AFC Championship - What a great game this was for the Broncos and for we the fans! A gorgeous, sunny Colorado sky and a sea of orange welcomed the Patriots. Tom Brady, Bill Belicheck and Josh McDaniels came to town looking for a win and a trip to Jersey. All the past week we heard all about how Peyton Manning has and would cave to the pressure of a championship game and Brady would get to play for a fourth ring. The game showed something completely different than the media's narrative.
The Pats started off with the ball only to go 3 and out on their first series. Denver took the ball and got as far as the NE 48 and had to punt. This was the first time in the playoffs that Denver had to punt and the last time we saw Britton Colquitt punt the rest of they day. One punt in EIGHT quarters works just fine for me. The defense forced another 3 and out thanks to Tony Carter's coverage on third down. Manning and Co. took over on their own 18 and passed their way to the Pats 9. Unfortunately, they couldn't get it in and settled for a Matt Prater FG. The Pats then marched to the Denver 39 only to have to punt again, pinning the Broncos at the 7. Knowshown Moreno kick-started the drive with an 11 yard gain. After another short gain by Moreno, Manning threw a pass that was dropped by Demaryius Thomas. During the same play, Wes Welker collided with Aquib Talib. Talib was knocked out if the game with a knee injury. A similar play happened against the Broncos with Julian Edelman hit Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in the last defensive series. Fortunately for Denver, DRC came back later in the game. Belicheck later bemoaned the hit that Welker laid against Talib and thinks that Wes will get fined by the league. That remains to be seen if the NFL will do that, but that's the most bitter that I have ever seen Belicheck after a game.
Later on in the drive, the Pats got nailed for defensive holding on Eric Decker to keep the chains moving. Five plays later, the Broncos faced a 3rd and 10 on the NE 39. Manning noticed the defense spread out and called a draw to Moreno. Moreno hurdled a tackler and ran for 28 yards. Montee Ball ran three times to get the ball to the Pats 1. On the next play the Pats lined up expecting Ball to run again. This time Manning bootlegged to the right and found a wide open Jacob Tamme all alone in the end zone for the TD. This drive took just over SEVEN minutes off the clock and kept Brady on the bench.
Brady led the Pats to the Denver 18 only to see Robert Ayers sack him for an 11 yard loss. NE settled for a FG, cutting the lead to 10-3. Denver took the ball back only to stall at the NE 17. After some discussion during a timeout, the Broncos settled for another Prater FG to lead 13-3 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Broncos took the ball and methodically mixed the run and pass. They marched 80 yards to score a TD by Demaryius Thomas. This drive also took over SEVEN minutes to give the Broncos a 20-3 lead. The Pats took over the ball and drove to the Denver 29. After an incomplete pass, the Pats decided to go for it instead of kicking the FG. As both teams lined up, both John Fox and Belicheck both moved to take a time out, but Fox was quicker in calling it. After the time out on 4th and 3, Brady went back to pass only to get sacked by Terrance Knighton for a 10 yard loss and ended the scoring threat. Pot Roast moved Pro Bowler Logan Mankins aside and went straight for Brady. Denver then took the ball and drove all the way to the NE 1 only to see Julius Thomas drop an easy TD pass. With the 20-3 lead, Denver settled for another Prater FG to make it 23-3.
The Pats got the ball back and took it 80 yards and scored a TD to make it 23-10. Denver got the ball back and drove to the Pats 39 only to stall out there. Matt Prater booted a 54-yarder to make it 26-10. Brady got the ball again and drove the Pats to another TD. Unfortunately for Brady, he took a ton of time off the clock. He scored his final TD on a scramble. The Pats' two point attempt failed thanks to Shaun Phillips stuffing Vereen on the run. With the game a two score difference, the Pats attempted to kick an onside kick. Unlike last week's playoff game against the Chargers, Eric Decker caught the ball and got out of bounds.
With 3:07 left in the game, the Broncos took the ball. After Ball ran for three yards, the Pats started taking timeouts to save their season. On the next play, Manning threw a short pass to Jacob Tamme. Tamme took the pass 23 yards for a first down. After another Pat timeout, Montee Ball was entrusted to run hard and kill the clock. On 4th and 2, the Broncos called Ball's number again instead of a Prater FG. Ball did not disappoint with a five yard run, first down and an AFC Championship.
