Some observations from a weekend of NFL Divisional Playoffs:
• That cheering you heard Sunday evening was from TV executives who ended up with two outstanding conference championship games next Sunday.
CBS draws an AFC matchup of New England at Denver while Fox gets the NFC pairing of San Francisco at Seattle.
Sports television couldn’t ask for much more.
• Remember back in the regular-season’s second week when Bills’ rookie quarterback EJ Manuel hit wide receiver Stevie Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left at Ralph Wilson Stadium to beat the Panthers, 24-23?
That loss dropped Carolina to 0-2, which became 1-3 two weeks later and there were very real questions about whether coach Ron Rivera would survive the season.
Then, the Panthers won 11 of their next 12 games to finish 12-4 and claim the NFC South.
But Carolina, playing at home, was still a 1-point underdog to the 49ers on Sunday afternoon and lost 23-10.
San Francisco was clearly the better team, but it got some help.
On three occasions, the 49ers had drives kept alive — scoring on two of them, depriving Carolina of one last possession on the other — via unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against the Panthers’ secondary (Mike Mitchell, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Thomas).
Those, and the constant chippiness and chirping by Carolina defenders, spoke to a lack of discipline that ultimately reflected poorly on Rivera.
Weary of the Panthers’ jawing, late in the game San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick offered the ultimate rejoinder, looking at his antagonist and pointing to the scoreboard.
• Presumably, now that the Broncos are in the AFC Championship Game, some of the questions will end for quarterback Peyton Manning. On Sunday morning, the Denver Post’s sports section had a cover photo of Manning standing at the stadium under a dark sky with the headline: A Legacy Under A Cloud.
It all relates to his record in the post-season which, after Sunday’s 24-17 triumph over San Diego, is 10-11.
Of course, his brother Eli, whose career numbers aren’t close to Peyton’s, has won two Super Bowls ... one more than his sibling.
Thus, the elder Manning will likely continue to hear those whispers about the chinks in his resume ... unless, of course, he can win two more games this season.
• THERE were probably any number of pro football fans who were saying LaGarrette Who? on Saturday night as the Patriots pulled away from the Colts in the late going.
But those in Bills’ Nation knew all about LaGarrette Blount after his performance against Buffalo in the regular-season finale at Foxboro.
In the Pats’ 34-20 win, Blount rushed 24 times for 189 yards with TD runs of 35 and 36 yards. In addition, the 6-foot, 250-pound former Oregon star burned the Bills for kickoff returns of 83 and 62 yards.
However, he outdid himself in the 43-22 victory over the Colts with 24 rushes for 166 yards and four touchdowns ... three 2-yarders and a glittering 73-yard sprint.
And while the injury-plagued Pats have had their doubters all season, Bill Belichick’s team is still making its eighth trip to the AFC Championship Game in the last 13 years.
More impressively, the Pats punched their ticket with six rushing touchdowns (Stevan Ridley also scored twice) while Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady didn’t have a TD toss against Indianapolis.
• MARSHAWN LYNCH’S exit from Buffalo was addition by subtraction ... his persistent run-ins with the law and petulant attitude made him an ex-Bill with no regrets.
The former first-round draft pick was dealt to Seattle for a fourth- and fifth-round choice ... a bargain for the Seahawks.
And though Bills’ fans and the media bid “Good riddance,” his new team would have gotten a good deal at twice the price.
Lynch has been a devastating, second-effort rusher for Seattle, and proved it again Saturday, running for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the Seahawks’ 23-15 win over New Orleans that earned a berth in the NFC Championship Game.
Still, you rarely hear a Bills’ fans say, “I wish he was still here.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)