Team Notes week 20 2020
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. ...
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 January 2021
Buffalo finds themselve in an AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1993 season.
The second-seeded Bills will face the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday.
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss reminded readers, the last time the Bills played in the AFC Championship Game was Jan. 23, 1994. They beat the visiting Chiefs that year to earn their fourth straight trip to the Super Bowl (a game the Bills would lose for the fourth straight year).
The Bills' return to prominence under fourth-year head coach Sean McDermott has had western New York buzzing, with Saturday night's contest played at Bills Stadium before approximately 6,700 fans who sounded more like 67,000 on NBC's television broadcast. The stadium had been closed throughout the regular season due to COVID-19, but state and local officials put together a plan for the postseason that allowed attendees who registered a negative coronavirus test to attend.
"What a great environment. I know all of our fans couldn't be in the building, but it was loud again. Great atmosphere," McDermott said. "We came here with a vision, and seeing it move forward in the right direction feels good."
Johnson's 101-yard interception return of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson's throw, which tied the NFL's postseason record set by the Green Bay Packers' George Teague in 1993, helped break things open in windy conditions that McDermott called "a typical western New York night."
On the Ravens' next drive, Jackson was knocked out of the game after taking a hit and having his head bang against the turf. The Ravens later announced he was in the concussion protocol, and the Bills closed things out against backup Tyler Huntley.
It was much tighter in the first half.
The Bills' pass-first plan -- when the teams went to halftime tied at 3 after normally reliable Ravens kicker Justin Tucker missed two field goals -- was an outside-the-box approach.
Buffalo didn't call a rushing play in the first quarter.
According to research by Elias Sports Bureau, the Bills are the only team in the past 60 postseasons to have no rushing plays in the first quarter of a playoff game.
Buffalo ended the first half with three total rushes -- one on a scramble by quarterback Josh Allen on a designed pass play, and another coming with Allen's kneel-down on the final play.
The three rushes tied for the fewest in the first half of a playoff game over the past 70 seasons, joining the Packers (2016 NFC Championship Game), St. Louis Rams (1999 divisional round) and Houston Oilers (1990 wild-card round). Buffalo's 32 yards rushing were the fewest in a win since gaining 31 in a 45-39 OT victory at Minnesota on Sept. 15, 2002.
The Bills notably turned to the run on their opening drive of the second half, which produced the game's first touchdown -- a 4-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who became the first Bills player with a receiving touchdown in consecutive playoff games since Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas (1995-96).
Allen, who finished 23-of-37 passing for 206 yards and one touchdown, credited the Bills' defense in the win, starting with Johnson's pick-six.
"I can't say enough words for what that game was for our defense and how they played," Allen said. "Taron Johnson, that's a play people are going to remember for a long time in Buffalo."
As for the offense, which was dominant down the stretch, it still needs all its key pieces to play well on Sunday.
The offensive line is on a roll. NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal notes that Allen and Diggs are the AFC's Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. But Cole Beasley, who has been dealing with a knee injury, hasn't looked 100 percent; he and Gabriel Davis had zero catches on six combined targets against the Ravens.
The backfield is also thinner without backup running back Zack Moss, who was lost for the rest of the postseason in the Wild Card Round. T.J. Yeldon had two carries for 4 yards rushing working behind starter Devin Singletary with Moss out.
As Rosenthal summed up, "It's going to take the full Bills arsenal firing to keep up in a shootout, assuming Patrick Mahomes plays."
Mahomes, who is in the NFL concussion protocol, has a week to pass through all the steps required for a return to play. The list includes clearance from an independent neurologist. Backup quarterback Chad Henne will make his first career playoff start at the age of 35 if Mahomes isn't cleared.
As ESPN.com suggested, it would certainly help Buffalo if Mahomes doesn't play, and not just for the obvious reasons. In the teams' regular-season matchup, a 26-17 Chiefs victory, the Bills were determined not to let Mahomes get downfield. He threw for 225 yards, his second-lowest total in a game this season, but that was in part because the Bills were inviting the Chiefs to run.
