Here are some notes from Sunday’s Divisional Round games followed by a primer on what could be an offseason trade of Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson.
- Who gets the blame here? Patrick Mahomes’ greatness or the Browns?
- Mahomes and the Chiefs came out of the gate ablaze. Kansas City was up 19-3 at halftime, which should have been 23-3 thanks to a missed extra point and field goal by the usually ultra-reliable Harrison Butker. Butker’s missed kicks – most notably the extra point – were perhaps the only thing keeping Cleveland in the game. A single point before half would have put Kansas City up three possessions in a contest where Cleveland struggled to comeback from down two.
- The Browns defense – which was arguably the team’s downfall at the end of the day – had no chance against the speed of Kansas City’s offense. Dump-offs to Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman gained big yardage. Travis Kelce was a sieve as usual over the middle. Mahomes got nifty, rushing for a touchdown and getting first downs with his (at times hurting) legs.
- It didn’t last forever. Mahomes – as if he wasn’t hurting enough with a supposed toe injury – was concussed midway through the third quarter after Cleveland put together its best drive of the game to make it 19-10. Prior to that, Kansas City squandered an opportunity to once again to extend its lead to three possessions after Baker Mayfield threw a horrible pick, only for Butker’s missed field goal to follow up the forced turnover. Chad Henne salvaged the drive Mahomes left, but the Chiefs didn’t score again.
- Once Henne entered, the game not only felt within reach for the Browns, but inevitable. The momentum had flipped, and Mahomes to Henne represented perhaps the biggest talent drop-off in the league. It felt like the Browns should win.
- They came damn close. A score on the backs of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt cut the Chiefs’ lead to five. Henne’s attempt to put the game away on the ensuing drive resulted in a horrendous interception – allowing Cleveland right back in it.
- The drive came up short. To the dismay of many, Cleveland punted on 4th and 9 down five with 4:19 left on its own 32. The Browns’ single timeout remaining caused most of this commotion – they had no way to stop Kansas City’s rushing attack more than once minus the two-minute warning.
- Both sides had a good case. Going for it and not securing the first down puts pressure on Henne to ice the game, or Butker to make a big kick on a bad day. A Butker make keeps it a one-score game – whereas a miss would be the best case scenario.
- Henne’s ability to go 32 yards for a score seemed feeble – though that was certainly proved wrong after the punt.
- At the same time, nine yards is a long way. Mayfield was horrible Sunday, and you’re not running the ball in that situation. Despite the timeout disadvantage, four minutes is much longer than two.
- With the way Cleveland’s offense played Sunday, it’s hard to say that had it hadn’t punted, it would have won the game.
- The Browns probably weren’t expecting Henne to turn into a mix of Mahomes and Kyler Murray once they punted, nor were they thinking that a 3rd and 14 for the Chiefs wouldn’t result in them receiving one final chance.
- Whether it was bad defense or a fluke, the Chiefs back-to-back plays on 3rd and 14 and 4th and 1 were something out of a Madden game. Henne’s run was one of the most improbable postseason plays ever, while the 4th and 1 call had the widest range of outcomes out of any play in the game (An incredible statement to make considering the Browns’ fumbling of a touchdown out of the back of the end zone for a touchdown earlier).
- The play-call was perfect. Despite Mahomes’ absence, the Chiefs went back to what burned Cleveland in the first half: speed. A simple, shallow crosser to Hill sealed it, and the Browns never touched the ball again.
- Cleveland leaves this game perhaps clueless. They never had a chance against Mahomes, and let Henne do things a backup quarterback should never dream of doing. That would signify that the defense is at fault, but Mayfield’s performance is hard to ignore, and when Mahomes is playing at that level, it begs the question as to whether Mayfield can ever even put up a fight.
- This was the most hotly contested bad game in awhile.
- Neither offense or quarterback played well, even though both sides combined for 50 points. No one dominated, as the score was tied at halftime and a brutal Drew Brees interception secured the two possession lead and victory for Tampa Bay.
- Alvin Kamara was New Orleans’ saving grace. Aside from Brees’ beautiful touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith, the QB’s likely swan-song game was a struggle, and the Bucs’ defense magnified it by keeping all their defenders up near the line of scrimmage. That made gaining yards solely Kamara’s job.
- It was an okay performance. Kamara finished with 85 yards on 18 carries, but Saints turnovers doomed what should have been a lieu of successful drives. New Orleans punted just twice Sunday, but an early interception thrown by Brees doomed one of its empty drives in the first half, which enabled Tampa Bay to take a 10-6 lead.
- Brees and Saints couldn’t get out of their own way later in the game. A fumble by Jared Cook allowed Tampa Bay to tie the game at 20 with 4:41 left in the third quarter. New Orleans got nothing in response, picking the worst possible time to punt the ball back to the Bucs. A score there would have provided a buffer for what was about to come.
- After the Bucs took a 23-20 lead, New Orleans met their destiny for the day. On a play that seemed to be more of a miscommunication than Brees’ fault, Kamara ran a go route from the backfield that was intended to be a hitch. Brees threw it right to Devin White – who was in perfect position thanks to Tampa Bay’s second half adjustment of playing its linebackers up – as Kamara ran straight downfield, not turning his head, and sealed the game for the Bucs as they scored four plays later.
