Friday 15 December 2017

Showboater Kaepernick delivers

Rupert Cornwall

DO post-season weekends come any better than the one just served up by the National Football League?

All four divisional championship games were high-scoring. One was won in double overtime, another after an epic comeback was thwarted at the death. In the third, a quarterback for the ages laid down the law. And in the fourth, a new quarterback for the ages may possibly have been born.

Even before Saturday evening, Colin Kaepernick, promoted to starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in mid-season, had been making a national name for himself – but primarily on account of the tattoos, many of them biblical inscriptions, that smother his back and arms, and his celebratory routine after a touchdown, featuring a flex of his right throwing arm and a kiss of the biceps.

But against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick (below) delivered a performance that spoke even louder than the theatrics, orchestrating a 45-31 triumph against a team widely tipped to go all the way to a Super Bowl XLVII victory next month. His 181 rushing yards represented a post-season record and included two touchdown runs. He also threw for 263 yards, including a couple of touchdown passes to receiver Michael Crabtree.

Next Sunday, the 49ers travel to Atlanta for the NFC championship game against the Falcons, who contributed their share to the weekend's derring-do by entering the final quarter against the Seattle Seahawks with a 20-point lead, only for the Seahawks to come up with three unanswered scoring drives.

Trailing 28-27, Atlanta somehow pulled itself together, snatching a 49-yard field goal with just eight seconds left, to escape with a 30-28 win.

The result brought down the curtain on the trio of rookie quarterbacks who illuminated the season. The Colts' Andrew Luck and the Redskins' Robert Griffin III bowed out in the wild-card round. Now the Seahawks' Russell Wilson has joined them.

For switchback rides, however, not even Atlanta-Seattle could match events 24 hours earlier in Denver. The game was supposed to see Peyton Manning's Broncos march closer to a Super Bowl date in New Orleans. Instead, it produced a 38-35 win for the Baltimore Ravens.

Technically, the score that settled things was a Ravens field goal, almost two minutes into the second overtime.

But the moment that will live forever was the 70-yard pass by Joe Flacco, Manning's opposite number, that arced over the Broncos defence into the hands of receiver Jacoby Jones. Only 31 seconds in regulation were left on the clock. "At that point," Flacco admitted, "you have to start taking shots. You have to get a little lucky."

He got lucky, and the reward is a revenge match with the New England Patriots, who defeated Baltimore in last year's AFC championship game. And once again they have to overcome Tom Brady, who eased the Patriots to a 41-28 win over Houston that was more one-sided than the scoreline would suggest.

Brady has already made trips to five Super Bowls, winning three of them. No one would rule out a fourth. (© Independent News Service)

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