Unsung heroes of the Divisional round

This week we were lucky enough to witness arguably one of the most entertaining weekends of football, ever. The four divisional games had pretty much everything, and in both entertainment value and controversial drama it was just about as much as we, as a collective mass of adrenaline-filled sports fans, could take before red eyes wept and twittering thumb joints seized up altogether. It seems to me that discussions regarding the major talking points from this week’s games have already reached a level of saturation unlike anything I can remember, and so I’m making a conscious effort to steer away from making this article about either Dez Bryant’s wonderful/tragic catch/drop, or the gloriously poetic downfall of Peyton Manning and the rise of Andrew Luck. Instead, I thought I’d try and shed a little light on, and give a little credit to, a few of the weekend’s unsung heroes whose accomplished performances have been overshadowed by the cataclysmic fallout from the events previously mentioned.

1) Danny Amendola

On Saturday, Tom Brady rallied his Patriots to twice eclipse a 14 point deficit on their way to victory over the Baltimore Ravens and a place in his 9th AFC championship game in 14 seasons, the team’s 4th in consecutive years. It is not often, if ever, that one can say that Mr Brady is an ‘unsung hero’, and though his excellent performance and extraordinary achievement appears to have sailed a touch under the radar, he is not the player from the New England offence who makes my list. That honour is reserved for his receiver Danny Amendola, who had a career day catching 5 passes for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns, one of which was a truly outstanding solo effort, and the other the culmination of one of the most slickly executed trick plays of the season.

Amendola’s opening touchdown, to tie the game at 14 with 3 and a half minutes left in the first half, was a catch and run brimming with skill and gut-busting effort. After catching Brady’s underthrown pass off his bootlaces at the 13 yard line with his back to the endzone, Amendola twisted, broke a tackle and took off down the sideline before leaping the final 4 yards over the pylon. His second score, again to tie the game, this time at 28, came off a pass from fellow wide receiver and former college quarterback Julian Edelman, who’s perfectly weighted downfield toss was ironically better than Brady’s for the first. Amendola’s contribution wasn’t limited to his 2 touchdowns alone, though obviously these had a significant impact on the game, he also made a priceless reception during the Patriots game winning drive. On 3rd & 6, he reeled in a short pass from Brady before breaking a tackle and extending the ball past the 1st down marker. He may not be the most formidable of the New England receiving corps, but the key to a great offence is the knowledge that on any given day, whoever’s name is called will step up to the level expected. Amendola did this against the Ravens, and deserves praise for probably the best performance of his career to date.

2) Vontae Davis & the Colts defence

In a game dominated by the beautifully artistic ‘Passing of the torch’ narrative, it was the performance of the Indianapolis Colts’ defence that was the most impressive. The offensive line as a group was superb, allowing no sacks against the powerful Broncos pass rush, and in the secondary, Vontae Davis had one of the best games by any cornerback I can remember, only allowing 5 catches for 21 yards from 11 passes thrown his way. He was also mightily close to 2 interceptions and only gave up 1 penalty throughout the entire game against the vaunted Denver receivers. His fellow CB Darius Butler also excelled, covering his routes imperiously and allowing on 1 catch all evening. With all the pre-game rhetoric aimed at the wonderful Andrew Luck, it was fantastic to see the much maligned Colts defence step up to the challenge and provide the robust foundation for the upset victory.

3) Julius Peppers

The last nomination for unsung hero of the week is based upon a decent performance as a whole, but hinges specifically on the most important individual effort on the most important play of the game at Lambeau Field. No, not ‘The catch’, but ‘The fumble’. With the visiting Cowboys up 14-10 five minutes into the second half, DeMarco Murray exploded through a gap and looked to be off to the races for a 60 yard touchdown, before the giant paw of Julius Peppers blindsided the Dallas back and knocked the ball loose. The athleticism shown by the veteran linebacker was truly outstanding, especially as the man he beat to make the last ditch play was the excellent rookie Zack Martin. Peppers also caused another fumble with a sack on Tony Romo which was recovered by Dallas, but it was his dislodging of the ball from Murray at such a crucial time that was the key to the entire second half, and ultimately the most important single play of the game.