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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 23 May, 2018
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Getting to grips with Buffalo Right Seven Heaven and the NFL's Divisional Round

Football fans were the real winners but sleep was a big loser.

Diggs bows to the crowd after his walk-off touchdown.
Diggs bows to the crowd after his walk-off touchdown.
Image: Jeff Wheeler/PA Images

“SHITE, ANOTHER REWRITE.”

That was my second thought after Case Keenum received the shotgun snap from center Pat Elflein, took a five step drop to his own 28 yard line and heaved what initially looked like an aimless ball in the direction of the right touchline with 10 seconds remaining.

His receiver, Stefon Diggs, was in double coverage past the Fox Sports superimposed field goal line so, even if he caught it, the Saints had two players in the vicinity to stop him going out of bounds.

But then Marcus Williams did something unthinkable.

With no reason to do anything other than stand Diggs up, the rookie safety went for the Hollywood hit on the Vikings receiver, trying to put his name in lights.

That, at least, he achieved but not for the reasons he would have hoped as he dived under Diggs and took out the only other Saints player with a chance to make a play, Ken Crawley, and both could only watch on helplessly as Diggs landed, turned and gave us the Minneapolis Miracle.

The score would mean another rewrite, a fifth in the final two minutes of a game where the lead changed hands four times. To be fair, it was a rewrite of just the first three paragraphs, not the whole thing, but it ruined my “Saints go marching on” headline all the same.

It was the perfect score to encapsulate a weekend — Titans @ Patriots aside — of brilliant NFL action, with each game compelling in its own right.

It started with the Falcons at the Eagles on Saturday, as the defending NFC champions play-called themselves out of a chance to repeat that success.

The issues were there all game, but the final series was a damning indictment of how coordinator Steve Sarkisian has turned one of the most exciting and dynamic offences in football into one that couldn’t get the job done from nine yards out with under two minutes to play.

On first down, despite Matt Ryan connecting just once in 16 attempts at passing to Julio Jones in the end zone all season beforehand, the Falcons’ quarterback threw a fade to their stud wide receiver. Of the 21 types of route a receiver can run, the fade has the second lowest completion percentage at 33%.

On second, Ryan attempted an underhand pass to third-string running back Terron Ward who hasn’t touched the ball in the Falcons’ last three games. The pass fell incomplete.

A seven yard pass to Jones from Ryan on third down set up fourth-and-goal from the two yard line but this was the worst play call of all.

Despite the Eagles having only a single high safety, Ryan rolled out to his right, halving the field and by the time he settled in for his throw, Mohamed Sanu was covered by three defenders, the full back Derrick Coleman was well covered on the opposite side of the field and Jones had slipped in the end zone.

So Ryan held on and held on before throwing a mini Hail Mary to Jones who, for once, couldn’t answer his prayers and the Falcons lost.

The least dramatic game of the weekend was played in the early hours of Sunday morning as the New England Patriots sacked Marcus Mariota eight times on the way to a slippers-on-feet-up-by-the-fire win over the Titans.

It was, sorry Titans fans, essentially another bye week for New England as they get set to play a seventh consecutive AFC Championship game in a league designed specifically to ensure such long-term success doesn’t happen.

Source: Charles Krupa/PA Images

Next Sunday, they’ll play the Jacksonville Jaguars, a situation everyone expected when the Jags named Chad Henne as their starting quarterback in the third week of preseason before flip-flopping to Blake Bortles a week later.

And again, just like everyone predicted, they emerged with a three-point victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field, despite the home side passing for five touchdowns against the league’s best pass defence, and rushing for another.

Josh Lambo’s field goal with under two minutes remaining may have been the difference between the two sides in the box score, but the truth of the matter is that the Steelers never really ran the Jags close.

Down 21-0 and again 28-7, Pittsburgh were twice let down by play-calling on fourth-and-inches, only to watch Jacksonville turn the turnover on downs into seven points of their own on both occasions.

Now, let’s not get carried away with the Blake Bortles hype. He is still, barely, a serviceable quarterback who completed just 14 passes on Sunday — and was responsible for just six of the Jags’ 45 points — but the idea that Jacksonville should be 10-point underdogs against the Patriots because of him is laughable.

New England finished the season ranked 30th of 32 teams against the run according to Football Outsiders defensive DVOA and Leonard Fournette returned to something like his best on the ground for the Jags, averaging 4.4 yards per carry as he scored three touchdowns.

Source: Carlos Gonzalez/PA Images

And finally, we return to Buffalo Right Seven Heaven, the play call that will define the 2017/18 Divisional Round.

It’s a simple enough concept, with Pat Shurmur — Minnesota’s offensive coordinator –  expecting the Saints’ defence to give his team the middle of the field and protect the sidelines.

So he flooded the sideline with three receivers running short, middle and deep, with the idea being one gets enough separation to make a catch and get out of bounds quickly enough to give the Vikings a chance to kick the game-winning field goal.

In fact, when Diggs caught the ball you could see players on the Minnesota sideline yelling at him to get out of bounds. Then Williams whiffed on his tackle and Buffalo Right Seven Heaven joined the Hail Mary and the Immaculate Reception among the great postseason plays.

But what does the play call mean?

Well, without access to the Vikings’ playbook, Buffalo probably refers to the personnel grouping — three receivers — and right is the strong side of the formation. Seven is the route Diggs ran and heaven is where he sent all Minnesota fans with his touchdown.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my first thought was:

“Football, bloody hell.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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