- The Saints were able overcome Brees’ deficiencies all year. A fantastic defense and Kamara’s brilliance allowed for that. But a meltdown was coming, and that came Sunday. A gimmick with Jameis Winston throwing the ball 40 yards downfield was the Saints’ best play of the day, and Brees’ turnovers were the single difference between him and Brady. The challenges faced by New Orleans were small, but in the end were still too much.
On the escalating Deshaun Watson situation….
It seems increasing likely that a Deshaun Watson trade will occur at some point this offseason. To prepare for what could be the largest, most important trade in NFL history, here’s a primer which will serve as part one to a future column that breaks down potential destinations for the star quarterback.
The Texans certainly should not trade Watson. He’s one of the game’s elite signal-callers, and still has the “young” adjective attached to his name. Those players don’t just become available.
It doesn’t seem like Houston will accommodate him, though. Reports have suggested that Watson wants a combination of his choosing of the team’s next head coach, executive Jack Easterby fired (Not a bad idea) and owner Cal NcNair to relinquish control (Also not a bad idea). The stories about Easterby are damning and are a perfect illustration of how sour things can get when those unqualified are in charge. Firing him shouldn’t be hard, but McNair’s supposed religious bond with the former Patriots staffer seems to be what’s keeping him around. McNair, obviously, won’t sell – and why would he? He’s making money whether his team is a dumpster fire or not.
That reasoning is why the Texans likely lose Watson this offseason. McNair – as no owner would – isn’t selling the team for a single player to be happy. He personally gains nothing from that.
Easterby’s departure and the hiring of, perhaps, Eric Bieniemy would be positives for the Texans – and should result in Watson actually giving them a chance. But neither of those things seem likely to occur, and we’re here as a result.
Watson is the type of player and talent that requires every front office to sit down and have a meeting about whether it makes sense for their respective team. He’s too good, and quarterback is too important.
However, there are seven teams that shouldn’t be in this discussion:
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Finding the succession plan for Tom Brady would make sense. But the Bucs aren’t flipping Brady based on how invested they are in him, and you’re not keeping Watson and Brady on your roster at the same time.
- Seattle Seahawks
We saw what Russell Wilson is capable of early in the season. Seattle needs to hone in on what enabled that run of success, sure up its offensive line and add a play-maker on offense. If they did want to get involved, their offer might trump everyone else’s.
- Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ MVP season makes his age become a non-factor. Plus, the Packers already have his successor in Jordan Love. It’s likely both players would have to be moved to Houston for a deal to work.
- Buffalo Bills
If the Watson situation blew up before this season, then perhaps there’d be a conversation had here. Josh Allen’s MVP-caliber season makes the AFC Championship-bound Bills non-participants in trade talks, though.
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Los Angeles Chargers
It’s truly incredible that Los Angeles is on this list, but Justin Herbert established himself as the runaway Offensive Rookie of the Year this season and is three years younger than Watson. If the Chargers were to jump in, their immediate offer is better than almost everyone else’s.
- Jacksonville Jaguars
Potentially the most controversial team on this list, the thinking here for the Jaguars is complicated. This is no easy decision.
Jacksonville has the simplest trade package in the league. It’d be April’s No. 1 overall pick for Watson straight up. That would be the whole deal. Trevor Lawrence is that good, and breaks the barrier of sure-thing/knowing what you get (Watson) versus potential and the unknown (To some people, Lawrence).
But prospects who are this highly-touted and this good just don’t fail. Lawrence is on the Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Joe Burrow level of players – neither of those guys failed, or have so far.
Those are generational players. Lawrence deserves that description, and he’s going to live up to it too. As good as Watson is – a (at least) top 10 QB and MVP candidate this past season – he’s never had the “generational” label, and never will.
You can’t pass up generational, and therefore, Jacksonville needs to stay out of it.
With these teams out of the mix, what’s left for the remaining teams in the sweepstakes to offer is one the following: a serviceable quarterback or a draft pick than ensures Houston either Trevor Lawrence (not happening) or Justin Fields in April’s draft (There’s a hint at how the Hub’s QB big board is shaking out), plus other players and/or picks.
Houston can’t come out of this trade and head into next season with (checks notes) AJ McCarron or Josh McCown as its quarterback. There has to be some direction at the position, whether it’s building toward the future with a rookie or attempting to win now with whatever (likely underwhelming) pieces. In essence, any trade Houston makes that involves Watson must have a quarterback in the return.
A serviceable QB doesn’t have to mean a necessarily good one. By using that term, we’re basically ruling out these QBs coming back to Houston in a deal: Gardner Minshew, Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles, Taylor Heinicke, Nick Mullens and Andy Dalton. It’s viable to see the Texans talking themselves into everyone else, and some deals might actually make sense (That is, given Watson refuses to play).
With that in mind, the Bears and Cowboys are likely out (Fields falling to Dallas would be insane), as they lack a pick that truly secures Houston Lawrence or Fields and don’t have a QB they could offer in a trade back (Dak Prescott is a free agent).
That leaves 21 teams who should be in on Watson. Let the bidding commence.