What a weekend of divisional play offs. In the most entertaining weekend in NFL history a total of 274 points were scored as the Patriots, 49’ers, Falcons and the Ravens all progressed through to the penultimate games of the season.
There were sacks, interceptions, match winning field goals, 70 yard game saving touchdowns, season defining coaching mistakes and legendary brilliance in a weekend where, despite there being plenty of losers, the whole NFL universe feels like they were winners with this extraordinary showcase.
The Denver Bronco’s were left to rue some costly decisions made in the final quarter as they were shocked by the Baltimore Ravens in an unbelievable clash at the Mile High Stadium, losing 38-35.
In a battle between two legends of the NFL, Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning, it was the defensive leader who came out on top after overtime to prolong his final season in the sport.
The closeness of the game was shown throughout the match as the sides were level for a remarkable five separate times throughout the contest. Raven’s quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns, including a 70 yard game saving pass to Jacoby Jones with thirty seconds left of normal time.
It was a brilliant performance from the much criticised Flacco who outplayed Bronco’s QB Manning, much to the surprise of many in the NFL world.
Raven’s other two touchdowns came from a Corey Graham interception and a Ray Rice rush, as Rice made 131 yards to give the Bronco’s defence even more of a nightmare game.
Denver’s touchdowns came from Manning and Trindon Holliday as future Hall of Famer Manning threw three passes and Holliday returned a punt return and a kick off to become the first player to ever do so in the play off.
As the final quarter was entering its latter stages, it looked an almost certainty that legendary quarterback Manning would kill the clock off and send the Bronco’s one step closer to the Super Bowl.
However, a mind boggling decision from offensive coordinator Mike Mccoy to run the ball on a third and seven, gave the Ravens an opportunity to score a touchdown to bring the game level at 35-35.
Quarterback Matt Flacco delivered yet another sucker-punch to the woeful Bronco’s defence to send the game into overtime as he fired his 70 yard pass to Jacoby Jones.
The Bronco’s were still favourites for victory at this point, especially when they won the toss and elected to receive heading into the most important overtime of theirs and the Ravens’s season. However, Manning’s second interception throw of the match paved the way for a 47 yard field goal courtesy of rookie Justin Tucker to send the Ravens into the AFC Championship match.
Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks produced a volatile game at the Georgia Dome as the Falcons edged the win with a last minute field goal to win 30-28.
The first half produced one of the most one sided halves in playoff history as Matt Ryan’s Falcons went in 20-0 up at the break.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Falcons still led by twenty, this time 27-7. Seattle then produced the biggest fourth quarter comeback in playoff history to take the lead with 38 seconds remaining ,after a Marshawn Lynch two yard touchdown run to seemingly send Matt Ryan to his fourth straight playoff loss.
Matt Ryan picked up possession with those precious 38 seconds left and constructed a quick, efficient drive to leave Matt Bryant a 49 yard field goal with just 13 seconds remaining. Bryant had already kicked two field goals to add to Ryan’s three touchdown passes and soon hit his third kick off the day, but not before Seattle head coach Pete Carroll had tried to ice him before his first attempt.
Despite the first attempt missing, because of Carroll’s icing attempt, Bryant had his chance to make Falcons history and send them through to the NFC Championship final.
As easy as it would be for Seahawks fans to turn on Carroll for this tactic, they would probably be better off applauding the excellence of the Falcons, who had built up the reputation of choking in playoff games.
They eradicated this unwanted tag with this remarkable win which left Tony Gonzalez on the floor in tears and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson left to contemplate his plans for next year despite throwing for 385 yards.
This weekend inevitably belonged to Matt Ryan and his squad, who have had such a strong season that it must be more of a relief than an enjoyment to finally break their playoff voodoo.
San Francisco 49’ers progressed to the NFC Championship Final thanks to a record breaking performance from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for 183 yards- the most by a quarterback in an NFL game, to steer his side to a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers.
It is the second straight season in which the team from San Francisco have reached the Conference finals and they did it in style with a confident team performance to end the Packer’s season just when it looked possible for them to go all the way.
The Packers defence couldn’t handle the incredible performance form Kaepernick, who not only rushed impeccably, but also threw for 263 yards including two touchdowns.
The Packers did cause the 49’ers lots of problems throughout and can go away holding their heads up high, especially quarterback Aaron Rodgers who completed 26/59 for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite Rodgers’ efforts and Greg Jennings’ six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown, the 49’ers were the deserved winners and go into their NFC Championship game with Atlanta in high spirits of a date with destiny at New Orleans.
Looking at this performance it would be hard to begrudge them of the tag of favourites, even if they have to travel to the Georgia Dome.
New England Patriots marched into the AFC Championship final with a comfortable victory over the Houston Texans despite missing influential Rob Gronkowski , who is likely to miss the rest of the play offs through injury.
Tom Brady is aiming to achieve a record sixth Super Bowl appearance and based on this performance from his offensive side, he has the firepower to achieve it. The ever reliable Wes Walker caught for 131 yards from just eight receptions, Shane Vereen scored three times and the leader of the group Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns as well as an impressive 344 yards plus his 41st post season touchdown.
Despite Matt Schaub throwing for a more than respectable 343 yards, he was always fighting a losing battle as his defence struggled to maintain the superior Patriots offence whilst his own offence struggled to get any running game going with Arian Foster not reaching his usual high standards, only rushing for 90 yards.
The best team certainly won this game and the Patriots will have no fear against the Ravens and go into their AFC Championship clash as clear favourites with the likes of Brady, Walker and Brandon Lloyd at the top of their games.