The opening weekend of the 2021 NFL Playoffs provided a series of inspiring opening statements -- some came courtesy of postseason regulars, others via rising stars.
Whose contributions stood out the most in the first five games of Super Wild Card Weekend? Here's my rundown, Schein Nine style.
1) Josh Allen is a superstar
Josh Allen is John Elway meets Paul Bunyan meets Nolan Ryan meets Greg Maddux. What else can you say? The man just pitched a perfect game, braving sub-zero wind chills to surgically demolish Bill Belichick's Patriots with his rocket arm and rocket-fueled legs. This is mythical stuff! But it's also expected. Josh Allen is indeed that special.
How dominant was the Allen-led offensive performance in Buffalo's 47-17 beatdown of New England? Just take a quick glance at the Bills' drive chart:
That's what the Bills did on their first seven drives Saturday night. And on the eighth, they kneeled down three times to end the game. Buffalo did not punt, attempt a field goal or turn the ball over. How rare is that? Well, it's never happened in recorded NFL history. Good lord!
Allen, of course, was the engine who drove this historic shellacking. The 25-year-old signal-caller completed 21 of his 25 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. According to the good folks at NFL Research, Allen's completion percentage (84.0) and passer rating (157.6) are the highest ever recorded by a quarterback (min. 25 pass att.) in a game vs. Belichick as a head coach, playoffs or regular season. And if that wasn't enough, he also ran six times for 66 yards. Just an all-time performance to eliminate the big, bad, rival Patriots -- and that's key. The Bills have been my Super Bowl pick all season, and this kind of win gets the party started. After years of being tormented by Tom Brady's Patriots, the Bills are getting a turn to own the rivalry with their star quarterback. Allen had more touchdowns than incompletions -- against the greatest coach in NFL history. A piping-hot performance in the freezing cold.
2) Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes
Speaking of eye-opening blowouts ... Remember when the Steelers led 7-0? That was rich.
It took the Chiefs a quarter and a half to get going offensively, but Mahomes and friends eventually turned this Sunday nighter into the glorified scrimmage we all anticipated. In the end, Kansas City prevailed 42-21, leaving us angry at Brandon Staley all over again for calling that timeout and allowing the Steelers to sneak into the tournament.
Mahomes has looked mortal at times this season, but Sunday showed once again how devastatingly quick he can flip the switch. After scuffling through the first five drives of the game, Mahomes proceeded to throw five touchdown passes in 10:31 of game time. Head-spinning stuff. And just like that, the game was over.
This sets up a Divisional Round showdown between Mahomes' Chiefs and Allen's Bills. Can't. Freakin'. Wait!
3) Deebo Samuel is a certified freak
Deebo is such a versatile, dominant force of nature. He's a wild blend of power and speed. Kyle Shanahan is the mad scientist who puts Deebo in position to do his thing, and it's amazing to watch.
In Sunday's 23-17 win over the favored Cowboys, Samuel ran the ball 10 times for 72 yards and a touchdown, while catching three balls for an additional 38 yards. That's 110 yards on 13 touches, but it's the way he does it that's so damn captivating. Deebo looks like a men among boys -- and when those boys are the Dallas Cowboys, well, that's quite a thing to behold. And how about his vision on the 26-yard cutback touchdown run?
This is a special talent showcasing his abilities on the tournament stage. It's must-see TV.
4) Joe Burrow is the new Joe Cool
Burrow entered this postseason with a whole heap of hype, having piled up 971 passing yards and eight touchdowns (against zero picks) in his last two regular-season games. And in his first playoff game, the second-year passer was as advertised, guiding the Bengals to their first postseason win in 31 years.
Sure, you can nitpick the red-zone shortcomings. But I won't. Instead, I'm here to champion the 244 yards and two touchdowns. I'm here to marvel at the 70.6 completion rate and 110.4 passer rating in his postseason debut. But above all, I'm here to celebrate Burrow's undeniable "it" factor. He has every single tangible and intangible you want in a superstar QB. And his cool confidence is reminiscent of another Joe who accomplished a thing or two in the postseason, including ripping Cincinnati's heart out on the game's biggest stage. Ever heard of Joe Montana?
Here's the beauty: These upstart Bengals are just getting started. Burrow winning playoff games is going to be a regular occurrence going forward. In fact, don't be surprised when Burrow leads Cincy to an upset victory over the top-seeded Titans on Saturday.
