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Weekend Football Action – NFL RUNDOWN

By Arnie Leshin 

PITTSBURGH AT KANSAS CITY

It was probably veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s final fling with the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, but Patrick Mahomes and the 2nd-seeded Kansas City Chiefs didn’t give him any reason to celebrate.
At 39, Big Ben concluded with 29-of-44 pass completions for 215 yards and two meaningless touchdown passes late in the 42-21 rout against last year’s Super Bowl runners-up.
Mahomes was on target for five touchdown throws for 404 yards. Teammate Travis Keice caught one of them and threw for another. It was a big offensive surge by KC as Byron Pringle latched onto touchdown passes from Mahomes and Keice, and two other TD receptions came from Tyreek Hill and Jerick McKinnon.
That’s the way it went. While Pitt stumbled around on offense, the Chiefs tallied on six-straight possessions during the middle part of the game to advance to Sunday’s next round versus visiting Buffalo, which manhandled the New England Patriots, 47-17, Saturday.
Judging by the final score, you’d never guess the first quarter was all about defense. The Steelers ran 14 plays for a dozen yards, while KC had one more punt return of yards, 70, then it had from scrimmage, 62. Even the initial points would also be scored on defense.
But as soon a Mahomes, a four-time pro bowl quarterback, began connecting with his run and pass attack, it became a scoring spree for the home crowd of 65,077 to enjoy under blustering, windy conditions.
One unusual statistic came on possessions, with both teams having the ball for 30 minutes each. Otherwise, Kansas City (13-5) had more first downs, 26-19, more rushing yardage, 106-56, and many more passing yards, 372-201.
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger, whose team wound up at 9-8 and who he called “Not a very good football team,” provided the coda to a career that brought two Super Bowls and six Pro Bowl trips, all with Pittsburgh. The KC fans did give him a rousing sendoff when he last left the field and his retirement was announced on the video screen.

SAN FRANCISCO AT DALLAS COWBOYS
The traveling 6th-seeded San Francisco 49rs arrived with a quick statement, scoring on their initial possession and then holding off a late challenge by the 3rd-seeded Dallas Cowboys in a startling outcome of the National Football League’s first round of the playoffs.
The match-up of old rivals made for a packed house of 93,470 at Jerry Jones’ huge A T & T Stadium, and with this 23-17 triumph by San Francisco, the wait for Dallas (12-6) to even reach an NFC championship game will tick up to 27 years.
It was yet another first-game flame out in the postseason for Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott, the second in three trips over six years for the star quarterback in his first playoff game since signing a $40-million-dollar-a-year contract in the off season.
But the Niners, now 11-7 in quarterback Jimmy Garappolo’s final contract year, came out buzzing. It was an impressing offensive start as Garappolo connected on five of six passes, ran twice for 12 yards, and it was quickly 7-0 following the short TD toss to rookie Trey Lance.
Then a pair of field goals upped the lead to 13-0, and with the visitors looking sharp, Dallas was having problems moving its offense and stopping the San Fran offense.
It was that score after one quarter before Prescott ran the ball into the end zone to trim the deficit. His team never took the lead, but some sloppy offense by the 49ers late in the third quarter gave the home team some hope as the huge throng grew even louder.
In the fourth quarter, San Francisco, which now heads to a divisional playoff Saturday night at the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers, went up by 13 points on a 26-yard touchdown run by Deebo Samuel, but on its next possession, a pass interception thrown by Garoppplo got the ball back in Prescott’s hands.
On one play, he forced a pass that sailed over receiver Cedrick Wilson’s reach. Then came a 14th penalty by the league’s most penalized team in the regular season, next this drive ended at midfield.
Now the 49ers intended to just run out the clock. But when they failed on a third down and one play, a holding call forced them to punt and the Cowboys had another chance.
Prescott now had the ball at his own 20 with 32 seconds left. Then it was a pitch to CeeDee Lamb on a hook-and-ladder play for 20 yards, and Dalton Schultz ran 9 yards before getting out of bounds with 14 seconds to go.
Then it got confusing. After Prescott took off on a designed run and slid off the end of a 17-yard run with some eight seconds showing on the huge scoreboard, but when umpire Ramon George bumped Prescott while trying to again spot the ball, the clock ran down, and it was the same after a quick review confirmed this.
“It was like the whole day, it really was,” said a happy Garoppolo after the final sequence. “It was a dogfight, hell of an atmoshphere out here. I mean the fans were nuts and there were plenty of them. It was everything we thought it was going to be. It was fun.”
But not much fun for Dallas, which finished at 12-6 and frustrated once again. For the Niners, it ended a drought that brought their first playoff victory in awhile at Dallas in a storied postseason rivalry.