They did just that, accumulating 245 rushing yards as a team in the game. Without Mahomes, the Bills would not have to make that choice.
If Mahomes does play, the Bills are one of the few teams that can match the Chiefs score for score. The Bills are averaging 34.7 points per game since Week 9 of the regular season and they demonstrated their supreme confidence in putting the game in Allen's capable hand against Baltimore. ...
Worth noting. ... McDermott faces his former Eagles boss, Chiefs coach Andy Reid, for a third time since taking over in Buffalo in 2017. McDermott is 1-1 against Reid following a 16-10 win at Kansas City on Nov. 26, 2017.
And finally. ... Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier interviewed for the Houston Texans head-coaching vacancy on Sunday
Hired by the Bills as part of McDermott's initial staff in 2017, he is concluding his 22nd year in the NFL, having served as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from the middle of the 2010 season until the end of the 2013 campaign.
The Vikings qualified for the postseason in 2012, with running back Adrian Peterson named NFL Most Valuable Player, but Frazier was fired at the end of the 2013 season after the team went 5-10-1. While some believed it would only be a matter of time until he received another head-coaching opportunity, it hasn't come. The Texans have been the only team to interview Frazier this year.
While Frazier remains in the mix in Houston, the likelihood of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll staying in Buffalo for at least one more season has increased after he was passed over for the Los Angeles Chargers' coaching job, two people with direct knowledge of Daboll's plans told Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow this week..
Daboll was a candidate for the Chargers' job after interviewing with the team the previous weekend. Daboll had ties to Chargers GM Tom Telesco, as the two attended the same suburban Buffalo high school. He was also interviewed by the New York Jets, who filled their vacancy by hiring 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on Thursday.
In his 20th NFL season, the 45-year-old Daboll emerged as a head-coaching candidate because of the job he's done in developing Allen, and transforming the team's offense into one of the NFL's most dynamic this season. Daboll is noted for devising elaborate, opponent-specific game plans taking advantage of Allen's strengths as a dual threat and an experienced group of receivers made up of All-Pro Diggs, Beasley and John Brown.
Bills players have enjoyed playing under Daboll so much that they hesitated to provide glowing reviews in fear of him leaving.
"I don't even want to talk about it," Beasley said last month when asked how he would pitch Daboll to another team. "He's not going anywhere. He's staying on the team. I told him he can't leave until I'm done."
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
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 January 2021
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted this week, for all that Aaron Rodgers has accomplished in his Hall of Fame career, there's one thing he has never done: Played in an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.
Sunday he will check that off his list.
Rodgers and the top-seeded Green Bay Packers (14-3) will play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a Super Bowl berth.
And the Pack will do so on their own turf thanks to their 32-18 win Saturday over the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau, where fans -- 8,456 of them -- were allowed in for the first time all season.
"It felt like 50,000 when we ran out of the tunnel, it really did," Rodgers said. "It was such a special moment. Forgot how much you truly, truly miss having a crowd there. ... It felt like, 50,000, 60,000."
Sunday will mark Rodgers' fifth appearance in the conference title game. His previous four all came on the road. He won his first one -- during the 2010 season, at Soldier Field -- en route to his lone Super Bowl. He has lost three since, including last season at the San Francisco 49ers in blowout fashion.
It was after last season's defeat when Rodgers repeated a familiar refrain, saying, "We've got to get one of these at home."
Rodgers' 190 career starts in the regular season are the most by any starting quarterback at the time of his first conference championship start at home, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. That distinction was previously held by Fran Tarkenton (187).
"It means a lot," Rodgers said. "[Former Packers receiver] Jordy Nelson and I talked about it years ago. I had a lot of starts in this league without being able to be a part of hosting the NFC Championship.
"Hopefully, it's a little colder than it was tonight. ... It will be exciting to enjoy this tonight, to celebrate and then to watch the game tomorrow and to know that whoever wins is coming to our place."
Rodgers made sure of that against the Rams (11-7), who had the NFL's top scoring defense in the regular season (18.1 points per game). The Packers bettered that in the first half, with a 19-10 lead at the break. They became the first team this season to score on the Rams on each of its first three drives. It also was the fourth straight game the Packers' top scoring offense has scored on each of its first three drives.
