The NFL’s Final Four is now set with the Minnesota Vikings traveling to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars traveling to the New England Patriots for a chance to appear in the Super Bowl. Both games should have a lot of interesting storylines, but let’s recap the Divisional Round and discuss how those winning teams will fare next week and where the losing teams go from here.
1) Atlanta Falcons 10 at Philadelphia Eagles 15 – Normally when a sixth seed travels to a top-seed and loses by only five points, there are a lot of good things the sixth seed can take away from that game. They were usually a substantial underdog on the road, needed to win in Week 17 to make the playoffs and their luck just ran out. Tweak a few things in the off-season and comeback ready to be a top-team in 2018.
That would not be this game. The Falcons were actually favored by three points, due to Eagles QB Carson Wentz not playing with an ACL tear he suffered in Week 14 of the regular season. That meant that the Eagles were trying to beat the defending NFC Champions with backup QB Nick Foles behind center. The Eagles had home field advantage, but they were really outmatched at quarterback with the Falcons employing the reigning league MVP, Matt Ryan.
The Eagles still managed to win the game. Foles was by no means great; he was 23 for 30 with 246 yards passing, no passing touchdowns, no picks, only one sack and a QB rating of 100.1. This game was more about what he did not do. He did not throw an interception in the game. He did not lose a fumble. He took only one sack for minus eight yards. Those are things backup quarterbacks sometimes do that kill their team and he made no glaring mistakes on offense that cost them a chance to win the game.
He also did some positive things. Completing 76.6 percent of his passes and averaging 8.2 yards per passing attempt are nothing to sneeze at. Those are numbers that many starting quarterbacks in the NFL struggle to achieve. He also converted 12 first downs on passing plays and the Eagles were 6 for 13 on third down and they converted their only fourth down attempt. When combined with a running game that tallied 96 yards on 32 rushing attempts, the offense was effective on Sunday. They controlled the clock 32:06 to 27:54. It was enough for them to escape with a victory, which is all that matters in the NFL Playoffs.
Now, they could not have won this game without their defense. That is the reason they were able to survive scoring only one offensive touchdown, a missed extra point and three field goals. Falcons QB Matt Ryan was only 22 of 36 with 210 yards passing, one passing touchdown, no picks and a QB rating of 86.6. The ground game struggled; they had only 20 rushing attempts for 86 yards and no touchdowns. RB Devonta Freeman is supposed to be the star in their running game. He finished the game with 10 carries for seven yards and his longest run on the day was three yards. WR Julio Jones had nine receptions for 101 yards, but failed to score a touchdown. He did not make a meaningful enough impact on the game.
The Eagles D was on point in this game. They did not let the Falcons star players dominate the game, they held the Falcons to 10 points and they made sure their offense was never in a position where they felt like they had to score now or lose the game. The Eagles only trailed 10-9 at the half and when they kicked a field goal with 11 seconds left in the third quarter, they never trailed again.
That does not mean the game did not come down to the end with Eagles fans nervous that their team would survive the game. The Falcons launched a 14-play, 74-yard drive that began at the Atlanta 24-yard line with 5:57 left in the game. They made it all the way to the 2-yard line with 1:05 left in the game. Unfortunately for the Falcons, nothing opened up when QB Matt Ryan rolled out of the pocket and his pass to WR Julio Jones went incomplete. The Eagles bent, but did not break on that final drive and they held on for the victory.
It is going to be much tougher for the Eagles this week. They will face a Minnesota Vikings team that has to feel they are a team of destiny. They were left for dead at home against the New Orleans Saints and became the first team in NFL history to win with a touchdown scored and no time remaining on the clock. That was a 61-yard touchdown that defied belief.
They have the best defense in the NFL, an offense that has to be playing with a ton of confidence and they will be looking to advance to their first Super Bowl since the 1976 season. The Super Bowl is in their building this year, so they are going to be motivated to emerge from this game victorious and the Eagles offense will have to score more than 15 points to win that game. I think the Vikings have an excellent chance to win that game, but if Foles can avoid mistakes and the defense can keep the score down, the Eagles could survive and advance for a second straight week.
