NFL wild-card winners and losers from Saturday’s playoff openers: Rams, Bills and Taylor Heinicke
The NFL's inaugural "Super Wild Card Weekend" unfolded with a fairly dramatic tripleheader kicking off the 2020 season's playoffs.
Backup quarterbacks played leading roles – as did grizzled vets and passers either entering or reaching their primes. All three games were fairly close, though only one produced an upset … and a mild one at that.
But there was ample drama and plenty of open-ended questions – Rams stars Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp couldn't finish in Seattle due to injuries – and none of Saturday's winners know who they'll face next weekend since the league reseeds the field.
But we do have a few answers, i.e. Saturday's winners and losers …
Bills Mafia: The ardent fans of Buffalo, the AFC's version of Green Bay, got to enjoy their first playoff win in a quarter century – and some of them even got to attend the Bills' defeat of the Colts in Orchard Park, N.Y. Good news: Bills Stadium will host another game next weekend.
Tickets for the next week’s Divisional Round at @BillsStadium will go on sale to season ticket members tomorrow, pending New York State approval.
Full details: https://t.co/zl6l2Y328npic.twitter.com/kjJmoCu8LT
Tom Brady: He now has as many playoff wins (one) without Bill Belichick as Belichick has without TB12. Brady's 31st postseason victory extended his own record among quarterbacks.
Jared Goff: Saturday's relief appearance was the former No. 1 draft pick's first playoff action since he and the Rams were stifled 13-3 by the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. In the interim, Goff was the focus of much of L.A.'s offensive struggles – his numbers falling off as the team missed the postseason in 2019 before a 2020 resurrection largely credited to the defense. But Goff came through in Seattle, providing a gutty performance 12 days after the broken thumb on his throwing hand was surgically pinned together. Under the circumstances, a 155-yard day that included a backbreaking TD pass to Robert Woods in a 30-20 defeat of the Seahawks seems pretty good.
Rams QB Jared Goff (16) and LT Andrew Whitworth survived and advanced Saturday. (Photo: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports)
New York Jets: Seattle's loss means the Seahawks will be picking earlier in each round of the 2021 draft … except the Jets own their selections in Rounds 1 and 3 by virtue of the Jamal Adams trade. Adams had a pretty rough game against the Rams, and the team he forced to deal him benefited because of it.
Josh Allen: This season's coming-out party for the third-year Bills quarterback is now complete. Allen threw for 324 yards and a pair of scores and ran for 54 yards and another TD. Quite a redemptive performance after he fell apart in his playoff debut at Houston last year.
Cam Akers: The running back set a Rams rookie playoff record with 131 rushing yards, and his 176 yards from scrimmage were the second most among any rookie in the Super Bowl era. Washington's Timmy Smith had 213 yards in Super Bowl XXII.
Andrew Whitworth: After suffering damage to multiple knee ligaments against the Seahawks on Nov. 15, the Rams' veteran left tackle returned Saturday – resuming his 15th NFL season and ongoing quest for his first championship.
Taylor Heinicke: Valiant effort by Washington's emergency quarterback, who passed for 306 yards and a TD and ran for a club-high 46 yards and another score. Heinicke even played through an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, revealing after the game he had suffered an AC joint separation. He sure seemed to ensure he'll have a job in the NFL next year … and could even get a look as Washington's starter depending on how things pan out.
Former Jags: It's only been three years since the Jacksonville Jaguars came within minutes of beating the New England Patriots to reach Super Bowl LII. But it didn't take long for what appeared to be a talented young Jags team to unravel before being dismantled in fairly short order. But quite a few have landed in good situations. CB Jalen Ramsey is starring for the Rams, who also employ QB Blake Bortles – formerly the Jaguars' starter but perhaps L.A.'s primary backup next weekend. RB Leonard Fournette had a starring role in the Bucs' win at Washington. Sunday, former Jags DEs Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell will line up for the scalding Ravens. And next week, longtime Jacksonville TE Marcedes Lewis will be among the well-rested Packers hosting a divisional round game.
John Wolford: Despite failing to survive the first quarter of his first playoff appearance, the Rams' first-year QB2 was credited with the victory … mostly thanks to the NFL's antiquated rules for awarding wins and losses to quarterbacks. (Essentially, start the game, and you become the pitcher of record.)
