By: Rich Bergeron
Next week’s playoff games are now set in stone as Sunday’s games set the stage for the Conference Championship round. The San Francisco 49ers were the lone wild card team to make it through the divisional round with a clutch 23-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers Sunday afternoon. The second game of the day saw the Denver Broncos weather a 4th quarter comeback effort from the San Diego Chargers, winning 24-17. All of the offense for the Chargers came in that 4th quarter as the Broncos ended the third quarter up 17-0 and then tacked on another touchdown thanks to a 3-yard Knowshon Moreno (23 carries, 82 yards, TD) run at the 8:15 mark of the final quarter.
Both winning teams scored points in each quarter of play Sunday. Both games also saw the losing team score all their points in a single quarter. For the Panthers it was a 10-point second quarter that put them on the board. The Chargers had a 17-point 4th quarter thanks to a recovered onside kick, but they weren’t able to mount a final drive after deciding to opt for the regular kickoff after their final TD of the game. The Broncos managed a couple first downs and ran out the clock rather than let the Chargers force overtime.
The Denver Broncos have their defense to thank for keeping the Chargers from scoring in the first three quarters and leaving enough breathing room for Peyton Manning’s offense to win the game with just one 4th quarter TD. Manning (25-36, 230 yards, 2 TDs, INT) did give up an interception, but the San Diego defense couldn’t wrap him up for a single sack in the game. Meanwhile, the Broncos defense sacked Philip Rivers (18-27, 217 yards, 2 TDs) four times. Moreno also managed more yards on the ground than the entire San Diego backfield combined. The comeback attempt was admirable, but it was far too little and far too late for it to get the Chargers into overtime for a chance to win the game.
The 49ers are once again poised to fight for another Super Bowl berth next week thanks mostly to the offensive prowess of Colin Kaepernick (15-28, 196 yards, TD, 8 carries, 15 yards, TD). Though he didn’t run nearly as much this week as he did in the team’s win over the Green Bay Packers last week, Kaepernick did manage the team’s only rushing touchdown of the day. His favorite passing target was Anquan Boldin with just eight catches for a monster 136 yards. Vernon Davis only managed a single one yard reception on the day, but it was an important one. The tight end caught Kaepernick’s only touchdown throw in the game late in the second quarter.
Cam Newton (16-25, 267 yards, TD, 2 INTs) threw two interceptions and led his team in rushing on only 10 carries for 54 yards. The 49ers defense also sacked Newton five times. The Panthers looked like a much better team going into this game, but the 49ers exposed all their major weaknesses.
So, the Conference Championship round will feature the Broncos facing the New England Patriots next Sunday at 3PM EST on CBS for the AFC and the 49ers squaring off against the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday at 6:30 PM EST on Fox for the NFC. The winners will battle for all the marbles at Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2 at MetLife Stadium. The 49ers split their two regular season games against the Seahawks while the Patriots beat the Broncos in overtime in their only head-to-head match-up this season. That should make for a couple of intensely competitive games next week.