A lot of Cam Akers churning yards on the ground and mostly a great Rams defence has Los Angeles moving on in the NFC playoffs at the expense of division-foe Seattle.
Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, Darious Williams returned Russell Wilson’s interception 42 yards for a score, and the Rams beat the Seahawks 30-20 in the NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday.
The best defence in the league during the regular season carried its dominance into the playoffs — even while missing unanimous All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald for much of the second half. No team was better at limiting yards or points than the Rams (11-6) and they continued to torment Wilson and the Seahawks (12-5).
Seattle’s quarterback was under a siege from the defensive front and a secondary that minus one play never let DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett break loose. Donald, before leaving with a rib injury, and Jalen Ramsey were superb. But so were other role players such as Troy Reeder, Jordan Fuller and Leonard Floyd.
Floyd had two of the Rams’ five sacks. Two of the others belonged to Donald. The Rams allowed just 278 total yards and 11 first downs.
It added up to sending the Rams into next week’s divisional playoff round, likely at top-seeded Green Bay unless Chicago upsets New Orleans.
Williams’ interception was his third of the season against Wilson after picking him off twice in Los Angeles in November. He jumped a wide receiver screen intended for Metcalf and returned it untouched to give the Rams a 13-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
We <a href=”https://twitter.com/RamsNFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@RamsNFL</a> gone party like it’s 2004! Shhhhhh <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/12s?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#12s</a>
Akers added a 5-yard TD run just before halftime for a 20-10 lead. It proved enough with a Seattle offence that was disjointed and confused nearly from the start.
Wilson had one of his worst playoff performances. He was 11 of 27 for 174 yards. Wilson connected with Metcalf on a pair of TDs: 51 yards in the first half off a broken play, and a 12-yard TD with 2:28 left to make the score more respectable.
Seattle never played with the lead and was 2 of 14 on third downs. It’s first home playoff game in four years was a dud without its raucous home crowd, and the Seahawks saw their 10-game home playoff win streak snapped.
Their last home playoff loss came in January 2005 to the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams pulled off the upset without a healthy quarterback for more the three quarters of the game. John Wolford started for the second straight week but suffered a neck injury when he dived head first in the first quarter and was hit in the helmet by Jamal Adams’ shoulder. Wolford was taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
Jared Goff threw for 155 yards, the most by any player off the bench in a playoff win since Jay Fielder’s 172 for the Jaguars in their 62-7 win over the Dolphins in the 1999 Divisional Round.<br><br>That game was Dan Marino’s last career game. <a href=”https://t.co/HQXduTlCaL”>pic.twitter.com/HQXduTlCaL</a>
Jared Goff took over less than two weeks after undergoing surgery on his right thumb; he was injured in the Week 16 loss to Seattle. Goff didn’t do anything spectacular but also avoided major mistakes.
Goff was 9 of 19 for 155 yards. He capped the victory with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods with 4:46 left after Seattle’s D.J. Reed fumbled a punt.
Akers, the Rams’ rookie ball carrier, was outstanding after not playing two weeks ago. Akers had the best rushing day by a Rams running back since Marshall Faulk went for 159 against Philadelphia in January 2002.
The Rams finished with 164 yards rushing.
Bills defeat Colts
Quarterback Josh Allen and safety Micah Hyde teamed up to make the Buffalo Bills’ losing past history.
Now do you Bill-ieve?
In a season in which the Bills busted numerous slumps, Allen became Buffalo’s first starter in a quarter century to win a playoff game. And Hyde ensured the Bills wouldn’t endure another second-half collapse as happened last year in a wild-card loss to Houston, or last-second touchdown.
With Buffalo the AFC East champions for the first time since 1995 and hosting their first playoff game since ’96, Allen threw two touchdown passes and scored another rushing in leading the Bills to a 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts in a wild-card game Saturday.
Hyde batted down Philip Rivers’ desperation pass as time ran out in helping Buffalo snap an 0-6 post-season skid by winning its first playoff game since a 37-22 win over Miami on Dec. 30, 1995.
The past was very much present in Allen’s mind when reflecting on how Buffalo squandered a 16-0 third-quarter lead in a 22-19 overtime loss to Houston in his first career playoff appearance.
Hyde’s pass defence eased memories of the Bills giving up DeAndre Hopkins’ leaping 43-yard touchdown catch in the final seconds of a 32-30 loss at Arizona on Nov. 15. Buffalo has won seven straight since for its longest winning streak since 1990.
And the win came with a limited number of 6,700 fans in attendance for the first time this season.
Allen finished 26 of 35 for 324 yards with a 5-yard touchdown to Dawson Knox and a 35-yarder to Stefon Diggs, which led to the fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” to celebrate the first Buffalo player to lead the NFL in catches and yards receiving.
