They didn't blow it. They didn't implode. They didn't shatter the dreams and hopes of their fans.
Neither one was particularly flashy. Neither one would be considered dominant. Neither had the kind of performance that makes one a legend of the game. Hell, neither one did anything outside the realm of what should normally be expected from a quarterback of a NFL playoff team.
It was simple. It was sweet. It was victory.
These two guys came to work, punched the time clock, and did their jobs. In doing so, their teams live on to play another game, and their critics are left looking for something new to talk about.
The lead up to Wild-Card Weekend was filled with more than a few questions concerning the play of two young starting quarterbacks. Hearing the onslaught of doubts from both the fans and the media alike—including yours truly—one might have assumed Eli Manning and Philip Rivers had already lost the game for their respective teams before the games were even played.
However, by sunset on the west coast on Sunday, both quarterbacks had silenced their critics and led their teams to the next round of the NFL Playoffs.
Eli Manning was a solid 20 of 27 for 185 yards, two touchdowns—and probably even more importantly, no interceptions. He looked as if he did indeed carry over his stellar play and confidence from the previous week.
Philip Rivers shook off a relatively mundane first half, and finished convincingly, going 19 of 30 for 292, with one TD and one pick. Rivers and the Bolts looked poised and ready in bringing San Diego its first playoff victory in fourteen years.
In both games, both quarterbacks were the leaders their teams needed to see another game this season. And in both cases, this writer found cause to give credit where credit was certainly earned.
I’ll avoid the tired cliches about Eli looking like a "certain sibling," and simply say that he looked like he was actually comfortable not only with the game, but also with the weight that’s been put on his shoulder by an entire city. He played smart, and looked to do just enough to make the plays he needed to make, while avoiding forcing the issue. He didn’t light up the scoreboard, but he didn’t have to find a way to win.
With San Diego’s running game virtually nonexistent throughout the majority of the Sunday’s second game, the Chargers' fate rested solely on Rivers’ ability to pass the ball. While playing with his usual fire and passion—as evideced by his frustration after his interception—Rivers played with enough poise and resilience to finish as a winner.
Of in every NFL contest, games are won or lost as a team. Neither of these guys did it alone—but they took what was given to them and made the best of their situations.
Four years ago, these guys came into the league in the same draft. Four years later, on the same day, in the face of adversity and skeptics, they both rose to the occasion to get their first playoff victory.
Congratulations, gentlemen. Here’s your pat on the back from one of those skeptics. Good luck next week—because you’re both going to need it.