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NFL Playoffs: Wildcard round recap

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Roar Rookie
8th January, 2019
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The NFL playoffs began last weekend, with the wildcard round whittling the number of contenders down from 12 to 8.

Here’s how it all happened.

Colt with their pants down: Indianapolis humbles Houston in Texas behind Andrew Luck and Marlin Mack
The Indianapolis Colts produced a dominant road display to sweep aside Houston in a battle of the comeback quarterbacks.

Indy’s Marlin Mack gashed Houston’s formidable run defence for 148 yards and a touchdown, adding a one-two punch alongside Andrew Luck, who threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

With equal winning records and both sides winning at least eight of their last ten games, this was tipped to be a fiercely competitive contest – but the Colts had other ideas.

Indianapolis’ offence, spearheaded by Luck, got off to the perfect start scoring 14 points from their first two drives.

Andrew Luck - could he eclipse Peyton?

Andrew Luck pf the Colts. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Houston struggled to gain any sort of cohesion offensively, shutout at the half thanks in part to a wild Deshaun Watson throw with little time remaining.

To add insult to injury, the Colts opened up a 21-0 lead early in the fourth quarter. Houston rallied to pull it back to 21-7 late, however, this did little to alter the outcome.

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In his first playoff appearance, the stage proved a little too large for Watson, who struggled to convert when needed. The Houston offence went 3/13 on third down for the afternoon.

Conversely, Indianapolis’ All-Pro rookie linebacker Darius Leonard produced a game-high 13 tackles in another outstanding performance.

The performance of Luck and Mack will send shivers down the Mississippi River as the porous Chiefs defence welcomes a red-hot Colts offence to Arrowhead.

Run into the ground: Seahawks sent packing as Zeke and co. hold on in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys escaped with a victory at home over the spirited Seattle Seahawks in an attritional encounter at Jerry World.

Ezekiel Elliot’s dominant rushing display and the suffocating Cowboys defence ensured America’s Team moved on into the next round.

In a largely uneventful first half, Dak Prescott ended a seven play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown throw to Michael Gallup – putting the Cowboys up 10-6 with 24 seconds remaining.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and Tony Romo (9) warm up

Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

The Seahawks fashioned a late opportunity, which would ultimately prove telling. Attempting a 57-yard field goal, kicker Sebastian Janikowski pulled his left hamstring, rendering him unavailable for the second half.

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The injury resulted in the Seahawks going for broke, unwilling to trust punter Michael Dickson on-field goals.

Seattle scored the only touchdown of the third, with Russell Wilson rushing it himself to put his side ahead 14-10.

Yet, the league’s leading rusher Ezekiel Elliot wasn’t going to be outdone. Having rushed for 137 yards on the day, Elliot scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, once more putting the Cowboys ahead by a field goal.

Down by just three points, the Seahawks inexplicably allowed Prescott to scramble 16 yards on a 3rd and 14, brushing aside two tacklers in the process.

The resulting play ended in a Cowboys touchdown, extending the lead to 24-14.

Seattle answered immediately, trailing 24-22 with 1:18 on the clock.

Michael Dickson

Michael Dickson couldn’t get it done for the Seahawks. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Ultimately, Pete Carroll had to trust Dickson to deliver the perfect onside kick, yet he delivered the most comfortable of catches for Cole Beasley, allowing him to fall to the floor with the security of the football and a berth in the divisional round against the Los Angeles Rams.

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Charging to Foxboro: LA pounds out victory against chaotic Ravens
The Los Angeles Chargers staggered past the Baltimore Ravens thanks to an inspired defensive performance and the expert kicking of Michael Badgley.

Badgley set a franchise record, kicking five field goals – four of which came in the first half. As such the Chargers went into the half leading 12-0.

In a game filled with offensive inability, Ravens rookie Lamar Jackson encapsulated it. The former Heisman winner had a quarterback rating of 0.0 at halftime, after going 2/8 for a measly 17 yards. The youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game had an awful time of it as he was sacked seven times by the marauding Chargers defence.

The Chargers high-powered offense created very little other than openings for Badgley, averaging 3.7 yards per play (well short of their season average of 6.3, ranked second in the AFC).

The truth is, they did not need to. Predicated on running the ball, Baltimore only gained 90 yards on the ground. When Baltimore last beat LA in week 16, the Ravens rushed for 159 yards.

Los Angeles managed the game well for most parts, leading 23-3 with less than seven minutes remaining.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers was immense for the Chargers. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

However, all-action Jackson sparked into life. Baltimore’s number 8 connected with Michael Crabtree for touchdowns on two separate occasions within the last 6:35. Improbably pulling Baltimore to within 6, trailing 23-17.

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With one last chance to win the ball game, it was fitting that the Chargers defence quite literally ripped it away from Baltimore.

Player of the game Melvin Ingram recovered the forced fumble, ending the game as a contest, earning LA a trip to Foxboro next Sunday.

Foles me once: Nick does it again as Eagles scrape by Bears
In the most dramatic fashion, Philadelphia performed another miracle, pulling off this weekend’s biggest upset against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

The first half proved a struggle for both NFC sides, in particular for the fabled Nick Foles, who threw two avoidable interceptions.

Billed as a stalemate, this wildcard game certainly lived up to it for a large period. Nick Foles connected with tight end Dallas Goedert for a ten-yard touchdown with 5:20 remaining in the third.

Trailing 10-9 midway through the last, Chicago needed a big play and boy did they find it, with star wide-receiver Allen Robinson hauling in a 22-yard strike from Mitch Trubisky.

The Penn State flyer was a spectacular outlet all night for the Bears, going for 143 yards from ten receptions.

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15-10 down on what proved the Eagles’ final drive, Foles was staring down a wildcard weekend exit, as he had done this time last year.

With a 4th and goal from the Chicago two-yard line, things looked like they may end differently.

Yet Nick Foles did it again, finding Golden Tate for the go-ahead touchdown, putting the Eagles up 16-15.

With one last attempt, Chicago worked the ball upfield for an opportunity at glory. The equation was simple on a still night in Chicago. Kick a 43-yard field goal to end a seven-year playoff winning drought.

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Inexplicably, Cody Parkey’s kick hit the upright, then the crossbar, before falling back into the end zone, leaving Chicago in disarray and Nick Foles in a state of euphoric disbelief.

The Eagles will now fly into New Orleans hoping for another road miracle.