That Allen to Diggs connection. 👌<br><br>📺 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/INDvsBUF?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#INDvsBUF</a>: <a href=”https://t.co/ca2pAxAtPb”>https://t.co/ca2pAxAtPb</a> <a href=”https://t.co/ppLx2vY5VI”>pic.twitter.com/ppLx2vY5VI</a>
The Colts (11-6) ended a season in which they won 11 games for the first time since 2014, and reached the playoffs for the second time in three years under Frank Reich.
Rivers finished 27 of 46 for 309 yards and had his career playoff record drop to 5-7 in completing his first — and potentially last — season with the Colts as he ponders retirement.
The game wasn’t decided until the final play, when Rivers faced fourth-and-11 from Buffalo’s 47. Rivers heaved a deep pass for T.Y. Hilton, who was surrounded by defenders in the right side of the end zone. Hyde broke through the crowd of bodies, leaping up and batting the ball to the ground.
Rookie kicker Tyler Bass accounted for the decisive points by hitting a 54-yard field goal to put Buffalo up 27-16 with 8:08 remaining.
The Colts responded with a seven-play, 75-play drive capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Pascal. After Bass upped Buffalo’s lead to 27-16, the Colts scored less than two-minutes later. Rivers hit a wide-open Jack Doyle for a 27-yard touchdown and Doyle caught a 2-point conversion.
The Bills, however, didn’t make it easy. with Allen nearly losing a fumble at midfield when sacked for a 23-yard loss by Denico Autry on first down from the Indianapolis 37. Offensive lineman Daryl Williams, however, recovered, forcing the Bills to punt with 2:30 remaining.
The Colts were limited to a touchdown and field goal in the first half after having all five drives cross midfield and enjoying a nine-plus minute edge in time of possession.
The turning point came when the Colts, up 10-7, were unable to score on four snaps inside Buffalo’s 4. Rivers’ pass for Michael Pittman glanced off the diving receiver’s fingertips on fourth down.
Buffalo responded with a 10-play, 96-yard drive capped by Allen’s 5-yard keeper with 14 seconds left in the half.
A Colts miscue also helped extend the drive. Facing fourth-and-3 from the Colts 26, Allen drew defensive end Kemoko Turay offside with a second left on the play clock.
Tuesday night’s win showcased how good Jesperi Kotkaniemi can be – Habs Eyes on the Prize
When you’re in the middle of a five-game losing streak, just fired the head coach and associate coach (then, oddly, the goaltending coach), you need a win of any kind to right a careening ship. It looked like the Montreal Canadiens might win on Saturday, but a poor overtime decision washed that away. On Tuesday Montreal got the victory. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a win.
It was dominant in terms of possession metrics, where Montreal doubled up Ottawa’s scoring chances at five-on-five en route to the 3-1 victory. What stood out the most is that even with a lead, or when the Senators drew back within a goal, the Canadiens never strayed for their new playing style.
Montreal stayed aggressive on pucks, hounding defenders with a relentless forecheck that Ottawa had no answers for. Every time a Hab was on the puck, they were supported by at least one other red sweater, giving the attack ample chances to start out of the defensive zone.
Montreal Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi: “I like [the new system] a lot… I think it’s pretty similar to what we did in Laval last year. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with a lot of things already” #GoHabsGo #THW
— Ryan Szporer (@rszporer) March 3, 2021
Anyone who has followed the AHL team even in passing should recognize Ducharme’s offensive attack as very similar to that of Joël Bouchard’s in Laval. Jesperi Kotkaniemi spent just a dozen games with Bouchard and thrived, so to see his confidence growing inside a similar system isn’t surprising.
Kotkaniemi finished the night with one assist, a 72% Corsi-for percentage, and saw 10 scoring chances, while allowing just two against in his minutes. He looked easily the best he has all year, and if he’s already adapted to the new system under Ducharme, it’s not hard to believe he’s going to continue to get better. It’s no secret that Kotkaniemi sometimes struggled to adjust to Claude Julien’s defence-first mentality, showing brief glimpses of what his potential can be.
With a few games like this under his belt in the last two weeks, and a crucial swing in Western Canada coming up, the time is right for a Kotkaniemi breakout. He battled hard against a Senators team that doesn’t break against Montreal and came out on top. With more games like the one on Tuesday, he is going to be knocking on the door for a much larger role soon.
Canadiens vs. Senators recap: Habs get back on track in convincing fashion – Habs Eyes on the Prize
The Dominique Ducharme era hasn’t started the way many could have hoped for the Montreal Canadiens. Though the on-ice product did show improvement over their two games against the Winnipeg Jets, they left Manitoba with just one point out of a possible four. There were encouraging signs therein, but clearly still a lot of work to do in order to get where they want to be.
