Jan. 13, 2013
BERKELEY - Former Cal football players Tony Gonzalez and Shane Vereen played pivotal roles in NFL Playoffs Divisional Round victories for the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots on Sunday to lead their respective teams to the AFC and NFC Championship Games. Gonzalez' teammate Thomas DeCoud is the third former Golden Bear to advance to a conference title game.
Gonzalez had a 19-yard catch to set up Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal with eight seconds to go in a 30-28 win over Seattle that marked the first playoff victory of his 16-year NFL career. He also had a one-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter to give the Falcons a 10-0 lead and finished the contest with six receptions for 51 yards and the score.
"I've never cried after a win," said Gonzalez, who broke down in tears after Bryant's game-winning kick went through the uprights.
Vereen tied a franchise playoff record with three touchdowns in his first career NFL postseason game in a 41-28 win over Houston. Vereen, who was on the Patriots' roster a year ago when they reached the Super Bowl but never activated during the playoffs, caught a pair of scoring passes on throws of eight and 33 yards from Tom Brady, while running in from one-yard out for the other. Vereen finished with 124 all purpose yards, posting five receptions for 83 yards while rushing seven times for 41.
DeCoud, who also picked up his first career playoff win, started at safety for the Falcons and contributed three tackles.
Atlanta will host San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game next Sunday, January 20 (Noon PT, FOX), while New England will welcome Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game (3:30 p.m. PT, CBS). A victory by either the Falcons or Patriots will give Cal a former player on a Super Bowl roster for the 12th consecutive season.
A total of 13 former Cal players started the playoffs on an NFL roster, with 10 on teams that have been eliminated. Seven of those 10 were on teams that played in the divisional round.
Four former Cal players - Ryan Longwell, Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Mebane and Cameron Morrah - were on the Seattle squad that was defeated by Atlanta. Lynch tied the game on a two-yard run with 31 seconds and Longwell's extra point that followed appeared to give the Seahawks a 28-27 win before the Falcons' late comeback. Lynch finished with 46 yards rushing and the touchdown on 16 rushes, while adding another 37 yards on three receptions. Longwell, who was signed last Wednesday after an injury to Seahawks' starting kicker Steven Hauschka, made all four of his extra point attempts but did not have a field goal try. Mebane started on the defensive line and contributed five tackles, while Morrah is on the team's physically unable to participate (PUP) list.
Three former Cal players - Desmond Bishop, Aaron Rodgers and Jeremy Ross - were also members of the Green Bay Packers team that was defeated, 45-31, at San Francisco on Saturday. Rodgers, who was the Super Bowl MVP two seasons ago, completed 26-of-39 passes for 257 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the defeat. He also rushed three times for 28 yards. Ross played in the game, while Bishop is on the injured reserve list.
Justin Forsett was also on the Houston squad that fell to New England but did not play.
2012 NFL Championship Games (former Cal players in parenthesis)