Chargers take advantage of Dalton’s mistakes to set up meeting with Denver
Luck is with Colts in amazing comeback win over Chiefs
Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck stretches out to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter of their NFl wild-card play-off game against Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images
The San Diego Chargers took full advantage of a second half meltdown by the Cincinnati Bengals to claim a 27-10 AFC wild card win on Sunday and move onto the divisional playoffs against the Denver Broncos.
Trailing 10-7 at the half, the Chargers made Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton pay dearly for his miscues, two interceptions and a fumble, to hand Cincinnati their first home loss this season.
For the AFC North champion it was another shocking end to a promising season as their run without a playoff win extended to a painful 24 years.
Andrew Luck threw four touchdowns as the Indianapolis Colts kicked off the National Football League post-season with a pulsating 45-44 comeback wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.
Trailing 38-10 in the third quarter on their home pitch, the AFC South champions climbed off the ropes led by Luck, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to end the Chiefs’ Cinderella season and send the Colts through to the divisional round against either the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots.
“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. “Twenty-one points at the half wasn’t enough so we thought we would give them another seven just to make it interesting.”
The Chiefs, a league worst 2-14 a year ago, had looked poised to claim their first play-off win in 20 years until Luck, the former number one overall pick, went to work, engineering one of the all-time NFL play-off comebacks. Only two teams have ever rallied from 28-point deficits to get the win.
It marked the eighth consecutive post-season defeat for the Chiefs, breaking the record they had shared with the Detroit Lions.
Luck had looked more the goat than the hero after tossing three interceptions but recovered with three second-half touchdown passes, including a 64-yard strike to TY Hilton with just over four minutes to play to give the Colts their first lead of the day at 45-44.
“It was a total team effort – defensively, special teams, offensively,” said Luck, who completed 29 of 45 attempts for 443 yards in his first career post-season win. “We never panicked, played it one play at a time.
“It felt like for a moment out there I was trying to lose the game for us. I felt like I was letting the team down.
“I’m happy that they stuck by me and trusted in me. Guys stepped up, everybody stepped up.”
The game was a tale of two halves with the Chiefs dominating the opening two quarters and the Colts the last two, outscoring Kansas City 35-13.
Chiefs’ hopes for a win looked bleak early when running back Jamaal Charles, a league most valuable player candidate, was knocked out of the contest with a possible concussion.
The Colts answered right back, Luck enjoying a perfect start to the contest, hitting all seven passes including a 10-yard touchdown strike to Hilton.
The rest of the first half, however, was dominated by the Chiefs, Smith tossing three of his four touchdown passes.
Kansas City seized control by scoring a pair of touchdowns in opening two minutes of the second quarter to race in front 24-7 and leave the Indy crowd stunned.
First, Smith spotted Donnie Avery wide open in behind the Indianapolis secondary and unloaded a 79-yard bomb to the speedster.
The Kansas City defence set up another score, forcing a Trent Richardson fumble on the Indianapolis 17 and the Chiefs quickly made the Colts pay, Anthony Sherman hauling in a five-yard shuttle pass from Smith.
After a Colts field goal, the Chiefs wrapped up a spectacular first half with Charles’s backup Knile Davis diving over from the four to give the visitors a commanding 31-10 advantage going into the intermission.
Luck opened the second half throwing his second interception and again the Chiefs capitalized, Davis collecting his second touchdown grabbing a 10-yard pass.
But the Chiefs offense would only add a pair of Ryan Succop field goals the rest of the way as the momentum swung to the Colts.
Donald Brown ran for a touchdown and pulled in a three-yard Luck pass for another.
Luck also ran in for a score and Coby Fleener caught another touchdown.
“Compliments to Colts for coming back,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “They did a nice job in the second half. They deserved to win for the way that they played.”
The New Orleans Saints beat the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 in Saturday’s other game to end a road jinx with their first play-off win away from home in the history of the franchise.
Shayne Graham kicked a 32-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights for the winning score as the clock hit zero less than five minutes after the Eagles took a 24-23 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to tight end Zach Ertz.
The winning drive was set up by a 39-yard kickoff return by Darren Sproles extended by a 15-yard penalty for a horse-collar tackle that put the ball on Philadelphia 48-yard line.
Drew Brees completed 20 of 30 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown, while Mark Ingram ran for 97 yards on 18 carries for New Orleans, who controlled the line of scrimmage in gaining 185 yards rushing.
“We know what type of team we are,” Brees told reporters. “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.”
On the other side of the ball, the Saints defence stifled the prolific running game of the Eagles, holding NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy to 77 yards on 21 carries and yielding only three other yards on the ground.
New Orleans, who had lost all five of their previous road play-off games since joining the NFL in 1967, will travel to Seattle to play the top-seeded NFC West champion Seahawks next week.
Despite their lack of success away from their climate-controlled Superdome home, Saints coach Sean Payton said his team was supremely confident.
“I think there was a resolve,” Payton said. “I think our players thought coming in here tonight there was no way we were going to leave without winning this game.”
Despite a snowstorm that hit the area on Friday and sub-freezing temperatures, the lack of wind and relatively solid footing presented a fair playing field for both teams.
“I thought the weather was pretty good all things considered,” Payton added. “Hardly any wind at all.”
As far as the charge against the Saints as a team that loses big games on the road, Payton said: “I told the players, ‘you carry your own history. That stereotype can come with a team that plays inside.’ But we travelled pretty well tonight.”
Eagles first-year coach Chip Kelly said the field position gained by the Saints on the last kick-off was a killer, but that he considered the season a success.
“I told them I was proud of them, for us being together for such a short time, and how they acted and how they came to work every single day. I just thanked them for that.”
The hard-fought contest included four lead changes before Graham connected on his fourth field goal to clinch victory.
After a scoreless opening quarter between the two offensive-minded teams, the Saints got on the scoreboard first on a 36-yard field goal by Graham for a 3-0 lead.
Eagles quarterback Foles hit Riley Cooper with a 10-yard touchdown strike to jump ahead 7-3 before a 46-yard field by Graham closed the gap to 7-6 at halftime.
The Saints took charge in the third quarter. Brees connected with Lance Moore on a 24-yard score less than five minutes after the intermission to put New Orleans ahead 13-7.
Running back Ingram, carrying the weight with Pierre Thomas sidelined with a back injury, bulled into the end zone from four yards out to cap an eight-play, 66-yard drive for a 20-7 lead.
Philadelphia fought back, and just before the end of the quarter, NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy plunged in from one yard out to finish a 65-yard drive and cut the deficit to 20-14.
The Eagles’ Alex Henery booted a 31-yard field goal to draw within 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, before the Saints made it a six-point game with a 35-yard kick by Graham.
Foles gave the home crowd reason to roar when he sidearmed a go-ahead touchdown pass to Ertz with 4:54 remaining but the crowd of nearly 70,000 was silenced as the Saints marched down the field to set up their winning field goal.