Five NFL wildcard games are on the books (we still have Monday night’s Cowboys-Buccaneers game) and the best performances deserve recognition from our MMQB staff.
Here are the stars of this weekend:
Gary Gramling: Abracadaniel, franchise quarterback, Giants. There was a long list of “is he worth another contract?” quarterbacks entering the season, and only one of them answered emphatically in the affirmative. For some reason, Daniel Jones – who has drawn unwarranted cackles from pundits since the day he was drafted – was still in heat at the start of this season despite, for example, spending a Monday night warding off some time and space against the relentless Cowboys. pass the rush and shoot peas all over the field to see them fall by a collection of equally run receivers. He spent the season working with those receivers and often overcoming their struggles. He also had a creative attacking brain trust, led by Brian Daboll, and they all found their way through Jones’ increasingly reliable work from the pocket, his underrated ability to create late down and his streak. to play big games with his legs. Now here we are, a historical performance (24 of 35, 301 passing yards, two touchdowns and 78 rushing yards against the Vikings) in a road playoff win for a quarterback that earned the Giants quarterback right for the next half decade.
Michael Rosenberg: Stefon Diggs, Bills. Diggs had seven catches in the first half for 114 yards, on eight targets, and the lone no catch might have been his most impressive play of the day. He made a small simultaneous one-handed/toe touch in the end zone, and although it was clearly an incompleteness (Diggs only had one foot down and had no control of the ball), it was still a highlight-worthy game. Diggs was a second-team All-Pro and a potential Hall of Famer, but at this point in his career, he seems oddly under-discussed. It speaks to the depth of talent both at receiver and on his own roster. But he’s a guy who made one of the most memorable catches in playoff history when he was a Viking and on average 101 catches and 1,268 yards in the past five years. While we’re going to say that Josh Allen sometimes reverts to his sloppy early career himself, let’s also acknowledge that Diggs is the player most responsible for helping Allen get off the hook in the first place. He continues to perform like the superstar he is.
Conor Orr: Brock Purdy, QB, 49ers. Here for the first rookie QB in NFL playoff history to record four touchdowns. Purdy started the game a little wobbly and missed a few throws, but settled into a groove, throwing for 332 yards and three touchdowns while running for another. His off-schedule play helped keep the Seahawks at a comfortable distance, and he exuded a confidence akin to a 10-year veteran. This team is the closest thing we’ve seen to being unstoppable in the middle of a season with few true heavyweights.
John Pluym: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars. That’s right, I give my game ball to the guy who threw four picks. There’s no doubt he was brutal for the first 25 minutes of the game. But he threw a touchdown just before halftime to cut the deficit to 27-7. And the former Clemson standout was near perfect in the second half, throwing three more touchdowns. Lawrence finished the game 28 of 47 for 288 yards. The Jaguars have now won six straight and much of that credit should go to Doug Pederson. But any team worth its salt in the NFL has a top quarterback, and Lawrence was one of the best in the streak. Over the past eight games, he’s had 16 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Coming from behind was nothing new for Lawrence and the Jaguars, who arrived after a dismal season under Urban Meyer. “You couldn’t write a crazier script,” Lawrence said after the game. “We said in the locker room that’s kind of how our season goes. We’re never out of the fight. … I’m a little speechless, honestly, just to see what belief can do and to see when a team believes in each other what you can accomplish.
Mitch Goldich: Doug Pederson, Coach, Jaguars. Let me start with an acknowledgment that the players are also deserving of praise. But let’s start with Pederson. First, the two-point conversion to cut the lead to two points with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter is a record. It was the right call, especially after Joey Bosa’s helmet penalty cut the distance in half. And I know he’s not the only coach who’s been there, but there’s definitely NFL coaches who would have frowned and said, No, we can’t risk missing and being behind by four points. I love that Pederson thinks half full about a potentially winning basket. (Which, hello, he did.) Next: His play call on fourth-and-1 on the game-winning drive was magnificent, with the lineup looking like a stealthy QB until Travis Etienne Jr. made a sweeps the right sideline and into the shooting zone of the field. Lawrence said after the game that Pederson had a different call, then took a time out and moved on to this game. Magnificent. Pederson, who coached the underdog Eagles to a Super Bowl win with Nick Foles, has now coached seven playoff games. According to Philly Voice‘s Shamus Clancy, he was an underdog in six of them, covered the spread in all six and won five outright. The man is 5-1 in the playoffs as an underdog. It’s unreal. Give tons of credit to Trevor Lawrence and all the other team contributors, but Jacksonville also nailed hiring a coach to replace you-know-who.
Claire Kuwana: Travis Etienne Jr., RB, Jaguars. Mitch has the play call covered, and John has the QB back, so I’m going to give my play ball to the third star of the Jaguars’ game-winning drive: the running back who rushed for 25 yards on fourth-and-1, the last of his 20 deals on the day. In Etienne’s first playoff game of his career, he did what was necessary to pull off the comeback Jacksonville needed. As he said on Saturday, “The running back, when he gets to that point in the game, you’re supposed to be the closest.” And alongside his former Clemson teammate, Etienne helped the Jaguars to their first playoff victory since 2017.