By Steve Silverman
(CBSLA/CBS Local) — The playoffs are simply about executing and coming through in the clutch. Four winning teams did that, and four losing teams saw their season end, left to wonder what went wrong. All losses hurt, but Chicago suffered the most painful defeat, when a double-doink of a field goal attempt kept the Bears from surviving and advancing.
No wild-card team was more impressive than the Colts, who dominated the Texans on the road. The Cowboys were the only home team to survive wild-card weekend, while the Chargers overcame their West Coast to East Coast road trip and now have a date with the Patriots as their reward for beating the Ravens.
Colts 21, Texans 7
Indianapolis Colts: A-. The Colts are the hottest team in professional football and they have the look of a group that believes in itself and could go a long way despite its status as the No. 2 wild-card team and the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Andrew Luck is rolling as a result of his return to full health and the protection he is getting from his magnificent offensive line. Head coach Frank Reich knows Luck is capable of making a big throw when the Colts need it most. The other factor that makes this team dangerous is the play of the defense. Rookie Darius Leonard is already a game-changing superstar.
Houston Texans: D. You don’t have to go much further than head coach Bill O’Brien to figure out what is wrong with this team. He didn’t do anything to give his team a chance in a playoff game against a near-equal opponent. The Texans came out playing extremely hard on their first defensive series, but the Colts still took it to them, marching down the field to score. This discouraged the Texans, and they never recovered. A good head coach will do something to get his team out of the mental doldrums following such a drive, but O’Brien never did and he lacks that capability. The running game was a disaster and made the Texans one-dimensional. There’s no way a team with Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney should be going home after the wild-card game.
Cowboys 24, Seahawks 22
Dallas Cowboys: B. The Cowboys have survived and advanced — the main objective in the playoffs — and they beat a very tough Seattle team to do it. The most encouraging aspect of the game was the Cowboys’ ability to run the ball with Elliott, as he gained 137 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry against one of the most tough-minded defenses in the game. Elliott is a great back, and head coach Jason Garrett needs to realize that the Cowboys have the best running back left in the postseason going forward. That’s no knock on quarterback Dak Prescott, who showed off his toughness and talent against the Seahawks with a spectacular 16-yard run late in the fourth quarter that set up the Cowboys’ final touchdown of the game. Don’t overlook this team as it goes forward against the Rams.
Seattle Seahawks: C+. The Seahawks are almost always involved in a chess match, and with Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson at the helm, they almost always make the winning moves and figure out how to defeat their opponents. They came close against the Cowboys, but did not finish the job, because they would have needed to recover a near-impossible onside kick without regular placekicker Sebastian Janikowski. Wilson came back to lead a late touchdown drive by slicing through the Dallas defense. The Seattle defense was not at its best, as they let Ezekiel Elliott dominate them with his slashing running game. This game almost certainly would have had a different result if played in Seattle, but the Seahawks lacked the ability to finish off their opponent.
Chargers 23, Ravens 17
Los Angeles Chargers: A-. There was every chance the Chargers would take the field in Baltimore feeling sorry for itself because of its wild-card status. The Chargers tied the Chiefs for the best record in the AFC, but they lost the tiebreaker and had to play the early game on the East Coast. That’s usually a disaster for West Coast teams, but head coach Anthony Lynn had his team perfectly prepared. The Chargers only finished one drive with a touchdown and had to settle for five field goals. That’s usually a recipe for heartbreak, but the Los Angeles defense took advantage of a rookie quarterback who is still feeling his way in the NFL. Philip Rivers will throw as many catchable passes as any quarterback in the league, and Keenan Allen belongs in the upper tier of wide receivers. This team will be very difficult to beat from this point forward.
Baltimore Ravens: C. The Ravens seemed to be in an ideal position as the playoffs got started, winning six of seven games to take the division and secure a home game. They had already beaten the Chargers two weeks earlier on the road, so there was every reason to think they could get it done in this game. But that would not happen, and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson was ineffective until the final stages of the fourth quarter. While he got hot at the end of the game and nearly brought them all the way back with two late TD passes, he is not an accurate passer or a sharp decision maker at this point in his career. That seems likely to change based on the way he finished the game, but he still has a lot of work to do to get there.
Eagles 16, Bears 15
Philadelphia Eagles: B+. The Eagles are much like vampires, because they simply will not die. They have a certain magic when they are playing postseason football with Nick Foles in the lineup, and they overcame a powerful defense to make enough plays when the game was on the line. The biggest was Foles’ two-yard TD pass to Golden Tate on fourth down with 56 seconds remaining, which proved decisive. While the Eagles got a break when Chicago’s game-winning field goal attempt was unsuccessful, this was far more than a lucky win. Philadelphia limited the Bears’ solid running game and made life difficult for their hosts. They also did a good enough job blocking to keep stars like Khalil Mack or Akiem Hicks from having a game-changing impact. The Eagles remain alive and have a chance to defend their title, but the road gets even tougher when they go to New Orleans Sunday.
Chicago Bears: C-. What a nightmarish ending for the Bears. They gave up the game-winning TD on a fourth-down play in the final minute because the defense was unable to stop Foles and Tate. The defense had set the tone for the team all season, but it was not the case in the most important game of the year. A brilliant kickoff return by Tarik Cohen and some excellent play-making by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky put the Bears in a position to win the game, but Cody Parkey’s game-winning attempt at a 43-yard field goal thudded off the left upright, and bounded down off the goal post before landing back in the field of play. It was a shocking end to the season for a team that grew tremendously this season. Matt Nagy is a creative head coach, and Trubisky appears to be a winning quarterback. The future should be bright, if they can put this painful defeat behind them.