The three-day, playoff-opening salvo the NFL has taken to calling ‘Super Wild Card Weekend’ lived up to that billing Saturday – super, wild and with some jokers thrown into the mix for good measure.
The first half of the third San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks installment of the season was perhaps unexpectedly tight – and Seattle’s 17-16 lead at intermission was definitely a surprise. But that was followed by four quarters of blowout football that spanned the country from Santa Clara, California, to Jacksonville, Florida – where the second game of the day between the host Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers provided one of the great comebacks in postseason history.
So many winners Saturday … and nearly as many losers:
Brock Purdy: Wow. The 49ers’ freshman quarterback – ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ as the final player selected in the 2022 NFL draft – ran his record to 6-0 in record-breaking fashion as the Niners bounced the Seahawks 41-23. Purdy became the first rookie in league history to account for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) in a playoff game and even got a shoutout from LeBron James. Prior to Purdy, the last rookie to win a postseason game was Seattle’s Russell Wilson in 2012. Prior to Purdy, the last seventh-round rookie QB to start a postseason game … was no one, though the Miami Dolphins’ Skylar Thompson should become the second Sunday at Buffalo. Also on Saturday, Purdy joined the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert as the only rookies in league history to throw multiple TD passes in seven consecutive games, though Herbert’s run occurred entirely during the confines of the 2020 regular season.
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Buffalo Bills: They don’t play until 1 p.m. ET Sunday against Miami but registered a huge victory Saturday, when they were reunited with teammate Damar Hamlin – just 12 days after he suffered cardiac arrest on the field at Cincinnati. Enough said.
Quarterbacks making playoff debuts: All four QB1s on Saturday – Purdy, Herbert, the Seahawks’ Geno Smith and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence – were appearing in their maiden postseason games. Three more are expected to join them Sunday: Thompson, the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones and the Baltimore Ravens’ Tyler Huntley (or Anthony Brown).
Worst to whoa: The Jaguars’ remarkable win Saturday made them the first team ever to notch a playoff victory the season after having the league’s worst record.
49ers offense: It was hardly all Purdy. San Francisco’s 505 yards were 51 better than their highest output during the regular season. RB Christian McCaffrey (136) and WR Deebo Samuel (165) both had 130+ yards from scrimmage and a TD.
DK Metcalf: By and large, he was the Seahawks offense, finishing with 10 receptions for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns while imposing a physical presence against the Niners’ top-ranked defense that the rest of his teammates just couldn’t replicate.
Chargers tight ends: They did their best to pick up the slack created by WR Mike Williams’ injured back. Gerald Everett, Donald Parham Jr. and Tre’ McKitty combined for 12 receptions, 148 yards and a TD.
Robbie Gould: San Francisco’s kicker converted on four field goals and three extra points. In 14 postseason appearances, he’s never missed a kick – perfect on all 25 FG tries and 37-for-37 on PATs.
Travis Etienne Jr.: The Jags’ ‘other’ first-round pick in 2021 (and Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson), Etienne continued his superb sophomore season – he missed his entire rookie campaign with a Lisfranc injury – with game-high 121 yards from scrimmage, many of the chunk-play variety that helped Jacksonville scratch its way back from a seemingly unrecoverable start.
Asante Samuel Jr.: The Chargers corner became the first player to pick off three passes in the first half of a playoff game. If his dad’s hands had been that good, the New England Patriots would have gone 19-0 in 2007. (Sorry/not sorry, Boston.)
Sean Payton: Next coach of the Chargers? The rumor has lingered for weeks and seemed dead at one point Saturday night … then didn’t.
Doug Pederson: Jacksonville’s coach didn’t panic, and neither did his team as it steadily clawed back against the Bolts. And let’s not forget Pederson’s bold decision with 5:25 to go and his team trailing 30-26 – which is the moment Lawrence used his 6-6 frame to convert on a two-point try following the team’s fourth TD. That preceded a game-winning FG from Riley Patterson on the night’s final play.
Second-half Trevor Lawrence: Wow. Eighteen of his 23 throws found the mark, covering 211 yards and producing three touchdowns in the final two quarters. The performance of the 2021 draft’s No. 1 pick fueled an improbable comeback – necessitated by his own ineptitude through the game’s first 28 minutes – propelling the Jags to a 31-30 triumph that marked the third-largest comeback in playoff history (more on that later). Jacksonville became the first team in postseason annals to overcome a turnover deficit of at least five.
First-half Trevor Lawrence: Boy did Sunshine put his team into a (27-0) well, passing for all of 77 yards while completing 10 of 24 passes – well, 14 of 24 when you count the four interceptions. The last quarterback to serve up four INTs before halftime in a playoff game was Gary Danielson in 1983. But give Lawrence credit for initiating the Jags’ turnaround, finding TE Evan Engram for a 9-yard TD in the final minute of the first half.
Brandon Staley: He wasn’t guilty of any dubious analytics plays Saturday, and his team executed a first-half game plan that frustrated Lawrence and seemed sufficient to likely set up another go-round with the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. But the Chargers could only muster three points in the second half, had to employ a third-string left tackle, collapsed defensively, lost their composure … and sure could have used Williams, whom Staley senselessly played in Week 18, when he suffered the fracture in his back. The Bolts would be justified in retaining their bright, if stubborn, second-year coach … and would also be justified if they move on.
Herbert: Speaking of LA’s budding third-year superstar – yeah, he didn’t have his favorite receiver Saturday or adequate protection, getting sacked three times, hit 10 and even absorbing a cheap shot from Jags rookie OLB Travon Walker. That drew a flag, but no retribution from Herbert’s teammates. Still, as much fun as he is to watch and the possibility he could become Aaron Rodgers 2.0, he should have found a way to put this game on ice.
Bosa Bowl: Presumptive NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa had a nice day, making five tackles (one for a loss) and recovering a fumble in San Francisco’s win. But big brother Joey had a rough night in Duval County – finishing with one tackle, one hit on Lawrence … two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and an offside call that infuriated him while negating a crucial third-down sack of Lawrence and instead wound up extending a drive that ended with Jacksonville’s second TD. So Nick plays on, and Joey will have to watch from a luxury box.
Seahawks offensive line: All five of Seattle’s penalties were against its front five, not including a sixth that was declined, most falling into the mental error category. Smith was also sacked three times.
Geno Smith: He wasn’t terrible considering what was occurring in front of him, but Smith did turn the ball over twice and failed to become the first quarterback in 22 years to win his playoff debut 10 years into his career. Now he waits for Seattle to make a decision as his contract expires at the end of what was otherwise a breakout campaign.
Detroit Lions: Had they not lost to the Seahawks in Week 4, the Leos would have been in action Saturday. And the way Dan Campbell’s crew finished the season, you wonder if Detroit would have given the Niners four quarters of hell as opposed to the two Seattle managed.
Johnathan Abram: There’s a reason the 2019 first-round pick of the Raiders is on his third team (Seahawks) of the season. There’s zero reason he should be trying to injure a fellow player, Samuel in Saturday’s case. Bum. It also seemed to ignite San Francisco, which scored 25 points in a row after the dirty play.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.