NFL Wild Card Saturday 2023 Takeaways from 49ers vs. Seahawks, Jaguars vs. Chargers
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AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn
On Saturday, Wild Card Weekend opened with four teams that have quarterbacks who made their postseason debuts as starters. That gave us a look at the potential future of the NFL and Geno Smith, who has been the subject of one of the most intriguing comeback stories this season.
In the first 2023 playoff game, the Seahawks came out with some fight against the San Francisco 49ers, leading 17-16 at halftime, but they unraveled in the second half because of penalties and turnovers. The NFL’s hottest team extended its win streak to 11 games.
What lies ahead for the 49ers in the divisional round? How can the Seahawks retool their roster in the offseason?
The Los Angeles Chargers went on the road to square off with the Jacksonville Jaguars in a contest that pitted upstart quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence against each other.
However, Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. stole the show early with three interceptions in the first half. Still, Lawrence and Co. completed a memorable comeback win to move into the divisional round.
Let’s dive into our biggest takeaways from Saturday’s games.
Trevor Lawrence Displays His Worst and Best in Exhilarating Playoff Debut Win
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AP Photo/John Raoux
Within 60 minutes, Trevor Lawrence had a hand in digging a big hole for his team and then pulling them out of it in a 31-30 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Lawrence’s playoff debut couldn’t have gone much worse than it did in the first half. Midway through the second quarter, he had already thrown four interceptions. Also, Los Angeles recovered a punt after the ball bounced off Chris Claybrooks’ helmet, which set up the Chargers for a 23-yard field goal.
Jacksonville found some light at the end of a mistake-ridden first half, marching down the field for a touchdown drive with 24 seconds left in the second quarter. In hindsight, the Jaguars started their comeback with that possession.
In the second half, Jacksonville outscored Los Angeles 24-3, and Lawrence led three touchdown drives and converted on a two-point play. Finally, Riley Patterson put the icing on the comeback cake with a game-winning 36-yard field goal.
The Jaguars haven’t played their best over the last two weeks, turning the ball over six times between Week 18 and Saturday’s wild-card contest, but they’ve won six consecutive games.
Jacksonville has pulled itself out of big holes multiple times with a playmaking quarterback who doesn’t flinch in the face of adversity.
As the No. 4 seed, the Jaguars will play the No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs if they’re the lowest seed remaining among the AFC playoff teams. However, if the No. 7 Miami Dolphins upset the No. 2 Buffalo Bills or the No. 6 Baltimore Ravens upend the No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville would avoid a trip to Kansas City.
Chargers’ Loss Should Raise Question Marks About Brandon Staley’s Future
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AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley drew widespread criticism for his decision to play key starters in Week 18—a game that had no bearing on his team’s playoff seeding. In that contest, edge-rusher Joey Bosa (groin), linebacker Kenneth Murray (neck) and wide receiver Mike Williams (back) went down with injuries. Bosa and Murray played Saturday night.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Chargers made an “organizational decision” to play their starters in a game where Williams—the team’s regular-season leader in receiving yards—suffered a transverse process fracture in his back.
In Williams’ absence, tight end Gerald Everett filled a void in the aerial attack, recording six receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. Keenan Allen hauled in six passes for 61 yards, and Austin Ekeler scored on a couple of rushing touchdowns, but Los Angeles still couldn’t hold off the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came back from 27-0 to win 31-30.
The Chargers offense went ice-cold in the second half and scored touchdowns on three out of five trips to the red zone. Perhaps Williams could’ve helped Los Angeles break Jacksonville’s momentum with some crucial first downs, but we’ll never know for sure.
Yet we can question Staley, who’s a former defensive coordinator. His defense allowed the Jaguars to go up and down the field and score 31 points between the last minute of the second quarter and the final tick in regulation.
With Sean Payton in the mix for a new head-coaching job, general manager Tom Telesco should offer him the position in an attempt to move on from Staley, who’s made questionable decisions during games (hyper-aggressive fourth-down calls) and with his roster personnel this past week.
Brock Purdy Shines After Rocky Start as 49ers Showcase Super Bowl Sizzle
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AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn
Through the first 30 minutes, Brock Purdy had some rookie moments in which he made some questionable decisions from the pocket and struggled to place the ball in the right spots for his playmakers.
Purdy could’ve thrown a touchdown to wideout Jauan Jennings on San Francisco’s first drive, but he tossed the ball late to his open receiver, which allowed cornerback Tariq Woolen to close the gap in coverage. The signal-caller also missed wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the middle of the field for a big gain.
After halftime, Purdy settled down, made quicker decisions with the ball and connected with his playmakers who had wide-open space in the middle of the field for most of the game. In a 41-23 win, he went 18-of-30 passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns with 16 yards and a score on the ground.
Purdy had help from his supporting cast, too. Running back Christian McCaffrey and Samuel gashed the Seahawks defense. The former had a 68-yard run, and the latter scored on a 74-yard touchdown reception. Both racked up 136-plus yards and a touchdown from scrimmage.
Meanwhile, the 49ers defense looked every bit of the No. 1 unit in points and yards allowed in the second half, holding the Seahawks to six garbage-time points in the final 30 minutes of regulation.
Once again, San Francisco looked strong on both sides of the ball. Now, the 49ers will wait to face the higher seed among the remaining NFC playoff teams in the divisional round.
Seahawks’ Surprising 2022 Season Is Over, Setting Stage for an Intriguing Offseason
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Michael Owens/Getty Images
Though the Seattle Seahawks came up short Saturday, they’re way ahead of where many thought the team would finish in the 2022 term.
This past offseason, the Seahawks traded quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, and many analysts predicted that they would finish with a losing record way outside the playoff picture, but Geno Smith helped lead Seattle to the postseason after it missed the cut last year.
Smith had an efficient first half and hit on a 50-yard touchdown pass to wideout D.K. Metcalf to put Seattle on top of San Francisco 14-13. The Seahawks didn’t commit any penalties in the first half, but it went downhill for them after halftime.
Seattle turned the ball over on two of its first three drives and committed five penalties in the second half. Smith lost a fumble in the red zone and threw an interception after a four-play drive ended with a punt. Against a Super Bowl contender, they couldn’t keep pace and fell apart.
Looking ahead to the offseason, Seattle wants to retain Smith, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. They can work out a new multiyear deal or franchise-tag him.
On top of that, the Seahawks hold the No. 5 overall pick (via Denver) in the 2023 draft, so they can also select a quarterback to succeed Smith or take the best player available on their draft board to bolster a playoff roster.
Seattle is also projected to pick again at No. 20, depending on how the rest of the playoffs shake out. After a strong 2022 draft haul, the front office has garnered good faith that it could land two more immediate contributors in this year’s rookie class.
The Seahawks’ 2022 campaign ended with an 18-point loss, but they’re set up for long-term playoff contention if Smith continues to play at a high level and general manager John Schneider uses his draft picks wisely.
Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.