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Best and Worst of Wild Card Weekend

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Featuring some terrific games, close finishes and wild plays, Wild Card Weekend lived up to its name.

Best and Worst of Wild Card Weekend

This weekend proved that the NFL's regular season and postseason are two completely beasts. Three of the four games during the Wild Card Weekend were decided in the final minutes, with two games ending on game-winning field goals as time expired. There were comebacks and collapses, great plays, weather conditions, upsets and near-upsets and an incredible amount of drama. Even the one fairly lackluster game (by the weekend's standards) was filled with tension. Let's quickly look back and go over the best and worst from all four of this weekend's games.

Indianapolis Colts 45 - Kansas City Chiefs 44

Best: Andrew Luck

Despite all of the setbacks that continually crept up for him in Saturday's game, Luck never gave in. His three interceptions could have been backbreakers, especially his second pick at the start of the second half. That led to a quick KC touchdown that gave the Chiefs an imposing 28-point lead. Luck didn't panic after any of it though. He led the Colts down the field for scores repeatedly. After that interception on the first play of the half, Luck threw for 288 yards, three touchdowns and just one more pick in the second half. 

He also had, to me, the play of the entire weekend that doesn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet. On the goal line and trailing by just 10, Luck handed the ball off to Donald Brown. Chiefs safety Eric Berry forced a fumble, but it fortuitously bounced right into Luck's hands. All in one motion amidst the chaos of the broken play, Luck dove forward for the five-yard score to reduce the deficit to three. When Luck got that bounce, I knew the Colts weren't losing the game.

Best: T.Y. Hilton

When Reggie Wayne went down, Hilton was expected to really step up after a solid rookie campaign. He responded with back-to-back 100-yard games, but as defenses focused more on him his production stalled until he broke out again in Week 17 against the Jaguars for 11 catches and 155 yards. Hilton really rose to the occasion on Saturday, hauling in 13 receptions for 224 yards and two scores, the last of which became the game-winner. Luck needed a dependable number one option for the comeback, and Hilton was exactly that.

Best/Worst: Alex Smith

Alex Smith played an unbelievable game on Saturday: 30-46 passing for 378 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions plus another 57 yards rushing. Unfortunately, a poor decision on the final drive really stalled any chance the Chiefs had at stealing back the win. Facing a 2nd-and-7 from the Indianapolis 39 (nearly in field goal range), Smith was blitzed hard as he dropped back. Instead of just taking the sack, Smith tried to get rid of the ball. Unfortunately, he couldn't get out of the tackle box and committed a devastating intentional grounding penalty. The loss of yardage and down moved KC back to nearly mid-field and set them up in a 3rd-and-17. Smith played a really phenomenal game, but that play cost the Chiefs a shot at a game-winning field goal.

Worst: KC's Injuries

It's sad to think what the outcome might have been if Kansas City had been able to stay healthy throughout the game. Jamaal Charles only got three carries before having to leave the game early due to injury. His replacement, Knile Davis, filled in more than admirably. He too would get injured early in the 4th quarter. The Chiefs also lost cornerback Brandon Flowers in the third quarter and linebacker Justin Houston the play before the game-winning touchdown. It might not have mattered, but Maybe if the Chiefs had their best running back, they could have killed more time in the second half.

New Orleans Saints 26 - Philadelphia Eagles 24

Best: Shayne Graham

Shayne Graham is a veteran kicker who had been with the Saints for all of two weeks before the playoffs. Their regular kicker, Garrett Hartley, was cut by the team after two missed field goals in a week 15 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Graham has been perfect since coming to the team and was big for the Saints Saturday night. Graham connected on all four of his field goal attempts (and both PATs), including the game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired. Graham's reliability ended up being the difference.

Best: Mark Ingram

On a night where Pierre Thomas was out and Drew Brees wasn't his world-beating self, Ingram needed to come up big. He did just that, rushing 18 times for 97 yards and a touchdown on the night. Ingram also caught three passes for 17 yards out of the backfield and was a huge reason New Orleans was able to possess the ball for nearly 35 minutes. Ingram couldn't have picked a better night to cash in on the promise of that first round draft pick the Saints used on him.

