Does it have to be over? That was one of the best weekends of sports we have ever seen. The only bad thing about the Super Bowl getting closer is less football games over the weekend.
If it looked familiar to you, there’s good reason for that. The four AFC teams in the divisional round this past weekend were the same final four as last season and it was the first time that phenomenon has ever happened. Defense was certainly hard to come by on both Saturday and Sunday. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.
What. A. Game. The Ravens and the Broncos opened the weekend in one of the best postseason games we have seen in a while. Despite two return touchdowns from Trindon Holliday, Denver fell to the underdog Ravens, 38-35, in the first double-overtime game in the NFL since the Panthers beat the Rams in another divisional playoff game on Jan. 10, 2004 – they ended up making it to the Super Bowl that year. Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones with a 70-yard pass to tie the game at 35 with 31 seconds left in regulation and tied Eli Manning for the most road playoff wins with his fifth. If you missed it, start kicking yourself. Peyton Manning, who had won nine straight starts against the Ravens coming into the game, tied Brett Favre for the most playoff losses by a quarterback in NFL history. In 12 playoff appearances, which are tied for the most ever, he is now 9-11, including eight seasons of one-and-done performances. In what has become his typical fashion, he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. The Ravens got 17 points off of those turnovers, including the game-winning field goal with 13:18 left in the second overtime period following Corey Graham‘s second pick of the night.
The game featured three return touchdowns, including two in the first 5:11 and also saw a 42-second stretch in which the Ravens scored two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead. Holliday’s 90-yard punt return was the first ever in Denver postseason history and the longest by any player ever in the playoffs. His 104-yard kick return for a touchdown was also the longest return TD in playoff history and he became the only player to ever return both a kick and a punt for touchdowns in the same playoff game. Finally, Holliday became the first player to ever score two touchdowns of any kind of 90 or more yards in a playoff game. Baltimore lost one fumble on the day and have now lost three in their first two playoff games this year after losing just five in the regular season. The 28 combined points in the first quarter of the game were more than the four games combined for in the first quarter last weekend. It was only the third time in the Super Bowl era that both teams scored 14 or more points in the first quarter of a playoff game. It was also the first ever playoff game with an offensive (Torrey Smith, Brandon Stokley), defensive (Graham) and special teams touchdown (Holliday) in the first quarter.
The 35 points are the most the Ravens have ever allowed in their playoff history. The Broncos lost their first overtime playoff contest as they had been 2-0 in such games entering this one, including the victory over the Steelers last year. Baltimore improved to 1-0 in overtime playoff games. Graham became the sixth player in the last five postseasons to pick off multiple passes in a playoff game. Three of them are Ravens. The combination of Flacco and John Harbaugh is going to its third AFC Championship game in their five seasons together (0-2). Justin Tucker‘s 47-yard field goal to win the game was his only one of the night, the fourth-longest overtime field goal in playoff history and the longest ever by a rookie. Ray Lewis made an astounding 17 tackles and will live to play another week. The game lasted 76 minutes, 42 seconds. It was the fourth-longest playoff game in NFL history and the longest since 1986. Manning fell to 0-4 in his career in the postseason when the temperature was lower than 40 degrees and his 21 career postseason interceptions are the fourth-most ever. Denver committed 10 penalties in the game for 87 yards. Smith’s 59-yard TD reception just before the half was the second-longest in Baltimore postseason history. Manning took a knee with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, still possessing two timeouts.
Well, that was a good start. The Ravens will travel to Foxboro for a rematch of their Week 3 game with New England on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
Though it didn’t have all of the same edge-of-your-seat madness, the nightcap did not disappoint either. While making his postseason debut in the game, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced his arrival and announced it in a huge way. He led the scorching hot San Francisco offense with 444 total yards and four total touchdowns as the ‘Niners will be returning to the NFC Championship game for the second consecutive year with a 45-31 win over the Packers. His 181 rushing yards not only set the playoff record for a quarterback, but also set the record for rushing yards by a quarterback in any game. Ever. Kaepernick also became just the third quarterback to ever run for two touchdowns and throw for two more in a single playoff game. The 49ers’ 579 yards of total offense were a franchise postseason record and the fifth time they have surpassed 450 in a playoff game. The previous four times they won the Super Bowl. The 579 yards were also the most the Packers have ever allowed in the playoffs. San Francisco tied the Steelers for the most home playoff wins in NFL history after picking up their 20th on Saturday night.
