Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning rescued the butter-fingered Broncos with a late touchdown drive and Denver advanced to the AFC championship game with a 23-16 win over Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The Broncos (13-4) will host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (13-4) next weekend. Manning vs. Brady XVII. With Denver down 13-12 with less than 10 minutes left, cornerback Bradley Roby punched the ball from Fitzgerald Toussaint's arms and teammate DeMarcus Ware recovered at the Denver 35-yard line. Then, Manning went to work, driving Denver to its only touchdown. Ware's sack ended Pittsburgh's next drive and Brandon McManus kicked his fifth field goal, tying the NFL playoff record. Chris Boswell made a 47-yarder with 19 seconds left, but C.J. Anderson recovered the onside kick.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers built a 31-point halftime lead before barely holding off Seattle's relentless comeback, beating the Seahawks 31-24 on Sunday to advance to the NFC championship game. Carolina (16-1) will host Arizona (14-3) next week for a trip to the Super Bowl. Jonathan Stewart, returning from a foot injury, scored two touchdowns after jumpstarting the Panthers with a 59-yard sprint on their first play. Cam Newton threw for a touchdown and fellow All-Pro Luke Kuechly ran in an early interception for a score as Carolina built a 31-0 advantage. Seattle (11-7), showing its pedigree as two-time NFC champs, climbed back within seven points as Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns, two to Jermaine Kearse. An onside kick with 1:11 remaining was covered by All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis - and Charlotte could begin breathing again.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals, the NFC's No. 2 seed, thought they had won until Aaron Rodgers, in a play reminiscent of Green Bay's win over Detroit this season, took the snap with 5 seconds to play, scrambled and threw a 41-yard desperation pass to the end zone. The 6-foot-3 Jeff Janis, a backup receiver, outjumped defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson for the ball to send the game to an extra period.
But Larry Fitzgerald turned a short pass into a 75-yard gain on the first play of overtime and scored the winning touchdown, taking a 5-yard shovel pass from Carson Palmer that lifted Arizona past Green Bay 26-20. Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 176 yards.
"In NFL history, only Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin have more than five 100-yard postseason games; Rice had eight and Irvin had six. And when Larry Fitzgerald subsequently scored the game-winning touchdown against the Packers, it was his 10th career receiving touchdown in the postseason. Only Rice and John Stallworth have more than 10 postseason receiving touchdowns; Stallworth had 12 and Rice had 22, a record that may never be broken. Fitzgerald has done all that while playing in just eight career postseason games. Rice played in 29 career postseason games, Stallworth played in 18 and Irvin played in 16. Fitzgerald hasn’t always been on good teams, but when he gets to the playoffs, he always delivers."
» NFL.com: "Larry Fitzgerald adds another chapter to legendary career"
» NFL.com: "Aaron Rodgers unhappy about coin flip gaffe"
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with two touchdown passes and reached over the goal line for another score Saturday to lead the New England Patriots into the AFC championship game with a 27-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. It's the fifth straight trip to the conference title game for the defending Super Bowl champions. The Patriots (13-4) will meet the winner of Sunday's game between Pittsburgh and Denver for a spot in Super Bowl 50 as they try to become the first repeat NFL champs since they did it in 2003-04. After spending the last two weeks recovering from knee and back injuries, Gronkowski had touchdown catches from 8 and 16 yards The All-Pro tight end had seven receptions for 82 yards. Kansas City (12-6) had won a franchise-record 11 consecutive games, including 30-0 at Houston last week in the wild-card round.
In the regular season, Brady led the league with 36 touchdown passes and guided the Patriots to 12 wins despite losing a multitude of offensive players at various points. In 15 regular season games, Gronkowski recorded 72 receptions for 1,176 yards, and 11 touchdowns. On Saturday, he opened up the Patriots' playoff run with two touchdowns against the Chiefs, setting an NFL record with his eighth career postseason score. Dave Casper and Vernon Davis held the tight end record with seven playoff touchdowns. Now, that record belongs to Gronkowski, who's still just 26 years old.