Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on January 20, 2014 · Page 3-3
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · Page 3-3

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Monday, January 20, 2014
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Chicago Tribune Chicago Sports Section 3 Monday, January 20, 2014 3 NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES Happy trails for Peyton, Broncos Plaschke, from Page 1 Colts after missing a year because of neck surgery. Manning is not only headed for what could be his most glorious football moment but perhaps his last football moment, as he may be forced to retire depending on a postseason neck exam. It was an unseasonably warm afternoon chilled with such emotion that Manning's close friend and tight end Jacob Tamme wept on the field, his father Archie teared up in the locker room and his teammates set the record for superlatives. Said receiver Demaryius Thomas: "To do what he just did in a conference championship game? Now that's amazing." Said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton: "All the years going against him, all he's been through, he is just unbelievable." Start spreading the news. The New York Super Bowl is Manning up. "You do take a moment to realize what we've done is something special," Manning said. With the league's narrative dominated by the deeds of flashy young quarterbacks, the NFL needs Manning's kind of special. Amid the coldest of Super Bowl settings, the NFL needs his warmth in this game. "He's probably not very hip," Tamme said. "But he loves to win." Manning, in his 16th season, runs in the tiny halting steps of a chicken. He throws passes that frolic like a butterfly. Manning wore one black glove on his right throwing hand Sunday and was constantly adjusting the pads around his aching knees. His appearance was wonderfully old-fashioned, but his record in these games was wholly unremarkable. Manning took the field with a 4-10 record against the seemingly flawless Tom Brady, as well as a 10-11 playoff mark that recently led a Denver newspaper to run his photo with a dark cloud over his head. "To see what he's gone through, what happened makes me so happy for him," Tamme said. "When it hit me, there were tears in my eyes." It hit the Patriots early, when Manning bobbled a shotgun snap for three agonizing seconds and still managed to grab the ball and hit Eric Decker for 7 yards. It hit the Patriots at the end of the first half, when Manning completed six consecutive passes to five different receivers to cover 73 yards and set up a field goal for a 13-3 lead. It hit the Patriots again immediately at the start of the second half, when Manning's passing led the Broncos on an 80-yard drive that evaporated more than seven minutes and ended in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Thomas that turned into a 20-3 lead. In the end, Manning was 32 of 42 for 400 yards and two touchdowns while his precision throws helped the Broncos hold the ball for 11 more minutes than the Patriots. "To keep Tom Brady on the sidelines is a good thing," Manning said with a laugh. Afterward Manning finally allowed himself even a smile, perhaps because he realized he could become the first quarterback in history to lead two different teams to Super Bowl championships. "We've come a long way in the last two years," he said. "It feels very gratifying." But he seemed just as gratified that brother Eli, a quarterback for the Giants, showed up and surprised him just as Peyton surprised Eli at the NFC championship game two years ago. Said brother Cooper: "Peyton would never say he's having fun, but he looked happy today. I will say this, he looks happy." With this most modern of Super Bowls now being decorated in sentimental throwback, he's surely not alone in that iook. bplaschketribune.com NFC SEAHAWKS 23, 49ERS Sherman tips balance Battle comes down to Seahawks cornerback's big play in end zone By Sam Farmer Tribune Newspapers SEATTLE - The ball went up, and, just as he has all season, the Seahawks' Richard Sherman answered the call. The Seahawks are headed to the Super Bowl for the second time in their history thanks to a spectacular play by their All-Pro cornerback. With 30 seconds left and his team trailing by six, the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick tried to hit Michael Crabtree with an 18-yard pass in the corner of the end zone. But Sherman leaped and batted the ball up with his left hand. Teammate Malcolm Smith made the interception to preserve a 23-17 victory at raucous Cen-turyLink Field. Seattle will play the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. For the first time since the 2009 season, two No. 1 seeds are meeting in the Super Bowl. This guarantees a top seed will hoist the Lombardi Trophy for just the third time since NFL realignment in 2002. "That's as sweet as it gets, man," said Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions this season. "We knew it would come down to us on the back end to win this thing. ... We knew we had to finish this off." Smith's interception was the third turnover of the second half by Kaepernick, who has a history v . !4 J "Jt m- S' MARK J. REBILASUSA TODAY SPORTS PHOTO Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lets it fly as he is tackled by Broncos defensive end Jeremy Mincey in the AFC championship game in Denver. AFC BRONCOS 26, PATRIOTS 16 Smile high success Manning earns third trip to Super Bowl as 'D' shackles Brady By Rich Campbell Tribune reporter DENVER - Peyton Manning didn't have to outduel Tom Brady in the AFC championship game Sunday. The Broncos' defense made sure of that Another Manning versus Brady postseason classic never materialized because the Broncos' defense stuffed the run, pressured Brady at critical moments and took advantage of his ill-timed inaccuracy. It amounted to an orange tidal wave that the Broncos rode to a 26-16 victory over the Patriots and a berth in Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seahawks. "Coming in with the two quarterbacks you