Mississippi football fans will have plenty homegrown players – from established stars to obscure backups – to cheer when the NFL playoffs begin Saturday.
The Dallas Cowboys, who play the Seattle Seahawks Saturday night, have one of each. The established star is former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. The obscure backup is defensive tackle Daniel Ross, who played his only college football at Northeast Community College in Booneville and was released by two Canadian Football League teams, the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs before catching on with Dallas at the end of the 2017 season. Whether he plays or not, Ross’ persistence must be noted.
The spotlight will be on Prescott, who, for all his success in his first two seasons, has won as many playoff games as you and me. His playoffs record is 0-1. After quarterbacking the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the top NFC playoffs seed in 2016, Prescott went up against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. Prescott played well, but Rodgers won the duel, 34-31.
Prescott, a smart guy, knows that his legacy, as that of all NFL quarterbacks, will depend on his success in the playoffs.
As he told reporters this week, “It’s everything. I don’t pay attention to any stat but wins and losses…. A quarterback’s success depends on what they do in the playoffs – yeah, that’s where the checks get written and they make their money, to be honest.”
Saturday, Prescott will go against Russell Wilson, the Seahawks quarterback who has had plenty of playoffs success – and who also has a Mississippi connection. Wilson’s late father, Harry Wilson, was born in Jackson where his grandfather, Harrison Wilson, was a highly successful basketball coach at Jackson State.
Wilson will have two Seahawks teammates with more recent Mississippi connections. K.J. Wright, the former Mississippi State standout, is a starting inside linebacker, and backup cornerback Kalen Reed is a former Southern Miss star.
In the earlier game Saturday, the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans, who have the biggest Mississippi representation of any NFL playoffs team. The Texans feature starting middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State, as well as backups A.J. Moore (safety, Ole Miss), Martinas Rankin (offensive tackle, State) and Jordan Thomas (tight end, State). Thomas, a Hattiesburg native who played high school football at Sumrall, caught four touchdowns this season as a rookie. The Colts will counter with starting defensive tackle Denico Autry of State and reserve running back Jordan Wilkins of Ole Miss.
When the Chicago Bears play the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday afternoon, two of the Bears offensive tackles will be ex-Ole Miss standouts. Bobby Massie starts at right tackle and Bradley Sowell is a backup at left tackle. Sowell gained much notoriety in a crucial late season victory over the Los Angeles Rams for catching a pass for the game’s only touchdown. Massie and/or Sowell could meet up with Eagles standout Fletcher Cox of State, a defensive tackle who just might be the NFL’s best at his position. Former Ole Miss great Mike Wallace is a reserve wide receiver for the Eagles.
Several players with Mississippi connections will play on the four teams that have first-round byes.
The Kansas City Chiefs, top seed in the AFC, will feature Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones, who ranked third in the NFL this season with 15.5 sacks. Jones is joined on the Kansas City defensive by backup linebacker Breeland Speaks of Ole Miss.
Brandon’s Demario Davis, who played college ball at Arkansas State, is a leader on the defense of the NFC’s top seed, the New Orleans Saints. Second-year Southern Miss product Cameron Toms is the Saints back-up center and has played extensively at guard because of several injuries to New Orleans offensive linemen.
Former Southern Miss receiving star Mike Thomas, a wide receiver for the No. 2 seed Los Angeles Rams, is currently on the injured reserve list.
The most playoffs-tested of all the Mississippians in the playoffs will be Madison’s Stephen Gostkowski, the New England Patriots’ placekicker who has successfully kicked 34 of 38 field goals over a remarkable run of 25 post-season games. If you had to pick the Mississippian most likely to make a game-winning Super Bowl play, Gostkowski would have to be the choice.