NFL Playoffs 2014: AFC, NFC Championship Games Ahead on Sunday


 The final NFL divisional playoff games were Sunday, here’s the matchups for next Sunday.

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Sunday, Jan. 12:

Broncos won 24-17; they’ll play the Patriots in Denver next Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (CBS). 

San Francisco won 23-10; they’ll play in Seattle next Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET (FOX).

 

Divisional Playoffs: Saturday, Jan.11:

Seattle won 25-18 - New Orleans Saints (12-6) at Seattle Seahawks (14-3), 4:35 p.m. ET (FOX)

New England won 43-22 - Indianapolis Colts (12-6) at New England Patriots (13-4), 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)

 

Conference Championships: Sunday, Jan. 19:
NFC: Seattle Seahawks at home against the 49ers, 6:30 p.m. (FOX). 

AFC: New England Patriots vs the Broncos in Denver, 3 p.m. (CBS). 

 

Pro Bowl: Saturday, Jan. 26, in Honolulu:

Super Bowl: Sunday, Feb. 2, at East Rutherford, N.J.

TBD, 7:30 p.m. (NBC)

AFC champion vs. NFC champion, 6:30 p.m. (FOX)

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Familiar Rivalries in AFC, NFC Championships

Familiar foes. Rivalry showdowns.

Talk about a couple of juicy title-game tussles.

It’s Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady — Round 15 — in the AFC championship game next Sunday, while the San Francisco 49ers square off against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title bout.

Yep, here we go again. With a Super Bowl trip on the line.

“It’s the Broncos versus the Patriots and certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot,” Manning said, “but when you get to the AFC championship, it’s about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there.”

Manning helped lead Denver past the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday, setting up another meeting with Brady and New England, which beat Indianapolis 43-22 on Saturday night. The Broncos (14-3) opened as 6½-point favorites for the game at Denver.

“That’s two of the greats,” Denver wide receiver Eric Decker said. “It’s going to be talked about a lot throughout the week.”

Manning and Brady have squared off 14 times throughout their careers, with the Patriots quarterback holding a 10-4 edge in the head-to-head matchup, including a 34-31 overtime victory in November. They each have a win against the other in the AFC championship game: Brady in the 2003 playoffs and Manning in the 2006 postseason with Indianapolis.

And the winner went on to win the Super Bowl each time.

But, it’s not necessarily the same old story this time around. Both the Broncos and Patriots have been winning with balanced offenses, relying not only on the strong arms of their record-breaking quarterbacks but also on their running games.

Manning was 25 of 36 for 230 yards and two TDs, but the Broncos controlled the clock on the ground. After gaining just 18 yards against San Diego last month, the Broncos ran for 133 yards, including 82 by Knowshon Moreno, whose 3-yard TD run put them ahead 24-7 with 8:12 left.

The Chargers rallied to get within a score late, but Manning completed a pair of key third-down passes in the final minutes to prevent San Diego from getting a final chance.

“They’re a great team, they had a big win (Saturday) night,” Manning said of the Patriots. “We’re going to enjoy this one tonight, start to work on them tomorrow and I know it’ll be a heck of a game.”

At Foxborough, Mass., LeGarrette Blount carried the Patriots (13-4) to their third straight AFC title game with four touchdown runs against the Colts. Stevan Ridley added two rushing scores, giving New England six TDs — and none by Brady.

“The way our defense is getting the ball for us and, really, what we’ve done the last three or four weeks (with) the running game has just been awesome,” Brady said. “Hopefully, we can do it next week, too.”

In the NFC, the 49ers and Seahawks are all set to play in the latest chapter in one of the NFL’s budding — and bitter — rivalries.

The Seahawks (14-3) opened as 3-point favorites for the game at Seattle against 49ers (14-4), who defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 on Sunday.

On Saturday, Marshawn Lynch ran for a franchise playoff-record 140 yards and two touchdowns and Seattle’s defense flustered Drew Brees and New Orleans in a 23-15 victory. The top-seeded Seahawks advanced to the NFC title game for the second time, and first since the 2005 playoffs.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “That’s our goal. We have 60 minutes of football left.”

San Francisco, which lost last year to Baltimore, is looking for a return trip to the Super Bowl. And lots of hard hits and plenty of jawing might be expected in this latest matchup with the Seahawks.

“I think we’re the two teams everyone was looking at from the beginning,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “It’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out game.”

Count on it.

The previous few games between the NFC West rivals have been full of contempt, with shoving, pushing and arguing spicing things up. Even the coaches don’t care for each other.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh have been rivals dating to their days as opponents in the old Pac-10. In 2009, after Harbaugh’s Stanford team ran up the score on Carroll’s Southern California squad in a 55-21 rout, the two met at midfield and an annoyed Carroll barked, “What’s your deal?”

That’s carried over to the NFL — and it might get ramped up again during the week.

“We’re healthy, we’re a great team and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get that ring,” 49ers running back Frank Gore said. “We’re playing great ball.”

