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Here is a recap of Divisional Weekend of the 2017 NFL Playoffs with a Monday Afternoon QB & thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
NFC: 3 Seahawks 20, 2 Falcons 36
ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan hardly resembled a quarterback who can’t win the big games.
No, this looked more like an MVP.
Returning to the postseason for the first time in four years, Ryan threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Atlanta Falcons past the Seattle Seahawks 36-20 in the divisional round Saturday.
The Falcons are headed to the NFC championship game for only the fourth time in their 51-year history, and they’re on quite a roll with Matty Ice at the helm.
He finished up to chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP” from a raucous Georgia Dome crowd that gave the Seahawks a dose of what it’s like for opposing teams at CenturyLink Field.
“It was pretty cool considering the circumstances, too, with the game in hand,” Ryan said. “That’s got to be as loud as it’s ever been in here.”
Ryan turned in another dynamic performance in the best season of his career, shaking off a 1-4 record in his previous playoff appearances.
In an interesting twist, his lone postseason victory before Saturday was a 30-28 thriller over the Seahawks in the divisional round of the 2012 season.
Make it 2-0 over Seattle.
After the Seahawks zipped down the field for a touchdown on the opening possession, Atlanta’s young defense largely shut down Russell Wilson & Co. the rest of the way.
Ryan and the high-scoring Falcons took it from there — getting a huge boost from a holding penalty that wiped out an 80-yard punt return by Devin Hester.
Ryan hooked up with Julio Jones on a 7-yard touchdown and Tevin Coleman for a 14-yard score before finishing off the Seahawks with a 3-yard toss to Mohamed Sanu in the corner of the end zone with just under 4 minutes remaining.
Atlanta (12-5) moves on to face either the Dallas Cowboys or the Green Bay Packers, who meet Sunday in the NFC’s other divisional-round game.
After a 26-24 loss at Seattle during the regular season, the Falcons showed off all their offensive weapons against the Legion of Boom.
Eight players caught passes from Ryan, including running back Devonta Freeman on a 53-yard play that included a dazzling fake on replacement free safety Steven Terrell right in the middle of the field.
The Seahawks (11-6-1) sure missed Earl Thomas, out for the season with a broken leg.
“It’s just really hard to think it’s over,” said coach Pete Carroll, whose team couldn’t follow up a dominating win over Detroit in the opening round.
The game turned dramatically on a holding penalty in the second quarter that negated Hester’s return to the Atlanta 7.
Instead of having first-and-goal and a chance to extend a 10-7 lead, Seattle was backed up to its 7.
“Just a ridiculously large play in the game,” Carroll said.
Especially with what came next. After Thomas Rawls was thrown for a 3-yard loss, Wilson dropped back to pass. One problem: rookie right guard Rees Odhiambo, taking over after Germain Ifedi was injured, stepped back onto Wilson’s foot, sending the quarterback tumbling down in the end zone for a safety.
“They’ve got a lot of momentum,” Carroll said of the Falcons. “This is what they looked like the last four weeks, and they carried that into this game against us.”
The Falcons did much better when backed up at their 1, closing out the first half by going 99 yards to make it 19-10. The drive was extended by Sanu’s brilliant, one-handed catch for 22 yards with Jeremy Lane grabbing at his arm.
With 2 minutes to go, the Falcons had first-and-goal at the Seattle 2.
But Falcons coach Dan Quinn called for Ryan to take a knee, not wanting to pile it on against the team he previously worked for as defensive coordinator.
“It was a very classy way to end the game,” Carroll said. “I thought it was just another great statement on what a great dude he is and what a great coach he is and what a great job he is doing.”
Added Quinn: “I likely would’ve done it other times, but especially with my respect for him.”
Facing his former team, Hester certainly had quite an impact on special teams.
Even though his longest play was wiped out, he had five kickoff returns for 194 yards, including a 78-yarder.
Hester, who played for the Falcons in 2014 and ’15, signed with the Seahawks just before the playoffs.
The Seahawks lost cornerback DeShawn Shead to what looks like a serious left knee injury. He may have torn his ACL, according to Carroll.
Seattle’s tight ends also took a beating. Brandon Williams went out with a concussion, and Luke Willson was evaluated for a possible concussion.
The Falcons lost defensive end Adrian Clayborn with a biceps injury on Seattle’s opening drive.
If Green Bay upsets the Cowboys, the NFC championship game would be next weekend at the Georgia Dome, extending the 25-year-old stadium’s tenure one more game.
The Falcons are moving to $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season.
AFC: 4 Texans 16, 1 Patriots 34
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots are headed back to a familiar spot: the AFC championship game.
Dion Lewis had a 13-yard touchdown reception , a 98-yard kickoff return for a score, and a late 1-yard touchdown to help the Patriots hold off the Houston Texans 34-16 on Saturday night and advance to an NFL-record sixth straight conference title game.
New England will host the winner of Sunday night’s Pittsburgh-Kansas City matchup next Sunday for the right to play in the Super Bowl in Houston on Feb. 5.
