The path to the 50th Super Bowl has been a long and torturous one for the teams trying to get there, filled with big moments that didn’t always lead to big wins for their teams (hello, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Rodgers). Here, using Nielsen data analyzed by Canvs.tv, the social-emotion analytics company, we lay out the five moments in this year’s playoffs that earned the biggest emotional responses from fans on Twitter. These were the moments that left fans breathless and wrung out, but still talking and tweeting about the game’s biggest turning points. Yes, we love this game.
The Hits Kept Coming: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
In a brutal game filled with big plays and bigger controversies, the pivotal moment came when Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger, who’d left the game in the third quarter with an injury, returned to lead a last-minute drive.
Pittsburgh was still out of range for a winning field goal when a vicious hit by Vontaze Burfict on wide receiver Antonio Brown led to a 15-yard penalty. In the ensuing moments, another Cincinnati player got a second 15-yard penalty for his reaction to a Pittsburgh coach’s provocative (and also illegal) presence on the field. The penalties put the winning field goal in easy range, the Steelers won 18-16 and Twitter erupted in disbelief.
All told, the game attracted more than 1.5 million tweets, nearly 180,000 of them in the game’s hectic last moments and thereafter, second only to the end of the AFC Championship Game among peak moments of these playoffs.
That game was insane! Can’t believe what just happened. Unbelievable! #PITvsCIN
— David Gardner (@DavidGardner24) January 10, 2016
This is just brutal pic.twitter.com/hBsIAJIBwO
— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) January 10, 2016
— Bryan G (@Rich_Homie_BG) January 10, 2016
Wide Left: Seattle vs. Minnesota
In one of the coldest playoff games in league history, normally reliable Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip-shot 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds that would have won the game.
The 10-9 result sent Seattle, which had been to the Super Bowl the past two years, on to the next round, and Vikings fans into fits of despair and pity, peaking in the minutes just after the kick sailed left of the uprights.
All told, the freeze-off seemed to chill Twitter typers too, who posted a relatively modest 1.05 million tweets during the game. But more than 112,000 posts erupted in the five minutes after Walsh’s miss and Seattle’s narrow escape.
Oh Blair Walsh. Oh poor poor guy.
— Scrooge McPanda (@ScroogeMcPanda) January 10, 2016
That was so painful to watch. I actually feel sorry for the Vikings. That kickers getting fired.
— makenzie souther (@makenzienicole9) January 10, 2016
Hail Aaron: Green Bay vs. Arizona
A last-minute 41-yard heave by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers improbably became a game-tying touchdown catch by Jeff Janis, sending the game into overtime, and fans to Twitter to express their awe and shock over the play.
The subsequent overtime proved almost anticlimactic, as Arizona quickly marched down the field for a game-winning touchdown. All told, nearly 1.5 million tweets were posted about the game, including more than 63,000 astonished posts about the recptionus mirabilis throw by Rodgers and catch by Janis.
The league’s winningest team, Carolina, stormed to an overwhelming 31-0 halftime lead against Seattle, which had been to the last two Super Bowls, then held on against a furious Seahawks comeback. All the while, fans were marveling on Twitter as the see-saw game rolled one way and then the other.
The peak moment, however, and ultimately the margin in the game came in its first four minutes. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted a Russell Wilson pass and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown, setting off more than 86,000 tweets about the play. In all, fans tweeted more than 1.5 million times before the game finally ended with Seattle that touchdown short of a tie after a field goal in the last 75 seconds.
Maybe I didn’t like the Panthers defense enough
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) January 17, 2016
This is the greatest start EVER! #keeppounding
— Nick Mensio (@NickMensio) January 17, 2016
— Bosanka_Zeznuta (@Bosanka_Zeznuta) January 17, 2016
Gronk and the Broncs – New England vs. Denver
The much-anticipated 17th matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the two best quarterbacks of their era, predictably attracted massive interest. The resulting AFC Conference Championship game, a record fifth time the two have played against each other in the playoffs, lived up to all the hype, sparking more than 2.5 million tweets from fans (and the best ratings for a conference championship in 29 years).
The latest faceoff between the two sure Hall of Famers came down to the last seconds, when Brady led the Patriots down the field for a touchdown to tie a game that had largely been dominated by defense.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski made a spectacular catch that caused Twitter to erupt, with almost 250,000 posts. Denver’s stalwart defense held fast on the subsequent 2-point conversion that would have tied the game, however, leaving the defending Super Bowl champions tantalizingly and painfully short as the last seconds ran out.
Manning vs Brady! This game lived up to the hype! Well played by both teams!
— Safeen Merchant (@safeen420) January 24, 2016
Can’t hate on Brady and Gronk.
— Christopher Manzo (@chris_manzo) January 24, 2016
Some finish. Props to New England, boy did they play their part. Well done Denver’s monstrous D. You’re going to the Super Bowl, @shaunwhu!
— Ben Wilson (@BenjiWilson) January 24, 2016
This was a guest post by David Bloom for Lost Remote. Bloom is a writer and media strategist based in Los Angeles.