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Twelve things we learned from Wild Card Weekend

Here's what we learned from Wild Card Weekend:

  1. The Colts entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the league, going 9-1 to close out the season after starting the year 1-5. The momentum clearly carried over to the opening round of the playoffs, as the Colts dominated the first quarter against their divisional foe, totaling 155 net yards of offense to the Texans' 39. The yardage also allowed Indianapolis to set the tone, which the Colts accomplished by punching the Texans in the mouth during a nine-play, 70-yard opening drive. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton clowned the Texans by converting two third-down attempts into first downs, and quarterback Andrew Luck capped off the first possession by finding tight end Eric Ebron for a 6-yard scoring pass. The Colts then took their next possession and utilized a methodical nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive, which running back Marlon Mack finished with a 2-yard run, to go up 14-0. By the time the dust had settled in the first period, the Colts were averaging 8.1 yards per offensive play and had taken command of the game.
  1. The voting for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year ended after Week 17 of the regular season, but Luck proved New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' prediction correct on why the Colts' signal-caller deserves the recognition. Luck turned in an efficient postseason performance, completing 19 of 32 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He threw it deep, connecting with Hilton on a 38-yard gain in the first quarter, and showed tremendous touch on scoring passes to Ebron and wide receiver Dontrelle Inman, who recorded an 18-yard touchdown catch on a pretty pass down the left sideline from Luck. The quarterback's supporting cast also stepped up. Mack gashed the Texans with 148 yards rushing and a touchdown on 24 carries; Hilton, who entered the game averaging 133.3 career yards at NRG Stadium, totaled 85 yards receiving on five catches; the offensive line protected Luck, who was not sacked on the game, and opened running lanes for Mack; and Ebron's red-zone presence from the regular season continued to shine.
  1. Offenses tend to rule the NFL, but a lot of credit needs to be lavished on the Colts' defense for what it did Saturday. The Texans entered the game ranked a respectable 15th in the league in total offense (362.6 points per game) and 11th in scoring (25.1), but Indianapolis gave quarterback Deshaun Watson fits throughout the game, sacking him three times and holding him to 235 yards passing. Cornerback Pierre Desir also deserves big kudos for holding All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in check. Hopkins fought through a shoulder injury that sent him to the locker room in the final minute of the first half. He would return but didn't have much success with Desir shadowing his every move plus the limitations from his hurt shoulder.

-- Herbie Teope

  1. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott effectively answered any question on whether he can handle the spotlight. With a defensive slugfest leaving the game in doubt, Prescott came up big in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, scampering up the middle for a 16-yard gain on third-and-14 from the Seahawks' 17-yard line. Prescott then punched it from the 1 on the next play to give the Cowboys a 24-14 edge with 2:08 left in the game. The Seahawks didn't help themselves on that drive, though, as two pass interference penalties on third down helped extend Dallas' march down the field. But it was Prescott who placed the icing on the cake with a gutsy performance. In addition to scoring the game-winning touchdown, Prescott completed 22 of 33 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown with an interception. He added 29 yards rushing on six carries to help the Cowboys move on to the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, their opponent to be determined by Sunday's clash between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.
  1. Prescott didn't do it alone on offense, of course, as running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper also came through with big individual performances. Elliott gashed the NFL's No. 13 run defense with 137 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Cooper, the Cowboys' prized midseason acquisition from the Oakland Raiders, turned in a 106-yard receiving output on seven catches, averaging a healthy 15.1 yards per catch. With Prescott, Elliott and Cooper, the Cowboys have a modern version of The Triplets and are good enough offensively to cause headaches for any opponent in the postseason.
  1. The Cowboys' defense proved to be the most consistent unit on the team throughout the season and it once again stepped to the plate in a game of strength against strength. The Seahawks' rushing attack finished the regular season ranked first in the NFL (160 yards per game) and squared off in a heavyweight fight against the Cowboys' fifth-ranked run defense, which is anchored by linebackers Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch. The Dallas defenders beat Seattle to the punch early and often in the game, and provided the knockout blow by holding Seattle's vaunted ground game to a mere 73 yards. Seahawks running back Chris Carson, who rushed for 102 yards against the Cowboys in Week 3, found the going tough Saturday. The Cowboys defense swarmed the line of scrimmage, limiting Carson to 20 yards rushing on 13 carries. Vander Esch finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles, while Smith chipped in with seven stops.

