Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is congratulated by wide receiver Griff Whalen (17) after scoring a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis came back from a 28-point deficit to beat Kansas City 45-44. (USA TODAY Sports: Brian Spurlock)
The divisional round of the NFL playoffs has a tough act to follow after a thrilling wild-card weekend that featured an epic comeback, two upsets and extreme cold temperatures.
Three of four games were decided by three points or less, including two by field goals on the final play over a weekend that saw the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers advance.
But bigger hurdles await this weekend as each conference’s top seed enters the mix with the NFC’s Seattle Seahawks hosting the Saints on Saturday while Peyton Manning and the AFC’s Denver Broncos welcome red-hot San Diego on Sunday.
In the two other divisional round playoff games, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots host the Colts on Saturday while the 49ers visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Wild card weekend lived up to its name with a gridiron feast packed with drama, breathtaking comebacks and meltdowns that will be hard to top.
But with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Manning, Brady and Brees in action alongside their counterparts in Seattle (Russell Wilson), San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick), Carolina (Cam Newton) and Indianapolis (Andrew Luck), the stage is set for even bigger fireworks with a berth in the conference championships at stake.
Wild card weekend began with a comeback for the ages as the Colts became just the second playoff team to rally from a 28-point deficit for a 45-44 victory that ended a Cinderella season for a Chiefs team that went 2-14 last year.
“Obviously an incredible victory, a great team victory, one for the ages I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters.
The Chargers, whose playoff hopes seemed all but dead a month ago, took full advantage of a second-half meltdown by the favored Bengals to claim a 27-10 win.
Trailing 10-7 at halftime, the Chargers took advantage of three second-half turnovers by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton for a 27-10 victory that put their win streak at five games and marked the Bengals’ first home loss of the season.
“We know what’s ahead of us, Denver is an awesome team,” said rejuvenated Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. “We’ll be confident. It’s going to be a tough task but we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Both NFC wild-card matchups came down to the final play.
In frigid Green Bay, where the temperature at kickoff was 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 Celsius), Phil Dawson booted a 33-yard field goal to give the 49ers a last-gasp win over the Packers.
In Philadelphia, Shayne Graham kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 26-24 upset win over the Eagles and their first road playoff victory
The Saints, humiliated 34-7 by the Seahawks during the regular season, return to Seattle looking for revenge and a second straight road win while 49ers head to Charlotte also looking to avenge a regular season defeat to the Panthers.
“We know what type of team we are,” said Brees. “We know how good we can be. It was just a matter of putting it all together.
“This was great, coming on the road, in a hostile environment against one of the hottest teams in football.”