Big plays decide NFL wild-card games

Sometimes the NFL playoffs are all about who makes the big plays. Last weekend's wild-card games were perfect examples of that, with well-known stars (Eli Manning) and rookies (J.J. Watt) stepping up.

Not to mention some guy named Tebow.

All of which should make NFL fans salivate, because the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Willis, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice and Clay Matthews haven't even gotten on the field yet.

And the lasting memory until Saturday's games kick off is Tim Tebow sprinting to the end zone to celebrate his shocking 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in Denver's overtime thriller to beat Pittsburgh.

Talk about huge plays!

"First of all, `Thank you, Lord' and then I was running pretty fast, chasing him - like I could catch up to him," Tebow said. "Then I just jumped in the stands; first time I've done that. That was fun."

Game-changing plays always are fun for the teams that pull them off. In each of the four wild-card matchups, there was such a moment - or several of them. To think there won't be more when the Texans visit the Ravens and the Broncos are at the Patriots in the AFC, or when the Saints go to the 49ers and the Giants to the Packers in the NFC is foolish.

In this season of high-octane offenses, crucial sacks and interceptions, momentous plays always crop up, at times in the least-expected ways.

Such as Manning's 14-yard scramble that energized the Giants' offense against Atlanta. Manning had rushed for 15 yards, total, all season. Not exactly Michael Vick numbers.

"I did the play-action, I scooted up just trying to find a lane to see if maybe a guy won (on his route), and I just saw an opening," he said. " I had to get 2 yards, so I just tucked it and ran it right there and got a first down and we hadn't had many, so that was a big play right there.

"I don't think anyone is game-planning for me to run the ball, but obviously there's a couple situations where you have to do it. If things open up, I am not scared to run it and get a few yards."

New York marched to a touchdown from there and never looked back.

Nor did Houston after Watt, a defensive end, pilfered a pass by fellow rookie Andy Dalton. Watt made a sensational, leaping interception and sprinted 29 yards for a tiebreaking touchdown near the end of the first half.

The Bengals were cooked, and the Texans were on their way to victory in their first postseason game.

Watt wasn't shocked by his pick, even if much of the nation and all of the Bengals were.

"I remember when Jake Delhomme first got here," Watt said. "We were going through a walkthrough and I batted down like three of his balls in the walkthrough, and I felt terrible. He was kind of mad at me. I was just, `That's kind of what I do. That's my thing.'

"I guess if you do it long enough, I mean, in practice I've caught a couple, so you kind of get used to it and then once it happens in the game, it's just second nature. It's definitely one of those things where they say if you practice it, it's going to happen, and it was a very special moment."

Pinpointing one play in Drew Brees' destruction of the Lions is to ignore the myriad other achievements in that victory for the record-setting quarterback. Plus, Detroit's defense is mediocre.

On Saturday, at Candlestick Park, the Saints face an entirely different animal: a stingy defense that causes turnovers and gets pressure on opposing passers.

Not that the Saints will be intimidated.

"I feel like our offense and our team is built for whatever condition," Brees said. "We feel like we're the type of team that should be able to go anywhere, anytime, and play our type of football that we know how to play. ... I don't see any reason why we can't go on and continue to be productive."

So, to think Brees won't make a clutch throw to Jimmy Graham or Darren Sproles or Marques Colston is folly.

"We know there's going to be a dogfight," 49ers safety Dashon Goldson said. "We know they're going to come out there and throw the ball around, doing what they've got to do to get their team going. But we're good, too. We've just got to come out there and keep swinging. It's all about who's going to be swinging the hardest the longest this week. That's all it comes down to. It's going to be a fight."

And everyone will be looking to land that knockout punch - by hitting the big play.

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