The 2014 NFL Playoffs will be most memorable for the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and fans of both teams.
But there have also been moments in this postseason that others—especially Green Bay Packers players and fans—would prefer to block out from memory.
January is the time of year when legacies can be cemented. However, goats can emerge as well. And let’s face it, no one wants to be the goat.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the 2014 NFL Playoffs.
Winner: LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette Blount landed on his feet after the Steelers released him in November, and the Colts once again learned how hard it is to get Blount off his feet.
For the second January in a row, the Colts left Gillette Stadium with Blount’s footprints all over them. The 6’0″, 250-pounder pounded out 148 yards and ran for three touchdowns to help the Patriots hammer the Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship game.
Last year, Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots’ 43-22 divisional-round win over the Colts. He probably would have put up big numbers when the Patriots visited Indianapolis in Week 11 this season. But there was one small problem—he was a Steeler at the time.
Instead, the Patriots sprinkled a little Jonas Gray into their secret recipe for running on the Colts defense, and he cooked up 201 yards and four touchdowns.
Eight days later, Blount pouted his way out of Pittsburgh after watching Le’Veon Bell surpass the 200-yard mark at Tennessee, and the Patriots promptly picked him up. On Sunday, it was like he never left.
Loser: Demaryius Thomas
Unlike Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas couldn’t blame Father Time for his poor performance in the Broncos’ 24-13 divisional-round loss to the Colts.
The 27-year-old Thomas was second in the regular season in both receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,619). Against the Colts, however, he caught only five (and dropped two) of the 12 passes Manning threw his way. He caught a one-yard touchdown pass to give the Broncos a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, but didn’t catch another pass until late in the third quarter. The Broncos were down 21-10 by then.
The last catch was inconsequential because it came with only nine seconds left in the game. That means Thomas caught only four passes while the Broncos had any hope of winning the game. You’d expect better from the team’s No. 1 receiver.
Winner: Marshawn Lynch
After their epic 28-22 comeback win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, the Seahawks could break the Internet with all the candidates they have for the winners’ side of this list.
Pete Carroll showed the guts to fake a field-goal attempt with the Seahawks down 16-0 in the third quarter. Holder Jon Ryan’s 19-yard touchdown pass to offensive lineman Garry Gilliam woke up the Seahawks like a cup of Seattle’s Best Coffee.
Jermaine Kearse showed the resiliency to catch the game-winning, 35-yard touchdown pass in overtime after failing to come down with the ball on five previous targets, and letting the ball bounce off his hands for a few interceptions.
Russell Wilson completed nine of his first 24 passes and threw four interceptions, but showed the mental toughness to complete his last five passes for 114 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
But Marshawn Lynch was worthy of his gold cleats for the game’s entire 63 minutes and 19 seconds.
Lynch ran for 157 yards, including 112 in a second half in which he averaged eight yards per carry.
While Lynch was breaking off big chunks of yardage, Wilson was still throwing picks, including one with just over five minutes left and his team trailing, 19-7. Seattle got the ball back with four minutes left and finally followed Lynch’s lead when he opened the drive with a 14-yard run. Lynch caught a 26-yard pass to set up Wilson’s one-yard touchdown dash and gave the Seahawks the lead on a 24-yard TD run with 1:25 left.
The Seahawks have reportedly already decided to pay Wilson the big bucks in the offseason. If they don’t do the same for Lynch, another team likely will (assuming he wants to keep playing).
Loser: Packers’ coaching staff
You’ve heard of Mike McCarthy, but you may not have heard of Shawn Slocum or Tom Clements.
Slocum is the Packers’ special teams coach, and he’s just as culpable as anyone for the Packers’ collapse in the NFC Championship game.
The Packers led 16-0 and kept the Seahawks off the scoreboard until Ryan threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to 306-pound tackle Garry Gilliam on a fake field goal in the third quarter. Were it not for that, the Packers might not have needed their hands team out there to field an onside kick with two minutes left.
Steven Hauschka kicked the ball in the direction of tight end Brandon Bostick and wide receiver Jordy Nelson—two guys with 100 receptions between them. Even though Nelson had 98 of those catches, Bostick tried to come up with the ball in front of Nelson and muffed it. Half a minute later, the Seahawks had a 22-19 lead.
