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Hefty Hits: A Solid Dose Of NFL Conference Championship Week

Andrew McKagan |
January 21, 2014 | 12:43 a.m. PST

Staff Writer

Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton has been a huge free agent acquisition for the Denver Broncos and is the anchor of the defensive line. (Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons)
Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton has been a huge free agent acquisition for the Denver Broncos and is the anchor of the defensive line. (Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons)

Denver Broncos 26, New England Patriots 16

In a game that featured two of the all-time greatest quarterbacks, one clearly outplayed the other. On Denver’s side, the Ryan Clady-less offensive line has been one of the best all year, and lived up to that billing by shutting out the Patriots' talented pass rush that included Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich coming off of the edges. The Patriots didn’t register a single sack, and only got significant pressure on Peyton Manning once after Jones hit Manning’s arm and managed to disrupt a pass. A large amount of credit should be given to the Broncos' offensive line for this, and will no doubt be a key factor in the Super Bowl.

Denver dominated the line of scrimmage on the other side of the ball as well, shutting down the vaunted Patriots running attack that trucked over the Colts last week, led by 166 yards and fourtouchdowns for LeGarrette Blount. Blount mustered six yards on five carries on Sunday against the Broncos. Nose tackle Terrance Knighton is undoubtedly a big part of the resurgent Broncos' run defense, and he’s been elite in the playoffs, as has linebacker Danny Trevathan.

It also doesn’t seem as if the Broncos’ pass rush has missed Von Miller all that much, and Knighton along with Shawn Phillips, Malik Jackson and Robert Ayers have all stepped up their games in his absence. These players will be crucial in pressuring and containing Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch in two weeks.


Unlike Peyton Manning, Tom Brady missed on many throws, both long and short. Inaccuracy on deep passes seems to be a byproduct of age, as Brady along with Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have suffered growing inconsistencies with the deep ball for some time now. When a team’s quarterback plays poorly and they struggle to get movement in the run game, as was previously mentioned, it is tough to win regardless of what else happens. Danny Amendola, who was New England’s top free agent acquisition last offseason by the way, totaled zero catches in the game.

Despite these offensive struggles, the defense actually did a relatively admirable job holding Denver to 26 points while playing with a bend-but-don’t-break mentality. This was shown especially when they held the Broncos to 3 points combined on their first two drives despite Denver’s success moving the ball. New England played mostly man defense against Denver’s stacked wide receiver corps, a matchup that favored Denver for the most part.

Jamie Collins once again flashed his potential in this game, and looks to be a versatile weapon for the Patriots in the future. Probably the most alarming element to this game was the lack of success the Patriots had rushing the passer. Maybe it was just an off day, but New England may want to look into adding another pass rusher in the offseason to take some of the load off of Chandler Jones. He played 98 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps, which is a huge amount for the physically taxing position of defensive lineman.

Seattle Seahawks 23, San Francisco 49ers 17

Seattle’s offense struggled from the start, with their first play of the game resulting in a fumble by Russell Wilson into the arms of Aldon Smith. Their defense stepped up after this and held the 49ers to a field goal despite their starting field position inside the red zone. Seattle's offensive struggles continued to be a theme of the first half, as they couldn’t run the ball with much success and only put three points on the board going into halftime.

A truly remarkable play, however, was Wilson’s escape from pressure and delivery of a 51-yard bomb to Doug Baldwin to set up Seattle’s only points of the half. Speaking of Doug Baldwin, he was surely one of Seattle’s MVPs of the game. The unheralded receiver caught six passes for 106 yards, and had a 59-yard kick return as well. Other standouts included Bobby Wagner with his career-high 15 tackles and Kam Chancellor for seemingly always being around the ball, especially with his interception of Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter.

But when the second half hit, the Seahawks' offensive line played to a whole new level. They blew San Francisco off the ball on Marshawn Lynch’s 40-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, and paved the way for 76 of Lynch’s 109 rushing yards in the final 30 minutes. Lynch’s celebration after his touchdown was typical Marshawn—he calmly shook hands with each of his linemen and walked back to the bench. Low key and under the radar.

Perhaps the play of the game came early in the fourth quarter. It was fourth down, and the Seahawks were seven yards away from a first down.Pete Carroll initially wanted to attempt a 53-yard field goal to put them within a point of the 49ers. However, kicker Steven Haushka asked Carroll to go for it on fourth down and Russell Wilson delivered with a perfectly thrown 35-yard seam pass to Jermaine Kearse for the touchdown. Seattle never relinquished the lead after that, as their defense would go on to force turnovers on San Francisco’s last three possessions.


San Francisco played a dominant first half. As previously mentioned, they forced a turnover on the first play of the game, and held Seattle’s offense to three points. On offense, San Francisco was led by Kaepernick's legs, as he had more than 100 yards in the first half.

Michael Bennett has been one of the best players on the Seahawks' defense, and continued to play well on Sunday with a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. (Mike Morris/Wikimedia Commons)
Michael Bennett has been one of the best players on the Seahawks' defense, and continued to play well on Sunday with a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. (Mike Morris/Wikimedia Commons)
His 58-yard run in the second quarter was huge, as they weren’t getting much offensive production otherwise. Kapernick was decidedly less spectacular in the passing game, especially from inside the pocket. Yet he did show flashes—his 26 yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin off of a jump pass was a wonder to behold.

Vernon Davis, who had two catches for 16 yards, still has yet to make a significant impact in San Francisco’s matchups with Seattle. It’s hard to blame him, though, as he likely wants nothing to do with Kam Chancellor and the highlight hits he always seems to deliver on Davis.

While Kaepernick was successful running in the first half with 101 yards, he was held to just 29 rush yards in the second half as Seattle’s defense made their adjustments to spy with Bobby Wagner and Cliff Avril instead of the less-than-healthy KJ Wright. Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman’s injuries were both horrific and severe, but a silver lining is that at least they won’t miss as many games as they would have had they had gotten hurt mid-season.

The 49ers have some interesting predicaments coming up with Kaepernick and Smith both eligible for contract extensions, Boldin and Donte Whitner both free agents this offseason, and Justin Smith and Frank Gore both in their 30’s and costing a combined $13+ million next season. Kaepernick is obviously gifted, but he’s nowhere close to a complete quarterback yet.

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