The Schein Nine  

 

Wild Card Weekend: Kirk Cousins thrills; Patriots dynasty ends?

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I'd make the case that I just witnessed the single most compelling Wild Card Weekend of my life.

My heart is still racing! What a great time to be a football fan! Unless you root for the Bears and you are going to be reminded over and over again leading up to next week's Texans-Chiefs game that your team passed on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft.

Anyway, here are your winners and losers from the opening weekend of the 2019 NFL Playoffs, Schein Nine style.

WINNERS

1) Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings

You like that? You like that! I've always liked Cousins, but it's been tough to believe in him and, consequently, pick his team in big spots. Prime-time games have been a nightmare for him, and he entered Sunday afternoon's matchup against the 13-3 New Orleans Saints with a 6-30 record against teams that finished the season above .500. Yes, Cousins had an outstanding 2019 season while dealing with injuries to both Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook, but I didn't give Minnesota's QB1 much of a chance in New Orleans against the NFC South champions. And I think you can understand why, given the track record I just mentioned. But Cousins was absolutely brilliant, tough and clutch, notching the first playoff win of his career in a 26-20 triumph. That throw to Thielen in overtime was dazzling, setting up the perfect game-winning toss to Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone. It was so fun to see the unbridled joy and appreciation from his teammates after the game. I love stories like this. And nobody needed it more than Cousins.

2) Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Or was that Houdini on that epic, penultimate play of Saturday's Bills-Texans game at NRG Stadium? Or was it Michael Jordan (hat tip to Dabo Swinney)? I would say I still can't believe that Watson somehow escaped the Buffalo pass rush on that overtime play none of us will ever forget, but it's Watson, so I really shouldn't be shocked by the feats this incredibly clutch genius is able to pull off. Watson led the Texans on an improbable comeback, carrying them to a 19-16 win despite facing a 16-0 deficit late in the third quarter against a great Bills defense. This game felt like it was over with the Texans trailing by double-digits, but Watson took over and never looked back. En route to the victory, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 80 percent of his passes while rushing for 50-plus yards in a playoff game, per Stats Perform.

3) Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

The better team won in Foxborough on Saturday night. And there were many heroes to choose from. Mike Vrabel outfoxed Bill Belichick, and made sure his team didn't get caught up in the aura and mystique of the Pats. Tennessee's punting game was superb. But Henry sets the tone for the Titans. He bashed New England to the tune of 182 yards on the ground. That set a Titans playoff record, and was the most ever against the Patriots in a playoff game in the Belichick era. Henry is a megastar and punched a hole through the notion that Belichick always takes away the opposition's greatest strength.

4) Brian Schottenheimer, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks

I've been a critic of Schottenheimer in the past. He ruined Christmas for Jets fans in 2011 when he inexplicably had Mark Sanchez throw the ball 59 times in a loss to the Giants, which derailed the Jets' playoff hopes. However, Schottenheimer had a stellar game on Sunday against the Eagles. He was able to keep the Philly defense off balance with calls like the third-quarter play-action pass to Marshawn Lynch, when everyone expected a run on third-and-1. The vintage Russell Wilson bomb to D.K. Metcalf to ice the game with less than two minutes to go was a brilliant, gutsy call. Schotty deserves credit for Metcalf's development after the receiver fell to the second round of the 2019 draft, and for keeping the train on the tracks despite myriad injuries at running back.

5) Philadelphia Eagles

I know they lost to the Seahawks, but how can you not admire the effort from the injury-plagued Eagles? I feel terrible for Carson Wentz, who exited eight plays into the game after taking a hit -- which became the subject of much controversy -- to the head from Jadeveon Clowney. This was supposed to be his time to shine after missing each of the last two postseasons due to injury. Backup QB Josh McCown saw the first playoff action of his career at age 40, and that's a great story, but the already banged-up Eagles couldn't put a touchdown on the board. McCown left it all on the field. Wentz is the star of this team for a reason, though. He guided the depleted Eagles to four straight wins in pseudo-playoff games down the stretch. So, yes, they came up short on Sunday, but Wentz, Doug Pederson, and the Eagles deserve a ton of credit for how they played and battled through injury all season.

6) Football fans

I will continue to make the case that the best two consecutive days in sports are coming up. The NFL's Divisional Round always lives up to the hype, with the two best teams in each conference on display. But this Wild Card Weekend is going to be tough to top. It's provided an occasional dud in the past, but not this year. Saturday's action was intense and dramatic from start to finish. My heart was racing the whole time. A day after the Texans beat the Bills in overtime, we got another extra session in New Orleans. All four games came down to the wire in fantastic fashion. That was the best Wild Card Weekend ever, and now fans get treated to four more tasty matchups in the next round. Thank you, football gods!

LOSERS

7) Sean Payton, head coach, New Orleans Saints

Why not use that final timeout before the end of regulation?! There were good opportunities to do so, including after the sack of Kirk Cousins before the two-minute warning. My head hurts when I think about the Saints' clock management late in the fourth quarter. I have argued that Payton belongs in the Hall of Fame. But the overtime loss to the Vikings goes down as another disappointing playoff finish after a gaudy regular season. Payton had the better team, and he was playing at home. With Drew Brees looking his age on Sunday, who knows about the window for this team to win a second Super Bowl?

8) Sean McDermott, head coach, Buffalo Bills

I love Sean McDermott. He got my vote for Coach of the Year. But I didn't understand the decision to go for it on fourth-and-27 late in the fourth quarter. I know that's an easy one to question (and the Texans failed to capitalize to close out the game on the ensuing possession). The truth is there's plenty of blame to go around for the Bills' loss, from Josh Allen moving in reverse on the aforementioned fourth-quarter drive to the overtime penalty (questionable as it was) on Cody Ford that cost the team 15 yards when it was approaching the range to kick a game-winner. But up 16-0, the buttoned-up Buffalo inexplicably blew up. My Bills will be back. But this defeat has to sting Bills Mafia.

9) Patriots' dreams of extending the dynasty

I picked Tennessee to win Saturday night's game in Foxborough. It was the only game I got right this weekend.

This wasn't the Patriots' year. They were literally average (4-4) in the second half of the season. The offense was miserable for much of the campaign. And when they fell to Ryan Fitzpatrick on their home field in Week 17, I wasn't the only one sensing the Pats had lost more than a first-round bye with the defeat.

Tom Brady certainly didn't sound like he was thinking retirement postgame. And I can't see him walking away from the game on a pick-six. But the Pats didn't give him enough weapons he could trust this season, and his contract is up this offseason. Josh McDaniels might finally leave for another head-coaching job (Cleveland?). Suddenly, it doesn't sound crazy to think Brady could leave, too.

Either way, it feels like the greatest chapter in sports history ended Saturday night.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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