Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; A view of the NFL logo on the field before the 2013 AFC championship playoff football game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

10 & Out: Conference Championships!

Does defense win championships? That’s the referendum on display in just over a week at Super Bowl XLVIII. Scheme or toughness? Emotion or precision? That will be the name of the game in North Jersey on February 2nd as Pete Carroll brings his band of whup-it-up boys to meet John Fox, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Before I get to that tilt let’s take a look back at what got each of them to this point.
What I learned this week…..

  • Pot Roast” is his name. Terrance Knighton, brought to Denver by former Jacksonville head coach and current Denver Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio, who had Knighton in Jacksonville, was the best player on the field for either defense Sunday afternoon, registering four tackles, none more important that the sack of Tom Brady on 4th & 3 from the Broncos 29 yard-line for a 10-yard loss the Patriots offense could ill afford. The Temple University product not only had his best game, but had thee best game of anyone on defense.
  • This isn’t news because I’ve told you about it before, but Tom Brady is just not there on the deep ball anymore. Down 3-0 Brady missed a deep crossing route to Julian Edelman that might’ve made it 7-3 Patriots. Later, up the right sideline Brady missed Austin Collie who had gotten a step on his man. In a game where he couldn’t afford mistakes, Brady missed two or three throws that made the difference.
  • So, a turnover is reviewed automatically, a fumble is always reviewable, i.e. challengeable, but the recovery of that fumble isn’t? Sure that makes sense. The league is lucky the Niners took possession on another fumble that happened the next play or there would be hell to pay.

AFC Breakdown – The Patriots got off to the slowest of starts, punting their first three possessions. Culprit? How about this: in the 1st quarter the Pats had rushes of 0 yards, 5 yards, 0 yards again and 1 yard. That’s it. All season they got out to slow starts, as they did in their Week 12 game against Denver. This time, there was to be no comeback. After a punt to start Peyton started hitting on all cylinders, and the patchwork Patriots defense had no means to stop him. Already missing Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo, the Pats defense reached its tipping point when CB Aqib Talib went down after a questionable block by Wes Welker. His loss proved too much to bear as Peyton, with a full arsenal finally at his disposal, dictated every move from there on out. The Broncos and their fans may have been worried when the Brady Bunch lined up for a two-point conversion to try to make the score 26-18. They’ve seen it all before, and Brady had a knack especially this season for pulling wins out of thin air. But instead of letting his All-Universe Stud QB have the reins, Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels called a draw play to 5’10”, 205 lb RB Shane Vereen, he of the 34 yards rushing on the day. Broncos DE Shaun Phillips careened down the line from Brady’s right and hit Vereen behind the line of scrimmage, the running back’s effort. Brady stood, slumped at the waist, hands on knees, staring at his own feet. That effectively ended the game. In the end, the Broncos looked more equipped, more ready for the moment, and more talented on both sides of the ball. At no point was Peyton ever under pressure and he orchestrated drive after drive, six in a row amounting to points, that put this one away early.

