The Saints, up 20-13, and trying to push a 30-yard drive past midfield, looked to be headed for another touchdown. But after Drew Brees threaded an 8-yard pass to him, tight end Jared Cook fumbled the ball, ended the drive, and gave Tom Brady and the Buccaneers a chance to pounce.
Brady threw a touchdown pass to tie the game, 20-20, with two minutes and 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Brees hit Cook at the Tampa Bay 47-yard line, but Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. stripped Cook of the ball, which was recovered by linebacker Devin White, who returned the fumble to the Saints’ 40-yard line.
Brady wasted no time. He hit tight end Cameron Brate for a 19-yard pass. Running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette carried the ball three times. Then Brady threw to Fournette for a 6-yard touchdown. Fournette bobbled the ball before spinning into the end zone, where he fell to the ground untouched.
After a sluggish first half, quarterback Drew Brees got a touchdown of his own in the third quarter.
Brees hit receiver Tre’Quan Smith near the pylon on the right side of the goal line for a 16-yard scoring pass to put the Saints up, 20-13.
The Saints came out firing on the first drive of the second half. Brees completed three passes and ran for a first down on a quarterback sneak. Running back Alvin Kamara had several big runs, including a 17-yard gain near midfield to push the Saints into Tampa Bay territory.
Brees has now thrown a touchdown in every one of his 18 career playoff games.
Drew Brees & Tre’Quan Smith (16-yard TD)
#10 Tre’Quan Smith never had more than 1.5 yards of separation from #43 Ross Cockrell. Smith’s 0.6 yards of separation is the 2nd-smallest window on a Brees TD this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 18, 2021
The first half of the Tom Brady-Drew Brees showdown in New Orleans was less about those players’ passing acumen and more about everyone else on the field. Though both quarterbacks made several key passes, their offenses were sluggish as the Buccaneers and Saints headed into halftime tied, 13-13.
The game was punctuated by stout defenses and a few surprises. The Saints’ biggest plays were by Deonte Harris, who returned a punt for 54 yards that led to a New Orleans field goal, and Brees’s backup, Jameis Winston, who tossed a 56-yard touchdown score.
The Buccaneers got their first touchdown after intercepting Brees, which led to a 3-yard touchdown toss by Brady. For much of the half, though, Brady relied on running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, and tight end Cameron Brate.
Early in the game, he overthrew tight end Rob Gronkowski. On the last drive of the first half, Brady nearly completed a touchdown pass to receiver Chris Godwin, who lost the ball as his skidded out of bounds.
The drive ended in a 37-yard field goal by the Buccaneers to tie the game.
Tired of pushing up the field incrementally, Saints Coach Sean Payton deployed a bit of trickery to put his team back in the lead, 13-10.
On first-and-10 from their own 44-yard line, the Saints took quarterback Drew Brees out of the game and put in his backup, Jameis Winston.
But Winston lined up as a wide receiver as running back Alvin Kamara took the snap in the wildcat formation. Kamara tossed the ball to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was streaking left to right. Sanders tossed it to Winston, who threw a long pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.
Smith streaked all alone down the middle of the field and into the end zone for a 56-yard score.
The score was Winston’s first touchdown pass in the playoffs and it came against the team where he spent the first five seasons of his career. He has played sparingly for the Saints in the regular season, appearing in four games and getting his most significant time in Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers when Brees broke several ribs and punctured a lung.
The trick play offset the costly interception of Drew Brees earlier in the quarter.
Notably, the Saints are playing without another backup quarterback, Taysom Hill, who is out with a knee injury. Receiver Deonte Harris (neck injury) is questionable to return to the game.
Drew Brees threw an interception deep in Saints territory, and Tom Brady made the Saints pay. Brady hit receiver Mike Evans with a 3-yard touchdown score to put the Buccaneers up, 10-6.
Early in the second quarter, Brees rolled to his right and tried to connect with receiver Michael Thomas, who had tossed his defender, Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, to the side. But Murphy-Bunting recovered and jumped in front of Thomas to pick off the pass at the Saints’ 39-yard line. He stiff-armed Thomas and ran the ball all the way to the 3-yard line before being tackled by Erik McCoy.
