Seahawks, Patriots punch ticket to Super Bowl XLIX

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After the chaos subsided, Earl Thomas sat in his locker quietly searching for a description.

For a change, the normally chatty Seattle Seahawks’ All-Pro safety had little to say.

Jeff Chiu
Seattle Seahawks’ Jermaine Kearse catches the game winning touchdown pass against Green Bay Packers’ Tramon Williams during overtime of the NFL football NFC Championship game, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

“It’s hard to describe what just happened. We were down with 3 minutes left and look what happened. I’m clueless right now,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if I’m drained. I’m grateful.”

By the time Jermaine Kearse caught a 35-yard touchdown from Russell Wilson 3:19 into overtime to give the Seahawks a 28-22 win over Green Bay and a second straight NFC championship Sunday, Seattle was spent.

The Seahawks were down 16-0 at halftime. They trailed 19-7 with 3:52 remaining. They watched Wilson throw four interceptions for the first time in his career. They needed two touchdowns and an onside kick recovery in the final 130 seconds just to reach overtime.

The noisiest venue in the NFL was left on mute for most of the afternoon.

All that made the eruption after Kearse’s TD catch even more meaningful for a team that felt they were counted out a number of times through the season.

“As a true competitor, you can’t have any doubt. You can’t lack any confidence, because if you go out there, you’re already beat if you lack that confidence and that belief in yourself and your teammates,” Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “So, never any doubt. And when it got down to 5 minutes and we were still down by 12 points, we believed that we were going to find a way to pull it out. And obviously we did that.”

Seattle (14-4) already bucked history becoming the first defending champion since January 2006 to win a playoff game when the Seahawks beat Carolina in the divisional round. Thanks to the improbable comeback, Seattle is the first defending champion in a decade with a chance at repeating.

Waiting for them in Arizona: the last team to pull off back-to-back titles, the New England Patriots.

Belichick and Tom Brady are the dominant coach-quarterback pair in the NFL. And they left no question that they deserve the sixth Super Bowl appearance of their brilliant careers.

Brady threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns, Belichick got his league-high 21st postseason win and the New England Patriots routed the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship game Sunday night.

Charles Krupa
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, speaks with Bill Belichick after the NFL football AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

“We’ve had a lot of good teams in the past,” Brady said. “This one is going to have to win a very important game to kind of leave our legacy.”

It’s the most important one. The Patriots (14-4) will face defending champion Seattle (14-4) on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona, as they seek their first Super Bowl win in 10 years after winning three in four. The Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime in the NFC title game Sunday.

LeGarrette Blount ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns for New England in the second-most lopsided win in an AFC title game.

“You look around and people are posing with the trophy, everybody’s smiling,” Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower said in the locker room. “Everybody’s smiling. Even coach Belichick is smiling.”

Andrew Luck’s expression was much different after his worst game since he was chosen with the top pick in the 2012 draft. He completed 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He is 0-4 against the Patriots with every loss by at least 21 points.

“It’s hard to find much good right now, fresh off this game,” Luck said. “We had our sights set higher.”

The Patriots lost AFC title games the past two seasons after losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl after the 2011 season.

Brady surpassed John Elway for most Super Bowl appearances for a quarterback and tied defensive lineman Mike Lodish for most by any player. Belichick tied Don Shula for most Super Bowls for a coach and broke a tie with Tom Landry with his 21st postseason win. And New England tied Dallas and Pittsburgh for most appearances in the big game with eight.

“I know we’ve had some ups and downs this year,” Brady said of a team that split its first four games, “but right now we’re up, baby, and we’re going to try to stay up for one more game.”

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