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NFL playoff review — Romo good, ESPN uneven, San Diegans making an impact

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a revelation this past year as a refreshingly candid and insightful NFL game broadcaster, came through once again in his playoff debut at Jacksonville last week.

Romo pointed out ahead of developments that Jacksonville should attack the middle of Buffalo’s defense by throwing passes over aggressive linebackers. Eventually the Jaguars did just that and to good effect, leading to their 10-3 victory.

Late in the game, Romo read Jacksonville’s defense with the aplomb of a contemporary quarterback. He noted in real time that Buffalo could’ve gouged the pass-coverage design with a deep sideline pass. The Bills didn’t see that opportunity.

Also, Romo once again pulled off the balancing act of a former player who appreciates the sport’s difficulties yet also offers critiques. Though he and CBS colleague Jim Nantz overly blamed Blake Bortles’ passing troubles on windy conditions (the field-post flags at times were listless, and at one point a graphic showed “winds” were 3 mph), Romo said that absent “pure” throwing ability that yields tight spirals, a passer is more likely to be affected by wind.

ESPN’s mixed result

Jon Gruden finished off his ESPN tenure with a solid performance, despite the awkward position of opining on two AFC opponents that are now among his rivals as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Unfortunately, the ESPN crew didn’t give viewers a good explanation late in the game for why the clock was halted on Kansas City’s final drive. Apparently, Chiefs receiver Demarcus Robinson — a pivotal player in light of his first-half touchdown catch and a game-ending injury to teammate Travis Kelce — was helped off the field while the telecast was focused on the Chiefs kicker preparing himself.

Concussed, Robinson didn’t return. The Chiefs were stopped on downs, all but ensuring their 22-21 defeat.

San Diegans played well

Two Falcons players with San Diego ties contributed to Atlanta’s first-round victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

A special teams standout who played cornerback for San Diego State, rookie Damontae Kazee had two hard hits and a fumble forced as part of a three-tackle game. His forced fumble led to three points.

Teammate Levine Toilolo, a tight end and Helix High alum, was an effective blocker despite a knee injury that appeared to limit him at times.

Both Kazee and Toilolo stand to play against the Eagles this week in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, in lead roles, quarterback Drew Brees had a good game and Alex Smith turned in a credible performance.

Brees, a former San Diego Charger draftee and starter who has maintained a presence in San Diego even since signing with the Saints 11 years ago, led New Orleans past Carolina for the third time this football year.

Saints head coach Sean Payton, a former SDSU aide, singled Brees out for an extraordinary adjustment that resulted in a deep pass completion to receiver Ted Ginn.

After the snap, Brees saw how a Panthers safety had reacted to the play design’s first option.

Though Smith’s performance didn’t result in a victory, the former Helix quarterback was far from the culprit. He was 19 for 23 for two touchdowns in the first half, leading Kansas City to a 21-3 lead.

Among those four incompletions were two dropped passes, one off Smith’s long strike to Tyreek Hill.

Smith failed to lead the Chiefs to any points in the second half, when the team’s defense also tailed off.

Head coach Andy Reid and Smith may wonder if they should’ve given more handoffs to running back Kareem Hunt.

Former NFL blocker Geoff Schwartz is an older brother to Chiefs right tackle Michell Schwartz and an analyst for ESPN Radio.

After the game, Geoff Schwartz aired grievances relating to Hunt’s lack of work.

“I love Andy Reid... but this game is indefensible,” he said, via Twitter. “Leading rusher in the NFL with 11 total carries. Completely taking his foot off the gas pedal. Drops didn't help as well. Pass blocking was fine. Chiefs had no business losing this game. It's embarrassing.”

During the game, Schwartz implored the Chiefs to run the ball up the middle. Also, he described the playcalling as terrifying.

Afterward, he sent out another barbed Tweet.

“There's no excuse to not run the ball with Hunt tonight. What a joke. Chiefs 6-0 when Hunt has 100 yards. It's not that complicated.”

The Chiefs had reached the playoffs for the fourth time in five years since Reid and Smith joined the franchise, but they fell to 1-4 in those postseason games.

This offseason, Kansas City may opt to trade Smith given that it invested three premium draft picks in quarterback Patrick Mahomes last April. Smith likely would interest several teams, with Arizona, Buffalo and Cleveland among the possible trade partners.

The quarterback, who’ll turn 34 in May, led the NFL in passer rating this past year. Also an effective rusher, he guided a Chiefs offense that finished sixth in points and fifth in yards despite losing its top running back in August, its No. 2 receiver in October and shuffling its interior line due to several injuries.; Twitter: SDUTKrasovic

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