August 17, 2017

Cowboys 24, Lions 20

The fourth and final game of wildcard weekend featured the Detroit Lions heading south to Dallas, Texas to take on the Cowboys.  The Cowboys started at their 20-yard line and had a quick three and out.  Punter Chris Jones hit a 41-yard punt that was downed at the Detroit 38-yard line.  On second and ten from the 49, quarterback Matt Stafford went deep for wide receiver Golden Tate and he hauled in the pass for a 51-yard touchdown.  Kicker Matt Prater made the point after and the Lions jumped out to an early 7-0 lead with 11:22 to go in the first quarter.

The Cowboys managed to get a first down on their next possession, but the drive came to a halt when quarterback Tony Romo couldn’t complete a pass on fourth and seven to wide receiver Cole Beasley.  Jones punted and the ball was downed at the Detroit one-yard line.  Three plays netted five yards and the Lions were forced to punt.  Punter Sam Martin’s punt went out of bounds at the Detroit 44-yard line.  Wait a minute.  There’s a flag on the play.  The Cowboys were flagged for running into the kicker and that gave the Lions a first down at the 12-yard line.  A short pass to Tate and a scramble by Stafford netted a first down at the 23-yard line.  An 11-yard carry by running back Joique Bell, a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson and an 18-yard pass to Bell moved the Lions into Dallas territory.  Two more carries by Bell put them at the 18.  From the 18, running back Reggie Bush ran up the left side for a touchdown to cap a 99-yard drive.  Prater made the point after and the Lions were up 14-0 with two minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Cowboys still couldn’t get the ball rolling and ended up punting again.  As a matter of fact, there was a lot of punting going on until the 2:15 mark.  That’s when the Cowboys finally got on the board.  On third and 12 from the 24, Romo let one fly and the pass was caught for a 76-yard touchdown by wide receiver Terrance Williams.  Kicker Dan Bailey made the point after and the Lions led 14-7 with 1:37 to go in the first half.

The Lions started at their 20 and two passes to running back Theo Riddick gained 20 yards.  From the 40, Stafford completed a 19-yard pass to Johnson.  That was followed by an incomplete pass and a five-yard pass to wide receiver Corey Fuller.  That set up a third and five from the Dallas 36.  Stafford completed a pass to Tate that was ruled short of the first down marker.  But replay showed that the yardage gained was good enough for a first down.  Stafford completed a nine-yard pass to Bush as time was running short.  With three seconds to go in the half, Prater made his 39-yard field goal attempt and the Lions led 17-7 at halftime.

Things got off to a great start for the Cowboys in the second half.  Stafford looked for Tate over the middle and the pass was picked off by linebacker Kyle Wilber.  That gave the Cowboys the ball at the Detroit 19-yard line.  But on third and one from the ten, Romo was sacked for a loss of 13 yards by defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.  Well, Bailey is a good kicker.  He shouldn’t have much trouble with a 41-yard field goal.  Wrong.  The kick sailed wide right and the Cowboys failed to cash in on a golden opportunity.

The Lions took over at their 31 and on second and six, Stafford found tight end Brandon Pettigrew for a gain of 11 yards.  After a short carry by Bush, Stafford looked for Johnson again and found him for a gain of 28 yards and a first down at the Dallas 26-yard line.  But the drive would stall at the 19-yard line.  Prater came on again and his 37-yard field goal attempt was good.  That gave the Lions a 20-7 lead with 8:41 to go in the third quarter.

The Cowboys took over at their 20 and moved the ball with running back DeMarco Murray.  Murray had three carries and a seven-yard reception.  That gave them a first down at the 50-yard line.  On third and ten from the 50, Romo threw a short pass to his left that was caught by wide receiver Dez Bryant.  Bryant turned on the speed and weaved his way through several defenders.  He was finally dragged down at the seven-yard line.  Murray took it the rest of the way on the next play, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty on the Cowboys.  From the 17, Romo found Beasley across the middle for a gain of 15 yards.  From the two, Romo completed a short pass to tight end Jason Witten, but he was stopped short of the end zone.  On third and goal from the one, Murray ran up the middle and was stuffed for no gain.  That brought up a crucial fourth and goal from the one.  The Cowboys decided to go for it and Murray ran off left tackle for a touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Lions lead was now 20-14 with 2:54 to go in the third quarter.

The Lions had a quick three and out on their next possession and the Cowboys took over at their 31.  They quickly moved to mid-field as Romo found Beasley for a gain of 19 yards.  Murray ran for five more yards and on second and five from the Detroit 45, Romo completed another pass to Beasley.  This one was good for 12 yards.  Then another flag was thrown.  Unnecessary roughness was called on the Lions and the Cowboys now had a first down at the 18.  That’s when the Lion defense stepped up.  Murray was stuffed for no gain and Romo was sacked on back to back plays.  That was meant it was time for Bailey to try another field goal.  His 51-yard attempt was good and the Lions led 20-17 with 12:16 to go in the game.

The Lions got the ball back at their five-yard line.  On second and 12 from the three, Stafford completed a 21-yard pass to Fuller for a first down at the 24.  A short run by Bush and a 19-yard pass to Johnson moved the Lions to the Dallas 45-yard line.  From the 45, Bush ran for a gain of four yards.  Bell got the call on the next play and ran for five yards.  That made it third and one from the 46.  Instead of running it again, Stafford threw to the left side for Pettigrew.  The pass was incomplete due to the fact that Pettigrew was interfered with by linebacker Anthony Hitchens.  The flags flew and it looked like the Lions would have another first down.  All of a sudden, the flag was picked up and the zebras reversed the call.  You’ve GOT to be kidding.  Actually, when it comes to the NFL, hardly anything I see the zebras do shocks me.  Still, that was definitely pass interference.  That made it fourth and one from the 46.  All the Lions needed to do was get one yard to keep the drive alive.  Instead, Stafford tried to draw the Cowboys offside.  In other words, he didn’t snap the ball and took a delay of game penalty.  Lions, you baffle me.  You really do.  To make things really incredible, Martin shanked the punt.  It went TEN freaking yards.

Starting at the 41, the Cowboys went to work.  A 13-yard pass to Murray got them into Detroit territory.  That was followed by a few short runs by Murray and Romo completed a 21-yard pass to Witten on fourth and six.  The pass to Witten gave the Cowboys a first down at the 21.  A defensive holding on the Lions netted another first down at the 16.  The next two plays gained three yards and on third and seven, Romo completed a short pass to running back Lance Dunbar, but he was thrown for a loss of two yards.  Wait a minute.  There’s another flag on the ground.  This time, it was defensive holding on linebacker DeAndre Levy.  That gave the Cowboys a first down at the eight-yard line.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by a five-yard run by Murray.  That moved the ball to the three-yard line.  A false start on the Cowboys moved them back to the eight.  From the eight, Romo took the snap, had time and fired a pass across the middle that was caught by Williams for a touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Cowboys led 24-20 with 2:32 to go in the game.

The Lions took over at their 20 and on second and four, Stafford was sacked by defensive end Anthony Spencer.  The ball came loose and it was recovered by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.  All he had to do was fall on it and that would pretty much seal a win for the Cowboys.  Instead, he tried to advance it and the ball was loose once again.  It was recovered by offensive tackle Riley Reiff and the Lions retained possession at their 23-yard line.  With two minutes to go, Stafford spread the ball around to three different receivers and moved into Dallas territory.  On fourth and three from the Dallas 42, Stafford was sacked for a loss of nine.  The ball came loose again and Lawrence fell on it.  That was the nail in the coffin.  The Cowboys came from behind and won 24-20.

For the Lions, Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 42 for 323 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  Golden Tate led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 89.  On the ground, the Lions rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries.  Joique Bell was the leading rusher with 43 yards on 12 carries.  Defensively, linebacker James Ihedigbo led the team in solo tackles with seven.  Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh led the team in sacks with two.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo completed 19 of 31 for 293 yards and two touchdowns.  Jason Witten led the team in receptions with five and Terrance Williams had the most receiving yards with 92 and two touchdowns.  DeMarco Murray carried the ball 19 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.  The only other player with any rushing stats is Romo.  He had two carries for minus two yards.  Defensively, safety J.J. Wilcox led the team in solo tackles with seven.

Up next for the Cowboys is a trip to Green Bay to take on the Packers.  That game will be on Sunday at 1:05 eastern time.

 

Colts 26, Bengals 10

The third game on wildcard weekend featured the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Indianapolis, Indiana to take on the Colts.  These teams met earlier in the year and the Colts came away with a dominating 27-0 win.  Kicker Mike Nugent sent the opening kickoff nine yards deep and return man Josh Cribbs ran it out to the 29-yard line.  Quarterback Andrew Luck led his offense onto the field and quickly completed a short pass to running back Daniel Herron that went for 18 yards.  A neutral zone penalty on the Bengals and more completions to Herron moved the ball to the Cincinnati 40-yard line.  With all the success Herron was having, Luck threw another pass to him and this time it went for a gain of 27 to give the Colts a first down at the 13.  Three plays later, Herron took it up the middle for a two-yard touchdown.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri made the point after and the Colts led 7-0 with 11:05 to go in the first quarter.

The Bengals started their first drive of the game from their own 20.  Without wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, they would have to rely heavily on their running game.  From the 20, running back Rex Burkhead ran up the left side for a gain of 23 yards.  Three carries by running back Jeremy Hill netted 11 yards and a first down at the Indianapolis 46-yard line.  But the drive would come to an end at the 39.  Punter Kevin Huber got off a high punt that was downed at the nine-yard line.

This time, the Bengal defense played much better and forced a three and out.  Punter Pat McAfee hit a nice 59-yard punt that was fielded at the Cincinnati 25 by return man Adam Jones.  He returned it one yard and the Bengals took over at their 26.  Quarterback Andy Dalton completed two passes to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and they quickly moved to the 45-yard line.  Hill ran up the right side for a gain of 18 and a first down at the Indianapolis 37-yard line.  Dalton found Burkhead across the middle and he was dragged down at the five-yard line.  Two plays later, Hill ran up the middle for a one-yard touchdown.  Nugent made the point after and the game was knotted at seven with 1:28 to go in the first quarter.

