WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The story of the day for the Colts had to be the poor play of Peyton Manning, who up to this point had been stellar in the post-season. Manning opened the game throwing a 32-yard pass to Marcus Pollard, but things went downhill from there. On that same drive he threw a pass too far outside for Pollard in the end zone and it was intercepted by Rodney Harrison. He then threw another interception the very next time he touched the ball. Manning went on to throw 2 more interceptions, finishing with a total of four. Manning finished the game with 23 completions out of 47 attempts for 237 yards and 1 TD, but it was his four interceptions that really took the Colts out of the game.
The New England Patriots' cornerbacks effectively covered the Colts' receivers keeping them out of the game. And it was in fact TE Marcus Pollard who led the receivers with his 6 receptions for 90 yards and 1 touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Marvin Harrison only managed 3 receptions for 19 yards on his 7 targets. And Harrison contributed the Colts' other turnover when he fumbled the ball after being hit hard by Rodney Harrison.
Edgerrin James led the Colts on their first scoring drive to open the second half. He rushed for 32 yards on the drive culminating with a great 2-yard touchdown run.
Even though they appeared to be totally outplayed, the Colts were in the game right up until the end. A poorly executed onsides kick attempt allowed the Patriots to take control of the game with 2:27 left in the 4th quarter.
New England Patriots
With a decisive win over the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots are headed to Houston for their second Super Bowl appearance in 3 years.
Tom Brady effectively led the Patriots' downfield to start the game. After being stopped short on 3rd and 1, the Patriots aggressively went for it on 4th down and Brady made the quarterback sneak. He followed that by completing 6 out of 8 passes for 49 yards, culminating with a 7-yard touchdown pass to David Givens. Throughout the game, Brady made short and sharp passes that were right on target for his receivers to catch. In the fourth quarter, Brady did throw an interception in the end zone, it was his first interception thrown in Gillette Stadium.
After their touchdown scoring opening drive, the Patriots were held to field goal attempts on their remaining red zone possessions. And Adam Vinatieri came through completing his 4 attempts.
The New England defense lived up to the hype. There were a number of defensive stars. Rodney Harrison started by intercepting Peyton Manning in the end zone. In the second quarter, he forced Marvin Harrison's fumble, which was recovered by Tyrone Poole. Ty Law came up with the remaining 3 interceptions that Manning threw. The defense put pressure on Manning throughout the game, and sacked him 4 times.
WHAT YOU OUGHT TO KNOW
QB: Peyton Manning (23-47-237, 1 TD, 4 Int) It seems as though Peyton Manning is either on or off his game, and what a week for him to be off. With a Super Bowl appearance in the balance, Manning was off his game throwing 4 interceptions. He opened the game with a 32-yard pass to Marcus Pollard, his longest pass for the day. After the Colts marched downfield to be in scoring position on their only possession of the first quarter, Manning threw a pass intended for Pollard in the end zone. Pollard was wide open, but Manning threw a poor pass and Rodney Harrison made the interception. On the first play of the Colts' next possession, Manning was attempting a pass to Marvin Harrison on a play action pass but Ty Law was there and made the interception. The Colts opening drive of the second half was far more productive but it was the rushing game that was the focus as Manning only completed 1 out of 3 passing attempts, a short 9-yard pass to Dominic Rhodes. And Manning ended the third quarter throwing his third interception again to Ty Law after being sacked. During the first drive of the fourth quarter for the Colts, they were attempting to capitalize on the interception thrown by Tom Brady. But again, Manning threw his fourth interception and once again it was Ty Law making the play. It was in the fourth quarter that Manning had his most impressive series, completing 8 out of 10 attempts culminating with a touchdown pass to TE Marcus Pollard. The Colts were to see the ball 2 more times and were hoping for a late game comeback, but overturned the ball on downs both times. The New England Patriots defense brought pressure on Manning all day and covered his wide receivers taking them out of the game.
RB: Edgerrin James (19-78, 1 TD rushing, 2-13 receiving on 7 targets) Edgerrin James broke through a hole up the middle to gain a first down with his first carry of the game. The Colts opened the second half with a steady dose of James and he rushed for 32 yards total in the drive, finishing with a great 2-yard touchdown run on which he found a way to stay on his feet breaking tackles. Hindsight is 20-20 but if the Colts had known Manning would struggle as much as he did, they'd have likely featured James more.
