Kyle Shanahan snatches defeat from jaws of Super Bowl victory
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Super Bowl LI (51) Recap
The Atlanta Falcons played the New England Patriots in the 51st Super Bowl. After last year’s boring slugfest, Super Bowl LI will be talked about until the end of time itself. The 11-5 Falcons were in the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. The 14-2 Patriots were playing in the Super Bowl a record ninth time. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were appearing in their seventh Super Bowl, having won four of their previous six appearances. This was expected to be a Patriots coronation. As ESPN uber-annoucer Chris Berman has reminded us for the last 30 years, “That’s why the play the games.”
From the Houston stadium where the Texans play, President George Herbert Walker Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush came out for the coin toss. Despite being in a wheelchair, Bush 41 flipped the coin to loud raucous cheers from fans and players on both teams. The Bushes are beloved in their home city of Houston, and it was a very classy display by the fans.
The first quarter featured plenty of surprised but no points. On 3rd and 1 from their own 34, Laguerette Blount got the carry and no yards as the Patriots actually punted after a 3 and out on their first series. The Falcons took over at their own 8 yard line. On Atlanta’s first ply from scrimmage, Devonta Freeman took a pitchout and raced 37 yards. Yet on 3rd and 5 from midfield, Matt Ryan was sacked. It would not be the last opportunity Atlanta would waste. The Patirots moved from their own 10 to the Atlanta 40, but a sack of Brady ended that drive. In the second quarter the Patriots had moved from their 18 to a 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 33. It looked like New England was ready to strike first. Blount got the carry, gained 4 yards, and then fumbled the ball away. These two teams each had 11 turnovers in the entire regular season, the fewest in the league.
From the Atlanta 29, Ryan turned on the explosiveness. He went Julio Jones for gains of 19 and 23 yards. Freeman then ran for 15, 9, and the final 5 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Falcons lead. The Patriots went 3 and out and the Falcons took over at their own 38. Ryan kept firing, hitting Torry Gabriel for 24 and Jones for 18. On 3rd and 9 from the New England 19, Ryan went to Hooper for the touchdown. All of a sudden the Falcons led 14-0.
Then came the strangest drive of the half. The Patriots moved the ball from their own 25. Thee times the Patriots faced a key third down conversion Three times the Falcons were called for defensive holding. After over 6 minutes, the Patriots now faced 3rd and 6 at the Atlanta 23 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half. Brady fired over the middle and never saw Robert Alford. Alford jumped the route and returned the interception 82 yards for a touchdown. In front of a stunned world, the Falcons led 21-0.
After a touchback Brady ran the 2 minute drill well. With 23 seconds left in the half, the Patriots had a 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 15. Brady went to White for 12 yards down to the 3, but a killer offensive holding penalty followed by a sack had the Patriots facing 3rd and 18 from the 23 with 5 seconds left. Stephen Gostkowski hit the 41 yard field goal but the Patriots were down 21-3 at halftime.
The Falcons got the ball to start the third quarter but quickly went 3 and out. The Patriots took over at their own 47 with a golden opportunity to get back in the game. Instead 3 plays lost 2 yards and the Falcons got it back at their own 15. Ryan quickly hit Gabriel for 15 yards and then went deep to Gabriel for 35 more. Ryan found Mohammed Sanu for 13 more yards. On 3rd and 4 from the New England 9, Ryan threw incomplete. Yet defensive pass interference on the hero from two years ago, Malcolm Butler, instead meant 1st and goal at the 6. On the next play Ryan hit Tevin Coleman for the touchdown. With 8 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, the Falcons were winning a 28-3 laugher. By the end of the game, nobody would be laughing. Football fans worldwide would be gasping for air.
After a touchback, the Patriots needed more than a miracle. They needed several miracles. With 6 minutes left in the third quarter, the Patriots faced 4th and 3 at their own 46. They had to go for it. Brady found Danny Amendola for 17 yards. On 3rd and 8 from the Atlanta 35, Brady evaded pressure and scrambled up the middle for 15 yards. Brady hit White for a 5 yard touchdown. On a day when virtually nothing was going right for the Patriots, Stephen Gostkowski doinked the extra point off the upright no good. The Patriots were down 28-9, and they needed 13 plays and 6 1/2 minutes to go 75 yards. All the Falcons had to do was grind down the clock and they were Super Bowl champions. Call it lack of experience. Call it bad luck. Call it terrible play-calling. What happened in the fourth quarter will be dissected forever.
Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator calls the plays for the Atlanta offense. Throughout the game, he had Ryan taking snaps out of the shotgun. Matty Ice had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating entering the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter up by 19, some coaches get attacked for being too conservative. Yet Shanahan went in the other direction. He went beyond aggressive to the point of recklessness. Several mind-numbing calls deserve to be scrutinized. As for the Falcons themselves, one field goal at any point in the fourth quarter would have iced the game.
