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Team Notes week 20 2022
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
As ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg wrote: "The name of the game in the postseason is survive and advance, and for the Bills, that was by the skin of their teeth in a 34-31 win over the Dolphins, with Josh Allen's three turnovers a big reason why Miami was able to hang in the game. ..."
"I just think overall we've got to do a better job at that point, you know, up 17, I think it was 17-zip, and we turned the ball over, so at the end of the day, you turn the ball over, you die, normally, a pretty quick death," head coach Sean McDermott said. "I think we had three turnovers, one for a score and then we had the big punt return mixed in there as well, so not very good complementary football."
The Dolphins converted Allen's three turnovers -- two interceptions and the lost fumble -- into 18 points, all of which were scored from the six-minute mark in the second quarter to the first minute of the third quarter on Allen's fumble. It was the first time in franchise history that the Bills have won a playoff game despite losing the turnover battle 3-2 (previously 0-13 in those games).
Allen finished the game completing 23 of 39 passes for 353 yards and throwing for three touchdowns. He rushed four times for 20 yards.
But turnover problems are nothing new for Allen, who led the NFL in the regular season with 19 and had three turnovers in one other game this season (against the Vikings). But the turnovers have never before been a concern for the fifth-year quarterback in the postseason. Allen came into the game against the Dolphins with one career playoff interception and one fumble lost.
"I mean, the turnovers, they hurt us," Allen said. "Really let them back in the game. Up 17-0 with chances and I give them the ball two times and give them a touchdown -- it's just things you can't do. And you can't expect to win like that, so some stuff to clean up on that."
According to Getzenberg, Allen finished the game averaging 14.6 air yards per attempt, fourth deepest in a playoff game since ESPN began tracking air yards in 2006. He finished the game 5-of-12 with one touchdown and one interception on throws of 20 or more air yards.
During the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey called consecutive plays that were long shots downfield to wide receiver Gabe Davis, with both falling incomplete.
"I'm sure [Dorsey] will want that one back," McDermott said on those playcalls after the game. "Didn't feel great about that one, just in terms of the efficiency overall there. So, just again, that's one of the areas we can learn from."
The other came on a shorter pass intended for wide receiver Cole Beasley that bounced off him and into the arms of a defender.
In addition to the turnovers, Allen was sacked seven times, tying a career high.
He became the first player to take seven sacks and throw multiple interceptions in a playoff game since Neil O'Donnell in 1992 vs. the Bills.
"I think we shot ourselves in the foot a few times, put our defense in less than advantageous positions. Put their offense on our side of the ball," center Mitch Morse said. "I think there was moments where we were really able to matriculate down the field, move the ball, and there was moments where we really shot ourselves in the foot.
"I think the biggest thing ... is this next week, yes, we did end up with the win and in this league that's hard, especially in the playoffs. But we know we need to mitigate those mistakes as much as possible. I thought this team did a very good job not pointing fingers."
The 10 combined sacks and turnovers are also the most by a quarterback in a playoff win since the 1970 merger (tied with Joe Burrow in the 2021 divisional round).
The Bills will have to find a way to mitigate the turnovers as the postseason continues and limit the amount of hits on Allen with the offensive line needing to step up, especially because other teams will be able to take even more from the Bills' miscues.
"One-week seasons, man, that's it. Got to take it one game at a time," Allen said. "Thought we did some good things today, I did some bad things today, so there's stuff to clean up and some things to learn from, but we'll grow from it. So, all that matters is surviving and advancing. Doesn't matter how we win, it's if we win, and I'm proud of our guys for playing the way they did."
Next up, the Bills will host the Bengals on Sunday afternoon.
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor suggested, this one is going to be emotional for all the obvious reasons.
Safety Damar Hamlin and the abrupt, traumatic and emotionally abbreviated game between these squads earlier this month will obviously be on the forefront of each player's mind. But Hamlin, who collapsed on the field after suffering cardiac arrest on a routine play in the first quarter of that Jan. 2 tilt, is out of the hospital and recovering at his home in Buffalo. Before Hamlin's medical emergency, the Week 17 game had been billed as one of the most important of the season, as two AFC juggernauts squared off with playoff seeding on the line.
The circumstances and stakes are different this time around, but the storylines remain the same.
Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase against Allen and Stefon Diggs, plus Cincinnati's front vs. a Bills offensive line that gave up the aforementioned seven sacks to Miami. The regular-season contest had all the makings of a classic when it first appeared on the schedule, and this go-round promises to be an exciting showdown.
All that said, Pryor believes the Bills' exceptional play over the course of the season is a much more important indicator for their next game than their struggles against the Dolphins in the wild-card round. And the Bills were awfully good in the regular season.
Both of these offenses are led by exceptional quarterbacks, and each has an elite-tier wide receiver.
But there's one key difference here, and that's the offensive line.
While Allen will have time to throw -- and is the better rusher if he chooses to scramble -- the Bengals' O-line is banged up. Left tackle Jonah Williams left Sunday's wild-card game against the Ravens and didn't return. And frankly, Cincinnati's line wasn't particularly good when healthy. That means Buffalo's Greg Rousseau and Co. will likely be in the backfield disrupting Burrow and the Bengals' pass game.
And just in general, the Bills have the defensive edge here thanks in part to strong linebacker play from Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds. With a slight advantage on both sides of the ball and the game being played on their home turf, the Bills are big favorites.
Historically speaking, the Bengals are 2-0 against Buffalo in the postseason, with both games played in Cincinnati.
The Bengals beat the Bills 28-21 in a 1981 season division-round game, and 21-10 in the 1988 season AFC championship. ...
Worth noting. ... Buffalo improved to 9-3 this season when trailing at any point in a game after going 2-7 last season. ...
As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow noted, following a subpar regular season, Davis bolstered his reputation as a playoff performer with six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. In his previous playoff outing, Davis set an NFL postseason single-game record with four TDs receiving in 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City.
Davis has 20 catches for 440 yards and six touchdowns in six playoff games. ...
The playoffs are about who steps up in the biggest moment and sometimes those contributions can come from unexpected places. For the Bills, they were boosted from two key players from their rookie class.
James Cook and Khalil Shakir made impact plays at different points of the game -- plays that helped turn the tide of the game.
