Pats, Broncos advance to AFC title game
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. >> Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with two touchdown passes and reached over the goal line for another score to lead New England past Kansas City, 27-20 on Saturday, and into the AFC championship game.
It's the fifth straight trip to the conference title game for the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Patriots (13-4) will meet the Denver Broncos, who defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16 on Sunday night, for a spot in the Super Bowl as they try to become the first repeat NFL champs since they did it in 2003-04.
Brady was 28 of 42 for 302 yards.
After spending the last two weeks recovering from knee and back injuries, Gronkowski had touchdown catches from 8 and 16 yards The All-Pro tight end had seven receptions for 82 yards.
Julian Edelman returned from a broken foot to catch 10 passes for 100 yards for New England.
Kansas City (12-6) had won a franchise-record 11 consecutive games, including 30-0 at Houston last week in the wild-card round. Alex Smith completed 29 of 50 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown.
CARDINALS 26, PACKERS 20 (OT)
Larry Fitzgerald set up and scored the winning touchdown on the third play of overtime Saturday night, taking a 5-yard pass from Carson Palmer that lifted Arizona past Green Bay 26-20 after Aaron Rodgers' desperation 41-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Janis on the final play of regulation.
Fitzgerald turned a short pass into a 75-yard gain on the first play of overtime to set up his 5-yard shovel pass reception for the winning score as the crowd chanted "Larry! Larry!"
The Cardinals (14-3), the No. 2 seed in the NFC West, will play the winner of the Seattle-Carolina game Sunday for the NFC title and a spot in the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals thought they had won until Rodgers, in a play reminiscent of Green Bay's win over Detroit this season, took the snap with 5 seconds to play, scrambled and threw to the end zone. The 6-foot-3 Janis outjumped defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson for the ball.
Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 176 yards.
A strange play had given Arizona a 20-13 lead with 3:44 to play in the fourth quarter.
Damarious Randall, who moments earlier had made a key interception in the end zone, deflected a pass intended for Fitzgerald inside the 5 and the ball sailed into the end zone into the hands of Michael Floyd for a 9-yard TD catch. Floyd also had an 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
Janis caught seven passes for 145 yards for the Packers (11-7).
PANTHERS 31, SEAHAWKS 24
The Carolina Panthers built a 31-point halftime lead before barely holding off Seattle's relentless comeback, beating the Seahawks 31-24 on Sunday to advance to the NFC championship game.
Carolina (16-1) will host Arizona (14-3) next week for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Jonathan Stewart, returning from a foot injury, scored two touchdowns after jumpstarting the Panthers with a 59-yard sprint on their first play. Cam Newton threw for a touchdown and fellow All-Pro Luke Kuechly ran in an early interception for a score as Carolina built a 31-0 advantage.
Seattle (11-7), showing its pedigree as two-time NFC champs, climbed back within seven points as Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns, two to Jermaine Kearse. An onside kick with 1:11 remaining was covered by All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis and Charlotte could begin breathing again.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.