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Playoff Awards: Packers clean up on way to Super Bowl

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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I'm not sure what we should be watching this week, workouts at the Senior Bowl or the next shipment of stand-ins at this year's Pro Bowl. I do, however, know what we should be doing -- which is acknowledging the good, the bad and Antonio Cromartie for their contributions to this season's playoffs.

And I'm ready if you are.

MVP

Tramon Williams, CB, Green Bay: He closed out Philadelphia with a game-saving interception in the end zone. One week later, he intercepted Matt Ryan twice -- once in the end zone and once at the end of the first half, turning the second one into a touchdown. In essence, he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers made the big plays that took the Packers to the NFC Championship Game, but the Packers wouldn't have gone anywhere if Williams doesn't come to the rescue in the wildcard round.

Runner-up: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. Nobody is better making critical plays. Now he's in his third Super Bowl in six years.

Offensive player

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay: Yeah, OK, so he wasn't so hot in the second half of the conference championship game. Maybe all those shots -- including the one he took to the head from Julius Peppers -- shook him up, I don't know. What I do know is that until then he was extraordinarily accurate, timely and successful. Heck, in two of his first three playoff appearances he put up 93 points and had 10 touchdown passes in all three. Anyway, Rodgers earned the respect he gained.

Runner-up: Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seattle. All he did was throw seven touchdown passes in two games -- including four vs. the defending Super Bowl champions.

Defensive player

Williams. See MVP. The Packers led everyone with six interceptions -- twice as much as the second-place team -- and Williams had half.

Runner-up: Terrell Suggs, LB, Baltimore. Don't blame Suggs for the Ravens falling short. He had five sacks in two games.

Coach

Mike McCarthy, Green Bay: aint it green. Yep, it's a Green Bay sweep, and for good reason: The Packers became the fourth team to win three road playoff games and reach the Super Bowl. They also became the first sixth seed in the history of the NFC to do it. Green Bay didn't reach the playoffs until the last week of the regular season when it beat Chicago. Now it's the Super Bowl favorite. Credit McCarthy for keeping together a team that lost an NFL-high 91 games to starters and lost 15 players -- including four defensive starters -- to season-ending injuries.

Runner-up: Rex Ryan, New York Jets -- He not only made it to his second conference championship game in two years; he did it the hard way, upsetting Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Tom Brady in New England.

Most surprising player

James Starks, RB, Green Bay: He was a sixth-round draft choice who did a whole lot of nothing until bursting on the scene in Philadelphia. Then he ran through the Eagles for 123 yards -- or 22 more than he had all season -- and pushed Green Bay forward. Starks is legit. He just missed a lot of time this season with a bad hamstring. Now, he has the fresh legs to cause coordinators nightmares, and you think I'm kidding? Scoreboard, please. Starks led all rushers in the playoffs, and it wasn't close. That Packers' running game that disappeared when Ryan Grant was hurt? It's back.

Runner-up: Caleb Hanie, QB, Chicago. The third-string quarterback has 14 career passes, yet he comes off the bench to lead the Bears to two touchdowns in five series. Jay Cutler had one in 28 possessions vs. Green Bay this season.

Most disappointing player

Roman Harper, DB, New Orleans: The Pro Bowl alternate had to step into coverage for the injured Malcolm Jenkins, and you saw what happened. Nothing. He was the victim of three Seattle touchdowns as the defending Super Bowl champions got drilled by the first 7-9 team to make the playoffs. Give Seattle credit: It pulled one of the biggest upsets in recent years. But, man, oh, man, New Orleans defenders had more whiffs than Ryan Howard in the 2009 World Series.

Runner-up: (tie) Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis, and Anquan Boldin, WR, Boldin. They combined for two catches for minus-one yard.

Most surprising team

Seattle. The Seahawks couldn't win half their games this season, yet qualified for the playoffs when they beat St. Louis in Week 17. They were supposed to get demolished by New Orleans. They weren't. Instead, they beat the defending Super Bowl champions, 41-36. Pete Carroll, stand up and be recognized.

Runner-up: The New York Jets. They upset the Colts. They upset the Pats. I think you get the idea.

Most disappointing team

New Orleans: The Saints were a slam-shut favorite to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs, and why not? They drew lowly Seattle, which lost seven of its last 10 starts. The line was set at 10-1/2, and most people figured that was too low. In fact, I wasn't sure Seattle could score 10-1/2. It did by, oh, roughly 30. In fact, it overcame a 17-7 deficit to stun the defending Super Bowl champions in a game that proved one thing -- make the playoffs and anything goes.

Runner-up: New England: It lost its second straight home playoff game, and it did it with an opponent it hammered by 42 points in the same building a month earlier.

Best play

Marshawn Lynch's touchdown run: There were seismic tremors when fans erupted as Lynch ran over, around and through Saints' defenders for a 67-yard TD that ranks among the best in NFL history. Of course, he couldn't have done it without help, and the help came from New Orleans' leaky defense. Safety Darren Sharper called the run "beastly," but that might've described the Saints' tackling. Eight Saints missed clear shots at Lynch, looking worse than Bourbon Street at 7 a.m. "The offensive line did a great job with me getting to the secondary," said Lynch. "Then, instincts took over for me."

Runner-up: Ben Roethlisberger's 58-yard completion to Antonio Brown. I swear, I don't know how this guy makes the plays he does, and this one came on a third-and-19 late in a tie game.

Worst play

Anquan Boldin dropping a sure TD vs. Pittsburgh: OK, so it wasn't an easy catch. But when you make the big bucks you should make the big catches. Instead, the ball ricocheted off Boldin's chest, and the Ravens missed an opportunity to go to the head of the class. I'm not sure what was worse: Boldin's flub or his explanation. "It was just a low throw," he said. Check the replay, Anquan. It hit you between the numbers. Check the stat sheet, too. You had one catch for minus-two yards.

