By Kimberly Jones
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So, after a ho-hum divisional playoff weekend, we wind up getting the matchups that everyone wanted anyway.
Especially this one: Brady vs. Peyton.
What Peyton Manning has done in coming back from four neck surgeries and transitioning late in his career to the Broncos has been obviously amazing. If you saw or heard any of his postgame comments following Denver’s win over San Diego on Sunday it was clear how much this AFC Championship game berth means to him. Yes, at 37, he can still win in the playoffs. (And we even learned Sunday that he drinks Bud Light!)
What Tom Brady has been doing this season, with a cast of characters that is – and has been – injury ravaged and ever-changing has been as remarkable in a football sense. And that includes handing off the ball, as Brady did on each of the Patriots’ franchise-record six touchdowns on Saturday night. The victory over Indianapolis couldn’t have been more convincing. And Brady didn’t throw a touchdown, which he referred to after the game – sincerely – as “pretty cool.”
“Hopefully,” Brady added, “we can do it next week, too.”
Brady has now started 25 playoff games, most all-time. He’s the first quarterback to throw for 6,000 yards in the postseason. With a win over Denver, he will go to his sixth Super Bowl. Brady’s reputation as a winner has been built on a knack for calling the right play at the right time and finding the best matchup to exploit.
He did it again Saturday. While it is tempting to say Brady didn’t have a typical showing in the game against the Colts, he actually did. Incredibly typical. He made the calls and the check-downs to assure the Patriots ran the ball 46 times, for 234 yards, against an opponent that couldn’t stop the run. Brady dropped back 27 times, completing 13 of 25 passes for a pedestrian 198 yards. (He was sacked twice.) And all that mattered was it was winning football.
Just like all that will matter this week will be Brady vs. Peyton. (No, the storyline of Wes Welker facing his former team isn’t that intriguing.)
This will be the 15th time that Peyton and Brady have squared off, the fourth time in the playoffs, the third time with the AFC championship on the line. They split the first two, and each went on to win the Super Bowl that year. The question is: Will this be the last time they meet with the stakes so high?
“It’s the Broncos versus the Patriots, and certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot,” Manning said. “But when you get to the AFC Championship, it’s about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there.”
OK, sure. But even Peyton knows, perhaps he especially knows, this is about Manning vs. Brady. And how cool is that?
Seriously, dude: Did anyone notice that Jim Harbaugh called for a fake punt with 23 seconds left in his 49ers’ 23-10 win over the Panthers? A fake punt. In that situation. And yet, no one said anything about it. Incredible.
Speaking of the Harbaughs: How much did brotherly love factor into the Ravens trading Anquan Boldin to the Niners for a sixth-round pick in March? And how big has that trade been for San Francisco?
Yes, Boldin was unwilling to take a pay cut to stay in Baltimore. So John Harbaugh traded him to brother Jim, and Boldin has been worth every penny of his $6 million salary. He proved it on Sunday alone, catching eight passes for 136 yards in the win over Carolina. (He also head-butted and taunted without penalty, which is another story.)
Boldin isn’t the best receiver in the league, but he is a great playmaker. And in postseason, he’s money. In his last six playoff games, Boldin has 33 catches for 554 yards and four touchdowns. That’s not the stuff of a sixth-round pick. It’s first-round grade.
Note to the officials: Please take control of games in accordance with the rulebook. In Carolina, the game devolved into look-at-me, head-butt-you garbage that is unwatchable. And unbecoming. And the 49ers clearly got the more favorable whistle.
“One team gets the call, the other doesn’t,” Panthers safety Mike Mitchell said. “I guess that’s human error in football.”
That might sound like sour grapes, but Mitchell was right.
Thank you, Greg Schiano: It’s no secret how much Greg Schiano admires Bill Belichick. And the Patriots are continuing to benefit from that relationship in the playoffs. Two of Schiano’s former players are coming up huge for the Patriots these days, cornerback Aqib Talib and running back LeGarrette Blount.
Talib was traded by the Bucs to the Patriots in November 2012, when he was in the midst of a four-game suspension and largely because Tampa wasn’t going to re-sign him after the season. The Bucs got a 2013 fourth-round draft pick out of the deal and drafted defensive end William Gholston with it.
In the case of Blount, that was a clear giveaway. Schiano had tired of Blount’s late-to-meetings act so he sent him packing for Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps and a seventh-rounder.
All Blount has done lately is rush for 355 yards and six touchdowns in his last two games.
Clearly, a change of scenery helped both players. You could argue that unloading Blount didn’t help Schiano or the Bucs.
Toboggan runs: Would anyone else be willing to shell out $5 to go on a toboggan run in midtown Manhattan during Super Bowl week?
From Jan. 29 through Feb. 1 — the four days leading up to the game — the city will allow the NFL to close 14 blocks of Broadway, from 34th to 47th streets.
Super Bowl Boulevard will include a toboggan run that will cover eight lanes and 60 feet. Revenue will go to a group trying to plant 1 million trees in the city over the next 10 years, MillionTreesNYC.
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