Two games, two wins by home teams and two surgical performances by winning quarterbacks Drew Brees (New Orleans) and Peyton Manning (Indianapolis). Perhaps the most telling sequence of the day on Saturday came late in the first half of the Ravens-Colts game, when Baltimore had a lousy series and punted to Manning and the Colts and, well, you just knew what was going to happen.
Manning drove the Colts 64 yards in eight plays, taking 1 minute, 23 seconds off the clock. Manning took a snap with 7 seconds remaining on the clock and with no timeouts from the Baltimore 3-yard line. Now, most teams would kick a field goal there and go into the half leading 13-3 and feeling very good. But the Colts trusted Manning -- who may very well be the best quarterback to ever play in the NFL -- so much to execute the play, to make sure the clock wouldn't run out and to either score a touchdown or save a second or two for a field goal try.
Manning's touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne pushed the Colts lead to 17-3 and really ended any chance Baltimore had of winning the game.
It was a beautiful exhibition of how to play post-season football. New Orleans did what it wanted offensively against the woeful Arizona defense and routed the Cardinals. No surprise there. What caught my eye was Brees and his accuracy, his command of the offense, the way the Saints attacked an injury-riddled defense and the great "fit" of that offense. When New Orleans gets it going, who stops that offense? There are so many weapons. Brees is a master technician who gets the football out quickly, who throws a very catchable ball, who doesn't end drives. He scores touchdowns, not field goals. Brees, who was not sacked, destroyed an Arizona defense that set an NFL record for most playoff points allowed in two games.
Saturday's games also illustrated the importance of taking care of business in the regular season and earning a first-round bye and a home playoff game. The Cardinals were done before the game started, having played on Sunday evening against Green Bay and then making the flight to New Orleans for Saturday's game. Not fair.
New Orleans used a great first drive to arrest the momentum Arizona gained on Tim Hightower's first-play touchdown run. Five runs, five passes and a touchdown and the Saints dominated the rest of the way.
Indianapolis chipped away, chipped away and finally created some breathing room against Baltimore with that late drive in the first half. I love watching that Ravens defense, but Baltimore lacks weapons to stretch the field on offense. Ray Rice is a terrific football player. Todd Heap is a quality tight end. The Ravens have a nice young quarterback in Joe Flacco and a strong offensive line. But they have no receivers and you can't win big games against good teams without explosive plays -- unless your defense is taking the football away as the Ravens did last week in their win over New England.
Watching these games always invites comparisons. What are the Eagles lacking? Clearly, you can't have a playoff game riddled with mistakes as the Eagles did against Dallas. The line of scrimmage just wasn't good enough last week. Donovan McNabb didn't get the ball out of his hands quickly enough and he wasn't as accurate as he needed to be. The defense missed tackles and did not execute the scheme. Trent Cole, the Pro Bowl defensive end, had all the effort in the world and he made some plays in the running game, but the Eagles did not put quarterback Tony Romo on his back nearly enough.
On and on it goes. The Eagles weren't nearly good enough last week, and the truth is that if they had attended to some of the details in other games they wouldn't have been in that position, anyway. They would have been resting and preparing for a home playoff game this weekend.
All of that is in the past. The Eagles are back at the bottom of the ladder, preparing to go rung by rung to the top in 2010. Meanwhile, the NFC playoffs go through New Orleans because the Saints did what they had to do to earn the No. 1 seed in the conference, and the AFC Championship Game goes through Indianapolis because the Colts won all of the close games, even if they were ugly at times.
It was fun and frustrating to watch on Saturday. We all wanted the Eagles to be there, to have a game and to feel the energy of the playoffs. Instead, we're bystanders trying to pick up our spirits after such an emotional low to the end of the Eagles' season.