Fantastic Four Ready for AFC and NFC Championships
NFL 2011 Playoffs
"This is playoff football," says Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. "Year after year, time after time, great competition is going against each other. It really doesn't get any better. That's what playoff football is all about."
For the first time since 2006, the final four teams are all division champions.
In the AFC Divisional Playoffs, the Ravens outlasted Houston 20-13 to advance to the AFC Championship game. Quarterback JOE FLACCO threw a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes as the Ravens built a 17-3 lead they would not relinquish.
The Ravens travel to New England to face the top-seeded Patriots, who set a single-game franchise playoff record for points scored in their 45-10 home victory over the Denver Broncos.
The Giants advanced to the NFC Championship Game by winning in Green Bay and eliminating the top seeded Packers. New York, which beat the Packers 23-20 in overtime en route to Super Bowl XLII, won 37-20 on Sunday afternoon and became the first NFL team to win two road playoff games in Green Bay.
San Francisco advanced to the NFC Championship on with a 36-32 home victory in a back-and-forth contest with New Orleans, with quarterback Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis eliciting memories of "The Catch" as they connected on a game-winning touchdown pass with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter.
With each of the four remaining playoff clubs looking to capitalize on the momentum built this past weekend in hopes of advancing to Super Bowl XLVI, they'll have their work cut out for them on Championship Weekend.
A closer look at the AFC and NFC Championship Games:
Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at New England Patriots (14-3)
(Sunday, CBS, 3:00 PM ET)
Baltimore and New England will meet for the eighth time. The Patriots have won all six regular-season contests yet the Ravens won the only playoff meeting, winning 33-14 at New England in a 2009 Wild Card game. In that game, Baltimore running back RAY RICE rushed for a franchise playoff record 159 yards, including two touchdowns. Rice had an 83-yard TD run in that contest, the second-longest rushing touchdown in NFL postseason history.
Last week, Baltimore defeated Houston 20-13 as JOHN HARBAUGH became the first head coach in NFL history to win a postseason game in each of his first four seasons. Ravens quarterback JOE FLACCO threw two touchdown passes and has won five playoff games in his first four NFL seasons, tied with BEN ROETHLISBERGER and KURT WARNER for the second most postseason wins by a QB in his first four years. New England's TOM BRADY won six playoff games in his first four NFL seasons.
"Joe has come in and led us to the playoffs in each of the last four years," says linebacker RAY LEWIS, the last remaining member of the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV championship team in the 2000 season. "What matters is what we think inside of this building and what we feel about him and the confidence we have in him. Joe Flacco has done a heck of a job getting us into the position to win."
Defensively, the Ravens had three interceptions against the Texans, including two by cornerback LARDARIUS WEBB, tying the club's single-game playoff record (ED REED, twice and DUANE STARKS). Reed recorded his eighth career postseason interception, tied for the fourth-most in NFL history.
The Patriots advanced to their ninth AFC Championship with a 45-10 win over Denver in the Divisional round. New England is 6-2 in AFC Championship Games, including 3-0 at home. With the victory, head coach BILL BELICHICK and quarterback Brady recorded their 15th postseason win together, the most by a head coach and starting quarterback tandem in NFL history, passing Pro Football Hall of Famers CHUCK NOLL and TERRY BRADSHAW (14).
"It's all about winning," says Brady, who passed for 363 yards and tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes. "From this point on, everyone will be focused on what we need to do to be better next week and hopefully come out and play for another championship."
In the Divisional round victory, New England scored 45 points, gained 509 yards and did not allow a sack. It marked the first time a team has had at least 40 points and 500 yards without allowing a sack in a postseason game since the 1990 Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game.
Brady became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 350 yards and six touchdowns in a postseason game. He also is the first player in league annals to pass for at least six touchdowns in a game twice during the regular season and once in the postseason. His 15 career playoff wins as a starting quarterback rank second all-time behind Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE MONTANA (16).
"Tom was on fire," says Patriots tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI, who had three touchdown receptions, tied for the most in a postseason game in NFL history. "That's just how he is, throwing the ball in the playoffs just like any other game."
New York Giants (11-7) at San Francisco 49Ers (14-3)
(Sunday, FOX, 6:30 PM ET)
The NFC Championship Game marks the eighth postseason meeting between the Giants and 49ers, with San Francisco currently holding a 4-3 edge in the series. New York won the lone Conference Championship meeting between these two clubs, earning a 15-13 victory in San Francisco en route to a Super Bowl XXV title.