have in Peyton and Tom Brady, there was all this talk about a shootout and who's going to play the better game," Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "So our main thing was just trying to get the ball back to our offense." They consistently did, and Manning took advantage. He completed 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns. His 17 Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tips the ball away from the 49ers' Michael Crabtree before Malcolm Smith (53) intercepts it. of struggles against the Seahawks. "This team, as young as they are, they don't act it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "But they know we're not done." Seattle took a 23-17 lead with 3:37 to play on Steven Hauschka's 47-yard field goal. The Seahawks offense stalled after Kam Chancellor intercepted a pass intended for Anquan Boldin at the 40, only moving 11 yards closer but burning four minutes off the clock. That was the second consecutive turnover by Kaepernick, who was stripped on the previous possession. The ball was picked up on one hop by the Seahawks' Michael Bennett and returned 17 yards to the San Francisco 6. 118.4 passer rating was his fifth-best in 22 career postseason games. The conference title was especially gratifying for Manning, who sat out the 2011 season with the Colts following multiple neck surgeries, including a cervical fusion procedure. Manning celebrated his third career Super Bowl berth by posing for pictures with brothers Eli and Cooper inside a home locker room littered with orange, blue and white confetti. "I put a lot of hard work in," Manning said. "I had a lot of people teammates, coaches, trainers help me along the way. We've definitely come a long way in two years. It's an exciting feeling." The Broncos claimed their first AFC title since they won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. It seemed particularly sweet to players and coaches because of the adversity they have endured. Coach John Fox missed almost one month after undergoing aortic heart valve replacement surgery on Nov. 4. The Broncos also played Sunday without 10 players JONATHAN FERREYGETTY PHOTO The Seahawks were unable to punch the ball in, however, and receiver Jermaine Kearse fumbled on a short third-down reception. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered a leg injury on the play and had to be carted off. Although the Seahawks retained possession, they turned it over on downs as Marshawn Lynch fumbled on fourth down. But the 49ers gave it right back. Seattle took its first lead of the game with 13:44 remaining, when Russell Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Kearse. That gave the home team a 20-17 lead. The touchdown came on fourth-and-7, after the Seahawks who are on the reserveinjured list, including All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady and All-Pro linebacker Von Miller. "Just standing here feels pretty good because I almost wasn't," said Fox, 58, who was the Panthers' coach in 2003 when they lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots. "To be able to come back, be on the sideline, be in those meeting rooms, those late-night meetings with the coaches, players, and all the sacrifices that go into these things, it feels outstanding." The Patriots lost for the third time in eight AFC championship games under coach Bill Belichick. He and Brady, who have been together since 2000, have not won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season. "Losing is not easy," Brady said. "I give them a lot of credit They are going to be tough to beat in a couple weeks." On an unseasonably warm day in the 60s, the Broncos played with the offensive and defensive balance they have discovered this postseason. Manning threw a 1-yard touchdown to Jacob Tamme in the had lined up for a field goal before calling a last-second timeout. Wilson came back on the field, and when the 49ers' Aldon Smith jumped offside, he had a free play. He found Kearse streaking down a seam. After a first half light on offense, the third quarter was marked by rapid-fire scores. Seattle got it started with 9:51 remaining in the quarter, when Lynch broke loose on a 40-yard touchdown run that ignited the already-loud crowd and forged a 10-10 tie. The 49ers answered with a scoring drive of their own that included a 22-yard run by Kaepernick, and, a play later, a fumble recovery by center Jonathan Goodwin after Kaepernick had fumbled. On the next play, Kaepernick fired a 26-yard touchdown pass to Boldin, who outleaped Earl Thomas in the back of the end zone. Trailing 17-10, Seattle answered when a 69-yard ldckoff return by Doug Baldwin set up a 40-yard field goal that cut the lead to four. That flurry of scoring was markedly different than the first two quarters, which ended with the 49ers up 10-3. Although he had just three completions for 17 yards in the first two quarters, Kaepernick did a lot of damage with his legs, running for 98 yards on eight carries. That included his 58-yard scramble in the second quarter that set up the game's first touchdown, a 1-yard plunge by Anthony Dixon on fourth down. sfarmertribune.com second quarter and a 3-yarder to Demaryius Thomas in the third. "They did a good job mixing up plays, and, as always, he did an excellent job of reading the defenses," Belichick said. "And he got us in some situations that were less than ideal with his astute play-calling and recognition." The Broncos are accustomed to such offensive domination under Manning. But on Sunday, the Broncos defense matched that performance. In building a 23-3 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos limited the Patriots to 160 total yards. Brady finished 24 of 38 for 277 yards, one touchdown pass and a touchdown run, but he also had some critical misfires. "As a defense, we wanted to rise to the occasion," Terrance Knighton said. "We knew our offense was going to come out and get a rhythm, and we just wanted to do our part." rcampbelltribune.com Twitter RichjCampbell

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