(Reuters) - Quarterback is the most important position on the gridiron and that widespread belief was once again made abundantly clear in the opening round of the playoffs, setting the stage for a mouthwatering slate of divisional round games.
The four survivors from the wild-card round of the playoffs are all teams who have outstanding quarterbacks that delivered the goods in crunch time.
Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers all stood tall with their respective seasons on the line.
Conversely, two teams without an elite quarterback fell by the wayside with third-stringer Ryan Lindley struggling in the Arizona Cardinals’ loss to Carolina while Andy Dalton dropped to 0-4 all-time in the playoffs after losing to Indianapolis.
The top four seeds in the postseason, who all had first-round byes, are led by quarterbacks who have won the Super Bowl and while all start as favourites in their games, none expect a straightforward passage to the conference championship games.
The standout quarterback performance of the weekend was arguably that of Luck, who was described as a “maestro” by Colts coach Chuck Pagano after a wonderful 36-yard pass on the run to rookie Donte Moncreif for a crucial third quarter touchdown.
Luck will now face the man he replaced in Indianapolis when the Colts visit Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos on Sunday in one of the most anticipated of the four divisional games.
Controversy surrounds Dallas’s 24-20 win over Detroit after a pass interference penalty against the Cowboys in the fourth quarter was reversed by the referee.
But the dispute over the picked up flag, which halted the Lions’ bid to pad their lead, shouldn’t distract from an inspiring fightback from the Cowboys and Romo who threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Romo came up against an outstanding Detroit defense in the first half but kept his cool while the Cowboys trailed late and came up big when it mattered.
“Usually things dissipate a little bit and it is not quite as crazy as it is early,” said Romo.
“You just have to keep calm. I’ve played in enough games to understand that and maybe I didn’t do that as well when I was younger. It is just poise. Our team did a great job.”
The Cowboys’ reward is a trip to Lambeau Field for a marquee game with the Green Bay Packers which recalls the classic 1967 NFL Championship game known as the ‘Ice Bowl.’
The Baltimore Ravens came out on top in their clash with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers with Flacco, a Super Bowl winner two seasons ago, throwing two second half touchdowns.
The Ravens face familiar foes in the New England Patriots, who they beat en route to their Super Bowl triumph, but Flacco’s opposite number, Tom Brady, isn’t interested in history lessons.
“You can’t bring players out of retirement. It’s the guys we’ve got against the guy’s they’ve got. There is some carryover, some characteristics that are the same but these teams have established their own identities,” said three-time Super Bowl winner Brady.
If there is a real outsider in the divisional round, it is the Panthers, who take on the NFC’s top-seeded Seattle Seahawks in a game which will showcase two athletic, mobile quarterbacks.
Newton lacks the all-round authority of Seattle’s Russell Wilson, but he looked confident and resilient against Arizona in a game where Carolina’s defense shined.
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue