Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the weekend’s NFL action in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @Li495Akiem.
Close to the Top of the Mountain
Another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady matchup. Needless to say, this one didn’t need any more hype than what it got prior to the week.
New England was able to reach this AFC Championship Game on the heels of a 43-22 throttling of the Indianapolis Colts in Foxboro the previous week. The Broncos ended up playing in a more competitive game—against the San Diego Chargers at Mile High Stadium in Denver. They still won, of course, but it was 24-17 with the Chargers making a late…charge by scoring all 17 of their points in the 4th quarter.
So, it was set. The 15th time that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were to face off against each other. Also, the third occasion where the winner would go to the Super Bowl. Brady’s Patriots won over Manning’s Colts in 2003 at Gillette Stadium en route to their 2nd of 3 Big Game wins from 2001-2004. It was in 2007 when the Colts finally pulled through and defeated the Patriots in an AFC Title Game that took place in the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
Now, it was time to settle this decade-old debate once again.
Most were giving an advantage to the Broncos given that it was at their building and that the weather conditions were set to be unseasonably warm by the standards of both the month of January and Colorado. Meaning that conditions were to favor throwing of the football as opposed to running.
If it was one thing that this Realist couldn’t get throughout all of the weekly buildup was the constant obsession the media had with Manning’s legacy. The narrative was that if Manning lost this game against the Patriots that he couldn’t be considered among the greatest quarterbacks of all time because he couldn’t “win the big one”.
Did we take a time machine back to 2003 prior to him winning a Super Bowl with the Colts?
Manning’s legacy was already set (and so is Brady’s, by the way). They’re two of the greatest QBs of all time and two of the most accurate passers of all time. Their legacies are set. Both are going to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. One has three Super Bowls while the other has two. If anything, this game was to pad their already great achievements, but it’s almost as if the media was ready to kick Manning out of the Hall of Fame if he didn’t win this game.
What in the name of Omaha was the media smoking this week?
Now—on to the game.
Early on, the Patriots offense was forced into two three and outs to start this game. The Broncos moved the ball much better, mainly on account of Manning’s “Laser-Rocket Arm”. It didn’t seem like they could get much done on the ground, but the passing game was as on point as ever. On Denver’s second possession of the first quarter, they reached the red zone and the nine yard line of New England before having to settle for their first points coming via a Matt Prater 27 yard field goal. 3-0 Broncos.
On their next drive, the Broncos continued their effective moving of the ball when a 15 play drive that lasted over seven minutes resulted in a Manning TD throw to Jacob Tamme for one yard and a 10-0 lead.
The Patriots answered on their following possession with their first points of the game—three of them thanks to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with close to three minutes left to play in the half.
This was more than enough time for Manning and the Broncos to get back to work and pad their advantage prior to the halftime period. They did on Prater’s second field goal of the game—this one from 35 yards. 13-3 Broncos at halftime.
As with all football games, the first half also saw its share of potential game changing injuries—Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the Broncos side and Aqib Talib for the Pats. Rodgers-Cromartie did return for Denver, Talib didn’t for New England.
Denver won the coin toss to begin the game, but they deferred to the Patriots to start. This meant that they would receive the football first to start the second half. They made good on that opening possession when a seven minute drive that lasted 14 plays resulted in Manning’s second touchdown pass of the game as he found DeMaryius Thomas for three yards. It was 20-3 Broncos.
On Denver’s next possession, which began the fourth quarter, they reached the Patriots’ two yard line and were in a 2nd and Goal situation. Another touchdown would surely put this AFC Championship Game to rest. Fortunately, for the Pats, they still had hope as they held Denver to another Prater field goal as he drilled one from 19 yards out to give the Broncos a 23-3 lead.
The Patriots finally realized that there was a game to be played when they found out that it was the fourth quarter and their season was close to being over. The following New England drive resulted in Tom Brady’s lone touchdown pass of the game as he connected with Julian Edelman for seven yards. 23-10 Denver. This one was far from over. Brady does not have three Super Bowl rings just for nothing.
Even with that touchdown, the Broncos were able to extend their advantage back out to 16 on their next possession. Another drive—another Prater field goal, but this one was from 54 yards out to put the game at 26-10 Broncos.
Despite the unlikely odds, even with #12 as QB, the Patriots went down fighting. Their next drive would last for almost four minutes and concluded in Brady (normally not the most mobile of QBs) running 5 yards for his own touchdown. It was 26-16, but they needed two more points to make it a one possession game. That attempt failed and so did the following onside kick attempt.
