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Here is a recap of Divisional Weekend of the 2016 NFL Playoffs with a Monday Afternoon QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
5 Chiefs 20, 2 Patriots 27
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs after catching a pass as Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Ron Parker (38) tries to bring him down in the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass.(AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots’ late-season slump didn’t mean much when the playoffs came to New England. Kansas City’s 11-game winning streak mattered even less.
With Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman coming back from injuries to help Tom Brady return to his Super Bowl MVP form, the Patriots earned a spot in the AFC title game for the fifth year in a row, beating the Chiefs 27-20 on Saturday.
“It’s pretty special to get back to another AFC championship game,” said Brady, who will play for the conference title for the 10th time in his career. “It’s pretty cool. It’s hard to do, man. You’ve got to grind throughout the entire year. There’s only four teams playing next week and we’re one of them. That game means a lot.”
The Patriots (13-4) are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back NFL titles since they did it in 2003-04. But first they will meet the winner of Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Broncos for a spot in Super Bowl 50.
The defending champions would play in Denver on Jan. 24 if the Broncos win, or at home if it’s the Steelers.
“You can’t take it for granted because everybody knows how hard it is to get there,” said Edelman, who was sidelined with a broken foot when the Patriots lost four of their last six regular-season games. “We didn’t do too well down the stretch and we were playing against a team that won 11 games in a row.
“We didn’t worry about what’s happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future.”
Brady threw for two touchdowns to Gronkowski and sneaked in for another just one play after diving for the pylon after a 10-yard scramble that was his longest postseason run in nine years. Brady took a helmet in the back as his body — but not the ball — cleared the goal line.
“Anytime the Clydesdale gets running, the crowd goes crazy,” Edelman said.
After spending the last two weeks recovering from knee and back injuries, Gronkowski caught seven passes for 83 yards, including touchdowns from 8 and 16 yards out. Gronkowski also recovered an onside kick after Kansas City cut the deficit to 27-20 with just over one minute left.
Danny Amendola had two catches for 18 yards as he worked his way back from a knee injury.
“It’s just great to have those guys back,” Gronkowski said. “They’re hard workers, they’re great players. The chemistry was clicking tonight.”
Alex Smith completed 29 of 50 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown for Kansas City (12-6). The Chiefs had won 11 consecutive games, including a 30-0 victory over Houston in the wild-card round last week for their first playoff victory since 1993.
In the meantime, the Patriots have won 24 postseason games.
“It gives us a great example of where we need to be,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “So, this is a good experience for us. That’s the way we’ll take it. We’ll learn from our mistakes.
“I’m proud of my guys, man. They battled like crazy this year, but came up a little short. We’ll be a better team for it next year.”
Brady led New England to a score on the opening drive, throwing 11 straight passes and completing eight — the last an 8-yard score to Gronkowski. The Chiefs then made it to the Patriots 16, but settled for a field goal.
After trading punts twice, the Patriots started on their 2 when Amendola was flagged for a helmet-first hit to coverage man Jamell Fleming. The drive was in danger of stalling at the Kansas City 35 when Chiefs linebacker Dezman Moses hit Brady late and was called for roughing the passer.
The stadium erupted in cheers of “Brady!” — just as it had four months ago when the four-time Super Bowl champion returned from his looming “Deflategate” suspension to play in the season opener.
Four plays later, unable to find an open receiver, Brady took off for the corner of the end zone. The Chiefs managed to keep him out, but on the next snap, Brady leaned forward and reached into the end zone to make it 14-3.
“I thought I could try to make it. We were close. Not close enough, but we got in on the next play,” said Brady, who shrugged off the two big hits on that drive. “It’s football season, so there’s bumps and bruises, but you’ve got to fight through those.”
Patriots defensive lineman Chandler Jones also had a big play to finish an odd week that started on Sunday when he left his home reeking of marijuana and showed up shirtless and confused at the local police station. Jones apologized on Thursday, and coach Bill Belichick kept him in the starting lineup.
That left Jones in position to force Knile Davis’ fumble on Kansas City’s first possession of the second half, stopping the Chiefs as they drove into New England territory for the sixth straight time. Brady added another touchdown pass to Gronkowski to make it 21-6.
