Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons left the NFC Championship disappointed.
Expectations were high coming into the game from fans and media alike, and when the pressure is on for a chance to play on the NFL’s biggest stage, the potential for disappointment is always present.
The losers of the Conference Championships are of course disappointments, but specific units and players deserve some of the spotlight as well. Even the winning teams were not without their negative qualities during the games, which need to be focused on during the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.
Let’s take a look at the most disappointing performances from the NFL Conference Championships.
The Falcons had issues protecting a 17-point lead.
The Atlanta Falcons were downed by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship in large part thanks to an abysmal defensive effort.
They started out stout with a pair of three-and-outs, which helped their team jump out to a 17-0 lead. And they didn't allow the Niners to capitalize on two straight turnovers by the Falcons offense in the second half.
But Atlanta could not stop the run all day, allowing 49ers' running back Frank Gore to gain 90 yards and score twice. Rookie LaMichael James added to the Falcons' woes as well, gaining 34 yards on five carries, tacking on a score of his own.
The Falcons were also vulnerable through the air, allowing Colin Kapernick to throw for 233 yards and a TD.
The biggest issues seemed to be the tight end position, as it had been all year long. Vernon Davis had his way with the Falcons defense for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Michael Crabtree had a game to forget against the Atlanta Falcons.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree had been a major component in the team's playoff success leading up to the NFC Championship against the Atlanta Falcons.
That reversed, despite the team winning.
Crabtree reverted to his old self, catching just six passes for 57 yards. The numbers are a far cry from his 119 yard, two touchdown performance a week earlier against the Green Bay Packers.
To make matters worse, Crabtree lost a fumble on the 1-yard line while heading into the end zone. Had he held on for a few more inches, the 49ers would have taken the lead and never looked back.
This came after he was questioned by San Francisco police in a sexual assault case earlier this week, though he is reportedly not expected to be charged.
Michael Turner had a quiet game against the 49ers.
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner had a surprise game for the team in the NFC Divisional Round against the Seattle Seahawks. It had appeared as if he had fresh legs that could help carry the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
Turner proceeded to fall flat on his face the following week in the NFC Championship.
He carried the ball eight times for only 30 yards, clearly demonstrating that he lacked the punch or power that he teased from his performance the week before.
Turner injured his ankle in the third quarter and did not return, leaving the bulk of the carries to Jaquizz Rodgers, who only contributed 32 more yards on 10 carries.
The end result of the Falcons' collective rushing struggles was the Atlanta offense becoming one-dimensional. As a result, the Falcons would end up letting go of a big lead and losing at home.
The 49ers had no answer for the Falcons' aerial attack in the NFC Championship.
The San Francisco 49ers would end up winning the NFL Championship, but not without massively struggling to shut down the passing attack of the Atlanta Falcons.
The 49ers found themselves down early thanks to an inability to stop the pass, which soon turned into a big deficit at halftime.
Atlanta receiver Julio Jones racked up 148 yards and two touchdowns on his own. Roddy White added 91 yards of his own, while tight end Tony Gonzalez gained 78 yards and a score.
To San Francisco's credit, the defense buckled down and helped win the game by pitching a shutout in the second half. That said, the alarming rate at which the secondary was getting abused is a weakness the team needs to figure out quickly.
David Akers struggled against the Atlanta Falcons.
Stop if you have heard this before—David Akers missed an important kick for the San Francisco 49ers.
Akers managed to miss his only attempt in the NFC Championship against the Atlanta Falcons, although he did manage to bang through all four of his extra-point attempts.
This is not a new problem with Akers (he missed 13 FGs in the regular season), and it could have cost the 49ers the NFC Championship. Akers has a long two weeks of practice ahead of him before the Super Bowl—if he is allowed to make the trip.
The Patriots had no answer for the Baltimore passing attack in the AFC Championship.
The New England Patriots defense had done just enough all year to allow the team to win games while being supported by an elite offense.
The defense, especially the pass defense, did not hold up its end of the bargain in the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco picked apart the Patriots secondary all day long with ease. He threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns in the rout.
Receiver Anquan Boldin gained 60 yards through the air and scored two touchdowns, while tight end Dennis Pitta got in on the fun as well, adding 55 yards and a touchdown of his own.
The Patriots secondary looked lost all day, and it cost the team the game.
Tom Brady failed to get it going in the AFC Championship.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady orchestrated one of the NFL's best offenses all season long, but that came to an abrupt end in the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens.
On paper, Brady's numbers do not look all that horrific. He threw for 320 yards and a touchdown. However, he was not his normal self and also threw two costly interceptions.
Brady has proven time and time again that he is much better than his performance against the Ravens, but it was pretty apparent through his body language that the defense was in his head. Brady and Co. will be watching the Super Bowl from their couches as a result.
Wes Welker was the only piece of the Patriots offense consistently making contributions.
While still on the topic of the New England Patriots' offense in the AFC Championship, it is worth bringing up the entire unit as a whole.
To be frank, it was a pitiful performance all around.
As mentioned, Tom Brady was horrible, but so were the pieces surrounding him. The running game was non-existent, with Stevan Ridley gaining just 70 yards on the ground. He also had a costly fumble on a huge hit by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter.
In the passing game, tight end Aaron Hernandez was quiet with only 83 yards. Receiver Wes Welker was the only element of the offense making positive gains, as he eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. But even he had several costly drops.
For the NFL's best offense to only score 13 points in the AFC Championship, it deserves to go down as one of the worst performances of the weekend.
Paul Kruger was quiet against the New England Patriots.
Paul Kruger has been one of the most underrated elements of an outstanding Baltimore Ravens defense all season long. He did not help his cause with his performance in the AFC Championship against the New England Patriots.
Kruger notched just four tackles, which is very low for the Ravens' best pass rusher. He had racked up nine sacks over the course of the season, and 2.5 in the AFC Divisional Round against the Indianapolis Colts.
It is hard to call anyone on the winning team disappointing, but Kruger had a down game against the Patriots.
Ed Reed was very quiet in what could have been his last NFL game.
It is a well-known fact that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is possibly playing in his last NFL games this postseason. Hidden in the media hoopla is the fact safety Ed Reed could be retiring as well.
Reed had a miserable game against the New England Patriots, recording just two tackles. He had issues in coverage and was clearly not playing like it was his last game in the NFL.
Luckily for him, it was not. Reed needs to turn it around in a hurry or he will be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after the Super Bowl. He has the ability to play at an elite level, and the Ravens will need him to do just that in the big game.
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