NFL Playoffs Divisional Sunday: Two supremely solid performances, another incredible upset for the Titans.

Last weekend, thrilling finishes and crazy upsets filled Wildcard matchups in the first instance of the NFL playoffs for season 2019/20.

 

We saw the exit of reigning champions and perennial heavyweights in the New England Patriots, as well as the dangerous New Orleans Saints. Coming into this weekend’s divisional matchups, the top-two seeded teams from each conference faced a difficult challenge in underdog sides who fought through the gritty nature of Wildcard Weekend.

 

Divisional Sunday kicked off with Superbowl favourites San Francisco taking on Minnesota after their amazing over-time upset against quarterback Drew Brees and his New Orleans Saints. With the weight of expectation heavily placed on the 49ers’ shoulders, Jimmy Garoppolo led his side onto a sunny Levi’s Stadium ready to emulate the heroics of his former team the Patriots. Managing to snag the number one seed in a very competitive conference, the 49ers kicked the match off solidly.

 

In a tune that would become consistent throughout the game, the 49ers defence held rock solid against Kirk Cousins and his offensive line that had conjured miracles at the New Orleans Superdome. Upon gaining instant possession, Garoppolo used his solid offence to work up the field, before some pin-point deep passes set up an early touchdown. The Vikings looked shell-shocked, having been blitzed by some perfect team football.

 

Cousins struggled to settle into a rhythm against the aggressive San Francisco defensive unit. A fortunate flag meant their offensive play stayed alive, as it gifted Cousins the chance to produce a miracle pass that was wonderfully received and waltzed to the end zone by Stefon Diggs. Despite San Francisco’s initial supremacy, the Vikings had once again found a way in this playoff series to work back into a game.

 

Luckily, Jimmy G sparked his 49ers to life. Facing a lengthy third down in the mid-field, Garoppolo produced a wonderfully weighted pass while being knocked off his feet. The diving catch signified the home team’s desperation, which became evident on their defensive actions when Cousins was pressured and sacked into submission.

 

Despite the score staying even, the 49ers began to look like the superior team. Little things began to go their way, typified by Richie James Jr’s daring punt return that set up his offence in a wonderful field position.

 

Halfway through the second quarter San Francisco lifted a gear. Building up after some great small efforts, the 49ers’ tenacity was evident and frightening. Far from the perfect team in terms of skill and cleanliness, their fight and ability to do just enough came to the fore. Even when fumbling the ball, mountains of men flung themselves onto the ball to ensure the red-clad team kept possession. Resisting ’til they could resist no more, the Vikings’ dam wall eventually burst after some classy passes from Garoppolo.

 

From this, their defence excelled, and the Vikings couldn’t come up with enough plays to consistently achieve first downs. They squeaked through a field goal in the shadows of half time, but Cousins had no way of finding open receivers. The result? Sacks, and plenty of them. They were gritty, but they were up against the team who has made grit their trademark.

 

Still sensing they were in the contest, the Vikings held San Fran to just a field goal, but couldn’t get their offence going to capitalise. Moments later, an interception rewarded their defensive pressure, and the 49ers ran away without looking back. A tough rushing touchdown extended the lead, and San Francisco quickly took the game away from Minnesota.

 

Displaying their excellent toughness, they closed out the game perfectly. Their stingy defence refused to allow any more points through, while Garoppolo played the scenario with Patriots-like ease to close out the result. A very impressive and mature performance, the 49ers look potent and extremely tough to beat over four quarters.

 

After the first match was a showing of the standard present in 2020, the first-seeded Baltimore Ravens strutted out to a home crowd baying for a win in the AFC Divisionals. Coming up against the plucky Tennessee Titans, fresh off a historic away win at New England, MVP-favourite Lamar Jackson and his side had a chance to stamp their claims for Superbowl supremacy.

 

Starting off full of confidence and class, the Ravens looked strong and scary. Jackson implemented his rushers perfectly. The offensive line was smooth, like a well-oiled machine. Everything was going to script until…bang – interception. Flicked off hands, the Titans had the ball and wily veteran Ryan Tannehill cooled his underdog side’s nerves. Starting in a great field position, Tannehill did as all good quarterbacks should – convert dominant positions into scores. With a deft over-the-back throw to the corner of the end zone, receiver Jonnu Smith flew to pull down a thrilling touchdown reception. Baltimore was silenced; the Titans had shocked the home crowd early.

 

This was seemingly a surprise for the cocky Ravens and Jackson just couldn’t click into gear. The Titans’ defence once again gifted Tannehill with an amazing starting position after stopping the Ravens from converting a wild fourth down chance. Manipulating the defence by using star rusher Derrick Henry, Tannehill then split the Ravens down the middle for another touchdown. A quarter and a half down, the Titans were playing pristine football against the classiest team in the league.

 

Finally, the Ravens were shocked into action. Two scores down, Jackson had to make a move. Therefore, he backed in his own rushing abilities and began to convert some first downs. Then, he passed with anger and frustration, drilling the ball onto receivers’ chests so hard that some sternums may have been broken. The defence also lifted to stop Tannehill from further scores. The end result saw Baltimore put on two field goals before half time. However, a late sack against Jackson showed the Titans’ fight, as it prevented a touchdown from being scored.

 

With the momentum starting to sway to the home team, the second half had an air of Tennessee holding on. However, the script was once more flipped on its head by the Titans’ defence. A massive moment came when Jackson tried to convert a fourth and inches, only for his rushing game surprisingly proving to be not enough for the first time this season. Hanging on by a thread, the Ravens were pushed onto the back foot again when Henry rushed down the field, taking the Titans just yards away from the end zone.

 

Mere plays later, a trick play saw Henry assume the role of passer, jump-passing to a receiver in basketball-fashion. The play of the day. The Titans then slammed the breaks on Jackson, Tannehill’s sublime rushing lunge for a TD reasserting the scoreboard dominance.

 

The time was now or never for Jackson and his highly fancied team. A sizzling pass helped to inspire the crowd. When the noise rose, silence soon ensured. The Titans picked off another Jackson pass, and the match was all but over.

 

Despite a quarter and a half remaining, the Ravens teased but could never make any decent indents into the scoreboard. The Titans, in a fashion similar to the 49ers before them, froze out the all-conquering Ravens offence and held the ball enough to clinch the amazing win. If their upset over New England was freakishly impressive, this performance was all-time. Now locked in to play either Kansas City or Houston for a spot in the Superbowl, the sixth-seeded Titans loom as a wild underdog tale. Led by a veteran quarterback given a go after a dismal start to the season, Tennessee have created a roster perfectly suited for the warfare of playoff football.

 

An air of excitement lights up the NFL night sky on the Divisional Sunday night.

 

Leicester City. The Western Bulldogs. Now, the Tennessee Titans are beginning to form a playoff journey that looks eerily similar to those recent famous sporting efforts. The question is, can they sustain this plucky playstyle into February, and against all-round superb teams like San Francisco or Kansas City? Nobody knows, so let’s just sit back and enjoy what could be one phenomenal ride to the Superbowl.

 

 

 Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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