Bill Belichick called a surprise onside kick that did not work. The Falcons took over at the New England 41. A few yards would allow Matt Bryant and his mega-leg to put the game away. On 2nd and 1 from the 32, the Falcons were in field goal range. On the next play, Coleman lost a yard, but the real killer was offensive holding. Now the Falcons were back out of field goal range. On 3rd and 11, needing only a few yards, Ryan was sacked for a 9 yard loss. The Falcons began the fourth quarter punting on fourth and 25 at their own 44. The Patriots took over at their own 13. They were barely alive, but alive.
The Patriots moved to a 3rd and 1 at the Atlanta 32. Brady went deep to Marcellus Bennett for a 25 yard gain. Yet from 1st and goal at the 7, the Atlanta defense came up big as a pair of sacks on Brady moved the Patriots back to the 15. Despite holding the ball for 12 plays and 5 minutes and moving 80 yards, they then moved 8 yards backward. Needing 3 scores, Bill Belichick opted for the field goal. Gostkowski hit from 33. With 9:40 left in regulation, the Patriots were still down 28-12. They needed more miracles.
The Falcons soon faced 3rd and 1 at their own 36 with 8 1/2 minutes left. All the Falcons had to do was run the ball straight up the middle. If they convert, the clock keeps grinding down. If they get stopped, they punt. It was the simplest decision in the world. Kyle Shanahan called a pass play. This was a horrendous decision, because an incompletion would stop the clock. An incompletion would have been less of a disaster than what actually happened. Ryan went back to pass, was sacked for an 11 yard loss, and fumbled the ball. The Patriots recovered at the Atlanta 25. The Atlanta defense had been heroes all game, and the offense was trying to give the game away.
Again the Atlanta defense rose to the occasion with another sack of Brady. Yet on 3rd and 11 from the Atlanta 26, Brady found Mitchell for 12 yards, Amendola for 8 more, and Amendola again for the 6 yard touchdown. Despite the Atlanta blunder, only 6 minutes remained. A stop on the 2 point conversion try would keep it a 2 score game and pretty much end it. Belichick went to his bag of trips. Brady jumped up high like the snap went over his head. However it was actually a wildcat snap to White, who banged in the end zone. The Patriots were within 28-20.
NFL MVP Matt Ryan still had the lead and a chance to put the game away. The Falcons were pinned at their own 10 yard line. A perfectly executed screen pass from Ryan to Freeman went for 39 yards. Ryan then went deep to Jones, who made an acrobatic catch at the sideline and somehow got 2 feet down inbounds. The 27 yard gain had the Falcons with 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 22. Only 4:40 remained on the clock. All the Falcons had to do was run the ball three straight times, kick a short field goal, and the game was over. Without doing anything, they were in position for a 40 yarder. On 1st and 10 Freeman lost one yard. Not a problem as the clock ticked down below 4 minutes. Then Kyle Shanahan called another mindless play.
On 2nd and 11, rather than run the ball again, it was deja vu all over again. Ryan went back deep and was sacked for a 12 yard loss. This time he held on to the ball. The Patriots took their first timeout with 3:50 to play. The Falcons were now facing 3rd and 23 from the Patriots 35. A field goal try would be 53 yards, but still very much in Bryant’s range. A run that gained nothing would still give Bryant a chance to finally put the game away. Bryant never got the chance. Shanahan called another pass play. Ryan hit Sanu for 9 yards, but offensive holding killed the Falcons. Had the Patriots declined the penalty it would have been 4th and 14, but Bryant would be trying a 44 yard field goal. Belichick accepted the penalty. Now the Falcons faced 3rd and 33 from the New England 45. A give up run for a few yards would still give Bryant a chance at a field goal. For the umpteenth time, Shanahan called a pass. It was incomplete and the Falcons punted. The Patriots took over at their own 9 yard line with 3 1/2 minutes to go, 2 timeouts and the two minute warning. Everyone knew what was coming.
The Patriots were pinned at their own 9 yard line. Brady started out with a pair of incompletions on a day when several receivers dropped well thrown passes. On 3rd and 10 from their own 9, the Patriots were again on the verge of defeat. Again, Atlanta could not close the game out. Brady hit Chris Hogan for 16 yards. Brady then found Mitchell for 11 yards. From the New England 36 came another miracle. Brady fired over the middle, and the ball was batted up in the air by Alford, who had the interception for a score in the first half. despite three defenders in the area, Julian Edelman somehow caught the ball for a 23 yard gain. Replay showed that the nose of the ball hit the ground, which would nullify one of the craziest catches since the Patriots saw their perfect 2007 season get victimized by David Tyree. The referees called it a catch, and Dan Quinn challenged the call. Quinn lost the challenge, and the Falcons were now out of timeouts.
From the Atlanta 41, Brady then went to Amendola for 20 more yards as the clock hit the 2 minute warning. From the Atlanta 21, Brady hit White for 13 and again for 7. From the one yard line, White got in. Despite a collapse, a stop on the 2 point conversion would still allow the Falcons to escape with the Lombardi trophy. Brady fired to Amendola, who appeared stopped but somehow stretched the ball just to the plane of the goal line. A 25 point deficit had been erased. Now the game was tied 28-28.
