And with that the NFL's championship week matchups are set...and what spectacular matchups they will be. Intriguing storylines and fantastic teams. While the games weren't fantastic this weekend, there was plenty going on (plus a 4-0 week of picks) so let's get right to some reaction from the NFL Divisional round playoffs in "the stack" for today, Monday, January 13:
Seahawks 23 Saints 15
The Seahawks defense dominated this game. Limiting Drew Brees to just 34 passing yards in the first half? Now that's great defense. Rain and wind certainly played a factor in this one (jus task Brees). The Seahawks offense struggled against a much improved New Orleans defense. Russell Wilson had just 104 yards passing. That must improve if the Seahawks want to advance to the Super Bowl. Of course, getting Percy Harvin back was supposed to help, but then he suffered a concussion in the second quarter. The Saints led a furious comeback in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie, but Marques Colston in explicably attempted to lateral when he could have stepped out of bounds and stopped the clock. Instead his lateral went five yards or so ahead and the game was done with that illegal forward pass. The Saints had a very good season in head coach Sean Payton's return. They'll be back next year. As for the Seahawks, the NFC Championship game awaits.
Patriots 43 Colts 22
If I were to tell you that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw zero touchdows and the Patriots won by three touchdowns, would you have believed me? You probably would have sent me to get checked out for a concussion, but that is exactly what happened on a rainy New England night. LaGarrette Blunt was absolutely tremendous running the ball for the Patriots. 166 yards rushing (franchise record) and four touchdowns. He's getting hot at just the right time. Stevan Ridley added the other two rushing touchdowns, but this is clearly Blunt's job now. The Patriots rushed the ball over 40 times in the game. Unheard of with a team led by Brady. Though in a year like this for the Patriots, maybe that is exactly what should happen. For Andrew Luck, too many interceptions (four in this one) doomed the Colts chances. He threw seven interceptions in two games in the playoffs this year. If the Colts want to advance further, he must do a better job of not forcing it and protecting the football. Colts future looks bright with him.
49ers 23 Panthers 10
It was a defensive struggle as we expected for most of the first half until the 49ers went on an impressive drive late that ended in a touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Vernon Davis who did a nice job getting both feet in the endzone. Kaepernick was pressured early and struggled, but once he settled down, he got into a groove that the Pantheres couldn't get him out of. Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin had a good connection yesterday (8 of Kaepernick's 15 completions went to Boldin for 136 yards). He made big catch after big catch. The Panthers played a little tight, especially on offense and seemed to fall into a trap with San Francisco jawing them play after play. Kind of threw them off their game. You could also look to their struggles inside the ten yardline. 10 plays or so inside the 10, seven yards and three points. That's all they could muster. They just tried to run the ball, a mistake againist the 49ers tremendous front seven. Why not do some play action passing or roll Cam Newton out? Disappointing way for the Panthers season to end. The 49ers are on a roll right now and have plenty of momentum heading into next week's game with Seattle? Think that game will be a little physical?
Broncos 24 Chargers 17
With all of the talk this week that San Diego had Denver's number this season, you had to figure that Denver would come out a little more inspired than normal on both sides of the ball. They did just that. The defense especially played great, shutting the Chargers down for three quarters before a late charge (maybe pun intended). Peyton Manning played very good and had the Broncos lost, it would not have been because of him. Sure he had an interception in the endzone late in the first half that could have put the Chargers away for good, but the ball got tipped by the defender got his hand in there and made a great play. A missed field goal also didn't help the Broncos cause. However, on their final drive of the game, the Broncos converted three third downs, including a third and 17. The Broncos will have to play better against New England next week, but if they can control the line of scrimmage on defense like they did against San Diego, they have a great chance to win. Hmm, Manning versus Brady. Feels like we've seen this chapter before.
Coming up Tuesday: Reaction to top sports stories from Monday