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Here is a recap of Divisional Weekend of the 2015 NFL Playoffs with Monday Afternoon QB. Thanks again to the AP Sports/Pro 32 for photos & articles.
Ravens 31, Patriots 35
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — One big comeback, then another.
And now another game for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The quarterback who treats deficits as distractions dug the Patriots out of two 14-point holes — the first team to do that in NFL playoff history — to reach the AFC championship game for the fourth straight year with a 35-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday.
“Behind twice by 14 wasn’t necessarily in the plan,” Brady said. “It took a lot of execution to overcome it.”
Thanks to three touchdown passes by Brady and one by college quarterback turned receiver Julian Edelman, the resilient Patriots kept their season alive.
“Right now, it’s all about giving us a chance to come to work again,” said safety Devin McCourty, who batted down Joe Flacco’s desperation pass into the end zone on the last play.
Brady led a masterful march — completing eight of nine passes and running for a first down — to the decisive 23-yard touchdown completion to Brandon LaFell with just over five minutes left to give the Patriots their first lead.
The top-seeded Patriots (13-4) will host the winner of Sunday’s Indianapolis-Denver game in the AFC title game. The sixth-seeded Ravens (11-7) had won two of three playoff games in Foxborough over the past five seasons.
“We came to their home field and fought them to the end and we just came up short,” said Kamar Aiken, who caught one of Flacco’s four touchdown passes.
Brady completed 33 of 50 passes for 367 yards for an offense that picked up just 14 on the ground, the second fewest in team playoff history. His 46 career playoff touchdown passes surpassed Joe Montana’s 45 for most in NFL history.
Flacco was 28 for 45 for 292 yards and two interceptions. Justin Forsett gained 129 yards on 24 carries.
Forsett had an outstanding season replacing the Ray Rice, who was suspended and then released for domestic abuse.
“We’re all faced with challenges in life,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said, “and, as a teacher and coach that’s what you ask of your guys. I guess what I’m saying is I’m so proud of the way they handled it.”
It was a thrilling game of shifting momentum — two touchdowns by the Ravens, the next two by the Patriots, two more by the Ravens and another two by the Patriots.
“We had two separate 14-point leads. Those guys did a good job getting it back to seven as quickly as they could,” said Flacco, who threw his first two interceptions in six playoff games. “They don’t panic.”
Flacco completed his first eight passes, two for touchdowns of 19 yards to Aiken and 9 yards to Steve Smith, to give the Ravens a 14-0 lead. Then the Patriots tied it on a 4-yard run by Brady and his 15-yard pass to Danny Amendola late in the first half.
The Patriots were driving again — until Daryl Smith intercepted Brady, who immediately grasped both sides of his helmet and then bent over in frustration.
“It was just a terrible play by me,” he said.
Flacco capitalized with an 11-yard scoring pass to Owen Daniels with 10 seconds left for a 21-14 halftime lead.
And when New England punted on the first series of the third quarter, Baltimore added to its lead on Flacco’s fourth scoring pass, a 16-yarder to Forsett, who was wide open in the flat and scored easily.
Then fortunes turned again.
Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots got the ball back after a punt. This time, another strong arm lifted the Patriots into a tie.
With the ball at the New England 49, Brady threw behind the line of scrimmage to Edelman on the left side. The Kent State quarterback then lofted a deep pass to a wide-open Amendola after cornerback Rashaan Melvin came up toward Edelman.
“We’ve had it in for 10 weeks, and the coaches finally got to call it,” Edelman said. “I had to loosen up the arm a little bit.”
After Justin Tucker’s 25-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 31-28 lead five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Ravens nearly stopped the Patriots. Brady threw a 9-yard completion to Shane Vereen and officials ruled he fumbled and Baltimore recovered. The call was reversed when replays showed Vereen was down by contact.
Seven plays later, LaFell scored.
Baltimore had two more possessions. The first ended when Duron Harmon intercepted Flacco’s deep pass in the end zone with 1:39 left. On the final series, Flacco’s desperation pass into the end zone was knocked down as time expired.
“It was a wild game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “but I’m just thankful our players hung in there and made the plays they needed to make.”
