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The Redzone: Defending champions sent packing

The defending Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers are out. The previously unstoppable New Orleans Saints are out. Tim Tebow is out. Steven O’Rourke takes us through the weekend’s action.

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis takes the ball into the endzone for a touchdown.
San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis takes the ball into the endzone for a touchdown.
Image: Paul Sakuma/AP/Press Association Images

New Orleans Saints 32 @ San Francisco 49ers 36

SAN FRANCISCO’S ALEX Smith had possibly his best game in a 49ers jersey, completing 24 of 42 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns.

Smith also had a 28 yard run for a touchdown with just over two minutes left in the game to set up one of the most exciting finishes in playoff history.

With 1.36 left on the clock, Drew Brees found tight end Jimmy Graham with a 66 yard pass to seemingly give the Saints the win.

However, nobody told Smith who found his tight end Vernon Davis on a 14 yard pass with just nine seconds remaining to earn the 49ers a spot in the NFC Championship game.

As predicted by this column on Friday, the Saints were a different team playing outdoors, turning the ball over five times compared to the 49ers solitary fumble.

Without home winning advantage throughout the playoffs, it’s difficult to see the Saints repeat their Super Bowl XLIV success any time soon.

That shouldn’t take away from an incredible season by San Francisco and the possible emergence of Alex Smith as a top quality quarterback.

See the exciting finale here.

Denver Broncos 10 @ New England Patriots 45

By the time Tom Brady threw his sixth touchdown pass on Saturday night, Tim Tebow had completed just three passes for 28 yards.

Indeed, Brady – 26 of 34 for 363 yards – threw one less incompletion (eight) than Tebow made passes in a performance that showed why a 46.5% completion rate will never win you a Super Bowl, regardless of how good you may be at running the ball.

Tebow – 9 of 26 for 136 yards – has now lost four of his last five games and followed up the best performance of his young career with one of the worst.

I don’t think anyone really thought the Broncos could win this game, but the size of the blowout and the poor play of the offensive line – the Patriots 31st ranked defence had five sacks and nine tackles resulting in loss of yards – will be a worry going into next season, as will the lack of production in the previously brilliant rushing game.

As for Tebow, it’s likely he’ll be the starting quarterback for the Broncos next year, he has earned it and should benefit from a full preseason and the experience of this year.

However, winning the AFC West means the Broncos will face a much tougher schedule than they did this year.

For the Patriots, their first playoff win in three years mean they will host the AFC Championship game next weekend and, for me at least, a first Super Bowl berth in four years beckons.

See the highlights here.

Houston Texans 13 @ Baltimore Ravens 20

Before this game the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans had won the exact same number of home playoff games despite the Texans making the post season for the very first time this year.

However, a defensive masterclass from Baltimore and, in particular, Ed Reed, proved more than enough to see the Ravens into the AFC Championship game.

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Baltimore forced four turnovers – two in the first quarter – and, despite being somewhat underwhelming on offence, used their great field position to establish a 17-3 lead.

After that it was just a matter of closing out the game, something they did with relative ease.

For the Texans, they can be proud of their first ever playoff run but, with Peyton Manning/Andrew Luck likely to face them next year, they won’t be able to rest of their laurels.

The Ravens will travel to Foxborough knowing they are just 4-4 on the road this season. Improvements will have to be made if they’re to make the Super Bowl this year.

Watch the highlights here.

New York Giants 37 @ Green Bay Packers 20

On Sunday, the New York Giants beat the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field for the second time in four years.

Leaving Wisconsin with a victory that time set the wheels in motion for a Super Bowl win so can history repeat itself?

Probably not, but Giants fans have had a very exciting season having been in playoff mode since their December 24 win over the New York Jets and their team won’t be an easy prospect for the 49ers next weekend.

Eli Manning dispelled any remaining doubts about his ability putting in Peyton like numbers – 21 of 33 for 330 yards and three touchdowns – and dialing up big plays at the right time.

For the Packers, they lost this game in week 17 when they rested Aaron Rodgers, meaning their quarterback had three weeks off.

The rust showed, Rodgers was a mediocre 26 of 46 for 264 yards. He was also let down by dropped passes and uncharacteristic fumbles.

It was, in short, anything but a typical Packers performance.

That shouldn’t take away from the Giants though. They deserve their shot at the NFC Championship. However, the 49ers defence won’t be nearly as porous as the Packers’.

See the highlights here.

Steven O’Rourke is the offensive co-ordinator of Tullamore PhoenixAmerican Football Club, winners of the IAFL DV8s national title in 2010 and 2011. Tullamore are always recruiting new players so, if you’d like to play football and not just read about it, Steven would love to hear from you.

About the author:

Steven O'Rourke

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