Sunday's winners will play for title
Published 2:44 am Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Another round of the playoffs has been decided and the field of 12 teams has been narrowed to four with the American Football Conference and National Football Conference championship games to be played this weekend.
In another heart-breaker, the Indianapolis Colts were defeated by their nemesis, the New England Patriots, 20-3. The Colts' high-powered offense was smothered by the Patriots' depleted defense. Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning was at a loss for words after falling to the Patriots yet again. With the stellar defensive play of Pats linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, the Colts looked like a team that was unprepared. Manning had a poor game as he watched his counterpart, quarterback Tom Brady run his playoff record to 7-0. There's only one team standing in the way of the Patriots and a return trip to the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who defeated New England in the regular season 34-20. If the Patriots get past the Steelers, it would be the team's third Super Bowl appearance in four years.
The Steelers earned their spot in the AFC Championship by virtue of an overtime win at home against the New York Jets. The Jets became the first team in the history of the NFL ever to play in three consecutive overtime games. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger actually played like a rookie, tossing two interceptions on two ill-advised passes. One of the interceptions was returned over 80 yards by Reggie Tongue for a touchdown. With the score knotted at 17 as time expired in regulation and the fact that Jets kicker Doug Brien had missed two field goals in the final 2:30 in the fourth quarter, it didn't look as if the Jets could pull off another upset. A couple of New York miscues gave the Steelers the ball. Pittsburgh's running backs piled up yard after yard to get their kicker into field goal range. Jeff Reed then kicked a 30-yarder right through the uprights for the 20-17 overtime.
On to the NFC where two 8-8 teams played in the Divisional round. The 8-8 St. Louis Rams took on the 12-4 Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. In a game where many predicted a Rams upset win, the Falcons quickly took control. On the third play from scrimmage, quarterback Michael Vick eluded the Rams pass rush and scampered 47 yards to set up an Alge Crumpler touchdown. On the Rams first possession, QB Marc Bulger found fill-in receiver Kevin Curtis on a 57-yard scoring pass that tied the game at 7-7. Faster than you could blink your eyes, Falcons running back Warrick Dunn had the Falcons on top 14-7 with his 62-yard run. Although the Rams would score 10 more points, the game was over. Vick and Dunn both rushed for over 100 yards and return specialist Allen Rossum set an NFL record with 152 yards on three punt returns, scoring on a 68-yarder late in the second quarter. Atlanta went on to defeat the Rams 47-17.
Then came the .500 Minnesota Vikings, who played in Philadelphia against the 13-3 Eagles. Many questions surrounded this game, including Philly's chances of a victory since the offensive starters hadn't played in nearly a month. quarterback Donovan McNabb quickly put that notion to rest as he connected with wide receiver Freddie Mitchell to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. Another pass that went to running back Brian Westbrook put the Eagles ahead 14-0. The Vikings answer later,scoring on a seven yard run by quarterback Daunte Culpepper, making the score 14-7. After Culpepper's score, the Eagles were once again in scoring position. En route to the end zone, Philly tight end L.J. Smith coughed up the ball at the 4-yard line, but luckily for the Eagles, the "people's champ," receiver Freddie Mitchell was there when the ball popped up in the air. It traveled into the end zone where Mitchell was waiting to catch it for his second TD of the game. McNabb had a good day completing 21-33 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons at 2 p.m. on FOX and the New England Patriots travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers at 5:30 p.m. on CBS.