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Ben Volin | On Football

Wild-card playoffs in review: Could we see a Tom Brady vs. Jimmy Garoppolo showdown in the NFC title game?

Tom Brady won his 35th career playoff game on Sunday against Philadelphia, and made Jalen Hurts the 28th different quarterback he's outdueled in the postseason across 21 years as a starter.Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

The divisional round of the playoffs will feature two quarterbacks who are well known in New England. Of course, neither currently play for the Patriots.

Tom Brady and the Bucs got their Super Bowl title defense off to a great start in a 31-15 win over the Eagles. And Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers tried to blow a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, but held on for a dramatic 23-17 win over the Cowboys.

Unfortunately, we have to wait another week for a potential matchup of former Patriots quarterbacks. Brady will get a home game next weekend against the winner of Monday’s Cardinals-Rams game. And Garoppolo will travel to Green Bay next week for a date with the No. 1 seeded Packers.


But it’s fun to dream of a Brady-Garoppolo showdown in the NFC Championship game. Perhaps Bill Belichick could do the coin toss.

The performance of the former Patriots are where we begin the Super Wild Card Weekend Review:

⋅ Boy, did Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan get tight in the fourth quarter with a 23-7 lead over the Cowboys.

First, Garoppolo let the Cowboys back in the game with a terrible interception that led to a touchdown. Garoppolo also was lucky that the Niners didn’t have a second turnover after George Kittle’s fumble was ruled an incomplete pass. Shanahan — he of the 28-3 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, and who blew a 10-point lead to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV — made a baffling decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from midfield instead of going for it. Per analytics outfit EdjSports, the decision cost the Niners 17 percent in win probability, and the Cowboys got back to midfield in two plays.

The Niners’ defense, which sacked Dak Prescott five times and held the Cowboys to 307 yards, saved the day in the closing moments. But Shanahan and Garoppolo were this close from turning heroes to goats.


⋅ Garoppolo played well for three quarters before falling apart in the fourth, but a win is a win. He is 36-15 all time as a starter, including 3-1 in the playoffs.

In the two seasons that Garoppolo has been healthy, the Niners went to the Super Bowl (2019) and the round of eight. If Garoppolo can just avoid the one crippling interception he seems to throw every game, they have a shot to pull off the upset next weekend in Green Bay.

It certainly wasn't a masterpiece in the fourth quarter, but Jimmy Garoppolo left Cowboys Stadium beaming all the same after the 49ers eliminated Dallas.Tom Pennington/Getty

⋅ Prescott matched the 49ers with his own bone-headed play, deciding to scramble up the middle with no timeouts left in the closing seconds. The Cowboys couldn’t get the next snap off before the clock ran out, depriving them of one last shot to the end zone.

The Cowboys were the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense this regular season at 31.2 points per game, but laid a dud at the worst possible time. Prescott is a terrific quarterback, but he had one of his worst performances of the season on Sunday, completing just 23 of 43 passes for 254 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. His resume is a little thin, and he’s just 1-3 all time in the postseason.

⋅ Buccaneers-Eagles was just the fifth playoff matchup featuring the NFL’s No. 1 passing (Bucs) and No. 1 rushing (Eagles) offenses, and the first since 1996. The rushing team won the first three matchups, but the NFL in 2021 is a passing league, and the Bucs led, 31-0, before the Eagles tacked on a couple of late touchdowns.


Brady was efficient as ever, completing 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has won eight of his last nine playoff games dating to the 2018 season, and is 35-11 career in the postseason. Among Brady’s many remarkable statistics, here’s another one: He has won a playoff game in 16 of his 21 seasons as a starting quarterback, failing only in 2002, 2008 (when he was out with a torn ACL), 2009, 2010, and 2019.

⋅ The banged-up Bucs got several key defensive players back from injury, including pass rusher Shaq Barrett and linebacker Lavonte David. But All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs left the game with what coach Bruce Arians called a sprained ankle. The defense is heading in the right direction with injuries, but Brady will miss Wirfs if he isn’t ready to go next week.

⋅ On the other sideline, the Eagles (9-9) were a nice surprise, but they weren’t ready for the postseason spotlight. They were held scoreless in the first half for just the second time in 47 postseason games. They lost the turnover battle, 3-0, and Jalen Hurts was spraying the ball all over the field, completing just 23 of 43 passes for 258 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.

⋅ Hurts only completed 61.3 percent of his passes this year, 26th among QBs, and his arm is too wild. But I love his athleticism, poise, and toughness. He rushed for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, and does a great job of keeping plays alive. Of the three Alabama quarterbacks — Hurts, Mac Jones, and Tua Tagovailoa — Hurts offers the most upside.


Since he’s on his rookie contract and is basically making league minimum next year, the Eagles should give Hurts one more year as the starter.

A 31-0 hole proved far too deep for Jalen Hurts and the Eagles on Sunday.Mike Ehrmann/Getty

⋅ In the AFC, the Raiders lost a heartbreaker to the Bengals, 26-19, but showed a lot of heart and toughness this season in rebounding from the firing of Jon Gruden and release of receiver Henry Ruggs. They won their last four games of the regular season to surprise everyone and grab one of the last playoff spots. And they held tough on Saturday despite a short week of preparation and a long flight to Cincinnati.

Raiders owner Mark Davis has a tough decision to make at head coach. Interim Rich Bisaccia may have made his case to get the job on a permanent basis, as his players love him and the team impressively held together.

⋅ The Bills’ offense pitched the first perfect game in NFL history against the Patriots. Saturday’s was the first one — regular season or playoffs — in which a team never kicked a field goal, punted, or was stopped on downs.

The Bills had seven non-kneeling possessions, and seven touchdowns. That had never been accomplished before. But the Patriots almost did it in 2007 against, coincidentally, the Bills. The Patriots scored seven straight touchdowns, but Bill Belichick replaced Brady with Matt Cassel in garbage time, and punted at the end of a 56-10 win.


Tracking former Patriots

Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski — Had five catches for 31 yards and a touchdown in the win. It was his 15th postseason TD, the second-most in NFL history behind Jerry Rice (22). And Brady-to-Gronk (15 TDs) remains the most prolific passer-receiver combination in NFL history, with Montana-to-Rice second with 12.

Bills OC Brian Daboll — Belichick has been a head coach for 476 games. Only twice did his defense not force a punt or a turnover the entire game. Both were authored by Daboll and the Bills this season, and he should just play the tape when he interviews for head coaching jobs this month.

Stats of the week

⋅ Hurts is the 28th different quarterback Brady has defeated in the playoffs. Montana is next with 15.

⋅ The Bucs rushed for two touchdowns in the first quarter for the first time since a 2007 game vs. the Panthers.

⋅ The Eagles went 0-7 against playoff teams.

⋅ The Patriots’ loss on Saturday was just the third postseason loss by at least 30 points in franchise history, joining Super Bowl XX to the Bears (46-10) and the 1963 AFL Championship to the Chargers (51-10).

⋅ 49ers kicker Robbie Gould hit three field goals and is a perfect 18 for 18 in the postseason.

⋅ Josh Allen joined Drew Brees in 2009 as the only QBs to throw five touchdowns with no interceptions against a Belichick-coached team.

⋅ Brady has more playoff wins by double digits (18) than any other QB has wins. Montana is second all-time with 16 postseason wins.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.