With an expanded 17-game and 18-week season, the National Football League’s 2021-22 pigskin campaign only became really interesting in the last few weeks as teams raced to secure playoff berths of stumble out of postseason competition altogether.
The NFL’s best game, in fact, was its last regular season matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders, longtime rivals though now located in different cities from their storied past.
The Chargers, who used to call San Diego home from 1961-2016, rallied from a 15-point deficit on the arm of sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert (University of Oregon) to tie their archrival in dramatic fashion on the final play of regulation as Herbert (383 yards, three touchdowns) passed 12 yards to Mike Williams as time expired.
The game went into overtime, with a caveat for both teams. If the game ended in a tie, both teams would qualify for the playoffs, eliminating the Pittsburgh Steelers (who had won in overtime earlier in the day) from postseason play.
Both teams converted clutch field goals to keep the game going.
It looked like the Raiders were content to let the clock run out to allow both teams to make the playoffs until Chargers coach Brandon Staley called a timeout with 38 seconds remaining. Given time to think about their next play, and time to run another play, the Raiders handed off the ball to running back Josh Jacobs (132 rushing yards one touchdown), who gained 10 yards to put the hosts in field goal position.
And that’s how the game ended: Daniel Carlsson split the uprights from 47 yards out on his fifth field goal of the game to give the Raiders a 35-32 victory and a playoff berth.
The Chargers (9-8) went home with nothing but dropped jaws in disbelief. It was an absolutely surreal ending.
It was a crazy season for certain, and it looks to continue through the playoffs.
Super Wild Card weekend included six games – two on Saturday, three on Sunday and one Monday night on all four major TV networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox). Seven teams from each conference qualified.
Four games were blowouts:
The No. 3-seeded Buffalo Bills won, 47-17, over the sixth-seeded New England Patriots while the second-seeded Kansas City Chiefs won, 42-21, over seventh-seeded Pittsburgh in the AFC bracket.
No. 2-seeded and defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers won, 31-15, over the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams blew out the division rival Arizona Cardinals, 34-11, in the NFC bracket.
Two games ended with a touchdown difference – No. 4-seeded Cincinnati won, 26-19, over the fifth-seeded Raiders in the AFC bracket and No. 6-seeded San Francisco claimed a 23-17 upset win over the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys on the NFC side.
The Raiders had a chance to take the Bengals into overtime after rallying from a 26-16 deficit late in the game. After kicking a field goal to narrow the score to seven points, Las Vegas got the ball back for one last drive. Quarterback Derek Carr moved the Raiders to the Cincinnati nine-yard line before throwing a game-ending interception with 12 seconds left to end a 31-year playoff drought for the Bengals.
Exciting stuff, even if you are a Raiders-hater. (Some Chargers fans still do exist in America’s finest city despite the team’s departure.)
One upset and two close games in the opening six postseason games bode well for a dramatic conclusion to the rest of the playoffs and Super Bowl LVI, which will be played Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium, home of the Rams and (ahem) Chargers.
In divisional games this weekend, four teams remain in championship contention on both sides of the Super Bowl bracket.
The NFC North champion Green Bay Packers (13-4), top-seeded in the NFC bracket, will host the 49ers (11-7) while the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans (12-5), the top-seeded team in the AFC bracket, will host the Bengals (11-7). Both games are on Saturday.
In games on Sunday, the AFC West champion Chiefs (13-5) will host AFC East champion Bills (12-6) in a marquee matchup of high-powered offenses while the NFC South champion Bucs (14-4) will host the Rams (13-5) to close out the NFC bracket.
The Chiefs-Bills tilt is a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game.
Reserve a seat at your favorite watering hole if you decide to go out to watch the games or key up an online menu to order in from your favorite eatery.
The Bills scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions, a feat never accomplished before in the playoffs in the Super Bowl era. Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen finished the game with 308 yards and five touchdowns as the Bills racked up 482 offensive yards in a game played with the temperature hovering at five degrees at kickoff with a minus-8 degree wind-chill.