NOTES: Belichick tied Tom Landry for most postseason wins in NFL history with 20. … Brady set franchise postseason records with 33 completions and 367 yards passing. … The Ravens outgained the Patriots 428 yards to 422.
Panthers 17, Seahawks 31
SEATTLE (AP) — This time Russell Wilson did it with his arm, passing the Seattle Seahawks into the NFC championship game for the second straight year with a big assist from Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks are one step closer to defending their Super Bowl title.
“It’s exciting but the job is not done. There is still a lot more to do,” Wilson said.
Wilson threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, Chancellor returned an interception 90 yards for a TD midway through the fourth quarter and the Seahawks beat the Carolina Panthers 31-17 on Saturday night in an NFC divisional playoff game.
Wilson was nearly flawless in one of the best playoff performances of his young career. He took shots downfield and was perfect on third downs.
Wilson threw a 16-yard touchdown to Doug Baldwin in the first quarter, found Jermaine Kearse for a 63-yard TD in the second quarter and capped his night with a 25-yard strike to Luke Willson with 10:26 remaining that gave Seattle a 24-10 lead.
Even with Wilson’s passing prowess, the capper was still to come from the most impressive athlete on the field.
“I don’t know if a strong safety can have a better game than Kam did tonight,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Chancellor wowed everyone by twice jumping over the Carolina offensive line on a pair of Graham Gano field goal attempts at the end of the first half. And he showed that he’s a pretty good safety in coverage, too.
With Carolina driving and trying to cut Seattle’s 14-point lead in half, Chancellor anticipated Cam Newton’s throw. Newton’s primary target was covered and when he came back to try and find Ed Dickson, Chancellor jumped the throw and returned his third career postseason interception for a touchdown.
For all the tackles Chancellor made — and his hurdling exhibition — it was the hulking safety running alone for the first TD of his career that left CenturyLink Field shaking.
“We have a full trust and understanding of his athletic ability. He’s a freaking monster,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “… He’s damages people’s souls.”
It was the longest touchdown in Seattle’s postseason history, topping Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in last season’s Super Bowl.
“It felt awesome. It felt like preparation. It felt like everything I worked all week for,” Chancellor said.
The Seahawks (13-4) never trailed and became the first defending Super Bowl champion to win a playoff game the following season since New England in January 2006.
Since that Patriots victory, three defending champions have earned byes only to lose in the divisional round, the last being Green Bay in the 2011 playoffs.
Seattle will host either Green Bay or Dallas next Sunday for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Newton threw a pair of touchdowns to Kelvin Benjamin, but Carolina (8-9-1) couldn’t overcome three turnovers, two of which the Seahawks turned into touchdowns.
After knocking off Arizona in the wild-card round last week, Carolina was trying to be the first team to reach a conference championship game after having a losing record in the regular season.
Much like the previous three regular-season games between the two teams, Carolina made it difficult on Seattle. The best running team in the NFL this season was held to 100 yards rushing by the Panthers defense.
Marshawn Lynch was mostly a non-factor aside from a 25-yard run in the third quarter that helped set up Steven Hauschka’s 37-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But Wilson was outstanding, especially on third down. All three of his touchdown throws came on third-and-long situations. Baldwin beat safety Tre Boston on a double move on third-and-9 on his TD catch in the first quarter.
Kearse’s TD reception came on a third-and-7. And Willson’s catch-and-run TD was on third-and-10.
Wilson finished with a passer rating of 149.2, the second-highest for any game in his career. He was 8 of 8 for 199 yards passing on third downs.
“That’s just a fantastic night of coming through in critical situations,” Carroll said.
Newton played well, but turnovers were the Panthers’ undoing. Newton finished 23 of 36 for 246 yards and added 37 yards rushing. Jonathan Stewart had been a key to the Panthers’ late-season surge, and rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries.
Newton got away with testing All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in the first quarter and watching Sherman dance away with his first career postseason interception.
But Seattle took the lead after Carolina’s second turnover of the first quarter. Michael Bennett disrupted the handoff between Newton and Stewart and Tony McDaniel fell on the loose ball at the Carolina 28. Wilson connected with Baldwin to take the lead and Carolina never pulled back even.
“We needed them to make some mistakes and that would help,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “But it didn’t happen. Credit to them.”
