Conference championships: What we learned

The Seahawks needed some late magic to overcome a 16-0 deficit, but the Patriots left no doubt in their win. How did the Seahawks and Patriots advance to the Super Bowl in such different ways?

Seattle Seahawks 28, Green Bay Packers 22 OT
Russell R-E-L-A-X-E-D: After an awful start that featured three first-half interceptions and 2-for-9 passing, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson relaxed, just as Aaron Rodgers advised Packers fans to do early in the regular season. Wilson threw another interception in the second half, but that was a well-thrown ball that deflected off the arms of receiver Jermaine Kearse. Wilson still finished completing less than half of his passes (14 of 29) and took five sacks, but his last pass was the best – a perfect 35-yard strike to Kearse for the game-winning touchdown on the opening drive of overtime. It was the second 35-yard pass of the drive for Wilson, and those two plays accounted for the two longest plays of the game.

Through the hands, off the helmet, nothing but the onside recovery: With just over 2 minutes to play in regulation, the special teams for the Seahawks made its second huge play of the day. Kicker Steven Hauschka executed a solid onside kick that took the big hop, but Green Bay tight end Brandon Bostick had a golden opportunity at the recovery that likely would have secured the win. He leapt in the air and had the ball squarely in his sights before it went through his hands and squarely into his helmet. Seattle’s Chris Matthews recovered at midfield with 2:07 to play and Marshawn Lynch scored on a 24-yard touchdown run with 1:25 to play to give Seattle a 22-19 lead with the two-point conversion catch from tight end Luke Willson.

Red zone defense: The Green Bay Packers were inside the 2-yard line twice in the first quarter, but after an initial touchdown ruling on a John Kuhn run was reversed and spotted inside the 1-yard line and the Seattle defense held, Packers coach Mike McCarthy decided to kick the field goal instead of going for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal. That gave the Packers a 3-0 lead. For two straight series, the Packer had first-and-goal at the 7, advanced to the 1-yard line and settled for a goal. On their next series, the Packers took advantage of the Seahawks jumping offside inside the red zone and Aaron Rodgers bought time before finding Randall Cobb in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game, a 13-yarder. That brought the Packers to a 13-0 lead that they advanced to a 16-0 halftime lead.

Surviving the flag: In less than 20 minutes of game time, Rodgers got the Seahawks to jump offside three times, the second of which emboldened him to successfully take a shot into the zone, resulting in his 13-yard touchdown to Cobb. On the next drive, he took a deep shot to Davante Adam in the end zone that was overthrown when Seattle jumped early again. It was another penalty that extended Green Bay’s first drive of the second quarter. Despite Rodgers misfiring to Cobb on third-and-13, the Seahawks gave the Packers another shot when Cliff Avril was flagged for his second hands-to-the-face penalty of the game. It allowed the Packers to get into field goal position without another first down and Mason Crosby banged his third field goal of the game through for a 16-0 lead, due in part to Seattle’s six penalties in less than 20 minutes. They had seven penalties for 35 yards in the first half, but only one 5-yard penalty in the second half.

Lack of points off turnovers: The Packers were given chance after chance to widen their lead, but despite forcing five turnovers, those resulted in only six points – two first-quarter field goals. The Seahawks were even worse. They got two interceptions off Aaron Rodgers, but they gave both of those possessions back when Wilson threw two of his four interceptions.

New England Patriots 45, Indianapolis Colts 7
Bruising with Blount: The Patriots had a different running back lead them in each month of the regular season, but they found their workhorse to ride in the AFC Championship. LeGarrette Blount was the main man, just like he was in the Divisional round against the Colts 53 weeks ago, when he ran 24 times for 166 yards (6.9-yard average) and four touchdowns. In the Patriots’ Nov. 16 matchup with the Colts, it was Jonas Gray who ran 37 times for 201 yards (5.4-yard average) and four touchdowns. At that time, Blount wasn’t with New England. This time, Blount ran 30 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

First scores off turnovers: The first touchdown for each team was set up by a turnover. The Patriots started their first touchdown drive on the 26-yard line when Josh Cribbs muffed a punt that was recovered by Darius Fleming in the first quarter. Six plays later, the Patriots had a 7-0 lead. The Colts’ only touchdown drive was set up by a D’Qwell Jackson interception of Tom Brady. The Colts drove 93 yards – the longest drive given up by the Patriots this season – to close the New England lead to 14-7 in the second quarter.

Third-down Edelman: By the time the game was early in the third quarter, Julian Edelman had already caught four third-down passes for first downs. With the game in hand at 38-7 in the fourth quarter, Edelman converted another third down to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Blount, his third of the game. New England converted an incredible 12 of 18 third-down tries and held the Colts to 3-for-11 on third down.

The new wrinkle: After getting under the skin of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh last weekend using four offensive linemen, the Patriots went with a more traditional type of trickery – even if seldom-used in the passing game – when tackle Nate Solder reported as eligible for the opening drive of the third quarter. The left tackle went out on a short pattern and was left wide open. Brady found him and Solder rumbled in for the 16-yard touchdown to take a 24-7 lead. It wasn’t only the first touchdown catch for Solder, it was his first reception in his four seasons in the NFL.

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