49ers can’t overcome Purdy’s injury and penalties as Eagles cruise to NFC Championship 31-7

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffery runs past Philadelphia Eagles defenders at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday JAN 29, 2023. (San Francisco 49ers)

by Marko Ukalovic

It was the matchup we wanted, but it wasn’t the game we deserved to watch.

San Francisco 49ers Brock Purdy was injured on the team’s first offensive possession as the Philadelphia Eagles defense set the tone and the home team took advantage of every mistake the visiting team made in a 31-7 victory to win the NFC Championship on Sunday evening at Lincoln FinancialField.

Philadelphia advanced to Super Bowl LVII to take on the winner of the AFC Championship in Glendale, Arizona. San Francisco’s magical run of a 12-game win streak was snapped in a game that went wrong in every way possible.

“Guys are pretty down in there. We were really excited for the game, and we really wanted an opportunity to play that team. They (Philadelphia) played great,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.

The Eagle marched down the field on its first possession. On a 4th and 3 from the 49ers 35-yard line, Davonta Smith made an acrobatic, yet controversial, one-handed catch for 29 yards to the six-yard line. It set up Miles Sanders six-yard rushing touchdown.

Purdy was injured when Haason Reddick knocked the ball out of Purdy’s right arm while he was making a pass attempt. The play was initially called an incomplete pass, but the Eagles challenged the play, and it was overturned to a fumble that was also recovered by Riddick. Purdy’s elbow was injured and limited him the rest of the game.

I feel like my arm stretched out, felt like there were a lot of shocks all over from my elbow down to my wrist, front and back. Just pain all over,” Purdy said about how his injury felt.

San Francisco used good field position to set up their first scoring drive. Backup quarterback Josh Johnson marched the 49ers down the field as running back Christian McCaffery was the catalyst as he touched the ball on six plays that finished off with a 23-yard rushing touchdown where he broke two tackles to scamper in for the equalizing touchdown.

Philadelphia answered back just before the end of the first half. Sanders recorded his second rushing touchdown with a 13-yarder with 1:36 remaining in the second quarter to complete a 14 play 75-yard drive. Three penalties by San Francisco’s defense on the drive allowed the Eagles to keep marching down the field to set up Sanders untouched run to the end zone.

On the ensuring drive, Johnson fumbled a snap on a 1st and 10 at his own 36-yard line. Reddick recovered the ball at the 30-yard line.

The Eagles cashed in the turnover with a Boston Scott 10-yard rushing touchdown with :16 left in the second quarter to give Philadelphia a two-score lead.

“A lot of things didn’t go our way. We had self-inflicted wounds on the defense all the way through. However, you want to draw it up or talk about it, it just wasn’t our day,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said.

Johnson was injured on the 49ers first drive of the second half when Ndamukong Suh knocked Johnson down hard to the grass and Johnson’s head hit down on the ground suffering a concussion. Purdy came back in but handled the ball off to McCaffery for a short gain making San Francisco punt the ball.

San Francisco’s special teams kept another drive alive for Philadelphia. Jordan Mason was called for roughing the kicker when he ran into punter Brett Kern. The Eagles made the 49ers pay six plays later with Jalen Hurts one-yard rushing touchdown to give the Eagles a commanding 28-7 lead.

Despite Purdy returning to the game, he was not able to throw the ball down the field and San Francisco’s offense became one-dimensional the rest of the game as Philadelphia’s defense did not allow San Francisco to score another point.

Things turned ugly with four minutes left in the game when a big skirmish in the middle of the field led to ejections of 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams and Eagles K’Von Wallace.

Riddick, who was the defensive MVP for Philadelphia, finished with two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery & a tackle for loss.

Hurts finished 15 of 25 for 121 yards with no passing touchdowns and no interceptions to go along with his one rushing touchdown. Kenneth Gainwell led Philadelphia in rushing with 48 yards on 14 carries. Sanders chipped in 42 yards on 11 carries to go along with his two touchdowns.