This just in…The Denver Broncos run a sophisticated and potent offense. Here’s all you need to know about the AFC Championship game: Peyton & his gents had 500 yards of total offense. The last time that happened to a Bill Belichick defense? Hows about never. That’s the most Bill has ever seen his defense give up.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugh
Good: What more can be said about Peyton Manning? His stat line read like something from Tecmo Bowl: 32-43, 400 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT. In his biggest game since Super Bowl XLIV, Manning had about as perfect a performance as your star QB can have. After all he’s gone through, hats off & kudos. The pressure mounts each week and he’s risen to the occasion.
Bad: Colin Kaepernick – Despite displaying outrageous athleticism on runs and throws throughout the game, when it came time to harness his talents and make not just the electric but the rights plays, he turned it over three times in the 4th quarter; a fumble sandwiched by two interceptions. Again his season was ended on a pass intended for  Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone, this time tipped and intercepted. To take that next step he will have to stop playing Mike Vick ball, relying on his coaching & start reading defenses.
Ugh: FOX Sports – Not that I’ve come to expect much at all from FOX on any front (how many cartoons can you air?) but the incessant replay of NaVorro Bowman’s knee being collapsed bordered on the macabre. Sorry, not linking it here. I understand that the play itself called for replay as possession at the goal-line hung in the balance, but it showed insensitivity & sensationalism. Then again, it was FOX.
FWIW…Had the Patriots kicked a FG instead of going for it on 4th & 3 they’d have been down 20-6, two possessions, with about 17 and a half minutes remaining. Not that it all would’ve played out the same, but with an extra three, that TD to Edelman makes it 26-19. and you only have to kick the extra point. 26-20, five minutes left. Looks like Bill Belichick is thinking the same thing. Hmm…
NFC Breakdown – Now that was a football game. A real slobber-knocker as they used to say. The tempo was light years ahead of the AFC game that had preceded it. The venom on the field was palpable, and not just from loud mouthed skill players. No, linebackers and offensive linemen were looking to deliver punishment, and the violence popped off of the screen. This one couldn’t even be ruined by the refs, who missed a few personal fouls, holdings, a blatant roughing the kicker and almost completely through the credibility of the game into Puget Sound. Lying on his back at the goal-line, having taken the ball out of the arms of RB Marshawn Lynch, 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman clutched the football. He had stopped Seattle from scoring and given the 49ers the turnover and the chance they desperately needed. But somehow no one saw it. No referee, not the announcers, no one. Even live, the TV angle couldn’t pick it up. So there lay Bowman, who’s knee had just also been shredded, on his back, holding the ball. Possession to the 49ers? No. In the scrum that ensued, Lynch stole the ball back, and it was awarded to Seattle. Thankfully for the league the Seahawks again fumbled on the next play, and the recovery by San Francisco was easily seen. Overall, as predicted, this game came down to QB play. Russell Wilson did enough to win, engineering the game-winning drive that was capped off by at first a daring escape and then an ill-advised throw into the end zone for the wining score. He was athletic but relied on his understanding of where the players would be on the field. When he could’ve run and kept things alive, he waited just a beat longer until something bigger developed. It’s that mindset that has people all over the league wondering how they missed out on him.
Hey, didn’t you used to be..LeGarrette Blount? In the two weeks preceding the AFC Championship game Blount rushed for 355 yards and 6 touchdowns. In the biggest game of his career Blount had 6 yards on 5 carries. Maybe game planning, maybe Broncos interior defense, maybe a bit of both.
You gotta figure…Richard Sherman knew what he was doing. In the recently released NFL Network SoundFX clip Sherman gave almost verbatim the same interview to a local Fox affiliate that got a mic in his face before we saw him on live television. And then there’s this: “Things I do look like madness, like I’m out of control, but there’s always a plan. It’s part of a greater scheme to get some eyes, grow the market, to grow Seattle.” That was Richard Sherman, long before anyone who knew who he was even had an opinion one way or another. Stupid? Clearly not. Thug? Please. Passionate? Debatable. This certainly seems cold & calculated.
Top Three…Texans
1. Tex Schramm
2. Davy Crockett
3. Big Tex
W2W4: Who does Sherman line up on? Will Welker try another pick on a Seattle DB that’s keen to take his head off? Can the Broncos DL match the physical play of the Seattle line and Marshawn Lynch? How much gum will Pete Carroll go through? Will we see a Manning face?
Locks of the Century of the Week…Simply because I don’t believe Pete Carroll deserves to win a Bingo card, I’m taking the Broncos. I’ll get into it more next week in my Super Bowl preview but right now I’d take the Broncos -3.

Tags: AFC Aqib Talib Austin Collie Bill Belichick Demaryius Thomas Denver Broncos Football John Fox John Harbaugh Julian Edelman LeGarrette Blount Michael Crabtree New England Patriots NFL NFL News Pete Carroll Peyton Manning Richard Sherman San Francisco 49ers Seattle Seahawks Shane Vereen Shaun Phillips Terrance Knighton Tom Brady Wes Welker

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