BCG Interviews

NFL Playoffs: Cardinals & Patriots Advance to Title Games

 

The Patriots’ late-season slump didn’t mean much when the playoffs came toNEW England. Kansas City’s 11GAME winning streak mattered even less.

With Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman coming back fromINJURIES to help Tom Brady return to his Super Bowl MVP form, the Patriots earned a spot in the AFC titleGAME for the fifth year in a row, beating the Chiefs 27-20 on Saturday.

“It’s pretty special to get back to another AFC championship game,” said Brady, who willPLAY for the conference title for the 10th time in his career. “It’s pretty cool. It’s hard to do, man. You’ve got to grind throughout the entire year. There’s only four teamsPLAYINGNEXT week and we’re one of them. That game means a lot.”

The Patriots (13-4) are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back NFL titles since they did it in 2003-04. But first they will meet theWINNER of Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Broncos for a spot in Super Bowl 50.

The defending champions wouldPLAY in Denver on Jan. 24 if the Broncos win, or at home if it’s the Steelers.

“You can’t take it for granted because everybody knows how hard it is to get there,” said Edelman, who was sidelined with a broken foot when the Patriots lost four of their last six regular-season games. “We didn’t do too well down the stretch and we were playing against a team that won 11 games in a row.

“We didn’t worry about what’s happened in the past or what’sGOING to happen in the future.”

Brady threw for two touchdowns to Gronkowski and sneaked in for another just one play after diving for the pylon after a 10-yard scramble that was his longest postseason run in nine years. Brady took a helmet in the back as his body — but not the ball —CLEARED the goal line.

“Anytime the Clydesdale getsRUNNING, the crowd goes crazy,” Edelman said.

After spending the last two weeks recovering from knee and back injuries, Gronkowski caught seven passes for 83 yards, including touchdowns from 8 and 16 yards out. Gronkowski also recovered an onside kick after Kansas City cut the deficit to 27-20 with just over one minute left.

Danny Amendola had two catches for 18 yards as he worked his way back from a kneeINJURY.

“It’s just great to have those guys back,” Gronkowski said. “They’re hard workers, they’re great players. The chemistry wasCLICKING tonight.”

Alex Smith completed 29 of 50 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown for Kansas City (12-6). The Chiefs had won 11 consecutiveGAMES, including a 30-0 victory over Houston in the wild-card round last week for their first playoff victory since 1993.

In the meantime, the Patriots have won 24 postseason games.

“It gives us a great example of where we need to be,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “So, this is a good experience for us. That’s the way we’ll take it. We’llLEARN from our mistakes.

“I’m proud of my guys, man. They battled like crazy this year, but came up a little short. We’ll be a better team for itNEXT year.”

Brady led New England to a score on the opening drive, throwing 11 straight passes andCOMPLETING eight — the last an 8-yard score to Gronkowski. The Chiefs then made it to the Patriots 16, but settled for a field goal.

After trading punts twice, the PatriotsSTARTED on their 2 when Amendola was flagged for a helmet-first hit to coverage man Jamell Fleming. The drive was in danger of stalling at the Kansas City 35 when Chiefs linebacker Dezman Moses hit Brady late and was called for roughing the passer.

The stadium erupted in cheers of “Brady!” — just as it had four months ago when the four-time Super Bowl champion returned from his looming “Deflategate” suspensionTO PLAY in the season opener.

Four plays later, unable to find anOPEN receiver, Brady took off for the corner of the end zone. The Chiefs managed to keep him out, but on the next snap, Brady leaned forward and reached into the end zone to make it 14-3.

“I thought I could try to make it. We wereCLOSE. Not close enough, but we got in on the next play,” said Brady, who shrugged off the two big hits on that drive. “It’s football season, so there’s bumps and bruises, but you’ve got to fight through those.”

Patriots defensive lineman Chandler Jones also had a big play to finish an odd week thatSTARTED on Sunday when he left his home reeking of marijuana and showed up shirtless and confused at the local police station. Jones apologized on Thursday, and coach Bill Belichick kept him in theSTARTING lineup.

That left Jones inPOSITION to force Knile Davis’ fumble on Kansas City’s first possession of the second half, stopping the Chiefs as they drove intoNEW England territory for the sixth straight time. Brady added another touchdown pass to Gronkowski to make it 21-6.

Smith finally got the Chiefs into the end zone when he hit Albert Wilson on a 10-yard pass that made it 21-13 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. Kansas City made it 27-20 with just over one minute left in theGAME on Charcandrick West’s 1-yard run, but Gronkowski smothered the onside kick attempt toPROTECT the lead.

