2011–12 NFL playoffs
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2012)|
The 2011–12 NFL playoffs following the 2011 regular season began on January 7, 2012, and ended with the New York Giants defeating the New England Patriots 21–17 in Super Bowl XLVI on February 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Detroit Lions and Houston Texans both made team history with their clinching of playoff spots. The Lions had not been to the playoffs since 1999 while the Texans, who entered the league in 2002, had never made the playoffs in its nine season history. The Buffalo Bills, which were eliminated from playoff contention for the twelfth straight year, are the only team that have not made the playoffs in the 21st century. This team was tied with the Lions for the overall longest failure streak entering the season (the Bills had also not made the playoffs since qualifying as a wild card in 1999 where they were defeated by the Tennessee Titans).
Overtime rules 
This was the second postseason that the modified playoff overtime rules were in effect. Under these rules, instead of a straight sudden death, the game will not immediately end if the team that wins the coin toss scores a field goal on its first possession (the game will end if a touchdown is scored). Instead, the other team will get a possession. If the loser of the coin toss scores a touchdown on that possession, it will be declared the winner. If the winner of the coin toss does not score on its first possession, or if both teams score field goals on their first possession, the game will revert to sudden death.
None of the games during the 2010–11 NFL playoffs went into overtime. The first overtime game that used these new rules was this postseason's Wild Card playoff game between the Steelers and Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won the coin toss and received. They proceeded to win the game 29–23 by scoring a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage, immediately ending the game.
After the season, this "modified sudden death" overtime system was applied to all preseason and regular season games.
|1||New England Patriots (East winner)||Green Bay Packers (North winner)|
|2||Baltimore Ravens (North winner)||San Francisco 49ers (West winner)|
|3||Houston Texans (South winner)||New Orleans Saints (South winner)|
|4||Denver Broncos (West winner)||New York Giants (East winner)|
|5||Pittsburgh Steelers (wild card)||Atlanta Falcons (wild card)|
|6||Cincinnati Bengals (wild card)||Detroit Lions (wild card)|
|Jan. 8 – MetLife Stadium||Jan. 15 – Lambeau Field|
|4||N.Y. Giants||24||Jan. 22 – Candlestick Park|
|Jan. 7 – M.B. Superdome||4||N.Y. Giants||20*|
|Jan. 14 – Candlestick Park|
|3||New Orleans||45||Feb. 5 – Lucas Oil Stadium|
|Wild Card Playoffs|
|Jan. 7 – Reliant Stadium||N4||N.Y. Giants||21|
|Jan. 15 – M&T Bank Stadium|
|6||Cincinnati||10||Super Bowl XLVI|
|3||Houston||31||Jan. 22 – Gillette Stadium|
|Jan. 8 – Sports Auth. Field||2||Baltimore||20|
|Jan. 14 – Gillette Stadium|
- * Indicates overtime victory
Wild Card playoffs 
Saturday, January 7, 2012 
AFC: Houston Texans 31, Cincinnati Bengals 10 
Houston's defense forced four sacks and intercepted three passes, while their offense racked up 188 rushing yards en route to the team's first playoff win since the team's founding in 2002. For the Bengals, it marked their fourth consecutive playoff loss since 1990 and extended their playoff win drought to 21 years, the longest streak among all NFL teams.
In the first quarter, a 52-yard pass interference penalty against Texans defensive back Glover Quin while trying to cover A. J. Green gave the Bengals a first down at the Houston 24-yard line. Then facing third down and seven, backup tailback Brian Leonard ran a screen pass 16 yards to the 1-yard line, where Cedric Benson ran the ball into the end zone on the next play, giving Cincinnati a 7–0 lead. Houston struck back with a 6-play, 80-yard scoring drive. The key player on the drive was running back Arian Foster, who rushed five times for 44 yards, the last carry an 8-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
In the second quarter, Cincinnati drove to the Texans 23-yard line. But on third down, quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked for a 9-yard loss by linebacker Brooks Reed, and then Mike Nugent missed a 50-yard field goal attempt. On the Bengals next drive, Dalton's 36-yard completion to reserve tight end Donald Lee and a 15-yard penalty against Houston at the end of the play set up Nugent's 37-yard field goal to make the score 10–7. Houston countered with T. J. Yates completing 4 passes for 38 yards on a 59-yard drive that ended with Neil Rackers' 39-yard field goal. Then with just 52 seconds left in the half, rookie defensive lineman J. J. Watt intercepted a pass from Dalton at the line of scrimmage and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown to give the Texans a 17–10 halftime lead.
In the second half, Houston completely took over the game. After the first three drives ended in punts, Yates completed two passes to Foster for 27 yards before tossing a 40-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson. On the Bengals next possession, they moved the ball to the Texans 47-yard line. But on fourth down and 3, Dalton's pass was intercepted by former Bengal Johnathan Joseph. Then in fourth quarter, Houston put the game completely out of reach with an interception by Danieal Manning that set up Foster's 42-yard touchdown run, increasing their lead to 31–10 with just over five minutes left in regulation.
Foster finished the game with 153 rushing yards, three receptions for 29 yards, and two touchdowns. He became the third undrafted player in NFL history ever to rush for over 100 yards in a playoff game, after Paul Lowe and Ryan Grant.
The attendance of 71,725 was a record crowd for a football game at Reliant Stadium; as in 2009, WrestleMania XXV was attended by 72,744 fans. The Bengals extended their current playoff losing streak to four, dating back to the divisional round loss against the Los Angeles Raiders in January 1991. This was the first game in playoff history ever to feature a starting rookie quarterback for each team.
