Sat Jan 16 10:00pm ET
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass while being chased by Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald (99) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson walks off the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers defeated the Rams 32-18 to advance to the NFC championship game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Green Bay Packers' Allen Lazard breaks away from Los Angeles Rams' Jordan Fuller (32) to score on a 58-yard touchdown run during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) As the Los Angeles Rams' fate became distressingly clear in the final minutes of Saturday's game, cameras showed a tearful Aaron Donald on the sideline.
The unanimous All-Pro defensive tackle had worked tirelessly to play after a rib injury knocked him out of a playoff victory at Seattle a week earlier, but he clearly wasn't himself and had just one assisted tackle.
Without Donald in peak form, the NFL's top defense simply couldn't slow down the league's highest-scoring offense. The Green Bay Packers scored on their first five series and beat the Rams 32-18 in the NFC divisional playoffs.
''I love Aaron Donald,'' Rams coach Sean McVay said. ''It means a lot to him. It's unfortunate that he wasn't at full strength today.''
Green Bay scored an NFL-leading 31.8 points per game during the regular season, while the Rams ranked atop the league in most defensive categories. This marked the first time the No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 scoring defense from the regular season matched up in the postseason since New England's defense stifled Atlanta's high-powered offense down the stretch in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017.
Yet this heavyweight matchup between the Packers' offense and the Rams' defense was more like a mismatch for much of the day.
Los Angeles had produced an NFL-leading 53 sacks during the regular season and produced five more at Seattle last week, but the Rams couldn't sack Aaron Rodgers a single time Saturday. Green Bay's pass rush produced the highlights instead, with the Packers sacking Jared Goff four times.
The Rams hadn't allowed a single run from scrimmage of over 27 yards all season. Green Bay's Aaron Jones burst through the middle for a 60-yard gain on the first play of the second half.
Los Angeles hadn't given up more than 390 total yards or 136 yards rushing all season. The Packers gained 484 yards overall and ran for 188.
''You have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play this game, one of the greatest receivers to play this game, a great running back in Aaron Jones,'' Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. ''They just use all their guys. They made the field super big. You have to defend every inch as far as laterally.''
The Rams also had some uncharacteristic mistakes on defense to help Green Bay out.
Green Bay's first touchdown drive included a personal foul on Donald, who grabbed left guard Elgton Jenkins' face mask as the two of them tangled after the whistle. Troy Hill couldn't hang onto a potential interception in the end zone that would have prevented the Packers from adding a field goal just before halftime.
Those errors proved costly on a day when the Rams had no margin for error.
''I feel like it was a perfect storm,'' Rams safety John Johnson said. ''Every week, you have a plan. You trust in it. You believe in it 100% by the time you get to Saturday or Sunday. And sometimes it just doesn't work out. We didn't execute to a high enough level that we needed to.''
The Rams needed a big day from their defense because their offense was missing injured receiver Cooper Kupp and left guard David Edwards. Goff went 21 of 27 for 174 yards and a touchdown less than three weeks after undergoing thumb surgery, while Cam Akers closed his productive rookie season by rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Los Angeles' defense did settle down enough to give the Rams a chance to tie it late. The Rams got the ball at their own 6-yard line trailing 25-18 early in the fourth quarter, but they couldn't move it beyond their 32 before punting.
The Rams forced a potential game-changing fumble by A.J. Dillon in Packers territory, but Rodgers recovered. Three plays later, Rodgers hit Allen Lazard for a clinching 58-yard touchdown with 6:52 left.
That touchdown made it clear the Rams' bid for a second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons would fall short. The disappointment was apparent from Donald's tearful reaction.
''I promise you with this injury, he'll be working out next week,'' Brockers said. ''I promise you he'll be doing something next week. But for him to just feel like he gave everything he had, and he almost felt like he was hindered a little bit with the injury and stuff like that.
''I've just got to talk to him and let him know, `Man, that's not on you. That's not on you. There's no reason why you have to feel that way, like you failed us or anything like that. You gave us everything you had. You are the reason why we're here.'''