A deliberate short kickoff had the Falcons pinned at their own 11 yard line with 52 seconds left and 0 timeouts. Ryan hit Sanu for 12 yards, but the clock kept ticking. On 3rd and 6 from the Atlanta 27, Ryan went deep incomplete. 11 seconds remained. It was far too long for a Hail Mary, and an incomplete would give the Patriots the ball with a chance for a winning field goal try of their own. The Falcons had no choice but to punt. For the first time in NFL history, the Super Bowl was going to overtime.
The Falcons needed one break, and none were coming. The Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime. The only break would be that of the backs of the Atlanta defense. Brady put on a clinic, hitting White for 6, Amendola for 14, and Hogan for 18. On 2nd and 13 from the Atlanta 40, Brady found Edelman for 15. White ran for 10 more. Now the Patriots had 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 15. If somehow the Falcons could hold the Patriots to a field goal, Atlanta’s offense would get one chance with the ball.
It was not meant to be. Brady threw incomplete, but a killer defensive pass interference penalty meant 1st and goal at the 2. On 2nd and goal, White got the carry and appeared stopped cold. He bulled forward, and stretched the ball. Although he appeared just short, officials immediately ruled a touchdown. 4 minutes into overtime, the confetti came down and people flooded the field. As fans insisted that maybe the game was not over, it was. The greatest collapse in Super Bowl history came courtesy of 31 unanswered points.
Ryan did not play badly. He threw only 23 passes, completing 17 of them for 284 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Yet multiple sacks on pass plays that never should have been called along with his one fumble doomed the Falcons. Brady threw an NFL record 62 passes. He completed 43 of them for an NFL record 466 yards. He also had 2 touchdown passes and the one interception before the half.
Brady and Belichick are now the first player and coaches to win 5 Super Bowls. Brady became the first player to be the Super Bowl MVP for the fourth time. Brady and Belichick may or may not be the best player and coach ever. Such hyperbole is best left to barflies, but at least they are allowed to be in the conversation.
The Patriots were once the Patsies. Owner Robert Kraft has now presided over a dynasty that has won 5 Super Bowls in 17 years. The win was vindication for Brady, who missed the first four games due to his Deflategate suspension. Jimmy Garoppollo and Jacoby Brissett guided the Patriots to a 3-1 record. Meanwhile, the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to a back injury after Week 13. Belichick always says, “next man up.”
As for Kyle Shanahan, the day after the game he was expected to be named the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe he was just being run out of town. Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is no longer the biggest coaching goat in Super Bowl history. Bevell made one horrendously miserable call a couple years ago. Shanahan made miserable calls for most of the fourth quarter, costing the Falcons the win. Nobody threw Shanahan under the bus, but he was clearly the goat.
For those who hate the Patriots, Lady Gaga was supposed to be the worst part of Super Bowl Sunday. She was far from it compared to the nightmarish fourth quarter. For those wondering of Brady or Belichick made a deal with the devil, it is quite possible that this is wrong. Maybe one of them IS the devil. The Falcons will take this loss to their graves, and they should. They blew a 25 point lead with 18 minutes left. They choked away a 19 point lead after three quarters. They choked away a 16 point lead with 7 minutes left. One field goal that Matt Bryant never got to kick was the difference. Super Bowl LI is now in the history books. 34-28 Patriots, OT
Super Bowl 51 Prequel
NFL 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame Predictions
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NFL 2016-2017 Pro Bowl Recap
The Pro Bowl is normally a pinball machine scoring affair, but this edition resembled something closer to a normal football game. Well, if a normal game was played in Orlando near Disney World. The game returned to its traditional AFC vs NFC format. The coaching staffs of the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs led the teams. Forget pinball. The first quarter was a scoreless snooze. In the second quarter Alex Smith went to Delanie Walker for a 26 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 AFC. Drew Brees came back with a 47 yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin for a 7-7 game. Andy Dalton responded with a 23 yard touchdown to make it 14-7 AFC at halfftime. The second half was even sleepier. Justin Tucker hit a 38 yard field goal in the third quarter and a 31 yarder in the fourth quarter to make it 20-7 AFC. Matt Prater then hit from 42 and 46 to get the NFC within 20-13 with 4 1/2 minutes left in regulation. Philip Rivers was then sacked three straight, times allowing the NFC to get the ball back at their own 31 with 2 12 minutes to play. With 90 seconds to play from the AFC 24, Kirk Cousins threw a pass to Jimmy Graham inside the 10. It bounced off Graham’s hands and was intercepted by Lorenzo Alexander. Walrus Lite Andy Reid was the winning coach over Jason Garrett. 20-13 AFC
NFL 2016-2017 Conference Title Games Recap
NFC Title Game, Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons — In the regular season the Falcons won a thriller at Green Bay 33-32. This was expected to be another track meet. In the 2010 season the Packers went into Atlanta in the playoffs and belted the Falcons 48-21. Aaron Rodgers got his ring while Matt Ryan kept hearing about not winning the big one. This time Atlanta jumped all over Green Bay at the outset.
