Sunday, 7 January 2018

NFL playoffs | Solid Falcons put a lid on Rams | Titans stun Chiefs on wild-card Saturday

NFL playoffs | Solid Falcons put a lid on Rams | Titans stun Chiefs on wild-card Saturday 

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The Atlanta Falcons faced a stern test Saturday night when they began what they hope will result in a return trip to — and a better result in — the Super Bowl this season.
Ultimately, the team with more experience took care of business, with the Falcons eliminating the Rams, 26-13, behind a grinding offense and a couple of special teams turnovers by the home team. The Falcons allowed running back Todd Gurley, a bona fide MVP candidate, to gain 101 yards on just 14 rushing attempts, but kept him out of the end zone. The Rams, who led the NFL in scoring with a 29.9-point average, were stymied by the Atlanta defense, and lost their first game of the season when Gurley rushes for more than 100 yards.

Meanwhile, Atlanta enjoyed a 37:35-22:25 advantage in time of possession, didn’t turn the ball over, and got four field goals from kicker Matt Bryant, including two from over 50 yards, to ensure a trip to Philadelphia to face the NFC’s top-seeded Eagles next weekend.
Kicking off the weekend was an upset in Kansas City, with the Tennessee Titans coming back from an 18-point deficit in the second half to win, 22-21, and knock the Chiefs out. When it comes to the playoffs, the Chiefs have been underachievers and this game could be Alex Smith’s last with the team, which drafted Patrick Mahomes last spring.

“He’s one of the guys we’re expecting to be out there,” a high-ranking executive with an NFL team planning to be in the quarterback market told The Washington Post’s Mark Maske. “He’s certainly a guy we’ll have on our list, and we’ll look into him and his situation.”

With the win, the Titans became just the second road team to win a playoff game when losing by 18 or more in the second half. Also, there’s this:

Carrying a 21-3 lead into halftime had to make the Chiefs and their fans feel pretty good. Not so much though regarding star tight end Travis Kelce, who took a shot to the head while making a catch in the second quarter and  looked

One of the NFL’s other darlings, the Buffalo Bills, will make a playoff appearance for the first time in 18 years Sunday, traveling to Jacksonville for the day’s early game. The 9-7 Bills sneaked into the postseason last Sunday when the Ravens lost to the Bengals on a touchdown pass by Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd. Since then, Buffalo fans have been paying their good fortune forward with contributions to the charities of both players.

The 10-6 Jaguars have advanced with a strong defense and, well, Dalton and Boyd may not be able to help the Bills here, but no one should count the team and its Bills Mafia fans out.

The weekend’s finale features an NFC South matchup, the third this season between the Saints and Panthers, in New Orleans. The Saints will be trying to beat a team for the third time this season, something not easily accomplished. The Saints won 34-13 on Sept. 24 and 31-21 on Dec. 3. Containing Cam Newton will be a must for the Saints’ defense, which will be helped by the presence of Marshon Lattimore, the cornerback who is a rookie of the year candidate and just happened to have missed both of the earlier games against the Panthers. Lattimore recorded five regular season interceptions in his 13 games.

Among devotees of Who Dat Nation, there’s a sense that this might be Drew Brees’s best shot at a second NFL title. The 39-year-old is in his 17th season and, for a change, the Saints aren’t living and dying with his passes. This season, New Orleans has two Pro Bowl running backs, Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, who ranked fifth in the league in rushing offense.

“Still, my mind-set doesn’t change during the course of preparation or the efficiency at which I want to play at. I still think positive plays. I still think taking care of the football and all those things. But I think at the end of the day, what has it done for me? Well, it doesn’t force me to have to take as many chances.”

They faced the potent offense of the Los Angeles Rams, one of the NFL’s unexpected darlings this season, after a season in which it appeared that there were lingering effects from their meltdown loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The game was in Los Angeles and, to boot, the Rams have a marvel in Sean McVay, their 31-year-old wunderkind coach.

“It sure is nice,” Brees said. “I mean, listen, does it change the way I prepare? No. Does it change my mind-set going into the game? No. It’s just when you add up the number of throws … it’s probably my fewest attempts in a long time, right? So if you’re taking away five, seven, 10 attempts a game and those are going to the run game, well, that means that you’re doing something right in the run game. And it probably means you’re playing good defense because you’re not in a position where you have to throw the ball or get big chunks [of yardage]. 
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