After a wildly entertaining wild card round, we now get a recap of the 2021 NFL divisional weekend. The introduction of the two best regular-season teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs, only added to the excitement. Thankfully the divisional round managed to go ahead with no real COVID scares as each team had a full complement of players and coaches. On Saturday we saw the Los Angeles Rams travel to Wisconsin to not only face the Packers but also battle the cold weather conditions. Up next was the Baltimore Ravens traveling to Orchard Park to face the number two seed Buffalo Bills.
On Sunday we were treated to the reigning Super Bowl Champions the Kansas City Chiefs squaring off against the playoff underdogs the Cleveland Browns. And the divisional round ended with the third encounter between divisional rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. Let’s see how it all unfolded in our roundup of the 2021 divisional weekend.
Roundup from The 2021 NFL Divisional Weekend
Los Angeles Rams 18 – 32 Green Bay Packers
How does that old saying go, defenses win championships? Perhaps the times are changing as the offense came out on top in this one. The Los Angeles Rams came into the 2021 NFL divisional weekend with the best-ranked defense in all of football. Aaron Rodgers has been on a tear this season and is the odds-on favorite for the MVP award but when it comes to facing number one defenses he has struggled recently. Going into this game with an 0-4 record in his last four outings against the number one ranked defense will have given Sean McVay’s men hope, not that it lasted long.
Los Angeles spent the entire season stuffing the run and using their strong secondary to prevent the deep ball. Thus forcing teams to play short passes and take what the defense allowed them to get, which for the majority of the season wasn’t much. The Rams also boasted the number one scoring defense in the NFL and the thanks for that can be largely placed on their two elite defensive stars.
Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are two of the highest-paid players in the NFL (outside of the QB position) and deservedly so. Whether it is getting pressure on opposing QB’s or shutting down an entire side of the field, these two have worked well together in making the Rams the best defense in football. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be in this one.
Aaron Donald came into this game nursing a rib injury that he claimed would not affect him. Well, it did. Donald managed just over 50% of the snaps and for someone who usually gets out there 80-90% of the time, this was a huge loss for the Rams D. Even on the snaps that he was in, he wasn’t the game wrecker that we have come accustomed to seeing. He failed to get any hits on Aaron Rodgers and the closest he came was a slight tug of his jersey as Rodgers climbed the pocket to complete a pass. Donald finished the game with one solitary tackle.
Without the pressure on Rodgers, this put a lot of pressure on the Rams secondary. Jalen Ramsey was matched up against Davante Adams for the majority of the game and after Adams caught a touchdown pass early on he seemed to have Ramseys number.
A dominant offensive performance from the Packers led them to victory in this one. The three-pronged backfield of Aaron Jones, A.J Dillon, and Jamaal Williams ran for a combined 191 yards and a score as they made a mockery of the Rams defensive line. Aaron Rodger’s pocket presence was incredible as despite having oodles of time the minute he felt pressure he was on the move and climbing the pocket.
Scoring on each of their first five possessions set the Packers up excellently and by the end of the game, Green Bay had 484 yards of total offense. Rodgers was happy to beat the Rams with the short passing game and then just as they thought they had the deep ball stopped he uncorked a great deep ball to Allen Lazard for a 58-yard touchdown.
A dominant performance sees the Packers march on to yet another NFC Conference Championship game. A championship game where no matter what happens in Sunday night’s matchup we will see two elite quarterbacks going at it for a shot at the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens 3 – 17 Buffalo Bills
Our second game of 2021 NFL divisional weekend put two quarterbacks against each other that we will see for years to come. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson were both taken in the 2018 draft and both have turned into star quarterbacks in the league. The first half turned into Baltimore’s running game versus Buffalos passing game and early on Baltimore looked like they had a winning game plan.
Baltimore started with a 12-yard run, a 10-yard run, a nine-yard run, and then a further two runs over 5 yards. A strong opening drive that ended in one of the rarest plays in football history. A missed Justin Tucker field goal doesn’t happen often but when it does it’s special.
The rest of the first turned into a bit of a slogfest. A Ravens punt and then a missed Buffalo field goal brought the first quarter to an end. Lightning then struck for a second time at Orchard Park. Tucker lined up a 46-yard field goal and struck the right upright and missed a second field goal of the night. The rest of the second quarter went punt, punt, punt, and then finally Tucker managed to stick a field goal through the uprights to tie the score at three at the half.
As the third quarter began this game was in need of some strong offensive drives, and that’s exactly what happened. Buffalo started with an eleven play drive that combined 5 pass plays, 4 run plays, and two sacks and ended with a three-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. Finally, the game had a touchdown and all eyes were on Baltimore who again found themselves down in a playoff game. Lamar came out and put together a drive of his own.
A healthy mix of pass and run plays had Jackson and his Baltimore offense with a third and goal at the Buffalo nine-yard line. On the previous play, Buffalo rushed six and forced Jackson into making a poor throw to a wide-open Marquise Brown. Then on the third and goal opportunity, Buffalo only sent four and dropped seven into coverage, giving the Baltimore quarterback time to survey the field. Lamar threw to Mark Andrews but was picked off by Taron Johnson who returned it for a 101-yard pick-six.