Good thing, since the 49ers have committed seven turnovers and been outscored 71-16 in their past two trips to Seattle, including a 29-3 Week 2 loss in September.

“We’re a different team than we were the first time we played them up there,” Kaepernick insisted.

The 49ers will get a chance to prove that next weekend.

At Seattle, Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals in blustery conditions, and Lynch capped the victory with a 31-yard scoring run with 2:40 left that Carroll celebrated by jumping into offensive line coach Tom Cable’s arms.

“It feels awesome,” fullback Michael Robinson said, “but this doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win next week.”

SF pummels Carolina 23-10

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers are headed to the NFC championship game once again — to face a familiar opponent in a place where they’ve struggled.

Kaepernick threw one touchdown pass and ran for another score as the 49ers shut down Cam Newton and defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 on Sunday to advance to the NFC title game for the third straight season.

Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 passes for 196 yards, avenging his worst statistical performance of the season two months ago against the Panthers.

Anquan Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards and Frank Gore ran for 84 yards on 17 carries for the 49ers (14-4), who’ll travel to Seattle next Sunday looking for a return trip to the Super Bowl.

San Francisco split two games with the Seahawks this season. The 49ers lost 29-3 at Seattle in September and were beaten 42-13 at CenturyLink Field in December 2012.

The 49ers held Newton in check, intercepting him twice and sacking him five times while stopping the Panthers (12-5) twice on the 1-yard line in the first half. It was a rough playoff debut for the former Heisman Trophy winner.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks stopped Newton on a fourth-down sneak early in the second. Later, Brooks vaulted over the line and past Newton — he was called for offsides, but the 49ers showed the Panthers it wouldn’t be easy.

Kaepernick was held to 91 yards passing and 16 yards rushing in the first meeting with Carolina, a 10-9 loss at Candlestick Park.

But he played efficient football on Sunday.

San Francisco led 13-10 at the half, and Kaepernick scored midway through in the third quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run off a read option. Kaepernick then imitated Newton’s Superman celebration by pretending to rip open his shirt.

Newton and the Panthers offense had no answer, failing to score in the second half.

The game was not without its share of disputes.

The 49ers took a 13-10 lead into the locker room after Vernon Davis caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone from Kaepernick with 5 seconds left in the first half.

After a pass interference on cornerback Drayton Florence set the 49ers up with a first and goal at the 1, Davis was initially ruled out of the end zone, prompting 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to come racing on to the field to dispute the call, drawing a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. But after reviewing the play, officials ruled Davis dragged his left foot and overturned the call on the field.

But that wasn’t all.

Television replays showed the 49ers had 12 men in the huddle before the play, which should have resulted in a 5-yard dead ball penalty.

The touchdown was the first time in 18 possessions for the 49ers against the Panthers this season.

Carolina spotted San Francisco a 6-0 lead with two defensive penalties — an unnecessary roughness on safety Mike Mitchell and a headbutt on cornerback Captain Munnerlyn — leading to field goals.

Wide receiver Steve Smith, who was questionable all week with a sprained knee ligament, gave Carolina a 7-6 lead with a 31-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Smith was well covered, but turned just in time to see the ball coming over cornerback Tarell Brown’s shoulder for his 10th touchdown in nine postseason games.

Carolina led 10-6 before Davis’ touchdown catch put the 49ers ahead for good.

It’s the second time since 2008 the Panthers have lost at home in the divisional playoffs after winning the NFC South and claiming a first-round bye with the No. 2 seed.

The win set up the third game of the season between Seattle and San Francisco. The Seahawks romped at home 29-3 on Sept. 15, then the 49ers won at home 19-17 on Dec. 8.

 

 

Seahawks beat Saints

SEATTLE (AP) — When he got around the edge, there was no one for Marshawn Lynch to hit. Directly ahead was open field, the end zone and the Seattle Seahawks’ place in the NFC championship game.

Once again, Lynch overpowered the New Orleans Saints in the postseason.

“That was maybe ‘Beast Mode II.’ I don’t know but it was a very cool way to end that game and give us the score that we needed,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.

Lynch carried 28 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns and Seattle’s defense flustered Drew Brees and New Orleans in a 23-15 victory Saturday in the NFC divisional playoff game.

“You just don’t know how many more opportunities you’re going to have,” Brees said. “That’s what makes it so tough standing up here and talking about it.”

Steven Hauschka added three field goals in blustery conditions and the top-seeded Seahawksadvanced to the NFC title game for the second time. They will host San Francisco or Carolina next Sunday after last reaching the conference title game in the 2005 playoffs.

Seattle shut out the Saints in the first half, got Lynch’s first 100-yard game since Week 10 of the regular season and received a spark from the brief return of Percy Harvin before he left with a concussion. Lynch scored on a 15-yard run in the first half and capped the victory with a 31-yard scoring run with 2:40 left that Carroll celebrated by jumping into offensive line coach Tom Cable’s arms.

