2014 NFL Playoffs: 10 Players Who Stepped Up During the Divisional Round
10 Players Who Starred in Divisional Round
The NFL Divisional round featured four incredibly intriguing games each with their own unique storyline. The New Orleans Saints returned to face the Seattle Seahawks with revenge on their minds having been humiliated 34-7 in the Week 13 prime-time mauling. The Indianapolis Colts traveled to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Patriots in a game that would mark the first playoff contest between quarterback starlet Andrew Luck and three-time Super Bowl winning veteran Tom Brady. The decade-long rivalry between Brady and former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is already written into postseason folklore, and a new era is beginning with Luck at the helm in Indianapolis.
The first of Sunday's games was another regular season rematch between the San Francisco 49ers and the surprise package Carolina Panthers. The Panthers had edged the Niners in Week 10, escaping from Candlestick with a hard fought 10-9 victory. The Niners would travel to Charlotte this time around having defeated the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Wild-Card weekend. The final Divisional round matchup between the Denver Broncos and AFC West rivals the San Diego Chargers would be their third and final meeting of the season having shared the regular season spoils one apiece. The Broncos won on the road in Week 10, and the Chargers returned the favor in Week 15 with a 27-20 victory at Sports Authority Field.
With all eight teams looking to advance to the Conference Championship, big-game players would need to step up to give their team the edge. These 10 stars rose to the occasion during the NFL Divisional round.
10. Ahmad Brooks
Brooks was the standout performer for the Niners’ defense against the Panthers on Sunday. He recorded 2.5 sacks and kept Cam Newton on his toes for most of the afternoon. Brooks also deserves credit for the best encroachment penalty ever. With the Panthers at the goal line, Brooks hurdled the center before the ball was snapped, and Newton flopped to the ground like a wet kipper.
9. Keenan Allen
Allen had a great game against the Broncos despite his team coming away with a loss. He caught six passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, carrying over his fine regular season form. Without Allen, the Chargers would have struggled to make the game interesting in the fourth quarter.
8. Steven Hauschka
Hauschka had the highest made field goal percentage of any kicker with more than 25 attempts in the regular season and went 3-for-3 against the Saints in adverse weather conditions. With the Seahawks’ offense lacking a cutting edge, the nine points from Hauschka’s right boot were vital in claiming victory.
7. Michael Bennett
The Seahawks had success against the Saints’ offense for much of the first half, and Bennett’s forced fumble and recovery after tackling Mark Ingram exemplified their dominance. Bennett added another forced fumble in the third quarter with Drew Brees succumbing to Seattle’s pressure this time as the Seahawks claimed a 23-15 victory.
6. Alfonzo Dennard
Dennard set the tone early with an interception of Luck on the Colts' first drive of the game. The Patriots scored a touchdown from the turnover and went on to win comfortably. His second interception late in the fourth quarter killed off any chance of an Indianapolis comeback.
5. Anquan Boldin
Boldin has a reputation for stepping up in big games and enhanced that reputation on Sunday afternoon. Boldin reeled in eight catches for 136 yards against a stingy Panthers defense. Michael Crabtree was the Niners’ second highest receiver with just three catches for 26 yards.
4. Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick improved his outstanding playoff record to 4-1 with the victory against Carolina and outplayed his opposing quarterback Newton. He finished the day with 196 passing yards for one touchdown and scored a touchdown himself on a four-yard run to help the Niners advance to the NFC Championship game.
3. Marshawn Lynch
Lynch went into Beast Mode once again for the Seahawks, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints while Russell Wilson and the Seattle receiving corps struggled to find a rhythm through the air. Lynch will be hoping for a repeat performance against the Niners' defense this weekend.
2. Peyton Manning
His numbers weren’t spectacular, but Peyton Manning used his craft and experience to get the Broncos through a tough game against the Chargers. Finishing with 230 yards and a touchdown, Manning was able to convert on a critical third-and-17 pass play late in the fourth quarter to help extinguish any San Diego revival.
1. LeGarrette Blount
Blount set a Patriots franchise record with four rushing touchdowns against the Colts and almost single-handedly won the game for New England. He ran for a total of 166 yards on the day, and a 73-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter extended the Patriots’ lead to 14 points, effectively ending the contest.