I have loved the New England Patriots since Bledsoe’s time. I was 10 when Drew’s dad, Mac, came to my school in Roundup, Montana and gave a motivational speech. What he said resonated with me and I had been wanting to have an NFL team of my own (my best friend was a 49ers fan, so I had been a 49ers fan by default–and who didn’t love Jerry Rice?!), so the New England Patriots became my team!
I was devastated when Tom Brady took over for Bledsoe in 2001. I “knew” that this kid couldn’t be as good as Bledsoe and I knew where my loyalties were. But then I realized, as Brady started looking better and better through the season, that I was a Patriots fan, not a Bledsoe fan. Even though players come and go, and we get attached to them, at the end of the day, we are fans of our teams, not the players. Now, over a decade later, I am still sad to see some of my favorite players go, but love my Patriots more than ever!
Wes Welker had his first season with New England during my first semester at college. I was amazed by his talent and he easily became a top 3 favorite of mine (always behind Brady, and behind Deion Branch when he was on the team). Welker brought our team to a new level and the games were impressive to watch.
The divisional championship games have came and went and next is a Ravens vs. 49ers Super Bowl. But for those who may not know the NFL does have it’s form of an all-star game during the in-between time. The yearly battle of the AFC and NFC’s starrs will take place this Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 at Aloha Stadium. The problem is too many see this game as a joke and television ratings usually agree.
Personally I probably won’t watch the Pro Bowl. I am more excited for the Super Bowl. If you want to add more excitement in this coming Super Bowl, you can bet on the Baltimore Ravens at Top Bet. With that said, it’s still football and still some of the best players and athletes in the world out there so I may just try to squeeze it in my viewing schedule. We all know the facts. The league has to do something to make the game more appealing, but what? With injury concerns it’s much easier said than done and we may never see major changes. But enough of the negativity. Here are your Pro Bowl starters:
What are you lasting impressions from a recording setting and historic weekend of playoff football?
Was it watching Peyton Manning loss when many thought he was poised to make another Super Bowl run? Was it watching Ray Lewis and his “Last Ride” leaving the Denver station and finding at least one more stop in New England for a chance to make it to New Orleans? What is Champ Bailey getting burned twice by Torrey Smith for touchdowns or Jacoby Jones catching a 70 yard touchdown to send the game to overtime?
Was it the recording breaking performance of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the ground or how he also won the game with his arm? What it watching how the Green Bay defense had no answers for San Francisco Space-Age offense or how Aaron Rodgers could not keep up his end of the shootout at the ole’ Candlestick Corral?
Was it seeing how quickly Atlanta jumped out to a 20-0 lead? What it watching Seattle not be able to get out of their own way at the end of the first half and leave points on the field when the clock hit 0:00? Was it the comeback that Russell Wilson and the Seahawks pulled off in the second half or how Matty Ice lead his team to a game winning field goal to grab victory from the jaws of defeat? Was it seeing Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzales win their first playoff game and earning the right to host the NFC Championship game?
Houston was welcomed to New England with a light breeze and 51 degrees on this Sunday afternoon; not exactly what the Patriots fans would have wanted or hoped for, however, this game was still not in Reliant Stadium which is all any fan of New England could have hoped for. The winner of this game will host the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday evening for a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
Houston received the opening kickoff and Danieal Manning almost took the ball coast to coast, however he was stopped at the New England 12 yard line for the game’s first big play; however all the Houston offense could do was settle for a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead one minute into the game. A three downs and out possession for the Patriots saw a punt back to the Texans after just 79 seconds of possession and Houston started their second drive on their 17 yard line. Houston was able to reach midfield on their next possession of 3:11 but a third and 11 play only gained five yards and the Texans needed to punt back to New England; a good kick and no return saw the Patriots start on their 12 yard line with 9:27 sitting on the first quarter clock. (Running back Danny Woodhead has a thumb injury for New England and was out of the game at the start of this drive.) Two first downs saw the ball moved to the New England 33 yard line and a first down sack by J.J. Watt pushed the Patriots back to their 24 yard line with a second and 19, they could not recover and needed to punt when a third and eight pass to wide receiver Wes Welker was dropped. Houston took back the ball after a punt at their 20 yard line with 5:49 on the clock. (As the New England drive ended, tight end Rob Gronkowski was taken off the field favoring the arm he hurt earlier in the season and reports from the sideline reporter said he looked “compromised”.) A three downs and out possession is what Houston did and a punt out of bounds gave New England the ball on their 35 yard line to start their next possession. Using up only 3:01 of the remaining first quarter clock, New England moved down the field with speed and ease as their offense finally hit their stride; mixing up runs and passes quickly got the ball to the Houston 40 and a 25 yard pass to running back Shane Vereen found them in the red zone at the Texans’ 15, a pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez set up a first and goal from the one and Vereen finished the drive with a one yard run to put the game’s first touchdown on the board with 88 second left – New England now had a 7-3 lead.
