10 best performances of Conference Championship weekend
Which individual performances stood out the most in the AFC and NFC championship games? Here are the top player’s from Sunday’s NFL playoff action:
1. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan headed into Conference Championship weekend as arguably the least-heralded of the four starting quarterbacks, but was the best of the group on Sunday, and only enhanced his MVP credentials for the 2016 season. Ryan was nearly flawless against Green Bay, hitting on 81.5 percent of his pass attempts when kept clean in the pocket and still recording a passer rating of 96.4 even on the 11 occasions that the Packers were able to apply heat on him.
2. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
As dominant as Matt Ryan was against Green Bay, Falcons WR Julio Jones was simply too much to handle for the Packers. CB Ladarius Gunter in particular, suffered at the hands Jones; at one point, the WR caused him to run right off the screen on a play in which he was trying to cover him. Gunter was simply overmatched, and Jones went off for 180 yards on nine receptions, with 88 of them coming after contact on his way to a pair of touchdowns. This was Jones at his uncoverable best, and the Packers simply had no answer.
3. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Aided by a Pittsburgh secondary that seemed intent on only covering 80 percent of the Patriots’ receivers at any one time, Tom Brady was able to sit back in the pocket and carve up the Steelers last night. On 44 dropbacks, he was pressured just six times, and when he was kept clean, he recorded a passer rating of 134.3, completing 78.9 percent of his passes despite three drops. Brady had a weak showing against the Texans in the Divisional Round, but returned to his best form in the AFC Championship.
4. Marcus Cannon, RT, New England Patriots
Marcus Cannon’s improvement this season has been one of the biggest leaps in the entire league, culminating with him being named second-team All-Pro by both PFF and the AP. Against Pittsburgh, he was perfect in pass protection across 46 pass-blocking snaps, and though he didn’t have one of his strongest games in run blocking, he was able to generate some movement at times, blocking his man to the outside and driving players off the line with his signature double-team with RG Shaq Mason.
5. Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta Falcons
Taking away Packers TE Jared Cook was one of the biggest challenges for Atlanta heading into this game, and while he ended with 78 yards and a touchdown from seven receptions on 12 targets, the Falcons were able to bottle him up for much of the game. Deion Jones, in particular, didn’t surrender a catch to Cook when he was covering him, breaking up a pass in the process. Jones also had a nice hit on QB Aaron Rodgers on the blitz, shooting up the middle of the line unblocked to kill the play.
6. Ramon Foster, LG, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ramon Foster has been a solid guard for some time now, but this year he took a big step forward into the elite category, and ends the season with another excellent game, culminating in a PFF grade of 89.1—good enough for second among all guards. Foster didn’t allow a sack or hit against the Patriots, and surrendered only one hurry in 49 pass-blocking snaps as the best performer on the Steelers’ offensive line. Foster wasn’t penalized in the game and surrendered just two penalties all season, as well as no sacks.
7. Shaq Mason, RG, New England Patriots
Second-year RG Shaq Mason’s development has been almost as remarkable as that of Marcus Cannon alongside him for the Patriots. Mason had his second perfect game of the season in pass-protection terms, keeping a clean sheet for the first time since the opening game of the season; unlike that game against Arizona, though, he did so this time without being flagged. Mason’s power in the run game was on display versus Pittsburgh, moving bodies at the point of attack. Over the second half of the season and into the playoffs, he has been one of the league’s best guards.
8. Jalen Collins, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Jalen Collins made one of the big plays of the game, stripping the ball from Packers FB Aaron Ripkowski and recovering his own fumble, getting some favorable officiating to turn that into a touchback and steal possession of the football back for the Falcons’ offense that was so unstoppable. Overall, Collins surrendered just 29 receiving yards on five targets in the game and stepped up to fill the void left by top CB Desmond Trufant’s injury when the team needed it most.
9. Chris Hogan, WR, New England Patriots
Dropping the ball didn’t help Chris Hogan’s grade, but the reason the New England WR is so much lower on this list than Julio Jones—whose stats he almost identically matched—was more because of the coverage he beat to get it done. While Jones was tying defensive backs in knots with his routes, stiff-arming them to the ground, or holding on for tough catches despite landing on his head, Hogan was exploiting a confused Steelers’ defense with simple receptions against busted coverages. He made some nice plays in the game, but owes a nice assist to the Pittsburgh defense.
10. Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots
Coming into the game, Malcolm Butler’s career passer rating when targeted was 85.6 when covering anybody other than Antonio Brown, and 108.9 when trying to shadow Brown across two games. Last night, he allowed Brown to catch just two passes for 24 yards on four targets into his coverage, and had multiple other plays where he completely destroyed Brown’s release off the line or into the pass pattern the Pittsburgh WR wanted to run. Butler may have had safety help for much of the game, but he did what was asked of him to an excellent degree.