In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s the Divisional Round, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.
A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates.
Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird from the Cygnus family that’s colored black; metaphorically speaking, it’s something that causes an unwanted event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.
Conference Championship Pawns
Julio Jones and Chris Hogan had eerily similar massive stat lines on Sunday. These guys may not have filled-up the stat sheet in the same manner, but they deserve a lot of credit for their respective teams’ wins.
Tevin Coleman, Running Back, Falcons
Yes, Coleman had a three-yard touchdown scamper early in the fourth quarter, but he only compiled 29 rushing yards on 11 carries. That’s obviously not why I’m calling attention to him. Coleman may have saved the game for Atlanta on one play, and it didn’t come with the ball in his hands.
Up 17-0 with less than five minutes to play in the first-half, the Falcons faced a 2nd-and-7 from their own 43-yard line. Kyle Shanahan called an end-around with Taylor Gabriel taking a direct snap on the move. Gabriel couldn’t bring the ball in and watched it fall to the turf. Packers linebacker Jake Ryan was right there to jump on it, but Coleman, without any Newton-like hesitation, dove in and punched the ball loose, allowing Gabriel to regain possession for the Falcons.
Had Green Bay been able to capitalise on the miscue, this game could have gone to halftime 17-7 instead of 24-0. Who knows what happens then. The Falcons must be appreciative that Coleman wasn’t worried about his “leg being contorted in some way.” That was a championship play by a man who only cares about winning.
Malcolm Brown, Defensive Tackle, Patriots
The Patriots big run-stuffing tackle was exactly that on Sunday. Facing a Steelers offense that totaled 350 yards on the ground in the Wild Card and Divisional Rounds, New England needed to play tough in the trenches.
Brown may not have made any standout plays, but he did a lot of the dirty work that doesn’t always get recognized. The second-year pro was often having to deal with a combo of Maurkice Pouncey and one of David DeCastro or Ramon Foster. On eight carries up the gut, Pittsburgh only managed 13 yards. In total, New England held Pittsburgh to a meager 54 yards on 20 carries, and the push Brown was getting up the middle was a major factor in that. Le’Veon Bell or no Le’Veon Bell, he deserves a shoutout.
Conference Championship Black Swans
Ladarius Gunter has been picked on enough over the last two weeks, but I haven’t heard these names being criticised…
Jared Cook, Tight End, Packers
Aaron Rodgers targeted Cook a team-high 12 times in the NFC Championship game. Cook only made seven catches. Not all five of the incomplete passes can be put on the Packer tight end, but at least two of them can be, and the timing of those drops was crucial.
Green Bay came out of the tunnel in the second-half trailing 24-0. Rodgers and company were in desperation mode from get-go and absolutely needed to seize some momentum on the opening drive. On the first play, Rodgers slung a quick pass out to a wide-open Cook, and it appeared there would be room to work. However, Cook watched the ball bounce off his chest and fall to the turf. Facing a 3rd-and-10 after another incompletion, Rodgers found an open Cook on a crossing route beyond the first-down marker. But again, a well-thrown ball could not be corralled by his receiver.
The Packers punted the ball away and Julio Jones took the second play of the ensuing drive 73 yards to the house, putting Atlanta up 31-0 and effectively ending the game. Sure, there is a lot that happened prior to those two drops, but Cook’s difficulties catching the ball killed any morale Green Bay had rebuilt in the locker room at halftime.
Steelers Receivers not named Antonio Brown
Heading into the AFC Championship, we knew Steelers receivers not named Antonio Brown were going to have to step-up for Pittsburgh to overcome New England. That didn’t happen.
With 2:21 remaining in the first-half and Pittsburgh set up at the New England 21-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger recognized a one-on-one opportunity for Cobi Hamilton. Big Ben gave his receiver an opportunity to make a play but Hamilton watched the ball go right through his hands in the back of the endzone. The Steelers managed a field goal out of the drive; the extra four points would have made it a 17-13 game – possibly 17-14 if Tomlin went for two.
Then, trailing 33-9 early in the fourth quarter, Hamilton finally hauled in a pass in the endzone. Unfortunately, he was flagged for illegal touching, as he had stepped out of bounds prior to the catch. On the 4th-and-goal that followed, Hamilton dropped another one.
Spreading the love, Eli Rogers fumbled the game away late in the third quarter. New England had just scored to increase its lead to 27-9. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Roethlisberger hit Rogers on a short route over the middle. But the receiver did not protect the ball when going into contact and coughed it up, setting the Pats up with a short field. Tom Brady found Julian Edelman for the score four plays later, ending any hopes of a late-game rally.
Sammie Coates also dropped a deep-ball on the Steelers first drive that would have at least set Pittsburgh up in field-goal range. Instead, the drop forced a punt.
But hey, maybe Martavis Bryant will want to play football next season.