NFL Playoffs: Winners & Losers
With the Conference Championship games done and dusted, we can take a moment to look back at the best (and worst) moments of the 2023 NFL playoffs in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. The Wild Card, Divisional and Championship games produced many memorable plays, thrilling upsets and heroic displays of leadership from football’s finest athletes. From heroic last-minute throws and injury-plagued triumphs, to cringeworthy missed kicks and game-defining defensive errors, we’ve got it all covered in this article. We’ll go through the highlights (and lowlights) from this year’s playoffs, starting with the winners: the star quarterbacks.
Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback: Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts had his best regular season yet in 2022, and he carried that performance through to the playoffs and showed the world that he’s among the NFL’s elite. In the Eagles’ 38-7 drubbing over the New York Giants as 8-point favourites, Hurts quieted any remaining doubt about lingering shoulder injury as he effortlessly threw two touchdown passes and ran in one in himself on the ground.
It was a tougher go against the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked defense, but Hurts again ran one TD in (his 15th of the season), which broke Cam Newton’s 14-TD record for most rushing touchdowns by a QB in a season that includes the NFL playoffs. With 73 rushing yards recorded in the playoffs so far, Hurts acts as an extra running back for the Philly offense, which has been able to score at will with Hurts under centre. All that remains is for the Hurts to finish his epic season by bringing the Vince Lombardi trophy back to Philly for the second time in franchise history.
San Francisco 49ers Quarterback: Brock Purdy
After both of San Francisco’s top quarterbacks went down with injury during the regular season, Brock Purdy had to assume starter duties beginning in December. As a third-stringer and the last player drafted in the 2022 NFL draft, Purdy was the most unlikely of heroes. But with the rookie at the helm, the 49ers won all but one game during the regular season and he continued to perform as a starter in the playoffs, winning the Wild Card matchup against Seattle 41-23 (332 passing yards and 3 TDs) and going on to lead San Francisco to victory in the NFC Divisional Round against the Dallas Cowboys.
Unfortunately, Purdy was injured in the NFC Championship game versus the Philadelphia Eagles early on and had to be pulled off the field after starting 2-for-2 for 19 yards. Then things went from bad to worse when Purdy’s replacement, Josh Johnson, was also injured and taken off the field due to a concussion. Purdy re-entered the game with what we now know was a torn UCL in his elbow, completing two passes in the process. While that display of leadership wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit against the Eagles, Purdy’s consistency and dedication should be enough to make the ‘Niners think twice about selecting someone else as starter once he returns from his injury.
Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes showed up for the AFC Championship Game with limited mobility due to a high ankle sprain he sustained in the Divisional Round against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite the injury, Mahomes still threw for an impressive 326 yards, which included two touchdowns. In the final drive of the game, clearly hobbled, Mahomes made a mad scramble for five yards, trying to get the Chiefs’ special teams unit within range. As Mahomes ran off the field, the Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai tackled him out of bounds which resulted in a personal foul and an extra 15 yards tacked on to the end of the play. That was enough to bring the Chiefs within comfortable field goal range, and they were able to seal the victory on a last-second Butker kick.
After finishing the regular season as NFC North division leaders with a 13-4 record, the Minnesota Vikings and fans had high expectations heading into the NFL playoffs. They faced the New York Giants as 2.5-point home favourites in the Wild Card Round and by the end of the first quarter, they gave up their lead and never got it back. It’s yet another disappointing postseason performance for Minnesota, and they’ll be looking to next year to make amends in the postseason.
Cincinnati Bengals Defensive End: Joseph Ossai
Rarely does a single player’s actions have such a significant impact on a game’s outcome—and unfortunately for Joseph Ossai, it was a negative one. Tied 20-20 in the final minutes of the game, the opposing QB scrambled to try to get the ball within field goal range; however, it would have been close to 60 yards away with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock. Unfortunately for Ossai, he tackled the Chiefs’ QB when he had already stepped out of bounds, which resulted in a penalty, putting the kicker 15 yards closer to his target for a fairly easy 45-yard kick. While Ossai played a good game to that point, his mental lapse with time ticking down led to his Bengals being eliminated from the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers found themselves in an almost unimaginable situation in the NFC Conference Championship game against the Eagles. Third string QB Brock Purdy sustained an elbow injury while being tackled and had to be replaced by fourth-stringer Josh Johnson. Unfortunately, for Johnson, he was injured in the third quarter and exited with concussion symptoms.
An emergency backup quarterback would have likely been Christian McCaffrey or Kyle Juszxzyk—neither of whom have experience as a quarterback, but in the end, Purdy was able to return to the field, with limited mobility in his arm. The 49ers had no choice but to focus on running the ball in, as their hope of making it to the Super Bowl went up in smoke.
Dallas Cowboys Place Kicker: Brett Maher
The Dallas Cowboys place kicker, Brett Maher experienced a nightmare situation in the Divisional playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he went 1-5 for extra points. The first time he missed, it was not ideal but also not a big deal. The second time was a shock. The third time created physical discomfort in the people watching him. The fourth time he missed, people were convinced that he had a bout of the yips. It was only on the fifth and final attempt that Maher made a kick. Fortunately, the Cowboys didn’t need the extra points in that game, but Maher’s future as a kicker in the NFL is certainly in question.