NFL

NFL AM: QB’s Rule The Divisional Round

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If you ever wondered why quarterbacks are picked at the top of almost every NFL Draft, or why they make more money than most everyone else on the team, just watch this weekend’s NFL Playoffs.

We saw four elite quarterbacks bring their respective teams to the AFC and NFC Championships, and outside of Sunday’s games, it really wasn’t all that close.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was absolutely brilliant against a championship caliber Seattle Seahawks defense as he led the NFL’s highest-scoring offense to a pretty easy 36-20 victory.

The playoffs had been a thorn in Ryan’s side over his career, as he bettered his record to 2-4, with both victories over Seattle.

“He was on it like he has been all year,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Ryan, who completed 26 of 37 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Ryan’s 125.7 passer rating against the Seahawks is the highest ever in a postseason game against that franchise.

Meanwhile, in New England, the Patriots played one of their worst games of the season and cruised to a 34-16 victory over the Houston Texans.  The game was pretty simple–one team has a quarterback in Tom Brady and the other team has Brock Osweiler– a guy who’s paid like a starting quarterback but isn’t even close to being one.

Brady matched his season total of two interceptions and the Pats played as sloppy of a playoff game as we’ve seen in the Belichick era.  With that said, they were never in any danger of losing because Osweiler simply wasn’t good enough to get anything going for the Texans.

“You need to capitalize on great opportunities against a football team like this,” Osweiler said. “That’s my fault, I’ll clean that up.”

Perhaps the best quarterback in the game, Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers was brilliant for an eighth-consecutive week as the Packers topped the No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys in a 34-31 thriller.  Rodgers was much better than his 28 of 43, 356 yard stat line would suggest, as he made play after play when the team needed it most.

As great as he was in the first half of the game when the Packers jumped out to a 21-3 lead, Rodgers saved his best for last as he rolled out and hit tight end Jared Cook for a 36-yard gain to set up Mason Crosby’s 51-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

“I love the opportunity to go out there and make plays,” said Rodgers.

“I was disappointed we had a chance there at 28-13 to go up three scores and make it really difficult for ’em and I threw a pick there on third down. We were able to come down and have two good drives toward the end of the game.”

Crosby drilled a 56-yard kick to put the Packers up 31-28 with 1:33 remaining, and after the Cowboys answered, he knocked through the game-winner after a brilliant drive by Rodgers.

“It’s kind of a blur right now,” Crosby said. “When we have 35 seconds on the clock and that our offense can move the ball into field goal range and a manageable kick, that’s just special.”

The only reason the game was as close as it was is because of the brilliant play of quarterback Dak Prescott, who never got flustered despite the 18-point deficit.

“I thought we were a team that was capable of taking this thing all the way,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I know we are now after that second half.”

Prescott made big play after big play in the second half comeback en route to a 24 of 38 passing performance, for 302 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

Asked about how his emotions were after the game Prescott responded, “As low as they can get.  This is a terrible feeling.”

The fourth-round rookie went toe-to-toe with the great Aaron Rodgers and has absolutely nothing to feel bad about after the loss.

Finally, Pittsburgh Steelers star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t able to navigate his team into the end zone, but he did direct them to the AFC Championship Game where he’ll face the New England Patriots.  Roethlisberger didn’t have a vintage performance in the team’s 18-16 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was better at his position than was the Chiefs’ Alex Smith.

“You can always do better….we all have a piece of this and it starts with me,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said after his 12th playoff loss and first loss without allowing a touchdown to the opponent.

Our “Final Four” consists of Aaron Rodgers versus Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger versus Tom Brady.  It’s tough for anyone to argue that those matchups feature the two best quarterbacks in each conference this season.

Three of the four quarterbacks playing were former first round draft picks, and the fourth– Tom Brady– may be the best in the history of football.

It may be nice to have a great defense and complementary running game, but 2016 will mark the return of the elite quarterback, and all of the blowouts we’ve had in the postseason are a product of the teams that have the great quarterbacks widening the gap between the teams that don’t.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.