Wow, it was another fantastic football weekend as the four Divisional Round games all went down to the wire. Here are 5 Quick Hits on the games, including a peek at next Sunday’s Conference Championship Games:
- CARDINALS ANSWER THE PACKERS ‘HAIL MARY’ WITH A ‘HAIL LARRY’ IN CARDS’ 26-20 OVERTIME WIN: In a thrilling finish, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and backup WR Jeff Janis connected on a 41-yard ‘Hail Mary’ on the final play of regulation to tie the game and send the contest into overtime. Earlier in the final drive, facing 4th & 20 at their own 4 yard line, Rodgers connected with Janis on a 60 yard completion. It was a miraculous comeback which stunned the Cardinals’ home crowd. But in overtime, the Cardinals won the coin toss. Actually, the coin had to be tossed twice by referee Clete Blakeman because the coin did not flip in mid-air on the first toss. On the first play from scrimmage in the extra period, QB Carson Palmer connected with future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a short route which Fitzgerald extended, running 75 yards downfield to the Packers’ 5 yard line. Two plays later, Fitzgerald lined up in the backfield and took a shovel pass from Palmer for the game-winning touchdown run.
- TOP-SEEDED PANTHERS HANGS ON TO BIG LEAD, BEAT THE SEAHAWKS 31-24: Playing in front of a raucous home crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Panthers got off to a monster start, crushing the defending NFC Champion Seahawks in the opening half, 31-0. Then the Seahawks mounted a massive comeback in the second half and drew within one score in the final minutes. The Seahawks rally fell just short and the Panthers were able to hold on by the skin of their teeth, recovering an onside kick with 1:12 left to play and finally running out the clock. The game started as a blowout, but ended as a nail-biter.
- BRONCOS RALLY FOR 23-16 WIN OVER STEELERS: QB Peyton Manning’s return to the Broncos’ starting lineup was not aided by his receivers who dropped 7 passes on a blustery, windy day in Denver. But Broncos kicker Brandon McManus kicked 5 field goals, and RB C.J. Anderson scored on a 1 yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter…and it was just enough for the Broncos to advance to the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers, led in a valiant effort by QB Ben Roethlisberger who was playing with an injured throwing shoulder, played short-handed without their top receiver (Antonio Brown, concussion). But the Steelers offense was driving in the 4th quarter for a score that would extend their lead…until running back Fitzgerald Toussaint fumbled a ball that was recovered by former Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Ware. Ware’s fumble recovery gave the ball back to Manning who led the subsequent game-winning touchdown drive for the Broncos.
- PATRIOTS HOLD OFF CHIEFS, 27-20: The defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots ended the Chiefs’ 11 game win streak on Saturday night. Pats QB Tom Brady connected with All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski on two touchdown passes, and Brady added another score on a 1-yard touchdown sneak. A tumultuous 12 months for the Patriots that started with the Deflategate scandal ended where it normally does in New England during the Belichick/Brady era…with another trip to the AFC Championship Game.
- CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND PREVIEW: Here are the matchups for the Conference Championship Games on Sunday, January 24th:
PATRIOTS @ BRONCOS, 2:05pm CST: Tom Brady & Peyton Manning face each other for the 17th time in their illustrious careers. Brady has won 11 of the 16 previous encounters, but the two all-time greats are tied 2-2 in postseason. Of course, most of the previous meetings took place when Manning played for the Colts. But Brady & Manning is similar to Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird; it’s a treat for sports fans, and this next (and possibly final) meeting between the two QBs comes with another trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
CARDINALS @ PANTHERS, 5:40pm CST: This NFC game title game also features two fine quarterbacks, Carson Palmer of the Cardinals and Cam Newton of the Panthers, both of whom were deserving of votes in the MVP race. The game will be played in Charlotte, North Carolina because the Panthers barely edged the Cardinals for home field advantage. Both of these franchises are seeking, respectively, their second trip to the Super Bowl. Neither franchise has ever claimed a Super Bowl championship.