x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

New England and San Francisco triumph in the NFL play-offs

Tom Brady overwhelmed Denver with six touchdown passes, while the 49ers left it late to see off the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, threw six touchdown passes against the Denver Broncos.
Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, threw six touchdown passes against the Denver Broncos.

The New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers are both within a game of the Super Bowl after triumphing in the NFL play-offs on Saturday night.

Tom Brady inspired the Patriots as they cruised past the challenge of the Denver Broncos to reach the AFC Conference final with a resounding 45-10 win, while a late Vernon Davis touchdown saw the 49ers defeat the New Orleans Saints 36-32.

Brady, the Patriots quarterback, threw six touchdown passes as the Broncos, and Tim Tebow, their quarterback, who had dominated the pre-match build-up, was well and truly put into the shade.

Denver were always on the back-foot after Brady threw to Wes Welker for a touchdown in the opening drive of the game, and the game was effectively over as a contest at the interval as the Patriots scored four more touchdowns to lead 35-7.

Brady threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns in total, with Rob Gronkowski, the tight end, catching three of them.

Tebow had a quiet day, completing only nine of 26 passes for 136 yards, with no touchdowns.

The Patriots will next meet the winner of tonight's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans for a place at the Super Bowl.

In San Francisco, the 49ers were forced to dig deep to reach the NFC Conference championship for the first time since the 1997 season.

In a dramatic finale, the lead changed four times in the last four minutes before the 49ers emerged victorious thanks to a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith to Davis with just 14 seconds to go.

Jim Harbaugh, the 49erscoach, said: "That was special, I don't know if there was anything better than that, I can't remember winning a game in such a spectacular fashion as this one."

Tight-end Davis ended the game with 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns while Smith put up 299 yards and threw three touchdowns.

The Saints, Super Bowl champions two seasons ago, came back from a 17-0 deficit and five turnovers to lead on two separate occasions in the last four minutes only to suffer their first loss in 10 games.

The 49ers took an early grip on the game with two touchdowns in the first quarter as the Saints struggled to cope with the early pressure, giving up three turnovers.

A field goal at the start of the second quarter gave the home side a 17-0 lead but the Saints mounted a strong response with Brees leading his team to touchdowns on two consecutive drives.

A 14-yard pass to Jimmy Graham in the end zone and then a brilliant 25 yard pass to Marques Colston, superbly caught by the receiver, brought New Orleans within three points at half-time.

San Francisco stretched their lead to 20-14 at the end of the third quarter with a David Akers field goal before the dramatic final quarter.

John Kasay and Akers traded field goals before the Saints took the lead for the first time when Darren Sproles ran in from 44 yards.

Smith responded with a classic quarterback sweep to put the 49ers back in front with 2:18 left then Brees found Graham with a score that, along with a two-point conversion, put the Saints five points up with 1:48 to go.

But Smith and Davis combined again to send the packed crowd at Candlestick Park into delirium and take the 49ers into next Sunday's championship game against either the Green Bay Packers or the New York Giants.