Due to a poor kickoff return by return man Zurlon Tipton, the Colts started out at their nine-yard line.  On third and three from the 16, Luck couldn’t find an open receiver and ran up the middle for an 18-yard gain.  Two completions to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton moved the Colts down to the Cincinnati 20-yard line.  Some more bad news arose for the Bengals.  Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga injured his hamstring and did not return.  The drive came to an end at the 20 as Luck’s pass for wide receiver Reggie Wayne fell incomplete.  Vinatieri had no problem making his 38-yard field goal attempt and the Colts led 10-7 with 12:41 to go in the second quarter.

After a three and out by the Bengals, the Colts got the ball back at their 36-yard line.  On second down from the 38, Luck went deep up the right side and the pass was caught for a gain of 45 yards by wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.  But they couldn’t find the end zone again and the drive stalled at the Cincinnati 11-yard line.  Vinatieri came on and his 29-yard field goal was good. The Colts now led 13-7 with 8:34 to go in the second quarter.

The Bengals punted on their next possession and the Colts took over at their nine-yard line with five minutes to go in the half.  Completions to Hilton, Nicks and tight end Dwayne Allen moved them to their 31.  From the 31, Luck hooked up with Hilton again for a gain of 25 yards.  It certainly looked like the Colts were going to add to their lead before halftime.  But that wasn’t the case.  Luck completed another pass to Herron and as he was heading up-field, the ball was knocked loose and recovered by safety Reggie Nelson at the Cincinnati 41.  With time running short, the Bengals managed to get in field goal range and Nugent came on for a 57-yard attempt.  The kick bounced off the left upright and went through.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kicker that happy.  At halftime, the Colts led 13-10.

The second half was an absolute disaster for the Bengals.  Although their defense played admirably, the offense was horrible.  They couldn’t get a first down and it wouldn’t surprise me if Huber has a sore leg from all that punting.  I’d like to write about some of the drives they had, but they only gained 20 yards on their first five possessions of the second half.  Meanwhile, the Colts continued to rack up more yards on the ground and through the air.  Rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief caught a 36-yard touchdown pass and Vinatieri added two more field goals to give the Colts a 26-10 win.

For the Bengals, Andy Dalton completed 18 of 35 for 155 yards.  Giovani Bernard led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 46.  As a team, the Bengals rushed for 110 yards on 21 carries.  I really thought Jeremy Hill was going to get a lot of carries in this game.  He only carried the ball 13 times for 47 yards and a touchdown.  Defensively, Emmanuel Lamur led the team in solo tackles with six.

For the Colts, Andrew Luck had all day to throw and completed 31 of 44 for 376 yards and one touchdown.  Daniel Herron led the team in receptions with ten and T.Y. Hilton had the most receiving yards with 103.  As a team, the Colts rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries.  Herron was the leading rusher with 56 yards on 12 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and safety Mike Adams tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven apiece.  Freeman also had 1.5 sacks.

Up next for the Colts is a trip to Denver to take on the Denver Broncos.  That game will be on Sunday at 4:40 eastern time.

 

Ravens 30, Steelers 17

The second game of wildcard weekend had the Baltimore Ravens heading up to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.  These teams are division rivals and are very familiar with one another.  Kicker Josh Tucker sent the opening kickoff deep into the end zone and the Steelers started at their 20-yard line.  They took 6:27 off the clock and moved into Baltimore territory, but they came away with no points.  Instead of trying a 55-yard field goal, head coach Mike Tomlin decided it would be a wise decision to punt.  Brad Wing’s punt was downed at the Baltimore seven-yard line.  The Ravens ran three plays and punted the ball right back to the Steelers.

Starting with good position at the Pittsburgh 40, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown.  That was followed by a five-yard carry by rookie running back Josh Harris.  Harris got the call again and he was thrown for a loss of two yards.  Roethlisberger went to the air again and two completions to rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant netted 29 yards.  That set them up with a first down at the Baltimore 20.  Unfortunately for the Steelers, the next three plays would lose seven yards.  Kicker Shaun Suisham came on and his 45-yard field goal attempt was good.  That put the Steelers up 3-0 with 1:29 to go in the first quarter.

The Ravens started at their 20 and quarterback Joe Flacco went deep on first down for wide receiver Jacoby Jones.  The pass was incomplete, but safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for a helmet to helmet hit.  That moved the ball to the 35.  Flacco threw to his right and the pass was caught by tight end Owen Daniels for a gain of 18 yards.  Two carries by running back Justin Forsett netted another first down and the Ravens were in Steeler territory.  From the 36, Flacco hooked up with Daniels again for a gain of ten yards.  That was followed by two more carries by Forsett and that gave them a first down at the five-yard line.  Two plays later, running back Bernard Pierce took it in from five yards out for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens led 7-3 with 12:28 to go in the second quarter.

Return man Markus Wheaton fielded the ensuing kickoff five yards deep and decided to run it out.  Not a good idea.  He was brought down at the 14-yard line.  From the 14, Roethlisberger completed an 18-yard pass to Brown.  On third and ten from the 32, Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller for a gain of 30 and a first down at the Baltimore 38-yard line.  The next three plays netted nine yards and Suisham was brought into the game for a field goal attempt.  But the Ravens were flagged for having 12 men on the field.  That gave the Steelers a first down at the 24.  Roethlisberger completed a short pass to Tate on first down.  But another flag was thrown and the Ravens were flagged for unnecessary roughness.  That moved the ball to the ten.  The Ravens brought some pressure and Roethlisberger was sacked for a loss of nine by defensive tackle Brandon Williams.  That was followed by a short pass to Brown and a 12-yard pass to Bryant.  That set up a fourth and goal from the four.  Suisham had no problem making his 22-yard field goal attempt and the Ravens now led 7-6 with 5:40 to go in the second quarter.

The Ravens started at their 20 and Flacco hooked up with wide receiver Steve Smith for a gain of 23 yards.  A four-yard pass to wide receiver Kamar Aiken and an eight-yard run by Forsett moved them into Pittsburgh territory.  Add another personal foul penalty on the Steelers and the Ravens had a first down at the 30.  From the 30, Flacco found Daniels for a gain of 19 yards and a first down at the 11.  But they would only gain one yard on their next three plays.  Tucker was brought in for a 28-yard field goal attempt and the kick was good.  That put the Ravens up 10-6 with 2:41 to go in the second quarter.

Another short kick return by Wheaton had the Steelers starting their next possession at their 18-yard line.  Roethlisberger got his team to mid-field with an 11-yard pass to Miller, a 14-yard pass to Bryant and a seven-yard pass to running back Dri Archer.  A six-yard pass to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and an 11-yard pass to Wheaton netted a first down at the 33.  The drive stalled at the 29 and Suisham came on for a 47-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Ravens led 10-9 at halftime.

The Ravens started their first drive of the second half at their 16-yard line.  On third and 14, Flacco looked his right and found wide receiver Torrey Smith for a gain of 17 yards.  A seven-yard completion to fullback Kyle Juszczyk and a short run by Forsett had the Ravens in a third and short situation.  Instead of trying to run it up the gut, Flacco went deep for S. Smith.  The pass was incomplete, but some more yellow laundry was thrown onto the field.  Unfortunately for the Steelers, they weren’t terrible towels.  They were penalty flags.  Defensive pass interference was the call and the Ravens now had the ball at the Pittsburgh 31.  On first down, Flacco was sacked for a loss of 13 by linebacker Sean Spence.  The ball came loose, but the Ravens recovered it at the 44-yard line.  A short pass to Jones and a 14-yard pass to Smith put the Ravens back in field goal range.  Tucker’s 45-yard field goal attempt was good and the Ravens went up 13-9 with ten minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Steelers punted on their next possession and the Ravens took over at their 31-yard line.  Two completions to S. Smith quickly moved them down to the Pittsburgh 23.  A nine-yard pass to Juszczyk and a five-yard scramble by Flacco moved the ball down to the nine-yard line.  Two plays later, Flacco lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone and it was hauled in by T. Smith for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens increased their lead to 20-9 with 4:13 to go in the third quarter.

The Steelers couldn’t get moving and after eight plays netted just 14 yards, they punted again.  The Ravens took over at their 17 and a completion to S. Smith and some good running by Forsett moved them to the 42-yard line.  On third and eight from the 44, Forsett caught a pass and was brought down just short of a first down.  Flacco took it up the middle on fourth down and gained two yards for a first down at the Pittsburgh 47-yard line.  From the 47, Forsett ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  Defensive end Stephon Tuitt recovered the fumble and that gave the Steelers the ball at the 45-yard line.  Roethlisberger went deep for Brown on first down and it appeared he made a 45-yard touchdown catch.  But replay showed he was down at the one.  That was followed by a false start that moved them back to the six.  From the six, Roethlisberger threw to the right and Bryant caught it for a touchdown.  They decided to go for two, but the pass intended for Brown was picked off by safety Matt Elam.  With 11 minutes to go in the game, the Ravens led 20-15.

Jones returned the kickoff to the 22, but the Steelers were flagged for unnecessary roughness.  That moved the ball to the 37-yard line.  The next two plays lost three yards and that put the Ravens in a third and 13 situation.  If the Steelers could get a stop here, they’d be in position to take the lead.  That didn’t happen.  Flacco found Daniels across the middle and he gained 23 yards on the play.  That gave the Ravens a first down at the Pittsburgh 43-yard line.  From the 43, Flacco hooked up with wide receiver Marlon Brown for a gain of nine.  On third and one from the 34, Flacco went deep for S. Smith, but it was incomplete.  Tucker came on again for another field goal attempt.  His 52-yard attempt split the uprights and the Ravens went up 23-15 with 8:47 to go in the game.

The Steelers still had a shot to tie the game up.  But on third and four from the 26, Roethlisberger felt the pressure and dumped off a short pass to Tate.  The ball hit his hands, but he couldn’t handle it and it was picked off by defensive end Terrell Suggs.  The Ravens wasted no time in getting another score as Flacco dumped a short pass off to tight end Crockett Gillmore and he took it the rest of the way for a 21-yard touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens led 30-15 with 7:56 to go in the game.

