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NFL playoffs: Winners and losers from Saturday's Divisional Round games

BALTIMORE – The NFL Divisional Round may be the best weekend of football all season, because it combines a multitude of games with the excellence of the teams, all with a trip to the Super Bowl tantalizingly within reach. On Saturday, that was especially true, because both No. 1 seeds -- the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, the two most dominant teams of the season -- finally joined the playoff fray after their first-round byes.

The first two teams are set for the conference championship games, with Baltimore routing Houston and San Francisco eking out a win over Green Bay. It's the first AFC Championship Game to be hosted by the Ravens and the first conference championship game to be played in Baltimore since January 1971, when the Colts beat the Raiders in the old Memorial Stadium.

Here are the winners are losers from Saturday, as the NFL awaits the rest of its final four.


1) The presumptive MVP: If there was a ding on Lamar Jackson's résumé, it was his performance and a 1-3 record in postseason games. This game should go a long way toward ending those concerns. In critical game situations Saturday, the Ravens did the only logical thing and put the ball in Jackson's hands. On the important opening drive of the second half, with the game tied, Jackson ran a quarterback draw for a 15-yard touchdown. On a fourth-and-1 from midfield late in the third quarter, Jackson kept it again, ran to the left, stutter stepped and then took off for 14 yards to keep a 12-play drive alive that ended with a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 14-point lead. The Texans' blitz limited Jackson in the first half – Houston blitzed on 13 of 18 dropbacks, pressuring Jackson 10 times, sacking him three times and holding the Ravens to just 23 net yards passing in the first half, per Next Gen Stats – but they had no answer for his runs. He put the game away with an 8-yard touchdown run that he continued into the tunnel. Jackson finished the night with two rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, a completion percentage of 72.7 and 100 yards rushing.  

2) Ravens' adjustments: After a rocky start, the Ravens' offense adjusted in the second half, emphasizing getting completions and going faster. Jackson picked the Texans apart, taking short completions rather than trying to push the ball down the field. The game turned on the Ravens' first drive of the second half, when Jackson completed three short passes. Jackson said he did most of the talking during an edgy halftime in the locker room, and there was a lot of cursing. It all worked. 

3) Texans special teams: Steven Sims' 67-yard punt return for a touchdown and Ka’imi Fairbairn's 50-yard field goal accounted for all of the Texans' first-half points. Houston's special teams have been superb all season – they had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the regular season and Fairbairn missed just one field goal and one extra point all season. On Saturday, they kept the Texans in the game. 

4) The Texans' rebuild: They gave the Ravens a fight in the first half, and losing this game does nothing to diminish the lightning-quick turnaround and bright future the Texans have with C.J. Stroud and DeMeco Ryans. They will both be even better in their second seasons, and that should make the rest of the AFC nervous.

5) The Ravens' rushing attack: Jackson was electric, as always. But he was just one part of a run game that wore down the Texans' defensive front and ended up with 229 yards. Even the newly signed Dalvin Cook got in on the act, rushing eight times for 23 yards.

6) First-half defense by both Green Bay and San Francisco: In the first half, the Packers limited the 49ers' explosive plays, their bread and butter all season -- the only 49ers play that went for more than 16 yards in the first half was a 32-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle. The Packers were 0-3 in the red zone in the first half. The 49ers didn't even make it to the red zone -- their lone touchdown that 32-yard connection. The offenses broke out in the second half, but defense was fun while it lasted.

7) Bo Melton: On the Packers' first possession of the third quarter, they faced third-and-15 from their own 40-yard line. Jordan Love heaved the ball up for Melton down the deep middle of the field, where he drew a 41-yard pass interference penalty. On the next play, Love hit a wide-open Melton -- the beneficiary of a coverage bust -- for a 19-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a lead.

8) Explosive plays: Like them? Consider this sequence of three straight plays midway through the third quarter: A George Kittle 32-yard catch, Christian McCaffrey 39-yard touchdown run, and Keisean Nixon 73-yard punt return, followed by a fumble and an incredible mid-air recovery by teammate Eric Wilson, who was trailing the entire return. They were all part of a wild stretch in which the lead changed three times in three straight possessions, with three touchdowns scored in the span of four minutes.

9) Packers offensive line: It simply controlled the line of scrimmage, neutralizing pressure on Jordan Love (he wasn't sacked) and opening holes for the running game that rolled to 136 yards.

10) Brock Purdy: The San Francisco quarterback seemed to struggle with his grip in the rain all night and his passes were consistently off. At one point, FOX's cameras caught him taking his right hand off the ball -- while he was in the middle of his drop -- to wipe it on a towel, before attempting a pass. Other than the touchdown pass to Kittle, Purdy didn't look anything like the quarterback he has been most of the season. Until the 49ers absolutely needed him. With a little more than 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the 49ers took over, trailing by four points and Purdy led them on a methodical, clock-chewing drive. Just after the two-minute warning, on second-and-10, Purdy took off on a 9-yard scramble to the Packers' 6-yard line. On the next play, Christian McCaffrey scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:11 left in the game. It was far from a perfect day, but that last drive was the most important one of Purdy's career.

11) Dre Greenlaw: Jordan Love mostly outplayed Purdy, but Greenlaw intercepted Love twice, and the second one sealed the last-minute victory for San Francisco.


1) The Texans' penalty count: The Texans had six penalties in the first quarter alone -- false starts were plentiful, thanks in part to the roaring crowd -- and those miscues stunted their offense when their defense and special teams were keeping them in the game. Houston finished with 11 penalties for 70 yards, killers for a team that needed to be practically perfect to beat the Ravens.

2) Houston's running game: The Texans tried to get the running game going, handing the ball to Devin Singletary on early first downs. He got nowhere. In all, the Texans rushed for just 38 yards and averaging 2.7 yards per rush, forcing the game into C.J. Stroud's hands.

3) The injury report: The site of Deebo Samuel walking out of the locker room in street clothes after halftime was brutal. Samuel suffered an injury to his left shoulder in San Francisco's second drive and he was ruled out at halftime. The only time all season the 49ers looked truly vulnerable -- during their three-game losing streak in October -- was when Samuel was hurt and did not play in two of those three losses.

4) San Francisco's mystifying clock management at the end of the first half: Clinging to a 7-6 lead, the 49ers took possession at their own 25-yard line with 4:09 remaining in the first half, and then proceeded to show no urgency whatsoever. They went on a long, slow drive, taking 11 plays to move 45 yards to the Packers' 30-yard line, allowing four minutes to bleed off the clock. The strategy was clear: Kyle Shanahan didn't want to give the Packers the ball back at the end of the half with enough time to get into field goal position. The result: The 49ers eschewed the chance to score a touchdown, opting to play for a 48-yard field goal, attempted in a driving rain. It was blocked.

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