As for the Falcons, this was a very disappointing loss for them in a season that was filled with some successes, but where it felt like the team fell short of expectations. Last year, this team was one of the most powerful offenses in league history. They earned a bye-week last year with an (11-5) record and the second seed in the NFC. They tore through the NFC Playoffs with a 36-20 win over Seattle and a 44-21 win over the Green Bay Packers.
They were unstoppable on offense last year. They led the league in points scored with 540 points, they were second in yards gained at 6,653 yards gained, they led the league with an average of 9.2 yards per pass attempt and they were fifth in the league with an average of 4.6 yards per rushing attempt. They had five regular season games where they scored 40 or more points and 11 regular season games where they scored more than 30 points. They only scored less than 20 points one time, which happened to be against the Philadelphia Eagles. They scored only 15 points against them in a 24-15 defeat.
Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan moved on to be the head coach in San Francisco and the offensive coordinator job was taken over by Steve Sarkisian. The results were horrifying, which made it even more puzzling that there were talks that he would take the Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator position. This man should not be up for other jobs, he should be considered fortunate if they bring him back in Atlanta in 2018.
Consider this fact about the roster. They brought back a reigning MVP at quarterback that is only 32-years old. They brought back their top three rushers from last year, their top three wide receivers, their top two tight ends and four starters from the offensive line where the one starter was not back, because he was the weakest link on their line.
Yet with basically the same personnel back, they went from 540 points scored to 353 points scored. They went from 6,653 yards gained to 5,837 yards gained. They went from 4,725 yards of passing offense and 38 passing touchdowns to 3,990 yards of passing offense and 21 passing touchdowns. They went from 1,928 yards rushing and 20 rushing touchdowns to 1,847 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns. They went from 9.2 Yards Per Pass Attempt to 7.8 Yards Per Pass Attempt. They went from 4.6 Yards Per Rush Attempt to 4.3 Yards Per Pass Attempt. Their completion percentage dropped from 69.9 percent to 64.7 percent, their QB rating dropped from 116.8 to 91.9 and their interception percentage increased from 1.3 percent to 2.3 percent.
Why are they bringing back Steve Sarkisian and why would anyone else want to employ him to call plays? What did he really bring to this team? Maybe it was his improvement in sack percentage, which dropped from 6.4 percent to 4.3 percent, which was the only positive gain I could see for the offense this year. He managed to take a historic offense and make them average with basically the same personnel.
I am not saying that everything that went wrong was his fault. The players still have to make plays and they did not execute the offense as well as they did last year. Furthermore, it is hard to duplicate a historic season. The 2004 Indianapolis Colts had a historic season with 522 points scored and 6,475 yards gained. They dropped the next year with the same players and with no switch at offensive coordinator. They kept offensive coordinator Tom Moore and there was a drop off. The drop was significant; they fell to 439 points scored and 5,799 yards gained.
The difference was they went from the first ranked scoring offense and the second ranked yardage offense to second in points scored and third in yards gained. They did not become an average offense in one year. They just could not duplicate a historic season. There was no way that Ryan was going to play like he did last year, even if Shanahan returned this year. If you look at Ryan’s career numbers, he always has put up big yardage totals, but his highest touchdown season prior to the 38 he threw in 2016 was 32 touchdowns back in 2012 and that was his only other 30-touchdown season. His career QB rating is 93.4 and his career yards per attempt is 7.4. He played so far above himself last year that it was going to be tough to bring back that same production.
However, he went from the second ranked fantasy quarterback to 15th in one season and this offense killed them this season. The reason the Falcons returned to the postseason, was their defense stepped up, improving from the 27th ranked scoring offense and 25th ranked yardage defense to the eighth ranked scoring defense and ninth ranked yardage defense. The person people should be talking to about joining their team is defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, not Sarkisian.