NFC: New Orleans Saints 45, Detroit Lions 28 
New Orleans never punted the ball, gained a postseason record 626 yards, converted three fourth downs, and scored 35 points in the second half to defeat the Lions, who were playing their first playoff game in thirteen years.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 5 of 6 passes for 70 yards on the opening drive of the game, the last one a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Will Heller. Later on, a 31-yard burst by Saints running back Pierre Thomas set up Darren Sproles' 2-yard touchown run, tying the score at 7 early in the second quarter.
Detroit responded on their next drive, moving the ball 87 yards in nine plays and taking a 14–7 lead on Stafford's 13-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson. With 21 seconds left in the half, New Orleans appeared to score the tying touchdown on a pass from Drew Brees to receiver Marques Colston, but the catch was overturned by official review, and the Saints ended up settling for a John Kasay field goal to cut the score to 14–10 at the end of the half.
The Saints dominated the second half, scoring touchdowns on five consecutive possessions before ending the game on their sixth. On the first play of the third quarter, Thomas rushed for 18 yards. Running back Chris Ivory then added a 19-yard run before Brees finished the drive with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson. Then after a Lions punt, New Orleans drove 92 yards, featuring a 40-yard completion from Brees to Henderson, and scored with his 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham.
This time Detroit stormed back, with Stafford completing two passes to Johnson for 63 yards before rushing the ball into the end zone himself on a 1-yard run, making the score 24–21. But their defense still could not stop Brees, who completed five passes for 52 yards on a 78-yard drive that ended with Sproles' second touchdown on a 17-yard run. Then on the first play of the Lions' next drive, Jabari Greer intercepted Stafford's pass at the New Orleans 39-yard line. Four plays later, Brees converted the turnover with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem. This time, Detroit managed to respond, with Johnson catching 3 passes for 38 yards on a 79-yard drive, the last one a 12-yard score. But New Orleans recovered Jason Hanson's onside kick attempt and stormed back for another touchdown, with Meachem's 41-yard reception setting it up for Thomas' 1-yard scoring run. Then the Saints sealed the victory with Greer's second interception from Stafford, enabling them to run out the rest of the clock.
Brees finished the game with 33 of 43 completions for a franchise postseason record 466 yards and three touchdowns. Meachem and Colston both recorded over 100 receiving yards each, while Thomas and Sproles combined for 264 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns between them.
Stafford threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, with 2 interceptions, while Johnson set franchise playoff records with 12 receptions for 211 yards and two scores.
With the victory the Saints ran their home playoff winning streak to five dating back to their 2000 victory over the St. Louis Rams, which was also the first playoff win in their history. The Lions continued their streak of playoff futility, having only one playoff win – their divisional playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys in January 1992 – in their history since the NFL-AFL merger.
Sunday, January 8, 2012 
NFC: New York Giants 24, Atlanta Falcons 2 
New York shut out Atlanta's offense, outgaining them in total yards 442–247, while also limiting them to 4/14 third down conversion and 0/3 on fourth down attempts resulting in a dominating win in the first playoff game played at MetLife Stadium.
Both teams combined for just one first down over their first five possessions. Eventually, Atlanta managed to sustain a drive, but on the first play of the second quarter, quarterback Matt Ryan was stuffed for no gain on fourth down and one on the Giants 24-yard line. Two plays later, New York QB Eli Manning gave Atlanta the first points of the game by committing intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety that made the score 2–0. After forcing a punt, New York earned their first score with an 85-yard drive, featuring a 34-yard run by Brandon Jacobs, that ended with Manning's 4-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks, giving them a 7–2 lead.
In the second half, a 30-yard run by Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw set up a field goal by Lawrence Tynes. Atlanta responded with a drive to the New York 21-yard line, but once again they came up empty when Ryan was tackled for no gain on fourth and one for a second time. A few plays later, New York increased their lead to 17–2 with Manning's 72-yard touchdown completion to Nicks. In the fourth quarter, Manning threw his third touchdown pass, a 29-yarder to Mario Manningham. Meanwhile, all that lay in store for Atlanta were more punts and their third failed fourth down conversion attempt of the day.
Manning threw for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions, while Jacobs added 100 all-purpose yards. Nicks caught 6 passes for 115 yards and two scores.
The win marked New York's first playoff win since their victory in Super Bowl XLII and their first home playoff win since their victory in the 2000 NFC Championship Game; they were defeated in the 2005–06 playoffs by the Carolina Panthers in the wild card round and lost in the divisional playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2008 season after clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Atlanta's playoff losing streak reached four games with the loss, and the team has not won a playoff game since Ryan took over as starter.
This game was also notable for the fact that it was the first game in NFL postseason history in which a safety was the only score awarded to a team.
AFC: Denver Broncos 29, Pittsburgh Steelers 23 (OT) 
This game was the first one ever played under the league's new overtime rules, in which winning would be more difficult for the team that won the coin toss because the game would not end on an opening field goal. It did not matter, as it took Denver just one play to win with Tim Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
Pittsburgh scored on their opening drive, with Ben Roethlisberger's 33-yard completion to tight end Heath Miller setting up a 45-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham. Later in the quarter, Steelers running back Isaac Redman rushed five times for 33 yards on a 47-yard drive that ended with Suisham's 38-yard field goal, increasing the score to 6–0.
But Denver, which gained just 8 yards in the first quarter, suddenly exploded with offensive production in the second. On their first drive of the quarter, Tebow completed a 51-yard strike to Thomas. Then he followed it up with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal. Following a Pittsburgh punt, Tebow's 58-yard completion to Thomas set up his own touchdown on an 8-yard run, giving the Broncos a 14–6 lead. An interception by Denver defensive back Quinton Carter quickly led to a 20-yard field goal from Matt Prater, and before the end of the half, Prater added one more, the second set up by Tebow's 41-yard completion to tight end Daniel Fells. With time running out in the quarter, Roetherlisberger completed a 25-yard pass to Antonio Brown and an 18-yarder to Sanders on a drive that advanced to the Broncos 32-yard line. But on third down, a fumbled snap resulted in a 23-yard loss, pushing the team out of field goal range.
