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Divisional Round: What we learned from Sunday's games

Here's what we learned from Sunday's Divisional Round doubleheader.

1) The playoffs require resilience, and boy, did these two teams bring semi-truck loads of it to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Kansas City came out firing, grabbing a 13-3 lead before the Browns could blink and entering a cruising speed that had the Chiefs poised to run away to a win. But the Browns responded, leading a drive that ended just inches from a touchdown when Rashard Higgins dove toward the end zone and fumbled the ball through it for a touchback. The outcome could have deflated Cleveland and given Kansas City tons of runway for a takeoff into the beautiful skies of a blowout victory, but that flight was delayed indefinitely by the Browns' resolve. Baker Mayfield overcame a second half-opening interception to lead an eight-play, 77-yard touchdown drive to cut Kansas City's lead to 19-10, and followed that with an 18-play, 75-yard march to make it a five-point game with plenty of time left in the fourth. In this moment, Kansas City's ability to overcome adversity rose to the forefront. Backup Chad Henne was forced into action due to Patrick Mahomes going into concussion protocol, and the veteran overcome his own untimely interception to eat up the remaining clock, capping it with a 13-yard run on third-and-14 and one-upping it with a quick pass to Tyreek Hill on fourth-and-1 to ice the thrilling win. If Mahomes doesn't leave, the result is likely the same but by a wider margin. And if Mayfield doesn't lead the Browns past two back-breaking outcomes to fight their way back into the game, this one doesn't end up exciting fans around the world. Adversity tests a person's character, and though there could only be one winner, both teams proved they have the fight of champions in them.

2) The game swung wildly on two key plays in the second and third quarters. With the Browns in dire need of a touchdown to get back into a game that seemed inches from getting out of hand, Mayfield let it rip down the field, completing passes of 23 and 26 yards to tight end David Njoku and Higgins, respectively, to put the Browns in a great position to score their first touchdown of the afternoon. Mayfield's strike to Higgins saw the receiver pick up 26 yards before diving toward the pylon, extending the ball toward the goal line just as Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen arrived to make head-first contact with the receiver, forcing a fumble that rolled out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback. The play was a gut punch to the Browns' relentless efforts to get back into the game and would have sank Cleveland teams of the past 20 years, but not this team. It also called into immediate debate the game's rule that hands possession over to the defense, even after it didn't recover the ball in bounds, and of officials' inability to review helmet-to-helmet contact (which was made very clear on replay) in such scenarios. Even so, the Browns rallied their way back into the game, especially after the other game-changing occurrence -- Mahomes' exit due to an unfortunate injury suffered on a third-down rush -- shifted momentum and gave the Browns a chance to earn enough stops or holds (to field goals) to mount a comeback effort.

3) If we needed a third play to decide the game, it was rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski's decision to punt the ball back to the Chiefs on fourth and 9 while trailing, 22-17, with less than five minutes to play. Stefanski said afterward he felt the distance was too great to attempt to convert, but with only one timeout left in his pocket, his call proved fatal, especially after Henne stunned the football world with his third-down scramble. Stefanski's decision to challenge a catch that happened right in front of him -- no matter how unbelievably spectacular it was -- also ended up hurting the Browns tremendously when they desperately needed to stop the clock. Those decisions aside, Stefanski capped a fantastic first season at the helm of the Browns, a team that has for so long been the doormat of the league and the butt of nearly every football joke. In winning 11 regular-season games, ending the team's league-leading playoff drought and vanquishing the demon dressed in black and gold in Cleveland's first playoff win since the 1994 season, the Browns proved they are no longer a joke and have a bright future that their fans can hope is only just beginning with Sunday's painful defeat at the hands of the Super Bowl champions.

-- Nick Shook

1) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Tom Brady to finally make a deep postseason run. That plan came to fruition Sunday as TB12 will play in his ninth conference championship game in the past 10 seasons. Brady is always the headliner, but credit for the Divisional Round win goes to Todd Bowles' defense. The Bucs stuffed the run, bullied Saints receivers, and forced turnover after turnover after turnover. Tampa took advantage of Drew Brees' inability to stretch the field, playing press on the outside to disrupt the quick-pass attack. When the D had a chance at a ball, it didn't miss. Tampa picked off Brees three times and forced a fumble. The turnovers led to 21 points -- all of Tampa's TDs. Bowles' crew was dominant in the second half, with the Saints' last four possessions ending as such: Fumble, punt, INT, INT. The front didn't record a sack, but was in Brees' face enough to discombobulate the 42-year-old QB. Linebacker Devin White was the star of the show. After playing his worst game of the year against New Orleans in Week 9, White was a man on a mission. The speed demon compiled 11 tackles, a tackle for loss, an INT, and a fumble recovery. White is one of the few off-ball linebackers who can impact the whole field when he's on. Sunday he was a maniac, and wrecked everything the Saints attempted.

2) In the previous two games versus New Orleans, Brady made mistakes that cost his new team against a division rival. The 43-year-old didn't flub anything in the postseason. It wasn't TB12's best game, as a good Saints defense made life tough on the aged QB. Brady finished just 18-of-33 passing for 199 yards, but tossed two TDs and added a QB sneak score to ice the contest. Much of the contest, Brady was content to dump it short, hitting Leonard Fournette for a team-high five catches for 44 yards and a TD. While the star-studded Bucs cast was mostly slowed by New Orleans, Brady made plays when needed, including the best pass of the day, a 29-yard shot downfield to Scott Miller. The Bucs got enough out of the run game with Fournette (17/63) and Ronald Jones (13/62) to move the chains. When given the chance by their defense, the Bucs didn't screw up the turnovers, cashing in each time. Sunday's game looked like so many Brady playoff games of the past. This one was just in a different jersey.

3) The Saints defense slowed the Bucs enough, only giving up TDs after turnovers. The offense didn't hold up its end of the bargain. If this is the end for Drew Brees, it was a rough one. The 42-year-old QB can't stretch the field. Sunday he didn't attempt a pass 20 yards downfield. The inability to push the ball allowed the Bucs to squat on receivers. When Sean Payton wanted a trick shot play, he brought in Jameis Winston for a 56-yard TD toss. Brees finished 19-of-34 passing for just 134 yards, 3.9 yards per attempt, with one touchdown and three interceptions. Michael Thomas was a ghost. The highly paid wideout didn't record a single catch on four targets. This Saints offense can't operate when its best players are silenced. With Brees expected to retire, it is an unfortunate ending for the future Hall of Fame QB. Few players go out on top. Brees' career had so many peaks that Sunday's bomb will be swiftly forgotten.

-- Kevin Patra

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