On the next play, Brady threw the game’s first touchdown.
Tom Brady and Drew Brees might lead the world in passing yards and touchdown passes, but the only scoring in their playoff game thus far has been a pair of field goals by the Saints.
Saints kicker Wil Lutz hit his second field goal to put the Saints up, 6-0, late in the first quarter. The Saints put together a 12-play drive that traveled only 36 yards. After Brees’ pass was batted away on third down, Lutz connected from 42 yards.
Thus far, the Saints have had better field position and more first downs, but only six points to show for it.
At the end of the first quarter, Brady is 2 of 7 for 16 yards passing; Brees is 4 of 9 for 23 yards. On what has been Tampa Bay’s best shot at a major gain, Brady threw deep on first-and-10 from midfield to Mike Evans on a post route, but the ball was batted away by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Tampa Bay kicker Ryan Succop put the Buccaneers on the board with a 26-yard field goal eight plays later.
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers did little with their first possession of the game, going three-and-out. But the Saints made the most of theirs, thanks to a 54-yard punt return by Deonte Harris.
The Saints receiver escaped one hit just after he caught the ball, then sprinted down the left sideline. The Buccaneers finally tackled him at their 21-yard line.
Drew Brees brought the Saints into the red zone with a pass to receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a seven-yard gain. Tampa Bay was charged with a penalty for lowering the helmet. But the Saints, who had the best red zone offense in the league, had to settle for a field goal.
Brady-Brees. Brees-Brady. The names evoke N.F.L. history whichever way you say them. When the two quarterbacks face off Sunday in their Divisional Round matchup, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and his Saints counterpart, Drew Brees, will set records even before kickoff.
Brady, 43, and Brees, 42, will together become the oldest opposing starting quarterbacks in a game at a combined 85 years, 169 days old. Brady has the most touchdowns, with Brees second all-time, while Brees has the most passing yards, with Brady right behind him.
The sure-shot Hall of Fame quarterbacks are playing each other for the first time in the postseason, with the winner heading to Green Bay to play the No. 1 seed Packers (13-3) in the N.F.C. Championship game next Sunday.
Brady, who led the Buccaneers to a 31-23 victory over the Washington Football Team in the wild-card round, is out to prove he can win a Super Bowl title with a team besides the New England Patriots. His first season with the Buccaneers (11-5) was uneven as Brady got familiar with his new teammates, including receivers Mike Evans, Scottie Miller and Chris Godwin.
The stakes are higher for Brees, who is reportedly contemplating retirement when the New Orleans Saints (12-4) season ends. Incredibly durable during 20-year career, Brees has battled injuries the past two seasons, including broken ribs that forced him to sit out four games in November and December.
Still, Brees and the Saints, who beat the Chicago Bears, 21-9, last week, won their two head-to-head matchups with the Buccaneers this season. The Buccaneers looked disorganized in Week 1, and the Saints blew out Tampa Bay in Week 9. Those games aside, the teams were evenly matched, with potent offenses and defenses that were ranked in the top ten in the league.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ best player, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, was out with a concussion. The team had just allowed touchdowns on consecutive drives. And Mahomes’s replacement, Chad Henne, had just been intercepted in the end zone, giving the Cleveland Browns a chance to thwart the Chiefs’ hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions.
In a matter of seconds on Sunday in Kansas City, Mo., the Chiefs went from reeling to soaring in their divisional round playoff game. After a defensive stand, Kansas City escaped with a 22-17 victory over the upstart Browns because Henne rushed for his longest gain in more than seven years.
His 13-yard scramble on third-and-14, which ended with a headfirst dive to try to get that extra yard, allowed Kansas City to go for a fourth-down conversion on its 48-yard line, and his subsequent 5-yard completion to Tyreek Hill allowed the top-seeded Chiefs to run out the final minute or so of clock. Kansas City advanced to face the second-seeded Buffalo Bills in next Sunday’s A.F.C. championship game, also at Arrowhead Stadium.
“That’s all heart,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said of Henne’s scramble. “Those are the moments that lift teams.”
