 48-yard line. Linebacker Myles Jack sacked Taylor on the next play, forcing a punt.
Bills: Safety Micah Hyde left the game in the third quarter and was being evaluated for a concussion. Cornerback Tre’Davious White went to the locker room in the fourth to be treated for cramps. Safety Colt Anderson injured his right shoulder in the fourth trying to make a diving interception.
Jaguars: Linebacker Paul Posluszny (hip) left, tried to return and then headed to the locker room. He did not return. Receiver/punt returner Jaydon Mickens (hamstring) also left the game.
The Jaguars will play at second-seeded Pittsburgh next Sunday, a rematch from Week 5. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, and Jacksonville won 30-9. The Steelers have won 10 of 11 since, the lone loss coming against New England.
“I’m sure they’re thinking that game was a fluke,” Ramsey said.
NFC Wild Card
6 Falcons 26, 3 Rams 13
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons jumped to an early 13-point lead before the Rams mounted two swift scoring drives. Los Angeles went to the Coliseum locker room at halftime with just a three-point deficit amid raucous cheers from a home crowd thirsty for playoff success.
And then Matt Ryan and the tough, tested Falcons showed the upstart Rams what postseason poise is all about.
Devonta Freeman rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons (11-6), who spoiled the Rams’ first playoff game in 13 years with a methodical performance derived from hard-earned experience.
Atlanta’s journey to the Super Bowl last season ended infamously with that blown 28-3 lead against New England. In their first playoff game since, the Falcons allowed no surprises from the NFC West champion Rams (11-6).
“We knew it was a situation we’ve been through before,” Atlanta defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “We just had to keep playing and use what we’ve learned.”
Jones caught nine passes for 94 yards for Atlanta, which never trailed while winning playoff games in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. Against an opponent that had just six players on its roster with prior postseason appearances, the Falcons’ experience showed through.
“I think having gone through these situations, understanding what it’s like, the atmosphere, those kinds of things, knowing that it’s going to be tough, all those things kind of carry forward,” Ryan said. “But at the end of the day, experience or no experience, you’ve got to execute.”
The Falcons advanced to face the top-seeded Eagles on Jan. 13 in Philadelphia.
“Doesn’t matter where we’re going, we’re going,” Ryan said. “And that’s the most exciting part.”
A raucous crowd of 74,300 packed the Coliseum on a crisp evening for the first NFL playoff game in the nation’s second-largest city since early 1994. Los Angeles went 21 years without pro football before the Rams returned last season, and the franchise emphatically ended a 13-year streak of non-winning seasons this fall with an inspiring run to the Rams’ first division title since 2003.
But the Falcons have been here before, and they showed it.
The Falcons jumped to their early lead by capitalizing on two mistakes by Pharoh Cooper, the Rams’ Pro Bowl kick returner. Atlanta’s offense then chewed up the clock and field position, with the first drive after halftime consuming 8:15.
“To end with a time of possession over 37 minutes, that’s hard to do in our league,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “There was a nine-minute drive to start the second half, and I thought that really set the tone.”
The Falcons’ defense did more than enough to slow down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, harassing Jared Goff into a 24-for-45 performance in his playoff debut.
“They did a real nice job there moving the ball up the field and keeping us on the sideline,” Goff said. “That can sure get you out of your rhythm.”
Robert Woods caught nine passes for 142 yards for the Rams, but rookie Cooper Kupp scored their only touchdown late in the first half.
Atlanta held MVP candidate Todd Gurley to 101 yards rushing — just 43 in the first three quarters — and four receptions for a mere 10 yards.
The Falcons ruined a celebratory night for the Rams, who rebounded from a rough homecoming season in 2016 with an outstanding debut year under 31-year-old Sean McVay, the youngest head coach to reach the playoffs in NFL history.
“You see why the Falcons are the defending NFC champs,” McVay said. “Certainly this is a humbling game. … This is an experience that we can learn from. But I don’t think this game was too big for our guys.”
The Rams’ offense finally figured it out late in the first half: Goff made several sharp throws on a 79-yard drive ending in Kupp’s TD catch, and Sam Ficken’s first field goal trimmed the halftime deficit to 13-10.
But the Rams’ defense simply couldn’t get off the field in the third quarter, whether due to missed tackles or clever play-calling by the Falcons.
Los Angeles trimmed the lead to 19-13 with 10:49 to play, but the Falcons made another drive highlighted by a beautiful 52-yard screen pass from a blitz-avoiding Bryant to Mohamed Sanu.
Jones then caught the sixth playoff TD pass of his career. Goff drove the Rams deep into Falcons territory, but LA turned it over on down at the Atlanta 5 with 2:05 to play. The Falcons stopped the Rams again on downs at midfield with 1:08 left.
Although the Falcons’ offense took a step back in production this season, Atlanta chipped away at the Rams’ defense throughout the Coliseum return of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who coached USC here until 2015.
Ryan was methodical under relentless pressure from All-Pro lineman Aaron Donald, repeatedly avoiding trouble and making big throws. Freeman rushed for 66 yards, and Sanu had that key 52-yard gain on a screen pass.
