Breaking news: It turns out that quarterback play does, in fact, make and break teams in the postseason.
Four different QBs stood out during 2014 Wild Card Weekend, and not all for the right reasons. Three road teams, all of which played outdoors in less than favorable conditions, moved on to the next round of the NFL Playoffs, while the weekend's lone indoor contest was an instant classic.
Of all the things fans and analysts alike predicted last midweek, Alex Smith matching Andrew Luck blow-for-blow wasn't one of them. Smith looked like an All-Pro in the first 32 minutes of the game, finding the end zone on four occasions en route to the Kansas City Chiefs jumping out to a 38-10 lead over the Indianapolis Colts. One of those touchdown passes, a 79-yard bomb to Donnie Avery early in the second quarter, was an absolute thing of beauty to behold.
Not to be outdone was Andrew Luck. Luck did combine his four touchdown passes with three interceptions, but he was also responsible for the two top plays of the game. The first came early in the fourth quarter, when a Donald Brown fumble landed in the lap of the Indy QB at the KC two-yard line. Luck did well to grab the ball and then reach it over the goalline for a score that brought the Colts to within three points of the Chiefs.
Luck then put his team up for good with a little under 4:30 left on the clock. He dropped back and hit T.Y. Hilton for a perfectly-placed 64-yard touchdown that helped the Colts go ahead 45-44, a lead Indy held onto for the victory.
Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals did not have such a good outing on Sunday. Dalton was downright terrible against the San Diego Chargers, tossing two interceptions and also losing a fumble in the defeat. Dalton was a victim of a handful of miscues made by his wide receivers, but an elite quarterback has the ability to bounce back from those moments.
Dalton is not yet at the level. He may never get there. He threw seven incomplete passes during two pivotal fourth quarter drives. With critics waiting to see if the Cincy QB would take a step toward being mentioned with the best in the business, Dalton crumbled and in a big way.
Those running the Bengals now have to consider the future of the current roster. Cincy has a legitimate playoff squad, the best in all of the AFC North. The Bengals could make a run in 2014 if they were to get a great quarterback.
Will they move to do that during the upcoming offseason?
One young man who did not fold under the pressure was San Francisco 49ers phenom Colin Kaepernick. The 26-year old QB believed by some to be in a “slump” just a couple of months ago outplayed Green Bay Packers starter Aaron Rodgers at frozen Lambeau Field on Sunday evening, and it was Kaepernick and not Rodgers who produced the biggest play of the night.
Kaepernick and the Niners had a third-and-eight outside of field goal range late in the fourth quarter of a tie game when the Packers sent a blitz. Kaepernick took advantage of a blown assignment that allowed him to roll out toward the sideline, and he rushed for 11 yards and the first down. Phil Dawson ultimately booted home the game winner as time expired.
Kaepernick may never get to the level of Luck, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. That said, he is very very good. Do not brush off the thought of Kaepernick going into Carolina and taking it to the defense of the Panthers on Divisional Round Sunday.
Defenses matter, of course, but it's great quarterbacks who win championships in the modern game.