Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy says his side are "not living in" last year's premature playoffs exit ahead of their Wild Card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday.

The Cowboys crashed out of last year's postseason with a 23-17 Wild Card game loss to the San Francisco 49ers after topping the NFC East and finishing as the conference third seed.

McCarthy, who was assured of his job irrespective of Sunday's result earlier this week by owner Jerry Jones, is also seeking his first playoff win in three seasons with the Cowboys.

"We're not living in it, that's for sure," McCarthy told reporters when asked if last year's Wild Card exit had been discussed in the lead-up to Monday's game. "We've acknowledged it.

"The thing that we're really focused on is what we've done, who we are and making sure we have our plan as tight as possible going into this game to do what we need to do to win this game.

"We've had time for the theme speeches, they've been good triggers to talk about, as far as secret wound of losing a playoff game. We've definitely experienced that.

"We talked about the buffalos running through the storm and resiliency. That has served us well, all those experiences are the gold in our concierge. That's really who we are.

"The reality is we're not getting super philosophical, it's a ridiculously long answer here. The reality of it is we need to make sure our focus is tight and we're going into Tampa to win a game on the road against an outstanding football team."

The Cowboys finished the 2022 regular season with a 12-5 record, although they lost two of their final four games, including an uninspiring 26-6 defeat to the Washington Commanders last Sunday.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown an interception in each of the past seven games, including eight in their past five.

"Like how we function internally, we're evaluating everything we do," McCarthy said about Prescott. "Every walk-through, if there's a correction, every practice, you're always correcting to improve.

"That's part of your application and evaluation process. The things that haven’t gone well are the things you learn most from and that's life. That is our gold… We'll be ready to go."

The Baltimore Ravens appear increasingly likely to be without star quarterback Lamar Jackson for Sunday's AFC Wild Card game against the Cincinnati Bengals after he missed practice again.

Jackson has been absent for 16 straight practice sessions due to a sprained PCL in his left knee that has seen him not play since Week 13.

The 2019 NFL MVP has missed the Ravens' past five games, where they have gone 2-3 and scored 13 points per game, which is the second-worst record in the NFL.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has been reluctant to discuss Jackson's status over the past fortnight and simply replied "no updates at this time" when asked on Wednesday.

The situation is further complicated by top backup Tyler Huntley dealing with tendonitis in his right throwing shoulder. Huntley did not throw during the media portion at practice on Wednesday.

"He's doing a lot better," Harbaugh told reporters about Huntley. "He was out there in practice today and took a bunch of plays. I'd say he's on schedule, hopefully, and we'll see where it goes."

If Jackson and Huntley are both unavailable then undrafted rookie Anthony Brown, who has one career NFL start, would step in.

Ravens tight end Mark Andrews added: "You look at the two other guys [Huntley and Brown], there is so much trust in both of them.

"We know with whoever we put out there – Lamar, Snoop [Huntley] or AB – we'll be all right and ready to go."

Patrick Mahomes, Justin Jefferson and Travis Kelce are among those selected by the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) for the 2022 All-Pro team.

It is the first time a selection has been made exclusively by players, with the most recognised All-Pro team being the one generated by votes from NFL writers and broadcasters, organised by the Associated Press.

NFLPA president J.C. Tretter issued a statement on Tuesday outlining why he felt it was important for players to have their say.

"For the first time ever, NFL players are honouring the best in the game by naming our Players' All-Pro team," he said. "Every active NFL player had the opportunity to cast their vote to decide who is really the best at each position.

"We compete against each other all season long, watching hours and hours of film week after week after week, and yet we have never had an opportunity to truly use our expertise to select the best of us.

"We think it is important that players take the time to define ourselves, because so far, we have allowed everyone else to either pick or dilute our voices."

The team was unveiled on Wednesday, with selections including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Mahomes, Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, and his team-mate Davante Adams and Minnesota Vikings' star Jefferson as wide receivers.

The Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers were the best represented teams, with four players each.

