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NFL winners, losers from wild-card weekend: Bills break out as Cowboys confound in playoffs

USA TODAY
USA TODAY
 2022-01-17

Since expanding its playoff field to 14 teams a year ago, the NFL has taken to calling the opening round "Super Wild Card Weekend."

But was it? Really?

Aside from the San Francisco 49ers' 23-17 upset of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon – easily the game of the weekend given the score, outcome, national profile of both teams and way it ended – it was largely a pretty forgettable serving of football, three of the five games quickly devolving into blowouts.

Maybe the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, who meet Monday night in the first playoff "MNF" affair in 33 years, can end things with a bang for NFL viewers feeling a little let down to this point.

Otherwise, without further ado, your winners and losers from (a not so super?) wild-card weekend:

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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) celebrates a touchdown pass with center Mitch Morse (60) during the third quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium. Rich Barnes, Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

WINNERS

Buffalo Bills: Despite Saturday night's single-digit temperatures, they've caught fire at the right time, carrying a huge wave of momentum into the divisional round after an up-and-down regular season. The Bills have won a league-best five in a row and are fresh off embarrassing the NFL's team of the 21st century, ripping the New England Patriots 47-17 . No team has truly separated itself from the AFC pack all season ... but the Bills may have emerged as the buzzsaw no one wants to see the rest of the way. To wit, they scored touchdowns on all seven of their drives against New England before taking a knee to end the game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' repeat bid: Alive and well following Sunday's 31-15 whipping of the Philadelphia Eagles . The Bucs aim to become the first team to win consecutive Super Bowls since the 2003-04 Patriots.

Ben Roethlisberger's powers of prognostication: Pittsburgh's presumably retiring field general said in the lead-up to Sunday night's game in Kansas City against the Chiefs, "We don't have a chance." Yep, that's right. He also suggested the Steelers should "just play and have fun." Not sure that was achieved in a 42-21 beatdown that likely sends Big Ben into the sunset .

Josh Allen: Buffalo's fourth-year quarterback had a slightly disappointing season – at least relative to his MVP runner-up 2020 campaign. A Pro Bowl snub in 2021, Allen turned in an all-time postseason performance against the Patriots, passing for five TDs and 308 yards and rushing for another 66. Sure looks like he's on a mission to be the MVP of this postseason.

Patrick Mahomes: In his first career appearance in the wild-card round, the Chiefs superstar lofted five touchdown passes against Pittsburgh – making Mahomes just the third quarterback in history with multiple five-TD playoff performances. (Kurt Warner and Daryle Lamonica are the others.)

Allen v. Mahomes: Should be a fantastic matchup at Arrowhead Stadium as Bills-Chiefs caps the divisional round. Ten TDs between you, fellas?

Joe Burrow's swag: The Bengals' second-year quarterback engineered Cincinnati's first playoff victory since the 1990 season, ending the league's longest active drought. Though Burrow wasn't smoking a cigar after Saturday's breakthrough win, how about those rose-colored glasses?

Kurt Warner's space blanket jacket: The Hall of Famer apparently loaned it to CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle for Saturday's frigid game in Orchard Park, New York. And, apparently, Twitter is still very taken with Warner's silver puffer coat.

Micah Hyde: The Bills safety narrowly missed making the All-Pro team Friday (fellow Buffalo S Jordan Poyer did). But it was Hyde who made the tone-setting interception against New England a day later, also stepping in to field punts in suboptimal conditions but still breaking off a 52-yard return.

LSU Bengals? Burrow passed for 244 yards and two TDs to become Cincinnati's first victorious playoff QB since Boomer Esiason. Burrow had plenty of help from rookie sensation Ja'Marr Chase, who had a game-high 139 yards from scrimmage in the 26-19 defeat of the Las Vegas Raiders . Cincinnati's decision to reunite the 2019 national champion Bayou Bengals in this year's draft is already bearing sweet fruit.

Rich Bisaccia: The first interim head coach to guide a team into the playoffs, he can't get enough credit for rallying these Raiders to such heights. Certainly the preponderance of the locker room wasn't responsible for the adversity they had to be overcome this season, when coach Jon Gruden resigned in disgrace and both of the team's 2020 first-round picks ( CB Damon Arnette , WR Henry Ruggs III ) were released for off-field behavior – Ruggs' October car crash leaving another motorist dead. Aside from advancing to the divisional round, hard to figure what else Bisaccia could do to prove this job should be his permanently .

Travis Kelce: What didn't he do? The Chiefs star tight end became the first player in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to record a TD catch, TD pass and 100 yards receiving in a playoff game.

Ickey Griddy: What better way to celebrate the Bengals' return to playoff relevance than TE C.J. Uzomah's Frankenstein-ing of Cincinnati's most famous dance, the Ickey Shuffle, with the contemporary NFL celebration popularized by Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson?

Bucs RBs: Backup Tampa Bay runners Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Gio Bernard, next men up given RBs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II couldn't play, teamed up for 145 yards and a touchdown apiece against Philly.

