The heroes from Saturday’s divisional-round games
Things are really starting to heat up in the NFL playoffs now that Saturday’s divisional-round games are in the rear-view mirror.
On Saturday, the Indianapolis Colts were on the road for a game against the Kansas City that started out looking like a glorious winter wonderland. After the snow went away, the Chiefs heated up and played like a top-seeded team, pulling away with a 31-13 victory.
Later in the evening, the Los Angeles Rams hosted the Dallas Cowboys. This one looked like it would be tight at the start but the Rams pulled ahead in the second quarter and never looked back, winning 30-22.
These are the players whose performances stood out from Saturday’s divisional-round games.
Dee Ford, defensive end, Kansas City Chiefs
If you were unable to watch Saturday’s game and went hunting for answers to what happened in the box score, you might be inclined to think Dee Ford had a minimal effect on the outcome.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite only registering four tackles, Ford continually put pressure on Andrew Luck, who had a really bad game. Then, when the Colts finally appeared to have some real momentum at the end of the third quarter, Ford stole their souls.
Luck was dropping back to pass on second down when Ford came screaming off the edge. Before Luck even knew the pass rusher was on him, the ball was loose and the Chiefs pounced on the ball for the sack-strip (watch here).
Ford’s quickness off the line was on full display and it took him 2.54 seconds to strip the ball and change the game completely.
Darius Leonard, linebacker, Indianapolis Colts
Indy’s rookie inside linebacker has been making game-changing plays all year. Even in a losing cause he was up to his tricks once again on Saturday.
His team down 24-7 late in the third quarter, Leonard was in coverage when Patrick Mahomes threw a dart to Sammy Watkins. The linebacker pounced all over the play and ripped the ball out of Watkins’ arms. Even better, he came up with the recovery. If not for the extraordinary efforts of Ford just a few plays later, that play would have likely led to points as it put the Colts into scoring range.
The rookie ended up leading all tacklers in the game, tallying 14 total, 10 solo and one for a loss of yardage.
Damien Williams, running back, Kansas City Chiefs
The emergence of Damien Williams as a go-to player for the Chiefs this season in the wake of the Hunt debacle has been a huge key to Kansas City’s continued success. He was once again a critical player for the Chiefs Saturday.
Late in the game when the Chiefs needed to keep the chains moving and run out the clock, Williams stepped up. In the end, he had racked up 154 yards on 30 touches while scoring a first-half touchdown.
Kenny Moore, cornerback, Indianapolis Colts
Remember when Kenny Moore was an undrafted free agent who couldn’t cut it in New England? That seems like eons ago, yet it was only last summer. The second-year cornerback has become a hugely important player for the Colts the past couple of games and he had a monster game against the Chiefs on Saturday.
The 23-year-old out of Voldosta State racked up 11 tackles, eight of those being of the solo variety. He also had two sacks on Patrick Mahomes and broke up a pass. Some were upset that he was celebrating big plays near the end of the game, down 24-7. But it’s hard to really criticize the young man for playing his heart out and wearing his emotions on his sleeve.
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
Mahomes didn’t throw a single touchdown pass on Saturday. But he did put together a tremendous all-around game and didn’t turn the ball over, despite an injury that freaked fans out in a big way.
Showing off a mastery of Andy Reid’s offense that’s unreal considering he’s been a starter for just one year, Mahomes distributed the ball beautifully to the tune of 278 yards through the air. He also scored on a gutsy Superman dive toward the right pylon in the first half (watch here).
He even had a lot to do with the final rushing touchdown of the game. As Darrel Williams was stymied near the goal line, Mahomes rushed in and gave him the final push he needed to get over the line and score.
Just another MVP performance from the second-year wonder.
C.J. Anderson, running backs, Los Angeles Rams
On a night that saw Gurley on the sideline for some extended periods of time, veteran C.J. Anderson was so money for the Rams. The 27-year-old back only signed on with Los Angeles a few weeks ago, but since then he’s been a top producer for this offense.
Anderson racked up 123 yards on the ground on 23 carries, helping significantly lighten the load for Gurley. He also punched in two rushing scores.
With this bowling ball of a running back making such consistent gains against the vaunted Dallas front, Los Angeles was able to put the offense in cruise control and really wore down their opponent.
Michael Gallup, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys
This rookie receiver has really come into his own with some big plays the past month or so. He exploded with production in the second half of Saturday night’s game in Los Angeles, helping the Cowboys claw their way back into the contest.
Gallup finished the game with six catches for 119 yards, which is notable all by itself. But really it was his 44-yard gem of a catch in the third quarter that gave the Cowboys their first real pulse since early in the first quarter.
Defensive line, Los Angeles Rams
Coming into Saturday night’s game, Los Angeles’ defense had heard quite a bit about how it was the team’s biggest weakness. Heck, Troy Aikman made a big fuss about how bad the Los Angeles run defense was not hours before the game took place.
Well, all that bulletin-board material can be thrown out the window after what we witnessed on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams absolutely shut down Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas run game (50 total yards on the ground). Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Co. dominated the Dallas offensive line. Wade Phillips didn’t respect Dak Prescott’s ability to strike downfield and stacked the box.
By shutting down Dallas’ biggest strength, the Rams were able to completely control the game.
Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams
When last year’s Offensive Player of the Year got his chances, he put his best foot forward. Gurley rushed for 115 yards and really put the game away in the second quarter with his 35-yard scamper for six (watch here).
Though he seemed to still be not quite 100-percent healthy from the knee injury that kept him out the final two games of the regular season, Gurley certainly showed his signature burst and power.
Thanks to Los Angeles’ outstanding offensive line, and the emergence of Anderson as a legitimate backup option, Gurley and the Rams have quite the recipe for success going forward.