The NFL’s wild-card weekend lived up to its name. For the first time since 1990, when the league moved to the current playoff format, all four road teams won. Add the wild finishes in Minnesota and Cincinnati, and you’ve got a intriguing start to the race for Super Bowl 50.
Some memorable moments from the NFL’s first weekend of playoff games.
1. Flagged down
It didn’t look good. The Pittsburgh Steelers trailed 16-15, faced 1st-and-10 from the Cincinnati Bengals’ 47 with 22 second left and no timeouts, in a driving rain, with a hostile crowd in full throat, and a quarterback unable to throw deep because his passing shoulder had been crushed into the turf earlier in the quarter. Ben Roethlisberger’s short pass to Antonio Brown sailed high, but Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict laid a shoulder directly into Brown’s helmet and the concussed receiver crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. Burfict was flagged for unnecessary roughness and while Brown was being attended to on the field, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after a two-hand shove of Steelers coach Joey Porter, who was on the field presumably checking on Brown’s condition. The 30 yards in penalties advanced the ball to the Bengals’ 17 and the Steelers wasted no time in sending out kicker Chris Boswell, who nailed the 35-yard game-winner.
2. Chip shot
With 22 seconds left, no timeouts for either team and the Vikings down a point, Blair Walsh’s 27-yard field goal attempt was his shortest of four tries on the sub-zero day, but with the most at stake. What he unloaded was the ugliest kick imaginable. It yanked wide left and took Minnesota down with it. The kick, which coach Mike Zimmer later called a chip shot, would have sent Minnesota to the next round. It was the shortest missed field-goal attempt this season, according to STATS. Jacksonville’s Jason Myers missed a 26-yard attempt at Baltimore, but that was blocked. Walsh missed five times in 39 field goal tries during the regular season and is 121-of-142 (85.2 percent) in his four-year career. He’s also missed five extra points, including four this season from the longer 33-yard distance. The loss was another playoff kick in the gut for the Vikings, whose postseason history weeps with four Super Bowl losses, as well as the Roger Staubach-to-Drew Pearson Hail Mary pass, Gary Anderson’s field-goal miss in overtime of the 1998 NFC Championship after he had gone the entire season without missing any kick, and Brett Favre’s ill-advised interception late against the New Orleans Saints in another NFC title game.
3. Turnovers “R” Us
The Houston Texans had to overcome many struggles this season just to get to the playoffs. Yardage-gobbling running back Arian Foster tore his Achilles in Week 7, leaving the team 2-5 with an unsettled quarterback situation. An impressive defensive turnaround led a 7-2 closing run into the playoffs. The offense had more than one turnover just once in the final 11 games. But against the opportunistic Kansas City Chiefs, the Texans handed the ball over like an ATM spitting out twenties on payday. Houston’s first six drives were the stuff of nightmares: punt, interception, fumble, punt, interception, interception. Despite the Texans’ hospitality, the Chiefs only scored a field goal off the four turnovers and only led 13-0 at the half. Houston’s exit was sealed when the Chiefs started the second half with two long touchdown drives then added another field goal following Brian Hoyer’s migraine-inducing fourth interception.
Quarterback Russell Wilson has carried the Seattle Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls but his play this season is statistically the best of his career. With the season on the line in frigid Minnesota, he put on an act that would have made Houdini envious. Trailing 9-0 with 13 minutes left in the game and at the Vikings’ 39, Wilson was unprepared for a first-down shotgun snap that sailed past his head. He chased the ball down and slid to his knees to cover it 16 yards behind the line of scrimmage, hoping to save possession. But as five Vikings defenders approached, he popped up, angled free to his right and fired a pass on the run 25 yards to Tyler Lockett, wide open in the middle of the field. Lockett sped to the sideline and was wrestled out at the Vikings’ 4 yard-line. Wilson threw a touchdown pass two plays later. Given new life, the inspired Seahawks’ defense ripped the ball free of Adrian Peterson’s grasp on the ensuing possession and Seattle took a 10-9 lead on a field goal less than 3 minutes later. Though that would be the final score, Seattle did need one more magic trick to seal the win (See No. 2).
5. Cold open
Green Bay didn’t arrive in Washington with the imposing playoff swagger of recent seasons. Their passing game wasn’t the precision dart throw it had been while starting the year 6-0. The offensive line was a jumbled mess; the running attack hit and miss. But after a first quarter that yielded three punts, a safety and 7 yards on 13 offensive plays, the Pack regained form and roared back from an 11-0 deficit. Their next five drives netted 326 yards, four touchdowns and a field goal to put the game on ice and Green Bay back on track.
6. Knile flows
The first play of the first playoff game results in a 106-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Chiefs running back Knile Davis, playing in his Houston hometown. Davis’ return was the second longest in NFL playoff history and helped the Chiefs to their first playoff win in 22 years.
7. Burfict aim
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was an All-American in high school and college, and earned Pro Bowl status in his second NFL season. But he has a fatal attraction for Steelers. Burfict’s Week 8 tackle on Le’Veon Bell ended the running back’s season. On Saturday, Burfict plowed Ben Roethlisberger into the dirt and temporarily out of the game, then KO’d receiver Antonio Brown. But his rough play cost the Bengals and will cost him the first three games of next season.
8. Good hands
There is a stunning catch every weekend in the NFL and last week was no different. Washington tight end Jordan Reed snagged a throw one-handed that prevented an interception by Green Bay’s Casey Hayward. Seattle’s Doug Baldwin converted a third-and-10 with a one-hand spearing of a pass way over his head. But the winner was Martavis Bryant for his 10-yard touchdown catch that included taking the ball on an around-the-body adventure that concluded with a forward flip out of the end zone.
9. Losing it
Adrian Peterson’s fourth-quarter fumble at the Minnesota 40 set the Seahawks on their way to the go-ahead score. In his last playoff appearance, the 2009 NFC Championship against the Saints, Peterson saw the ball come loose three times. But he wasn’t alone in the butterfingers club. With a 16-15 lead, 86 seconds to play and at the Pittsburgh 9 yard-line — well within range of any kicker not named Walsh — Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill coughed up the ball one play after Burfict’s seemingly game-clinching interception of Landry Jones. The rest is history, like the Bengals.
10. On hold
Cincinnati’s postseason ticket was its sixth in seven years, unfathomable for those familiar with the “Bungles” teams of the 1990s. But Saturday’s loss extended the team’s stretch of playoff losses to eight games with their last playoff win Jan. 6, 1991, with Boomer Esiason at quarterback. At least this one can’t be pinned on Andy Dalton.
▪ Chiefs (12-5) at Patriots (12-4), 3:35 p.m., KTVT/11
▪ Packers (11-6) at Cardinals (13-3), 7:15 p.m., KXAS/5
▪ Seahawks (11-6) at Panthers (15-1), noon, KDFW/4
▪ Steelers (11-6) at Broncos (12-4), 3:40 p.m., KTVT/11