Interview with a Champ
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones carried the ball 14 times for 99 yards with one touchdown and 14 receiving yards in the team's 32-18 win over the Rams in the NFC Divisional Round. Jones went up against a stingy Rams Defense and ran hard between the tackles. The free-agent-to-be cashed in with a one-yard run for a touchdown in the second half and averaged a robust 7.1 yards per carry. The Packers offense didn't miss a beat against the Rams and will be favorites at home next week in the NFC Championship. Jones will continue to handle the bulk of carries out of the backfield heading into the team's next matchup.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams carried the ball 12 times for 65 yards in the Packers 32-18 playoff victory over the Rams. Williams' opportunities expanded after some hard early runs picked up some substantial gains. Few question that teammate Aaron Jones is the lead runner in the Packers offense but Williams provides an intriguing change-of-pace to the attack. Jones is the preferable fantasy choice for the forthcoming NFC Championship Game. But fantasy teams could find excellent value in a player like Williams, who could easily steal a touchdown in the red zone next week.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught four passes for 33 yards in the team's 32-18 playoff victory over the Rams. Valdes-Scantling got involved in early, picking up some nice receptions as the Rams tried to contain star receiver Davante Adams. The offensive flow eventually moved away from Valdes-Scantling, however, as the game progressed. Valdes-Scantling saw a healthy eight targets in the game as Los Angeles tried all it could to divert the action away from Adams. Valdes-Scantling will be a touchdown-dependent tournament option, at best, next week in the NFC Championship Game,
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard caught four passes for a team-high 96 yards with one touchdown in the Packers 32-18 triumph over the Rams in the NFC Divisional Round. Lazard was targeted eight times in the game but finally exploded in the fourth quarter, catching a bomb from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and sprinting to the end zone for a 58-yard score. The Rams did all they could to take star receiver Davante Adams out of the offensive game plan but Rodgers hit big with his secondary receivers. Adams will continue to get the headlines but receivers like Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling will carry fantasy sleeper appeal in tournaments for the NFC Championship Game next week.
Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan caught four passes for 60 yards in the team's 32-18 win over the Rams in the NFC Divisional Round. Tonyan has been known this season for his ability to score touchdowns but contributed in other ways to help the Packers take down the Rams. The talented tight end was a safety valve for quarterback Aaron Rodgers in crucial situations and did a nice job picking up some extra yards after the catch. Tonyan led all tight ends this season with 11 touchdowns and should see a healthy amount of targets in the NFC Championship Game next week.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce should be in line for a top performance on Sunday's Divisional Round slate when the Chiefs take on the Cleveland Browns. The Browns allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends this season and Kelce last caught fewer than seven passes way back in Week 7. He's far-and-away the best tight end play on this slate and DFS players who stack Kelce with quarterback Patrick Mahomes could find themselves having a lot of success on Sunday.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 23-of-36 passes for 296 yards, two passing touchdowns and one rushing score in the Packers 32-18 win over the Rams in the NFC Divisional Round. Rodgers got his team off to a hot start early, connecting with star receiver Davante Adams in the first quarter for a one-yard touchdown. The veteran passer slyly maneuvered his way into the end zone for a rushing score and then put the nail in the coffin with a 58-yard strike to Allen Lazard to extend the score to its final 32-18 number. Rodgers has been arguably the best passer in the NFL this season and will be a top choice in tournament play for Championship Weekend.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams caught nine passes for 66 yards with one touchdown in the team's 32-18 victory over the Rams in the NFC Divisional Round. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers found Adams in a familiar place, the end zone, in the first quarter for a one-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead at the time. Adams was targeted 10 times in the game but did his damage in the intermediary passing game. Even in games when opponents focus intently on bottling up Adams, his connection with Rodgers in the red zone is undeniable. Adams will be a top choice among wide receivers next week in the NFC Championship Game.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the top fantasy quarterback option on Sunday's Divisional Round slate when he faces off against the Cleveland Browns. Of all the teams left in the playoffs, no one allows more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than Cleveland. Mahomes should have no trouble exploiting this Browns secondary, and while his high DFS salary might make it tough to build lineups with him, he's still by far the best play on the slate.
Kansas City Chiefs Tyreek Hill should be considered one of the top wide receivers on Sunday's Divisional Round slate, with the only issue being the salary cost of stacking him with his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. The Browns secondary has a lot of holes in it that a quick player like Hill can exploit. Hill caught 15 touchdowns this season and had just two games with under 50 yards. He's arguably the highest-upside wide receiver on Sunday's slate.
Buffalo Bills running T.J. Yeldon is active and will likely serve as the No. 2 back for the Bills in Saturday's Divisional Round against the Baltimore Ravens with Zack Moss (ankle) out. Devin Singletary will be the lead back and Yeldon's unlikely to see as much work as a healthy Moss would have, so he shouldn't be on your fantasy radar unless you really need a GPP punt play who won't be rostered much.