2022 Players' All-Pro Team – Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Running back: Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas Raiders), Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk (San Francisco 49ers), Wide receivers: Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings), Davante Adams (Las Vegas Raiders), Tight end: Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs), Left tackle: Trent Williams (San Francisco 49ers), Left guard: Joel Bitonio (Cleveland Browns), Center: Jason Kelce (Philadelphia Eagles), Right guard: Zack Martin (Dallas Cowboys), Right tackle: Lane Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles), Edge rushers: Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers), Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns), Interior defensive linemen: Chris Jones (Kansas City Chiefs), Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams), Nose tackle: Dexter Lawrence (New York Giants), Off-ball linebackers: Fred Warner (San Francisco 49ers), Roquan Smith (Baltimore Ravens), Cornerbacks: Pat Surtain II (Denver Broncos), Darius Slay (Philadelphia Eagles), Free safety: Minkah Fitzpatrick (Pittsburgh Steelers), Strong safety: Derwin James Jr (Los Angeles Chargers), Kick returner: Cordarrelle Patterson (Atlanta Falcons), Punt returner: KaVontae Turpin (Dallas Cowboys), Core teamers: Jeremy Reaves (Washington Commanders), Justin Hardee (New York Jets), Kicker: Jason Myers (Seattle Seahawks), Punter: Tommy Townsend (Kansas City Chiefs), Long snapper: Morgan Cox (Tennessee Titans).

Tua Tagovailoa has not been cleared to return ahead of the NFL playoffs, leaving Miami Dolphins rookie Skylar Thompson to start again at quarterback against the Buffalo Bills.

A promising season for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins has been rocked by repeated concussion concerns.

Tagovailoa hit his head against the ground twice in the same week in September, but only the second incident was logged as a concussion as he left a defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals. The first hit, against the Bills in Week 3, was described as a back issue.

The former Alabama QB missed two games then before returning, only to suffer another concussion against the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day – one that was not identified until the following day.

Tagovailoa has not played since and will not line up against the Bills in this week's Wild Card round matchup.

Coach Mike McDaniel confirmed Tagovailoa was out, while the Dolphins are now preparing for Thompson to start as Teddy Bridgewater also remains sidelined after dislocating a finger.

Thompson's first NFL start was in Week 6, with Tagovailoa still out and backup Bridgewater also dealing with a concussion. The rookie left the game with a thumb injury.

He had to wait until Week 18 for both Tagovailoa and Bridgewater to be out again ahead of a crucial meeting with the New York Jets.

After five straight defeats, Thompson helped the Dolphins edge to a narrow 11-6 win that booked their place in the postseason, teeing up another meeting with AFC East rivals the Bills, against whom the seventh-round pick is again set to start.

Damar Hamlin has been discharged from hospital and allowed to return home to continue his rehabilitation.

Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during the Buffalo Bills' game against the Cincinnati Bengals on January 2 and had been in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

In an update provided by his doctors in Cincinnati on Monday, it was confirmed Hamlin had not only been discharged and allowed to return to Buffalo after showing sufficient recovery, but was also doing physical therapy, walking and tolerating a regular diet.

Just two days later, the Bills confirmed the 24-year-old had also been discharged from hospital in Buffalo, where he was sent to continue his treatment after returning from Cincinnati.

"Damar Hamlin has been discharged from Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute, a Kaleida Health facility in Buffalo, NY," a statement on Wednesday read.

"Hamlin was admitted on Monday and went through a comprehensive medical evaluation as well as a series of cardiac, neurological and vascular testing on Tuesday.

"Jamie Nadler, MD, critical care physician and Chief Quality Officer at Kaleida Health, and the care team lead for Hamlin said: 'We have completed a series of tests and evaluations, and in consultation with the team physicians, we are confident that Damar can be safely discharged to continue his rehabilitation at home and with the Bills.'"

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard knows his team is in desperate need of a stable quarterback and admitted to reporters Tuesday that he "failed" in recent seasons.

Ballard added that the Colts are willing to be aggressive in trying to acquire a franchise quarterback this offseason, even if that means trading up from the fourth overall pick in April’s draft.

"I'll do whatever it takes," he said. "If we thought there's a player that we're driven to get that makes the franchise and the team better, that's what we would do.

"We understand the importance of the position. To get one that you can win with and to be right is the most important thing -- not if we take one or not. It's being right."

The franchise once fortunate enough to replace Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck under center has been searching for answers ever since Luck retired following the 2018 season.

Over the past four seasons, Ballard has brought in four different opening-day starters at quarterback – Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan – all with disappointing results.

