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NFL Wild Card Winners And Losers: Winners (Tebow, Texans, Brees) And Losers (Steelers 'D', Smith, Dalton)

In this playoff edition of Thoughts & Observations from the NFL's wild card weekend, we break down the top three winners and the top three losers from the week that was. Have your own thoughts? Let everyone know in the comments section below. But, for now, it's time for some winners and losers.

 WINNERS 
Tim Tebow led the Broncos to victory. (AP photo)
* Tim Tebow: I almost can't even explain what the Broncos quarterback accomplished against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. Tebow, who many thought wasn't good enough to play quarterback in this league, including us here at GameDay, were again thrown for a loop. The Broncos quarterback threw for 316 yards on just 10 completions against the NFL's best defense. Included in that total was Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play in overtime, one that gave the Broncos a 29-23 upset in Denver. Tebow's completion percentage was still under 50 percent, but he made up for it by completing big play after big play. Tebow hit on five passes of at least 30 yards against the Steelers, a team that allowed just six of those passes all season. Tebow averaged 25.1 yards per pass on throws 15 yards or more Sunday. The Steelers allowed an average of just 7.8 during the regular season. His final pass was a perfectly thrown ball to Thomas, hitting him in stride over the middle against a defense that was playing the run. Thomas did the rest. "When I saw him scoring, first of all, I just thought, 'Thank you, Lord,'" Tebow said. "Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him - like I can catch up to D.T. Then I just jumped into the stands, first time I've done that. That was fun. Then, got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans." Interesting note, Tebow threw for 316 yards and had a 31.6 yards per completion average. That was after a week of John Elway telling him to "pull the trigger." John 3:16, Tebow's favorite bible verse.

The Texans won their first-ever playoff game. (AP)
* Houston Texans: There was way too many great individual performances by the first-time entry into the NFL playoffs to single out just one. Overall, the Texans 31-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals was a huge moment in the franchise's history, with it being the team's first-ever playoff win. That's big. But how Houston got to that win was just as impressive. On offense, the Texans stars came to play. Arian Foster, the Texans' all-world running back, rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, a 6.4 yards per carry average. He also had 102 of that 153-yard total come before first contact. He averaged 55.8 yards before carry during the regular season. Star wide receiver Andre Johnson, who has been hampered by injury all season long, had a big game as well for the Texans. He caught five passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. On defense, Houston intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times and sacked him three times. The secondary was outstanding, holding Dalton to a 51.4 rating. The biggest play, however, was made by a defensive lineman. With the score tied at 10 in the final minute of the first half, Dalton's short pass to the right flat was intercepted by J.J. Watt. The lineman then returned the athletic pick for a game-changing touchdown. "It changed the momentum of the game," Houston linebacker Brian Cushing said. Watt also became the first rookie lineman in postseason history to return an interception for a touchdown.

Drew Brees. (AP)
* Drew Brees: I'm not sure anyone can stop the New Orleans offense this postseason, especially quarterback Drew Brees, who is on an unbelievable run this entire season. Brees, who set the all-time single-season passing yards record this year, picked up right where he left off Saturday. He threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns as the Saints advanced to the divisional round with a 45-28 victory over the Detroit Lions. The Saints had 626 total yards of offense, which just so happened to break that record set 49 years earlier. "We were pulling out all the stops," Brees said. "We play aggressive. We're not going to apologize for that. That gives guys in the huddle a lot of confidence. We're not going to pull the reins back. It's pedal to the medal." Brees and the Saints now play the San Francisco 49ers on the road. The Saints have never won a road playoff game, but with how this season has gone, there's no reason to believe they won't snap that record either.


 LOSERS 
Mike Smith. (AP)
* Mike Smith: If a football coach at any level wants to call a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-one play, I have no problem with that. But if that same coach calls that same play later in the game after the first attempt failed miserably, I have a big problem with it. Falcons coach Mike Smith did just that against the New York Giants Sunday, with Matt Ryan getting stuffed both times. The Giants took advantage of the second failure, scoring on a 72-yard pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks that put the game away. It's not the first time a fourth-and-one play cost the Falcons. Smith called for the Falcons to go for it from that distance in overtime against the Saints during the regular season deep in their own end. Atlanta came up short and the Saints turned the stop into an easy win. Smith has turned the Falcons into regular season winners, winning 10 games this season, and are becoming a mainstay in the playoffs. But they are 0-3 in the postseason. The Falcons are passed the point of simply being happy to qualify for the playoffs, they need to start winning. Scoring just two points against the Giants isn't going to cut it. If Smith can't get the Falcons past the first round of the playoffs, if they even make it, next season, he could quickly be on the hot seat. With his fourth-and-short calls, that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

Mike Tomlin. (AP)
* Steelers Defense: Coming into Sunday's showdown with the Denver Broncos, the focus for the Steelers was on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and whether or not he would be able to physically lead his team to victory. Nobody was concerned coming in about the Steelers defense. After all, they were the No. 1 unit in the NFL this season and were playing a Broncos offense that featured a quarterback who couldn't throw the ball. If the Steelers could put together two or three scoring drives with Roethlisberger under center, this was going to be an easy win. Then, during the game, Tim Tebow went out and threw for 316 yards against that defense. Completed five passes of at least 30 yards against that defense. And, after the Steelers offense brought the team back to force overtime, Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play to send Denver to the divisional round and Pittsburgh home. On that first and only play of overtime, the Steelers defense was playing the run to the point where the safeties were nowhere in sight when Thomas caught the ball over the middle. Not even Troy Polamalu could make up for cheating to the line of scrimmage. It was a fitting end for a defense that looked foolish against Tebow.

Andy Dalton. (AP)
* Andy Dalton: In a game that featured two rookie quarterbacks going head-to-head for the first time in the Super Bowl era, Dalton was outplayed by the unheralded T.J. Yates as the Texans advanced with a victory over the Bengals Saturday. Dalton, who had a tremendous regular season, did not play well in his first playoff game. He was 27-for-42 for 257 yards and three interceptions. One of his interceptions turned the game completely around, as Dalton was picked off by defensive lineman J.J. Watt and returned it for a touchdown. The return score changed a likely 10-10 game at halftime into a 17-10 deficit for the Bengals. It also gave Houston and the crowd all the momentum they would need to take charge in the second half for what turned out to be an easy win. It wasn't all Dalton's fault for sure, as coach Marvin Lewis deserves a lot of blame as well. The Bengals are 0-3 in the playoffs under Lewis. In those three losses, the Bengals scored first each time. That's not a good sign for Lewis, who somehow is still the coach in Cincinnati. At least the future is bright for the Bengals, with Dalton and A.J. Green leading the way.

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