This defense was good enough to win a Super Bowl. They held the Los Angeles Rams to 13 points on the road and they held the Eagles to 15 points. They just needed their offense to participate in this game. All they needed was 20 points and they were good to go this year. In games where the offense scored 20 points, they were (11-0), including the postseason. In games where they failed to reach 20 points, they were (0-7).
When you have Ryan, Jones, Freeman and Coleman; 20 points should not be a hard task. It is not something they should fail to do seven times in 18 games. I still do not understand how Jones had only three touchdowns in the regular season. This offense took a major step back this year, it cost them in the playoffs and they need to regroup and figure out how they become more like their 2016 offense and less like the 2017 version. There is just too much talent on this team for them to underwhelm so badly in so many games.
2) Tennessee Titans 14 at New England Patriots 35 – It looked like the Titans were going to make a game of this early. They forced the Patriots to punt on their first two drives and on their second drive; they marched down the field. The Titans covered 95 yards on just 11 plays and WR Corey Davis made a beautiful 15-yard touchdown catch to give them a 7-0 lead.
They never really played offense or defense after that touchdown. The Patriots scored the next 35 points in the game and it was basically over at half time when they secured a 21-7 lead. Patriots QB Tom Brady was 35 of 53 with 337 yards passing, three touchdowns, no picks and a QB rating of 102.5. They ran the ball 27 times for 101 yards and two more touchdowns. Their offense started off slow, but once they started moving the ball, Tennessee had no answers.
I think this was a classic Bill Belichick game. He takes away what the opponent wants to do and makes them beat him with something they do not like to do. The only way the Titans were going to win this game is if RB Derrick Henry controlled the flow of the game. Last week, Henry had 23 carries for 156 yards and one touchdown. This week, he had 12 carries for 28 yards and his longest run was just four yards.
That put the game in QB Marcus Mariota‘s hands and he was not able to deliver on the road. He was 22 of 37 for 254 yards and two touchdowns with no picks. On it’s face that looks good. The quarterback rating is 98.3, which is better than the 88.8 QB rating he had last week. Numbers can be deceiving though and they were in this case. QB rating does not take into account sacks and Mariota was sacked eight times for negative 52 yards. That means they rank 45 pass plays and netted 202 yards. That is terribly inefficient and a big reason that his QBR was just 58.6 in this game compared to Brady’s 82.9. On paper, their rating was within five points of each other, but one quarterback was dominating a defense and the other was running for his life and not making any meaningful contributions to his team.
The Patriots just keep making history. By appearing in his 37th playoff game, Belichick broke the record held by former Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry and former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula. Landry was (20-16) in his 36-playoff games and Shula was (19-17). They combined to win four Super Bowls. Belichick is (27-10) and is currently working toward his sixth ring as a head coach. The Patriots are appearing in their seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game. The previous record was five appearances, set by the 1973-1977 Oakland Raiders.
This is by far the most impressive run in NFL history. They have dominated the regular season the last eight years, winning at least 12 games every season. Brady is (196-55) as a starting quarterback in the regular season and (26-9) in the postseason. They will look to keep this run going next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Most people thought that when the Steelers and Patriots met in Week 15, that it would be a preview of the AFC Championship Game. People just wrote off Jacksonville as a product of a being an average team in a terrible division. Jacksonville’s D is legit. They had 55 sacks on the season and they can pressure Brady as well as any defense in the NFL that Brady has faced this season. The Jaguars allowed only 17 touchdowns and had 21 interceptions. QBs had just a 68.5 QB rating against them.
