Wednesday 13 December 2017

Luck with Colts in thrilling fightback

Gio Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals with Tourek Williams of the San Diego Chargers
Gio Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals with Tourek Williams of the San Diego Chargers

Reuters

Andrew Luck tossed four touchdowns as the Indianapolis Colts kicked off the National Football League post-season with a pulsating 45-44 comeback wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Trailing 38-10 in the third quarter, the AFC South champions climbed off the ropes led by Luck, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to end the Chiefs' Cinderella season and send the Colts through to the divisional round against either the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots.

"Obviously an incredible victory, a great team victory, one for the ages. I've never seen anything quite like it," said Colts coach Chuck Pagano.

"Twenty-one points at the half wasn't enough so we thought we would give them another seven just to make it interesting."

The Chiefs, a league worst 2-14 a year ago, had looked poised to claim their first play-off win in 20 years until Luck, the former No 1 overall pick, went to work, engineering one of the all-time NFL play-off comebacks. Only two teams have ever rallied from 28-point deficits to get the win.

It marked the eighth consecutive post-season defeat for the Chiefs, breaking the record they had shared with the Detroit Lions.

Luck had looked more the goat than the hero after tossing three interceptions but recovered with three second-half touchdown passes, including a 64-yard strike to TY Hilton with just over four minutes to play to give the Colts their first lead of the day at 45-44.

"It was a total team effort -- defensively, special teams, offensively," said Luck, who completed 29 of 45 attempts for 443 yards in his first career post-season win.

"We never panicked, played it one play at a time.

"It felt like for a moment out there I was trying to lose the game for us. I felt like I was letting the team down.

"I'm happy that they stuck by me and trusted in me. Guys stepped up, everybody stepped up."

Elsewhere, the New Orleans Saints beat the NFC East champions Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 in the wild card play-off round, ending a road jinx with their first play-off win away from home in the history of the franchise.

Shayne Graham kicked a 32-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights for the winning score as the clock hit zero less than five minutes after the Eagles took a 24-23 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to tight end Zach Ertz.

The winning drive was set up by a 39-yard kick-off return by Darren Sproles extended by a 15-yard penalty for a horse-collar tackle that put the ball on Philadelphia 48-yard line.

Drew Brees completed 20-of-30 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown, while Mark Ingram ran for 97 yards on 18 carries for New Orleans, who controlled the line of scrimmage in gaining 185 yards rushing.

"We know what type of team we are," Brees said. "We know how good we can be. It was just a matter of putting it all together.

"This was great, coming on the road, in a hostile environment against one of the hottest teams in football."

On the other side of the ball, the Saints' defense stifled the prolific running game of the Eagles, holding NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy to 77 yards on 21 carries and yielding only three other yards on the ground.

New Orleans, who had lost all five of their previous road play-off games since joining the National Football League in 1967, will travel to Seattle to play the top-seeded NFC West champion Seahawks next week.

CONFIDENT

Despite their lack of success away from their climate-controlled Superdome home, Saints coach Sean Payton said his team was supremely confident.

"I think there was a resolve," Payton said. "I think our players thought coming in here tonight there was no way we were going to leave without winning this game."

Despite a snowstorm that hit the area on Friday and sub-freezing temperatures, the lack of wind and relatively solid footing presented a fair playing field for both teams.

"I thought the weather was pretty good all things considered," Payton added. "Hardly any wind at all."

As far as the charge against the Saints as a team that loses big games on the road, Payton said: "I told the players, 'you carry your own history. That stereotype can come with a team that plays inside.' But we travelled pretty well tonight."

Eagles first-year coach Chip Kelly said the field position gained by the Saints on the last kick-off was a killer, but that he considered the season a success.

"I told them I was proud of them, for us being together for such a short time, and how they acted and how they came to work every single day. I just thanked them for that," revealed Kelly.

Irish Independent

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