"I mean we're counting on those guys," McDermott said. "It didn't used to be that way when you're a young player. Mostly young players years ago never played or maybe your first-round pick played, so now, the day and age of the NFL is these young players are going to be counted on to play and contribute."
Cook capped off the Bills' second scoring drive of the afternoon with a 12 yard TD rush, followed by a spirited celebration from the rookie where he jumped into the stands. He became the first Bill since Darick Holmes and Tim Tindale to score a rushing TD in their playoff debuts (vs. Miami, 12/30/95).
And late in the fourth quarter with the Bills clinging to a 34-31 lead facing a crucial third down play, it was the sure hands of Khalil Shakir hauling in a 31-yard laser from Allen to keep the chains moving.
"That was a big catch. We've got a lot of trust in him. He's got good hands," McDermott said. ...
On the injury front. ... The Bills had a much lighter injury report list heading into the Wild Card round compared to previous weeks and it appears that'll be the trend this week as the team gets set to face the Bengals in the Divisional round.
On Monday, McDermott only indicated CB Dane Jackson as a player who got dinged up against the Dolphins. Jackson left Sunday's game with a knee injury and he's listed as day-to-day, according to McDermott. Jackson could have returned against Miami if needed.
"We'll see where it goes," McDermott said of Jackson's status for the Bengals game.
As for two players on IR who opened up their activation window last week, S Micah Hyde and receiver Jamison Crowder, some clarity was provided on their situation for the upcoming game.
Hyde will not play against the Bengals, though McDermott isn't sure if Crowder will be in the same boat.
In addition receiver Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring) and DT Jordan Phillips (shoulder) were inactive and their status for this week's game bears watching.
Check the News and Views section of the site for more in coming days.
You can access complete stats for the Bills Super-Wildcard Weekend game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Josh Allen, Kyle Allen
RBs: James Cook, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, Reggie Gilliam
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Trent Sherfield, Khalil Shakir, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dawson Knox, Dalton Kincaid, Quintin Morris
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, the scene inside Paycor Stadium felt familiar following the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-17 playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens.
It was also historic.
With their win in the wild-card round, the Bengals have won a playoff game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. Cincinnati, which reached the Super Bowl last season, knocked off its AFC North rival Sunday night to advance to the divisional round for a second straight year.
"It's a whole team, era, whatever you want to call it," said defensive end Sam Hubbard, whose 98-yard fumble return for a TD in the fourth quarter lifted the Bengals to victory. "That's just the mentality we have. We're not worried about curses or the past or anything like that."
For decades, it seemed as if the Bengals were fighting supernatural forces as they went 31 years without a playoff victory. Locally, it was chalked up to "The Curse of Bo Jackson," when the then-Los Angeles Raiders running back suffered his career-ending hip injury in a playoff win over the Bengals.
The Bengals snapped any hexes last season with a win over the Las Vegas Raiders in an AFC wild-card game, setting the table for Cincinnati's first Super Bowl appearance since 1989. In the three previous seasons that featured a playoff win -- 1981, 1988, 1990 -- the Bengals failed to win a postseason game the following season.
In only one of those seasons, 1982, did Cincinnati even make the postseason. The Bengals were knocked out of the playoffs with a first-round loss to the New York Jets.
The current iteration of the franchise avoided a similar fate Sunday night.
Despite playing a Baltimore team without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, Cincinnati faced a steep test.
In 2022, Cincinnati matched the team record for most wins in a single season (12), a mark that was most recently set in 2015. That year featured the infamous wild-card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers during which Cincinnati's Vontaze Burfict was called for unnecessary roughness on Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, a penalty that eventually led to an 18-16 Steelers win.
But there was no bad mojo Sunday night.
The Bengals held the Ravens scoreless on all four of their fourth-quarter drives and maintained the 24-17 advantage.
"You're here every step of the way -- to get to the playoff, and it can all be over in a heartbeat," head coach Zac Taylor said. "Our guys didn't want that to happen, so they found a way to move on."
With the win, Taylor also passed Sam Wyche for the most playoff wins (4) by a coach in franchise history.
Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who had a team-high nine catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, said the team's streak of postseason success shows where the Bengals are as a franchise.
"It speaks for itself," Chase said. "The play speaks for itself. We got a great team. A great defense. It's a championship-caliber football team right here."
Meanwhile, the Bills might have been the better team in the regular season. But could the Bengals be the better squad right now?
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor pointed out, Cincinnati didn't have Chase for part of the season, and star pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson missed a few games. The Bills, meanwhile, were bolstered by a superstar pass-rusher they no longer have in injured Von Miller. And for as good as Josh Allen was in the regular season, he did lead all quarterbacks in turnovers.
Add in Buffalo struggling to pull away from a Miami team that was starting its third-string quarterback and the Bengals might just have the edge.
Taylor, whose four playoff wins give him more than Mike Vrabel and Matt LaFleur and as many as the man he faces in Buffalo Sunday in the Bills' Sean McDermott, knows No. 5 is tied to the health of his offensive line.
On Monday he declared left tackle Jonah Williams day-to-day with a dislocated kneecap that forced him out of the game late in the first half Sunday, lumping him with right guard Alex Cappa (ankle), inactive against the Ravens.
Williams is the third starting offensive linemen to leave a game injured in the last three weeks and they're looking at starting their third straight different offensive line if Jackson Carman replaces Williams in Buffalo.
Williams dislocated the other kneecap in Baltimore Oct. 9 and missed the last six snaps of the first half before returning to play the second half and not missing a game the rest of the year.
As Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson notes, right guard Max Scharping started for Cappa and made his third playoff start after playing just 23 snaps this season. Despite the shuffling, Taylor likes the experience of his potential new starters. Adeniji started all four postseason games last year and Carman rotated with him in the AFC title game.
"That's really no different than game to game in terms of matchups and who is across from us. You don't feel any different about it because that's something you're always taking into account," Taylor said. "Anytime we're calling a play on a hash or preparing for a guy that's an interior guy or an exterior guy, we always try to factor that into to give our guys the best opportunity.
"And finding help where we can when it makes sense sometimes it's more beneficial to get four to five guys out on the route instead of helping. That's part of what we got to deal with starting today and formulating those plans."
The Ravens held Joe Mixon to just 39 rushing yards on 11 carries. He also caught three of four targets for 17 yards.
Mixon failed to find much running room as the Bengals had to grind out difficult drives against the tough Baltimore defense. As CBSSports.com notes, Joe Burrow vultured a short touchdown with a quarterback sneak, but Samaje Perine had just three scrimmage yards on two carries and one target, so Mixon should have an opportunity to bounce back with another sizable workload against the Bills. ...
You can access complete stats for the Bengals Super-Wildcard Weekend game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Jake Browning
RBs: Joe Mixon, Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Andrei Iosivas, Trenton Irwin, Kwamie Lassiter II, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
According to ESPN.com's Todd Archer, as Dak Prescott jogged off the Raymond James Stadium field Monday, there was no great exuberant cheer by the quarterback. He simply waved to the Dallas Cowboys fans crowding the tunnel to the locker room and casually tossed his hat into the stands.
Archer continued: "Prescott was acting like what he just accomplished in the Cowboys' 31-14 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was no big deal.
"Except it was a big deal. ..."
Archer went on to remind readers that eight days earlier against the Commanders, Prescott had what might have been the worst game of his career. He completed just 14 of 37 passes for 128 yards in a 26-6 loss. He was intercepted for the seventh straight game and had a pick-six for the third time in four games.
On Monday, Prescott had a game for the ages.
He threw for 305 yards, completing 25 of 33 passes with four touchdown passes and, perhaps more importantly, he was not intercepted. He also ran for a touchdown.
"I got away from the way I play this game," Prescott said of his Week 18 performance. "I got greedy, tried to just force some throws, tried to take the big ones -- and that's not who I've been throughout my career; taking what they give me, waiting on the big shot. I think it was uncharacteristic. ... But I wiped that clean and I knew what this game meant. I knew how important it was for us."
How good was he against the Buccaneers?
"I mean, as good as I've seen," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's for sure."
McCarthy coached Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers, winning a Super Bowl with Rodgers.
How good was Prescott?
He joined Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach as the only Cowboys quarterbacks with four touchdown passes in a playoff game. Like Prescott, Aikman's also came without an interception in his Super Bowl XXVII performance against the Buffalo Bills. Staubach's came in the 1975 NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams.
"I can doubt with the best of them, and Dak didn't in terms of his play when it counted. And we ought to all build from a really -- I would say this without exaggeration: that was a great performance," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "That's how you lift at that position. That's how you help create a championship team right there. Because it was all against him ... and had a great player on the other side of the ball at his position [Tom Brady] and came out there and played at that particular level."
Prescott outplayed Brady, who threw for 351 yards but needed 66 pass attempts and 35 completions to get there. Brady had two touchdown passes but was intercepted in the second quarter.
Coming off that interception, Prescott directed the Cowboys on a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. He completed all five of his passes to a different player: RB Ezekiel Elliott (9 yards), WR Michael Gallup (4 yards), RB Tony Pollard (5 yards), WR T.Y. Hilton (14 yards), TE Jake Ferguson (34 yards).
He ended the drive with a 1-yard bootleg that upped the Cowboys' lead to 12-0.
"He was unreal," All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. "I mean like every time we gave him enough time, he was making plays … No surprise. Obviously, being the quarterback here, he gets talked about more than anyone, but the guy just keeps coming back, you know?"
Prescott set a Cowboys postseason record with 11 straight completions after missing on his first three passes of the game. He is the fifth player with four touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown in NFL postseason history and the first since Matt Ryan in the 2016 NFC Championship Game. By the way, McCarthy saw Rodgers do the same in the 2009 wild-card round.
Prescott became the second player in NFL postseason history with four touchdown passes and a rushing score while completing 75 percent of his passes in a game, joining Peyton Manning (2004 wild-card round against the Denver Broncos).
His 96.5 Total QBR was the third highest by a starting quarterback in a wild-card game since 2006.
"Dak showed that he's a warrior," wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said. "He's a baller, and he came out slinging it. I feel like it was a statement game for him."
While the Cowboys offense will garner most of the headlines following Monday demolition of the Bucs, Dan Quinn's defense also deserves credit for making life difficult on Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense.
"Defensively, I thought we were all over them as soon as we got off the bus," McCarthy said. "I think our defense really set the tempo for the game. For there to be a couple of three-and-outs to start the game, we just did a great job."
On the first six plays against the Cowboys defense, Tampa generated -5 yards. The only Bucs drive in the first half that picked up more than one first down ended in a turnover.
That's a pretty good way to start a half of playoff football.
It wasn't until the Cowboys were up 24-0 that the defense began to give the Bucs chances to move the ball.
"Take away the deep shots they got -- we made them earn it every time," Micah Parsons said. "I think that's the key. We made the adjustments, did what we had to do. [We] said they couldn't beat us deep, we executed our game plan for the most part."
Of Brady's 66 attempts, just 13 were longer than 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Brady went 3 of 9 for 49 yards on passes of 10-19 yards and 1 of 4 for 30 yards and a TD on passes of 20-plus yards against the Cowboys.
Despite looking banged up going into halftime, Parsons generated a whopping 10 QB pressures Monday night, the most in a playoff game since Next Gen Stats began tracking data. Parsons noted following the game that he felt fine after getting nicked up. The linebacker finished with a sack, two QB hits, two tackles for loss and two passes defended.
The Cowboys were able to get enough pressure early to ensure Brady couldn't puncture an injury-riddled secondary. That task gets harder next week against a much better offensive line in San Francisco. Dallas needs a repeat performance from Parsons and the defense to reach the NFC Championship Game.
And that brings us to the tilt with the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday night.
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor and Seth Walder suggested, when it's clicking for Dallas on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys are dangerous.
It's not just theoretical; we've seen it in their blowout wins over the Vikings and Colts this season. The Cowboys' wild-card dominance displayed it too.
The Cowboys' defense forced more turnovers (33) than anyone this season, a crucial element to any recipe for victory over a team as potent as the 49ers. Parsons has to beat Niners offensive tackle Trent Williams, disrupt Purdy and force mistakes.
If Parsons does that, and the offense can keep playing the way it did against the Bucs, Dallas can win. But it has to be an A-game performance for the Cowboys. ...
It would also help if Brett Maher finds his groove.
Speaking Tuesday on 105.3 "The Fan," owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the Cowboys will "read this thing as the week goes along" following Maher's disastrous outing on Monday, when the kicker missed four extra point attempts.
"Well, I think the first thing you do is talk about how isn't it great to have that the number one thing we need to correct or the number one thing we need to address. I think that shows everything about not only how we played, but where we are with this team right now," Jones said.
"Make no mistake about it we got to have the same week of preparation. Now, over to our kicker. This is a classic case of looking at what he's done for this team and done on the field all year, not just last night. And, so, but kicking is a technical thing. It has everything to do with the -- just frankly mentally having it all together when you step up there. And, so, we'll read this thing as the week goes along. I don't want to get out over skis and get ahead of it."
Jones' latest comments are a departure from what he told reporters Monday when asked if the team would look at kickers.
"No. No. We won't. He's done enough good ones," Jones said of the 33-year-old Maher.
Maher became the first kicker in league history to miss that many attempts, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He ended the drought in the fourth quarter, making his fifth attempt.
Jones said that upon watching Maher during halftime he believed the failings in the first half were behind him.
"I thought when he came out at halftime, watched him warm up out there. He was making all the kicks. I figured that was behind him, but we will take a look at it," Jones said. "We can't be really a big setback to go into the rest of this tournament, rest of this playoff with shakiness at kicker."
McCarthy was also asked about Maher following Monday's win and cited the player's past performances.
"We need Brett. He understands that. We need to get back on it this week and get him ready to go," McCarthy said, per ESPN. "Obviously we're kicking at an outdoor stadium out there in Santa Clara. But you know, yeah, he's disappointed. We need him. We need him to focus in. He's been super clutch for us all year."
Through 17 regular-season games this year, Maher has made 29 of 32 field goal attempts and 50 of 53 extra point attempts.
Maher expressed Monday he's ready to put the latest outing behind him as the Cowboys' postseason run continues.
"This team is too good moving forward for me to have to do that. Just get back at it this week," he said. ...
Finally. ... The Indianapolis Colts are looking for a new head coach and have their eyes on someone who helped lead his team to the divisional round of the 2023 NFL playoffs. The Colts have put in a request to interview Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, according to ESPN.
Quinn is already reportedly scheduled to interview with the Denver Broncos, which will take place on Friday. ...
You can access complete stats for the Cowboys Super-Wildcard Weekend game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Tolbert, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Long framed it: "Trailing early? Yawn.
"Double-digit deficit late? Shrug.
"No hole seems too big for the Jacksonville Jaguars these days. ..."
The latest came last Saturday night as the Jaguars clawed back from 27 points down to stun the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 in the opening round of the AFC playoffs. It was the latest come-from-behind victory for a Jacksonville team that's grown accustomed to slow starts and frantic finishes.
As much heart-pounding excitement as the head-scratching trend has delivered for the Jaguars and their fans, it's one they'd prefer to see end when Jacksonville (10-8) plays at top-seeded Kansas City (14-3) in the divisional round Saturday.
After all, the team's margin for error surely will shrink as the level of competition increases. And the Jaguars already experienced how difficult it is to play from behind at Arrowhead Stadium. It was one of the first stops in Jacksonville's "rally tour."
The Jaguars have trailed in nine of their past 10 games, including six by double digits. They won seven of those nine, including shocking the Chargers in one of the most improbable comebacks in NFL playoff history.
"I look at us like a bunch of cockroaches," safety Rayshawn Jenkins said. "Like, we can't be killed. We cannot be killed. We're going to fight you until it says zero-zero-zero-zero on the clock."
Trevor Lawrence followed four interceptions with four touchdown passes as Jacksonville made all the key plays down the stretch.
"We've put ourselves in a hole at times and we've worked ourselves out of it at times," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Just to have the resiliency and the fight and the desire and the ability to continue to play because it could have easily gone the other way.
"And that's what I'm so proud of these guys for: everything is on the line, and they go out and get the job done."
Here's a look at Jacksonville's precarious path:
Long went on to note it's a contrast to earlier in the season when Jacksonville lost four games -- at Washington, at Philadelphia, at Indianapolis and against Denver in London -- after leading by eight points, 14 points, 11 points and 10 points, respectively.
"You're never out of it, and I think that's the one lesson that we've all learned," Lawrence said.
"When you believe and everybody believes, it's cool what you can accomplish."
Part of that success comes from Pederson's aggressiveness, which continues to pay dividends.
His fourth-down play call against the Chargers late was a masterpiece, with running back Travis Etienne Jr. lined up in the backfield alongside tight ends Chris Manhertz and Luke Farrell. Etienne took the handoff, got to the edge and gained 25 yards to set up the winning field goal.
That said, Jacksonville could use a clean game.
The Jags have committed 12 turnovers in their past five outings, including becoming the first in NFL history to win a playoff game with a minus-5 turnover ratio.
As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco notes, the last time a team turned the ball over five times in the first half of a playoff game was in the 1999 divisional playoffs -- the Miami Dolphins did it against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The Jaguars won that game 62-7 and sent Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino into retirement.
Also according to DiRocco, that first half was the worst half of football of Lawrence's NFL or college career. He was the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw four interceptions in the first half of a playoff game (Gary Danielson and Craig Morton were the others). Lawrence became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw three interceptions in the first quarter of a playoff game, and at points in the first half had passer ratings of 0.0 and 0.6.
So what's it going to take to get the job done in Kansas City?
According to ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor, a great outing from Lawrence, performances of the year from some of his teammates and a little luck could get it done.
That's all it will take.
The Jaguars showed how good they can be in the second half against the Chargers. Not only was Lawrence elite in that contest, but he also got solid protection, and teammates Christian Kirk and Evan Engram stepped up in the receiving game.
Against the Chiefs, though, they will need even more. But with Lawrence, there's always a chance. He proved that on Saturday.
If they can limit the turnovers, and get off to a strong start, Jacksonville -- an 8 1/2-point underdog at Kansas City according to FanDuel Sportsbook -- might make this game more interesting than the spread suggests it will be. ...
Also of interest. ... According to DiRocco, the Jaguars should have been able to attack the Chargers' defense on the perimeter in the run game with Etienne, who averaged an NFL-best 8.3 yards per carry outside the tackles; Los Angeles allowed 9.3 yards per carry on such runs, ranking last in the league.
But that went out the window with the big deficit, though the Jaguars did try to run the ball between the tackles occasionally in the second half while going to the hurry-up offense. ...
Riley Patterson has made 18 of his past 19 field goals, all since missing twice in a 10-point loss at Kansas City. His lone miss in the past two months came in windy and rainy conditions at the Jets in Week 16. He still made four others that day.
On the injury front. ... The first Jaguars injury report of divisional round week features two players who were out of practice, including a member of the starting offensive line.
Right guard Brandon Scherff did not practice because of an abdomen injury. Scherff was listed as questionable to face the Chargers last weekend, but wound up playing every offensive snap in the 31-30 comeback win.
Long snapper Ross Matiscik (back) also missed practice.
Lawrence (toe) is listed as limited in practice again, but the injury hasn't caused him to miss any time and seems unlikely to do so this week. Wide receiver Kendric Pryor (shoulder), wide receiver Jamal Agnew (shoulder), and center Luke Fortner (back) were limited participants as well.
Lawrence was bleeding from his left thumb after his hand was stepped on during Saturday's game, but trainers wrapped it up and he carried on. It didn't prevent Lawrence from rallying the Jags or eating at a Waffle House with teammates after the game.
You can access complete stats for the Jaguars Super-Wildcard Weekend game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, JaMycal Hasty, D'Ernest Johnson, Snoop Conner
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Jamal Agnew, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Kendric Pryor
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce have been in this situation before, ready to embark on a postseason run that the past four years has landed the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game and twice ended in the Super Bowl.
So it's easy to assume that the rest of the Chiefs are a hardened bunch of playoff veterans.
Turns out they're not.
Only the three-win Chicago Bears had more games played by rookies than the Chiefs this season, and only four teams had more first-year players start games than Kansas City.
That includes defensive end George Karlaftis, who started all 17 of his games, and cornerback Trent McDuffie, who started each of the 11 games for which he was healthy.
In fact, each of the Chiefs' 10 draft picks was active for at least one game. Eight of them started at least once.
"I mean, it starts with the organization and the coaches. They've set a culture here," explained Mahomes, who at 27 years old is suddenly among the elder statesmen of the franchise.
"We have a lot of veterans on our team, and when you bring in new guys, you just show them by the way you act."
Mahomes did his part with wide receiver Skyy Moore, inviting him to voluntary offseason workouts at his home in Texas. Moore responded by catching 22 passes for 250 yards while also contributing on special teams.
Defensive end Frank Clark likewise took Karlaftis under his wing in training camp, showing the first-round pick the nuances of the game. Karlaftis had six sacks, trailing only Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston for tops among rookies. And safety Justin Reid was instrumental in helping along a group of defensive backs that includes four rookie cornerbacks and a rookie safety, all of whom have been on the field at the same time.
Jaylen Watson had a 99-yard pick-6 that helped Kansas City beat the Chargers in Week 2, and McDuffie, Josh Williams, Nazeeh Johnson and Bryan Cook all have had moments.
The fact that they were pressed into service so often means that, at least as far as head coach Andy Reid is concerned, they're no longer rookies at all as they prepare to face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday in the divisional round of the playoffs.
"They've had enough experience. They've had enough games under their belt," Reid said. "They're first-year players but that title -- 'rookie' -- we really want to throw that out the window because of the experience and snaps under their belt."
The Chiefs had 154 games played by their rookie class this season. Sixty-one times a rookie was in the starting lineup.
"I just went in yesterday again and spoke to the group and just let them know, 'Hey, you're at a point in the season that you're not rookies any longer,'" added Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merritt.
"The guys have got to understand that it's a faceless opponent every time. ... Technique-wise, you have to make sure you're executing, and hopefully throughout the season you continue to get better. And that's what they've done."
It's not just on defense where rookies have shined either.
Moore was the most-touted offensive draft pick in Kansas City, and he's been helpful despite fumble problems that got him pulled from punt return duties.
But the breakout star has been seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco, who has seemingly spent every game making every team pay for passing on him in those first six rounds.
Despite not starting the first six games, Pacheco has run for 830 yards and five touchdowns, averaging nearly 5 yards per carry. That's the fifth-best yardage total among rookies and his TD total is tied for second among first-year players.
The most impressive thing about Pacheco, and the rest of the Chiefs rookies, might be that they keep getting better.
"I'm not a big rookie wall believer-type deal. It's professional football. This is your job," Chiefs running backs coach Greg Lewis said with a shake of his head. "(Pacheco) has been playing football, as all the other rookies have too, their whole life."
Never with these stakes, though. Mahomes was able to deal with the pressure; he's never lost in the divisional round of the playoffs as an NFL starter.
So have other players that have helped Kansas City reach four straight AFC title games.
Will their latest -- and perhaps largest -- group of first-year contributors manage to do the same?
"I think you've seen as the seasons gone on, those rookies are getting better," Mahomes said with a smile, "and then the veterans are starting to hit the right moment going into the playoffs."
While Mahomes and the Chiefs come into this one well-rested, ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor notes the Jaguars enter the game riding a wave of momentum -- and a roller coaster of emotions -- after coming back from a 27-point hole and four Trevor Lawrence first-half interceptions to beat the Chargers on a walk-off field goal in the wild-card round.
In these teams' regular-season meeting, Mahomes lit up the Jaguars for four passing touchdowns and 331 yards with one interception. The Chiefs jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter, but the upset-minded Jaguars did what they've done all season and tried to mount a comeback.
Lawrence threw for 259 yards and two touchdown passes, but the Jaguars didn't get any closer than a 10-point deficit late in the fourth. The Jags are a much-improved team from a season ago, but in this battle of former Philadelphia head coaches, Andy Reid's group is simply playing at another level.
Reid, Mahomes and Kelce are the biggest reasons the Chiefs will be deserved strong favorites. Over the course of the regular season, the Chiefs had the most efficient offense in football, and it wasn't even close (0.17 expected points added per play, with the Bills next at 0.12).
The offensive line deserves credit for that number too.
Defensively, Chris Jones has had a magnificent season. His 79 pass rush wins were 26 more than any other defensive tackle.
But Pryor points out this defense overall is simply average.
Of course, that's all it needs to be most weeks.
Offense is key to championships, and the Chiefs have the better one in this game.
"Yes," Pryor wrote, "Lawrence has had a nice season, and he was sensational in the second half of Saturday's comeback against the Chargers. But let's be real: Lawrence isn't on Mahomes' level, at least not right now. ..."