Rodgers threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams, sending Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey into a heated post-play exchange with safety Nick Scott. Rodgers also ran for a touchdown in the first half, giving him a touchdown pass and a touchdown run in the same playoff game for the third time in his career. But it was his first postseason rushing score since that 2010 NFC title game at Chicago.
That was just the start.
When Aaron Jones ripped off a 60-yard run on the opening play of the third quarter to set up his own 1-yard touchdown run, it meant the Packers scored on each of their first five drives in a game for the first time since Week 3 of the 2016 season.
Saturday marked the 22nd time in NFL playoff history that the No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 scoring defense faced each other. The Packers' 32 points was the fourth-most in those matchups, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
The Packers' 484 yards, the second-most in their postseason history, was the most by any team in the playoffs against the No. 1 defense in the league since 1970, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Those 484 yards were nearly 100 more than the most the Rams had allowed this season (390), and they had the two plays of 50-plus yards (Jones' 60-yard run and Lazard's 58-yard TD) after the Rams had allowed just one the entire season.
The offensive line continues to thrive even after losing All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 31. The Packers didn't allow a single sack to the Rams, who had 53 sacks during the regular season and five more in a playoff victory at Seattle.
"As you see, that's a great team right there, when they've got to come into Lambeau -- like I've said millions of times at this point -- you come into Lambeau, you're playing a different brand of football," Adams said. "It takes you out of your element, as far as the way you talk, the way you play. You get rattled, man. It's tougher to communicate. We got fans in there today, so they had it rocking. Everything was on our side, so it was just about coming out and playing Packer football. We do that and nobody can stop us."
Rodgers kneeled the game away late to "MVP" chants from the crowd.
He completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards and two touchdown passes. His 58-yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard in the fourth quarter was the longest scoring pass of his postseason career.
Rodgers benefited from the best rushing performance -- 189 yards -- his team has ever given him in a playoff game. The previous high was 147 yards in the 2011 divisional playoff against the New York Giants. But that was a loss in the only other time the Packers were the No. 1 seed under Rodgers.
That game denied him an NFC title game at home.
Ten years later, Rodgers would not be denied.
As for this weekend, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal notes that Rodgers will not have the same limitations as Drew Brees when he faces the Bucs' defense.
"Tampa's secondary has been boom-or-bust all year, like so many Todd Bowles groups," Rosenthal wrote, "They can give up big plays or they can pick off four passes. Rodgers made poor decisions against the blitz last time against Tampa, when he completed less than half his passes and threw zero TDs, but that is unlikely to happen again. He's going to test them vertically far more than Brees or Taylor Heinicke could."
Rosenthal went on to point out that head coach Matt LaFleur has quietly kept a run-heavy approach going all season. That shouldn't change against Tampa. Despite the Bucs' impressive numbers overall against the run, they have looked vulnerable against the Vikings, the Falcons and in both playoff games. LaFleur stays balanced with his play-calling, and it's worked.
Of course, it didn't work all that well in the Packers' Week 6 loss in Tampa Bay.
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine reminded readers, in that Week 6 win over Green Bay, Bowles unleashed Devin White and Lavonte David, who combined for 18 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in that game. The defense had a lot of success with zone blitzes attacking Rodgers while still eliminating his downfield options.
Bowles would rush White, David and nickelback Sean Murphy-Bunting, but then he'd drop Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul into coverage.
Rodgers struggled significantly in picking up the Bucs' blitzes in Week 6, going 5-of-14 for 61 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In ESPN Stats and Information's database of 1,995 games since 2006 where a quarterback had 15 or more action plays against the blitz, Rodgers' performance that day ranks seventh worst of them all. Rodgers was also blitzed on four of his five interceptions this year.
The Packers had little success getting to the perimeter with running backs Jamaal Williams and Jones in Week 6. The defense was lined up a lot more in zone with more cornerback cushion compared to what they did against the Saints in the NFC divisional game in an effort to eliminate the big downfield play.
