The Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Tucker has been one of the most consistent kickers in the N.F.L., with a 89.7 percent success rate on field goals this season.
The playoffs appear to be a different story. After the Ravens plowed down the field on their opening drive, Tucker missed a 41-yard field goal when his kick hit the left upright and bounced back onto the field.
Tucker also missed a 52-yard kick last weekend in Nashville against the Titans. Tucker had made 48 straight field goals in the fourth quarter or overtime. Tucker, though, came back to make a 51-yard kick that helped secure the Ravens’ victory.
The Baltimore Ravens-Buffalo Bills showdown may be the most even matchup of the divisional round of the N.F.L. playoffs.
The Bills (13-3) scored more than 500 points for the first time in franchise history and were the second-best scoring offense in the league. The Ravens (11-5) gave up the second-fewest points in the N.F.L.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw for more than 4,500 yards and has one of the N.F.L.’s best receivers in Stefon Diggs. They will face the sixth-best pass defense in the league, led by cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
The Bills defense will go up against the league’s top running game, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The Ravens ran for more than 3,000 yards for the second-straight season and had 236 yards rushing last weekend in their victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Bills had the 20th best defense against the run.
Third downs will be key.
Both teams were excellent on third down in the regular season. The Ravens converted 49.1 percent of their third downs, second-best in the league, while the Bills were fourth at 48.5 percent.
But the Ravens had a far better defense on third down. Teams converted just 34 percent of their chances, No. 2 in the league. The Bills defense ranked 16th on third downs.
Another variable: The weather in Orchard Park, N.Y. The temperature at kickoff was just above freezing with light winds and no snow forecast.
The winner will play in the A.F.C. Championship game next Sunday against the defending champion Kansas Chiefs or the Cleveland Browns. The Bills haven’t been to the conference title game since the 1993 season, when they made it to the Super Bowl (and lost) for the fourth consecutive year. The Ravens haven’t been that far since the 2012 season, when they went on to win Super Bowl XLVII.
There was not a lot of focus on the Green Bay offensive line in the buildup to the Packers’ divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. The pregame headlines’ concern was understandably elsewhere: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a top candidate for the N.F.L. Most Valuable Player Award, and the Rams had the league’s leading defensive unit featuring dominant defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
But hobbled by an injury to his ribs, Donald was frequently sidelined Saturday and would make only one tackle in the game. While Rodgers had another patient and skillful postseason performance that included two touchdown passes, it was the Green Bay rushing attack — powered by the authoritative push of its offensive line — that led the way to a steady 32-18 victory. The Packers, who rushed for 188 yards and logged 484 total yards, advance to the N.F.C. Championship game next weekend at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field against the winner of Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints.
Green Bay running back Aaron Jones had 99 rushing yards on 14 carries, including a backbreaking 60-yard dash on the Packers’ first play of the second half. When Jones ended that Packers possession with a 1-yard touchdown run, it stalled a brief rally the Rams had mounted in the second quarter.
The Packers had taken a 19-10 first half lead on two Mason Crosby field goals, a nifty, scrambling 1-yard touchdown run by Rodgers and a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers, who completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards, to wide receiver Davante Adams, who caught nine passes for 66 yards.
Los Angeles rallied to make a third-quarter run at the Packers. Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who completed 21 of 27 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown, had seemed out of sync to that point. Perhaps it was because he was without one of his top receiving targets, Cooper Kupp, who missed the game with a knee injury. But to start the second half, Goff completed six consecutive passes for 51 yards.
The Rams then went back to the rushing attack, and on a first-and-goal from the Packers’ 7-yard line, running back Cam Akers took a direct snap and bulled into the end zone. The Packers’ lead was trimmed to seven points.
But Jones and Rodgers were not deterred.
After pounding the middle of the Rams defensive line with running plays for much of one possession, Rodgers audibled at the line of scrimmage on a second down to call a deep pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard. Rodgers began the play with a backfield play-action fake and then connected with Lazard, who split two defenders and caught a perfect Rodgers pass in the open field for a 58-yard touchdown.
The score put the Packers ahead, 32-18, with under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Rams never advanced past the Green Bay 47-yard line in the game’s closing minutes.
