The Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will contest Super Bowl XLVIII after both claimed victory in their respective Championship games last weekend.
Peyton Manning emerged victorious from the showdown of the game’s most iconic quarterbacks, as he outscored Tom Brady 26-16 at Mile High.
He will now face Russell Wilson at the home of his brother Eli’s team: the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Wilson, despite fumbling on the very first snap of the game, was able to recover and lead his team to a Super Bowl in only his second year as an NFL player.
The NFL’s grand finale, which takes place on Sunday 2nd February, will see the Broncos chasing their third Super Bowl title, and their first since the 1998 season, and the Seahawks aiming to become champions for the first time in their history.
Championship Game One: Denver Broncos (AFC West winners) def. New England Patriots (AFC East winners)
The Denver Broncos put in an excellent all-round performance as they defeated the New England Patriots 26-16 to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 years.
Peyton Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns as the home side dominated the first three quarters of the match.
Tom Brady threw for one touchdown and ran for another in the final 15 minutes of play, but there was to be no stunning comeback from the visitors this time around, as they lost out in the AFC title game for the second year running.
This year will mark the Broncos seventh Super Bowl appearance. They lost on each of their first four trips to the NFL’s final match in the 1977, 86, 87 and 89 seasons, before finally winning back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998.
Matt Prater edged the Broncos ahead mid-way through the first quarter with a 27-yard field goal, and it was a lead the home side never surrendered.
Jacob Tamme extended Denver’s lead with a 1-yard touchdown reception to end a seven minute Broncos possession at the start of the second quarter.
Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski briefly narrowed the deficit to seven with the visitor’s only points of the first-half, before Prater re-established the Broncos two score advantage with virtually the last action before the break.
Crucially, the Broncos dominate possession and barely allowed the Patriots to get their hands on the football. Another seven minute drive at the start of the third quarter ended with Demaryius Thomas making a three-yard touchdown play to make the score 20-3.
Brady belatedly got the Patriots moving with a drive that took well over five minutes, but they were left pointless when, going for it on fourth down and three, the quarterback was sacked by Terrance Knighton and the Broncos turned it over on downs.
Prater added two further field goals for the home side in the fourth quarter, and although Brady completed a touchdown pass to Julian Edelman and ran for a second score himself, a failed two point conversion meant New England were still more than one score behind.
Manning successfully kept the chains moving to ensure the Patriots did not get the ball back in the final three minutes, and he was eventually able to kneel with 34 seconds remaining to close out the match.
Championship Game Two: Seattle Seahawks (NFC West winners) def. San Francisco 49ers (NFC wildcard)
The Seattle Seahawks will travel to the Super Bowl for only the second time in their history, after they came from behind to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17.
Russell Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth down while the Seahawks much revered defence forced two late turnovers as the home side outscored their visitors 10-0 in the fourth and final quarter.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 153 yards and ran for an additional 130, but his two interceptions proved costly as the 49ers fell to their second Championship game defeat in three years.
The conference champions, who went 13:3 in the regular season, become the first top seeds to heave reached the Super Bowl since 2009. Seattle’s one previous trip to the big game ended in defeat, when they lost out to the Steelers after the 2005 season.
Despite their success, the game started in the worst way imaginable for the Seahawks as, on their opening play of the match, quarterback Wilson found himself sacked, stripped and turned-over by Aldon Smith, with the 49ers taking over possession on the Seattle 15-yard line.
However, Bobby Wagner twice stopped Kaepernick as he attempted to scramble for the first down and the 49ers were forced to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal.
The 49ers quarterback came good at the start of the second quarter, as he led his team 86 yards in a little over four minutes – consecutive scrambles for 12 and 58-yards took the visitors from their own 20 to the Seahawks 10-yard line. Four plays later and Anthony Dixon found his way into the end zone to give his team a 10-0 lead.
Seattle needed a quick response, and they got it on their next drive as Steven Hauschka’s kick made it a one score game once again. Wilson’s 51-yard pass to Doug Baldwin placed them deep inside 49ers territory, but Dan Skuta’s sack ensured the Seahawks would not progress any further up field.
The Seahawks came out a different team in the second-half, and scored with their very first possession. After taking over on their own 40, running back Marshawn Lynch made gains of 11 and 5-yards before bursting though the 49ers defence to score a 40-yard effort and tie the game.
But Seattle’s improvements on offence could not prevent the 49ers edging their metaphorical noses back in front just moments later. Kaepernick was again the catalyst as he found Michael Crabtree with a 22-yard pass, before scrambling the same distance himself.
Kaepernick would have had his heart in his mouth when, on the following play, he was sacked and forced into a fumble by Michael Bennett, but Jonathan Goodwin recovered it for the 49ers, and moments later the quarterback took advantage to make the remaining 26-yards for the score himself.
Hauschka narrowed the deficit to four points prior to the end of the third quarter, before Wilson made the crucial play at the start of the fourth, avoiding the sack and finding Jermaine Kearse in the end zone to give the Seahawks the lead.
Now behind, the 49ers fell apart under the pressure. First Kaepernick was sacked and forced into a fumble by Chris Avril, which was then recovered by Bennett before, on San Francisco’s next possession, the quarterback was picked off by Kam Chancellor.
Seattle added another field goal to extend their lead to six and the 49ers were left with three and half minutes to score a game-winning touchdown.
The 49ers slowly worked their way up the field, but their hopes of a second successive trip to the Super Bowl came to an end when Richard Sherman got a hand to Kaepernick’s hopeful pass, intended for Crabtree in the end zone, and deflected it into the grateful arms of Malcolm Smith for the interception.
Wilson kneeled out the game, and the Seahawks were on their way to New Jersey.
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