Dominic Rhodes (3-16 rushing, 2-17 receiving on 3 targets) Dominic Rhodes came in the game primarily in relief of Edgerrin James. Rhodes returned kicks and returned the opening kick of the second half to mid field, giving the Colts good field position. On that very drive Rhodes turned a screen pass into a 9-yard gain, gaining a first down.
WR: Marvin Harrison (3-19 receiving on 7 targets) The Patriots cornerbacks effectively took Marvin Harrison out of the game. He was targeted on Manning's second interception. And when the Colts were threatening in the red zone, Harrison made a short slant catch but fumbled the ball after being hit hard by Rodney Harrison. The Patriots recovered the ball.
Reggie Wayne (4-46 receiving on 8 targets) Reggie Wayne made a catch over the middle to the 5-yard line during the Colts' opening drive. He made a 20-yard reception during the fourth quarter, but the next ball that came his way went right off of his helmet and was incomplete.
Brandon Stokley (3-22 receiving on 7 targets) Brandon Stokley played in the AFC Championship game despite the fact he had missed most of the week's practices, with his 1-month-old son hospitalized with meningitis. Stokley dropped a pass in the first quarter. In the fourth quarter, Stokley had what looked to be a catch that he subsequently fumbled and recovered ruled incomplete.
Troy Walters (3-30 receiving on 3 targets) Troy Walters made his 3 receptions in the fourth quarter of play, coming in to relieve Brandon Stokley. He gained first downs for the Colts on his first receptions, but on his third he was stopped short of the first down marker on the fourth down attempt, and the ball was overturned on downs.
TE: Marcus Pollard (6-90, 1 TD receiving on 11 targets) TE Marcus Pollard was the leading receiver for the Colts. He opened the game with a 32-yard reception. The interception that Manning threw in the end zone during that same drive was intended for Pollard. In the third quarter, two attempts came his way; the first he dropped, the second was batted away. Pollard made a 7-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. When the Colts were making a last ditch attempt to comeback with about 2 minutes left in the game, the Patriots covered Pollard and he wasn't able to make receptions on the 2 passes Manning threw to him. Both Pollard and Manning looked for defensive penalty flags, but none came.
K: Mike Vanderjagt (2 XP) Mike Vanderjagt converted both of the extra point attempts he made.
Punter Hunter Smith was making his first punt of the post season but the snap went high through his hands. Smith had the presence of mind to kick the ball into the end zone and give up the safety, rather than try to recover it or have it recovered by the Patriots.
Pass Defense: The Colts were unable to stop the short passing schemes that the New England Patriots are famous for using. They put little pressure on Tom Brady and it seemed as though he always had an open receiver to throw to. After giving up a touchdown to the Patriots on their opening drive of the game, the Colts tightened up in the red zone. And the Patriots were forced to settle for field goals. In the fourth quarter of play, Walt Harris intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone keeping the Colts in the game.
Rush Defense: The Colts gave up 112 total yards rushing to what has been an unimpressive Patriots' rushing corps. Brady was never pressured and was not sacked.
New England Patriots
QB: Tom Brady (22-37-237, 1 TD, 1 Int) Tom Brady played like he has all season, effectively putting the New England Patriots in a position to win their games. Most of his passes were short and sharp, but they were right on target for his receivers. He only had one pass go over 20 yards the whole game. On the opening drive of the game, the Patriots aggressively went for it on 4th and 1 and Brady sneaked to gain the first down. He completed 6 out of 8 passes for 49 yards on that drive and finished it with a 7-yard touchdown pass to David Givens. He led the Patriots on 4 more scoring drives; though they were forced to settle for field goals on all of them. In the second quarter, Brady was nearly intercepted but the defender dropped the ball. And it was in the beginning of the fourth quarter that Brady threw his first ever interception in Gillette Stadium. In the fourth quarter, Brady fumbled and the Colts recovered it. But the play was reviewed and it was clear that his knee was down before the ball came out and the call was overturned.