The Patriots will have the advantage at home with all their playoff experience against a team that is playing in their first AFC Championship Game since 1999. In a close game in the fourth quarter, I would trust them to make the plays to win the game. However, they cannot take this team for granted, because when Jacksonville builds a lead and can run the ball, they can keep scoring points in bunches. Brady must take care of the football and limit sacks and build a lead so that Jacksonville becomes a one-dimensional team. If Jacksonville is forced to pass and play from behind, that is when the game can turn against them. I think the Patriots will win the game, but do not right off Jacksonville. They have the talent on defense to frustrate Brady and if their offense shows up, anything is possible.
As for the Titans, they made some great strides this year. They qualified for the postseason for the first time since the 2008 season and they won their first playoff game since the 2003 season. In winning that game at Kansas City, they overcame an 18-point halftime deficit on the road, the first team to accomplish that feat since the 1957 Detroit Lions. They have a young team and it feels like their window is just opening.
The question is what are they going to do to build on that season. They only won nine regular season games this year and needed a tiebreaker to qualify for the postseason. They were just 19th in points scored, 23rd in yards gained, 17th in points allowed and 13th in yards allowed. Pro Football Reference gave them an Expected W-L: 7.4-8.6 based on their statistics. Cold Hard Football Facts ranks the teams in a ranking called Quality Stats Power Rankings. The Titans were ranked 19th, which was the lowest of any playoff team. The next lowest playoff team was the Buffalo Bills at 16th.
There are a lot of changes that need to be made. They have to figure out how QB Marcus Mariota takes his game to the next level. He had just 13 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions this year, with a QB rating of 79.3. He was terrible on the road, positing a road QB rating of 69.1. This passing offense must become more viable.
Their pass defense also must improve. They were 25th against the pass and allowed 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and allowed a QB rating of 87.8. Considering the quarterback situation in their division and games against the AFC North and NFC West, those numbers should have been much better given their quarterback competition in many of their games.
This just felt like a team that regressed in 2017 from 2016, even though they qualified for the postseason this year and did not last year. That seemed to play out in the statistics, they had an Expected W-L: 8.1-7.9 in 2016. They were 14th in points scored, 11th in yards gained and Mariota had a QB rating of 95.6 with 26 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. They had two first round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. This young team should have improved not regressed, even though they made the playoffs this year.
The Titans appear that they will stay with Mike Mularkey, which is probably the right call given that he led this team to their most successful season in a decade. They need to ask themselves how they fix the areas that went wrong; otherwise they are going to be a prime candidate to miss the playoffs in 2018, which would probably result in a change at the head coach. It is a team that came so far in 2017, but still has a long way to go. Mularkey needs to show he is the right person to take this team over the hump in 2018 or changes will need to be made in 2019.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars 45 at Pittsburgh Steelers 42 – This was one of the stranger playoff games I have watched. I thought Jacksonville had an excellent chance to upset Pittsburgh. Anyone that had watched Jacksonville beat this team 30-9 in the regular season had to realize they could go up there and win. However, the Jaguars won last week at home against the Buffalo Bills by a score of 10-3 and their offense looked lost last week. There was no way that offense could show up this week and win in Pittsburgh.
QB Blake Bortles had only 87 yards passing and 88 yards rushing last week. He appeared to be more of a liability than an asset. It was impressive that he rebounded this week and he tallied 214 yards passing, one touchdown and no picks. They had a more traditional run game, led by RB Leonard Fournette, who tallied 25 carries for 109 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
The story of this game was early in the game, when the Jaguars forced the Steelers into a punt, interception and turnover on downs. The Jaguars scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives and took a 21-0 lead. Pittsburgh’s offense came to life after that point. They outscored them 42-24 from that point forward. However, the hole was too deep and the Jags never relinquished that lead.
There were tons of miscues by the Steelers in this game. The interception by QB Ben Roethlisberger, which led to Jacksonville’s second touchdown was a crushing turnover. After Pittsburgh had scored their first touchdown and had the ball back, Big Ben fumbled the ball and it was returned by LB Telvin Smith for a touchdown that made the score 28-7. Their onside kick late in the game did not go the full 10 yards and led to a Jaguars field goal and a 10-point lead. They mismanaged the clock with 42 seconds left in the game that prevented them from kicking a field goal to make it a one-possession game. Scoring a touchdown was great, but with only one second left, it just made the score more respectable. That does nothing in the NFL Playoffs, the result is still going home for the season.
