The 2015 NFL playoffs followed up Wild Card weekend with a vintage Tom Brady performance, one of the wildest postseason finishes in league history, a massive (yet failed) comeback attempt and a late touchdown drive orchestrated by Peyton Manning.
Here is the rest of the best and worst from the NFL’s Divisional Round:
QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Facing a defense that had given up 20 or more points just twice over its last 13 games, the Patriots put the ball in Tom Brady’s hands—and one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history did the rest.
Brady threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns (both to Rob Gronkowski) while also rushing for a third score, leading the Patriots to a 27-20 win over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. New England ran just seven times with running backs, choosing instead to use Brady to distribute the football to eight different receivers. The Patriots are now heading back to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth straight season.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Fitzgerald single-handedly saved the Cardinals season after Green Bay rallied to send a crazy game into overtime. On the third play of the extra period, Fitzgerald got open against a busted zone defense and rumbled 75 yards to the Packers’ 5-yard line.
A play later, Carson Palmer shoveled a short pass to Fitzgerald, who found his way into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. The 32-year-old receiver caught eight passes for 176 yards, providing another dazzling performance in a career filled with them.
Aaron Rodgers’ Final Drive
Losing in overtime will overshadow Green Bay’s incredible drive to end regulation. Aaron Rodgers completed just two passes, but both were special. On the first, Rodgers saved the game by escaping pressure to his left and heaving a 61-yard completion to Jeff Janis on 4th-and-20.
Given one last chance to tie the game with four seconds left, Rodgers again rolled to his left with a bevy of Cardinals defenders closing him down. He had no choice but to throw a fadeaway Hail Mary, which traveled roughly 60 yards in the air before landing in the hands of Janis for the tying score. Two impossible completions for 101 yards sent one of the most stunning games in recent NFL history to overtime.
RB Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Stewart kicked off Carolina’s first-half blowout with a 59-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Three plays later, he plunged into the end zone from four yards out to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead. Stewart eventually finished off Carolina’s second offensive drive with another touchdown.
Overall, the Panthers lead back carried 19 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the NFL’s No. 1 ranked rushing defense. Stewart became the first player since Jamaal Charles in Week 11 of 2014 to rush for over 100 yards against the Seahawks. He also became the first running back to rush for over 100 yards in a playoff game against Seattle since 2012.
K Brandon McManus, Denver Broncos
Despite kicking in windy, unstable conditions, McManus made all five of his field goal attempts and provided the 15 of the Broncos’ 23 points. He connected on four kicks over 40 yards, including a 51-yarder as time expired in the first half and a 45-yarder to put the Steelers away late in the fourth quarter. His five field goals set a new Broncos record for made kicks in a postseason game.
Chiefs’ Time Management
Andy Reid and the Chiefs ended both halves of Kansas City’s 27-20 loss to New England with confusing clock management decisions. The Chiefs spiked on the ball on 1st-and-goal with 25 seconds left in the first half, instead of using the down to take a quick shot into the end zone. The wasted play gave Kansas City just two shots at a touchdown, and the Chiefs ended up kicking a field goal with 16 seconds left.
A half later, Kansas City advanced the ball to the 1-yard line with the Patriots up 14 points. The Chiefs ran their next play with 2:33 left, but didn’t score a touchdown until the 1:13 mark, or four plays following the two-minute warning.
CB Sam Shields, Green Bay Packers
Listing Shields here is harsh, as he came back from missing four games with a head injury to play a strong game against Arizona’s hoard of receivers. But missed opportunities can end a team’s season, and Shields’ three dropped interceptions against Carson Palmer helped the Cardinals slip past the Packers.
He undercut a route on Arizona’s first possession and dropped the pick. Later, he made a diving attempt at an overthrown pass near the end zone. His final drop was most devastating, as the Cardinals later scored a touchdown after Shields couldn’t haul in a Palmer pass thrown directly to him. If he makes any of the three plays, the Packers probably win in regulation.
Seahawks’ First Half
Seattle eventually mounted a rally in the second half, but it’s almost impossible to win in the postseason after playing the first 30 minutes as poorly as the Seahawks did in Carolina. Russell Wilson threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and the Panthers offense scored on its first four possessions.
Carolina’s 31-0 lead tied for the sixth largest half time advantage in NFL playoff history. The 31-point margin was also the largest faced by the Seahawks since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012. The back-to-back NFC champions couldn’t make up the huge deficit in the second half.
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, Pittsburgh Steelers
Toussaint scored a touchdown in the first quarter, but his late fumble was a back-breaker for Pittsburgh. Up a point with 10 minutes left, the Steelers were driving in Denver territory with a golden chance to extend the lead. Instead, Toussaint put the ball on the ground at the end of a 3-yard run on second down. The Broncos recovered, and Peyton Manning then led Denver 65 yards in almost seven minutes to win the game. The fumble was the game’s only turnover.