That was the best weekend of NFL playoff football ever.
And that is not recency bias because of what we have just witnessed as the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs advanced to the final four.
This was the weekend that had everything… big plays, furious comebacks, the occasional questionable coaching call here and there, and a history-making duel for the ages. All four games were decided on the final play – three walk-off field goals and an overtime touchdown catch. There is not really a way such a weekend can be topped. Every single contest went as far down to the wire as is humanly possible.
It was not always perfect. Far from it, in fact. But it was great drama. It was great sporting theatre. And it was great fun as this most unpredictable and craziest of all NFL seasons delivered with yet another dramatic round of action.
And consider this final twist before I get into four memorable games that will be talked about for years to come. Going into this divisional round, home teams had won more than 72 percent of games at this stage of the playoffs since 1970. The road teams won the first three contests this weekend and very easily could have won the fourth. I'll have more on that later.
But let's start back in Nashville on Saturday night with a game that already feels like it was played 400 years ago!
Cincinnati Bengals 19-16 Tennessee Titans
The Bengals waited 31 years for their first playoff victory and then followed up with a second just seven days later. And in toppling the number one-seed Titans, Cincinnati secured their first road playoff win in team history. That was yet another indication that these are not your father's Bengals – a team that had become mired in losing and sub-par play on the occasions when they did get into the playoffs six or seven years ago. These Bengals have a confidence and belief that stems from quarterback Joe Burrow, who was sacked a playoff record nine times in this game. But Burrow kept slinging arrows and never backed down as he threw 348 yards, leading Cincy to their first AFC title game appearance since the 1988 season. This felt like a significant turning point in Bengals history.
Who's Hot… Evan McPherson may be a rookie kicker, but he plays like a 10-year veteran and he shares the same swagger as Burrow and superstar wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. There is ice running through McPherson's veins. Ahead of his game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired, he reportedly told backup quarterback Brandon Allen, 'Well, I guess we're going to the AFC Championship Game.' He then calmly delivered his fourth field goal of the day and his eighth in two playoff games – all without a miss – to advance his team to the final four.
Who's Not… Ryan Tannehill did not play well on the big stage and the interceptions that plagued Tennessee's quarterback during the regular season returned at the absolute wrong time of the year. Tannehill was picked off three times, the most damaging being the one to Logan Wilson at the end of the contest when the Titans should have been driving for glory. Tannehill had time to throw and yet still forced his pass into tight and crowded coverage. Tannehill is a good quarterback, but has to win games like this to be considered anything more than that.
San Francisco 49ers 13-10 Green Bay Packers
This was not a pretty contest for the football purists, but it was certainly easy on my eye. The 49ers and the Packers fighting it out in an intense contest played on a frozen field that turned increasingly hostile as the Football Gods gave their Lambeau Field snow globe a timely shake. This game built in drama as it went along and San Francisco were led by strong defense, excellent special teams and just enough offensive plays when they needed them most. This turned into a war of attrition and the Niners had more of a stomach for the fight with the game on the line. Kyle Shanahan's men are banged up, but they keep on rolling and have now won nine of their last 11.
Who's Hot… San Francisco's pass rush took over this game when it was needed most and their forceful front is reminiscent of groups who have taken over Super Bowl runs throughout NFL history… the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants, the 2015 Denver Brocnos and the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to name a few. Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead had two sacks apiece and the Niners dropped Aaron Rodgers five times. That group up front give them a chance in every contest.
Who's Not… Green Bay's offense looked ominously-good on the game's opening drive as they marched 69 yards in 10 plays to score on A.J. Dillon's six-yard run. It was amazing to see their following nine possessions yield just three points and now Aaron Rodgers' future is very much in doubt… again. But the real guilty party was the Packers' special teams unit. That group had field goal and punts blocked (the second for San Francisco's only touchdown of the game), gave up a 45-yard kickoff return and had just 10 men on the field for Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal. That level of special teams play was not just poor, it was unforgivable.