Slocum’s unit didn’t execute. But Clements, the offensive coordinator, deserves more of the blame because of his play calling. The Packers tried to grind out the clock too early. Even with Richard Sherman obviously playing hurt, they didn’t attempt a pass to a wide receiver in the fourth quarter until they fell behind.
This meltdown really started at the top, however.
Twice in the first quarter, the Packers faced fourth down at the Seahawks’ one-yard line. Both times, McCarthy decided to kick a field goal. Instead of being down 14-0 after running just three plays 10 minutes into the game, the Seahawks were down 6-0.
If the number wasn’t worn by Chris Matthews, who recovered the onside kick, the Seahawks could retire the No. 13 in honor of their “13th man”—the Packers coaching staff.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
When the calendar flipped from November to December, the Carolina Panthers were 3-8-1.
But when the Panthers cleaned out their lockers just over a week ago, they had advanced just as far in the playoffs as last year’s 12-4 squad.
Looking at it that way, the franchise didn’t take a step back.
The Panthers lost 23-10 at home to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC divisional playoffs. They lost 31-17 at Seattle in the same round this year. If the Packers couldn’t beat the Seahawks Sunday, then who in the NFC can?
Cam Newton is 25 years old. Luke Kuechly, who has a chance to repeat as NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is only 23. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin caught two touchdown passes in Seattle, and it seems like the team may have found its No. 1 receiver to replace Steve Smith.
If the Panthers keep their core in place, perhaps they can be the team that eventually knocks the Seahawks from their throne.
Loser: Seahawks fans
Insert the name of any team, and there will be fans of that team leaving the stadium when their squad turns the ball over down 12 points with five minutes left.
More should be expected, however, when a team retires a number in front of its fans. And this was the case during the NFC Championship game. Many of those Seahawks fans who left early probably paid more than the price of dinner at the top of the Space Needle for their tickets. You’d think they’d want to get every penny’s worth and at least stay until the end to salute their players for two years of championship-level football.
Instead, they tried in vain to get back into the stadium when the Seahawks pulled off a comeback for the ages. Serves them right.
— Breaking SEA News (@breakingseanews) January 18, 2015
Even in defeat, the hobbled Aaron Rodgers showed more heart Sunday than the other “12” at the game.
Winner: Julian Edelman
Unless you’re a quarterback who’s married to a supermodel or a tight end who dances with his teammate’s mom, it’s difficult to stand out as a member of the New England Patriots.
The organization resembles a well-oiled machine with replaceable parts that makes deep playoff runs every year, but there aren’t many players who can do what Julian Edelman has done for the Patriots during this year’s playoffs.
Edelman has caught 17 passes during the postseason. Only Colts running back Dan Herron has more, but Herron had three games to catch 20 passes. Edelman led the Patriots with eight catches in their 35-31 divisional-round win over the Ravens and again led the team with nine catches for 98 yards in Sunday’s 45-7 rout of the Colts.
A seventh-round pick in the 2009 draft, Edelman hasn’t scored any touchdowns in the playoffs, but he threw for one. The Patriots tied the Ravens 28-28 on Edelman’s 51-yard pass to Danny Amendola on a gadget play in the third quarter of that game.
Edelman also leads all receivers in the playoffs with 13 receptions for first downs. And now Bill Belichick has two weeks to draw up different ways to use him.
Loser: AFC North
The division that set a record in November with all of its teams three games over .500 at the same time couldn’t get 0ne of those four into the conference championship game.
The Steelers were without Le’Veon Bell and the Bengals were without A.J. Green, but that doesn’t fully excuse those teams for their postseason flops.
Cincinnati lost 26-10 at Indianapolis, becoming the first team to lose a wild-card game four years in a row. Andy Dalton fell to 0-4 in the playoffs, and Marvin Lewis fell to 0-6. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990.
Expectations are much higher in Pittsburgh. The Steelers returned to the playoffs after a three-year absence only to lose 30-17 to the Ravens, the first home playoff loss to a division foe in franchise history.
It was up to the Ravens to carry the AFC North banner, and they became the first team to blow two 14-point leads in the same playoff game, losing 35-31 at New England in the divisional round.
The Carolina Panthers were eliminated a few hours after the Ravens, which is odd, as AFC North teams went 12-3-1 against NFC South teams this season. Yet somehow, the NFC South still had a team remaining in the playoffs—while the AFC North didn’t.