The first weekend of the NFL playoffs is going to be tough to beat.
Wild Card Weekend had a little bit of everything — a thrilling comeback, the potential end of a dynasty, multiple upsets, oh, and three road teams winning.
With so much action across all four games, player narratives were changed — for better or worse — and coaches were either second-guessed or lauded for executing their strategy flawlessly.
We take a look at some of the biggest winners and losers of NFL Wild Card Weekend:
Winner: Deshaun Watson
Things were not looking good for the Houston Texans quarterback at halftime. He had just 49 yards passing, trailed 13-0 in his second career playoff game and was falling into dangerous territory of being a labeled as not being a big game quarterback. But Watson looked reminiscent of his Clemson days in the second half and reminded everyone why he is a top tier quarterback in the league. He finished the game completing 20 of 25 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 55 yards and TD. He willed himself into the end zone for his first score at the end of the third quarter, and displayed a Houdini act in overtime to escape two pass rushers to complete a 34-yard pass and set up the game-winning field goal.
Loser: Sean McDermott
Sean McDermott had done a sensational job of coaching the Buffalo Bills this season, but his lasting impression will be his unusual decision to go for it on fourth-and-27 with under two minutes left and all three timeouts. It would have been a 59-yard field goal attempt — which probably had better odds than converting — or he could have punted and trusted his defense to get a three-and-out. Ultimately, the Bills managed to tie the game and force overtime in spite of this decision, but it was certainly an odd one and not a great moment for the Bills head coach.
Loser: Josh Allen
Allen looked great in the first half and had some wonderful moments in this game, but he also had some head-scratching moments. McDermott said that his quarterback “tried to do too much,” and that was certainly evident throughout much of the second half when he was attempting to hurdle defender and making ill-advised laterals. He also took the Bills out of field goal range to force the fourth-and-27 mishap with an intentional grounding penalty. There’s promise in Buffalo with Allen, but there’s still some growth to be made.
Winner: Mike Vrabel
Once a key cog in the Patriots’ dynasty, the former linebacker may have done his part in the demolition of said dynasty. Vrabel had his team ready to go in Foxboro to take down the Patriots in their home stadium — a feat only two other coaches, John Harbaugh and Rex Ryan, have done in the Belichick/Brady era. He even used Belichick’s own tactics against him. Vrabel used a loophole, which Belichick first exposed against the Jets earlier this year, where he was able to run two-plus minutes off the clock late in the fourth quarter by taking back-to-back penalties. It was actually a rather questionable decision by Vrabel, one that could have backfired if the Patriots scored and there was little time remaining for the Titans to counter. But Vrabel’s defense did its part and forced a punt after four plays and the Titans managed to hang on, adding a late pick-six for the 20-13 victory.
Loser: Tom Brady
Is this how it will really end for Tom Brady? Losing to Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans in a home playoff game? The Patriots quarterback had the chance to ride out into the sunset last year after winning his sixth Super Bowl, but instead he sputtered to close out an underwhelming 2019 season with a pedestrian playoff performance which included zero TDs and a pick-six. At 42, Brady does not sound as if he wants to retire, but he is a free agent and the Patriots must decide if they want to bring back a declining Brady or move on from him. Some may point to his lack of weapons in the receiving game as reason for the decline in production, and perhaps that is what is needed to keep this marriage intact. But if either side is really willing to walk away from one another, it could make for a messy divorce.
Winner: Kirk Cousins
You like that? Cousins has been subject to more than his fair share of scrutiny over the years, especially after he inked his three-year, $84 million with the Vikings. Yet, Cousins silenced his critics, for now, by making some clutch throws on Sunday — more clutch throws than future Hall of Famer Drew Brees made, for the record. Cousins set up the game-winning TD in overtime by dropping a 42-yard bomb in the bucket to Adam Thielen, which moved the offense to the New Orleans 2-yard line. After two failed attempts with Dalvin Cook, Cousins then found Kyle Rudolph on a fade in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning TD, despite some concerns of a push-off. It marked Cousins’ first career playoff win and he made the plays when it counted to get them it.
Loser: Drew Brees
If Saints fans are trying to figure out what went wrong, Drew Brees is near the top of that list. Brees turned the ball over just four times all year, but did so twice in this game against the Vikings. His interception in the second quarter resulted in a Vikings touchdown that made a 10-6 lead turn into a 13-10 deficit. Then, in the fourth quarter, he fumbled on the Minnesota 20-yard line with 4:26 left in the game, squandering a prime scoring opportunity. Brees is one of the all-time greats, but he played sloppy this game and it cost New Orleans.
Loser: Sean Payton
The final three minutes of regulation were not Sean Payton’s finest moments, and arguably could be pointed to why they lost the game. The Saints defense sacked Cousins with 2:54 remaining and Payton had a chance to use his final timeout to give Brees the ball with two-and-a-half minutes remaining and the two-minute warning. Instead, he saved the timeout and let the Vikings run the clock down and punt, and the two-minute warning was burned on the punt return. To make matters worse, the Saints did not even use the timeout on the offensive drive, leaving many to second-guess Payton’s clock management.
Winner: Rushing Offenses
At a time in the NFL where offense is dominated by a strong passing game, both the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings showed that a formidable ground game can still lead to success. Both Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook carried their respective offenses through much of the year, and the two shouldered the load again over the weekend. Henry smoked the Patriots defense for 182 rushing yards and a TD. Meanwhile, Cook rushed for 94 yards of the Vikings' 134 rushing yards with two TDs.
Loser: Carson Wentz
This isn’t meant to make light or minimize Wentz’s injury, but he finally gets the chance to start a playoff game after being hurt their last two trips and managed just four pass attempts before he was taken out of the game with a concussion. It was an unfortunate injury, and likely should have been a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet play, but you have to feel for Wentz to miss out on yet another opportunity at postseason football. This also came at a time when Wentz seemed to shake the criticism that he can't stay healthy, completing all 16 games in the regular season. Aside from Eagles fans who had to endure watching Josh McCown play in a big game, Wentz by far had the worst night of anyone in the Eagles-Seahawks game.
Winner: D.K. Metcalf
How about the rookie season D.K. Metcalf has put together? Projected as a potential first-round pick, Metcalf was not taken until the Seahawks grabbed him with the 64th overall pick in the second round. He has made the teams who passed on him certainly regret that this year, and punctuated that with his performance on Sunday night against the Eagles. Metcalf finished with seven catches for 160 yards and a TD.