“I couldn’t stop the fun facts from coming.”
Well that about sums up these game recaps.
Here’s what we thought about the NFC and AFC Championships…
Seattle (28), Green Bay (22) – Last year’s Super Bowl champions are heading back to the big game to defend their title. The poor Packers have all offseason to think about how they let a 16-point lead slip through their fingers. This one has got to hurt.
Green Bay’s defense dominated the first three and a half quarters of the game. The only touchdown they gave up in the first 57 minutes was on a trick play from special teams. The offense didn’t capitalize when they needed to, especially late in the game when they went three and out two times in a row in the fourth quarter.
While his calf injury didn’t seem to limit him as much as last week, at least at the beginning of the game, QB Aaron Rodgers only averaged 4.9 yards per attempt and had the lowest postseason passer rating of his career (55.8), throwing two interceptions in field goal territory. He did come through with a game-tying field goal in the last minute to send the game to overtime, but never got a chance to touch the ball again as Seattle won the coin toss and marched down the field for a touchdown. (In overtime, if the first team to receive the ball scores a touchdown, the game is over. If that team fails to score or only scores a field goal, the opponent gets another possession.)
There were a lot of plays that hurt the Packers (see a nice summary here), but the one that will be most talked about will be the dropped onside kick by Packers tight end Brandon Bostick. Poor kid – he’s getting called the goat of the playoffs. Baaaaa. Long story short is he didn’t do the task he was assigned, the ball bounced off him and into the hands of a Seattle wide receiver, and the Seahawks’ comeback continued from there.
Coach Mike McCarthy’s conservative play calling, especially decisions to kick field goals instead of going for a touchdown twice from the 1 yard line in fourth down situations, have been heavily criticized since the game.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson did not play good football for the majority of the game, and we’re not trying to be mean. He finished the first half with 12 passing yards, three interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 0.0. After 55 minutes, he added another interception to his total and his quarterback rating went up to 7.0. Seahawks fans in the record crowd of 68,538 even started to leave with five minutes remaining and the Packers up by 12 – and then had to watch the end of the game on TVs outside the stadium.
Lucky for Wilson, the Packers were only able to convert his four turnovers into six points. In the final nine minutes (five minutes of regulation and four minutes of overtime), his passer rating was a perfect 158.3. All four of his interceptions came on throws aimed at wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. Kearse was only targeted one more time in the game – and he caught the winning 35 yard touchdown in overtime.
There’s no crying in football, but someone didn’t tell Russell Wilson that.
Two injuries to watch for Seattle are cornerback Richard Sherman, who sprained his elbow when he collided with teammate Kam Chancellor, and safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder but played through the injury. Both are key pieces in Seattle’s secondary and have said they will be ready to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks.
– Russell Wilson is now 26-2 playing at home at Century Link field. This ties John Elway’s Broncos (1996 to 1998) and Brett Favre’s Packers (1995 to 1997 and 1996 to 1998) for the most home wins over a three-season span.
– Indeed, Seattle is just the fourth team in league history, and first since those 1985 and ’86 Bears, to lead the league in both scoring and total defense in consecutive years.
– The Seahawks now have the opportunity to become the first team to repeat as world champions since Tom Brady and the Patriots accomplished the feat ten years ago.
– Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft has hired two head coaches since owning the team: Bill Belichick and the coach who came before him — Pete Carroll, coach of the Seahawks. Their teams will now play each other for the title of world champion on Sunday, February 1st in Glendale, Arizona.
– Michael Bennett rode a bicycle to celebrate the win. You do you, Mike. You do you.
New England (45), Indianapolis (7) – This was expected to be a much closer game, and going into halftime, New England was only leading by a score of 17 to 7. Then the Patriots came out and scored touchdowns on their next four possessions. Game over. The 38-point margin of victory is the largest in Patriots postseason history and the third-largest in a conference championship game.
The Patriots’ game plan was similar to their approach in week 11, when they beat the Colts 42-20, by using six offensive linemen (which is one more than normal) and running the football. One of the Colts’ weaknesses is stopping the run – they had to know this was coming with the extra offensive lineman, but there just seemed to be nothing they could do about it.
Pats running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 148 yards and three touchdowns – 69 of these yards came after contact. FUN FACT ALERT – Blount now owns the Patriots team record with seven postseason rushing touchdowns (three in this game and four against the Colts last year). He’s the first player in NFL history with multiple postseason games with at least three rushing touchdowns.
Left tackle Nate Solder, who played tight end in college, even caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady in a trick play. Coach Belichick praised him, saying “Nate carried that ball like a newborn baby — two hands and had it cradled. You couldn’t have got that out of there with a crowbar.”
The Patriots secondary (defense) did not let Colts QB Andrew Luck find open receivers, and they held the Colts to 83 rushing yards. Luck only threw for 126 yards and had a 23.0 quarterback rating, the lowest in his three seasons in the NFL. That’s sad. Windy and rainy conditions probably also played a role in this.
The Patriots have now outscored the Colts 189-73 in their last four games, including by a margin of 113-27 in the second half alone. Luck has thrown 10 interceptions in four career games against the Patriots.
The other story line to come out of this game, which we already posted an article about, was the NFL investigation into the Patriots using deflated footballs during the game. Latest update on that is that 11 of the 12 balls were deflated. They’ll still play in the Super Bowl, but expect punishment in the form of a fine and probably loss of draft picks. Ugh.
It’s actually impressive the Colts made it this far into the post-season with the holes they have on their roster – they lack a pass rusher and quality running backs. The Colts have gotten one game closer to the Super Bowl each year since Andrew Luck was drafted and Chuck Pagano became head coach, despite missing a few key roster pieces every time. Andrew Luck is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, and he will take Indy to a Super Bowl. He’s only 25 and what’s scary is he is only going to get better.
Fun fact for the Colts – kicker Adam Vinatieri, the oldest current player in the league (he’s 42!) played in an NFL record 30th play-off game. He took the record from Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, who played in 29 during his career.
Here are a few other records set and fun facts from this AFC Championship game:
– This is the 6th Super Bowl the Patriots will be playing in under Belichick and Brady. They won their first three within a four year span, and lost their last two. The six Super Bowl appearances in 15 years is a league record. This is the eighth overall Super Bowl appearance for the franchise, which ties the Cowboys and Steelers for most all-time.
– This was Bill Belichick’s 21st career playoff win, which made him the winningest coach in postseason history. He ties Don Shula for most all-time Super Bowl appearances by a head coach, with six.
– This was QB Tom Brady’s 28th career playoff game, and his record ninth AFC championship game. He passed Peyton Manning to become the NFL’s all-time leading passer in the postseason (7,017 yards). Brady was already the NFL’s all-time leader in postseason wins (20) by a starting quarterback and postseason touchdown passes (49). His boyhood idol, Joe Montana, is second in both of these categories with 16 games and 45 touchdowns. Brady will now be starting a record sixth Super Bowl.
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– Val and Michelle