By Balraj Dhillon (Contributor)
The divisional round of the playoffs, perhaps the most exciting weekend of the NFL playoffs next to the Super Bowl, wrapped up Sunday afternoon as four teams saw their season come to an end and another four got one step closer to playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
Divisional round weekend kicked off with the San Francisco 49ers hosting the dynamic New Orleans Saints in what turned out to be possibly one of the greatest post-season games ever played. The second Saturday game saw the New England Patriots host Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in what was another record breaking day for Patriots QB Tom Brady. Sunday kicked off with the Baltimore Ravens hosting The Houston Texans who played with their third string quarterback T.J. Yates. The Divisional round ended with the red hot New York Giants paying a visit to defending champions Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the results shocking the football world.
The San Francisco 49ers ended the New Orleans Saints season in déjà vu fashion as Vernon Davis caught a pass from QB Alex Smith on the goal line and held on for the game-winning touchdown as he was tackled by two Saints defenders. 49ers fans have seen the exact same game winning play in the post season twice before; the first being in the 1982 Championship game where Dwight Clark caught a pass from Joe Montana in similar fashion. The touchdown play will forever be known as, “the catch,” as it propelled the 49ers to 5 Super Bowl wins in the 80’s. The second version of “the catch” was a touchdown grab by Terrell Owens from of a Steve Young throw in 1998 as the 49ers knocked off the Green Bay Packers. The Saturday afternoon match up saw four lead changes in the final three minutes of play; just when everyone thought Drew Brees had done it again, Alex Smith lead the 49ers back down the field and capped off an 80 yard drive with a touchdown which gave the 49ers a 36-32 victory.
The Saturday night match up between the Patriots and the Broncos was incredibly one sided. The New England Patriots routed the Denver Broncos 45-10 on a night where Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes, five of which were in the first half alone. The five touchdowns in the first half is a new NFL record, just one of 52 which Brady holds; the six touchdowns tied the record for most touchdown passes in a post-season game. Phenomenal tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke the regular season record for tight ends for most receiving yards and touchdowns, continued his destructive way, catching three touchdown passes in the victory.
On Sunday morning the Baltimore Ravens were fortunate enough to squeak out a victory over the Houston Texans. The final score was 20-13 in favour of the Ravens, but 7 of the Ravens points came off a Houston interception. On a day where the Ravens offence was nowhere to be found, those points off turnovers were the deciding factor. Ray Rice averaged under 3 yards per carry and Joe Flacco threw for less than 200 yards for the Ravens who will need a complete turnaround on offence to challenge the Patriots next week.
Sunday afternoon saw the New York Giants stun the defending champions Green Bay Packers 37-20 in Green Bay. The Packers offence simply did not show up to play; four fumbles were lost, including one by QB Aaron Rodgers, who also threw an interception. The Packers offence, which averaged 35 points per-game this season, was held to just 20 by the Giants defence, which is the hottest unit in the NFL playoffs right now. Eli Manning had a big game for the Giants, throwing for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns as he and his team advance to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2007, when they knocked off the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Next Sunday on Championship weekend the New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens with the AFC Championship on the line. The match up will feature the best offence in the league against the second best defence in the league. The battle will come down to the trenches; can the Patriots offensive line give Brady time to throw or will the Ravens defensive line bring him down? Can the Patriots defensive line contain Ray Rice and make Joe Flacco throw? The NFC Championship game will see the 49ers of San Francisco host the New York Giants in what will be a defensive match-up dominated by the run game on the offensive side of the ball.