The NFC and AFC Championship match-ups are set. Niners vs. Seahawks. Patriots vs. Broncos. I’m going to bed, wake me up when it’s Sunday again.
But first, let’s take a peek at how they all get here.
Beast Quake Version 2.0. Andrew Luck tosses INTs like lollipops to children from a parade float. Kaepernick avenges his worst statistical start of the season. And a furious comeback attempt comes up just a wee bit short.
We’ve got it all right here in our NFL Divisional Round Wrap-Up.
Seattle Seahawks 23 – 15 New Orleans Saints
For me, football is a religious event. In fact, I am quite certain that this is why the games are played on Sunday. And if I understand it correctly, God sent his only son to Earth to let it be known that there are two paths to be taken if one is to reach the land of the righteous: (a) go to church, or (b) go to the stadium.
One thing is certain, regardless of the choice that you make, you’ll have tough out several hours with your arse stuffed into uncomfortable seating. At least at the stadium they sell beer.
So, along the lines of this Bible theme, check out this little excerpt I ran across prior to Saturday’s match-up of the Seahawks and the Saints:
Revelation 13:6-7 So the Beast opened his mouth to blaspheme against God – to blaspheme both his name and his dwelling place, that is, those who dwell in heaven. The Beast was permitted to go to war against the Saints and conquer them.
Pretty freaky prediction, eh? Well, except for the blaspheme part. Pretty sure that Richard Sherman did all the trash talkin’ in this one.
A little history: The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, the Saints were the reigning Super Bowl Champions and the Seahawks were the first team to reach the post-season with a losing record (7-9). The Hawks had got a gutsy game 16 performance out of back-up QB Charlie Whitehurst (who incidentally was nicknamed Touchdown Jesus for his flowing locks of holy hair) as they beat the Rams and won the NFC Worst.
Matt Hasselbeck returned for the playoffs and led his team to one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. #8 threw for 4 TDs and 272 yards, but it was Marshawn Lynch’s now infamous Beast Quake run that was the play of the game as Seattle dropped New Orleans 41-36.
So what went down in the rematch?
Head Coach Sean Payton and Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan of New Orleans knew that they’d be seeing a heavy dose of Beast Mode thrown at them in the rain-soaked, blustery conditions at Century Link Field, but on this day, nothing the Saints’ defense threw at him did much at all to slow Marshawn Lynch from putting the Hawks on his shoulders and carrying them to the NFC Championship.
Lynch broke the Seahawks’ post-season rushing record with 140 yards and 2 touchdowns, all while averaging an impressive 5 yards per carry.
In a rare event, Lynch had a few words for the media after the game. When asked about his big-time performance he quipped, “I don’t run to get tackled.”
The first half belonged to Seattle as they held Drew Brees to a paltry 34 passing yards (the lowest first half total in his entire career) and went into the locker room with a 16-0 lead.
But Brees and the Saints battled back in the second half. Aided by a couple of dropped INTs by the usually sure-handed Legion-of-Boom secondary, the Saints inched within 1 score at 16-8 following a 1-yard Khiry Robinson score at the start of the 4th quarter and a successful 2-point conversion.
On the Saints’ next possession, Shayne Graham (who had been steady against the Eagles) missed his second FG of the day. The conditions were wet and windy, but Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka connected on 3 of 3 attempts for the day.
The Seahawks appeared to put the game away on a smashing 31-yard TD run mildly reminiscent of the Beast Quake, but then the Seattle defense somehow slipped into the same “throw it away” mode that allowed Matt Ryan and the Falcons to drive the field in under 30 seconds for the game winning kick last year in the Divisional Round at Atlanta.
At any rate, Brees found Marques Colston in the end zone with less than half a minute to go, pulling the Saints again within one score at 23-15. The Saints kick-off team, who were 2 for 2 in the regular season on onside kicks, then pulled off the miracle and recovered the onside kick after the ball bounced off a Seahawk player.
With 24 seconds to go, Brees finally connected with the previously catch-less Jimmy Graham for 8-yards and then hit Colston for a long gain along the sideline.
In a curious turn of events, Colston chose to try and throw a long lateral across the field to Darren Sproles instead of going out of bounds with: 02 left on the clock.
Instead of giving Drew Brees the chance to chuck a Hail Mary attempt into the end zone as the clock expired, Colston was assessed a penalty for an illegal forward pass that by rule ran 10 seconds off the clock and ended the game.
New England Patriots 43 – 22 Indianapolis Colts
Dear Andrew Luck,
Stop throwing interceptions.
All jokes aside, Andrew Luck is destined to be one of the all-time greats and barring injury will undoubtedly retire with at least a ring or two. But for now, he’s got to learn to take care of the ball if he wants to win in the post-season. He may have played like a wizard in the second half of the big comeback win over the Chiefs, but 7 INTs in 2 games isn’t gonna cut it against the big boys.
