Isn’t that what the kids say these days?
But we’ll get to Richard Sherman and the incredible finish to the NFC Championship here in a moment.
Let’s begin at Mile High Stadium.
Denver Broncos 26 – 16 New England Patriots
NFL fans had been licking their chops all week over this one, hoping for a back-and-forth shoot-out between two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. What they got was a game that was pretty much over by halftime.
And let’s give credit here where credit is due.
To the Denver defense.
Peyton Manning played great. He threw for 400 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. And if he’s able to guide his team to victory in two weeks over the Seahawks, he’ll earn his second ring and be able to shed his “post-season choke artist” persona for good.
Demaryius Thomas put up big numbers, too (7rec, 134yd, 1TD), but it was the defense that stepped up and slammed the door on the Patriot’s upset bid before Tom Brady could even get into a groove.
In the divisional round against Indy, the New England running attack piled up 234 yards and six touchdowns. Yesterday, however, Denver held all Patriots rushers to a paltry 64 yards, with the only score on the ground coming from a 5-yard scuttle up the gut by Brady on essentially a broken play during garbage time.
The Broncos took control of the AFC Championship by not allowing the Patriots’ offense to get anything going at all in the first half. What’s missing from an analysis of Brady’s final numbers (277yd, 1TD, 0INT, 1rushTD) is the fact that almost all of this production came after Denver was up 20-3 and the game was effectively out of reach.
Denver led 3-0 after one quarter after a 27-yard Matt Prater field goal and then they started to open up their lead in the 2nd on a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme. The blocking tight end was an unlikely target as he had recorded a mere 20 catches with one TD on the season. Undoubtedly, the six-year pro’s grandmomma was doing backflips at home as the journeyman came up with the biggest play of his career.
New England finally got on the board by means of Gostkowski’s big boot. He kicked a 47-yarder through the uprights to make it 10-3 and pull the Pats within one score, but Prater was able to stretch the lead back to 10 after nailing his second of four FGs on the day. The Broncos went into the break leading 13-3.
On Denver’s first possession of the second half, Manning marched his team down the field 80 yards and found Demaryius Thomas in the end zone to put the Broncos up by three scores at 20-3.
The Patriots, desperate for a response, were able to get to the 29-yard line of the Broncos where their drive stalled and they were forced to make an important decision. Belichick opted to go for it on 4th and three instead of trying for a makeable field goal. Brady was sacked for -10 yards and as the signal caller fell to the ground, so did New England’s Super Bowl aspirations.
Brady made it briefly interesting in the 4th quarter, tossing a 7-yard touchdown to Julian Edelman and scampering in himself from five yards out, but it was too little too late.
Now the world will have to wait two more weeks to see how Manning’s record setting offense fares against the league’s number one defense. It also remains to be seen if the Denver D-line can stuff the box against Lynch with the same ferocity that held the Pats leading rusher (Shane Vereen) to 34 yards.
Seattle Seahawks 23 – 17 San Francisco 49ers
I know you’re all waiting to hear what I’ve got to say about Richard Sherman’s controversial post-game interview, but let’s first stick to the action on the field.
While the AFC Championship didn’t quite deliver the explosion of offensive fireworks that we were expecting to see, Seattle and San Francisco provided the exact smash-you-in-the-mouth, fight-to-the-last-second brawl that we’d all hoped the NFC Championship would be.
On the first offensive play of the game, linebacker Aldon Smith of the 49ers burst through the line untouched and swatted the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands. Smith then recovered the ball at the Seahawks’ 15-yard line, giving the Niners an opportunity to silence the raucous Century Link Field crowd.
But the Seahawks’ D held tough and forced Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal. Nevertheless, a 3-0 lead just moments into the start of the game was a huge momentum swing in the favor of the visiting team.
The Hawks’ offense looked flustered and were forced to punt on their next two possessions. While Marshawn Lynch was able to eventually rack up 109 yards on the ground (the first back to eclipse the century mark this season against the 49ers) he couldn’t get anything going early, averaging only two yards per attempt on his first eight carries.
In the second quarter Colin Kaepernick cut loose for a 58-yard scramble down to the Seattle 10-yard line, where Kam Chancellor made a touchdown saving tackle. The 58-yard scamper was the longest run allowed by the Seahawks’ defense all season.
Backed up against their own end zone, Seattle had the opportunity to make a huge goal line stand when Harbaugh decided to go for it on 4th and goal from the one. But Anthony Dixon dove over the pile for a one-yard touchdown to put the 49ers up 10-0.
Consequently Dixon ended the day with just this one-yard rushing, and none of the other Niner backs could do much between the tackles either. Kendall Hunter finished with 16 yards on four carries, and pro-bowler Frank Gore could only manage 14 yards on 11 attempts.
The 49ers QB was the only cog in the 49ers ground attack that made any sort of headway against the stout Seattle front line.
