As Lovie Smith returned to the Bay area over the weekend to begin his tenure as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the event he was hired to help the team routinely attend - the NFL postseason - got off to a memorable start.
On Saturday afternoon, quarterback Andrew Luck led the Indianapolis Colts back from a 28-point second-half deficit to stun the Kansas City Chiefs, 45-44, providing the playoffs an unforgettable opener. Luck threw three costly interceptions to help build the Colts’ deep deficit, but also threw three touchdown passes after halftime and picked up a fumble from running back Donald Brown and dove in for another score. The Colts visit the New England Patriots on Saturday night.
Saturday night, the New Orleans Saints won a road playoff game for the first time in team history, edging the Philadelphia Eagles, 26-24, on a Shayne Graham field goal on the game’s final play. The day was the first ever to have two NFL postseason games decided by two points or fewer. The Saints head to Seattle to take on the NFC’s top seed Seahawks on Saturday afternoon.
Sunday’s pair of games, predictably, didn’t provide the same level of drama but were entertaining nonetheless. The San Diego Chargers, who barely made the playoffs at all, dominated the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals, turning a 10-7 halftime deficit into a 27-10 ticket to Denver to face Peyton Manning and the No. 1 seed Broncos late Sunday afternoon. The Bengals reached the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons (sound good, Bucs fans?) but failed to win a game in any of those trips.
The weekend’s finale featured the San Francisco 49ers visiting brutally cold Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers helped the Packers to a lead early in the fourth quarter, but 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick again bedeviled Green Bay with his arm and legs, engineering two scoring drives for a 23-20 victory to send San Francisco to Charlotte to play the Panthers early Sunday afternoon.
Fans can only hope the divisional round of the playoffs will offer the same sort of excitement and close finishes. For those not interested in waiting until Saturday to get their football fix, tonight’s BCS Championship Game between No. 1 Florida State and Auburn from Pasadena, Calif., will have to do.