American Football: Seahawks and Jets advance as champions suffer shock wildcard exit
IT was a night of shocks in the NFL wildcard play-offs at the weekend as champions New Orleans Saints and Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts -- who the Saints beat in the Super Bowl final last February -- crashed out.
There were wild celebrations in Seattle as the Seahawks stunned the Saints 41-36 to pull off one of the biggest upsets in play-off history, coming back from 17-7 down to clinch victory.
The holders' defence struggled, giving up three touchdown passes and a magnificent 67-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown by Marshawn Lynch that secured the victory for a Seahawks team that won the NFC West with a 7-9 record.
"In the end, we just weren't good enough," said Saints coach Sean Payton, who enjoyed being the giantkiller last year, but on Saturday found himself the slain Goliath.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a Seattle team that no one believed deserved to be in the post-season pulled off a win that proved they belonged in the play-offs.
Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes and Lynch scored on an electrifying run with three minutes, 22 seconds on the clock. The Seahawks held a 34-20 lead early in the fourth quarter but quarterback Drew Brees looked ready to lead the Saints (11-6) on one of their patented comebacks.
However, Lynch's touchdown finished off the Saints. Seattle, the first division winner with a losing record, will play next weekend, either at top-seeded Atlanta or No 2 Chicago.
Hasselbeck, cleared to play shortly beforehand because of a hip injury, threw for 272 yards and his four TD passes set a play-off career high. The veteran quarterback threw two touchdown passes to tight-end John Carlson in the first half and started the second half with a 38-yard pass to Mike Williams to give Seattle a 31-20 lead.
The game wasn't clinched until Lynch provided a run that'll be replayed in the Pacific Northwest for years. He took a second-down carry with less than four minutes to go and then the highlights began.
Lynch broke six tackles on the 67-yard run, tossing in a stiff arm that sent cornerback Tracy Porter to the turf and completed the longest scoring run of his career.
"We've been there, but we just haven't been able to put it together for four quarters. We had just one turnover and we executed," wide receiver Brandon Storkley said.
"I learned a long time ago you don't take anyone for granted. In the NFL anyone can win on any given Sunday and we brought out the 'A' game."
Last year's beaten finalists, the Indianapolis Colts crashed out at the hands of the New York Jets.
Nick Folk booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Jets to a heart-stopping 17-16 win over the home team, and set up another daunting away trip to the New England Patriots -- who beat them 45-3 in the normal season -- next Sunday.
Coach Rex Ryan, who previously had won only one match from six attempts against Manning, was over the moon with his side's performance.
"It feels awesome because this is the play-offs and we're moving on," he said. "He (Manning) is the best and he almost did it to us again.
"We've got to tip our hat to our offence. It was unbelievable. We totally dominated the second half offensively. On defence, we had to hold serve. Against Peyton, you're not going to stop him completely, but our guys played well enough to get it done and keep him out of the end zone."
The Colts beat the Jets for the AFC title a year ago and thought they had done so again Saturday when Adam Vinatieri made a 50-yard field goal with 53 seconds to go.
But Antonio Cromartie returned the ensuing kick-off 47 yards and Mark Sanchez needed five plays to get the Jets into position for the winner.
Manning was 18 of 26 for 225 yards and one TD, and got Vinatieri, considered the best clutch kicker in league history, in position with an eight-play, 48-yard drive in the final three minutes.
But he left 53 seconds on the clock for New York. After Braylon Edwards made a leaping 18-yard catch to take the Jets to the Colts' 14, Folk's kick went right down the middle.
"Any time you lose on a last-second field goal, it certainly stings," Manning said.
Jets tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, considered washed up by some before the season, carried 16 times for 82 yards and scored on two one-yard runs. "It's emotional, exciting and all those things at once," Tomlinson said. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight against a great team."
The Colts actually helped the Jets' winning drive by calling timeout with 29 seconds remaining and with the ball at the Indianapolis 32. Sanchez passed to Edwards on the next play, a high pass to the right sideline before Folk trotted on and won it.
Meanwhile, last night's play-off game saw the Baltimore Ravens cruise past the Kansas City Chiefs with a comprehensive 30-7 victory.