Overtime: Chaos Ensues in the Divisional Round

In a classic Wild card Weekend, the Bills and Chiefs delivered an exquisite ending. (courtesy of Twitter)

In a classic Wild card Weekend, the Bills and Chiefs delivered an exquisite ending. (courtesy of Twitter)

In the NFL playoffs, it is almost impossible for an entire weekend of games to live up to the hype they had going in. Usually, at least one game is a total mismatch that ends up being an unexciting blowout. On paper, all four matchups of this past weekend’s Divisional Round looked like they had the potential to be thrilling contests. What occurred was one of the most exciting weekends of football in NFL history.

The weekend began on Saturday afternoon when the Cincinnati Bengals traveled to Nashville to take on the No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans. Cincinnati defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 in the Wild Card round last weekend, while Tennessee had a bye. Heading into the matchup, Tennessee was the clear favorite with home field advantage and star running back Derrick Henry returning from injury. 

As the game began, Tennessee was never able to get rolling on offense. Cincinnati’s defense forced three turnovers from Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill and kept the game a low scoring contest. Despite getting sacked nine times, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow stood strong in the pocket and made the clutch throws that he needed to. With the score tied 16-16 and 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson intercepted a deflected Tannehill pass to set up Cincinnati with a chance to win the game. Burrow connected with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on a 19-yard completion to set up rookie kicker Evan McPherson for the game winning 52-yard field goal, sending the Bengals to their first AFC Championship since 1989.

With the AFC’s No. 1 seed eliminated, the NFC’s top seed,  the Green Bay Packers, took the field on Saturday night looking to take their first step on the way to a potential Super Bowl victory. Their opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, were coming off a 23-17 road victory against the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round. Like Tennessee, the Packers were heavily favored, maybe even more so than the Titans.

After an opening drive touchdown, the Packers were stymied by the 49ers defense. Likely MVP Aaron Rodgers struggled to find his receivers as the high-powered Packers offense put up just ten points late into the fourth quarter. Despite this, Green Bay held a 10-3 advantage with five minutes to go in the game. Then, the San Francisco special teams unit came up huge. Jordan Willis blocked a punt from Corey Bojorquez, and Talanoa Hufanga scooped it up for a 49ers touchdown to even the game at 10-10. A missed throw by Rodgers on the Packers next possession gave San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garrapolo an opportunity to lead his team down the field and win the game. He did just that, allowing kicker Robbie Gould to drill a 45-yard field goal that advanced the 49ers to the NFC Championship and eliminated  Super Bowl favorite, the Packers.

The drama spilled over into Sunday as the Rams battled it out with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by 44-year-old Tom Brady. The Rams jumped out to a 27-3 lead in the second half behind strong play from quarterback Matthew Stafford. With Tampa Bay down big, a series of costly turnovers by the Rams allowed the Buccaneers back into the game. With the lead down to just seven points and two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles running back Cam Akers fumbled, giving Tampa Bay a shot to tie the game. Tampa did just that, as running back Leonard Fournette evened the contest with a nine- yard touchdown run and just 42 seconds remaining. With the game looking destined for overtime, the Rams had one more possession and one timeout remaining. They made it count. Stafford hit wide receiver Cooper Kupp on a 44-yard completion to allow kicker Matt Gay to connect on a 30-yard field goal to give the Rams the victory.

With all three games thus far ending on last second field goals, the Bills and Chiefs had a lot to live up to. They did exactly that. The teams combined for a remarkable 25 points in the final two minutes of the game in one of the most exhilarating finishes to a contest in recent memory. After Bills quarterback Josh Allen hit wide receiver Gabriel Davis for the go-ahead score with just 13 seconds remaining, the game looked all but over. Somehow, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led his team down the field in just two plays, and kicker Harrison Butker connected on a 49-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. Kansas City won the all-important coin toss in overtime, and Mahomes connected with tight end Travis Kelce for the game winning score, sending the Chiefs to their fourth successive AFC Championship.

In a weekend where all four games were decided in the dying seconds, NFL fans were treated to an unbelievable two days of drama and intrigue. After Super Wild Card Weekend fell a bit flat, the Divisional Round had everything you could ask for out of a playoff weekend.