One repeated and continuing storyline heading into next weekend’s AFC and NFC Championship games will be the quarterbacks.
It’s Tom Brady with the New England Patriots and Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC, and Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers and Matt Ryan with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC.
That’s some serious firepower.
Three of those four were in the top four for passer rating during the 2016 season. Ryan finished first at 117.1, followed by Brady second at 112.2 and Rodgers fourth at 104.2. Roethlisberger finished 11th at 95.4. All four were in the top 10 for passing yards and passing touchdowns.
But while they are the big names on their teams and the catalysts that drive the ratings and their offenses, kickers had plenty to say about some of the outcomes in this weekend’s divisional-round games.
In the final game of the four this weekend, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell connected on an NFL postseason record six field goals and accounted for every point in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 win at Kansas City. The Chiefs became the first team ever to lose an NFL postseason game in which a team scored at least two more touchdowns than its opponent. Teams that had scored two or more touchdowns more than their opponent had been 245-0 all-time in the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, but Pittsburgh’s defense and Boswell’s leg changed that stat.
In the battle between the Packers and Cowboys on Sunday, the kickers provided the long-distance drama that helped Sunday make up for what had been relatively uninteresting games in the first six postseason contests.
The final two minutes of the Packers-Cowboys game saw Green Bay’s Mason Crosby kick go-ahead field goals of 56 and 51 yards, with Dallas’s Dan Bailey hitting a game-tying 52-yard field goal in between Crosby’s heroics.
It was the first time in NFL postseason history that there were more than two 50-yard field goals at any point in the game, according Elias. In fact, during all of the 256 regular-season games of the 2016 season, there had never been more than two successful field goals of at least 50 yards at any point in a game, but the Packers and Cowboys provided three of them in the final two minutes.
Bailey also had a 50-yarder in the first quarter, making it the first postseason game with four such long field goals and only the third time in all of NFL history (97 years) that has happened, per Elias.
MORE ESSENTIALS FROM DIVISIONAL GAMES
Of course, the quarterbacks should get their due, too. To wit:
- Ryan tied an NFL postseason record when he produced three touchdowns for the third consecutive time in his postseason career (including the last time the Falcons were in the playoffs four years ago). The other quarterbacks to throw three or more touchdowns in three consecutive postseason games were Bernie Kosar, Kurt Warner, Joe Flacco, Rodgers and Brady, according to Elias, putting three of the six quarterbacks to do that all-time in this year’s conference championship games.
- Ryan finished the season atop the passer ratings, and Saturday’s performance was his fourth straight game with a rating of 120 or higher.
- With 362 yards passing in the Packers’ wild card win and 356 against the Cowboys on Sunday, Rodgers became the first player to throw for at least 350 yards in consecutive postseason games and win both, according to Elias.
- During the regular season, Brady set the NFL record with a 0.5 interception percentage, throwing only two of them in his 12 games played. However, he threw two interceptions going up against the Houston Texans’ top-ranked defense on Saturday. Despite getting the win, Brady completed only 47.4 percent of his passes – a playoff low for him – and it was only the second time in his 32 playoff games in which he completed fewer than half of his passes while throwing multiple interceptions, per Elias. However, the last time he did that was the last time he played in the postseason – in the AFC Championship loss to the Denver Broncos last year.
- Cowboys rookie Dak Prescott couldn’t get the win against Rodgers and the Packers, but he still threw for 302 yards and had a 103.2 rating. Given that his fellow rookie teammate Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 125 yards, it was a rare postseason loss for a team with those stats from their quarterback and running back. The Cowboys were the 11th team in playoff history to have a passer with at least 300 yards and a rating about 100 and a rusher with at least 100 yards, according to Elias, and only the second team to lose under those circumstances (New York Giants, January 2003 Wild Card Playoffs).
The divisional round also featured a couple of standout performances by running backs:
- Pittburgh’s Le'Veon Bell rushed for 170 yards on 30 carries after a 167-yard performance in the opening round. His 337 yards rushing in his first two postseason games easily broke the previous record of 285 by Arian Foster in January 2012 (Elias).
- Patriots back Dion Lewis became the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns by rushing, receiving and on a return in the same playoff game. In the first quarter, he had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which, according to Elias, was the first kickoff-return touchdown in 49 postseason games for the Patriots.