The NFL Playoffs continue this weekend, and despite an expanded 14-team playoff field, there won’t be much Long Beach representation in this year’s postseason. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster will carry the banner for the city this year, returning to the playoffs as a member of the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
Smith-Schuster played in 16 games during his debut season in Kansas City, collecting 78 grabs for 933 yards, the second-highest yardage total of his six-year career. The former Poly Jackrabbit had just three TD grabs this season, but was the clear No. 2 option on a prolific Chiefs offense.
This will be the fourth playoff appearance for Smith-Schuster in his young career, and he’s looking for his first postseason victory after going 0-3 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During their week one bye from the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed, the Chiefs actually brought on another wide receiver out of Long Beach, signing Jordan High alum John Ross to a reserve/future deal. That opens the door for the speedy playmaker to join his former Moore League rival in the Kansas City offense next season. Ross was a Top 10 draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017 and last played with the New York Giants.
Another former Poly WR contributed to a playoff team this season, as 36-year-old DeSean Jackson played for his sixth professional team by joining the Baltimore Ravens midseason. Jackson had 9 catches for 153 yards through seven games in Baltimore, including a vintage 62-yard deep ball. He was waived following the regular season as the Ravens earned the AFC’s No. 6 seed.
A few local athletes had a shot at reaching the playoffs in Week 18, but came up short in the season finale. One of those near misses came in the league’s final game of the regular season, as the Green Bay Packers fell to the Detroit Lions and missed out on the NFC’s final playoff spot.
That spelled an untimely end to Year 17 for Packers tight end Marcedes Lewis, breaking a string of three consecutive postseason appearances. Lewis, 38, started all 17 games for Green Bay this season, and has started every game for the Packers over the past three seasons. The Poly grad is primarily used as a blocker at this stage of his career, but he did haul in six passes this year including a pair of touchdown grabs.
Lewis is now fourth among active players in games started (221) and is the leader among non-quarterbacks. He’s tied for No. 43 on the all-time list for games started, and is just outside the Top 50 in games played, tied for No. 52 all-time with 251 appearances in his career.
Another former Jackrabbit at the start of his NFL career nearly snuck into the playoffs in Week 18, but Jack Jones and the New England Patriots ended up a game short. Still, it was a strong debut season for the 25-year-old cornerback. Jones appeared in 13 games with a pair of starts as a rookie, chipping in on 30 tackles while grabbing a pair of INT’s and even a Pick-6 against Green Bay.
Ultimately, his season ended early with a knee injury and subsequent suspension from the team. But his on-field performance as a rookie showed he’s got a chance to stick in the league for a while.
Elsewhere, linebacker Jayon Brown completed his first season with the Las Vegas Raiders. The former Poly Jackrabbit battled injuries this season, but started six games and finished with 45 total tackles in eight appearances.
Wilson alum Joel Bitonio remains the city’s top NFL talent after completing another terrific season with the Cleveland Browns. The 31-year-old is one of the top guards in the NFL, as shown by his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl selection this season. Bitonio has been a fixture on the Cleveland offensive line, starting 98 consecutive games for the Browns over the past six seasons.