If they can get Vita Vea back healthy this week, that would help seal off the interior too, as the Packers have run it up the middle at a higher rate than all but four other teams in the league this year.
It should also be noted that while the Bucs lined up in significantly more man coverage against the Saints on Sunday, they played 61 percent of their snaps in zone in Week 6, according to ESPN coverage metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats, notching one of their interceptions in zone coverage. The more teams have played zone against Rodgers the past two seasons, the better they've fared.
Interestingly, Rodgers has thrown eight touchdowns and nine interceptions against the Buccaneers in his career, the only team he's thrown more INTs than passing TDs against.
It should also be noted that just because Bucs' cornerbacks gave more cushion in Week 6 and won that game doesn't mean they should line up the same way this week. When the Bucs gave the Packers 3 yards or less of cushion and pressed at the line of scrimmage, Rodgers completed 37.5 percent of his passes on eight dropbacks.
But when the Bucs allowed 5 yards or more of cushion, they gave up a 58.3 percent completion percentage. While the drop-off in cushion in other Packers games isn't quite as severe, there is still a 9 percentage point drop in completions when teams press against them. However, that rule doesn't apply to every Packers receiver. Adams is actually one of the best receivers in the league this year against press coverage.
Will Carlton Davis shadow Adams throughout the game?
He lined up against Michael Thomas Sunday on 18 routes and allowed zero catches on three targets, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Davis lined up across Adams on 24 routes in Week 6. When Davis was the nearest defender to Adams he allowed two receptions for 21 yards on four targets and had an interception. ...
On the injury front. ... Running back A.J. Dillon had to exit Saturday's victory over the Rams with a quad injury. But he might not miss much more time.
Though LaFleur said he was waiting to hear whether Dillon will be able to practice on Wednesday, he seemed optimistic about the rookie's chances for the NFC Championship Game.
"We're hopeful that he'll be ready to go," LaFleur said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Dillon had six carries for 27 yards in the win over Los Angeles. He totaled 46 carries for 242 yards with two touchdowns in the regular season, with a 21-carry, 124-yard performance against Tennessee in Week 16.
I'll have daily injury updates as developments warrant in the News and Views section of the site through Sunday's kickoff.
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 ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 January 2021
The AFC Championship game will take place in Kansas City this week. And, as ESPN.com's Adam Teicher suggested, all of K.C. will hold its breath in hopes Patrick Mahomes will be available to face the Buffalo Bills.
Mahomes was downgraded to out after being evaluated for a concussion in Sunday's 22-17 Divisional Round victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Despite the scary scene that unfolded after Mahomes was hit, coach Andy Reid sounded optimistic about his quarterback's condition after the game.
"He got hit in the back of the head and kinda knocked the wind out of him and everything else with it," Reid said. "He's doing great right now which is a real positive as we looked at this. Passed all the deals that he needed to pass so we'll see where it goes from here."
Mahomes went to the locker room midway through the third quarter after being yanked to the ground on a third-down speed option keeper. But clearly, Mahomes got up wobbly. He was helped off the field. Once on the sideline, the signal-caller jogged to the locker room.
"He's in the protocol, and we'll just follow that and see how he does here in the next couple days," Reid added Monday, per Matt McMullen of the team's official website.
Reid added: "I just leave that with (athletic trainer) Rick (Burkholder) and the docs because of the protocol it's a no brainer for the coaching staff, you don't have to think about it. ... I can't tell you from a medical standpoint where he's at. I don't know that."
Veteran QB Chad Henne took over and led K.C. to a field goal that extended its lead to 22-10. Cleveland responded to pull within 22-17 as Mahomes was officially ruled out with more than 11 minutes remaining in the contest.
Henne made a couple of big-time throws to help move the Chiefs' offense but also had a wayward arm-punt interception that cost K.C. a chance to extend the lead. After the Chiefs defense held, Henne made a couple of massive plays, including a 13-yard run on third-and-14 and the game-sealing throw on fourth down near midfield.
"Everybody has full confidence in him. I mean, you saw how the team reacted on that run. We thought we had it," Reid said of Henne. "I thought it was a heck of a throw the second play. We go through all of those Saturday night with the quarterbacks and those situations, fourth-and-1 to win the game. What do you want? And that play happened to be there."
