Mike Sando's game balls
Game 1: New England 21, San Diego 12
Running backs Laurence Maroney
(122 yards rushing) and Kevin Faulk
(82 yards receiving) picked up the slack for New England's struggling vertical pass game. Running mostly from power formations with two and even three tight ends, Maroney ripped off gains of 18, 11, 20 and 12 yards in the second half.
New England struggled on third down until the fourth quarter, when the Patriots converted four in a row. Faulk caught passes for 11 and 14 yards on the first two conversions. Maroney ran for 5-yard gains on the final two.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers
suffered through a poor statistical performance, but teammates said his gutsy play proved to be inspirational. Playing on two bad knees, Rivers struggled to scramble and he sometimes forced passes. But he went down swinging. An 18-yard strike to Vincent Jackson
on third-and-10 gave the Chargers life in the fourth quarter.
Patriots linebacker Junior Seau
made one of the more clutch tackles of the game, stopping Michael Turner
for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1 from the New England 4. The Patriots were protecting a 14-9 lead in the third quarter when Seau sliced through to make the tackle. The Chargers settled for a field goal, their third red zone trip without a touchdown.
San Diego defensive backs Quentin Jammer
, Antonio Cromartie
and Drayton Florence
left Brady with a season-high three interceptions. Brady had thrown 62 touchdowns in the red zone without an interception when Cromartie picked off a pass intended for tight end Ben Watson
. Cromartie finished the season with 11 interceptions, including four combined against Indy's Peyton Manning
(three) and Brady (one).
• Special teams:
Patriots receiver Kelley Washington
helped New England take control in the second quarter with a play that shifted field position. Washington, a force on New England's punt-cover team, leaped over the goal line to bat the ball back to fullback Kyle Eckel
, who downed it at the San Diego 4. The Patriots then forced a turnover before scoring on a short field to take a 14-6 lead. Washington helped the Patriots limit Darren Sproles
to a 5.3-yard average on three punt returns.
Game 2: N.Y. Giants 23, Green Bay 20 (OT)
Giants receiver Plaxico Burress
owned his matchup with Packers cornerback Al Harris
, catching 11 passes for 154 yards. Burress played hurt most of the season, but he's been healthier in recent weeks, which has been a huge plus for the Giants. Burress is also benefiting from Eli Manning
's improved play.
Manning made it through another playoff game without a turnover. His overall stats weren't outstanding, but avoiding mistakes has been good enough for the Giants at times. Manning converted a third-and-10 play with a 19-yard pass to Burress. He completed another pass for 9 yards on third-and-15, setting up a manageable fourth-down conversion as the Giants moved toward a field goal try midway through the fourth quarter.
Packers receiver Donald Driver
hadn't caught a touchdown pass since the third week of the regular season. He caught five passes for 141 yards against the Giants, none bigger than his 90-yard scoring reception to give Green Bay its first lead, 7-6.
Giants cornerback Corey Webster
made huge plays for New York. Webster registered two tackles for losses before picking off Brett Favre
in overtime to set up the winning field goal. A promising fourth-quarter Packers drive ended with a field goal after Webster tackled Ryan Grant
for a 7-yard loss on third-and-3.
Grant made a heads-up defensive play for the Packers when he stripped the ball from Giants cornerback R.W. McQuarters
following a fourth-quarter interception. Tackle Mark Tauscher
recovered for the Packers, who kicked the tying field goal four plays later.
• Special teams:
' 49-yard punt return put Green Bay in position to score the go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter. Williams also recovered a muffed kickoff return by teammate Koren Robinson
Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes
missed twice in the fourth quarter, but a high snap contributed to one miss, and weather conditions were difficult. Tynes' winning 47-yarder in overtime more than atoned.
• Len Pasquarelli:
Everyone is awed by the Patriots' passing game, but it was the running game that proved to be the difference in the AFC title game.
• Len Pasquarelli:
The Chargers' offense had plenty of chances to reach the end zone, but the Patriots rose to the test when needed.
• Gene Wojciechowski:
Win Super Bowl XLII -- and they will -- and the Patriots will have no peer, no point of comparison.
• John Clayton:
Plaxico Burress was unstoppable, Eli Manning was efficient and the Giants fought through adversity to beat the Packers.
• Jeffri Chadiha:
With one ill-advised pass by Brett Favre, the Packers' dream season came to a sudden and crushing halt.
• Scouts Inc.'s Buzz
Patriots 21, Chargers 12:
Despite the unforeseen interceptions by Tom Brady
, New England is going to the Super Bowl. The respective play of each red-zone offense told the story in this game; the Patriots scored touchdowns, while the Chargers kicked field goals near the goal line. -- Matt Williamson
Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT):
With RB Brandon Jacobs
averaging around 3 yards per carry, the Giants started using his backup, Ahmad Bradshaw
, more in the fourth quarter. Bradshaw's ability to cut back against the grain on the zone stretch play gave the offense a much-needed spark. -- Doug Kretz
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