Team Notes week 19 2020

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley put it, "With speed and resiliency, Lamar Jackson exacted postseason revenge and silenced those who doubted he could win when it matters most."

In the Ravens' 20-13 wild-card triumph in Tennessee, Jackson won the first playoff game of his career and delivered payback for last year's upset loss to the Titans.

The reigning NFL MVP changed the game with a 48-yard touchdown scramble late in the second quarter, the second-longest postseason touchdown run by a quarterback, and bounced back from an early interception to record the biggest comeback of his career. Jackson rallied the Ravens from a 10-0 deficit after being 0-6 in his career when trailing by double digits.

"It feels great," Jackson said. "I'm happy we got it done."

Jackson's failures in the postseason were the major storyline heading into this game. He was 0-2 in the playoffs after the 28-12 upset loss to the Titans last year, when Baltimore was the AFC's top seed and a 10-point favorite.

Then Jackson and the Ravens fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter after a poor downfield throw resulted in an interception, setting up a Titans field goal. Unlike last season -- when early mistakes snowballed -- Jackson rebounded by going 16-of-21 for 178 yards the rest of the way.

"We stayed focused. We didn't get rattled. My coaches didn't get rattled," Jackson told Salters. "I threw a dumbass -- I'm sorry -- dumb interception. But we kept fighting and made it happen."

With 136 rushing yards, Jackson became the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era to total 100 rushing yards and score a rushing touchdown in a playoff game, joining Colin Kaepernick.

Jackson has produced one of the most memorable starts to an NFL career. He was the youngest quarterback to win NFL MVP last season. He became the fastest quarterback to win 30 games in NFL history when he clinched a playoff berth in the season finale (his 37th game).

Now he finally has a postseason victory.

Next up, the Ravens will visit the No. 2-seeded Buffalo Bills.

They'll head into Buffalo having found their running game at the most important time of the year, rediscovering the formula that made Jackson the 2019 MVP. To be more specific, they're averaging 262.2 rushing yards per game during their six-game winning streak. Jackson has five rushing touchdowns and eight rushes of at least 20 yards over that period.

During the regular season, the Bills' defense gave up the third-most rushing touchdowns (seven) and seventh-highest rushing yards per carry average (5.2) to opposing quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, the Ravens could use a few more viable targets for Jackson if he's forced to play catchup in the second half.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews accounted for 11 of Jackson's 17 completions in Tennessee. Willie Snead had two catches, tight end/fullback Patrick Richard had three and wideout Dez Bryant was targeted only once. ...

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens could have their hands full trying to contain Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who went 26 for 35 for 324 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoff opener against Indianapolis. He was also Buffalo's leading rusher with 54 yards.

But the win in Tennessee pitted the NFL's top two rushing teams and the Ravens won that battle handily.

In fact, Baltimore had a 236-51 edge in yards and had 13 first downs rushing compared to only one for Tennessee. The defense limited Derrick Henry to 40 yards on 18 carries, and the Titans could only muster 209 yards after scoring 30 points in an earlier meeting between the teams.

Henry's longest run was an 8-yarder, and he averaged 2.2 yards per attempt.

"That's a testament to show you what kind of guys we have up front, what kind of guys we have on this defense, and what kind of guys we have on this team," defensive tackle Derek Wolfe said. ...

Worth noting. ... The Ravens missed a chance to pad their lead when Justin Tucker, with an NFL-best 90.7 percent kicking percentage on field goals, missed a 52-yarder wide right early in the fourth quarter. Tucker had made 48 straight field goals in the fourth quarter or overtime since his last miss from 55 yards Dec. 6, 2015, in a loss to Miami.

Tucker made his next kick, a 51-yarder for the final margin.

As the Associated Press suggested, that Baltimore is in this situation after enduring a COVID-19 breach that attributed heavily to a stretch of four losses in five games made Sunday's victory particularly sweet, especially after the Ravens bowed out quickly last season after bringing a 14-2 record into the playoffs.

"It's worth dwelling on a little bit," head coach John Harbaugh said Monday, "but right now we just don't have time to do it. ..."

Also of interest. ... Veteran running back Mark Ingram was a healthy scratch. Ingram used to be the starter, but lost that role after twisting his ankle in October. Now, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are getting the majority of the carries and third-stringer Justice Hill is dressing on game day because he also plays on special teams.

Harbaugh said there were no significant injuries in Tennessee. "We should have everybody for next week. We're looking good right now," he noted.

A few final notes. ... The Texans are expected to interview Ravens assistant head coach/WRs coach David Culley for their head coaching job. John Harbaugh has been outspoken about how ready Culley is. ...

And last. ... After his final kneel down in Tennessee, Jackson didn't wait for the final 30 seconds to tick off the clock before he sprinted off the field. Jackson waved his teammates to follow him as he headed up the tunnel.

Jackson admitted what everyone knew: The Ravens still were miffed about the pregame dustup from their Week 11 meeting. The Titans gathered on the Ravens' midfield logo before Tennessee's 30-24 overtime win, prompting a heated exchange between the head coaches.

"We didn't see what went on before the game the last time," Jackson told Sarah Ellison of the team's official website. "[Later we saw.] They were standing on our logo and getting into it with our coach. That was disrespectful, because we treat all our opponents with respect. ... There wasn't any reason for us to shake hands."

Titans coach Mike Vrabel exchanged a handshake with Ravens coach John Harbaugh after Sunday's wild-card game. After their regular-season meeting, it appeared Harbaugh waved off a handshake with Vrabel, even though both coaches downplayed it afterward.

Vrabel did not want to address the Ravens' celebration Sunday.

"Nope. I coach the Titans, not the Ravens," Vrabel said.

No matter, this rivalry has become one of the best in the NFL.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Trace McSorley, Robert Griffin III
RBs: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Mark Ingram
WRs: Marquise Brown, Dez Bryant, Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche
TEs: Mark Andrews, Eric Tomlinson

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

For the first time in a quarter of a century, the Buffalo Bills have won a playoff game.

As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques noted, playing in front of a home crowd for the first time this season, the Bills beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-24 Saturday in a wild-card game that also was their first playoff win in Orchard Park since Dec. 30, 1995, when they beat Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins 37-22.

The Bills won the AFC East in 2020 for the first time since that 1995 season, registering their best record (13-3) since 1991.

"It's been a long time since Bills mafia has been able to celebrate like this," quarterback Josh Allen said postgame. "But again, it's one game. I am just happy for a chance to be able to play next week."

