REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi photoNEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS- Well, it wasn't quite as lopsided as last month's regular season matchup on Monday Night, but the end result was the same.
After besting the Cincinnati Bengals in a lethargic affair at Relialnt Stadium in Houston on Wild Card Weekend, the Texans advanced to play New England for the second round of the playoffs. A well-rested New England was coming off of their first-round bye with Rob Gronkowski coming off the DL.
The first half of Sunday's playoff game went a little differently than December's Monday Night blowout, with the Texans drawing first blood thanks to a 27 yard Shayne Graham FG on the Texans' opening possession. The Texans would maintain their 3 point lead throughout most of the first quarter as both offenses seemed to sputter but with just under four and a half minutes to go The Patriots got good field position and put together a 3 minute drive, hitting paydirt on a 1 yard TD run from RB Shane Vereen putting New England on top 7-3.
Thanks to a Gostkowski FG and another Vereen TD, the Patriots took a 17-3 lead with just under 4 minutes to go before halftime. The Texans were able to return the kickoff to midfield, giving Houston great field position for RB Arian Fosterto singlehandedly run the ball down the field for a Houston TD....which is exactly what happened with 1:15 to go in the first half to make it 17-10 New England.
After the Patriots went 3 and out on their own 30, they punted with 24 seconds left in the half- time enough, it turned out, for Texans QB Matt Schaub to make 3 quick completions for a total of 30 yards- good enough to move the ball down the field for a 55 yard FG attempt from Shayne Graham. And of course, I wouldn't be bringing this up if Graham's field goal attempt was no good- but it went through as time expired, and a much more game Houston trailed the Patriots by 17-13 at the half. It should also be worth noting that Graham's FG attempt was the longest successful FG in the playoffs at Gilette Stadium.
The second half, however, was another story as the Patriots began to pull away thanks to a Stevan Ridley rushing TD and a TD pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd to make it 31-13 New England in the 3rd quarter. And while the Patriots would get another TD thanks to a 33 yard reception and run by Vereen to make it 38-13, the Texans would score twice in the 4th quarter to make it a 10 point game before Gostkowski kicked a FG with a little over a minute to go to make it a 41-28 win for New England.
ELSEWHERE IN THE AFC- The good news is that the Road to the Superbowl once again goes through New England. The bad news is that the Patriots will have to deal with the pesky Baltimore Ravens to get to the Super Bowl.
The Ravens advanced to the AFC Championship after a wild affair in Denver on Sunday evening that required double OT after an improbable pass from Baltimore's Joe Flacco was snagged by WR Jacoby Jones to tie the game at 35-35 with 31 seconds left in regulation. After a scoreless OT, the game at Denver headed into a second OT where the Ravens broke the deadlock thanks to a 47 yard FG by Justin Tucker.
Since Denver had clinched a first round bye and home field advantage, their elimination by Baltimore means that the Patriots now have the best record of the remaining teams and will host the AFC title game on Sunday.
The AFC Championsip Game between New England and Baltimore is set for Sunday evening at 6:30 ET and will be televised on CBS.
MEANWHILE IN THE NFC- Although we were about 30 seconds away from an all NFC West Championship game, there was no overtime on the NFC side of things. However, there was still one hell of a finish for one of the games.
Atlanta looked as though it wasn't getting off their playoff schnide after blowing a late lead against the visiting Seahawks on Sunday. After taking a 20-0 lead in the first half, Atlanta saw Seattle steadily chip away at their lead, finally going ahead thanks to a TD run from Marshawn Lynch with 31 seconds remaining in regulation toput Seattle up 28-27 and quieting down the home crowd at the Georgia Dome.
After getting the ball back on their own 28 with 19 seconds remaining, Matt Ryan managed two completions- a 22 yard completion to Harry Douglas and another completion to Tony Gonzalez good for 19 yards. Matt Bryant then kicked a 49 yard FG attempt to put Atlanta up 30-28 with 8 seconds remaining.
The Falcons escape by the skin of their teeth to win by a final of 30-28 and host this weekend's NFC championship game which is set to take place at 3:00 ET on Sunday and will be televised on FOX. The Falcons will be hosting the San Francisco 49ers who beat the Green Bay Packers pretty handily by a 45-31 final.
NCAA FOOTBALL- In what has to be one of the most bizarre off-the-field events in college football in recent years, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was caught up in an elaborate online hoax after admitting that his girlfriend, 22 year old Lennay Kekua, had never existed.
Kekua had supposedly passed away from complications due to leukemia within hours of Manti's grandmother passing away on September 12th, 2012.
In a shocking announcement, Notre Dame said Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" from leukemia was faked by perpetrators of an elaborate hoax. The goal of the scam wasn't clear, though Notre Dame said it used an investigative firm to dig into the details after Te'o disclosed them three weeks ago.Te'o had reportedly known about the hoax prior to the Deadspin.com report, but was reluctant to go public with it out of embarassment or being accused of manipulating sentiment prior to the Heisman voting.
The hoax was disclosed hours after Deadspin.com posted a lengthy story, saying it could find no record that Kekua ever existed. The story suggests a friend of Te'o may have carried out the hoax and that the football player may have been in on it — a stunning claim against a widely admired All-American who led the most famed program in college football back to the championship game for the first time since 1988.
CYCLING- Cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during all 7 Tour De France bids in an interview with Oprah Winfrey this week.
During part 1 of the two-part interview, Armstrong seemed devoid of any emotion of remorse, but teared up during part two when mentioning how his son defended him at the time, unaware the doping allegations were true.
The admission may have sponsors such as the US Postal Service wanting some or all of their money back. In 2006, Armstrong sued Britain's Sunday Times for libel after their head sports writer accused him of doping- Armstrong and the paper settled out od court for more than $500,000. Now the paper may be suing Armstrong to recoup some of their money.
NHL- Just a quick reminder, the NHL season begins on Saturday- the Bruins will be hosting the NY Rangers at the TD Garden at 7PM ET on the NHL Network.