Archive for January, 2016

Iowa Caucus 2016: Mike Huckabee

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Iowa Caucus 2016: Mike Huckabee



Iowa Caucus 2016: Marco Rubio

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Iowa Caucus 2016: Marco Rubio


Iowa Caucus 2016: Martin O’Malley

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Iowa Caucus 2016: Martin O’Malley


Iowa Caucus 2016: Hillary Clinton

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Iowa Caucus 2016: Hillary Clinton


NFL 2015-2016 AFC/NFC Title Games Recap

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

NFL 2015-2016 AFC-NFC Title Games Recap

For leatherheads, the games before the Super Bowl are a very big deal. The Vince Lombardi Trophy for winning Super Bowl 50 will have to wait. There is some serious football to be played before that game.

The Conference Title Games are upon us.

Here are the Conference Title Games Recap.

AFC Title Game: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos — Brady vs Manning XVII was the talk, as was the chess match between Peyton Manning and Bill Bellichick. Yet the key to this game was Wade Phillips, and whether Denver’s defensive line could overwhelm New England’s offensive line in the trenches like they did in the AFC Title Game two years ago.

New England got one first down but then punted. Denver took over at their own 17. Rather than try an establish a running game, Gary Kubiak had Peyton Manning come out throwing. On 3rd and 10, Manning hit Emanuel Sanders for 11 and the Broncos moved. On 3rd and 6 from the Denver 44, Manning threw incomplete but defensive pass interference meant 14 more yards. Manning threw a 21 yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels for a 7-0 Broncos lead.

The defenses settled in, and late in the first quarter the Broncos were at their own 28. Manning threw a lateral that was dropped. The referees blew the play dead, thinking it was an incomplete pass. A New England player picked up the loose ball and ran for a touchdown that was waived off. The refs blundered twice. First, they blew the play dead when it was clearly a backward pass. Yet they then allowed the play to be challenged when it should not have been reviewable.

On further review, the play was ruled a lateral and New England got the ball at the Denver 22. Tom Brady hit Bolden for 20 and Stephen Jackson got in from the one for the touchdown. Normally 2 wrongs does not make a right, but this time it somehow did. By reviewing a non-reviewable play, the refs accidentally made the right call the second time. However, the whistle should have blown the play dead. After all of that, Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point as the Patriots trailed 7-6.

Denver got it back and soon faced 3rd and 4 at their own 26. Manning threw deep and looked like he was throwing an interception to Malcolm Butler. Yet Sanders out jumped Butler and ripped it out of Butler’s hands for a 34 yard gain. Despite the catch, the Broncos punted again.

The second quarter began with the Patriots taking over after a punt at their own 13.  On 2nd and 10, a short pass by Brady was intercepted by Von Miller, who made a spectacular jump of the route. On 3rd and 6 from the New England 12, Manning threw a perfect fade to the corner of the end zone to Daniels for their second touchdown connection and a 14-6 Broncos lead.

The Patriots moved from their own 24. On 3rd and 9 from their 44, Brady threw incomplete but illegal contact on the defense kept the drive alive. On 3rd and 10 from the Denver 40, Brady scrambled for 11 yards. On 3rd and 3 from the Denver 22, Brady was sacked by DeMarcu Ware and Von Miller for a 6 yard loss. Gostkowski hit the 46 yard field goal as the Patriots trailed 14-9 midway through the second quarter.

Denver went 3 and out and committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the punt, giving the Patriots excellent field position at their own 41. On 3rd and 5, Brady got rocked as soon as he threw a deep ball into double coverage. Stewart intercepted Brady as the Broncos took over at their own 44 with 4 minutes left in the half. A sack of Manning had Denver punting again and New England taking over at their own 11 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half.

New England went 3 and out as the Broncos took over at their own 44 with 1:46 left. On 3rd and 4 from the New England 34, Manning threw incomplete. With 38 seconds left, Brandon McManus came in for a 52 yard field goal try. The kick was good as the Broncos led 17-9 at the half.