The Falcons moved 80 yards in 13 plays and 6 1/2 minutes. On 3rd and goal, Matt Ryan threw a 2 yard touchdown pass to Mohammed san for a 7-0 Falcons lead. The Packers moved from their 25 to a 2nd and 4 at the Atlanta 23. Yet the shootout did not happen. Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete twice and the normally reliable Mason Crosby missed a 41 yard field goal try. Atlanta moved from their 31 to a 2nd and 3 at the Green Bay 5. However, a pair of incompletions sandwiched around a false start meant a 28 yard Matt Bryant field goal as the Falcons led 10-0 after the first quarter.
The Packers again moved the ball well and in the second quarter faced a 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 23. Adam Ripowski got the carry and gained 12 yards. however, at the end of the play the ball was ripped out of his hands. Jamie Collins recovered for Atlanta in the end zone for a touchback. Again the Packers missed an opportunity. The Falcons moved to a 3rd and 10 at the Green Bay 33. Needing a stop, Dom Capers’s defense could not get one. Ryan hit Julio Jones for 19 yards and then ran for the 14 yard touchdown himself for a 17-0 Falcons lead.
In the NFC Title Game 5 years ago, the Falcons blew a 17-0 lead at halftime at home for an agonizing 28-24 loss. Not this time. At the 2 minute warning the Packers faced 3rd and 21 at their own 13. Rodgers went deep, but this Hail Mary was intercepted by the Atlanta defense. The Falcons took over at their own 32 with 1:50 left. On 3rd and 10 just past midfield, Ryan went to Torry Gabriel for 16 yards and Devonta Freeman for 19 more. With 7 seconds left in the half on 3rd and 1 from the 5, Ryan went to Julio Jones, who somehow got both feet down in the end zone. Replay showed he dragged his toes as the Falcons led 24-0 at halftime. The Packers began the third quarter after a touchback with 3 straight incomplete passes. 2 plays later, Ryan threw a short pass to Jones, who broke several pathetic attempts at tackling for a 73 yard touchdown and a 31-0 Falcons lead.
The Packers finally got going as a 12 play, 75 yard drive led to a 3rd and goal at the 2. Rodgers found Devonta Adams for a touchdown as the Packers trailed 31-7. Yet there would be no Atlanta collapse or Green Bay miracle. After a touchback, from the Atlanta 35, Ryan torched Green Bay with a 23 yard completion to Jones. On 3rd and 1 from the Green Bay 19, defensive pass interference meant 1st and goal at the one.After a fumble moved the ball back to the four, Ryan fired to Freeman at the goal line. The referees riled 4th and goal inches short, but replay showed Freeman may have broken the plane of the goal. Dan Quinn challenged the call and the referees reversed the call to a touchdown and a 37-7 Falcons lead.
The extra point was no good, but at this point it did not matter. At the end of the third quarter, Rodgers capped a 75 yard drive with a 3 yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson, who played the entire game with 2 broken ribs. Ripowski ran in the 2 point conversion as the Packers trailed 37-15. The onside kick failed and the Falcons took over at the Green Bay 33. On 3rd and 6 from the 16, Matty Ice hit Jones for 13 yards. Tevin Coleman ran for the 3 yards touchdown for a 44-15 Falcons lead with 12 minutes left in regulation. Rodgers kept fighting. On 4th and 18 from their own 37, Rodgers found Randall Cobb for 34 yards. On 3rd and goal from the 18, defensive pass interference put the ball on the one again. Rodgers threw to Jared Cook for the touchdown. The 2 point try failed as the Packers trailed by 23 with 6 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
There would be no more scoring as Rodgers and Ryan both finished with 27 completions. Yet Rodgers aired it out 45 times for 287 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one interception. Ryan threw 38 passes for 392 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. At this point Dan Quinn still need to teach Matt Ryan how to hold a clipboard. For only the second time in their history, the Atlanta Falcons are going to the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan finally got to exercise the demons and hoist the George Halas trophy. 44-21 Falcons
AFC Title Game, Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots — The Patriots went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 27-16 in the regular season. Now the rematch was in New England. Tom Brady came out hot, moving the Patriots from their 25 to a 3rd and 1 at the Pittsburgh 13. Brady threw incomplete and Bill Belichick played it safe. Stephen Gostkowski hit the 31 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Patriots. The defenses settled in, and midway the Patriots moved from their 20 to a 3rd and 6 at the Pittsburgh 16. Brady fired to Chris Hogan for the touchdown to make it 10-0 Patriots.
The Steelers soon faced 3rd and 10 at their own 16. Ben Roethlisberger found Rogers for just enough. In the second quarter, the Steelers moved to 3rd and 1 at the New England 5. Deangelo Williams got the carry and made it to the end zone. The extra point was no good as the Steelers trailed 10-6. The Patriots took over at their own 18 and soon faced 3rd and 10 at their own 30. Brady found Julian Edelman for 12 yards. On 3rd and 8 from their own 44, Brady went to Hogan for 22 yards. From the Pittsburgh 34, Belichick called a flea flicker. Brady handed off to Lewis, who pitched it back to Brady, who went to a wide open Hogan for the touchdown to make it 17-6 Patriots.
