Baltimore Ravens 38-35 Denver Broncos (2nd OT)
The Baltimore Ravens pulled off the biggest surprise of the playoffs so far by beating the Denver Broncos at Mile High. The game was tight all the way and there was never more than a touchdown between the teams. Denver led for most of the game but the Ravens kept coming back at them. Throughout the game Denver led 7-0, 21-14, 28-21 and 35-28 but they were unable to hang onto those leads and it was the Ravens who had the last laugh winning with a field goal in the second period of overtime.
Peyton Manning was poor by his usual high standards. He completed just 28 of his 43 passes for 290 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also fumbled the ball which was recovered by the Ravens. When you turn the ball over three times you are asking for trouble and unfortunately for the Broncos it has cost them their shot at an AFC Championship game. All three turnovers led to points. The first was a pick six, the next was a fumble which handed Baltimore the ball in Denver territory and the third one was the interception that led to the game winning field goal. Those turnovers cost the Broncos 17 points and possibly more as they may have scored themselves on those drives.
The Broncos struggled with their running game all day and that was another factor in the defeat. They ran the ball 41 times but picked up just 125 yards. That's 3 yards per carry and is simply not good enough in the NFL. The Broncos offense had an off day and still managed to put 35 points on the board which goes to show how big a win this was for the Ravens.
The Ravens showed a lot of character in this game. As I have already mentioned, they spent a lot of the game behind but they didn't let it phase them and they came back time and time again. The Broncos would have been starting to think they had the game won at 3rd and 3 with the ball on the Ravens 30 yard line but the Ravens had other ideas. Joe Flacco unleashed a pass down field for Jacoby Jones to score the touchdown that took the game to overtime. The Ravens defense stepped up in overtime and did not allow the Broncos to cross midfield and when their chance came they took it. Corey Graham intercepted a Manning pass which allowed the Ravens to start from the Denver 45. Ray Rice was able to run the ball down the field to set up the game winning field goal from Justin Tucker.
The Ravens offense had a good day with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice particularly impressive. Flacco threw for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns. Rice picked up 131 yards and a touchdown from his 30 carries. Torrey Smith also had a good game, catching 3 passes for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Baltimore now head to New England to take on the Patriots in a repeat of last year's AFC Championship game. On that occasion, the Patriots came out on top by a field goal and it promises to be another close battle between two teams who have shown themselves to be the cream of the AFC.
Ravens Offensive Star : Ray Rice - Flacco's completion percentage let's him down so I am siding with Rice who took charge when the game was on the line and got the Ravens into a position where they could kick a field goal.
Ravens Defensive Star : Corey Graham - Ray Lewis had another good game, making 17 tackles but I have to give it to Graham who made two huge interceptions, 8 tackles and 3 pass deflections. Lewis was good but Graham was the difference.
Broncos Offensive Star : Eric Decker - A lot of guys were below par for the Broncos but Decker had a decent game, catching 6 passes for 84 yards.
Broncos Defensive Star : Von Miller - Again there was nothing exceptional but Miller led the way with 9 tackles, half a sack and 2 hits on the quarterback.
Green Bay Packers 31-45 San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers made their second consecutive NFC Championship game after a good win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night. The game was close until the fourth quarter. The 49ers entered the fourth with a seven point lead and extended that to fourteen on the opening play of the quarter before sealing the win with three and a half minutes to go. The Packers responded with a touchdown but it was too little too late to stop the 49ers literally running away with the win.
The 49ers were deserving winners and one look at the statistics underlines how impressive they were. In all of the key areas they were better than Green Bay and when that happens there's not much anyone can do. They completely dominated time of possession, having the ball for just over 38 minutes. They had 200 yards of total offense more than the Packers and they were also better in the most important stat in football, turnovers. The 49ers turned the ball over once and the Packers turned it over twice. The passing numbers were similar with the 49ers throwing for just 8 more yards than the Packers but the big difference was on the ground where the 49ers totalled 323 yards.
Aaron Rodgers didn't have his best game of the season, completing 26 of 39 passes for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. His interception was punished by the 49ers who picked up a touchdown from the following drive. Green Bay's other turnover also led to a touchdown, when Jeremy Ross muffed a punt return which was recovered by the 49ers at the Green Bay 9 yard line. In a game that was so tight for such a long time it would have to be questioned why the Packers didn't run the ball more often as they were picking up some good yards on the ground. DuJuan Harris ran for 53 yards and a touchdown from his 11 carries and the Packers ground game ended up picking up 6.5 yards per carry. If they had put a bit more faith in it, the result may have been different.
