Monday, January 13, 2014

Boston vs. Denver in the Postseason

They seemed to be on a collision course all season and now it's finally happening. Tom Brady and the Patriots will play Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday. It will be the fourth Pats-Broncos playoff game and the fifth Big Four postseason meeting between Boston and Denver teams.

Year Round Boston Denver Result
1986 Divisional Patriots Broncos 22-17 Broncos
2005 Divisional Patriots Broncos 27-13 Broncos
2011 Divisional Patriots Broncos 45-10 Patriots
Year Round Boston Denver Result
2007 World Series Red Sox Rockies 4-0 Red Sox

1986 Divisional Round

Both teams went 11-5, but with Denver's 27-20 home win in week four, the Broncos held home-field advantage. In the opening quarter, they were driving down the field for the game's first touchdown when John Elway made a foolish error. His attempt at a rushing TD came up just short as the officials ruled him down inside the 1-yard line. In anger, he spiked the ball, drawing a delay of game penalty that pushed Denver back. They settled for a short Rich Karlis field goal and a 3-0 lead instead of a possible 7-0 edge.

New England jumped ahead in the second quarter when Tony Eason hit Stanley Morgan with a 19-yard touchdown pass, but Elway answered with a 22-yard scoring run to take back the lead. The half ended badly for the hosts, however, when Elway threw an interception to Johnny Rembert that set up a last-second game-tying field goal. Even worse, the star quarterback was hit by Andre Tippett and injured his ankle on the play.

Elway returned after halftime and led a 14-play drive (with 11 run plays) that took up more than nine minutes of the third quarter and resulted in a field goal. The Pats quickly took the lead again when Morgan scored on a 45-yard flea-flicker touchdown. On the final play of the period with the ball near midfield, Elway drew Don Blackmon offside on a critical third-down. Given a free play, Elway gunned it deep to Vance Johnson, who reeled it in for a 48-yard touchdown and 20-17 lead.

The score would hold until the final moments of the game. New England took possession at their own 10-yard line inside the two minute warning with no timeouts. On the first play, Eason was sacked by Rulon Jones in the end zone for a safety, giving the Broncos a 22-17 win. It is one of only three NFL playoff games in which the only scoring in the fourth quarter came on a safety. The Broncos advanced to the AFC Championship Game in Cleveland, where Elway became a legend with The Drive in an overtime victory. They lost to the Giants 39-20 in the Super Bowl.

2005 Divisional Round

The 13-3 Broncos earned the AFC's two-seed and a first-round bye. 10-6 New England beat Jacksonville in the wild card round to set up another meeting at Mile High. This was at the height of the Belichick-Brady mystique, with the Patriots winning ten straight postseason games and three of the last four Super Bowls. But they turned in an unusually sloppy game.

It took more than 26 minutes for any points to be scored, as Adam Vinatieri's field goal made it 3-0 New England with 3:52 left in the second quarter. Then things got a little crazy. The Pats got the ball back before halftime, but Kevin Faulk fumbled, leading to Mike Anderson's 1-yard score for the Broncos. On the ensuing kickoff, kicker Todd Sauerbrun forced a fumble by returner Ellis Hobbs, resulting in a Jason Elam field goal and a 10-3 Denver lead at intermission.

The Patriots cut into the lead with a field goal and were poised to go back ahead in the third quarter's final minute. Brady faced third-and-goal at the 5 and this was the turning point of the game:

Champ Bailey appeared to have a 101-yard pick-six, but tight end Ben Watson came out of nowhere to knock the ball out of Bailey's hand at the 1-yard line. The Broncos scored on the next play and instead of trailing 13-10, they were ahead 17-6. Still, a tip o' the hat to Watson for hustling. Look at the play from another angle to see just how far he runs.

The Patriots continued to sputter in the fourth. Vinatieri missed a field goal and later Troy Brown muffed a punt. Both sides traded four-yard TD passes (Jake Plummer to Rod Smith, Brady to David Givens) before Elam added a field goal to give Denver a 27-13 lead. Soon after, one more Brady interception put a fork in New England's threepeat hopes. The Broncos stayed at home for the AFC title game a week later, but they were bounced by the eventual champion Steelers 34-17.

2011 Divisional Round

Despite averaging 150 passing yards per game and a completion percentage of 46.9, Tim Tebow took a Broncos squad from 1-4 to 8-8 and a playoff berth. A miraculous overtime victory over the Steelers sent them to Foxborough for a date with the Patriots. Denver's luck was about to run out.

The top-seeded Pats wasted no time getting on the board, needing just five plays to score the game's first touchdown. A Rob Ninkovich sack-fumble of Tebow led to another New England score not even eight minutes into the game.

A Brady interception set up Denver's only touchdown of the game, but he recovered with three more TD passes before halftime for a 35-7 lead. All five of New England scores came through the air, with Rob Gronkowski grabbing three of them and Wes Welker and Deion Branch nabbing one apiece.

Brady made history on his first drive of the third quarter when he connected with Aaron Hernandez for his sixth touchdown of the night. He joined Daryle Lamonica (1968 Divisional) and Steve Young (Super Bowl XXIX) as the only QB's to throw for six touchdowns in a playoff game.

Only six points were scored after that, with both teams kicking a field goal. Brady ended his magnificent night with a 48-yard punt in the waning minutes of a 45-10 win. The Patriots beat the Ravens in the next round to reach the Super Bowl, but they were once again upset by the Giants, 21-17.

2007 World Series

So much for momentum. The Rockies clinched their first National League pennant with an incredible 21-1 stretch that included a one-game playoff victory and sweeps in the NLDS and NLCS. Their opponent was the Red Sox, winners of 97 games in the regular season.

Boston landed a quick knockout punch in Game One. Dustin Pedroia knocked Jeff Francis' second pitch of the night over the Green Monster for a home run. The Sox added two more runs in the opening frame before a seven-spot in the fifth put the finishing touches on a 13-1 win.

Game Two was much tighter, but Boston won again 2-1 thanks to Curt Schilling outdueling Ubaldo Jimenez. When Jacoby Ellsbury stole second base in the fourth inning, he cemented his place in American history by earning everybody a free taco as part of Taco Bell's "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" promotion.

The Red Sox cruised to a 10-5 victory in Game Three behind Ellsbury's four hits. Three were doubles, making the leadoff man the tenth player with a trio of two-baggers in a World Series game.

The Red Sox closed out the sweep in Game Four. Jon Lester tossed five and two-thirds scoreless innings and Series MVP Mike Lowell backed him up with this home run.

Colorado cut the lead to one in the eighth inning, but Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon came in for a five-out save.

He struck out Seth Smith to secure Boston's second World Series crown in four years. With the Red Sox winning it all again last October, that makes it three championships in ten seasons for the formerly star-crossed franchise.

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