The Steelers moved from their 25 to a 3rd and 8 at the New England 19 at the 2 minute warning. Roethlisberger fired to James for the touchdown, but officials reversed the call and said James was down to force 1st and goal inside the one. A pair of runs lost 4 yards and on 3rd and goal Big Ben threw incomplete. Chris Boswell hit the 23 yard field goal as the Steelers trailed 17-9 at halftime. Ben Roethlisberger was 17 of 24 for 140 yards in the first half, but Tom Brady was 19 of 24 for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In the third quarter the Patriots moved from their 16 to a 1st and 10 at the Pittsburgh 29. The drive died as a 3rd and 10 catch was ruled incomplete because Mitchell’s toe was on the chalk. Gostkowki hit from 47 to make it 20-9 Patriots. The Steelers moved from their 25 to a 2nd and 7 at the New England 39. On the verge of field goal range, Roethlisberger threw incomplete twice and the Steelers punted. The Patriots took over and soon faced 3rd and 7 at their own 15. Brady hit Edelman for 17 yards. On 2nd and 13 from the New England 42, Brady went to Hogan for 39 yards. From the 19, Blount got the carry and appeared stopped at the 9, when the pile moved him all the way to the one. On the next play Blount got in to make it 27-9 Steelers.
One play after a touchback the Steelers fumbled and the Patriots took over at the Pittsburgh 28. Brady immediately hit Edelman for 18 yards. On 3rd and goal at the 10, Brady hit Edelman for the touchdown to make it 33-9 Patriots after the missed extra point. Early in the fourth quarter the Steelers faced 3rd and goal at the 2. After Big Ben threw incomplete, Mike Tomlin went for it on 4th and goal and Roethlisberger threw incomplete again. The Steelers got it back at their own 35 and Roethlisberger was quickly intercepted, leading to another Gostkowski field goal to make it 36-9 Steelers. Pittsburgh got a garbage touchdown and a 2 point conversion but the result was still a blowout. Roethlisberger was 31 of 47 for 314 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Brady was 32 of 42 for 384 yard, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Brady and Belichick are going to their NFL record seventh Super Bowl. 36-17 Patriots
Super Bowl LI (51) is now set. The New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, February 5, 2017, at 6:30 pm Eastern Time on Fox.
NFL 2016-2017 AFC & NFC Title Games Prequel
Top 10 NFL Conference Title Game Upsets
NFL 2016-2017 Divisionals Recap
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons was the Saturday afternoon game. The Seahawks began with a 14 play, 89 yard drive that consumed 8 1/2 minutes. Russell Wilson threw a 7 yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham to make it 7-0 Seahawks. The Falcons responded by going 75 yards in 13 plays and over 7 minutes. The second quarter began with Matt Ryan throwing a 7 yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones for a 7-7 game. Then came Devon Hester, who returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards to the Seattle 45. Two plays later Wilson went deep to Paul Richardson for a 52 yard touchdown. Yet the officials ruled that Richardson stepped out of bounds at the Atlanta 19. So instead of a 14-7 lead, the Seahawks ended up settling for a 33 yard Steve Hauschka field goal to lead 10-7. Atlanta punted and Hester returned it 80 yards to the Atlanta 7 yard line. However, a penalty on the return instead had the Seahawks starting at their own 7 yard line. This is where momentum changed.
The Seahawks quickly faced 2nd and 13 at their own 4 yard line. Wilson took the snap and accidentally tripped over his own offensive lineman. Momentum carried him backward into his own end zone where an Atlanta defender fell on him for a gift safety. The Falcons were now within 10-9 and took over after the free kick at their own 43. Ryan then hit Gabriel for a 37 yard gain to the Seattle 20. After the the defense held. Matt Bryant hit the 35 yard field goal to make it 12-10 Falcons. The Falcons got the ball back at their own one yard line with 3:48 left in the half. Ryan came out throwing, as gains to Jones for 8 and Coleman for 5 was followed by a 22 yard completion to Mohammed Sanu. Ryan went to Gabriel for 18 and Sanu for 12. Ryan found Jones, who caught the ball and got up without being touched for a 20 yard gain. Ryan hit a wide open Coleman for a 14 yard touchdown. The 99 yard drive did not feature a single running play as the Falcons led 19-10 with one minute left in the half.
In the third quarter after a touchback the Falcons offense kept firing on all cylinders. 75 yards in 13 plays and 6 minutes Saw Matty Ice remain icy cool. On 3rd and 8 from the Atlanta 27, Ryan hit Jones for 12 yards. On 3rd and 10 from the Atlanta 39, Ryan hit Gabriel for 12 yards. Freeman got in from one yard out to make it 26-10 Falcons. The Seahawks responded by going 80 yards and 14 plays in 6 minutes. Yet on 2nd and 6 from the Atlanta 8, Wilson threw incomplete twice. Hauschka hit a 26 yard field goal to get the Seahawks within 26-13. The Falcons soon faced 3rd and 4 at their own 31. A short pass from Ryan to Devonta Freeman went for 53 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter Bryant hit from 31 to make it 29-13 Falcons. With 8 1/2 minutes left on 3rd and 16 from the Atlanta 36, Wilson under heavy pressure threw a duck that was intercepted. Ryan threw a 3 yard touchdown to Sanu to make it a 36-13 blowout with 3 1/2 minutes left.
