National Football League

Five Key Moments in Sunday’s NFL Conference Championship Games

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The Super Bowl is set.  The New England Patriots will play in their ninth, and try for their fifth Super Bowl win.  They’ll be opposed by the Atlanta Falcons, who will play in their second Super Bowl and will try for their first Championship.  Here are five key moments or sequences in each of the Conference Championship games.

Aaron Rodgers was 27-45 with three touchdowns and one interception in the Packers’ loss to the Falcons on Sunday.

Falcons-44  Packers-21:

-Mason Crosby’s missed FG: After allowing Atlanta to rumble 80 yards in thirteen plays on the game’s opening drive, Green Bay came right back.  The Packers marched 57 yards in six plays before Crosby, who hadn’t missed a post-season field goal in a record 23 tries, missed a 41 yarder.  Rather than a 7-3 game it was still 7-0.

-Ripkowski fumble: Another dominant Falcon drive gave them a field goal to make it 10-0.  The Packers took over at their own 25 and moved to the Atlanta 23.  On the seventh play of the drive, Aaron Ripkowski blasted his way to the eleven, but Atlanta’s Jalen Collins ripped the ball out.  Ripkowski fumbled into the end zone, and Collins recovered for a touchback.

Rather than 10-10 or, at worst, 10-6, the Packers were down 10-0, and the Falcons had all the momentum.

-After the fumble: Atlanta went a long way toward putting it away with a nine play, 80-yard touchdown drive.  On that possession, Matt Ryan targeted Julio Jones four times, completing three for 56 yards.  To finish the drive, Ryan ran for a fourteen-yard score that made it 17-0.

-Aaron Rodgers intercepted by Ricardo Allen with 1:47 left in first half:  After that pick, the Falcons took over at their own 32 and went for the jugular.  Ryan led them 68 yards in nine plays, with three of those plays being passes to DeVonte Freeman for 38 of the yards.  Ryan hit Jones with a five-yard TD with three second left, making it 24-0 at halftime.

-First five plays of the second half:  Down 24-0, a Packer team that saw a 28-10 fourth quarter lead over Dallas disintegrate to a 28-28 tie last week went three-and-out in eleven seconds after receiving the opening kickoff of the second half.  Atlanta ran Freeman for two yards, and then Ryan hit Jones for an electrifying 73-yard pass and run touchdown.  It was 31-0, and we didn’t have to watch any more.  The Falcons cruised, 44-21.


Patriots-36    Steelers-17:

-LeVeon Bell suffers a groin injury: On a seemingly harmless run up the middle late in the first quarter, Bell suffers the injury.  He returns for one play, not to be seen on the field after 7:07 mark of the second quarter.  DeAngelo Williams is a nice backup, but Bell is the best all-around running back in the NFL.

-The Steelers fail to score a touchdown from the one-foot line: On the first play after the two-minute warning in the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger hits tight end Jesse James for what appears to be a nineteen-yard touchdown.  On review, officials say James was down at the one-foot line.

On first down, Williams loses a yard.  On second down, he loses three.  On third down, Roethlisberger doesn’t connect with Eli Rogers in the end zone.  Pittsburgh kicked a field goal on what should have been a touchdown drive.

-Tom Brady’s fumble isn’t ruled a fumble by the officials:  Early in the third quarter, Brady fumbles on a quarterback sneak.  Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenges, but referee Terry MacAuley doesn’t see that the ball is out before Brady’s knee touches the ground.  Rather than the Steelers getting the ball near midfield, New England drives to a field goal that makes it a two score game at 20-9.

-LeGarrette Blount goes all Jackie Smith: With three minutes left in the third quarter, the Patriots running back carries six Steeler defenders eighteen yards to the one-yard line, and then goes over from the one to extend the Patriots lead to an insurmountable 27-9.

-Eli Rogers fumbles for the game’s first turnover: On the ensuing possession after the Blount touchdown, Roethlisberger hits Rogers for a three-yard gain on the first play, but Rogers fumbles.  Four plays later, Brady hits Julian Edelman for a ten-yard score, a 33-9 lead, and a Patriots date with Atlanta in Super Bowl LI.  They win 36-17.

And so it’s the Falcons top scoring offense against New England’s best scoring defense…and Brady against one of the youngest defenses in Super Bowl history in Houston on February 5.

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