Offensive Players of the Week
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay.
Bart Starr and Brett Favre have played for the Packers, in case you missed it. And on Saturday, Rodgers had a better postseason game than either of them ever had: 31 of 36 (.861), 366 yards, three touchdowns, no picks, 136.8 rating. It's amazing that a sixth seed can embarrass a first seed, but that's what the Packers did to Atlanta ... and they did it because Rodgers might well have been as dominant as any quarterback has ever been in a playoff game. The Packers' two highest-scoring offensive games in history have been 45 points (last year against Arizona) and 48 (Saturday night). Rodgers quarterbacked both of them. He's pretty good.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago.
Only one quarterback ever -- the great Otto Graham -- has thrown for two touchdowns and run for two in a playoff game, and Cutler did such a thing in the first one he ever played. He threw 58- and 39-yard touchdown passes to tight ends, and ran for scores of six and nine yards against a much softer Seattle front than the one that attacked him in October. Cutler's had some rough days since the Bears traded a king's ransom for him, but the decisive win over Seattle exemplified all the good reasons Jerry Angelo dealt for him 21 months ago.
Defensive Players of the Week
Shaun Ellis, DL, New York Jets.
I could have easily named David Harris or Eric Smith here, but I'm going with the man who was drafted with one of the four first-round picks the Jets had in 2000 -- the year they acquired one first-rounder from New England for Bill Belichick. Upset about a poor performance in New England the last time these kissin' cousins met in December, Ellis played with a vengeance in New York's 28-21 win in Foxboro Sunday. He had five tackles and two sacks of Tom Brady, supplying three more pressures. "That's the best game I've seen Big Shaun play,'' Rex Ryan told me Sunday night. Can't argue. How about the irony.
Tramon Williams, CB, Green Bay.
It is now officially a crime that he didn't make the Pro Bowl. (Which, by the way, no one outside of the Williams family should care about, because the Pro Bowl's such a dud.) But Williams got his second and third interceptions of the postseason, including a 70-yard touchdown on a pick return as the first-half clock expired.
Understand the situation late in the second quarter at Atlanta. Matt Ryan had the ball, down 21-14, at the Packers 35, with 10 seconds left in the half. Mike Smith wanted to get a few yards closer for Matt Bryant to attempt a field goal. So the Falcons took a chance, throwing to Roddy White at the sideline. Williams stepped in front of White, picked it off, and ran it back for the touchdown. Instead of potentially being down four at the half, Atlanta was down 14, and the game was getting out of hand.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Eric Weems, KR/WR, Atlanta.
This rising-star returner, one of the most dangerous of the young-guy returners in football, took a second-quarter kick back 102 yards against the Packers, bursting through the first wave of coverage and never being seriously threatened. For the game, he returned six kicks for a 32.5-yard average.
Coach of the Week
Rex Ryan, head coach, New York Jets.
"Same old Jets, going to the championship game two years in a row,'' Ryan said Sunday night, needling all those who've called these your father's Jets, who will always let you down in the big moment. He and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine put together a defensive game plan that had Tom Brady pat-pat-patting the ball endlessly, rarely being able to find an open man. Ryan's not like any other coach in the league, and maybe that's a good thing. Not many coaches can beat Manning and Brady, in eight days, on the road. "Game plans are useless without great plays from your players,'' he said, and he got a lot of those Sunday.
Goat of the Week
Lardarius Webb, CB/T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Baltimore.
Webb did the unforgivable, allowing a rookie sixth-round speedster, Antonio Brown, to get behind him for the 58-yard pass play that keyed Pittsburgh's divisional playoff win. And T.J.? With 63 seconds left, on fourth-and-18 at the Baltimore 44, Joe Flacco threw as perfect a pass as a quarterback can throw, right in the gut to Houshmandzadeh at the Steelers 34. Would have been a first down, 34 yards shy of the tying touchdown with a minute to go. Instead, Houshmandzadeh dropped it, and the game was over.
It's obviously premature to make any long-term judgments about how great a career Aaron Rodgers will have. But maybe one way to look at how well he hit the ground running in his first three seasons as a starter is how those three stack up against the three best seasons in succession by the two greatest quarterbacks in club history, Bart Starr and Brett Favre. Not the first years for either of the Packers greats; the best three years in a row.
Interesting to note that Rodgers, in his first three years, threw for more yards than Favre did in the run he had of three straight MVP seasons, 1995-97.
Standing in the Steelers locker room Saturday night, and radio analyst and former NFL player Craig Wolfley approaches. He has something he wants to tell me about Ben Roethlisberger and this team.
"Number seven,'' Wolfley said, which, of course, Roethlisberger is. "Seventh straight win over Baltimore, seventh season in the league, trying to get the Steelers to their seventh Super Bowl [title], won by seven tonight. Power of seven, brother.''
Consider that stolen, Wolf.
On a 34-degree afternoon Saturday, I walked the 35 minutes from my downtown hotel, the Omni William Penn, to Heinz Field for the Steelers-Ravens game. I decided to do a little referendum to see just how much Ben Roethlisberger has been welcomed back into the Steelers family by the fans.
I would count the number of Roethlisberger jerseys I saw and compare it to the number of Troy Polamalu jerseys. Is Roethlisberger back in the good graces of the fans? By this ridiculously rudimentary process, I would say not, though I did see two women wearing number 7.
Number of Polamalu 43 jerseys seen: 58.
Number of Roethlisberger 7 jerseys seen: 9.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Look like tommy wll be with me.''
--@untouchablejay4, Baltimore pass-rusher Terrell Suggs, minutes after the Patriots and the quarterback he loves so much, Tom Brady, lost Sunday night to the Jets.
"the fact that people voted DeAngelo Hall into the pro bowl over Tramon Williams is the biggest joke since the arrival of snooki.''
--@MJThrill, M.J. Gill, of Long Island, echoing what more than a few football watchers were thinking after watching the Packers play over the last eight days.
"Someone please tell blabbermouths T.Suggs & A.Cromartie that without the Tom Bradys of the NFL no one would pay 5 cents to see them play D.''
--@jonnysaraceno, USA Today's Jon Saraceno.
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