NFL Review: 'Super' Wildcard Weekend

Super Wildcard Weekend has come and gone, and whilst we didn’t get 5 back-and-forth classics, we did get plenty of drama, some awful officiating, some even more awful play calling (with 14 seconds left and no timeouts), a retirement party, and an absolute clowning of one of the NFL’s most hated franchises.

That all means there’s plenty to discuss as we look back on Saturday and Sunday, plus ahead to tonight – Monday Night Football: Wildcard Edition – AND preview next weekend’s Divisional Round with the bracket all but set.

Cowboys Choke The Season Away

Credit: Brandon Wade (Associated Press)

Ugh. How many times? The Dallas Cowboys have now failed to appear in the NFC Championship game in each of their last ELEVEN playoff seasons. That’s the longest streak in NFL history by any team. And HOW does this team – loaded with talent on both sides of the ball – go out without winning a game?? 

And to THIS 49ers team? Sure, the Niners were everyone’s favourite dark horse team this weekend, streaking into the playoffs on the back of 4 wins out of 5… but they limped past the Houston Texans… they needed a miracle comeback and Matt Stafford’s worst game of the season to even get into the playoffs… I just do not buy this Niners team.

Yes, Deebo Samuel is electric. Yes, Elijah Mitchell is fantastic for a 6th round rookie. Yes, George Kittle (only 1 catch yesterday) is usually fantastic. But as ever, the Niners advanced despite their quarterback attempting to give the game away. Jimmy Garoppolo’s egregious INT in the 4th quarter gave Dallas hope, and really should have led to San Fran’s elimination. Jimmy’s overthrows or underthrows WILL cost this Niners team, just as it did against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl two years ago.

I’m gonna have to keep banging this drum – you cannot, and will not, win a Super Bowl with Garoppolo under centre. It just isn’t going to happen. Fair enough, sticking with Jimmy this year while Trey Lance learns the ropes is understandable, but Shanahan needs to move on quickly if he wants any chance to get back to “The Big Game” and rectify his mistakes in his last two appearances. 

But the headlines shouldn’t be about the Niners, and they won’t be. The Cowboys’ decision to run it with Dak with less than 20 seconds on the clock, rather than take shots to the endzone from the 40, will be debated forever, but for the miracle comeback attempt to go out with a whimper like that is unforgivable. Mike McCarthy – welcome to the hottest of Hot Seats.

Dak and the offense started slowly, but found some rhythm in the second half, taking advantage of Jimmy’s generosity to bring the Cowboys back within a score. It was far from ideal, but getting the ball back down 6 with 40 seconds left gave Dallas some hope. Kellen Moore called a couple of wonderful plays – I am always in favour of a hook-and-lateral play – to move the Cowboys into Hail Mary territory with time still to spare. To then let the (admittedly slim) chance for a miracle to slip away because of the officials not being able to get the ball set… is unbelievable.

McCarthy said he wanted one shot running 5 verticals from the 25, rather than 2 shots at a Hail Mary from the 40… I can understand that… but to not even throw the ball to the endzone once isn’t good enough. Can we blame the officials somewhat? Yes, definitely. Dak was clear in saying he felt like they would have got the ball spiked if not for being bumped from behind by the official who was trying to set the ball for the last play. That said, the Cowboys only have themselves to blame, having set a franchise record for most penalties in a playoff game. Their lack of discipline was a key contributing factor to them being at home today, and not progressing to play Tampa Bay next weekend.

Obviously there are many Cowboys-haters who are celebrating all across America today, and I used to be one of those. But – genuinely – this Cowboys team is so likeable, filled with talent and youth, and actually good enough to back up the hype. Or, they should have been. This is a Championship Roster. It’s no surprise Jerry Jones said he “couldn’t remember” the last team he was as disappointed by a loss as this one yesterday.

2021/22 will be looked back on as the season where the Cowboys had all the pieces… except maybe the right guy at the top making the decisions. Mike McCarthy defended his play calling staunchly in the post-game media availability, but there will be serious questions about him in the off-season. I’d like to see him come back; they’re building in the right direction after all. But next year, as with every year in Dallas, it really is “Super Bowl or bust.”

