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#pounditThursday, May 6, 2021

10 biggest standouts of the NFL divisional round

Sean Payton

The games may not have been as competitive from start-to-finish as viewers may have liked, but the divisional round of the playoffs still offered up a lot of great and memorable moments. It also provided some remarkable performances by players who either defied odds or tore up opposition with remarkable efficiency.

Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest standouts of the NFL’s divisional round.

Sean Payton, head coach, Saints

The Saints fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles and didn’t appear to be getting any closer to making the breakthrough until, at Payton’s direction, they engineered two game-changing moments. Going for it on 4th and 1 from the New Orleans 30 was not an easy decision, and Payton called for a fake punt that caught Philadelphia flat-footed enough to succeed. That kept the second quarter drive moving all the way to the goal line, when the Saints went for it on 4th and goal from the two to score their first touchdown of the game. It’s anyone’s guess how the game proceeds if that drive ends scoreless, but Payton’s bold calls helped permanently shift momentum.

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots

It’s probably a good idea to avoid betting against Tom Brady at home during the playoffs. Against the Chargers, he went 34-for-44 for 343 yards. He threw for just one touchdown, but thanks to support from the ground game, he didn’t need to. Brady was his usual excellent self, and he took full advantage of being given all the time he needed to throw. He looks as good as ever, and the Chiefs are in for a huge challenge in a week.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs

By their own lofty standards, the Chiefs’ offense actually had a slightly underwhelming day on Saturday, as the Colts did a solid job on them defensively. It didn’t really reflect on Mahomes, who went 27-of-41 for 278 yards, though every Chiefs touchdown came on the ground. Mahomes delivered his usual array of sidearm throws to dazzle the viewing audience and essentially just had to manage the game for much of the second half with his team in control. Watching him against the Patriots should be fun.

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

Thomas was nothing short of incredible for the Saints on Sunday. The Eagles could not stop him at any point, and he seemed to step up whenever Drew Brees looked his way. Thomas finished with 12 catches for 171 yards — more than half of what Brees put up on the day — and a touchdown. Even for the lofty standards of the Saints’ offense, it was a truly remarkable performance. He did everything he could to try to get the Saints over the line.

Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs

Kelce was a dominant force that the Indianapolis Colts were unable to stop. Taking advantage of soft zone coverage, Kelce went for 108 yards on seven catches, giving the Indianapolis defense massive headaches all day long. He was one of Mahomes’ favorite targets and he showed why. Perhaps most impressively is the fact that all seven of Kelce’s receptions went for first downs, so not only was he catching passes, but he was making them count.

Los Angeles Rams’ run defense

At various points this season, the Rams’ run defense has been criticized even by their own players. There can be no criticism of their performance against Ezekiel Elliott on Saturday. Elliott was held to 47 yards rushing, one of his worst performances of the season, as the Rams went out winners against the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas got nothing going on the ground, which was expected to be key to their offensive attack. That was a big reason they fell short by eight points.

Sony Michel, RB, Patriots

Tom Brady’s excellence was augmented Sunday by an outstanding running game led by Michel, New England’s rookie standout. Michel got the ball 24 times and went for 129 yards and three touchdowns, with 105 of those rushing yards coming in the Patriots’ dominant first half. Michel has had some big games this season, but given the context, this is the biggest, as the Chargers’ defense had no answer to him and his ability to burst through holes into the secondary.

Los Angeles Rams’ running game

If you had said one team’s running game would go off in the Cowboys-Rams game, a lot of people might have bet on Ezekiel Elliott. Instead, it was a rather surprising duo that absolutely smashed the Cowboys, with C.J. Anderson going for 123 yards and Todd Gurley complementing him with 115. In total, the Rams ran for 273 yards and three touchdowns, with Jared Goff content to take a back seat to the pair of effective running backs. They won this game for Los Angeles.

Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots

Tom Brady’s favorite target lived up to the role on Sunday against the Chargers. Targeted 13 times, he caught nine of them for 151 yards in what was a huge day. In fact, it was Edelman’s biggest game of his abbreviated season, and at least in terms of yardage, the biggest performance of his playoff career. Edelman looks to have hit his stride after his early-season suspension and is perfectly in step with his quarterback, and he tends to shine this time of year.

Michael Gallup, WR, Cowboys

Though it came in a losing effort, Gallup had the biggest game of his young career against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. The wide receiver caught six passes for 119 yards, leading his team and besting highly-touted trade acquisition Amari Cooper in the yardage department. Gallup only passed 50 yards five times during the regular season, so it would be safe to say that few saw this coming, but perhaps it could serve as a springboard to an excellent 2019 season.


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