Welcome back everybody. Did you catch all the games this past weekend? With only 4 on the slate, I know I did — I’m trying to savor every last play we’ve got this season! This weekend the top seeds were back in action after their bye weeks in the opening round. The New England Patriots hosted the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium, The Denver Broncos welcomed the Pittsburgh Steelers into Mile High, the Arizona Cardinals played host to the Green Bay Packers again and the Carolina Panthers entertained the Seattle Seahawks. Here we go.
Saturday’s games kicked off with New England and Kansas City. The Patriots struck early with a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. The two teams went back and forth throughout the first half but while the Pats managed two touchdowns, the Chiefs settled for two field goals. New England continued to build on their 14-6 lead by adding another touchdown in the third quarter, making it 21-6. The Chiefs were able to answer with a score of their own on the ensuing drive, bringing the game back in reach. But the Chiefs would not score again until midway through the fourth quarter and the Patriots had already tacked on another six points by then. New England punched their ticket to the AFC Championship game, 27-20.
Saturday night brought us the rematch of the Cardinals and Packers in Arizona. Just a few weeks ago, Green Bay had been beaten badly on this very same field. Forget having their doors blown off, the Cardinals took it a step further and blew the roof off. So the question on Saturday was whether or not Green Bay would exact revenge. For as high scoring as the last game was (for Arizona, at least), this game started slowly with just thirteen total points in the first half. The Packers opened the second half scoring with a touchdown to Jeff Janis to take a 13-7 lead. But the Cardinals struck twice in the fourth to reclaim the game 20-13. They had the Packers on the ropes as time was about to expire – Green Bay’s only hope was a 40-yard Hail Mary to tie it. I know what you’re thinking, they did it once this year already, there is no possible way they could do it again. Arizona simply wouldn’t let them.
Until they did.
For the second time this year, Green Bay scored on a hail mary pass on the final play of the game and this one sent their playoff matchup into overtime. After an odd coin toss, Arizona took the ball and never looked back. Carson Palmer took the snap on a play action pass and was immediately under fire from Packer defenders. Somehow he side-stepped one and spun away from the other and connected with Larry Fitzgerald all the way across the field. But it didn’t stop there. Fitzgerald proceeded to take the short pass 75 yards down the field bobbing and weaving between Packers and his teammates. He was tackled inside the 5-yard line and two plays later caught the winning touchdown to send Arizona to the NFC Championship. Wow.
On to Sunday.
The Sunday afternoon game featured the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks in Charlotte, N.C. This one wasn’t quite as exciting as the other NFC matchup, but it was still a good watch. This game was really a tale of two halves, like Cam Newton said. The Carolina Panthers were absolutely on fire from the first play of the game. The defense forced multiple turnovers – including an interception returned for a touchdown – and the offense couldn’t be stopped as the Panthers built a 31-0 lead going into halftime. That is not a typo, it was thirty-one to zero. It didn’t even look like the Seahawks belonged in the playoffs during that first half. However, they flipped the script when they came out of the locker room for the second half. The Panthers went into preservation mode while Seattle came roaring back on the arm of Russell Wilson. Though it never really felt like Seattle was going to come all the way back, they did manage to get within a touchdown as time wound down, making it look a lot more respectable. Carolina moves on.
Finally, we have the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the Denver Broncos at Mile High. The Steelers came into this contest without a concussed Antonio Brown and with a banged up Ben Roethlisberger – but don’t let that fool you, this one was hotly contested all four quarters. The Broncos felt like they were in control early, but the Steelers held the lead after the first quarter, after the first half, and three quarters into the game. The Pittsburgh defense had stymied the Broncos’ offense, bending but not breaking and allowing four field goals but no touchdowns. But in the fourth, Denver finally broke through and into the endzone on a C.J. Anderson run on a somewhat controversial drive. Earlier in the play sequence, Peyton Manning had gone to the ground to avoid a sack, but after realizing he was not touched, Peyton stood up and completed a 30-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders, eventually leading to the score. The controversy comes from Manning going to the ground — some thought that he was giving himself up on the play while others saw it as simply avoiding the sack. Either way, the play is not reviewable and it would stand as called. From there, Denver would add a field goal and never relinquish the lead. Pittsburgh made one last charge, but it wasn’t enough. The Broncos prevail.
Now, we’re all set up for championship weekend in the NFL. Both games will be played Sunday afternoon/evening so get all your chores done by Sunday morning and grab yourself some popcorn. At 3pm (EST) we will get what is most likely the last Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning matchup ever. Let that sink in for a moment, because these are two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, if not the two best. Though Brady is thought to have Manning’s number, the two are actually tied at 2-2 in head to head playoff matchups. This game will decide the legacy between the two – you don’t want to be the one that missed that matchup. The Patriots will travel to Denver for the 1 vs 2 matchup in the AFC. In the NFC, we have a pair of Heisman trophy winners dueling. Cam Newton and the Panthers will host Carson Palmer and the Cardinals. Each team has been sensational all year long with just a minor hiccup here and there. Again, you do not want to miss this.
There you have it. Another week in the books but another terrific Sunday of football ahead of us. See you guys next week!