The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots held off their opponents on Saturday in divisional matchups to earn a spot in their respective conference championship games next Sunday with a chance to play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
Led by running back Marshawn Lynch, Seattle edged the New Orleans Saints, 23-15, in front of 68,388 boisterous fans on a rainy, windy day at CenturyLink Field. The Saints put up 15 points in the fourth quarter, but the Seahawks were too strong in the end.
Lynch rushed for a franchise-playoff record 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a 31-yard run with 2:48 remaining to hold off a late charge by New Orleans. The Saints recovered an onside kick, but failed to muster an effective drive for a final score in the last 26 seconds.
"This was an interesting finish to this game," said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. "We’re really proud to get the win and be coming back home next week, that’s a tremendous accomplishment, and we’re thrilled about that. We know we just played a fine football team and players and coaches and all that. We have great respect for that team and to get this win at this time is huge."
The Seahawks will host the winner of Sunday's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 19.
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In the AFC, the Patriots managed to stave off the Indianapolis Colts due in large part to a stellar performance from LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for a New England playoff record 166 yards and four touchdowns in the 43-22 victory at Gillette Stadium.
The Colts trailed the Patriots by just seven points to start the fourth quarter, but were shut out by a relentless New England defense. Blount rushed for a 73-yard touchdown in the Patriots' first drive of the fourth quarter. On the Colts' next drive, rookie Jamie Collins intercepted Andrew Luck's pass deep in Indianapolis territory. The turnover helped set up a Stevan Ridley touchdown run from one yard to give the home team a comfortable lead for good.
"We've been doing a good job at that (running the ball) since Thanksgiving really, we've been a great running team," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
"Our offensive line, what they did tonight, the way our backs ran was awesome."
It is the third straight year that the Patriots will play in the AFC Championship game. New England will face the winner of Sunday's game between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.