Fantastic finishes keep 49ers, Saints, Colts alive in playoffs


GREEN BAY — For the second straight postseason, San Francisco is responsible for sending Green Bay packing.

Phil Dawson drilled a 33-yard field goal as time expired to lift the 49ers to a 23-20 victory over the Packers in the Wild Card Round of the NFC playoffs from the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Mason Crosby connected on a game-tying 24-yard field goal with just over five minutes to play, but Colin Kaepernick utilized his arm and his legs to move San Francisco down the field. The dual-threat quarterback converted a 3rd-and-10 from his own 31 with a 17- yard strike to Michael Crabtree before scurrying 11 yards to the Green Bay 27 on 3rd-and-8 with just over a minute remaining.

Frank Gore then carried the ball on the next three plays, including a 3-yard plunge on 3rd-and-3 that gave San Francisco a fresh set of downs at the 17. Following another Gore run, the 49ers let the clock run down before calling a timeout with two seconds left to set the stage for Dawson’s game-winning kick.

Kaepernick completed 16-of-30 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown with an interception while rushing for 98 yards on seven carries for the red-hot 49ers, who will carry their seven-game win streak into Carolina for Sunday’s Divisional Playoff round matchup with the Panthers.

“It was amazing to get the win today,” Kaepernick said. “We came back, we fought, we played hard.”

Aaron Rodgers returned from a seven-game absence to lead Green Bay to a Week 17 win over Chicago that secured the NFC North crown for the Packers, but the Green Bay quarterback was unable to get revenge for last year’s Divisional Playoff round loss to the 49ers despite a solid effort.

Rodgers finished 17-of-26 passing for 177 yards and a touchdown, while fullback John Kuhn added a 1-yard TD run in the setback.

San Diego 27, Cincinnati 10

CINCINATI — The Chargers snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season with a little help from the Bengals, and San Diego unabashedly gave thanks by continuing Cincinnati’s postseason misery on Sunday.

Philip Rivers played mistake-free ball and the plucky Chargers took advantage of three second-half turnovers from Andy Dalton to knock off the favored Bengals, 27-10, in the Wild Card Round of the AFC playoffs.

Dalton got sloppy when a mix of rain and snow began falling at Paul Brown Stadium, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble that the Bengals, who have not won a postseason game since 1991, couldn’t overcome. It was the first loss at home by Cincinnati the entire season. Rivers threw for a modest 128 yards but tossed a go-ahead touchdown pass to Ladarius Green in the third quarter that started a string of 20 unanswered points that earned San Diego a trip to Denver next Sunday to face the top-seeded Broncos.

New Orleans 26, Philadelphia 24

PHILADELPHIA — The New Orleans Saints turned to their run game and drastically improved defense in frigid Philadelphia and ended their road hex in the playoffs.

It won’t get easier next week in rowdy Seattle.

Shayne Graham nailed a game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired and the Saints defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 in the NFC Wild Card Round on Saturday night.

After Eagles quarterback Nick Foles flipped a go-ahead 3-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 4:54 left, Drew Brees converted two key third downs with a pair of quarterback sneaks on the ensuing Saints possession.

Graham, who replaced Garrett Hartley last month, then kicked New Orleans to its first road playoff win in six tries since coming into the NFL in 1967.

“I felt comfortable and confident and luckily got bombarded on the field after the play and it was a great feeling,” Graham said.

The sixth-seeded Saints moved on to face the top-seeded Seahawks next Saturday afternoon in Seattle, where they lost 34-7 in Week 13.

In January 2011, the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints lost 41-36 to a 7-9 Seahawks team in Seattle in the Wild Card round.

“It’s loud, it’s crazy, they’ve got a good thing going there,” Brees said. “We’re going to need our best game, that’s for sure.”

New Orleans, which was without Pierre Thomas, totaled 185 yards rushing on 36 carries, while its defense limited Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense to just 256 yards. The NFC East-champion Eagles averaged 417.3 yards per game during the regular season.

“Defense played fantastic all game long,” Brees said.

Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan patched up and improved New Orleans’ porous defense, which became the first team in NFL history to allow over 7,000 yards of offense a year ago, after being brought in when Dallas fired him following the 2012 season. The Saints finished 2013 fourth in yards given up with 4,891.

Ingram’s 4-yard TD plunge staked New Orleans a 20-7 lead with 3:54 left in the third quarter, but the Eagles tallied the next 10 points to whittle the deficit to 20-17.

Colts 45, Chiefs 44

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts’ first postseason win in the post-Peyton Manning era had everything to do with Luck — and a little bit of Hilton as well.

Andrew Luck led the Colts back from a 28-point third-quarter deficit by orchestrating five touchdown drives in the second half, the last ending with a 64-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton that lifted Indianapolis to a wild 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round of the AFC playoffs.

After throwing three interceptions that helped put his team in a 38-10 hole, Luck carved up a usually stout Kansas City defense in orchestrating the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history. The Indy quarterback finished with four touchdown passes, ran in another score on a fumble recovery, and put up 443 yards passing while completing 29-of-45 attempts.

Hilton came up huge as well, hauling in 13 of Luck’s attempts for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns, none bigger than his go-ahead score with 4:21 remaining.

“It was one for the ages,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said afterward. “Never seen anything like it. I don’t know if we won one of the statistical battles — time of possession, third down, turnovers — I know we were probably minus-three (in turnovers) at the end of the day. But really the only one that counts and matters is the score. At the end of the day we had one more point than they had.”

The Chiefs overcame a concussion to All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles on the game’s opening drive to score on their first five poss sessions en route to building a seemingly insurmountable lead that was erased by Luck’s heroics.

Alex Smith threw four touchdown passes while going 30-of-46 for 378 yards in defeat, while Dwayne Bowe racked up 150 yards and a touchdown on eight catches in the Chiefs’ eighth straight postseason loss since Joe Montana led the franchise to a Divisional Round win during the 1993 season.

“[The Colts] found a way to make enough plays in the end and we didn’t in the fourth quarter,” said Smith.

Knile Davis compiled 100 yards from scrimmage and recorded both a rushing and receiving touchdown in Charles’ absence, but also exited the contest due to an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs appeared well on their way toward ending their 20-year postseason jinx after Husain Abdullah intercepted Luck on the first play of the second half, with the turnover leading to Smith’s 10-yard pass to Davis that put Kansas City up by a 38-10 score.

 

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