Well 17 long weeks of NFL action and now we all know who the opponents will be for the 20013-14 Super Bowl championship.
And then there were two. We started out the weekend with four teams left, two of them lost (obviously), now there are two left standing and one of them will finish as the world champions for the season.
Denver 26 New England 16
This game could have gone down as one of the greatest championship games to determine the AFC winner. It did not. It wasn’t even close to great. ‘Good’ yes, great, no. Fun to watch? Sort of, but it wasn’t a spectacle.
Denver had a 10-0 lead early and never ever looked back.
Other than determine a Super Bowl finalist, it may have reignited that debate over who the better of the two quarterbacks is. Brady was 10-4 heading into the game.
Manning is taking the Broncos on a trip to New York for the Super Bowl after another of his impeccably crafted victories — this time, a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
“Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl, I know how hard it is to get there,” Manning said.
Especially this time.
Only three years ago, he could barely grip a football as he started the long comeback from surgeries that ravaged his neck and nerve endings. And only 53 weeks ago, he suffered a devastating loss to Baltimore in the divisional playoffs that derailed what looked like a Super Bowl trip in his comeback season.
Now, after a huge win Sunday afternoon in the last game this season to be played at Sports Authority Field, he now has the chance to become the first starting quarterback to win the world championship with two different teams. Manning beat the Chicago Bears in the 2007 Super Bowl XLI in Miami while playing for the team that drafted him, the Indianapolis Colts.
The Indy-turned-Denver QB improved to 5-10 lifetime in matches against Tom Brady but is now 2-1 in AFC title games.
They should re-name this game, to honour one or both of these two quarterbacks. It seems like one of them is always in it.
Manning threw for 400 yards, however just like in the playoff run he had with the Colts in 2007’s playoff run, the field-goal kicking was also heavily relied upon. Then Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri had five in the win against Baltimore during that run; Sunday vs the Patriots, Broncos kicker Matt Prater kicked four.
This was the third time in his illustrious career that Manning aired it out for 400 yards in a single playoff game. He is tied with the Saints’ Drew Brees in that regard.
The biggest key in Sunday’s win was Manning’s engineering of those time-eating touchdown drives. When he gets ‘settled in there’ he is nearly impossible to stop. Two drives, one was 93-yards, and a second was 80-yards, each ate up more than seven minutes of clock time. Brady had his first possession of the second half with time running out in the third quarter. The Broncos held the ball for 35:44. Also important, they converted on 7/13 of their third-down conversions. Brady was stopped cold on at least one of his fourth-down efforts (he was sacked on a 4th-and-2).
“To keep Tom Brady on the sideline is a good thing,” Manning said. “That’s something you try to do when you’re playing the Patriots.”
Manning capped the second long drive with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch. It gave Denver a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
From there, it was time to play catch-up for the Brady Bunch; of all the years when that team could do that, this year wasn’t one of them, proves there is only so much a superstar quarterback can do in this league. Hopefully 2-3 years down the road there will be another installment of ‘Manning vs Brady’.
“We got in a hole there,” Brady said. “It was just too much to dig our way out.”
Not helping matter for the Patriots was top-notch cornerback Aquib Talib went down with a knee injury. That more or less meant that Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas was going to have an easy night because nobody else on the Pats had a chance in hell of matching up against him.
“Talib’s an excellent player,” Manning said, “but Demaryius was going to be a big part of the game plan, either way.”
A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the last three games didn’t have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, actually led the Patriots to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. But they were a pair of time-consuming, 80-yard drives. The second cut the deficit to 26-16 with 3:07 left, but the Broncos stopped Shane Vereen on the 2-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.
There was some belief that the Pats were using house money in this game. With everything they had been through, they were probably a little blown away themselves that they were within one win of playing for the Super Bowl. The team lost at least three big guns – Wes Welker (to the Broncos, Rob Gronkowski, who has had more injuries than a Chinesse phone book has Chins, and Aaron Hernandez, who is still a murder suspect.)
Head Coach Bill Belichick remains with three titles, and has not won since the NFL busted him for the Spygate videotaping scandal.
Seattle 23 San Francisco 17
The final game of the season that isn’t the Super Bowl game itself was the championship game of the NFC played Sunday night at SecureLInk Field in Seattle, Wash. The next time any of us will see any pro football on the TV, it will be on the biggest stage in the world.
SF had the lead early off a field goal and they added a touchdown in the second quarter, things looked good heading into the second half but the home side Seahawks scored 20 points in the second half.
Seattle’s top-ranked defense forced three fourth-quarter turnovers, and Russell Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth down for the winning points. Seattle will meet Denver (15-3) for the NFL title in two weeks in the New Jersey Meadowlands. It’s the first trip to the big game for the Seahawks (15-3) since they lost to Pittsburgh after the 2005 season.
The conference champs had the best records in the league this year, the second time the top seeds have gotten to the Super Bowl in 20 seasons. It also is a classic confrontation of Denver’s record-setting offense led by Peyton Manning against the NFL’s stingiest defense. Denver opened as a 1-point favorite over Seattle on the Glantz-Culver Line.
“It will be a great matchup,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game.”
Moments after Sherman tipped Colin Kaepernick’s pass to Smith for the interception, the All-Pro cornerback jumped into the stands behind the end zone, saluting the Seahawks’ raucous fans. With 12th Man flags waving everywhere, and “New York, New York” blaring over the loudspeakers, CenturyLink Field rocked like never before.
Until Seattle’s top-ranked defense forced a fumble and had two interceptions in the final period, the game was marked by big offensive plays in the second half. That was somewhat shocking considering the strength of both teams’ defenses.
Seattle simply had no answers for Kaepernick’s runs, looking either flat-footed or plain-out lost when he took off. He gained 98 yards on the ground in the first half, including a 58-yard second-quarter run, the longest of his three-year career and the longest Seattle’s defense allowed all season.
The Super Bowl in two weeks will mark the fifth time since the NFL-AFL merger that the No. 1-ranked offense and the No. 1-ranked defense will meet in the final game of the season. The last time it happened was 1990, when the New York Giants and their top-ranked defense beat Buffalo and its top-ranked offense. Overall, the top-ranked defense has won three times, and the top-ranked offense has won once.
Against San Francisco, the Seattle defense created three fourth-quarter turnovers. It kept handing the ball back to the offense. When the Seahawks had to get a stop, they did. When they had to force a fumble, they did. When they needed an interception, they got one, and then another.
Denver will be a different challenge than San Francisco. Against the 49ers, the Seahawks had to account for Kaepernick’s legs. Kaepernick rushed 11 times for 130 yards while also completing 14 of 24 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions in the regular season. In playoff wins over San Diego and New England, Manning completed 72.2 percent of his passes for 630 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.
“[Manning] deserves to be there because of what he’s done this year with his team and that whole club,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
“But we’re not going to take this challenge lightly. We’re going to go after this thing and we’re not going into this game any other way but thinking that we’re going to win. These guys don’t know any other way.”
Certainly Sherman doesn’t. He proved that once and for all against San Francisco, and as a result, the Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.