Jacksonville did not play perfect. Their D gave up 545 yards of offense and 42 points. They allowed the Steelers to run 78 plays to their 61 plays. They gave up three red zone touchdowns in three attempts. However, they did the important things. They held RB Le’Veon Bell to 16 carries for 67 yards and one touchdown. They won the turnover battle 2-0 and scored 14 plays off those turnovers. They never trailed in the game, no matter how interesting Pittsburgh made the game, they held onto the lead.
They will have their work cut out for them next week. They have to do better at stopping the pass, they cannot give up 42 points in New England and they cannot rely on New England to make the same mistakes that Pittsburgh made in this game. What they showed in this game is that even when the defense is not playing great, they can still make enough plays to impact the game and that their offense can dominate the opposition.
People thought the Jaguars would go up there and score 10 points this game. Jacksonville reminded people that they can score the ball. This was the fifth ranked scoring and sixth ranked yardage offense in the NFL this year. While they did not show that against the Buffalo Bills, they showed on Sunday that when this offense is clicking, they can score points on anybody. They will need to do that again next week against a very tough Patriots team. They are the underdog, but still have a good shot at making the game interesting and possibly pulling off the upset.
As for the Steelers, they have to wonder how many opportunities they have with this group. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been there since 2007 and Big Ben has been there since 2004, but most of this team has only been there for the last five years or less. The Steelers went to the Super Bowl in 2005, 2008 and 2010 with a different group of players. After they lost in Denver in 2011, they had to rebuild the team and missed the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.
This group started making their run toward a Super Bowl in 2014 and they have now made the playoffs for four straight seasons. Once, their season ended in the Wild Card Round, twice in the Divisional Round and another time in the AFC Championship Game. They just have not been able to make it over the hump the last four years and earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
In previous years, the problem was not having all of their Big Three together in a playoff game. That was not the problem this time around; Big Ben had 469 yards passing, five passing touchdowns and one pick. Bell had 16 rushing attempts for 67 yards, nine receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns. WR Antonio Brown had seven receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Those three players all showed up in this game and it is hard to place blame there.
However, I do not think one can ignore the role the offense had in the first half in putting the team behind the eight ball. Their first series went three plays for eight yards and resulted in a punt. Their next series went three plays for minus one yards and resulted in an interception. The third drive went eight plays for 50 yards and resulted in a turnover on downs. By the time the Steelers offense decided to play in the football game, they were down 21-0. That is unacceptable from a unit with a ton of playoff experience.
Although the offense does not escape blame, the big problem in this game overall was the Steelers D. This defense was never really the same after they lost LB Ryan Shazier for the season and it showed again in this game. They forced no turnovers, no sacks and no fumbles. They gave up 35 rushing attempts for 164 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Bortles was able to manage the game; he went 14 for 26 for 214 yards, one touchdown and no picks and no mistakes.
The Steelers offense eventually put them back into the game against the best defenses in the league, but when a team goes down 21-0 in a game, it is tough to comeback. The Steelers have been improving their defense each year since 2014. When Shazier went down, they went backwards and were not a very effective defense against good competition after that injury.
This off-season, Big Ben will have to decide if he is going to comeback, my guess is they part ways with offensive coordinator Todd Haley and they need to improve the defense. They also need to resign Bell, who they franchise tagged this year. If they do not, they will need to find a replacement at running back and there are few running backs in the world as good as Bell.
They are not incredibly far away, but for the fourth straight season, there is a lot of doubt about how this team makes it over the mountaintop. I do not think their window has closed completely, but they are running out of time to make it back to the Super Bowl with Big Ben at quarterback. They had a very good chance with the two seed this year and a bad first quarter, turnovers and mental miscues prevented them from facing the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game for the second straight year.