Two Broncos first downs later, it was all over as the Broncos won 26-16 to advance to their first Super Bowl since John Elway was in his last season as their QB. It’s also Manning’s third.
Ironically, The Sheriff may tie his brother Eli in Super Bowls—in Eli’s building. That press storyline begins…now.
Manning threw for 400 yards on 32 of 43 passing with two touchdowns. He wasn’t sacked once. Knowshon Moreno carried the ball 14 times for 59 yards. Montee Ball also had 43 yards on 12 rushing attempts. DeMaryius Thomas received 7 passes for 134 yards and one TD. Julius Thomas also had 85 yards on 8 receptions. Eric Decker—73 yards on 5 receptions.
Wes Welker also finished with 38 yards on four receptions. Why does he get notable mention on this week’s playoff Realist edition? Because he was the former Patriot who gave an inspirational speech to the team prior to the game.
It clearly worked.
Brady threw for 277 yards on 24/38 passing and one touchdown. Shane Vereen rushed for 34 yards on 4 attempts while Stevan Ridley had 17 yards on 5 carries. Julian Edelman caught 10 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown. Vereen had 59 yards on 5 receptions. Austin Collie, a former Colts receiver for Manning in Indy—4 receptions and 57 yards.
Denver had put itself in a New York State of Mind. Shortly after, it was time to see which NFC team would look to “make it there”.
Patriots vs. Broncos looked to be the sexier matchup on paper given everyone’s overdrive obsession with Manning and Brady. It turned out that 49ers and Seahawks was the better game of the two on Championship Sunday. Interestingly enough because the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have developed a budding rivalry that is the result of both teams becoming, arguably, the two best in the NFC.
Honestly, it got to a point where a San Francisco radio station was pledging not to play any rock bands from Seattle (which practically invented grunge rock) for the weekend leading up to the game.
That takes guts.
San Francisco got to this point via their 23-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. It was their 8th consecutive victory of the season—all since the return of Michael Crabtree to the Niners’ offense. The Seahawks defeated the New Orleans Saints 23-15 thanks primarily to Marshawn Lynch as Russell Wilson didn’t have his best game—but good enough for a victory.
Something had to give. San Francisco had won eight consecutive since Crabtree’s return and looked more like the team that had almost won the Super Bowl the previous season. Meanwhile, the Seahawks had only lost one game all year (regular season and playoffs) at CenturyLink Field all season (Arizona Cardinals) thanks to a dominating defense and the imposing presence of their legendary 12th Man.
By the way, let it be known that The Realist says the 12th Man is Seattle’s. It may have started at Texas A&M, but the 12th Man’s sound was perfected in the Puget Sound.
That’s beside the point though….
This rivalry has become so heated it has since resembled Yankees/Red Sox circa 1978 or 2003. With all of the public comments in the media leading up to this one, it became clear that a division rivalry had created an atmosphere of genuine dislike between these two teams.
Not only that, but these two head coaches also have a history with each other going back to their days in the old Pac-10. Pete Carroll, of course, was the head coach at USC while Jim Harbaugh coached Stanford.
Both of them had premier defenses to be reckoned with and two up and coming mobile quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick that are sure to be the future of the NFL.
If that’s the case, 49ers and Seahawks is sure to be a rivalry that could dominate the NFL for years to come.
On to the game…
Early on, it looked as though CenturyLink would be filled with a lot of disappointed 12’s. Wilson was sacked on his first play from scrimmage for the game and then fumbled on a play that was recovered by Aldon Smith. The ball was recovered at the Seahawks’ 15 yard line, setting up Kaepernick and the Niners perfectly to take an early advantage.
Seattle only held San Francisco to 3 to start the game as Phil Dawson kicked a 25 yard goal. 3-0 49ers.
The next Seahawks possession would result in a three and out, once again reinforcing their offensive issues in advancing the football. It has been Wilson’s primary weakness as of late and it was on display once again.
The 49ers’ first drive of the second quarter lasted for almost five minutes and culminated in a one yard touchdown run from Anthony Dixon after a 4th and Goal from the Seahawks one yard line. That increased San Francisco’s advantage to 10-0.
Seattle started to move the ball better with their next drive following the Dixon TD. They got into the red zone, but only got 3 points on Steven Hauschka’s 32 yard field goal. This made the score 10-3 49ers and this how it would remain going into halftime.
That changed quickly in the beginning of the third. On Seattle’s first possession after the 49ers were only able to convert one first down to start the half as they got the ball first, 10-3 became 10-10 thanks to 40 yards courtesy of BeastMode.