Mahomes also approved of the toughness Henne displayed to secure the win.
Before exiting, Mahomes completed 21-of-30 passes for 255 yards and a TD. He also added three runs for 14 yards and another score.
Earlier in the game, the reigning Super Bowl MVP dealt with a left big toe injury that left him limping. That injury didn't cause him to miss time.
Asked about the toe on Monday, Reid thinks he'll "be alright" on that issue.
With K.C. moving on to face Buffalo, Mahomes' status will be heavily monitored this week. He'll have to pass through protocol in order to play in his third-straight AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Reid showed confidence in Henne, calling passes late when other coaches would have been content to milk the clock and punt. The fourth-down call displayed huge onions by the coach, especially with a backup QB.
Reid's teams have done well with backup QBs in the past, but playing for the right to reach the Super Bowl with a No. 2 signal-caller would be a different matter.
With Mahomes in the league's concussion protocol and dealing with toe injury, the world will have to wait to see if the league's most dynamic player will be available next week.
The Chiefs' injury report is one to watch outside of Mahomes.
Wideout Sammy Watkins, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and linebacker Willie Gay are all key players who missed Sunday's Divisional Round win over the Browns. According to Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta, the Chiefs hoped to have Edwards-Helaire for the first time since he sustained a high-ankle sprain in Week 15, but he was unable to go.
It's probably safe to assume tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who hasn't played since Week 6, isn't coming back for this game, either, but NFL.com suggests CEH, Watkins and Gay all have a chance to return this week.
The Chiefs could use as much offensive depth as they can muster next week after Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce carried them with over 100 yards each against Cleveland.
Mahomes wasn't the only player to sustain a concussion Sunday. Top cornerback Bashaud Breeland left the game in the second half, and with backup Rashad Fenton out with an ankle injury, the Chiefs' depth is limited in the defensive backfield.
The Chiefs have Tuesday off before returning to practice Wednesday, at which point they hope to have a clearer picture of whether Mahomes and the rest will be available against Buffalo on Sunday.
I'll have daily injury updates as developments warrant in the News and Views section of the site through Sunday's kickoff. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kansas City's running game was decisive in the Chiefs' steamrolling of the Bills back in October.
Will Reid trust it again?
As NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal reminded readers, after that Week 6 win, in which Kansas City racked up 245 yards on the ground, the running game went into hiding for the second half of the season, with huge troubles in short-yardage situations. On Sunday, however, sudden Chiefs starter Darrel Williams was vital to the victory effort. Reid still chose not to run the ball in obvious run situations late in the game despite Mahomes' absence, but Williams was highly effective, logging 78 yards on 13 carries.
Especially if Mahomes plays -- and his toe is steill tender -- any threat on the ground would be vital against a light, fast Bills defense that will likely be geared up to stop the pass.
Bills coach Sean McDermott referred to Buffalo's defense as playing "1, 11 style football" -- which was his way of saying each player was operating off the same script. He also noted something else that has been critical in helping the franchise advance to the conference title game for the first time since the 1993 season.
"Our red zone defense the last couple weeks has been improving, which is good to see," he said.
To McDermott's point, the Bills ranked No. 28 of the NFL's 32 teams in red zone defense in the regular season (based on opponents' touchdown percentage). Opponents had 58 trips inside the 20-yard line, with 38 touchdowns (65.5 percent).
But the Bills have provided more resistance in the playoffs, where the margin for error is that much thinner, and one play can be the difference between advancing and a season ending abruptly.
The Ravens were 0-for-3 in the red zone on Saturday night, with the Bills' stingy defensive effort highlighted by cornerback Taron Johnson's game-changing 101-yard interception return for a touchdown. And in the wild-card playoff game, the Colts were 2-of-5, with the Bills' ability to hold on fourth down late in the second quarter proving to be a turning point.
Now, as ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes, Buffalo faces arguably its biggest red zone challenge in the high-flying Chiefs (59 red zone trips, 36 TDs, 61 percent).