Allen, 24, improved significantly from his first playoff game last season, completing 26 of 35 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns, adding 54 yards and another score on the ground. He became the youngest player in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and complete 70 percent of his passes in a playoff game, per ESPN Stats and Information research.

Riding a six-game winning streak entering the playoffs, Buffalo had beaten those six opponents by an average of 19.8 points.

Playing in their first one-score game since Week 8, Allen said Saturday's win proved the Bills can win the close ones, as well.

"This is the playoffs -- this is what it's going to be," receiver Cole Beasley said. "It's going to come down to the wire every time. ... Teams play their best football in the playoffs."

Playing through a knee injury, Beasley caught all seven of his targets for 57 yards. He credited Bills fans -- in the stands for the first time this season -- for a "boost," saying he "needed a little extra" in his first game since Week 16.

Next up, the Bills will host a divisional playoff game against the Ravens.

"One's not good enough for us," Allen said. "We've got to find a way to put our best foot forward this week and get another one."

The Bills have lost three straight and are 3-6 overall vs. the Ravens, who they are facing for the first time in the playoffs.

According to Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow, the Bills' defense hasn't been the reliable and sturdy unit it was in finishing among the NFL's top three in fewest yards allowed the previous two seasons. Buffalo has at times struggled against the run, had difficulty getting stops on third down, and walked a perilous line by allowing opponents to mount fourth-quarter comebacks.

If there's a bright side for the Bills, their defensive deficiencies have been smoothed over by an offense that scored a single-season team-record 501 points, and extended another franchise record by scoring 24 or more points for a 10th straight outing.

The first playoff meeting of two of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 draft will feature a showdown of contrasting style: strong-armed Allen, chosen seventh overall, and elusive Jackson, selected 32nd.

The same goes for each teams' defensive traits.

The Bills have allowed 150 yards rushing five times already this season, four more than last year. The Ravens haven't allowed 300 yards passing at all this season.

But the Bills are more than capable of matching the Ravens score-for-score in a playoff game.

They've scored at least 30 points in seven of their past nine games, averaging 36.7 points overall during that span. Allen is one of the NFL's best passers outside of the pocket, and he set a career high with 117 such passing yards on Saturday against the Colts.

The Ravens' defense will be a stiff test.

It limited opponents to 4.79 yards per attempt on passes outside the pocket, third lowest in the NFL. But after this regular season, it makes sense to side with the offense in a strength-on-strength matchup.

Meanwhile, word after the Bills' playoff victory over the Colts was that the team feared running back Zack Moss' season was finished. Further testing on Moss' injured ankle has confirmed that fear, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports.

The Bills will have to make do with Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon and Taiwan Jones the rest of the way. They also have Antonio Williams, who scored two touchdowns in Week 17, on the practice squad.

The team also signed former Falcon and Giant Devonta Freeman to their practice squad for additional depth if needed.

Head coach Sean McDermott seems comfortable with the state of his team's running backs.

"We'll look at guys on our roster that we have a lot of confidence in," McDermott said Monday, via Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News.

Singletary started each of the team's regular-season games, registering 956 yards from scrimmage. He will likely take on a larger role with Moss out, but Yeldon could chip in.

"We've got a lot of confidence in T.J. as well," McDermott said. "He's played a lot of games over the course of his career."

Moss had seven carries for 21 yards and four catches for 26 yards in 20 snaps before getting hurt Saturday. The 2020 third-round pick had 112 rushes for 481 yards and four touchdowns and 14 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown in the regular season. ...

Free agent K Tristan Vizcaino, who filled in for the 49ers in Week 17, visited the Bills Monday for a tryout and could potentially be their emergency kicker moving forward during playoffs. He'll have to clear protocols first. He will provide insurance in case COVID-19 or anything else affects their kicker situation over the rest of the postseason.

And finally. ... The Bills have performed well enough this year to get both coordinators consideration for head-coaching jobs.

The New York Jets announced Sunday that they completed an interview with Brian Daboll, the Bills' offensive coordinator, for their vacant head coaching job.

According to a report from NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Daboll completed an interview with the Los Angeles Chargers later Sunday for their head-coaching job. Both interviews were conducted virtually, given NFL rules in place because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The Bills finished the regular season with the NFL's second-highest scoring offense, averaging 31.3 points per game. The team also finished tied for second in yards per game (396.4) and led the league in third-down efficiency (49.7 percent). Allen set single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,544), touchdowns (37) and completions (396), while wide receiver Stefon Diggs led the NFL in both receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535), also setting single-season franchise records in both.

Daboll's work with Allen will certainly appeal to both the Jets and Chargers. New York has one of Allen's close friends, Sam Darnold, on the roster. The former No. 3 overall pick has not reached his potential in three seasons. The Jets also have the No. 2 overall pick in the draft if they want to go in a different direction at quarterback.

The Chargers have Justin Herbert, who set rookie records for total touchdowns (36), passing touchdowns (31), completions (396), multi-touchdown passing games (10), 300-yard passing games (eight) and three-touchdown passing games (six), falling just 38 yards short of Andrew Luck's rookie record of 4,374 passing yards. Herbert completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also added 234 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

Meanwhile, former Vikings coach and current Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be interviewed by the Texans for their current head-coaching vacancy.

Frazier, 61, became interim head coach of the Vikings after the firing of Brad Childress. Frazier was hide after the season, and remained in Minnesota for three years. He thereafter served as defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay (2014-15) and secondary coach in Baltimore (2016) before becoming the Buffalo defensive coordinator in 2017.

Frazier has a pair of Super Bowl rings; he won one as a player with the 1985 Bears and as assistant head coach and defensive backs coach with the 2006 Colts.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Jake Fromm
RBs: Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones, Devonta Freeman, Zack Moss
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, John Brown, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Andre Roberts
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, Reggie Gilliam

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

Head coach Kevin Stefanski said he's on track to rejoin his team Thursday after missing Cleveland's playoff victory Sunday night over the Steelers with COVID-19.

"I don't plan on doing that again," said Stefanski, who watched the game from his basement, isolated from his family with his phone off. "A very, very unique feeling not to be there with them, so there was a ton of nervous energy that usually doesn't exist on the sideline for whatever reason. But it existed for me last night."

Without Stefanski, the Browns won their first playoff game since 1994, defeating the Steelers 48-37.