“Whoever we play next week is going to be a great football team,” Tom Brady said. “We’re going to have to play better than we played tonight on offense.”
Lewis became the fifth Patriots player to score three touchdowns in a playoff game. He’s also the first player in the Super Bowl era to score on a rush, a catch and a kick return in a postseason game.
“I just approached it that I would be in there on every play. That’s just the way I prepare,” Lewis said. “So when it does happen, I won’t be surprised. I’ll always be ready.”
Bill Belichick’s Patriots (15-2) survived a gritty effort by the Texans’ top-ranked defense, which intercepted Brady twice. Houston’s special teams also forced a third turnover.
But the Texans (10-8) couldn’t find enough traction on offense to take full advantage of the Patriots’ mistakes, settling for field goals on both of Brady’s picks.
New England led just 17-13 at the half, but pushed its lead to 24-13 early in the third quarter on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brady to James White.
Houston’s Brock Osweiler was intercepted three times after that, and the Texans managed only a field goal the rest of game.
It was the first breakout game of the season for Lewis, who spent the first eight games of the season on injured reserve recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee.
Brady finished 18 of 38 for 287 yards and two touchdowns and was showered with chants of “MVP! MVP!” and “Brady! Brady!” late in the game. Julian Edelman was Brady’s most dependable target, catching eight passes for 137 yards.
Osweiler was just 23 of 40 for 198 yards with the two turnovers.
“You need to capitalize on great opportunities against a football team like this,” Osweiler said. “That’s my fault, I’ll clean that up.”
When New England did have the ball in the first half, it gave Houston a steady diet of Lewis early with LeGarrette Blount coming off an illness that limited him during practice this week.
Without Blount to contend with, the Texans applied pressure to Brady.
A.J. Bouye intercepted a slightly overthrown ball by Brady late in the first quarter on a pass that bounced out of the hands of receiver Michael Floyd. That led to a 27-yard field goal that cut New England’s lead to 14-6.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lewis coughed up the ball on a hit from Akeem Dent. Eddie Pleasant fell on it at the Patriots 12, and two plays later, Brock Osweiler hit C.J. Fiedorowicz from 8 yards out to cut the deficit to 14-13.
Brady only threw two interceptions during the regular season. With his 28 touchdown passes, that was the lowest touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history.
“I’ll be back next season. I’ll be the Texans head coach. I have a five-year contract. This is Year 3. … But like I’ve also said, I’ve got to do a better job.” — Houston coach Bill O’Brien.
Belichick and Brady advanced to their 11th conference championship game together. No other head coach and starting quarterback duo since the 1970 merger have gone to more than six.
CLOWN TIME IS OVER
Jadeveon Clowney was in Brady’s face all game, flattening him in the first half with a legal hit and bringing him down a couple of times in the second on plays that were a little more questionable.
In the third quarter, Brady was chased out of the pocket before heaving the ball downfield. Clowney dragged him to the turf, and Brady came up kicking. The Patriots quarterback made his case to the referee, but no penalty was called.
Early in the fourth, though Clowney was called for roughing the passer for Brady after he got rid of the ball and while he was in the clutches of defensive end Christian Covington.
PILING UP POINTS
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski continues to climb the NFL’s career postseason scoring list.
He made an extra point in the first quarter to pass Jerry Rice and move into third place on the league’s career list. It was Gostkowski’s 133rd postseason point, breaking a tie with the Hall of Fame receiver.
Texans: RB Tyler Ervin left in the second quarter with a concussion. Defensive end Joel Heath exited in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and did not return.
Patriots: WR Chris Hogan left in the third quarter with a thigh injury.
Texans: End of season.
Patriots: Will host either Pittsburgh or Kansas City in next week’s AFC title game.
NFC: 4 Packers 34, 1 Cowboys 31
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — After another improbable throw from Aaron Rodgers that propelled the Green Bay Packers to a playoff win, coach Mike McCarthy was asked if it was the best one yet from his star quarterback.
“It’s the best one today, that’s for sure,” McCarthy said after a wild 34-31 divisional playoff win Sunday over the Dallas Cowboys that was the Packers’ eighth straight and sent them to the NFC championship game.
“He’s an incredible player, incredible talent. And to do it when it’s all on the line like that, that’s what great players do.”
Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal on the next play as time expired, sending the two-time MVP into a showdown next Sunday with the possible winner this year, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.
“We’re going to enjoy this one, and then we’ll get on to Atlanta tomorrow,” said Rodgers, who threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns. “But this one’s special, more special than we’ve had around here in a while.”
The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook came on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left, and after the Cowboys (13-4) tied the score twice in the final 4:08 after trailing by 18 in the first half and by 15 to start the fourth quarter in their fifth straight divisional-round loss.
Dallas’ rally was led by rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debuts, and the first two career postseason touchdown catches for star receiver Dez Bryant along with the first for 14th-year tight end Jason Witten.
Prescott threw for 302 yards and was the first rookie QB in the Super Bowl era with three touchdown passes in a playoff game. Elliott, the NFL rushing champion, had 125 yards.
