Divisional Weekend is in the books, and the second weekend of the NFL playoffs provided us with as exciting a weekend of football as we could have hoped for.
In the AFC, we saw a future Hall of Fame quarterback add even more to his resume and others possibly walk into the sunset for the last time. Over in the NFC, the defending champions flexed their muscle yet again, while a quarterback at less than 100 percent proved he’s still got the clutch gene.
Before we look ahead to the NFL Championship weekend, let’s look back at the Divisional Weekend. Here are six takeaways:
One of the greats, Brady shakes off playoff demons in historical fashion
It just goes to show you: there’s no discounting Tom Brady.
With his team trailing by 14 points twice in the game, Brady engineered an awe-inspiring comeback, as New England became the first team in NFL playoff history to come back from two deficits that large twice in one game.
New England needed Brady to be his best, and he delivered. Brady threw three touchdown passes and got another from Julian Edelman on a rare gag play to defeat a stingy Ravens team, 35-31. The Patriots trailed 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-14 early in the third. But Brady and Co. outscored Baltimore 21-3 over the final 25 minutes and put the game to rest when Duron Harmon intercepted Joe Flacco in the end zone with 1:39 left to seal the win.
The Patriots are 9-2 in the divisional round under Bill Belichick who, by topping the Ravens, moved into a first-place tie with Tom Landry for most postseason wins (20). For the fourth consecutive year and the ninth time under Brady, the Patriots will be playing in the AFC Championship game.
Defending champs cool off Panthers
Seattle never trailed in the Saturday nightcap against red-hot Carolina, which couldn’t beat the defending Super Bowl champions at their own game.
Russell Wilson was absolutely outstanding, throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the comfort of CenturyLink Field. With the win, the Seahawks upped their playoff home win streak to eight, which is tied for the fourth-longest in NFL history.
Once Wilson gave his team a large enough lead, the Seattle defense played the role of closer. Safety Kam Chancellor picked off Cam Newton in the fourth quarter and returned it 90 yards for the score. The pick-six was the fifth-longest in NFL postseason history and the longest since James Harrison’s 100-yard return when the Steelers defeated the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
Beating Seattle at home is a lofty task. The Seahawks were dominant in every phase of the game.
Big catches from a rookie help Green Bay rally
Aaron Rodgers entered Sunday’s Divisional Round matchup with Dallas having completed 477 straight passes at Lambeau Field without a pick. Might as well make that 501 now.
Rodgers and the Packers continued their home dominance with a wild 26-21 victory thanks to the emergence of rookie wide receiver Davante Adams, who proved he has a knack for the big moment. Green Bay trailed 14-10 at halftime, which historically doesn’t bode well for Rodgers. In his career, Rodgers is 0-4 when trailing in the postseason. Conversely, he’s 5-0 when his team is ahead.
Rodgers put those demons to rest by hitting Adams in the third quarter for a 46-yard touchdown, the rookie’s first touchdown catch since Week 11 and the longest touchdown pass of Rodgers’ postseason career. Then he connected with tight end Richard Rodgers for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter.
It’s like something just clicked for Rodgers in the second half. Dealing with the partially torn calf, he was 9-for-15 for 90 yards and a touchdown through two quarters. In the second half, though, he bounced back to complete 15-of-20 passes for 227 yards and the two decisive touchdowns.
His most dangerous weapon, Adams, finished with a career-high seven catches for 117 yards, becoming the fifth rookie in the last decade to total 100 yards or more in a playoff game.
Luck continues to write his legacy, ousts Broncos from the playoffs
Indianapolis trailed briefly in the opening quarter before Luck kicked it into another gear. The third-year pro completed 27 passes for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including 99 yards and a score while under duress from the Broncos’ stingy pass rush.
Luck’s performance elevates him to first among quarterbacks in terms of passing yards through their first five playoff games. Luck is now at 1,703 yards, ahead of Kurt Warner (1,644) and Dan Fouts (1,601), per Elias Sports.
Now the Colts will return to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 2009.
On the other end of the spectrum, Manning proved that his end-of-the-season struggles were real after all. The sheriff finished 26-of-46 for 211 yards and was a mere 29 percent on throws five yards or more downfield. In addition, he completed 5-of-14 third-down attempts.
Denver had only scored fewer than 20 points once this season — in the Week 11 loss to St. Louis. Coincidentally, that’s when the Broncos began their late-season collapse. Which brings us to our next takeaway …
Was that the last we’ll see from Manning?
Are both Manning and John Fox out of Mile High in 2015?
Manning just finished his ninth “one-and-done” playoff season. No other quarterback in the Super Bowl era has more than four of such years.
Manning will turn 39 in two months, and the Broncos would owe him $19 million to play in 2015. His arm strength was shaky over the last six weeks of the season, there were serious injury concerns, and there are now rumors circulating that Fox could be out as head coach. Another coach could motivate Manning to consider hanging up his cleats.
If Manning is to go, he’ll go down as one of the best the NFL has seen. However, as Sunday afternoon’s loss to Luck and the Colts proved, Manning’s kryptonite has always been the playoffs.
A quick glance ahead at conference championship weekend and big-time re-matches
The Colts will make the trek to Foxborough to take on the top-seeded Patriots in the AFC title game. Luck has lost to the Patriots all three meetings in his career, losing by at least 21 points each time. This past year in Week 11, New England downed Luck and Indianapolis, 42-20, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This meeting of AFC titans will of course be headlined by the two quarterbacks. Much like Luck vs. Manning, Luck vs. Brady has the same old school vs. new school mentality. Both teams have dynamic offenses, though they go about their business in different ways. The Colts’ defense has played well in two postseason games, but will need to likely amp up its pass rush to fluster Brady.
In the NFC, it’ll be a much-anticipated Week 1 re-match between Green Bay and Seattle. When these two teams met in the season opener at CenturyLink Field, the defending champs rolled to a 36-16 win.
Rodgers proved that even at less than 100 percent, he still has a knack for late-game heroics. That was against the Dallas defense, though, and Seattle brings a much tougher test. The ‘Hawks have been dominant, especially on the defensive side of the ball, over the last two months. But if there’s any quarterback who can buck the trend, isn’t it the probable league MVP Rodgers?