January 13, 2020

Jon Ralph’s Divisional Round Recap

Derrick the Conqueror and
Patrick the Unstoppable.

Those separate forces this weekend set the NFL playoffs alight in different but no less scintillating circumstances.
With four teams left in the playoffs ahead of the Miami Super Bowl in three weeks time this much is true: NFL football has never been more watchable.

First to Derrick Henry, who clearly never got the memo. King Derrick, in the middle of the NFL’s greatest playoff hotstreak for a running back, hadn’t listened to the pundits who said the game had changed. They said America’s most popular sporting code was about transcendent quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson who could do it all instead of smash mouth running back reminiscent of a more brutal time.

Thank god, because Henry has the Tennessee Titans a game away from the Super Bowl after one of the game’s great upsets.

First Mike Vrabel’s Titans rolled the New England Patriots in a seismic wildcard shock that saw Henry – all 108kg and 191cm of him – run for 182 yards. Then he dismantled the No.1 seeded Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, dethroning a side that had gone 14-2 and was riding a 12-match winning streak entering the playoffs. Kudos goes to coach Vrabel, quarterback Ryan Tannehill (unwanted in Miami) and a defence that not only hemmed in MVP candidate Jackson as well as picked him off twice and forced three turnovers.

But let’s face it, Henry is this playoff campaign’s shining star. A physical freak who runs the 40 yard dash in 4.54 seconds, has a Dustin Martin-style “don’t-argue” fend-off, toted it for 195 yards against the Ravens and is now the only running back with successive 180-yard playoffs games. Hell, after he gutted the Ravens with a 67-yard dash up the middle he even found time for a jump pass touchdown from a direct wildcard snap.

If he found his way to Miami with a conference win there would be no stopping him by then.

If the game is now seen to be spreading out your offence and paying your quarterback over $100 million, Henry and the San Francisco 49ers did it with power.

The 49ers win was much more predictable but also saw them rely on the run with 47 of them for 186 yards and eight straight running plays for a touchdown in the eventual 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Then came Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who showed those run-and-gun quarterbacks with bullet arms and dashing feet might be all that has been advertised. Down 24-zip in the blink of an eye against the Houston Texans, he led a 50-point avalanche that was one of playoff football’s most extraordinary comebacks. He did what Lamar Jackson couldn’t, reducing that deficit to lead at half time and win against the far-from-disgraced Texans with a leg in the air.

A 51-31 victory proved what the Chiefs had always suspected – Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league, even if Jackson wins the MVP title.

The prize was a shot at Henry’s Titans in the AFC conference game – and an off-season contract extension that will likely set new records for quarterback contracts.

Finally, Green Bay’s Aaron Rogers and wide receiver Davante Adams (160 yards, two touchdowns) combined for the critical third down to ice the game against Seattle. That 28-23 victory put the Packers into the NFC championship game against the 49ers with a spot in Super Bowl LIV on the line.

So the Titans take on the Chiefs and Packers battle the 49ers….

It might not be the final four the pundits predicted, but as long as the next two rounds continue the standard set so far not one of them will be complaining.

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