The NFC offered a wild card clash that was almost as intriguing, with the New Orleans Saints taking a 26-24 win away from the Philadelphia Eagles to set up a mouthwatering tie at top-seeded Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.
In the first of yesterday's games, the San Diego Chargers dominated the Bengals in Cincinnati to set up a visit to the Denver Broncos next Sunday. The Chargers took a scrappy 27-10 win back to California, having trailed at half-time 7-10.
However, it was the performance of Andrew Luck and the Colts which stood out and they will now travel to the New England Patriots on Saturday night with a full head of steam.
In just his second season as a professional quarterback, Luck somehow inspired his team to turn a 28-point deficit in the third quarter to a 45-44 victory at full-time, breaking the hearts of the visiting Kansas City Chiefs who opened the season with a nine-game winning streak.
Marshalled expertly by quarterback Alex Smith in the opening half, the Chiefs seemed to be cruising despite the early loss to a concussion of star running back Jamaal Charles.
Luck threw four touchdowns — three of them in the second half — and even managed to score one of his own on a fortuitous fumble return to lay the platform for an unlikely recovery.
“One for the ages,” said Colts coach Chuck Pagano afterwards “I think somebody said that it was the second-largest comeback or whatever in the history of whatever. I guess 21 wasn’t large enough at half time, so we thought we’d give them another seven, you know, just to make it interesting.”
Pagano was referring to the fact Indianapolis are now only the second play-off team to rally from such a large deficit after the Buffalo Bills came from 32 points down to beat the then Houston Oilers to win 41-38 in January, 1993.
Luck now has his first ever play-off victory in spite of throwing three interceptions which at the time looked like sending his side further into the mire. But as a couple of more injuries stripped Kansas of some influential players, Luck seized on the opportunity, delighting the home crowd of almost 67,000.
In the second game of the evening, the Saints silenced the many critics who had suggested they wouldn’t be able to win a game outdoors by defeating the Eagles on their home turf. Instead, Drew Brees guided New Orleans to a first play-off win away from the Big Easy.
Neither side managed to get their attacking options into top gear and ultimately it fell to Saints kicker Shayne Graham to convert the crucial score, displaying admirable nerve with his do-or-die attempt which eked out the two-point win with time running out.
After a low-scoring first half, the Saints finally recorded a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to lead by 13 but the Eagles clawed their way back, quarterback Nick Foles throwing a three-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz in the fourth quarter which finally spun the scoreline in Philadelphia’s favour.
But there was just enough time for Brees to lead his side back into field goal territory, allowing Graham the opportunity to keep the Saints alive for another week.