1) The legend of Lamar Jackson grows with the addition of his first playoff win. Jackson no longer has to hear about his early postseason exits after taking down Tennessee in a fashion that was vastly different than their last playoff meeting a year ago, joining Dan Marino and Patrick Mahomes as the only players in NFL history to have a league MVP and a playoff win under their belt by the end of their age-23 season, per NFL Research. Jackson powered Baltimore's offense, rushing 16 times for 136 yards and a momentum-swinging touchdown to tie the game just before halftime. His presence made Baltimore significantly harder to defend, and even though Tennessee did a decent job of pressuring him in the passing game, he still proved to be too much for the Titans to overcome. This is the type of game we've long expected from Jackson, who has dazzled viewers for the entirety of his career, but hadn't come through in the clutch until Sunday. When Baltimore got the ball late in the fourth after Marcus Peters' timely interception, it was a surprise to no one to see Jackson running down the sideline for a big gain, sliding to stay inbounds and keep the clock moving. He's long been Baltimore's X-factor, and he's the reason the Ravens are moving on.
2) For a moment, the Ravens almost fell back into the trap that consumed them last postseason and in the middle of the 2020 regular season. Baltimore fell behind early and allowed the pressure to push them out of their comfort zone, turning to the play-action pass and watching Jackson heave an unnecessary 50/50 ball that was intercepted. In that moment, one question prevailed: Are the Ravens really going to let the postseason pressure force them out of their game plan again? They didn't. Thanks to a key stop in the red zone that forced the Titans to settle for a field goal, the Ravens remained in the game and learned from their earlier mistake. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman went back to what works best for Baltimore -- the run -- pounding the ground game with Jackson, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and shortened Baltimore's passing game, allowing Jackson to establish a rhythm that has proven to be so dangerous to opponents. That opened up opportunities for Jackson to find Marquise Brown, who posted his first 100-yard game since Week 1, finishing with seven catches for 109 yards and opening up a rarely seen element of Baltimore's offense. With all of these factors considered, Baltimore became an offense that was difficult to stop, and was able to put the game away to earn sweet revenge over Tennessee.
3) It was entirely clear from the start of the game that the Ravens had learned from the regular season: They were not about to get beat by Derrick Henry. Baltimore loaded the box all afternoon, committing to stifling Henry's efforts by creating blocking disadvantages on 61.1 percent of Henry's 18 runs. It worked to great results, with Baltimore stuffing Henry on 22.2 percent of his 18 carries, per Next Gen Stats. He finished with just 40 yards and a long run of eight yards, finishing as a nonfactor in a game in which the Titans absolutely could have used him to balance their offense. Instead, the Titans had to turn to Ryan Tannehill, who found early success by targeting A.J. Brown in one-on-one situations, but couldn't sustain early gains nearly enough. Tennessee finished with just 209 yards of offense, was 4 of 12 on third down, lost the time of possession battle by more than seven minutes and was forced to punt five times. Another successful season ended in disappointment for the Titans, who are heading into the offseason without a postseason triumph after making an unlikely run to the conference title game a year ago.
-- Nick Shook
1) The New Orleans Saints defense smothered everything Matt Nagy's crew attempted. The defensive front controlled the line, swallowing David Montgomery and Chicago's run game, and pestered Mitchell Trubisky at every turn. Meanwhile, the back end suffocated Allen Robinson, giving the Bears QB nowhere to go with the ball. Dennis Allen's crew looked like it had Nagy's call sheet, constantly one step ahead of its opponent. The Saints gave up just 140 total yards of offense before a garbage-time, stat-padding drive by the losing squad. Until the final 99-yard scoring drive that ultimately didn't matter, New Orleans' defense allowed just six first downs on nine possessions, forced five three-and-outs, and allowed zero third-down conversions on nine tries. The opponent wasn't potent, and the final drive made the box score look a little better, but that doesn't take away the fact that the Saints' defense balled out.
2) The Bears' offense was a miserable slog, particularly in the second half, but had its chances early. Javon Wims missed a perfect deep shot early from Trubisky that should have gone for a 40-yard touchdown. It was Trubisky's best ball of the game, and Wims flat dropped it. From there, the QB looked deflated. On the same drive, he made a half-hearted effort to convert a fourth down. In what quite possibly could be his final game in a Bears jersey, Trubisky completed 10-of-19 passes for a measly 107 yards (5.6 yards per attempt) before the final drive. He ultimately ended with 199 yards and a TD. The QB looked flummoxed by the Saints defense and got no help. Anthony Miller slamming defensive back/gnat Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the head to get ejected in the third quarter made matters worse. Already without Darnell Mooney, the Bears had no options outside of Robinson, who was blanketed by multiple Saints on most snaps. In a year of offensive struggles, Nagy's squad ended on its worst total effort. Don't let the final drive or fun TD catch by Jimmy Graham mask the issues.