Purdy went 4 of 4 for just 23 yards. Jonhson finished 7 of 13 for 74 yards before his injury knocked him out of the game. McCaffery, despite playing with a calf contusion for the second consecutive week, was the lone bright spot for San Francisco with 84 rushing yards on 15 carries. He also chipped in four receptions on 22 yards.

“It just didn’t turn out our way. We got beat. Wish we had another shot at it with everybody. But that’s life, that’s the way it goes,” McCaffery said.

GAME NOTES: San Francisco finished just 2-for-8 on third down conversions. Philadelphia went 5-for-15.

Philadelphia out gained San Francisco 269-164 in total net yards.

San Francisco still leads the over series with Philadelphia 20-15-1.

49ers send home Cowboys with gritty 19-12 win in Divisional round matchup, will face Eagles for NFC crown

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy celebrates his team’s win with his parents at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday Jan 22, 2023. (San Franscico 49ers)

by Marko Ukalovic

SANTA CLARA — The team by the Bay is heading back to the NFC Championship.

The San Francisco 49ers grinded out a 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys
in the NFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

San Francisco earned a trip to its second consecutive NFC Championship game and
third in the past four years. Dallas goes home disappointed with its second
consecutive playoff defeat at the hands of the 49ers after finishing the
regular season with a 12-5 record.

“It hurts,” said Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after the game.
“Very disappointed we weren’t able toto come out. Disappointed in my play.
Disappointed for the guys in the locker room. It’s unfortunate. Sucks.”

Both defenses set the tone early in the first half not allowing either
offense to sustain long drives and forcing punts. Turnovers played a key factor
in San Francisco’s victory as they won the turnover battle two to one.

Deommodore Lenoir intercepted Prescott at the 27-yard line and returned it
six-yards with 5:49 remaining in the first quarter. San Francisco cashed in the
turnover with a 26-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.

Dallas answered back with a 14 play 74-yard scoring drive when Prescott
connected with tight end Dalton Schultz for a four-yard touchdown reception to
give the Cowboys its first lead of the game.

Cowboys’ kicker Brett Maher, who came into the game having missed four of
his last five PAT attempts, had his attempt blocked by Samson Ebukam as the
kicking woes for Maher continued.

“That’s just God putting me in a good spot to block it. All I did was did my job and put my hands up. The kick was low, and I just thanked God he was able to help me block that because that’s a point off the board,” Ebukam said.

With the score tied at 6-6 late in the second quarter, Prescott threw his
second interception of the game when a pass intended for Cee Dee Lamb,
deflected off the hands of Jimmy Ward and picked off by Fred Warner who
returned it to the Cowboys 12-yard line.

Once again, San Francisco settled for a Gould field goal, a 50-yarder, to
end the first half up by three points.

“The defense getting those turnovers, the offense being able to make some third downs (conversions). I don’t think in the first half we had one first down running the ball. I think they were (from) throwing the ball. I think that changed big in the second half. Winning the turnover battle and everything after that,” 49ers head coach Mike Shanahan said.

Dallas received its first break of the game when Ray Ray Mcloud was stripped
of the ball on a punt return after the Niners defense stalled the Cowboys drive
at their own 48-yard line. Kevlin Joesph knocked the ball out of McCloud’s
hands and the ball was recovered by Damone Clark.

Dallas capitalized with a 25-yard field goal by Maher.

The 49ers regained the lead when they marched down the field on their next
possession with a 10 play 91-yard drive that was finished off with a Christian
McCaffery two-yard rushing touchdown. The drive was set up by a 29-yard circus
catch of a reception by tight end George Kittle.

“This is exactly where you wanna be right?” Kittle said about
being one game away from the Super Bowl. “At the start of year back in
OTA’s, all you are doing is preparing for the Super Bowl. To be one step away
from that, it’s awesome.”

Each team would exchange field goals in the fourth quarter. However, when it
mattered at the end, San Francisco’s defense clamped down and held the fort by
not allowing Dallas to get close to scoring the equalizing touchdown late the
game.

