Cal Football NFL Player of the Week: Jordan Saves Wildcard Weekend

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Cameron Jordan
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Cameron Jordan /

Former Cal football stars made some big contributions during wildcard weekend, but none were bigger than Cameron Jordan saving the Saints’ season.

With the New Orleans Saints holding a five-point lead and the Carolina Panthers driving down the field, the Saints needed a big defensive play in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. They needed someone to step up and save the lead, along with their season. That someone was Cameron Jordan, the former Cal football star that put together a Defensive Player of the Year-worthy season in 2017.

The Saints led 31-26 when Carolina took possession at their own 31-yard line with 1:51 to play. Carolina quickly crossed midfield, getting down to New Orleans’ 21-yard line in five plays. After an incompletion on first down, Carolina was still in good position with 41 seconds to play.

Out of the shotgun, quarterback Cam Newton received the second-down snap and started scanning down the field. Jordan, who set a career-high with 13 sacks in the regular season, was off with the snap in the blink of an eye. Facing Carolina right tackle Daryl Williams, a second-team All-Pro, Jordan pulled off a perfect swim move to the inside, shedding the blocker’s grip.

Rookie Christian McCaffrey stayed in the backfield to help block, but the 205-pound running back was no match for the 287-pound defensive end. Jordan easily pushed McCaffrey straight back before continuing his relentless pursuit of Newton. Jordan grabbed the front of Newton’s jersey with his left hand, then wrapped around him with his right to prevent the QB from getting away. With the ability to run taken away, Newton could only take a few steps backward before launching the ball toward the sideline.

Newton sat on the turf where Jordan put him, and as the ball landed out of bounds, penalty flags began to fly. Newton didn’t escape the tackle box, and there was no receiver in the area of the throwaway. The play resulted in an intentional grounding call, pushing the Panthers back to the 34 and making it third-and-23.

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The Panthers wouldn’t overcome the mistake, with an incompletion on third down preceding a Vonn Bell sack on fourth down (that Jordan helped finish off) to give Drew Brees and the offense the ball back. One kneel-down later, the clock hit all zeros on a Saints’ victory.

That play won’t show up on a conventional stat sheet, but it can be looked at as the play that saved the Saints’ season. Before the loss of down and loss of 13 yards, the Panthers were knocking on the redzone door with momentum firmly on their side. Instead, Jordan shooed them off the porch and made recovery nearly impossible. Without him making a top right tackle look stationary, the Saints could be packing their bags and heading home. Instead, they stay alive for another week.

Jordan did fill out the stat sheet in other ways. In the third quarter, he beat left tackle Matt Kalil off the edge with a bull-rush, pushing his way past the lineman and knocking Newton to the ground for the sack. That gives Jordan 3.5 sacks in five career playoff games. He also added a pair of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage on Sunday after leading all NFL defensive linemen with 12 during the regular season.

The Saints will travel to face the second-seeded Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round, a rematch of Monday Night Football in week one. The Vikings won that game, 29-19, behind big performances from quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook, two players who are currently on injured reserve. Jordan recorded the Saints’ lone sack in that game.

In franchise history, the Saints have only won once on the road in the postseason, back in 2013 when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the wildcard round.

Noteworthy Elsewhere:

The Buffalo Bills engaged in a defensive battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars in their first playoff game since the 1999 season, and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander played his best game of the year. He recorded a season-high 10 tackles, and beat Jaguars’ right tackle Jermey Parnell off the edge to sack Blake Bortles with 20 seconds left in the first half. That marked Alexander’s first career playoff sack in his fourth game. He also recorded two tackles for loss, matching his season-high. Unfortunately, Alexander’s Bills lost the game, making his teams 0-4 in his career in playoff games, all in the wildcard round.

Jared Goff struggled early against a relentless Atlanta Falcons’ defense, but did his best late in the game in an effort to lead them back from a deficit. He finished the day 24-of-45 with 259 yards, and threw a touchdown on a beautiful 16-yard fade to Cooper Kupp. Still, Los Angeles couldn’t overcome some crucial early special teams mistakes, losing 26-13 in their first playoff game since the 2004 season.

On the other side of that game, center Alex Mack and the Falcons are moving on to the Divisional round. Mack, a second-team All-Pro, laid some key blocks for his offense and also gets credit for an assist on a rushing touchdown. With Devonta Freeman stuffed at the two-yard-line, Mack bear-hugged his running back and pushed him past the line for the score. They take on the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles next Saturday.

Next: Three Golden Bears Named to All-Pro Teams

Offensive lineman Brian Schwenke and running back Khalfani Muhammad didn’t get the opportunity to contribute, but their Tennessee Titans are moving on to the Divisional round. Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota led the Titans back from an 18-point deficit to stun the Kansas City Chiefs (and former Cal right tackle Mitchell Schwartz) with an upset victory. That gives them a date with the number one-seeded New England Patriots on Saturday night.