After pounding the middle of the Rams defensive line with running plays for much of the game, on a second-and-6 near midfield, Aaron Rodgers called an audible at the line of scrimmage and switched to a deep pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard. Rodgers began the play with a backfield play-action fake then connected with Lazard, who was untouched as he split two defenders and caught Rodgers’s perfect pass in the open field for a 58-yard touchdown. The score increased the Packers lead to 32-18 with seven minutes remaining which proved to be the final score.
After forcing the first Packers punt of the game midway through the third quarter, the Rams offense rallied to give Los Angeles the jolt it needed to get back in the game.
Well aware that he is now in a shootout, Rams Coach Sean McVay came out throwing as Jared Goff completed six consecutive passes for 51 yards. The Rams went back to the rushing attack for several plays, and then on a first-and-goal from the Packers’ 7-yard line, running back Cam Akers lined up at quarterback. Taking the direct snap, Akers bulled into the end zone.
McVay stayed inventive. On a two-point conversion try, Goff threw to wide receiver Van Jefferson in the flat, who tossed a lateral to Akers on a hook and ladder play that succeeded and cut the Packers lead to 25-18. The fourth quarter is underway.
The intermittent absences of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is widely considered the best defensive lineman in the N.F.L., continues to be a key to the Packers’ dominance. Donald did not start the second half with the Rams first-team defense and on its first play, Green Bay handed the football to running back Aaron Jones who gashed through the middle of the Rams defense on a startling 60-yard run.
After an Aaron Rodgers incomplete pass, the Packers went back to the ground attack on four successive plays, with Jones finishing off the drive on a 1-yard touchdown run that put Green Bay ahead, 25-10. The two-point conversion attempt that followed failed.
Donald injured his ribs in last weekend’s playoff game in Seattle and has been off the field for roughly half of the Rams’ defensive snaps so far. His presence as a run-stopper was considered a pivotal weapon against the potent Packers offense, which has instead moved up and down the field. The Packers have 160 rushing yards, including 85 yards from Jones on 10 carries.
The Green Bay Packers, leading 19-10 after the first half of Saturday’s divisional playoff game with the Los Angeles Rams, are on a familiar route to success so far. The Packers have now outscored opponents 318-173 in the first two quarters this season, which was the key to 13 victories in 16 regular season games.
Green Bay has been outscored in the final quarter of games by 17 points, but their early leads have provided the necessary cushion most weeks. With only 39 seconds remaining before intermission Saturday, and after the Rams had pulled to within six points, the Packers rebounded by added to their lead. Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay down the field but narrowly avoided being intercepted on two consecutive plays as he looked for receivers in the end zone. The Packers instead got a 39-yard field goal from Mason Crosby on the final play of the second quarter.
Unreal drive by Aaron Rodgers with 29 seconds left but the Rams can’t drop back to back picks! That 3 points
— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) January 16, 2021
While Rams quarterback Jared Goff seemed unable to get in sync with his wide receivers in the early stages of Saturday’s game — perhaps missing Cooper Kupp, who is out with a knee injury — he led Los Angeles on an aggressive, proficient scoring drive late in the second quarter. It was a quick strike that the reeling Rams, down 16-3 at the time, needed and proved that Goff’s surgically repaired right thumb (he injured it Dec. 27 against the Seattle Seahawks) is healthy enough for him to help the Rams keep pace with high-flying Green Bay.
After Cam Akers rumbled for five key rushes, Goff picked up 21 key yards on a Josh Reynolds reception. Goff then threw an accurate 4-yard touchdown pass caught to rookie receiver Van Jefferson, who is Kupp’s replacement. Goff has completed nine of 10 passes for 91 yards through halftime.
The Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been frustrated and largely been held ineffective in the first half.
Donald lost his temper and was signaled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for tussling with Packers offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins after he was successfully blocked on one first-quarter play. Donald, who tore some of his rib cartilage in last weekend’s victory over Seattle and missed practice time this week, has also been sidelined periodically during the first half. He came off the field before the Packers’ first possession ended and was not playing during the Packers drive during the middle of the second quarter.
