NFL Playoffs 2011: Divisional Round Top Performers
This past weekend brought us another great four games of NFL playoff football.
We had two great classic AFC matchups that lived up to all the hype. The NFC...not so much.
The teams (Steelers, Packers, Bears and Jets) are set for the Championship rounds.
But before we get to that, let's have a look back at how and why these four teams got there.
Here is a list of this weekend's top performers.
Pittsburgh Steelers S Ryan Clark
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No one had a terrific offensive game for the Steelers in their huge 31-24 comeback win over the Ravens on Saturday. Their comeback was forced and led by their defense. Down 21-7 at the half, the Steelers rallied back and eventually took the lead, thanks to three second-half turnovers by the Ravens.
No turnover was bigger than Ryan Clark's strip and LaMarr Woodley's fumble recovery, however. Right out of the second half, Ray Rice, who never fumbles, got stripped of the football by Ryan Clark and it was Woodley who recovered. This was the turning point in the game. Baltimore had all the momentum and had taken the Terrible Towels and the crowd totally out of the game. After that fumble though, the tides turned and the Steelers went back to playing Pittsburgh Steeler football.
Clark and the Steelers' secondary shut down the Ravens passing game and allowed the Ravens just 28 yards total in the second half. Clark added a big INT later that led to the tying TD.
Ryan Clark, the safety not named Troy Polamalu, gets the game ball.
Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler
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I wasn't sure quite what to expect out of Jay Cutler in his first-ever postseason game. Cutler, who was brought to Chicago to give the team an edge and stability at the QB position, did not disappoint. Cutler and the Bears quickly ended the storybook run of the Seattle Seahawks and advanced to the NFC Championship game winning 35-24.
The game was not as close as the score would indicate. The Bears' defense dominated the game. Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck had an amazing fourth quarter throwing for three TDs. I think Chicago packed it in after they were up 28-3 heading into the fourth quarter.
Jay Cutler had an amazing first postseason game and is now set to host bitter rival Green Bay next week for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Cutler finished with 274 yards passing and two TDs. He also rushed for 43 more yards and had two TDs on the ground.
You can say all you want about how it was only the lonely Seattle Seahawks, but remember, this was a team that shut down the mighty New Orleans Saints just a week prior.
Good effort by the Bears' defense, but an even better one by Jay Cutler.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
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Aaron Rodgers and the lethal Green Bay Packers offense torched the Falcons for 48 points in their win Saturday night 48-21. Green Bay has the most dangerous offense left out of the four teams. That is what was so scary about them squeaking into the playoffs as the sixth seed. Injuries cost them a lot of games this season.
Their only goal was to get into the playoffs and then, look out! The Packers carved up two teams, both on the road, in the Eagles and the Falcons.
The Offense is orchestrated by Aaron Rodgers, who got his first two postseason wins this year. Rodgers was 31-36 (yes 31-36) for 366 yards and three TDs. Rodgers added a fourth TD on the ground. Rodgers had a near perfect QB rating as he lead his team into the NFC Championship game against their hated rivals.
New York Jets Defense
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I couldn't pick just one player from the Jets team so I picked their entire defense for the MVP's of their 28-21 upset over the Patriots in New England. All the hype coming into this game was about how Rex Ryan was going to outsmart Bill Belichick and vice versa. The coaches could only do so much as they do not actually play the game. Rex Ryan certainly does get the benefit of the doubt for this game, however, for scheming a game plan that took Tom Brady out of the ball game.
The Jets forced Tom Brady's first INT in a league record 335 passes on the first series of the game.
After that, it was all J-E-T-S Jets.
Brady ended with 299 yards and two TDs and the one big INT. Brady was also sacked five times, including two by Shaun Ellis. The Jets D also cost Brady and Danny Woodhead to each fumble. The Jets had a total team effort last night and none was bigger than the total defensive effort they put out for 60 minutes against the team with the best record in football.