Seahawks and Patriots Run to Conference Championship Games

NFL Steve O Speak

Thanks to a Beastly Performance, Seattle One Step Closer to Super Bowl.

The Seattle Seahawks entered Saturday having lost their previous four divisional playoff games, and their 2-6 record all-time in the round was tied for the second-worst mark among teams with at least three divisional playoff appearances. However, none of those Seattle teams possessed what this one was does in terms of being a complete football team.

The ability to run the football, play great defense and convert special teams’ opportunities can make a run through the NFL postseason much easier. Seattle rode another “beastly” effort from Marshawn Lynch, along with a stellar performance from its defensive secondary, to pick up the 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints and secure a spot in the conference championship for the third time in franchise history. Kicker Steve Hauschka booted three tough field goals in blustery conditions to contribute nine points in an eight-point win.0111seahawks2

Lynch finished the game with a Seahawks postseason-record 140 rushing yards, breaking a mark he previously shared with Shaun Alexander. Lynch now has three of the four highest single-game rushing yardage totals in Seahawks history. For his career, Lynch now has three 130-yard rushing games in the postseason. Under the current NFL playoff format (dating back to 1990), only Terrell Davis and Thurman Thomas have more such games.

Lynch did the majority of his work going right up the middle, with 19 of his 28 rushes to that area, for 108 yards (5.7 yards per rush). On the nine rushes outside the tackles, Lynch gained just 32 yards, for 3.6 yards per carry. Thirty-one of those yards came on his fourth-quarter touchdown run. In true “Beast Mode” form, Lynch finished with 66 rush yards after contact. In Seattle’s Week 13 victory over the Saints, Lynch finished with just 45 total rush yards on 16 carries.

The Seattle secondary also contained the Saints biggest weapon, Jimmy Graham. At the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was 0-for-4 when targeting Graham, with all four incompletions having been broken up by Seahawks defenders.

Thanks in part to Seattle limiting Graham, the Saints finished just 3-for-12 (25 percent) on third down. During the regular season, the Saints were third in the NFL and tops in the NFC, converting 43.9 percent of their third downs.

The QB’s played sporadic on a rainy cold day in Seattle. Russell Wilson finished 9 of 18 for a career-low 103 yards. His leading receiver was Percy Harvin, who was making his second appearance of the season after nearly being put on injured reserve less than two weeks ago. Harvin had three receptions for 21 yards in the first half and one rush for 9 yards, but left the game late in the first half with a concussion.

Drew Brees, who had one of the worst first halves of his career with 34 passing yards and was horrific the last times these teams played in early December, finished 24 of 43 for 309 yards with one TD. However, Brees did scare Seattle fans to close out the contest. Brees took the Saints 80 yards in nine plays, capped with a 9-yard TD pass to Marques Colston with 26 seconds left that made it 23-15.

Colston then recovered the onside kick when it caromed off Tate and directly to the Saints’ receiver. Brees took over at his 41 with 24 seconds left and Jimmy Graham caught his first pass of the game on an 8-yard completion. Brees spiked the ball to stop the clock, and then found Colston near the sideline. Instead of stepping out of bounds, Colston tried to throw across the field to Darren Sproles. It was an illegal forward pass and the penalty ran off the final 10 seconds of the clock giving Seattle the victory.

Russell Wilson was better able to cope with the poor weather conditions in the first half Sunday, going 6-of-8 on passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage. Drew Brees struggled on those throws, going 2-of-8, including 1-of-7 to his wide receivers and tight ends. The Seahawks led 16-0 at halftime and through three quarters, as neither team scored following the intermission. This was followed by a 22-point fourth quarter, as the Saints scored 15 points. Since the start of the 2007 season, teams to shut out their opponents in the first half of a playoff game are just 4-3. Those teams are just 2-3 when scoring under 20 points in the through 30-minutes of play. New Orleans moved to 0-32 in team history when shut out through 3 quarters (including playoffs).

Seattle will host the winner of the San Francisco-Carolina today, as the Seahawks get set to participate in the franchises third conference championship. They are 1-1 in those games, with their last appearance coming back in 2005, as they defeated the Carolina Panthers to advance to Super Bowl 40.

