Thursday 22 February 2018 / 06:06 PM

NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS WRAP

Foles flipped the haters with Philly, New England laughed away the Titans, the Jags won a thrilling shootout and the Vikings got a play-off win for the ages. Let’s take a look at how it all went down in the NFL’s divisional play-offs.

Game 1 – Philadelphia Eagles 15 Atlanta Falcons 10

The top seed Philadelphia Eagles upset the Atlanta Falcons to advance, with back-up quarterback Nick Foles pulling the strings to silence his doubters, who this week seemed to pop up from every corner of the globe.

Philly started slow, with a handful of early fumbles, coupled with jitters from Foles, helping the Falcons to lead after the first quarter. After trading touchdowns in the second, the Eagles nailed three consecutive field goals to assume control heading into the run home with a 15-10 lead.

The Eagles punished the Falcons with some clever unorthodox running players along the way, with Foles able to get hot on a number of occasions, and their defence doing a good job to keep the potent Falcons to just 10 points.

Late on Atlanta desperately worked their way down field for a shot at continuing their quest to redeem their spectacular Super Bowl collapse 12 months earlier. It finished with a final pass to the ever reliable Julio Jones, who fell over, got up, jumped high and ultimately couldn’t gather in a winning TD.

Star of the show

After fumbling on his first carry, Jay Ajayi went on to record a huge night, pounding his way through for 54 yards from 15 carries, while pulling in three receptions for 44 yards, including a vital 32-yarder the fourth, which set his side up for a field goal.

Not only did Ajayi’s plays earn Philly a number of key first downs and keep them moving, he also took a heap of pressure off Foles, allowing him to free up and nail some big plays with his arm.

Game 2 – New England Patriots 35 Tennessee Titans 14

As expected the New England Patriots made light work of the Tennessee Titans in Foxborough, terrorising Marcus Mariota with eight sacks while running riot in offence.

The Titans made a flying start and took the initial lead thanks to a 15-yard Mariota throw to Corey Davis – a first career touchdown in the biggest game of his career so far – for the opening quarter’s only score. But the defending Super Bowl champions were quick to shake any thought of an upset, stringing together an excellent second quarter to score three TDs, one from Chris Hogan and two from running back James White, who grabbed a Tom Brady pass before running one in from four yards.

Tennessee never stood a chance from then on, constantly being pushed backwards thanks to their own sloppy offensive penalties and an aggressive Patriots defence who got to know Mariota way too well. The Patriots would run in another via Brandon Bolden, while Davis’ second TD in garbage time left the final margin at 35-14.

Star of the show

Surprise, surprise, the guy wearing No.12 for the Patriots was really good in a play-off game. Tom Brady averaged over 10 yards on each of his 35 completions, marching New England down the field with some huge throws which had the Titans’ defence in all sorts.

Brady tossed three touchdowns, linking up with Rob Gronkowski on a couple of huge plays, including a fourth-quarter TD, while leaning on the super consistent Danny Amendola, who finished with 11 receptions for 112 yards.

Game 3 – Pittsburgh Steelers 42 Jacksonville Jaguars 45

It was a good ol’ fashion shootout in Pittsburgh, as Jacksonville dodged a heroic comeback to become the only lower-seeded team to triumph in the divisional play-offs this year.

Through the first three quarters the game’s trajectory resembled a rollercoaster with a broken off switch, as the Jaguars raced out to a commanding 21-0 lead early in the third, thanks to a pair of touchdowns from dominant running back Leonard Fournette and a four-yard run from fellow back T.J. Yeldon.

When Antonio Brown gathered in a 23-yard toss from Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers gave themselves some hope, but as quickly as it appeared, it vanished again when linebacker Telvin Smith scooped up a fumble from Big Ben to take it 50 yards to the house.

Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell both clocked clutch TDs to reduce Jacksonville’s lead to 28-21 and set up a thrilling fourth quarter, which somehow managed to deliver more than anyone could ever have expected.

Two touchdowns each way were traded in the closing exchanges, with the Jags also adding a 45-yard field goal, calmly slotted by Josh Lambo to take it out to a two-score gap, which proved to be the winning play, after the Steelers went over via JuJu Smith-Schuster on the final throw of the game.

Star of the show

The Jaguars pounded Pittsburgh from every direction known to man in the early exchanges, with Leonard Fournette at the forefront.

The rookie sensation was untouchable, running in three touchdowns, including a spirited 18-yarder in the opening quarter, to stun the Steelers defence. By the end of the game Fournette would have 109 yards from 25 carries.

In a game that just kept changing, the 22-year-old running back was a constant force, keeping the chains moving as his side advanced to a conference showdown with the Patriots.

Game 4 – Minnesota Vikings 29 New Orleans Saints 24

A courageous fourth-quarter comeback from New Orleans looked set to be the story of the weekend, before a miraculous final drive gave the Vikings one of the great play-off victories.

Minnesota had looked thoroughly in control through an opening two quarters where they ran in touchdowns through Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, which coupled with a field goal, gave them a comfortable 17-0 lead.

With Case Keenum throwing well and their renowned defence doing all the rights things on the other side, anything but a Vikings win seemed inconceivable at the break.

But when Drew Brees linked up with wideout Michael Thomas on an accurate throw for the third quarter’s only score, the veteran QB seemed to get a taste for blood and more was to follow. A second TD for Thomas arrived in the fourth, followed by one for rookie running back Alvin Kamara, and with the Saints defence restricting the Vikings to a pair of long-range field goals in that period, while they also kicked one themselves, it was game on.

Clever management from Brees put the Saints in position for what appeared to be a game-winning field goal, which Wil Lutz drained from 43 yards, leaving Keenum with 25 seconds to rescue something for the long-suffering Minnesota fans. Right up until the last play of the game everything was centered on getting into position for a field goal, but Stefon Diggs had other ideas, leaping high to take a rocket pass and landing to find nothing but clean air in front of him, striding 61 yards for a dramatic winning touchdown.

Star of the show

In a perfect, injury free world, Case Keenum would never have been the first-choice quarterback in Minnesota this season. But his performances through the regular season, and once again against the Saints at the U.S. Bank Stadium, should ensure he’s never anything but the No.1 choice going forward.

The fifth-year quarterback managed the game well, throwing for 318 yards and completing 25 of the 40 passes, with a single intercept the only real blemish on his record. He then came up huge when it counted most with the seconds ticking away and his team trailing.

After Minnesota were pinged for an offensive penalty on the first play of the last drive, Keenum composed himself to complete consecutive passes and march down field, while simultaneously managing the clock, before throwing a monster pass down field which Diggs took brilliantly and finished for the win.

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About the author

Corey Rosser

One of CBS’s newest contributors, Te Aroha product Corey is the New Zealand correspondent for NRL.com, the editor for the excellent new site Kiwi League Central, and a guru of the local Auckland rugby league scene.

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