By holding serve at home, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots get to try again. The next prize: a spot in the Super Bowl.
Defending NFL champion Seattle used a slew of big plays to beat Carolina 31-17 Saturday night in an NFC divisional-round game. The Seahawks (13-4) will host either Green Bay or Dallas next weekend after becoming the first Super Bowl winner in nine years to win a postseason match the next season.
Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes and Kam Chancellor returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown. Wilson hit Doug Baldwin for a 16-yard TD, found Jermaine Kearse on a 63-yard score, and capped the night with a 25-yard TD pass to Luke Willson early in the fourth quarter.
“We’re just looking for this next challenge, and looking for this NFC championship and we’re just ready to go,” Chancellor said. “We’re ready to get back to practice, get the preparation going and find out who we’ll play and just get it going.”
The Patriots are making what seems like their annual trip to the AFC championship game. Tom Brady set a career record for postseason touchdown passes, leading New England back from two 14-point deficits for a 35-31 victory over Baltimore on Saturday. The Patriots will host either the Broncos or Colts next weekend for a berth in the Super Bowl.
New England (13-4) is 9-0 this season at Gillette Stadium.
“Showed a lot of toughness coming back from those two deficits,” Brady said. “So it took a lot of effort, took a lot of guys making a lot of good plays, and we’ll be happy to host the championship game next week.”
Brady broke Joe Montana’s record with 46 postseason TD passes.
“I’ve been part of a lot of great teams and there’s been a lot of guys who have blocked and been on the receiving end of those, too. Those are all team awards to me. I mean, Joe, he and Steve Young were my two idols growing up, so it was pretty special.”
Seahawks 31, Panthers 17
While Wilson was superb, Chancellor made the most eye-catching plays. He twice jumped over the Carolina offensive line on Graham Gano’s field goal attempts at the end of the first half, although to no avail.
And with Carolina (8-9-1) driving down by 14 points in the fourth quarter, Chancellor jumped in front of tight end Ed Dickson and returned his third career postseason interception for a touchdown. The 90-yarder was the longest touchdown in Seattle’s postseason history, topping Percy Harvin’s 87-yard kickoff return for a scored in last February’s Super Bowl.
“It felt awesome,” said the defensive back who normally is overshadowed by All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. “It felt like preparation. It felt like everything I worked all week for. That was my first return of my career and it felt good.”
Patriots 35, Ravens 31
Since Brady took over as New England’s quarterback in 2001, the Patriots have been to eight conference title games and five Super Bowls. They won the first three times, the last after the 2004 season, and lost the two most recent tries, both against the New York Giants. This will be their fourth consecutive appearance in the AFC championship.
It was a tough go getting there. They were outrushed 136-14 - Justin Forsett had 129 yards for Baltimore (11-7). Joe Flacco threw for four touchdowns.
But he also was intercepted twice, and New England gained 408 yards passing.
New England’s Bill Belichick tied Tom Landry for most postseason wins by a coach with 20.
Brady wasn’t the only Patriot throwing for a TD. Wide receiver Julian Edelman, a former college quarterback, hit Danny Amendola with a 51-yard strike to tie it 28-28. Brady’s 23-yarder to Brandon LaFell with 5:13 remaining won it.
“Baltimore played a great game,” Edelman said. “They came out and hit us in the mouth and we were able to get up and keep playing.”
On Sunday, Dallas is at Green Bay, followed by Indianapolis at Denver.
Dallas (13-4) at Green Bay (12-4)
Green Bay lost the season opener at Seattle, but Dallas handed the Seahawks their only loss at CenturyLink field in the regular season.
The Cowboys’ first postseason trip to Lambeau Field since losing the Ice Bowl on the final day of 1967 shouldn’t be nearly that frigid. Still, it will be cold, and Dallas can take comfort in an 8-0 road record this season.
Of course, the Packers were 8-0 at home.
“So you’ve got an immovable object going up against an unstoppable force,” Packers fullback John Kuhn said. “Which one is going to give? We’ll find out.”
A key element for Green Bay is the health of Aaron Rodgers (calf), who has been upgraded to probable.
“He looks like he’s moving fine to me right now. (We are) not going to change anything or our approach of how we want to attack Dallas’ defense,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Cowboys’ high-powered offense is led by league rushing leader DeMarco Murray.
“I feel fresh,” said Murray, who has 1,920 yards in 17 games, including the wild-card win over Detroit last week. “I haven’t missed time. I’m feeling good.”
Indianapolis (12-5) at Denver (12-4)
Both teams lost lopsided games to New England this season.
Another spotless home team, the Broncos are 9-0 when Peyton Manning throws for at least 300 yards. But do they want to get in a shootout with the Colts, whose Andrew Luck - the quarterback who replaced Manning in Indianapolis - led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes?
Denver has become more run-oriented than any Manning team thanks to the emergence of C.J. Anderson.
“I think a year ago, he broke probably every single-season record known to man. It was the style we played and what was best for our team at that point,” coach John Fox said of five-time league MVP Manning. “This year, I think we’re a little bit different team. We’re built different.
“He was a 12-4 quarterback during the regular season, which is I think tied for the best record in football this year.”
Interestingly, the Colts, winners over Cincinnati last week, are relying more on Luck than they ever did on Manning. In his time in Indy from 1998-2011, Manning was responsible for 73.3 percent of the Colts’ total net yards. During his three seasons there, Luck has accounted for 78 percent, according to STATS.
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