For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore were able to run the ball at will and beat up on the Packers defense. Kaepernick's numbers weren't that great in the air but he was very effective on the ground. He completed just 17 of his 31 pass attempts for 263 yards, 2 touchdowns and a pick six. However, he was able to make amends by rushing for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns from his 16 carries. He was in good company though and Frank Gore ran for 119 yards and a touchdown from his 23 carries. Gore also caught 2 passes for 48 yards which meant he was the 49ers second best receiver on the day. Michael Crabtree was the only one who put up better numbers, catching 9 passes for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The 49ers now head to Atlanta to take part in the NFC Championship game and they will be hoping for a better result than last year. In last year's NFC title game, the 49ers lost at home to the New York Giants courtesy of a Lawrence Tynes field goal in overtime. On paper the game looks like a cracker and I for one find it hard to make a call on who I think will win.
Packers Offensive Star : DuJuan Harris - Harris picked up 64 yards from his 11 touches of the ball.
Packers Defensive Star : Sam Shieds - Shields had a pick six, 4 tackles and 2 pass deflections.
49ers Offensive Star : Colin Kaepernick - Kaepernick threw for 263 yards, two touchdowns and ran for 181 yards and 2 more touchdowns so there could only be one winner.
49ers Defensive Star : Patrick Willis - Willis picked up 7 tackles, one for a loss and a sack to help the 49ers pick up the win.
Seattle Seahawks 28-30 Atlanta Falcons
This will go down as one of the best games I have ever saw. I'm not even a fan of either team and I was completely glued to my television and my nerves were shattered. As an NFL fan living in Ireland I often hear the old rubbish about how can you watch that, it's so slow, it's too stop start. If you know anyone who isn't a fan of the NFL, show them a video of this game. This is why American Football is my favourite sport. Credit to both teams, it was an absolute pleasure to watch.
In the first half the game looked over. The Falcons led 20-0 at half-time and looked very comfortable. The Seahawks got it back to 20-7 with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half but the Falcons responded with a touchdown on the next drive to extend the lead to 27-7. With just over seventeen minutes remaining in the game and a twenty point gap between the sides the game looked dead but thankfully for us neutrals, nobody told the Seahawks.
They got a quick touchdown early in the fourth quarter and then intercepted Matt Ryan on the next drive. Four plays later, they were in the end zone again and all of a sudden the gap was reduced to six points with over nine minutes on the clock. The next three drives never came to much and with the game still hanging in the balance, Seattle's offense came on the field with exactly three minutes remaining and were able to move the ball down the field and eventually into the end zone to take a one point lead with just 31 seconds remaining.
At this point I was fearing for Matt Ryan's career. The guy was already carrying a lot of baggage thanks to his 0-3 record in the playoffs but a defeat after leading by twenty points in the fourth quarter might just leave a deep enough scar to finish him off. However, they don't call him Matty Ice for nothing. He took to the field and made two big completions that got the Falcons down to the Seattle 31 yard line. Matt Bryant came onto the field and kicked a 49 yard field goal to put the Falcons back in the lead. Now the game had to be over? No, not quite. For some bizarre reason Matt Bosher tried an onside kick which the Seahawks recovered at their own 46 yard line. Seattle made a quick completion to get them a little further up the field so they could attempt an all or nothing Hail Mary as time was expiring. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Russell Wilson made the pass a little earlier than they would have liked and Julio Jones was able to make the interception that won the game for the Falcons.
Russell Wilson ended the game with good numbers. He completed 24 of his 36 passes for 385 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Wilson also led the running game with 60 yards and a touchdown from his 7 carries. Marshawn Lynch had a disappointing day on the ground, rushing for 46 yards and a touchdown at 2.9 yards per carry. Seattle's leading receivers were Zach Miller and Golden Tate. Miller made 8 catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. Tate caught 6 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Matt Ryan ended the game with mixed numbers. He completed 24 of his 35 passes for 250 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. There will be a lot of things he won't be happy with but ultimately when the game was on the line, he passed the test. His leading receiver was Roddy White who caught 5 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. The biggest surprise in this game was the success the Falcons had on the ground. Prior to the game everyone was talking about the Falcons passing game but they ended up doing their best work on the ground. Michael Turner picked up 98 yards from 14 carries and Jacquizz Rodgers had 64 yards from 10 carries. The Falcons averaged 6.4 yards per carry which was a statistic I don't think anyone saw coming.