Worst: Philadelphia's Run Game

The expectation coming into the game was for LeSean McCoy, the league's leading rusher, to continue his impressive play against an average Saints run defense. New Orleans allowed 111.6 yards rushing a game, good for 19th in the league this season. McCoy was only able to muster 77 yards on 21 carries. Backup Bryce Brown didn't get any carries either. The Eagles had to rely mostly on the arm of Nick Foles, and while he played a fine game, the lack of balanced production hurt Philadelphia offensively.

San Diego Chargers 27 - Cincinnati Bengals 10

Best: San Diego's Run Game

The Bengals entered the game with one of the best run defenses in the NFL. The Chargers didn't care at all. They decimated Cincinnati to the tune of 196 yards on the ground and two scores, one early from Danny Woodhead and a 58-yard cherry on top by Ronnie Brown at the end of the fourth quarter. Cincinnati ended up out-gaining San Diego thanks to Andy Dalton's late-game passing, but San Diego's run game helped them control the game, especially in the second half. Cincy's inability to stop the run put more pressure on the offense when they got the ball back.

Worst: Andy Dalton

Dalton hasn't been as secure with the ball as he was in his first two seasons with the Bengals. While his passing touchdowns have gone up, so have his turnovers. Sunday, those reared their ugly head in a terrible way. The Bengals couldn't really get anything going, and a lot of that was in part to Dalton's three turnovers. He threw two really bad interceptions and also lost a fumble. The turnovers negated the work the rest of the offense did and helped equalize the game. Cincinnati out-gained San Diego by 121 yards, but the -4 turnover ratio is what undid them.

Best/Worst: Philip Rivers

Rivers didn't play an amazing game, but he played a mistake-free game. He didn't beat himself, completing 12-16 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. He let the running game do the work and didn't give the ball away. His conservative play was a big part of the upset. What came after the game was the worst.

Rivers was sporting a Bolo Tie, and it looked utterly ridiculous. He nearly destroyed the good will he had earned in the victory. Burn that thing and never wear it again, Philip.

San Francisco 49ers 23 - Green Bay Packers 20

Best: Michael Crabtree

After missing most of the season due to injury, Crabtree didn't really have much time to assimilate. He certainly showed no more signs of rust yesterday, though, and rediscovered his connection with Colin Kaepernick. Crabtree was targeted on nearly half of Kaepernick's passes and hauled in eight of them for 125 yards. With Green Bay's defense really digging deep, Crabtree was the trusted possession receiver for the 49ers. Three of his eight receptions were on third or fourth down, including a key conversion on their game-winning drive.

Best: Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick made his share of mistakes, but he made plays when the team needed him to. His greatest asset against the Packers was his ability to evade the pass rush. On the day, Kaepernick rushed seven times for 98 yards, and he was also able to convert big third downs with his legs against a battered Green Bay defense. The biggest rush came on a third-and-eight on the final drive. Kaepernick eluded blitz and was able to scamper to the sideline for 11 yards. That play moved the Niners into field goal range and pretty much sealed things up.

Best: Lambeau Field

There might not be a better venue in all of football once the playoffs roll around. Green Bay's fans braved the frigid conditions and made the atmosphere in Lambeau pretty remarkable. Things looked grim at first, but after the Tramon Williams interception, the stadium was injected with life. It might not be Seattle's CenturyLink Field, but the elements combined with the diehard fans made for one of the best settings for a postseason game. All it was missing was a little snow.

Worst: John Kuhn's Lambeau Leap

I love John Kuhn as a football player, but when you score a go-ahead touchdown at home in a playoff game, you have to be able to pull off the Lambeau Leap. You have to. What happens below is NOT a Lambeau Leap.

[GIF via CJ Fogler, @cjzero]

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