Runner-up: Anything involving New Orleans' defense. The Saints weren't just bad. They stunk. Seattle put up 415 yards and 41 points on them, and tell me the last time Seattle put up 41 on anyone. Go back to October, 2009.

Best call

Roethlisberger's third-down bomb vs. Baltimore: The game is in doubt. The Steelers are in trouble. And it's third-and-19. Instead of playing it safe, Big Ben goes for the bomb -- with rookie Antonio Brown the target -- and somehow, some way, he hits it, with Brown making a 58-yard catch that buries the Ravens. I don't know how anyone gets behind a defense when it's third-and-19, but I saw it happen with the Jets and Texans this season. Only this wasn't the Houston defense. This was Baltimore.

Runner-up: Roethlisberger's third-down throw to Brown to beat the Jets -- when everyone is looking for the Steelers to run on third-and-6. Only they don't, with Roethlisberger saving the day with a last-gasp throw to Brown.

Worst call

Matt Ryan's pass at the end of the first half vs. Green Bay. I don't have a problem with Ryan trying to gain a few extra yards -- especially when he's throwing to the sidelines. But what in the world is he doing rolling left when he throws right? That makes the throw more difficult, and, in this case, it made it a perfect strike to Tramon Williams ... who returned it for a game-clinching TD.

Runner-up: The Jets botching their last three snaps of a goal-line series, throwing twice before running LaDainian Tomlinson -- not Shonn Greene -- into the line on fourth down.

Best coaching decision

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' calls on Pittsburgh's last series in the AFC Championship Game. With the Steelers hanging on to a five-point lead, and the New York Jets running out of timeouts while figuring Pittsburgh would play it safe and bleed the clock. Only it didn't. "We don't play not to lose," coach Mike Tomlin said. Good for them. With two decisions that Ryan described as "gutsy," the Steelers closed out their opponent and earned an eighth trip to the Super Bowl. Give Arians credit. He's taken a lot of heat in Pittsburgh. He should be applauded for making the tough ... and right ... calls here.

Runner-up: Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's last-minute call to get a sideline pass to Braylon Edwards vs. Indianapolis, guaranteeing kicker Nick Folk a sure shot at the winning field goal.

Worst coaching decision

Jim Caldwell calling a timeout when he shouldn't have. To this day, I don't understand why the Colts' coach stopped the game with 29 seconds left and his opponent, the New York Jets, camped at the Indy 32. Had he done nothing the Jets would have tried a 50-yard field goal, and I wouldn't trust Nick Folk from 40. But Caldwell stopped the clock because he "wanted to make them snap the ball as many times as they could." Honest. That was his explanation, and I still don't get it. All I know is it cost the Colts a playoff game.

Runner-up: Charlie Weis' call to send Jamaal Charles wide on a fourth-and-inches that sank the Chiefs. Hey, isn't this why you acquired Thomas Jones ... for the tough inside yards? Someone please explain.

Best game

Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh: Another classic in one of the game's top rivalries. The Ravens go up by 14 at the half, only to have the Steelers fight their way back and win in the closing minutes on another big-play drive by Big Ben Roethlisberger. I don't care if you like Roethlisberger or not. You can't deny his penchant for making game-deciding plays.

Runner-up -- The Jets' upset of New England. I never really believed until Greene walked into the end zone.

Worst game

Kansas City-Baltimore: The Chiefs had 14 turnovers this season. They committed five that afternoon. You figure out what happened. The second half was a nightmare for the losers, who looked overwhelmed in their first playoff game since 2006.

Runner-up: Seattle-Chicago. All the suspense of rush-hour traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Best moment

Seattle's upset of the defending Super Bowl champions. Pete Carroll wasn't supposed to have a chance, yet he pulled the mother of all upsets in this year's playoffs. He beat the New Orleans Freakin' Saints, a 10-1/2 point favorite and a club that looked poised to make another run at the top. The secret: Try Matt Hasselbeck's four TD passes in a five-star performance.

Runner-up: Baltimore giving a game ball to Ed Reed, who just lost his brother, after the Ravens' defeat of Kansas City.

Worst moment

Head injuries suffered by the Seahawks' John Carlson and Marcus Trufant in Seattle's loss to the Bears. They were every bit as brutal as they looked on TV, with the two carried off the field and kept in a Chicago hospital overnight for observation. Watch replays of these hits, and tell me you want your children playing this game.

Runner-up: The Jets' Antonio Cromartie making an obscene pregame remark about Brady. You can only hope that in his next life he practices a little self-discipline.

What we'll miss

Quote sheets from the New York Jets: Love 'em. Hate 'em. You can't ignore them. The Jets are to quotes what McDonald's is to burgers. They make billions and billions and some worth digesting. Even after playing it safe prior to their game with Pittsburgh, the Jets couldn't help themselves -- with Cromartie calling out Hines Ward and guard Matt Slauson telling the New York Post's Steve Serby "we are gonna win." All those who flunked Nostradamus line up over here.

Runner-up:Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Look at it this way: At least we have Roethlisberger. The three won six of the last nine Super Bowls.

What we won't

Quote sheet from the New York Jets: Love 'em. Hate 'em. You begin to get tired of them. I can only imagine what would've happened had they made it to the Super Bowl, with Joe Namath wannabes standing outside Ryan's office waiting to be the first to guarantee a victory. When Joe did it, it was novel and it was courageous. When these guys do it, it's just more static someone has to deal with.

Runner-up: Bill Belichick at the podium. If you ever heard him you know what I'm talking about.

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