The Biggest Game-Changing Plays of NFL Conference Championships

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2013

The Biggest Game-Changing Plays of NFL Conference Championships

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    The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens are headed to Super Bowl XLVII, and there was no lack of game-changing plays in the conference championship games that got them there. 

    Just like the rounds leading up to the AFC and NFC Championships, there were several big plays that altered the outcome of the games and helped to determine which teams would go on to represent each conference on the NFL's biggest stage. 

    We'll identify the most important plays from each conference championship and rank them in order of importance.

    Let's take a look. 

8. Julio Jones Starts the NFC Championship off with a Bang

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    Early in the first quarter of the NFC Championship, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones slipped behind the San Francisco 49ers' secondary and found himself wide open. 

    Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan identified the error and found Jones for a 46-yard touchdown pass

    The Ryan-Jones touchdown connection was not the last time the two would be putting points on the board in an eventual loss. However, the first was the most important as it gave Atlanta the momentum early and gave them the lead at home. 

7. Stevan Ridley Fumbles the Patriots' Chances Away

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    The New England Patriots found themselves down only eight points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship despite being massively outplayed by the Baltimore Ravens. 

    Quarterback Tom Brady and Co. were beginning to put a nice drive together that looked as if it were going to end with some points on the board. 

    That is, until running back Stevan Ridley fumbled the football after being rocked by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. 

    The end result was the Patriots losing any and all momentum, and eventually the game. 

6. Tony Gonzalez Ends the First Half in a Big Way

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    The Atlanta Falcons were holding on to just a three-point lead with time winding down in the first half of the NFC Championship. 

    That changed quickly, as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan found tight end Tony Gonzalez for a 10-yard touchdown connection

    Gonzalez's touchdown put the Falcons up by 10 with the San Francisco 49ers receiving the ball first in the second half. It was a critical moment as the 49ers had come storming back and had all the momentum. 

    Atlanta may have went on to lose, but Gonzalez's final touchdown in a Hall of Fame career changed the complexion of the game. 

5. Dannell Ellerbe Intercepts Tom Brady

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    The New England Patriots were putting together a great offensive drive late in the AFC Championship while down 28-13. There was just enough time to score and potentially get the ball back and make it competitive again. 

    Approaching the red zone, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had his pass tipped at the line of scrimmage, which Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was more than happy to intercept

    The interception was a difficult one for Ellerbe, who had a cast on his hand, but he came through for Baltimore. Had he not intercepted the pass, the Patriots may be headed to Super Bowl XLVII. 

    Instead, Ellerbe and the Ravens are making the trip to the big game. 

4. Michael Crabtree Fumbles Away a Touchdown

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    San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree had a massive game the week before his team took on the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship. 

    He may have helped the 49ers get there, but he did quite the opposite against the Falcons. 

    The 49ers were down 24-21 in the fourth quarter when Colin Kaepernick connected with Crabtree, who subsequently attempted to fight his way into the end zone. Crabtree reached the goal line, and then fumbled and lost the football before crossing the plane of the end zone. 

    Rather than scoring a touchdown, the Falcons ended up with the football and the momentum once more. 

3. Dennis Pitta Puts the Ravens Ahead for Good

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    The Baltimore Ravens were locked in a defensive struggle with the New England Patriots until the third quarter. 

    The Ravens offense put together a great drive midway through the third quarter, but still found themselves down by three points. Quarterback Joe Flacco found one of his favorite targets, tight end Dennis Pitta, for a five-yard touchdown to give Baltimore the lead

    Pitta put a great move on the defender to free himself for the score, but credit Flacco for trusting him. The score gave the Ravens a brief lead that they would never look back on, allowing them to play one final game. 

2. Frank Gore Puts the Atlanta Falcons Away with a Late Touchdown

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    The San Francisco 49ers defense did not allow the Atlanta Falcons to score in the second half of the NFC Championship. Even then, the 49ers were still trailing, 24-21. 

    The offense held up its end of the bargain in the fourth quarter as running back Frank Gore rumbled into the end zone from nine yards out to give the 49ers a 28-24 lead. 

    Gore's second touchdown of the day ended up sealing the deal, sending the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. 

1. Anquan Boldin Propels the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl

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    The Baltimore Ravens were clutching dearly to a one-point lead over the New England Patriots going into the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship. 

    The lead was extended in the blink of an eye. 

    Quarterback Joe Flacco took the snap to begin the fourth quarter and found receiver Anquan Boldin for an acrobatic touchdown catch that put the Ravens up, 21-13. 

    It would not be the only time Boldin found the end zone in the final quarter, but it was the score that solidified the fact the Ravens were moving on to Super Bowl XLVII. 

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