Somebody ate his Skittles, clearly.
That tie would be short lived. On the following 49ers’ drive, Kaepernick responded by finding Anquan Boldin for 26 yards and a touchdown. San Francisco retook the lead at 17-10. Seattle then got the ball back after that and cut the 49ers’ lead to four when another drive resulted in a 40 yard field goal from Hauschka.
The fourth quarter is where either the 49ers lost this game—or the Seahawks won it. Seattle’s next drive began in the third quarter and concluded to begin the fourth when Wilson threw to Jermaine Kearse for 26 yards, and a touchdown to reassume the lead at 20-17. The Wilson to Kearse connection came after a Pete Carroll timeout and the Seahawks going for it on a 4th and 7 play.
To heck with seven yards, they said. They wanted more than that.
On a 3rd and 6 from the 49ers’ 36 yard line on their next drive, Kaepernick was sacked by Cliff Avril, then he fumbled. That fumble was recovered by Michael Bennett.
Seattle then got the football with excellent field position, but on a 3rd and Goal, Wilson threw to Kearse for 9 yards, then fumbled at the 1 yard line. It was recovered by Navorro Bowman, who injured his knee on the play and was carted off the field, and unfortunately was pelted with food by some of the liquored up section of the 12’s. But, even though Bowman was down and it clearly should’ve been San Francisco’s football at the one yard line, it was ruled as recovered by Marshawn Lynch at the 1 who didn’t advance the ball past the 1 yard line.
How did San Francisco get hosed so badly on this play? Because it was an unreviewable call under NFL bylaws. Once this play is ruled and the ball is considered dead, the play ends.
And we thought baseball was the sport with officiating misadventures.
This clearly got to San Francisco on the next play. They forced a fumble of Wilson, which was recovered by the Seahawks, but it was on a 4th down play which automatically made it a turnover on downs and 49ers football.
Justice has a funny way of showing itself sometimes.
The next 49ers drive would be short lived as well. Despite the goal-line stand by the San Francisco defense, their D wasn’t the only one making big plays. On a 1st and 10 from their 26, Kaepernick was picked off by Kam Chancellor on a pass intended for Boldin. The Seahawks turned it into points via Hauschka’s third field goal of the game as he was good from 47 yards. 23-17 Seahawks.
Kaepernick and the 49ers had one more chance to execute a game winning drive, and it looked like they would do it to send themselves cross country to the Tri-State for the Super Bowl. They made it to the Seattle 18 yard line and Kaepernick was looking to throw to Crabtree for the game winning touchdown.
The Bay Area then saw the “Boom” lowered on them.
Right there waiting to tip the Kaepernick pass to Crabtree was Richard Sherman. Right there waiting to intercept the pass was Malcolm Smith. It was intercepted in the end zone for San Francisco’s 3rd turnover of the 4th quarter. That will lose you football games 99 percent of the game, not 49. A few kneel downs later, the 12’s knew that their next stop was 12th Street in Manhattan. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to the Super Bowl.
Perhaps, the most noteworthy portion of the game came after the game when Richard Sherman gave an (impassioned, to say the least) interview to Fox’s Erin Andrews in which he called himself the best corner of the league and he called Crabtree a “sorry receiver”.
“Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like (Michael) Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get!” –Richard Sherman
The Realist disagrees about the “sorry receiver” stuff, but what should one expect when someone as abrasive as Sherman has a microphone is in front of his face. That interview was classic. Anyone going in on Sherman for it has obviously never played competitive sport. This guy just made the play of his career to send his team and city to the Super Bowl in New York/New Jersey against a team that he has a genuine dislike for. And some old farts in the press expect Sherman to give an answer that they probably would give if they were in the same position.
After all, he did graduate from Stanford with a 4.2 GPA so he’s no dummy.
Honestly, get Real-ist.
Wilson threw for 215 yards on 16 for 25 passing and one touchdown. Lynch—22 carries for 109 yards and one TD. Doug Baldwin caught six passes for 106 yards. Kearse caught one touchdown pass in addition to two for 44 yards.
Kaepernick threw for 153 yards on 14/24 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also was the team’s leading rusher with 130 yards on 11 carries. This was because the Seahawks defensive line contained Frank Gore to the same amount of carries, but only 14 yards and no touchdowns. Boldin had 53 yards on 5 receptions and one touchdown while Crabtree caught 4 passes for 52 yards.
New York, New York!
Meaning that we will be watching Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey in two weeks. Congratulations to both teams and both cities. Let the pregame hype begin.
Oh, it has already began, Realists. The pregame show is already on.