Patriots Advance to Third Straight Conference Championship Quite Blountly:

If I told you the Patriots would score 40 plus in a game and Tom Brady failed to throw a TD pass, would you believe me? Well-it happened last night, as New England routed the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 on a rainy miserable night in Foxborough Massachusetts. The Patriots offense gouged the Colts defense on the ground, as they rushed for 234 total yards, 166 of them on the back of LeGarrette Blount.

Blount becomes the latest Bill Belichick find to have success for a team that needs it when it matters most. Playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, Blount had 151 rush yards and two rushing touchdowns the entire season. download

In the Pats win last night, Blount surpassed both of those numbers, making NFL history with 166 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the 21-point win. He is just the second player in NFL postseason history to run for at least four touchdowns in a game. Ricky Watters had five for the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game in the 1993 season. No other player has had more than three, making Blount the first player in postseason history to have more than 120 rushing yards with at least four rushing touchdowns in a game. For the game, 162 of Blount’s 166 yards came on runs inside the tackles. That is the fifth most by a player in a game this season, regular and postseason.

The Patriots’ blocking deserves a lot of credit for the performance as well. Blount had 146 of his yards before contact, the second most such yards for a player in a game this season. Only DeMarco Murray (149 against the Rams in Week 3) had more this year.  Blount scored on three 2-yard runs in the first half, and then broke one down the right side for a 73-yard score.

Blount wasn’t the only Patriots running back to find the end zone. Stevan Ridley scored twice to give the Patriots six rushing touchdowns for the game, making them just the third team in NFL postseason history to reach that mark. Before Saturday, the Patriots had never rushed for more than four touchdowns in either a regular-season or a postseason game.

The Patriots had success rushing the football this season but nobody expected this type of a performance vs. the Colts. The Colts held Tom Brady in check but could not contain the ground attack. Brady was just 13-25 for 198 yards and the unbelievable stat of no TD’s with 43 points scored. The 43 points scored 43 points without throwing a TD pass was the 3rd-highest point total without a TD pass in NFL playoff history.

ESPN keeps their own QB rating over the normal NFL passer rating and it grades a QB’s performance from a 0-100. I prefer this passer rating because I feel it measures more of QB’s overall game performance. Despite not throwing a TD, Brady’s 75.1 Total QBR is the highest postseason single game Total QBR since 2006 by any quarterback who failed to throw a touchdown pass; Brady also holds the fifth-best Total QBR in a similar game.

While Brady may not have contributed on the scoreboard, he didn’t hurt his team with turnovers. Colts QB Andrew Luck, who tossed three picks last week in their dramatic come from behind win, tossed four more on Saturday night. Luck threw just nine interceptions in 16 games (570 pass attempts) during the regular season. He threw seven interceptions in two playoff games on just 86 pass attempts. His second pass of the night was picked off, as he never seemed to get comfortable.

After falling behind 14-0, the Colts trailed 21-12 at halftime, and then cut the deficit to 29-22 on a 35-yard TD pass from Luck to LaVon Brazill with 5:01 left in the third. The Patriots simply took over and dominated the game from that point.

The most impressive stats of the night for the Pats may be what they did to Indy in the red zone. The Patriots, who started the year without their top five receivers from last season, struggled all year inside the 20-line but not on Saturday night. The Patriots scored a touchdown on five of six red-zone trips (83.3%) — all via rush. During the regular season, they found the end zone on 55.4 percent of drives that reached the red zone, 15th in the league.

TE Rob Gronkowski was the catalyst for the Patriots success in the red area. They scored a touchdown on only 42.4 percent of red-zone drives without Gronk but in the seven games with Gronkowski on the field this season, the Patriots found the end zone on 68.8 percent of red-zone trips.

The Patriots will either travel to Denver or host the Chargers next week in the AFC Championship game, their third straight. Last year, the Ravens came into Foxborough and dismantled Brady and the Patriots enroute to winning the Super Bowl.

Brady is now 7-1 in bye weeks during the playoffs and will look to advance to his sixth Super Bowl with a win next week. If the Pats continue to get the type of play from LeGarrette Blount that they have been getting, there will be no stopping them. Aside from last night’s record setting performance, Blount scored on runs of 36 and 35 yards in the regular-season finale against Buffalo. He also returned kickoffs 83 and 62 yards in that 34-20 victory, that gave New England a first-round bye.

Thanks to ESPN Stats & Info and STATS LLC

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