The Steelers knew they had to score quickly.  But they were anything but quick on their next drive.  Granted, they moved the ball well, but they weren’t using the no huddle offense consistently.  To top that off, Roethlisberger left the game after getting his bell rung.  He was replaced by Bruce Gradkowski.  Gradkowski completed two of three passes for 22 yards.  On second and ten from the Baltimore 14, Roethlisberger came back into the game and promptly threw a pass that was picked off by safety Darian Stewart.  That pretty much sealed the deal.  The Steelers did manage to block a punt late in the game for a safety, but that was way too little way too late.  The Ravens came away with a 30-17 win.

For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 18 of 29 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.  Steve Smith led the team in receptions with five and receiving yards with 101.  There wasn’t much of a ground game to speak of for the Ravens.  They totaled 49 yards rushing on 25 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Daryl Smith led the team in solo tackles with nine.

For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger completed 31 of 45 for 334 yards, one touchdown and two very costly interceptions.  Antonio Brown led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 117.  Like the Ravens, there wasn’t much of a ground game to speak of.  As a team, the Steelers rushed for 68 yards on 19 carries.  Defensively, safety Troy Polamalu led the team in solo tackles with five.

Up next for the Ravens is a trip to New England to face the Patriots.  That game will be on Saturday at 4:35 eastern time.

Panthers 27, Cardinals 16

The first game of wildcard weekend had the Arizona Cardinals traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the Carolina Panthers.  Carolina kicker Graham Gano sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the Cardinals would start at their 20-yard line.  They ran three plays and gained exactly two yards.  To make things worse, punter Drew Butler shanked the punt and it only went 20 yards.  The Panthers started their first drive at the Arizona 48-yard line.  On third and two from the 40, quarterback Cam Newton completed an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for a first down at the 32.  They would get as far as the 29 and the drive was stopped there.  Gano came on and his 47-yard field goal was good.  The Panthers led 3-0 with 11:27 to go in the first quarter.

It was more of the same for the Cardinals.  Although there was some improvement.  Instead of gaining only two yards, they gained nine yards on this possession.  Another short punt by Butler gave the Panthers the ball at their 43-yard line.  Completions to Benjamin and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery quickly moved the Panthers into Arizona territory.  A couple of carries by running back Jonathan Stewart and a defensive holding penalty moved the ball to the 34.  From the 34, Newton found wide receiver Philly Brown for a gain of seven and a first down at the 27.  From there, tight end Greg Olsen caught a 14-yard pass and Stewart finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 10-0 with 5:21 to go in the first quarter.

With a little over four minutes to go in the first quarter, the Cardinals finally got a first down as quarterback Ryan Lindley completed a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Floyd.  After that, it was the same old thing.  They couldn’t get another first down and Butler punted.  However, return man Brenton Bersin couldn’t get a handle on the punt and the Cardinals recovered it at the Carolina 30-yard line.  On second and twelve from the 32, Lindley completed a short pass, but the bigger damage came from the zebras.  The Panthers were flagged for unnecessary roughness and that gave them a first down at the 15.  On third and ten, Lindley found wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and he was dragged down at the one-yard line.  From the one, Lindley completed a pass to tight end Darren Fells for a touchdown.  Kicker Chandler Catanzaro made the point after and the Panthers now led 10-7 with 14:56 to go in the second quarter.

The Panthers took over at their 20 and two five-yard penalties on Arizona got them a first down at the 30.  Two carries by Stewart and one by Newton moved the ball to the Arizona 30-yard line.  But the next three plays gained only five yards.  To top that off, a 43-yard field goal attempt by Gano sailed wide left.  That gave the Cardinals the ball at their 33 and like they had been doing for most of the game, they punted after three plays.  Butler hit a nice 52-yard punt that was downed at the Carolina 17-yard line.  The Panthers managed to get a few first downs, but were forced to punt.  Punter Brad Nortman hit a high punt that was downed at the Arizona two-yard line.  Three plays gained one yard and it was time for Butler to punt his team out of trouble.  He got off another poor punt and the Panthers had excellent field position at the Arizona 34-yard line.  On third and 13 from the 37, Newton looked for Cotchery and the pass was picked off by cornerback Antonio Cromartie.  It looked like he might return it for a score, but Newton pushed him out of bounds at the Carolina 17-yard line.  Three carries by running back Kerwynn Williams netted a first down at the one-yard line.  From the one, running back Marion Grice took it in for a score.  Catanzaro made the point after and the Cardinals led 14-10 with 2:50 to go in the second quarter.

The Panthers started at their 20 and some more good running by Stewart, Newton and fullback Mike Tolbert moved the ball down to the 45.  Completions to Brown, Olsen and a pass interference penalty on Cromartie gave the Panthers a first down at the Arizona 14-yard line.  They would get down to the 11 and the drive came to an end there.  Gano came on for another field goal attempt.  It was good, but the Panthers were flagged for holding.  That meant Gano would have to try another kick.  His 39-yard attempt was good and the Cardinals led 14-13 at halftime.

The Panthers started at their 20 again and lots of scrambling by Newton got them headed in the right direction.  They managed to take 7:31 off the clock and they didn’t even score a point.  On third and ten from the Arizona 43, Newton completed a pass to Bersin, but he was stopped at the 37.  Instead of trying a long field goal, head coach Ron Rivera opted for a punt.  Nortman’s punt was downed at the eight-yard line.  Like they had been doing all game, the Cardinals went three and out again.  Butler punted and the Panthers took over at the Arizona 39.  From the 39, Newton competed a short pass to running back Fozzy Whittaker and he took it all the way for a touchdown.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 20-14 with 5:28 to go in the third quarter.

Things would get much worse for the Cardinals after that.  Return man Ted Ginn fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Panthers got the ball back at the Arizona three-yard line.  Newton was stuffed for a loss of one yard on first down and Tolbert only gained one yard on second down.  On third down, Newton looked for Olsen, but the pass was incomplete.  However, the Cardinals were flagged for pass interference.  That gave them a first down at the one.  This time, Tolbert had no problem finding the end zone and he took it up the left side for a touchdown.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 27-14 with 4:04 to go in the third quarter.

You wouldn’t think that a 27-14 lead would be insurmountable for the Cardinals.  If they had Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton at quarterback, they’d have a shot at regaining the lead.  But Lindley was not having a good game.  Even after Newton fumbled and the Cardinals took over at the Carolina eight-yard line, they still couldn’t get a score.  Lindley looked for Fitzgerald and the pass was  picked off by linebacker Luke Kuechly.  That pretty much sealed the deal and the Panthers came away with a 27-16 win.

The top performers in this game were all wearing Carolina blue.

Leading passer: Cam Newton completed 18 of 32 for 198 yards, two touchdowns, one interception.

Leading rusher: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 123 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown.

Leading receiver: Fozzy Whittaker had 39 yards and one touchdown.

The Panthers held Arizona to 78 yards.  That is the fewest yards ever allowed in an NFL postseason game.  Up next for the Panthers is a trip out to Seattle to take on the Seahawks.  That game will be on Saturday night at 8:15 eastern time.

 

 

Seattle 23, San Francisco 17

The NFC championship game featured two NFC west rivals as the San Francisco 49ers headed to Seattle to take on the Seahawks.  The 49ers were coming off a 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers and the Seahawks made it to the next round by defeating the New Orleans Saints by a score of 23-15.  The loud Seattle crowd was pumped up for this one as the Seahawks started at their 20.  On first down, quarterback Russell Wilson rolled to his left and looked for an open receiver.  He was greeted rudely by linebacker Aldon Smith who sacked him for a loss of seven, forced the ball loose and while Wilson was trying to locate the ball, Smith recovered it at the Seattle 15.  That excellent field position for the 49ers would only result in a field goal attempt as the Seahawk defense was up to the task of keeping the 49ers out of the end zone.  Kicker Phil Dawson made his 25-yard attempt and the 49ers led 3-0 with 12:45 to go in the first quarter.

Both defenses were playing well and the next three possessions resulted in punts.  But with 14:49 remaining in the second quarter, the 49ers took over at their 14.  On third and nine from the 15, quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a pass intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree.  The pass was incomplete, but cornerback Richard Sherman was flagged for defensive holding.  That kept the San Francisco offense on the field and seemed to energize Kaepernick.  Two scrambles by Kaepernick netted 70 yards and the 49ers were knocking on the door as they had a first and goal from the Seattle ten-yard line.  Running back Frank Gore got the call on first and second down and gained nine yards.  That was followed by what was thought to be a touchdown run by running back Anthony Dixon.  But the replay showed he came up just short of the goal line.  With the ball being literally inches away from the end zone, they decided to go for it.  Dixon ran up the middle again and this time there was no doubt he was in the end zone for a touchdown.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that starting guard Mike Iupati was injured on the play and would not return.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers led 10-0 with ten minutes to go in the first half.

The Seahawks started at their 24 and Wilson got the drive off to a good start with a seven-yard completion to wide receiver Doug Baldwin.  On third and three from the 31, Wilson kept the drive going with a four-yard completion to wide receiver Golden Tate.  A short run by running back Marshawn Lynch set up a second and seven from the 38.  Wilson took the snap and ran to his right, then to his left, then backwards, then he spotted Baldwin wide open and heaved a deep pass down the middle where Baldwin caught it for a gain of 51 yards.  Baldwin was injured on the play, but he would return soon.  After that brilliant play, the Seahawks went nowhere and had to settle for a field goal attempt.  Kick Steven Hauschka made his 32-yard attempt and the 49ers now led 10-3 with 5:47 to go in the first half.

The 49ers gained a grand total of zero yards on three plays and punter Andy Lee got off a 43-yard punt that was downed at the Seattle 37-yard line.  Four carries by Lynch and a nine-yard completion to Baldwin on third and eight from the 49 got the Seahawks a first down at the San Francisco 42.  They would get as far as the 38 and on fourth and six, Seattle head coach Pete Carrol decided to go for it.  Wilson looked for Tate, but it was incomplete.  After the play, the flags came flying and our good friend Jim Harbaugh went out of his mind again.  Jim, what did I tell you about all that ranting and raving that you do?  The penalty was a personal foul on cornerback Carlos Rogers but it was a dead ball foul.  That meant that the 49ers would get the ball back at their 23-yard line.  Kaepernick took a knee to end the half and the score remained 10-3.