Houston started with the ball on their own 20 after a touchback and used the last time of the first quarter well picking up two first downs to reach their 47 yard line using the passing game of Matt Schaub, a 16 yard pass to wide receiver Andre Johnson and a 12 yard pass to Arian Foster doing the damage. That was, however, as far as Houston could move the ball before needed to punt as a run for no gain and two incomplete passes was all the Texans could manage; with 0:53 expired in the second quarter, New England started on their 16 yard line. The Patriots are going to their old reliable player Wes Welker in this game and for the most part he is coming thru with flying colors – a third and eight play for 30 yards moved the ball to the New England 48 yard line. Running back Shane Vereen added 22 yards on the next play to reach the Houston 30; a third and two from the 22 on the next set of downs saw Vereen move the ball into the red zone at the Texans’ 16 yard line. An unsportsmanlike call on wide receiver Brandon Lloyd moved the ball back to the 31 and gave New England’s offense a second and 25 that they could not recover from; a 37 yard field goal was all this drive would give to the Patriots and their fans and a 10-3 lead with 10:16 remaining on the second quarter clock is what Houston would have to work with on their next possession. Starting from their 20 yard line and going to their trio of stars, Schaub, Johnson and Foster, Houston reached their own 40 with a second a three in front of them, a holding call pushed them back 10 yards put they overcame that mistake with a 24 yard pass to wide receiver Devier Posey to reach the New England 46 yard line as the clock reached 8:02 left in the half; what was, however, just about as far as the Texans would get. New England forced a punt and took over possession with 6:34 on the clock and the ball on their 20 yard line looking to add to their touchdown lead before halftime. New England again went back to their veteran players, Tom Brady and Wes Welker to quickly get the ball down the field; to start the drive the duo paired up for a 13 yard pass and catch on a third and 11 play. Two plays later, after another first down got the ball to their 45 yard line, Brady found Welker for a 47 yard pass down the left sideline and reached the Houston eight yard line for a first and goal. The next play saw Shane Vereen catch a short pass and run into the end zone for his second score of the game to extend their Patriots lead to 17-3 with 3:38 left until intermission. A good kickoff return and a penalty for a horse collar tackle set Houston up on the New England 47 yard line and they went to their workhorse in Arian Foster on this drive to keep themselves in the game. A 21 yard run and then a second run for 19 set up a first and goal from the Patriots’ seven, two more yards set up a second and goal from the five as the 2:00 warning arrived. Two more runs by Foster finished off the drive for a touchdown and Houston’s first visit to the end zone of the game. With 75 seconds left in the half the score moved to 17-10. A quick possession for New England did not take enough time off the clock before they punted the ball back to Houston; the Texans started on their 38 yard line with 0:24 on the clock and they used every one of those ticks and tocks to set up a 55 yard field goal with 0:02. The kick was good and set a record for the longest field goal made in New England during the postseason and send both teams to the break with the scoreboard reading New England 17, Houston 13.
New England took full advantage of having the ball first to start the second half and taking away the momentum that Houston started to build at the end of the first half. Starting with the ball on their 31 yard line Tom Brady moved the ball down the field slowly until his reached his 48 yard line; then with a big pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez for 40 yards, he was knocking on the door with a first and ten from the Texans’ 12 yard line. Two plays later running back Stevan Ridley ran for eight yards and a touchdown to cap off the drive after 3:30 and the score was now 24-13 New England. Houston did nothing with their next possession as they went three and out for the first time in the game and New England got their offense back on the field quickly looking to build further upon their lead; they will start from their own 35 yard line with 9:47 on the third quarter clock. New England matched Houston with their own three downs and out but the field position battled went to the Patriots as the Texans will start on their 10 yard line looking to come back in this game. Houston was able to win the field position game with their next possession was they took over 4:30 minute to get the ball into New England territory; however when you make it that far with the ball and have the ball for that long, you need to grab some points, especially when you’re behind in the game. Converting on a third and 16 with a pass from Schaub to Johnson helped them reach their 49 yard line as the clock reached 6:30 and another first down came two plays, 12 yards and one minute later when they reached the Patriots’ 39 yard line. A third and eight play, however ended the drive when Matt Schaub threw an interception that gave the Patriots possession on their 3 yard line with 4:14 on the third quarter game clock. As a lightning strike in a summer thunderstorm, New England made Houston pay for their turnover; in 2:53 the Patriots moved down the field with their short passes and running game and Brandon Lloyd caught a five yard pass on a first and goal to put the touchdown on the board that made the game New England 31, Houston 13 with 81 seconds left in the third quarter and the chances of the Texans being able to come back and win this game seem more and more unlikely.
Seattle was going back to the west coast either way after this game; a win meant they would be playing in San Francisco next Sunday for the chance to play in the Super Bowl, a loss meant the season was over. Atlanta was already home this week and will be home next weekend; their only question, would they be drawing up a game plan to host San Francisco next week or vacation plans starting on Monday?
