Six secondary standouts from football’s week that was:
Sunday’s NFL conference title games were hyped and marketed as a pair of star-studded quarterback shootouts. In the AFC, it was future Hall of Fame legends Tom Brady and Peyton Manning going head-to-head; and in the NFC, former Heisman Trophy winners and 2015 MVP front-runners Cam Newton and Carson Palmer going throw for throw. But while Newton did put together another sparkling stat line, it was the respective defenses of the two winning teams that ultimately proved to be the difference between Super Bowl and sitting at home.
Kurt Coleman, SS, Panthers (NFL): Josh Norman certainly deserves all the praise he’s receiving for pushing his way into the best-cornerback-in-football conversation this season, but Coleman has been an invaluable and overlooked playmaker in Carolina’s secondary. Coleman had two interceptions against the Cardinals in Sunday’s NFC Championship game, one of them in the end zone to prevent what could have been a momentum-swinging TD for Arizona.
Tre Boston, FS, Panthers (NFL): Carolina’s 49-15 rout had a few casualties, one of them being starting free safety Roman Harper almost losing an eye. In his place stepped Boston, who recorded an interception and a fumble recovery — two of Arizona’s seven turnovers on the day.
Bradley Roby, CB, Broncos (NFL): Denver’s defense pounded Brady throughout Sunday’s AFC Championship game, and yet Brady still had New England in position to tie the game with 12 seconds remaining. After two miracle completions to TE Rob Gronkowski — one on fourth down, one for a touchdown — you had to assume Brady would be going back to his top target for the two-point conversion. But Brady looked elsewhere, his pass was deflected, and it landed in the hands of Roby. After Roby’s interception, the Broncos recovered the Patriots’ onside kick and clinched another Super Bowl berth.
Aqib Talib, CB, Broncos (NFL): The man who deflected that pass was Talib, who also had five tackles in the Broncos’ 20-18 victory. Talib was the primary cover man on Pats WR Julian Edelman, who had seven catches for just 53 yards, and got his hand on the two-point try that Brady intended for Edelman in the end zone.
Darian Stewart, FS, Broncos (NFL): With a huge helping hand from Denver’s D-line and linebackers, who hit Brady 23 times, the Broncos’ secondary forced arguably the best QB in NFL history into arguably his worst game as a pro. For the first time in his career, Brady completed less than half of his pass attempts and threw multiple interceptions in the same game; he finished 27-of-56 for 310 yards with two INTs and a 56.4 passer rating. Stewart did his part by snagging one of those interceptions and making three tackles.
Michael Caputo, FS, Wisconsin (NCAA): The defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game on Saturday, Caputo had two interceptions in the West’s 29-9 victory. His first INT happened to come against his college teammate, Wisconsin QB Joel Stave, and Captuto returned it 66 yards to the 11-yard line. His second INT came against a Big Ten rival, Michigan QB Jake Rudock.