In the span of two drives, that combined for 26 plays, the Bills scored an offensive and a defensive touchdown and found themselves with a 14 point lead. Baltimore could do nothing more in the game and had to watch as Jackson went out injured and the fate of their playoffs was placed in the hands of the rookie quarterback, Tyler Huntley. Huntley could do nothing against a stout Bills defense as both his drives ended in failed fourth-down attempts. Buffalo advanced to the AFC Championship game for the first time since the 1993 season and Baltimore is faced with another offseason of answering the question: Is Lamar good enough to deliver a Super Bowl?
Cleveland Browns 17 – 22 Kansas City Chiefs
After a huge win against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, the Cleveland Browns were trying to make it to the AFC Championship for the first time since 1989. The only thing standing in their way…2021 NFL divisional weekend against the best team in football, the Kansas City Chiefs. In the last three matchups between these teams, the Chiefs have scored a total of 77 points and won all three games.
Cleveland comes in after having the best first quarter ever and Kansas City had the pleasure of a bye week. Kansas coming off a bye are a scary prospect. Andy Reid is 18-3 after a bye week and in the playoffs, he is 5-2 after a first-round bye. Tough ask for the Cleveland Browns.
Kansas started well with a ten-play drive that ended with Patrick Mahomes running in the game’s first score. A drive that was a combination of run and pass plays and even had the patented deep ball to Tyreek Hill was more than the Browns could handle out the gate. Cleveland did follow that with a 12 play drive of their own. The only difference being they ended with a field goal. Field goals are not good enough to beat this team and despite Baker Mayfield playing very well, he has to find the end-zone. Kansas rubbed salt in the wounds and marched straight down the field and Travis Kelce had another playoff touchdown.
Cleveland then had a chance to get back in the game. A great drive put together by Mayfield culminated with a 25-yard pass to Rashard Higgins. Higgins then stretched out for the endzone and, on a dodgy tackle from Daniel Sorenson, fumbled the ball out of the end zone. Kansas then marched and got another field goal to see out the first half. A tale of two weeks for this Cleveland offense.
The second half of this game was turned on its head with the injury to Patrick Mahomes. A simple QB keeper play ended horribly for Mahomes as he appeared extremely dizzy as he hobbled off. Later ruled to be out and within moments the Browns scored a touchdown making it a one-score game. It was all on Chad Henne to get the Chiefs to their third straight AFC Championship game.
Henne stepped up and got the job done. After the Chiefs defense forced a punt out came Henne to try and close the game out. He was very quickly forced into a third and fourteen and then did his best Mahomes impression as he ran for thirteen and a half yards to make it fourth and inches. Henne then converted a gutsy play call to go for it on that fourth down and end the game.
Kansas City is hosting an AFC Championship game for the third straight year as their quest for a second consecutive Super Bowl goes on. A lot of attention will be on how Patrick Mahomes is and if he can suit up against Buffalo.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 – 20 New Orleans Saints
Both teams came into the 2021 NFL divisional weekend after beating possibly two of the weakest teams to make it into the playoffs. Neither the Chicago Bears nor the Washington Football Team put up much of a fight against these two teams but now they get to do battle against each other. A 43-year-old Tom Brady goes up against a 42-year-old Drew Brees for possibly the last time ever. Drew Brees is going to retire at the end of this season so this was his last game in an NFL stadium.
Tom Brady is no stranger to Championship weekend but he was trying to play in his first-ever NFC Conference Championship. After playing for twenty years in the American Football Conference Brady made the switch to try and conquer the other conference in football. Standing between him and the championship matchup was a Saints team that had already beaten him twice this season. In fact, he was going up against Drew Brees who was 5-2 against Brady all time.
Drew Brees started slow out the gate as his Saints only managed two field goals in the first quarter and then he threw a costly interception in the second. Sean Murphy-Bunting returned the interception to the Saint’s three-yard line and set Tom Brady up for a three-yard pass to Mike Evans to give the Buccaneers the lead.
New Orleans came out on the very next drive and dived into the Sean Payton bag of mystery and wonder. Drew Brees was on the sideline and Jameis Winston came into the game. Winston however lined up in the wildcat as Alvin Kamara took the direct snap. After a bit of trickery, the ball ended up with Winston who found Tre’Quan Smith wide open for a 56-yard touchdown.
A touchdown each in the third quarter had the game tied at 20 going into the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter proved to be one quarter too far for Drew Brees. He threw his second interception of the game and set up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in great field position. Brady then finished the drive with a rushing touchdown of his own to give the Buccaneers 17 unanswered points and a 30-20 lead.
In what is likely to be his last game ever, Drew Brees was unable to lead his team to another NFC Championship and bowed out with three interceptions as his inability to get the ball down the field was on full display. Tampa Bay goes on to meet the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau and Brady will be hoping for a chance to compete for his seventh Lombardi trophy.
Thanks for reading my article about the 2021 NFL divisional weekend.
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