Denver got the ball to start the second half and Manning was immediately sacked for a 13 yard loss back at his own 7 yard line. Denver punted and the Patriots took over at their own 33. After 4 straight Brady completions meant 1st and 10 from the Denver 20, 3 straight incompletions meant a 38 yard field goal try. Again Gostkowski was good as the Patriots trailed 17-12.

Broncos moved from their own 20 to a 3rd and 1 at the New England 46. Kubiak called a pitchout, but a great tackle stopped the play. On 4th and 1, Kubiak took no chances and punted. The Patriots took over at their own 8 yard line.

Brady was sacked by Von Miller, who grabbed his own crotch as part of his sack celebration. He was lucky not to get a penalty flag. The Broncos got it back at their own 44. On 2nd and 7, Manning was sacked for a 12 yard loss. Denver’s defense was playing well but the offense was wasting great field position and failing to put the game away. Fantastic punt coverage had the Patriots backed up to their own 4 yard line. Again Miller sacked Brady and again the Broncos had excellent field position at their own 40 as the third quarter ended.

Last time on 3rd and 1, a gimmick play failed. This time on 3rd and 1 from just shy of midfield, Gary Kubiak played textbook power football. CJ Anderson appeared stopped short but broke through and raced for a 30 yard gain. Another carry by Anderson gained 8 more. On 3rd and 2 from the New England 14, Manning hit Sanders for 4 more.

Running North and South was working. Yet another East-West run lost 3 yards. On 3rd and goal from the 13, Manning threw to a wide open Norwood in the end zone. The ball was just overthrown beyond Norwood’s diving reach. McManus hit the 31 yard field goal for a 20-12 Broncos lead with 10 minutes left in regulation.

After a touchback, a personal foul for a helmet to helmet hit on the defense had New England on the move. On 3rd and 10 from the Denver 44, Brady rifled a pass to Rob Gronkowski for a 19 yard gain. On 3rd and 11 from the Denver 26, Brady threw a short pass to Woodhead, who got blasted by 2 defenders separately and somehow stayed standing. On 4th and 1 from the 16, Bill Bellichick decided to go for it. Rather than play smash mouth, Bellichick went finesse and paid for it. Brady threw short of the marker, which is hard to do when needing one yard. Edelman caught the ball and was swarmed by the Denver defense for a one yard loss.

With 6 minutes left, Denver’s offense again had a chance to end the game. Again, Denver’s offense could not gain a first down. With 4 1/2 minutes left, the Patriots took over at their own 28 yard line. Brady hit White for 15 and Gronkowski for another 28 yards to the Denver 28. An incompletion on 2nd and 5 was wiped away due to defensive holding. With 2 1/2 minutes left, on 3rd and 1 from the 9, Brady tried the quarterback sneak and was stopped. Yet a false start on the offense actually benefited New England. On 3rd and 6, Brady fired a completion to Amendola for a first down, but Amendola then had the ball ripped out. Denver celebrated the recovered fumble, but it was ruled an incomplete pass.

Before the 4th and 6 play, with 2:25 left, Gary Kubiak challenged the call. It was a very dicey challenge, because the officials could have ruled it was a completion and that Amendola was down. Kubiak got lucky. The incompletion stood and everything came down to 4th and 6. Wade Phillips brought the house. Brady threw off his back foot to the back of the end zone. Gronkowski was surrounded by 3 defenders, and the ball was deflected incomplete. The Patriots still had all 3 timeouts and the 2 minute warning. Denver’s offense desperately needed one first down.

On 3rd and 10, rather than run the ball and force the Patriots to take their last timeout, Kubiak called a pass play. Manning threw incomplete. The Patriots got it back at midfield with 1:52 to go and one timeout. 17 seconds later, after a couple near sacks, it was 4th and 10. Brady went for the bomb into double coverage and Gronkowski caught it for a 40 yard gain to make it 1st and goal at the 10 with one minute left. 

On 3rd and goal from the 4, Brady again barely avoided a sack and threw incomplete. With 17 seconds left, one play and four yards would decide the AFC Title Game. The Patriots took their final timeout. Under heavy pressure, Brady fired to the very back of the end zone. Gronkowski out-muscled 2 defenders and caught the ball. He did not step on the end line. Now it was a 2-point game. The Broncos called their final timeout with 12 seconds left as everything came down to the 2 point conversion.