On the injury front. ... Wide receiver Mecole Hardman has not played since being activated from injured reserve late in the regular season and this week isn't getting off on the right foot.
Hardman has been sidelined by a pelvis injury and Reid told reporters on Tuesday that the wideout will remain out of practice as they begin on-field preparations for Saturday's game against the Jaguars.
"It's not responding the way he wants it to," Reid said, via Nate Taylor of The Athletic.
Hardman last played in Week 9. He had 25 catches for 297 yards and four touchdowns before getting hurt.
Reid said that running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) and tight end Jody Fortson (elbow) will take part in Tuesday's practice.
Hardman was the only player on the 53-man roster held out of Tuesday's practice.
Beyond that, Clark missed the end of the Week 18 victory over the Raiders with a groin injury. But it didn't keep him off the field for the team's first official practice of the divisional round.
Kansas City listed Clark as limited in Tuesday's session.
At the end of the regular season, Reid noted that Clark should be able to return after a little rest. In his fourth season with the Chiefs, Clark recorded 5.0 sacks, eight tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery during the regular season.
Moore (hand) and cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (hip) were both full participants.
I'll have more on the injury situation in the News and Views section of the site in coming days.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice, Justyn Ross, Justin Watson, Richie James
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
In his first career playoff game, Daniel Jones made history. It prompted his running back to label him "elite."
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan note3s, Jones became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 300 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and at least 70 rushing yards in a playoff game. He was undeniably dominant in his playoff debut, leading the New York Giants on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter en route to a 31-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
It had running back Saquon Barkley convinced that Jones is already among the NFL's best.
"I know we have an elite quarterback," Barkley said. "He's shown that multiple times."
Jones has been the Giants' best player the second half of the season. And now it has carried over into the playoffs in a season where his future was at stake. Jones, who is a free agent at the end of the season, went 24-of-35 passing for 301 yards with two touchdowns against the Vikings. He added 78 yards rushing on 17 carries as New York won its first playoff game since its Super Bowl run in the 2011 season.
By that point, the debate about whether Eli Manning was "elite" was almost already settled. He was on his way to his second Super Bowl MVP.
The Giants had questions about Jones as recently as the start of this season, when they declined the fifth-year option in his rookie contract. He would have to prove to the new administration that he was capable of being a franchise pillar.
Jones, 25, has done that. He has checked just about every box: stayed healthy for a full season, eliminated a turnover problem, played well in key spots and now, added winning in the playoffs to his résumé.
"It means a lot. Means a lot," Jones said of the victory, in which he again didn't turn the ball over. "It's a big win for us and grateful to be a part of it."
Jones has one turnover in the past five games. He has accounted for nine touchdowns during that span.
The sixth-seeded Giants, who will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round on Saturday afternoon, seem to almost expect this kind of dominant play from their quarterback on a weekly basis.
"Played good," head coach Brian Daboll said nonchalantly after winning his first playoff game as a head coach. "Played good."
"Yeah, winning football," Daboll added.
Talk about underplaying the performance. Jones was better than good, and everyone else who watched him seemed to notice. Even those on his own sideline.
Based on the reaction of his teammates afterward, when they mobbed him in the locker room, the brilliance Jones put on display for the entire nation to see was obvious.
Jones went 5-for-5 passing for 100 yards to go along with two rushes for 22 yards in the first quarter alone, when the Giants scored touchdowns on both their possessions.
Daboll said afterward using Jones as a runner was part of the game plan. The Giants didn't do it often in the previous meeting, when Jones had only four carries. The 17 attempts were a career high. His previous high was 12 earlier this season.
Seven of Jones' rushes went for first downs as he joined Steve Young and Lamar Jackson as the only quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and rush for at least 75 in a playoff game.
For the record, Barkley and Jones have taken turns carrying the offense this season. Both got it going on Sunday. Barkley ran for 53 yards and two TDs and caught five passes for 56 yards.
New York had 28 first downs, its second most in a playoff game.
"For this game we thought that was something we didn't do at all last game that we thought would be a little new wrinkle," Daboll said. "I mean, people have seen us do them, but we have a wide variety of them."
These wrinkles are a big part of what has elevated Jones to a new level. And has his teammates calling him elite.
But Jones isn't the only one drawing high praise.
In the New York City metropolitan area, Daboll is being compared to Bill Parcells, the coach who turned around the Giants in the 1980s and led them to their first two Super Bowl triumphs.
"Big Tuna." "Little Tuna."
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan reported, Super Bowl hopes have resurfaced in region. The Giants (10-7-1) have gone from a team that posted five straight losing seasons to one that made the playoffs in Daboll's first year and then won a postseason game for the first time since its Super Bowl victory under Tom Coughlin 11 years ago.
But this week's game is an obvious challenge. The NFC East champion Eagles have already beaten the division rival Giants twice, 48-22 on Dec. 11 at MetLife Stadium and 22-16 on Jan. 8 in the regular-season finale in Philly.
Daboll, however, said those results mean little.
"It's how we go about our business this week, how we prepare, how we practice and then ultimately how we play on Sunday -- or Saturday in this case," Daboll said Monday. "Every game's a new game."
The Giants were competitive in the last game, particularly considering it was meaningless for them and they rested many starters. The Eagles played their starters since they needed a win to clinch the No. 1 seed.
The bottom line is the Giants can win if they play well and avoid turnovers, penalties and blown assignments. That's something New York did after the 2007 season as the No. 6 seed, beating Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay en route to a Super Bowl win over New England, which came in at 18-0.
The division rival Cowboys had beaten the Giants twice that year before New York won in the playoffs.
Can it happen again? Sure.
If the Giants are to win, they will need the same discipline and consistent execution they showed against Minnesota. A lucky bounce or two wouldn't hurt, either. ...
While the Giants are 7 1/2-point underdogs at Philadelphia according to FanDuel Sportsbook, Daboll won't alter his approach. He wants his team to prepare and then be consistent. And New York is playing some of its best football. ...
Worth noting. ... After going 43 games without scoring at least 30 points, the Giants have done it twice in three games. They beat Indianapolis 38-10 on Jan. 1 to clinch a playoff spot and they did it again against the NFC North champion Vikings and their suspect defense.
