Football has changed. Old-school notions such as "You have to run the ball and stop the run" and "Defense wins championships" aren't universal truths anymore in a sport whose modern-day rules protect and favor quarterbacks and receivers.
But there's still a tried-and-true formula for underdogs to win on the road in the playoffs -- certain fundamentals they must execute to beat the odds.
How did the visiting, underdog Saints and Colts fare in those areas during their divisional playoff games Saturday? Let's take a look:
1. Get off to a good start.
2. Don't turn the ball over.
3. Win special teams
The Saints conducted a clinic in what not to do to upset the Seahawks in Seattle.
On their first offensive series, the Saints went three-and-out. On their first defensive series -- after a 16-yard punt -- Rafael Bush committed a personal foul that led to a Seahawks field goal.
New Orleans' second possession ended with a missed field goal. Its third possession ended with a fumble. By the time the disastrous first half ended, the Saints faced a 16-0 deficit -- a hole they couldn't climb out of in an eventual 23-15 defeat.
To their credit, the Saints kept battling and twice drew within one score in the fourth quarter. Their defense, historically bad in 2012, continued to impress under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan. Think Jerry Jones would like to have a do-over on that one?
While the Saints' defense and budding star Cameron Jordan obviously had a lot to do with it, I'd be a little worried if I were a Seahawks fan about Russell Wilson.
The second-year quarterback slumped down the stretch and struggled again Saturday, completing only 9 of 18 passes for 103 yards. He was just 2 of 9 for 35 yards in the second half.
Wilson did complete one critical pass in the fourth quarter -- a 24-yard, back-shoulder beauty to Doug Baldwin on third-and-3 with Seattle nursing a 16-8 lead. On the next play, Marshawn Lynch rumbled 31 yards for a touchdown to make it 23-8.
Wilson, and the offense as a whole, fared better when Percy Harvin was in the lineup. Unfortunately, Harvin's latest comeback attempt lasted only a half before he bowed out because of a concussion. His status for the NFC Championship Game is TBD.
Something else that was abundantly clear in the early game: Agitating the Seattle defense is a bad idea. Jimmy Graham got into a confrontation with Bruce Irvin and others during warmups, and the Seahawks proceeded to smother the All-Pro tight end. Graham finished with one meaningless catch on six targets.
Slow starts are nothing new for the Colts, who fell behind repeatedly this season. They got away with it last week at home against the banged-up Chiefs; it was too much to ask against the well-coached Patriots.
Indianapolis trailed by 14 points halfway through the first quarter en route to a 43-22 loss. As is so often the case, turnovers played a significant role: The first of Andrew Luck's four interceptions -- on the third play from scrimmage -- set up the first of LeGarrette Blount's four touchdowns.
As gifted as he is, Luck has a tendency to force the ball from time to time. He finished his postseason with seven interceptions in two games. It's pretty safe to say that won't happen again.
The Patriots are headed to yet another AFC Championship Game despite having lost several key players to injuries and other issues. This season has to rank among Bill Belichick's finest coaching jobs, and some personnel moves he made have paid big dividends too.
Belichick acquired Blount from the Buccaneers for unproven Jeff Demps and a seventh-round draft pick. In his past three games, Blount has 431 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as New England compensates for its personnel losses by playing ball control. (Running doesn't matter anymore? Did I say that?)
Meanwhile, second-round rookie linebacker Jamie Collins had his best game to date with six tackles, a sack and an interception that ended any hopes of another Colts comeback.
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