“Great call by Sark,” Ryan said.
Cooper is headed to the Pro Bowl after his outstanding regular season as a kick returner, but the second-year pro’s misadventures in his playoff debut cost the Rams dearly.
He muffed a punt that bounced off teammate Blake Countess in the first quarter, and Bryant subsequently hit the Falcons’ first field goal. After Bryant’s second field goal later in the quarter, Cooper got stripped by Damontae Kazee during a kickoff return at the Rams 32, and the Falcons drove for Freeman’s short TD run.
After the Falcons’ defensive performance against Goff, they look like a potential problem for the powerful Eagles without quarterback Carson Wentz in the early Saturday divisional playoff game.
5 Panthers 26, 4 Saints 31
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan grinned playfully as he glanced up at a bottle of red wine in the top shelf of his locker and asked if anyone knew Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s address.
A bottle with the name “Jordan” on the label — even if it isn’t made by the Saints star’s family — might be the last thing Newton wants right now.
Drew Brees and his receiving corps came through when Carolina stifled New Orleans’ prolific backfield, and a relentless Jordan spearheaded a late defensive stand to seal a 31-26 NFC wild-card round victory on Sunday.
“You can’t be more happy about the way we played in terms of how we finished the game,” Jordan said. “We almost let them back in the game, but here I am standing as winner. Here I am, as a Cam Jordan, sending Cam Newton a bottle of Jordan wine.”
Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, but one more completion would have considerably lowered the stress level on the Saints’ sideline. Coach Sean Payton kept the offense on the field on fourth-and-short with two minutes remaining and Carolina out of timeouts, hoping for one more first down that would have allowed New Orleans to run out the clock.
But Brees couldn’t find an open receiver, was flushed out of the pocket and decided his best option was to throw it up for grabs. It was intercepted by safety Mike Adams, which turned out better for New Orleans than an incompletion because it meant the Panthers had to start from their own 31 instead of mid-field.
Still, Newton completed three straight passes to move the Panthers to the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left before New Orleans’ resistance stiffened.
“I’m frustrated,” Newton said. “I hate that I couldn’t do enough to get a win today for a lot of guys that I think so highly of.
“I just have to be better,” he added. “I’m not going to take the cowardly way and point somebody else out.”
The comeback bid began to fizzle when Jordan induced an intentional grounding penalty on Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a requiring 10-second runoff that left 20 seconds on the clock.
After an incompletion in the end zone, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz , ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning the first postseason game they’ve played in four seasons.
“The coaches wanted to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands fast,” Bell said. “They dialed it up and I said, ‘Go make a play.'”
Brees’ touchdowns went for 80-yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas’ 46-yard reception .
“What we’ve shown offensively is we have a lot of ways to be effective,” Brees said, mentioning clutch first-down catches by Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead in addition to the big plays by Ginn and Thomas. “The ball was spread around quite a bit and guys were making plays when they had the chances.”
Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards on a day when the Saints needed the passing game to compensate for a ground game that struggled to get going. Thomas said when he noticed the Panthers playing with one safety deep instead of their usual two, “you’re licking your chops with a quarterback like Drew Brees and the talent we have. We knew what we had to do and it was on the receivers.”
Ginn, a former Panthers receiver, celebrated the sweep of his former team by holding up a broom in the locker room.
Helped by the presence of tight end Greg Olsen — who did not play in the teams’ previous two meetings — Newton marched Carolina into Saints territory more often than not. But the Panthers stalled four times inside the New Orleans 25 in the first three quarters. They settled for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed from 25-yards.
Jordan called the Saints’ red-zone stops “huge.”
“Had half of those been touchdowns, we’d be sitting in a different spot,” Jordan said.
Olsen had eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns, including a 56-yard scoring strike to Christian McCaffrey that pulled the Panthers within a touchdown with 4:09 left.
Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who combined for more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage this season, were held to 68 total yards.
RUSHING THE PASSSER
Newton was sacked four times, once each by Bell, Jordan, Jonathan Freeney, and Tyeler Davison. On the sack by Davison, Newton tried to spin away, but his knee touched down and he slammed his head into onrushing David Onyemata’s chest. Newton appeared to be checked for a concussion, but missed only one play before returning to the game on Carolina’s next possession
Newton sat on the field near the sideline after the play, and while a new NFL rule calls for players to be taken to the locker room to be evaluated for concussions if they appear to be struggling to stand, Newton said part of his helmet got pushed into his eyelid. Panthers coach Ron Rivera offered a similar explanation and added that Newton only sat down to give backup Derek Anderson more time to warm up.
The NFL said it planned to discuss the matter with the Panthers medical staff before commenting further.
Panthers: Cornerback Daryl Worley briefly was placed in the concussion protocol but also cleared to return during the game.
Saints: Starting left guard Andrus Peat was carted off the field with a broken left fibula.
Panthers: Begin the offseason after their fourth trip to the playoffs in five years lasted on game.
Saints: Move on to play at Minnesota in the NFC Divisional playoffs.