Panthers 27, Cardinals 16
You could view it as a historically great performance by the Carolina defense, but in actuality it was a historically awful performance by Arizona’s offense with 107 total yards. Down to their third-string quarterback and running back, the Cardinals put forth zero offensive threat; that they were even in this game for a time only bolsters DC Todd Bowles’ head coaching resume. The Panthers fared slightly better, though this wasn’t by any stretch a Superman-esque performance for their passing game. Given what they have invested in the ground game, though, it’s about time that unit stepped up.
Extra points: Now that we know just what Jonathan Stewart (27-123-1) can do when healthy and given the full workload, what’s his value heading into 2015 fantasy drafts? Or, more importantly, how do the Panthers muck it up? Give DeAngelo Williams (4-16) more carries? Draft another running back? And while you can’t really fault the Cardinals for not going three deep at quarterback, is it worth paying Larry Fitzgerald (3-31) $23.6 million next year if they can’t get him the ball? And with Carson Palmer getting on in years and Drew Stanton better in a backup role, would it really have been that bad an idea to give Logan Thomas some run?
Ravens 30, Steelers 17
Another case of attrition, as the Steelers minus the injured Le’Veon Bell were unable to finish drives. Settling for field goals in the first half caught up to Pittsburgh in the second half, as the Ravens scored on four of their first five drives after halftime to build an insurmountable lead. Neither team ran the ball particularly well, but while the Steelers threw the ball more productively—and more frequently—it shouldn’t surprise anyone that ultimately defense decided the outcome of this classic rivalry.
Extra points: Justin Forsett (16-36, 1-7 receiving) got the touches, but Bernard Pierce stole the touchdown from five yards out on his only touch of the game. Likewise, Steve Smith (5-101) did the heavy lifting in the passing game but Torrey Smith (2-28) parlayed one of his two catches into a score. San Bell, Pittsburgh relied heavily on Ben Roethlisberger (31-45-334-1-2) and Antonio Brown (9-117), with assists from Heath Miller (6-76), Markus Wheaton (5-66) and Martavis Bryant (5-61-1). But Josh Harris (9-25), Ben Tate (5-19) and Dri Archer (1-(-1)) were no replacement for Bell, dooming the Steelers to a one-dimensional attack—and a first-round exit.
Colts 26, Bengals 10
The Colts proved once again they’re plenty formidable at home, especially when facing a Cincinnati squad gutted at wide receiver. The Bengals fell behind in the second half and couldn’t fully embrace Hue Jackson’s beloved ground game, rushing the ball just 20 times for 76 yards on the day.
Extra points: TY Hilton (6-103) shook off some early drops to pace Indy’s receiving corps, which saw nine different Colts catch passes from Andrew Luck (31-44-376-1)—none prettier than the touchdown grab by Donte Moncrief (3-54-1). With Hakeem Nicks (3-59) a free agent and Reggie Wayne (1-12) on the downslope of his career, Moncrief looks ready to be a solid WR2 for Luck. Whether or not Dan Herron (12-56-1, 10-85 receiving) is the answer at running back depends on if he or Ahmad Bradshaw is re-signed, but after receiving zero touches in this game it’s obvious Trent richardson won’t be. You can’t put all the blame on Andy Dalton (18-35-155-0) when he didn’t have AJ Green or Jermaine Gresham. Of particular interest was an 8-46 receiving day from Giovani Bernard (3-6 rushing), as well as the decision to patch seemingly all of their offensive holes with Rex Bulkhead (1-23 rushing, 3-34 receiving).
Cowboys 24, Lions 20
Finally, some drama! Both teams came in fully loaded, and both fired all their bullets—though when the dust had settled four of the five TDs came from the supporting cast as opposed to the star players, and the fellas in black and white had almost as big a say in the final tally as those in blue and silver. While the Lions scored the first 14 points and in the third quarter held a 20-7 lead, ultimately it was the Cowboys who scored the final 17 points to move on to the divisional round.
Extra points: The Cowboys continued to load up DeMarco Murray (19-75-1, 3-22 receiving), and the free agent to be acquitted himself quite well against the vaunted Detroit run-stoppers. Tony Romo (19-31-293-2) had an answer for critics of his record in big games, but it was Terrance Williams (3-92-2) doing the bulk of the damage as opposed to Dez Bryant (3-48); even Cole Beasley (4-63) and Jason Witten( 5-63) put up better numbers than Dez for the Cowboys’ well-rounded passing game. Much was made of the Romo-esque big-game struggles of Matthew Stafford (28-42-323-1-1), but he answered the bell as well with twin solid outings from Golden Tate (6-89-1) and Calvin Johnson (5-85). Joique Bell (12-43, 4-42 receiving) was still the primary backfield option, though he shared more with Reggie Bush (8-37-1, 3-10 receiving) than usual.