NFL Wild Card Round: Most Impressive Performances
This NFL weekend was packed full of great football with great headlines, and needless to say, it did not disappoint.
To kick things off, we had two rookie quarterbacks square off in Houston's first-ever playoff appearance followed up by a record-shattering game between the Lions and Saints. Just when you thought things couldn't get more exciting than that, Sunday rolled around.
The morning game was surprisingly lopsided, with the Giants' D shutting down Matt Ryan and the Falcons, but the second game of the day did more than enough to make up for their lack of action. Who would've thought that Tim Tebow could pull off yet another miracle against the Steelers?
With four outstanding games, let's take a look back over the weekend and see which stars shined brighter than the rest.
It was the first-ever playoff game in franchise history for the Texans, and they made sure it was one to remember. With third-string rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback, no one would have blamed Houston if it lost this game, but it made sure that that problem wouldn't even have to be worried about.
After giving up a Bengals touchdown midway through the first, the Texans responded with a score of their own. That score was an eight-yard run by none other than Arian Foster. The run was the first playoff touchdown in team history and was just the start of Foster's stellar day.
As the game wore on, the Texans defense absolutely shut down Andy Dalton and the Bengals, which allowed Houston to open up its offense and put some points on the board.
When the fourth quarter rolled around, the Texans were up 24-7, and to kill the clock, they gave it to their go-to guy to seal the deal. Foster did just that by breaking off a 42-yard TD run to officially shut the door on Cincinnati's playoff hopes.
When all was said and done, Foster finished with a weekend high of 24 carries, 153 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He had easily the best game of the playoffs so far rushing-wise, which is something to be proud of due to the Bengals' success against the rushing game this season.
Coming into the game, I think we all expected big things from Drew Brees, but I don't think anyone quite expected what we got from him.
Brees had arguably the best passing game statistics-wise in playoff history by throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns on 33-of-43 passing.
The 466 yards is the most in playoff history in regulation time and only second all-time behind Bernie Kosar, who threw for 489 with an overtime in '86. Only 21 yards away in a quarter less time isn't too shabby.
Brees hooked up with eight different players in the game, with Marques Colston (seven catches, 120 yards) and Robert Meachem (four catches, 111 yards, one TD) being the main benefactors.
With the Lions D giving up 480 yards to Packers backup Matt Flynn in the final game of the regular season, there were many who picked Brees to have a career day, and that he did.
The NFL's record-holder for most passing yards in one season continued his spectacular year by throwing for his eighth straight 300-plus-yard game. If he keeps performing this way, I don't know if there is a team out there that can stop the Saints.
The Lions faced an uphill battle when going against the red-hot Saints in the first round, but everyone knew that Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, would show up and show out. In a game that broke numerous records for offensive yards gained, Johnson was, like usual, a huge factor.
With 12 receptions, 211 yards and two touchdowns, Megatron did all that he could to pull out a victory for his team, but unfortunately for Detroit, he couldn't do it all by himself.
At 6'5", Johnson had a six-inch advantage on every Saints corner, and he used that to his advantage. He repeatedly burned them with his speed and used his length to pull down all but three of the balls that were meant for him.
His presence alone allowed his fellow receivers to have good days as well by absorbing most of the attention from the defense, so his true value in the game goes beyond the numbers on the stat sheet.
On a normal day with Matthew Stafford (380 yards and three TDs) and Johnson hooking up like they did this game, 28 points would be enough to win the game and move on to next week. It wasn't quite a normal day, though, as the Saints hung 45 on the Lions D.
This may be the end of the Lions' season, but I'm sure we'll be seeing plenty of them and the league's best receiver around this time next year.
New York Giants Defense
There wasn't one specific player on the Giants defense who stood out, but as a group it was dominant.
It held an Atlanta team that averaged 376.6 yards per game in the regular season to only 247 yards this game. It shut down both the passing and the rushing attacks literally the entire game.
Besides the fact that Falcons QB Matt Ryan had almost no time to get set in the pocket, the defensive backs didn't give him a chance to hook up with his receivers. They held Ryan to his worst passing game since Week 5 against Green Bay.
Ryan, who averages 261 yards per game, only threw for 183 on 24-of-41 passing.
On top of that, the Giants only allowed 64 yards on the ground. Michael Turner couldn't get anything going. With his 15 attempts, he only totaled 41 yards.
The longest run of the day was by receiver Julio Jones; if you take that out, the team only ran for 51 total yards. Plus, if you take out the three yards from the three attempts by Ryan, that means the backs only combined for 48 yards on 17 carries.
If you only average 2.8 YPC, and less than 50 yards, you won't win many games, especially against big-time opponents.
The most telling stat of the day was that the Falcons were held to 4-of-14 on third-down tries. What's more impressive on the Giants' behalf is that they stopped Atlanta on all three of its fourth-down attempts.
If it wasn't for the offense giving up a safety, the Giants could have held one of the league's most explosive offenses to zero points. Technically they did, but no one will remember that looking back.
If the G-Men's D can hold strong throughout the playoffs, this could be another miracle run like in 2007. Where's David Tyree when you need him?
Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas
With all due respect to Drew Brees' record-breaking day, I think the game Tim Tebow had against arguably the league's best defense might have topped that.
In his playoff debut, Tebow, once again, shocked the world. His play went above and beyond what his haters and even his most devoted fans could have ever imagined. He threw for a career-high 316 yards and two touchdowns and added 50 yards on the ground with another touchdown.
His completion percentage was at a normal 48 percent, which will give his doubters a little ammunition, but picking up the W along with the rest of his numbers should be enough to silence them for the most part.
In a game that started with the opening kickoff bouncing off the goalpost and stopping right on the 20-yard line, you could tell that something special was about to take place.
It all started in the second quarter when Tebow threw for 185 yards and a TD. What's so amazing about that is that in his entire career combined, he had never thrown for that many yards in one second quarter.
It has been the Broncos' biggest weakness this season, and today it clearly had no effect on them.
You have to give credit to the Steelers, though; with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter they were down by 10 and stormed back to tie it up and force overtime.
It was the first overtime game played under the new playoff rules, and before the announcers could even finish explaining them, Tebow hooked up with my other big-time performer, Demaryius Thomas, for an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown.
Thomas finished the game with only four receptions but totaled 204 yards and, of course, the walk-off TD.
Thomas and Tebow were the Broncos' first two picks in the 2010 draft by former head coach Josh McDaniels. Ironically enough, McDaniels, who has spent the season as the Rams' offensive coordinator, was just hired by New England and will face off against his former team next week in Foxboro.
Kyle Orton got his revenge—will McDaniels get his? Or will Tebow and the Broncos defy all odds and take down the heavily favored Patriots? I, for one, can't wait to find out.
All stats are from ESPN.com.