-- Herbie Teope

  1. The Ravens were ominously jittery out of the gate, losing the ball three times on their first eight snaps. Lamar Jackson was fortunate to pick up his own bouncing fumble on Baltimore's first drive and luckier to see a botched shotgun snap still wind up with the Ravens. The Football Fates had seen enough, though, as runner Kenneth Dixon lost the ball on Baltimore's second series off an athletic Melvin Ingram strip. Baltimore's first four drives -- punt, fumble, punt, punt -- gave way to a fifth that saw the rookie passer overthrow Chris Moore on a toss pulled down by Chargers safety Adrian Phillips. Amid whispers that veteran Joe Flacco might take over, Jackson -- who, at one stage, had nearly two hours of real time pass between completions -- finished with 194 yards through the air, the vast majority of that in deep-space garbage time. Down 23-3 midway through the final period, Jackson and Baltimore caught fire with a pair of touchdown strikes to Michael Crabtree that left the Chargers angling for a first down -- and their playoff lives -- inside the two-minute warning up 23-17. The Ravens forced a punt to take over with 45 seconds left, but Jackson's season -- Baltimore's, too -- ended when the rookie passer saw his third fumble of the game recovered by Ingram.
  1. Two weeks made all the difference for Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who unfurled a creative game plan that held the Ravens to 69 first-half yards -- just 11 passing -- two turnovers, zero points, not a single play past the 50, only 12:24 in time of possession and fleeting memories of the run-heavy, Maryland-based beast that averaged 229.6 rushing yards since Week 11. The Chargers came out employing six-plus defensive backs with first-round safety Derwin James hovering at the line to snuff out ball-carriers for a Chargers unit that all but ignored the middle linebacker position. Holding the Ravens to just 90 yards rushing at 3.9 yards per pop -- again, almost all of that during a late-game flurry -- the Chargers made it clear this Baltimore attack can be studied and stopped.
  1. Star Chargers runner Melvin Gordon came up hobbling with an early left knee injury -- his other knee -- only to return in the second quarter for a Chargers club that struggled on the ground. Gordon never quite looked the same and was spelled often by Austin Ekeler. Los Angeles fans waited for Philip Rivers to test the Ravens deep, but his longer lobs were visibly impacted by a whipping wind. Credit goes to rookie kicker Mike Badgley, who calmly nailed first-half field goals of 21, 34, 40 and 53 yards despite the Bolts being held to 129 total yards before break. The entire third quarter passed without a first down for either team until Antonio Gates moved the sticks with two-plus minutes left in the frame. Rivers then hit receiver Mike Williams for 28 yards -- the first big play of the game -- to set up a Gordon goal-line scoring blast that buried the Ravens in a 20-3 void.

--Marc Sessler

  1. Cody Parkey confidently split the uprights to give Chicago a 18-16 lead with just seconds remaining. The former Eagles special teamer would have been carried off the field as a conquering hero had Eagles coach Doug Pederson opted against "icing" a kicker who had already misfired on 10 different opportunities this season, including one game in which Parkey was rejected by the upright four times. Teed up for the potential game-winner after Pederson's nerve-wracking timeout, Parkey watched in crumbling disbelief as his second attempt bounced off the left upright, fell upon the cross bar and landed in the end zone with the crushing weight of the Bears' Lombardi Trophy dreams.
  1. Never let it be said that Nick Foles comes up small in crunch time. For the latest chapter in the reigning Super Bowl MVP's suddenly storybook career, the hero found a new way to save the damsel tied to the railroad tracks with the train bearing down. After Mitchell Trubisky staked Chicago to a 15-10 lead with just under five minutes remaining, Foles led an impressive 12-play, 60-yard answer that left the Eagles in a crucial fourth-down predicament from the 2-yard line. All Pro linebacker Khalil Mack had swallowed up Darren Sproles on back-to-back runs, leading to a third-down pass that was deflected by Pro Bowl corner Kyle Fuller. Sensing the severity of the do-or-die moment, Pederson called a timeout to dial up his best goal-line play. Foles promptly rolled right and found Golden Tate for the go-ahead touchdown, immediately validating Philadelphia's deadline-beating trade for the former Lions receiver.
  1. An up-and-down performance from Trubisky saw the second-year signal-caller get away with a handful of interceptable passes, run into a sack and scramble shy of the sticks on a pair of third downs. Credit rangy linebacker Nigel Bradham with sniffing out several misdirection plays in his role as a Trubisky spy. With the game on the line, however, the Bears quarterback delivered a standout performance on the team's final two drives. He made big throws to Taylor Gabriel, Josh Bellamy and Allen Robinson on the six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that gave Chicago a five-point lead. Provided a sliver of hope following Foles' go-ahead score, a pressured Trubisky unleashed a back-shoulder beauty that threaded the cornerback-safety turkey hole for a 25-yard completion to Allen Robinson. The two connected for another quick completion to set the stage for a manageable 43-yard field-goal attempt that was twice rejected by the same goalposts.

-- Chris Wesseling

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