Tip Sheet: Playoff standouts to watch
The streets of South Florida might echo with "Who Dat?" chants over the next week, but the odds are pretty good a similar query won't be necessary when Super Bowl XLIV has concluded and the most valuable player is chosen. Recent little-known MVPs such as safety Dexter Jackson (Super Bowl XXXVII), wide receiver Deion Branch (XXXIX) and cornerback Larry Brown (XXX), were all great stories, but clearly were the exceptions.
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The paucity of breakthrough players, however, isn't nearly as pronounced during the playoffs in general. Recent history suggests that while the Super Bowl probably won't produce many surprises, the same isn't necessarily true of the playoffs' first three rounds. And this postseason wasn't much different, as nearly all 12 teams in the playoffs relied on players who were not household names.
The former University of Iowa star, who began the 2009 season as the Jets' No. 3 tailback, rushed for 304 yards and two touchdowns on just 54 carries, an impressive average of 5.6 yards per attempt. Before exiting in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game with a rib injury, Greene posted a pair of 100-yard outings and had touchdown runs of 39 yards (versus Cincinnati in the wild-card matchup) and 53 yards (against San Diego in the Jets' division-round upset).
During the regular season, Greene carried 108 times for 540 yards and two touchdowns. Not until the Jets lost Leon Washington to a broken leg did Greene move up the depth chart to become the primary backup to Thomas Jones. Greene didn't even register a carry until the fourth game of the season, had only seven attempts in the first six contests, logged more than a dozen carries only three times and had just one 100-yard game.
Greene's postseason performance could possibly force Jones out of a starting job in 2010. Although Jones was the NFL's third-leading rusher in 2009 (1,402 yards), the much-respected 10-year veteran is 31 years old and, perhaps as important, is due a $3 million roster bonus in March. Plus the reliable Washington, who excels in space and ranks as one of the league's top kickoff returners, is likely to be retained.
"We all want [Jones] back... but when he had to, Greene ran with authority and power, and he had fresh legs," said New York right tackle Damien Woody. "He definitely gave us a boost when we needed it."
Greene, who rushed for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns with the Hawkeyes in 2008, was not the only young and fairly anonymous tailback to break out in the playoffs. Felix Jones of Dallas, who missed much of his 2008 rookie season with an injury, averaged 7.2 yards per carry in 30 rushes for the Cowboys, sparking some speculation that the team might attempt to trade starter Marion Barber in the offseason.
Barber is likely to be back with the Cowboys in 2010, and Thomas Jones with the Jets, as well. But the postseason performances of Greene and Felix Jones, which catapulted them into the public consciousness, probably earned each more player significant roles next season.
Said Greene: "I was able to do it in big games, and that really helped my confidence and the guys' confidence in me."
A number of young players had potential breakthrough performances in the playoffs, and here are a few of them:
Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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