Los Angeles Rams 30-27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There was a dramatic backdrop to this Rams-Bucs classic as stories began to circulate throughout Sunday that Tampa's legendary quarterback Tom Brady might be calling it a day after 22 glorious seasons. So, when the Rams rolled to a 27-3 third quarter lead, I was thinking, 'Oh no, Tommy, you can't go out like this!' I was also busy selling the comeback story to my Sky Sports colleagues Jeff Reinebold, Shaun Gayle and Brian Baldinger and they were having none of it. I offered them seats on the Comeback Train I was driving, reminding them that Brady trailed Atlanta 28-3 in Super Bowl 51 and delivered a stunning overtime win for the Patriots. It almost happened again as, somehow and some way, Brady got the Bucs level at 27-27 with 42 seconds remaining. We all got so excited about more Brady magic at that stage that we almost forgot about Matthew Stafford's ability to deliver game-winning drives of his own. After he connected on a 44-yard shot to Cooper Kupp, Stafford spiked the ball, Matt Gay kicked the game-winner and, just like that, Brady's shot at another historic Super Bowl win was snuffed out. What drama!
Who's Hot… Matthew Stafford now has 43 game-winning drives since he entered the NFL in 2009 – the most of any quarterback in that period. And while his Rams needed late heroics after blowing a 24-point lead, I'm not putting that on Stafford. He was outstanding for most of this contest as he threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns. His final big throw to set up the winning field goal came with Ndamukong Suh in his face and with Todd Bowles sending the house on a blitz. Stafford did what he was brought to LA to do – he delivered in a big moment. His job is not done yet, though. There is no doubt this quarterback was brought to California to win a Super Bowl.
Who's Not… It was a hard day's work for Brady behind an offensive line missing Tristan Wirfs at right tackle. But there were still good players along that front and they got dominated, allowing Brady to be pressued on 30 percent of his dropbacks – almost double the pressure he felt during the regular season. Von Miller (one sack and nine QB pressures), Aaron Donald (one sack and seven QB pressures) and Leonard Floyd (one sack and one QB hit) lived in the backfield and even though he fought to the very end, Brady never looked comfortable.
Buffalo Bills 36-42 Kansas City Chiefs (OT)
Talk about saving the best until last. This was not just the game of the weekend, this might be the greatest game I have ever seen. We're talking about a classic here. An all-timer and that's down to the fact that Buffalo's Josh Allen and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes are absolutely ballers. Neither deserved to be on the losing side in this battle for the ages. This is a game that will be talked about and replayed on television 50 years from now. It was that good. The two teams combined for a shocking and stunning 25 points in the final two minutes of regulation. And there was another six tacked in overtime to send Kansas City to a fourth straight AFC title game. Mahomes threw for 177 yards AFTER the two-minute warning. Stunning. Just stunning. This felt like a Super Bowl and the quality of play was off the charts.
Who's Hot… The quarterbacks. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are going to fight out several more playoff games like this one in their careers. A new rivalry has now kicked into full gear and it can be one to match Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Allen threw for 329 yards and four touchdowns and put his team on top with scoring strikes with 1:54 and 13 seconds remaining. Mahomes went for 378 and three and put KC back in control – albeit briefly – with a 64-yard strike to Tyreek Hill with 1:02 left. He then engineered a frantic field goal drive in just 13 seconds and threw the game-winner to Travis Kelce in OT. Take a bow, boys. You were both fantastic and both deserved to win.
Who's Not… Both deserved to win, but only one got a shot in overtime. Mahomes took the ball after Kansas City won the coin toss and marched the Chiefs to victory. After brilliantly throwing the Bills into a lead with 13 seconds remaining, Allen never saw the field again. Overtime rules have to be changed to allow both teams at least one possession, especially in the playoffs. And that is not anti-Chiefs bias in any way. I had no horse in this race and was just as frustrated in the 2018 AFC title game when Mahomes never touched the ball in an overtime loss to Brady and the Patriots. With both quarterbacks in out-of-this-world form and with both defenses out of gas, the winning of the coin toss became too influential and none of us wanted this game to end without getting a look at Allen one more time. Also, one final thing, why the heck didn't Buffalo squib kick after taking their final lead? That would have run four or five seconds off the clock, leaving Mahomes one miracle play to save the game. Instead, they give him all 13 seconds, which proved to be more than enough. That one is going to hurt Sean McDermott when he lies awake in the coming days and weeks.