You can’t expect to keep Dak, Zeke, Pollard, Lamb, & Cooper together on the same offense for long. They had a 4000 yard passer, a 1000 yard rusher, a 1000 yard receiver, a player with 10 sacks, and a player with 10 INTs. That’s the first team in NFL history who could say that… and it went to waste. Such a shame. All I can hope is that Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay were watching, taking notes, and are set to expose Kyle Shanahan’s team appropriately next week. 

The Bills School Big Brother

Credit: Rich Barnes (USA Today Sports)

Literally the only way this could’ve been more enjoyable for me would be if Buffalo would have hit 50 on the scoreboard. I’m guessing they’re probably okay with 47… Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills made the statement of all statements on Saturday night, emasculating the New England Patriots to the tune of a 30-point playoff loss; the worst in Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach.

Josh Allen was incredible. This was a Top 5 defense in the league. Allen, along with OC Brian Daboll, carved them apart, meaning the Patriots “3 pass” win over the Bills from earlier in the season was absolutely confined to the bin of “fluke weather-influenced wins” for good. Allen found Dawson Knox in the endzone twice early on, before sharing the love to Emmanuel Sanders and Gabriel Davis later on.

Even Devin Singletary, who has had somewhat of a late season rebirth in this offense, scored a pair. And what’s even better than all that? A big man TD too. Tommy Doyle – who the Bills’  own social media team admitted they didn’t have a graphic made up for – grabbed one too. Five TD passes for Allen. 7 drives, 7 TDs for Buffalo. And one dildo in the endzone when the Patriots did eventually find a way to get in there themselves. 

No table was safe in Buffalo all day, with Bills Mafia truly showing up in force, after there were allegations earlier in the week that the fans weren’t selling out the stadium quite as quickly due to the expected frigid weather conditions. Trust me, the weather didn’t appear to bother the Bills one bit. If there was ONE team in the NFL who I believed could go into Lambeau Field and deal with those conditions, and maybe beat the Packers, it would be these Bills. It’s almost a shame we won’t get to see that.

But what we did see, was the Buffalo Bills making sure EVERYONE knows – once and for all – that the AFC East is their dominion now. Sean McDermott has built this team into an absolute Waggon, and they’re rolling into Kansas City next weekend with the knowledge that they’ve already won at Arrowhead this season. Buffalo is on the hunt for glory. 

Yep, Belichick and the Pats won’t go away quietly. Mac Jones has shown a lot of promise as a rookie… but other than Hunter Henry does he have a really scary weapon to throw to? Jonnu Smith has regressed into a bit-part role, and the wide receivers in New England leave a lot to be desired. This team is still rebuilding… and long may it continue. 

Spare a thought for the Patriots and their fans?

Nah. No chance in hell. 

Quick Hits

  • So happy for Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Seeing Zac Taylor celebrating in a downtown bar with Bengals fans was glorious. They should enjoy this – they’ve waited long enough. 
  • That said… there’s still more to win!!! Don’t let last weekend be your Super Bowl, Zac… This Bengals offense (which didn’t click fully on Saturday) is more than capable of posing SIGNIFICANT issues for the Titans next weekend. Don’t stop here Cincy. Go, go, go.
  • Sidenote – if I was a Raiders fan I’d be disgusted by the fact that the Tyler Boyd TD was allowed to stand. CLEARLY the whistle was blown before he caught the ball. Very strange. Officiating was unfortunately a theme of Wildcard weekend. When the stakes are this high, the officials just have to do better. Of course, it’s an incredibly hard job, but still… we need better.
  • Tampa Bay shut me up. I was convinced the Eagles had a chance, but error after error left the Buccaneers with the easy job of just closing Philadelphia’s season down without much drama. Jalen Hurts was in a walking boot after the game… Should Sirianni have given Minshew a shot in that case?! We’ll see, but an impressive debut Head Coaching season in Philly no doubt. I’d expect Hurts to be back, with Devonta Smith and Dallas Goeddert as his main targets as they seek to hunt down the Cowboys in the NFC East. Minshew… I figure he has a new home next season.
  • The Buccaneers will now host either the Rams or Cardinals next week (we’ll get to them shortly). Brady vs Stafford, or Brady vs Kyler? Either way… the star power on display in Tampa next weekend will be unbelievable. 
  • As good as Josh Allen was, Patrick Mahomes matched him. Would you believe the score was 0-0 after 1Q at Arrowhead, and the Steelers actually took a 7-0 lead thanks to TJ Watt’s Scoop-and-Score? No matter. 42-21 Final. Mahomes threw for over 400 yards and 5 TDs. I am SO excited to see Bills @ Chiefs next weekend. Could be the best game of the entire Post-Season.
  • Lastly, spare a thought for the farewell to Ben Roethlisberger. Not a very nice human by many accounts, considering the off-the-field allegations throughout his career, but certainly a talented QB who will be loved by the majority of Pittsburgh forever. It was clear a year ago his time was done. Now it seemingly is official. A new era begins for Mike Tomlin in the Steel City. Wonder who’ll be their QB next year… 

