*Well, that was a weekend of football. *
Four fascinating Divisional Round matchups await us six days from now, but before turning our collective attention toward tighter tests, let's take a look back at the lopsided weekend that was in the National Football League:
- I, along with many others, predicted this might be the perfect forum for Jadeveon Clowney to re-emerge as a superstar -- a status the general public has not bestowed upon him since his days at South Carolina. It was a safe bet seeing as Oakland's offense was in tatters, but Clowney did not let us down. He did the things we expected, like blowing up shotgun run plays six yards in the backfield, and also the things that earned him the No. 1 pick in the draft back in 2014, like toy with a cut-blocking offensive lineman, pivot away from a pass rush to beat the screen pass and bat a pass in the air to himself and pick it off. His true value, though, was seen in the myriad personnel changes Oakland offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had to make just to create a navigable pocket (more on that later).
- Raiders backup Matt McGloin was healthy enough to be the backup but, apparently, not healthy enough to come on in relief. This will puzzle Raiders fans who witnessed a plodding offense that was blanked on third downs until the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter when they converted their first. I actually liked the way Musgrave treated Connor Cook and wondered what he might have done with a slightly more experienced player under center. On the first drive alone, he let him utilize an empty set and on other drives, he brought in a sixth offensive lineman to aid in protection and bolster the running game. By an unofficial count, I saw four totally different personnel groupings from the Raiders and two different variations of their standard three wideout, one tight end, one running back offense. Allowing Cook to go no-huddle was gutsy and paid off. Why didn't they go back to it as much?
- This is not to say that Cook (18-of-45 passing, 161 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions) played poorly given the circumstances. The one fourth-quarter interception was a tipped ball. Yes, it was high to Amari Cooper, but this is your third-string quarterback. Cook got into a second-half rhythm and momentarily put some pressure on the Texans. For a moment in the fourth quarter, the game rekindled some of its theater. What more can one ask for given the circumstances?
-- Conor Orr
- Seahawks fans have nothing to complain about. What team is going to lose when their quarterback throws just a handful of incompletions, no picks, and steps aside while the starting running back sets a franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game? Thomas Rawls is not Marshawn Lynch, but his patient, powerful running style was a knife through the heart of Detroit's defense on Saturday night. There's no reason to believe that any team the Seahawks might face in the NFC bracket, save for the Giants, can stop that in January. Despite a loss to Green Bay early in December, Seattle's top three rushers put up more than 100 yards and averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry. Rawls missed the Falcons' game. Rawls' final stat line, 161 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown, is a warning sign to the rest of the teams still alive.
- This was a typical Seahawks playoff win in that it contained a bevy of wildly unexpected plays and performances. Paul Richardson, who came into the game with 21 catches for 288 yards, caught three balls for 48 yards and perhaps the best touchdown grab we've seen all season. With only a hand anchored to an opponent's facemask for stability, Richardson has upped the ante for the next pass catcher looking to enter the Odell Beckham sweepstakes. While not as obscure as one-time SeahawksSuper Bowl star Chris Matthews, Richardson evoked a similar out-of-nowhere arrival onto our screens.
- Doug Baldwin has three 100-yard games in the playoffs, which is now the most in Seahawks franchise history. That stat, though, does not come close to summing up his importance to this team. Stolen touchdown aside, Baldwin's feel for the offense and quarterback Russell Wilson is arguably better than any respective receiver in football. Between Richardson and Baldwin Saturday, Wilson threw just two incompletions on 14 total targets. We talk a lot about the unconscious chemistry between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown or Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but Wilson-Baldwin seems to work on a more practical level given Seattle's offensive style.
