Denver, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes and the Denver Broncos reached the AFC Championship Game for the first time in eight years after hanging on to beat the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday. The Chargers cut a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to seven points after two 16-yard touchdown catches by Keenan Allen and a successful onside kick that led to a field goal with 3:53 remaining. But Manning completed two third- down passes to tight end Julius Thomas and the Broncos picked up one more first down on their last drive to earn revenge for a 27-20 loss to the Chargers last month in their worst offensive performance of the season. Manning threw for 230 yards with touchdown passes to Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, who returned from a concussion. Knowshon Moreno had a 3-yard touchdown run in between Chargers scores in the fourth quarter. Rivers passed for 217 yards and Allen had six catches for 142 but the Chargers fell short on what would have been a stunning comeback against the top-seeded Broncos, who faced tough challenges from San Diego on the way to winning the AFC West. The Broncos will host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC title game next Sunday. Manning, who set NFL records for touchdown passes and passing yards during the regular season, is 4-10 against Brady and the Patriots, including 0-2 with Denver. The quarterbacks split a pair of AFC title games when Manning was the Indianapolis quarterback.
Final Score: San Francisco 23, Carolina 10
Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Undeterred by the worst statistical game of his young career against the Carolina Panthers two months ago, Colin Kaepernick was efficient when he had to be. The stout San Francisco 49ers defense did the rest. Kaepernick threw one touchdown pass and ran for another score and the 49ers advanced to their third consecutive NFC Championship Game following a 23-10 victory over the Panthers on Sunday. The fifth-seeded 49ers will face the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks at rowdy CenturyLink Field next Sunday for a chance to play in their second straight Super Bowl. The bitter NFC West rivals split their season series. Kaepernick completed 15-of-28 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown. During San Francisco's 10-9 home loss to Carolina on Nov. 10, he was 11-of-22 for a season-low 91 yards with an interception, was sacked a career-high six times and rushed for just 16 yards. The 49ers paired touchdowns at the end of the first half and beginning of the third quarter to jump out to a 20-10 lead. Their defense held the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton scoreless in the second half. Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 136 yards and Frank Gore carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards for San Francisco. Newton was 16-of-25 for 267 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and added 54 yards on the ground for the NFC South- champion Panthers, the No. 2 seed. Steve Smith, who was a game-time decision with a PCL sprain in his left knee, had four receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
(Saturday, January 11th)
Final Score: Seattle 23, New Orleans 15
Seattle, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - Pete Carroll may be the quintessential West Coast guy, but his Seattle Seahawks are definitely in a New York state of mind. The NFC's No. 1 seed moved within one game of a trip to the outskirts of Manhattan for Super Bowl XLVIII after holding off the New Orleans Saints with a 23-15 decision in a conference Divisional Playoff at a stormy and soggy CenturyLink Field. Seattle used a familiar formula to reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2005 season. Workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch churned out 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, while the NFL's top-ranked defense kept Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints well under wraps with another stifling performance. Russell Wilson managed just 103 yards on 9-of-18 passing, running a Seattle offense that generated next to nothing for much of the second half, but had a turnover-free game as Lynch and the defense made a 16-0 halftime lead stand up. The Saints made it very interesting, however. Brees hit Marques Colston for a 9-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left to cut the difference to 23-15, and New Orleans recovered the ensuing onside kickoff before ultimately running out of time at the Seattle 38-yard line. The Seahawks will face San Francisco in next Sunday's conference title game at their hostile home of CenturyLink Field, where they've gone an intimidating 16-1 in Wilson's two years as the starting quarterback.
Final Score: New England 43, Indianapolis 22
Foxboro, MA (SportsNetwork.com) - LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns, and the New England Patriots gained their third straight spot in the AFC title game with a 43-22 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots are the first team since the 2001-04 Philadelphia Eagles to go to at least three consecutive conference championship games. The Pats, the No. 2 seed, will play Denver on the road next Sunday. Tom Brady completed 13-of-25 passes for 198 yards, but was held without a touchdown pass. The night belonged to Blount, who rumbled 73 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a two-touchdown lead. Stevan Ridley, who ran for two TDs, scored from a yard out less than two minutes later to seal the outcome in wet conditions at Gillette Stadium. The six rushing TDs are a franchise record for the Patriots in any game, regular season or playoffs. Andrew Luck had a pair of TD passes, but was picked off four times for the Colts, who rallied from a 28-point deficit a week prior to shock Kansas City, 45-44, in the Wild Card round. Luck completed 20-of-41 passes for 331 yards, with 103 of them going to T.Y. Hilton. LaVon Brazill caught both TD passes.