NFL Recap: Divisional Playoffs
By: Nick Rose
The field of contenders got even narrower after this weekend. The eight remaining teams dwindled to four by Sunday night, as the matchups for Championship Weekend are now set.
The first game of the weekend was a rematch of both the 2011 and 2012 AFC Championship games. With the Patriots winning in 2011 and the Ravens winning in 2012, this game served as the rubber match of the series. The Raves looked unstoppable at the beginning of the game, as Joe Flacco and company easily marched down the field to score two touchdowns on their first two possessions. The Patriots then answered with two scores of their own, the first on a Tom Brady 4 yard scramble and the second on a 15 yard strike from Brady to Danny Amendola. It looked like everything was starting to go the Patriots way, until Brady was picked off by Daryl Smith with 1:11 left in the first half. This set up an 11 yard touchdown pass from Flacco to tight end Owen Daniels, and gave Baltimore a 7 point lead going into halftime.
The Ravens then picked up where they left off, as Flacco threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game on Baltimore’s first drive of the second half. However, once again, the Patriots overcame a two touchdown deficit to tie the game. A Brady-Gronkowski 5 yard hookup made the score 28-21, and then New England knotted the score on a trick play in which Brady lateralled the ball to Julian Edelman, who then threw a 51 yard touchdown pass to Amendola. After that play, momentum really shifted in the Patriots favor. On the ensuing drive, Devin McCourty intercepted a pass to end Flacco’s streak of five postseason games without a pick. New England couldn’t cash in on the turnover, though, and the Ravens tacked on a field goal on the next possession. Brady responded by leading the Patriots on a 74 yard drive, capped off by a 23 yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell that put the Patriots up by a score of 35-31. Baltimore had two chances to come back, but the first opportunity ended when Flacco threw his second interception of the contest, and the second ended on a failed last-second Hail Mary.
Saturday’s night game featured the Panthers, who entered the playoffs with a losing record, on the road against the defending champion Seahawks. Many people expected Seattle to blow out Carolina early, but the Panthers held the Seahawks to one touchdown in the first quarter. Then, in the second quarter, Cam Newton connected with Kelvin Benjamin for a 7 yard touchdown to tie the game. On the next possession, the Seahawks responded in a big way. On the fifth play of the drive, Russell Wilson threw a deep pass to Jermaine Kearse, who reeled in the ball with one hand and ran it in for a 63 yard touchdown. Carolina scored a field goal to close out the second half with a score of 14-10. The third quarter remained close, as both defenses held strong and kept their opponents out of the end zone. The fourth quarter, however, was all Seattle. A Steven Hauschka field goal and Wilson’s third touchdown pass of the game propelled the Seahawks to a 24-10 lead. For a brief moment, it looked like the Panthers might come back, but after a promising drive, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor intercepted Newton’s pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. Carolina scored one more touchdown before the game’s conclusion, but it was too little too late, and the Seahawks emerged victorious by a score of 31 to 17.
In what was dubbed the Ice Bowl II, the Cowboys journeyed to Lambeau Field to square off against the second seeded Packers. After trading touchdowns in the first quarter, Dallas took the lead on a 38 yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams. The Cowboys led 14-10 at halftime and seemed to be in control of the game. Even after Julius Peppers forced a DeMarco Murray fumble, the Dallas defense stood their ground and held Green Bay to a field goal. The Cowboys then expanded their one point lead after Murray dove into the end zone on a 1 yard touchdown run. Things were really looking good for the Cowboys, until the Packers came storming back with 13 unanswered points. To ignite the rally, Aaron Rodgers hit receiver Davante Adams as he ran a route across the middle of the field. Adams then turned up field and made a defender miss to turn a nice pass play into an electrifying 46 yard touchdown. On Green Bay’s next drive, Rodgers threw a touchdown to tight end Richard Rodgers to give the Packers the lead. Although they failed the two-point conversion, Green Bay still led 26-21. Dallas wasn’t ready to go away, though. The Cowboys were driving down the field and got all the way to the Green Bay 32 yard line when they were faced with a 4th and 2. Rather than being conservative, Dallas went for it all, and Romo let a 31 yard pass fly down the field. Dez Bryant hauled it in at the 1 yard line, and it looked like the Cowboys were in great position to win the game. Knowing this, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play. In what turned out to be a controversial call, referee Gene Steratore overturned the ruling on the field, saying that while Bryant never outright dropped the ball, he didn’t maintain complete possession throughout the process of the catch. Since it was 4th down, the Packers took over and ran out the clock to end a game that will surely be talked about as the playoffs continue.
Divisional Weekend’s final game had Peyton Manning’s former team, the Colts, traveling to Denver to face him and the Broncos. Denver jumped out to an early lead thanks to a 1 yard touchdown pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas. Both teams’ offenses remained dormant for the rest of the first quarter, until Indianapolis scored two touchdowns in just under seven minutes, thanks to a 6 yard run by Daniel Herron followed by a 3 yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Dwayne Allen. Connor Barth kicked a field goal with two seconds left in the first half to cut the Colts lead to four, but the Broncos left a few points on the board due to multiple misfires by Manning. It was revealed after the game that he was playing on a torn quad, and that injury proved to be costly, as he missed some open receivers on deep passes that could have set up scoring drives for Denver. The second half was more of the same. The Colts outscored the Broncos 14-3 in the final two quarters, as Manning continued to struggle. The future Hall of Famer finished with a meager 57% completion percentage, and Indianapolis punched their ticket the AFC Championship game with a 24-13 win.