|Copyright LA Times|
Yesterday’s two Championship games produced worthy winners after close fought contests, ultimately pitting the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos against each other in Superbowl XLVIII in New Jersey in two weeks time. The Broncos were able to control the ball for much of the game against New England, keeping Tom Brady off the field and prevailing 26-16 thanks to yet another stellar performance from quarterback Peyton Manning. Seattle meanwhile relied on the leagues best defense to triumph over the hated 49ers by a score of 23-17, in large part thanks to three fourth quarter turnovers including two Colin Kaepernick interceptions.
The early game was held in the sunshine at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and Manning took full advantage of the conditions by throwing for exactly 400 yards and two touchdowns against the Bill Belichick led Patriots defense, who lost cornerback Aqib Talib early on after a contentious hit from Broncos wide-out and former Patriot Wes Welker. Belichick wasn’t happy with the hit and described it as ‘deliberate’ after the game, however it wasn’t called by the referees on the field and the loss of Talib severely dented an already struggling New England secondary. Demaryius Thomas proved to be Manning’s receiver of choice this week, catching seven balls for 134 yards and a score as he picked on undersized Patriots corner Alfonzo Dennard, who gave up four inches in height to the big Broncos receiver.
Having scored four touchdowns a week ago against Indianapolis LeGarrette Blount was expected to at least offer Brady a reliable rushing option yesterday, however he could muster all of six yards on five carries as the Denver defense stepped up to the task. Brady himself played efficiently if not as flawlessly as Manning and his overthrow of Julian Edelman in the first half was crucial as New England missed out on the chance to put at least three additional points, and possibly more, on the board. Denver were able to run out to a 13-3 lead at the half and a 20-3 advantage by the end of the third quarter, putting themselves in a near impregnable position before the Patriots offense made a belated charge late on. For Brady this may have been his last chance to reach a Superbowl with the Patriots roster gradually aging and losing talented players to free agency over the past few seasons and with very little offensive prowess (himself excluded) on board.
Following the conclusion of the Broncos win Seattle and San Francisco squared off in a heated encounter at CenturyLink Field, where the on field action was somewhat overshadowed by some controversial post game comments from Seahawks corner Richard Sherman. Sherman had effectively won the game for Seattle by tipping a late Colin Kaepernick pass into the hands of fellow defender Malcolm Smith, prompting him to target 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in his post match interview by calling him a ‘sorry ass receiver’. That incident aside the game was fiercely competitive and there were a few bumps and bruises picked up along the way, including a gruesome looking leg injury to San Francisco’s star linebacker Navarro Bowman, who had been in the thick of things all afternoon by recording fourteen tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Aldon Smith himself forced a Russell Wilson fumble on the first play from scrimmage with a strip sack and recovery but Kaepernick and the niners offense had to settle for a field goal; nonetheless Jim Harbaugh’s men went into the locker room at half time with a 13-3 lead and in control of the game.
However Seattle stepped things up a gear in the second half and Marshawn Lynch recorded a breathtaking 40 yard touchdown run, before the Seahawks took the lead for good with Wilson’s 35 yard strike to Jermaine Kearse on a key fourth-and-seven play in the fourth period. Kaepernick had made several plays early on with his legs and finished with 130 yards rushing on the day, unfortunately for him and his teammates his two picks and fumble in the second half were terminal to the 49ers Superbowl aspirations as he struggled to connect with open targets down field.
While the Superbowl is still two weeks away it’s never too soon to look at the potential match-ups on show, and Peyton Manning versus the studly Seattle secondary should make for fascinating viewing. Russell Wilson continues to make just enough plays to win games and he’ll probably be asked to make more than a few clutch throws as the Seahawks attempt to keep pace with the prolific Denver attack, although the elements in the first ever cold weather Superbowl could have a greater impact than Roger Goodell and the owners could possibly have imagined when they awarded New Jersey the leagues 48th Superbowl.