The biggest winners and losers from Saturday’s games in the NFL Super Wild Card Weekend
The New England Patriots were the AFC’s top seed only a month ago. They’re done after only one day in the playoffs, carried away by their own ill-timed slump and the Buffalo Bills, who rejoiced in heaping it on their despised foe on a freezing night that did little to dampen the chilled supporters’ joy. If the Buffalo Bills started the season as the greatest danger to the Kansas City Chiefs’ AFC dominance, the first day of Super Wild Card Weekend provided them with yet another challenge. In a nail-biter versus the Las Vegas Raiders, the Cincinnati Bengals hung on, announcing the acquisition of another young quarterback, Joe Burrow, to face Patrick Mahomes. There’s a good chance Mahomes, Burrow, and Josh Allen will struggle for control of the conference for the next decade or so. Maybe Mac Jones may join them in the future. However, the Patriots’ rebuilding efforts were resumed on Saturday, while the Raiders underwent yet another franchise change.
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The city of Cincinnati: In the first quarter, the largest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium ever forced three Raiders false starts, never sat down, and never let up. This seemed like an exorcism for the Bengals, as it helped them win their first playoff game in 31 years. Coach Zac Taylor of the Bengals presented the whole city with a game ball.
Joe Burrow: Go locate the video of Burrow’s second-quarter in-stride rope to C.J. Uzomah for a 29-yard gain that flew right over Divine Deablo’s ear. Or the leaping touchdown throw as he was about to run out of bounds (set aside the fact it should have been waved off because of an inadvertent whistle). Or his telepathic communication with Ja’Marr Chase, who had nine receptions for 116 yards. Burrow threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-34 passing in his first postseason game, and his calm post-game manner implies he knew what to expect. The rest of us should be prepared as well. The Bengals now have a top-five quarterback.
The Bills: Their thrashing of the Patriots served as a stark reminder of Buffalo’s brilliant team-building efforts since 2018, when the Bills had a rookie quarterback in Josh Allen and a lot of money being paid to guys who were no longer on the club. With this trampling, it was difficult not to feel like the Bills were sending a message to the rest of the AFC East. Since losing the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium last year, the Bills have been referring to the Chiefs as the kings of the AFC hill. The Bills have won five straight games, but their two greatest performances of the season were against the Patriots in their last two games of the regular season — they struggled mightily at home against the Falcons and Jets in the final two games of the regular season. Now it’s time to keep playing like this against a team that’s even better than the Patriots next week, most likely the Chiefs.
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Josh Allen: There was nothing the Bills quarterback couldn’t do on Saturday night. He rifled passes, he fractured ankles. Allen was a one-man wrecking squad, passing for 308 yards and running for another 66, but the Bills’ offense was unbeatable as a whole. They ran out to a 27-0 lead after scoring a touchdown on each of their four first-half drives. The Bills placed a premium on getting out to an early lead in order to push the game into Mac Jones’ hands. Done. Then they continued on their way. Since early in the third quarter of the first meeting between these teams this season, the Bills haven’t punted against the Patriots. The Bills concluded the game with a flawless offensive effort, scoring a touchdown on each and every drive until they were forced to kneel down. Harrison Phillips, a defensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills, gushed over the offense, stating, “That sounds like something from Pop Warner. It’s possible you did it on Madden.”
Micah Hyde: Despite an amazing overall defensive performance, the Bills safety is singled out for one of the most athletic and timely plays you’ll ever see. On the opening drive of the game, with the Bills ahead by a score but the Patriots moving the ball at will, quarterback Mac Jones had the Patriots with a first down at the Bills’ 34-yard line. He sent a ball to Nelson Agholor, who was racing down the left sideline into the end zone, wide open. Hyde saw an opening and dashed to where Agholor would have collided with the pass. Hyde, who had been following the ball all along, made a Willie Mays-style grab, converting a definite score into a jaw-dropping interception that put a stop to the Patriots’ early momentum. The Patriots’ offense never found its stride again.
Both offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier are contenders for head coaching opportunities with the Buffalo Bills. This game will look well on their resumes.
Yes, the Patriots were blasted out in the wild-card game, but they rebuilt in one season and made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. This game showed their flaws, but it’s a victory by any standard, save maybe the one that uses Tom Brady as the yardstick.
Bengals’ red zone offense: It’s strange to say this about a winning team, but the Bengals left too many points on the field, settling for field goals after a Derek Carr fumble and after starting a drive on the Raiders’ 45-yard line, allowing the Raiders to stay in the game after the Bengals dominated the first half. Later, with less than 7 minutes remaining, a lengthy drive stopped on the Raiders’ 25-yard line and another on the 10-yard line, with a chance to give the Bengals a two-touchdown advantage. The Bengals got away with it against the Raiders, but as they progress and face more difficult opponents, their red-zone woes may resurface.
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The Raiders: A great chance to steal a victory was squandered, particularly against an injury-riddled defensive line that was receiving minimal pass pressure towards the conclusion of the game. The Raiders are heading into an offseason that will most certainly entail big changes after concluding the season with a fourth-down interception from the Bengals’ 9-yard line — then squandering a down by kicking the ball with 29 seconds remaining. Rich Bisaccia, the Raiders’ interim coach, did an amazing job of keeping the team together and bringing them into the playoffs after a season filled with adversity, but the Raiders are likely to undertake a complete coaching search. The Raiders and Derek Carr will then have to make choices regarding his future.
It’s never a good sign when the league announces during a game that it will issue a statement on a contentious decision. The statement was prompted by an unintended whistle after a Bengals touchdown throw, which said that the whistle occurred after the touchdown reception was made, despite video review indicating that this was not the case. Beyond that, the game’s management was a shambles (officials granted the Raiders a timeout as the Bengals snapped the ball, then ignored what seemed to be a late hit on Burrow on the same play, for example). Officiating should never be the focus of attention after a game, much alone a playoff game. Alas.
The Patriots: A humiliating performance, especially on defense. Allen ate up man-to-man coverage, and Matt Judon was snubbed on a 26-yard Allen run early in the game. The pass rush’s decline was a major factor in their demise; they only had two sacks in their previous four defeats. Those strong defensive numbers from the regular season — second in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed — were bolstered by lesser opponents. The Bills, on the other hand, made the Patriots seem sluggish and revealed a dearth of covering guys.
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