Following a strong divisional round of the NFL playoffs featuring eight quarterbacks who all graduated from the Manning Passing Academy, only four teams still have a chance to make it to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona.
They are, in no particular order, the Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. That means that Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars all failed to advance after notching wins over Super Wild Card Weekend. As such, they’ll be watching from home on Sunday when the 49ers travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles and the Bengals trek to Kansas City to face the Chiefs. Currently, the spread for both games is fewer than three points, only the third time in history that has happened and the first time is has occurred since the 1997-1998 postseason, according to Caesars.
Before looking ahead to the Conference Championship games, which have the potential to be epic, let’s first examine the biggest reason why each of the weekend’s four losers lost their matchup on Saturday or Sunday the same way we did last week.
The Jaguars lost because Jamal Agnew couldn’t hold onto the ball
With his team trailing by 10 points with less than six minutes remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence scrambled to the left past a plethora of Kansas City defenders to set up a first-and-goal at Kansas City’s nine-yard line. Lawrence, who had a couple of dynamic passes before his scramble, then hit wide receiver Jamal Agnew with a pass that should have set the Jaguars up close to Kansas City’s goal line. Instead, Agnew caught the ball and took a few steps before letting it pop loose for a turnover.
The play was a huge momentum killer and, although the Jaguars got the ball back fairly quickly after the Jacksonville defense forced a punt, Lawrence was almost immediately picked off by rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson to effectively end any real chance the Jaguars had of getting back into the game. While there’s no way to know if the Jaguars would have been able to win had Agnew been able to hold onto the ball, his fumble basically ensured Jacksonville was going to lose.
It was a sour note toward the end of what had been a fairly good game for Agnew, who had a total of 131 yards against the Chiefs including a 63-yard kick return that set up the Jaguars’ first touchdown as well as a 42-yard runback in the fourth quarter.
“Jamal is a great player,” wide receiver Zay Jones said after the loss.”He’s an all-pro returner. One error doesn’t define him. It doesn’t say who he is as a player. Anyone that points the finger at Ag is wrong because it’s a team game. We win together and we lose together. That’s just how it is.”
It’s a nice sentiment and Jones certainly has a point as Jacksonville squandered a number of other scoring chances and could not take advantage of the injury to KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but Agnew’s blunder was what ended up putting the game out of reach. He’ll have a chance to make up for it next season as the Jaguars, who became the first team to win a playoff game after having the league’s worst record the previous season, aren’t going anywhere.
The Giants lost because they aren’t in the same class as the Eagles
Thanks to career-stabilizing seasons from impending free agents Daniel Jones (quarterback) and Saquon Barkley (running back) and an opportunistic defense with a number of young playmakers, the New York Giants were one of the Cinderella stories of the year under first-year coach Brian Daboll heading into Saturday night’s clash with the Eagles. That story came to a screeching halt as New York had no answers on either side of the ball as Philadelphia rolled to a 38-7 win in a game that was never really in doubt.
The Giants were outclassed in every facet of Saturday’s game as Philadelphia’s offensive line created huge holes for quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell as the Eagles finished with 268 yards on the ground. Hurts, who went into the game nursing a banged-up right shoulder, barely had to throw the ball as he finished just 16-of-24 for 154 yards through the air with two touchdowns.
A single touchdown was more than Jones was able to account for as he finished with just 135 yards with no scores and an interception against the Eagles. Pressured on 64% of his dropbacks in the first half as the game was quickly spiraling out of hand and sacked five times overall, Jones was unable to do much with his arms or his legs and Barkley didn’t fare much better as he had just nine carries for 61 yards.
The game was such a one-sided affair that it’s difficult to offer much more analysis other than to say that New York is not in the same weight class as the Eagles and that’s why the season is over for the Giants and the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC still runs through Philadelphia.
