Divisional playoff MVPs: Quarterbacks come through with big performances

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

Colin Kaepernick, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers: Much of the talk in the week leading up to the 49ers' divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers centered on how Kaepernick would handle his first playoff game in the NFL. After all, Alex Smith had made some big plays in the 2011 postseason, so the decision by head coach Jim Harbaugh to go to Kaepernick would be further scrutinized if the 2011 second-round pick out of Nevada faltered in the playoffs.

Things didn't start well for Kaepernick, whose second pass attempt would be intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Sam Shields. After that, though, No. 7 was sensational. Kaerpnick completed 17-of-31 pass attempts for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Michael Crabtree, while adding 181 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Kaepernick's 181 rushing yards are a single-game record for a quarterback, breaking the mark previously held by Michael Vick.

Joe Flacco, quarterback, Baltimore Ravens: On the opposite end of the playoff experience, Flacco was out to show this weekend that he's an elite quarterback deserving of a lucrative contract extension this off-season. Flacco came through, out-dueling Peyton Manning in Baltimore's 38-35 double overtime win over the Denver Broncos. Flacco completed 18 of 34 pass attempts for 331 yards and three touchdowns, including connections of 59 and 32 yards to Torrey Smith in the first half and a 70-yard game-tying hookup with Jacoby Jones with less than a minute remaining in regulation to force overtime.

[More NFL: Years of frustration made Falcons' Tony Gonzalez more emotional than ever]

Tom Brady, quarterback/Shane Vereen, running back, New England Patriots: What more can be said about Brady, who lost two weapons early - Danny Woodhead and Rob Gronkowski - and still completed 25-of-40 pass attempts for 344 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-28 win over the Houston Texans. With three touchdown passes, Brady now has 41 in his postseason career, trailing only Brett Favre (44) and his idol, Joe Montana (45). Brady is now fourth all-time with 5,629 passing yards in the playoffs.

With Woodhead sidelined by a thumb injury, Vereen, a 2011 second-round pick out of Cal who had 400 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage during the regular season, produced 124 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in New England's win.

Vereen gave the Patriots the lead with a one-yard touchdown run with 1:28 remaining in the first quarter and added a second touchdown on an eight-yard catch-and-run with 3:38 remaining in the first half to extend New England's lead to 17-3. Vereen had seven carries for 41 yards and caught five passes for 83 yards, with his longest gain coming on an impressive 33-yard touchdown grab that gave the Patriots' a 38-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Vereen became the third player in NFL postseason history to have two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in the same game, joining San Francisco 49ers running backs Roger Craig (1984) and Ricky Watters (1994). Vereen also became the third player Patriots' playoff history to score three touchdowns in a playoff game, joining Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin (1997) and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who accomplished that feat on Jan. 14, 2012.

[Also: Five craziest plays from end of Atlanta's playoff win]

Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons: We don't put any stock in "quarterback wins" here at Shutdown Corner, but we will applaud Ryan for coming through with a solid performance in a game that he, Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff desperately needed to win in order to avoid an 0-4 post-season record in that trio's five seasons in key positions with the Falcons organization.

Ryan entered Sunday with a passer rating of just 71.2 in three playoff games, and while he would be intercepted twice, he would complete 24-of-35 pass attempts for 250 yards and three touchdowns in the Falcons' 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks, finishing with a passer rating of 93.8. In a game that began as a blowout, the Falcons would need Ryan to make some clutch throws at the end to set up a game-winning 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.

Down by a point with just 25 seconds remaining, Ryan hit Harry Douglas at midfield for a 22-yard gain. Following a timeout, Ryan found future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez down the seam for a 19-yard gain before Smith called upon Bryant to send the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game.

Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks: Despite the loss, Wilson demonstrated that the future of the quarterback position on the Seahawks is extremely bright.

With his team trailing 20-0 at the half Wilson, a 2012 third-round pick out of Wisconsin, put the Seahawks on his back, completing his first 10 pass attempts in the second half and accounting for three second-half touchdowns, including a touchdown run, as Seattle stormed back to take a 28-27 lead in the final minute of the game.

Wilson completed 24-of-36 pass attempts for 385 yards, establishing a playoff record for most passing yards in a game by a rookie. Wilson used his athleticism to buy time in the passing game and for seven rushing attempts for a team-high 60 yards on Sunday.

"He is an amazing football player," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of Wilson on Sunday. "He proved himself again and again. It is undeniable that you look at anything he did and put a star on it."

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