"Looking back on it, when you're changing quarterbacks every year, it's tough," Ballard said. "It's tough on everybody. It's tough on the team. Not getting that position settled has a little something to do with [the team's record].

"I failed. I'm not going to sit up here and make excuses. I failed a lot of people."

The Colts find themselves behind only the Chicago Bears, Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals in April's draft order, with only the Texans having a glaring need at quarterback.

If division rivals Houston and Indianapolis were to get into a bidding war for the top pick, however, the Texans would appear to have the advantage, holding three extra picks in the 2023 draft as a result of trading away embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns.

The Washington Commanders have fired offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

Turner had been in the role since 2020, when Ron Rivera, whom he had worked under during two spells with the Carolina Panthers, was named head coach.

They helped Washington reach the playoffs in 2020, but did so with a losing record. The subsequent two seasons have also failed to produced winning records.

Washington went 8-8-1 in 2022, a season that could prove to be controversial owner Dan Snyder's last with the franchise. The Commanders announced in November that Dan and Tanya Snyder were exploring a sale of the team.

A potential change in ownership may buy Rivera more time for the sake of stability, but Turner has paid the price for a season in which Washington's offense struggled for efficiency.

The Commanders averaged 4.93 yards per play in 2022, putting them 28th in the NFL, as they were again hamstrung by a lack of a definitive answer at the quarterback position. Carson Wentz, Taylor Heinicke and Sam Howell all started at least one game under center for Washington.

"I met with Coach Turner today and informed him that we will be moving in another direction going forward with the offensive coordinator position," Rivera said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, we did not live up to the expectations and standard that I expected to see from our offensive unit.

"I felt it was best for a fresh start at the coordinator position heading into next year.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Scott and thanked him for his three years of service to our organisation. I wish Scott and his family all the best in the future."

Considering the Chicago Bears just wrapped up one of the worst years in franchise history, it is no surprise the team has plenty of needs it could fill with the number one pick in the draft.

Selecting a quarterback first overall, however, appears highly unlikely.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles supported Justin Fields as being Chicago's starting quarterback heading into the 2023 season and said a QB prospect would have to utterly amaze him for the Bears to draft him with the top pick.

"We're going to do the same as we've always done," Poles said on Tuesday. "We're going to evaluate the draft class, and I would say this: I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision."

Fields was one of the few bright spots on a Bears team that ended the 2022 season on a franchise-worst 10-game losing streak and secured the top pick by finishing 3-14.

The abysmal record was not a huge surprise, though, considering the team went through a midseason teardown by trading away defensive standouts Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn and lacked significant talent at the offensive skill positions while the o-line was deemed substandard.

Although Fields emerged as one of the most exciting players in the NFL, capable of springing off a highlight run on any given play, the second-year quarterback failed to make many game-changing plays with his arm.

There are also questions of how Poles evaluates his skillset given Fields was drafted by the previous regime.

With 1,143 rushing yards, Fields – the number 11 pick in the 2021 draft – averaged a league-leading 7.14 yards per rush and had an NFL-best four rushing touchdowns of 50-plus yards. He flirted with breaking the NFL single-season quarterback rushing record set by Baltimore's Lamar Jackson in his 2019 MVP season had he not missed Sunday's finale with a strained hip.

"I thought Justin did a good job," Poles said. "I thought we changed a lot, we adapted, we tried to put him in a position to be successful, he showed the ability to be a playmaker. Be impactful. He can change games quickly. Does he have room to grow? He does. He has to get better as a passer, and I'm excited to see him take those steps as we move forward."

Despite being one of the most dangerous runners in the league, Fields and the Bears had trouble moving the ball through the air.

Among the 32 quarterbacks with a minimum of 250 attempts, Fields ranked 25th in passer rating (85.2), 31st in completion percentage (60.4) and 32nd in yards per game (149.5).

An argument could be made he did not have enough support around him, and that is where owning the top pick works in the Bears’ favour.

Poles could decide to use the top pick to fill a need or trade down with a team looking to take a quarterback for more draft picks.

Alabama's Bryce Young, Kentucky's Will Levis and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are the three quarterbacks all projected to be drafted in the top 10, with some combination of them possibly going 1-2.

The Bears also have about $118million in salary cap room to restock the roster.