Wade Phillips sent the house. Brady fired over the middle. The ball was deflected high in the air and intercepted by Aqib Talib. Talib tried to run it all the way the other way, was stripped of the ball, and the Patriots recovered. Yet that ended the play. The onside kick failed. The Evil Empire of Football led by Hoodie Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady will not be going to Super Bowl 50. Denver won the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Peyton Manning has at least one more game, and a nasty defense on his side. This was an instant classic. 20-18 Broncos

NFC Title Game: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers — These teams met last year in the NFL playoffs. The Cardinals were the far better team but were playing with their fourth string quarterback due to a set of devastating injuries. Carolina had a losing record but the home field advantage since they won their division. The Panthers won that game 27-16. Arizona feels they were cheated last year, and came in healthy and seeking revenge. Bruce Arians is the most aggressive NFL play-caller on offense and defense, and today’s battle would see if that boldness would be rewarded. Politicians holding a rally now in South Carolina might be thinking it is a bad idea. Snow didn’t shut South Carolina down, but the NFC Title Game does.

Arizona went 3 and out and the Panthers moved from their own 34 to a 3rd and 2 at the Arizona 27. Cam Newton threw incomplete. Graham Gano hit the 45 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Panthers. Arizona punted again and Ted Ginn Jr. returned it 33 yards just past midfield. From the Arizona 22, Ginn took an end around all the way to the left side of the field, came all the way back across the right side and picked up some fantastic blocks for a touchdown and a 10-0 Panthers lead.

Arizona gained a couple first downs on their next drive but punted again. The Panthers quickly faced 3rd and 8 from their own 14. Newton went bombs away to Cory Brown, who broke a tackle and raced for an 86 yard touchdown with less the one minute left in the opening quarter. Just as they had one week earlier, the Panthers exploded out of the gate for a 17-0 lead.

In the second quarter the Cardinals moved from their 20 to a 1st and 10 at the Carolina 37. On 3rd and 10, Palmer was slammed to the ground and fumbled as the Panthers recovered. Although it appeared Palmer was down, the call stood. This time the Arizona defense forced the Panthers into a 3 and out, and the Cardinals got it back at their own 21.

On 3rd and 11, Palmer found Nelson for 15 yards. A defensive facemark a few plays later kept the drive moving. David Johnson ran up the middle for a one yard touchdown. With 6 minutes left in the half the Cardinals were within 17-7.

Carolina again went 3 and out and punted, but disaster struck Arizona when star cornerback Patrick Peterson fumbled the punt. The Panthers took over at the Arizona 46. Runs of 17 and 23 by Stewart had the Panthers at the one. On 3rd and goal from the one at the 2 minute warning, Cam Newton went airborne, stretched the ball out, and got knocked back. The Cardinals thought they stopped him but replay clearly showed the ball broke the plane of the goal. The Panthers led 24-7, but the final 2 minutes were crazy.

After a touchback, Palmer was sacked and fumbled. After a wild scramble, the Panthers took over at the Arizona 31. Two plays later, Newton went deep and was intercepted by Peterson at the Arizona 6 yard line. Peterson was one block away from a touchdown the other way, but he still managed a 72 yard return to the Carolina 22 with one minute left. Palmer immediately fired to the end zone into double coverage and was intercepted by Coleman. 4 Arizona turnovers had the Cardinals still down 24-7 at halftime.

Last week Carolina nearly blew a 31-0 halftime lead. This time they sought to put the game away early. In the third quarter they moved from their own 17 to a 1st and goal at the 9. From the 6, Newton was sacked for an 11 yard loss. On 3rd and goal at the 17, Newton found Greg Olsen, but only for 14 yards. Garo hit the 21 yard field goal as the 11 play, 80 yard, 7 minute drive made it 27-7 Panthers. Arizona soon faced 3rd and 2 at their own 28. Palmer threw a short pass to Larry Fitzgerald, who inexplicably dropped it.

The Panthers moved from their own 21 to the Arizona 23. On 3rd and 10, Newton scrambled and received a very favorable spot for an 11 yard gain. He may have been short of the marker but the spot was not challenged. On the next play from the 12, Newton scrambled again and went airborne for another touchdown. Late in the third quarter, the Panthers had a 34-7 lead.

