NFL Playoffs: Winners and Losers of Conference Championship Weekend
Winners and Losers of NFL Championship Weekend
This past weekend featured two great conference championship games that set the stage for Super Bowl XLVII. The San Francisco 49ers fought back from a 17-point deficit to defeat the number-one seeded Atlanta Falcons by the score of 28-24. In the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens continued to ride their wave of emotions and upended the New England Patriots 28-13.
Looking at the results of both games, it’s obvious that the Ravens and the 49ers would be seen as the winners of the weekend, and the Falcons and Patriots would be seen as losers. However, I’ll look a bit deeper into the four teams that participated in this conference championship weekend and mention which players benefited from the outcome of their respective games, and who got the short end of the stick.
Now don’t go assuming that all of the losers are from the losing teams. Some performances and situations have unfortunately placed some players in the loser category. Other losers are a part of this group simply because they loss, or because of the way they loss.
Some of the winners are players that were fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time. Others just took advantage of their moment to prove many naysayers wrong, while some even made history with their appearance in this season’s Super Bowl.
There could possibly be a laundry list for both winners and losers, but I’ll just give you my top five winners and top five losers of both conference championship games.
Since his very first game in the league, wide receiver Randy Moss has amazed the world of football with his play, and is recognized as one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game. The future Hall of Famer had three big chances to win Super Bowls. In 1998 and 2000, Moss was on the losing end of NFC Championship games. In 2007, Moss was minutes away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, only for it to be taken away. After a horrific 2010 season, a year where Moss played for three teams, the veteran receiver announced his retirement, only to return in 2012 with San Francisco. Though he hasn’t come close to putting up the eye-popping numbers we’re accustomed to seeing from him, Moss has shown that he can still contribute to an offense, and is in position to finally get the championship ring that has slipped from his grasp several times.
Ever since he was named the starting quarterback for the 49ers in Week 11, many questioned whether or not Colin Kaepernick could take San Francisco this far. After leading the Niners to a 5-2 record in the latter part of the regular season and helping the team earn a first-round bye in the postseason, Kaepernick shut the mouths of all of his doubters and played the best game of his short career in the divisional round, and made history with his 181 rushing yards. The second-year pro then followed that up by leading his team to a NFC championship on the road. Regardless of whether the 49ers win the Super Bowl, Kaepernick will be mentioned as one of the best quarterbacks going into next season, and could possibly have a big payday coming his way soon.
There’s no doubt that linebacker Ray Lewis should be named one of the winners of this past weekend. After losing in the AFC Championship last season, and suffering a torn triceps that sidelined him for virtually the entire regular season, Lewis managed to return to the field just in time for the start of the postseason. On top of that, the announcement of his retirement made every playoff game that much important to him and the rest of this team. Already having a Super Bowl ring on his finger, Lewis now has the chance to ride off into the sunset and put an exclamation point on his Hall of Fame career.
Coming into his fifth season as Baltimore’s quarterback, Joe Flacco has been the subject of many debates of whether he should be considered an elite quarterback. Even at the start of the postseason, there was still some doubt about the ability of Flacco. After being the first quarterback in league history to win at least one playoff game in each of the first five years of his career, shredding one of the best defenses in the league in the divisional round, leading the Ravens to a second consecutive AFC Championship game, and making an appearance in this year’s Super Bowl, Flacco is definitely one of the biggest winners from this past championship weekend. In addition, Flacco will be in line to be paid as one of the best in the game this coming offseason.
No one should go against the fact that making history in the NFL should be top of the list. Head coaches Jim Harbaugh and John Harbaugh are the first brothers to go head-to-head as head coaches in the Super Bowl. Just think, Jim and John both were one game away from doing this last season. This could have easily been dubbed as HarBowl II, or Brothers Bowl II, or whatever other creative name you can come up with. The fact that this sibling rivalry will be set on one of the biggest stages in the world isn’t the lone reason why both Jim and John are winners. Knowing that both made decisions in the middle of the regular season that could have derailed their postseason chances is what puts them at the top of this list. Jim Harbaugh went with Kapernick over Alex Smith to finish out the season, and John Harbaugh cut ties with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and went with an inexperienced play-caller in Jim Caldwell as OC. These high risk, high reward actions are the reasons why we will be witnessing history on February 3rd.
You would think that after missing 13 field goal during the regular season, and still being fortunate enough to be on an NFL roster, kicker David Akers would be on the winners list. However, I don’t think that is the case. Despite the worst season of his career, Akers was given another opportunity by head coach Jim Harbaugh as the team’s primary kicker. In the NFC Championship Game, Akers was called upon to kick a field goal that would have tied the score at 24 in the third quarter. Akers missed the 38-yard field goal attempt, which was probably followed by more doubt creeping into the mind of San Francisco’s coach. That miss can’t help the confidence of Akers, and going into the Super Bowl, I’m sure that that miss (and the many others) will be running through his mind if put in a tough situation.
Last season, it seemed that quarterback Alex Smith finally cemented his place as the starting quarterback in San Francisco after leading his team to the NFC Championship Game. Everything was smooth sailing until his concussion in Week 10 of the regular season. Sadly, for Smith, the play of Kaepernick kept him on the sideline with a clipboard in his hand. The number-one overall pick of the 2005 draft is a victim of unfortunate circumstance. Knowing that Kaepernick will be the number-one quarterback going into the 2013 season will not only make Smith expendable, but it will also make it a bit more difficult to find another team that will be a good fit for Smith.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looked to be well on his way to the winners list in the first half of the conference championship game against the 49ers. Ryan’s three first-half touchdown passes was overshadowed by his abysmal second half. Matty Ice melted, threw an untimely interception, fumbled a snap, and couldn’t keep the offense rolling. However, not having production in the running game was a big reason for that. On top of that, Ryan hurt his shoulder, which probably had an effect on his desperation throw in the final seconds of the game. Though Ryan finally got the first playoff victory of his career in the divisional round, not coming up big when it counts will make many think that he still has to prove that he can win big in the playoffs just like he wins big in the regular season.
It’s rare to see Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to be considered as a loser in any way, shape, or form. In this situation, I have to put him on this list. Brady has now regressed from where he was last season. Though he’s been considered as an MVP candidate, Brady has gone from going to the Super Bowl last season to missing it this season. His two crucial interceptions weren’t Brady-like versus the Ravens, and neither was his style of play. As in style of play, I am referring to the slide in which he kicked Ravens safety Ed Reed. It’s unknown if that kick was intentional or not, but what I do know is that Brady could be hearing from the league office and receive a hefty fine for that act.
It’s tough to add a player of this caliber to this list, but Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez can be seen as the biggest loser from this past weekend. Just like Ray Lewis, Gonzalez mentioned that this would be his last season in the league. It would have been great to see him finally get a chance to win a championship, especially since this was the first time he advanced past the first round in the postseason in his illustrious 16-year career. What makes this matter even worse, Gonzalez was overlooked by quarterback Matt Ryan on a fourth-and-four late in the fourth quarter. Gonzalez appeared to be open for a game-winning touchdown. A missed opportunity to go to the Super Bowl, and having the bitter taste of defeat be the last memory of his career definitely puts Gonzalez at the top of this list.
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