Aaron Rodgers had won three straight road playoff games before the season-ending loss. He threw an interception for the first time in five games and broke his career-best streak of at least one touchdown pass and no interceptions in four straight games. San Francisco improved to 2-4 all-time against the Packers in the playoffs and have won consecutive games against the Pack for the first time since 1981-87. Frank Gore finished with 119 yards rushing and went over the century mark for the first time in his third career playoff game. Kaepernick’s total QBR of 94.7 was 26.1 points higher than the 68.6 total QBR of last year’s MVP, Rodgers. The ‘Niners out-rushed Green Bay 323-104 as both Kaepernick and Gore went over 100 yards. The 323 rushing yards were the most the Packers have ever allowed in the playoffs. Kaepernick’s 53.8 percent completion percentage on throws at least 15 yards downfield this season is second in the NFL. Also, 178 of his rushing yards came before contact and he had 99 option rushing yards, which were the most by a quarterback in the last three seasons. The 49ers improved to 13-3 at home in divisional playoff games and 20-9 at home in the playoffs. San Francisco possessed the ball for nearly two thirds of the game (38:01) and will head to the NFC Championship game for the second straight year to face Atlanta.
The four teams to play on Saturday combined for 1,808 yards and 149 points. Denver and Green Bay each lost in the Divisional Round for the second straight season. Both Harbaugh brothers won on Saturday and will play in Championship Weekend for the second straight year. Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers became the fourth coach to reach the conference title game in each of his first two seasons with the team.
Let’s just say Sunday was as good if not better.
He’s Finally done it. In his fourth attempt, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan finally got the playoff monkey off of his back with some heroics in the last minute when it seemed like his team was going to find yet another way to lose a playoff game. And, after 16 seasons, so has Tony Gonzalez, who entered the day 0-5 in the postseason for his career. Though they did blow a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, a 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with eight seconds left put Atlanta back on top and this time, they would stay there. Bryant improved to 5-for-5 on field goal attempts of 49 or more yards this year, but none was bigger than the kick that sent the Falcons to their first NFC Championship game since 2004. Overall, he has made ten straight of 49 or more yards and the Falcons won their first playoff game since that 2004 season. Bryant missed his first attempt, but Pete Carroll had called a timeout just before the snap. Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left after entering the fourth quarter trailing, 27-7. His 385 passing yards set the record for the most ever by a rookie in the playoffs, but he failed to get points for his team in two crucial situations: on fourth and one from the Atlanta 11 in the second quarter and just before the half when he could not get his team to the line fast enough. And I thought the game the night before in Denver would unquestionably be the game of the weekend.
With 20 first-half points, including a 47-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Roddy White, the longest in his postseason career, Atlanta looked to easily be in control as they jumped out to a 20-0 lead and Seattle made too many mistakes in the only game of the weekend that was not a regular season rematch. It was just the second time in 2012 that the Falcons had held an opponent scoreless in the first half. White tied the Falcons franchise record with his third playoff touchdown reception and also set the team record for postseason receptions with 27 by the end of the night. Ryan finished with 250 yards and went over 200 for the first time in his playoff career, though he did throw multiple interceptions for the third time in four postseason starts. He improved to 34-6 in 40 career starts at home. Only two teams (the Patriots and the Ravens) have had more home wins since he entered the league in 2008. Seattle had gone 27 games since being shut out in the first half. Marshawn Lynch fumbled for the third straight game in the first quarter and it led to the third career postseason touchdown, and the first since 2006, of Gonzalez’ career. Atlanta improved to 44-2 since 2008 when leading a game by a least ten points at any time. Seattle just missed becoming only the second team from the West Coast to win two games in the Eastern time zone in the same postseason (’89 Rams). The win was also the first in the playoffs for Mike Smith, who joined the team with Ryan in 2008.