Hester took the ensuing kickoff 9 yards deep in the end zone and returned it 78 yards to the Atlanta 31. One play later Wilson went deep to Baldwin for the touchdown. The Seahawks were back within 16 but the onside kick failed. Seattle got it back at their own 20 with 2:50 left and Wilson went deep to Richardson for a 58 yard gain. Yet Dan Quinn challenged the catch and on further review the calls was changed to an incomplete pass. Wilson then threw a completion to non-relative Willson, but Willson had the ball ripped out of his hands. It bounced off several players before finally being intercepted as Pete Carroll helplessly watched. Ryan finished 26 of 37 for 338 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions to send the Falcons to the NFC Title Game. Even better for Atlanta, Dallas lost the next day, which allows the Falcons to play the NFC Title Game at home. 36-20 Falcons
Houston Texans at New England Patriots was the Saturday night game. Five minutes into the game, the Patriots took over at their own 35. Tom Brady went deep incomplete, but defensive pass interference meant a 30 yard gain. Brady then went deep to Chris Hogan for a 22 yard gain and to Dion Lewis for a 13 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Patriots. Houston soon faced 3rd and 18 at their own 15. A completion from Brock Osweiler to Deandre Hopkins only gained 10 yards, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Patriots after the play kept the drive going. The Texans held the ball for 14 plays and over 8 minutes to go 62 yards. Yet the Texans settled for a 33 yard Nick Novak field goal to get within 7-3. 15 seconds later the Patriots scored again as Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score. With the Patriots up 14-3, this game appeared over after the first quarter.
The second quarter began with the Patriots taking over at their own 20. Brady was quickly intercepted, setting up the Texans at the New England 27. Yet offensive holding doomed the Texans, who settled for a 27 yard Novak field goal to get within 14-6. The Patriots then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, setting up the Texans at the New England 12. Osweiler hit CJ Fiedorowicz for a 10 yard touchdown. The Texans were right back in it down 14-13. They came in 16 point underdogs, and were looking to pull off the greatest upset in NFL Divisional Round history.
The Patriots faced 3rd and 10 from their own 18 and Brady went deep to Hogan for a 45 yard gain. Yet on 3rd and 6 from the Houston 33, Brady was sacked to push the Patriots out of field goal range. With 3 minutes left in the half the Patriots faced 3rd and 9 at their own 34. Brady went deep to Julian Edelman for a 48 yard gain. With 43 seconds left in the half, on 2nd and goal at the one, Brady found Develin in the flat. Yet two defenders from the number one defense closed in and made a touchdown saving tackle. On 3rd and goal, LaGuerrette Blount got the carry and got stopped stone cold. With 10 seconds left, on 4th and goal at the one, Bill Belichik opted for the field goal. Stephen Gostkowski hit from 19 as the Patriots only led 17-13 at halftime.
In the third quarter after an exchange of punts, the Patriots were pinned at their own 10 yard line. Brady quickly went to Edelman for gains of 26 and 14 to midfield. On 3rd and 3 from the Houston 19, Brady went to White for the touchdown to make it 24-13 Patriots. Midway through the third quarter with the texans facing 3rd and 4 at their own 46, Osweiler was intercepted. With the Patriots facing 3rd and 10 at their own 44, Brady found Edelman for a 26 yard gain. Yet offensive pass interference killed that drive. Great punt coverage pinned the Texans at their own two yard line.
With the Texans facing 2nd and 8 at the New England 45, Osweiler was sacked and fumbled. Patrick Chung returned it for a touchdown. Yet on further review the play was reversed to an incomplete pass. On 3rd and 8 Osweiler went deep to Fuller in the end zone, and Fuller dropped it. After each team thought it had a touchdown, the Texans just punted. From the New England 23, Brady was intercepted again to set the Texans up at the Patriots 34. The fourth quarter began with Novak hitting from 46 to get the Texans within 24-16. A couple minutes later with the Patriots facing 3rd and 7 at the Houston 45, a pass to Edelman that would have been a first down was dropped.
Houston took over at their own 11 and disaster quickly struck. Osweiler threw a ball high that was deflected and intercepted. Ryan returned it 23 yards to the Houston 6. This time from the one, Lewis broke the plane of the goal to make it 31-16 Patriots. The Patriots got it back and moved from their 33 to the Houston 24. The drive stalled but Gostkowski hit from 43 to put the game on ice. Osweiler then threw his third interception. Brady did not have his best game either, going 18 for 38 for 287 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Yet the Patriots established another NFL record. For the sixth straight season they will be in the AFC Title Game, and this year they will be at home. 34-16 Patriots
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys was the Sunday afternoon game. Indoors, this game had the potential to be a track meet. Early on after a touchback the Cowboys moved to a 3rd and 2 at the Green Bay 32. Dak Prescott threw incomplete as the Cowboys settled for a 50 yard Dan bailey field goal to lead 3-0. The packers faced 3rd and 5 at their own 30. Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete but the defense had 12 men on the field. Ty Montgomery gained 15 to midfield and Rodgers went to Randall Cobb for 16 more. From the Dallas 34, the Cowboys jumped offsides. Rodgers, knowing he had a free play, went deep to non-relative Richard Rodgers for the touchdown and the 7-3 Packers lead. In the second quarter Rodgers carved up the Dallas defense like a surgeon. A pair of 5 1/2 minute drives went 90 and 80 yards. Montgomery got in for touchdowns of 3 and 1 yards to have the Packers cruising 21-3.
