The divisional round of the 2012 NFL season began with eight hopefuls, and ended with the odd maker’s favorite planning for next year.
Sportscasters around the country were proclaiming two of this week’s games as “instant classics” and the most competitive playoff games in recent memory.
The Denver Broncos played host to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had an ominous statistic to overcome. Manning has never won a playoff game when the temperature on field is less than 40 degrees. It was 13 degrees at kickoff.
Manning finished with 28 competitions of 43 attempts passing for 290 yards with 3 touchdowns, but also had 2 interceptions and 1 fumble lost. Manning was not happy with his performance. When asked about the second interception he said,
“It was not a good decision. Not a good throw, either.”
Manning’s poor performance eclipsed a record breaking day by Denver return specialist Trindon Holiday who returned a punt return of 90 yards for a touchdown, and a kickoff return of 104 for a touchdown. Both are playoff records.
The Ravens improbably tied the game with 31 seconds left in regulation with a 70 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco to wide receiver Jacoby Jones.
Kicker Justin Tucker won the game with a 47 yard field goal, set up by Manning’s second interception, 1:47 into the second overtime. Ravens win 38 to 35 taking the odd maker’s favorite team to win the big game out of contention for this season.
Flacco passed for 331 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Ray Rice also chipped in with 130 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Linebacker Ray Lewis helped prolong his “last ride” for at least another week by racking up 17 tackles while fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs had 10 tackles an two sacks.
The Atlanta Falcons blew a 20 point lead in the fourth quarter in their divisional playoff game to the Seattle when the Seahawks took the lead with a one yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch with 31 seconds remaining in the game.
Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan threw two long passes, aided by Seattle’s soft coverage, to setup kicker Matt Bryant with a 49 yard field goal attempt.
Bryant initially appeared to miss the kick wide to the right, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had called timeout before the ball had been snapped.
Bryant would nail the second attempt right down the middle, proving once again that icing the kicker does not work.
The Falcons had a scare when a poorly executed squib kick gave Seattle a chance for a last second Hail Mary pass, but Atlanta receiver Julio Jones – in as an extra defensive back – picked off the ball in the endzone to seal the victory. Atlanta moved on to the NFC Championship game by winning 30 to 28.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick made a great debut in postseason play with a playoff record (for a quarterback) 181 rushing yards scoring 2 touchdowns in their 45 to 31 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
He also threw two touchdowns to wide receiver Michael Crabtree. 49ers ended the day with 579 total yards and 373 yards rushing.
The 49ers’ defense also had a tremendous night. Although they sacked Aaron Rodgers only once, they put relentless pressure on him and had him running for his life all night.
The secondary took away the deep pass option that the Packers had lived on all season and noticibly frustrated Rodgers, making the widely considered best quarterback in the NFL look mortal.
The New England Patriots made their way into the AFC Championship game by ending the hopes of the Houston Texans by a final score of 41 to 28. This makes Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick’s record 17th postseason victory.
It initially looked like the Texans would be a tough out when Daniel Manning returned the opening kickoff to the New England 12 yard line.
The Patriots led by just four points at halftime, but they siezed control early in the second half and never looked back.
Tom Brady passed for 344 yards and 3 touchdowns. Receiver Wes Welker had 131 yards on the evening. Patriots running back and former LSU Tiger Stevan Ridley ran for 82 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries.
Belichick and Brady are now just one victory away from a remarkable sixth Super Bowl appearance in the last twelve years.
The NFC Championship Game featuring the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons from the Georgiadome Sunday afternoon which will be aired locally on Fox 8 starting at 2pm.
The AFC Championship Game will pit the Baltimore Ravens against the New England Patriots at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium will be televised on WWL-TV Channel 4 starting at 5:30pm Sunday Evening.
There is plenty of intrigue in both of the conference championships, setting up a potentially very exciting Super Bowl here in New Orleans.