RB: Antowain Smith (22-100 rushing, 1-8 receiving on 1 target) Antowain Smith had a good game against the Colts finishing with a total of 100 yards. He started the game by breaking a tackle to gain 9 yards. In the second quarter he made a short catch over the middle and stiff-armed a tackle to gain a few yards. His longest rush came in the third quarter when he found a hole up the middle and ran for 34 yards. He followed that with another gain of 14 yards up the middle.
Kevin Faulk (3-8 rushing, 1-8 receiving on 1 target) Kevin Faulk was a non-factor in the game, finishing with 8 yards rushing and 8 yards receiving.
Larry Centers (1-0 rushing, 1-28 receiving on 1 target) Larry Centers turned a screen catch into a 28-yard gain in the third quarter.
WR: Troy Brown (7-88 receiving on 11 targets) Troy Brown led the New England receivers with his 7 receptions for 88 yards. He had the ball knocked out of his hands on his first target during the Patriots' first drive. But during the Patriots' second drive he made two great catches in a row, bringing the Patriots into the red zone. During that same drive, Brown knocked the football out of Nicholas Harper's hands preventing an interception. In the fourth quarter, Brown made a great play as he caught a tipped pass.
David Givens (6-68, 1 TD receiving on 9 targets) David Givens scored the Patriots' only touchdown, a 7-yard reception on their opening drive. He was Brady's go-to-guy during that drive, making 4 receptions for 26 yards. In the second quarter he was targeted deep, but the pass was batted away. And in the fourth quarter, he made a 5-yard catch in spite of the fact that he was surrounded by 3 Colts.
Deion Branch (2-23 receiving on 6 targets) In the first quarter, a wide-open Deion Branch made a great catch near the sidelines to convert a first down. He had a deep pass that was thrown too high go off of his fingertips. In the second quarter, he was overthrown in the end zone. He made a diving attempt in the third quarter, but the pass was incomplete despite his efforts.
Bethel Johnson (1-6 receiving on 2 targets, 1 fumble lost) Bethel Johnson fumbled his first catch of the day, and the ball was recovered by the Colts.
TE: Christian Fauria (1-8 receiving on 4 targets) Christian Fauria made a first down for the Patriots with his 8 yard reception over the middle. He dropped 2 passes that came his way in the end zone. But it was Fauria who recovered the Colts' onside kick attempt.
Daniel Graham (0-0 receiving on 0 targets) Daniel Graham was never a factor in the Patriots' passing game, but he made a block that opened up the hole for Antowain Smith's 34-yard run.
K: Adam Vinatieri (1 XP, 5-5 FG) Adam Vinatieri scored 5 field goals for the Patriots, the longest was from 34 yards out.
Pass Defense: The Patriots defense effectively manhandled a previously potent Colts' offense. Rodney Harrison started the onslaught by intercepting Peyton Manning in the end zone during the Colts' opening drive. Ty Law was the star of the day, coming up with the other 3 interceptions. They batted down a number of passes. And forced Manning to throw away the football at other times.
Rush Defense: Edgerrin James was held to only 78 rushing yards, though he did score a rushing touchdown. Peyton Manning was sacked 4 times, 3 of those times by Jarvis Green.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The Carolina Panthers won the battles on both sides of the line of scrimmage and took advantage of four Philadelphia turnovers as they rolled to a 14-3 victory. Rookie CB Ricky Manning Jr. played the hero role on defense, tying an NFC Championship Game record with three interceptions. Manning wasn't alone defensively, as the Panthers defense came up with five sacks and knocked Eagles QB Donovan McNabb out of the game on the final play of the 3rd quarter. From there the Panthers easily held their lead, eventually wrapping it up on LB Dan Morgan's interception of a pass by backup QB Koy Detmer with just over five minutes left in the game.
Offensively, Carolina won this game with their ability to control the ball on the ground. RB Stephen Davis played with an injured quadriceps and played well. He finished with 76 rushing yards on 19 carries, and added 21 yards on a reception. He split time with backup DeShaun Foster, who added 60 yards on 14 carries, including an impressive one-yard touchdown run. Foster did fumble early in the 2nd quarter, but TE Jermaine Wiggins fell on the ball for a first down. The Panthers eventually scored on that drive to take a 7-0 lead.
