NFL divisional round punctuated by Saints loss

Jude Papillion, Sports Editor

With the NFL’s divisional round playoff games for the 2020 season wrapped up, the league is looking ahead to the NFC and AFC championship games. In the AFC’s divisional games, the Bills defeated the Ravens while the Chiefs took down the Browns. Meanwhile in the NFC, the Packers conquered the Rams and the Buccaneers beat the Saints. This Sunday, the Bills will face the Chiefs and the Bucs will face the Packers.

The Ravens traveled to Orchard Park, NY to face the Bills on Saturday in the first of the AFC’s two divisional games. Buffalo defeated Baltimore 17-3, advancing to their first AFC championship appearance in 27 years. The Bills dominated the Ravens defensively, led by defensive back Taron Johnson who had a pick six against Lamar Jackson late in the third quarter. The interception return was tied for the longest in NFL history at 101 yards. Buffalo also held the Ravens, who led the league in rushing offense in the regular season, to 150 yards on 32 carries while also holding Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP, to just 14 of 24 for just 162 yards passing. Jackson also carried the ball nine times, only rushing for 42 yards. Buffalo’s Josh Allen completed 23 of 37 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown.

On Sunday, the Browns visited the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the second AFC divisional round game. Although Chiefs superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes left the game early in the third quarter due to the NFL’s concussion protocol, backup quarterback Chad Henne was able to hold off the Browns, leading the Chiefs to their third straight AFC championship game appearance. Prior to leaving the game, Mahomes threw for 255 yards, completing 21 of his 30 passes and scoring two touchdowns — one in the air and another on the ground. Henne completed six of his eight passes for 66 yards and an interception and Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker tacked on three field goals in Kansas City’s 22-17 win. The Browns, who were trying to win two playoff games in a season for the first time since 1950 and who won their first playoff game since 1994 a week prior, were unable to drive down the field and score a touchdown  against Kansas City and instead ended up punting with just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter, costing them the game. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 204 yards, completing 23 of 37 pass attempts, along with a touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry and an interception. 

The Rams ventured to the frozen tundra to face the Packers at Lambeau Field in the first of the NFC’s divisional round games. Aaron Rodgers went 23 of 36 throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Packers to defeat the Rams 32-18, advancing to their fourth NFC title game in seven seasons. Packers running back Aaron Jones also rushed for 99 yards and one touchdown on just 14 carries. The Rams were limited defensively due to unanimous All-Pro selection Aaron Donald being banged up from a rib injury sustained a week earlier in Seattle. While Donald played, he only had a single assisted tackle. Rams quarterback Jared Goff finished completing 21 of 27 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. He was also sacked four times, however. 

The Saints hosted their NFC South rival, the Buccaneers, in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday as 43-year-old Tom Brady and 42-year-old Drew Brees faced each other for the third time this season. The Bucs were driven by their defense who had four takeaways and their offense also capitalized, scoring on three of those turnovers. Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette both scored on short passes and after Devin White picked off Drew Brees for Tampa Bay’s third takeaway, Tom Brady scored on a one-yard carry. Brady finished with 18 completions on 33 attempts for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Jameis Winston, who joined the Saints after Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers, threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith on a trick play against his old team.

Drew Brees played a dismal game, completing 19 of his 34 attempts for 134 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions in a playoff loss — a devastating way to potentially end Brees’ 20-year career. While Brees has not officially said whether he plans to retire or not, he has one year remaining on his $50 million two-year contract he signed last March. In April, however, Brees agreed to become a football analyst for NBC Sports following his football career, leading to speculation about his status for the 2021-22 NFL season. Drew Brees has broken nearly every possible passing record in the NFL including most career passing yards and most career pass completions in addition to leading the Saints to their first Super Bowl victory in the 2009 season.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers will face the Packers in Green Bay for the NFC Championship Game. The Packers are favored to defeat the Bucs with the spread opening at -3 and the game will be broadcast by Fox at 2:05 p.m. on Sunday.

The AFC Championship will also be held on Sunday with the Bills traveling to Kansas City to face the Chiefs. Mahomes is still questionable for the game and is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, although he was a limited participant in the Chief’s Wednesday practice. Chiefs standout rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is also questionable for Sunday’s game after experiencing hip/ankle injuries earlier in the season against the Saints. Despite their injuries, the Chiefs opened as 3-point favorites over the Bills and the game will air on CBS at 5:40 p.m. on Sunday.