In addition, one week after ending the NFL's longest playoff drought, the Browns also snapped a 17-game losing streak at Heinz Field, which was the third-longest road losing streak to a single opponent in league history.

Cleveland will face the top-seeded Chiefs in Kansas City in the AFC divisional round Sunday.

As ESPN.com's Jake Trotter reported, in Pittsburgh, the Browns scored a defensive touchdown on the first play of the game, as Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over the head of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into the end zone.

Stefanski said that he had previously hit pause and was behind the live broadcast feed by about 45 seconds when the score happened.

"When I heard my kids going crazy upstairs," he said, "I had an inkling something good was gonna happen on that first play."

Despite Cleveland's fast start, which included a 28-0 lead in the first quarter, Stefanski admitted that he "was doing a lot of pacing" to deal with the stress of watching the game on TV, but avoided doing any snacking.

"I can't taste anything, so that wouldn't have helped," said Stefanski, who added he has endured only mild symptoms from the virus. "I have a newfound respect for all of our fans and how they watch those games. I like it better when I have some control."

Stefanski finally turned his phone back on immediately after the game ended. He immediately was FaceTimed by Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry coming off the field.

"Which I wasn't expecting," he said, "jumping on FaceTime about two seconds after the game ended."

Wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea later FaceTimed Stefanski from the visitors’ locker room so he could celebrate with the team.

"It was a strange feeling," Stefanski said. "But great to just let those guys know how proud of them I am."

Worth noting. ... Cleveland's offensive line depth is so decimated by injuries -- and Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio being out with COVID-19 -- that during the nerve-racking fourth quarter as the Steelers rallied, the left guard was Blake Hance. He spent 16 weeks on the Jets' practice squad before the Browns signed him in an emergency last week.

Baker Mayfield introduced himself to Hance in the locker room before the game.

Stefanski hopes to do the same soon.

"I am looking forward to it," Stefanski said. ...

As for this weekend?

A first playoff meeting between the Browns well-rested, top-seeded and heavily favored Chiefs means Cleveland will likely spend another week hearing it can't win.

"Sounds pretty normal to me," Mayfield said.

The Browns haven't won twice in the same postseason since 1950, their inaugural NFL campaign. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Kareem Hunt was a star in his two seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs before his abrupt release in 2018. The Chiefs will see what it's like to defend against Hunt for the first time on Sunday when they face the Cleveland Browns in the divisional round of the playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium.

"I like Kareem," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday. "I'm glad things are going well for him. He knows a lot of the guys who were on (the Chiefs) last year and probably felt bad about not being a part of all that. Most of all I'm happy for him that things are going in the right direction for him."

Hill was released by the Chiefs late in the 2018 season after video surfaced of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman outside his residence.

Hunt, drafted by the Chiefs in the third round in 2017, led the NFL in rushing as a rookie and was having another strong season in 2018 when the Chiefs let him go.

The Browns signed him ahead of the 2019 season, but Hunt didn't make his Cleveland debut until Week 10 after serving an eight-game suspension. He signed a two-year extension with the Browns worth $13.25 million, including $8.5 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN in September.

One of Hunt's final games for the Chiefs came against the Browns in his hometown of Cleveland. Hunt that day rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 50-yard touchdown pass.

More generally speaking, as ESPN.com notes, the Browns have a chance to control the line of scrimmage against the Chiefs' defense, which has allowed opposing runners an average of 3.0 yards per carry before first contact. In most of the games they've won this season, the Browns have taken their leads via the passing game.

And maybe that would be the case in this game with Mayfield. If the Browns are going to win in Kansas City, he'll need to match or exceed that three-touchdown, no-turnover performance we saw in Pittsburgh.

That said, if you give Nick Chubb and Hunt that kind of head start into the secondary, they're going to do some damage. ...

And finally. ... Stefanski told reporters that right tackle Jack Conklin (hamstring), guard Michael Dunn (calf) and cornerback Robert Jackson (hamstring) are all day to day. Linebacker B.J. Goodson suffered a "bad" AC joint sprain in one of his shoulders in addition to bruised ribs during Sunday's victory over the Steelers, but intends to play this weekend against the Chiefs, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported.

Goodson intends to play this weekend against the Chiefs.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Marvin Hall, Derrick Willies, KhaDarel Hodge, Ja'Marcus Bradley, Odell Beckham
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Stephen Carlson, Harrison Bryant

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were a perfect 5-0 over the last month and earned the No. 1 seed heading into the NFC playoffs. During this span, Rodgers threw 15 touchdowns -- and rushed for two more -- while tossing just one interception and compiling a 131.9 quarterback rating.

Rodgers, the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December, was his pinpoint self, completing 111 of 145 attempts (76.6 percent) for 1,199 yards.

Rodgers has played 16 seasons. In nine of those seasons, the Packers quarterback has played all 16 games. Never has he entered the postseason as fresh as he feels this postseason.

Rodgers was sacked only 20 times, second-fewest in the NFL behind Philip Rivers among qualifying quarterbacks. It is the fewest sacks Rodgers has taken in a single-season since he became the starter.

"I definitely feel as good as I've felt after the season in I can't even remember," Rodgers said Thursday. "That's a big positive, especially at 37. A lot of that's due to the low number of sacks that we had. Obviously, I consider some of the things I've done in the offseason, in the weight room, a big help as well. But it's been one of those years. Sometimes you can't avoid those things. Just things can happen. Guys can fall on your legs or take a misstep. But this year I've thankfully avoided those and feel really good."

Rodgers did not miss a practice this season and played 98 percent of the offensive snaps.

"I think it's the strongest I've definitely felt and, yeah, probably the least sore, the least amount of bumps and issues," he said. "I think we all deal with certain things throughout the season, but to be able to have made it through every practice and not be limited in any of them definitely was a change for me, a very welcomed change."

Receiver Davante Adams said after the 35-16 victory in the regular-season finale at Chicago, that "the MVP should be locked up" in Rodgers' favor. Head coach Matt LaFleur backed that up this past Thursday by saying that Rodgers "without a doubt in my mind, is the MVP."

Rodgers, who is currently the MVP favorite, led the NFL in completion percentage (70.7), passing touchdowns (48) and passer rating (121.5).

This comes after an offseason in which the Packers traded up four spots in the draft to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round, causing Rodgers himself to express doubts whether he'd be able to finish his career in Green Bay.

Rather than complaining, Rodgers responded by talking in the offseason about how he had reflected on what's important in life and had learned to savor every moment. He has showcased that attitude during the season by displaying his love for the game, as evidenced by his touchdown celebrations.