If the Bills' defense puts together more performances like it did Saturday, with continued improvement in the red zone, this will be a much more interesting contest..
Of course, much will depend on Mahomes. If he plays, the Chiefs would be a threat to score on every play.
ESPN.com believes if the Chiefs win without Mahomes, it will likely be because Reid overhauled their offense in way that not only accounted for enough points but also limited the Bills' possessions. Maybe it's using Hill in the Wildcat. Perhaps it's a couple of onside kicks from the trick book of special-teams coordinator Dave Toub.
Either way, they'll need to add a few moves to the playbook -- and then empty it. ...
Harrison Butker got mixed reviews for his kicking performance. He missed an extra point on the Chiefs' first touchdown, then missed a chip-shot field goal later in the game -- four points that would have taken a lot of the pressure off the final minutes. But he also set a franchise playoff record by hitting a 50-yarder just before halftime. ...
A few final notes. ... As noted above, the Chiefs sealed Sunday's win over the Browns with a fourth down conversion with just over a minute left to play in the game.
Reid said there was never a moment of hesitation about going for it in that situation. Reid said coaches had been talking about it when the team faced a third-and-14, although the way they got to the short fourth down was a surprise.
Henne scrambled for 13 yards on that play and Reid admitted "we didn't think it would be with Chad running" after the game, but the circumstances didn't alter the approach.
"There was no doubt," Reid told the Kansas City Star. "There was no doubt. I think everybody knew we were going to go for that play on our side. I'm not telling you that in the world here, but on our sideline, guys just went, 'Hey, there's no tomorrow. Let's go. Let's roll. ...'"
During the third quarter of Sunday's game, Hill was shown on the CBS broadcast shoving his position coach, Greg Lewis.
CBS replayed the moment again after the commercial break, but then displayed Hill and Lewis laughing together shortly after.
On Monday, Reid said the shove was not a big deal.
"They were messing around," Reid told Jeff Darlington of ESPN. "I know how it came off, but if you look at a minute later, they're laughing over there. If you talk to both of them, they'll tell you they were just messing around."
So, apparently there were no hard feelings. Hill finished Sunday's win with eight catches for 110 yards. ...
The Chiefs will play the AFC Championship Game on their home field for the third consecutive year on Sunday, becoming the first team ever to host the AFC Championship Game three years in a row. But it's not a first for Reid.
One team has hosted the NFC Championship Game three years in a row, and that team was the Eagles, coached by Reid. The Eagles hosted the NFC Championship Game after the 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Reid got the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game five times, but he only won one of them. After that one, he lost in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Now Reid has advanced to three straight AFC Championship Games.
He lost the first one to Brady and the Patriots, won last year and will now face the Bills on Sunday for the right to play in the Super Bowl, perhaps against Brady and the Buccaneers. ...
And last. ... Head-coaching candidates who are still in the hunt for Super Bowl LV got a chance to continue their dual pursuit of the final step up the sideline ladder.
The NFL granted clubs permission to conduct virtual interviews this week with candidates who are still in the playoffs, provided the employing club consents.
The league's granting of permission to conduct virtual interviews in a window in which teams weren't allowed to communicate with such coaches opens the door wider for the candidacy of Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is still a candidate for remaining vacancies in Houston and Philadelphia.
Houston waited too long to request an interview with Bieniemy to get an opportunity to do so before the initial playoff interview window had closed, delaying the potential hiring of one of the most qualified candidates available. Philadelphia, meanwhile, put itself in an uphill climb by waiting a week to fire head coach Doug Pederson, launching its new search the morning after the conclusion of Wild Card Weekend.
Each franchise will now get a chance typically not afforded to them in previous years. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affecting how interviews are being conducted, though, the league has been willing to adjust, which could lead to a potential decision on either of these candidates earlier than previously possible.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Le'Veon Bell, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Byron Pringle
TEs: Travis Kelce, Deon Yelder, Nick Keizer
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 18 January 2021
Tom Brady has played in 13 AFC Championship Games. Now he'll play in his first NFC Championship Game.