The Chiefs will become the first A.F.C. team to host three consecutive championship games. The only other team to accomplish that feat, the Philadelphia Eagles from 2002 to 2004, was also coached by Andy Reid.
For Cleveland, it was another crushing playoff loss for a city that has endured a disproportionate share of them. But for Kansas City, the euphoria in the immediate aftermath was tempered by the uncertainty surrounding the condition of Mahomes, who left in the third quarter after being yanked down by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson. Mahomes struggled to get up without assistance, and after being helped off the field and leaving for the locker room, he was ruled out with a concussion, potentially jeopardizing his availability for next week.
Afterward, Reid said Mahomes was “doing great” and had “passed all the deals” he needed to pass.
Replacing Mahomes with a 19-10 lead, Henne led the Chiefs to a field goal on that drive, but then watched as the Browns — powered by two fourth-down conversions — cut the deficit to 22-17 on an 18-play drive capped by Kareem Hunt’s 3-yard touchdown run.
On the Chiefs’ ensuing possession, after a 15-yard penalty pushed the ball back to the Cleveland 38, Henne lofted a deep ball toward the end zone, but hardly near the closest receiver, Demarcus Robinson, and safety Karl Joseph intercepted it. Unable to move the ball, however, the Browns punted on fourth-and-9 from their 32 — and they never got the ball back.
It was a triumphant moment for Henne, who had thrown only nine passes over his three seasons with Kansas City until Week 17, with the Chiefs resting Mahomes and several starters against the Los Angeles Chargers. He played the entire game in that one. Mathieu, who had the Chiefs’ lone interception, praised his professionalism after Sunday’s game, saying that Henne always prepares as if he is going to be playing that week.
“There’s a lot of great players around me that made me feel confident,” Henne said.
The Chiefs, after not playing for two weeks, did not overpower the Browns early so much as play smarter. Mahomes, before exiting, completed 21 of 30 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for a score. Kansas City scored on its first four possessions, including a field goal in the waning seconds before halftime that followed a play that will live in Cleveland sports infamy.
It might not approach the renown of the Fumble or the Drive, but Rashard Higgins’s fumbling the ball out of the end zone cost the Browns a potential touchdown. As he neared the goal line and extended the ball toward the right pylon, Chiefs safety Daniel Sorenson swooped in, and his hit jarred the ball free. Instead of scoring a touchdown that would have cut the deficit to 16-9, pending the extra point, the Chiefs assumed possession on their 20. Deflating the Browns even more, Sorensen should have been penalized for his helmet-to-helmet hit, but officials missed it, and such a play is not reviewable.
That was of little solace to Browns fans, who have a long history with unfortunate postseason plays. The Chiefs did, too. Until Mahomes came along. And, at least on Sunday, until Henne came along, too.
The Browns have a chance to take the lead over top-seeded Kansas City in the fourth quarter of a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Repeat: The Browns have a chance to take the lead over top-seeded Kansas City in the fourth quarter of a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Cleveland’s comeback from a 19-3 halftime deficit has coincided with the departure of Patrick Mahomes, whose replacement, Chad Henne threw a dreadful interception in the end zone.
One play after a 15-yard crackback penalty on Chiefs tight end Ricky Seals-Jones pushed the ball back to the Browns’ 38-yard line, Henne lofted a ball downfield in the general vicinity of Demarcus Robinson. Waiting in the end zone like an outfielder tracking a fly ball, Browns safety Karl Joseph settled under it and caught it for a touchback, giving Cleveland the ball at its 20-yard line with eight minutes left while trailing by 22-17.
With the Chiefs reeling after Patrick Mahomes’s injury, the Browns embarked on their longest — and best — series of the season, an 18-play masterpiece that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by Kareem Hunt. Rushing for 38 yards on the drive, Nick Chubb and Hunt softened Kansas City’s defense and helped the Browns control the clock.
