NFL PLAYOFFS REACH HALFWAY POINT
There’s a good chance the four teams that were victorious in last week’s National Football League Wild Card Playoffs won’t even show up next month in Super Bowl LII at Minneapolis. In fact, the Atlanta Falcons are the only NFC team that made last year’s playoffs, getting to the Super Bowl before blowing a huge lead and losing to the New England Patriots. Because of their experience in last year’s playoffs, the Falcons are the only team winning last week that is favored in this week’s Divisional Round, holding an early-line 2 1/2-point advantage over the Philadelphia Eagles in Saturday’s opening game of the new round, scheduled to kick off at 3:35 p.m. Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn believes that advantage was a factor in last weekend’s 26-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams—the NFL’s leading scorers during the 2017 season. And putting the icing on the cake for Atlanta was 43-year-old Bridge City native Matt Bryant, who booted through four field goals in the victory. It gives the veteran nine three-pointers without a miss in the last two weeks. Quinn senses that his team, boosted by last year’s long post-season run, is peaking at the right time. He added that the win over the Rams—who lacked the Falcons’ playoff experience—may have been Atlanta’s most complete game of the season. The basis of their game plan was to play “keep away” by holding onto the ball for 37 minutes and keeping the Rams’ potent offense off the field. “There’s been a shift that’s taken place with our team, their readiness, their mindset, their belief, their support in one another is really a strong point for this 2017 team and we’ll need that kind of mindset again this week,” Quinn told the Associated Press Sunday. The other three wild card victories were not very pretty as the touchdown-favored Kansas City Chiefs jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead and then Head Coach Andy Reid tried to sit on it. But the pesky Tennessee Titans continued to follow their game plan and overtook the Chiefs 22-21, to the dismay of the sellout crowd at Arrowhead Stadium. Their rock-ribbed defense held the Chiefs without a first down during the third period. Don’t look for any coaching blunders to occur by New England head coach Bill Belichick, who plans to come out with both guns blazing against Tennessee at Foxborough Saturday night. Another near-coaching mistake occurred in the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome when Sean Peyton opted to go on a fourth-and-one in the final two minutes of the game with New Orleans holding a precarious 31-26 lead. A first down would have put the Saints in victory mode because Carolina was out of time outs. But quarterback Drew Brees couldn’t find an open receiver and just threw the ball up for grabs. For some reason Panthers safety Mike Adams intercepted the ball at the 30-yard line instead of knocking it down and giving his team the football at midfield. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton completed three straight passes to the Saints’ 26-yard line with 58 seconds remaining when the Saints’ defense stiffened. On fourth down New Orleans called a safety blitz and Vonn Bell sacked Newton to end the threat. Newton was sacked four times in the game. One of the weakest playoff performances occurred in Jacksonville where the Jaguars were involved in a defensive struggle against the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo bottled up Jags’ quarterback Blake Bortles, virtually shutting down the passing game. Bortles pulled the ball down on 10 occasions and took off running. For the first time in playoff history, a quarterback gained more yards on the ground (88) than through the air (87). Her did connect with reserve tight end Ben Koyack for the game’s only touchdown. Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh could very well be another defensive battle, with quarterbacks Bortles and Ben Roethlisberger perhaps holding the key to the victory. KWICKIES…The Lamar men’s basketball team kept coming back and tying the Southland Conference game against Central Arkansas Saturday afternoon, before falling 100-91in double-overtime. The Big Red evened their record to 2-2 in the SLC and 10-7 for the season. Lamar senior forward Colton Weisbrod dumped in a career high 38 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a losing cause. Lamar Jackson, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner and a finalist this year, has announced he is leaving Louisville for the NFL. Dustin Johnson left no doubt that he is going to be the PGA Tour player to beat in this new season that opened last weekend in Kapalua, Hawaii as he powered his way to an eight-stroke victory in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. JUST BETWEEN US…The Houston Texans have been interviewing prospective candidates to replace general manager Rick Smith, who is on a year’s leave, and plan on having their man within the next few days. Brian Gutekunst, director of player personnel for Green Bay, interviewed Sunday. The Texans plan on visiting with Buffalo vice-president of player personnel Brian Gaine, Texans vice president of football operations/assistant general manager Jimmy Raye III, New England vice president of player personnel Nick Caserio and Dallas vice president of player personnel Will McClay. Texans owner Bob McNair and vice-chairman Cal McNair along with Head Coach Bill O’Brien are conducting the interviews.