Kaepernick finished on the day with an incredible 130 rushing yards. To put this in perspective, Kaepernick has rushed for 100+ yards in the playoffs twice in his short career. All other post-season QBs in the history of the NFL combined have only accomplished this feat two times. Let that sink in for a minute.
Down 10-0, the Seahawks badly needed to do something on offense, and they got the spark plug they needed when Russell Wilson evaded tacklers in the backfield and found Doug Baldwin for a 51-yard bomb. Baldwin was clutch on the day, leading the Seahawks with 106 yards receiving, and later helping out on Special Teams with a kick-off return deep into Niners’ territory.
Seattle was able to get down to the SF 11-yard line, but a sack of Wilson knocked the offense back and Pete Carroll had to settle for a Steven Hauschka field goal to pull within seven at 10-3.
The Hawks would threaten again before the half, but failed to get a first down on 4th and six. The NFC West champs headed into the locker room trailing by a touchdown and hoping for a turn of events after the break.
On Seattle’s first possession of the third quarter, Marshawn Lynch busted through tackles en route to a 40-yard touchdown run. It was the longest run allowed by San Francisco all season.
Beast Mode’s score knotted it all up at 10-10.
San Francisco answered, however, marching down the field 83 yards on their next drive and going back up 17-10 on a gorgeous pass and catch from Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin from 26-yards out.
Baldwin’s 69-yard kick-off return put the Seahawks in great field position, and Seattle answered with another Hauschka kick from 40 to narrow the gap to four points.
After forcing a punt, the Seahawks would have the chance to take their first lead of the game. When their drive stalled on the SF 35, Carroll went for it on 4th and seven, foregoing a long field goal attempt. Wilson found Jermaine Kearse in the end zone for a 35-yard go-ahead touchdown.
At 20-17, Seattle was now in the driver’s seat and could rely on their vaunted defense to hold for the win.
On the 49ers’ next possession, defensive lineman Cliff Avril came around the end undetected and forced a sack-fumble on Kaepernick. Fellow lineman Michael Bennett scooped up the loose ball and stumbled to the seven-yard line of SF.
Soon came a controversial call where Seattle retained possession after a goal line fumble. In the replay it was clear that Navorro Bowman had recovered the ball for San Francisco, but the play was unreviewable by rule since the NFL can only review whether or not a fumble has occurred, and not which team has recovered the loose ball.
The missed call was inconsequential, however, as Lynch fumbled the exchange on a 4th down run and San Francisco regained possession backed up against the goal line.
Once again, Kaepernick got the ball back with an opportunity to commandeer a long drive, but he was intercepted by safety Kam Chancellor and the Seahawks took over in SF territory with the chance to put the game away.
Steven Hauschka knocked in his 3rd field goal of the day from 40 yards out to make it 23-17.
With 3:37 left, Colin Kaepernick could earn a spot in 49er lore with a game-winning drive in the waning moments of the game.
Down to the Seattle 18 with 30 ticks remaining on the clock, Kaepernick challenged cornerback Richard Sherman, who was covering Michael Crabtree, in the end zone. Sherman got a hand on the ball and tipped it to linebacker Malcolm Smith who intercepted the pass and sent the Seahawks on to face the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
The Post-Game Interview Controversy
Immediately following the game, Sherman gave a short on-field interview where he had the following words for SF receiver Michael Crabtree:
Social media erupted with disdain for Sherman’s trash talking on National TV, but before we all rush to vilify his actions, there are a couple points that I’d like you to consider here:
- The interview was given literally moments after making the game-saving play that sent his team to the Super Bowl. It is more than understandable that he would be pretty amped, especially considering the extremely physical nature of Sunday’s game. How would you react if someone shoved a microphone in your face immediately after making the play of your career?
- Sherman and Crabtree have a history. Crabtree verbally insulted Sherman in front of fellow NFL players at a charity event hosted by Larry Fitzgerald during the off-season, and the two had been bantering back and forth both prior to and during the game.
Professional sports is entertainment, and sometimes fans send awfully confusing messages to the players and to the league. We want these grown men to beat the crap out of each other for three hours to make our mundane lives a little more interesting one day a week, but yet we expect them to contain their raw emotions in the post-game show and make nice with the opposing team like it’s Pee-Wee football.
I am all for good sportsmanship, and, yeah, Sherman pushes the envelope a little too far at times. In this case, for sure. But do fans really not prefer his honest expression over the oodles of boring scripted post-game interviews we usually get?
I read on the NFL’s Facebook page that Sherman had instantly converted every American outside of the Pacific Northwest into a Broncos fan.
Don’t think for a second that this isn’t all part of Sherman’s strategy. Folk acted like he was ranting like a raving lunatic, but he’s a smart guy. Very smart.
He knew exactly what he was doing. It’s all part of being the best cornerback in the game. And if you try him, especially with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s what you’re gonna get.