- From Stefon Diggs’s Miracle in Minnesota to Lane Johnson performing at the highest level in the Eagles’ most important game of the season, here are some player performances that we're still talking about from the NFL divisional round.
The playoffs bring out the best in NFL players, whether it be a new level of performance from an established star or a breakout performance from someone we'll be talking about beyond this January. Here are two such players from each of last weekend’s divisional-round matchups, and a little on how they changed the game.
Eagles vs. Falcons
Lane Johnson: The Eagles lost Jason Peters early this season but still managed to find comfort in the stability of their offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson, arguably the best right tackle in football, posted a higher run blocking grade than any offensive lineman all weekend. He did this at an especially important time as the Eagles, still recovering from the loss of Carson Wentz, are trying to establish a ground game to alleviate the pressure on Nick Foles.
Nick Foles: Speaking of Foles, what more could you ask for from your backup quarterback? On Philadelphia sports talk radio they’re referring to the one-time Pro Bowler as the epitome of cool after a 23-of-30 performance over the weekend where he didn’t turn the ball over once (two fumbles, none lost). How many analysts left the Eagles for dead only to find them one game from the Super Bowl?
Saints vs. Vikings
Stefon Diggs: Diggs may have made the most sensational play in Vikings history. What a moment for the NFL. What a night for Diggs, who nabbed a ball as time expired and jogged into the end zone to stun the New Orleans Saints. Minnesota has been the feel good story of the season, led by two of the most regularly disrespected and overlooked receivers in the league.
Case Keenum: The Vikings might end up with the top three quarterbacks in free agency this offseason not named Kirk Cousins or Drew Brees. Think about it: Case Keenum surges at a time when quarterback play is at its least dependent. Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater will also command significant salaries. But it was Keenum, a former undrafted free agent, who has bounced from the Texans to the Rams, back to the Texans, back to the Rams and finally landed in Minnesota as an insurance policy. Leave it to Keenum to toss the biggest pass of his life amid all that uncertainty and upheaval.
Patriots vs. Titans
Danny Amendola: Amendola is one of the Patriots’ biggest secret weapons. Before a snap and during the course of the play, his ability to manipulate coverages and alter a defense is stunning. Add in the fact that he posted 11 catches on 13 targets for 112 yards last Saturday and one would have to imagine any defense preparing to face the Patriots just got a massive headache.
Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski is the NFL’s surest bet in single coverage not named Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. The Patriots move receivers all over the field to put him in advantageous matchups. Why? Once he starts moving, there are only about four or five safeties in the NFL who can slow him down and wrestle the ball out of his hands.
Steelers vs. Jaguars
Leonard Fournette: 25 carries, 109 yards and three touchdowns. While the Jaguars offensive line is better than advertised—how did they have one of the NFL’s leading rushers and not get a single player elected to the Pro Bowl?—Fournette has been nothing short of spectacular this season. That didn’t change over the weekend. He played through injury and gutted out 4.4 yards per carry against a great defensive line. If the Jaguars make it to the Super Bowl, it will be on Fournette’s shoulders.
Antonio Brown: Brown is so dependable that Ben Roethlisberger would rather bomb it to him on a critical fourth and short than sneak the ball. The fact that some questionable coaching decisions sank the Steelers on Sunday should not obscure the fact that Brown racked up 132 receiving yards and scored a pair of touchdowns against the best secondary in the NFL.