Nick Foles does it again, while the wrong defense showed up in Baltimore. Breakout Live breaks down the top storylines from Wild Card weekend in the NFL.
The Nick Foles show rolls on.
No, Nick Foles didn’t have his best game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. He threw two interceptions before halftime en route to a meager three halftime points against the vaunted Bears defense. But Foles came alive in the second half, throwing for two touchdowns including the clutch game-winner on fourth down with under a minute remaining.
You can’t credit Foles for Parkey’s double-doink that sent the defending champs to New Orleans next Sunday, but it was Foles who put the Eagles in position once again to pull it off in a clutch late-season or playoff game, just as he did in December and January last year. The Eagles have already announced their intention to move on from Foles in the off-season, but the rest of us get at least one more week to enjoy his historic run in Philly.
The Bears magical season ends in the cruelest of ways.
In the Hollywood version of the story, Cody Parkey’s last second field goal attempt against the Eagles would have hit the upright, bounced off the crossbar, trickled over the bar for the game-winner, and erased the disaster of having nailed the posts a whopping four times in a single game earlier this season. But this isn’t Hollywood, and you can’t script an ending as cruel as this one.
As any physics professor will tell you, an oblong ball falling directly onto a crossbar can bounce in either direction; it just comes down to where the ball is in its rotation. Another few degrees, and the ball bounces over the crossbar and the Bears march onto Los Angeles.
Instead, the Parkey attempt double-ricocheted out into the end zone and the Bears’ remarkable 12-4 season ends abruptly. In another brutal twist, Parkey actually made his first attempt a split second after the Eagles used their last timeout to ice him. He wouldn’t repeat the effort.
One would think a Trubisky 300-yard performance would have been sufficient to get it done in Soldier Field, but the combination of Foles’ magic and the double-doink heard ‘round the world sends Chicago into another bitter off-season.
Defense wins championships?
The top 2 scoring defenses in the NFL, the Bears and Ravens, both bailed out of the playoffs without netting a win, as did the #4 Texans. The highest ranked defense remaining in the postseason are the Dallas Cowboys, who come in at #6 in scoring defense and #7 in yardage defense. So not a single top 5 defense made it to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. You know who did make it? The top 2 offenses in the league, the Chiefs and Rams, although neither of these teams had to play in the minefield known as the NFL Wild Card round.
The wrong defense showed up in Baltimore.
The Ravens entered the playoffs with the #1 scoring defense in the NFL, a big reason why rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson was able to lead the Ravens to the playoffs despite paltry passing numbers. But on Sunday, it was the visiting Los Angeles Chargers that brought the pain on defense. With Philip Rivers turning in a pedestrian effort against the stingy Ravens D, the Chargers D absolutely suffocated the Ravens through 3+ quarters. They didn’t allow a single first down from the 10-minute mark of the second quarter to early in the fourth, at which point Lamar Jackson actually had negative passing yards.
Yes, Lamar came alive against the prevent defense in the final half-quarter to make it interesting, but kudos to the Chargers D for holding the Ravens well under 300 total yards in amassing 7 sacks, including the final strip-sack of Jackson to end the game.
The Ravens college offense took them as far as it could.
Lamar Jackson deserves his fair share of credit for helping to guide the Ravens to an improbable divisional title and playoff berth. But he is fast becoming one of the more polarizing players in the NFL. His defenders will point to his winning 6 out of 7 games as the Ravens starter and rescuing the season with his dynamic running ability. But his detractors, like yours truly who has argued from day one that he is not an NFL quarterback, will emphasize his anemic passing numbers and the fact that the Ravens defense is largely what carried this team back from the abyss.
For over 3 quarters on Sunday, Lamar Jackson logged negative passing yardage and put the team in a 23-3 hole. Fans and commentators alike justifiably called for longtime starter Joe Flacco to be given a chance to rescue the Ravens, but John Harbaugh made the decision to play for the future and not the present by keeping Jackson in the game.
Jackson’s end-of-game play against a largely prevent defense might give fuel to Jackson’s supporters, and it might have quashed any off-season internal debates about whether to fully turn the Ravens franchise over to him. But the simple fact is, Lamar Jackson only surpassed 200 yards passing in 1 game out of 8 and he was the single highest fumbler over his last 2 years in the NCAA and did it again this year, despite playing less than half an NFL season.
As the Ravens let their former Super Bowl MVP quarterback walk this off-season, they’ll soon find out whether Jackson can consistently work his magic on days when the running game and defense don’t dominate.
The Colts take the rubber match.
Back in week 4, Colts Head Coach Frank Reich made the controversial decision to go for it on fourth down in overtime in his own territory, a decision that launched the Texans’ season-changing nine-game win streak and ultimately led to a 1-5 start for the Colts. Somehow, these two teams met for the third time in Houston for Wild Card Weekend after each team secured a 3-point victory during the regular season. This time, there would be no last-minute heroics.
The Colts punched the Texans in the mouth from the opening whistle, stifling Deshaun Watson all day and holding Texans running backs to a mind-numbing 29 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck was razor sharp in the first half, and Marlon Mack gashed the Texans for 148 yards on the ground, as the Colts built a 21-0 halftime lead that the Texans would never overcome.
The Texans came into the game with the worst strength of schedule in the NFL, and perhaps that lack of battle-testing cost them at playoff time. The Colts now head to Kansas City and face a familiar playoff foe in the Chiefs, a team the Colts have beaten four straight times they’ve faced off in the playoffs.
The Cowboys get their mojo back.
In clinching the NFC East title, the Cowboys hardly looked like a contender. They ended the season getting shut out by the Colts and struggling to beat the woeful Buccaneers and Giants. But on Saturday vs. the Seahawks, the Cowboys returned to what got them to the playoffs in the first place: defense and running.
The Cowboys defense held the NFL’s #1 rushing attack to just 73 yards on a measly 3 yards-per-carry. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott erupted for 137 yards on 5.3 YPC as the Cowboys held on for a 2-point victory over the pesky Seahawks.
Thanks to Philly’s shocking win in Chicago, the Cowboys will avoid the Saints in the raucous Super Dome and instead head to Los Angeles to face the Rams in the divisional round next Saturday.