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The Sports Daily
Biggest surprises from NFL’s Wild Card Weekend

All four 2016 NFL wild-card games were duds.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 76-point combined margin of victory was the most in this round since the playoffs were expanded to four wild-card games in 1990.

But the games weren’t without surprises. Two running backs set franchise records.

And then there was Aaron Rodgers.

Aaron Rodgers throws another Hail Mary

Aaron Rodgers has completed almost as many Hail Marys as he would if he said a Rosary.

It’s a glorious mystery how Rodgers has thrown touchdown passes on three Hail Marys in the last two years, two of them in the playoffs.

Rodgers’ Hail Mary against the Giants Sunday didn’t give the Packers a last-second win or force overtime like last season’s bombs. But it did give the Packers a touchdown and a 14-6 halftime lead and put them in control of a game they eventually won 38-13.

Randall Cobb caught this one in the back of the end zone for a 42-yard TD.

Another surprise provided Rodgers with this opportunity to heave the ball to the end zone as time ran out in the first half. The Giants handed the ball off to Bobby Rainey on third-and-1 from their own 41 with 1:58 left in the half. Rainey had carried the ball just once since Week 9.

The tandem of Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings had all the other carries for the Giants. It was puzzling that Rainey got the ball at that critical juncture with the Giants trailing 7-6.

The Giants were forced to punt and that set the stage for Rodgers’ latest miracle.

Packers recover from horrible first quarter without Jordy Nelson

The Packers had just seven yards of offense in the first quarter Sunday night and Aaron Rodgers was sacked twice. They lost Jordy Nelson to a rib injury early in the second quarter and the Giants took a 6-0 lead.

It was starting to look like the middle of the season, when the Packers lost four straight. It didn’t help that it was the Giants, who had beaten the Packers in the playoffs at Green Bay in 2007 and 2011.

Perhaps history just wasn’t on the Packers’ side.

Except that it was.

By the end of the night, the Packers had 406 yards of offense and a 38-13 win.

Rodgers threw for 362 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Randall Cobb did what he does when Nelson gets hurt, he picked up the slack with three touchdown catches, his first three-touchdown game since Week 3 of the 2015 season.

Davante Adams caught Rodgers’ first TD pass to put the Packers on the board. The Packers never trailed after taking that 7-6 lead and are in the divisional playoffs for the third straight year.

Ben Roethlisberger shows up to press conference in walking boot

As the Steelers were being second-guessed on social media for leaving Ben Roethlisberger in a 30-12 game with less than five minutes left, Roethlisberger threw an interception and took a hit from Cameron Wake.

The Steelers quarterback fussed with his shoulder after the play, but when he approached the podium to meet the media after the Steelers defeated the Dolphins, it was his foot that was in a walking boot.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t mention Roethlisberger during his rundown of injuries, but his press conference took place before Roethlisberger’s.

The progress of Roethlisberger’s ankle will be the talk of Pittsburgh as the Steelers prepare for next Sunday’s divisional-round game at Kansas City.

Le’Veon Bell breaks record

It’s not totally surprising that Le’Veon Bell had a big game against the Dolphins’ 30th-ranked pass defense.

It is surprising that Bell made Franco Harris move over in the Steelers’ record books.

In his first career playoff game, Bell ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers’ 30-12 win over the Dolphins at Heinz Field.

Bell broke Harris’ franchise record for rushing yards in a postseason game. He now owns the Steelers’ single-season record for rushing yards in a single game (236 in Week 14 this season at Buffalo) to go with the single-game playoff record.

Because of injuries, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Bell hadn’t played together in a postseason game before Sunday, and the Big Three lived up to the billing.

Bell and Brown led the Steelers to their biggest margin of victory in the playoffs since they beat the Colts 42-14 in a 1996 wild-card game.

Steelers hold Jay Ajayi to 33 yards

Jay Ajayi trampled the Steelers defense for 204 yards in the Dolphins’ 30-15 win over the Steelers in Week 6 at Miami.

That was a concern for the Steelers heading into Sunday’s game at Heinz Field, especially after they allowed the Ravens to run for 122 yards (4.7 yards per carry) in Week 16 and the Browns to run for 231 yards (7.0 yards per carry) in Week 17.

Sunday’s game meant a little more than the game against the Browns, and it showed.

The Steelers held Ajayi to the kind of yardage that he gained before anyone knew who he was. Ajayi ran for just 33 yards on 16 carries, his lowest total since a 22-7 loss at Cincinnati in Week 4. That was before he broke out against the Steelers. Even against the Bengals, Ajayi picked up 33 yards on six carries. His 2.1 yards per carry on Saturday was his lowest average of the season.

The Steelers didn’t have defensive end Stephon Tuitt in weeks 16 and 17. Before that, they went five straight games without allowing 100 rushing yards. Tuitt was back Sunday. There might be a connection between Tuitt’s presence and the Steelers’ run defense.

Thomas Rawls has breakout game

Thomas Rawls did something that Marshawn Lynch and Shaun Alexander never did on Saturday night. His 161 rushing yards were a Seahawks record for a playoff game as the Seahawks ousted the Lions 26-6.

Rawls, who missed seven games with a broken leg, had only one 100-yard rushing game this season. He had 107 before halftime on Saturday, which was one more than his season high for an entire game. His 4-yard touchdown run with 8:49 left in the game increased Seattle’s lead to 19-6.