Smith finally got the Chiefs into the end zone when he hit Albert Wilson on a 10-yard pass that made it 21-13 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. Kansas City made it 27-20 with just over one minute left in the game on Charcandrick West’s 1-yard run, but Gronkowski smothered the onside kick attempt to protect the lead.
NOTES: The Patriots are 18-4 all-time in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium. … Jon Bon Jovi, a friend of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, was in the owner’s box and led the stadium in a sing-along of his band’s hit song “Livin’ on a Prayer.” … Belichick reached the conference title game for the 10th time, tied with Tom Landry for most all-time. The five straight conference title games ties the 1973-77 Oakland Raiders for the most in NFL history. It’s New England’s 12th conference title game overall.
5 Packers 20, 2 Cardinals 26 OT
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) scores the game-winning touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during overtime of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 26-20 in overtime. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP)
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald’s brief but brilliant overtime heroics trumped another Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary and the Arizona Cardinals escaped with a 26-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers Saturday night to advance to the NFC championship.
Fitzgerald turned a short pass into a 75-yard gain on the first play of overtime to set up his five-yard shovel pass reception for the winning score as the crowd chanted “Larry, Larry.”
The Cardinals (14-3), the No. 2 seed in the NFC West, plays the winner of Sunday’s Seattle-Carolina game for the title.
It can’t be any crazy as this one, which unfolded on the same field where the Cardinals beat the Packers in overtime 51-45 in a wild card game in the 2009 season and where Arizona routed Green Bay 38-8 three weeks ago.
Rodgers, in a play reminiscent of his final-play heave against Detroit this season, took the snap with five seconds to go in regulation, scrambled around and heaved it 41 yards to the end zone.
Jeff Janis, a 6-foot-3 receiver pressed into extended duty because Green Bay’s top two receivers were hurt, outjumped defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson and clutched the ball to his chest as he fell to the turf in the silence of University of Phoenix Stadium, except for the scattered Packers fans, who went nuts.
Arizona won the overtime coin toss — after the referees declared the first toss hadn’t flipped — and on the first play, no one was covering Fitzgerald, who caught and ran through defenders to the 5-yard line.
A strange play had given Arizona a 20-13 lead with 3:44 to play in the fourth quarter.
Damarious Randall, who moments earlier had made a key interception in the end zone, deflected a pass intended for Fitzgerald inside the 5-yard line and the ball sailed into the end zone into the hands of Michael Floyd for a 9-yard TD catch. Floyd also had an eight-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
The Packers (11-7) took the kickoff but went nowhere and turned the ball over on downs, setting up Chandler Catanzaro’s 38-yard field goal that put Arizona up 20-13.
With 55 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Green Bay was pushed back into a fourth-and-20 situation at its 4-yard line when Rodgers scrambled and threw 60 yards to Janis at the 36. A penalty pushed it back to the 41 and Rodgers threw incomplete before getting off his last, great completion.
Janis, who caught seven passes for 145 yards after having just two receptions all year, was hurt on his big catch and was helped out of the end zone.
6 Seahawks 24, 1 Panthers 31
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) makes a touchdown catch against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane (20) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Four games into his playoff career, Cam Newton recognizes the key element to success. He calls it “Big Mo,” and there couldn’t have been a better example than Carolina’s 31-24 victory over Seattle on Sunday.
Emphatically backing up their superb regular season with one of the most dominating halves in football history, the Panthers then hung on in the face of a furious Seahawks rally before surviving.
“The playoffs bring out more than any other time the impact of ‘Big Mo,'” Newton said after Carolina (16-1) moved into NFC title game, which they will host next Sunday against Arizona (13-3). “Momentum.
“We can’t wait for no one to make plays for us.”
The Panthers, winners of 12 straight at home, made all the right plays in building a 31-0 lead, then were dominated by the two-time defending NFC champs in the second half. So if Carolina wins its first NFL championship, it can credit the lesson learned from the Seahawks (11-7).
“We have to find a way to complete a full game of football,” the All-Pro quarterback added. “We have been known to take our foot off the throttle and we have to find that killer instinct.”
Newton noted how players, coaches and even the fans were feeling the pressure in the final 30 minutes as Seattle staged a relentless comeback.