Atlanta won the toss and wanted to put their offense on the field first and started with the ball on their 25 yard line after the kickoff. Falcons’ running back gained the first yards of the game with a 15 yard run on second down to move Atlanta to the 40 yard line; future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzales caught the first pass of the game with a nine yard catch to give the Falcons their second first down of the game and moved the ball to Seattle’s 49 yard line two minutes into the game. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers picked up eight yards with two runs before quarterback Matt Ryan found Roddy White for 13 yards and another first down at the Seahawks’ 28 yard line; this would be the last first down the Falcons would get on this drive. A third and three pass was broken up in the end zone by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and Atlanta settled for a field goal being the game’s first points; they took a 3-0 lead with 9:40 left in the opening quarter. Seattle started with the ball on their 20 after a touchback on the kickoff; two runs from Marshawn Lynch gained four yards but a third down pass was overthrown by quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were forced to punt (after a false start penalty moved the ball back five yards). After a poor punt, Atlanta started their second possession on the midfield line with 8:12 on the first quarter clock. (Seattle tight end Zach Miller was seen running back toward the Seahawks’ locker room after their first possession, early reports were that Miller had a foot injury and his return was probable). Atlanta gained one yard on first down and six more on second down to set up a third and three for Matt Ryan and the quarterback made his first mistake of the game eight minutes in; a pass intended for Tony Gonzales was intercepted by middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Seattle regained possession on their 33 yard line. The Seahawks knew that to win this game they would need to take to the ground game and their next possession showed that; a 17 yard run by Russell Wilson saw them reach the 50 and Marshawn Lynch took the ball ten more yards – however, a fumble gave the ball right back to Atlanta on their 39 yard line in a very sloppy first quarter of action. Matt Ryan got Atlanta back to the Seattle side of the field with one pass play to wide receiver Julio Jones for 13 yards and with 5:30 left in the first quarter; the Seahawks’ defense made another mistake after a second and ten run my Michael Turner, the gain was only four yards, but a horse collar tackle added 15 more yards and the Falcons were on the Seattle 29 yard line. A one yard run set up a third and nine and a false start moved them back five more yards; however a third and 14 pass to Roddy White picked up 16 yards and gave Atlanta a first and ten from the Seattle 17 yard line. Backup tight end Chase Coffman make a nice catch of a Matt Ryan pass to give Atlanta a first and goal from the one yard line and the veteran tight end Tony Gonzales finished the game’s first touchdown drive with a one yard catch in the back of the end zone and a quick 10-0 lead with 3:10 on the first quarter clock. (Zach Miller returned to the game for Seattle on this drive.) Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks were down 14-0 in the first quarter last week in Washington, so a 10-0 deficit almost seems like a scoreless game to them; the poise of this rookie showed quickly on their next possession as he found Zach Miller for two quick passes, 23 and 8 yards and the Seahawks moved the ball back into Atlanta territory at their 49 yard line; however, yet again, the Falcons’ defense held without allowing another first down and forced a punt in the last minute of the first quarter. Atlanta started their next possession with 0:31 left in the first quarter on their 13 yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers ended the first quarter with a 45 yard run up the middle of the Seattle defense to give Atlanta the ball on the Seattle 42 yard line as the clock reached 0:00 and the home town fans were cheering the Dirty Birds, a 10-0 lead and momentum on their side.
The arm of Matt Ryan took over the drive in the second quarter for Atlanta; mixing in some runs by Michael Turner, including a third and one run, the Falcons’ offense reached the red zone with a first and ten on the Seattle 19 yard line as the clock saw 3:30 minutes of the second quarter run off. The young Seahawks’ defense was bending but not breaking and again their forced the Falcons to kick a field goal after a third and seven screen pass loss yards. The kick was good and with the clock showing 9:13 remaining in the second quarter, the Falcons had a 13-0 lead. A good kickoff return saw Seattle starting their next possession with the ball on their 30 yard line looking and needing to put something together on offense and the rookie quarterback wasted no line moving the ball again. Covering almost half the distance from their starting point to the end zone on one play was Russell Wilson and Zach Miller with a 34 yard pass to reach the Atlanta 36 yard line, the next play moved the Seahawks to the red zone with a 16 yard pass from Wilson to wide receiver Golden Tate as the clock moved under 8:00. Knowing this was a big possession in the game and facing a third and one that fell short, head coach Pete Carroll went for a fourth and one from the Falcons’ 11 yard line and did not make it, coming away with no points and giving the ball back to Atlanta with 5:33 left until the half and keeping the score at 13-0 and adding even more energy to the home town fans of Atlanta and the sideline of the Falcons’ players. Having momentum is one thing, using it is what makes good teams great and great teams championship contenders. The Falcons knew they had a chance to take a firm hold of this game after making their defensive stop and the offense knew what to do with the ball. Michael Turner started the drive with a run of three and then a big run of 33 yards to move the ball out to their 48 yard line; after a defensive holding call moved the ball to their Seattle 47 yard line, the Falcons were ready to soar again and put more points on the board. A Matt Ryan to Roddy White pass found the end zone in the air and seven points for Atlanta; the lead was now 20-0 with 4:16 remaining until halftime. A touchback started Seattle on the 20 yard line and a quick offense found them with a first and ten from their 48 yard line when the 2:00 warning was issued to both teams; their need for points were urgent and knowing they had the ball first to start the second half meant that getting points here to help them start turning the tide of momentum in their favor. Passes to Zach Miller for 20 yards and wide receiver Sydney Rice for 19 saw Seattle reach the Atlanta 19 yard line, being contend to not give the Falcons any more time in the first half the clock reached 0:42, a first down incompletion and a second down pass to Miller set up a third and one from the Atlanta ten yard line. Golden Tate picked up the first down and Seattle used their last timeout with 0:25 left in the half with a first and goal from the Atlanta six yard line. An incomplete pass took four second and a down away from Seattle and a false start cost them five yards back to the 11, another incomplete pass set up a third down play; a sack of Russell Wilson lost nine yards and any chance to score points, since, without any timeouts they could not stop the clock and they were unable to snap the ball to take another shot at the end zone before the clock reached 0:00 – The halftime score read Atlanta 20, Seattle 0 as an ugly half came to an end for the Seahawks.