John Wolford: After making his NFL debut in the Rams' playoff-clinching Week 17 victory, Los Angeles stuck with the Wake Forest product and former AAF star ahead of Goff. But Wolford sustained a blow to the head/neck area on a questionable hit from Adams. Wolford, 25, who's been delaying a career in investment banking to continue his football career, left Lumen Field in an ambulance for further observation at a Seattle hospital but eventually rejoined his victorious teammates.
Photo via AP photog @tedswarren of Rams QB John Wolford being taken for additional observation.
Per Ted, Wolford walked to the stretcher before being loaded into the ambulance. pic.twitter.com/uugrPpg7Bd
Alex Smith: And for clarity's sake, neither Smith nor Wolford is a "loser" … both just lost out on hard-won opportunities Saturday. In the case of Smith, the presumptive NFL comeback player of the year, he just didn't have enough time to get his balky calf ready to write another chapter to his Cinderella story.
Seahawks offense: Average at best in the second half of the season, QB Russell Wilson and Co. were just abysmal against the division rival Rams. Wilson completed 11 of 27 passes for 142 yards, threw a pick-six, was sacked five times behind his typically problematic O-line, all while overseeing an "attack" that was 2-for-14 on third down. Whoa, 'Hawks.
Philip Rivers: Was that a wrap for one of the greatest players in league history to never reach a Super Bowl? Rivers, who ranks fifth all time in passing yards (63,440) and TDs (421) – he overtook Hall of Famer Dan Marino in both categories in 2020 – and just turned 39, was playing on a one-year, $25 million deal with the Colts. According to NFL Network, he will need foot surgery this offseason as he and the team weigh their options. Rivers has already been named head coach of St. Michael Catholic High School in Fairhope, Alabama, effective upon his retirement. But many of the men who played with Rivers during an NFL career that's spanned 17 years to this point want to see him hoist a Lombardi Trophy before he's done.
Chase Young: Great as his first NFL campaign was, a reminder that rookies are meant to be seen and not heard. The defensive end shouted "Tom Brady! Tom Brady, I'm coming. I want Tom!" after Washington escaped the tanking Eagles in Week 17. Careful what you wish for, Chase … but if it's what you want, make sure you walk the walk next time.
CenturyLink Field home-field advantage: The Seahawks entered the weekend with a 10-game playoff winning streak at home, much of it under CenturyLink's corporate flag. However, their stadium was renamed two months ago amid CenturyLink's rebrand. The Seahawks are now 0-1 in postseason at Lumen Field, where they weren't so luminous. Their last playoff loss in Seattle occurred nearly 16 years ago to the day … to the St. Louis Rams – when this building was known as Qwest Field.
Officials: They failed to penalize Adams for what seemed a pretty clear-cut illegal blow to Wolford. But the zebras in Buffalo nearly cost the Bills a victory, giving the Colts a second chance to win or tie when they failed to correctly award a fumble by Indianapolis WR Zach Pascal with 26 seconds remaining that would have sealed the outcome without further drama.
Zach Pascal was ruled down by contact here on the field and they somehow upheld it after a review #INDvsBUFpic.twitter.com/Z5ezL4mxbx
Bills better win this game or someone is going to have a lot of explaining to do.
Colts analytics department: Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich gambled quite a bit Saturday. He lost a key second-half timeout on a questionable challenge. He went for two points when a PAT would've cut Buffalo's fourth-quarter lead to seven points (though the analytics bore this one out when the Colts converted on a subsequent two-point play that cut the deficit to three points). But Reich's decision to eschew a 22-yard field goal near the end of the first half – if converted, Indianapolis would have taken a 13-7 lead – backfired when Rivers missed WR Michael Pittman Jr. in the back of the end zone on fourth down. Would have been nice to have that timeout and those points at the end, but it must be noted Reich's aggressive style has typically served the Colts well and earned the respect of his players.
Dwayne Haskins: He could have been in the lineup for the Washington Football Team, playing for redemption in a playoff game at home Saturday night in place of injured Smith. Instead, Haskins, a first-round pick in 2019, was planning to visit the Panthers on Monday in a bid to rekindle his nascent career after falling out of favor in Washington.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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