With 4th and 10 at their own 18-yard line with just over two minutes
remaining in the fourth quarter, head coach Mike McCarthy decided to punt the
ball with three timeouts left instead of going for it. San Francisco gained two
first downs to milk the clock down 45 second before giving Dallas one last
desperate final drive that resulted in the game clock running out and ending
the Cowboys season.

“We didn’t have enough today. And the guys laid it out there. I don’t
know how close you were to the field. It was an extremely physical football
game. Both teams laid that out there, so, we came up short,” McCarthy
said.

Purdy, despite being pressured throughout the game by Dallas’ front four,
had an efficient game going 19 of 29 for 214 yards with no touchdowns or
interceptions and a QB rating of 87.4. Running back Elijah Mitchell led all
rushers with 51 yards on 14 carries. Kittle led the 49ers in receiving with
five receptions for 95 yards.

“We just stuck with it,” said McCaffery about the offense being more successful in the second half. “I don’t like making blanket statements after games without watching the tape, but you could just feel guys sticking with it, not panicking, just talking it one play at a time.”

Prescott finished 23 of 37 for 206 yards with one touchdown, two
interceptions with a QB rating of 63.6. Lamb led all receivers with 10 catches
for 117 yards. Schultz chipped in five catches for 27 yards to go along with
his touchdown.

GAME NOTES: San Francico finished 7-for-14 on third down conversions. Dallas
was just 5-for-15.

San Francisco is now 19-19-1 overall against Dallas and 10-10 at home against them. The Cowboys is 5-4 against the 49ers in the postseason. 

Dallas running back Tony Pollard suffered an apparent broken leg in the first half and did not return to the game.

UP NEXT: San Francisco takes on the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC
Championship Game on Sunday at 12:00pm at Lincoln Financial Field.

Headline Sports with Jessica Kwong: 49ers Carthon to become Titans GM; Michigan’s asst coach Weiss under investigation; plus much more headlines

San Francisco 49ers director of player personnel Ron Carthon will be leaving the 49ers to become the Tennessee Titans general manager for the 2023 season in the fall the Titans announced on Tue Jan 17, 2023 (AP News photo)

On Headline Sports podcast with Jessica:

#1 Jessica, the San Francisco 49ers director of player personnel Ron Carthon will be leaving the 49ers to become general manager of the Tennessee Titans. Carthon met with Titan executives on Friday during the interview process and it was announced on Tuesday that he would become general manager. As director of player personnel Carthon has worked five years with the 49ers and over that time the 49ers have been to the Super Bowl and two NFC Championships during that time.

#2 Co-offensive coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines Matt Weiss was placed on leave by Michigan University. The school’s police department said that they are investigating a report of “computer access crimes” The Wolverines have said that Weiss has not been traveling with the team or been with the team. A neighbor of Weiss said that he saw a number of unmarked police cars outside of Weiss’ residence. Weiss said that he has no comment on the matter and said he is waiting for the investigation to be resolved.

#3 The celebration of the Georgia Bulldogs championship on Sunday went from utter joy to extreme sadness when it was learned of an auto accident that killed offensive lineman Devin Wilcock 20 and recruiting analyst 24 year old Chandler LeCroy who was the driver of a vehicle. LeCroy who was wearing a seat belt was driving at excessive speed. Bulldog offensive lineman Warren McClendon sitting in the right passenger seat survived the crash suffering minor injuries a laceration to the forehead. Victoria Bowles a member of the Georgia football staff was seriously injured and sitting with LeCroy in the back seat.

#4 In NBA news the Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving did not play Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs because of right calf soreness. Irving is expected back in the line up on Thursday according to Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn. The Nets are also currently playing without Kevin Durant who is out with a sprained knee and isn’t expected back for several weeks.

#5 Jessica four big playoff games scheduled in the NFL for this weekend lots of excitement over the final eight teams: In the AFC Jacksonville at Kansas City and New York at Philadelphia in the NFC on Saturday. On Sunday it’s Cincinnati at Buffalo and in the NFC it’s the Dallas at San Francisco. Jessica kind of get your picks for this weekend’s playoff games.