Brady and the Buccaneers advanced to the NFC Championship on Sunday, meaning Brady has lapped the field: He'll be the starter in his 14th conference championship game, twice as many as any other quarterback in NFL history.
Joe Montana, who started seven conference championships is in second place. John Elway, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach each started six.
Brady will be going against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is starting his fifth conference championship game. That puts him in a tie with Jim Kelly, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb and Kenny Stabler. Brady will be one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to start in both the AFC and NFC Championship Games. The others are Montana (49ers and Chiefs), Jay Schroeder (Raiders and Washington) and Craig Morton (Broncos and Cowboys).
The 43-year-old Brady has now played in 43 career postseason games. No one else in NFL history is close.
This time, after a 30-20 win in New Orleans, he'll do it at Lambeau Field.
"Just so proud of everyone, the whole organization," said Brady, acknowledging the challenges of no preseason while playing in a new offense with so many new pieces. "Our coaches have put in so much work and effort getting us to this point, preparing us every day, and just done an amazing job.
"Guys really come together. It's a really unique team. We have great chemistry. We have fun at practice. We worked really hard to get to this point, just like the other three teams remaining."
The Saints had swept the Bucs in the regular season, outscoring Tampa Bay by 46 points in two games.
"We had to look ourselves in the mirror and challenge ourselves on who we wanted to be," said Bucs inside linebacker Devin White, who finished Sunday with 11 tackles (10 solo), a tackle for a loss, a QB hit, a pass breakup, a fumble recovery and an interception. "Everybody always asked, 'What was our identity?' We didn't have an answer. But Coach BA [Bruce Arians] had an answer. He said, 'We're some motherf---ers who are gonna find a way to win the game.'"
Arians offered his take.
"This is a different football team than [the one that lost to the Saints 38-3 in Week 9]," the coach said. "I've tried telling everybody, but nobody wants to believe me -- but this is the way we're capable of playing defensively. We've had some rough spots, at times, but we've had some really, really good times, and this is one of the best times."
At New Orleans on Sunday, Brady completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards to go along with two touchdowns through the air, one TD on the ground and no interceptions. He is now 3-5 against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, although defense and the ground game told the story. The Saints frequently lined up with deep safeties, focusing on preventing big plays downfield.
Running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones combined for 169 yards from scrimmage. "It was always in the back of my mind how they embarrassed us," Fournette said, referring to that 38-3 loss to the Saints, which tight end Cam Brate described as "rock bottom" and several others called the low point of the season.
Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas was held without a catch, and the Bucs got three takeaways that led to touchdowns. It was Thomas' first career game with fewer than two receptions, including playoffs. The 27-year-old entered averaging 94.3 career receiving yards per game in the postseason.
"The way the defense played today -- they were spectacular," Brady said. "The way the offensive line played, Leonard, Ro -- it was just huge. All those guys came up big. We talked about it all week, what we were gonna need to win, to get it accomplished -- and it's a long ways from the last time we played these guys at home and certainly [from where] we started the season here. It's a lot better feeling sitting in this tent this time around than the first time I was sitting here about 18 weeks ago."
While Sunday's outing marked Brady's 14th win in a divisional playoff game, it was just his second divisional win on the road.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur noted how much his players fed off having fans in their stadium against the Rams.
Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams even proclaimed, "Nobody can stop us."
The Bucs did, however, in Week 6, stunning the Packers 38-10 at home, sacking Rodgers four times, intercepting him twice and holding Green Bay to a season-low single touchdown. In addition, the Packers' run defense is far from great, and Jones, who ran with great aggression in his return from injury Sunday, picked up 113 yards last time against the Packers.
Still, that same Packers team scored on each of its first five possessions on Saturday, in Rodgers' eighth playoff game in which he was responsible for at least three touchdowns, passing Brett Favre for third most in NFL history.
The Bucs achieved some history of their own on Sunday, becoming the ninth team in the league and the first since the New York Giants in 2007 to defeat an opponent in the playoffs after being swept by it in the regular season.
Brady is a career 9-4 in league championship games, but he is 3-3 in those games on the road. Brady also is 4-2 all time against the Packers and 1-1 at Lambeau, while Rodgers has lost three straight conference championships.
