Welp, the weekend portion of Super Wild Card Weekend was exactly that: SUPER.
Of the five games on Saturday and Sunday, the last four were decided by one score. The nightcap of Day 1 featured the third-largest comeback in NFL postseason history. The nightcap of Day 2 featured the longest go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Are you not entertained?!
Of course, given the zero-sum aspect of a single-elimination tournament, it was the best of times for some ... and the worst of times for others.
Here are the winners/losers from Saturday and Sunday, Schein Nine style.
Jones was brilliant, tough, clutch and dominant, securing a road playoff win in his first postseason start. Every word of that sentence is important. The Giants greatly overachieved with a 9-7-1 record during the regular season, but they weren't done! New York stormed U.S Bank Stadium on Sunday and knocked off Minnesota, 31-24. Jones delivered the goods in all facets of the game, and in doing so, silenced all of the haters -- like me!
According to the good folks over at NFL Research, Jones became the first player in league history with 300-plus passing yards, two-plus passing touchdowns and 75-plus rushing yards in the same postseason game. And the former turnover machine didn't cough up the ball once in a clean game without a single giveaway from either team. Jones was fantastic throwing the football, completing 24 of his 31 attempts (77.4%) for 301 yards, spreading the pigskin around and maximizing Big Blue's rag-tag group of receivers. Jones also repeatedly gashed a porous Vikings defense with his legs, carrying the ball a career-high 17 times for 78 yards, gaining seven first downs in the process.
This was a legitimately dynamic performance, the kind of special showing that puts to rest any lingering questions about the former No. 6 overall pick's status with the team. Jones will get paid by the G-Men this offseason, cementing himself as New York's starter in 2023 and beyond. Obviously, head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka -- both in Year 1 of their respective positions -- deserve plenty of credit for turning one of the league's worst offenses in 2021 into a fruitful, diverse attack this season. But don't get it twisted: Daniel Jones is not a game manager. He's been terrific in Year 4. A road playoff win against a 13-win team is a big deal for a 25-year-old quarterback. And he gives the Giants a real shot at Philadelphia on Saturday night.
With no Lamar Jackson, the Ravens weren't supposed to push the defending AFC champions to the limit, but there they were in a 17-17 tie with just under 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, 1 yard away from taking a touchdown lead.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Ravens QB Tyler Huntley tried to reach the ball over the goal line on a QB sneak, but he was stoned and the pigskin popped loose, falling right into the hands of Hubbard. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder proceeded to rumble 98 yards for what would ultimately end up being the winning score in a 24-17 final. It was one of the most staggering momentum shifts in recent memory, a jaw-dropping sequence that put the "super" and "wild" into Super Wild Card Weekend. And the exhilarating play couldn't have come from a more appropriate Bengal. Hubbard is the pulse of this defense, a Cincy product who went to high school in the area and played his college ball at Ohio State. What a moment for the local hero and team captain. Something tells me he'll never buy another drink in the state of Ohio.
On a night where Baltimore admirably came to play, Cincinnati's defense was tough and clutch. And now we get the coveted matchup Sunday in Buffalo between the Bengals and Bills. Thanks, Sam!
My guy is living the dream. Purdy is one step closer to cementing himself as the 49ers' 2023 starting QB -- and a San Francisco legend.
Back in December, when we still had a couple weeks remaining in the regular season, I ranked the 49ers as the top NFC title contender. Admittedly, I praised San Francisco's defense to the hilt, but I didn't exactly give the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft short shrift, writing the following:
The freshly minted 23-year-old sure looks like he belongs, eh? Obviously, Purdy greatly benefits from having an elite play-caller in Kyle Shanahan and a smorgasbord of game-changing weapons at his disposal. If Deebo Samuel returns with fresh (and healthy) legs for the postseason run? Watch out.
Purdy began Saturday's game against rival Seattle looking like an over-amped rookie making his first playoff start, but then he settled down, settled in and destroyed the Seahawks in a 41-23 win. Finishing with 332 passing yards, three touchdown passes and an additional rushing score, Purdy became the first rookie with four total TDs in a playoff game. And honestly, his most impressive play of the day was a scrambling dart that Brandon Aiyuk dropped in the end zone.
Mr. Irrelevant? Forget that nonsense. Purdy is now 6-0 as an NFL starter with 14 touchdown passes, two rushing scores and just two turnovers in those games. He's been amazing, maximizing the aforementioned "smorgasbord of game-changing weapons" on San Francisco's offense. And I'd say Deebo has indeed returned with fresh legs for the playoffs, judging by his line on Saturday: nine touches for 165 yards and a touchdown. So, yeah, watch out! This is undoubtedly the team to beat in the NFC, with a legitimate signal-caller to forge a Super Bowl run.
This cat has changed everything in Jacksonville after the Urban Meyer era (error). Yes, the Chargers Chargered on Saturday night, inexplicably blowing a 27-0 lead to lose 31-30. But Pederson's preternatural calm cannot be overlooked, especially with how it impacted his young quarterback.
In his second NFL season, Trevor Lawrence has emerged as the franchise-changing player we all thought he'd be coming out of Clemson. But it hasn't all been smooth sailing -- and this is where Pederson's done his best work, revitalizing his QB's confidence with a steady hand at the till. Lawrence threw four first-half interceptions. FOUR! He was on his way to an all-time clunker of a playoff debut. Look at this eyesore:
- Lawrence's first seven drives: 5-18 for 35 yards, 0:4 TD-to-INT ratio, 0.0 passer rating, 0 Jaguars points.
