Commentary

Best and worst of wild-card weekend

Rodgers and Tomlinson break through inaccurate "clutch" sterotyping

Originally Published: January 10, 2011
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders
Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers is headed to Atlanta for a date with another young elite QB.

This weekend, Aaron Rodgers and LaDainian Tomlinson finally got the wins they needed to prove once and for all that they have the mettle and intestinal fortitude needed to play in the NFL playoffs, playing key roles in wins that pushed their respective teams toward the Super Bowl.

What a heap of garbage.

For each player, this weekend represented an outcome in which their performance was met with competence by their teammates and the breaks of a particularly important game for the first time. Although Rodgers and Tomlinson took different paths to get tagged with the "unclutch" labels stuck on them, neither deserves the adjective -- and neither proved that it was unfair Sunday.

Let's start with Tomlinson, who is the simpler case. The iconic image of Tomlinson in the playoffs is that shot of him with his helmet on and head down on the bench from a few years ago, unable to play with one of the several injuries that afflicted him throughout his tenure with the Chargers. Maybe he was unable to play in the playoffs because the Chargers gave him an average of 341.7 carries through his first six seasons in San Diego; not a single back in the league had that many carries this year. Before those injuries, though, Tomlinson did have a great playoff game. In 2006, he ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts against the Patriots, throwing in a 58-yard catch for good measure. His touchdown put the Chargers up 21-13 in the fourth quarter, only for Marlon McCree to fumble away a potentially game-ending interception and create an opportunity for the Patriots to win. Had the Jets' one-minute drill come up short Saturday thanks to a Mark Sanchez interception or a botched kick from Nick Folk, would Tomlinson's 82-yard, two-touchdown performance have been any less impressive? The better game from Tomlinson was in 2006, but he had a better team performance around him in 2010.

And Rodgers may even have a worse rap. He's taken heat for being unclutch (along with Mike McCarthy) because of his 2-12 record in games decided by the arbitrary cutoff of four points or less. It's arbitrarily chosen because Rodgers is 6-3 in games decided by five to seven points. Last year, Rodgers' offense produced 45 points -- 24 more than it did Sunday -- but lost when the defense allowed 45 through the end of regulation. Rodgers admittedly overthrew an open Greg Jennings downfield at the beginning of overtime, but the sack and fumble that ended the game came on a play in which Rodgers was hit squarely, obviously and illegally on the helmet.

Is Rodgers really to blame for that loss?


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Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.