Breaking the ice and getting on the scoreboard was the first step in starting the Seattle comeback and climbing the hill of a 20 point deficit they have in front of them in this game; knowing that time was not on their side also was on the mind of quarterback Russell Wilson. A touchback gave Seattle the ball on their 20 to start and one play netted 11 yards and two plays later a Wilson run saw them a yard shy of midfield less than two minutes into the quarter. A third and one sneak by Wilson set up a first down on the Atlanta 40 yard line; but a sack moved the ball back eight yards as started the cycle that saw a shutout in the first half, this time around, however, things would be different. A second and 18 pass went from Wilson to Miller for 19 yards and the next play saw the first points for the Seahawks and Wilson found Tate for a 29 yard touchdown to cut the Atlanta lead to 20-7 with 9:47 on the third quarter clock and a somewhat more subdued crowd in the Georgia Dome. Now it was time for the Seattle defense to stop talking and start making plays and give their offense a chance to get back on the field with the game’s outcome still in some doubt. Seattle’s defense had an early shot to force a three downs and out; but a third and five pass for six yards from Ryan to Tony Gonzales gave Atlanta a first down on their 31 yard line, a second and eight pass to Julio Jones moved the ball to their 46 with another first down. Keeping the clock moving with first down runs and second down passes for first downs, a second and seven pass from Ryan to wide receiver Harry Douglas got another first down at the Seattle 44 yard line as the clock moved under 5:30. After a Douglas drop deep down the field, Ryan found Julio Jones for 21 yards and set up the Falcons on the Seahawks 23 yard line with less than 4:30 and the clock still running for Atlanta and against Seattle. A third down pass from Ryan to Gonzales set up a first and ten from the Seahawks’ 11 yard line, after a five yard run by Rodgers, Ryan found full back Jason Snelling for a touchdown pass to restore the lead they had at halftime, the score was now 27-7 with 2:11 left in the third quarter. The quick offense of Seattle lead by Russell was not giving up and the third quarter came to an end with the Seahawks on the move again making the most of the little time they had left in the quarter — a few big plays saw Seattle with a first and ten at the Atlanta 13 yard line as the clock reached 0:00, the third quarter ended and the fourth quarter was about to being.
Green Bay and San Francisco play again tonight after starting their 2012 seasons against each other, tonight, one team’s season would end.
With the overtime still being played in Denver; the kickoff of this game took place and the scoring quickly started for the Green Bay Packers. San Francisco started the game with the ball from their 28 yard line and within two plays they have another first down on their 43 yard line. A second and six play by quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a pass play for tight end Vernon Davis; however, Sam Shields intercepted the pass as Kaepernick was forced to scramble and throw late and the interception was turned into a pick-six and an early Green Bay 7-0 lead. Not to be discouraged by an early mistake and showing why head coach Jim Harbaugh switched and stayed with him; Colin Kaepernick lead a drive from his own 20 yard line and aided by a third and two holding call on the Green Bay defense, San Francisco found some momentum when a third and 10 from their 33 yard line went from Kaepernick to running back Frank Gore for a 45 yard pass to reach the Packers’ 22 yard line. The next set of down saw the 49ers with a third and eight from the Green Bay 20 yard line, facing man to man coverage, the defense forgot to check on where Kaepernick was and he ran right up their jerseys for a 20 yard touchdown run to tie the score at 7-7 six minutes into the game. It took a while for the reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense to join the game and their first possession was not their time yet as a quick three downs and out saw them punt after less than a minute of possession time, San Francisco started with the next possession at their 13 yard line. The field proved too long for the 49ers to navigate on this possession and while reaching the Green Bay 40 yard line, they were forced to punt and give the Packers the ball back on their own 20 with 3:13 left in the first quarter of action. Running back DuJuan Harris started the drive rolling with a reception and two runs for a first down at the 33 and then a second down run for five set up the big play of the drive; on third and five, quarterback Aaron Rodgers found wide receiver James Jones for a 44 yard pass completion to reach the 49ers’ 18 yard line. Going no huddle on their next play the Packers went back to Harris who finished the drive with an 18 yard run and a 14-7 Green Bay lead late in the first quarter.
San Francisco continued to show their ability to move the ball against the Green Bay defense as the first quarter ended and second quarter started; however, only reaching midfield before another punt is all the 49ers had to show for their most recent efforts – however, a punt is not always a bad thing and perhaps the fates of last year were reversing themselves for San Francisco and this time a muffed punt went the way of the 49ers and they took over possession again on the Packers’ nine yard line. Surviving a fumble of their own by Kaepernick, they had a third and goal from the 12 and a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree tied the score at 14-14 four minutes into the second quarter of play. The Packers take over on their next possession and after a penalty during the kickoff they start at their own seven yard line; a defensive pass interference call gave them some space when it moved the ball out to their 23 yard line. On third and seven Aaron Rodgers thought he saw something deep down the middle of the field but all the 49ers’ defense saw was the ball and an interception as cornerback Tarell Brown picked off the pass that almost served as a punt; however a good run back put the ball on the Packers’ 48 yard line for the San Francisco offense to take over. Another turnover lead to another score for the 49ers’ offense that to this point, could only stop themselves – converting two third down plays (one being evened out when Kaepernick was flagged for a taunting call after converting) set up San Francisco with a first and ten from the Green Bay 24 yard line; after a four yard Frank Gore run, Kaepernick found Crabtree again for a 20 yard touchdown pass to give the 49ers a 21-14 lead with 5:26 left in the second quarter in this shootout and the old Candlestick Corral. Green Bay survived another potential turnover on their next possession when Aaron Rodgers fumbled but recovered it on the first play; the drive was furthered when an unnecessary roughness call against the 49ers’ defense moved the ball to the San Francisco 31 yard line. Two plays later on another first and ten from the 49ers’ 20 yard line was another touchdown pass from Rodgers to Jones to tie the score at 21-21 with 2:33 left until halftime. Colin Kaepernick went to his legs again as the second half winded down and using two plays before the 2:00 warning and a 19 yard run, the 49ers found themselves on their 42 yard line when the officials called timeout. A third and ten run from the 42 netted 18 more yards and moved them to the Green Bay 40 yard line and then running back LaMichael James caught a seven yard pass and ran for six more yards to set up first and ten from the Green Bay 27 yard line. A nine yard run and third and ten got then to the Packers’ 18 yard line and willing to settle for the game’s first field goal and a halftime lead of 24-21 to make the hometown fans happy but knowing that this game was far from over at intermission.