“Well, crash landing here. Give Philly credit. They did everything better than we did [Saturday],” Daboll said following the loss. “Tough game. We really got beat in all facets, so it wasn’t one thing in particular. It was a team game and we just didn’t get it done.”
And it wasn’t even close.
The Bills lost because they got outcoached and outplayed
Unable to take advantage of an injured offensive line that finished Sunday’s game down three starters, the Bills were unable to make up for their defensive shortcomings on the offensive side of the ball as quarterback Josh Allen didn’t turn the ball over until the end of the game but struggled to figure out how to beat a Cincy defense that did not allow him to scramble out of the pocket and make plays with his legs.
Once again unable to advance past the divisional round following back-to-back losses to the Chiefs in the previous two seasons, the Bills just didn’t seem to come to play and it’s probably fair to question whether Buffalo coach Sean McDermott had his team ready to go in a game they were favored to win by almost a touchdown.
Certainly there may have been some lingering tension from the Damar Hamlin situation, but he was in the building to cheer on his teammates on Sunday and should have given them some extra juice in a rematch of the Monday night game where he was injured. Instead, it was Bengal quarterback Burrow who came out firing on all cylinders as he completed his first nine passes of the game as Cincy built and early 14-0 lead that almost instantly seemed insurmountable.
Already Cincinnati’s all-time leader in postseason passing yards despite being in just his third season in the NFL, Burrow was 23-of-36 for 242 yards with two touchdowns and could have had a third as a would-be score to Ja’Marr Chase was nullified following a questionable review. Confident from the jump against a leaky secondary, Burrow took what he wanted and the Bills were complicit in giving it to him as the Buffalo coaching staff was unable to figure out a way to stop the bleeding. Same story on the other side of the ball.
“They played better than we did. They coached better than we did. And we’ve got to learn from this and make the proper adjustments so we can continue to move this organization forward because that’s the direction we’re heading,” McDermott said. “That’s what we have to do if we want to continue to knock at this door and move beyond where we were this year. So the goal hasn’t changed and won’t change for this organization. And we’ve got to continue to do everything we can to get there.”
They certainly didn’t on Sunday.
The Cowboys lost because Dak Prescott still isn’t ready
Of the seven consecutive losses in the Divisional Round for the Cowboys, quarterback Dak Prescott has been under center for three of them and Dallas may be justified if they are getting tired of waiting for the 29-year-old to come around and play his best when the lights are the brightest.
Coming off one of the best games of his career in the wild card round against Tampa Bay, it certainly appeared as if Prescott had figured it out and was finally ready to take Dallas on a deep playoff run. Against the 49ers and an actual NFL defense, it became apparent Prescott’s performance was an apparition as the tossed two interceptions in a 19-12 loss to San Francisco in a game that was definitely winnable for Dallas.
Prescott was far from the only reason the Cowboys lost in San Fran, but he was certainly the most obvious culprit after he finished Sunday’s defeat with a playoff-worst 63.6 passer rating the week after he had a personal playoff-best 143.3 rating against the Bucs. Thanks to the dual picks Prescott tossed Sunday, he now leads the league in interceptions, playoffs included, with a career-high 17 despite missing extended time with an injury.
As poorly as Prescott played, the Cowboys still had a chance to win when they got the ball back down seven points with three minutes to go at the 18-yard line. Staring an opportunity to lead a game-tying drive directly in the face, Prescott made two poor throws and then took a sack as the Cowboys went three-and-out and then punted as coach Mike McCarthy did not have the confidence to go for it despite needing a touchdown. Probably the wrong call, but also one he could justify making based on how Prescott was playing.
“I’m disappointed in the way that I’ve played. Those guys in that locker room gave it all. Both sides of the ball. And put me in a position to go win the game. And I wasn’t able to do that,” he said. “And, yeah, I mean, I put it on my shoulders. When you play this position, when you play for this organization, you’ve got to accept that. That’s the reality of it. And as I said, it will make me better.”
It may be time to start wondering how much better Prescott can actually get.