“It was a tale of execution. We needed a little more of that in the second half. You just have to find ways to get your groove back on.”
“That’s what this game is going to teach us,” said All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, who returned a first-quarter interception for a touchdown. “No matter how good you play in the first half, the second half is just as important. It’s crazy – you go into these games and you expect it to be like this, so it wasn’t a surprise for us. But you’ve got to be locked in the whole game. ”
Jonathan Stewart, returning from a foot injury, scored two touchdowns after jumpstarting the Panthers with a 59-yard sprint on their first play. Newton threw for a touchdown.
Then, Seattle showed its pedigree and climbed back within seven points.
“We made a mess of it in the first half,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We look at this game as a microcosm of the season. We struggled so much early in the season to get going, and it took us a long time. When we finally did, we caught fire, and got rolling. Everyone in here just feels like we ran out of time.”
Not before they got two touchdowns in the first 7:20 of the third quarter. Finally with time to throw, Russell Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 13-yard score and rookie Tyler Lockett for 33 yards, making it 31-14 — and making the full house at Bank of America Stadium unnerved.
When the Seahawks succeeded on a fake punt from their 23, an epic comeback seemed possible. That drive stalled, but with Carolina’s offense sputtering, Seattle later got closer on Kearse’s 3-yard catch of a jump ball against All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.
With Newton waving the crowd into frenzied cheers on the sideline, the Panthers’ defense couldn’t stop a 60-yard drive capped by Steven Hauschka’s 36-yard field goal with 1:12 remaining.
At 31-24, All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis hauled in Hauschka’s onside kick — and Charlotte could breathe again.
“In the second half, we had to go for it,” Wilson said. “We had to come out swinging. That was our mentality, and we did a great job of that. ”
This will be the Panthers’ fourth trip to the NFC championship game, and their first time as host.
Carolina, which scored an NFL-best 500 points this season, stormed into the lead thanks to Stewart. He burst through the middle on the first snap and nearly outran everyone, getting tackled at the Seattle 16 by Richard Sherman. Three plays later, Stewart surged into the end zone.
His return from a foot injury that cost him three games was far more distinguished than Marshawn Lynch’s comeback from a two-month absence (abdominal surgery). Lynch, who finished with 20 yards on six carries, was nailed in the backfield for a 3-yard loss on his first touch, then turned around late for Wilson’s pass over the middle under pressure from Kawann Short.
Kuechly was far more alert, grabbing the interception and sprinting 14 yards to make it 14-0 only 3 1/2 minutes in.
The scoring barrage continued as Stewart leaped in from the 1 to make it 21-0.
Wilson was picked off under relentless pressure again, this time by Cortland Finnegan at the Seattle 29. Graham Gano’s 48-yard field goal made it 24-0. Greg Olsen’s spectacular 19-yard reaching catch over double coverage made it 31-0.
But that ended the onslaught, and the Seahawks who returned for the second half were an entirely different team, energetic and efficient.
Wilson, who was sacked five times, made some big throws, particularly to Kearse, who had 11 catches for 110 yards. Wilson went 31 for 48 for 366 yards, but the early turnovers — Seattle had an NFC-low 16 in the regular season — and spotty defense were too much to overcome.
NOTES: Stewart finished with 106 yards on 19 carries and extended Carolina’s string of 100-yard rushing games to 28 and made it 21-0. Seattle hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 27 games. … The biggest NFL halftime lead was in 1991, when Buffalo was up 41-3 on the Los Angeles Raiders. … Seattle lost DE Cliff Avril (neck) and LT Russell Okung (shoulder).
6 Steelers 16, 1 Broncos 23
Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas fails to catch a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half in an NFL football divisional playoff game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
DENVER (AP) — Peyton Manning gets to face his biggest nemesis for one more shot at glory.
Get ready for Brady-Manning XVII.
The NFL’s only five-time MVP earned one more and possibly final game against his rival by leading the Denver Broncos to a come-from-behind 23-16 win over Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on a blustery Sunday.
That set up an AFC championship game next weekend in Denver against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
What a fitting feature to an 18th season for Manning that’s been equal parts trying and triumphant, filled with injuries and insults, rehab and redemption.
And yet another rescue.
