Thanks to Clemson’s Orange Bowl no-show and a 2-6 record this bowl season, ACC football’s image problem – details in this post from last week -- shows no sign of easing. But as the weekend’s four NFL playoff games reminded, the conference continues to produce scores of top-flight pros.
The Houston Texans’ first postseason victory, 31-10 over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday, included solid game management by rookie quarterback T.J. Yates of North Carolina. He passed for 159 yards and a touchdown, a 40-yarder to Andre Johnson, and did not throw an interception.
The New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions broke myriad records for offense in the Saints’ 45-28 victory Saturday night. Among them: most receiving yards in a playoff game. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, in his fifth season out of Georgia Tech, had 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
In Sunday’s opener, third-year receiver Hakeem Nicks out of North Carolina produced 115 yards and two scores on six catches to lead the New York Giants past the Atlanta Falcons 24-2. His touchdowns went for 4 and 72 yards.
Also, Chris Canty, a seventh-year defensive lineman from the University of Virginia, was part of a front four that stuffed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (Boston College class of 2007) not once but twice on fourth-and-1.
Three other ACC alums start for the Giants on defense: linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka from Boston College and safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle, both from Miami. Rolle led New York in tackles during the regular season and again Sunday with nine.
The ACC’s biggest splash came in the weekend’s finale: the Denver Broncos’ upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Four conference alums caught passes, three for touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime from the remarkable Tim Tebow.
Steelers tight end Heath Miller, a seven-year veteran from U.Va., had five receptions for 60 yards. Teammate Jerricho Cotchery, in his eighth season out of North Carolina State, forced overtime with a 31-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown strike from Ben Roethlisberger.
But they couldn’t overcome Tebow, who threw 30 yards to Virginia Tech alum Eddie Royal for the game’s first touchdown. On the first snap of overtime, Tebow found DeMaryius Thomas on a deep crossing route, and Thomas, in his second year out of Georgia Tech, did the rest, stiff-arming Ike Taylor en route to an 80-yard touchdown and 29-23 Broncos victory.
Expect more ACC influence in the NFL divisional round this weekend.
Miami alum Frank Gore leads the San Francisco 49ers in rushing, while tight end Vernon Davis from Maryland is their No. 2 receiver. Second on the team in sacks is linebacker Ahmad Brooks from Virginia.
It truly is baffling how a conference that routinely stocks NFL teams continues to fall short on the national stage. In the last six drafts, the ACC has produced 37 first-round selections and 214 overall picks. Those numbers are second only, big surprise here, to the Southeastern Conference.
But while SEC rivals LSU and Alabama collide for the national championship Monday night, assuring the league an unprecedented sixth consecutive BCS title, the ACC searches for its first top-five team since Florida State in 2000. That’s also the last season an ACC squad reached the national championship game – the Seminoles lost to Oklahoma.
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