Broncos, 49ers, Seahawks earn berths in conference finals

Posted Jan. 12, 2014, at 5:02 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 12, 2014, at 8:16 p.m.

DENVER — Denver quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns as the Broncos held off the San Diego Chargers 24-17 Sunday to lock up a spot in next Sunday’s AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.

Knowshon Moreno rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown and Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker had scoring receptions to help the top-seeded Broncos (14-3) avenge a 27-20 home loss to the Chargers on Dec. 12. Manning finished 25-for-36 with one interception to earn a rematch next Sunday in Denver against Tom Brady and the Pats, which beat the visiting Broncos 34-31 in overtime Nov. 24.

Philip Rivers threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rookie Keenan Allen to spark a belated rally for sixth-seeded San Diego (10-8), which had its five-game win streak snapped. Rivers wound up with 217 yards on 18-of-27 passing after throwing for only 20 yards in the opening half and Allen had six catches for 142 yards — all coming after intermission.

Denver seemingly put the game out of reach when Moreno capped a nine-play, 81-yard march by bulling up the middle for 3 yards to make it 24-7 with 8:12 to play. Rivers brought San Diego back by connecting with Allen on his second 16-yard scoring pass before the Chargers recovered an onside kick, leading to Nick Novak’s 30-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 24-17 with 3:51 to play.

San Diego never got the ball back as Manning connected with tight end Julius Thomas (six catches, 76 yards) on a pair of third-down completions to squelch the rally and end his personal three-game postseason losing skid. The Broncos dominated the first half, limiting the Chargers to 45 total yards and taking a 14-0 lead on short TD passes by Manning to Demaryius Thomas and Welker.

Matt Prater booted a 45-yard field goal on Denver’s first possession of the second half to make it 17-0, but missed a 47-yard attempt with 1:07 left in the third to keep San Diego within striking distance. Rivers finally put together a sustained drive and found Allen down the right side for a 16-yard scoring strike to cut the deficit to 17-7 with 12:59 to play and begin the comeback.

49ers 23, Panthers 10

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for one touchdown and ran for another as the 49ers advanced to its third consecutive NFC championship game with the win over Carolina in Charlotte Sunday.

Anquan Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards and Phil Dawson kicked three field goals as the 49ers (14-4) avenged a 10-9 home loss to Carolina in November to earn a third matchup with top-seeded Seattle next Sunday (the teams split the previous two this season). Kaepernick finished 15-of-28 for 196 yards and the 49ers tied Pittsburgh by reaching their 15th conference title game — the most in league history.

San Francisco’s defense dominated after making a big goal-line stand late in the first half, scoring 17 unanswered points and blanking the Panthers (12-5) in the second half en route to handing Carolina only its second loss in 13 games. The 49ers registered five sacks and received interceptions from linebacker Patrick Willis and safety Donte Whitner.

Cam Newton threw for 267 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 54 yards for the Panthers, who were seeking their first postseason victory since January 2006. Steve Smith had four catches for 74 yards and a TD, but San Francisco recorded four of its five sacks after intermission to seize control.

The momentum turned when the 49ers denied Carolina twice at the goal line and made the Panthers settle for Graham Gano’s 24-yard field goal for a 10-6 lead with 3:41 left in the first half. Kaepernick followed by leading an 80-yard drive and capping it with a 1-yard scoring pass to tight end Vernon Davis with 5 seconds left — a play initially ruled as incomplete but overturned on replay — to give the 49ers a 13-10 halftime edge.

After San Francisco’s forced a three-and-out to start the second half, Kaepernick found Boldin for 45 yards before calling his own number on the read option and rushing in from 4 yards out for a 20-10 lead with 8:53 lead in the third. Back-to-back sacks of Newton pushed the Panthers out of field-goal position on the next possession and Whitner’s interception with just under 4 1/2 minutes to play sealed the outcome.

Seahawks 23, Saints 15

Marshawn Lynch rushed for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns to power host Seattle into the NFC championship game.

Russell Wilson threw for a career-low 103 yards on 9-of-18 passing at rainy and windswept CenturyLink Field, but improved to 16-1 at home in his first two seasons for the Seahawks (14-3). Top seed Seattle survived a last-minute touchdown and recovered onside kick to advance against San Francisco next Sunday for the right to go to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks’ top-ranked defense, which dominated New Orleans in a 34-7 home victory Dec. 2, repeatedly stymied the Saints (12-6) before Lynch put the game away with a 31-yard scoring run off left tackle to make it 23-8 with 2:40 to play. The Saints got a 9-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston (11 catches, 144 yards) with 26 seconds left and recovered the onside kick before time ran out on them at midfield.

Brees completed 24-of-43 passes for 309 yards — 275 in the second half — and one touchdown for New Orleans, which was held off the scoreboard until Khiry Robinson capped a 74-yard drive with a 1-yard run with 13:11 to play. New Orleans squandered a scoring chance after Brees hooked up with Robert Meachem for 52 yards on a deflected pass, but Shayne Graham missed badly on a 48-yard field goal into the wind with 3:51 remaining.

The Seahawks punted on their first five possessions of the second half and Wilson had only 11 yards passing after the break until connecting with Doug Baldwin for a 24-yard strike down the left sideline. Lynch swept around left end on the very next play, capping his third career 100-yard postseason game.

New Orleans was fortunate to be within 16-0 at the half after committing myriad mistakes, including a 16-yard punt and a missed 45-yard field goal by Shayne Graham that led to a pair of first-quarter field goals by Steven Hauschka. The Seahawks turned Mark Ingram’s fumble into the only TD of the half — a 15-yard run by Lynch — and added another field goal by Hauschka after stopping the Saints on fourth-and-4 at their 29-yard line.

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