The Cardinals did move from their 20 to a 3rd and 2 at the Carolina 29. A short pass to Darren Fells was dropped. Bruce Arians went for it on 4th and 2. Palmer hit David Johnson for 8. On the next play Palmer found Fells for the 21 yard touchdown. Arians decided to go for 2. Nelson rushed around the end, shook a tackle, and dove past the pylon. The Cardinals were down 34-15 only 45 seconds into the final quarter.

Carolina quickly went 3 and out and the Cardinals got it back at their own 36. A pair of completions followed by a pair of incompletions had the Cardinals facing 3rd and 10 just past midfield. Palmer went for it all and came up snake eyes. A bomb to the end zone into double coverage was intercepted by Coleman at the one yard line. A personal foul for a facemask on the tackle only added insult to injury on Arizona’s fifth turnover. 12 minutes still remained, but the fourth quarter was just a formality.

Facing 3rd and 3 at their own 23, Ron Rivera went for the kill shot. Newton threw a bomb to Greg Olsen for a 54 yard gain. After that, it was time to just chew up some clock. On 3rd and 10, Newton scrambled up the middle for a 14 yard gain. On 3rd and goal from the 5, Newton fired to Funchess for the touchdown. Up by 25, Rivera went for the 2 point try. Newton hit Tolbert for the score to make it 42-15 Panthers.

15 seconds later, Palmer was intercepted by Luke Kuechly, who returned it 16 yards for another touchdown. Arizona’s sixth turnover made it 49-15 Panthers. With 5 minutes left, it was time for the coronation. It began when Palmer was intercepted yet again for Arizona’s seventh turnover. With 4 1/2 minutes left, Newton went to the sideline and let Derek Anderson take a few snaps.

Last year, Ron Rivera was nearly fired as the Panthers were 3-8-1. They won 4 straight, won their division with a losing record (one year after winning it with a 12-4 record), and won their Wild Card playoff game over Arizona. This year they are a 15-1 machine holding the George Halas NFC Championship Trophy after setting an NFC Championship record for points scored. 49-15 Panthers

Super Bowl 50 is now set: AFC Denver Broncos at NFC Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have been to one Super Bowl, losing on the final play. The Broncos have won two Super Bowls, but are the only NFL team to have lost five Super Bowls. All of those losses were by at least 17 points.

In one week, on Sunday, January 31, the NFL Pro Bowl takes place in Honolulu, Hawaii. Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice are the team captains. Andy Reid and Mike McCarthy are the coaches.

In two weeks, on Sunday, February 7, the Super Bowl takes place in the San Jose Bay Area of California in Santa Clara at Levi’s Stadium. CBS is broadcasting the game. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Old white liberal bats forget what they are arguing about

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Old white liberal bats forget what they are arguing about


Top 10 AFC/NFC Title Game shockers

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Top 10 AFC/NFC Title Game shockers


Top 10 NFL Divisional shockers

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Top 10 Divisional shockers


RIP Braden Joplin

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

RIP Braden Joplin


NFL 2015-2016 Divisionals Recap

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

NFL 2015-2016 Divisionals Recap

NFL Wild Card round saw all four road teams favored. Those road teams all won.

Now for the NFL 2015-2016 Divisionals Recap

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots — The Chiefs had won 11 straight games, but do not be fooled. They have a good defense, but Alex Smith deserves the label of dink and dunk West Coast Offense game manager. It is one thing to knock off Houston and play with a lead given to you by special teams in defense. It is quite another to play catchup on the road against a well rested New England squad. This week was the reality check.

The Patriots jumped all over the Chiefs from the start. Tom Brady led an 11 play, 80 yard drive and thew an 8 yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski for a 7-0 Patriots lead. The Chiefs then linked and dunked for 17 plays, 64 yards, taking 8 1/2 minutes off the clock. Yet they had to settle for a 34 yard Cairo Santos field goal and still trailed 7-3.