Former Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo: The numbers don't wow you (16-for-25, 172 yards, INT on Sunday), but his playoff record for San Francisco improved to 3-1 following the win over Dallas. Jimmy G.'s not going to make a transition to rookie Trey Lance easy.

Former Patriots QB Tom Brady: He was surgical in a 271-yard, two-TD passing day – pushing his playoff record to 5-0 since he left New England following the 2019 season. TB12 gets another home date in Tampa next weekend against the Rams or Cardinals, who are quarterbacked by players (Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray, respectively) who have a combined zero postseason wins heading into their Monday night matchup.

LOSERS

Patriots coach Bill Belichick: His team got blasted in Buffalo, the first time a Belichick squad had surrendered that many points (47) in postseason while the 30-point defeat also established an unwanted playoff record margin for a BB team. And Belichick still doesn't have a playoff win with New England when he doesn't have TB12.

Dak Prescott: His remarkable 2021 comeback from the broken ankle that prematurely ended his 2020 campaign ended with a thud. He misfired on 20 of his 43 throws Sunday, one of them intercepted. But, worst of all, his 17-yard scramble up the middle on the game's final drive – Dallas had no timeouts – didn't leave the Cowboys sufficient time to get lined up to spike the ball and make one final play from the San Francisco 24-yard line. "In hindsight, I could say I should have went down sooner if I’d have known all of that was going to play out that way," Prescott said afterward.

Jalen Hurts: You can parse his sophomore season any number of ways. The multi-threat playmaker was instrumental to the Eagles' playoff return, and no quarterback rushed for more yards (784) or TDs (10) in 2021. And yet Philadelphia wasn't competitive against playoff teams this season and got absolutely dominated by the Buccaneers, falling into a 31-0 hole before posting two fourth-quarter TDs as window dressing. Hurts, who completed 23 of 43 passes for 258 yards and was picked off twice, has won a lot of games going back to his college days at Alabama and Oklahoma. But he continues to leave plenty to be desired as a passer, and it's worth wondering if Sunday's showing might cause the Eagles – they have three first-round picks in the upcoming draft – to consider an offseason pursuit of the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson or Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson.

Cowboys brass: Dallas coach Mike McCarthy watched his team fail to execute when it mattered most. He also watched it commit 14 penalties. Meanwhile, owner Jerry Jones has much to consider, this the 26th consecutive Cowboys squad that will fail to advance to the NFC championship game. Several changes could be in the offing with coordinators Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore both drawing interest from teams with head coaching vacancies.

TB OL: Buccaneers blockers got beaten up Sunday, Pro Bowl C Ryan Jensen banged around and All-Pro RT Tristan Wirfs, who hadn't missed a snap all season, unable to finish due to an ankle injury. Wirfs' replacement, Josh Wells, was also hobbled. Could be an ominous harbinger for next week – Brady was sacked four times Sunday – given LA's Aaron Donald and Von Miller or Arizona's Chandler Jones, Markus Golden and (possibly) J.J. Watt will be headed to Tampa.

Eagles RBs: Philadelphia hit the playoffs with the league's top-ranked ground game, one that hadn't produced fewer than 176 yards in its previous six games. But Iggles backs managed just 56 yards rushing Sunday, Hurts adding 39 more. Not nearly enough to buck the Bucs.

Green Bay Packers: The reward for being the top-seeded team in the NFC? A date with the Niners, who steamrolled the Pack 37-20 in the 2019 NFC championship game. Aaron Rodgers' playoff record against the team that chose not to draft him No. 1 overall in 2005? Try 0-3.

Detroit Lions: Cincinnati's win means Detroit now owns the league's longest stretch without a playoff win. The Lions' last postseason victory occurred against the Cowboys in the 1991 divisional round.

All-Star officiating crews: Inexplicably, the NFL continues to cobble together playoff units made up of the season's highest-rated officials at their various positions – when it should be promoting the most effective officiating crews . Fielding a team of zebras with cohesion and chemistry is the best way to legislate the league's most important games ... and avoid things like inadvertent whistles .

Mac Jones: He was definitively the best rookie quarterback of the 2021 season and might have extended the viability of a dynasty. But Jones most definitely played like a rookie down the stretch – when the Patriots lost four of their final five games, unusual for them at the end of a regular season – and served a reminder that he's not Brady 2.0 and must significantly develop before he's ready to put an NFL team on his back ... or arm.

Derek Carr: He waited eight seasons to make his postseason debut and suffered a strip sack and interception in the Raiders' loss. Still, the Silver and Black quarterback deserves as much credit as Bisaccia for stabilizing this club. And Carr also has some sweet bragging rights over his brother David, who never appeared in an NFL playoff game.

Road teams: They're 1-4 heading into Monday night after going 10-4 during the wild-card round in the previous three postseasons. Good luck, Cards.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis .

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL winners, losers from wild-card weekend: Bills break out as Cowboys confound in playoffs

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