This game was the second in postseason history to have two lead changes in the final 31 seconds. The other? The “Music City Miracle” in 1999. Wilson finished the season with the third-most wins ever by a rookie quarterback with 12. His 86.4 QBR on Sunday was the second-highest by a quarterback in a loss in the last five years and he became just the second rookie quarterback to throw for 300 yards in a playoff game (first since 1937). Ryan’s three touchdown passes tied the Atlanta playoff record and he avoided becoming just the second quarterback to ever lose his first four playoff starts. Richard Sherman and the rest of Seattle’s talented secondary couldn’t stop Ryan when he only had 31 seconds to work with. Wilson just missed becoming only the third rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win two postseason games. Zach Miller‘s 142 receiving yards were the most in his career as a Seahawk and three better than his previous career-high of 139 as a member of the Raiders on Oct. 18, 2009. He came up one shy of the Seahawks postseason record. The No. 1 seed had lost in the NFC Divisional round in four of the last five seasons. The win broke Atlanta’s four-game playoff losing streak and they improved to 27-0 in their history when leading by 20 points or more at the half. Consequently, Seattle fell to 0-34 when trailing by 20 or more at the break. Lynch had just 46 rushing yards after tying the playoff franchise record of 132 last week as Seattle would have tied the largest road comeback in playoff history if they could have held on. They also would have become just the second team out of 58 to win a game in which they trailed by at least 20 points at halftime (1993 Bills). Teams trailing by 20 or more after three quarters are now 0-84 in playoff history.
It will be 49ers-Falcons on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. from the Georgia Dome. There has still never been a rookie quarterback to start a Super Bowl.
- In perhaps the least entertaining game of the weekend – don’t get me wrong though, it was great – the Texans failed to avenge their embarrassing loss at the hands of the Patriots in Week 14 and fell, 41-28. Arian Foster did tie the record of 515 yards (weird that he tied it exactly) by a running back in his first four postseason games, but was clearly overshadowed by the Pats offense and Tom Brady, in particular. Brady improved to 17-6 in his playoff career, passing Joe Montana for the most wins by a quarterback in playoff history. Foster has also run for a touchdown in each of his first four career playoff games. Wes Welker finished the game with 131 yards receiving. Of those, 120 came in the first half of the game – a Patriots’ playoff record. New England is now 12-0 when leading at the half of a home playoff game. Shane Vereen stole the offensive show, however, as his two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown paced the Pats offense. He became the first Patriot since Deion Branch in 2004 to have a rushing and receiving touchdown in a playoff game and the first player in the NFL with two touchdown catches and a touchdown run in a postseason game since Ricky Watters did it in Super Bowl XXIX.It was 17-13 before New England scored 21 straight points to take control. Teams that lost by 28 points or more in the regular season to a team it went on to face in the playoffs are now 11-12 in such games with the loss by the Texans. Bill Belichick now has 18 playoff victories, just two behind Tom Landry, the all-time leader. It was Brady’s fifth postseason game with 300 or more passing yards, he will be making his seventh start in a conference championship game and he has now thrown a touchdown pass to 20 different receivers in his playoff career. Stevan Ridley also picked up his first career postseason rushing touchdown as Patriots backs found the endzone twice on the ground in the game. In the team’s previous five playoff games, their running backs combined for just one rushing touchdown. Welker set the franchise record for the most career playoff receptions with his 61st. He did it in eight games. Troy Brown (58) took 20. Brady won a playoff game that was a rematch of a regular season game for the first time in his career. He had been 0-6 coming in, including a loss to the Giants in last year’s Super Bowl.
It will be Ravens-Patriots on Sunday from Gillette Stadium.
The 276 points scored this weekend made it the highest scoring Divisional Playoff weekend in NFL history. After no team scored more than 24 points in the Wild Card games, no teams scored less than 28 in the Divisional Round. Of the four remaining quarterbacks, Brady, Kaepernick and Ryan rank second, third and fourth in the league respectively in total QBR. Flacco ranks 25th in the league.
The two and four seeds are left in the AFC while it’s the top two still alive in the NFC. You get all that?
Just five days until we get to do it all over again.
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