And then there were four.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers capped the NFL’s Divisional Round slate with a win over the second-seeded Saints on Sunday night in New Orleans.
The Buccaneers will face the top-seeded Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. The top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs and No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills will play for the AFC title.
Here are the biggest Divisional Round winners and losers:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense
The Buccaneers forced four turnovers, including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by Drew Brees, to lift Tampa Bay to a 30-20 victory over the Saints. The Bucs scored 17 points off the first three turnovers. The fourth giveaway (and third Brees interception) came with four minutes left. Tampa also held New Orleans to less than 300 yards of offense, including just 190 yards through the air.
Bills cornerback Taron Johnson
Johnson made a play that will go down as one of the biggest in Buffalo history. The third-year corner intercepted a Lamar Jackson pass in the end zone and returned it 101 yards for a game-altering pick-six. It gave the Bills a 17-3 lead — the eventual final score in the game — rather than allowing Baltimore to tie the game at 10-all. Quarterback Josh Allen was relentless in his praise for Johnson after the game.
Packers’ offensive line
Aaron Rodgers lauded Green Bay’s offensive line Saturday after the Packers’ 32-18 win over the Rams. Rodgers finished the game with a remarkably clean uniform despite going against arguably the league’s best defensive line, headlined by Aaron Donald (more on him later). Additionally, Green Bay tallied 188 yards on the ground while the running back tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 178 yards and one touchdown.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier
If Frazier is asked to interview for any of the remaining head-coaching positions, he should put on the tape of the Bills’ win over the Ravens and let that do the talking. Buffalo held Baltimore to 340 yards of offense and kept the Ravens out of the end zone in all three of their red-zone trips. Oh yeah, and the Buffalo defense scored the biggest touchdown of the game itself.
Chiefs backup quarterback Chad Henne
Other than one abysmal interception, Henne did everything Chiefs fans could have hoped for Sunday. The veteran signal-caller was thrown into the fire against the Browns when Patrick Mahomes exited the game with a concussion midway through the third quarter. From there, Henne completed 75 percent of his passes for 66 yards, none bigger than the fourth-and-1 conversion to Tyreek Hill to put the game on ice. It came after a massive third-down run to get the Chiefs into a fourth-and-short situation, which, of course, head coach Andy Reid had the confidence to go for.
Ravens’ special teams
Between kicker Justin Tucker missing two field goals inside 50 yards for the first time in his career and punter Sam Koch shanking a 23-yard punt, which ultimately led to Buffalo getting on the scoreboard, it wasn’t a great day for Baltimore’s third phase of the game. Then again, it wasn’t exactly great for the offense either.
Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defense
All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who suffered torn rib cartilage last week, clearly was not at full health against the Packers. Arguably the best defensive player in the league, Donald didn’t have his usual impact, and the LA defense struggled because of it. The Rams, who entered the game surrendering the fewest points and yards in the league, watched the Packers put up 484 yards of offense and 32 points. Both were season highs allowed by LA.
What a killer for NFL fans this was. Both 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes did not finish their respective games as both suffered concussions at crucial junctures. For Jackson, it ultimately led to the Ravens’ playoff exit while Mahomes could have another chance after Kansas City pulled out a win over Cleveland and advanced.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees
The Saints quarterback looked all of 42 years old against the Buccaneers on Sunday night. Brees missed open throws, made a number of bad decisions and threw three interceptions without a passing touchdown. He was 19-for-34 passing with a quarterback rating of 31.7. If it was the last game of his career, Brees unfortunately went out on a very low note.
Browns receiver Rashad Higgins
The Cleveland wideout made one of the few plays you can never make in an NFL game. Higgins caught a pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield and covered 25 yards, only to have the football come out of his hands and go through the end zone for a touchback, which gave Kansas City possession. Cleveland lost the game 22-17, and with Mahomes’ third-quarter injury, it’s not all that crazy to say a different result on that single play could’ve sent the Browns to the AFC Championship.