The 49ers got the ball to start the second half and only managed to get one first before Lee punted the ball away again.  Tate fielded it at the Seattle 30 and returned it ten yards to the 40.  It was time for Mr. Lynch to get into his “Beast Mode.”  He ran up the middle on first down for a gain of 11 and followed that up with a five-yard carry.  Wilson found Baldwin on second and five for a gain of four yards and that set up a third and one from the San Francisco 40.  Lynch took the hand-off, started to his right, cut back to the left, bounced off a blocker and headed up the right side for a 40-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the score was tied at ten with 9:51 to go in the third quarter.

The 49ers took over at their 17 and Gore ran up the right side for nine yards.  Running back Kendall Hunter followed that up with a gain of two and a first down at the 28.  From the 28, Kaepernick threw one down the middle for Crabtree that was caught for a gain of 22 yards.  Following that, Kaepernick scrambled up the left side for 22 more and a first down at the Seattle 28.  Kaepernick was sacked for a loss of eight by defensive end Michael Bennett.  He fumbled, but the ball was recovered by center Jonathan Goodwin.  Goodwin then proceeded to turn into a running back and he was dragged down at the 26.  From the 26, Kaepernick looked for wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the end zone.  Although safety Earl Thomas was in position to pick the pass off, Boldin came down with it for a touchdown.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers took a 17-10 lead with 6:29 to go in the third quarter.

Dawson’s kickoff went three yards deep in the end zone and Baldwin ran it up the right side for a gain of 69 yards.  That was just what the Seahawks needed to tie the game up again.  Well, that didn’t happen.  Aside from a 13-yard completion to Tate, they went nowhere.  Hauschka came on for a 40-yard field goal attempt and the kick was good.  That made it 17-13 with four minutes to go in the third quarter.

The 49ers got the ball back at their 20, went nowhere and Lee punted again.  Tate fielded it at the Seattle 38 and was brought down immediately.  11 yards on two carries by Lynch and a 13-yarder to Baldwin moved them to the San Francisco 38.  Running back Robert Turbin got four yards on first down, but an intentional grounding penalty moved them back to the 50.  From there, Wilson found tight end Zach Miller for a gain of 15 and that was enough to get Hauschka into field goal range.  He was late getting onto the field, but it looked like there was enough time to get the play off.  Instead, the Seahawks called timeout and brought their offense back on the field.  Smith jumped offside and that gave Wilson a free play.  He took full advantage of the situation and fired a pass to the right side of the end zone.  It was caught by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks went up 20-17 with 13:44 to go in the game.

A holding call on the kickoff moved the 49ers back to their 11-yard line.  Passes to tight end Vernon Davis and Boldin netted a first down at the 25.  A three-yard carry by Hunter and a six-yard scramble by Kaepernick set up a third and one.  But a delay of game moved them back five yards and on third and six from the 29, Kaepernick was sacked by defensive end Cliff Avril and the ball was recovered by Bennett.  Although Bennett had a nice convoy of blockers to lead him to the end zone, he stumbled over his own feet and was touched down at the San Francisco six-yard line.

Lynch got the call on first down and was stopped for a short gain.  A false start moved them back five yards and a pass to Tate was incomplete.  Then the fun began.  Wilson completed a pass to Kearse down the middle for nine yards.  At the one, he was hit by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.  Not only was he hit, Bowman clearly took the ball away from Kearse.  A huge pileup ensued and Bowman was hurt on the play.  He would leave the game with a torn ACL.  To add insult to injury, not one of the seven zebras saw Bowman take the ball from Kearse.  They ruled that Seattle would maintain possession and that the play was not reviewable.  It would have been reviewable if it had occurred in the end zone or the sideline.  All I can say to that is “WOW!”  Seriously?  You can’t challenge that?  I thought that was it for Harbaugh.  But he didn’t storm the field and after Bowman was carted off, order was restored.  The Seahawks decided to go for it on fourth down and everyone knew Lynch was going to get the call.  However, he couldn’t handle the hand-off and the ball came loose.  It rolled backwards and was recovered at the 15 by fullback Michael Robinson.

Given new life, the 49ers took over at the 15.  Things got off to a good start as Hunter ran up the right side for 11 yards.  But on first down from the 26, Kaepernick looked for Boldin on the left side and threw a terrible pass that was picked off by safety Kam Chancellor at the 40.  He was touched down at the 40 and once again, the Seahawks had good field position.  On third and eight from the 38, Wilson found Tate for ten yards and a first down at the 28.  On second and eight from the 26, the Seahawks were flagged for offensive pass interference.  That moved them back to the 36.  They got as far as the 29 and Hauschka was brought into the game again.  His 47-yard field goal attempt was good and the Seahawks led 23-17 with 3:37 to go in the game.

The 49ers went to work from their 22 and running back LaMichael James ran up the right side on first down and looked like he was going to throw.  Apparently there was nobody open and he was brought down for no gain.  Kaepernick found Boldin for eight on second down, but his pass on third down fell incomplete.  That set up a crucial fourth and two.  Kaepernick took the snap, rolled to his left and tossed a 17-yard pass to Gore for a first down at the 47.  Kaepernick scrambled for four yards on first down and hooked up with Boldin for four more.  It was now third and two from the Seattle 45-yard line.  Kaepernick calmly threw to his left and the ball was caught for a gain of 16 yards and a first down at the 29.  The 49ers stopped the clock with their first timeout.  From the 29, Kaepernick found Davis for 11 more and things were looking real good for the 49ers.  Well, maybe not.  From the 18, Kaepernick threw to the right corner of the end zone for Crabtree.  The pass was tipped by Sherman and picked off by linebacker Malcolm Smith.  That sealed the deal.  Sherman was flagged for taunting after the play and the Seahawks took over at their ten and ran the clock out from there.  Final score: Seattle 23 San Francisco 17.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 14 of 24 for 153 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  He also led the team in rushing with 130 yards on 11 carries.  Anquan Boldin had the most receptions with five and the most receiving yards with 53 and a touchdown.  With the exception of Kaepernick, the 49ers went nowhere on the ground. Gore, James, Hunter and Dixon combined for 31 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled, they had 161 yards rushing on 28 carries.  Defensively, NaVorro Bowman led the team in solo tackles with six.  He also had a sack, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery that nobody in a striped shirt saw.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 16 of 25 for 215 yards and one touchdown.  Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 106.  Marshawn Lynch had a good day on the ground and finished the game with 109 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 115 yards on 29 carries.  Defensively, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner tied for the lead in solo tackles with five apiece.  Chancellor also had an interception.

Well, the stage is set for Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on February 2nd.  It will be the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos fighting it out for the Lombardi Trophy.  Kickoff will be at 6:25 eastern time.  I have not seen too many teams slow down the Denver offense and the “Legion of Boom” will definitely have their hands full.  All I want to see is a good game and it should be a good one.  It would also be kind of cool if a snowstorm hit too.  Snow or not, I’m sure it will be cold outside.  Until then, take it easy.

 

Broncos 26, Patriots 16

The first game on the schedule for championship weekend had the New England Patriots traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Patriots were coming off a dominant 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos defeated the San Diego Chargers by a score of 24-17.  Denver won the toss and deferred to the second half.  The Patriots started at their 20 and gained a grand total of five yards on their first possession.  Punter Ryan Allen hit a 60-yard punt that was downed at the Denver 15.

Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver offense took the field and immediately went in to their no huddle offense.  Short passes to wide receiver Eric Decker, tight end Julius Thomas and a three-yard carry by running back Knowshon Moreno moved the ball to the 30.  Another completion to Decker went for 21 yards and the Broncos were at the New England 49-yard line.  They went no further than that and punter Britton Colquitt sent his punt through the end zone for a touch-back.

The Patriots went three and out again the Broncos started at their 18.  Completions to Moreno and J. Thomas quickly got them a first down at the 42.  On third and ten, Manning went deep for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and the play went for 29 yards.  From the New England 29, Manning looked for Decker again and found him for ten more yards.  They would gain only one more yard and kicker Matt Prater came on for a 27-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Broncos led 3-0 with 3:43 to go in the first quarter.

After running six plays and gaining 12 yards, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots finally got a first down as he found running back Shame Vereen for a gain of 24 yards.  On third and five from the 49, Brady completed a pass good for 18 yards to wide receiver Julian Edelman.  On third and ten from the 33, wide receiver Austin Collie caught a pass for eight yards.  However, the Patriots were flagged for offensive pass interference and that pretty much killed their momentum.  Allen punted and the ball was downed at the seven-yard line.

From the seven, Moreno ran off left tackle for a gain of 11 yards.  Moreno got the call on the next play and was stuffed for a gain of one.  From the 19, Manning threw a perfect pass to D. Thomas, but he couldn’t find the handle and the pass was incomplete.  During the play, wide receiver Wes Welker put one hell of a hit on cornerback Aqib Talib and Talib would leave the game with a knee injury.  That incomplete pass made it third and nine.  Manning completed a 14-yard pass to Welker for a first down at the 33.  On third and one from the 42, Manning threw for Decker and the pass was incomplete.  But the drive was kept alive by a holding call on the Patriots.  That gave the Broncos a first down at the 47.  A short carry by Moreno and a 12-yard pass to running back Montee Ball  got the Broncos yet another first down at the New England 39.  Two incomplete passes set up a third and ten and the Patriots were expecting a pass.  That wasn’t the case as Moreno ran off right tackle for a gain of 28 yards.  Three carries by Ball made it first and goal from the one and their 93-yard drive was capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Tamme.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 10-3 with 7:50 to go in the first half.