4) New Orleans Saints 24 at Minnesota Vikings 29 – This was the game that I was most excited to see this weekend and it ended up being an Instant Classic. Minnesota dominated the first half with a 17-0 lead and there was little going right for New Orleans. Saints QB Drew Brees had two interceptions, they could not establish the running game and they appeared to be poised to be blown out of the building when they missed a 58-yard field goal and Minnesota marched down the field and attempted their own 49-yard field goal. Minnesota missed that kick and the Saints had their first break of the game.
The third quarter did not start out well for the Saints, as they allowed the Vikings to go 11 plays for 35 yards and run 7:02 off the clock. However, they forced a punt, started moving the ball and when they scored with 1:18 left in the third, they were suddenly back in the game. However, at that point in the game, Minnesota had to feel very comfortable. The only team that had blown a 17-point lead with 17:18 left in the game in the history of the playoffs was the Atlanta Falcons last year and the Falcons did not have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. Minnesota was the top ranked defense in the league and they just needed to play like it for one more quarter.
The entire momentum of the game changed when QB Case Keenum came out after the touchdown launched the ball off his back foot and New Orleans snagged the interception. They went right down the field and scored and suddenly it was a three point game. Minnesota did well to respond by scoring a field goal, but by that point the Saints were on fire. They were forced to punt, but they blocked the Vikings punt on the next possession and when they scored a touchdown off that miscue, suddenly the Saints had a one-point lead and Brees had his third touchdown pass against the best defense in the NFL.
At this point, you had to figure the game was done. Keenum was going to comeback to Earth and it was going to be too much for him in that pressure packed situation to comeback from a blown 17-point lead. However, he kept his cool, marched the team down field on a nine-play 40-yard drive and they kicked a field goal with 1:34 left in the game.
The one mistake they made is they left too much time on the clock for a future Hall of Famer and Brees marched the Saints back downfield, even converting a fourth and 10 from the Minnesota 46-yard line. He went 11 plays and 50 yards in 1:04 and when the Saints converted the field goal, they had a one-point lead with 25 seconds left in the game.
It was not looking good for the Vikings, they had blown a 17-point lead, regained the lead and blown it again and they were down to one timeout and 25 seconds and needed to go 40 yards to have a realistic chance of winning the game on a field goal. They only made it to their own 39-yard line and with 14 seconds left, there was not many options left for the Vikings. They had no timeouts and they did not have time to throw the ball into field goal range unless they made it out of bounds. The Saints were giving up the middle of the field and crowding the sidelines, so that scenario seemed unlikely.
The Saints had very few things that could go wrong. They could not have a pass interference call or holding or some sort of defensive penalty. They could not give up a long completion on the sideline. They could not allow a receiver to make it behind their defense. Keenum does not have a good enough arm to put the ball 61-yards on a rope into the end zone, so short of a completion on the side line or a blown coverage, the game was over.
Keenum went back to throw the ball and he put the ball on the sideline to WR Stefon Diggs deep down the field. That is where rookie S Marcus Williams made a mistake. All he needed to do was keep Diggs in front of him, make the tackle and end the game. Instead, he overshot the play, did not prevent Diggs from catching the ball and when he did not do stop the catch or put himself in position to make a tackle, there was nobody between Diggs and the end zone. Diggs ran the ball the final 34 yards into the end zone and the Vikings won the game. It was the first game winning touchdown scored in the playoffs in NFL history with no time remaining on the clock.
This is a monster victory for a franchise that has experienced a lot of heartache. This has been their dream season where they have the best defense in the league and they have dreamed about winning their first Super Bowl in their own building. They want to forget about the four Super Bowl losses in the 1970s. They want to forget about the Hail Mary in the 1975 Playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys. They want to forget about their (15-1) season ruined by K Gary Anderson’s missed kick. They want to forget about the 2009 season and the disaster in New Orleans and the missed kick by K Blair Walsh in the 2015 playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks.