Join Jessica every other Wednesday for Headline Sports podcasts at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

Second half surge power 49ers to 41-23 win over Seahawks in Wild Card matchup

Brock Purdy helped the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Seattle Seahawks in a Wild Card game at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday Jan 14, 2023. (San Francisco 49ers)

by Marko Ukalovic

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Believe it or not, the San Francisco 49ers once trailed in the game.

San Francisco outscored the Seattle Seahawks 25-6 in the second half as they rolled to a 41-23 blowout victory in the first game of Wild Card weekend on Saturday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers have won 11 games in a row and advanced to the division round next weekend where they will host their second playoff game with the opponent still to be determined with the outcomes of the other two Wild Card games. Seattle’s Cinderella season came to an end after they finished the regular season 9-8 and earned the final playoff berth in the NFC.

“(Winning) 11 in a row in this league is not easy to do,” said 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk about his team firing on all cylinders at the right time. “It is so tough to win any game in this league so for us to string it together like that I do feel like that we’ve hit a good stride.”

This is the first time San Francisco has beat an opponent three times in the same season.

San Francisco jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter as their number one defense forced Seattle’s offense to two consecutive three and outs to start the game.

On the 49ers second offensive possession, Christian McCaffery was the catalyst of the drive. He began it with a 68-yard run on a sweep to the left. McCaffery concluded the five play 85-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Brock Purdy, who became the first rookie quarterback in 49ers franchise history to start a playoff game.

“There was some emotion going into the game, you just feel it. Once the game started, I was like hey it’s 11 on 11, I gotta do my job. I gotta get it (the ball) to the guys when they are in space and go from there. Overall, it wasn’t ‘o my gosh we’re in the playoffs’. We just gotta play our game and let everything else fall into place,” Purdy said.

Seattle responded with a Kenneth Walker III seven-yard rushing touchdown on a drive that completed a 14 play 78-yard drive.

The 49ers settled for a 33-yard Gould field goal after 10 plays and 60-yard drive on its next possession.

Seattle answered back with a five play 71-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Geno Smith threw a deep bomb down the left sideline to DK Metcalf for a 50-yard touchdown reception. It was the Seahawks first lead in the game as they went up 14-13 with 5:01 remaining in the second quarter.

“We expected a tight game, it was a tight game,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan regarding his team’s performance in the first half. “That’s playoff football. But I expected us to score first in the second half and respond.”

Down 17-16 to start the second half, San Francisco began the third quarter with a long methodical drive. Purdy drove his team down the field before finishing off the 13 play 75-yard drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak to regain the lead the 49ers would never relinquish.

The game changing play of the game happened on Seattle’s next drive. With the Seahawks deep into 49ers territory, Charles Omenihu stripped Smith of the ball on a sack that was recovered by Nick Bosa at the 49ers 30-yard line for the game’s first turnover.

“It was a huge play; it changed the momentum of the game. They (Seattle) were in field goal territory, so for us to get that turnover, it was a game changer. We were up by six (points). If they make that field goal, they get momentum (back). It was a big play at the right time,” 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw said.

San Francisco capitalized on the turnover with a seven play 70-yard drive when Purdy on a play action pass to Mitchell for a 7-yard touchdown reception. Purdy connected with Kittle on the two-point conversion for a 31-17 lead.

The 49ers drove the steak right through the heart of the Seahawks when Purdy connected with Deebo Samuel on a play action roll out that resulted in a 74-yard touchdown reception down the sideline where Brandon Aiyuk delivered the key block on the play.

“We’re a two seed for a reason. We know we just have to go out there and play our game. I think we scored on all of our drives in the first half besides one we had a three and out. Our defense said ‘hey we’re going to tighten up, we’re going to get some turnovers.’ They did exactly what they said they were going to do. And when our defense gets turnovers, our offense scores points. And that’s why we’re so good,” Kittle said.