The Patriots went to work from their 20 and got the drive off to a good start as Brady hooked up with wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a gain of 27 yards.  A three-yard carry by running back LeGarrette Blount and a 13-yarder to Vereen moved the Patriots to the Denver 37.  Blount got the call again and was promptly stuffed again for a gain of two.  From the 35, Brady completed a pass good for 15 yards to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.  The next two plays gained two yards and Brady was sacked for a loss of eight on third down by defensive end Robert Ayers.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski came on for a field goal attempt and had no problem making it from 47 yards.  The Broncos now led 10-3 with 2:54 to go in the first half.

There was plenty of time for the Broncos to put up some more points before halftime.  However, Moreno was stopped on first down for a loss of one and a holding call moved them back to the ten-yard line.  But two passes to D. Thomas gained 53 yards and the Broncos were in New England territory again.  Short completions to Ball and Welker moved them down to the 26.  On fourth and one from the 17, Denver head coach John Fox opted to try a field goal instead of going for it.  Prater made his 35-yard attempt and at halftime, the Broncos were up 13-3.

About the last thing the New England defense needed was another long drive by the Broncos.  They needed to force a three and out to get the ball back in Brady’s hands.  On second and nine from the 21, Manning looked to the left side for Decker and that play was good for 18 yards and a first down at the 39.  A six-yard carry by Moreno, a five-yard carry by Ball and a 15-yard completion to J. Thomas put the Broncos at the New England 40.  Another good carry by Ball and an eight-yard pass to Decker gave the Broncos another first down at the 27.  Two more completions to J. Thomas moved them to the 15.  A seven-yard carry by Moreno and a five-yard carry by Ball made it first and goal from the three.  From the three, Manning calmly tossed a pass to D. Thomas in the end zone for another Bronco touchdown.  Prater made the point after and Broncos were looking good with a 20-3 lead with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter.

The Patriots started at their 20 and short completions to Dobson, Vereen and Collie quickly moved them to the 36.  On third and five from the 41, Collie caught another pass for a gain of 12 and a first down at the Denver 47-yard line.  A nine-yard carry and a two-yard “scramble” by Brady netted another first down at the 36.  The next three plays gained seven yards and instead of trying a field goal, New England head coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and three.  That was a bad idea as Brady was sacked for a loss of ten by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

With 2:25 to go in the third quarter, the Broncos took over at their 39 and looked for another score to put the nail in the coffin.  Ball was thrown for a loss of two on first down, but Manning came back with a 14-yarder to J. Thomas.  From the New England 49, Manning went deep again for D. Thomas and he hauled it in for a gain of 30 and a first down at the 19.  From the 19, Ball ran up the middle for seven.  He gained two yards on the next play, but the Broncos were flagged for holding.  That moved them back to the 22 and Manning found J. Thomas for a gain of 14.  Moreno ran up the left side for a gain of three, but the Broncos were flagged again for holding and that moved the ball back to the 18.  From the 18, Manning found Welker for a gain of 16 to put them at the two-yard line.  J. Thomas was stopped short of the end zone on the next play and on third and goal from the one, Manning lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone intended for J. Thomas.  He couldn’t get control of the ball and it was incomplete.  Prater came into the game again and his 19-yard field goal attempt was good.  That put Denver up 23-3 with 12 minutes to go in the game.

From the 20, Brady and the New England offense quickly got the ball rolling into Denver territory with completions to Edelman, Collie and Hoomanawanui.  From the Denver 26 Brady hooked up with Vereen two times for 19 yards and a first down at the seven.  Two plays later, Edelman got open again and Brady found him in the end zone for a touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Broncos now led 23-10 with 9:26 remaining in the game.

The Broncos started this drive from their 25 and on second and ten, Manning looked for J. Thomas and found him for a gain of 37 yards.  They got as far as the New England 36 and the drive stalled there.  Prater was called on once again and his 54-yarder was good.  With seven minutes to go, the Broncos increased their lead to 26-10.

The Patriots started out from their 20 again and three completions to Edelman and a nine-yard carry by Vereen moved them to the Denver 41.  Vereen got another carry and it was good for 11 yards and a first down at the 30.  Brady then found Collie for 18 and Edelman for seven more.  On second and three from the five, Brady took it in himself for a touchdown.  They had to go for two and Vereen came up just short.  The Broncos now led 26-16 with 3:07 remaining in the game.  An onside kick was the only thing the Patriots could do and the kick was recovered by Decker.  A 23-yard pass to Tamme and some more carries by Ball kept the clock moving and the Broncos went to win by a score of 26-16.  That win got them a ticket to the Super Bowl where they will play the winner of the San Francisco-Seattle game.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 24 of 38 for 277 yards and one touchdown.  He also ran for a score.  Leading the way in receptions was Julian Edelman with ten.  Edelman also had the most receiving yards with 89 and a touchdown.  The running game that worked so well against the Colts didn’t do very well in this game.  As a team, the Patriots only had 64 rushing yards on 16 carries.  Vereen led the team with 34 yards on four carries.  Defensively, cornerback Devin McCourty led the Patriots in solo tackles with ten.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 32 of 43 for 400 yards and two touchdowns.  Julius Thomas led the way in receptions with eight and Demaryius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 134 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Knowshon Moreno led the team with 59 yards on 14 carries.  As a team, the Broncos rushed for 107 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with eight.  The telling stat in this game was time of possession.  The Broncos held on to the ball for nearly 36 minutes, racked up 27 first downs and went 7 for 13 on third down conversions.  They were the better team and this will be their first Super Bowl appearance since Super Bowl XXXIII when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons by a score 34-19.

 

Broncos 24, Chargers 17

The final game on the schedule was a battle between AFC West rivals as the San Diego Chargers headed to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Chargers were coming off a 27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Broncos were coming off a bye week.  Denver kicker Matt Prater sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the Chargers started at their 20.  Running back Ryan Mathews got things off to a decent start with a five-yard carry.  Short passes from quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Ronnie Brown and tight end Ladarius Green got the Chargers a first down at the 33.  After a short run by Mathews, Rivers was sacked for a loss of nine on the next play.  On third and 17, running back Danny Woodhead ran up the middle for eight yards.  But they got a break as the Broncos were flagged for a facemask penalty.  The drive stalled at the 43 and punter Matt Scifres got off a 51-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver six by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  Decker returned the punt six yards and the Broncos went to work from their 14-yard line.

The Broncos brought out the no huddle offense and passes to tight end Julius Thomas, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Decker already had the Chargers looking baffled.  Another completion to wide receiver Andre Caldwell set up a first down at the San Diego 29.  On third and one from the 21, running back Montee Ball ran off right tackle for a gain of five yards.  A seven-yard pass to D. Thomas and a four-yard run by Ball made it first and goal from the three.  Two plays later, Manning looked to his left and hooked up with D. Thomas for a touchdown.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 7-0 with 2:25 to go in the first quarter.

The Chargers ended up getting a grand total of minus two yards on their next possession.  Scifres punted again and the Broncos took over at their 42.  On third and two from the 50, Manning completed a short pass to J. Thomas who fumbled at the 45.  The ball was recovered at the 43 by cornerback Richard Marshall.  That was a good break for the Chargers and on the strength of some good running by Mathews and Woodhead, they moved down to the Denver 30.  On third down, Rivers was sacked for a loss of five by defensive end Malik Jackson.  That brought kicker Nick Novak into the game for a 53-yard field goal attempt.  On the attempt, his plant foot slipped and the kick sailed wide left.

The Broncos had dodged a bullet and started with good field position from their 43.  A holding call moved them back ten yards, but they got 12 of it back as Manning hit running back Knowshon Moreno out of the backfield.  This is when the offside penalties started occurring.  As usual, Manning would do his usual long counts and yell “Omaha” over and over again.  On second and eight from the 45, the Chargers jumped offside and that gave the Broncos five free yards.  On second and three, Moreno burst up the middle for a gain of 11 and a first down at the San Diego 39.  Two more carries by Ball got them another first down at the 22.  From the 22, Ball got the call again and gained four yards.  From the 18, the Chargers fell for the Omaha call again and jumped offside.  From the 13, Moreno ran up the middle for five more yards and a first and goal from the eight.  Moreno got yet another carry and gained five more yards.  Two plays later, Manning fired a pass to wide receiver Wes Welker on the left side and he took it in for the score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 14-0 with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Chargers gained 14 yards on their next “drive” and Scifres punted again.  Decker fielded the punt at the Denver 23 and returned it straight up the middle for a gain of 47 yards.  If he hadn’t tripped over his own feet at the 30, he would have scored.  On first down, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for nine yards.  On second and one, Moreno was stuffed for no gain.  The Broncos really needed to keep this drive going.  A 21-0 lead just might be insurmountable for the hapless Charger offense.  That’s when Manning used the magic word.  He screamed “Omaha!” again and sure enough, the Chargers jumped offside.  That made it first down at the 16.  Moreno got the call two more times and gained 12 yards for a first and goal at the four.  Moreno was stopped for no gain on first down and a pass to Decker fell incomplete.  On third down, Manning looked for Decker again, but the pass was intercepted by linebacker Donald Butler in the end zone.  The Chargers took a knee and the first half ended with the Broncos leading 14-0.

A decent kickoff return by return man Trindon Holliday gave the Broncos the ball at their 36.  A nine-yard pass to D. Thomas, two carries by Moreno and yet another nine-yard pass to D. Thomas netted a first down at the San Diego 41.  From the 41, Manning fired a strike to J. Thomas for eight yards.  On third and one from the 32, Manning found Welker at the 26 for another first down.  After that, they went nowhere and Prater came on for a 45-yard field goal attempt.  It was good and the Broncos were now up 17-0 with 9:35 to go in the third quarter.

With Mathews out with an injured ankle, Woodhead and Brown would get the carries for the rest of the game.  Of course, if you’re down by 17 midway through the third quarter, the running game probably won’t be of much value.  On third and three from the 27, we finally had a Keenan Allen sighting.  The rookie wide receiver hauled in a pass from Rivers for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 46.  Denver cornerback Chris Harris was injured on this play and would not return.  He was later diagnosed with a torn ACL.  But they wouldn’t get much farther and they were forced to punt again.  Scifres had the heavy wind at his back and he hit a 62-yard punt through the end zone.