"He always has been a thankful guy, but just what we have here I think is something that is really special with our team and how we operate," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "And I think that he's just realized that and just really taking it each day at a time and really just enjoying every second."

Most notable in his touchdown celebrations was when he stretched out his arms and shouted, "I love gold," a nod to Hackett's love for the Mike Myers movie "Austin Powers in Goldmember" that inspired the Packers to refer to the red zone as the gold zone this season.

"One of my New Year's resolutions is definitely Mike Myers in a gold suit in Green Bay or Zoomed into Green Bay," Rodgers said.

Rodgers has helped the Packers strike gold just about every time they get near the goal line this season.

Green Bay leads the NFL in red-zone offense and have dramatically improved their third-down efficiency. The Packers are converting 49.4 percent of their third-down situations to rank second in the NFL, behind only Buffalo. Last season they converted 36 percent of their third-down plays to rank 23rd in the league.

That helps explain why Green Bay is scoring a league-high 31.8 points per game, up from 23.5 last season.

Yet Rodgers isn't quite ready to say this has been the best season of his career.

"I'm definitely going to look back years from now with a lot of pride about the way I played and the steps I took throughout the season to put myself in a position, kind of going back to March and April," Rodgers said. "So I'm very proud of the regular season. Best season? Let's wait and see how this run turns out."

The next step in that journey goes through the Los Angeles Rams and their high-end defense.

Indeed, as ESPN.com put it: "The matchup of the expected MVP against arguably the NFL's best defense is going to be a highlight of the divisional weekend."

Of course, the bar for outscoring the Rams shouldn't be high. The Rams' offense scored an average of 12.7 points per game during the final three weeks of the regular season, and neither of their quarterbacks -- Jared Goff and John Wolford -- are 100 percent healthy.

Neither is receiver Cooper Kupp, who has bursitis in his knee. Since Week 13, the Packers have allowed 17.2 points per game. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Packers had the luxury of a playoff bye, but they did hold a few practices last week. Notably, Adams didn't take part in them.

On Friday, LaFleur said it's not a reason for concern.

"Yeah, it's just rest," LaFleur said during his Friday press conference. "He's been getting treatment and getting some conditioning in. But no reservations there."

Adams finished the season with 115 receptions for 1,374 yards and a league-leading 18 touchdowns. Adams set a new franchise record for receptions and tied Green Bay's franchise record for touchdowns -- accomplishing the feats in 14 games. ...

Veteran tackle Jared Veldheer signed with the Packers on Monday, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported.

Veldheer had spent much of 2020 without a team in what could be termed as his second retirement (he'd retired in 2019 and again in 2020) before signing to Indianapolis' practice squad in late December. The Colts quickly elevated Veldheer in time for him to play in Indianapolis' wild-card loss to Buffalo on Saturday, seemingly ending his 2020 season after one playoff game.

With David Bakhtiari landing on injured reserve nine days ago, there's a legitimate possibility for Veldheer to take the field in green and gold this weekend. Veldheer was adequate if not better for the Colts on Saturday, earning a pass-blocking grade over 70 from Pro Football Focus.

He's equipped well enough to fit into Green Bay's excellent offensive line if called upon, which would add a fun little wrinkle to what has already been an entertaining postseason. ...

For what it's worth, Hackett said last week he was ready to become a head coach.

"I think definitely ready," Hackett said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "I think it's something you're thinking about the minute you get into this profession."

Hackett interviewed with the Falcons, the team announced Thursday night after the interview had ended. So far, it's the only known head coaching interview for Hackett.

Hackett, the Bills' offensive coordinator in 2013-14 and the Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2016-18, has spent the past two seasons leading the Packers' offense. He does not call the plays, but he has the best possible reference in one Rodgers, who said Thursday "any team would be lucky to have" Hackett as its coach.

The Falcons also have interviewed interim coach Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

And finally. ... Lambeau Field is preparing to host its largest number of fans this season.

The Green Bay Packers announced Thursday night that approximately 6,000 tickets will go on sale on Jan. 12 for the team's Divisional Playoff matchup. The No. 1 seed Packers will enjoy their bye for a few more days as they wait to face the lowest remaining seed following Super Wild Card Weekend.

"Our players have enjoyed the energy provided by the limited fans we've had over the past four games. We're looking forward to welcoming our Season Ticket Holders to add to that atmosphere in the playoffs," Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement. "We've seen our COVID-19 protocols in action and are confident we can safely add additional fans."

The Packers successfully implemented their COVID-19 protocols to close the season, allowing for the increase in spectators. After hosting a small number of employees and frontline workers, along with their respective families, next week's attendees will be comprised of a mix of season ticket holders and invited frontline healthcare workers and first responders.

Seats will be arranged in socially distanced pods of two, four and six tickets throughout the stadium, the franchise noted. Season ticket holders are expected to attend the game with members of their household.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, A.J. Dillon, Tyler Ervin
WRs: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Malik Taylor, Reggie Begelton
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jace Sternberger, Josiah Deguara

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

It took five decades for the Kansas City Chiefs to win a second Super Bowl. Now they have the audacity to shoot for two in two years.

Yet while Patrick Mahomes and Co. are the favorites at just about every sports book, bar or barbershop heading into the playoffs, the road to a repeat is hardly a smooth one. Nobody has won back-to-back championships since the New England Patriots successfully defended theirs in February 2005, the longest stretch without a repeat winner in Super Bowl history.

"It's just historically an enormous challenge for teams to come back," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who led Seattle to the 2013 NFL title but lost to the Patriots the following year. "It's almost easier to get there and win it than it is to come back and do it a second time around. And it's because of the shift that takes place once you win, and all that goes on through those months of the offseason, and the buildup and then the anticipation going through the start."

That's certainly one reason why repeating is so difficult. There are dozens of others.

The schedule of defending champions is often more difficult, and you are bound to get your opponent's best shot any given week. Injuries and luck inevitably play a factor. The salary cap, the NFL draft and free agency are designed to create parity, giving more teams an opportunity to make the playoffs.

The result? Over the last 20 years, seven defending champions failed to make the postseason at all. Three more were knocked out of the playoffs in the wild-card round and five more in the divisional round, which means just a quarter of Super Bowl winners were able to reach the conference championship game.

During one stretch from 2006-13, every champion either missed the playoffs or lost its first game.