In the second quarter the Patriots were pinned at their own 2. Brady old an 11 play, 98 yard drive that consumed 5 1/2 minutes. Brady snuck in from a few inches out for a 14-3 Patriots lead. The Chiefs reached the red zone again but settled for another field goal from 23 to trail 14-6 at halftime.

In the third quarter the Patriots moved 69 yards quickly. Brady found Gronkowski for a 16 yard touchdown to make it 21-6 Patriots. Smith did lead a 12 play, 80 yard drive that took 6 minutes. A ton of luck turned a busted play for a loss into a big gain after Smith ran into his own man but somehow completed a deep ball sandlot-style. A 10 yard touchdown pass to Wilson had the Chiefs within 21-13.

In the fourth quarter the Patriots put it away. Stephen Goskowski hit a pair of field goal from 32 and 40 yards for a 27-13 Patriots lead. It is one thing to dink and dunk with a lead, but Smith was not going to throw 2 touchdown passes late by moving the team in 4 yard increments.  The Chiefs got a garbage touchdown with 1:13 left but the onside kick failed. The Chiefs and all 3 timeouts and on 2nd down Bill Bellichick gambled with a pass. It doinked off a receiver, then off a defender, and was somehow caught by a receiver for the clinching first down.

It was almost an interception for a touchdown the other way. Almost means nothing. The Patriots are going to the AFC Title Game for the fifth straight year, tying the NFL record set by the 1973-1977 Oakland Raiders. As for Smith’s critics, the way to silence them is to win a big game. He didn’t. Walrus Lite Andy Reid once again lost to evil Hoodie Bellichick, preventing him from getting his upgrade to full walrus status. 27-20 Patriots.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals — The Cardinals did lose at home by 30 in their regular season finale, but they beat the Packers by 30 points at home last month. The Cardinals may be the most complete team in the NFL. The Packers looked great last week against an overmatched Washington squad, but this is where the rubber meets the road. Bruce Arians brought a well-rested and very focused team who still is smarting from being robbed of their quarterback last year.

A field position game quickly had the Cardinals taking over at the Green Bay 42. On 4th and 1 from the 10, David Johnson gained 2. On 3rd and goal from the 8, Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd for the touchdown. The Cardinals led 7-0 after the first quarter, but the rest of the game was a street fight.

The second quarter saw the Packers embark on a pair of staggering 17 play drives. Green Bay moved 85 yards and took 7 1/2 minutes off the clock, followed by going 71 yards and eating up 8 minutes. Despite all of that, the Packers could not close things out in the red zone. On the first drive, Rodgers had an interception returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Patrick Peterson. Yet before one could say 14-0 blowout, it was nullified by a defensive holding penalty. A pair of field goals by Mason Crosby from 28 and 34 had the Packers trailing 7-6 at halftime.

In the third quarter Rodgers was quickly intercepted to give the Cardinals a short field. Three plays later Palmer was intercepted right back. The Packers moved 81 yards and finally reached pay dirt. An 8 yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Janis had the Packers up 13-7. The Cardinals came back 74 yards in 10 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. This time it was the Cardinals bogging down in the red zone. Chandler Catanzaro hit the 28 yard field goal as the Cardinals trailed 13-10 after three quarters.

The Cardinals moved from their own 38 and began the fourth quarter with an 18 yard completion to set up 1st and goal at the 10. Easily in field goal range, Palmer went to the end zone and was intercepted. The Cardinals held on defense and got it back after a touchback with 11 minutes left in regulation.

On 3rd and 4 from the Green Bay 43, Palmer found David Johnson for 9 yards. On 3rd and 4 from the Green Bay 28, Palmer found Brown for 9 more. On 3rd and 10 from the Green Bay 19, Palmer rifled a perfect pass between two defenders to Johnson. Johnson broke a tackle, dove, and made the first down by the nose of the football. Palmer was living on the edge.

On 1st and goal from the 9, Palmer threw a dangerous pass over the middle that was batted up in the air by a defender. Somehow instead of a sure interception, it caromed to Floyd for a fluke touchdown. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, as Palmer’s Shane Falco impersonation completed the 14 play, 80 yard, 7 minute drive and Arizona up 17-13 with 3:45 to play.

