Sat Jan 11 9:32pm ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) intercepts a pass in front of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) sits on the bench with teammates during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. The 49ers won 27-10. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8), is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, center, during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defensive back Emmanuel Moseley (41) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The offensive formula for the Minnesota Vikings has been fairly simple this season. Establish the run with Dalvin Cook to set up some play-action deep shots for Kirk Cousins.
With Cook unable to get anything going on the ground against San Francisco, the Vikings had no chance against a healthy 49ers defense and lost the divisional round playoff game 27-10 on Saturday.
''We were just not really able to get in a rhythm so they were able to sit back and do what they do,'' Cook said. ''We just never got a rhythm and they were able to fly around and make plays.''
Cook got the ball 15 times on the day and was held to only 26 yards, gaining 18 yards on nine carries and 8 on six catches. It's a far cry from the season when he gained 1,654 yards in just 14 games to power the offense.
That's the kind of day it was for the Vikings (11-7) on offense as they were held to 81 yards and four first downs on their first nine drives of the game before padding the numbers a bit on two meaningless drives at the end.
In fact, over those nine drives the Vikings gained more yards on a 41-yard TD pass from Cousins to Stefon Diggs in the second quarter than they did on their other 32 plays as the run game never got going and Cousins was under constant pressure.
''They got a lot of edge rushers,'' Diggs said. ''Edge rushers and they defend the run really well. The guys they got on their front seven are very active. They just start with their D-linemen, and that's where it all starts.''
The Vikings were hoping to build on last week's 26-20 overtime victory at New Orleans and win multiple playoff games in the same season for the first time since 1987 when they went on the road and upset the Saints and 49ers in the first two rounds.
That pattern didn't repeat this year even though Minnesota kept it close in the first half thanks in part to the one big pass from Cousins to Diggs.
Then with a chance to tie the game late in the half after Eric Kendricks intercepted a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to set Minnesota up at the San Francisco 29, things began to fall apart.
Cousins completed a pass to Adam Thielen to give the Vikings a first down at the 16. But Cook was hit for a 1-yard loss, Cousins threw an incompletion to Diggs and then was sacked on third down by Dee Ford. A field goal cut the lead to 14-10 and San Francisco pulled away in the second half.
The Niners got a field goal to start the third quarter and then Richard Sherman anticipated the route by Thielen and intercepted Cousins.
''It was completely my fault,'' Thielen said. ''I didn't cross his face and obviously he trusted me to win on that route and make a play on the ball. I didn't do that.''
Eight straight runs led to another touchdown and the Vikings never had a chance from there against a defense that was back to its early season form when San Francisco got off to an 8-0 start.
Cousins finished 21 for 29 for 172 yards but was also sacked six times.
''We knew what we would be facing,'' Cousins said. ''We knew they were the No. 1 seed with a bye and home-field advantage. You earn that, and you're a good team. You can look at a lot of their statistical numbers on defense. They've proven that they're a good front, a good defense and a good team.''
The Vikings once again proved they don't have quite enough to make a long playoff run. They have had success in six seasons under coach Mike Zimmer with four winning records and three playoff berths.
But they haven't made it to the Super Bowl since the 1976 season when they lost the championship game for the fourth time in a span of eight seasons.
''There's so many ups and downs throughout the course of it,'' ZImmer said. ''I know that I'm proud of this football team. The way they competed and worked and did all the things that they had to do throughout the course of the year. It's unfortunate we didn't play better today. It's not a good day to reminisce.''