-- Conor Orr
- This one felt over for Miami less than three minutes in when Antonio Brown turned a short catch into a 50-yard sprint down the sideline for the game's first touchdown. The All-Pro receiver feasted on Miami's banged-up defense, topping the 39 yards he had against the 'Fins in Week 6 in mere seconds. Second drive? Rinse and repeat, with Brown taking a Ben Roethlisberger strike 62 yards to the house on a play that saw Dolphins safety Bacarri Rambo stationed badly out of position. Brown's 119 receiving yards in the first quarter were the most by any player since Minnesota's Gene Washington had 120 yards in the first frame against Cleveland way back in the 1969 NFL Championship Game. With 124 yards and two scores off five grabs, Brown is the kind of unusual talent who makes the Steelers a genuine threat to the Chiefs and Patriots.
- Coming into Sunday ranked first in touches per game (28) and scrimmage yards per outing (157), Le'Veon Bell topped both marks with ease during a juicy showcase of his on-field talents. Setting a single-game Steelers playoff record with 167 yards on the ground, Bell -- in his first postseason appearance -- shifted into workhorse mode on Pittsburgh's third drive, bursting and bobbing his way through Miami's confused defense for 83 yards off 10 straight runs capped by the first of his two touchdowns. The Bell-heavy march had a mean-spirited aura to it, with Pittsburgh basically telling the Dolphins, "You can't stop this offense." Recalling visions of the Bills lashing the 'Fins for 272 yards in Week 16, Bell toyed with Miami's front seven from wire to wire. He's the kind of player who makes football a joy to watch, with NFL.com's Chris Wesseling drawing an appropriate comparison for Bell's style of play: Marcus Allen.
- Roethlisberger was seen in a walking boot after the game. The Steelers quarterback told scribes that he suffered an ankle injury on the second-to-last play against Miami, but promised he would be ready for the Chiefs. "We don't know anything yet, but well find out soon enough," Big Ben said of the injury. "You're always worried about being hurt, but I'll be out there next week." Against Miami, Roethlisberger opened a perfect 11-of-11 passing before lobbing an interception to Dolphins safety Michael Thomas on his final attempt of the first half. Operating behind an air-tight offensive line, Big Ben authored Pittsburgh's quick start before settling in to throw for 197 yards at a meaty 10.9 yards per attempt. The uber-reliable Steelers passer wasn't even touched until deep in the third quarter and wound up lofting just 18 passes all day. It's fair to ask why he played so deep into this contest.
-- Marc Sessler
- New York's star-studded defense dominated the first quarter and a half, smothering Rodgers' receivers and sacking the quarterback four times while holding the Packers to negative yardage over the opening 18 minutes. Manufacturing a spark, Rodgers brought his offense to life just before halftime with a pair of brilliant throws to Davante Adams and a trademark Hail Mary touchdown to Randall Cobb, turning a 6-0 deficit into a 14-6 lead in less than three minutes. After Mike McCarthy's fourth-down gamble backfired into a 41-yard Giants touchdown in the third quarter, Rodgers zipped three consecutive passes of 13, 20 and 30 yards for the answer. His third touchdown to Cobb sealed the game early in the fourth quarter, giving Green Bay a 31-13 lead. The hottest quarterback in football has 19 touchdowns without an interception over his last seven games, becoming the first to reach 30 points against the Giants this season.
- The state of Rodgers' wide receiver corps appeared bleak when go-to target Jordy Nelson was quickly ruled out for the game after taking the crown of Leon Hall's helmet to his ribcage in the second quarter. Cobb picked the right time to play hero, coming through with his best game in two years after missing the past two weeks with an ankle injury. Between Cobb, Adams (eight receptions, 125 yards and a touchdown) and secret weapon Jared Cook, Rodgers has enough firepower to hang with the top-seeded Cowboys even if Nelson misses the Divisional Round at Dallas.
- All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins showed Defensive Player of the Year form in a three-play sequence during the third quarter. After a forearm shiver stopped Aaron Ripkowski cold in front of the first-down marker, Collins stonewalled the powerful fullback on back-to-back short-yardage carries. Giants general manager Jerry Reese deserves NFL Executive of the Year consideration after refashioning an outstanding defense with Collins as the centerpiece.
-- Chris Wesseling