With 2:42 left, the Packers faced 4th and 5 at their own 25. With one timeout left plus the two minute warning, Mike McCarthy made a very gutsy decision to go for it rather than punt. Rodgers threw a low ball that bounced once before being trapped incomplete. Eight seconds later, Bruce Arians made an equally if not even more controversial decision.

On 2nd and 8 from the Green Bay 23 with 2:34 left and the Packers out of timeouts, a run would have taken the clock down to the two minute warning. Instead, Arians called a pass play. Palmer threw incomplete, stopping the clock. A run on third down took the clock to the two minute warning and set up fourth down. Catanzaro hit the 36 yard field goal to put the Cardinals up 20-13, but the Packers got it back with 1:50 left instead of barely more than one minute.

The Packers took over at their own 14 with 0 timeouts. A sack of Rodgers followed by a controversial non-call of pass interference had the Packers facing 4th and 20 at their own 4 with 55 seconds left. Green Bay needed a Hail Mary to beat Detroit, but this time the Packers needed two Hail Marys. Even Aaron Rodgers cannot throw it 96 yards on one play.

Rodgers rolled to his left and heaved a pass that was caught by Janis for a 60 yard gain to the Arizona 36. The rest of the Packers raced down the field to try to get set for Rodgers to spike the football. Instead he decided to run another play. He threw to the end zone incomplete, and illegal motion pushed the packers back 5 yards. With 5 seconds left the Packers had one last chance from the Arizona 41.

Detroit a few weeks ago got burned as Jim Caldwell sent only 3 men rushing. Arians tried the reverse approach, bringing extra pressure. Rodgers rolled to his left again, and with a man in his face, heaved a pass to the end zone. Janis caught it again! Are? You? Kidding? Me? Two Hail Marys in one season. 96 yards on two bombs. The extra point was good. The game went into overtime tied 20-20. The extra session even got off to a goofy start when the coin flip saw the coin refuse to flip. On the second try the Cardinals won the toss and elected to receive. They took over at their 20.

Given that Bruce Arians just saw his team kicked in the gut, the thinking was that he would slow the game down and give his deflated team a chance to settle down. Surely Palmer would play it safe after some near catastrophes. Wrong. Nothing stops this offense’s  aggressiveness. Palmer nearly got sacked, escaped, and threw a ball across his body to the other side of the field. Larry Fitzgerald was wide open and off to the races. He got some blocks, and was finally tackled after a 75 yard gain. One play into overtime, and the Cardinals had 1st and goal at the 5.

Now Arians had to play it safe. Wrong again. First Palmer threw an incompletion. Then on second down with everyone spread out, Palmer did his john Elway impersonation. A perfect shovel pass to Fitzgerald went for the touchdown and ended the game one minute into overtime.

A few years ago the Cardinals beat the Packers in overtime 51-45. This game overall was less thrilling but the ending was pure Cardiac Cards. Cris Collinsworth summed it up best. ”There is no reality television that can match the drama we just saw.” The Packers are done for the year while the Cardinals are on their way to the NFC Title Game. It was a long time coming and required one extra minute and some heart pills, but Carson Palmer at age 36 finally has his first playoff win. The Cardinals are one game from the Promised Land. If Moses had dreadlocks he’d be Larry Fitzgerald. 26-20 Cardinals

Seattle Seahawks at 15-1 Carolina Panthers — Carolina won in thrilling fashion in Seattle earlier this year. The previous three years the Seahawks won three straight times in Carolina. Carolina rested up, but Seattle had beast Mode Marshawn Lynch finally ready to go. On paper this looked like a great game. It was not.

From the Carolina 25, Jermaine Stewart ran for a 59 yard gain on the very first play. Stewart ran for a 4 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Panthers. 2 plays later, On 2nd and 13 from their own 11, Russell Wilson was intercepted by Luke Kuechly, who returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. The Panthers had a 14-0 lead barely more than 3 minutes into the game.

Carolina got it back and moved 86 yards in 15 plays, taking nearly 9 minutes off the clock. The second quarter began with Stewart getting in from the one to make it 21-0 Panthers. One play later after a touchback, Wilson was intercepted. Graham Gano hit a 48 yard field goal to make it 24-0 Panthers after little more than one quarter of football.

