The Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs didn’t feature as many of the kind of incredible quarterback performances that we are accustomed to, but there were still a few standout performances worth giving hat-tips to. Colin Kaepernick just missed our list of the top three quarterbacks of the first week of the playoffs, which saw eight total QBs in action. Some like Andy Dalton didn’t fare out so well, but others like Alex Smith put forward efficient displays.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith
The best quarterback of the week, by my estimation, Alex Smith did everything he could to put the Kansas City Chiefs in a position to win the game, and his excellent passing gave the team a 38-10 lead that they would relinquish. It was truly a tale of two halves for the Chiefs defense, as they made Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck look awful in the first half before getting torched by Luck and No. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton in the second half. Injuries played a role, but the main reason why the Chiefs lost 45-44 was due to poor coverage and poor strategy (you can’t single-cover a receiver when he is easily their best weapon).
Anyway, Smith was one of the bright spots, as he completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions, thus finishing with an average of 8.2 yards per attempt and a QB Rating of 119,7. He also ran for 57 yards on eight carries, and those runs were critical in moving the chains on certain plays. It’s a shame that the Chiefs weren’t able to win, but guys like Smith showed a lot of heart in a heart-breaking loss. There’s little doubt that Smith is a guy the Chiefs can “win” with at QB, and I think he’ll have a great 2014 season if the Chiefs can add a great receiver to pair up with the solid Dwayne Bowe.
Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck
The victor at QB in that Chiefs-Colts game, Andrew Luck received plenty of help from Hilton, who caught a 13 of his 18 targets for 224 yards and two TDs (including the game-winning 64-yarder) and was our player of the week. Luck also had a great game, and it’s crazy just how clutch he is. This guy always seems to pull of incredible comeback victories, and he never lets a deficit get him down. He has elite physical tools, but his mental tools are even more impressive when the game is on the line. Down 38-10, the Colts were certainly at the crossroads, and Luck was a battered quarterback in the midst of the worst game of his career before turning the game on its head and finishing with a win and one of the most memorable performances of his career.
Luck completed 29 of 45 passes for a whopping 445 yards, and he averaged 9.8 yards per attempt. His big plays and four touchdown passes made up for the three interceptions, and he finished with an ESPN TQBR of 93.5 and a QB Rating of 98.7. Stat geeks like me like to downplay “clutchness” and that sort of stuff, but the truth is that clutch plays and comebacks are memorable and a sign of a great QB when they consistently happen. You don’t have to be clutch in order to be great, but it sure is beautiful when you find a quarterback like Luck who is both. Smith had the better game due to his more consistent display (you can’t ignore Luck’s low points in that one), but Luck was certainly great on Saturday in his own right and came away with the most important thing- the win.
San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers
It was a bit difficult to pick among Philip Rivers, San Francisco 49ers running QB Colin Kaepernick, and Philadelphia Eagles efficient passer Nick Foles, but Rivers got the nod for some timely throws and more brutally efficient play. Rivers is arguably the most accurate quarterback in the league, and I would honestly call him the most accurate. He sets his receivers up on a platter with beautifully timed throws, and he’s had some of the most accurate passes of the season (check out his game-winning TD the first time the Chargers faced the Chiefs in 2013). He threw a pair of dimes on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals on the same drive with a 33-yard pass to Eddie Royal and a four-yard TD pass to TE Ladarius Green.
Rivers only needed to throws 16 passes, and he completed 12 of them for 128 yards and an average of eight yards per attempt. While Andy Dalton was all over the place with his turnovers and 51 attempts, Rivers was cool, killer, and never turned the ball over. He finished with a 118.8 QB Rating and an ESPN TQBR of 68.0, and while he didn’t do too much, he didn’t have to do too much. When Rivers needed to make a tough throw in a key situation, he delivered, and he’s been delivering all season long; it truly has been a big bounce-back year for him.
No NFC QBs, huh?