The 2022-2023 NFL Playoffs have arrived. This weekend had it all: back-up quarterbacks, record-breaking comebacks, and fairytale endings.
Mr. Irrelevant was the title given to Brock Purdy when he was taken with the final pick of the 2022 Draft. Purdy has put together one immaculate performance after another leading to six straight wins for the 49ers since he took the starting job including a 41-23 victory over the Seahawks on Saturday. The first half was a lot closer than the final score would suggest as both teams were trading punches starting with a 34-yard field goal from Robbie Gould followed by a three-yard touchdown run from Christian McCaffrey. Leading 10-0 San Francisco allowed Seattle to put together their most complete drive of the game, capping it off with a rushing touchdown from Kenneth Walker III. San Francisco would add another field goal on their following drive, and Seattle continued to fight. The star of the game for the Seahawks was D.K. Metcalf who used his size and speed to burn cornerback Charvarius Ward on way to a 50-yard touchdown, Seattle’s biggest play of the game. From that point on however, it was all 49ers.
The second half opened with a touchdown run by Brock Purdy, followed by a strip sack on Geno Smith by Charles Omenihu, and another San Francisco touchdown, this time a seven-yard catch by Elijah Mitchell who lost most of his season to a knee injury. A healthy 49ers team was a scary sight to see as Deebo Samuel also returned from injury to play in this game and delivered the final nail in the coffin. On a short out-route Samuel caught the pass and jogged behind blockers before breaking off a 74-yard touchdown down the sideline giving San Francisco a 38-17 lead. D.K. Metcalf would pad his playoff stats with a garbage time touchdown, but it was too little, too late as the 49ers advanced. Purdy became the first rookie with four touchdowns in a playoff game and led the Niners to the highest sum of points when led by a rookie quarterback.
DUUUUVALLLL! The Jacksonville Jaguars had a combined record of 4-29 over the last two seasons. This season was different. Bringing in free agents, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, and Foyesade Oluokun as well as a more than competent coach in Doug Pederson paired with the breakout of Clemson duo Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne Jr. this team won their last five games of the regular season to secure the AFC South title for the first time since 2017. In the first half of their matchup with the Chargers, none of this seemed to matter as Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions, three of which were pulled in by Asante Samuel Jr. and giving Los Angeles an early 27-0 lead. This game was proof that momentum has value in football as Jacksonville was finally able to put together a scoring drive at the end of the first half when Lawrence found Evan Engram for a nine-yard touchdown reception. I can’t imagine what Doug Pederson said in the locker room at half-time to fire these seemingly dwindling Jacksonville players up, but a different team emerged from the tunnel in the second half.
The Jaguars scored on every drive they had in the second half. Everybody got involved as touchdowns were hauled in by Marvin Jones Jr., Zay Jones, and Christian Kirk. An infuriated Joey Bosa only assisted the Jaguars further in their pursuit of victory as the Chargers defensive end picked up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties which led to a missed field goal for Los Angeles and a punt. The game-winning field goal was in sight for Jacksonville with three minutes left in regulation. The drive seemed to be in jeopardy as on the Chargers 41-yard line, Jacksonville faced fourth and one. One stop and LA would send Jacksonville packing. Doug Pederson is renowned for what we now know as the “The Philly Special” a trick play that Pederson called that proved crucial in the Eagles winning Super Bowl LII. It appeared as though Jacksonville was lined up for a quarterback sneak but instead Lawrence handed the ball off to Etienne who ran to the outside for twenty-five yards giving Riley Patterson a 36-yard field goal for the win. Jacksonville will now ride this wave into Arrowhead to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on Saturday January 21.
The second of late-round, rookie, back-up quarterbacks to make a playoff start was Miami quarterback Skylar Thompson. With starter Tua Tagovailoa sidelined with his third concussion of the season and back-up Teddy Bridgewater nursing a finger injury Thompson was faced with a huge challenge in front of him, beating the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo was dominant this season, losing only three games and by narrow margins as they fell to the Jets by three, Vikings by three, and the Dolphins by two in Week Three.
The Bills have struggled with the Dolphins in both of their matchups: although they won their second matchup in Week Fifteen 32-29, they have been unable to stop Jaylen Waddle. In their previous matchups all their focus was on Tyreek Hill in which they were successful holding him to 33 yards and 69 yards respectively. Waddle, however, hurt them with big plays picking up the slack of Hill with 102- and 114-yard games. This was the deciding factor in their Wild Card matchup. Their game was as close as all the others, but Waddle only caught three passes for 44 yards. For anyone who watched this game it never felt like the Dolphins could catch up to Josh Allen’s passing attack. The Bills were carrying out scoring drives consistently as they have all year with Allen hitting Dawson Knox for touchdowns and Stefon Diggs for big plays. Allen had three turnovers that allowed Miami to stay in the game. His first, an interception by Xavien Howard on a throw that receiver John Brown appeared to never look for the ball. His second, an interception by Jevon Holland that bounced off the chest of receiver Cole Beasley. His third, a strip sack by Eric Rowe led to a fumble recovered for a touchdown by Zach Sieler that gave the Dolphins a 24-20 lead at the start of the second half. Skylar Thompson, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and the entire Miami offense performed poorly for the most part but seventeen points off turnovers led to a nail-biter that Buffalo would eventually escape 34-31.