Carolina got it back at their own 46 and moved easily. On 3rd and 14 from the Seattle 19, Cam Newton went to Greg Olsen for the touchdown. On the last play of the half, Steve Hauschka came in for a 55 yard field goal try to get the Seahawks on the board. The kick was no good as the Panthers took a 31-0 lead into the locker rooms. The question at this point would be if and when Ron Rivera would pull his starters. There is no need to risk injuries. As great as Cam Newton is, he still needs to practice his clipboard-holding skills.

The decision was delayed when the Tyler Lockett returned the second half kickoff to midfield. A personal foul on Carolina had the Seahawks starting at the Carolina 35. Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 13 yard touchdown to finally get the Seahawks on the board. They trailed 31-7, but it was only 90 seconds into the second half. Seattle got it back at their own 37 and moved the ball again. On 3rd and 10 from the Carolina 33, Wilson went deep to Lockett for the touchdown. Midway through the third quarter, the Seahawks were within 31-14.

The crowd got even more nervous when Pete Carroll called a fake punt that was executed perfectly. Yet a sack of Wilson ended the drive as the Panthers sought to slow Seattle’s momentum. In the fourth quarter Wilson led the Seahawks 73 yards. On 3rd and goal from the 3, Wilson hit Kearse for the touchdown. The Seahawks were within 31-21 with 6 minutes left in regulation.

Seattle got it back at their own 22 with 2:49 left and continued a furious rally. With 1:26 left, Seattle had 2nd and 10 from the Carolina 13. A delay of game penalty followed by a pair of incompletions brought Hauschka in for the critical 36 yard field goal. It was good and the Seahawks were still alive, down by 7. Now came the critical onside kick.

Last year Seattle needed the miracle and got it. Not this year. The onside kick was grabbed high in the air by Kuechly, who somehow hung on to it. The Seahawks 2 time reign as NFC Champions is over. Champions go down fighting, and the Seahawks did. Next week Carolina hosts the NFC Title Game. 31-24 Panthers

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos — Until last week, Pittsburgh was supposed to be the most dangerous AFC team that nobody wanted to face. That was with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben and Antonio Brown got rocked last week in Cincinnati. Roethlisberger showed grit and courage in the win but he has a separated soldier. He will play, but will be without injured Bryant and DeAngelo Hall. Denver’s defense was ready to tee off on Big Ben.  Denver can run the football, and Peyton Manning showed that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Denver entered well-rested while Pittsburgh had to try and get a road win while being an injured mess.

Bolden returned a punt 42 yards to have the Broncos starting at the Pittsburgh 30. On 3rd and 5 from the 14, a Manning completion came up short. On 4th and 1 from the 10, Gary Kubiak ignored Manning and the crowd and played it safe. Brandon McManus hit the 28 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Broncos.

Pittsburgh moved from their 20 to a 4th and 1 at the Denver 32. A 50 yard field goal try was no gimme in the cold weather, and Mike Tomlin decided to go for it. Rather than move the chains, Roethlisberger went deep incomplete. A field position game had Denver starting again with a short field at the Pittsburgh 31. On 2nd and 1 they lost a yard followed by an incompletion. Again Denver settled for a 41 yard McManus field goal and a 6-0 lead.

After a touchback, Maitavius Bryant caught a pass for 23 yards and then took an end around 40 more yards. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 15 yards and on the next carry got in from the one to make it 7-6 Steelers. In the second quarter the Steelers faced 3rd and 5 from their own 20. Roetholisberger went deep to Darrius Hetward-Bey for a 58 yard gain. Chris Boswell hit a 43 yard field goal to make it 10-6 Steelers.

The Broncos moved to a 4th and 3 at the Pittsburgh 38 with 6 minutes left in the half. Kubiak decided to go for it. Manning threw a pass to Emanuel Sanders, who had it before getting blasted by Mike Mitchell for an incompletion. Pittsburgh soon faced 3rd and 2 from their own 45. mike Tomlin called a double reverse that gained nothing.