NOTES: The Patriots are 18-4 all-time in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium. … Jon Bon Jovi, a friend of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, was in the owner’s box and led the stadium in a sing-along of his band’s hit song “Livin’ on a Prayer.” … Belichick reached the conference title game for the 10th time, tied with Tom Landry for most all-time. The five straight conference title games ties the 1973-77 Oakland Raiders for the most in NFL history. It’s New England’s 12th conference title game overall.

via: ABC News

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Like his signature deep throws, quarterback Carson Palmer’s football résumé covers a lot of ground: two high school championships, one Heisman Trophy and five 4,000-yard passing seasons for three N.F.L. teams. But Palmer’s professional career had called to mind a long drive that peters out inside the red zone.

Through his first 12 seasons, Palmer did not have a playoff victory. Since he was drafted No. 1 over all by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003, he had watched two other California-bred quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, win a combined 29 playoff games (before the weekend) and fiveSuper Bowl rings, four of them by Brady.

On Saturday night, Palmer at long last filled a gaping hole in that résumé, leading the Arizona Cardinals past Rodgers’s Green Bay Packers team in an N.F.C. divisional game at University of Phoenix Stadium. As if 12 seasons of adversity weren’t trying enough, Palmer had to go into overtime to hand the Packers a 26-20 defeat.

Rodgers heaved a 41-yard completion to Jeff Janis in the end zone on the last play of regulation (his second pass of more than 40 yards in the final minute) to send the game into overtime. After the Cardinals won the coin toss, Palmer connected with Larry Fitzgerald on a 75-yard play to set up the winning score, on a shovel pass to Fitzgerald that was the brainchild of Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve run that shovel in practice,” said Fitzgerald, who made seven of his eight receptions in the second half and overtime.

Fitzgerald, 31, who this season became the youngest player in N.F.L. history to reach 1,000 career receptions, is one of only three players left from the 2008 Arizona team that went to the Super Bowl.

The Cardinals (14-3) will play for the N.F.C. title next Sunday against either the Seattle Seahawks, with whom they split their season series, or the Panthers.

The crowd of 65,089 exultantly exited the stadium Saturday chanting Lar-ry, Lar-ry, but Fitzgerald sang the praises of Palmer, whose 2014 season ended when he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and who rebounded Saturday from two interceptions, including one in the end zone.

“Today he put on a display why he’s an M.V.P. candidate,” Fitzgerald said.

Palmer’s patience and perseverance in the face of adversity, sharpened by 12 years of disappointment, was on display in the fourth quarter. He drove the Cardinals 80 yards in 14 plays, culminating in a 9-yard completion to Michael Floyd on a tipped pass intended for Fitzgerald, to retake the lead at 17-13. Chandler Catanzaro added his third field goal on the Cardinals’ next possession to extend the advantage to 7 points.

Rodgers, the reigning most valuable player, had 1 minute 50 seconds to even the score, and he wrung every last second off the clock on the six-play, 86-yard drive. He finished with 261 yards passing and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.

“It was a wild game,” Palmer said. “We just didn’t give up hope. We kept the faith, kept battling and found a way in the end.”

For Arizona fans, the victory was a case of delayed gratification. Behind Palmer, the Cardinals appeared built for a deep playoff run in 2014 and won eight of their first nine games to sit atop their division.

In the ninth, however, Palmer, back and playing well after missing three games with a shoulder injury, was sacked and sustained the torn A.C.L. He had the same injury in 2006, on the second snap of his first playoff game. Many wondered if Palmer still had the hunger at age 36 to mount yet another comeback.

Not only did he return, Palmer posted career highs in the regular season in touchdown passes (35) and passing yards (4,671). That he came back better than before, with a stronger core and sounder mechanics, is testament to his passion for the game.

“You can fear a lot of stuff,” Palmer said, “but at the end of the day you’ve got to put the work in, go out and execute when it’s time to execute and try to get back there.”

Rodgers had a feeling the Packers would be returning to this stadium after their 38-8 road loss to the Cardinals in December. After being sacked eight times in defeat, Rodgers said, “This was a playoff-style game and we played terrible, but we have won a lot of games here.” He added, “I am confident that we have guys, and myself, that, when it matters for all the marbles, guys will show up.”

Left tackle David Bakhtiari was back Saturday after not playing in the regular-season meeting. The offensive line was further weakened when the right tackle Bryan Bulaga left that game with an injury. With Bakhtiari and Bulaga in the lineup Saturday, Rodgers had enough time to complete passes to eight different receivers.

One of Palmer’s favorite quotes would surely resonate with Rodgers. It is from Thomas Edison, who said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Palmer invoked the quote to explain why, though he is financially secure, he went through the pain and trouble to make it back for a 13th N.F.L. season.

via: ABC News

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