Daniel Jones played the best game of his career as Big Blue prevailed over the Minnesota Vikings. Jones became the first quarterback to throw for over 300 yards, rush for over 75 yards and throw for two touchdowns in a playoff game. Jones came into the season with a lot to prove as a quarterback in a failing franchise that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2012. Jones has had little receiver help, an injured superstar running back, and a terrible offensive line but most of the blame has fallen on his shoulders. With Barkley back and performing like an All-Pro, a competent offensive line and receiver tandem, and one of the best defenses in the league this season, Brian Daboll put his faith in Jones to be the missing piece and he delivered.
The Vikings came out swinging with their best player Justin Jefferson carrying their opening touchdown drive. The Giants responded as Jones would scramble aggressively all game for big gains to keep drives alive leading to Saquon Barkley’s first playoff touchdown. New York kept their foot on the gas pedal scoring on their next two drives to lead 17-7. The Vikings would add a K.J. Osborn nine-yard touchdown grab before half to make it 17-14. Despite Jefferson being crucial on Minnesota’s first drive, he was non-existent in the second half, only managing one catch for four yards. The Giants continued to drive down the field time and time again burning lots of clock as they did so. The score would show 31-24 after Saquon Barkley muscled his way into the endzone for his second touchdown of the game.
With three minutes remaining, the Minnesota faithful set their eyes on Kirk Cousins. Cousins has a history of being a great regular season quarterback but failing when the lights are the brightest. This was just another chapter in that book as on fourth and eight, Cousins threw a three-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson who was immediately forced out of bounds. The Giants knelt the clock the rest of the way out and celebrated a long-awaited playoff victory. New York is headed to Lincoln Financial Field to face their division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Baltimore was without Lamar Jackson as they faced what seemed on paper, an inevitable blowout. Jackson’s absence did prove costly, despite the incredible play of the Ravens defense, as the Bengals won with a score of 24-17. This game was incredibly slow paced as Baltimore tried to rely on their run game and Cincinnati’s offense could never catch fire. The Ravens surprisingly led at half 10-9. The Bengals put together a drive to open the second half that showed flashes of their greatness ending in a Joe Burrow rushing touchdown.
Baltimore tied the game at 17 after Huntley’s best pass of the day, a 41-yard heave to Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown. Up to this point Huntley had performed well and the Ravens were primed for an upset until a third down and goal arose. Huntley attempted to jump over the pile of linemen into the endzone on a quarterback draw only to be met at the top of the peak by linebacker Logan Wilson who punched the ball out of his hands and into those of Sam Hubbard who ran all the way back the other way for a 98-yard scoop and score. This would be all Cincinnati needed as the three Baltimore drives after that would total 40 yards combined and the Ravens fell short once again. Cincinnati now heads to Orchard Park for a highly anticipated matchup with the Bills after their Week Seventeen matchup was canceled due to Damar Hamlin’s life-threatening injury.
Tom Brady lost to the Cowboys on Monday night, for the first time in his career. Brady’s age began to show in this one, and the Buccaneers seemed as though they never stood a chance. Brady and top receiver Mike Evans couldn’t get on the same page, and Brady was underthrowing almost every pass he threw and started off poorly with his first red zone interception as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On the other side of the ball, Dalton Schultz led the way for Dallas reeling in two first half touchdowns while Micah Parsons was everywhere in this one stopping what little run game Tampa Bay had, and pressuring Brady almost every play. Dak Prescott would total five touchdowns in this game, four passing and one rushing but was consistently let down by his kicker Brett Maher. Maher missed his first four extra points causing coach Mike McCarthy to go for it on a fourth and four on Tampa Bay’s eighteen-yard line displaying no trust in his kicker to hit a field goal at that point. The gamble would pay off as this put the Cowboys up 30-6 and Maher finally was able to hit an extra point. We have learned to never count Brady out of a game, but at that point, it was all but over as Tampa managed a garbage time touchdown to cement the game in the history books as a 31-14 loss in what may be Brady’s last game in Tampa Bay. Dallas will head to Santa Clara to take on the 49ers in Levi Stadium.
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