"I mean, you have to be able to take it up another notch without getting so tied into it that you completely can't function," head coach Andy Reid said. "Sometimes you can just try to so hard that everything goes the opposite way. You have to work within it and rise up to those challenges, and try to maximize what you think you're capable of."

Reid is speaking from experience, even though last year's championship was his first as a head coach. He was on Mike Holmgren's staff in Green Bay when the Packers beat the Patriots to win the Super Bowl on Jan. 26, 1997. And while they managed to return the following year, they were beaten by the Denver Broncos -- who would repeat themselves.

That was the last repeat champion until the Patriots in the 2004 and '05 Super Bowls, and together they are two of just eight instances in which teams have won back-to-back championships. The Packers, Dolphins, 49ers, Cowboys and Steelers also have pulled off the feat, with Pittsburgh doing it twice in a six-year span under Chuck Noll in the 1970s and '80s.

Then again, those teams' achievements also give the Chiefs confidence that they can do it again.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs, whose 14-2 record is the best by a defending champion since the 2011 Packers, earned a big advantage by getting the No. 1 seed and lone first-round conference bye. And they did it in Week 16, allowing them to rest their starters last week and everybody this week in anticipation of their divisional-round game at Arrowhead Stadium.

"It's huge having two weeks. You can mentally take off that first week, which is huge," Mahomes said. "I think physically we will be fine. I think having that mental break will rejuvenate everybody and have us ready."

It might take some of the pressure off the quest for a repeat, too as they begin preparing to play the surging Cleveland Browns in Kansas City on Sunday afternoon.

For what it's worth, the Chiefs had to wait until the very last of the six wild-card games played over the weekend to find out who they would play in the divisional round of the playoffs.

"We had a bird's-eye view yesterday of watching them. They're a good football team and we knew that," said Reid, whose staff had begun preparing for each of the four possible opponents long ago. "We had a chance to study them last week, as we did the other teams we might be playing. All in all, we'll start the week of practice tomorrow and go from there."

It should be the first practice in quite a while that the Chiefs are relatively healthy.

Tyreek Hill was dealing with a hamstring injury the final three weeks of the regular season while fellow wide receiver Sammy Watkins was slowed by a calf injury. In the backfield, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been trying to return from a high-ankle sprain while Le'Veon Bell was sidelined Week 17 with a knee injury. Up front, offensive lineman Mike Remmers had a back injury that caused him to miss the Chiefs' regular-season finale against the Chargers.

That's just on offense. The defense was just as banged up.

Middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who is tasked with calling the plays, spent the past couple of weeks on the COVID-19 list. His running mate, Ben Niemann, has been dealing with a hamstring strain and backup Damien Wilson has been limited with a lingering knee injury. Defensive tackles Mike Pennel (back) and Derrick Nnadi (knee) were hobbled on the front end while cornerback Charvarius Ward (hamstring) was slowed on the back end.

"We had some battles there at the end of the season. Games like the Saints, the Bucs, even the Falcons, they were physical football games," Mahomes said.

"To get guys healthy, back to 100 percent, I think we'll be able to utilize our speed and power in the playoffs and really have the best Chiefs football team we've had since the beginning of the year."

They might need to be against the Browns, who earned the right to visit Kansas City by being the lowest-remaining seed in the AFC playoffs, but hardly looked as if they were overmatched Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

Baker Mayfield was efficient through the air, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Nick Chubb and former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt combined to carry 26 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And their opportunistic defense picked off Ben Roethlisberger four times and recovered a fumble for a touchdown.

In short, they played the kind of game necessary to upset the Chiefs: control the ball and the clock with the ground game, make smart decisions in the pass game and hope that a few turnovers -- or five of them -- go your way.

"There is anticipation, obviously, to who we'll play and that ended up being the last game of the two days," Reid said, "so we had a little bit of a wait to find out and then once you get that, we're going. So you don't get much time to think about anything else, other than that. So I wouldn't tell you I feel any different than I did last year. Everyone had a chance to see how good they are and it'll take all of that. We have to keep our eye right on that. ..."

If you're trying to divine the outcome in advance of this weekend, it seems hard to believe that the Browns' pass defense can stay with the Chiefs' receivers.

As ESPN.com notes, the Browns ranked No. 24 in the NFL in opposing QBR and No. 25 in touchdown passes allowed (31) this season. The Chiefs will take plenty of lessons from the soft coverage the Browns played during the Steelers' comeback attempt Sunday night, and there will be just too many weapons for the Browns' defense to keep track of.

On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs will have a pair of defenders back for this weekend's divisional-round matchup against the Browns.

Kansas City activated linebacker Anthony Hitchens and defensive end Mike Danna off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, according to multiple reports.

Hitchens has been on the list since Dec. 22, meaning the linebacker missed the Chiefs' Week 16 and 17 games. Danna went to the list on Jan. 6 as a high-risk close contact.

Hitchens started Kansas City's first 14 games this season, recording 78 total tackles. The Chiefs selected Danna in the fifth round of the 2020 draft and he recorded 2.5 sacks in 13 games.

To create a needed roster spot, Kansas City waived wide receiver Gehrig Dieter. ...

And finally. ... Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy's work with Mahomes has landed him a lot of head coaching interviews in recent years and he's been busy on that front this month.

Bieniemy has interviewed with the Jets, Lions, Falcons, Chargers and Jaguars since the end of the regular season. The Texans and Eagles have not spoken to him, although the Eagles job only became available on Monday afternoon so they could get in the mix.

Mahomes recommended Bieniemy to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and the decision not to interview him has reportedly led to friction between Watson and the team. Mahomes said on KCSP 610 Sports Radio Monday that he told Watson "who coach Bieniemy is and what kind of coach he is, what kind of man he is and how I think that he handles himself." He also said that he thinks it will nuts if no one hires Bieniemy.

"His track record speaks for itself," Mahomes said. "The type of man he is, the way he can control and be a leader of the locker room and the way that he coaches and schemes he brings to us. If he doesn't, people are crazy."

Profootballtalk.com has reported that some around the league believe Bieniemy will not land a job and that he has told some people that "he wants to stay with the Chiefs until he finds the perfect job." Mahomes said he'd love to have Bieniemy around for another year, but believes he "deserves that opportunity to lead his own franchise and his own team."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Le'Veon Bell, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Byron Pringle, Sammy Watkins
TEs: Travis Kelce, Deon Yelder, Nick Keizer

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry reported it, less than two weeks after Jared Goff broke his thumb at Lumen Field, the quarterback returned to Seattle, came off the bench and led the Rams to a gutsy 30-20 victory over the division-champion Seahawks in Saturday's wild-card game.