The game was definitely more of a beating/blowout than the scoreboard showed and Denver missed many opportunities to score TDs, but were forced to settle for FGs. If Tom Brady and his reputation of comebacks were not on the other side, I would not have been surprised if there would have been more attempts to go for it on 4th down. In a game like this, you take any and all points you can get. Peyton Manning passed for 400 yards and was so surgical in the game thanks to the OL keeping him clean. Moreno and Ball did not have the best stat numbers, but were effective in gaining tough yards and keeping drives alive. The defense played outstanding with the exception of the zone D calls by Del Rio late in the game. Bask in the glory, Broncos fans they're going to the Super Bowl! And now it's time to take a look at Denver's opponent for Super Bowl 48......
NFC Championship - Denver's opponent for the Super Bowl is a former AFC West foe, the Seattle Seachickens erm..Seahawks (sorry folks, older guy here remembering some bitter rivalries from the past). They are the NFC's top seed and defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 at home. Seattle brings to the game one of the stronger rushing offenses and tougher defenses in all sections. Their secondary is led by Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. Defensively, they tend to play very physical and are hard hitting. Offensively, they play a ball control offense led by RB Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson. Their WR corps is solid, but not as fearsome as what a team like the Saints or Lions field. Percy Harvin was injured with a concussion during the New Orleans game, but will be expected to play in New Jersey.
In the game against the 49ers, the Seahawks played a very high emotion, high energy, physical game. The 49ers for the most part out played Seattle, but the killer in this game was the turnovers by Colin Kaepernick (2 picks, 1 fumble) as well as the special teams giving up a long KO return by Doug Baldwin that led to a score. The Niners defense was solid against Lynch except for the 40 yard TD given up in the first half. Seattle gave up four sacks thanks to Wilson running backwards and the defense keeping him from getting outside their containment. Former Broncos kicker Steven Hauschka converted all three of his FGs with two of them 40 yards or longer. They took the lead from the 49ers when they went for it on 4th and 7 early in the fourth quarter. Wilson rolled to the right and tossed a 35 yard TD to Jermaine Kearse. After a Seattle added to the lead with another FG, the 49ers got the ball back with a chance to win the game. With less than 30 seconds, Kaepernick threw a pass to Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone, but Sherman knocked away the pass and the ball was picked off by Malcom Smith in the end zone. After the play, Sherman was flagged for taunting Crabtree. Wilson knelt down three times and the Seahawks sealed the win and a trip to the Super Bowl. As we all know by now, Erin Andrews spoke with Sherman after the game was over and he seemed to channel "Booker T" from the WWE. Since then Sherman has been in somewhat of a media firestorm over his actions. Better him having the spotlight than the Broncos right now.
Super Bowl XLVIII - As for the game on February 2, I see this game being somewhat determined by the weather, but more so with what the wind speed will be then. So far the very early forecast is low wind and cold. That would work out just fine for the Broncos. For the Broncos to win the Lombardi Trophy, Denver must not turn the ball over and give Seattle short fields to drive with. All of Seattle's scoring drives were 60 yards or less in the NFC Championship game. Forcing them to take long drives with their offense will play into Denver's hands. Defensively, the key is stopping Lynch and gang tackling him every play. If there is a scrum and no one is wrapping up, Denver will be in big trouble since Lynch can break loose in those circumstances. As for Wilson, keep him in the pocket as long as possible. With him being a shorter QB, keeping him in the pocket increases the chance of passes being batted down. The edge rushers and OLBs MUST keep contain on the edges. If that fails, Wilson will take off running and gobble up tons of yards. With him running around and backing up when attempting the pass, the DBs must stay with their man longer than normal. If they keep the WRs covered tight, it keeps Wilson holding the ball even longer than normal.
Offensively, the Broncos WRs will have to be extra tough and crisp in running their routes. Seattle's secondary loves getting physical with the WRs. Denver may want to take a note of the Colts playbook where they hung 34 points on the Seahawks. The WRs were making clean cuts and making the DBs react to them. Their front seven are also a tall order, but could be beaten with the quick throw by Manning. Denver's OL was outstanding and will have to be that way again against Wagner and Co. For Denver to take the win, the offense must be precise and get a healthy lead on Seattle. The Seahawks don't have the personnel to hang with the Broncos in a shoot out. As long as the Broncos play their game and keep Lynch from having a career day, we should see the trophy back in Denver where it belongs. Another advantage Denver should have is the fact that Seattle is not playing at Century Link Field with the "12th Man" influence. An additional plus is the fact absolutely no one on the Seahawks has any Super Bowl experience and they could get caught up in the pregame hype of Super Bowl week. Denver has many people with Super Bowl experience including Manning, Fox and Elway. They are dialed in, know what it takes to win and not get immersed into the hype.
That's all I have this week. Time to finish this "Unfinished Business" and GO BRONCOS!!!!!!