From the 20, Manning found Decker on the right side for a gain of 19.  He used that magic word again and the Chargers jumped offside.  That moved the ball to the 44.  Ball ran up the middle for eight and Manning completed an eight-yard pass to Welker.  Ball carried again up the middle for four more yards and a first down at the 36.  Then the Chargers jumped offside again.  This is a recording.  Despite the lack of discipline, the Chargers tightened up and the drive stalled at the 29.  The normally automatic Prater had some trouble with the windy conditions and his kick sailed wide left.  With one minute to go in the third quarter, the Chargers got the ball back at their 37.

On second and ten, Rivers “scrambled” for six yards.  That’s something you don’t see every day.   That set up a third and four from the 43.  Rivers had time and found wide receiver Eddie Royal across the middle for a gain of 30 yards.  With Harris out, he was replaced by former Charger Quentin Jammer.  On the pass to Royal, Jammer looked totally lost.  An illegal use of hands penalty on Denver moved the Chargers five yards closer to the goal line.  Woodhead ran up the middle for six yards, but a completion to Woodhead was quickly snuffed out by the Denver defense.  On third and four from the 16, Rivers floated one up the right side and Allen came down with it in the end zone for a touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Broncos led 17-7 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Holliday had another good kick return, but it was brought back to the 19 because of an illegal block in the back penalty.  On third and seven, Manning went deep down the middle for Welker and the pass was incomplete.  But the Chargers were flagged for pass interference.  That gave the Broncos a first down at their 45.  From the San Diego 47 on third and two, Manning completed a 17-yard pass to J. Thomas.  This was a recurring theme in the game.  Whenever third down came up, Manning always seemed to look for J. Thomas.  The Chargers were unable to address that problem.  Manning found Welker again for six yards and Moreno ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds at the ten.  Two plays later, Moreno took it up the middle for a score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 24-7 with 8:12 remaining in the game.

The Chargers started out at their 20 and three plays gained five yards.  On fourth down, they had no choice but to go for it.  Rivers took the snap and fired a pass to Allen that was good for a gain of 49 yards.  On first down from the Denver 26, Rivers ran for a gain of five yards.  A short pass to Brown got them another first down at the 16.  From the 16, Rivers hooked up with Allen again and this time it was good for another touchdown.  Novak made the point after and we had the makings of a close game.  With 5:43 to go, the Broncos led 24-14.

The Chargers tried an onside kick and Marshall came up with the ball.  Rivers and the offense went to work from their 40-yard line.  On second and 14 from the 36, Rivers tossed a 17-yard completion to Allen for a first down at the Denver 47.  Allen wasn’t done and on second and five, he caught another pass for 25 yards and a first down at the 17.  The drive stalled at the 12 and Novak was brought into the game for a 30-yard field goal attempt.  He split the uprights and that made the score 24-17 with just under four minutes remaining in the game.

There would be no onside kick this time as Novak kicked the ball deep in hopes that the defense could stop the Broncos.  From the 27, things didn’t get off to a good start for the Broncos as they were flagged for a false start.  Then Moreno was thrown for a loss of two yards.  On second and 17, Manning looked for D. Thomas and the pass fell incomplete.  That brought up third down.  Who do you think Manning will look for?  Welker?  Decker?  Moreno?  Shannon Sharpe?  None of those choices are correct.  The answer is Julius Thomas.  Out of the shotgun, Manning threw a deep ball to the right and sure enough Thomas grabbed it for a gain on 21 and a first down at the 41.  That was a damaging blow to the hopes of Charger fans.  Moreno ran up the middle for a short gain and the Chargers called their second timeout.  Moreno got the call on second down and was held to a minimal gain.  The Chargers called their final timeout.  Uh-oh.  It’s third down again.  You don’t think that evil #80 is going to get the ball again do you?  It was third and six and Manning knew a first down would get them a win and a ticket to the AFC championship game.  He calmly took the snap out of the shotgun and completed a nine-yard pass to J. Thomas yet again.  That did it.  The Chargers couldn’t stop the clock and a couple more runs by Moreno and a kneel down by Manning ended the game.  Final score: Broncos 24 Chargers 17.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 18 of 27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.  Keenan Allen led all receivers in receptions with six and receiving yards with 142 and two touchdowns.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for just 65 yards on 18 carries.  Danny Woodhead was the leading rusher with 29 yards on nine carries.  Their longest gain on the ground was a 16-yard carry by Ryan Mathews.  Defensively, cornerback Marcus Gilchrist led the team in solo tackles with seven.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 25 of 36 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Demaryius Thomas had the most receptions with eight and Julius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 76.  The Broncos had a good day on the ground as they totaled 133 yards on 34 carries.  Knowshon Moreno was the leading rusher with 82 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  Defensively, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey tied for the lead in solo tackles with four apiece.  The Broncos sacked Rivers four times and defensive end Shaun Phillips led the team with two.

Well, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver.  Tom Brady and the Patriots will be in Denver on Sunday and I look forward to what should be a high scoring game.

 

49ers 23, Panthers 10

The third game of the divisional playoffs had the San Francisco 49ers heading east again to play the Carolina Panthers.  The 49ers were coming off a 23-20 win over the Packers in frigid Green Bay and the Panthers were coming off a bye week.  There was nothing frigid about the weather in Charlotte.  It was sunny and in the mid 50s with a light breeze.  Carolina kicker Graham Gano sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the 49ers started at their 20-yard line.  On third and ten from the 20, quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked to his left and found wide receiver Quinton Patton for a gain of 20 yards.  A five-yard carry by running back Frank Gore and an eight-yard pass to Gore netted a first down at the Carolina 44.  On third and six from the 40, Kaepernick threw to his right for wide receiver Anquan Boldin.  The ball was tipped and fell incomplete.  However, safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for unnecessary roughness.  That got the 49ers a first down, but they went no farther.  As a matter of fact, Kaepernick was sacked for a loss of seven yards on third down.  Kicker Phil Dawson came on and his 49-yard attempt was good and the 49ers led 3-0 with 9:12 to go in the first quarter.

The Panthers started at their 20 and on second and eight, quarterback Cam Newton completed a six-yard pass to wide receiver Steve Smith.  On third and two, Newton completed another short pass to tight end Greg Olsen for a first down at the 34.  From the 34, Newton hooked up with wide receiver Brandon LaFell for seven yards.  On second and three, Newton looked for LaFell again but the pass was thrown behind him and picked off by linebacker Patrick Willis.  There were three Panthers in the general area of the pass, but Willis still came away with the interception.

The 49ers had good field position at the Carolina 46.  On second and eight, Kaepernick dumped off a short pass intended for tight end Vernon Davis.  The pass was incomplete, but linebacker Luke Kuechly was flagged for defensive holding.  That gave the 49ers a first down at the 44.  The zebras weren’t done throwing their flags either.  On the next play, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was flagged for unnecessary roughness to give the 49ers yet another first down at the 20.  The drive was halted at the 15 and Dawson was called on again.  His 33-yard kick was good.  With 4:33 to go in the first quarter, the 49ers led 6-0.

Dawson kicked the ball short and it was fielded at the Carolina 18 by running back Kenjon Barner and returned to the 34.  Newton went deep for Smith on first down and that play was good for 28 yards.  A seven-yard carry by running back DeAngelo Williams and a 14-yard pass to Ted Ginn moved them down to the 17.  Newton ran up the right side for 11 yards and the Panthers found themselves with a first and goal from the six-yard line.  Big fullback Mike Tolbert got the call on first down and gained three yards.  Newton kept it on the next play and gained two more yards.  On third and goal from the one, Tolbert once again was unsuccessful at finding the end zone.  The Panthers decided to go for it on fourth and about one foot from the goal line.  The attendance for this game was 73,784 and I’m pretty sure all of them knew that Newton was going to run the ball up the middle.  Add 11 more people to that number.  When the ball was snapped, every player in a white jersey did their best to clog the middle and stop Newton from scoring.  It worked and he was stopped short of the end zone.  Why not try a bootleg?  Maybe sell a play fake and toss it to Olsen?  Unimaginative play-calling led to zero points for the Panthers.

The 49ers went three and out and punter Andy Lee hit a nice 52-yard punt that was fielded by Ginn at the Carolina 45 and returned to the San Francisco 31-yard line.  On first down, Newton fired a perfect strike to the left for Smith who caught it in stride for a touchdown.  Gano made the point after and the Panthers led 7-6 with 13:40 to go in the first half.

The 49ers gained 20 yards on their next possession and punted again.  Ginn fielded it at the 17 and tried to escape, but could only get three yards on the return.  Three scrambles by Newton and a six-yard pass to LaFell moved the Panthers to the 47.  A 35-yarder to Olsen, a nine-yard pass to Smith and a short run by Tolbert had the Panthers knocking on the door again.  Newton ran up the left side and was brought down at the one-yard line.  On second down, Newton was stuffed for no gain.  Before the ball was snapped on the next play, linebacker Ahmad Brooks did his best impression of a bird as he jumped over the line and Newton.  That was an obvious offside penalty and moved the ball a little closer to the goal line.  Tolbert had no luck gaining any yards on third down and the Panthers decided to try a field goal on fourth down.  A delay of game moved them back five yards, but Gano had no trouble making a 25-yard field goal and the Panthers led 10-6 with 3:41 to go in the first half.

The 49ers started at their 20 and a five-yard carry by Gore and a 12-yard pass to Boldin moved them to the 37.  On second down, Boldin caught another pass for 14 yards.  Wide receiver Michael Crabtree got in on the act and hauled in a pass for 20 yards and a first down at the Carolina 29.  Another five-yard run by Gore and a 15-yard pass to Boldin made it first and goal from the nine.  After that play, safety Quintin Mikell was injured and did not return to the game.  Every time Boldin made a catch, he talked a little louder.  After that previous catch, he started chirping again and slammed his helmet into Munnerlyn’s helmet.  Doesn’t that qualify as a head-butt?  Shouldn’t there be a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct?  Taunting?  Guess not.

