NFL playoffs: It’s a 24-hour party for the Paganos — Chuck, John and Sam
Indianapolis and San Diego are moving on in the NFL playoffs.
And Sam Pagano is still catching his breath.
His older son, Chuck, is coach of the Colts, who erased a 28-point second-half deficit Saturday to stun Kansas City.
Sam’s younger son, John, is defensive coordinator of the Chargers, who Sunday upset favored Cincinnati, 27-10, ending the Bengals’ season with their first home defeat.
About 1,200 miles west, a family erupted in celebration.
“We’re sitting here, my wife and I, and we’re exhausted,” the elder Pagano said from his home in Boulder, Colo. “All this in 24 hours? Usually, they’re both on in one day — Chuck in the morning and John in the afternoon — but we’re so excited and proud of the boys. Unbelievable!”
The Paganos are a family steeped in football. Sam won three state championships in his 21 years as head coach at Fairview High in Boulder, and his sons were architects of two spectacular wild-card victories over the weekend.
Chuck’s Colts advance to play New England in a divisional game Saturday night, and John’s Chargers will play Sunday at No. 1 seed Denver.
In the NFC, top-seeded Seattle will play host Saturday to New Orleans, which moved on by winning at Philadelphia. And Sunday, with a 23-20 victory in frigid Green Bay, San Francisco moved on for a Sunday matchup at Carolina.
Sam Pagano, along with his wife, Diana, and their daughter, Jennifer, spent the weekend huddled in his home office, shut off from the world, living and dying with every snap.
“We don’t invite people over for games,” he said. “I’ve got a couple buddies that are coaches. But I don’t like all the talking and chatter, like I’m watching in a bar. If I was watching Tampa Bay and the Texans, maybe. But these are our sons. We just sweat it out and pray and cuss and get mad.”
And cheer. And cheer some more.
“I talked to Chuck when he got home Saturday night,” Sam said. “He was excited, of course. We laughed, and he said, ‘I really gave them a great halftime talk, Dad. We were down 21, and then we come out and go down by 28 — that did a lot of good!’ . . . But as long as you’ve got [quarterback] Andrew Luck, you’ve got a chance.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got them in the palm of your hand. They’re playing hard. They believe.’”
Sunday, the Chargers were seven-point underdogs and making their first playoff appearance since 2009. Few people gave them much of a chance, especially after they barely made it into the playoffs as a sixth seed, needing to win four in a row for even a prayer of qualifying.
Had the Chargers lost, it would have been the Colts playing the Broncos. By winning, the Chargers will play their AFC West rival for a third time this season.
“John said this morning, ‘Dad, one of your sons is coming to Denver,’” Sam said. “I said, ‘Well, I want it to be you so you can continue.’ This was just the way we wanted it.”
The Chargers shut out the high-scoring Bengals in the second half, and finished with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
“When you get four turnovers on the road in a playoff game, you’re not going to lose, unless we stink it up on offense,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “It was an awesome performance by them.”
If the Colts and Chargers were to win their next games, they would be playing each other for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
That’s too much for Sam to digest now.
“Well,” he said with a laugh, “we’ll worry about that one if it happens.”
We meet again
Three of the four divisional games are rematches, with Indianapolis versus New England the only matchup that wasn’t played during the regular season.
San Francisco suffered a 10-9 home defeat to Carolina on Nov. 10.
San Diego split its AFC West series with Denver, with each team winning on the road.
New Orleans was throttled, 34-7, at Seattle on Dec. 2.
Tip of the Kap
Once again, Colin Kaepernick was kryptonite to the Packers, burning them with his arm and legs.
He threw for 227 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 98 yards in seven carries.
In his victorious playoff debut last January, he ran for 181 yards, more than any quarterback in any game in league history. And in a season-opening victory over Green Bay in September, he threw for a career-best 412 yards and three touchdowns.
Next, Kaepernick and Cam Newton will square off in a showcase of two of the league’s premier pass-run threats.
It wasn’t as frigid as the legendary “Ice Bowl,” but Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field was bitter cold.
The announced temperature at kickoff was 5 degrees with a windchill of minus-10.
The Ice Bowl, Green Bay’s victory over Dallas on Dec. 31, 1967, was the coldest NFL game on record: minus-13 with a windchill of minus-48.
The Packers slipped to 3-5 in home games in which the temperature at kickoff was 6 degrees or lower.
Drought and out
Since the Bengals last won a playoff game — in the 1990 wild-card round against the Houston Oilers — every other NFL team has won at least one postseason game.
Cincinnati has lost its playoff opener in three consecutive years, tying a league record.
“Whatever you do during the regular season doesn’t matter once you get in the playoffs,” said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who is 0-3 in the playoffs. “It’s disappointing. All the good stuff we did this year, then to come out and not win this game kind of hurts.”
For the first time since 2010, both No. 6 seeds won on the opening weekend, with New Orleans and San Diego advancing to the divisional round.
The Chargers have faced do-or-die situations for five weeks in a row.
“We did talk about it being the fifth round,” said Rivers, calling from the bus from Paul Brown Stadium to the airport. “We’ve been in playoff mode for about a month, so we didn’t have to shift gears. We didn’t lose the last few games and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to get this thing together.’ We’ve been in this mind-set, and I think that helps from a preparation standpoint.”
What the Chargers couldn’t prepare for was losing Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick. He suffered what the team deemed a neck stinger in the first quarter, but he looked dazed and wobbly and was pulled from the game. That could have been a major setback for the Chargers had backup Rich Ohmberger not been so reliable. The Chargers rushed for 196 yards against the NFL’s third-ranked defense, and Rivers was sacked only once.
“Like I’ve said for years now, Nick has been a staple of that group up front,” Rivers said. “But it’s super valuable when you have veteran players who step up. Rich Ohmberger stepped in there and the communication was great. Everybody was on the same page, and we just kept moving.”
Denver is the AFC’s top seed and has Peyton Manning, who’s in line for his NFL-record fifth most-valuable-player award. (He’s the only one with four.) But this has to give the Broncos pause:
The three other remaining AFC teams — Indianapolis, New England and San Diego — have all beaten them.
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