Interview with a Champ
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense put together a strong performance in a 30-20 playoff win over the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay allowed 20 points and failed to register a sack, though they generated four turnovers. The secondary delivered a strong performance on tape, surrendering just 190 passing yards and picking off Drew Brees three times. Linebacker Devin White, a rising star, was arguably the player of the game, as he was all over the field with 11 tackles and an interception, which he returned for 28 yards. Tampa Bay will travel to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC title game. They hammered Rodgers and the Green Bay offense for four sacks and two interceptions in a 38-10 regular season drubbing.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski caught one of five targets for 14 receiving yards in a 30-20 win over New Orleans. Gronkowski had yet another quiet outing as a pass-catcher, though he was far more involved in the gameplan this time. Tom Brady looked his way in the red zone, so the usage was pretty promising for fantasy purposes. The problem is, Gronkowski has been out-produced by fellow tight end Cameron Brate, who has 130 yards over the last two games. Still, Gronkowski should remain a part of the offense next week against the Packers, who surrendered a 5-78-1 line to him in their regular-season meeting.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate led the team in receiving yards in a playoff win over the Saints. Brate hauled in four of five targets for 50 receiving yards, as he once again showed some good chemistry with Tom Brady down the field. The veteran tight end has produced eight catches for 130 yards in two playoff games, while fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski has just one reception. Clearly, Brady will continue to look Gronkowski's way in the red zone, though Brate has carved out a role for himself as a pass-catcher between the 20s. He'll get ready to take on the Packers at Lambeau Field next week with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown caught just one pass for 10 receiving yards in Sunday's 30-20 divisional-round win over New Orleans. Brown was held in check for much of the game, though it should be noted that he was tending to a knee issue. It occurred sometime in the first half, with Brown requiring some attention from the team trainer- though the team didn't offer much more information on his status. This game snapped a streak of four straight contests with a touchdown reception for Brown, whose practice reps will be worth monitoring ahead of a huge title game clash with Green Bay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin hauled in four of seven targets for 34 receiving yards in Sunday's victory over New Orleans. Godwin did lead the team in targets, though it could have been a far more productive day had he hauled in a long pass from Tom Brady in the end zone. The drops have certainly been an issue for the fourth-year pro- he has six in two playoff games- though he remains one of Brady's favorite pass-catchers on the roster. Godwin has seen at least six targets in 12 of 14 games, a role that makes him enticing to turn to for fantasy purposes. He'll look to be more productive with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line next week against Green Bay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans caught one of three targets for a three-yard touchdown in a 30-20 win over the Saints. Evans was held in check for most of the day by Saints' corner Marshon Lattimore- though he was able to beat him in the end zone for a score. That's his 14th touchdown of the year, including the regular season and playoffs, as he continues to be one of Tom Brady's favorite red-zone targets. Evans will look to be more of a factor between the 20s in an NFC Championship game matchup against the Packers.
New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook finished with five receptions for 28 yards on seven targets in Sunday's loss to Tampa. The tight end also lost a crucial fumble which swayed the outcome of the game. Cook finishes 2020 with 37 receptions for 504 yards and seven touchdowns. The tight end will be a free agent this offseason and will turn 34 in a few months. His fantasy value remains low heading into 2021 considering his age and the uncertainty about the size of his role on a potentially new team next season.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith grabbed three receptions for 85 yards and two scores on three targets in Sunday's divisional-round loss to Tampa. Smith paced the team in yards and had a fantastic showing in the team's last game of the season. The WR finished 2020 with 34 receptions for 448 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. Because of his inconsistency and smaller role on this offense, Smith should be considered a deeper-league flex at best heading into 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II carried the ball 13 times for 62 rushing yards in a playoff victory over New Orleans. Jones averaged 4.8 yards per carry and showed some good burst in his first game back from a quad injury. He ripped off a long run that was called back due to a holding penalty and appeared to grimace after the play, though he was never taken out. Jones was out-touched by Fournette 22-13, though he may eat into those carries a bit if he can put in a full practice ahead of next week's NFC title game against Green Bay.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas finished with zero yards on four targets in Sunday's divisional-round loss to the Buccaneers. After a terrific wild-card showing last week with five receptions for 73 yards and a score on seven targets, Thomas fell flat this week. Despite an injury-ridden season, the WR is clearly the top receiving option on the team heading into 2021 and remains a WR1 despite the potential change at QB.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette was the engine of his team's offense in a 30-20 divisional-round win over the Saints. Fournette turned 22 touches into 107 scrimmage yards, adding a touchdown to yet another solid outing. With Tom Brady struggling a bit, the 25-year-old came up with some timely runs and receptions, none bigger than a six-yard touchdown catch that tied the game late in the third quarter. Fournette has topped 20 touches and 100 yards in each of his last two games- he should remain a focal point of the offense when the Buccaneers travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers next week.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders hauled in six receptions for 48 yards on nine targets in Sunday's loss to Tampa. Sanders bounced back from a poor wild-card showing last week in which he only mustered two receptions for three yards. Nevertheless, this week and last week's performance summarize just how inconsistent the WR's 2020 season was. Sanders should be considered as only a WR3/flex option heading into 2021 drafts.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, adding a rushing score in a 30-20 win over the Saints. Brady struggled to move the ball for much of the game but came up with big plays when they were needed. He fired touchdown passes to Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette, then scored on a quarterback sneak to give his team the lead for good in the fourth. Brady has thrown for 580 yards and scored five total touchdowns in his past two playoff games, both against top-five pass defenses from the regular season. He'll get ready to travel to Lambeau Field for an epic clash in the NFC Championship against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara finished with 18 carries for 85 yards and three receptions for 20 yards on six targets in Sunday's loss to the Bucs. Kamara still managed to be effective despite the Saints' offense not being able to get going during the game. The RB finished the season with a career-high 932 rush yards and 16 rush touchdowns. As a focal point of this offense, he remains a solid RB1 heading into 2021 drafts.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished with 134 yards, one touchdown, and three picks in Sunday's divisional-round loss to Tampa. Brees had a tough time producing in this loss which ultimately ended the Saints' season. Earlier today, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported Sunday could very well be Brees' last game in the NFL and the QB would retire as one of the most accomplished players in league history.