The San Francisco 49ers’ defense started the second half on the field and quickly got off the field when they forced a quick three downs and out possession from the Green Bay Packers’ offense, the drive ended with a third down and four play that saw Patrick Willie sack Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers took over on their 35 yard line 2:02 into the third quarter; however the Packers’ defense was not to be outdone when their forced their own three downs and out to force a punt from San Francisco. The exchange of punts gave Green Bay poor field position as they started on their own 11 yard line 3:04 into the third quarter; however field position does not affect the elite quarterback and Aaron Rodgers is one of those quarterbacks. On a second and eight play, Rodgers found wide receiver Greg Jennings for 30 yards to reach their 43 yard line; two plays later, on a second and two play, Rodgers found wide receiver for his second straight eight yard pass and at the 49ers’ 41 yard line as the clock passed 10:00 left in the quarter. Randall Cobb joined the drive with a 19 yard catch for another first down then four more yards to set up a second and six on the San Francisco 18 yard line (Green Bay then used their first second half time out with 8:46 on the clock); on third and six a false start penalty moved them back five and probably cost them a first down since Randall Cobb got close on the next play but fell short of the first down. Green Bay settled for a game tying 32 yard field goal and a 24-24 game with 8:24 on the third quarter game clock. A touchback game San Francisco the ball on the 20 yard line and two passes from Kaepernick to Crabtree found them 24 yards further than that; however the next play made the fans rise up and the scoreboard change again – Colin Kaepernick took the next play to the right and all the way to the end zone for a 56 yard touchdown run; the scoreboard now read San Francisco 31, Green Bay 24 with 7:07 left in the third quarter. (Colin Kaepernick, with that touchdown run, set a record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a postseason game with 163; the overall record is 248 rushing yards by Eric Dickerson.) Green Bay could only reply to falling behind by getting one first down on their next possession before needed to punt the ball back to the nearly unstoppable 49ers’ offense; San Francisco started from their seven yard line with exactly 5:00 left in the third quarter. Converting on a third and two with a 16 yard pass and catch from Kaepernick to Crabtree saw the 49ers reach their 31 yard line and a second down holding call against the defense gave them another first down on their 39; two plays later Kaepernick found Vernon Davis for a 44 yard pass and into the red zone at the Green Bay 15 yard line. The third quarter ended with Frank Gore running for 13 more yards to set up a first and goal from the Packers’ two yard line as the clock read 0:00 and the third quarter ended; Frank Gore started the fourth quarter by extending the San Francisco lead with a two yard touchdown run to make the score 38-24 and the hill for Green Bay to climb a little bit larger for them to return to Wisconsin with a victory.
The cold Mile High air of the Rocky Mountains welcomed the NFL Playoffs back to the field on Saturday afternoon. The Baltimore Ravens flew up into the mountains and welcomed back Peyton Manning to the playoffs as well, this time, wearing the colors of the Denver Broncos. The winner of this game would have one more mountain to climb to reach the Super Bowl; Baltimore would need to make one more winning road trip, Denver would need to win against one more team who hiked up the Rockies before a ticket to New Orleans was their and a trip for the first Sunday in February planned.
Denver won the coin toss and deferred until the second half and Baltimore took the touchback to start at the 20 yard line. Starting with safe first down runs and short passes the Baltimore offense was able to convert one third down but fell short on their second attempt and had to punt – Denver decided to show off to the rest of the NFL watching that they are not just Peyton Manning and the offense. Punt returning Trindon Holliday fielded the punt from his own ten yard line and ran all the way for a touchdown barely needing to break one tackle along the way; and just like that, with 12:14 on the clock in the first quarter, the Broncos had a 7-0 lead. Baltimore, not phased and not discouraged by a mishandled kickoff that put them on their six yard line, replied quickly. Helped out by a third down defensive pass interference call to moved them to their 33 yard line, Joe Flacco found Anquan Bolden for eight yards to set up a great time to take a shot down the field and the Ravens opened the big play pages of the playbook and took their shot. Beating cornerback Champ Bailey, Torrey Smith went deep right, caught the pass and ran untouched for a 59 yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7 with 10:31 left in the first quarter of play. The thin air was further sucked from the stadium and the Denver Broncos fans were left breathless when on the next possession, on a third and six Peyton Manning pass, cornerback Corey Graham picked off a pass intended for Eric Decker and ran it all the way back for a defensive touchdown; just as quickly as Denver once had a 7-0 lead, Baltimore now lead the game 14-7 and the game was barely 5:00 of game time old. As a master does, as a Hall of Famer does, Peyton Manning took control of the game at this point, restored order to the game and showed the NFL World why the Road to the Super Bowl is going thru Denver in the AFC Playoffs. Moving the ball down the field with a precision passing game, taking 5:47 off the clock and covering 74 yards in 11 plays, Manning tied the game at 14-14 with 4:02 left on the first quarter clock when, on third and eight he found Brandon Stokley for a 15 yard touchdown pass. The pass was thrown in a window the size of shoebox and Stokley touched he knee in the back right corner of the end zone to finish the play and reset this game that was already more exciting than most of last weekend’s Wild Card games and still had 51:00 to play.
