Pick Six: The 6 Game-Changing Plays from the Divisional Playoffs
There's always a big play that turns a game around and completely changes momentum, many of which are magnified in a pressure-filled playoff situation.
There were plenty of those moments over the weekend that significantly helped shape the conference championship matchups we'll see on Sunday.
Green Bay used their top-ranked defense to victimize a quarterback in his first home playoff start, while the Bears...well, they won the lottery by drawing the Seahawks.
In the AFC, Pittsburgh forced a pair of turnovers to turn their fortunes around in the second half against the Ravens. Both helped the Steelers beat their divisional rival and set up a home date with the Jets, who took out New England with a truly team performance on both sides of the ball.
6. Olsen's Opening Score
The game may have been over before it even started, but the Bears touchdown on the third play set the tone for what would come the rest of the afternoon in Chicago.
Tight end Greg Olsen snuck behind Lawyer Milloy and Seattle's secondary to haul in a 58-yard heave from Jay Cutler. The early score gave the home side the early lead.
More significantly, while it may not seem like a significant play given the final score, the confidence Cutler gained from that early score in his first playoff game can't be understated.
Seattle's near pick six in the first quarter could've tilted the field more in the Seahawks favor, but Chicago was well on its way after the opening drive.
5. Brady's Botched Interception
David Harris' rare pick of Tom Brady didn't result in any points for the Jets, but that play really gave the visitors some momentum and was the beginning of New England's shaky performance offensively.
Before Sunday's matchup, and even during the first couple Patriots drives, Brady was on a roll and looked nearly invincible. The three-time Super Bowl winner hadn't tossed an interception in 340 throws until the Jets linebacker snuffed out a screen play intended for Danny Woodhead.
And while the offense didn't get its game together until late in the first half, the play of Rex Ryan's unit, signified by Harris' interception, was lights out.
The pick was essentially caused by the pressure created by the Jets front four, which sacked Brady five times in the upset win.
4. Rice Rumbles and Fumbles
Ray Rice's first fumble of the season couldn't have come at a worse time for the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens were out front 21-7 and in complete control before Rice put the ball on the ground on their own side of midfield. The Steelers recovered to send Heinz Field into a frenzy, and two plays later it was a one-score contest.
The crowd had watched their team meltdown in the first half with two crucial turnovers that put the visitors in the driver seat.
But Rice's fumble, followed by a Joe Flacco interception, turned the game around for Pittsburgh—one that had Baltimore victory written all over it entering the second half.
The Ravens tried everything to stop the bleeding, but they never got it back. And while they had a chance to tie the game until the final minute, the Steelers cashed in on the turnovers and used them as a launching point into the AFC Championship.
3. Brown Goes 'Tyree' on Baltimore
The most unlikely of heroes in the divisional playoffs was Antonio Brown—no, not Santonio Holmes, but rookie wideout Antonio Brown who made one of the plays of the weekend.
With the score tied at 24 and under three minutes remaining, the game was still in the balance. Even after the Ravens second-half turnovers, Pittsburgh still needed to work for the victory.
When it looked like Baltimore would get the ball after a 3rd-and-19 attempt, the Steelers had other ideas. Ben Roethlisberger aired it out 58 yards downfield, finding Brown who got behind coverage, including Ed Reed, and made a spectacular catch—securing the ball on his helmet with one hand no less!
He only had 16 receptions during the regular season, but Baltimore's secondary forgot about him. The deep bomb set up Rashard Mendenhall's two-yard, game-winning touchdown run.
2. Williams' End Zone Wizardry
A week after intercepting Michael Vick to end the Eagles season, Tramon Williams changed the complexion of the Packers divisional game in Vick's former home with a couple monstrous plays.
His biggest came on the final play of the first half, just as Atlanta was inching closer to field goal range down 21-14.
Williams stepped in front of Matt Ryan's pass to Michael Jenkins and took it 70 yards for a touchdown, which essentially sealed the deal.
Yeah, there was still 30 minutes to play, but did you really expect the stunned Falcons to come out and lead a memorable comeback? It was very unlikely given how dominant the Packers defense and Aaron Rodgers were playing coming out of halftime.
But one pick wasn't quite good enough for Williams, who's been on a mission since being denied a spot in this year's Pro Bowl.
His first came earlier in the second quarter when the Falcons were marching on a potential game-tying drive. Ryan, who threw only nine interceptions all season, aired it out in the end zone, but Williams, on an identical play, leaped up to take a touchdown away from Jenkins who slipped on the turf.
Instead of the game being even at 14, Green Bay went into the break ahead 28-14, thanks to the thievery of their other star cornerback.
1. Holmes' Circus Act II
Santonio Holmes, if a Super Bowl-winning catch isn't enough, is building himself a reputation for making circus catches at crucial moments.
Holmes added to his legacy as a big-game receiver on Sunday in the Jets 28-21 win in New England. His incredible grab, somehow keeping his feet inbounds in the tightest of windows, won New York the football game.
The Jets defense played a dominant role in the upset victory at Foxboro, but after Tom Brady engineered his first scoring drive early in the fourth quarter there were still doubts.
But Holmes came up with his biggest play since February 2009 and re-established the 10-point advantage. The Jets would've settled for the field goal (and who knows with Nick Folk) and only led by six points at the time.
More broadly, that entire drive was a game-changer. After New England marched down to pull within three points, they needed a big response offensively and Mark Sanchez delivered—along with his playmakers.
Any momentum that Brady mustered from his score was completely drained with the 58-yard completion to Jerricho Cotchery. It set the Jets up nicely, deep in Patriots' territory and led to Holmes' heroics a couple plays later, solidifying their triumphant upset.
Holmes will now get the chance to burn his former team with a Super Bowl berth on the line in Pittsburgh.