The team’s home record has been particularly problematic, so they took to Bell Centre ice for the first time against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday looking to reverse that trend and get their new coach his first win.
Another problematic aspect of these Habs has been their constant parade to the box. It didn’t take long for that problem to rear it’s ugly head, as Joel Armia would sit four minutes for a high stick. Ottawa had some quality chances early, but the Canadiens ultimately succeeded in killing the entire double-minor.
Outside of that, the first period was all Montreal. They were clearly the better team at five-on-five, and could have had at least a few on the board if not for some stellar goaltending from Joey Daccord. A scoreless frame, but an encouraging start for the Tricolore.
In the second period, Montreal would eventually get their own power play chance, and they would make the best of it. Very early in the minor penalty, Brendan Gallagher would find himself nearly alone out front, and scored despite being high-sticked in the process.
As a bonus for his efforts, Gallagher drew a double-minor against Erik Gudbranson, so the Habs were right back on the power play. The first half of that minor didn’t pay off, but in the second, Jeff Petry walked in from the right point and fired a perfect shot off the post and in to make it 2-0.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Habs game without their customary puck-over-the-glass penalty, which they took almost immediately after the Petry goal. Once more, they were able to execute a solid kill, and keep the score 2-0.
Also, a Habs versus Sens game must usually have a little ugliness. Austin Watson took a healthy run straight at the back of Jonathan Drouin in open ice, and the latter had to head off looking worse for wear. No call was made on the play, and though he left briefly, Drouin would end up finishing the game and looking healthy in the process.
Not long after the missed call, the Sens would reduce the deficit. After a weird play involving several incidental collisions, Artyom Zub found himself with more space than he could hope for, and walked in to beat Price and make it 2-1. And so we had ourselves a game heading into the third.
But the Canadiens kept convincing control of the game despite the late second-period goal. They controlled possession, limited Ottawa’s chances, and most importantly stayed out of the box. Though the penalty kill had been quite good on the night, they could scarcely afford to give the Senators an opportunity to get back in a g
Ottawa would eventually pull Daccord for the extra skater, but Tyler Toffoli was sent in alone on the empty net, and Montreal rewarded Dominique Ducharme with his first win in convincing fashion.
- In my opinion, Austin Watson should be suspended for his hit on Jonathan Drouin. It was a hit squarely to the numbers of a stationary player. Charging, and hitting from behind all in one. Of course, the department of player safety will likely rule it a hockey play because that’s about all they ever do. Hopefully Drouin has no lingering effects, as he did look good finishing the game afterwards.
- If the Habs could clone Artturi Lehkonen seven times, he would solve their penalty kill issues permanently. The hustle that he displays on the kill is impressive, and he had a major hand in disrupting anything the Senators tried to do when they had their chances. If the rest of the killers can take queues from him, they’ll keep being better on that front.
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi was unbelievable. He clocked in with an assist, at 72.00% Corsi-for at even strength, and he was a perpetual thorn in the Senators sides. When he’s on top of his game he’s not only hard to separate from the puck, he’s voracious in his efforts to take it from the opposition. He was at the top of his game last night, and it’s a great game for him to build off moving forwards.
- Speaking of players who will look to build from last night’s game… Carey Price has struggled of late, but he was relatively solid against Ottawa. I think he’d probably like a second crack at the Zub goal, though it wasn’t a glaringly bad one to let in. It was surprising to see him have some puck-handling issues, but overall a solid performance and hopefully a sign of things to come.
- Overall, you have to be encouraged with this showing. They dominated at 5-on-5, and though they ran into an impressive goaltender, their power play was able to pick up the slack. More often than not, a performance like that will get you the even-strength goals as well, so no need to change much heading into Thursday against the Jets.
Jets answer Maurice’s challenge with complete effort vs. Canucks – Sportsnet.ca
WINNIPEG — The offensive well was running a bit dry.
Going six periods without a five-on-five goal is certainly going to catch the attention of most head coaches and Paul Maurice was no different.
After the Winnipeg Jets bench boss saw his team get blanked 4-0 by the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, Maurice made a notable admission about some bad habits creeping in and a plea to his players to simplify things in the offensive zone.
No, Maurice wasn’t asking his skilled players to abandon their creativity entirely, nor was he asking this group to adopt a shoot-from-anywhere mentality just to generate a few additional clicks on the shot clock.
But when a good scoring chance presents itself, don’t necessarily look for the perfect play or the seam pass for the backdoor tap-in.
The message was not a complicated one: be more direct.
It took just over five minutes for the approach to be rewarded and by the time the final buzzer sounded, the Jets had earned a decisive 5-2 victory over the Canucks in what was one of the most complete efforts they’d put forth this season.
