Division Series round was one to remember

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Division Series round was one to remember

NEW YORK -- If baseball had tried, it could not have staged a better Division Series round.

For all the attention paid to the introduction of the second wild card and the one-game, winner-take-all format, it was the Division Series that most captivated fans.

Consider: all four of Division Series went the maximum five games, something that had never before happened since the format was introduced in 1995.

Moreover, three of the 20 games went into extra innings while seven were decided in the winning team's final at-bat. And more than a third of the first-round games (eight) were one-run games.

"If you wanted to see one round of great baseball, we got to see it,'' said New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi before Saturday's Game 1 of the ALCS. "(You had) four series that went five games, teams coming back, dramatic home runs. Pretty amazing. This first round was probably as good as it gets, probably as good as it can be with eight teams.''

The Division Series saw one team -- San Francisco -- win after losing its first two games at home and another -- Oakland -- which forced a fifth game after losing the first two on the road.

Twice, the Yankees won games in extra innings. Once, the A's rallied from being down by three in the bottom of the ninth.

And, for the capper, the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals rallied from being down 6-0 early and trailed by two heading into the bottom of the ninth in an elimination game.

The Cardinals' late-inning rally, though not quite as dramatic as their comeback in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, was spectacular nonetheless.

The Division Series made stars of Raul Ibanez, and, for a time, Jayson Werth, just as surely as it made goats of Drew Storen and Jim Johnson. In successive games, Coco Crisp was, alternately, goat and hero.

The week served as a reminder that, at its best, no sport can match baseball's post-season drama. Even in the first round, before story lines had a chance to fully form, the tension was unmatched as momentum swung wildly from game to game.

Ironically, MLB had hoped that the "knockout'' format of the wild-card games would offer that instant drama. But win-or-go-home games carry with them a built-in disadvantage: in the span of nine innings, there isn't time to build the back-and-forth that come from a longer series.

And if the games themselves aren't instantly compelling, they call attention to inherent questions about the equity of the format. Sadly for baseball, the most noteworthy thing about the first two ''play-in'' games was a infield fly ruling by the umpires that may have precluded the Atlanta Braves from mounting a late-inning comeback.

But there was no denying the quality of the games that followed.

Perhaps the competitive nature of the Division Series games are a reflection of the parity that exists in the game. There were no clear absolute favorites heading into the post-season this fall, and now that there are only four teams remaining, that's still the case.

Before 2011, there had been 64 Division Series since 1995 and only 14 had gone the maximum five games. In the last two Octobers, however, seven of the last eight first round games have gone the distance.

If that's a preview of things to come, baseball wouldn't argue.

A record-setting day for Tom Brady

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A record-setting day for Tom Brady

There was no postseason clunker for Tom Brady Sunday. In fact, his performance Sunday was one of the best of his NFL record 24 playoff wins. 

PATRIOTS 33, STEELERS 9

Brady completed 32 of 42 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. His passing yard total is a Patriots postseason record. 

No. 12’s dominance helped Chris Hogan set a Patriots postseason record with 180 receiving yards on nine catches. Two of his grabs went for touchdowns, including a 39-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker in the second quarter. 

The previous Pats' postseason record was held by Deion Branch, who had 153 receiving yards in the Patriots' divisional round loss to the Broncos in the 2005 season.

Hogan’s performance ranks tied for 17th all-time in terms of receiving yards in a postseason game. The record is still safely held by former Bills receiver Eric Moulds, who had 240 receiving yards on Jan. 2, 1999 in a loss to the Dolphins. 

Hogan wasn’t the only Pats receiver to finish with gaudy numbers. Julian Edelman had eight catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. 

Game notes: Patriots 36, Steelers 17

Game notes: Patriots 36, Steelers 17

FOXBORO -- Notes from the Patriots' 36-17 victory over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game:

PATRIOTS 33, STEELERS 9

-- The Patriots are headed to their ninth Super Bowl, most in NFL history. The Cowboys, Broncos and Steelers have each been to eight.

-- The Patriots are now 9-4 in AFC Championship Games, including 6-1 in games played in Foxboro and 5-1 at Gillette Stadium.

-- The Patriots are now 3-0 against the Steelers in AFC Championship Games, and 4-1 overall against Pittsburgh in the playoffs.

-- The Patriots are 31-19 in postseason games, including 20-4 at home (3-1 at Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium, 17-3 at Gillette).

-- The Patriots won their 31st postseason game tonight, moving them past the 49ers into fourth place on the list of all-time playoff victories in NFL history. They trail the Cowboys (34), Steelers (34) and Packers (32).

 -- The Patriots' .620 winning percentage (31-19) in postseason games is now second-best in NFL history, behind the Ravens (15-8, .652). The Packers' loss today drops them to third (34-22, .607).

-- The Patriots have now won eight conference championships with Robert Kraft as owner, setting an NFL for most conference titles in the Super Bowl. Kraft had been tied with the Denver Broncos' Pat Bowler at seven.

-- Bill Belichick is now 25-10 in postseason games as a head coach and is in a tie with Bill Walsh (10-4) for third place on the NFL list of best postseason coaching winning percentage. Vince Lombardi (9-1, .900) is in first place and Tom Flores (8-3. .727) is second.

-- Belichick is advancing to his seventh Super Bowl as a head coach, most in NFL history. He had been tied with Don Shula at six. Belichick's Super Bowl record is 4-2, Shula's is 2-4.

-- Tom Brady had his ninth three-touchdown-pass postseason game, tying Joe Montana for the NFL record.

-- Stephen Gostkowski, who entered the game with 142 career postseason points, scored 12 points today and moved past Gary Anderson into third place on the NFL's all-time list of kicking points in the postseason. Adam Vinatieri (234) is first and David Akers (175) is second.