All that said, Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport notes that Sunday's success came against a leaky Minnesota defense that ranked second-to-last against the pass. The Eagles could give the Giants trouble.
To be fair, the G-Men appear to have found something in youngster Isaiah Hodgins, who caught eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. But the Giants fielded the league's seventh-worst passing attack in 2022, averaging just 185.7 yards per game.
Per Glenn Erby of Eagles Wire, the team ranked last in the NFL with only 16 passes of over 25 yards.
Philly's NFC-best scoring offense will put up points. The Eagles averaged 28.1 points per game and blasted the Giants for 48 the first time these teams met in the regular season.
That's going to force New York to the air, and Davenport contends it's unlikely that Hodgins, Darius Slayton and Richie James will be able to get open consistently against James Bradberry, Avonte Maddox and Darius Slay. ...
On the injury front. ... Giants edge rusher Azeez Ojulari and safety Jason Pinnock each left last Sunday's win over the Vikings with injuries, but both players were on the practice field Tuesday.
Ojulari left the win over Minnesota with a quad injury. He had one tackle before making his departure and was a limited participant in Tuesday's walkthrough.
Pinnock went to the hospital for evaluation of an abdomen injury, but was released in time to make the flight home with the team. Pinnock is listed as a full participant.
Linebacker Landon Collins (ankle), Hodgins (ankle), cornerback Adoree' Jackson (back), safety Julian Love (hamstring), and defensive back Fabian Moreau (hip) joined Ojulari as limited participants in Tuesday's practice. ...
I'll follow up as needed in coming days; watch the News and Views section of the site for more. ...
Finally. ... Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka has become a hot name among head-coaching candidates, but he has decided not to interview at all this week.
Daboll says that Kafka would have been permitted to interview this week but has chosen to focus fully on Saturday's divisional round game against the Eagles.
The Panthers, Texans and Colts have all requested interviews with Kafka for their head-coaching vacancies.
It's good news for the Giants this week that game planning for the Eagles is Kafka's only priority. And for teams that have asked to interview Kafka, if they wouldn't be willing to wait until after Saturday, they probably weren't all that interested in hiring him anyway.
This is Kafka's first season with the Giants and first as an offensive coordinator. He spent the last five years on Andy Reid's staff with the Chiefs, and also played for Reid with the Eagles.
As it turns out, the Colts would like to speak with both of the Giants coordinators for their head coaching vacancy.
After word emerged on Monday that Indianapolis has requested an interview with Kafka, multiple reports indicate the Colts have also requested an interview with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.
Martindale, 59, is in his first season with the Giants after 10 years with the Ravens, the last four as defensive coordinator. New York finished No. 17 in yards allowed and No. 25 in points allowed this season.
Martindale has coordinated three defenses that finished in the top five in points allowed.
He also spent time with the Broncos and Raiders before starting his tenure with Baltimore in 2012.
This is the first known request Martindale has received in the 2023 coaching cycle.
You can access complete stats for the Giants Super-Wildcard Weekend game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Eric Gray, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Isaiah Hodgins, Parris Campbell, Darius Slayton, Jalin Hyatt, Sterling Shepard, Wan'Dale Robinson
TEs: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
According to Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston, Jalen Hurts zipped his passes. Lane Johnson jumped in for light drills.
The Eagles are getting healthy for the postseason -- and filling the All-Pro team -- just at the right time.
There was no need to rush any of the banged-up Birds back at full speed, because Philadelphia earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC and an opening-weekend bye. So they were eased into practice: Hurts tested his sprained right shoulder last Friday after he skipped throwing drills a day earlier, and Johnson practiced for the first time since he suffered a torn adductor in a Dec. 24 loss at Dallas.
Still, the Eagles also were encouraged by Hurts resuming throwing. The 24-year-old, who is 17-1 in his last 18 regular-season starts, finished with 3,701 yards passing and 22 touchdowns along with 760 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns in his second season as a starter.
The Eagles started Hurts in the finale after losing two straight games without him; a third loss could have cost them the NFC East title, the top seed in the conference and the bye.
"I think the whole world knows I'm dealing with something," Hurts said. "I think the whole point of that game was coming back and getting done what we need to get done and obviously having that time to rest. So here it is."
It got even better this week.
Head coach Nick Sirianni said before Tuesday's practice that Hurts would fully participate in the team's walkthrough and that Hurts' shoulder is in much better shape than it was in Week 18 of the regular season.
"He's better today than he was two weeks ago," Sirianni said. "He's continuing to get better and he feels good. I'll let him tell you how he feels. But looking forward to seeing him go out there and practice today and go through everything today."
Sirianni later confirmed that Hurts would be "full go" in Tuesday's walk-through practice.
That's a change from Week 18 when Hurts was limited in all three sessions before facing the Giants.
In fact, Hurts' shoulder is well enough that the team didn't even list him on their injury report.
That puts Hurts firmly on track to play against the Giants this Saturday in the Eagles' playoff debut.
The only Eagles player to miss practice entirely was cornerback Avonte Maddox. Maddox missed the final two games of the regular season with a toe injury and missing more practice time will put his availability for this weekend in serious doubt.
Johnson was a limited participant on Tuesday along with defensive tackle Linval Joseph (calf) and defensive end Robert Quinn (back).
For what it's worth, Hurts said in his own Tuesday press conference that he's "feeling good," though he said he doesn't have a sense for how much the bye week of rest helped his shoulder recover.
He also noted that he's not going to worry about the Giants targeting his injured shoulder as he plays this weekend's game.
"It's football," Hurts said. "I've got a bounty on me every week I go out there on the field, so I'm going to go out there and just play my game. Whatever happens, happens."
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor and Seth Walder reminded readers, only one of the two matchups between these teams this season featured both teams' starting quarterbacks, and the Eagles throttled the Giants (Week 14), more than doubling New York's points total with a balanced offensive attack that scored four times on the ground and twice through the air.
The Giants gave up 437 yards of offense to Philadelphia.
But in the last three regular-season games, coordinator Wink Martindale's defense allowed only an average of 315 yards, and it gave up 332 to Minnesota in the wild-card round. And with the offense capitalizing on his mobility, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has also played better as of late, and he led the Giants with 78 rushing yards against the Vikings -- including seven first-down runs.
