<
>

The best and worst from NFL Championship Sunday

The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl on Sunday after blowout wins over the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively.

Here are awards highlighting the best and worst from championship weekend.

Most outstanding individual performance: Julio Jones

The Falcons receiver caught nine of 12 targets for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In two playoff games, Jones has 15 receptions for 247 yards and three touchdowns.

On his 73-yard score, Jones fought off Packers corner LaDarius Gunter's hold, broke Gunter's tackle and stiff-armed Damarious Randall to the ground before galloping into the end zone.

Bill Belichick's defensive game plans usually center around stopping the opponent's biggest weapon. That formula will be tested against a Falcons offense that saw seven players make at least one catch of 15-plus yards Sunday.

Biggest disappointment: Steelers' offense

The Steelers went into Sunday's game knowing the offense would have to lead the way for an upset. But through the first 56 minutes, they managed just nine points.

The sequence at the end of the first half was enormous. A touchdown to Jesse James was overturned, giving the Steelers a first down from the New England 1-yard line. Two DeAngelo Williams runs went backward, and Ben Roethlisberger threw an incompletion before Pittsburgh settled for a field goal.

Had the Steelers gotten into the end zone there, they would have had the ball coming out of halftime in position to tie the score or take the lead.

Even trailing 17-9, Pittsburgh had a chance to get back in the game, but the offense went three-and-out to start the third quarter and failed to produce points on five consecutive drives as the Patriots took full control.

Best performance by a newcomer: The man in the tunnel

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman ran straight into the tunnel at the Georgia Dome after scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown from 3 yards out.

There, waiting for him, was a man holding a soft drink and wearing a No. 96 jersey.

As of this writing, it's unclear who this man was and what he was doing in that exact spot as TV cameras followed Coleman into the tunnel.

Was he security? Did he work for the Falcons? Was this part of some elaborate, pre-planned scheme?

Luckily, we get two weeks before the Super Bowl to find answers about the biggest mystery from championship weekend.

Reference you'll be tired of hearing about in two weeks: Chris Hogan, the lacrosse player

The Patriots' wide receiver got open all game long, catching nine of 12 targets for 180 yards and a pair of scores. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Hogan had five grabs of 20-plus yards, tied for most in a playoff game in the past 15 seasons.

The story that gets told every time Hogan makes a play is that he was a college lacrosse player -- not a football star -- at Penn State.

It's like how Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard or Terrelle Pryor used to play quarterback; it's apparently just not possible to say Hogan's name without mentioning his lacrosse background.

Given how well he played Sunday, get ready for a steady onslaught of lacrosse anecdotes in the days ahead.

Story flying under the radar: Falcons' pass rush has improved

This was not a great unit during the regular season, but Atlanta's pass rush has come on strong in the playoffs. Per ESPN Stats & Information data, the Falcons pressured Aaron Rodgers on 42 percent of his dropbacks.

Atlanta had two sacks, seven quarterback hits and five tackles for loss. The Falcons picked their spots with when to blitz and kept Rodgers uncomfortable throughout the game.

Figuring out how to best pressure Tom Brady will be at the top of Dan Quinn's to-do list this week.

Most creative in-stadium sign by a fan

It was a big weekend for sign-carriers across the country, but this one at Gillette Stadium will be tough to beat.

Worst premature celebration: Morgan Burnett, Eric Rowe (tied)

In the third quarter of the Packers-Falcons game, the Packers' Burnett broke up a pass for Levine Toilolo in the right corner of the end zone, sprang to his feet, stared into the crowd and started chirping. Two problems here. One, the Packers were trailing 31-7 at the time. And two, the referees threw a flag for pass interference.

Patriots cornerback Rowe, meanwhile, marched down the sideline in celebration after Sammie Coates dropped what should have been a gain of 30-plus yards on third down in the first quarter. Later, Rowe strutted and flexed after Cobi Hamilton dropped what should have been a 21-yard touchdown against him.

Celebrations are great, and there should be few rules governing them. But it's a violation to celebrate when penalized or if you had little to do with the outcome of the play.

The fun police will be keeping a close eye on this during the Super Bowl.

Best performance by a male supporting actor: Robert Alford

He and Aaron Rodgers grabbed hold of each others' face masks on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter.

As Rodgers was walking back to the huddle, he gave Alford a little elbow to the midsection. The Falcons' cornerback took a split-second to react before extending both arms to his sides while falling backward into an official.

Watching NFL players flop is always entertaining because they have no idea what they're doing. Credit to Alford for not caring about how ridiculous he looked and going for the full sell. Let's hope for an encore in Houston.