'"I think we have really good flexibility to help this team, regardless if it's making the pick there or moving back a little bit or moving back a lot," Poles said. "We'll be open to everything."

The Baltimore Ravens have agreed in principle an extension that will make Roquan Smith the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL.

Smith joined the Ravens in an October trade in exchange for a package that included a second-round and a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

That trade followed an offseason stand-off between the Bears and Smith over a new contract.

According to reports, he will now receive the deal he has long since desired, with the Ravens set to pay him $100million over a five-year contract that includes $45m fully guaranteed and $60m in total guarantees.

Smith will become the first off-ball linebacker to earn an average annual salary of $20m.

In his nine games with the Ravens this season, he has racked up 86 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass breakups and an interception.

His efforts this season saw him selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time. Smith had been a second-team All-Pro with the Bears in 2020 and 2021.

Sunday will see Smith, a first-round pick of the Bears in 2018, play only his second playoff game as the Ravens visit the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round.

Jerry Jones has dismissed talk that Mike McCarthy's job is on the line when the Dallas Cowboys face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL Wild Card round.

The Cowboys reached the postseason for a second successive year with a 12-5 record, setting up a Monday Night Football showdown with the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium.

Dallas were beaten by the San Francisco 49ers at the same stage last season and come into the clash with the Tom Brady's Tampa Bay on the back of a 26-6 loss to the Washington Commanders.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jones has given head coach McCarthy his backing ahead of the playoff encounter.

When asked if McCarthy could pay the price for a defeat to the Bucs, he told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas: "No. I don't even want to ... No. That's it.

"I don't need to go into all the pluses or minuses. I've got a lot more to evaluate Mike McCarthy on than this playoff game."

There are doubts about defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's future after he was approached by the Denver Broncos following the firing of Nathaniel Hackett.

Yet Jones is not contemplating the prospect of any members of his coaching staff moving on.

"I can't tell you how much confidence I've got in Mike and our coaching staff of being on top of where we are with this team right now," Jones said.

"They've got every nuance. They understand every frailty that we might have or we might have shown Sunday [against Washington].

"They've got everything in their grasp and in their understanding, and I have complete confidence in this coaching staff. It's outstanding. We've got a great chance to go down there and have success."

Interim Indianapolis Colts head coach Jeff Saturday declared he is gunning for the permanent role after getting a taste of coaching at the highest level.

Saturday made headlines when he was hired to take over following the firing of Frank Reich, having never been a head coach at any level previously.

After a stirring win during his first week in charge, the Colts went on to lose the next seven in a row to close the season, including a Week 18 failure against the Houston Texans, who came into the contest with the worst record in the league.

When speaking to reporters on Monday, he pushed back on the notion that the Colts' 1-7 record under his watch was an accurate representation of his ability to lead a successful team.

"When you say 'eight-game audition', it was an eight-game audition with half an offensive staff [and] boundaries," he said. 

"It's an eight-game audition with the hand you're dealt, right? How do you deal with that? Hopefully, I've shown my leadership.

"I wish we were better than 1-7. Everybody in that locker room and everybody here, it makes all our jobs a lot easier if you win, right? Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. I'm not dissuaded by that."

He said if he were to land the role for next season, he would take the franchise in "a different direction and a different vision that I'm carrying through – one that's my own that I can implement and move forward with".

When asked how far away he believes the Colts are from being a good football team, he said "Not nearly as far as y'all think".

"I've seen some articles here recently, so I can assure you [there have been] a lot of shots fired," he said. "I don't think we're nearly as far as you guys believe we are."

ESPN is reporting Colts owner Jim Irsay called Saturday "an outstanding candidate", while defensive leader Shaquille Leonard said he felt Saturday did "a phenomenal job" and earned the respect of the locker room.

The Colts have reportedly requested to interview Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn as well as their offensive coordinator Ben Johnson for the head coaching role, along with Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.

Running back and free-agent-to-be Josh Jacobs would like to remain with the Las Vegas Raiders if the team is willing to offer him a contract he deems fair.

The Raiders drafted Jacobs late in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft but declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract last offseason.

Jacobs on Monday stated that he is not looking to leave the Raiders.

"For me, it's got to make sense, but this is obviously where I want to be," Jacobs said a day after securing the 2022 NFL rushing title, finishing the season with 1,653 yards on the ground.