Pittsburgh regrouped in the second half. After forcing a punt, Roethlisberger completed an 18-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders and Redman broke off a 32-yard run on the way to a 1-yard touchdown run by receiver Mike Wallace on an end-around play, cutting the score to 20–13. Denver struck back with their third field goal from Prater, aided by a 32-yard pass interference penalty on Steelers defensive back Ike Taylor, but Pittsburgh responded with their own field goal-drive, featuring a 28-yard run by Redman, making it a one-score game at 23–16.
With 7:35 left in regulation, Denver running back Willis McGahee lost a fumble while being tackled by Ryan Mundy and linebacker LaMarr Woodley recovered it at the Steelers 45-yard line. Though Roethlisberger was sacked on the first play, he recovered with a 15-yard completion to Sanders and a 6-yard run before tying the game with a 31-yard touchdown completion to Jerricho Cotchery. Both teams had one more drive to attempt a winning score, but Denver could go no further than their own 35-yard line, while Roethlisberger was sacked twice on his drive as time expired in the fourth quarter.
Following a touchback on the opening kickoff, Pittsburgh anticipated that Denver would take to the ground, so the Steelers defense put all 11 players within six yards of the line of scrimmage. But Tebow hit Thomas in stride on a slant pattern across the middle of the field, and he took the ball 80 yards to the end zone for the game-winning score.
Tebow completed only 10 of 21 passes, but threw for 316 yards and 2 touchdowns without any interceptions, and added 50 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and also set a franchise record for passer rating in a playoff game, with 125.5. Thomas had 204 yards and a touchdown on just four receptions, an average of 51 yards per catch. Defensive end Robert Ayers had two sacks. For the Steelers, Redman finished with a career high 121 rushing yards.
Many observers have pointed out the symbolism of Tebow's 316 passing yards in comparison to the Biblical passage of John 3:16. Tebow – known for his strong religious beliefs – had the number in black under his eyes when he led the Florida Gators in winning the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, which was played exactly three years to the day before this playoff game. Additionally, he set a playoff record by averaging 31.6 yards per completion. The only interception of the game was thrown by the Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on 3rd down and 16. The Nielsen ratings for the game also peaked at 31.6.
Denver won its first playoff game at home since defeating the New England Patriots in the 2005 playoffs, with their next game seeing them lose to the same Steelers. Pittsburgh failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs since 2007 after winning the AFC Championship Game the year prior.
Divisional playoffs 
Saturday, January 14, 2012 
NFC: San Francisco 49ers 36, New Orleans Saints 32 
Alex Smith's 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left gave San Francisco their first playoff win since 2002 at the end of a wild, back and forth final quarter which featured four lead changes in a span of 3:53.
New Orleans started off the game with a 78-yard drive to the 49ers 2-yard line, but came up empty when defensive back Donte Whitner forced a fumble from Pierre Thomas that was recovered by linebacker Patrick Willis. Thomas was injured on the play and did not return. Later on, San Francisco opened up the scoring with Smith's 49-yard touchdown pass to Davis. A few plays into the next drive, Dashon Goldson intercepted a pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees and returned it 41 yards to the 4-yard line, setting up Smith's touchdown completion to Michael Crabtree and giving the 49ers a 14–0 lead. Then Courtney Roby lost a fumble on the kickoff that San Francisco linebacker Blake Costanzo recovered on the Saints 13-yard line. This time New Orleans managed to keep them out of the end zone, but David Akers kicked a field goal to give the 49ers a 17–0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
Brees led the Saints back, completing 7 consecutive passes for 65 yards and rushing for 5 on an 80-yard drive that ended with his 14-yard scoring pass to tight end Jimmy Graham. Then after a punt, he threw a 25-yard touchdown completion to Marques Colston, cutting the deficit to three points. Later on, Brees threw his second interception, this one to Tarell Brown, but San Francisco could not convert and the score remained 17–14 at the end of the second quarter, despite three Saints turnovers.
Early in the second half, Costanzo forced a fumble from Darren Sproles on a punt return and Colin Jones recovered it, leading to Akers' second field goal. In the fourth quarter, the Saints managed to close the gap back to three points with a franchise postseason record 48-yard field goal from John Kasay. But a 42-yard run from San Francisco's Frank Gore helped put the margin back up to six on Akers' third field goal of the day.
With 4:02 left in the game, New Orleans took their first lead of the game at 24–23 with Brees' 44-yard touchdown pass to Sproles. But it lasted less than 2 minutes before San Francisco took it back, with Smith hitting Davis for a 37-yard gain before taking the ball into the end zone himself on his career long 28-yard run, making the score 29–24 after the two-point conversion failed. Not to be outdone, Brees matched the score with his fourth touchdown pass of the day, a 66-yard completion to Graham, and then threw the ball to Sproles for a successful 2-point conversion, giving the Saints a 32–29 lead.
San Francisco got the ball back on their own 15-yard line with 1:37 left in the game. Smith started the drive with two completions to Gore for 18 yards. Then after an incompletion, he connected on a 47-yard pass to Davis, advancing the ball to the Saints 20-yard line. A 6-yard completion to Gore then moved the ball to the 14, where Smith spiked the ball to stop the clock. On the next play, he threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Davis with 9 seconds left, earning San Francisco their first conference championship game since 1997.
