And then, there were four. Three of the four teams (all but Denver) playing in next week's championship conference games will have Stanford players on their roster. But how did we get here?
Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Denver cashed in first-round byes last week. Only Denver lacks Stanford alumni (at least on the field). Last week's losses by the Bengals and Washington eliminated #StanfordNFL members Ryan Hewitt ('13) and Trent Murphy ('14) from the NFL playoffs.
Kansas City 20, New England 27
Gronk and Julian Edelman return from injury, and the Patriots advance. No one is surprised...and few outside of New England are happy.
The Chiefs do not have any Stanford alumni on their roster.
For the defending champion Patriots, defensive back Jordan Richards ('15) was the only Stanford alumnus to receive any playing time. He did not start, and saw only 18 total snaps (3 of them on defense). Richards contributed zero tackles while on the field. I would expect him to be a bigger part of the secondary rotation for Bill Belichick next season.
The Patriots also have offensive tackle Cameron Fleming ('13) on their roster to serve as positional depth, but he saw no action during the game. They also have tailback Tyler Gaffney ('13) on injured reserve, but he obviously did not play.
Green Bay 20, Arizona 26 (OT)
Stepfan Taylor (@KULABAFI) January 17, 2016
What a crazy game! You already know what happened: two Hail Marys by Aaron Rodgers (a Butte Community College alum by his own admission), and the state of Arizona being saved by Larry Fitzgerald once again. But we'll concentrate on the game's contributions from Stanford players.
As mentioned last week, the Packers' only Stanford representation is wideout Ty Montgomery ('14), but he remains on the injured reserve list with an ankle injury.
The Cardinals make their first appearance here after a first-round bye. They have two Stanford alums, defensive end Josh Mauro ('13) and running back Stepfan Taylor ('13).
Mauro started at DE for Arizona, and served on the defensive line for 17 snaps (for 23% of the team's total snaps on defense). He registered 1 total tackle in that time. He also chipped in with 4 appearances on the Cardinals' special teams unit.
On the offensive side of the game, Stepfan Taylor is currently third on the Arizona depth chart at running back. He also sees significant action on special teams.
This playoff game would follow that pattern. Taylor was part of 52% of the team's special team snaps (a total of 13 snaps). He made a tackle of Green Bay's Micah Hyde on a punt return in the first quarter. He saw two snaps on offense, but did not make any rushing attempts. On one of those he lined up in the backfield with starting tailback David Johnson.
Pittsburgh 16, Denver 23
Maybe Peyton Manning does have some juice left? Under the future Hall of Famer's management, the Broncos overcame a fourth quarter 16-12 deficit with 11 points to finish the comeback against Big Ben's boys.
The Broncos, despite having Stanford legend John Elway ('83) as general manager, do not have any Stanford players on the roster.
After the dudes in Seattle (who we'll get to in a second) David DeCastro ('11) is probably the biggest #StanfordNFL star left in the playoffs. DeCastro was selected for his first Pro Bowl this season, and remains a vital part of the Steelers' offensive line.
That showed in his usage. DeCastro was on the field for all of the Steelers' offensive snaps. The biggest came in the first quarter on a 1st-and-goal situation:
Pittsburgh tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint scored his first career touchdown, with DeCastro punching a hole in the Broncos' defensive line for Toussaint to shuffle through into the end zone. Watch closely in the center of the line: DeCastro is #66.
Seattle 24, Carolina 31
The Legion of Boom got...well, exploded by the continually surprising Carolina Panthers.
Cam Newton and Carolina exploded for 31 points in the first half, and took a 31-0 lead into the locker room. The situation bore a striking similarity to this year's Alamo Bowl, something not lost on by Oregon fans on Twitter:
DON’T TRUST 31-0 IT IS A SCORE THAT LIES— Dan Rubenstein (@DanRubenstein) January 17, 2016
Well, Pete Carroll did not change his shirt, though he probably should have. His Seahawks' comeback attempt fell a touchdown short, despite a valiant effort in the second half.
Carolina signed both Matthew Masafilo ('12) and David Yankey ('14) to future contracts earlier in the month. Unsurprisingly, neither saw any playing time.
Doug Baldwin ('11) did not score a touchdown in this game, the first time in quite awhile we can say that. He finished with 82 yards on 8 receptions. He was a key part of Seattle's comeback attempt, and was Russell Wilson's biggest target during their final fourth quarter drive, making 3 receptions of 13, 13, and 16 yards.
Our other Stanford Seahawk, Richard Sherman ('11) had 3 tackles, 2 of which were solo, and 1 pass defensed.
Sherman's tackle of Jonathan Stewart on Carolina's first play from scrimmage saved a touchdown for Seattle...at least for a moment. The Panthers would eventually score on the drive, but would have scored much earlier if not for Sherman's effort:
Sherman's "tackle" was probably an illegal horse collar, but hey: better a flag than a touchdown, right? Had Sherman not tackled Stewart on his opening long run, he would have taken it to the house.
Dougie took the loss well:
The greatest gift I’ve ever received from this game is the love of my teammates. I’m honored to call them family! All glory to God!— Doug Baldwin Jr (@DougBaldwinJr) January 17, 2016
Keep representin' The Farm well, #StanfordMan.