Are Patriots, Carolina Headed for Superbowl 50?
Joe Kazmar – For The Record
What a difference a weeks makes. A week ago all four visiting teams in the “Wild Card Round” came up with victories on the road advancing to last weekend’s Divisional Round.
However, the four home teams that played Saturday and Sunday all had a week off to rest up for the second-round games.
And it certainly must have paid off because all four home teams emerged victorious, although the results of all four games were within a touchdown or less and weren’t decided until the final two minutes.
The defending world champion New England Patriots had the upper hand throughout Saturday’s opening game of the Divisional Round, but Kansas City wouldn’t go away and had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth period but fell short 27-20, vaulting the Pats into the AFC championship game for the fifth straight time.
Once again quarterback Tom Brady was the catalyst to the victory by throwing two touchdown passes to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and scoring a touchdown on a one-yard plunge.
New England ran its streak to 11-1 when leading at the intermission at Gillette Stadium. The Pats had a 14-6 halftime lead.
The victory set up an unprecedented 17th match-up between Brady and Peyton Manning, who led his No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos to a 23-16 come-from-behind win over the feisty Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday’s second game to qualify for the AFC title game.
Brady has won 11 of the 16 meetings against Manning’s teams, but is 2-2 in the playoffs, including Denver’s 26-16 win in the conference championship game two years ago. Sunday’s game in Denver will mark the seventh time Manning will face Brady at home, according to the Associated Press.
Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who played with two painful injuries to his throwing shoulder, took it to the touchdown-favored Broncos for three quarters until Manning worked his fourth period magic, thanks to a fumble by Pittsburgh’s Fitzgerald Toussaint caused by Denver cornerback Bradley Roby and recovered by teammate Demarcus Ware.
Manning went to work from his own 35 yard line, trailing 13-12 and drove his team downfield with running back C.J. Anderson scoring on a one-yard plunge. He connected with Demaryius Thomas for the two-point conversion, putting Denver ahead 20-13.
The two teams traded late field goals, but Pittsburgh’s onside kick attempt was recovered by the Broncos to secure the victory and set up the 2:05 p.m. kickoff Sunday in Denver with the Patriots an early three-point favorite.
The 23-16 victory marked the 55th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime by Manning, extending one of the dozen NFL records the future Hall of Fame quarterback owns.
The NFC had a pair of bizarre Divisional Round contests with the No. 1-seeded Carolina Panthers leaping out to a 31-0 halftime lead over the Seattle Seahawks, who didn’t seem to do anything right during the first 30 minutes.
Seattle could have used the excuse that they logged more airline miles (34,000) than any other NFL team this season or that for some unknown reason the Bank of America playing field was completely re-sodded six days earlier and quite unstable, but the Seahawks didn’t complain at all.
What the Seahawks did do was play like two-time Super Bowl participants were supposed to and began moving the football consistently while the defense looked much like the Legion of Boom.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson fired his third touchdown pass of the second half, connecting with Jermaine Kearse for the second time, this time a three-yard strike with six minutes left, reducing the deficit to 31-21 as the Seahawks’ defense shut down All-Pro quarterback Cam Newton’s offense.
The Seahawks defense made another stop and with little time remaining opted to kick a 36-yard Steven Hauschka’s field goal with 1:12 remaining, getting the team to within one score 31-24 and banking on a successful on-side kick. However it was recovered by Carolina’s All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis to secure the win.
The victory upped Carolina’s record to 16-1 for the season and entitled the Panthers to their fourth appearance in the NFC championship game and their first trip since 2005.
And the Panthers will be favored by three points when they host the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at 5:40 p.m. who advanced to the title round with a bizarre 26-20 overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers Saturday night.
There was a coin flip that didn’t flip, Patrick Peterson’s 100-yard kickoff return that was nullified by an Arizona penalty, Randall Cobb’s one-handed 51-yard catch that didn’t count because of off-setting penalties and a Hail Mary pass by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that was caught for a touchdown by Jeff Janis as time ran out sending the game to overtime.
But the real hero of the game was Arizona’s 32-year-old All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whose 75-yard catch-and-run set up his game-winning five-yard shovel pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to win the game without Green Bay even touching the football on offense.
I look for the two favorites to meet in Super Bowl 50 in two weeks after New England edges past Denver 24-20 and Carolina throttles Arizona 27-23. The last time a No. 1 seed won the Super Bowl was in 2003.
KWICKIES…The Lamar Cardinals have hired 31-year old Will Davis to replace their long-time baseball coach Jim Gilligan after the 2016 season is over. Gilligan has coached the Cardinals’ baseball team for 38 years. Davis has been an assistant baseball coach at LSU for the past seven years. His salary has not been announced, but Gilligan earned $115,308 in 2012, according to a Jefferson County newspaper. Davis was a catcher for LSU from 2004-2007.
The Houston Astros reached one-year deals with four of their six players who were eligible for salary arbitration. The biggest name is left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who earned a $6,725,500 pay hike to $7.25 million for this year. Other players agreeing to one-year deals include third baseman Luis Valbuena ($6.125 million), utility infielder/outfielder Marwin Gonzalez ($2 million) and relief pitcher Josh Fields ($900,000). The two eligible players unsigned at this writing were catcher Jason Castro who filed for $5.25 million and has been offered $5 million and designated hitter Evan Gattis, who filed for $3.85 million and has been offered $3 million.
Don’t be surprised if Sunday was the last time we would see the Seattle Seahawks’ “Beast Mode” as Marshawn Lynch brings a very high salary cap number into the 2016 season. Look for the Seahawks to release or waive Lynch and get a compensatory draft pick when he signs with another team.
No coach-quarterback combination in NFL history has been more successful as New England’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, who have teamed up for 22 post-season wins and four Super Bowl titles. Look for those numbers to increase before the playoffs are over.
An effort to persuade the owner of the St. Louis Rams to keep his team in Missouri by building a riverfront football stadium not only failed, but also left the public on the hook for $16.2 million in expenses. Most of the money was for a local architecture firm and an assortment of lawyers, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.
JUST BETWEEN US…It appears that Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel’s antics have turned off more than just his teammates and coaches as LeBron James’ marketing agency has cut ties with the playboy wannabe. On a recent visit to Houston, James said that renewing those business acquaintances with the former Heisman Trophy winner is not on his mind. “The only concern for everyone is to see him back on the football field, but doing it at a professional level, and being able to get back to the caliber of player that he was back when he was a Texas Aggie,” James told the Houston Chronicle recently.