Smith threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, while adding 28 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He was the first quarterback in NFL playoff history to lead two go-ahead touchdowns in the final three minutes of a game. Davis caught 7 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, breaking Kellen Winslow's NFL postseason record for receiving yards (166) by a tight end. Gore rushed for 89 yards and caught 7 passes for 38. For the Saints, Brees completed 40 of 63 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns, with 2 interceptions. His top target was Sproles, who caught 15 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, while adding 59 more yards on rushing and special teams returns. Graham caught 5 passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns, while Colston caught 9 passes for 136 yards and one score.
Davis' game winning touchdown catch occurred four days after the 30th anniversary of The Catch – Joe Montana's touchdown pass to Dwight Clark – known as the most famous play in San Francisco 49ers history. The 49ers had another famous playoff win in the 1998 season on a last second touchdown pass from Steve Young to Terrell Owens known as The Catch II. Sports writers and 49ers fans have taken to referring Davis' catch as The Catch III.
AFC: New England Patriots 45, Denver Broncos 10 
New England quarterback Tom Brady completed 18 of 25 passes for 246 yards and a postseason record five touchdowns in the first half as the Patriots dominated the game the whole way through, setting new franchise postseason records for total yards (509), points (45), and margin of victory (35). Denver quarterback Tim Tebow was held to just 9 of 26 completions, only three more completions than Brady's final amount of touchdown passes.
New England scored on their opening drive, moving the ball 80 yards in five plays, including a 43-yard run by Aaron Hernandez, before finishing it off with Brady's 7-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker. Denver responded with a drive to the Patriots 37-yard line, but then Tebow lost a fumble while being sacked by Rob Ninkovich and linebacker Brandon Spikes recovered it. Brady went right back to work, completing five consecutive passes for 47 yards on the way to a 10-yard touchdown toss to Rob Gronkowski.
After a punt, Broncos defensive back Quinton Carter intercepted a pass from Brady and returned it 17 yards to the New England 24-yard line. On the last play of the quarter, Tebow kept the drive going with a 12-yard completion Demaryius Thomas on 3rd and 3, and then Willis McGahee ran the ball into the end zone from five yards out, cutting the score to 14–7.
However, this ended up being the closest scoring margin the Broncos would reach for the rest of the game. At the end of New England's next drive, Zoltan Mesko's 40-yard punt pinned Denver back at their own 5-yard line. After a three and out, the Patriots got the ball back with great field position at their own 48. Brady then completed four consecutive passes for 41 yards, the last one a 12-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski. Later in the quarter, New England increased their lead to 28–7 on Brady's 61-yard touchdown completion to Deion Branch. And after forcing a punt, Brady threw a 20-yard completion to Hernandez and an 11-yarder to Julian Edelman on the way to his 19-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski, increasing the lead to 35–7 with just five seconds left in the half.
The second half didn't get any better for the Broncos. New England forced a punt on the first drive, which Edelman returned 15 yards to the Broncos 42-yard line. Five plays later, Brady tied a playoff record with his sixth touchdown pass of the day, a 17-yarder to Hernandez. This time Denver responded, with Tebow completing an 18-yard pass to Matt Willis and a 15-yard pass to Eddie Royal on fourth down and 3. However, New England halted the drive at their 24-yard line, forcing them to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Matt Prater. In the fourth quarter, Brady completed two passes to Gronkowski for 48 yards to set up the last score of the day, a 20-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski making the final score 45–10.
Brady finished the game with 26 of 34 completions for 363 yards and six touchdowns. Gronkowski caught 10 of those passes for 145 yards and tied a playoff record with three touchdown receptions. Ninkovich had four solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. McGahee was the top rusher of the game with 76 yards and a touchdown, while Thomas was Denver's top receiver with 6 receptions for 93 yards, including a 41-yard catch in the fourth quarter. The Broncos gave up as well a post season record of 16 negative plays from the line of scrimmage.
Sunday, January 15, 2012 
AFC: Baltimore Ravens 20, Houston Texans 13 
Despite gaining 227 yards, Baltimore's defense forced four turnovers, which included Ed Reed's clutch interception on his own 4-yard line with less than two minutes left, to win the game and send the Ravens into their 3rd AFC Championship game in franchise history.
Houston's Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff 60 yards to the Ravens 41-yard line, setting up a field goal by Neil Rackers. Their defense quickly forced a punt, but returner Jacoby Jones fumbled the ball and cornerback Jimmy Smith recovered for Baltimore on the Texans 2-yard line. Two plays later, Joe Flacco put the Ravens on the board with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kris Wilson; Wilson's first reception of the year. Then after forcing a punt, Flacco's 21-yard completion to Anquan Boldin set up a 48-yard field goal from Billy Cundiff, making the score 10–3. Later in the quarter, Baltimore cornerback Lardarius Webb intercepted a pass from T. J. Yates at the Houston 34-yard line. On third down and 9, Ray Rice kept the drive going with a 20-yard gain on a screen pass, and Flacco ended up finishing it off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Boldin.
In the second quarter, Houston managed to fight back. First, Arian Foster rushed three times for 29 yards and caught a pass for 16 on a 59-yard drive that ended with Rackers' second field goal, cutting the score to 17–6. Then after a punt, Foster rushed for 53 yards, including a 28-yard burst on the first play, on a 12-play, 86-yard drive that consumed just 5:46 and ended with his 1-yard touchdown run, making the score 17–13. Baltimore responded with a drive to the Texans 33-yard line. But on third down, lineman J. J. Watt sacked Flacco for a 9-yard loss, pushing the Ravens out of field goal range.
