NFL Conference Championships: Five things we learnt as the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots reach the Super Bowl

 

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Four became two as the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots beat the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts to reach the Super Bowl. Zander Swinburne breaks down who won, who lost and who will be ruing missed opportunities in the AFC and NFC Championship games.

1) Seattle prove it’s never over until it’s over

The NFL over the years has often played host to a number of miraculous comebacks that has given the game its unique reputation. Sunday’s fourth quarter scrap between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers will likely be one that goes down as an instant classic. For much of the game Seattle were completely out of sorts, playing in form not seen since 2012. Quarterback Russell Wilson was having the worst game of his career having thrown four interceptions whilst the rest of his offence failed to score a single point through three and a half quarters. It took until the last three minutes of the match to see the Seahawks turnaround a 19-7 score line and win the game 28-22 in overtime.

Despite playing an awful game throughout, with streams of Seattle fans heading to the exits with four minutes left, the Seahawks came back from nowhere to score two quick touchdowns and have Wilson instantly emerge as the best player on the field. In the last few minutes, everything that could have gone right for Seattle did, from the bobbled onside kick to the lofting two-point conversation. After the overtime touchdown that sealed the game, all the players talked about was belief, the fact that despite the deficit and the lack of production beforehand, they still believed they could win the game.

For any neutral, this was a highly entertaining finish that saw great resolve from a young quarterback that many expected to crumble following three awful quarters. Seattle once again proved that in the NFL, it really is never over until it’s over.

2) Green Bay lost this game

As obvious as this subtitle may seem, it couldn’t be closer to the truth. All credit to Seattle, their mentality and steadfastness allowed them to beat a quality Packers team, but this game should have been done and dusted before Seattle even made it to half-time. The number of opportunities Green Bay had to win this game is close to countless. In the first half alone, Green Bay were streaming ahead, jumping out to 16-0 lead going into the locker rooms.

They had the opportunity to end the game but their game plan was highly conservative, made evident by Mike McCarthy’s decision not go for it on fourth down when camped out on Seattle’s one-yard line; a decision he made not once but twice. Even with a seemingly unattainable lead in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, the Packers couldn’t convert any of their opportunities to finish Seattle off.

The bobbled onside kick from Brandon Bostick was costly on an epic scale, whilst Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had the chance to negate Seattle’s two-point conversion which would have allowed Aaron Rodgers to simply score a field goal to progress to the Super Bowl. Seattle deserve the glory in their comeback but Green Bay will be ruing their missed opportunities for quite some time.

3) New England achieve what Green Bay couldn’t

As entertaining as the game in Seattle was, it gave the false premonition that a similar wild comeback may be in store when the Indianapolis Colts were to take on the New England Patriots. The narrative was fascinating going into this game, with the NFL’s rising star, Andrew Luck, just one win away from a Super Bowl appearance and bragging rights over both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

This historic outcome was not to be, however, with New England instantly showing just why they have been the NFL’s dominant side of the last decade with a 45-7 win. Paired with a superb offensive line and running game, New England shot out ahead and before Indianapolis even knew where they were, the score was 14-0. Despite a spirited display from Andrew Luck, it seemed as though their early deficit was too great to recover from and the occasion overwhelming. Luck finished with a disappointing 12 passes completed along with two interceptions.

In many ways, the AFC Championship game was what the NFC’s own semi-final should have been. The Colts were completely incapable of staging any miraculous comeback like Seattle whilst the Patriots finished the game quickly and early unlike Green Bay.

4) The Patriots have a running game?

Renowned for their passing prowess, the New England Patriots unveiled a new weapon rarely seen in Foxborough on Sunday. Despite a dominating combination of Brady and Gronkowski throughout the season, the Patriots relied heavily on their run game and the lesser known LeGarrette Blount against the Colts.

On 30 attempts, Blount ran for nearly 150 yards and converted three touchdowns, dominating a Colts team that looked prepared for an aerial assault by Brady but nothing else. As impressive as Blount was, much of the credit for the win should be attributed to the Patriots offensive line.

The six man front turned Blount from a back with just 1-yard rushing the week before into a legitimate Super Bowl weapon. The game plan from Bill Belichick and his coaching staff showed just why this team has been able to stay at such a high level through the last decade.

Every game they successfully adapt to each opposition, playing to their weaknesses rather than their own strengths. With Seattle famous for its ‘Legion of Boom’ pass defence, Blount may be given an even greater role when it comes to the Super Bowl in two weeks time. The only problem for Belichick and his staff is that they can no longer hide that they do in fact have a running game.

5) The old dynasty will face the new

Barely 12 hours removed from the division championship games and the focus is already on Arizona and the Super Bowl in two weeks time. With a number of talking points emerging from the prospective match-up between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, the most fascinating revolves around the word ‘dynasty’.

New England under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been by far the NFL’s dynasty club of the last decade. With three Super Bowls and what will be a sixth appearance since 2001, the Patriots have enjoyed more than their fair share of success in the NFL. Seattle meanwhile are themselves chasing history as not since the 2004 season has a team been able to win consecutive Super Bowls, that team of course being the New England Patriots.

Russell Wilson represents the new guard of quarterbacks, one that has an opportunity to beat both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the sports biggest game. When Super Bowl Sunday does roll around, Seattle will have the opportunity to remove the New England Patriots as the figurehead of the NFL, establishing an entirely new chapter in the sport. Just whether Brady and Belichick are prepared to let them do so is another matter.

So, will the conclusion of the Super Bowl be the dawn of a new era in the NFL, with the league’s new hot team the franchise to beat, or will it be a reminder that the best to play the game over the last 10 years are indeed still that? 

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