Kansas City signal-caller Patrick Mahomes overcame a slow start to lead the Chiefs to their blowout win by passing for 404 yards and five touchdowns.
The Packers and Titans will hold home field advantage as long as they remain alive in the playoffs. How long that is remains to be seen as one thing the 2021-22 NFL season did showcase was relative parity.
The conference championships are scheduled Jan. 30. The AFC-NFC Pro Bowl follows on Feb. 6 as a prelude to Super Sunday the following weekend.
Despite the Chargers’ exodus from America’s Finest City, the region continues to produce impact players at the elite level.
Mount Miguel alumnus Cory Littleton closed out his second season with the Raiders (10-8) and sixth overall as a pro in Saturday’s playoff loss in Las Vegas.
Middleton, who advanced to Super Bowl LIII (2019) with the Rams, played in 17 games for the Raiders this season, starting 13 for the Silver and Black, with 98 tackles, one fumble recovery, two tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits.
In 95 career games, the University of Washington alumnus has logged 495 tackles, six interceptions, five fumble recoveries and 26 tackles for a loss.
He had five tackles in the playoff loss to the Bengals.
San Marcos High School alumnus Terrell Burgess is representing the Rams in this year’s NFL playoffs along with former Charger fan favorite Eric Weddle. Burgess was credited with five tackles in Monday’s 34-11 win over Arizona while Weddle came out of retirement to sign with Los Angeles on Jan. 12.
Another former Bolt, Adrian Phillips, played for New England in Saturday’s loss to the Bills, making six tackles while former SDSU Aztec Damontae Kazee closed out his fifth pro season and first with the Cowboys with eight tackles in the loss to the 49ers.
Weddle and Burgess are the only survivors to the divisional round.
Chula Vista contributed two players to NFL rosters in 2021-22: defensive back Tony Jefferson (Eastlake) with the Baltimore Ravens and place-kicker Jason Myers (Mater Dei Catholic) with the Seattle Seahawks.
Both the Ravens (8-9) and Seahawks (7-10) failed to qualify for this year’s NFL playoffs. The Ravens appeared to be on the AFC’s top teams in the early part of the season before injuries and COVID issues vanquished the team’s playoff hopes.
The final 16-13 overtime loss to the visiting Steelers was the coffin-nailer.
The Seahawks were a disappointment from the start, finishing last in the NFC West standings.
Jefferson played seven seasons for the Cardinals and Ravens before being released by Baltimore. He sat out the 2020 season as a free agent before appearing in two games this season with the 49ers before being released.
He returned to Baltimore toward the end of this season, playing in six games between the 49ers and Ravens with 18 tackles and one sack.
He had four tackles in the OT loss to the Steelers.
Myers, who was selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl, has set numerous franchise records since rejoining Seattle for the 2019 season, notching 35 consecutive field goals, including a noteworthy 61-yarder.
He’s appeared in 103 career NFL games with 161 field goals made out of 190 attempts (84.7 percent), 239 out of 265 extra-point conversions (90.2 percent) and a 62.4-yard average on 343 kickoffs.
His numbers this season included 17 of 23 field goals made (73.9 percent) and 44 of 47 extra-point conversions (93.6 percent).
SDSU had 13 players rostered this season in the NFL, including 10 active players and three on practice squads.
Joining Kazee on active rosters were long snapper Aaron Brewer (Cardinals), cornerback Darren Hall (Atlanta Falcons), offensive guard Jacob Capra (Bills), tight end Kahale Warring (Jacksonville Jaguars), linebacker Calvin Munson (Miami Dolphins), fullback Nick Bawden (N.Y. Jets), running back Rashaad Penny (Seattle), offensive tackle Daniel Brunskill (49ers) and center Keith Ismael (Washington).
Tight end David Wells (Cardinals) and defensive end Alex Barrett (49ers) were on practice squads while cornerback Luq Barcoo (Castle Park) is on the 49ers reserve squad with a non-football injury.
Barcoo has had NFL experience with Jacksonville, Arizona and San Francisco since 2020.