The win avenges a Week 16 loss to the Seahawks that clinched Seattle's NFC West title.

"Two weeks ago you saw them smoking cigars and getting all excited about beating us and winning the division and we're able to come up here and beat them in their own place," Goff said after the game. "It feels good."

The Rams will play in the divisional round Saturday afternoon at the top-seeded Green Bay Packers.

The Rams' triumph broke the Seahawks' string of 10 straight home playoff wins, which was the third-longest such streak in NFL postseason history. No fans were allowed at Saturday's game because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With Goff continuing to recover from Dec. 28 surgery on his throwing-hand thumb, John Wolford made his second career start. But it ended abruptly with 5:40 to play in the first quarter. Wolford rushed for a 2-yard gain on a designed run, but he suffered a neck injury when he was tackled and was transported to a hospital for precautionary measures.

Wolford was released and celebrated with the team in the locker room after the game, according to Rams coach Sean McVay. Wolford returned with the team to Los Angeles on Saturday night, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

With a small bandage on his surgically repaired thumb, Goff entered the game and completed 9 of 19 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown as the Rams broke a two-game streak without an offensive score.

"For him to be able to throw the football is pretty impressive," McVay said. "There were a couple limitations which led to the decision to go with John. I was real pleased with Jared, and I think it was a real credit to him to be able to handle this week the right way and have himself mentally ready to go."

Though he did not publicly announce a starter before kickoff, McVay told the team Wednesday that Wolford, who led the Rams to an 18-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals in his first NFL start in Week 17, would start in the wild-card game.

"It was tough," Goff said about McVay's decision. "It was some long conversations we had, but ultimately I respect his decision. He's the coach. He had to make a decision that he needed to make early in the week to get out in front of some stuff, and I get it, but as a competitor, of course I wanted to play."

Goff said his thumb felt fine throughout the game and refused to use it as an excuse for any inefficiencies, though he admitted it was not 100 percent.

"It's in a good place, and I'm very capable with what I got going on right now," Goff said.

Though both Goff and Wolford are battling injuries, a source told Schefter that the two quarterbacks "should be OK."

According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Goff's 155 passing yards were the most by any player off the bench in a playoff win since Jay Fiedler's 172 passing yards for the Jaguars in their 62-7 win over the Dolphins in the 1999 divisional round, a game best known as Dan Marino's last career game.

As Goff toughed out playing 12 days after surgery, he had plenty of support from his backfield. Running back Cam Akers rushed for 131 yards (the most by a Rams rookie in playoff history) and a touchdown on 28 carries and also caught two passes for 45 yards.

"He was huge," McVay said. "We were able to control the time of possession, able to just eat up yards a little bit at a time."

McVay did not provide an update on Donald or wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury, but various reports have indicated Donald will play through his torn rib cartilage (X-rays revealed no fracture) and that Kupp's issue is bursitis. Kupp is also expected to play, but starting left guard David Edwards is more uncertain with an ankle injury.

In addition to Donald and Kupp, Leonard Floyd and Wolford all took significant damage in Seattle, while Goff and 39-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth need every hour of rest possible in their rushed comebacks from surgery.

The one certainty here: They'll need all hands on deck in Green Bay.

As the Associated Press noted, Aaron Rodgers is an enormous challenge, but the Rams' pass defense has been stellar. The league's No. 1 group held Russell Wilson to 174 yards passing -- his fewest in a playoff game in five years, and third fewest in his 16-game postseason career -- and two touchdowns even though the Seahawks were playing from behind from the second quarter onward.

LA sacked Wilson five times and hit him 10 times, while cornerback Darious Williams' TD highlighted several impressive plays in coverage.

The Rams have never played a postseason game at Lambeau Field, which opened in 1957. The franchises' only playoff meetings were in Milwaukee and in St. Louis.

It seems likely that the Rams' passing offense is going to be limited, given the health of their two quarterbacks. But Akers emerged late in the season as an offensive force. A performance similar to the one he delivered against the Seahawks last weekend would keep the Rams competitive in this uphill battle. ...

Also of interest. ... The Rams' kicking game is solid for the first time all season. Matt Gay made all three of his field goal attempts in Seattle, giving him 12 straight over the past five games. He has also banged 28 of his 35 kickoffs for touchbacks since arriving in late November. ...

And finally. ... The game will put close friends McVay and Matt LaFleur on opposite sidelines for the first time as head coaches.

The two men first worked together in Washington on Mike Shanahan's staff from 2010-2013. When Los Angeles hired McVay in 2017, he brought LaFleur on to be the club's offensive coordinator. The Rams went from worst to first in scoring that season, winning the NFC West for the first time since 2003.

LaFleur got hired to call plays as the Titans offensive coordinator in 2018 and became the Packers head coach a year later.

On Sunday, McVay said he follows Green Bay closely because of his friendship with LaFleur. But he's not sure that relationship provides any advantage or disadvantage for either side.

"It gives you a perspective of why they've done such a good job. You're not surprised," McVay said during his press conference. "I think it's just when Matt got the opportunity to go there, the last thing I was surprised by was the success that he had. He's a great coach. He's a great friend of mine. You're so happy to see that success. It's pretty crazy that we're getting an opportunity to play against one another -- really, our teams our getting to play each other in the divisional round. That's going to be the most important thing, is the Rams versus the Packers and we'll see if we can go and get after Matt a little bit. It'll be fun."

McVay also admitted he's taken a play or two from LaFleur's Packers film, though that goes both ways.

"I joke with him about running plays that we rant previous week the next week. And I'll steal from him, too. So, we definitely give each other a good time," McVay said. "But there's a handful of plays that I think each of us have run over the last couple years that we've copied from one another."

McVay vs. LaFleur should be a fun matchup to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: John Wolford, Jared Goff
RBs: Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown, Raymond Calais, Xavier Jones, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, Van Jefferson, Nsimba Webster, Trishton Jackson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt, Brycen Hopkins

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

Tom Brady and Drew Brees will actually do something this week that they have never accomplished in their storied NFL careers: face each other in a playoff game.

The second-seeded New Orleans Saints will host the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the finale of next weekend's divisional-round matchups late Sunday afternoon.

