The Conference Championships and the Road to Super Bowl 48
The AFC Championship
Uncharacteristically, the AFC Championship started off rather slow for a game that featured two highly offensively skilled teams. After a 1st quarter that opened with 3 consecutive drives ending in punts, Denver led 3-0.
Early in the 2nd quarter and away from the ball, Welker put a huge lick on former teammate and, Aqib Talib, an all-pro cornerback, drawing the ire of Pats’ coach Bill Belichick. Talib ended up exiting the game due to injury and did not return. After some costly defensive mistakes on 3rd downs by the Patriots, Manning capitalized finding Tamme in the end zone to cap off a 15 play 93 yard drive. Fortunately for the sake of the game, the Pats finally put together something resembling offence and after a 47-yard field goal by Gostowski the score stood at 10-3. Denver answered with a field goal of their own and the half ended 13-3.
The Broncos started with the ball in the 2nd half and put together a 7:08 minute drive, their longest of the year, which ended in a Manning touchdown pass to a wide-open Demaryius Thomas. Down but not out, Brady led his troops up the field to the 29 yard line. Facing a tough decision, Belichick rolled the dice and gambled on 4th and 2 and Brady was sacked for a loss of downs.
Despite excellent field position to start the 3rd, the Broncos settled for a field goal after Julius Thomas dropped a catchable ball in the endzone. With only 12 minutes to go the Patriots trailed by 20. But don’t count Brady out as he led the Patriots to the redzone connecting with Vereen on 4th down before finding Edelman who lunged into the endzone. After a Denver 54 yard field goal, the Pats trailed by 16 with 7 minutes to go. In response, Brady led another drive and scored on a quarterback sneak and the Pats opted for 2 but were unsuccessful. Final score 26-16.
The gameball goes to Peyton Manning who not only threw for 400 yards and 2 TDs but barked out “Mike is Mike” a number of times as well as “Omaha” 31 times which, due to sponsorship from Omaha businesses, raised $24,800 for charity. Pretty sure Brady is getting sick and tired of seeing the Manning brothers in the playoffs.
The NFC Championship
Although the Pats and Broncos started off slow, the 49ers and Seahawks started off with a bang. On Seattle’s first play of the game, Russell Wilson had his clock cleaned by Aldon Smith resulting in a fumble recovery by Smith. Despite a glorious opportunity to make a statement, the 49ers settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead, the only points of the 1st quarter.
On their first drive of the 2nd quarter, San Francisco continued to struggle picking up yards as the strong Seahawks defense consistently stymied their passing game and bottled up Frank Gore. This was until Kaepernick scrambled right for a massive 58-yard gain moving the ball to the Seahawks 10. On a 3rd and goal on the 1, Dixon plunged up the middle for a touchdown that was overturned on booth review. Gambling on 4th down, Dixon made good on his second chance punching it in. Russell Wilson attempted to answer, connecting with Douglas Baldwin for a 51 yard gain but Seattle ended up settling for a 32 yard field goal. After a punt, Wilson led the Seahawks to the San Francisco 40 but after some confusion the Seahawks opted not to attempt a 57 yard field goal and gambled unsuccessfully on 4th down. Aside from Kaepernick’s rushing prowess, neither team really established their offence in the 1st half and it ended 10-3.
After a defensive stop by the Seahawks, the beast was finally unleashed. Lynch broke free and rumbled for 40 yards to knot the game at 10. In response Kaepernick got into a groove and found Boldin for a 26 yard score. With the score 17-13 in the 4th, and the Seahawks facing a 4th and 7, Aldon Smith jumped offside and the San Fran D fell asleep allowing Wilson to capitalize and hit Kearse for a 35 yard touchdown and Seattle’s first lead. Then Kaepernick fell apart. On his own 23 yard line he got smoked by Avril coughing up the ball to the Seahawks in the process. Strangely enough, Seattle did not capitalize; rather they fumbled the ball on the goalline to Navarro Bowman, who suffered a horrific leg injury in the process. After a blown call Seattle had another try on 4th down and did not convert. In his next bonehead play, Kaepernick attempted to throw to Boldin who was standing behind the 6’3” Chandler and Chandler picked it off easily.
Seattle tacked on 3 and with 3:37 to go, down by 6, the 49ers controlled their own destiny. Flash forward to first and 10 on the 18th, 30 second to go. Kaepernick drops back looks for Crabtree in the endzone, the ball is up, Sherman gets an arm on the ball popping it up and Malcolm Smith picks it off. Seahawks are going to the Superbowl.
Denver’s offense is too much to handle, even for a secondary that features the self-proclaimed best corner in the league, and Manning tops of a career year with a Super Bowl ring.