10 biggest standouts of NFL Wild Card weekend
It was a weekend for upsets in the NFL during Wild Card weekend, with three division champions losing — including both higher seeds losing in the AFC in rather uncompetitive fashion. It sets up an intriguing slate of games for next weekend, but before we get there, we have to remember the action of this weekend.
Many players did themselves justice when it mattered most and can hold their heads high, both in victory and defeat. Here are 10 standouts from Wild Card weekend.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
When Elliott is on, the Cowboys can give him the ball, ride him, and win games that way. That’s roughly what they did on Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks. He was handed the ball 26 times on Saturday, and he took that for 137 yards and a touchdown as the Seattle defense didn’t seem to have much of an answer for him. Tack on a modest 32 receiving yards and you have well over 150 yards of total offense and one of the most dangerous weapons in the game.
Los Angeles Chargers’ defense
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense were completely suffocated by an exemplary performance by the Los Angeles defense, which is quite impressive considering the amount of injuries they’ve had to withstand this year. The Chargers sacked Jackson seven times and, at one point in the third quarter, had Baltimore hovering around the single digits in passing offense. They weren’t quite as sharp in the fourth quarter, but they’d certainly done enough to earn a lot of plaudits.
Darius Leonard, LB, Colts
Somehow, the Colts’ rookie linebacker was excluded from Pro Bowl proceedings, which looked even more absurd after Leonard piled up 13 total tackles in his team’s playoff victory over the Houston Texans. It was his highest number of total tackles since October. He was all over the place for Indianapolis, stifling the Texans all day as they only managed one touchdown. He may be coming to the end of his rookie year, but he’s already a star, and his playoff performance proved it.
Nick Foles, QB, Eagles
The man just finds a way to win when it matters. Foles led Philadelphia on another game-winning drive on the road late in the fourth quarter, capping off a day that saw him throw two interceptions but ultimately come through big when it mattered. His late touchdown to Golden Tate on 4th and goal, combined with a little bit of luck in the form of a missed kick, keeps the Eagles alive and ensures the legend of Foles will carry on for another week.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
It remains downright remarkable how good Luck has been this year after the injuries he had to battle through and the lengthy absence they caused. It is perhaps even more remarkable that he stepped up in a playoff game in his first year back to throw for two touchdowns in a winning performance. Luck didn’t do much in the second half, but he didn’t need to as the Colts came out playing outstanding football, and his 222 yards is a respectable tally for the day. At the very least, he deserves a tip of the cap for accomplishing everything he has.
Melvin Ingram, DE, Chargers
On what was a great day for the Charger defense, Ingram was the standout. He had seven total tackles, all solo, and two of them were sacks of a hapless Lamar Jackson. He caused havoc in the Baltimore backfield all day and disrupted everything they were trying to do in their Jackson-centric offensive scheme. It was actually his first two-sack game of the season. On only two occasions did he get to 1.5 sacks, so he seems to be peaking at the right time.
Marlon Mack, RB, Colts
Mack has been somewhat overlooked this season, but with two 100-yard games in the last three contests of the regular seasons, there were signs that he was poised for a big playoff. He certainly started off the right way, going for 148 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries as the Colts essentially pounded the Texans into submission. Mack was leaned upon as the Colts aimed to run down the clock and was very much up to the challenge, putting together a dominant performance to help Indianapolis advance.
Patrick Onwuasor, LB, Ravens
Baltimore may have turned in a losing effort, but it wasn’t really the fault on Onwuasor, who was making things happen against the Chargers. He put together seven tackles, a sack, and a massive forced fumble that gave Baltimore an opportunity to get back into the game, even if they didn’t really take it. It was one of the best games of the season for the third-year linebacker, and while it came in a losing effort, the Ravens clearly have another talented young defensive player on their hands.
Chicago Bears’ run defense
The Bears were deeply unlucky to lose this game, and it came down to a kicker being unable to do his job. Chicago’s defensive line certainly did theirs. The Eagles ran the ball 23 times and got just 42 yards out of it, with Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood held to 21 and 20 yards, respectively. Leonard Floyd and the defensive front did everything they could, including a goal-line stand in the last two minutes that very nearly succeeded. They can hold their heads high even in a losing effort.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts
Hilton raised the stakes before Saturday’s playoff game, taunting the Texans for their inability to handle him and donning a mask to back up his bravado after one Houston player fired back. The ultimate statement would have been to have a good game, and Hilton did that, too. He made five catches for 85 yards, and while he didn’t find the end zone, his 38-yard grab in the first quarter helped set up Indianapolis’ first touchdown. At the very least, his trash talk was not misplaced.