NOTES: Seattle won its eighth straight home playoff game. … Carolina’s 132 yards rushing were fourth-most of any team vs. Seattle this season.
Cowboys 21, Packers 26
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Hobbled but happy, Aaron Rodgers might have felt a bit lucky, too.
No matter: The All-Pro quarterback and his Green Bay Packers are one step away from the Super Bowl.
More stationary than usual because of a left calf injury, Rodgers rallied the Packers from an 8-point deficit with two second-half touchdowns passes to beat Dallas 26-21 Sunday.
The Packers (13-4), helped immensely by a video reversal with 4:06 remaining, went undefeated at Lambeau Field this season. They head to Seattle next weekend for the NFC title game.
The Seahawks (13-4) beat Green Bay in the season opener, 36-16.
“I think I got 120 minutes left in me,” Rodgers said.
Green Bay might not have had any time left in its season if not for referee Gene Steratore’s decision. Dez Bryant’s leaping, bobbling 31-yard catch at the Packers 1 on a fourth-and-2 play was challenged by Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. Instead of first-and-goal for Dallas (13-5), the ball went over to the Packers.
“Some people think throwing the red flag is fun,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It was such an impactful play, you had to challenge. It was a confident challenge. And a hopeful one, too.”
One packed with controversy, as well.
“Look, I’ll tell you this, I’ve never seen that a day in my life,” Bryant said. “I want to know why it wasn’t a catch.”
Because Bryant didn’t maintain control all the way to the ground, as the rule states. Replays showed Bryant bobbling the ball as he rolled into the end zone, with part of it touching the field.
“By rule he must hold onto it throughout entire process of contacting the ground,” tweeted Dean Blandino, the league’s director of officiating. “He didn’t, so it is incomplete.”
An impassioned Bryant didn’t buy it.
“All I know is I had possession, I had possession of the ball coming down,” Bryant said. “That’s possession, right? One, two, reach. Bam, that’s possession.”
Green Bay closed it out before a Lambeau-record 79,704 on Randall Cobb’s diving 12-yard reception of a deflected pass on third-and-11. That gave Cobb eight catches for 116 yards and set off a raucous celebration at the iconic venue.
“It’s unbelievable,” Cobb said. “For the ball to get tipped and magically appear in my area, you can’t tell me there’s not a God. That was a crazy play.”
One of many.
The Cowboys’ first postseason trip to Green Bay since the 1967 Ice Bowl for the NFL championship resulted in their first road defeat of the season after eight victories. Dallas got 123 yards rushing from league leader DeMarco Murray and a courageous effort from Tony Romo, who hurt his left leg in the third quarter.
That meant there were two hobbling quarterbacks. All-Pro Rodgers, bothered by a left calf he injured in Game 15, lost much of his trademark elusiveness as the game wore on.
“A little bit worse, yeah,” Rodgers said of how his calf felt as the game progressed. “Hard to say, see how it feels in the morning.”
Regardless, he was on-target for a short pass to Davante Adams that turned into the 41-yard score to make it 21-20. Then he sharply guided the Packers 80 yards to the winning points, a 13-yard bullet to backup tight end Richard Rodgers in the back of the end zone.
Murray atoned in style for a third-quarter fumble, gaining 32 yards on the Cowboys’ ensuing possession, including a 29-yard sprint one play after Romo hurt his leg. The hobbling Romo handed to Murray for the 1-yard plunge that made it 21-13, then limped to the bench for treatment on the leg.
When he came back in, Romo was sacked on consecutive plays, the first ending the third period, the second forcing a punt.
Rodgers had stood firm in firing over the middle to Adams, who cut right, shrugged off a weak tackle by J.J. Wilcox and sped into the end zone. The 90-yard drive got the Lambeau faithful back into it.
Then came the decisive fourth-quarter series on which Rodgers went 7 for 7. He finished 24 for 35 for 316 yards and extended his record string without a home interception to 442 attempts. He has 39 TD passes in that span.
On Green Bay’s opening possession, Rodgers mostly handed to Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 45 yards on the 60-yard drive. But Rodgers had to step up away from the rush and did so spryly before hitting Andrew Quarless in the back of the end zone.
Back came Dallas with just as efficient a possession that took 7:25. Tyler Clutts was wide open at the goal line for his 1-yard TD catch.
