Road, sweet road.
Three teams won away games on wild-card weekend, with the San Francisco 49ers capping the victorious road shows with a 23-20 win at frigid Green Bay on Sunday.
Phil Dawson’s 33-yard field goal as the game ended lifted the defending NFC champs into the divisional round, where they will play at Carolina. That figures to be much warmer than the near-zero temperatures at Lambeau Field.
“It is not that cold,” Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “It is all mental.”
Meanwhile, the Chargers and Saints further proved the old adage for the NFL playoffs: “Just Get In.”
San Diego took away the ball four times in a 27-10 win at Cincinnati on Sunday that extended the Bengals’ losing ways in the post-season to 23 years. The Chargers outscored Cincinnati 20-0 in the second half, handing the Bengals their first home loss this season.
The Chargers next play at AFC top seed Denver next Sunday.
On Saturday, NFC sixth seed New Orleans won 26-24 at Philadelphia. The last time both sixth seeds won was 2010, when the Packers wound up winning the Super Bowl. New Orleans got its first road playoff victory since entering the league in 1967.
The only home winner, Indianapolis staged a sensational comeback against Kansas City to win 45-44 Saturday.
The Saints visit top-seeded Seattle, where they lost 34-7 during the season, next Saturday. The Colts go to New England, the AFC’s No. 2 seed, next Saturday night.
49ers 23, Packers 20
At Green Bay, Kaepernick threw for 227 yards and ran for another 98. Kaepernick escaped a blitz on third-and-8 and scrambled for an 11-yard gain to the 27 with 1:13 left. The 49ers (13-4) ran down the clock and the 15-year veteran, in his first season in San Francisco, made the winner.
Mason Crosby’s 24-yard field goal tied it at 20 for the Packers (8-8-1) with 5:06 left.
San Francisco has won seven straight. Next up, the NFC South champion Panthers, who beat the 49ers 10-9 on Nov. 10 at San Francisco.
“They got us the first time,” All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman said, “we needed to get them this time.”
Chargers 27, Bengals 10
At Cincinnati, San Diego, which has won five straight, barely got into the playoffs, needing an overtime victory against Kansas City’s subs last weekend. Now, the Chargers (10-7) head to AFC top-seeded Denver (13-3), where they won 27-20 last month — the Broncos’ only home loss this season. The original AFL teams have never met in the playoffs.
“We talked all week about this being the fifth round,” quarterback Philip Rivers said, “so the sixth round will be in Denver next week. We know Denver is a great team … we’ll be ready for the challenge. Go see if we can score one more point than they can.”
The Chargers also avenged their most recent loss, a 17-10 home defeat to Cincinnati, which finished 11-6 but is 0-5 in the post-season under coach Marvin Lewis.
Saints 26, Eagles 24
At Philadelphia, Shayne Graham gave his 10th team something to celebrate with four field goals, including a 32-yarder on the final play to win. New Orleans had been 0-5 on the road in the post-season, but a strong running game, solid defence and the leadership of Drew Brees.
“As much as we hate hearing that talk, we kind of brought it on ourselves,” Brees said of questions about the Saints (12-5) winning on the road and in the cold — whether during the season or in the playoffs. “We lost our last three on the road.”
Thanks to Graham, who was signed 2 1/2 weeks ago when longtime kicker Garrett Hartley was released, they get a chance to start on playoff winning streak away from the Big Easy.
“It really doesn’t matter happened last year or any years past,” Brees said. “We’re not living off the glory or the mistakes of the past.”
The Eagles (10-7) went from last to first in the NFC East under first-year coach Chip Kelly and have plenty to build around.
“I know that this season is over, but we’re going to keep working and growing as a team,” said quarterback Nick Foles, who led the NFL in passer rating. “I love playing here, I love this city, I love this team, and I love this organization because I know the heart of it. The heart of it is the heart of Philadelphia. Like Coach Kelly said, ’We fight,’ and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Colts 45, Chiefs 44
At Indianapolis, the Colts (12-5) staged one of the NFL’s greatest comebacks. Andrew Luck, showing the touch and poise of, well, Peyton Manning in previous years in Indy, threw three of his four touchdowns in the second half. Luck also scored on a fumble return, and connected with a wide-open T.Y. Hilton on a 64-yard pass. Adam Vinatieri, who knows something about big post-season kicks, made the extra point for the winning edge.
Indy trailed 38-10 in the third quarter.
“I don’t know what level it is, but he sure went to another one,” coach Chuck Pagano said of Luck. “He’s a guy that is able to put things behind him in a hurry.”
Kansas City (11-6), which began the season 9-0, will have a tough time putting this loss behind it.
“Any time you’re leading like that and then have them battle back and then take it and losing by a point is a tough pill to swallow,” Chiefs QB Alex Smith said.