On Houston's first drive of the second half, Yates completed a 17-yard pass to Andre Johnson and a 19-yarder to Kevin Walter, moving the ball to the Ravens 32-yard line. But Baltimore halted the drive there and Rackers missed a 50-yard field goal try. The Ravens then took the ball back and drove all the way to the Texans 1-yard line, but Rice was stuffed for no gain by Tim Dobbins on fourth down – Dobbins' only tackle of the game – and they failed to score.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Webb recorded his second interception of the day on the Ravens 29-yard line, and Baltimore converted the turnover with a 44-yard field goal, taking a 7-point lead at 20–13. Yates responded with two completions to Johnson for 34 yards, moving the ball to the Ravens 38-yard line. But on the next play, Reed picked off a deep pass from Yates on his own 4-yard line with less than two minutes left in regulation. Houston still managed to force a punt with 45 seconds left, but the Ravens defense rose to the occasion once again, forcing a turnover on downs at their own 43-yard line.
Flacco threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Webb had four tackles and two interceptions. For Houston, Foster rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 5 passes for 22 yards. Johnson was the top receiver of the game with 8 receptions for 111 yards. Watt had 12 total tackles (9 solo) and 2.5 sacks, while linebacker Brooks Reed had 6 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
NFC: New York Giants 37, Green Bay Packers 20 
For the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in five seasons, the No. 1 seed in the NFC lost its opening game as New York topped Green Bay behind a career postseason high passing yardage day from Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
The Giants received the opening kickoff, and scored on the opening drive with a 31-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes. The Packers responded with a game-tying field goal on their opening drive, when their kicker Mason Crosby hit a 47-yard field goal. New York scored again on the following drive as Manning threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to receiver Hakeem Nicks.
Once again, the Packers responded on the following drive when Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to fullback John Kuhn on the first play of the second quarter. Green Bay was aided by a controversial call on the drive where receiver Greg Jennings was ruled down by contact on a play where replays showed that he had lost the ball, but after Giants coach Tom Coughlin challenged the call the play was upheld. Kuhn's touchdown tied the score at 10. Green Bay then attempted an onside kick to try and catch the Giants off guard, but New York recovered in Packer territory. However, on the drive that followed Tynes saw his 40-yard field goal attempt blocked.
New York recovered a fumble by Kuhn with 3:37 left in the half and on the first play of the ensuing drive Manning found Nicks for a 29-yard gain to the Green Bay five yard line. The drive stalled afterward and Tynes kicked his second field goal of the game from 21 yards out. After forcing a Packers punt on their next drive, Manning and the Giants advanced into Packers territory on third down with a 23-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw to put the ball at the Packers' 37. More importantly, Bradshaw was able to get out of bounds and stop the clock which gave the Giants four seconds to run one final play before the half. With that play Manning threw a pass toward the end zone which Nicks was able to jump and grab for a half-ending touchdown which gave the Giants a 20–10 lead. Nicks' catch, in which he pressed the ball against his helmet, was reminiscent of Manning's pass to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII.
The Packers turned the ball over on their first drive of the second half after Rodgers was sacked by Osi Umenyiora and Deon Grant recovered the ball after Rodgers fumbled. However, Green Bay got the ball back after forcing a three-and-out and scored on the next drive when Crosby converted his second field goal. It was the last scoring play of the third quarter, as neither team was able to put a drive together for a score.
Green Bay moved into New York territory but the drive was stalled at the Giants' 39 yard line early in the fourth. Coach Mike McCarthy elected to go for the first down on 4th and 5 but Rodgers was sacked by Michael Boley and the Packers turned the ball over on downs. The Giants scored on their possession with a third field goal by Tynes, this time from 35 yards. New York then capitalized on a fumble by Ryan Grant on the second play of the following drive as Chase Blackburn recovered and took the ball to the Packers' 4 yard line. Manning then threw to Mario Manningham for the touchdown on the first play of the new possession and gave the Giants a 30–13 lead.
New York appeared to have stopped the Packers' on a third down when Rodgers threw an incomplete pass to Donald Driver but Umenyiora was called for hitting Rodgers late and the Packers received a new set of downs. Six plays later Rodgers found Driver for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the Giants' lead to 30–20. However, they failed to recover the onside kick as Victor Cruz fell on the ball after Spencer Paysinger failed to control the kick from Crosby initially. It took New York six plays to score again when Brandon Jacobs ran it in from 14 yards out.
Trailing 37–20, the Packers took the field trying again to score as they had on their last drive. After hitting Jordy Nelson for an 11-yard gain on the first play Rodgers was then sacked by Umenyiora. After a short pass to James Starks that resulted in the loss of a yard Rodgers tried to throw to Jermichael Finley, but the pass was intercepted by Grant and the Giants ran out the clock from there.
With the victory the Giants advanced to their fifth NFC Championship Game and first since 2007, when they defeated the Packers to advance to the Super Bowl. Manning passed for a postseason career high 330 yards on 21-for-33 passing and three touchdowns. Nicks caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns while Cruz added five catches for 74 yards and Manningham caught three passes for 31 yards and one touchdown. In the defeat, Rodgers finished with 264 yards on 26-for-46 passing, two touchdowns, and an interception. Jennings led the Packers in receptions with four for 40 yards while Driver added three and led the team in receiving yards with 45. New York forced four turnovers (the interception and three fumbles) and sacked Rodgers four times.
Green Bay was playing in its first playoff game at home since the aforementioned 2007 NFC Championship Game and lost for the second consecutive time. The Packers became the first team to win at least fifteen games during the season and not advance beyond their first playoff game and became the fourth team after the 1998 Vikings, the 2004 Steelers, and the 2007 Patriots to win at least 15 games during the season and not win the Super Bowl. As previously mentioned, the Packers became the fourth team in five years – 2007 Cowboys, 2008 Giants, and 2010 Falcons – to get the NFC's top seed and lose their first playoff game. This was also the 6th consecutive year in which the defending Super Bowl champion failed to win a playoff game. The win by the Giants also was the first win by a road team in the 2011–12 NFL playoffs.