For the first time this season, the Packers are hosting about 6,500 spectators at Lambeau Field and the fans are certainly not sitting on their hands because of the 35-degree temperatures. The crowd is vociferous and laying down a loud soundtrack for the game since their Packers are controlling the action so far. They were at their loudest when Green Bay advanced deep into Rams’ territory with a series of productive runs by the impressive running back duo of Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones and short passes to Davante Adams.
With a first-and-goal at the Rams’ 8-yard line, and with Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had been sidelined in the drive, back in the game, two runs by Williams set up a third-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
Rodgers faked a handoff then scrambled to his right, apparently without an open receiver to throw to. Rodgers faked a pass that caused his closest pursuer, Leonard Floyd, to jump in the air. That gave Rodgers the room, and the time, to scamper into corner of the end zone. According to Pro Football Reference, it was the first playoff rushing touchdown for Rodgers in 10 years. The extra point attempt failed as the Packers took a 16-3 led with about three minutes and 30 seconds left in the first half.
As faint snow flurries began to fall late in the first quarter at Lambeau Field, the Packers offensive line, which is missing All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari due to injury, began to dominate the line of scrimmage. Packers running back Jamaal Williams burst through gaping holes, running for 17 yards on three consecutive plays and Aaron Jones adding 11 yards on two rushes.
Green Bay then benefited from a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald who got into a snarling tussle after a play. Four running plays set up a play-action fake in the backfield and quick throw to Davante Adams for a 1-yard touchdown pass that gave the Packers a 10-3 lead. In one of the featured one-on-one battles of the game, Adams beat the Rams top cornerback, Jalen Ramsey, on the play. After the whistle, Ramsey seemed annoyed at teammate Nick Scott for impeding his path to covering Adams.
Stealing a tactic from the Packers, the Rams unleashed their no-huddle offense on their second possession of the game with immediate success. With the Green Bay defense retreating, quarterback Jared Goff fit some precise passes in small windows over the middle of the field. First, Goff connected with wide receiver Josh Reynolds for 28 yards and, on a similar route, Robert Woods caught a 19-yard pass.
Goff was 4 of 5 for 51 yards on the Rams’ 8-play, 62-yard FG drive.
— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) January 16, 2021
Those gains set up a fourth-and-1 for the Rams at the Packers’ 11-yard line and Los Angeles chose to go for it (perhaps recognizing that Green Bay had the league’s highest scoring offense.) But a false start penalty on both Rams guards forced them to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Matt Gay that tied the game at 3-3.
The Packers advanced inside the Rams’ 20-yard line on their opening drive but had to settle for a 24-yard Mason Crosby field goal. The key play of the drive was a 27-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Equanimeous St. Brown when the Packers used their no huddle offense to catch the Rams defense unprepared and still moving to get set before the snap. In fact, the Rams ended up with 12 players on the field.
But despite a first-and-goal at the Rams 4-yard line, Green Bay lost a yard in three plays — two of them incomplete passes — to set up Crosby’s field goal.
The Rams-Packers game features several matchups of strength against strength, both teamwide and among individual players. One of the most anticipated, between Packers receiver Davante Adams and Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, turned chippy in pregame warm-ups.
Ramsey and Adams traded barbs as Adams was on the turf at Lambeau Field and Ramsey watched from the sideline. Adams had to be walked back toward Green Bay’s side of the field by Packers staffers.
How much Ramsey can inhibit Adams, who had 115 receptions in the regular season, figures to be a key to the outcome.
Saturday will be the Rams’ first playoff game at Lambeau Field, although not their first postseason game in Wisconsin.
On Dec. 23, 1967, Green Bay defeated the Rams at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, 28-7. It was the first of three Packers postseason victories that season, the last being a 33-14 rout of the Oakland Raiders in the second Super Bowl.
The Rams and Packers have met in the playoffs only one other time, on Jan. 20, 2002, when the Rams were in St. Louis. Playing at home, the Rams won easily, 45-17, with quarterback Kurt Warner outperforming his counterpart Brett Favre, who threw six interceptions. Those Rams advanced to the Super Bowl and were upset 20-17 by the New England Patriots, the first Super Bowl championship in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.