Peyton Manning will face the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL play-offs for the first time in his career after his former team easily overcame the Cincinnati Bengals in the second of the weekend's two AFC wild card games yesterday.
In spite of a strong start by the Bengals, the Colts dominated from the second quarter onwards to seal a 26-10 victory and advance to the divisional showdown in Denver.
A touchdown each from Daniel Herron and Donte Moncrief in the first and third quarters combined with four field goals from veteran Adam Vinatieri helped the home team set up next weekend's clash with the Broncos.
Manning won his one and only Super Bowl during his 14-season career at the Colts but now he will have to hope the Broncos' home advantage next Sunday evening will be enough to repel the offensive power of his successor Andrew Luck.
For the fourth year in a row, the Bengals failed to advance past the first round of the play-offs while the Colts will face the Super Bowl runners-up in what will be a repeat of their opening day clash this season, a game which ended in a 31-24 defeat for Chuck Pagano's Colts.
Meanwhile Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, battered by the Baltimore Ravens pass rush in a 30-17 playoff defeat, put the blame for Saturday's loss on his own shoulders and issued an apology.
“Every time you turn the ball over it's frustrating,” an emotional Roethlisberger told reporters after throwing a pair of interceptions in a wildcard loss at home that ended Pittsburgh's season. “That's why I want to apologise to the fans, to my team mates, to the organisation, the Rooneys (owners), the coaches. It's frustrating and I wish I could apologise individually to everybody.”
Roethlisberger, winner of two Super Bowl titles with the Steelers, completed 31 of 45 passes for 334 yards but managed just one touchdown throw against a Ravens defense that grew stronger the closer the Steelers came to the end zone.
“I didn't play well enough, didn't play well enough to win,” he said.
“Guys look at me as the leader and as the quarterback to make plays and to do what it takes to win the football game and I don't believe I did that today.”
Roethlisberger posted career highs this season with 32 touchdown passes, a 67.1 completion percentage, and an average of 309.5 passing yards per game in leading the NFL's second-ranked offense to the AFC North title.
But with brilliant running back Le'Veon Bell out with a hyper-extended knee, the Steelers had trouble moving the ball on the ground and became one dimensional.
The ferocious Ravens sacked Roethlisberger five times and sent the big quarterback to the sidelines late in the fourth quarter to be checked for a possible concussion after slamming his head on the turf after a hit.
Roethlisberger said the fill ins - two rookies and an NFL veteran signed five days ago - were not to blame.
“I tip my hat to those three guys that played. For guys that didn't really have any reps (repetitions) all year in live action other than practice, I thought they ran hard, that they protected when they had to.
“I take my hat off to the way those guys played. They played their butts off. That's not on them.”
Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers scored twice in less than two minutes on Cam Newton touchdown passes in the third quarter and rode a powerful defence to a 27-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wildcard playoff game.
The triumph was Newton's first playoff win and the first victory in the postseason for the Panthers since the 2005 season and it came largely thanks to Carolina's defence and a strong performance from their quarterback.
“I told my team-mates, no matter what, hell or high water I am going to give them everything I've got and that is what I tried to show today,” Newton, who finished with 198 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception, told reporters.
Carolina will now play at either the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round next weekend.
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