The NFL playoffs have been one of the wildest rides in recent memory.
Whether it was the Tebow-led Denver Broncos upsetting the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round or the 15-1 Green Bay Packers losing at home to the New York Giants in their first playoff game, many of these games will be talked about for a very long time.
Of course, every game has its goats—players that many tend to blame or are huge contributing factors in a team's loss. This article will serve as a consolation prize for the many goats out there that cost their teams a shot at the ultimate prize.
Note: This article does not have a punter or offensive line because I do not believe that these units were major contributing factors to a team's loss at any point in the playoffs.
The Houston Texans had many golden opportunities in the AFC Divisional Round to steal a win from the Baltimore Ravens in their own house. Those opportunities ranged from an electrifying opening-kickoff return by Danieal Manning to a goal-line stand late in the third quarter.
It seemed as though T.J. Yates had other plans. The rookie quarterback took every opportunity his amazing defense gave him that game and threw it into the sewers—whether it was an intercepted pass or his inability to deliver even a remotely accurate pass to his receivers.
The playoff stage seemed to have gotten the best of a clearly rattled Yates in Baltimore, and much of the blame can be pinned on him for the loss.
Note: I'm definitely nitpicking here because there weren't really any other standout candidates at the position.
Ray Rice was widely touted as one of the best running backs throughout the whole season, considering that he accounted for almost half of all of Baltimore's offensive yardage, as he led the team in receptions and rushing yards. He is so important to the team that the Ravens had a hard time getting any offensive production if Rice couldn't get going.
After a stellar regular season, Rice all but disappeared in the postseason, attaining a paltry 127 rushing yards and zero rushing touchdowns through both playoff games.
Along with his very disappointing stat line, Rice was stuffed on a goal-line plunge against the Houston Texans late in the third quarter, throwing away an opportunity to potentially ice the game for his team.
The Packers have a lot of problems on defense, and it starts up front.
The loss of Cullen Jenkins, as well as the regression of B.J. Raji after a dominant season in 2010, finally came back to haunt the Packers in the postseason.
Against the Giants, the Packers gave Eli Manning all day in the pocket to pick apart their suspect secondary, accumulating only one sack and allowing him to throw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in the Packers' own building.
It was a bad day for the prideful Steelers' linebacking corps against the Denver Broncos.
The Pittsburgh linebackers had trouble maintaining discipline on the many option plays and quarterback runs that are Tim Tebow's bread and butter, allowing a rushing touchdown by Tebow on one occasion.
To add to that, the unit could not create any pressure whatsoever on Tebow—unable to sack him even once and allowing him to sit comfortably in the pocket and convert big play after big play.
Ike Taylor had arguably the best season of his career in 2011, making a case to be considered a top-tier cornerback in the league.
All of that was erased in the Steelers' shocking playoff loss to Denver.
Taylor accompanied his career-best year with a career-worst game in the postseason, allowing a mind-boggling 204 yards on four catches to Demayrius Thomas, who ended up torching Taylor for the game-winning touchdown on the first play of overtime.
Sometimes, a player having a solid game is overshadowed by the one game-changing play to occur at his expense.
That is the case with Roman Harper, who was creating tons of pressure on Alex Smith on third downs, getting to him twice and giving his offense chances to score.
Unfortunately, it was also Harper who allowed the game-winning score to Vernon Davis late in the game. Harper was caught playing too deep into the end zone, rendering him unable to react to Davis on a skinny-post pattern that some are already labeling "The Catch Part III."
Though there were many other factors in the 49ers' loss to the Giants, it's hard not to argue that the outcome of the game may have been different had Kyle Williams held onto the ball instead of fumbling it not once, but twice.
The first fumble occurred when a punted ball bounced off his knee, allowing the Giants to take a 17-14 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Following the score, Williams redeemed himself with a very nice kickoff return to set his team up for a game-tying field goal, which would end up being the final score of regulation.
In overtime, Williams cemented his status as the goat of the game by fumbling yet again on a strip by Jacquian Williams inside the 49ers' 25-yard line. That fumble set the Giants up for the field goal to send them to Indianapolis.