The Baltimore offense continued to partake in the shootout as the first quarter expired as they moved the ball back into Denver territory as the clock reached 0:00; the Ravens found themselves starting the second quarter with a third down and two from the Broncos’ 43 yard line. The attempt to repeat the touchdown play was missed by Flacco and Smith and Baltimore was forced to punt; a bad punt was helped out by a good roll and Denver started their first possession of the second quarter from their seven yard line. Knowshon Moreno ran for seven yards on the first play and 15 yards were added after a face mask penalty was called (questionable call at best) and the ball was moved out to the 30 yard line – the next play saw a holding call and the Broncos’ offense giving back 10 yards and putting themselves in a first and 20 that they never recovered from before punting. Baltimore took possession with 12:47 left until halftime from their 19 yard line. One first down saw the Ravens reach the 33 and another deep pass attempt hit the turf off target with a wide open Torrey Smith behind Champ Bailey; Baltimore needed to punt again and Denver took over from their 14 yard line four minutes into the second quarter and the score still tied at 14-14. Using the mile high altitude and the age of the Ravens’ defense against them, Peyton Manning controlled the clock for 3:35 and drove 86 yards in eight plays to break the tie with a touchdown drive by using the no huddle, hurry up offense and not allowing Baltimore to substitute players. Mixing runs and passes to reach the Ravens’ 14 yard line; Knowshon Moreno split out and ran a double move pass route and found him open and catching the tie breaking touchdown pass and made the score 21-14 with 7:26 on the clock – has Peyton Manning restored order to this game? Is Ray Lewis playing the last two and half quarters of his Hall of Fame NFL career in this game?
The last thing that Baltimore Ravens fans wanted to see was a quick possession; however that’s exactly what Joe Flacco and the offense delivered – a three down and out saw the Ravens punt the ball back to the Broncos and gave them a chance to extend their second lead of the game. Denver started from their 19 yard line with 6:26 left until halftime knowing they would also start the second half with the ball first. Another Peyton Manning drive mixed up runs and passes to found Denver converting a fourth and one from the Baltimore 37 yard line as the two minute warning arrived; probably benefiting from a generous spot of the ball from the referees they had their first down with the 2:00 warming being issued to both teams. A missed second down pass by Peyton Manning hurt the drive and a missed field goal kick prevented the Broncos from added points to their total and extending their lead; Baltimore took over with 1:16 left on the clock from their 42 yard line. Using only 40 seconds and three passes, Joe Flacco shows Champ Bailey that he and Torrey Smith are a powerful pitch and catch team, moving to the 32 yard line with passes of 15 and 11 yards, Flacco and Smith hook up for their second touchdown of the first half (two of what could have been four or five scoring plays) and just like that, the game is tied at 21-21 heading to halftime. The Mile High crowd was stunned again and we have a ball game.
Four AFC and Four NFC teams are left in the NFL; the top two seeds from each conference return to action after their bye week, there are four games to be played this weekend during Divisional Weekend. Nothing is better than this weekend for fans of the NFL. If your favorite team is still playing; you know you are two wins away from the Super Bowl or one bad play from having your whole season end. Eight Elite teams are left to play this weekend; however only four can win and move on to play again, who will they be? Let’s take a look at the games for Divisional Weekend.
Baltimore Ravens (11-6, AFC North Champions, #4 Seed in the AFC Playoffs) @ Denver Broncos (13-3, AFC West Champions, #1 Seed in the AFC Playoffs): Kicking off the action for this Divisional Weekend are the Baltimore Ravens traveling to take on the Denver Broncos. Coming off what turned into a pep rally and a good bye party for retiring future Hall of Famer Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis, the Baltimore defense won’t be facing a young team that clearly looked scared to go over the middle as the Colts looked like on Sunday; nor will they be facing a smart, but young quarterback in Andrew Luck. This week, Ray’s last ride matches him and his defense up against the veteran quarterback Peyton Manning and his arsenal of offensive weapons and knowledge as well as see Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco face one of the NFL’s best defenses in Denver.
A warm late afternoon greeting both teams for the final Wild Card game of the weekend; however, what was called a sloppy track saw both teams’ kickers need to change shoes before the game even started. How will the weather and the field conditions affect both teams and the play of the games?
Washington started the game with the ball and quickly established the ground game with their running back Alfred Morris, an eight yard run and a nine yard run sandwiched a nine yard pass to Pierre Garcon and after three plays the Redskins were on their own 46 yard line two minutes into the game. After a three yard run by quarterback Robert Griffin III saw the ball hovering over the chalk of the midfield stripe, a pass from Griffin to Garcon for 30 yards moved the Washington offense quickly to the Seahawks’ 21 yard line; the Redskins went back to Morris for an 18 yard run to set up a first and goal from the Seattle three yard line four minutes into the game. A one yard loss and incomplete pass saw Washington with a third and goal from the Seattle four; one Griffin pass to running back Evan Royster and the Redskins jumped out to a 7-0 lead 5:03 into the game. Seattle started their first possession of the game at their 28 yard line and could not convert a third and two that saw quarterback Russell Wilson sacked; the Seahawks punted and the Redskins started their second possession on their own 46 yard line. Washington told the Seattle defense, “You could not stop our running game on our first drive, let’s see what you can do this time around”, and judging by their play calling, the Redskins made the right decision. Using a controlled ground game after keeping the drive going when they converted a third and three from the Seahawks’ 47 yard line and getting a first and goal with a third down pass to reach the four yard line; the Washington Redskins were back in scoring range; another third down pass from Griffin to tight end Logan Paulsen put their second touchdown on the board and saw them take a 14-0 lead with 2:26 left on the first quarter clock.
