Aldon Smith sets tone early in NFC Championship Game

Winning on the road in the playoffs is a tough assignment, and the San Francisco 49ers had won two consecutive road playoff games before earning their most difficult task yet: Defeat the Seattle Seahawks in front of their famed "12th Man" at CenturyLink Field in the NFC Championship Game. In the end, the 49ers came just short of being a rare team that wins three consecutive road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl.

Greatest on the road ...

Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers

Defense -- the Seahawks ranked No. 1 and the 49ers at No. 5 in the NFL in total defense during the 2013 season -- was expected to carry the day in the NFC Championship Game, and the big plays to start the game and finish it were both made by standout defensive players.

Smith set the tone early for the 49ers, who built a 10-0 lead on the Seahawks in the first half. On the first play from scrimmage, Smith forced Russell Wilson to fumble. Smith recovered the fumble and the 49ers were provided with a golden opportunity to build that early lead.

Smith had two sacks in the game, helping the 49ers defense record a total of four against the Seahawks' quick quarterback. Seattle had 11 drives on offense, and only four of those drives went for more than 25 yards. The 49ers defense also shut out the Seahawks offense in its three red-zone opportunities.

Also considered:

Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

The Patriots' run toward an eighth Super Bowl appearance -- and sixth under coach Bill Belichick -- came to a crashing halt at Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Edelman, however, capped his season with a standout performance, catching 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. Edelman's 7-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter trimmed the Broncos' lead to 23-10 and gave the Patriots a glimmer of hope.

Edelman was the Patriots' leader in receptions (105), receiving yards (1,056) and receiving touchdowns (6), and those totals eclipsed his numbers from the four previous seasons (69-714-4) combined.

Previous Greatness on the Road winners:

» Week 1: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
» Week 2: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
» Week 3: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
» Week 4: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
» Week 5: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
» Week 6: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
» Week 7: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
» Week 8: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
» Week 9: Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
» Week 10: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
» Week 11: Matt McGloin, Oakland Raiders
» Week 12: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
» Week 13: Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
» Week 14: Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins
» Week 15: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
» Week 16: Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals
» Week 17: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
» Wild Card Weekend: Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
» Divisional playoffs: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.