MNF Wildcard Preview: Cardinals @ Rams

Credit: USA Today Sports

I’m very excited for tonight’s game. The NFC West is unquestionably a top-3 division in the NFL (many would say number 1), and we get a feisty rivalry game tonight to close out Super Wildcard Weekend. The Rams and the Cardinals are one apiece this season, with the road team having won on both occasions.

Last time the Cardinals were in LA they trounced the Rams and announced to the world they were a serious contender. Since then though… The “Kingsbury Slump” has enacted itself once more, with Arizona fading down the stretch and just about limping into the playoffs. But, JJ Watt is back! Recovering from yet another “season ending injury” before the season is over, and both Chase Edmonds and James Conner seem good to go, so only DeAndre Hopkins will be missing, of their key offensive pieces. That said, Hopkins is arguable the most important of all, with AJ Green and Christian Kirk now needing to step up for Arizona. Look for Zach Ertz to have a big game against an ailing Rams’ secondary.

On the flip side, the Rams – for all their talent – have been up and down all season, not really finding the levels of consistency Sean McVay would have been hoping to have. The additions of Von Miller and OBJ have started to pay dividends, with the former getting in the sack column, and the latter becoming a red zone TD threat for Matthew Stafford.

Speaking of Stafford, he had his worst game of the season last time out and enabled the 49ers to sneak into the playoffs. He’s currently being cursed by thousands of Dallas residents… but Stafford’s combination with Cooper Kupp has been a joy to watch and brought Kupp the rare Triple Crown, of most receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs. Furthermore, Sony Michel has blossomed late in the season, and the surprise addition of Cam Akers – himself recovered from a supposedly season-ending injury – gives the Rams more firepower that anticipated in the backfield.

How do I see this going? It’s tough. I think overall the Rams are the better roster, but the Cardinals – specifically Kyler Murray – are so much fun to watch. I’ve been on their bandwagon for while… I’ve been burned by them a thousand times… but I’m staying loyal. Give me a Monday Night upset. Go Cardinals.

Divisional Round Preview

So, we’re down to just 8! The Divisional Round is where the cream really rises to the top. Whoever wins on Monday Night, we have 4 fantastic games to look forward to. 

Saturday starts with the Cincinnati Bengals travelling to Tennessee to face the rejuvenated King Henry and the Titans. Tennessee being the AFC’s 1 seed still feels weird… and I actually like the Bengals to upset them here. Clearly having Derrick Henry back is a big boost, but do I trust Ryan Tannehill against the Bengals defense? Not sure I do…

Then, Saturday night’s Main Event is the 49ers headed to the Frozen Tundra to face the presumptive back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. I’ve been pretty clear on how I feel about the Niners… so you won’t be surprised to learn I’m certain the Pack will not only win this weekend, but also next and advance to the Super Bowl… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Sunday starts with the other NFC matchup, with the Bucs hosting either the Rams or the Cardinals. I’m hoping the NFC West team (whichever it is) can upset the Bucs, but either way, I don’t think any of these 3 teams is beating the Packers at Lambeau.

And then… finally… the game of the weekend, and maybe the game of the season. The first playoff game in history where both quarterbacks are coming off 5TD pass performances. Bills at the Chiefs. WHAT a treat to finish your weekend off. I cannot wait. I think this one is too close to call… but I’ll give the edge to the Chiefs based on Homefield… JUST about.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. I’m @CallumJDSquires on Twitter and Instagram. Come and tell me why I’m wrong about the 49ers (I’m not). Have a great week, stay safe and healthy. Cheers.

Callum Squires