The Wild-Card weekend narrowed things down for teams still in the AFC and NFC playoff picture.
The Saints and Chargers–the respective AFC and NFC sixth-seed teams–won their games, giving new meaning to the phrase, “just get in”–to the playoffs.
Divisional Playoffs: Saturday, Jan.11:
New Orleans at Seattle, 4:35 p.m. (FOX)
Indianpolis at New England, 8:15 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Jan. 12:
San Diego at Denver, 4:40 p.m. (CBS)
San Francisco at Carolina, 1:05 p.m. (FOX)
Conference Championships: Sunday, Jan. 19:
NFC, 6:30 p.m. (FOX)
AFC, 3 p.m. (CBS)
Pro Bowl: Saturday, Jan. 26, in Honolulu:
Super Bowl: Sunday, Feb. 2, at East Rutherford, N.J.
TBD, 7:30 p.m. (NBC)
AFC champion vs. NFC champion, 6:30 p.m. (FOX)
The NFL scores for the first Wild-Card games this weekend have been compiled:
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, 23, GREEN BAY PACKERS, 20
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS, 27, CINCINNATI BENGALS, 10
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 45, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 44
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 26, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers coach Ron Rivera is expecting a few more big plays from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick this time around.
Rivera says that Kaepernick “didn’t play that well” against Carolina in a regular-season matchup on Nov. 10. The Panthers limited the third-year quarterback to 91 yards passing, 16 yards rushing and no touchdowns in a 10-9 win over the 49ers at Candlestick Park.
On Sunday, the two teams meet in the NFC divisional playoffs in Charlotte, N.C., and Rivera expects Kaepernick will be on his game — and make it that much tougher on his defense.
“I don’t expect that again,” Rivera said Monday. “I expect the young man to come out and play well. He’s a good football player and he showed it (Sunday) night” against Green Bay.
The 49ers have won six straight games, including a 23-20 playoff win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Kaepernick threw for 223 yards and a touchdown and ran for 98 yards against the Packers.
Over the past six games, Kaepernick has elevated his play, averaging 231 yards passing per game with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Rivera says the 49ers are a much better team than they played back in November.
“All you have to do is watch the way he has played down the stretch,” Rivera said. “We caught them at a good time and it turned out in our benefit.”
Kaepernick was without wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the last meeting and tight end Vernon Davis left early in the game with a concussion. Crabtree had eight catches for 125 yards in the win over Green Bay.
Mario Manningham led the 49ers with 30 yards receiving in the last game against Carolina and San Francisco’s longest pass play went for 14 yards. The 49ers managed just 10 first downs against Carolina and failed to get into the end zone.
“We owe them,” Kaepernick said Sunday of the Panthers.
San Francisco’s win over Green Bay served as a stark reminder of what not to do while defending Kaepernick.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott pointed to a crucial moment on the final drive when the outside edge rusher lost containment and Kaepernick scooted free for an 11-yard gain on third-and-8. Five plays later Phil Dawson kicked the winning field goal as time expired.
McDermott said his defense did a nice job of staying in their rushing lanes and keeping Kaepernick in the pocket last time around, sacking him six times.
He said that will be key on Sunday, too.
“I thought our guys played aggressive up front,” McDermott said. “We played discipline. The coverage was good enough at times to get him to hold the ball.”
Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards also stressed the importance of not trying to do too much outside of the scheme.
“Our defensive ends can’t get too far past the quarterback or he takes off and it gives him huge lanes,” Edwards said. “It’s important that everyone stays in their lanes and when someone does get out of their lane we have to cover that up quickly.”
McDermott said the last game against the 49ers felt like an old school NFC playoff slugfest.
But like Rivera, he’s not so sure it will be such a low-scoring affair this time around.
“You just never know in the playoffs,” McDermott said. “You saw the scores this past weekend. You had some halves where teams were completely shut down, and then they came out and exploded. … I’m sure they’re a better football team and I’d like to believe we’re a better football team as well.”
SAN DIEGO (AP) — To keep their improbable playoff run going, the San Diego Chargers will have to beat Peyton Manning in January for the third time in seven seasons.
The Chargers won 27-10 at Cincinnati on Sunday to earn a shot at Manning and the top-seeded Denver Broncos on Sunday, the first time the AFC West rivals have met in the postseason.
When Manning was with Indianapolis, the Chargers eliminated the Colts from the playoffs in the 2007 and ’08 seasons.
Manning has beaten the Chargers three of four times since joining the Broncos, although the Chargers pulled a shocker in Denver last month.
“It’s tough to say you’re confident knowing what you’re going against. You don’t want to take that the wrong way,” Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle said Monday. “Do we believe we can win? Yes. Do we know what a tough challenge it is and how great we have to play? Yeah. It’s not just because it’s happened in the past it’s going to happen. You still have to play at a high level and do the things necessary as a team to win.”
The Chargers beat Manning and the Colts in a divisional playoff game after the 2007 season, with Weddle getting one of San Diego’s two interceptions. In 2008, the Chargers won the AFC West at 8-8 and hosted the Colts in a wild-card game, winning on Darren Sproles’ 22-yard run in overtime.
Until Sunday’s win in Cincinnati, that had been the Chargers’ last playoff victory.
“I’ve always appreciated and look forward to, as a fan of his growing up, to go against a Peyton Manning-led team,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Obviously, I and our offense is playing that defense, so I’ve never felt like I was playing him, but it’s always awesome and exciting. The teams that we’ve both been on have had awesome games, and games have come down to the wire, overtime playoff games and our two games this year were really tight.
“I know they got a big lead in the first one, but we had a chance late, and we were able to win last time there. So it’s going to be what you’d expect, I’m sure. It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be what playoff football is meant to be.”
The Broncos beat the Chargers 28-20 in San Diego on Nov. 10. That came during a stretch of four losses in five games that dropped San Diego to 5-7.
The Chargers stunned the Broncos 27-20 at Denver on Dec. 12 during a four-game winning streak that, coupled with a lot of help from other teams, allowed the Bolts to sneak off with the AFC’s final playoff berth.
With Ryan Mathews running for 127 yards, the Chargers kept Manning on the sideline most of the game. When the Broncos had the ball, San Diego’s defense frustrated Manning.
So now the Chargers go back to Denver to face a record-setting offense led by Manning, who setNFL records with 55 TD passes and 5,447 yards through the air.
“Well, we have been the underdog all year,” Weddle said. “I have been the underdog my whole life, so it is no different. We are out to continue to believe in ourselves. The great thing about this team is the struggles and the ups and downs have really molded us into what we are right now, which is a confident belief in each other. We are going to stick by each other. We really have a sense and a belief that we are us and we could care less what the outside thinks of us.
“It’s great to be a part of, because we know everyone is focused on each other and getting better and ultimately to play the best we can. When you are worried about the outside, your play suffers and it clouds your mind a little bit. It has been a joy to be a part of this team and to see our growth. We have an ultimate challenge this week, but we are excited for it.”
Rivers said the Chargers need to remember how hard and well they played on both sides of the ball at Denver last month and how they capitalized inside the 20.
“All those things are the reasons we won. We didn’t just go in there and win. So it’s going to be hard,” Rivers said. “They’re a No. 1 seed for a reason. This is a heck of a team and it’s rare to play an opponent three times in a season and being a division opponent, one we know well, they know us well. It’s going to be awesome.”