Conference championships 
Sunday, January 22, 2012 
As per an annual rotation used by the NFL since 1997 and made official in 2002, the AFC Championship Game was the first game played on January 22 at 3:00 pm EST, followed by the NFC Championship Game at 6:30 pm EST.
AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots 23, Baltimore Ravens 20 
With New England clinging to a 23–20 lead near the end of the game, Patriots safety Sterling Moore broke up consecutive passes in and near his own end zone, forcing Baltimore to attempt a 32-yard field goal to send it into overtime. But Billy Cundiff's kick was wide left, earning New England their seventh Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
After the game started with four punts, New England receiver Julian Edelman's 10-yard return gave his team good field position on their 39-yard line. The Patriots then drove to the Baltimore 11-yard line, aided by an illegal contact penalty on Lardarius Webb that wiped out an interception, and scored with Stephen Gostkowski's 29-yard field goal. New England quickly forced a punt, but Webb eventually intercepted a pass – for his third interception in two games – from Tom Brady on his own 30-yard line. On the next play, Joe Flacco's 42-yard completion to Torrey Smith moved the ball to the Patriots 28. However, New England's defense managed to halt the drive at the 3-yard line, where Cundiff kicked a field goal to tie the game.
In the second quarter, New England drove 75 yards to score the first touchdown of the game. The key player on the drive was running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who rushed five times for 33 yards and finished it off with a 7-yard touchdown run. Baltimore struck right back with an 80-yard scoring drive, with Flacco hitting Anquan Boldin for 37 yards and Lee Evans for 20 before finding tight end Dennis Pitta in the end zone to tie the game back up at 10. But New England retook the lead on their next drive, with Brady completing five of seven passes for 60 yards on the way to Gostkowski's second field goal, making the score 13–10 at the end of the half.
New England started off the second half with another long scoring drive, moving the ball 74 yards to the Ravens 6-yard line. But on third and two, Green-Ellis was tackled for no gain, so Gostkowski kicked his third field goal to give them a 6-point lead. Later in the quarter, Baltimore took their first lead of the game, 17–16, on Flacco's 29-yard touchdown pass to Smith. Then Ravens receiver LaQuan Williams – a college teammate of Smith at the University of Maryland – forced a fumble from kick returner Danny Woodhead that Emanuel Cook recovered for Baltimore at the Pats 28-yard line, setting up Cundiff's second field goal to make the score 20–16.
Woodhead returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the 37-yard line, and the Patriots offense took the ball to the end zone from there, featuring a 23-yard reception by tight end Rob Gronkowski. On fourth down on the Ravens 1-yard line, Brady took the snap and dove over a pile of players for touchdown, giving New England a 23–20 lead. Late in the fourth quarter, Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes picked off a pass from Flacco and returned it 19 yards to midfield. Brady tried to capitalize on the next play with a deep pass to the end zone, but Bernard Pollard deflected the ball and Jimmy Smith made a diving interception just before it hit the ground. Then he got back up and returned the ball to the Ravens 39-yard line. Baltimore subsequently drove to the Patriots 30-yard line, but on third and three, Vince Wilfork dropped Ray Rice for a 3-yard loss. Rather than attempt a 50-yard field goal, Baltimore decided to go for it on fourth down, but Flacco's pass was incomplete and the team turned the ball over.
The Ravens defense forced a punt with 1:44 left, giving them one last chance to tie or win the game. Three receptions by Boldin for 41 yards helped move the ball to the Patriots 13-yard line. But Sterling Moore made two critical pass deflections to keep them out of the end zone. First, receiver Evans appeared to haul in a touchdown pass, but Moore knocked the ball out of his arms just before he held it long enough for a reception. Then on third down, he broke up a pass intended for Pitta at the 2-yard line. Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left, enabling New England to run out the rest of the clock.
Flacco threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. Boldin caught 8 passes for 101 yards. Brady won his 16th posteason game as the Patriots quarterback, tying the NFL record held by Joe Montana. He also joined John Elway as one of the only quarterbacks ever to play in five Super Bowls.
The missed kick – and the fact that the football's laces were not out, as customary during placekicks – drew comparisons to the fictional kicker Ray Finkle from the 1994 film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, who missed a similar short-range last-second kick in their version of Super Bowl XVII. The memory of Myra Kraft inspired the Patriots and some fans credited her intervention for the miss. Robert Kraft said "We had an angel looking out for us."
Missed kick at end of game 
The game has perhaps received the biggest media attention for Cundiff's missed 32-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds that would have likely sent the game into overtime. The play was the final one of the game, save a quarterback kneel when the Patriots assumed possession following the miss. The result was the Patriots making off with the 23–20 win that sent them to Super Bowl XLVI.
In the final minutes of the game, the Ravens had possession of the ball, and managed to drive it into New England's red zone. Just two plays earlier, quarterback Joe Flacco threw a pass to wide receiver Lee Evans that he appeared to have caught for a touchdown. Had it been caught, the Ravens, following an extra point, would have gone ahead by 4 points, requiring the Patriots to score a touchdown of their own with just 30 seconds remaining to be able to win the game. But the ball was pushed out of Evans' hands by Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore before it could qualify as a catch, thereby making it an incomplete pass. Another incomplete pass followed, thereby bringing up 4th down and 1, and making the kicking of a field goal that would tie the game and likely send it into overtime the best choice. The scoreboard, however, reflected that it was third down due to operator error. As a result, Cundiff was rushed on to the field and failed to complete his pre-kick warm-up.