On third and goal from the nine, Kaepernick floated a pass to the right side of the end zone for Boldin.  The pass was incomplete, but cornerback Drayton Florence didn’t turn around to look for the ball.  As I saw that, I started to count.  5…4…3…Boom! There’s the flag!  It was now first and goal from the one.  Gore was stopped for no gain on first down.  On second down, Kaepernick rolled to his right and tossed a pass to Davis in the end zone.  Initially it was ruled incomplete, but replay showed he had possession and got both feet down for the score.  After the pass was ruled incomplete, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh stormed the field in protest of the call.  He was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct that was enforced on the kickoff.  Harbaugh, didn’t you have a procedure done last year for an irregular heartbeat?  It was inside of two minutes and that means that every play will be reviewed from the booth.  Just calm down and stop whining.  You’re acting like a damn child.  If you keep having these emotional explosions, you’re going to be in a straightjacket before the game is over.  After all that went down, Dawson made the point after and the 49ers led 13-10 at halftime.

The Panthers needed to get back on track with a good drive to start the second half.  That didn’t happen and punter Brad Nortman got off a 51-yard punt that was fair caught at the San Francisco 23.  Some more tough running by Gore and a 16-yard pass to Boldin moved the ball to the Carolina 47.  Kaepernick looked for Boldin once again and he hauled it in for a gain of 45.  On first and goal from the two, Gore and Kaepernick weren’t on the same page during the exchange and the ball came loose.  Gore pounced on it and the 49ers retained possession.  I’d hate to see what Harbaugh would have done if Carolina recovered the fumble.  On second down, Kaepernick kept it and ran up the left side.  He dodged a couple of defenders and made it into the end zone.  Dawson made the point after and the 49ers increased their lead to 20-10 with nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Panthers really needed to get some points on this drive and they started at their 24-yard line.  Passes to LaFell and Olsen and some scrambling by Newton had them moving in the right direction.  On second five from the San Francisco 48, Newton went deep for Ginn, and the pass fell incomplete.  But the 49ers were flagged for defensive holding.  That moved the ball to the 43 and gave the Panthers a first down.  On third and one, Newton completed a five-yard pass to LaFell and the Panthers were looking good.  They were looking good until the 49ers stepped up their pass rush.  After an incomplete pass on first down, Newton was sacked by linebacker NaVorro Bowman for a loss of eight yards.  On third down, Newton had room to run up the middle, but didn’t move quickly enough and he was sacked by Brooks for another eight-yard loss.  That put them out of field goal range and really hurt their chances of getting back into the game.  They had control of the ball for 8:20 and came away scoreless.

Nortman punted and the 49ers took over at their 12.  Another score would most likely put the Panthers away.  On third and two from the 20, the Kaepernick and Boldin connection came through again and Boldin caught another pass for five yards and a first down at the 25.  Two carries by Gore netted nine yards and on third and one, Gore got loose for a gain of 39 yards.  He was finally dragged down by Mitchell and Florence at the Carolina 27.  The drive would stall at the 15, but they held on to the ball for almost eight minutes and took precious time off the clock.  Dawson came on again and made his 33-yard field goal attempt.  With 7:35 to go in the game, the 49ers led 23-10.

All the Panthers could do now was hope for the best and cope with the rest.  Starting at the 23, Newton completed passes to LaFell and Ginn, but he was also sacked two more times.  They moved down to the San Francisco 28, but when Newton looked for Olsen, his pass was picked off at the nine by safety Donte Whitner.  The Carolina faithful started to head for the exits as that pretty much ended any hopes of the Panthers heading to Seattle.  The 49ers ran out the clock and advanced to the NFC championship game for the second straight year.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 for 196 yards and one touchdown.  He added a rushing touchdown and finished the game with 15 yards on eight carries.  Anquan Boldin had himself a good day and led the 49ers in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 136.  On the ground, the 49ers rushed for 126 on 34 carries.  Frank Gore led the way with 84 yards on 17 carries.  Their defense came up huge when it needed to with two big goal line stands.  Defensively, they sacked Newton five times and Bowman, Willis and Brooks tied for the lead in solo tackles with five apiece.  Brooks also had 2.5 sacks.

For the Panthers, Cam Newton completed 16 of 25 for 267 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  He also led the team in rushing with 54 yards on ten carries.  Ginn, Smith, Olsen and LaFell each had four receptions and Ginn had the most receiving yards with 104.  As a team, the Panthers rushed for 93 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Thomas Davis led the team in solo tackles with four.  They had plenty of opportunities in this game.  Simply put, they couldn’t find a way to score from the one-yard line on two different occasions.

Whenever the 49ers and Seahawks get together, you can expect an intense game with lots of trash talk.  I expect that’s what will happen Sunday when they meet at 6:30 eastern time to determine the winner of the NFC.

Patriots 43, Colts 22

I apologize for not getting all these articles up on Monday.  But, family comes first.  After a long battle with cancer, my Aunt passed away on Monday morning.

The second game of the divisional playoffs matched up the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.  The Colts were coming off a very dramatic 45-44 win over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Patriots were coming off a bye week.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted the opening kickoff deep and the Colts started at their 20.  On third and two from the 28, quarterback Andrew Luck threw a pass to his left intended for wide receiver LaVon Brazill and the pass was picked off by cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.  He returned it to the two-yard line and on the next play, quarterback Tom Brady turned and handed the ball to running back LeGarrette Blount who made it into the end zone.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots were up 7-0 with 13:41 to go in the first quarter.

Well, the Colts had to come from behind once again.  Judging from how far behind they were last week, coming from behind is nothing new to them.  But their comeback wouldn’t start on their next drive as they went three and out.  Punter Pat McAfee hit a nice 56-yard punt into the rain and it was fielded by return man/wide receiver Julian Edelman at the 21.  He returned it to the 42, but the Patriots were flagged for an illegal block.  That moved them back to the 26-yard line.  With rain and windy conditions, head coach Bill Belichick decided to run the ball.  Four carries by Blount, a 13-yard pass to running back Shane Vereen and a 25-yard pass to Edelman put the Patriots at the Indianapolis 30-yard line.  Another short completion to Vereen and a 16-yarder to wide receiver Danny Amendola set up a first and goal from the seven.  Two plays later, Blount was in the end zone again.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots led 14-0 with 7:17 to go in the first quarter.

The Colts went to work from their 20 and got off to a good start with a seven-yard run by running back Donald Brown.  Luck completed a pass good for nine yards and a first down to tight end Coby Fleener.  Another carry by Brown and a 22-yarder to wide receiver Griff Whalen moved the Colts to the New England 38.  Luck decided to go deep on the next play and he threw a perfect pass to Brazill for a touchdown.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri made the point after and the Patriots led 14-7 with 4:35 to go in the first quarter.

Each team punted on their next possession and the Patriots got the ball back at their 25 with 2:22 remaining in the quarter.  Running backs Stevan Ridley and Vereen got the Patriots rolling in the right direction.  They quickly moved from the 25 to the 46 as they continued to pound the ball.  Two more completions to Edelman netted a first down at the 12 and three plays later, Blount carried the ball into the end zone for the third time.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots went up 21-7 with 10:54 to go in the second quarter.

The Colts started at their 20 again.  A three-yard carry by Brown and a 29-yard completion to Fleener gave the Colts a first down at the New England 48.  A few more carries by Brown and a scramble by Luck made it seem like the Colts were headed for the end zone again.  On third and six from the 18, Luck threw for wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and the pass was incomplete.  Vinatieri came on and nailed his 36-yard field goal attempt.  That made the score 21-10 with 5:35 to go in the first half.

Blount returned the kickoff to the 25 and three more carries by Blount netted 20 yards.  But they would only get as far as the 49.  On fourth down and two, they brought in punter Ryan Allen.  The snap went way over his head and instead of kicking the ball through the end zone, Allen picked the ball up.  Really?  If you want to get a first down, you’ll have to get the ball past midfield.  Let’s see that arm, Ryan.  He was just about to throw the ball when a herd of angry Colts impeded his progress.  The ball was knocked out of Ryan’s hand and went through the end zone for a safety.  In the process, Ryan got roughed up pretty badly.  But none of that would’ve happened if he would have just kicked the ball through the end zone.  The score was now 21-12 with 2:18 to go in the first half.

After the free kick, the Colts took over at their 28.  On third and ten, Luck competed a 16-yarder to Hilton and two plays later, he found Whalen for a gain of 17.  From the New England 39, Luck dropped back to pass again and it was picked off by linebacker Dont’a Hightower.  That killed that drive and at halftime, the score remained 21-12.

The opening drive for the Patriots went nowhere and filling in for Ryan on punting duties was Gostkowski.  He got off a 35-yard punt that was downed at the Indianapolis 37-yard line.  I’m curious as to why almost every time the Colts ran the ball, it was up the middle.  Why not try a sweep or maybe even a reverse?  Whatever.  I’m not the one calling the plays.  A short carry by  Brown and a 20-yard pass to Fleener moved the Colts into New England territory.  Another pass to Fleener made it first and goal from the four.  Three tries from the four gained one yard and Vinatieri came on again.  His 21-yard field goal attempt was good and that made it 21-15 with ten minutes to go in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Blount was dragged down at the 12-yard line.  From the 12, Brady went deep for Amendola and it was good for a gain of 53 and a first down at the Indianapolis 35-yard line.  Brady continued to throw on this drive and completed a short pass to Vereen and an eight-yard pass to Edelman.  On third and eight from the 22, Brady’s pass to Edelman was incomplete, but the Colts were flagged for pass interference.  That moved the ball to the five and three plays later, Ridley ran it in from three yards out.  They decided to go for two and succeeded as Ridley ran it in again.  That put the Patriots up 29-15 with 6:18 to go in the third quarter.

Down by 14 again, the Colts took to the air on second and 11 from the 19.  Luck put a deep pass up the left side that was caught by Hilton for a gain of 46 yards.  On the next play, Luck went deep again.  This time it was down the middle for Brazill who caught it for a 35-yard touchdown.  Vinatieri made the point after and the score was now 29-22 with five minutes to go in the third quarter.  That exciting play was followed by four punts.  Two from the Patriots and two from the Colts.  With a little over 13 minutes to go in the game, Blount got the call on first down from his own 27-yard line.  He took it up the right side and broke away for a 73-yard touchdown.  That was his fourth touchdown of the game and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look happier.  Vinatieri made the point after and the Patriots led 36-22 with 12:55 to go in the game.