Manning and Brady have squared off 16 times before, a full season’s worth of matchups between the two quarterbacks whose careers are so intertwined that a conversation about one almost has to include the other — like Bird vs. Magic or Ali vs. Frazier.
“It’ll be the Broncos vs. the Patriots,” Manning said of the AFC’s top two seeds, both 13-4. “We’ll enjoy this one tonight. I think you knew that answer was coming. To kind of quote Bill Belichick, we’ll be on to New England. But I’ll be talking about them on Wednesday.”
Football fans certainly won’t wait that long.
Brady has won 11 of the 16 meetings against Manning, but they’re 2-2 in the playoffs, including Denver’s 26-16 win in the conference championship game two years ago.
The 17th chapter was slated for November before Manning went out with a foot injury that pushed longtime backup Brock Osweiler into the starting — and starring — role.
Osweiler led the Broncos back from a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit against New England on Nov. 29 in a game Denver won 30-24 in overtime. Manning had just gotten out of his cast and watched that game from the locker room after shaking Brady’s hand in pregame warmups.
He returned to action in the season finale, his cameo propelling the Broncos past San Diego and into the AFC’s No. 1 seed that ensures Brady & Co. will have to play at altitude in their fifth consecutive trip to the conference championship game.
Just before kickoff Sunday, a strong wind blew over the Rocky Mountains, wreaking havoc on passes and kicks alike, although Brandon McManus tied an NFL playoff record by converting all five of his field-goal attempts and Chris Boswell made all three of his.
Manning’s teammates dropped seven passes but also came through in crunch time. Denver is 10-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer, and Manning said being battle-tested helped them on this blustery night
With Denver down 13-12 with less than 10 minutes left, cornerback Bradley Roby, burned time and again, punched the ball from Fitzgerald Toussaint’s arms and teammate DeMarcus Ware recovered at the Denver 35-yard line.
“Perfect timing,” Roby said.
Toussaint, who scored his first career TD in the first half, took it hard and blamed himself.
“This is not all on him by any means,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s on all of us.”
After Toussaint’s fumble, Manning went to work, driving Denver to its only touchdown, a 1-yard run by C.J. Anderson, followed by Demaryius Thomas’ catch on the 2-pointer that put Denver ahead 20-13 with three minutes left.
That was Manning’s 55th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, extending one of the dozen NFL records he owns.
Ware’s sack ended Pittsburgh’s next drive and McManus kicked his fifth field goal, joking it was such a tricky crosswind that he just kept aiming “at the guy holding the beer in the top left corner.”
Boswell made a 47-yarder with 19 seconds left, but Anderson recovered the onside kick.
Manning credited Denver’s NFL-best defense for thwarting a team that piled up 34 points on them last month and an offense that stayed patient.
“It was tough all night,” Manning said. “They’re a good defense, playing really well for the past number of weeks. So real credit to them. We had some good field position early and we had to settle for field goals. I give them credit for that. Field goals are better than no points, but we knew eventually that we needed to get a touchdown drive.”
They got that chance thanks to Roby.
“Roby got that left hand to knock the ball out and D-Ware was the man on the spot,” cornerback Aqib Talib said. “And the offense ran it down their throat. Tough team. We don’t quit until it is zero-zero-zero.”
“We’re relentless,” agreed Anderson. “We fight. We grind. We just keep fighting.”
Just like the Steelers.
Roethlisberger led an offense that had several big moments — their top eight plays netted 275 yards and their other 51 snaps resulted in just 118 yards.
“You’re right, they’re a big-play football team,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “But the good news is that we settled down defensively and found a way to sit there and hold them to 16 points.”
Roethlisberger completed 24 of 37 passes for 339 yards despite playing with a sore right shoulder and missing his top receiver — Antonio Brown (concussion) and rusher — DeAngelo Williams (foot). Martavis Bryant had nine catches for 154 yards.
Manning completed 21 of 37 passes for 222 yards.
Two months shy of 40, Manning has said this could very well be his final hurrah, and he’s 60 minutes from another chance to win his second Super Bowl ring.
Brady — who else? — stands in his way.
Notes: Broncos PR Omar Bolden injured a knee following his 42-yard return that set up Denver’s first field goal. … Steelers LB Arthur Moats left before halftime with an injured chest muscle.