5) Todd Bowles deserves another head-coaching job
Eagles-Buccaneers, which carried the biggest point spread of the three NFC affairs, was predictably coma-inducing. The final score of 31-15 doesn't do this game's lopsidedness justice, as Tampa Bay entered the fourth quarter with a 31-0 lead. These Eagles deserved credit for making the playoffs in Nick Sirianni's first year, but we all knew they weren't for real. After all, Philadelphia went 0-6 against playoff teams during the regular season.
BUT don't let that minimize the importance of the superior effort put forth by Bowles' defense. The Bucs pitched a shutout for three quarters. They forced three turnovers and held Philly to 6-for-17 on third/fourth down. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing during the regular season, having eclipsed 200 ground yards five times since Halloween. On Sunday, they couldn't even reach triple digits. Jalen Hurts just didn't have a chance against Bowles' unit. It felt like last year's defense, which fueled the Bucs on a wild-card run to the Lombardi Trophy. And given how depleted the defending champs are on offense right now, there's no overstating the significance here.
Just a stellar job by a fine coach who deserves another opportunity in the big chair. I'd love to see the well-respected Bowles get a second crack at being an NFL head coach. And this time, unlike in New York, can we give the man a quarterback?
6) DeMeco Ryans is a rising coaching star
I've long admired Ryans, the former AP Defensive Rookie of the Year who just received my AP vote for Assistant Coach of the Year. I love hearing his name come up in head-coaching searches. It's earned. And I have to imagine the first-year coordinator will be a head man in the near future. Just look at what his defense did in Sunday's road win at Dallas.
Facing the NFL's top-ranked scoring and total offense, the 49ers lost Pro Bowl pass rusher Nick Bosa in the first half. Stud linebacker Fred Warner tweaked his ankle in the second half. And yet, San Francisco limited Dallas to 17 points and 307 yards, both well below the Cowboys' season averages. Ryans' defense rocked, rolled, made key plays and survived the insanity at the end. Dak Prescott was spooked. CeeDee Lamb was invisible. And on a crucial fourth-and-11 with under two minutes remaining, Ryans sent an all-out blitz that forced Prescott to miss an open Cedrick Wilson downfield. That's a DeMeco Ryans special.
7) Devin Singletary provides championship balance
Josh Allen gets all the accolades, and deservedly so. But I thought Singletary was huge with 16 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns. That kind of RB production is extremely inspiring for the big picture in Buffalo. In bad losses during the regular season, the Bills lacked balance. But while Buffalo was destroying teams down the stretch, Singletary was playing the best ball of his three-year career, adding sizzle while taking some of the load off the one-man offense that is Allen.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is very good at his job. His development of Allen has been fantastic. And now he's boosting the gifted quarterback even more by establishing a true complementary threat in the backfield. During the Bills' current five-game winning streak, Singletary has racked up 404 yards rushing and eight total touchdowns. This is a Super Bowl-winning development.
8) Jerick McKinnon is a revelation
This is why noted run-game maven Kyle Shanahan tossed him that nice chunk of change all those years ago, before injuries obliterated his San Francisco tenure. When healthy, McKinnon is a versatile weapon in the backfield. With Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder) inactive and Darrel Williams (toe) limited, the veteran filled up the box score: 12 rushes for 61 yards; six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
What a big jolt -- and a huge deal going forward. McKinnon had 169 scrimmage yards and one touchdown during the entire regular season. On Sunday alone, he notched 142 scrimmage yards and a score. If he can provide steady backfield production for this Kansas City offense, Andy Reid's really cooking with gas.
9) Micah Hyde is a game changer
Did any Bill make a bigger play on Saturday night than Hyde? Sure, as mentioned above, Buffalo blew New England off the field. But Hyde, a criminally underrated safety who was just snubbed from the Pro Bowl (again), set the tone with an extraordinary play to end the Patriots' first possession.
After Buffalo took a 7-0 lead, New England drove the ball right back down the field into Buffalo territory. One first-and-10 from the Bills' 34-yard line, Pats QB Mac Jones uncorked a majestic downfield throw to Nelson Agholor, who had cooked CB Levi Wallace on a double move. It looked like a sure touchdown pass that would've tied the game at 7-7. But Hyde flew across the field, seemingly coming out of nowhere to make an insane, diving, over-the-shoulder interception. It was savvy, stunning and stupendous -- a brilliant display of athleticism and an early turning point in a game that wound up being a Bills party.