The Cleveland Browns Defense played well in a 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Cleveland picked up one sack and forced one turnover in the loss. The Chiefs' offense would have turned in a much better game but they lost quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a concussion early in the third quarter. Top Cleveland defender Myles Garrett played through an oblique injury to log the team's only sack of the afternoon while safety Karl Joseph picked off a Chad Henne pass in the fourth quarter. Cleveland's defense was a team weakness during the 2020 season, so expect the front office to dedicate a significant portion of their offseason resources to augmenting the unit. They could be one of the most-improved fantasy defenses heading into the 2021 campaign.
Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper was overshadowed by teammate David Njoku in their team's 22-17 Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Hooper wound up catching just two of three targets for 13 yards, although one of his catches was a clutch diving grab to convert a fourth down. Many DFS gamers were eager to plug Hooper into lineups to take advantage of a plus matchup against the Chiefs, but instead it was forgotten man David Njoku who came up big. Njoku caught four of five targets for 59 yards to finish second on the Browns in receiving. Hooper was a big free-agent signing by the Browns last offseason but he wound up as a bust on his new team. He should be treated as a low-upside TE2 in fantasy for the 2021 season as Cleveland doesn't pass frequently enough to support him. Njoku has a $6 million cap hit in 2021 and spent much of the past season angling for a trade out of Cleveland. He could very well be in a different uniform in 2021.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce scored a touchdown versus the Cleveland Browns in an AFC Divisional Round victory on Sunday. Kelce also caught eight of his 11 targets for 109 yards on the afternoon. Kelce had one of the most dominant seasons every for a tight end this season and that has carried over the playoffs. Kelce will be a TE1 option every week, but managers may want to double check that quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) is playing before going with Kelce in a tough matchup versus the Buffalo Bills next weekend for the AFC Championship.
According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees plans to retire after the season ends. With the Saints are getting ready to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs on Sunday night, Glazer tweeted, "Today will be Drew Brees' last game in the Superdome" earlier in the day. If the Saints lose to Tampa Bay, it will close the book on a Hall of Fame career for Brees. If the Saints win, they will head to Green Bay to take on the Packers for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. With Brees out of the picture in 2021, there's a chance that the Saints to turn to Taysom Hill as the team's starting quarterback but they could bring in a veteran as several quality signal-callers will be available this offseason, either through free-agency or via trade. Either way, it will be the end of an era for the Saints and the NFL as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in league history hangs them up.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins led his team in receiving in a 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. Higgins caught five of seven targets for 88 yards but he will instead be remembered for the play he didn't make. Higgins appeared on his way to a touchdown near the end of the second quarter but wound up fumbling the ball through the Kansas City end zone, resulting in the Chiefs offense getting the ball at the 20-yard line. It was a tough play as he appeared to take a helmet-to-helmet hit but all Browns fans will remember is that he didn't score what would have been the game-deciding touchdown. Higgins is now an unrestricted free-agent and could be playing for a different team next season, also Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski appeared to be a fan of Higgins during his first year at the helm. If he stays with the Browns, the return of Odell Beckham Jr. would push Higgins back to the No. 3 WR role in Cleveland.