PHILADELPHIA AT TAMPA BAY

Oh my, this one has gotten out of hand.
No doubt, the 7th-seeded Philadelphia Eagles had arrived in Tampa Bay as the obvious underdog, but when ageless Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady tossed a touchdown pass to Mike Evans, his side was now up 31-0 in the third quarter.
Yup, Brady doesn’t mess around, and with each big play he saluted the huge home crowd on a sunny afternoon and was having a ball en route to perhaps  a second-straight NFL championship.
Tampa Bay (12-4) came in as the 2nd-seed behind the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, who received an automatic first-round bye and will open against the lowest remaining seed. Meanwhile, Philly squeezed in at 9-8and hoping to upset the apple cart, but was instead getting pushed around on both sides of the ball.
When Brady came to the sideline after passing for a pair of touchdowns on 28-of-36 passes for 265 yards, it was still 31-0 as the fourth quarter began, but the Eagles were still hanging around, and behind quarterback Jalen Hurts, caught a touchdown pass, ran for another, and tacked on the 2-point conversion to at least make the scoreboard.
Hurts threw 42 passes and made good on 23 for 258 yards, the one TD and was intercepted twice. Brady finished at 29-for-37 for 272 yards and played the entire game with just one throw in the last two minutes, with six of his passes caught by Evans.
The Bucs now await the next round. They will probably not be lined up versus Green Bay yet, but could get the 4th-seeded Dallas Cowboys or 5th-seeded Los Angeles Rams at home, the same if the San Francisco 49ers upset Dallas or the Rams lose to the Arizona Cardinals.
Credit does go the Eagles for getting on the board after a dismal first three quarters, but when Brady is on, it’s a tough go.

NEW ENGLAND AT BUFFALO

The freezing temperature at Orchard Park had dropped to about five degrees and the Buffalo Bills were hoping the mercy rule would apply as they dominated the visiting New England Patriots, 47-17, in the first round of the National Football League playoffs.
From the outset, it was a dismal late afternoon for Bill Belichick’s team that finished second in the AFC East to Buffalo after the teams split their two tilts.
This time, there was no doubt as Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen paved the way with a playoff-record five touchdown passes that included a pair to Dawson Knox, and Devin Singletary ran for the same number of TDs.
Allen, out of Wyoming, concluded with an awesome 21-of-25 completions for 308 yards in a game the 3rd-seeded Bills (12-5) scored on each of their seven possessions that didn’t end with a kneel down.
Said Allen: “We had guys coming out here, we were ready to play, good week of practice, lots of preparation went into this one.”
Buffalo defeated New England, which was put in the unaccustomed visiting wild card under Belichick, for the second time in three weeks and bounced back from an embarrassing 14-10 Dec.10 setback at home in which the Pats attempted only three passes while winding up with 222 yards along the ground.
This time under blustery frigid conditions mixed with relatively calm winds, the Bills’ aggressive defense had the field to their selves, keeping the visitors at bay throughout.
Of course, they didn’t forget that lost game back home.
“There was a lot of disrespect coming toward our defense,” said Buffalo defensive end Jerry Hughes, “and so we felt like the only way to shut people up is to go out there, play some football, and let you guys sit and watch and talk.”
For Belichick, it was kind of an embarrassing time, with the margin of defeat the largest in the Belichick’s tenure that began in 2000.
As for Buffalo and its announced crowd of 69,188 bundled-up fans, the next round could be to play host to the Cincinnati Bengals, which disposed of the Las Vegas Raiders, 26-19, and would be depending on the outcome of the 2nd-seeded Kansas City Chiefs’ visit from the 7th-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now a trip to KC would feature a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game won by the Chiefs 38-24. in this resounding reversal over New England, the Bills gained 300 total yards of offense, came away with 19 first downs and built a 27-3 at the cold intermission.
Buffalo cruised into the postseason by winning its final four outings to clinch its second straight division title, and have now defeated the Patriots in four of the past five meetings, while Belichick’s team arrived at the playoffs by losing three of their last four.
For New England, it was frustrating, disappointing, fleeting, and with a number of missed opportunities that were also forced by the Bills.
LAS VEGAS AT CINCINNATI

It was a victory three decades in the making.
After going from worse to first in the American Football League North with a generally young squad, the Cincinnati Bengals finally ended that embarrassingly long postseason drought that included eight consecutive defeats.
It was 26-19 in game one Saturday afternoon of the National Football League playoffs win over the visiting Las Vegas Raiders at a packed Paul Brown Stadium of 66,277 fans who have been waiting for this for quite some time.
For Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow, it was a stellar performance from the former LSU standout. He led an efficient offense that scored on six drives. He completed 24 of 34 passes with no interceptions. He got the Bengals off to a 10-3 lead after one quarter, upped it to 20-13 after halftime, and then the teams put six points on the board for the second half.
No doubt Burrow was happy with the results, but he also shrugged it off.
“It’s exciting for the city, the state, but we are not going to dwell on that,” Burrow  said after throwing a pair of touchdown passes, “we are moving forward. This is expected, this isn’t like the icing on top of the cake, so we are happily moving on.”
Now 11-7 and with a rousing reception from its fans after the final whistle, the guys from Cincinnati will find their next opponent depending on results in the other two AFC wild card games. Tennessee is the top seed, received a first-round bye, and will open against the lowest seed.
As for the Bengals, Burrow added that it’s going to be fun to watch the other games knowing we have the win. He comes off a regular-season in which he led the NFL in completion percentage after being the top overall selection in the 2020 draft.
This left the former Oakland residents finishing at 11-8 in their initial season at a sparkling new stadium in Las Vegas. The Raiders, who won their final four games to squeeze into the playoffs, last won a post-season tilt in the 2002 AFC championship game.
It was a tight game, but 4th-seeded Cincinnati bolted to the front on 4-of-4 opening scoring drives in the first half. The 5th-seeded Las Vegas team scored one touchdown and settled for three field goals while the Bengals finished up with single field goals over the last two quarters
It was a huge time for the home crowd hungry for some playoff gold, but they also had to collectively hold their breath before accomplishing it.

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