Yesterday's games were the first exciting and close games of the NFL playoffs. The Packers, Cowboys, Chiefs and Steelers all had strong showings and proved they were deserving of making it far in the playoffs, but two teams barely came out on top thanks to the work of their kickers and a few clutch plays.

The Packers played the Cowboys in Dallas for the first game yesterday, a game with no clear expected winner. Aaron Rogers and Dak Prescott are arguably the two best quarterbacks in the NFC with their distinct talents and playing style. The highly anticipated game exceeded all expectations in a nail-biting finish. 

Rogers led his team to an early 21-3 lead in the second quarter, making the game seem like another blowout, but Dallas fought back hard and tied the game at 28 with 4:08 left in the fourth quarter. The last two minutes of the game resulted in three scores and Aaron Rogers's first interception in 318 passes. With 1:38 remaining, Mason Crosby hit a 56 yard field goal to take a 31-28 lead, but the Cowboys answered with a 52 yard-er to tie the game. 

With 35 seconds remaining, the ball was in Aaron Roger's hand. It was a situation in which he thrives because he is arguably the best quarterback when it comes to Hail Mary passes and game winning drives. It was third and 25 with a long ways to go until field goal range, but Rogers connected with TE Jared Cook, who made an unbelievable catch, setting up the game-winning 51 yard field goal that was barely good.

The last two minutes between Green Bay Kicker Mason Crosby and Dallas Kicker Dan Bailey showed great composure by both players and both teams played all around very strong games; Green Bay simply made one more play than Dallas to win the game 34-31. 

When asked about his reaction to Crosby and Cook's performances, Rogers said "unbelievable."

A few hours later, the Steelers and the Chiefs faced off in Kansas City. Two of the hottest teams in the AFC have had very similar results all season with strong quarterbacks, major offensive weapons and defenses who have finally found their rhythm. 

Kansas City jumped out to an early 7-3 lead, which resolved to a 12-7 Pittsburgh lead at the half thanks to four first half field goals by Pittsburgh Kicker Chris Boswell.

The second half was similar as the first for the Steelers with two more Boswell field goals. He broke the record for more field goals made in a playoff game with six and scored all 18 of Pittsburgh's points. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not have a strong performance finishing 20 of 31 for 224 yards and an interception, but neither did Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who finished 20 of 34 for 172 yards and a touchdown. Both quarterbacks struggled to hit major targets such as Antonio Brown and Jeremy Maclin. Le'Veon Bell was an offensive threat who kept the Steelers in the game by rushing 30 times for 170 yards.

A major winning factor for the Steelers was their defense. All season long, they have struggled to work as a unit, especially their secondary, but now their strong, fast and young defense led by James Harrison, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree and Mike Mitchell has finally begun to perform at the right time. 

The Chiefs, like the Steelers, are known for their offensive weapons. Spencer Ware and Tyreek Hill are two of the best running backs in the league, but were held to a combined 53 yards and one touchdown last night. Jeremy Maclin is one of the most effective receivers in the league and was shut down by cornerback Ross Cockrell, finishing with only two receptions for 28 yards. Finally, Travis Kelce, the best active Tight End in the league, was held to 77 yards, which is impressive considering this is the best season of his career. 

In the end of the game, the Chiefs were able to score a touchdown and only needed to score the two point conversion to tie the game with a little over two minutes remaining. Due to a detrimental holding call on the two point conversion, they failed to convert and Pittsburgh got the ball while up two and only needed one first down to secure the win. A completed pass to Antonio Brown came at the exact right time to get the first down and win the game for the Steelers 18-16.

 

After the game, Head Coach Mike Tomlin praised Boswell's performance especially. “He’s the same every day regardless of circumstances,” coach Tomlin said. “We’re not surprised when he performs well.”

Impressive kickers, strong defenses, clutch quarterbacks, and underdog victories were the stories of yesterday as both the Steelers and Packers advance to the Conference Championships to face off against the Patriots and Falcons next week.

Published by Lia Assimakopoulos