Sunday was one of the biggest days of the 2015-16 NFL season. The NFC and AFC championship games were played, setting the tone for the upcoming Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7. The Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers played the NFC championship game, while the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos played the AFC championship.
All four teams were hoping for a chance to play on the main stage in Santa Clara, California, where one of these teams will be hoisting the greatest achievement in football, the famous Lombardi trophy.
The AFC game was in Denver, Colorado, where the legendary matchup between Peyton Manning and his old-time rival Tom Brady took place. This game would determine if these future NFL hall-of-famers would bring their team to yet another Super Bowl appearance.
Defense, third down conversions and an extra point turned out to be the main components involved in the game. Starting in the first quarter, Manning connected to tight end Owen Daniels with the first score of the game for a 25-yard touchdown.
The Patriots’ defense was looking fatigued early on until a critical turnover by the Broncos on a pass behind the line of scrimmage gave the Patriots the ball back immediately. Then veteran halfback Steven Jackson scored his first career playoff touchdown.
As they lined up for the extra point, field goal kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the kick to tie the game. Until that moment, the last time he missed an extra point was his rookie season.
Brady felt the pressure of the Broncos’ strong defensive front, which is ranked the best pass defense in the NFL. Leading the way were linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Derek Wolfe, who caused Brady to pass the ball sooner than he would have liked by repeatedly breaking through the offensive line.
Later into the first half, Manning tossed another touchdown after a turnover, a 10-yard touchdown to Daniels again to take the lead. Both teams had difficulty with running the ball for the entire game and relied on their all-star quarterbacks to lead them to victory. Brady ended the half by throwing some great passes to tightend Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman to get them field goals to cut their deficit. As they headed into the fourth quarter, the tension built up as their season was riding on the line.
As the quarter progressed, Brady was finding his groove and reaching his receivers on terrific passes. The Patriots were down 20-12 with approximately six minutes and 30 seconds remaining.
On a fourth-and-one on the 14-yard line, Patriots coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it instead of settling with a field goal to put points on the board.
Later, the Patriots had a controversial third down, with Brady passing to wide receiver Danny Amendola, which seemed to look like a completion and fumble. However, the referees ruled it incomplete, which could have ended the game, if the play was a fumble in the Broncos’ favor.
The Patriots yet again elected to go for it on fourth down and didn’t convert. With one last drive attempt, Brady executed two huge passes to Gronkowski to save their season. He needed a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining. In order to go into overtime, the Patriots needed a two-point conversion, but Brady’s pass was deflected by former teammate Aqib Talib and the Broncos won 20-18.
As a result, the Broncos are going back to their second Super Bowl in three years.
In the NFC championship, there weren’t many highlights, as the Carolina Panthers dominated the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers’ offense was explosive and seemed to move the ball flawlessly. Quarterback Cam Newton passed efficiently to many receivers, while running back Jonathan Stewart ran the ball with strength and elusiveness.
The Cardinals’ defense also made many mistakes, with poor tackling and awful coverage leaving many receivers wide open. The Panthers’ offense looked the best in this game, but it wasn’t just their offense that made headlines.
Former Cardinal punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. returned the ball with explosive speed and the Arizona special teams couldn’t catch up. Quarterback Carson Palmer had a brutal game getting pressured and rushing his passes time and time again. He turned the ball over six times with four interceptions and two fumbles.
The Panthers’ defense looked unstoppable and the all-around team effort helped win the game.
The Panthers ended up with the 49-15 win and are heading back into the Super Bowl to face the Broncos on Feb. 7.