NFL Wildcard Sunday – Two wins that shook the playoffs

There’s something special about elimination finals. Compared to the second chance nature that some finals series boast (such as in the AFL), the constant do-or-die, trying to survive with your head above the water scenario that the NFL poses to its playoff combatants creates an amazing spectacle of matches.


In its 100th season, the NFL is at the peak of its powers. The competition is as even as it has ever been, with the two conferences holding multiple seeds who have equal chances of snatching a Super Bowl spot. The first day of their playoff series begun on Sunday, as the infamous Wildcard Weekend featured two elimination finals in each division.


Sunday was AFC day, as the Houston Texans, in their jaw-dropping indoor stadium that was bursting with success-hungry Texan supporters, hosted the underrated Buffalo Bills. Houston, despite the firepower and shocking versatile speed of quarterback Deshaun Watson, fell behind quickly. Halfway through the match the Bills looked set to claim a major playoff scalp, leading 16-0. Much like Essendon in the AFL, the Bills were the perennial playoff hard luck story. It had been another century when they had last clinched a playoff victory, as flashback videos showed the baggy tops and feelgood nature of their 1995 win. Nearly a quarter of a century later, they sat on the precipice of a famous win.


But of course the Texans were going to rally on their home field. Buoyed on by their baying fans whose noise rose steadily throughout the second half, Deshaun Watson swerved past defenders and found receivers on route to the end zone. A daring quarterback run and despairing dive over the end zone gave Watson and his Texans the score they desperately needed.


The return of valuable defender J.J Watt sparked Houston into action. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen had performed admirably all day, holding up under the intense pressure of sturdy defenders rushing to tackle you fiercely. His poised demeanour was soon uplifted by the powerhouse of Watt, as his brutal sack sparked a change of momentum.


Heading into the last quarter, the home side were pushing for scoreboard pressure. Buffalo couldn’t add any more points regardless of how hard they persevered, while Watson’s magic began to rise to the fore. In a hectic last five minutes, neither side could lock in a victory. Houston had a pivotal chance to score the game winning score after a classy Watson drive up the field, yet lost the ball within the space of two horrid plays.


When Allen received the chance to secure the away win after a half full of shakes and fumbles. Within minutes he had lost possession and the brutal Houston defence, on the back of superhuman Watt, marched down the field for a touchdown and two-point conversion that put them in front for the first time.


The foot was right back on Allen, and his steely attitude originally fluttered. The Texans appeared to be too good, with too much support from a riling home crowd. But just as the match was set to fall to Houston, a swift turnover occurred and the Bills got a sliver of a chance. With the clock ticking down, Allen got his veteran kicker Stephen Hauschka into range. From 47 yards away, his kick shimmied through between the uprights and sent the clash to overtime.


Just like the last quarter, the match continued to shift from side to side. Minutes flew, passionate fans threw hands to mouths. It was all too much, too hard to look. Enter Deshaun Watson.


With his Texans in peril of losing possession once more, he was curtailed by two Bills defenders. Needing to gain over 10 yards to keep their chances alive, he spun out of both of their lunges, somehow keeping his balance and flying away from other tacklers. Hemmed into the sideline, his rushed throw fell into a receiver’s arms, and the Texans never looked back. Fast forward a minute or two and a field goal confirmed the result. All on that one piece of magic. Very Marlion Pickett-esque, but made better by the pressure, occasion and scoreboard.


If that game was enough to stop one’s heart, the perennial playoff professionals in the New England Patriots hosted the unknown of the Tennessee Titans. Champion combo Brady and Belichick had faltered in the last round, losing their first round bye and forcing them into playing against an underdog outfit. After a shocking start to the season, the recruitment of wily thrower Ryan Tannehill led to a resurgence, and a playoff spot against all odds.


On the back of serious form, they waltzed through the vaunted Pats defence early, Tannehill slicing a sizzling pass through the middle to better the Patriots’ early field goal. A slug ensured. Brady, with a struggling offence who lacked a cool head and a trustworthy set of hands to receive his passes, couldn’t exact his mighty influence on the game. One dynamite play before half time allowed Edelman to waltz in for an easy touchdown.


But this wasn’t a scripted Patriots playoff effort. Just before the half Tannehill drove hard down the field, and the powerful and explosive running game of Derrick Henry gave him a vital touchdown.


Despite the free scoring of the first half, both offences struggled after the break. The Patriots constant offensive problem rose its angry head, as even champion receiver Julian Edelman fumbled catches in critical moments. Brady just could not find avenues to the end zone, despite Sony Michel’s best efforts rushing the ball. In the end, their impotent offence killed them.


With the odds against them once more, the Titans held out the Pats, as Tannehill froze out the game with some cool first downs. With 20 seconds to make something happen, Brady’s frustrations all season exploded, as his throw was intercepted and returned for a heart-smashing touchdown. Game over. Brady bowed his head and walked off Gillette Stadium as a free agent for the first time in his career. Stunned NFL fans comprehended the idea of Belichick not being ever-present in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. The dynasty had been kicked out, and Wildcard Sunday had claimed two victims. One can only wonder what shocks and excitement lie in store tomorrow.




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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  1. Nice report, Sean.
    Indeed there were some cracking games to start the play-offs.
    My thoughts:
    That final play from Deshaun Watson was simply amazing.
    Where to now for Tom Brady? Six weeks ago the Pats were flying, now their season is over. I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls it quits (or is forced to).
    I’ve always wondered just how good Ryan Tannehill might be at a good franchise, what a smart recruiting decision.
    I reckon this Superbowl is as wide open as I have seen. Anything could happen from here.

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