The New Orleans Saints activated wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith (ankle) from Injured Reserve and placed him on the active roster in time for the Divisional Round game against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Smith has not played since the Week 15 loss to the Chiefs, but he should be active for the third meeting with Tampa Bay this weekend. However, there's a good chance that the Saints limit his snaps in his first game back, but his presence won't be good news for Deonte Harris, who had an expanded role in the wild-card win over the Bears. The 25-year-old Smith should be avoided in most fantasy lineups this weekend after catching just 34 passes on 50 targets for 448 yards and four touchdowns in his 14 games (10 starts). He should be the No. 3 wideout behind Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
There is optimism within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will return for the 2021 season. Head coach Mike Tomlin welcomed the return of Roethlisberger earlier in the week. The Steelers are expected to promote quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator after parting ways with Randy Fichtner. Roethlisberger is on the books for $19 million in the final year of his contract, but he has a salary cap hit of $41 million. But after being with the organization for 17 years, there's a good chance that the two sides restructure his deal to alleviate cap concerns in order to retain some free agents. Big Ben threw for over 500 yards and four touchdowns in the wild-card loss to the Browns, but he also threw four interceptions in that game and declined drastically in the last quarter of the season and will be a health concern if he continues to play. Fantasy managers will consider him as a low-upside QB2 if he keeps playing.
The New Orleans Saints will likely see star quarterback Drew Brees retire after this season, and they would like to bring Jameis Winston back. The Saints hardly played Winston at all this year, even when Brees missed time with rib and lung injuries, but they liked what they saw from him in practices this year. Winston still has a strong arm and the skills that made him the No. 1 overall pick out of Florida State, but he'll need to prove that he can improve his decision-making process if he's to return in New Orleans and take over when Brees inevitably retires. The 27-year-old signed a one-year deal to learn behind Brees in 2020, but there's a chance that they bring him back if they aren't sold on Taysom Hill being the starter under center in the post-Brees world. If Winston re-signs and becomes the starter in 2021, he'll have QB1 upside and will likely come at the cost of a QB2.
The Baltimore Ravens are expected to explore a long-term contract extension for quarterback Lamar Jackson in the offseason. The Ravens are always open to early deals that make sense for both sides. The 2019 NFL MVP has one year left on his current deal and the Ravens will pick up his fifth-year option. Jackson still represents himself in contract negotiations, but perhaps he'll hire some representation to help him with his first big contract after his rookie deal. The 24-year-old wasn't as prolific as a passer or as a rusher in 2020, but his dual-threat ability under center still made him a high-end fantasy QB1. Jackson threw for just 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions this year, rushing the ball 159 times for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns. He's had back-to-back seasons with 1,000 rushing yards and will once again be a top-five QB in fantasy drafts this fall.
There remains uncertainty about the future of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, and whoever the team hires to be the next head coach will have some input on that front, but the Eagles are telling head-coaching candidates that they want to bring Wentz back in 2021. General manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie gave up a lot to draft Wentz at No. 2 overall in 2016, and they've given him a ton of influence in the draft, free agency and coaching decisions. But injuries have limited him to six playoff snaps in five years. After drafting rookie Jalen Hurts in the second round in 2020, Wentz had the worst season of his career and one of the worst declines for an under-30 starting QB in the last 70 years. The 28-year-old has struggled with accountability, rebuffed advice and clashed with former head coach Doug Pederson. "Every great quarterback wants to be coached and they want to be coached hard and by the best, and it doesn't seem like [Wentz] wants that," one source said. "It's kind of like whoever's coaching him is working for him. But it can't be that way." Injuries to the team's offensive line and receiving corps also didn't work in Wentz's favor in 2020. The front office remains committed to Wentz, at least because of his big contract, but there's no guarantee that he'll win the starting job if he sticks around heading into the 2021 season. Hurts wasn't perfect in his debut late in the year, but he certainly gave Philly's offense a spark that was missing when Wentz was on the field.
Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has emerged as a favorite to land the Los Angeles Chargers head-coaching job, according to league sources. He is one of nine candidates to have interviewed for the job. If the Bills lose their Divisional Round game against the Ravens on Saturday night, Daboll can meet with the Chargers whenever he wants and accept the job if it's offered to him. If Buffalo wins, the Chargers must wait. He's an offensive-minded coach and has learned from some of the best coaches in the game while helping quarterback Josh Allen improve. Daboll also went to high school with Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, and the two played on the same high school football team.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston, according to an explosive Sports Illustrated story from Greg Bishop and Jenny Vrentas that highlights some of the issues Houston has faced over the past year. It sounds like the team's decision to give Jack Easterby an increasingly large voice in the direction of the franchise as well as the team ignoring Watson's preference for the team's GM position has led to issues. There's still a long time to go before we know what's going to happen with this situation.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (ankle) is reportedly progressing well in rehab, with Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network saying the team thinks Prescott is "going to come back better than ever." While he doesn't have a long term deal with the Cowboys and could be a free agent in 2021, it makes sense for both sides to get a deal done. Prescott is a top-five fantasy quarterback when healthy and has arguably the top three-man receiving corps in the NFL.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (knee) is officially inactive for Saturday's playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. A huge loss for a team whose quarterback is already dealing with a thumb injury, we'll likely see Josh Reynolds step into Kupp's role. Reynolds now has some nice appeal as a DFS value play, but this is likely to be a very run-heavy game for the Rams, with Cam Akers being the real winner here.