NFL Championship Weekend Recap
By Arthur W. Mueller
Broncos Hold on to Survive Patriots 20-18
Denver had the best defense in the NFL in the regular season and now they are going to the Super Bowl. The Bronco defense sacked Tom Brady four times and intercepted him twice as the Patriots’ comeback attempt came up short.
New England’s offense was decimated by injuries. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was sidelined for portions of the game with cramps and the makeshift offensive line acted as a revolving door for Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The Patriots could not establish a running game; Tom Brady was their leading rusher with a total of 13 yards. Brady was forced to attempt 56 passes, allowing the Denver defense to focus on the pass rush. Even when the Broncos didn’t get a sack, they were in Tom Brady’s face, forcing him into throws that were rushed and off-balance. The big star of the game was Denver linebacker Von Miller, who recorded 2.5 sacks and an interception of Tom Brady. The interception set up a Denver touchdown.
Denver opened the scoring on their first possession of the game with an 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive culminating in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to tight end Owen Daniels. New England was able to answer the score after recovering a fumble. Peyton Manning threw a ball that was dropped by running back Ronnie Hillman and picked up by Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny. The Patriots challenged the ruling of an incomplete pass and the ruling on the field was reversed, giving the Patriots the ball at the Denver 22-yard line. Two plays later, Steven Jackson ran the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown.
The Patriots could have tied the game but Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for only the second time in his ten-year career. Coming into the game, Gostkowski hadn’t missed an extra point since his rookie season and, including the playoffs, had converted 562 of his 563 extra point attempts. The miss kept the score 7-6.
The Broncos increased their lead when Von Miller intercepted a Tom Brady pass, giving Denver the ball on the Patriots 16-yard line. Three plays later, Owen Daniels caught his second touchdown of the game, beating Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins to the back right corner of the end zone for a 14-6 lead. The teams traded field goals and at halftime the Broncos led by a score of 17-9.
The Patriots were able to turn their first possession of the second half into a 38-yard Gostkowski field goal to pull within five but were unable to get anything going on offense until the fourth quarter.
The Broncos got the lead back up to eight after a 30-yard run by C. J. Anderson set up a 31-yard field goal by Brandon McManus. On the ensuing possession, New England drove down the field but found themselves facing fourth and one from the Denver 16-yard line. Down by eight with 6:46 remaining in the game, Bill Belichick decided to go for it. The Patriots failed to get the first down thanks to a great tackle by Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
The Broncos went three and out on their next possession, giving the Patriots the ball back. Once again the Patriots faced fourth down, this time a fourth and six from the Denver 14-yard line with 2:30 remaining. Tom Brady’s pass was too high for tight end Rob Gronkowski and so the ball was turned over on downs again.
Once again, the Patriots defense forced the Broncos to go three and out, getting the ball back for one last possession to attempt to tie the game. On fourth and 10, Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a 40-yard gain to give the Patriots first and goal from the Denver 10-yard line with 57 seconds remaining in the game. On fourth down, Brady found Gronkowski in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. Because of Gostkowski’s earlier missed extra point, the Patriots needed a 2-point conversion to send the game to overtime. Brady’s pass was intercepted by cornerback Bradley Roby, sealing Denver’s second trip to the Super Bowl in three years.
The New England Patriots can look forward to next year. The offense this year was decimated by injuries at almost every position except for quarterback. The makeshift offensive line couldn’t protect Tom Brady and the running game was not the same without their top two running backs, Dion Lewis and LaGarrette Blount.
The Broncos must now prepare Peyton Manning to become the oldest quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl. Aided by a dominant defense, Manning must avoid mistakes and make just enough plays to lead the Broncos to a win. He did that against the Patriots. Now he is a win away from his second Super Bowl title.
Panthers Maul Cardinals 49-15
The Carolina Panthers are headed to the Super Bowl after a blowout victory over the Arizona Cardinals in which they forced seven turnovers. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns as the Panthers dominated the Cardinals in every facet of the game. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles in one of the worst postseason performances by a quarterback in recent memory.
Cam Newton became the first player to throw for 300 yards and run for two touchdowns in a postseason game. He extended plays and drives with his legs, running for 47 yards and two touchdowns. Even when the Cardinals brought pressure he was able to execute.
The Panthers were dominant from the very beginning of the game. While the Cardinals punted on their first three possessions, the Panthers raced out to a 17-0 lead. Graham Gano opened the scoring with a 45-yard field goal. On Carolina’s next possession, Ted Ginn Jr. took a handoff, running to the left side. Ginn raced up the left sideline, then cut all the way to the right side of the field to run into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. Carolina’s next possession was brief; Cam Newton hooked up with wide receiver Corey Brown for an 86-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing Cardinals possession, Carson Palmer committed his first turnover of the game. The Cardinals were in Carolina territory when Palmer lost the football as he was sacked by defensive tackle Kawann Short. The fumble was recovered by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers were unable to take advantage of the field position and on the next possession the Cardinals got their first touchdown of the game behind some strong running by rookie David Johnson to cut the lead to 17-7 with 5:44 left in the second quarter. This was as close as the game would get.
The Cardinals forced the Panthers to punt on the next possession, but returner Patrick Peterson muffed the punt and the Panthers recovered. Jonathan Stewart ran the ball down to the 1-yard line and Cam Newton extended the football as he leapt over the pile into the end zone making it a 24-7 game with 1:56 left in the second quarter.
There were three turnovers in a back and forth sequence inside the two minute warning. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked and fumbled again at the Arizona 20-yard line. The Panthers recovered the fumble, but two plays later Cam Newton overthrew tight end Ed Dickson and was intercepted by Patrick Peterson who returned the interception 72 yards to the Carolina 22-yard line before being tackled from behind by the speedy Ted Ginn Jr. On the very next play, Carson Palmer gave the ball right back, throwing a pass into double coverage that was intercepted by Kurt Coleman. The Panthers kneeled to take a 24-7 lead into halftime.
The Panthers began to increase their lead even more in the third quarter. Their first drive of the second half resulted in a field goal. On the Panther’s next drive they faced third and ten from the Arizona 23-yard line. Cam Newton ran to the right side and got the first down, dragging defensive back Chris Clemons for the final few yards. On the next play, Newton ran to the right side again, flipping over a defender to get into the end zone, giving the Panthers a 34-7 lead.
The Cardinals tried to mount a comeback, and Carson Palmer threw a 21-yard pass to Darren Fells, cutting the Carolina lead to 34-15 with 14:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. This was all that the Cardinals could muster. Their next three possessions resulted in interceptions, one of which was returned by linebacker Luke Kuechly for a touchdown. The Panthers added another touchdown on a pass by Cam Newton to receiver Devin Funchess to make the score 49-15 and then ran out the clock, punching their ticket to their first Super Bowl since their Super Bowl XXXVIII to the New England Patriots.
If there was a bright spot for the Cardinals, it was rookie running back David Johnson. He led the Cardinals in both rushing and receiving yards and was able to get open out of the backfield as Carson Palmer struggled to find receivers open down field. Johnson recorded 128 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
The win for the Panthers was not without a cost as Pro-Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis suffered a broken arm in a collision with Cardinals tight end Darren Fells. Starting safety Roman Harper also suffered an eye injury.
The Panthers are looking to put a crown on what has been a magnificent season. After going 15-1 in the regular season, they will take on a Denver defense that is one of the best in the NFL at stopping the run. One thing is certain: Cam Newton is going to be looking to give footballs to children and dance at the Super Bowl.