No. 1 seeds both one-and-done in NFL playoffs
Monday, January 17, 2011
So much for those No. 1 seeds.
They’re both one-and-done in the NFL playoffs.
The trash-talking New York Jets delivered the latest stunner, upsetting the New England Patriots 28-21 Sunday. Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes, Tom Brady was sacked five times and Rex Ryan’s team put itself one win away from backing up his Super Bowl boast.
The Patriots — who had the league’s best record during the regular season — were bounced less than 24 hours after NFC top seed Atlanta went down with a 48-21 rout by Aaron Rodgers and the streaking Green Bay Packers.
“We came here for a reason,” said Ryan, the Jets’ brash coach. “We believed we were the better team. I knew if we applied ourselves, we would beat them.”
The Jets will travel to Pittsburgh for their second straight AFC championship game, looking for their first Super Bowl appearance since Joe Namath boldly predicted a win in the 1969 title game — then backed up his words against the heavily favored Colts.
This New York team is from the same mold, knocking off the Patriots after back-and-forth verbal sparring that turned this into the most anticipated matchup of the weekend. Ryan didn’t mind all the jawing, but New England held out star receiver Wes Welker on the opening series after he made not-so-subtle references to recent foot-fetish reports involving the Jets coach and his wife.
None of it seemed to bother Ryan, who guided the Jets to the AFC title game a year ago before the season ended with a 30-17 loss to Indianapolis. This time, the Jets will face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to beat division rival Baltimore 31-24 on Saturday.
“Same ol’ Jets,” Ryan crowed. “The only difference is we plan to win it this time.”
In Sunday’s other contest, the Chicago Bears completed a matchup between two of the NFL’s most storied teams by cruising past the under-.500 Seattle Seahawks 35-24.
Chicago will face the Packers in the NFC title game — the 182nd meeting between the teams over the last 90 years, but, amazingly enough, only the second time they’ve faced each other in a playoff.
Way back in 1941 — just days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and a quarter-century before there was even a game known as the Super Bowl — the George Halas-coached Bears beat the Packers 33-14 at Wrigley Field for the Western Division title. The playoff was needed after each team went 10-1 during the regular season.
After knocking off the Packers, Chicago went on to beat the New York Giants for one of its nine NFL titles. But the Bears haven’t won it all since shuffling to the Super Bowl championship during the 1985 season with Jim McMahon, Walter Payton & Co.
Green Bay has won a record 12 NFL titles, most recently during the 1996 season with Brett Favre at quarterback.
“It’s a big deal. We have a lot of history with them,” said Brian Urlacher, the Bears’ star linebacker. “We don’t like them, they don’t like us.”
Both conference championships games will feature No. 2 seeds (Chicago and Pittsburgh) against No. 6 seeds (New York and Green Bay) that are playing some of their best football at just the right time.
The NFC North rivals split two regular-season meetings. The Bears won 20-17 at home in Week 3, while Packers clinched a spot in the playoffs with a 10-3 triumph at Lambeau Field two weeks ago.
The Jets won at Pittsburgh 22-17 on Dec. 19.
Jets 28, Patriots 21
At Foxborough, Mass., the Jets (13-5) had a 14-3 lead over their fierce rival at halftime and made it stand up, getting a leaping touchdown catch from Santonio Holmes after New England rallied.
Holmes is best-known for a brilliant grab that won the 2009 Super Bowl for the Steelers, and now he’s one win away from getting a shot at another title with his new team.
Brady and the Patriots (14-3) lost their third straight postseason game, this defeat coming to the team they beat 45-3 during the regular season, a team that became media darlings with their preseason appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” reality show.
“We gave up too many points and we didn’t score enough,” New England coach Bill Belichick said in one of his typically bland assessments. “We just didn’t do a good enough job.”
Ryan is the exact opposite of his New England counterpart, going so far as to claim the playoff game was actually a matchup between the coaches.
“I was dead wrong,” Ryan quipped. “I thought it would come down to me and Belichick. Thank goodness it didn’t. He won that battle like he always does. It came down to the players and assistant coaches — and we won that battle.”
Sanchez completed 16 of 25 passes for 194 yards, also connecting with LaDainian Tomlinson and Braylon Edwards on touchdown throws. Brady was 29 of 45 for 299 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
Bears 35, Seahawks 24
Chicago (12-5) raced to a 28-0 lead at snowy Soldier Field, ensuring the NFL won’t have a .500 team playing for a spot in the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks (8-10) had eliminated defending champion New Orleans in the opening round, but they didn’t come close to pulling off another upset.
Jay Cutler passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more to lead the Bears. He especially enjoyed scoring twice with his feet, reaching the end zone from 6 and 9 yards out.
“It was fun,” he said with a smile. “That first one was called. Second one was kind of improv.”
The Seahawks piled up 41 points against the Saints and hoped to duplicate a 23-20 victory at Chicago in October. No chance. The Bears allowed just 111 yards through the first three periods.
“I would have loved to have got this game today that so many people didn’t think we could,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “I see where we’re going and I’m proud of that.”
Packers 48, Falcons 21
Rodgers turned in another dynamic performance for the Packers (12-6), throwing for 366 yards and accounting for four touchdowns in the highest-scoring playoff game in team history.
After leading an upset of Michael Vick and the Eagles in Philadelphia, Rodgers thoroughly dominated the team that had home-field advantage on the NFC side.
“We have what it takes,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “Make no mistake about that.”
The Falcons (13-4) were set up to make a run at just the second Super Bowl in franchise history, but four turnovers and five sacks made for an ugly night that sent most of the home fans heading for the exits before the final quarter.
“We did a lot of things well this year and we’ve got a chance to build on some of the things we did this year,” said quarterback Matt Ryan, who had two interceptions and lost a fumble.
Steelers 31, Ravens 24
Pittsburgh (13-4) earned its 15th trip to the AFC title game, and this one will be more satisfying than most after the Steelers overcame a tumultuous offseason that resulted in a four-game suspension for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“We don’t take this for granted,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
After trailing 21-7 at halftime, Pittsburgh won it with a classic drive at the finish. Roethlisberger, who threw for two touchdowns, completed a 58-yard pass to rookie Antonio Brown on third-and-19. That set up a 2-yard scoring run by Rashard Mendenhall with 1:33 left.