AFC Rematches Spice Up Divisional Round
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NEW YORK (AP) — Bitter feuds from the AFC North and East will break out again in the playoffs.
First up comes Ravens-Steelers III, and how fitting after the AFC North rivals split their two regular-season meetings and tied atop the division at 12-4. Baltimore set up what figures to be a bone-crunching divisional-round game next Saturday when it beat Kansas City 30-7.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Joe Flacco, who threw for two touchdowns. “This is going to be the second time in my career that we’ve played them three times in a season. And those games are always a lot of fun. We’re going to go up there and give it our best.”
That’s exactly what the New York Jets hope to do in New England, a place where they were annihilated in early December, 45-3, by the AFC East champion Patriots. New York (12-5) won its third road playoff game in four tries under bombastic coach Rex Ryan, 17-16 at Indianapolis on Nick Folk’s 32-yard field goal as time expired.
“We’ve been wanting the Patriots for a while now,” Jets tight end Dustin Keller said. “Ever since that game.”
The Jets also beat the Pats 28-14 in Week 2, one of only two losses for New England (14-2).
Green Bay was the third road team to win in the wild-card round, beating the Eagles 21-16 as Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and James Starks, at one point a fourth-stringer, rushed for 123 yards Sunday. Next Saturday night, the Packers (11-6) are at Atlanta (13-3), the AFC’s top seed, which beat Green Bay 20-17 on Nov. 28.
“I’m looking forward to it,” star cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We know the road we have to take to get to the Super Bowl. They’re the top dog, we have to go in there and beat them.”
Shockingly, the only home winner this weekend was Seattle. On Saturday, the Seahawks became the first team with a losing record to win a playoff game when they knocked off defending NFL champion New Orleans 41-36 behind four TD passes by Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks (8-9) visit Chicago (11-5) next Sunday; Seattle won at Soldier Field 23-20 on Oct. 17.
“The only thing that matters is what we believe in our group,” said Marshawn Lynch, whose spectacular 67-yard run clinched the upset over the Saints. “Within us, we believed that we could do it and we did.”
Ravens 30, Chiefs 7
At Kansas City, Billy Cundiff kicked three field goals to support Flacco, but it was the savvy defense that dominated, as it often does for Baltimore (13-4). The Ravens led 10-7 in the third quarter when they stopped Kansas City on fourth-and-inches. Baltimore got a field goal out of that, then another after Ray Lewis forced a fumble by rookie Dexter McCluster.
Dawan Landry’s interception moments later led to Anquan Boldin’s 4-yard TD reception for a 23-7 lead, and the Chiefs (10-7) were headed for that unenviable NFL record. Their last playoff victory came with Joe Montana as their quarterback.
So now it’s bring on the Steelers, who won in Baltimore in December; the Ravens won at Pittsburgh in October in the last of Ben Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension.
“It’s personal between the two cities, Baltimore and Pittsburgh,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It shouldn’t surprise you that these two teams are in the fight and at each other’s throats.”
Ravens safety Ed Reed sparked the defense even as he and his family were dealing with the disappearance of his brother, Brian, who jumped into the Mississippi River as he ran from police in Louisiana. The Ravens gave Reed the game ball in an emotion-filled locker room.
“Just being there for strength, respect for what’s going on,” Reed said of his teammates he calls his second family. “They just gave me the team ball for my family.”
The Chiefs have lost seven straight postseason games, a league record that dates back to the 1993 season.
Packers 21, Eagles 16
Rodgers had TD passes of 7 yards to Tom Crabtree, 9 to James Jones and 16 to Brandon Jackson, who used a convoy of blockers on a screen pass for the winning points midway through the third quarter.
Green Bay (11-6) then held on as Michael Vick brought Philadelphia (10-7) close, but was intercepted in the end zone by Tramon Williams in the final seconds. The Packers have won three in a row; the Eagles finished with three straight defeats.
“We have a lot of resilient guys in this locker room,” Rodgers said, noting that Green Bay lost 15 players to injured reserve this season. “We have guys who believe in each other, a lot of guys we might not expect a lot from who step up, like James Starks tonight.
“It was huge the way James ran the ball, maybe the most important factor in our win,” added Rodgers, who got his first playoff victory in his third season as a starter — after sitting behind Brett Favre for three years.
Green Bay began 2010 with a win at the Linc and ended the Eagles’ season with another one Sunday. Now it’s off to Atlanta for the divisional round.
“They have a great team over there, and they play fast,” Michael Vick said after his sensational comeback season ended. “We set ourselves back. We did some things out there, still, but we just didn’t do enough.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.