"I guess it was inevitable," said Brees, who said he knew the Buccaneers would be a significant rival once Brady decided to migrate to the NFC South this past offseason. "Listen, the minute that he signed with the Bucs and came in the division, you felt like that was gonna be a team to contend with. That was gonna be a team that had playoff aspirations and beyond, just like us."

Brees, who will turn 42 on Friday and is expected to contemplate retirement after this season, said, "I don't take it for granted. I'm very appreciative of the opportunity."

The Saints, who became the first team ever to sweep the NFC South division in the regular season, got the better of Brady and the Bucs in their first two matchups -- a 34-23 win in New Orleans in Week 1 and a stunning, 38-3 rout at Tampa in Week 9.

Brees and the 43-year-old Brady became the first pair of quarterbacks ever to start against one another at age 40-plus in a NFL game in those first two meetings. Now, they'll be the first to do so in a playoff game.

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett notes, their rivalry has actually spanned four decades now, dating back to when Brady's Michigan Wolverines trounced Brees' Purdue Boilermakers in 1999.

Brees has actually won five of their seven career matchups in the NFL -- and Brees ranks No. 1 in league history in passing yardage. However, Brady ranks No. 1 in career touchdown passes and has the ultimate mic drop when it comes to Super Bowl rings (six to one).

Brady and the Buccaneers have been on a recent hot streak, winning five straight, including Saturday night's 31-23 wild-card victory at the Washington Football Team.

But Brees and the Saints' offense are hoping they're about to reach their peak in the playoffs, after they got wide receivers Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris back from injured reserve and running back Alvin Kamara back from the reserve/COVID-19 list in time for Sunday's 21-9 wild-card victory over the visiting Chicago Bears.

Thomas caught five passes for 73 yards and his first touchdown of the season after he was limited to just seven regular-season games with a nagging ankle injury. Brees and Thomas had played a total of just 10 quarters together in the regular season, thanks to Brees missing four games of his own from Weeks 11 to 14 with a punctured lung and 11 broken ribs.

"It was great [to get Thomas back]. It was great to get him in the end zone too. Hopefully, we broke the seal and there's a lot more where that came from," said Brees, who threw for 265 yards and two TDs on Sunday but acknowledged that the offense has room to improve after scoring just seven points in the first 40 minutes.

"Listen, we've got some work to do," Brees said. "I think still just kind of the first time getting everybody together again. Hopefully, we get [wideout] Tre'Quan Smith back this week, as well. There's just so much timing and rhythm that goes into the passing game and so many little nuances of things like that."

Smith is on IR but is eligible to return.

Kamara ran for 99 yards and a TD despite not being allowed to practice with the team all week. But he said he felt like he "didn't really miss a beat" after barely experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms and getting to follow the Saints' practices via live-stream video with coaches mic’ed up.

Kamara said he and Brees texted and talked throughout the week about the nuances of the game plan.

"I got a first-round bye. I got a bye week," joked Kamara, who wasn't able to play in Week 17 after testing positive for the coronavirus late last week. "So it helps, obviously, just having that down time. You have no choice but to sit and recover and kind of like get your body back right. So I felt good out there today.

"With me, it didn't really affect me too much. Just taste and smell thrown off. No real side effects, no real symptoms. I felt fine out there today. My wind wasn't really affected. Thank God for the health. It was just something I had to deal with."

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, Kamara will get back on the practice field Wednesday, but the Wild Card round showed that it's not a prerequisite for a strong performance on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Saints targeted Harris with 25 passes during his nine regular season appearances, but he took on a bigger role in the offense against the Bears.

Harris had seven passes come his way and he caught them all for 83 yards in the 21-9 victory. That was the same amount of targets that Thomas and tight end Jared Cook received, which caught the eye of Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians.

Arians was asked about the Saints getting Thomas back from injured reserve during his Monday press conference, but his response focused on Harris.

"He's a heck of a player, [but] the guy that scares me is Deonte Harris," Arians said. "He's really, really fast and when he was in there, it's a different ballgame. Mike is a bruiser and a chain-mover, but Deonte Harris can go to the house quick."

Harris had one catch for 17 yards against the Bucs in Week 1 and one catch for 40 yards in Week 9, but it sounds like the Bucs will be prepared for him to play a larger role this time around. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Saints signed veteran kicker Blair Walsh to the practice squad. This doesn't necessarily signal they're considering a change -- despite the fact that current Wil Lutz has missed 4 of his last 7 FG attempts, including a 50-yarder Sunday.

Sean Payton insisted Lutz will "bounce back."

The fact that the Saints auditioned both Walsh and a long snapper before Sunday's game is an indicating they're preparing emergency options in-house because of COVID regulations. Walsh last played for Seattle in 2017.

The Saints have restored some depth in the secondary, activating safety D.J. Swearinger off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.

Swearinger has been on the list since Jan. 2, missing New Orleans' Week 17 win over Carolina and the team's wild-card victory over the Bears.

He appeared in 11 games for the club in 2020, recording 14 total tackles and one pass defensed.

As a corresponding move, the Saints have waived wide receiver Austin Carr. He was inactive for Sunday's win over Chicago.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Ty Montgomery, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Juwan Johnson, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Jared Cook, Adam Trautman, Josh Hill

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 January 2021

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine recounted it, Washington Football Team rookie defensive end Chase Young said all week, "Tom Brady, I'm coming!" and, "I want Tom!" But the Buccaneers quarterback -- playing in his 42nd postseason game and first with the Bucs, at age 43 -- didn't take the bait from last year's No. 2 overall draft pick, offering only the slightest hint of a smirk.

Instead of taking down the six-time Super Bowl winner, Young finished the NFC wild-card game on Saturday night with two quarterback pressures and no sacks and was congratulating Brady after the Bucs' 31-23 road win.

"I think it was the biggest storyline of the week, just because one guy says, 'I want Tom [Brady],' all of a sudden," Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said of Young's comments. "They've got a great front. Our guys took it to heart: They were going to block them. I thought we blocked them really, really well. They didn't scare us."

Brady led the Bucs to their first playoff appearance since 2007 and first postseason victory since they won Super Bowl XXXVII during the 2002 campaign.

"Come on, that's Tom Brady," running back Leonard Fournette said. "I ain't gotta think too much about that. That's the boy. We've got faith in him. We're gonna protect our butts off for him to make sure he gets that throw. That's our job."