Because of injuries, the Seahawks haven’t had a consistent workhorse in their backfield this season. According to NBC, 18 different Seahawks had carries this season, the most since the 1970 Saints. Seattle’s leading rusher, Christine Michael, is now a Packer.

Rawls showed promise as an undrafted rookie last season, leading the Seahawks with 830 rushing yards. He’s picked a good time to start fulfilling that potential.

Paul Richardson makes highlight reel

Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson’s stat line Saturday showed that he caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. Nothing special, unless you saw those three catches.

After more than 22 scoreless minutes, Lions safety Tavon Wilson interfered with Richardson in the end zone, and Richardson got the flag while getting away with grabbing Wilson’s facemask. With all this going on, Richardson somehow cradled the ball in his hand with Wilson falling on top of him and came up with the 2-yard touchdown catch from Russell Wilson to give the Seahawks a 7-0 lead.

On the Seahawks’ next possession, Richardson was draped by Nevin Lawson and made another improbable catch, this one for 19 yards, to set up Steven Hauschka’s 43-yard field goal that gave the Seahawks a 10-0 lead.

Richardson completed the highlight-reel hat trick with 4:44 to go in the game and the Seahawks leading 19-6. He beat Lawson again for another one-handed catch on third down, sustaining a drive that ended with the game-clinching touchdown.

A second-round draft pick in 2014, Richardson caught 29 passes in his rookie season, then tore his ACL in the playoffs. He returned in Week 10 of the 2015 season, but played just seven snaps and missed the rest of the season with a hamstring injury. He caught 21 passes this season, and now has strung together three decent games. Richardson came into Saturday’s game having caught a season-high four passes in weeks 16 and 17, with a touchdown in Week 16.

Richardson’s three catches Saturday helped the Seahawks take control of the game in the first half and seal the deal late.

Lions throw to Matthew Mulligan on fourth down

Matthew Mulligan entered Saturday night’s game with two catches in the last three years. The 31-year-old tight end has caught 18 passes in his career. He’s playing for his seventh team and is one of three NFL players this century to hail from Maine, a football hotbed if there ever was one.

Yet that’s who the Lions turned to on fourth down with the game still scoreless in Seattle.

Mulligan has been the intended receiver just 28 times in his career. The last time he was even thrown to on third down was Week 4 of the 2013 season.

The Lions’ fourth-down play from the Seahawks’ 38 at the start of the second quarter wasn’t designed for Mulligan.

It looked like the call was to throw to Dwayne Washington, even though Zach Zenner ran for 28 yards in the first quarter and caught a pass for seven yards. When Matthew Stafford saw that Washington was covered by Mike Morgan, he threw the ball across his body to Mulligan, and a “hold my beer” kind of moment ensued.

Mulligan lost two yards. The Seahawks took over and drove 60 yards in 14 plays to take a 7-0 lead and never looked back.

That play was a perfect snapshot for a Lions franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991 and has set a record with nine straight playoff losses.

Lions veterans lose their cool

Anquan Boldin and Haloti Ngata were teammates on the Ravens team that won Super Bowl XLVII. They know what it takes to win a ring.

One way not to win a Super Bowl ring is to commit unnecessary roughness penalties in a tight playoff game, but that’s just what these veterans did.

Boldin did it twice. His first infraction came with five minutes left in the first half. He was out of bounds on the Seahawks side after an incomplete third-down pass and shoved a Seahawks player who wasn’t even in the game. The Lions had to punt from their 18 instead of their 33, and eventually the Seahawks kicked a field goal to increase their lead to 10-0.

The Lions trailed 10-6 late in the third quarter and were trying to stop the Seahawks in the red zone. Seattle was about to face a third-and-6 from the Lions’ 19, but Ngata took a shot at rookie guard Germain Ifedi and the Seahawks had a first down. They came away with a field goal on the drive.

Boldin was flagged again on the first play of the Lions’ next possession after an exchange with Jeremy Lane. The Lions had bad field position to begin with, but Boldin’s penalty moved them back to the 9 and they eventually punted. The Seahawks put the game away with a touchdown on their next series.

For the second year in a row, a team named for a cat breed that hasn’t won a playoff game since the early 90s killed itself with penalties during the Saturday-night time slot on wild-card weekend.

Jadeveon Clowney confirms he’s no bust

Jadeveon Clowney sort of fell off the radar after suffering a meniscus tear in his first career game. The top draft pick in 2014 played in just four games in his rookie season and missed three games with injures in 2015. He also missed the Texans’ playoff game against the Chiefs.

This season, Clowney had six sacks and became a Pro Bowler. Still, there might have been some casual fans who weren’t aware that Clowney is the real deal.

That changed when Clowney fueled the Texans’ 27-14 win over the visiting Raiders Saturday.

On the Raiders’ first possession, Clowney tipped a Connor Cook pass from the Raiders’ 8-yard line. He couldn’t come up with the interception, but he did come up with it the next time.

Clowney tipped another Cook pass on the Raiders’ next possession, and this time held on to the ball for his first career interception at the Raiders’ 12. Lamar Miller ran it in four yards for a touchdown on the next play to give the Texans a 10-0 lead.

The interception, two pass breakups and one tackle was all Clowney was credited with on the stat sheet, but Cook would disagree. Clowney constantly pressured him and was all over the field, helping the Texans reach the divisional playoffs for the first time since 2012.