The defeat will no doubt have an impact on the Seahawks but they are a young team and from what I saw this season, they will be back again. However, if the Falcons had lost the game I think the scars would have been pretty deep for a few players and the franchise may well have made some changes. Luckily for them, they go the win and can look forward to hosting an NFC Championship game on Sunday.
Seahawks Offensive Star : Russell Wilson - Wilson accounted for 445 yards of offense and three touchdowns but it was too little, too late.
Seahawks Defensive Star : Bobby Wagner - Wagner picked up an interception, 8 tackles and a pass deflection.
Falcons Offensive Star : Michael Turner - Turner stepped up this week and averaged 7 yards per carry.
Falcons Defensive Star : Jonathan Babineaux - 3 tackles, one for a loss, a sack, 2 hits on the quarterback and a fumble recovery for the defensive tackle.
Houston Texans 28-41 New England Patriots
The fact that this game which had 69 points in it was the third highest scoring and the least entertaining game of the weekend goes to show what a special weekend we just had in the NFL. The eight teams who took part in the divisional round of the playoffs brought everything they had and left it all on the field. For myself and fans of all twenty-four neutral franchises, it was an excellent and entertaining weekend.
There wasn't anything wrong with this game and it was quite entertaining but for the most part it lacked the drama that the other three games had. In the first half the game looked to be getting away from the Texans but they managed to score ten points in the last 1:15 of the half to bring the scoreline to within four points. They were unable to keep that momentum going however and the Patriots scored two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter and then another at the start of the fourth to stretch the lead to twenty-five points. The Texans had one last charge and got two quick touchdowns, the second also saw them successfully go for a two point conversion. By this stage the lead was reduced to ten points with over five minutes remaining. The Texans tried the onside kick which they had a chance of recovering but they failed to do so and from then the Patriots offense went on a clock killing drive which ended in a field goal. By the time the Texans got the ball back they were thirteen behind with just 1:14 on the clock and no timeouts. They were unable to get another score and once again it's the Patriots who will play the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game.
Statistically, the game was very tight and if anything the Texans had the better in quite a few categories although the game never really felt like that was the case. The one area were they did come second best was turnovers. They had one turnover which isn't the end of the world but it was one more than the Patriots had and as it happens, it was a costly one. The Texans were in field goal range and Matt Schaub threw a pick to Rob Ninkovich. What made matters even worse was that six plays later the Patriots were celebrating a touchdown. If you take that seven off the Pats and say the Texans had got a touchdown of their own. That's a fourteen point swing and suddenly it's Houston hosting next week's AFC Championship game.
Matt Schaub completed 34 of his 51 passes for 343 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Once again his go to guys were Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. Johnson caught 8 passes for 95 yards and Daniels caught 9 passes for 81 yards. Arian Foster also had a good game and ended up with 153 yards from scrimmage. He ran for 90 yards and a touchdown and also caught 7 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Tom Brady completed 25 of his 40 passes for 344 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brady targeted Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Shane Vereen. Welker caught 8 passes for 131 yards, Hernandez caught 6 passes for 85 yards and Shane Vereen caught 5 passes for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns. Vereen also got a touchdown on the ground to end with 124 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns. Stevan Ridley was the leading rusher, picking up 82 yards and a touchdown.
New England will now host this year's AFC Championship game which will be a repeat of last year's game. On that occasion the Patriots came out on top and as a neutral it would delight me equally to see either Tom Brady or Ray Lewis take to the field in New Orleans for Superbowl XLVII.
Texans Offensive Star : Arian Foster - Two touchdowns and 153 yards from scrimmage but it still wasn't enough for the Texans.
Texans Defensive Star : Bradie James - 11 tackles and one for a loss from the linebacker wasn't enough to stop the Patriots.
Patriots Offensive Star : Shane Vereen - The running-back had a career day by scoring more touchdowns on Sunday than he had so far in his career.
Patriots Defensive Star : Rob Ninkovich - 4 tackles, one for a loss, 2 pass deflections, a quarterback hit and an interception from the linebacker.