After a touchback the Cowboys tried to make a game of it. Prescott went deep to Dez Bryant for a 40 yard touchdown to get the Cowboys within 21-10. Dallas got it back and did enough for Bailey to hit a 33 yard field goal as the Cowboys only trailed 21-13 at halftime. In the third quarter Rodgers led another 75 yard drive. A 3 yard touchdown pass to Jared Cook had the Packers up 28-13 after three quarters. Yet by the time this game was over, fans everywhere could say they watched a thriller. Late in the third quarter the Packers moved from their 39 to a 3rd and 8 at the Dallas 38. Looking to deliver the knockout blow, Rodgers was intercepted by Heath, who returned the interception 27 yards to the Dallas 41.
Dallas soon faced 2nd and 21 at their own 30. Prescott hit Bryant for 19 and on 3rd and 2 hit him again for 10 more yards as the Cowboys began the fourth quarter with 1st and 10 at the Green Bay 41 On 3rd and 14 from the Packers 21, Prescott hit Jason Witten for 15 and then hit Witten again for the 6 yard touchdown. With 11 1/2 minutes left in regulation the Cowboys were within 28-20. The Cowboys held on defense and got the ball back at their own 20. with 9 minutes left. With 5 minutes left the Cowboys faced 3rd and 8 at the Packers 27. Prescott threw incomplete, but defensive pass interference meant 1st and 10 at the 15. On 3rd and 2 from the 7, Prescott hit Bryant for the touchdown. With 4 minutes left, Jason Garrett went for 2 and Prescott ran it in himself. After 56 minutes of football, the game was tied 28-28. The remaining 4 minutes were as exciting as any in football history, as each team had all 3 timeouts.
After a touchback Rodgers hit Devonta Adams for 16 yards. At the 2 minute warning the Packers had 1st and 10 at the Dallas 45. Rodgers went deep and was intercepted by Heath again. however, defensive pass interference gave the Packers 10 more yards. With 1:38 to play and the Packers facing 4th and 13 at the Dallas 38, Mike McCarthy had a big decision to make. A missed field goal would give Dallas excellent field position. Mason Crosby came in for a 56 yard try. The kick was good and the Packers led 31-28. After a touchback, the Cowboys still had 2 timeouts.
Prescott is a rookie, but nobody told him. He went deep to Terrence williams for 25 yards and to Witten for 10 more. Prescott spiked the ball with 48 seconds left. The Cowboys were already at the Green Bay 40 and could now go for the win. On 3rd and 3 from Green Bay 33, Prescott’s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage incomplete. Now it was Bailey coming in for a 52 yard field goal try for the tie. Bailey was good, and now the game was tied 31-31. After a touchback, the Packers had only 35 seconds to work with and 2 timeouts.
Rodgers hit Montgomery for 17 yards but was then sacked for a 10 yard loss. With 12 seconds left the Packers faced 3rd and 20 at their own 32. Since the Cowboys still had one timeout left, the Packers could not take a knee and go to overtime. McCarthy went for it all and trusted his quarterback. One week after Rodgers completed a Hail Mary, he worked another miracle. Rodgers went deep to Cook for a 36 yard gain to Dallas 32. One official ruled incomplete and another official overruled and called it a catch. After a booth review, the catch was confirmed. Cook got both feet down inbounds. With 3 seconds left, Mason Crosby came in for a 51 yard try for the win.
Crosby again was good, sneaking it just inside the upright. 3 field goals in the final 2 minutes sent the Packers to the NFC Title Game at Atlanta. For those who want to beat up Jason Garrett or call this a Cowboys choke job, knock it off. For those who think it is better to play an extra playoff game than have a bye week to get healthy, again knock it off. What won this game for the Packers was experience. The 2007 Cowboys were also 13-3 and went one and done for the same reason. Prescott and Elliott had never played in a playoff game, and Rodgers is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Prescott was fine, going 24 for 38 for 302 yards and 3 touchdowns. Elliott ran for 125 yards on 22 carries, more than 5 yards per carry. Bryant had 9 receptions for 132 yards. There was nothing more the offense could have done. Rodgers torched the Dallas defense for 356 yards and 2 touchdowns, completing 28 of 43 passes to lead the Packers to their 8th straight win. Both quarterback was intercepted once. Two years after an epic NFC Title Game meltdown, the Packers get a shot at redemption. Again, they will be indoors. 34-31 Packers
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs was the Sunday night game. An ice storm caused this game to be moved from early Sunday to the Sunday night game. With freezing weather, the Steelers were expected to run the ball with LeVeon Bell. This is Mike Tomlin smashmouth Steelers football. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger came out throwing the ball five straight times. Yet on 2nd and 2 from the Chiefs 5, the Steelers were still throwing. After an incompletion, Roethlisberger’s 3rd down pass in the flat was stopped short. On 4th and 1 at the 4, Tomlin opted for the field goal. Boswell hit from 22 to make it 3-0 Steelers, but this would be a problem throughout the first half.