San Francisco’s defense created its second turnover when Deommodore Lenoir intercepted a pass from intended for Tyler Lockett and returned it to the Seahawks 37-yard line.

Seattle closed out the scoring with 1:48 remaining in the fourth quarter when Smith connected with Metcalf for a three-yard touchdown.

Purdy, who played his best game as a starter, finished the game with 18 of 30 for 332 yards and three touchdowns to go with his four overall touchdown performance, no interceptions and a QB rating of 131.5. Samuel had one of his best performances of the season with six catches for 133 yards and one touchdown to go along with 32 rushing yards on three carries.

McCaffery had another dominating performance in the trenches as he led all rushers with 119 yards on 15 carries while chipping in two receptions for 17 yards and one touchdown.

Smith went 25 of 35 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and one interception with a QB rating of 98.9. Metcalf led all receivers with 10 catches for 136 yards to go along with his two touchdowns. Walker III chipped in 63 yards on the ground in 15 carries.

GAME NOTES: San Francisco finished the game 6-for-11 on third down conversions. Seattle was 6-for-13.

UP NEXT: San Francisco hosts a Divisional Playoff game on either Saturday 1/21 or Sunday 1/22. Team and time TBD.

Fantasy Football Doctors Podcast: NFL Division Playoff Weekend Edition

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Your hosts: Dr. Vasu Vaddiparty & Dr. Charlie O

Who is the best of the remaining 8 QB’s?

Which RB will bring the most bang for your buck?

What receiving corps will be the most productive?

Is there a kicker you can trust?

Which defense can get the job done?

Answers to these questions and more with the Fantasy Football Doctors!

 

The Fantasy Football Doctors Podcast Gets Real: Who will win the Championship games on Sunday?

rams vs saints
Rams vs. Saints in the early game Photo: @NFL

Your hosts: Dr. Vasu Vaddiparty & Dr. Charlie O

  • Is it unusual to have teams that met in the regular season face each other in the Conference Championship games?
  • How will those previous meetings affect the games on Sunday?
  • New England will not have home field advantage on Sunday — How will that play into that outcome of their game?
  • What effect will the “Full Blood Wolf Moon” have on the games?
  • How much influence will Special Teams have in these games?
  • What effect will the weather in Kansas City have in that game?
  • Will offense or defense win the games?
  • Vegas is being very conservative with these games – do you agree?
  • We go on the record picking who we think is going to the Super Bowl!

Come on and join the fun … Push play now!

The Fantasy Football Doctors: NFL Wild Card Weekend Podcast

nfl wild card shield

Your hosts: Dr. Vasu Vaddiparty & Dr. Charlie O

  • Elo says a Wild Card team could win the Super Bowl this year

  • Vegas sees 3 of the 4 games as very close contests

  • The Ravens and Chargers played each other just two weeks ago

  • This will be the third meeting of the year between the Colts & Texans

  • We have advice for Fantasy Playoff games

  • We even have some suggestions for DFS players

  • Let’s celebrate – it’s the playoffs!

Sports Headlines with Tony Renteria: New England and Philadelphia odds favorites for Super Bowl LII

Photo credit: @NFL

On the Sports Headlines Podcast with Tony:

Takes a review and a look at the following NFL Playoff games:

NFC Sat Jan 13

Philadelphia 15

Atlanta 10

NFC Sun Jan 14

New Orleans 24

Minnesota 29

AFC Sat Jan 13

Tennessee 14

New England 35

AFC Sun Jan 14

Jacksonville 45

Pittsburgh 42

Upcoming NFL Championship games

AFC Sun Jan 21

Jacksonville @ New England

NFC Sun Jan 21

Minnesota @ Philadelphia

Tony does the Sports Headline Podcasts each Thursday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

 

NFL Playoff Podcast with David Zizmor: NFC/AFC Championship Games for all the marbles

Photo credit: @NFL

On the NFL Playoff Podcast with David:

Takes a review and a look at the following NFL Playoff games:

NFC Sat Jan 13

Philadelphia 15

Atlanta 10

NFC Sun Jan 14

New Orleans 24

Minnesota 29

AFC Sat Jan 13

Tennessee 14

New England 35

AFC Sun Jan 14

Jacksonville 45

Pittsburgh 42

Upcoming NFL Championship games

AFC Sun Jan 21

Jacksonville @ New England

NFC Sun Jan 21

Minnesota @ Philadelphia

David does the NFL Podcasts each Tuesday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

 

 

Sports Monday: The NFL Playoffs never lacks excitement

Photo credit: @NFL

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
SRS Contributor

Like most football fans, I was glued to my couch for most of the weekend watching the NFL’s best weekend of the year: the divisional round of the playoffs.

The divisional round usually features the best competitive games of the year as the eight remaining teams fight for their right to play in the conference championship games the very next week; with the winners heading to the Super Bowl.

With the Falcons losing to the Eagles, 15-10, in Philadelphia to kickoff the divisional round Saturday, their will be a new NFC Champion heading to Minneapolis on Feb. 4 for Super Bowl 52.

Sixth-seeded Atlanta (11-7) was trying to make a return trip to the NFC Championship Game and eventually back to the Super Bowl after last year’s painful loss in the Big Game to the New England Patriots after dropping a 28-3 lead, but Matt Ryan and Co. couldn’t get pass an Eagles team that were heavy underdogs coming into the game even as the NFC’s top seed with a 13-3 regular season and home field advantage.

And oh yeah, Philadelphia was playing without MVP front-runner and franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, who was lost for the season with a torn anterior crucial ligament in his left knee he suffered against the Rams in Los Angeles in Week 14.

Backup quarterback Nick Foles made every Eagles fan hold their collective breaths whenever he took a snap, played efficient football throwing for 246 yards on 23-of-30 passing with no touchdowns, but more importantly, zero interceptions. Foles kept Atlanta’s defense off guard for most of the afternoon as Philadelphia controlled the football for 32 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for the Falcons. Philadelphia converted 6-of-13 on third downs, while the Falcons were just 4-of-13 on third down conversions.

But the Falcons still had a chance to win a game, but Ryan and superstar wide receiver Julio Jones couldn’t connect on fourth-and-two from the Eagles’ own two-yard line with 1:05 left in the game. Jones, who finished with nine catches for 101 yards, slipped in the end zone and saw the pass slip right through his hands. Even if Jones makes the catch, his feet would’ve been out of bounds when you look at the replay.

Jones felt that he should’ve came up with the catch and made no excuses after the game.

“It was a sprintout, a rollout to me,” said Jones after the game per ESPN’s Vaughn McClure following the game. “Trying to take advantage of one-on-one [coverage] down there.

“I don’t know, but at the end of the day, I can make those plays. I ended up on the ground when I came out of my route. And that’s a tough call [for the official] to make during that situation in the game. That was it.”

Ryan finished the game throwing for 210 yards on 22-of-36 passing. Atlanta’s franchise quarterback did throw a six-yard touchdown to running back Devonta Freeman to give the Falcons a 10-6 lead in the second half, but Atlanta’s red zone woes that haunted them in the regular season (23rd in the NFL in red zone efficiency at 49.1-percent per ESPN Stats and Info), reared its ugly head.

“Just keep on disrespecting and we’re going to keep proving people wrong,” said Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey after the game to David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philadelphia (14-3) will host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field for the NFC Championship at 6:40 p.m. ET, which should be a great matchup given what the Vikings had to do to setup a date with the Eagles with a chance to play the Super Bowl in their own building, which would be the first time a team would play in the stadium where the Super Bowl is being held in NFL history.

Minnesota (14-3) had to rely on a 61-yard touchdown thrown from quarterback Case Keenum to wide receiver Stefon Diggs with 10 seconds remaining down the sideline to pull out an improbable 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the other NFC divisional playoff game Sunday. The play was reminiscent of a walk-off home run in baseball for the home team.