If the Vikings go on to win the Super Bowl this year, this game will do that. It will erase the years of heartache that they have had in the postseason. They will be the favorite against the Philadelphia Eagles, because the Eagles are without their starting quarterback. Foles is going to have his work cut out for him against the Vikings and nobody can say the Keenum cannot play big in a playoff game. This game does not make him a Hall of Famer, but he took what looked like a knockout punch from an all-time great quarterback and he kept his head in the game and ended up persevering. This victory for him can only aid them in their quest to bring home their first Lombardi Trophy. It gives the Vikings the confidence that they can win against any adversity.
As for the Saints, the last play will be the big talking point, but the big sin of the game was going down 17-0 on the road. Had they showed up in the first half, they would have won this game by 10 points or more. Instead, they could not do anything right. Their vaunted running game failed to gain 100 yards for the second straight playoff game, finishing with 24 carries for 80 yards. The big question they have to ask themselves is how a running game that carried them to an (11-5) record could come up that small in back-to-back playoff games. That should not have happened and if they had run the ball in the postseason like they did in the regular season, they would never have been in position to blow the game on the last play.
They could not seal the game at the end when a converted third and one would have left Minnesota with no time left. Brees had to throw three touchdowns in the red zone, because they could not run the ball for pay dirt. Their running game was supposed to be what carried them to a Super Bowl and it failed to show up in either playoff game. Brees bailed them out last week, he almost did this week, but it left the Vikings in the game with 25 seconds and the defense made a mistake and ultimately made the last mistake that cost them a chance to advance in the playoffs.
This kind of reminded me of the 2012 Divisional Round Game where Denver did not play a perfect game against the Baltimore Ravens, but they still had a 35-28 lead with very little time left in the game and 22-year old S Rahim Moore allowed WR Jacoby Jones to sneak behind the coverage and score a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game. That game went to double overtime and the Broncos dream season was ruined.
I do not know if the Saints have another year. They should bring back QB Drew Brees, but he will be 39-years old and there is no guarantee he plays the same way he did this year at that age. The good news is they hit a home run in the 2017 NFL Draft by drafting RB Alvin Kamara and CB Marshon Lattimore this year. They did a great job the year before adding WR Michael Thomas. They have a lot of young pieces and if Brees is still a franchise quarterback, they could be like the Broncos where they qualify for the Super Bowl the year after a disaster loss in the playoffs.
The problem for them is that there is no guarantee next year sets up any better for them. The Philadelphia Eagles will have Wentz back next year. The Minnesota Vikings could improve on their roster. The Los Angeles Rams are improving and their window just opened. The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons could be a few players away from making a run. The Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers could rebound from disappointing seasons.
The NFC is tough, the Saints would have had a road game against an Eagles team without their starting quarterback and then it would have been on to the Super Bowl. It was not going to be any easier than what they had in front of them, they had the game won and they gave it away on the last play. I am not going to say it was an epic choke job, because the player that blew the assignment was a rookie player, not a seasoned veteran, but the result is the same, regardless of whether the loss is classified as a choke job or an unfortunate loss.
The Saints had a chance to win a Super Bowl, everything they wanted to accomplish this season was in front of them and they gave it away on the final play. Now they have to hope they can improve the defense and offensive line, re-sign Brees and hope he does not regress at 39-years old. They also have to hope a lot of talented teams do not pass them in the NFC and that if they make the playoffs again in 2018, they execute better in the running game and learn from their blown coverage on defense.
That is what makes the playoffs such a difficult schedule to maneuver. A team can appear to have a dream season in place and one mistake; one blown assignment can ruin the season for everyone. The Saints had a dream season in the making and they lost this game for many reasons, one play does not decide a game. However, playoff games on the road in the Divisional Round are going to be tough games and their inability to execute in the first half and on the last drive of the game will haunt them for the entire off-season.