The Chiefs took the short kickoff 25 yards to their own 45. Alex Smith dinked and dunked the Steelers to death, as a 5 yard touchdown pass to Wilson made it 7-3 Chiefs. After that the Pittsburgh defense clamped down. The Steelers soon faced 3rd and 10 at their own 25, Roethlisberger avoided a sack and went deep to Antonio Brown for a 52 yard gain. Rather than run the ball, Big Ben kept throwing as a pair of incompletions meant another field goal try. Boswell hit from 38 to get the Steelers within 7-6. In the second quarter the Steelers moved from their 29 to a 1st and 10 at the Chiefs 17. Again on 1st down the Steelers threw the ball rather than run it. A pair of incompletions meant another field goal try. Boswell hit from 36 to make it 9-7 Steelers.
Midway through the second quarter, an interception of Smith set up Pittsburgh at the Chiefs 44. From the Chiefs 31, a completion to James meant 1st and goal at the 5. Again, the Steelers threw on first down rather than run it. Roethlisberger’s pass was deflected up into the air and intercepted in the end zone for a touchback. A short Chiefs punt gave the Steelers the ball back at their own 45. On 3rd and 9, Bell ran for 17 yards. Bell ran forward, but the passing game was not going well. A sack of Big Ben killed another drive. With one minute left in the half Boswell hit his fourth field goal from 45 yards to make it 12-7 Steelers. The Chiefs then fumbled the ball and the Steelers recovered at the Chiefs 40. Yet only 3 seconds remained. A 58 yard field goal try was too much to ask, so a Hail Mary seemed in the cards. Instead Roethlisberger lobbed a short pass to Brown that gained 29 yards but nothing else.
Despite being give not nearly enough carries, Bell had 101 yards rushing by halftime. In the third quarter the Steelers really started feeding him. From the Pittsburgh 26, Bell broke free for a 38 yard gain. He then ran for 6 and 5 yards. With the running game unstoppable, on 1st and 10 from the Chiefs 25, the Passing game again stalled the drive. Boswell hit his fifth field goal from 43 yards out to make it 15-7 Steelers. The Chiefs had no offense, but a great punt pinned the Steelers at their own 2. On 3rd and 1 from the 11, Bell got stopped. The Chiefs got it back after a short punt at the Pittsburgh 46. On 3rd and 4 from the Pittsburgh 30, Smith threw incomplete. Cairo Santos hit a 48 yard field goal as the Chiefs only trailed 15-10 after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter the Steelers moved from their own 30 to a 2nd and 8 at the Kansas City 19. Again, rather than run the ball and bleed the clock, the Steelers kept throwing. Big Ben fired a ball to the end zone that was high but catchable. It was incomplete. On 3rd and 8 Roethlisberger was sacked. Boswell hit his 6th field goal from 43 to make it 18-10 Steelers with 10 minutes left in regulation.
After a touchback, Smith found Travis Kelce for 24 yards just shy of midfield. An offensive face mask had the Chiefs facing 2nd and 25 at their own 45. Smith found Kelce for 17 yards and then threw incomplete. Midway through the fourth quarter, Andy Reid decided to go for it on 4th and 8 from the Pittsburgh 38. Smith hit Conley for a 12 yard gain. On 3rd and 9 from the 25, Smith went deep to Conley at the goal line and Conley got blasted as the ball fell incomplete. A personal foul for a helmet to helmet hit meant 1st and 10 at the 12. On 3rd and 2 from the 4, Smith threw incomplete. With 3 1/2 minutes left, Andy Reid again went for it. On 4th and 2 from the 4, Smith rolled out and fired a completion to Sherman for 3 yards. On 1st and goal at the one, Ware got in to get the Chiefs within 2 points. Smith fired to Harris for the tying 2 point conversion, but offensive holding on Eric Fisher. From the 12 yard line, Smith fired incomplete.
With 2:42 to play and 2 timeouts, Walrus Lite Andy Reid decided to kick it away rather than go onside kick. A perfectly placed kick pinned the Steelers at their own 5 yard line. On 2nd and 8, rather than keep running, another dangerous pass gained 5 yards. At the 2 minute warning, the Steelers faced 3rd and 3 at their own 19. A run would take 40 seconds off the clock. The Steelers risked it all and went with a pass play. Big Ben rolled to his right and fired to Antonio Brown for a 7 yard gain. Three kneel downs later and the Steelers had the win. They travel to New England for the AFC Title Game. They have a battering ram in Bell, who ran for 170 yards on 30 carries. 18-16 Steelers
The Conference Championships are set. Both games will be played on Sunday, January 22 (Times Eastern).
NFC Title Game, 3:00 pm, FOX: 4.) Green Bay Packers at 2.) Atlanta Falcons (-4)
AFC Title Game, 6:30 pm, CBS: 3.) Pittsburgh Steelers at 1.) New England Patriots (-5.5)