8 Most Disappointing Players from Championship Sunday

Andrew McCluskeyCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2012

8 Most Disappointing Players from Championship Sunday

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    What a wild weekend of NFL football.

    The first game of championship weekend was the New England Patriots versus the Baltimore Ravens. It was a hard-fought, physical game that came down to a last-second field goal. Unfortunately for Ravens' fans, their kicker Billy Cundiff was unable to hit the clutch kick.

    The late game had the New York Giants heading to San Francisco to take on the 49ers. There was some rough weather that certainly impacted the play of both teams. However, the Giants were able to come out on top and will go on to represent the NFC in this year's Super Bowl.

    While many fans will be looking ahead to the Super Bowl at this point, it is not too late to analyze the conference championship games. 

    Here are eight of the most disappointing players from championship Sunday.

Ray Rice

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    Coming into the AFC Championship game. everyone was expecting the Ravens to run the ball on the Patriots' defense. 

    Ray Rice finished second in the NFL in rushing during the regular season and is clearly Baltimore's most dangerous weapon on offense. He has the ability to be not only a dangerous runner, but a legitimate threat in the passing game. 

    Things didn't quite pan out the way everyone expected.

    The Patriots' front seven came out on fire and was able to shut down Rice. The Ravens gave him 21 carries, but he was only able to pick up 67 yards on the ground. He was also a non-factor in the passing game, catching only one pass for 11 yards.

    Rice's game wasn't horrible, but the expectations he came in with were much higher.

    His lack of production was a huge hit to the Ravens' chances of winning. 

Devin McCourtly

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    What in the world happened to Devin McCourty this year?

    He was one of the breakout players on the Patriots' defense last year. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and appeared to be well on his way to becoming a shut-down cornerback in this league.

    Then for some reason everything fell apart.

    McCourty has been getting eaten up by opposing wide receivers all year long. Late in the season and during the playoffs, McCourty made a move to safety. 

    Unfortunately, his play hasn't greatly improved. He is still having a hard time in coverage, but the worst part of his game has been his tackling. 

    There were several instances during the game where McCourty just flat-out missed tackles. He hasn't shown the ability to wrap up running backs or wide receivers at all this year. His missed tackles have cost the Patriots' defense and will continue to hurt them in the Super Bowl.

    It was easy to ignore when he was shutting down opposing wide outs, but now it is a glaring hole.

Billy Cundiff

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    I don't think expectations for Billy Cundiff were very high coming in to the AFC Championship game, but there was no bigger disappointment.

    Cundiff went 2-for-3 in field-goal attempts against New England, yet we all know that the one miss is the one that cost them. 

    Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense had driven down the field with time running off the clock. Flacco made a huge throw to Lee Evans that was in his hands in the end zone, but Patriots' defensive back Sterling Moore was able to rip it out, preventing the go-ahead touchdown. 

    Another great play by Moore led to Cundiff's 39-yard field goal attempt.

    Cundiff completely shanked the field goal and Baltimore's shot at overtime was crushed. Being a kicker that loses the game is one of the worst spots to be in.

    I'd be willing to bet that no one is more disappointed this morning than Cundiff.

Tom Brady

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    I don't think anyone expected Tom Brady to make this list.

    After coming off of a six-touchdown performance against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the postseason, everyone was expecting him to be an impact player against the Ravens. While he wasn't horrendous, he certainly wasn't his usual self. 

    Brady went 22 for 36 for 239 yards and two interceptions. Nobody would have predicted that the Patriots could beat the Ravens without Brady throwing a passing touchdown.

    While both interceptions were poor decisions by Brady, they both were fantastic catches by the Ravens' secondary. 

    Ladarius Webb made a great leaping interception on an underthrown pass, and Jimmy Smith made a shoelaces catch off a tipped pass by Bernard Pollard. 

    Brady did come up big on a diving QB sneak, which led to him taking a brutal hit to the back from Ray Lewis

    His passing numbers were certainly disappointing, but I wouldn't bet on him having another game like this in the Super Bowl.

The Giants' Offensive Line

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    One of the most important keys to success in the NFL is protecting your quarterback.

    No quarterback can complete passes from their back. The Giants have had pretty solid pass protection this year for Eli Manning, but they were completely blown up by the San Francisco 49ers' pass rush. 

    Manning was sacked six times and hit 12 times in the NFC Championship game.

    He was given almost no time to throw, which was one of the big reasons why the game was as close as it was. If Manning had more time to throw, this game may have not gone to overtime.

    The Giants offensive line was matched up against a tough opponent. There is no denying that the 49ers have an elite defense.

    However, the Giants are going to need to improve that pass protection if they plan on winning the Super Bowl.

Michael Crabtree

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    Michael Crabtree is supposed to be the 49ers' No. 1 wide receiver, but he completely disappeared in the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants.

    Crabtree caught only pass for just three yards in the 20-17 loss to the Giants.

    Alex Smith put together a huge performance last week against the New Orleans Saints as he put together the comeback drive to win the game. Many were wondering if Smith had finally taken the next step in becoming a legitimate quarterback.

    However, his performance against the Giants reminded us of who he has been since he was taken No. 1  overall in 2005.

    Smith really could have used Michael Crabtree on Sunday. Vernon Davis was able to step up and make big plays throughout the game, but for your No. 1 wide receiver to completely disappear is a huge letdown. 

    If Crabtree wants to be considered elite, he needs to step up in these situations.

Brandon Jacobs

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    Brandon Jacobs was another player who pulled a disappearing act during the NFC Championship game.

    He was facing the best rushing defense in the league. Still, it didn't seem to impact Ahmad Bradshaw too much. He ran for 74 yards on 20 carries, and had six receptions for 52 yards. 

    Jacobs, on the other hand, only had five carries for 13 yards, and two receptions for eight yards.

    The Giants' rushing attack has been inconsistent all year. Both Bradshaw and Jacobs have battled injuries and have not been as dominant as they have been in the past.

    You may have expected Jacobs to be the more effective back on Sunday with his bruiser style. However, it was the smaller, shiftier back that stood out. 

    The Patriots, who have had improved defensive play in the postseason, will present the Giants with another challenge. They shut down Tim Tebow and the Broncos, then followed that up with a dominant performance against Ray Rice. 

    The Giants will need Jacobs to improve if they want to have an effective rushing attack against New England.

Kyle Williams

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    Just when I thought that there would be no bigger disappointment than Billy Cundiff, there was Kyle Williams.

    With Ted Ginn Jr. out with an injury, Williams was forced to step in as the kick returner for the San Francisco 49ers. Usually you would expect this to simply limit the number of yards the 49ers usually get on returns. But instead it had much bigger implications.

    His first mistake came in the fourth quarter when a punt grazed his knee and the Giants recovered. It was at first ruled that he had avoided the ball, but the replay clearly showed that the ball hit his knee and changed direction.

    The Giants went on to score a touchdown to go up 17-14.

    Things didn't get any better for Williams. He fumbled another punt return in overtime to give the Giants the field position they needed to kick the game-winning field goal.

    The conditions certainly didn't help Williams, but you cannot turn the ball over in that situation. Turnovers can kill any team.

    The 49ers were a great story and will certainly be back next year.

    However, Kyle Williams is in for a very long offseason.