Diggs’ heart-pounding score sent a raucous sold out crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium into a frenzy as the stadium reached 118 decibels per reports. Diggs finished with six catches for 137 yards and the game-winning touchdown that cemented the Vikings’ first trip to the conference championship game in eight years.

“It’s a storybook ending — and it never ends that way,” Diggs said after the game to Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Usually, it’s reality. It’s real life. Things go, you walk home and worry about tomorrow. But today had other plans. I give it all to God, because things like this just don’t happen.”

After falling behind 17-0 to the Vikings at halftime, the fourth-seeded Saints stormed back with 14 unanswered points behind two touchdown passes from quarterback Drew Brees to wide receiver Michael Thomas that trimmed Minnesota’s lead to 17-14. Thomas’ two touchdowns came within a span of 3:09 that spanned into the fourth quarter.

Following a 49-yard field goal from kicker Kai Forbath that gave Minnesota a 20-14 lead early in the fourth quarter and an interception thrown by Keenum to rookie safety Marcus Williams that set up the Saints at the Vikings’ 40-yard line, Brees threw his third touchdown in the second half when he connected with rookie running back Alvin Kamara from 14-yards out that gave the Saints a brief 21-20 lead.

Brees finished the game throwing for 294 yards on 25-of-40 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions, both coming in the first half.

“We’re still a bit shell-shocked after what happened there at the end,” said Brees after the game per the Associated Press.

But it was the big play by Diggs, who avoided a would-be hit by Williams and never looked back as he raced for the end zone for arguably the biggest touchdown in Minnesota’s history, a perfect delivered pass from the NCAA’s all-time passing leader in Keenum, who threw for 318 yards and matched Brees’ 25-of-40 passing.

On the AFC side, the top-seeded Patriots (14-3) made short work of the visiting Tennessee Titans (10-8), winning 35-14 on Saturday night advancing to their seventh straight AFC Championship Game next Sunday in Foxborough with a dominating performance over the sixth-seeded Titans in the chilly New England weather where game time temperature were in the 20s.

After taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Tennessee saw New England roll off 35 unanswered points that led to the Patriots’ dismantling of the Titans. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 337 yards on 35-of-53 passing and three touchdowns, his 10th career postseason game in which he’s thrown three touchdowns moving past Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana for most in the NFL per the Elias Sports Bureau.

“To be in the playoffs, to play well and to advance, that’s just really great for this team,” Brady said to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. “We’ve got to do it again next week.”

Wide receiver Danny Amendola, one of Brady’s most dependable pass catchers, finished with a team-high 11 catches for 112 yards. Tight end Rob Gronkowski hauled in six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown over Titans safety Kevin Byard, who predicted that Tennessee would make the future NFL Hall of Famer look like Blake Bortles.

More on Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who stand in the way of Brady from making his eighth Super Bowl appearance in his 18-year career that includes five wins in seven appearances, in a bit.

After the game, Brady was business as usual after leading New England pass by an overmatched Titans team that were doomed from the start. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota played through a strained quadriceps muscle that he suffered on run in the first quarter that limited the Mariota’s mobility and Tennessee’s playcalling for the remainder of the game.

Mariota completed 22-of-37 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, but was under siege from Patriots’ pass rush that sacked Mariota eight times on Saturday night, a franchise record for one postseason game.

“Embarrassed,” said Mariota, standing at the podium after the game per the Associated Press.

“You play to win the whole thing. Yeah, it’s nice to be in the playoffs, but again, you don’t play to get in, especially coming into the divisional playoff losing the way we did.”

Raise your hands if you had the Jacksonville Jaguars heading to their first AFC Championship Game since 1999 at the start of the 2017.

Anybody?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t because you aren’t alone, especially with the aforementioned Bortles leading the way. For most of his four seasons in Jacksonville, Bortles was the favorite punching bag for Jaguars fans (and the media) to hit for the team’s lackluster play even with a vastly improving defense with to lean on.