"Coming in, I remember sitting down with [defensive end] Maxx [Crosby] and all these guys and talking about the Raiders organisation and the culture and wanting to be part of the change.

"I still feel that way so, hopefully, I'll be back."

While Crosby, a fourth-round pick in 2019, received a four-year, $99million extension last offseason, the Raiders’ new regime of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels have attempted to distance themselves from the decisions made by Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock from 2018-21.

Jacobs responded, however, with a career-best year, tallying over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns.

"I mean, I guess it feels good," Jacobs said of his individual accomplishments this season. "I don't really feel no different. Obviously, it's a testament to the team and the guys that helped me along the way. So that's definitely dope to be able to experience it with them. But for me, personally, it's just, whatever. For real."

McDaniels, meanwhile, recognised that Jacobs’ performance stood out during an otherwise disappointing year for the Silver and Black.

"Obviously J.J's performance was a huge bright spot for us,” McDaniels said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for him as a person and as a player and he kind of embodies all the things that we want a Raider to be.

"Dave and I have talked about that; J.J. and I have had private conversations about those kinds of things. I think all that will play out in due time. But love him and would love to have him continue to be a Raider."

In the 2022 NFL season, there have been few stories as remarkable as that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, who heads into the postseason with a golden opportunity to become the first rookie quarterback to lead a team to Super Bowl glory.

Purdy has been a revelation since being thrust into the spotlight as the starting quarterback in the wake of the fractured foot suffered by Jimmy Garoppolo in the Week 13 win over the Miami Dolphins.

This was supposed to be Trey Lance's team in 2022, but with the third overall pick in 2021 removed from the equation with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2, there are pertinent questions asking if it is now Purdy's for the long term, and they are merited given how he has performed in an extraordinary start to his career.

Belying his status as the last pick in the 2022 draft, Purdy has confidently piloted one of the best offenses in football, with the 49ers averaging a league-leading 33.6 points per game since he became the full-time starter.

In addition to Purdy ensuring the 49ers beat the Dolphins following Garoppolo's first-quarter departure, he has since won each of his first five starts, helping the NFC West champion Niners finish the regular season on a 10-game winning streak.

With the 49ers' win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 18, in which he threw three touchdowns, Purdy became the third rookie quarterback to win his first five starts, following Ben Roethlisberger (won first 13 starts in 2004) and Mike Kruczek (first six in 1968).

He is the third player in NFL history with at least two touchdown passes in each of his first five starts, joining Dan Marino and Billy Volek, while he is only the second rookie with at least two touchdown throws in six consecutive games. The other was Justin Herbert in 2020.

Purdy's passer rating over his first five starts of 119.0 is second only to Kurt Warner (131.4) in 1999. Though Warner was not a rookie, he went on to lead the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title, winning Super Bowl MVP in the process.

The support system for Purdy as he looks to make league history is excellent. San Francisco's offense is stacked with playmakers, with the addition of Christian McCaffrey to a group that already included Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle having a transformative impact on Kyle Shanahan's attack.

San Francisco's plethora of weaponry is a significant reason why Purdy went into Week 18 ranked fourth among quarterbacks with at least 100 plays in expected passing situations in Efficiency Versus Expected (EVE). Prior to the blowout of the Cardinals, Purdy was averaging 1.47 yards over expected in anticipated passing situations.

With a defense led by Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Nick Bosa establishing itself as the NFL's best, the 49ers went into Week 18 ranked first overall in EVE.

By that measure, the 49ers are the best team in the NFL, but history is firmly against Purdy having success in his quest to guide them to a sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

Nineteen rookies have started in the playoffs in the Super Bowl era, posting a 9-19 record across 28 games.

While no rookie quarterback has lifted the Lombardi, the performances of a selection of those to have entered the heat of the postseason battle in their first season offer a glimpse into what may lie ahead for Purdy, as he prepares to start his playoff career against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.

Ben Roethlisberger (2004)

Roethlisberger may be the best parallel we can draw for Purdy given their shared place in the NFL history books.

The Pittsburgh Steelers great enjoyed an entirely different draft experience in 2004, playing the role of frustrated spectator until the 11th pick as the famous Eli Manning-Philip Rivers saga took its course.