QB Jake Delhomme had no need to throw the ball all over the field. He did his part by avoiding mistakes. Delhomme threw for just 101 yards on 9-14 passing. He did connect with WR Muhsin Muhammad on a fortuitous 24-yard touchdown pass early in the 2nd quarter, and completed all three of his attempts for 60 yards on that drive.
WR Muhsin Muhammad put the Panthers ahead to stay at 7-0 nearly twenty minutes into the game. He caught back-to-back passes, the first good for 15 yards and the second going for a 24-yard score. On the touchdown, Muhammad adjusted to a prayer that Delhomme threw into double coverage and came down with it in front of both Eagles defenders.
With the win, the Panthers became the first team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl just two years removed from a 1-15 season.
The Eagles offense buckled under constant pressure from the Panthers impressive defense and repeatedly turned into its own worst enemy whenever it had a chance to make a key play. The result was Philadelphia's third consecutive NFC Championship Game loss.
QB Donovan McNabb was abused by the Panthers defense, which eventually forced him out of the game with a rib injury, and also by his receivers who failed to take advantage of their opportunities. McNabb left the game after three quarters, having completed 10 of 22 passes for 100 yards and three interceptions. He sustained his initial injury during the Eagles lone scoring drive after an apparent late hit following a sack by DE Mike Rucker. Of his three interceptions, one was caused by a poor route by WR Todd Pinkston and another came after his pass intended for James Thrash was knocked out of Thrash's arms and into Ricky Manning Jr.'s hands. The pass intended for Pinkston came on the Eagles opening drive of the 2nd half, trailing 7-3, and cost them a chance to at least cut the lead to a single point.
The Eagles running backs were the lone bright spots offensively, particularly Duce Staley. Staley carried 13 times for 79 yards, on the way to 112 yards of total offense. Correll Buckhalter added 74 yards of total offense. Despite averaging 5.3 yards per carry, the Eagles could only manage three points.
The Eagles WRs were horrendous, combining to drop seven passes. The worst offender was Todd Pinkston, who managed no catches despite the fact that he was targeted seven times.
PK David Akers made the only FG try of the game, from 41 yards away.
The Eagles defense managed to look decent, allowing just 14 points, but was aided by the fact that the Panthers ceased trying to score in the 4th quarter.
WHAT YOU OUGHT TO KNOW
QB: Jake Delhomme (9-14-101-1-0, 4 rushes for 7 yards) was not asked to win this game for Carolina. Once in the lead, the Panthers ran the ball almost exclusively. On the Panthers first touchdown drive, however, Delhomme went 3-3 for 60 yards and a touchdown. He hit Stephen Davis out of the backfield for 21 yards, and then after two runs he went to Muhsin Muhammad twice for 39 yards. The final 24 yards came on a floater to the end zone that Muhammad adjusted to as his defender, Bobby Taylor, flew past him. The other scoring drive consisted of four running plays and one pass, a pass interference call in the end zone on a pass intended for Steve Smith. In the 4th quarter, he threw only one pass, a 15-yard completion to Smith. Smith had the ball stripped after his knee hit the ground, and the play was ruled down after the Panthers challenged the original call of a fumble. The Panthers did not attempt another pass thereafter.
RB: Stephen Davis (19-76, 1 catch for 21 yards) looked fine after sustaining a quadriceps injury in last week's win over the Rams. Backup DeShaun Foster replaced him after every two plays, likely due to the fact that Foster ran as well as Davis did. Davis' longest carry went for 15 yards and he was not in the offense on the Panthers lone goal line opportunity.
Foster (14-60-1, 1-6 receiving) continued to run hard given his chance to shine. He did fumble early in the 2nd quarter, but TE Jermaine Wiggins recovered it for a first down. He was given another chance shortly after, and ran well the rest of the game. He rarely went down without a fight. The best example of this was his one-yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter. On a toss right, Foster was hit by two tacklers at the four-yard line. He broke past them to the two-yard line where he encountered two more would-be tacklers who he bowled through into the end zone.