“I don’t run to get tackled,” Lynch said.

While the clinching score lacked the stunning explosiveness of Lynch’s “Beast Quake” touchdown run against the Saints in the 2010 playoffs, this one was more important. It ensured Seattle would not be the latest No. 1 seed to get upset by a No. 6 seed in the divisional round.

Lynch’s clinching TD was a similar to that 2010 play. Lynch read the blocking perfectly and cut to the outside using two blocks from tight end Zach Miller and Jermaine Kearse. Lynch’s only contact was a stiff-arm of Keenan Lewis that allowed him free passage to the end zone and left CenturyLink Field swaying.

“It’s all want with him,” Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate said. “He’s blessed with tremendous athleticism and body control and power. But right there he wanted that. He just wanted it and he went and got it.”

Lynch set a franchise playoff record for yards rushing. His running made up for another shaky day passing by Russell Wilson. Seattle’s offense was a concern heading into the postseason and, outside of Lynch, did little to quell those worries.

Wilson missed on five of his first six pass attempts to start the second half but came through with a 31-yard completion to Doug Baldwin with 2:57 remaining. The Saints blitzed and Wilson and Baldwin connected. Lynch scored on the next play.

“At the end of the game I knew they were going to bring everybody,” Wilson said.

Wilson finished 9 of 18 for a career-low 103 yards. His leading receiver was Harvin, making his second appearance of the season after nearly getting put on injured reserve less than two weeks ago. Harvin had three receptions for 21 yards in the first half and one rush for 9 yards, but left the game late in the first half with a concussion.

Carroll said they won’t know Harvin’s status for the NFC championship game until later in the week as he goes through the league’s concussion protocol.

“He was electric. He made some awesome plays today,” Wilson said about Harvin. “… They were trying to find ways to stop him and they were struggling with that.”

Hauschka hit field goals of 38 and 49 yards with the windy, rainy conditions at his back and hit a 26-yarder into the wind late in the third quarter.

Brees finished 24 of 43 for 309 yards and scared Seattle in the closing seconds. Brees took the Saints 80 yards in nine plays, capped with a 9-yard TD pass to Marques Colston with 26 seconds left that made it 23-15.

Colston then recovered the onside kick when it caromed off Tate’s and directly to the Saints’ receiver.

Brees took over at his 41 with 24 seconds left and Jimmy Graham caught his first pass of the game on an 8-yard completion. Brees spiked the ball to stop the clock, then found Colston near the sideline. Instead of stepping out of bounds, Colston tried to throw across the field to Darren Sproles. It was an illegal forward pass and the penalty ran off the final 10 seconds of the clock giving Seattle the victory.

Seattle’s defense also made Graham invisible for the second time this season. He had just three receptions in the first meeting in December and was even less of an option on Saturday.

“We’re not scared of him,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We have to deal with him but he has to deal with us.”

Graham’s lack of production was just part of the Saints struggles, especially in the first half. New Orleans was shut out in the first half for the third time in Sean Payton’s tenure as head coach and first since 2011. Brees was held to 34 yards passing in the half.

There was also Mark Ingram’s costly fumble on the first play of the second quarter that was forced and recovered by Michael Bennett. Two plays later, Lynch danced in for his first touchdown and theSeahawks had a 13-0 lead.

“It’s my responsibility to take care of the football,” Ingram said. “I lost it in a critical moment and they scored a touchdown off of it. That was huge.”

Notes: Colston finished with 11 receptions for 144 yards for the Saints. … Wilson’s previous low for yards passing was 108 against Arizona in Week 16. … Saints K Shayne Graham missed field goal attempts of 45 and 48 yards both wide left into the wind. … This will be Seattle’s third championship game appearance overall, also playing in one AFC title game.

 

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — LeGarrette Blount wasn’t satisfied with three short touchdown runs, not against a team coming off the second greatest comeback in playoff history.

So the 250-pound back who makes long runs routine took off on a 73-yarder and carried the New England Patriots to their third straight AFC championship game with a 43-22 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night.

Suddenly, the ground game has replaced Tom Brady as the heart of the Patriots’ offense.

“Once I get into the open field, they’re going to have to chase me,” Blount said. “And if they catch me, they do. And if they don’t, they don’t. They usually don’t.”

They didn’t two weeks earlier when he scored on runs of 36 and 35 yards in the regular-season finale against Buffalo. He also returned kickoffs 83 and 62 yards in that 34-20 victory that gave New England a first-round bye. And they didn’t on his long touchdown that gave the Patriots (13-4) a 36-22 lead early in the fourth quarter against the Colts (12-6).

The Patriots will face the winner of the game Sunday between the Broncos and Chargers. It will be in Denver if the Broncos win, and New England will host it if the Chargers win.

“It’s just a great achievement,” Brady said. “People have counted us out at times this year, but I think we’ve got a locker room full of believers.”

 



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