"It's hard to get to this point," Brady said. "There's nothing guaranteed from this point forward. But we've gotta go out there and we've gotta play our very best to beat one of the best teams in the league."
In a related note. ... It comes as no surprise that Brady has rewritten the postseason record book, and in Sunday's NFC Championship Game he may reach another couple of impressive and unprecedented milestones.
Brady only has to pass for 32 yards on Sunday to reach 12,000 yards in the postseason in his career. That's easily the best in NFL history; Peyton Manning threw for 7,339 yards in the postseason, and no one else even has 6,000 postseason passing yards.
Brady also needs three touchdown passes to reach 80 in the postseason career. That's also by far the most in NFL history; Montana is in second place with 45 in his career. Rodgers, the other quarterback in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, has 42 touchdown passes in his playoff career, so if he throws four against the Buccaneers, he'll move past Montana and be second only to Brady.
Brady also owns the NFL postseason records for passes thrown and passes completed. ...
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Jenna Laine noted, prior to Sunday night's NFC divisional playoff win, two games told the story of the Buccaneers' 2020 season: a 38-10 upset of the Packers in Week 6, and a 38-3 "rock bottom" moment against the Saints in Week 9. They rectified the latter Sunday night.
Can they repeat the former this weekend?
Laine believes there are some concepts that worked well for the Bucs in Week 6 that could be applied to the game plan this week, particularly on defense, without being too predictable. There are also things they can build on from the NFC divisional game to carry over against the Packers despite the Packers and the Saints being two very different teams.
On the injury front. ... Antonio Brown received good news on Tuesday: His knee injury isn't significant enough to guarantee he'll miss Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
An MRI on Brown's knee did not reveal serious issues, and he's considered day to day in the lead-up to Tampa Bay's appearance in the conference title game, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
Brown played 27 offensive snaps in the Buccaneers' Divisional Round win over the Saints this past Sunday, missing most of the second half due to his knee injury. Without him, Brady turned to backups Tyler Johnson and Scott Miller in order to continue moving the ball in a close game that Tampa Bay ultimately won.
Brown's late arrival saw a steady climb in production in the final weeks of the regular season, and he scored a touchdown in the Bucs' wild-card victory over Washington. Brown has four touchdown grabs on the season, scoring at least one in each of Tampa Bay's games from Week 15 through Wild Card Weekend.
His presence could be a boost for the Buccaneers, who are trying to reach Super Bowl LV and become the first team to play in a Super Bowl at their home stadium.
I'll have daily injury updates as developments warrant in the News and Views section of the site through Sunday's kickoff. ...
Worth noting. ... The Bucs designated defensive tackle Vita Vea for return from injured reserve, which opens the door for him to be activated for Sunday's game. Vea has been out since Week 5 with a fractured ankle.
Also. ... The weather forecast in Green Bay Sunday is for temperatures in the mid-20s and snow.
"You've just got to have some mental toughness, wear some warm clothes and be ready to go," Brady said. "We'll be prepared. The team that plays the best is going to win. ..."
A few final items. ... This matchup will provide the oldest combined starting quarterback age in a conference championship game. The ages of Rodgers and Brady will total 80 years and 227 days.
And last. ... The NFL has granted clubs permission to conduct virtual interviews this week with head coaching candidates who are still in the playoffs, provided the employing club consents.
That opened the door for Todd Bowles to interview for remaining vacancies in Houston and Philadelphia. He interviewed with the Eagles Monday.
Bowles joined the Bucs in 2019 as an incoming member of Arians' new staff, having served as head coach for the New York Jets in the four seasons preceding his move to Florida. He's no stranger to coaching in Philadelphia though, having been the team's secondary coach and ultimately interim defensive coordinator in 2012 before leaving for a DC promotion by way of the Arizona Cardinals.
Bowles has plenty of experience in rebuilding defenses -- something the Eagles are in desperate need of.
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, C.J. Prosise
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Justin Watson, Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, Tanner Hudson, Antony Auclair, O.J. Howard