But the perception of Bortles is rapidly changing, especially after help leading the third-seeded Jaguars (12-6) to 45-42 victory over the second-seeded Steelers (13-4) at Heinz Field to close out the divisional round weekend. Bortles didn’t have earth-shattering numbers, completing just 14-of-26 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, but didn’t throw an interception nor was he sacked in Jacksonville’s second win in Pittsburgh this year. Pittsburgh set a franchise record with 55 sacks this season, leading the NFL this season.

Jacksonville dispatched Pittsburgh 30-9 in Week 5 behind a punishing defense that forced five interceptions, returning two of those interceptions for touchdowns.

In that regular season game, Bortles was a non factor as he threw for just 95 yards on 8-of-14 passing and an interception, but the offense was carried by ground game as rookie running back Leonard Fournette rushed for a career-high 181 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns, one of which went for 90 yards, the longest scoring run by a rookie against the Steelers per the Elias Sports Bureau.

This time around, Bortles appeared more confident and comfortable against Pittsburgh.

Jacksonville’s 45 points are the most points scored by an opponent against the Steelers in franchise history. Fournette scored two first half touchdowns, while backup running back T.J. Yeldon added another score that gave Jacksonville a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Steelers answered with a touchdown of their own from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver Antonio Brown that cut Jacksonville’s lead to 21-7.

Fournette, who left the game briefly with an ankle injury, rushed for a 109 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Shortly before the two minute warning and with Pittsburgh on the Jacksonville 47-yard line, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue sacked Roethislisberger forcing a fumble which was returned by middle linebacker Telvin Smith that gave Jacksonville a 28-7 lead. It was Smith’s second defensive touchdown against the Steelers this season, also finished with a team-high 14 tackles.

Roethlisberger would throw a 36-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant before the end of the first half, then a 19-yard touchdown pass to running back Le’Veon Bell pulling the Steelers closer, 28-21, in the third quarter.

But Bortles made the biggest play of the game in my book, throwing a 45-yard bomb down the middle of the field in double coverage with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter that was hauled in by rookie wide receiver Keelan Cole that set up the Jaguars at the Pittsburgh 3-yard line before Fournette plowed into the end zone for his third rushing touchdown that re-opened a two-touchdown lead for Jacksonville making the score, 35-21.

“These guys played with confidence all day,” Bortles said after the game per the Florida Times-Union.

Jacksonville would add 10 more points in the fourth quarter, while the Steelers played catch up (pun intended) for the majority of the day despite big performances by Pittsburgh’s “Killer Bs” of Roethlisberger, Bell and Le’Veon Brown.

Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards on 37-of-58 passes, with five touchdowns and one interception. Brown, who appeared healthy following a torn left calf muscle he suffered in Week 15 against the Patriots that caused him to miss the Steelers’ final two games of the year, finished with seven catches for 132 yards and a pair of spectacular touchdowns.

Bell finished with 155 total yards from scrimmage (67 rushing and 88 receiving) and two touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving).

“Its disheartening” said Brown per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought we had the right group of guys.”

The conference championship games between Minnesota-Philadelphia in the NFC and Jacksonville-New England in the AFC weren’t what people imagined when the 2017 season started, even though most fully believed that the reigning Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots had the strongest chance at making another Super Bowl run.

Minnesota and Philadelphia did enter the season with postseason expectations, and should be a fierce matchup led by unwanted quarterbacks in Keenum and Foles along with strong defenses, and fan bases thirsty for a major championship.

Jacksonville wasn’t suppose to crash the postseason party, but here are the Jaguars who now must travel to New England and try to dethrone Brady and the Patriots to earn the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl.

“I’m sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove and talk negative or hate or do whatever they want,” Bortles said before the Jaguars left Pittsburgh. “But we get to keep playing and we get an opportunity to play in Foxborough next week  for another week. Just honored to be able to do this especially with this group of guys.”

“Its been an awesome year. Just want to keep it going.”