The first quarter ended with Seattle on their second possession of the game; after starting from the 20 yard line there were able to convert a third and 12 on the next to last play of the quarter and gained one more yard to end the quarter with a second and nine from their 31 yard line. The first play of the second quarter saw quarterback Russell Wilson go right and run for 19 yards to reach midfield and put the Seattle offense in business for the first time in the game. After another first down saw Seattle on the Washington 39 yard line, an outstanding catch by wide receiver Sydney Rice for 27 yards set up the Seahawks in the red zone with a first and ten from the Redskins’ 12 yard line. A three yard run on first down and an incomplete pass on second down set up a third and seven from the nine and saw Seattle call a timeout; a pass out of the end zone left the Seahawks to settle for a field goal as their first points of the game and a 14-3 score with 12:05 left in the first half. Washington was only able to get a first down off a Seattle penalty before needing to punt the ball back to the Seahawks; Seattle saw 9:46 on the second quarter clock and the ball on their 27 yard line to start their next possession. Seattle looked to continue the momentum they started with their last drive and the breaks were starting to go their way on this possession. Two runs by running back Marshawn Lynch saw a first and ten from their own 40 and an offside penalty gave them five more yards; after that, good luck found the Seattle offense. Russell Wilson was sacked and fumbled but Marshawn Lynch picked up the ball and ran for 20 yards to reach the Redskins’ 36 yard line. A second down pass to fullback Michael Robinson gained 19 yards and set up a first and ten from the Washington 16 yard line as the clock hit 6:00; Russell Wilson then ran for 11 yards and set up a first and goal from the five. A second and goal pass back to Robinson gave Seattle their first touchdown of the game and made the game 14-10 with 4:38 left until halftime. The Seahawks’ defense continued the second quarter dominance of Seattle on the second play of the Washington drive when they picked off Robert Griffin III and got the ball right back to their offense with plenty of time to put more points on the board. Seattle took over on their own 26 yard line and 3:36 on the second quarter clock and they knowledge that they start the second half with the ball. One first down with a five yard Wilson run on second down and a six yard pass to Doug Baldwin put the ball on their 37 yard line; as the clock approached the 2:00 warming Wilson and Baldwin hooked up down the middle of the field for a 33 yard pass and set up a first and ten from the Redskins’ 30 yard line when the two minute warning was issued to both teams. In no rush to give the ball back to Washington, Seattle took their time and converted another first down with 0:44 at the Redskins’ 19 yard line; however they were not able to move the ball much further and settled for another field goal as the clock reached 0:00. The halftime score was Washington 14, Seattle 13. (It was noted on the game broadcast that Seattle’s place kicker Steven Hauschka was nursing a sore left ankle that he had taped up on the sidelines before making the both his second quarter field goals. We will see if that comes into play more in the second half.)
Seattle looked like they were going to continue the play they started in the second quarter when the second half started. Mixing up a great run and pass game they never saw a negative play or the ball hit the ground – until on a second and goal run play to Marshawn Lynch saw the ball fumbled away, forced by Washington’s defensive leader London Fletcher and recovered by the Redskins’ defense on their two yard line. 4:34 drive was for nothing and Washington took over with possession having dodged a big drive thanks to their defense making a big play to stop the Seattle drive. Washington was able to gain some of the yards their defense allowed with two first downs before they needed to punt; the Seahawks will take their second possession from their 30 yard line with 5:31 left in the third quarter. Seattle did not waste anytime resuming their control of the game with the ball after getting some help from the Washington defense gave them a first down with a defensive holding penalty on a third down pass attempt. From his own 42 yard line Russell Wilson did not see a wide open receiver but did run for 28 yards to reach the Redskins’ 30 yard line; however the drive was stopped there and a third and eight sack cost the Seahawks nine yards and pushed them out of field goal range and forced Seattle to punt. Washington again started with possession deep in their territory, after a holding penalty on the punt they started on their six yard line with 84 seconds left in the third quarter. A three and out possession was how Washington ended their third quarter and they punted the ball back to Seattle, with 0:04 left on the game clock the Seahawks took over on their 37 yard line.
As if this game needed another emotionally twist, news came out that early Sunday morning that Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was taking to the hospital with the flu and was not going to be on the sidelines for this playoff game. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen called the plays and was the voice in quarterback Andrew Luck’s helmet during the game today. With Baltimore linebacker and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis taking the field for his last career home game, win or loss, the pregame hype was over and it was game time for the Colts and Ravens.