Not only did the Jets improve to 14-7-1 to move into sole possession of second place in the North Division, but they’re also now 6-0-1 when coming off a loss and have yet to drop consecutive games in regulation time through 22 games.
“Short-term memory,” said Jets forward Paul Stastny. “A lot of times, you’re playing the same team again, so you want to get the edge early on. But more than anything, it’s just been the mindset that we’ve had from the start with Paul (Maurice) is all about if you can try to get a winning streak, do it. But as important as that is, getting off a losing streak as quick as possible is important too.”
The premise of not wanting to drop consecutive games is standard fare, but the ability to actually achieve that common goal is much more difficult.
This game represents another example of the Jets’ steely resolve — and a glimpse of the template they’re trying to employ on a regular basis.
Getting the offensive engine fired up again after getting shut out for the first time this season was important, but the Jets were also stingy defensively and paid close attention to the details.
They used their speed to be disruptive on the forecheck, they got a power-play goal and another technically-sound performance from backup goalie Laurent Brossoit, who made 30 saves to improve to 4-1 this season.
“I don’t want to get too confident, too cocky,” said Brossoit, who raised his save percentage to .936 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.19. “It’s the best league in the world and there’s great players out there, so I like to keep myself pretty grounded and realistic. I just prepare as best I can and hope that my best is better than anyone else in the league.”
Brossoit’s best to this point has been downright sensational.
There is no need to be on high alert when the Jets turn to the No. 2 man on the depth chart, his teammates realize they can count on him.
“This year, every time (Brossoit) got in net, he got the job done for us,” said Jets winger Mathieu Perreault. “He’s been rock solid. And the same with (Connor Hellebuyck). This is a key for every team that wants to contend for a Stanley Cup. You’ve got to have a goalie that makes the save, and we are lucky to have two of them that can do that.”
After being held off the scoresheet in consecutive games for the first time this season, Jets centre Mark Scheifele chipped in three assists.
Scheifele, who was on the receiving end of a big check from Alex Edler in the first period on Tuesday, has collected at least a point in 18 of 22 games this season and has recorded three points on four occasions as he increased his totals to 11 goals and 31 points.
The newly-formed top line of Scheifele between Blake Wheeler (an empty-net goal and two assists) and Stastny (an insurance goal) had a strong night, but the complementary players were also right in the middle of the action.
Aside from Perreault’s important contribution, Mason Appleton established a career-high with his sixth goal of the season to get the Jets on the board.
Not only has Appleton been able to solidify his spot on the Jets’ checking line, but he’s also blossoming as a penalty killer and showing off the offensive flair that was on display when he put up 66 points as a rookie pro with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
“You go into every season, you always want more,” said Appleton. “I’m still a young player in this league. I’m playing more minutes and that gives me more confidence and lets my game evolve.
“You don’t just get bigger, faster, stronger overnight. It’s a product of years and a product of opportunity. I’ve really liked my development path and I’m going to keep my foot on the gas and keep trying to get better every single day.”
Appleton is a shining example for some of the young guys in the Jets’ system who are currently having trouble getting into the lineup or are currently down in the minors.
“He’s really developed into accepting a style of play that he can excel at,” said Maurice. “So, it’s different than Nikolaj Ehlers or Kyle Connor. It’s a different style of game. Killing penalties, playing with Adam (Lowry), they play against the other team’s best an awful lot. And there’s offence there, it’s just going to look different. It’s going to be a different style.
“(Tuesday) was a perfect example. Drive the net twice, once for a goal, once for a drawn penalty that leads to a goal. That’s real offence. That’s not a less-skilled offensive game. As a matter of fact, as the games become, as you move close and closer to the playoffs and into the playoffs, that’s the style of game that’s played and he should be able to excel in that.”
When asked about the contributions of Appleton and Perreault, Brossoit’s face lit up and he was bursting with pride.
“I see those guys practice hard, I see those guys preparing for the game,” said Brossoit. “(With) how little ice time they get and to still be effective is something I can relate to. And seeing guys like that playing so well lately, it’s great to see.”
With 12 of the next 14 games on the road and 17 games in 31 days during the month of March, the Jets are staring at the most difficult portion of the schedule.
This survival-of-the-fittest stretch continues with a five-game road trip that begins with two games against the Montreal Canadiens (beginning Thursday) and a three-game series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Can the Jets (who have won five of the past six games) keep it up and possibly start closing the gap for top spot between themselves and the Maple Leafs?
It won’t take long to find out.
At a time when it seems like several North Division teams are frequently dealing with a potential crisis, the Jets feel like they’re just starting to get into a groove.
“Every time you put points in the standings and you see the name of your team moving on up, it’s a good feeling,” said Perreault. “This is the feeling that we want to keep around this locker room. It’s nice to be sitting there right now (in second place) and going on the road, hopefully we can keep going up.”
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