Sunday’s games decided who will play Saturday’s winners.
Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots (AFC)
The Patriots not only started the day with home field advantage, but the weather worked in their favor too, it was a freezing cold day in Foxborough, which was of course a deterrent for L.A. and their fans right from the start.
Tom Brady and his offense authored the longest opening postseason drive of Bill Belichick‘s tenure at the franchise. The 14-play masterpiece ate 7:11 off the clock and saw the signal-caller find the ever so versatile James White for 45 yards off five receptions. They continued to set the tone with a mix of screens, pinpoint throws and Sony Michel runs – including the opening score – Brady picked apart a defense that showed none of the creativeness that saw them defeat the Ravens a week prior. TB12 exists in a completely different world to Lamar Jackson, preventing the Chargers defense from causing the same amount of Chaos they did in Maryland.
The offensive plays were so good that Tony Romo called the Patriots’ Josh McDaniels an “unsung” play-caller. He’s not wrong, the offensive coordinator is as good as they come and he proved it on an opening march that resembled so many other artistic gems from the Patriots offensive locker.
Philip Rivers didn’t seem to let the cold, hostile conditions affect him, he uncorked a 43-yard scoring shot to a wide-open Kennan Allen. Though, it wasn’t much more than a fleeting bright light for the outplayed Chargers. By the end of the first frame the game had turned ugly for L.A..
The Patriots controlled both lines from the get go, whilst the swarming Bolts defense we saw against Baltimore withered into a soft show of would-be tacklers who appeared in awe of Tom Brady and mystified on how to disrupt him, also allowing White to make an NFL post-season record 15 grabs.
The lack of a pass rush allowed the veteran QB to pull pages from his younger years, hitting 15 of his first 19 passes and burying L.A. in a 21-7 hole with a well-place 15-yard lob to Phillip Dorsett in the back on the end zone. New England found the end zone on their first three drives for the first time in the franchise’s playoff history. Their fourth consecutive score made the Patriots the first to do so in the playoffs since the Colts pulled it off against the Broncos in 2003.
Belichick dialed up a key defensive adjustment minutes into the affair, challenging Rivers with a cover-zero approach, freeing up rushers and forcing L.A.’s playmaker into a handful of desperate, deep throws against an underrated Patriots defense. Dont’a Hightower tangled with Rivers on multiple occasions, whilst Trey Flowers flashed moments of brilliance and dominance for a team that raked up two sacks, seven hits and 28 hurries, coaxing the Chargers into three delay of game flags.
Brady finished with 34/44 completions, 343 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. Meanwhile his counterpart, Rivers, ended the game completing just 25/51 for 331 yards, 3TDs and an interception.
Chargers – eliminated
Patriots v Chiefs – Sunday, January 20th (6:40pm – CBS)
Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints (NFC)
The game didn’t start the way the home team or fans wanted, with Cre’Von Leblanc intercepting an under thrown Drew Brees deep pass meant for Ted Ginn.
The Eagles started off strong, clicking on all cylinders showing impressive focus and precision, jumping out to a 14-0 lead. Nick Foles thoroughly outplayed an uncharacteristic Brees. Though the Saints’ fortunes changed in the middle of the second quarter with a very aggressive fourth-and-1 fake punt, on which Taysom Hill powered his way to a first down. A rejuvenated Brees followed to up with a 42-yard pass play to Michael Thomas and rookie Keith Kirkwood, halving Philly’s lead.
Denver may be all about the 12th man, but the fans were definitely that extra man in the Superdome for NOLA on Sunday, sending the decibel-levels soaring.
The Eagles’ offense fell dormant in the second half, amidst a swamp of penalties, wasted timeouts and just straight up chaos. The hosts took control coming out after the break, going 92 yards (112, counting penalties) in 18 plays, burning nearly 12 minutes off the clock on an instant-classic drive that ended in a Michael Thomas touchdown and their first lead of the day. Thomas proved too physical and talented for Philly’s defense. He carried the Saints offense with 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions.
Although they made the biggest postseason comeback in franchise history (14pts), Brees will have to up his game if they’re to beat the L.A. Rams and advance to the Super Bowl. Sure he continues to make plays in key situations, like on second-and-long or third-and-short, but, he missed a pair of long touchdowns due to arm-strength limitations on the deep pass. The best downfield throw of the day actually came from Taysom Hill, who hit Alvin Kamara in stride on a 46-yard TD, that was nullified by a penalty. It took until the second half for Brees to really get going and that likely won’t be enough to book a place in Atlanta on Sunday, especially considering the mistake-prone version who dropped a snap, took a bad third-down sack and fumbled twice early in the game.
The home playmaker completed 28/38 throws for 301 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Meanwhile, Nick Foles completed 18/31 for 201 yards, 1 TD and two interceptions.
Eagles – Eliminated
Rams v Saints – Sunday, January 20th (3:05pm – FOX)
ALL TIMES U.S. EASTERN