Against Washington's vaunted pass rush, which amassed 47.0 sacks in the regular season, Brady dropped back and took deep shots, completing 22 of 40 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. And he did so without starting running back Ronald Jones II, who suffered a quad injury in warm-ups and was replaced by Fournette, and largely without right guard Alex Cappa, who in the first half suffered a fractured ankle, according to Arians.

Still, Fournette had his best game since joining the Bucs late in training camp after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He rushed for 93 yards on 19 attempts and had four receptions for 39 yards to account for 132 yards from scrimmage.

In general, things went well.

On his first touchdown, Brady looked off Washington safety Jeremy Reaves and found Antonio Brown on a wheel route for a 36-yard score. He then hit Chris Godwin on a play-action pass on which Godwin crossed the middle of the field for a 27-yard touchdown.

Godwin finished with 79 receiving yards on the day and Brown 49, with Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans leading the team with six catches on 10 targets for 119 receiving yards. Evans' status had been in jeopardy all week due to a hyperextended left knee suffered in Week 17.

"Mike played his butt off," Brady said. "He got hurt last week. We weren't sure if he was going to go or not. [He] just did an incredible job fighting through it and made a bunch of big plays when we needed it."

Arians said Evans was 85-90 percent healthy.

Brown has a TD catch in four consecutive games dating to the regular season, tying the second-longest streak in franchise history. Evans owns the record at six games. Brady, at 43 years, 159 days passed George Blanda as the oldest player to throw a TD pass in a playoff game.

But there were missed opportunities for the Bucs.

Tampa Bay led the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage this season at 95.1 percentage, producing points on 58 of 61 possessions. That included 42 touchdowns, tied with Buffalo and Minnesota for fourth in the league behind New Orleans (49), Green Bay (48) and Tennessee (48). The Bucs had five red-zone possessions against Washington, but only got the ball in the end zone once.

Nothing against kicker Ryan Succop, who's been outstanding, but settling for four field goals didn't sit well with Arians or Brady.

"We hit some big plays, made some chunks," Brady said. "I think just not scoring enough in the red [zone] was probably the thing that bothers us, missed a two-point play, had other opportunities to score but just didn't quite take advantage of it. We moved the ball OK. I think we had decent yardage. But at the end of the day, it comes down to points, and we've gotta do a better job scoring more points -- and we'll work on that next week."

They better work hard.

The Bucs' next opponent is the Saints. The two teams will meet in New Orleans late Sunday afternoon.

The Bucs were swept by the Saints this season, and Tampa Bay is 0-4 against the Saints since Arians became head coach in 2019.

Arians was asked by reporters on Monday what it will take to beat the Saints in round three of the 2020 season.

"The familiarity with the players -- Marshon Lattimore knows Mike Evans -- who's going to win that battle?" Arians said. "Same thing [with Buccaneers tackle] Tristan Wirfs and [Saints defensive end] Cam Jordan -- it comes down to one-on-one battles of guys who know each other. Who's going to make those game-changing plays in this game?"

Arians resisted the idea that the Saints have a psychological edge due to recent success against the Buccaneers.

"I don't think there's any more swag than our offense has -- I guarantee that," Arians said. You can't get caught up in the finger pointing and the trash talking. You've got to play football. The Bears' young receiver got caught up in it and got thrown out of the game. It's going to happen, that's who they are. You just have to deal with it and win your one-on-one matchups. They have a ton of swagger and they should."

Despite the struggles, the Buccaneers are ready to go.

"I think they're really, really looking forward to it," Arians said of his team. "Our guys are ready to play anybody, anywhere night -- that's for sure. We all kind of had a feeling we knew where we were going, so it was just get yourselves rested up. This extra day is going to help, so get rested up because you know it's going to be a physical, physical battle."

It also will have extremely high stakes. Division rivals since 2002 and members of the same conference since 1977 (the Buccaneers spent 1976 in the AFC), the Saints and Buccaneers have never met in the postseason. They will for the first time on Sunday night.

The good news?

The Buccaneers have played their best football of the season over the past five weeks, all victories. During that span, they've averaged 35.8 points per game and clearly gotten Brady into a more comfortable spot in their offense. In his past three games, Brady has averaged 145.7 passing yards off play-action, more than twice his average prior to that (64.9).

In addition, the Buccaneers defense will be closer to full strength for this one.

Linebacker Devin White and defensive lineman Steve McLendon were activated from the reserve/COVID list on Monday, the team announced. Both White and McLendon have missed the Bucs' last two games while on the list, including this past Saturday's wild-card win over the Washington Football Team.

White's availability is crucial for the Bucs as they head into New Orleans to face their NFC South rival. Arguably their best player on defense, the second-year LB led the Bucs with 140 tackles this season and notched nine sacks while adding 15 tackles for loss. McLendon adds much-needed depth to a Bucs D-line that lost Vita Vea during the year. Acquired from the Jets in October, McLendon has contributed 17 tackles and two tackles for loss.

White landed on the reserve/COVID list after testing positive on January 1st. McLendon, along with LB Shaquil Barrett were deemed high-risk close contacts in the wake of White's positive test. Barrett was cleared to play just in time to play in the Wild Card Round.

Though the Buccaneers got two defensive players off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, they had to put one on.

Linebacker Kevin Minter was placed on the list after starting Tampa Bay's last two games. He had six total tackles and one pass defensed in Saturday's win over Washington.

Minter was starting for linebacker White. Minter is now the only player on Tampa Bay's COVID-19 list. ...

On the other side of the ball, Arians told reporters Jones (quad) didn't feel right before Saturday's game. Jones was apparently "fine" on Thursday and Friday before feeling like he couldn't "open up" on Saturday. According to Rotoworld.com, there is speculation that perhaps the plane ride increased his swelling.

"We'll wait and see," Arians said regarding Jones' availability for Sunday.

As noted above, Arians also confirmed Cappa will miss the rest of the rest of the playoffs after fracturing his ankle on Saturday. Third-year G Aaron Stinnie will take his place.

And finally. ... The Falcons announced Monday they completed a virtual interview for the organization's head coach position with Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Bowles also was expected to interview with the Lions. The Eagles asked for permission to interview him on Tuesday, the day after they fired Doug Pederson.

Bowles was 24-40 in four seasons as the Jets' head coach. He was fired after the 2018 season and has spent the past two years on Bruce Arians' staff in Tampa. The Bucs were eighth in the league in points allowed and sixth in yards allowed during the 2020 regular season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Justin Watson, Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, O.J. Howard