By Jason Schott – BrooklynFans.com Reporter / Assignment Editor – @JESchott19
The Baltimore Ravens’ double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos kicked off an NFL Divisional Playoff Weekend unlike any other. The other winners were the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, as well as the Atlanta Falcons, who beat the Seattle Seahawks in a thrilling finish.
Ravens win it for Ray: The Baltimore Ravens are starting to look like a team of destiny, with their aim a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years. The Ravens are motivated by the fact that their star linebacker and inspirational leader, Ray Lewis, is retiring after the season.
Their game Saturday in Denver against the Broncos was a thriller because each team traded touchdowns, never holding more than a seven-point lead at any time.
In the first half, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco each threw for two touchdowns. Denver got a touchdown off a punt return by Trinton Holliday and Baltimore got a touchdown off a 39-yard interception return by Corey Graham.
The game was tied at 21 heading into the third, and Holliday returned Matt Prater’s opening kick-off 104 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-21 Denver.
Amazingly, the Baltimore defense would hold Manning to one touchdown for the second half, and the Ravens were trailing 35-28 when they got the ball back with 1:09 left at their own 23-yard line.
On a 3rd-and-3 from the Baltimore 30-yard line, Joe Flacco found Jacoby Jones wide open down the sideline. Jones took advantage of broken Denver coverage and went all the way for a touchdown to tie the game at 35 and silence the Invesco Field crowd.
The Broncos got the ball back with 30 seconds left and Manning took a knee, as Denver did not even try to run a play despite having two timeouts and a quarterback of Manning’s caliber.
The defenses tightened up in overtime, and neither team did much on offense. The game-changer was that the Ravens’ Corey Graham intercepted Manning at the Baltimore 45-yard line with 51 seconds left in the first overtime.
The Ravens took six plays to get into field goal range, and Justin Tucker hit a 47-yard field goal 1:42 into double overtime to give Baltimore the 38-35 win.
The Ravens are back in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year and third in the last five.
San Francisco’s Kaepernick outduels Rodgers: San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh took a big risk in the middle of the season when he benched Alex Smith in favor of making Colin Kaepernick the starting quarterback.
Kaepernick threw for 261 yards on 17-for-31 passing, and two touchdowns. He also ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns, the first a 20-yard run to tie the game at 7 in the first quarter, and the second a 56-yard scramble to give the Niners the lead for good at 31-24 with 7:07 left in the third.
San Francisco pulled away in the fourth as Frank Gore and Anthony Davis each ran in touchdowns to make it 35-24 49ers. Rodgers got a touchdown pass with 51 seconds left to make the final 45-31.
The 49ers showed why they have the best defense in the NFL by holding Aaron Rodgers to 257 yards on 26-39 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. The Green Bay running game was held to 104 yards, with DuJuan Harris running for 104 yards on 11 carries.
Falcons nearly have wings clipped by Seahawks: The Atlanta Falcons, the top seed in the NFC, are out to show that they can win in the playoffs with Head Coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.
They looked like they were on their way, with a 27-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter and Ryan throwing three touchdown passes.
The Seattle Seahawks have had a never-say-die attitude all season, and that came out in a big way in the fourth quarter. Seattle’s rookie quarterback Russell Wilson got a one-yard touchdown run at the 13:01 mark, and threw a three-yard touchdown pass two minutes later to cut Atlanta’s lead to 27-21.
It stayed that way until the Seahawks got the ball back with three minutes left. Wilson came up huge, with a 19-yard pass to Golden Tate to bring them to the Atlanta 32, and a 24-yard pass to Marshawn Lynch to get them to the Atlanta three-yard line.
Lynch ran it in for the touchdown and a Ryan Longwell extra point gave them the lead at 28-27 with 31 seconds left.
Ryan answered Wilson by getting Atlanta into field-goal range with two plays: a 22-yard pass to Harry Douglas to bring them to the 50, and a 19-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez to bring them to the Seattle 31.
Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed the 49-yard field goal attempt…or did he? Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll stood by the referee as Bryant lined up and called timeout, but when he saw Bryant missed, Carroll protested that he never called time, clearly screaming “bulls**t” at the ref.
Bryant tried again, and it went right down the middle to give the Falcons the lead back at 31-28 and avert a playoff defeat as bitter as what Denver went through on Saturday night.
This was Ryan and Smith’s first postseason win, and their reward is to host San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. It also was Tony Gonzalez’s first playoff win in his illustrious career.
Brady makes history as Pats rout Texans: The Patriots blew out the Houston Texans in early December, and any thoughts that this would be a blowout were dispelled when the Patriots held just a 17-13 lead at halftime.
One trademark of the last six seasons of Patriots football is how they get the most out of players nobody’s ever heard of. That was in evidence today when Shane Vereen ran for a touchdown in the first quarter and caught a Tom Brady 8-yard pass in the second quarter.
The Patriots took the game over in the third, as they opened the quarter with a 7-play, 69-yard drive capped off by a Stevan Ridley 8-yard touchdown run.
Later, starting at the 4:14 mark of the third, the Patriots took just six plays to go 63 yards, as Brady found Brandon Lloyd for a touchdown pass to make it 31-13.
Early in the fourth, the Patriots got the ball at the Houston 33-yard line after the Texans failed on a 4th-down attempt. On first down, Brady threw it deep left to Vereen for a touchdown to make it 38-13.
That pass made it Brady’s 5th career 300-yard postseason game, and made Vereen the third Patriot to have three touchdowns in a playoff game, joining Curtis Martin and Rob Gronkowski with that honor.
The Patriots won 41-28, as Brady threw for 344 yards, and completed 25 of 40 passes with three touchdowns. He also made history, as this was his 17th playoff win, passing Joe Montana’s mark of 16.
The Patriots did not come out of this completely unscathed. Tight end Rob Gronkowski broke his left arm, which he also broke earlier in the season.
THIS IS PARITY? The Patriots and Ravens will have a rematch of last year’s epic AFC Championship Game, while the San Francisco 49ers make it back to the NFC Championship Game. The one newcomer is the Atlanta Falcons, who take the place of the current Super Bowl Champions, the Giants. NFL parity exists in the regular season, but in the playoffs, it’s the usual suspects.