WR: Muhsin Muhammad (2-39-1 on 3 targets, 1 carry for 5 yards) was only a factor on one drive, and that was all he needed to make an impact. Muhammad continues to show great ability to react to a ball in the air and out-jump opposing defenders. On the touchdown, he went up for an under-thrown ball with two defenders in position to make the play as well as him. He was the only one who came close, and the Panthers had all the points they would need.
Steve Smith (3-26 on 4 targets) was not a big factor in the game, although he did cause a pass interference penalty on Lito Sheppard that set up the Panthers final score.
TE: Jermaine Wiggins received one target, an incompletion. He may have changed the tone of the game early on, though, when he recovered DeShaun Foster's fumble for a first down at the Panthers 31-yard line. The Panthers went on to score for a 7-0 lead.
PK: John Kasay made both extra point attempts. On the Panthers first possession, he lined up for a 50-yard field goal, but was called on to pooch-punt it instead. The Panthers downed the punt at the 11-yard line.
Run Defense: The Panthers struggled against the run, particularly the right side of their defense. The Eagles averaged 5.3 yards per rush, but it added up to very little on the scoreboard. Dan Morgan was a force with 12 tackles and an interception.
Pass Defense: Carolina stifled the Eagles passing game. They had five sacks, including 1.5 by DE Brentson Buckner, to go along with the four interceptions. But Ricky Manning Jr. was the star with three interceptions, bringing his total to four in the playoffs.
QB: Donovan McNabb (10-22-100-0-3, 2 carries for 10 yards) played poorly, but to be fair he had no help at all. Still, he did little to help his team win, even before he got hurt. While he was in the game, the only passing threat was the dump-pass to his running backs. He took a coverage-sack on the Eagles opening drive, which knocked his team out of field goal range. On the next drive, Duce Staley dropped a beautiful deep touch pass on 3rd down. After a field goal cut the lead to 7-3, McNabb threw his first interception (all to Manning) as Manning jumped the route on a quick pass intended for James Thrash. The Eagles came out running to start the 2nd half, but Pinkston's bad route in the red zone caused another interception. He also was picked off on his next drive, on a nice pass to Thrash, who had the ball dislodged from him by Mike Minter. McNabb left after three quarters, following one too many hits to his ribs.
Koy Detmer (7-14-88-0-1) looked lost after replacing McNabb, but eventually heated up a bit on a late 4th quarter drive against a slack Panthers defense. Once in the red zone, however, he faltered and was intercepted by Dan Morgan, ending all hopes for the Eagles.
RB: Duce Staley (13-79, 4 catches for 33 yards on 7 targets) ran hard and left it all on the field in what may have been his last game as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. He repeatedly found running room on the left side of the offensive line, and when he didn't he managed to make the most out of what he had. His lone mistake came late in the game when he ad-libbed on a route up the middle and turned it to the end zone. Detmer's pass was thrown short and intercepted.
Correll Buckhalter (11-48, 2 catches for 26 yards on 2 targets) played well also, as the change of pace for Staley. His 23-yard reception on the Eagles opening drive put them in field goal range, but they went backwards from there.
WR: Freddie Mitchell (4-38 on 7 targets) was the Eagles leading wide receiver. Still, his longest reception was just 12 yards.
James Thrash (1-9 on 6 targets) and Todd Pinkston (nothing on 7 targets) were horrible. Two passes to Thrash were intercepted, along with one intended for Pinkston. Their days were best summed up on the play where McNabb rolled right and fired downfield to a wide-open Pinkston, who had the ball go off his chest, then bobbled it twice before knocking it out of bounds. Pinkston also ran the wrong route on a slant by McNabb, resulting in an interception.
TE: Chad Lewis led the team with 69 yards on 4 catches. Most of his production came late, as he was able to get wide open twice down field for big gains.
PK: David Akers made a 41-yard field goal, his only attempt of the game.
Run Defense: The stats don't look so bad, but the Eagles did little to prevent the Panthers from running the ball. They missed a number of tackles, especially on Foster's carries.
Pass Defense: The Panthers didn't pass much, and the Eagles didn't stop much when they did. They did not have a sack, nor did they apply pressure to Delhomme.