The AFC matchup was an edge-of-your-seat nail biter that didn’t end until a failed 2-point conversion late in the 4th quarter; the NFC title game was a one-sided blowout. But the outcome of both games resulted in a terrific pairing for Super Bowl 50 in which the NFL’s #1 rated defense (Broncos) will face the top-scoring offense (Panthers).
Here are 5 Quick Hits on the Broncos’ 20-18 win over the Patriots, plus the Panthers’ complete annihilation of the Cardinals, 49-15:
#1 MISSED EXTRA POINT PROVED COSTLY FOR PATRIOTS:
Patriots Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski had not missed an extra point since his rookie season in 2006. Coming into Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Denver, he had converted an NFL record 523 consecutive extra points. But he missed his only attempt on Sunday in the 1st quarter following a 1 yard touchdown run by Stephen Jackson. It was a costly miss because, late in the 4th quarter when the Patriots rallied for a touchdown, they needed a two-point conversion to tie the game and send it to overtime. The two-point conversion failed as Patriots QB Tom Brady’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Bradley Roby. The Broncos held on for the victory. This was the first NFL postseason played under the new rules which took effect in 2015 and moved the extra point back 13 yards making it a 33 yard attempt rather than a 20 yard attempt.
#2: BRONCOS’ PASS RUSH WAS RELENTLESS:
Former Cowboys sack master DeMarcus Ware (Broncos linebacker) and former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips (Broncos defensive coordinator) had a big hand in the pass rush. Phillips continually dialed-up the pressure on Brady who was hit 23 times and sacked 4 times in his 56 pass attempts. The Broncos other starting linebacker, Texas A&M’s Von Miller, sacked Brady twice and intercepted a pass. It was a tour de force performance by the Broncos and an especially strong showing by Miller. The Broncos’ run defense was also excellent, allowing only 44 rushing yards the entire game.
#3 PEYTON MANNING RETURNS TO THE SUPER BOWL:
Manning has won only 6 of the 17 games in which he’s faced Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, and the Patriots. But 3 of those 6 wins occurred in AFC Championship Games (1 of the 3 came as a member of the Colts). At 39 years old and coming off a poor season in which he missed 7 games with a foot injury (torn plantar fascia), Manning has a chance to win his second Super Bowl ring. But he’ll face a Panthers defense that absolutely crushed the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game.
#4 PANTHERS DEFENSE FORCES 7 TURNOVERS IN 49-15 ROUT OF CARDINALS:
The Panthers defense made Cardinals QB Carson Palmer’s first trip to a Championship Game a total nightmare. The Panthers intercepted four of Palmer’s passes and forced him to fumble twice. Cardinals punt returner Patrick Peterson also made a costly gaffe, fumbling during a punt return. The Panthers absolutely smothered the Cardinals and capped their gem of a defensive performance with a touchdown on a 22 yard interception return by Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly in the 4th quarter.
#5 PANTHERS QB CAM NEWTON PROVES HE’S WORTHY OF THE MVP:
Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns in a terrific performance in front of the hometown Panthers fans in Charlotte. Newton led an offensive attack that amassed 476 total net yards against a solid Cardinals defense that was exposed in Sunday’s defeat. The 49 points by the Panthers is the most in a conference championship game since 1990 when the Raiders whipped the Bills 51-3.
The Panthers and the Broncos will meet in Super Bowl 50 which will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara (home of the 49ers) on Sunday, February 7th (5:20pm central kickoff).