None of the Ravens players blamed the loss entirely on Cundiff.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs told ESPN that there was a miscommunication on the sideline prior to the missed field goal. He blamed it on the scoreboard, which he said inaccurately stated there was a first down. In fact, the Ravens were one yard shy.
Cundiff pointed the finger at himself alone following the game, but stated that these moments do not define a player, and that he had intended to move on with his career. He said that he had made kicks like that 1000 times before, and that there was no excuse. He said it is a lesson he would learn from. He said he hopes to make amends during the next season.
University of Kansas basketball fans mocked Cundiff during a game that took place the following day. This included holding up white cardboard letters that spelled out C-U-N-D-I-F-F, and tilting them to the shooter's left, during the game whenever an opponent shot a free throw.
NFC Championship Game: New York Giants 20, San Francisco 49ers 17 (OT) 
For the fifth time in conference championship history and for the 3rd time in 5 years, overtime decided the game, and as it was in the 2008 NFC championship game, a field goal by Lawrence Tynes was the winning score as the New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers for their fifth NFC Championship victory. The Giants became the third team in NFL history to advance to the Super Bowl with fewer than 10 wins during the regular season, joining the 1979 Los Angeles Rams and the 2008 Arizona Cardinals.
The 49ers scored the first touchdown of the game as Alex Smith found Vernon Davis deep for a 73-yard touchdown pass midway through the opening quarter. Davis was called for an excessive celebration penalty after he climbed atop the camera tower in the back of the end zone, which forced David Akers to kick off from his own twenty-yard line. San Francisco recovered the ball on downs, as New York missed a fourth-and-1 attempt at their 34-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing drive the 49ers attempted an end-around reverse play where receiver Kyle Williams would be the ball-carrier. Williams, however, could not handle the handoff on the end-around and fumbled the ball but was able to recover when the ball squirted out of the grasp of a Giants defender. The Giants punted three plays later, but this would not be the last time Williams' ball-handling would cause his team trouble during the game.
The Giants tied the score on the next drive, as Eli Manning found tight end Bear Pascoe for a six yard touchdown to complete a 10-play, 69-yard drive. Manning found wide receiver Victor Cruz twice on the drive, one for a large gain that gave New York the ball in San Francisco territory, and two of ten catches that Cruz made during the game. They then gained the lead on the last drive of the half, as Tynes hit his first of two field goals with a 31-yard kick. Cruz was again Manning's key target on the drive, with four receptions including the one that set up Tynes' attempt. With 5:18 remaining in the third quarter, the 49ers regained the lead on Smith's second touchdown pass of the day. San Francisco was able to move the ball 54 yards in six plays and was aided by Kyle Williams' 24-yard return of Steve Weatherford's punt. Frank Gore caught a pass from Smith on the second play of the drive for a 24-yard gain to the New York 28, and Davis caught his second touchdown of the day on the next play to give the home team a 14–10 edge.
On the Giants' first drive of the fourth quarter, they were forced to punt. Williams, who was filling in for injured starting kick returner Ted Ginn, Jr., went to retrieve the punt but at the last second elected to let it continue to bounce past him. Giants receiver Devin Thomas picked up the ball and then began to run toward the end zone, claiming that Williams had touched the ball and the Giants should have had possession and a touchdown. Giants coach Tom Coughlin used one of his replay challenges to see if Williams had in fact touched the ball. Replays showed that on one of the bounces, the ball bounced up and touched both of Williams' legs as it rolled away. Thus, Coughlin's challenge was successful but the Giants received possession at the spot where Thomas recovered as muffed kicks are not allowed to be advanced by the kicking team. Seven plays later, Manning found Mario Manningham for a 17-yard scoring pass to give them the lead again.
The 49ers responded on their next possession and on the first three plays, they achieved first downs. The first came on a defensive penalty, as Kenny Phillips was called for an illegal use of hands for five yards and an automatic first down, while the following two were earned by Smith and Kendall Hunter on running plays. Three plays later, David Akers was called on to kick the game-tying field goal as the drive stalled at the New York 8-yard line. Akers converted, to tie the score at 17. The rest of the fourth quarter saw the teams trade possessions six times. The Giants punted three times while the 49ers did so twice, and regulation ended on a play where tight end Delanie Walker fumbled the ball.
New York won the toss and elected to receive the kickoff in overtime, but after four plays they were forced to punt. With the new overtime rules in place, this meant that since both teams had possession of the ball at least once, the game was now sudden-death and the first score would win the game. However, San Francisco could not do anything with the ball on their possession and after three plays the 49ers had to punt again. The Giants started their drive on their 36-yard line and advanced near midfield on third down, but Manning was sacked by Justin Smith and Weatherford came out for his twelfth punt of the game. Once again, Williams fielded the kick. After returning the ball five yards Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams reached in and stripped the ball from Williams, with Thomas recovering the ball at the 24-yard line of the 49ers. It was Williams' second official fumble and second lost fumble, and was the last time the 49ers would possess the ball.
On the first play of the drive, Ahmad Bradshaw gained eight yards. He was given the ball on the second play and picked up six more and a first down, and then added four on the third play. On the fourth snap, Manning simply took the ball to the middle of the field and kneeled, which brought up third down. Tynes was called out onto the field for what was a 26-yard field goal, but the Giants were called for a delay-of-game penalty to push it back to a 31-yard attempt. After San Francisco called timeout to attempt to freeze Tynes, he returned to the field and despite a low snap was able to kick the ball through the uprights to give New York the victory.