3) The Saints were fully loaded on offense for one of the few times this season. Michael Thomas returned from injured reserve and immediately made his presence felt, leading an opening-quarter TD drive with a score. Thomas (5/73/1) provided Drew Brees a go-to target and attracted the Bears' top cover corner, Kyle Fuller. With Thomas in the lineup, Deonte Harris was freed up for a career game. The shifty wideout caught seven targets for 83 yards, including a plethora of chain-movers. Alvin Kamara also returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list. It took a bit, but the running back kicked it into gear in the second half, compiling 99 rushing yards, a TD, and added two catches for 17 yards. It wasn't a prolific game for Brees, but he made enough on-target throws as the Saints controlled the clock in the second half, gobbling up 27 first downs and 385 total yards. Facing the Bucs next week, the Saints offense will have to be crisper to get out of the Divisional Round. Sunday was a good time to get the gang back together and knock off the rust against an eight-win club that backed its way into the playoffs.
-- Kevin Patra
1) Rejoice Cleveland, another drought hath ended. For the first time since 1994, the Browns have a playoff victory to celebrate and it came at the downfall of the archrival Steelers -- in amazing fashion. Buoyed by a first quarter that was a barrage of good fortune for the Browns and an endless nightmare for the Steelers, Cleveland jumped out to a historically magnificent 28-0 lead. Of course, the game didn't end there. That would've been too easy. No, the Steelers flirted with a comeback, and the Browns flirted with disaster. But in the end, Pittsburgh never drew closer than 12 points after the opening surge. It was a win made possible by a resounding first quarter that began when a bad snap over Ben Roethlisberger's head found its way into the end zone and the Browns' Karl Joseph found his way atop it for a touchdown and a most absurd start. It was the first play from scrimmage. Did the winds of change and fate blow in all the way from Lake Erie, causing this cosmic turn of franchise lore? Upon the next Steelers drive, an M.J. Stewart interception was had and a mere three plays later, Jarvis Landry rumbled past would-be Pittsburgh tacklers for six. Thereafter came a Steelers punt and then the second of an eventual four Roethlisberger interceptions, with Kareem Hunt scoring after each to build 28 points that were the most by any team in the first quarter of a playoff game since the 1970 NFL merger, per NFL Research. Nobody gave the Browns much of a chance with head coach Kevin Stefanski unable to lead the team due to COVID-19 and special teams coach Mike Priefer acting as interim HC. But the Browns shrugged that all off. It wasn't just the first quarter, of course. It was stellar performances by Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Hunt, Landry and others, who believed they could change their franchise's path, when few others did. As history -- and fate -- would have it, Cleveland's last two postseason losses came to Pittsburgh, but the 2020 Browns have altered franchise lore and defeated the Steelers in consecutive weeks; the first bestowed upon them their first playoff berth since 2002 and the second has them moving forward. The Divisional Round and the mighty Chiefs are up ahead -- and the Steelers and years of heartbreak are behind.
2) For the Steelers, this was a comedy of errors and a confounding conclusion to a season that began better than any other in the storied franchise's history and collapsed in ridiculous fashion. Pittsburgh's 11-0 start is now a distant memory amid the rubble of fallen aspirations. The Steelers lost five of their last six games this season, with Sunday's outcome punctuating a season that began so splendidly and ended so badly. While the defense's play Sunday was startling, it was the struggles of Roethlisberger and the offense that have been paramount in the team's tribulations. No matter how good or bad the defense was on this night, overcoming the offense's five turnovers was too tall a task. Roethlisberger had an NFL-record 47 completions and 501 yards passing, but they couldn't overcome or overshadow his four interceptions. He had 68 passing attempts while the team ran for 52 yards. For all his struggles, Roethlisberger has been going it solo for the most part as the running game never got going this season, much less this game. As the lights dim on the Steelers' 2020 season, 2021 brings questions of whether the mighty defense will be wasted if major changes are not brought about on the offensive end.
3) Rightfully, the Browns' 28-point surge will long be remembered and hailed as fifteen minutes of franchise merriment. But, Mayfield's 40-yard touchdown to Chubb in the fourth quarter was of monumental importance. The Steelers had cut a seemingly insurmountable deficit to 35-23, but Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin surprisingly decided to punt to open the fourth quarter. Six plays later, Chubb took a short pass over the middle from Mayfield. Forty yards later, many a Browns fan was able to exhale -- somewhat, at least. There wasn't a Browns fan in the universe content with any first-half lead and things were getting interesting before the Mayfield-to-Chubb connection struck. Chubb has never been renowned for his pass-catching skill, but he's been working on it and the hard work paid off. It was more of a season's worth of Chubb and Hunt dazzling as one of the top backfield duos. The tandem combined for 206 scrimmage yards and three total touchdowns Sunday.
-- Grant Gordon