In what will be the second consecutive matchup between No. 1 seeds in the Super Bowl, both the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots punched their tickets to Arizona for what promises to be an epic clash of the titans in two weeks.
Relying on what had to be considered a little bit of fate, Seattle found itself on the brink of elimination against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game before rallying from a 16-point second-half deficit for an overtime victory at CenturyLink. Despite Russell Wilson’s horrendous overall performance, he was able to step up in the overtime period to lead Seattle to its second consecutive NFC title.
The drama wasn’t quite as real in the AFC. Tom Brady and the Patriots absolutely laid it to the Indianapolis Colts in a stunning 45-7 victory at Gillette Stadium. For Brady, it represents a record sixth conference championship, besting the five that former Denver Broncos signal caller John Elway put up.
As we have done all season, it’s time to check in on the top takeaways from NFL’s championship Sunday.
1. Green Bay Packers Drop the Ball in the Playoffs Once Again
Leading by 16 points heading into halftime, Mike McCarthy’s squad laid a complete egg in the second half against a Seattle Seahawks club that it vastly outplayed throughout the majority of the game. In blowing the biggest lead in NFC Championship game history, Green Bay failed in the postseason once again. Since winning Super Bowl XLV back in February of 2011, the Packers are 2-4 in the playoffs.
It wasn’t as much Aaron Rodgers’ performance this time. While he didn’t play a great overall game, the MVP candidate toughed through a calf injury to put his team in position to win. Instead, break downs on defense and special teams cost the Packers their first shot at the Super Bowl since 2010.
2. In New England, Experience and Talent Mattered the Most
New England completely outperformed the Indianapolis Colts in every possible way during a stunning 45-7 blowout win to earn the team’s sixth trip to the Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era. Brady, who just passed John Elway for the most conference championships in NFL history, had a workmanlike performance. He completed 23-of-35 passes with three touchdowns and one interception. Meanwhile, New England’s rushing attack tore apart the Colts defense to the tune of 177 yards on 40 attempts. This coming one week after its leading rusher put up seven yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoffs.
Through and through, this was an utterly dominating performance. New England’s defense held Andrew Luck to 12-of-33 passing for a career-low 3.8 yards per attempt with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Star receiver T.Y. Hilton was also held to one catch on six targets. Overall, the Patriots controlled the ball for a whole quarter longer, put up 11 more first downs, tallied nearly 200 more yards and finished +2 in the all-important turnover-margin category. It’s this type of performance that we would have scarcely imagined during New England’s early-season struggles. It’s also this type of performance that should give the team confidence heading into the Super Bowl.
3. Tom Brady’s Success Now in the History Books
Following New England’s destruction of Indianapolis in the conference title game, Brady is on the verge of making an NFL record sixth Super Bowl start. He can also tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with four championships if the Patriots are able to defeat Seattle in the Super Bowl in two weeks. Equally as insane, Brady’s 20 career postseason victories are more than 21 other franchises around the NFL. That just goes to show you how extensive his success has been through the years.
4. Toughness and Resiliency Led to Seahawks Comeback
If Seattle performs like it did on Sunday two weeks from now, it will play the part of the Denver Broncos from last February. Not too often does your quarterback turn the ball over four times and you come out on top in a NFL game, let alone a playoff game.
However, it was Seattle’s determination, despite playing pretty crappy all-around football, that allowed this team to advance to the Super Bowl for consecutive seasons. We really can’t discount the gutsy play of Richard Sherman, who suffered a shoulder injury. While he’s wasn’t the dominating force we had seen in previous playoff games, the All-Pro cornerback displayed a toughness that has come to define his still young career. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson’s ability to overcome one of the worst starts to a playoff game for a quarterback in recent NFL history cannot be overstated. And while he didn’t play a central role in the team’s win, Wilson’s quick-strike ability in overtime put Seattle over the top. Championship teams find a way to win no matter what is happening around them. And that’s exactly what Seattle did on Sunday afternoon.
5. The Indianapolis Colts Simply Aren’t There Yet
It stands to reason that Andrew Luck and the Colts will hoist the Lombardi at some point in the not-so-distant future. Unfortunately for fans of the horseshoe, this team just isn’t there yet. In a matchup against future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Luck simply didn’t provide Indianapolis with the necessary play from the quarterback position to win against a seasoned opponent. Continually throwing into tight windows, the third-year signal caller was intercepted twice and had a bunch of other passes broken up by Patriots’ defensive backs.
More than Luck, the rest of this team failed to step up. Defeated throughout the evening, the Colts’ defensive line once again showed why it’s one of the biggest weaknesses on the team. There is no team in the NFL that could overcome that much of a downfall in the trenches in January and expect to come out on top. Even more than that, Indianapolis’ coaching staff didn’t have an answer for scheme that Bill Belichick and company brought to the table throughout the game. That has to be the biggest concern heading into an offeseason where Indianapolis needs to find away to go from second-rate playoff team to top-tier conference championship contender.
Photo: USA Today