But Pederson didn't allow the former No. 1 overall pick to completely come apart. In fact, he coaxed a staggering about-face out of the 23-year-old. Look at this eye candy:
- Lawrence's last five drives: 23-29 for 253 yards, 4:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 142.6 passer rating, 31 Jaguars points.
Pederson's decision to go for two late -- a move Lawrence paid off by reaching the ball across the goal line -- is what makes this Super Bowl-winning coach great. And the bold play call on fourth-and-1 -- handing the ball to Travis Etienne on a sweep -- literally put the Jaguars in position to win. This was a masterclass of a comeback. The Jags take cues from their coach and don't quit.
When dishing out credit for the Seahawks' success over the past 13 years, it's easy and accurate to cite Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and -- of course -- the Seahawks' defense, with the "Legion of Boom" secondary and Bobby Wagner leading the way. But never underestimate the genius and importance of Seattle's general manager.
Schneider clearly fleeced the Broncos in the Wilson deal, with Seattle making the playoffs and getting a top-five pick in this year's draft! Speaking of the draft, Schneider just added a whole new core to this roster with his 2022 selections, nabbing two starting bookends (Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas), a rookie Pro Bowler at corner (Tariq Woolen) and a bell-cow, 1,000-yard rusher (Kenneth Walker III). Oh, and it was Schneider who brought in Geno Smith, the resurgent quarterback who earned my Associated Press vote for Comeback Player of the Year. Now, with free agency on the horizon, Geno wants to stay in Seattle and become entrenched. Schneider will make it happen.
Losing to the rival 49ers for a third time on Saturday might leave a sour taste in the Seahawks' mouth, but it shouldn't. What a terrific season of overachievement in what was supposed to be a brutal rebuilding year.
I did not like how Staley handled Week 18 last season, calling an odd timeout that might have cost the Chargers a playoff spot. I did not understand how Staley handled Week 18 this season, playing his starters and costing the Chargers Mike Williams. This was an injury-riddled roster all season long -- why roll the dice in a meaningless game?
But Saturday night? That was a new low for Staley. And a new low for a franchise that has taken way too many gut punches over the years.
The Chargers were up 27-0 in Jacksonville. The game was over. Until it wasn't. Excluding a kneel-down at the end of the first half, the Bolts ran the ball just eight times after forging that seemingly insurmountable lead. That's malpractice. Bleed the clock!
Where on Earth was J.K. Dobbins?! The Ravens had the heavily favored Bengals in serious trouble, with a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line in the fourth quarter of a 17-17 game. Dobbins had been the best Baltimore player all evening. Hand him the ball four straight times, if need be.
Instead, Dobbins was on the sideline for the most important sequence of the season. And, as we went over above, Huntley coughed up the football, handing Cincinnati the game's definitive score. Dobbins was not happy in the postgame, and rightfully so.
"[Huntley] should have never been in that situation," Dobbins said after the season-ending defeat. "I didn't get a single carry. I didn't get a single carry. He should've never been in that situation. I believe I would have put it in the end zone, again."
I know John Harbaugh was angry at the execution on the ill-fated play -- specifically, Huntley's attempt to go over the top -- but this was on Greg Roman. Baltimore's play-calling and game/clock management left a lot to be desired on Sunday night. This wasn't about Lamar Jackson not playing. The Ravens' usually brilliant and buttoned-up coaching staff underwhelmed.
Admittedly, this isn't really fair. The Vikings' defense looked like it was playing with eight men on the field for most of the game, getting absolutely shredded by Daniel Jones. But quarterbacks get the glory when they win ... and blame when they lose.
Cousins lost another playoff game, dropping his career mark to 1-3 and confirming everyone's priors in the process. Despite the fact that Minnesota was at home as the higher-seeded, 13-win team, the Vikings were widely viewed as fraudulent. Apparently there was something to that notion.
Cousins finished the game with a nice stat line: 31-39 for 273 yards and two touchdowns against zero picks, with a 1-yard rushing score. But his last snap is the one that sticks with you. On fourth-and-8 at midfield, with the Vikings trailing by a touchdown, Cousins flicked a toss well short of the sticks to T.J. Hockenson, who was promptly tackled to end the drive. This is emblematic of the entire Cousins experience -- the stats are nice, but what does he offer at winning time? -- and further evidence that his Minnesota team just cannot be considered any kind of true contender.
Yes, the game against the mighty Bills was much closer than anyone anticipated. Miami hit Buffalo as a heavy underdog, but only lost 34-31 in a highly watchable contest. So I understand the instinct to give the Fins credit for performing admirably with a third-string quarterback under center. But when push came to shove, they failed Skylar Thompson.
There were way too many issues getting plays called on time. The Dolphins had way too many drops when they needed to be at their absolute best if they were going to slay the dragon of Josh Allen and the Bills. This game was there for the taking, but the seventh-round rookie quarterback needed full support from his coaching staff and surrounding players. He didn't receive it.
With all that said, in the big picture, I can do nothing but stress the positive on Mike McDaniel's first season in Miami. This franchise is still heading in the right direction.