But make no mistake: Even with the Giants' late-season surge and Hurts still recovering from a shoulder sprain suffered in Week 15, the Eagles have the edge coming off the bye week.
One other thing to keep in mind: In that Week 14 game, the Eagles held New York running back Saquon Barkley to just 28 rushing yards, his second-lowest output of the season.
Philadelphia is better in almost every facet of the game. Quarterback? Check. Offensive line? Check. Receivers? Check. Defensive line? Check. Linebackers? Check. Defensive backs? Check.
Pryor and Walder give the Giants the running back position, and maybe kicker, in the head-to-head comparison. But that's about it.
The Eagles can beat you in different ways.
Offensively, Hurts can run on the Giants -- who allowed 5.2 yards per carry to opposing quarterbacks this season, second worst in the NFL -- or hit receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith through the air.
Philly's NFC-best scoring offense will put up points.
The Eagles averaged 28.1 points per game and blasted the Giants for 48 the first time these teams met in the regular season.
Defensively, the pass rush can wreck a pass play before the ball is out of the quarterback's hand. And if not, the best secondary in the game is there to smother receivers.
One last note here. ... The Jets interviewed Eagles passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo for their offensive coordinator job Friday, a source tells NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Tanner McKee
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 17 January 2023
According to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, as Brock Purdy dropped back to throw his first postseason pass, he had wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel streaking open down the field.
But Purdy's first pass didn't hit either wideout and was nearly intercepted. Perhaps a case of postseason jitters for the lowest-drafted rookie quarterback to start an NFL playoff game?
"Honestly, the ball was a little wet, it was raining at the time and it just got away from me," Purdy said. "But it wasn't anything in terms of, like, the game."
Purdy did later acknowledge he could feel the importance and emotion of Saturday's wild-card matchup against the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks and perhaps it played a factor in what was an uneven first half for him throwing the ball.
But whatever contributed to Purdy's first-half misses were wiped away at halftime of San Francisco's 41-23 win against the Seahawks. Purdy finished 18-of-30 for 332 yards with three touchdowns and a rushing score in his postseason debut.
In the process, Purdy not only became the lowest-drafted rookie quarterback to start and win a playoff game, but he also etched his name in the record book in other ways.
Despite all of that, Wagoner reports that Purdy's teammates and coaches continue to seem wholly unsurprised by the quarterback's consistent production, regardless of the setting.
"You could feel his confidence when he came in the huddle, and that just felt like old Brock," tight end George Kittle said. "I get it. Playoffs, there's a lot going on. A lot more cameras, a lot more media. He did exactly what he needed to do for us to win that game. I think he's just going to continue to do that and play at a high level for us."
For most of the first half, Purdy and the Niners moved the ball but struggled to end drives with touchdowns. In the locker room at halftime, coach Kyle Shanahan delivered a simple message.
"Kyle straight up was like, 'Hey, man, plays were there, the opportunities are there; we've just got to keep it simple and get it to the guys,'" Purdy said. "We knew what our plan was in the second half, and I thought we just executed everything and we finished drives."
The Niners adjusted, in part, by asking Purdy to take fewer deep shots.
After averaging 11.7 air yards per attempt in the first half, that number dropped to 8.2 in the second half. The result was a half in which Purdy went 9-of-11 for 185 yards and two scores -- and would have had a third touchdown had Aiyuk not dropped a well-placed throw in the corner of the end zone.
And when Purdy didn't have receivers open or felt pressure from Seattle's defense, he used his legs to extend plays and make something happen. His average time to throw Saturday was 3.63 seconds, the longest in a game this season among players with at least 25 attempts in that game.
"Brock Purdy did a really good job of staying alive," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know why we couldn't sack the guy. We chased him all over the place. He's not noted for being the greatest scrambler, but he looked like Fran Tarkenton out there today."
And though the Niners said they felt confident they would bounce back quickly from their halftime deficit, they got additional motivation from Seahawks safety Johnathan Abram with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
After Samuel's 21-yard catch and run, Abram appeared to hang on to one of Samuel's ankles after the play and twist it. Samuel said he stayed down in part because the twist hurt and because he wanted to avoid retaliating.
As tempers flared, the 49ers scored five plays later on Purdy's 1-yard sneak, as they rattled off 25 unanswered points to put the game away.
"I feel like that turned our team up a notch," said Samuel, who finished with 165 scrimmages yards and a score. "And as you can see, we just went out there and made plays."
In the closing moments of San Francisco's win, Purdy got a tweet of affirmation from NBA superstar LeBron James.
Informed after the game that James had tweeted about him, Purdy said it was "awesome." More important, Purdy will have another chance to make a playoff impression next week in the NFC divisional round against either the Minnesota Vikings (if they win) or the winner of the Dallas Cowboys-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game (if Minnesota loses).
"I love the fact that Brock is getting the attention that he deserves," 49ers left tackle Trent Williams said. "He is a good player, and I think anybody who watches football can see that. I'm not saying that he's the next Aaron Rodgers or Pat Mahomes, but he does everything that we need him to do and more. And I think we can continue to win with him."
That continues in the divisional round, where they will host Dallas on Sunday. ...
The Niners will face the Cowboys for second straight year in the postseason after winning 23-17 in the wild-card round last year. This is the record-tying ninth playoff meeting between the teams with Dallas winning five of the previous eight. That ties 49ers-Packers and Cowboys-Rams for the most common playoff matchups in NFL history. ...
Worth noting. ... According to Associated Press sports writer The Niners averaged more than 10 yards after the catch on their 18 receptions, according to Sportradar, led by 66 yards on Samuel's 74-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. That's the second-most yards after catch per reception in the past 10 postseasons, trailing the 12.08 for Pittsburgh against Miami in a wild-card game following the 2016 season.
Finally. ... 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is a popular man in this year's head coaching searches.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Colts have requested an interview with Ryans for their vacancy. There was also word on Monday that the Colts requested an interview with Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
Ryans is coming off a 41-23 win over the Seahawks in the Wild Card round and his defense gave up just six points after halftime in that victory. The 49ers had the league's top defense during the regular season.
Schefter reports Ryans is expected to speak with the Broncos on Thursday with interviews with the Colts, Texans, and Cardinals to follow before the 49ers host the Cowboys or Buccaneers on Sunday.
You can access complete stats for the 49ers Super-Wildcard Weekend game via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray
TEs: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu