As “Nuke” LaLoosh said in Bull Durham, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”
That movie will never go out of style.
After another fascinating weekend of NFL action … Kyle Shanahan is a genius. The Vikings never had a chance. The best team from the regular season has abruptly entered its offseason. And Russell Wilson put on a show, but couldn’t get a win.
Here are the Divisional Round winners and losers, Schein Nine style:
1) Patrick Mahomes
Before the playoffs started, I repeatedly expressed a simple — albeit instructive — take on the SiriusXM and CBS Sports Network airwaves:
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in this postseason tournament.
It was easy to forget this at the dawn of the new year, given Lamar Jackson‘s record-setting regular season and the multiple injuries that sapped Mahomes’ production during the previous four months. But the reigning MVP is a generational talent at the game’s most important position. So of course he turned a 24-0 deficit into a 51-31 win.
Yup, that really happened. Kansas City became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game by 20-plus points after trailing by 20-plus points. Poor Texans. They were blasting the Chiefs in front of a stunned, silent Arrowhead Stadium crowd. But then Mahomes locked in, and seven consecutive touchdown drives by the home team kind of changed the vibe.
Frankly, the most shocking aspect of this development is that it wasn’t that shocking at all — not with No. 15 under center for K.C. In just two seasons as an NFL starter, the 24-year-old has displayed a consistent ability to make the extraordinary ordinary. Adding another amazing chapter to the remarkable start of his professional career only feels right. Mahomes, who threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns with nary an interception on Sunday, boasts confidence and calm beyond comprehension.
I’ll keep saying it: Patrick Mahomes will not lose another football game this season.
2) Derrick Henry
Henry is an absolute beast. Thirty carries for 195 yards … in Baltimore … against that Ravens defense? That’s a legit WOW — especially coming on the heels of a 34-carry, 182-yard effort to vanquish the defending champion Patriots, which came after a 32-carry, 211-yard outing in Week 17 that punched the Titans’ playoff ticket. Since missing Tennessee’s Week 16 loss to the Saints due to a lingering hamstring injury, Henry has carried the Titans to the AFC Championship Game by piling up 96 carries for 588 yards (6.1 yards a pop) and four touchdowns. That’s just absurd, particularly in this pass-happy era of football. Everyone knows the Titans are going to pound the football with No. 22, but nobody can stop it. Oh, and did I mention that Henry actually channeled Tim Tebow on a perfectly lofted jump-pass touchdown, as well? Just ridiculous.
Henry is the ultimate blend of power and speed, and the 6-foot-3, 247-pound freight train had Ravens defenders making business decisions Saturday night. He has unequivocally been the most dominant player over the first two round of this postseason, the heart and soul of Tennessee during this magical march. With him, the Titans always believe they can win. And it shows.
3) Ryan Tannehill
After taking the starting reins from Marcus Mariota in mid-October, Tannehill was one of the very best quarterbacks in football. Full stop. He finished the regular season as the NFL leader in yards per attempt (9.6) and passer rating (117.5), turning a 2-4 disappointment into a 9-7 playoff participant. I don’t want to hear how he’s barely thrown the ball in the playoffs. He doesn’t have to, with Henry doing what he’s doing. And despite limited opportunities over the past couple games, Tannehill has been incredibly accurate, tough and, well, opportunistic. SEE: The opening score of the game on Saturday night, when Tannehill connected with Jonnu Smith for a third-and-goal touchdown from the 12. Yeah, it was an amazing grab by Smith, but Tannehill put it in a spot where his tight end could make a play. A few minutes later, after Tennessee stuffed Lamar Jackson on fourth-and-1, Tannehill immediately hit Kalif Raymond — he of nine total catches during the regular season — for a 45-yard touchdown. And then in the third quarter, he grinded out a speed-option touchdown run to give the Titans a commanding 28-6 lead.
Tannehill gives the Titans a real shot to hit Super Bowl LIV. In Year 8, he has morphed from afterthought trade acquisition to someone the Titans cannot let go via free agency. Ryan Tannehill, 25 Million Dollar Man? I’m Ron Burgundy?
4) Robert Saleh and his healthy charges
The 49ers‘ defense is fantastic. I think that got lost in the shuffle, with key injuries and a brutal schedule down the stretch of the regular season. With the return of Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander to the lineup, Saleh’s unit totally shut down Minnesota in predictable fashion, holding the Vikings to just 147 total yards and seven first downs. The 49ers absolutely suffocated dynamic running back Dalvin Cook (nine carries for 18 yards). Kirk Cousins didn’t fare much better, as Minnesota went 2-for-14 on third/fourth-down attempts.
The well-coached Niners ooze talent on defense, and they are at their best when driven by No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa, who got my AP vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Honestly, it was a no-brainer pick. Bosa, who again served as the unit’s Energizer Bunny on Saturday, finished with six tackles, two sacks, three QB hits and even a textbook pass breakup. On my SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio show last week, Bosa called Alexander the “ultimate team leader” and raved about what his return would mean. With him and Ford back in the mix, this group is loaded at every level. The leader of the back four, ageless wonder Richard Sherman, provided a clutch second-half pick that really allowed San Francisco to take full control of the game.
In a fantasy era of football that’s obsessed with offense, Saleh’s defense at full health appears to be quite the immovable object.
5) Aaron Rodgers
It’s not about rings. It’s not about being the greatest of all time. It’s about the jaw-dropping moments that can only be accomplished by certain legends throughout history. That third-down throw to Davante Adams was one of them. And then for good measure, another clutch connection with Jimmy Graham to seal it.
Rodgers didn’t post spectacular numbers during the regular season. But he won 13 games and played like this all year on a Packers team that has a dangerous defense and a strong ground game. It’s still Aaron Rodgers‘ world, and we are all still living in it.
6) Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson
If you didn’t have the chills this weekend watching Cowher and Johnson get surprised on national television with Pro Football Hall of Fame bids, check your pulse. That was amazing programming. So fun seeing HOF prez David Baker sneak up on Cowher on Saturday and Johnson on Sunday. Both were incredible coaches and the honor was overdue. Just awesome.
7) Bill O’Brien
You can’t make this stuff up. Or — considering it’s Bill O’Brien, after all — maybe you can. At 21-0, I understood the field goal to make it 24-0, even if I personally would’ve had Deshaun Watson go for the jugular on fourth-and-1. O’Brien’s safe decision at least made some sense, whether you agreed with it or not. But running a fake punt on fourth-and-4 at your own 31-yard line while leading 24-7? That’s indefensible, clueless, season/soul-crushing. Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of thing we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the Texans‘ head coach.
O’Brien’s in-game coaching is consistently mind-numbing, but that outrageous fake punt attempt stood out as one of his worst moves yet. It changed everything, leading to the aforementioned onslaught by Mahomes and Co. It was simply brutal. If the Chiefs hoist the Lombardi Trophy next month — as I predicted they would back in August — they should give O’Brien his own float in the parade.
8) John Harbaugh
I love Harbaugh, and remain highly impressed by the Ravens‘ extreme makeover during the past couple seasons. Overall, this is coaching and team management at its finest — a transformation that puts so many other static organizations to shame. But when you’re a 14-2 juggernaut, riding a 12-game winning streak … and you lose your playoff opener 28-12 at home? Yeah, you make this list.
The fourth-and-1s didn’t work. The game management (and usage of timeouts) at the end of the first half was questionable. Like I said: I’m a big Harbaugh fan. He will absolutely win another Super Bowl. But it was all there for this group, and his team got rocked in Baltimore. Tough way to end what had been a special season.
9) Insufferable Lamar Jackson haters
Social media can be cesspool, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by the Lamar disparagement on Twitter during and after the Ravens’ stunning loss. But I have to admit that I was.
Lamar didn’t play great. But if you think the Titans knocking the stuffing out of the Ravens was distinctly about him, you missed the entire thing. If you think this was an indictment of Jackson or some sick harbinger of things to come in future years, your hate and lack of IQ knows no bounds.
First of all, credit Tennessee. Mike Vrabel’s team is legit. The Titans were tough and won the battle in the trenches. Mark Ingram being hurt was a huge factor. I think rust was, too. With many Ravens starters getting a break in Week 17 and Baltimore nabbing a first-round bye, Jackson had 19 days off before he hit the field on Saturday night. And he was clearly off his game. That said, he still threw for 365 yards and ran for 143. Racking up 508 yards of total offense on a bad day at the office? Must be nice.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.