Two touchdowns in two minutes at the end of the first half helped the Indianapolis Colts beat the Baltimore Ravens 20-3 and advance to the AFC championship game. The Colts, the AFC's top seed, will host the winner of Sunday's match between the New York Jets and the San Diego Chargers for a Super Bowl place after they ended a losing run in playoff games following a bye. "It's a myth that you can't win at home after a bye week, but I didn't believe in it," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning told reporters after completing 30 of 44 passes for 246 yards.
"I thought we came out sharp on both sides of the ball really from the get-go, kind of set the tempo of the game." Manning broke the game open with touchdown passes to Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne in the final 2:06 of the first half. The two scores turned a 3-3 tie into a 17-3 Colts lead from which Baltimore, one of the league's top defensive teams, never recovered. Seven penalties and four turnovers only compounded problems for the Ravens against an aggressive Indianapolis defence.
"The defence did a tremendous job," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "When you look at what Baltimore's been able to do to teams over the last few weeks, our defence did, indeed, play hard and played well." Baltimore did not score a point after the Ravens' first drive, which ended with Billy Cundiff's 25-yard field goal to tie the score at 3-3. The visitors failed to make a first down in the second quarter, and Ray Rice, who rushed for 159 yards in Baltimore's opening-round win over New England, gained only 67 against the Colts.
Manning, however, had Indianapolis on the move late in the second quarter with a 10-yard touchdown pass to rookie Collie capping a 75-yard drive and a 64-yard effort that ended on Wayne's three-yard catch. "He does a great job of finding receivers," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "He finds a match-up. I thought we really did a good job of making that tough for him, for the most part. It wasn't easy. They had no cheap ones."
Meanwhile, two touchdowns from an explosive Reggie Bush helped the New Orleans Saints to a 45-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals, sweeping them into the NFC Championship game. Although the Cardinals made the perfect start by going in front with just 19 seconds gone through a Tim Hightower 70-yard run, the Saints quickly hit back and established supremacy. Three touchdowns in the first quarter put the game firmly in the hands of New Orleans and Arizona struggled to respond. The Cardinals who leaked 45 points in their wildcard win over the Green Bay Packers, failed to protect quarterback Kurt Warner and he left the game with a chest injury in the second quarter. New Orleans led 35-14 at the break and although Warner later returned he was unable to lead a comeback against a pumped-up Saints defence and the impressive Bush. Having produced a brilliant 54-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, the Saints running back made sure of the victory with an 83-yard punt return in the third. Quarterback Drew Brees threw three touchdowns for 247 yards for the Saints, who will face the winner of Sunday's clash between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.