Roethlisberger made the San Diego Chargers and New York Giants initially look foolish for not valuing him higher, helping a juggernaut Steelers team to a 15-1 record and the number one seed in the AFC.

Yet his first postseason proved a difficult one for Big Ben, with Roethlisberger completing only 57.4 per cent of his passes for 407 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions, recording a passer rating of 61.3.

Three of his five picks came in the AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots, whose opportunistic defensive performance inspired them to a third Super Bowl appearance – and ultimately a third Super Bowl title – in four seasons.

Purdy has the benefit of having the league's premier defense on his side, and the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles would appear to be the only team in the 49ers' way who possess the capability to pose him problems akin to those Roethlisberger experienced back in January 2005.

The NFL has changed significantly since Bill Belichick's defense denied Roethlisberger a chance at history, but the Steelers' Conference Championship game woes of 18 years ago are a scarcely needed reminder of the value of protecting the football.

Purdy, who has 13 touchdowns to four interceptions, has done a largely impressive job in that sense, and if he continues in the same manner, the 49ers will be excellently positioned for a deep run. If the Niners do fall short, Purdy may take heart from Roethlisberger's second season, which saw him lead the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks.

Joe Flacco (2008) & Mark Sanchez (2009)

Flacco and Sanchez are also decent examples that could be a guide to how Purdy's playoff journey may go.

Unlike Purdy, they were both highly drafted quarterbacks, but they are comparable in that they had the benefit of supporting casts built for January success. Both made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game.

Flacco did not have to do much to get to that point with the 2008 Baltimore Ravens. Across his three postseason games, Flacco completed just 44 per cent of his passes for 437 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, giving him a passer rating of just 50.8.

Yet the Ravens were able to succeed by leaning on a third-ranked defense and a fourth-ranked run game, taking the pressure off Flacco. Indeed, Baltimore gave up just 19 points across the first two rounds of the playoffs. It was only when the Ravens faced a top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers defense in the title game that Flacco's shortcomings as a rookie proved decisive.

A year later, Sanchez fared better with the New York Jets, hitting on just over 60 per cent of his passes for 539 yards, four touchdowns and a pair of picks, posting a passer rating of 92.7.

Though his numbers were better, the formula was the same, the Jets riding Rex Ryan's dominant defense and a ground attack that led the NFL in yards per game to the Conference Championship.

Flacco went on to enjoy one of the great postseason runs in the 2012 season in leading the Ravens to glory, beating the 49ers in the Super Bowl, but Purdy will have designs on comfortably surpassing Sanchez's achievements following the electric start to his career.

He has thrived throwing the ball to the intermediate area of the field. On throws between 10 and 20 yards, Purdy has a delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball 83.7 per cent of the time. That is second only to Andy Dalton (85.6) among quarterbacks with at least 20 such attempts.

But with McCaffrey, Samuel and Elijah Mitchell giving the 49ers arguably the most versatile backfield in the NFL, one in which both McCaffrey and Samuel are threats to run the ball, catch it out of the backfield or line up in the formation as a receiver, San Francisco can significantly ease the pressure on Purdy by leaning on the ground game and short checkdown throws that always have the potential to be turned into big plays.

On top of that, the defense, which finished the season with the second-best success rate (35.9 per cent) in the league, has consistently shown its ability to put the team on its back despite some signs of vulnerability in recent weeks.

Purdy's early success points to him having a career superior to that of Flacco and Sanchez, but the 49ers could manage him in much similar fashion to how they were handled in the playoffs in his first postseason experience.

Russell Wilson (2012)

One of the best rookie quarterback performances in the playoffs came from a player who was previously the thorn in the 49ers' side with the Seahawks.

Wilson won the Super Bowl in only his second season, but the groundwork for that run was laid during a superb rookie year.

The Seahawks star was excellent in his first postseason, completing 62.9 per cent of his passes for 572 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He posted a passer rating of 102.4, leading the Seahawks to a win over Washington at FedEx Field in the Wild Card round before falling short against the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional round.

Wilson had the benefit of a full regular season under his belt and was a better athlete than Purdy is at that point in his career.

Yet the 49ers will hope the repetitions Purdy has to his name in calmly leading them through the stretch run will be enough for him to perform at a level akin to that of Wilson, albeit with expectations of significantly better results.