The game will feature a pair of former No. 1 overall NFL Draft picks, ELI MANNING (2004) and ALEX SMITH (2005), the second time in NFL playoff history two former No. 1 QBs will start against each other in a Conference Championship Game. The other occurrence pitted JOHN ELWAY's Broncos against the Jets' VINNY TESTAVERDE in the 1998 AFC title game.
The 49ers advanced to their 13th NFC Championship Game with a thrilling 36-32 victory over New Orleans last week. San Francisco's 13 Championship Game appearances are the third-most in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
"I'm just really proud of our team," says 49ers head coach JIM HARBAUGH. "You're going to live or die in these games. We lived. We move on and we move on in spectacular fashion."
Last week's Divisional contest between the 49ers and Saints was the first game in NFL postseason history that had four go-ahead touchdowns within a span of four minutes of playing time. For San Francisco, quarterback ALEX SMITH had a 28-yard TD run with 2:11 remaining and threw the game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end VERNON DAVIS with nine seconds left in the contest. Smith became the first player in NFL history to score a go-ahead touchdown and throw a go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the same playoff game.
"That was about as good as it gets," says Smith about the victory. "It feels great. We're still playing. We've got another week of work and I don't want this to end. Nobody in that locker room does because it's been such a great year."
Smith's TD pass to Davis with nine seconds left was the fourth go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of a postseason game in 49ers history: JOE MONTANA's six-yard TD pass to DWIGHT CLARK with 51 seconds left (1981 NFC Championship); Montana's 10-yard TD pass to JOHN TAYLOR with 34 seconds remaining (Super Bowl XXIII); and STEVE YOUNG's 25-yard TD pass to TERRELL OWENS with three seconds left (1998 Wild Card).
"This is huge for us," says Davis, who set a postseason record for receiving yards by a tight end with 180, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer KELLEN WINSLOW (166). "It's history, legendary, anything you can describe."
The Giants, who are in the midst of their NFL-best 31st playoff appearance, avenged a 38-35 loss to Green Bay in Week 13. Manning passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns, including a 37-yarder to wide receiver HAKEEM NICKS on the last play of the first half.
"I was the jump man," said Nicks, who became the third player in NFL history with two touchdown catches of at least 65 yards in the same postseason, joining TIM BROWN and ISAAC BRUCE. "I got down there and I didn't even see who was around me. All I saw was the ball and once I saw the ball, I had to jump and get it. I don't even know where I landed in the end zone. Once I went up and got it, I looked around and it was exciting."
New York's defense forced the Packers to commit four turnovers, their highest total of the season, including three fumbles and an interception by safety DEON GRANT. Linebacker MICHAEL BOLEY and defensive end OSI UMENYIORA also registered two sacks apiece for the Giants.
"We know we're a good football team and we're a great defense," says Umenyiora, who has 12 sacks in 11 games played this season, including the playoffs. "This is the postseason and we're playing the way we're supposed to be playing right now.
- Eli Manning Brilliant: Giants Oust Top-Seeded Packers
- Flacco Lifts Ravens Past Mistake-Prone Texans
- Alex Smith Launches Game-Winning Strike, 49ers Edge Saints
- Jets Legend Joe Namath Stumped On Sparano Hiring
- Final Eight Take Center Stage In Divisional Playoffs
- Wild Card Weekend: A Look Back
- Tebow, Broncos Stun Steelers in Overtime
- Giants Too Much for Falcons, Move On to Face Packers
- Foster's Two TDs Power Texans Past Bengals
- Drew Brees, Saints Tame Lions
- Raiders Dismiss Head Coach Hue Jackson
- LaDainian Tomlinson 'Contemplating' Retirement
- Robert Griffin III Headed to NFL
- Colts Set Sights on Andrew Luck as No. 1 in NFL Draft
- Star Running Back LaMichael James Leaving Oregon for NFL
- Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Wisconsin's Ball Return For Senior Campaigns
- Browns Seek Playmaker at Number 4
- Cleveland Browns Need Plenty of Help in Rugged AFC North
- Chiefs Plan to Keep Romeo Crennel as Head Coach
- Parcells Heads Up Potential NFL Hall of Fame List
- Playoff Records, Facts, Figures and Milestones
- Regular Season Records and Milestones
- Wild Card Weekend Preview: What to Look For
- Record-Breaking Regular Season Had It All
- Super Bowl Ads Sold Out
- NFL Football Firings
- Chicago Bears Dismiss GM After Poor Finish
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