Professional Sports

THE SPORTS SHAQ: Divisional round shakes up NFL playoffs

The divisional round of the NFL playoffs showed us that it’s all about the elite defenses. You can have subpar quarterbacks who do just enough and you can advance in the playoffs.

Last weekend we saw three experienced and more qualified quarterbacks go down to inexperienced and less qualified quarterbacks.

Starting with the first game Jan. 14 when Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles welcomed the reigning NFC champion Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. I am still shocked at how Ryan allowed Foles to out play him in a playoff game.

Ryan completed 22 of 36, for 210 yards and one touchdown. Foles completed 23 of 30 and threw for 246 yards. You could say that the Eagles defense just came to really play and was able to shut down Ryan and the Falcons offense but that should have never happened.

The Falcons refused to consistently bring pressure against Foles, which allowed him to get into a rhythm and gain much confidence. All they had to do was bring the pressure and Foles would have folded under pressure but they instead allowed him to sit back with all the time and run the same run-pass option play the entire second half and did nothing to stop it.

Despite being underdogs as the number one seed, the Eagles showed plenty of guts in the tightest spots of the quarter. Philadelphia’s defense staged a last-minute goal line stand and Jake Elliot made amends for a missed extra point with three field goals as the Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons 15-10 to move to the NFC championship game.

They stopped the sixth-seeded Falcons after it got to the 9 yard line with a first down and then fourth down from the two yard line when Ryan’s pass sailed over Julio Jones head in the end zone. It was the first playoff win for Philadelphia since the 2008 season, and they will host the Minnesota Vikings for the conference title Jan. 21.

On Jan. 14 we saw two amazing games with excitement that came down to the wire, starting with the early game with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers against Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bortles was 14 for 26, threw for 214 yards and one touchdown and Roethlisberger was 37 for 58, threw for 469 yards, five touchdowns with one interception and one fumble recovered for a touchdown.

Rookie running back Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns and Bortles added a vital fourth-quarter score as the relentless Jaguars stunned the Steelers in a high scoring 45-42 win.

The Jaguars could not count on their elite defense, but their offense proved up to the task to propel Jacksonville to its first AFC title game since 1999.

After racing out to a 21-point lead, Jacksonville fended off a Steelers rally and responded every time Pittsburgh challenged. All-Pro Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in his return from calf injury. Le’Veon Bell had 155 yards and two touchdowns but Pittsburgh, could not keep pace with Jacksonville.

In the final and probably most exciting game of the weekend, the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Viking gave us everything we could take. Both Drew Brees and Case Keenum were 25 for 40 passing.

Brees threw for 294 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Keenum threw for 318 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Vikings led the Saints 17-0 at halftime. Brees and the Saints were not giving up. They battled back and kicked what appeared to be the game winning field goal with 25 seconds remaining.

Keenum and wide receiver Stefon Diggs had something else to say about that. On what is one of the most incredible plays in playoff history, the Vikings were backed up on their own 39-yard line facing a 3rd and 10 with only 10 seconds remaining. Everyone was stunned as Keenum tossed the ball to Diggs who leaped to catch the ball near the 40, dodged a defensive back and raced for a 61 yard touchdown to give Minnesota a 29-24 victory over New Orleans and send the Vikings to the NFC championship game with the one more win needed to become a first-time Super Bowl host.

Diggs jumped in front of Marcus Williams, who rolled awkwardly underneath him during the ill-fated attempt at a tackle. Diggs kept his footing and with a clear path, he raced to the end zone and that was the game.

Shaquita Newton

Shaquita Newton is a sports blogger. She can be reached at