Indianapolis received the ball first to start the game and after a touchback started on their 20; their first play was a 15 yard play by running back Donnie Avery, but the possession faded quickly and they were forced to punt. A great punt return of 34 yards gave Baltimore the ball on their 48 yard line to start the game; after a three yard Ray Rice run found them on the Colts’ 49 yard line, a 24 yard pass from quarterback Joe Flacco to tight end Ed Dickson moved them to the Indianapolis 25 yard line three minutes into the game. Another Rice run and a defensive pass interference penalty moved them inside the red zone with a first and ten from the Colts 15 yard line; however, trouble was waiting for them there. After another first down Rice run for four yards, Ray Rice fumbled a second down run attempt and gave Indianapolis the ball on their 11 yard line and ended the Ravens’ opening drive without any points four minutes into the game. The rookie jitters were quickly gone from Andrew Luck’s game on his second possession; after two runs netted three yards; a third and seven run to avoid the pass rush saw Luck get the first down on his own 22 yard line. The drive was continued with an illegal contact penalty on the defense gave them a first and ten from the 27 yard as the clock dropped to 8:35 left in the first; continuing to use his running game and short pass game they converted another first down on their 38 yard line and then converted a third and four and reached the Ravens’ side of the field with a first down on the Baltimore 47 yard line as the clock showed less than 6:00. Two more plays gave them a first down on the Ravens’ 35 yard line and a deep pass down the field was incomplete giving them a second down; a five yard pass gave them a third and five as the clock slipped under 4:00 left in the quarter. Then the Colts’ rookie quarterback made his first mistake when he was sacked and fumbled the ball away to Baltimore and ended their drive; the Ravens’ defense was able to give their offense possession on their own 37 yard line with 3:45 left in the first quarter. The Colts’ defense did their job when they held the Ravens to a three and out possession and got the ball back to their offense quickly; Indianapolis started their next possession on their own 23 yard line hoping to continue their drive from before and this time finishing it with some points. One first down, however, was all the Colts offense could manage on their last first quarter possession, they punted the ball back to the Ravens and with 0:14 left in the quarter, Baltimore will start with the ball on their 29 yard line.
The last play of the first quarter was a six yard run by backup running back Bernard Pierce and the first play of the second quarter was a five yard run to give the Ravens a first down on their 35 yard line. Quarterback Joe Flacco found Torrey Smith for a 22 yard pass play to reach the Colts’ 38 yard line as the first 75 seconds of the quarter fell off the clock; another Pierce run for five and a Flacco pass to tight end Dennis Pitta for seven moved them to the 26 yard line 2:30 into the second. Bernard Pierce continued to dominate the drive with another run, this time for 18 yards to set up a first and goal from the Colts’ eight yard line; however a run for three yards and two incomplete passes saw the drive fall short of the end zone and Baltimore settle for a field goal as the game’s first points of the game. They took a 3-0 lead with 11:18 left in the second quarter. Indianapolis could not do anything to stop Baltimore momentum as they could not convert a third and two and needed to punt the ball after going three and out; the Ravens took over again on their 20 yard line looking to add to their lead. One first down on two Ray Rice runs moved the ball to their 38 yard line but the drive was stopped their by the Colts’ defense; Baltimore punted and was flagged for an illegal touching of the kick and set up Indianapolis with the ball on their 20 yard line with 8:09 left in the first half. Runs and short passes helped obtain a first down when the Colts reached the 33 yard line and tight end Dwayne Allen was found by Andrew Luck on the drive with a 22 yard pass to reach the Ravens’ 45 yard line. Another Luck to Allen completion moved Indianapolis to the 32 yard line as the clock read 4:28 until halftime; a second down and eight pass play ended as a sack of Andrew Luck, however they gained seven on third down which was enough to set up and hit a game tying field goal with 2:25 left in the second. The score was now 3-3 in what so far has been the most interesting and competitive playoff game of Wild Card weekend. A good kickoff set the Ravens up with good field position, on their 37 yard line and they still had all their timeouts and the two minute warming in their pockets to use if needed; however they did not need to use any of their timeouts on their last drive. Two Ray Rice runs wrapped around the two minute warming set up a third and four that Flacco converted with an eight yard pass to cross midfield. The Baltimore Ravens then went to the playbook they used against the San Diego Chargers; in what looked a lot like the fourth and 29 play, Ray Rice took a screen pass, broke some tackles and got some blocks to reach the Colts’ two yard line before being pulled out of bounds. Fullback Vonta Leach, who normally blocks for Rice took the ball the final two yards for the game’s first touchdown and gave the Ravens a 10-3 lead with 0:50 left in the second quarter. Indianapolis used the rest of the clock on a less than gracefully drive, overcame an intentional grounding penalty and was able to set up a field goal that they hit on the last play of the half to make the score 10-6 at intermission.
Baltimore was able to overcome a 13 yard sack of Joe Flacco and find wide receiver Anquan Boldin for his first catch of the game, a 50 yard play off a third and 19 that quickly saw the Ravens at the Colts’ 41 yard line just two minutes into the second half; however Boldin was flagged for pass interference and pushed the Ravens back to a second and 18 that they could not recover from and they needed to punt; Indianapolis took a touchback and started at their 20 yard line to start the second half. After one first down saw the Colts reach their 33 yard line, the offensive line let down Andrew Luck when they failed to pick up the blitz, perhaps because of the crowd noise, and after a zero gain run, an incomplete pass under pressure and a sack of Luck, the Colts punted the ball back to the Ravens. Baltimore started on their 25 yard line just under 5:00 into the third quarter. Anquan Boldin continued to play big in the third quarter stating the drive with a 10 yard catch and after a four yard Ray Rice run, Boldin goes deep for 46 yards to reach the Colts’ 15 yard line and break 100 receiving yards in less than 6:30 minutes of play in the quarter. After an incomplete pass and a false start set up a second and 15 from the 20, Joe Flacco found Dennis Pitts for a 20 yard touchdown pass to extend the Baltimore lead to 17-6 with 8:26 on the third quarter clock and the Indianapolis Colts on the ropes trying to avoid the knockout blow that would put this game out of reach and end their magical season. The Rookie quarterback showed no fear and this young Colts team did not show any panic as they staged their best possession of the game as they held the ball for over half the third quarter using their passing game and running game to move down the field in 15 plays over 72 yards; the bad news was that they only managed to kick their third field goal of the game to close the gap to 17-9 as the clock read 0:40 left in the third quarter – Can the Colts defense make a few more stands and help the offense stage another come back as Indianapolis had done all year long?