Rodgers got Green Bay close on its next drive, but was clapping his hands when rookie Corey Linsley snapped the ball. Rodgers dropped it, recovered, but then was hit by Jerome Mincey, who grabbed the loose ball.
It was a rare turnover for the Packers, who tied for the league lead with only 13 giveaways. Cornerback Tramon Williams’ botched tackle attempt on a short pass to Terrance Williams turned into a 38-yard TD and the Cowboys led 14-7.
The Packers drew closer at halftime thanks to a 31-yard completion to Cobb that set up Mason Crosby’s 40-yard field goal. Crosby added a 30-yarder in the third quarter, making him the franchise’s career points leader. But Green Bay could have had more.
After recovering Murray’s fumble at the Dallas 44 and getting to the 13, a 15-yard personal foul on guard T.J. Lang set the Packers back.
But not for long.
NOTES: Adams had seven catches for 117 yards and Lacy rushed for 101. … Green Bay had not trailed at Lambeau since Week 2 against the Jets. … Bryant finished with only three catches for 38 yards. … Romo was 15 for 19, but for just 191 yards.
Colts 24, Broncos 13
DENVER (AP) — Everyone pretty much figured Peyton Manning would have his way with an Indianapolis defense that got carved up earlier this season by Ben Roethlisberger.
All the Colts really wanted to do was throw Manning a little bit off rhythm, enough to get Andrew Luck on the field with a chance to do his thing.
They did that and plenty more.
Starting with a sack and forced fumble of Manning that led to the go-ahead touchdown, the Colts baffled the Denver quarterback during a 24-13 win Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff game.
Now, Indy’s headed to New England to face the Patriots with a chance to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since Manning led them there after the 2009 season.
The turning point of the game was early in the second quarter when Jonathan Newsome stripped Manning of the football and Jerrell Freeman recovered it at the Denver 41.
A few plays later, Luck hit tight end Dwayne Allen on a short TD pass to put Indy up 14-7 — a lead the defense protected the rest of the way.
“Once we got into Manning’s head — that was the biggest thing,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “You never know Peyton to overthrow guys. He usually puts the ball right on the number and when he kept overthrowing it, we knew we had him.”
It’s one thing to hold down Andy Dalton, which the Colts (13-5) did last week. But this was Manning, a five-time NFL MVP who frequently dominates defensive game plans.
Instead of merely holding Manning in check, they kept him at bay. Manning threw for a pedestrian 211 yards — 59 of which were in the final 1:52 and the game all but out of reach.
So maybe the Colts aren’t just all about Luck, after all.
“We want some of that glory, too. Show us some love,” safety Mike Adams said, smiling. “Look, we know Luck is going to do his thing. We know he’s going to go out there and ball out.
“As a defense, we want our own identity. We want to go out there and represent. We want to go out there and do our thing.”
What the Colts did was confuse Manning by showing one look and backing off into another version. They constantly had pressure on him as well, sacking him twice and making him unsettled in the pocket.
Indy owner Jim Irsay was just as impressed with his defense’s intensity as the work turned in by Luck, who made it possible to release Manning in 2012.
“Coming in here, on their home turf, it was an incredible victory for the franchise,” Irsay said.
Made possible by constantly bothering Manning.
“We got some pressure on him,” Freeman said. “We were able to capitalize on third-and-longs and get off the field when we had the opportunity.”
That hasn’t always been the case for Indy’s defense this season. It’s been a little maligned at times, especially after Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six TDs in a 51-34 win on Oct. 26.
“In the playoffs, everybody has to step their game up. Everybody,” Adams said. “We all have to play lights out to win, to beat Peyton.”
Manning tried everything to get his team on track, even throwing long several times. But Indy’s secondary didn’t blink, making it difficult for Manning to locate Demaryius Thomas (five catches, 59 yards, one score) and Emmanuel Sanders (seven catches, 46 yards).
“Didn’t play well enough,” Manning said. “Their defense played well and their defense forced us into some bad execution. I thought we had some chances as well and I thought I could’ve played better.”
Next up for the Colts is Tom Brady, who threw for 257 yards and two scores in a 42-20 victory on Nov. 16.
“We know we have to step our game up even more with Tom Brady,” Adams said.