“We’ve built the team in such a way where we’ve got a lot of young guys who are cornerstone players for us,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think the mix of youth and guys who are in the prime of their careers and some veteran guys has really been beneficial to the chemistry of this football team.”
Things to consider after the Packers beat the Cowboys in the divisional round for the second time in three seasons:
HALF MARY? Rodgers, who threw his first interception during the eight-game streak, didn’t have another Hail Mary after three in 13 months, the latest before halftime in last week’s wild-card win over the New York Giants. But the throw to Cook had the same effect, allowing the Packers to get in scoring range after the Cowboys tied it for the second time in the last 4:08 with 35 seconds remaining.
“We’ve got a good repertoire of plays toward the end of the game, whether it’s obviously the well-publicized Hail Marys or other plays we’ve made over the years to kind of draw from,” said Rodgers, who celebrated in his first appearance on the Cowboys’ field since he was the Super Bowl MVP while winning his only title six years ago.
PROMISING FUTURE, NO SOLACE: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones thought there was a good chance of ending that two-decade Super Bowl drought, and was convinced by the late comeback that they were more than capable of doing that this season. “It’s no solace,” Jones said. “But we have a team and we have players that are made of the kind of thing that can win these big games.”
That includes Prescott and Elliott, only the NFL’s third QB-running back rookie duo to make it to the playoffs.
Still, Jones was “terribly disappointed” that the Cowboys failed to make it past the divisional game for the ninth consecutive playoff appearance since three Super Bowl titles in a four-season span (2002, 2003 and 2005).
SPREADING IT AROUND: If Rodgers is without Jordy Nelson again at Atlanta after his No. 1 receiver injured his ribs against the Giants, the options seem plentiful. Rodgers found six different receivers, including a 34-yard touchdown to Richard Rodgers that was his longest since catching one of those Hail Marys from Aaron Rodgers to stun Detroit late in the 2015 season.
DAZZLING DEZ: This was Bryant at his best. Healthy for most of this season after his injury-filled 2015 when the Cowboys won only four games, Bryant had nine catches for 132 yards and his first two career postseason touchdowns . Things are looking up two seasons into his $70 million, five-year contract. “For Dez, it’s physical preparation, it’s mental preparation, but it’s also emotional preparation,” Garrett said.
ROADIES: Rodgers’ third NFC title game will be on the road, just like the previous two. He split those, beating Chicago on the way to the title and losing to San Francisco two years ago. He doesn’t mind the road through. Green Bay ended a 12-game playoff winning streak for home teams. The previous road winner? The Packers at Washington in the wild-card round last season.
AFC: 3 Steelers 18, 2 Chiefs 16
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chris Boswell’s pinpoint right leg and Le’Veon Bell’s two dancing feet.
They do call it football, after all.
Indeed, Bell spent much of Sunday watching the film “Happy Feet.”
“I wasn’t nervous about the game,” Bell said. “I don’t watch ESPN or NFL Live, because I know they’ll talk about the game. I don’t necessarily want to think about the game.
“I watch stuff like ‘Happy Feet.'”
Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals? Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers’ 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.
The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn’t play.
“I think it’s going to be a showdown,” Bell said. “Two great quarterbacks going head to head. Two of the best teams in the AFC. It’s time to settle it next week.”
Since 2001, the Patriots and Steelers have combined to win nine AFC titles.
Spencer Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher — the first overall selection in the 2013 draft — was penalized for holding. The next try failed.
With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.
“I feel like we left a lot of plays on the field that we should have made,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We didn’t; it’s the playoffs, every play counts.”
The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.
“The coaches put a lot of trust in me to get the job done,” Bell said of his 30 carries. “Just run hard. Just picked my spots where I could and run hard.”
The Steelers became the first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.
Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.
The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiverAlbert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.
Pittsburgh’s answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by Houston. That led to Boswell’s second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.
A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.
The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger’s throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry — burned for 26 yards on the previously play — picked it off in the end zone.
Boswell’s fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh’s first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.
“It’s just about doing my job,” Boswell said. “Coming out here, put it through the yellow pipes. Don’t really think too much. Don’t think like I’m the guy or anything. I’m just doing my job and doing my one-eleventh for the team.”
Kansas City’s Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150.
Switching the game from noon local time to an evening kickoff to avert an ice storm had no effect on the crowd. Fans arrived early, tailgated in the rain as the worst of the storm never hit the area. But fog rolled into Arrowhead Stadium in the second quarter, obscuring some views from on high. Not that what was going on was worth watching for Chiefs fans.
Bell rushed for almost as many yards (101) in the first half as the Chiefs gained (106). Bell ran for 144 yards vs. Kansas City in October in his first game after a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy…. Boswell’s four first-half field goals tied the team record for an entire playoff game. … Chiefs All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce had a rough game, including a big drop and a 15-yard roughing penalty in the third period. He did finish with five catches for 77 yards. … A sign of the Steelers’ dominance for much of the night: Pittsburgh held the ball for 34:13, with Kansas City getting 7:06 of its possession time on its final drive.
Steelers: Head to New England for a shot at making the Super Bowl.