The Colts took over at their 20 and a false start penalty moved them back five yards.  From the 15, Luck threw deep for Fleener and was picked off at the 38 by linebacker Jamie Collins.  He was finally dragged down at the 18 and it was about time for the Patriots to put the nail in the coffin.  On third and ten from the 18, Brady found former Colt wide receiver Austin Collie for a gain of 15 and a first and goal from the three.  On second and goal from the one, a chant of “We want Blount” rose up from the crowd.  Well, you’re not getting Blount.  You’re getting Ridley for a one-yard touchdown.  I guess you’ll just have to deal with that.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots increased their lead to 43-22 with 11:12 to go in the game.  This is what is known as “garbage time.”  All the Patriots did was run the ball and all the Colts did was throw.  Neither team found the end zone again and the Patriots won 43-22.

For the Colts Andrew Luck completed 20 of 41 for 331 yards, two touchdowns and four costly interceptions.  He threw only nine interceptions in the regular season, but was picked off seven times in the playoffs.  Coby Fleener led the team in receptions with six and T.Y. Hilton had the most  receiving yards with 103.  Seeing as they were trailing the entire game, the Colts didn’t run the ball very much at all.  They finished with 69 yards on 21 carries.  Donald Brown led the way with 63 yards on 17 carries.  Trent Richardson was invisible in this game as he only carried the ball three times for one yard.  That’s the guy you gave up a first round pick for?  Wow!  The Browns definitely benefited from that trade.  Defensively, linebacker Jerrell Freeman had the most solo tackles with five.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 13 of 25 for 198 yards.  Julian Edelman led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 84.  The ground game was working on all cylinders and the Patriots rushed for a total of 234 yards on 46 carries.  LeGarrette Blount paved the way with 166 yards on 24 carries and four touchdowns.  Defensively, Hightower and Collins tied for the lead in solo tackles with three apiece.  Both Hightower and Collins each had interceptions as well.

Up next for the Patriots is a trip to Denver for the AFC championship game.  That game will be on Sunday and will begin at 3 eastern time.  The last time the Patriots and Broncos met was in New England in late November.  The Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but the Patriots came storming back and came away with a 34-31 win in overtime.  I’m hoping the game on Sunday is just as exciting.

Seahawks 23, Saints 15

The first game of the divisional playoffs had the New Orleans Saints hitting the road again to play at Seattle.  The Saints were coming off a 26-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seahawks were coming off a bye week.  Heavy rain and heavy winds were expected throughout this game as Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka sent the opening kick through the end zone.  The Saints ran three plays and gained a total of four yards.  Punter Thomas Morestead sent a wounded duck off the side of his foot that only went 16 yards and the Seahawks took over at the New Orleans 40-yard line.

Two plays netted negative one yard and on third and 11, quarterback Russell Wilson tossed one up the left side for wide receiver Percy Harvin.  The pass was incomplete, but Harvin got nailed by safety Rafael Bush and that resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty and a first down at the 27.  They got as far as the 20 and were forced to try a field goal. Hauschka came on and his 38-yard attempt was good.  That put Seattle up 3-0 with 10:19 to go in the first quarter.

Another kickoff through the end zone put the Saints at their 20 again.  Running back Mark Ingram got the drive off to a good start as he gained 18 yards on two carries.  Quarterback Drew Brees completed a 13-yard pass to running back Khiry Robinson and the Saints were in Seattle territory.  Ingram ran up the left side for 12 more yards and was pushed out of bounds.  On his way back to the huddle, he let anyone with earshot know how great he was.  Nice run, Mark.  Now get back to the huddle.  Gaining 12 yards won’t get you into the Hall of Fame.  The Saints got as far as the 27 and the drive stalled there.  Kicker Shayne Graham fresh off a good game last week came on for a 45-yard field goal attempt and it was wide left.  With five minutes to go in the first quarter, the score was still 3-0.

Some good runs by running back Marshawn Lynch and a 13-yard pass to Golden Tate had the Seahawks heading into New Orleans territory again.  On first down from the New Orleans 46, Wilson completed a pass to Lynch for a gain of seven.  Running back Robert Turbin got the call on the next play and got five yards and a first down at the 31.  They would go no farther than that.  Hauschka made his 49-yard field goal attempt and the Seahawks led 6-0 with 37 seconds to go in the first quarter.

On second and six from the 24, Ingram ran up the middle and the ball was knocked loose and recovered by defensive end Michael Bennett.  That set the Seahawks up at the New Orleans 24-yard line.  Harvin ran a reverse up the right side for nine yards on first down and Lynch finished off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run right up the middle.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were up 13-0 with 14:17 to go in the second quarter.

The next three possessions all resulted in punts.  But with six minutes to go in the first half, the Seahawks got the ball back at their 29.  Two runs by Lynch totaled 19 yards and a short scramble by Wilson and a 16-yard pass to Harvin moved the Seahawks down to the New Orleans 35.  Lynch got the call again and gained three yards.  But a holding penalty moved them back to the 40.  No problem.  Wilson completed a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for a first down at the 15.  But once again the Saints defense stiffened and the drive stalled at the eight-yard line.  Hauschka was inserted into the game again and he made his 26-yard field goal attempt.  The half ended with the Seahawks up 16-0.

The second half started and it looked like the sun was about to come out.  Things were looking a little brighter in Seattle for a few minutes.  That didn’t last long and the sun was quickly covered up by more dark clouds.  Then it started to rain again.  There were lots of punts in the third quarter and neither team seemed to be able to get the ball rolling.  With 6:22 to go in the third quarter, the Saints got the ball back at their 39 and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Seahawks got them a first down in Seattle territory.  They got down to the Seattle 44 and on fourth and three, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton decided to go for it.  Brees felt pressure from his left and he ran to his right.  Wide receiver Lance Moore was open across the middle, but the throw was off target and the Seahawks took over at their 43.  They went nowhere and punter Jon Ryan got off a short punt that went just 26 yards and was downed at the New Orleans 26.

With just a little over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Saints knew they had to get their offense moving.  A six-yard pass to wide receiver Marques Colston and a six-yard run by Ingram got them a first down at the 38.  Brees then found tight end Josh Hill down the middle for a gain of 23 and a first down at the Seattle 39.  They were moving now and Brees found Colston again for 25 more yards.  A short run by Ingram and a nine-yard pass to Moore made it first and goal from the two.  Two plays later, Robinson found the end zone for a touchdown.  That was followed by Ingram running it in for the two-point conversion.  That made it 16-8 with 13:11 to go in the game.

The ineptness continued for both offenses until the 5:30 mark.  The Saints started at their 28 and a holding call moved them back ten yards.  Then Seattle was flagged for defensive holding.  From the 23, Brees floated one up the left side that surely looked like it would be picked off as there were two Seahawks standing in front of wide receiver Robert Meachem.  Both defenders went up for the pass and the ball bounced off them and landed squarely in the hands of Meachem.  He was dragged down at the Seattle 25-yard line.  A delay of game penalty moved them back five yards and that was followed by three incomplete passes.  Graham came into the game and once again, his kick sailed wide left.  The Seahawks dodged a bullet and remained up 16-8 with 3:51 to go in the game.

The Seahawks took over at their 38 and on third and three from the 45, Wilson put one up the left side for wide receiver Doug Baldwin and he hauled it in for a gain of 24 yards.  The Saints challenged the play, but it was ruled a complete pass and the Seahawks had a first down at the New Orleans 31-yard line.  Saints, do you think Marshawn Lynch might get the ball on the next play?  I bet he does.  Sure enough, Lynch ran up the left side for a 31-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 23-8 with 2:40 remaining.

The Saints started at their 20 and two passes to Colston and one to Moore moved the Saints to the Seattle 40.  Brees found Colston again for 16 yards and running back Darren Sproles caught a short pass for a gain of six.  An illegal substitution penalty on Seattle got them five more yards and a first down at the 13.  On third and ten from the 13, the Saints were flagged for offensive pass interference and that moved them back ten yards.  That made it third and 20 and Brees completed a 14-yard pass to Sproles to set up a fourth and six from the nine.  Brees tossed a pass to the right side that was hauled in by Colston for a touchdown.  Graham made the point after and Seattle led 23-15 with 26 seconds remaining in the game.

The only thing the Saints could do was try an onside kick.  The ball hit wide receiver Golden Tate in the hands, but he couldn’t control it and the ball was recovered by Colston.  The Saints had a shot to tie it up.  Brees completed an eight-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and then spiked the ball.  From the 49, Brees completed a 13-yard pass to Colston on the right sideline.  Instead of stepping out of bounds, he hesitated and threw the ball across the field to running back Travaris Cadet.  The only problem with that was it wasn’t a lateral.  It was an illegal forward pass and with that penalty comes a ten second runoff.  In other words, the game was over.  The Seahawks hung on to win 23-15.

For the Saints, Drew Brees completed 24 of 43 for 309 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.  Marques Colston led all receivers in receptions with 11 and yards with 144 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Khiry Robinson had the most yards with 57 and a touchdown.  As a team, the Saints rushed for 108 yards on 26 carries.  Defensively, safety Roman Harper led the Saints in solo tackles with five.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson has seen better days as he completed 9 of 18 for just 103 yards.  Losing Percy Harvin to a concussion didn’t help matters and Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with two and yards with 30.  The ground game was where the damage was done.  Marshawn Lynch led the way with 140 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 174 yards on 35 carries.  Defensively, safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Bobby Wagner tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven apiece.

Up next for the Seahawks is a visit from one of their division rivals.  The San Francisco 49ers are coming to town on Sunday at 6:30 eastern time.  When they met in week two, the Seahawks had no problem with the 49ers and came away with a 29-3 win.  But when they met in San Francisco in week 14, the 49ers won 19-17.  That should be quite a battle to determine the NFC champion.

As I concluded this article, I was informed of a family emergency and won’t be able to do recaps of the remaining games today. I hope to have the rest of the articles up tomorrow.