As had happened in the previous four conference championship games that required overtime to decide them, the winning margin was a field goal. Tynes became the first person to kick the winning field goal in overtime twice and became the first since Garrett Hartley of the New Orleans Saints did so in the 2009 NFC Championship. New York became the second consecutive team to win three playoff games to reach the Super Bowl after the Green Bay Packers did it the year before. San Francisco lost its second consecutive NFC Championship Game where they served as the host team, having lost the 1997 NFC Championship at home to the Packers. The 49ers moved to 1–5 in NFC Championship appearances since their victory over the Los Angeles Rams to advance to Super Bowl XXIV; the Giants handed the 49ers two of those losses (one of them in very similar fashion to this game 21 years earlier) and the Dallas Cowboys also defeated them twice. Meanwhile, New York won their fifth NFC Championship in as many tries and won their third conference championship game on the road in the process.
Manning finished the game with 316 yards on 32-for-58 passing and two touchdowns despite taking a beating from the front seven of the 49ers, who sacked him six times. Smith finished with two touchdowns passing – both to Davis – with 196 yards on 12-for-26 passing. Bradshaw and Gore each ran for 74 yards while Cruz led all receivers with 10 catches for 142 yards. Davis caught three passes for a total of 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. Of San Francisco's six sacks, defensive tackle Ray McDonald recorded 2.5 of them to lead the team. Justin Tuck led New York with 1.5 sacks out of the team's three total. San Francisco fumbled four times, with the two fumbles lost by Williams resulting in the only turnovers of the game. There were twenty-two combined punts in the game, as Weatherford and Andy Lee recorded twelve and ten punts, respectively. The 49ers were just 1-for-13 on third down conversions.
Super Bowl XLVI: New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17 
- "Rules proposal passes on 28–4 vote". ESPN. March 24, 2010. Archived from the original on March 27, 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
- "Tim Tebow rediscovers magic as Broncos oust stunned Steelers in OT". ESPN. Associated Press. January 8, 2012. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
- "NFL passes overtime rules to reflect postseason, all turnovers now reviewed". CBS Sports. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
- "Foster powers Texans to win over Bengals". Reuters Canada (Thomson Reuters). January 7, 2012. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
- "New Orleans 45, Detroit 28". USA Today. David Hunke; Gannett Company. January 7, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2012.
- "New York 24, Atlanta 2". USA Today. David Hunke; Gannett Company. January 8, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2012.
- Chase, Chris (January 8, 2012). "Falcons’ two-point total is first in NFL playoff history". Yahoo! Sports (Yahoo!). Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- "Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23". USA Today. David Hunke; Gannett Company. January 8, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2012.
- Levy, Glen (January 9, 2012). "Tim Tebow’s 316 Passing Yards Evokes Biblical Number". Time (Time Inc.). Retrieved January 13, 2012.
- Brinson, Will (January 9, 2012). "John 3:16 trends again thanks to Tim Tebow". CBS Sports (CBS). Retrieved January 13, 2012.
- "San Francisco 36, New Orleans 32". USA Today. David Hunke; Gannett Company. January 14, 2012. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- Brown, Daniel (January 21, 2012). "49ers' magic run had beginnings at Camp Alex". San Jose Mercury News. Archived from the original on January 22, 2012.
- Hoffman, Ben (January 17, 2012). "Davis’s Performance Recalls Winslow’s ‘Epic’ Day". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 20, 2012.
- Ortiz, Jorge L. (January 15, 2012). "TD could become 'The Catch III' in 49ers lore". USA Today (David Hunke; Gannett Company). Retrieved January 16, 2012.
- "New England 45, Denver 10". USA Today. David Hunke; Gannett Company. January 14, 2012. Retrieved January 15, 2012.
- Kolko, Dan (January 15, 2012). "Ravens slip past Texans 20–13, advance to AFC Championship". MASN Sports (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network). Retrieved January 15, 2012.
- Schwartz, Paul (January 15, 2012). "Hail Mary before half lifts Giants over Packers". New York Post (News Corporation). Retrieved January 15, 2012.
- "New England 23, Baltimore 20". USA Today. David Hunke; Gannett Company. January 22, 2012. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- Gallo, DJ (January 23, 2012), "Life's harder for today's playoff goats", Page 2 (ESPN), retrieved January 24, 2012
- Stout, Matt (January 23, 2012), Myra Kraft inspiration drives Pats, fans, Boston Herald, retrieved January 23, 2012
- MacMullan, Jackie (January 23, 2012), "Patriots had angel looking out for them", ESPNBoston.com (ESPN), retrieved January 24, 2012
- Zrebiec, Jeff (January 23, 2012). "Billy Cundiff misses game-tying field goal as Ravens fall to Patriots in AFC championship game". Baltimore Sun (Foxborough, Massachusetts). Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- "For Ravens, falling short of Super Bowl after 4th straight playoff run ‘gets kind of old’". Owings Mills, MD. Associated Press. January 23, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- Vense, Matt (January 23, 2012). "Suggs says there was miscommunication before Cundiff's missed kick". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- Ventura, Dan (January 23, 2012). "Billy Cundiff kicking himself after miss". Boston Herald (Foxboro). Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- McMillion, Dave (January 22, 2012). "Hagerstown area Ravens fans shocked by game's finish". Herald-mail.com. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- "Baltimore Heartbroken After Ravens Lose AFC Championship Match 23–20". CBS News. January 22, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- Eisenberg, Jeff (January 24, 2012). "Even Kansas basketball fans mocked Billy Cundiff". The Dagger. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- "New York 20, San Francisco 17". USA Today. David Hunke; Gannett Company. January 22, 2012. Retrieved January 23, 2012.
- "Giants stun 49ers with OT FG to set up Super rematch with Patriots". ESPN. Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 23, 2012.
- "New York Giants – New England Patriots Box Scores, Game Results & Summary". USA Today. February 5, 2012. Retrieved February 7, 2012.