It was Chubb who first extended the possession, gaining 3 yards on fourth-and-1 from Cleveland’s 34-yard line, but tight end Austin Hooper made the drive’s pivotal play. Reluctant to attempt a field goal trailing by 12 points, Cleveland went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Chiefs’ 12. Mayfield flipped a perfect pass to Hooper, who dived with his arms extended to grab it, and three plays later Hunt scampered into the end zone to cut Kansas City’s lead to 22-17.
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Patrick Mahomes was ruled out of Sunday’s game after sustaining a concussion in the third quarter. Mahomes had to be helped off the field and taken into the Chiefs’ locker room after a hit from Cleveland linebacker Mack Wilson left him dazed.
On third-and-1 from the Kansas City 48-yard line, Mahomes rolled right on a speed option play and kept the ball. Coming in from Mahomes’s left, Wilson wrapped his left arm around Mahomes’s neck, dragging him to the ground and causing Mahomes’s head to hit the ground. Wilson then appeared to hold on to Mahomes as he rolled to the side.
Unable to get up, Mahomes needed teammates to steady him as he walked off the field. The veteran backup Chad Henne came in to replace him.
Henne had thrown only nine passes over his three seasons with Kansas City until Week 17, when the Chiefs rested Mahomes and several starters against the Los Angeles Chargers. Playing the full game, Henne completed 23 of 32 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs had hoped he wouldn’t receive another snap this season, but with Henne likely playing the rest of the game — and, perhaps, beyond — they’re sure glad he got that experience two weeks ago.
The Browns scored their first touchdown of the game after rediscovering their running attack. Nick Chubb totaled 41 yards on two consecutive plays. Kareem Hunt found creases. With that element humming again, the Browns’ offense opened up, and Mayfield connected with Jarvis Landry for a 4-yard score, cutting the deficit to 19-10.
Baker Mayfield entered Sunday having thrown only one interception since Week 7, a testament to his comfort with Kevin Stefanski’s offense. But on the opening drive of the second half, Mayfield, flushed out of the pocket, didn’t see Tyrann Mathieu hovering in the middle of the field and threw the ball right into his hands. Mathieu returned the interception 17 yards, to the Cleveland 19, but the Chiefs failed to capitalize, as Harrison Butker’s 33-yard field goal attempt clanged off the left upright.
Up to that point, Mayfield had been a reasonable facsimile of the version of himself that shredded Pittsburgh’s defense last week — and Tennessee’s and Baltimore’s before that. His stat line at halftime — 11 of 17 passes for 134 yards, completions to six players — was diminished by two drops by Nick Chubb and the demoralizing fumble by Rashard Higgins toward the end of the first half.
In the first half, Mayfield had connected with open receivers and kept the ball away from Kansas City’s aggressive secondary, which loves playing with a lead. According to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield was 3 for 3, for 74 yards, on throws that traveled at least 20 yards.
What the Browns have not done much of is get the ball to Kareem Hunt, who touched the ball only once — on an incomplete pass that was negated by a defensive pass interference call. Unless the Browns’ struggling running game can get untracked — six attempts, 18 yards — any chances of a comeback rest with Mayfield.
What a devastating sequence of events for the Browns, who lost a touchdown — and gave possession back to Kansas City — after receiver Rashard Higgins fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone.
Higgins, who had caught a 23-yard pass on the previous play, again got open, and Mayfield found him. But as Higgins neared the goal line, reaching out with the ball toward the right pylon, in swooped Chiefs safety Daniel Sorenson, whose hit dislodged the ball. The rules state that if a team fumbles the ball and it goes out of the opponent’s end zone, the play results in a touchback.
Video replay confirmed the call on the field, and instead of a Cleveland touchdown drawing the score to 16-9, pending the extra point, the Chiefs assumed possession on their own 20-yard line. Making it worse for Cleveland was that the former N.F.L. official Gene Steratore, speaking on the CBS broadcast, said Sorensen should have been penalized for illegal use of his helmet. But that call is not reviewable, Steratore said.
That was of little solace to Browns fans, who have a long history with unfortunate postseason plays. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Higgins’s fumble was Cleveland’s first lost fumble in the playoffs inside the 10-yard line since Earnest Byner’s infamous fumble at the 1-yard line against Denver in the 1987 A.F.C. championship game.