Cautionary tales

As the overall record indicates, starting a rookie quarterback in the playoffs typically ends badly. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions in his postseason debut in 2008 and Dalton was picked off three times as he and the Cincinnati Bengals suffered Wild Card round heartache in 2011. Andrew Luck led the Colts to the playoffs in 2012, but his postseason bow saw him post a passer rating of just 59.8.

Robert Griffin III's sole playoff appearance in 2012 ended in a knee injury as he was beaten by Wilson and the Seahawks in a battle of the rookies, while in 2018 Lamar Jackson was confounded by a Los Angeles Chargers defense that frequently deployed seven defensive backs to hold the dual-threat in check and restrict him to a completion percentage of 48.3.

Mac Jones was the last rookie to start a playoff game, doing so last January, but was intercepted twice in trying in vain to help to the Patriots keep up with a Buffalo Bills team that blew them away 47-17.

Even if Purdy maintains his stellar level of play, there is a chance that, in the lottery of the postseason, it still may not be enough.

Indeed, Dak Prescott threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys in his playoff debut in the 2016 Divisional round and still came up short as he was outdueled by Aaron Rodgers in a 34-31 thriller.

That game serves as a perfect illustration as to why the playoffs are a different animal. The stakes go up, and the standard can also rise to a point where a player's best is often not good enough. In a Wild Card game against a Seahawks team he had little issue beating in the regular season, it will soon become apparent whether Purdy has what it takes to give this Cinderella quarterback story a fairytale ending.

Damar Hamlin has been discharged from hospital in Cincinnati and has been allowed to return to Buffalo to continue his recovery, his doctors have confirmed.

Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during the Buffalo Bills' game against the Cincinnati Bengals last Monday and had been in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

In an update provided by Dr William Knight IV and Dr Timothy Pritts on Monday, it was confirmed Hamlin had not only been discharged from the hospital after showing sufficient recovery but was also doing physical therapy, walking and tolerating a regular diet.

The 24-year-old has been moved to a hospital in Buffalo for further steps and tests as part of his recovery.

Knight and Pritts addressed the media from the UC Medical Center, saying: "We are thrilled to share that Damar Hamlin has been released from the hospital and returned to Buffalo.

"He is doing well and this is the next stage of his recovery.

"Since our last update to you, Damar has met a number of key milestones – he has been excavated, gone through a weaning of his oxygen, he has been up with physical therapy and occupational therapy, walking the unit, tolerating a regular diet, meeting with his family and many members of the care team who wanted to see how he was doing, all so he could return to Buffalo."

Hamlin took to Twitter on Monday to also confirm the news, writing: "Headed home to Buffalo today with a lot of love on my heart. 

"Watching the world come together around me on Sunday was truly an amazing feeling. The same love you all have shown me is the same love that I plan to put back into the world [and] more. Bigger than football!"

It was confirmed by the doctors Hamlin's next steps would include "an ongoing series of tests and evaluations" to try to determine the cause of the incident.

The doctors also stated it was too early determine any conclusions around Hamlin's football career, saying: "It is entirely too premature to discuss not only his career but his day-to-day recovery. He still has a little ways to go in terms of his ongoing recovery. We're thrilled with where he is today; he's up, he's walking around, has an amazing sense of humour."

Knight and Pritts commented on Hamlin watching the Bills' win against the New England Patriots on Sunday, joking that after a particularly exciting play he had "set off all the alarms in the ICU".

Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has called time on his 50-year coaching career.

Pees announced his retirement on Monday after the Falcons failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season with a 7-10 record.

The 73-year-old worked for seven college programs and four NFL franchises, finishing in Atlanta after spells with the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.

Pees is one of eight defensive coordinators in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl with two different teams, playing his part in New England and Baltimore's runs to one of the biggest events in sport.

His retirement comes less than a month after he was taken to hospital ahead of the clash against the New Orleans Saints after being involved in an on-field collision.

Pees had been with the Falcons since coming out of retirement following the hiring of Arthur Smith two years ago.

Falcons head coach Smith said of Pees: "You appreciate all the work and the sacrifice.

"We all get paid to do this and we're lucky as hell, but there are sacrifices you have to make. Dean's a guy who has coached at every level and had success.

"He has impacted a lot of lives and he has impacted the game."

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