Divisional Recap: Julian Edelman helps Patriots back on title track

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots takes the field against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman’s return and Antonio Brown’s absence had the expected impact on the NFL’s Divisional Playoffs. Edelman gave New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady an extra target as the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-20, on Saturday. The following day, the Steelers fielded a team featuring an injured Ben Roethlisberger and minus Brown, who after an illegal hit in the Wild Card Playoffs, is in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

The injuries took their toll as the streaking Steelers finally fell, losing 23-16 to the Denver Broncos. Without Brown, the ailing Roethlisberger was even more limited. But the Steelers did get another great game from ASN-affiliated kicker Chris Boswell, who scored the lion’s share of Pittsburgh’s points for the second consecutive week.

Overall, five ASN-affiliated players played critical roles in the Divisional Playoffs, though only Edelman’s team advanced to a conference championship. For helping the Patriots to their fifth consecutive AFC title game, Edelman is this week’s ASN’s Most Notable Player.

1Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

There’s no question Tom Brady was happy to have Edelman (Kent State) back, after one of his favorite receivers missed seven regular season games with a foot injury. Edelman snagged a 12-yard pass that was headed for nowhere in the waning minutes on Saturday, all but sealing the Patriots’ victory against the Chiefs. On second-and-12, Brady opted to throw and the ball was deflected, then hit tight end Rob Gronkowski before settling into Edelman’s arms at Kansas City’s 35-yard line. While Gronkowski, who scored two touchdowns, got all the glory, Edelman was the Patriots’ leading receiver with 10 catches for 100 yards,. More importantly, he made the Patriots’ passing game all the more effective. “When you get 11 (Edelman) back, it makes things out there easier, not just for a couple players, but for everybody,” receiver Keyshawn Martin told the Boston Herald. “You’ve got to worry about so many different players out there and it was a good job by everyone today.”

2Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Boswell accounted for more than half of the Steelers’ points in their 23-16 Divisional Playoff loss to Denver on Sunday. The first-year kicker out of Rice followed up a stellar opening-round performance with field goals of 43, 28 and 47 yards, as well as an extra point. Boswell was a perfect seven-for-seven in postseason field-goal attempts and made 36 of 39 attempts for the season. He scored more points (22) than any other player in the league through the first two rounds of the playoffs. According to CBSSports.com, Boswell set Steelers’ single-season records for rookie/first year kickers for successful field-goals and for scoring (113 points) and his 90.6 field-goal percentage is No. 1 among rookie/first year players in team history.

3Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

You’d be hard pressed to have guessed that Roethlisberger (Miami Ohio) was playing hurt on Sunday. His 27-of-34 passing for 339 yards marked the eighth time this season Big Ben passed for at least 300 yards, but it wasn’t enough as the Steelers fell to the Broncos. Roethlisberger’s 9.2 yards per completion matched his fifth-best performance of the season, though he did not throw a touchdown. Roethlisberger, who missed four games in the middle of the season, finished the year with 4,516 yards in 14 games.

4Charcandrick West, Kansas City Chiefs

The second-year running back out of Abilene Christian scored his first postseason touchdown on Saturday when he ran to the right for a 1-yard score with 1:18 to play in the fourth quarter. The touchdown cut the Patriots lead to 27-20, but the Chiefs were unable to get the ball back and lost. West was the Chiefs’ leading ball carrier with 61 yards on 11 carries. He also had two receptions for 15 yards.

5Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks

For a guy who had a total of 17 receptions through the regular season, Willson (Rice), a third-yard tight end, had something of a breakout game in the Seahawks’ 31-24 Divisional Playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers. Willson caught four passes for a season-high 54 yards, including a long catch of 22 yards. Prior to Sunday’s game, Willson hadn’t caught more than two passes in a game and had no receptions against Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs.

Honorable mention

LB Jamie Collins (Southern Miss) was credited with six tackles (two solos, four assists) in the Patriots’ victory against the Chiefs. … Patriots punter Ryan Allen (Louisiana Tech) punted three times for an average of 26.3 yards. … Justin Bethel (Presbyterian) was credited with six solo tackles in the Arizona Cardinals’ 26-20 Divisional Playoff overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday. … RB James Starks (Buffalo) had seven carries for 23 yards and four receptions for four yards in the Packers’ loss to the Cardinals. … James Harrison (Kent State) was credited with seven tackles (six solos, one assist) and Pittsburgh’s only sack in the Steelers’ loss to the Broncos. … Jordan Berry (Eastern Kentucky) didn’t have his best performance of the season Sunday, but he was busy, punting six times for an average of 29.3 yards in the Seahawks’ loss to the Panthers. He was also the holder for Chris Boswell’s three field goals and one extra point. … CB Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina) had five tackles (four solo, one assist) and a sack in the Panthers’ victory against the Seahawks.

Above: Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots takes the field against the Kansas City Chiefs for Saturday’s AFC Divisional Playoff at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jill R. Dorson

Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.