This isn’t to say that Luck’s performance was all bad on Saturday, but his 331 passing yards and 2 touchdown passes were not nearly enough to overcome being picked off a whopping 4 times by the Patriots defense.
To add insult to injury, each of these turnovers was in Colts territory, handing the ball over to New England on the 2, 18, 36, and 39 yard lines.
With the Pats racking up an incredible 6 rushing touchdowns, 4 from LeGarrette Blount, they won almost effortlessly without much of a performance from their star QB Tom Brady. This isn’t to say that Brady didn’t play well, there was just simply no reason to stop handing the ball off when the NE backfield made the Indy run defense look like Swiss cheese.
There’s really not too much else to say about this one as the combination of turnovers and sieve-like run defense doomed the Colts from the get-go. New England went up 14-0 and then 21-7 on Blount’s first 3 touchdown runs.
The Patriots really never looked back as the Colts were only briefly able to pull within a score after 2 FGs and a safety that came on a wild play where the long snapper shot the ball over punter Ryan Allen’s head. In a head’s up play, Allen slapped the ball out of bounds, preventing Indianapolis from falling on the ball in the end zone for 7.
The eight point swing left Indy trailing 21-15, but on the ensuing drive Stevan Ridley busted across the goal line over the right tackle for a 3-yard score.
Luck answered with a 35-yard score of his own, tossing a long TD to wide receiver LaVon Brazill late in the 3rd quarter.
Once again within 5 points, the Indianapolis defense would get to redeem themselves against the Patriots’ running attack. But instead of stepping up to the plate, a combination of missed tackles and missed assignments led to Blount ripping off a 73-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach once and for all.
San Francisco 49ers 23 – 10 Carolina Panthers
Two months ago, when the Panthers downed the 49ers 10-9, the Carolina defense was able to disrupt Colin Kaepernick’s game and forced the 3rd year pro into his worst game of 2013. Kaep was sacked 6 times as he threw for 91-yards with no TDs and one interception.
On Sunday, the Niners’ QB redeemed himself with 2 touchdowns against this same Panthers defense. He threw a 1-yard strike to Vernon Davis with under half a minute to go in the first half to put his team up 13-10 at the break, and then he ran in a score from 4-yards out on San Francisco’s first possession of the 2nd half.
Kaepernick’s second score was all that Jim Harbaugh’s boys needed as the 49er defense stifled Cam Newton and the Carolina offense in the second half, holding the Panthers to zero points.
The game truly was a tale of two halves as Harbaugh’s halftime adjustments appeared to be pure genius. The first two quarters showcased the bruising back-and-forth battle that we all expected, and the last two quarters exhibited how dominant the Niners can be on defense when they’re playing their A-game.
Prior to the game, many Carolina players were upset at the perceived lack of respect the NFC South Champs were receiving in the media and by Las Vegas bookies (who gave SF a 1-point edge in the point spread). But by the time the clock read :00, it was plain to see that the better football team won this one.
The 49ers have now reached the NFC Championship three years in a row and have the chance to go to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year.
Denver Broncos 24 – 17 San Diego Chargers
Although the Chargers had already beaten Peyton Manning and the Broncos at Mile High Stadium earlier on in the season, not many analysts gave them much of a chance to repeat the feat on Sunday evening.
And for the first 3 ½ quarters of play it appeared that not only was Denver going to win, but that they were going to score a shut-out!
However, the San Diego defense had been just stingy enough to keep their team in the game heading into the final quarter, and when Philip Rivers found Keenan Allen from 16 yards out for the Chargers’ first points of the game, the score was surprisingly only 17-7.
The fans at Mile High had to be shaking in their boots a little bit after the debacle against the Ravens in the playoffs last season, but Manning was able to march the Broncos 81 yards down the field with Knowshon Moreno capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Once again the Broncos appeared to be in full control at 24-7. And once again Philip Rivers decided to wake up and play football. The Chargers’ QB answered back with a second 16-yard strike to Keenan Allen (the rookie finished with 142 yards and 2 TDs on the day) to pull the Bolts again within 10.
With under 6 minutes to play, the Chargers opted to try for the onside kick, which they subsequently recovered, keeping their miracle hopes alive.
San Diego was able to tack on a 30-yard Nick Novak field goal while burning less than two minutes of the clock, which allowed them to kick it deep and give their defense the opportunity to hold.
After a false-start penalty, a run for -2 yards, and an incomplete pass, the Broncos were facing 3rd and 17 from their own 20-yard line. In one of the plays of the game, Peyton Manning found Julius Thomas for 21-yards and a first down.
San Diego, armed with two time-outs and the 2 minute warning, still had a chance to force a stop and get the ball back with a reasonable amount of time on the clock. But once again, Manning found Thomas on 3rd down and that was the ballgame.
So yeah, my prints are wearing off the tips of my fingers here from typing. Check back in a couple days for a preview of the AFC and NFC title games.