Denver took over at their own 5 with 3:14 left in the half. CJ Anderson broke free for a 34 yard gain. With 12 seconds left in the half the Broncos faced 3rd and 10 at the Pittsburgh 32. Manning fumbled the snap, fell on it, and called timeout with 5 seconds left. McManus came in for a 51 yard field goal try. The kick looked good and at the last second a gust of wind appeared to blow it wide. The officials ruled it good, and replay showed that it was not blown wide until after it had just gone through. It was close, but the correct call as the Broncos trailed 10-9 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Pittsburgh moved from their 21 to a 3rd and 5 at the Denver 10. Roethlisberger threw incomplete. Boswell hit from 28 to make it 13-9 Steelers. Disaster nearly struck Pittsburgh when they fumbled a punt, but were lucky to retain possession at their own 6. Pittsburgh punted back and Denver took over at their own 47. A couple of 10 yard manning completions set up McManus for his fourth field goal try from 41. The kick was good as the Broncos trailed 13-12 late in the third quarter.

Pittsburgh moved from their 20 to the Denver 24. On the last play of the third quarter, Big Ben was sacked, with an offensive personal foul killing the drive. On 4th and 20 from the Denver 34, Mike Tomlin opted to punt rather than try a 52 yard field goal in less than ideal wind conditions.

After a touchback, Manning hit Sanders for a 34 yard gain. Yet after that the offense did nothing. Pittsburgh again flirted with destruction when they fumbled another punt. Again they were lucky to recover the ball in their own end zone for a touchback. Denver players thought they had a safety, but the rulebook stated it was a touchback. A penalty tacked on had the Steelers starting at their own 25.

Three completions by Roethlisberger had the Steelers on the move facing 2nd and 4 from the Denver 34. Toussaint got the carry and had the ball jarred loose by Roby. DeMarcus Ware fell on it for Denver, After exactly 50 minutes of mistake free football, the game’s first turnover had the Broncos taking over at their own 35 with 10 minutes left.

After a long gain by Anderson was wiped out by offensive holding, the Broncos faced 3rd and 12. Manning went deep to Fowler, who broke several tackles for a 31 yard gain. From the Pittsburgh 36, Denver played smash mouth and knocked the Steelers back with hard running. On 1st and goal at the 2, a pair of runs by Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson did not get in. On 3rd and goal, inches away, Manning hurried the play and handed the ball to Anderson. He was initially stopped cold but bulled his way in. 13 plays, 65 yards, and 7 minutes had the Broncos up with exactly 3 minutes to play. On the 2 point conversion try, Manning hit Denarius Thomas to make it 20-13 Broncos.

The only downside was Denver was out of timeouts while Pittsburgh had all of theirs. After a touchback, a pair of completions led to the 2 minute warning. The Steelers faced 3rd and 5 at their own 43 and still had 2 timeouts left. An incompletion meant 4th and 5. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips dialed up pressure and Big Ben was buried under an avalanche. The 13 yard loss had the Broncos at the Pittsburgh 30. The game seemed over, but Cincinnati thought that last week.

With 1:41 left, the Steelers took their last timeout. Denver faced 3rd and 11. The only sane thing to do would be to run the ball and try the field goal. Throwing the ball would be crazy. Manning is sane. He handed it off as the clock ticked down to just below one minute. McManus came in for his fifth field goal try to ice the game. From 45 yards out, with 53 seconds left, McManus stuck in the dagger.

Needing 2 scores, Pittsburgh moved quickly. Chris Boswell hit a 47 yard field goal with 19 seconds left. Now they needed the onside kick. The onside kick was a very good one, but it was eventually recovered by the Broncos at their own 37. The Steelers showed a ton of heart, but the Broncos are advancing to the AFC Title Game. For the 17th time, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will square off. Just like two years ago when the Broncos beat New England, this game will be in Denver. 23-16 Broncos

All the Wild Card teams are out. All four teams with first round byes advanced. One week after only road wins, all the home teams won.

The Conference Title Games are set. Both games will be played on Sunday, January 24.

AFC Title Game: 2) 12-4 New England Patriots at 1.) 12-4 Denver Broncos at 3:00 p.m. on CBS.

NFC Title Game: 2.) 13-3 Arizona Cardinals at 1.) 15-1 Carolina Panthers at 6:30 p.m. on Fox