The final night of Hanukkah ends with the final night of the NFL regular season. Beginning and ending the holiday with my other religion of football is more than any man should be allowed to ask for.
Although he is still not Jewish, for the final time in 2008 I offer the words of retired defensive standout John Randle.
The steaks are fired up, the big screen is ready, and at this point there is nothing to do but get down to the head knocking.
My column yesterday contains all the playoff permutations and combinations.
St. Louis Rams @ Atlanta Falcons–The 10-5 Falcons came in needing a win and a Carolina loss to grab the # 2 seed. Otherwise, they would be the # 5 seed. Matt Ryan led the Falcons down the field on their first drive, leading to a field goal. Yet Marc Bulger led the Rams right back, and on 3rd and 2 from the Atlanta 4, Stephen Jackson barreled over a couple defenders and stretched the ball just over the goal line to put the Rams up 7-3.
With 9 minutes left in the half, the Rams faced 4th and 3 at the Atlanta 34. Bulger was sacked for a loss, allowing the Falcons to start at their own 45. A 41 yard pass to Jenkins set up a 9 yard Michael Turner touchdown run and a 10-7 Falcons lead. Yet Bulger brought the Rams back 81 yards in 11 plays. A 16 yard touchdown pass to Avery had the Rams up 14-10 with only 32 seconds left in the half. Yet these are the Rams. A deep kickoff was returned 92 yards by Jerrius Norwood to the Rams 8. Norwood ran it in himself 2 plays later for the touchdown to have the Falcons up 17-14 at halftime.
The Falcons took the second half kickoff and began at their own 25. Turner picked up 17 yards, and then Ryan hit White for 22 more. Turner picked up runs of 10 and 8, and Ryan then hit White for the 18 yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons up 24-14. Bulger brought the Rams right back, yet on 3rd and 2 from the Atlanta 15, Stephen Jackson came up short. On 4th and 1, Coach Jim Haslett decided to kick the field goal. At 2-13, going for it made sense. The field goal had the Rams within 24-17. After a punt, the Rams took over at their own 38. Bulger hit Torry Holt for a 33 yard gain. Stephen Jackson scored from 2 yards out to tie the game 24-24 with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
Ryan was the intercepted, giving the Rams the ball at the Atlanta 22. This led to a field goal, and with 6 1/2 minutes remaining the Rams led 27-24. Yet Jerrius Norwodd broke through for a 45 yard touchdown to put the Falcons back on top by 4 points with 3:41 left. The earlier decision to kick a field goal rather than go for it on 4th and 1 was looming large.
The Rams took over at their own 20. Bulger hit Klopfenstein at midfield, and Jackson broke off runs of 14 and 8 to have the Rams facing 2nd and 2 at the Atlanta 22 at the 2 minute warning. A sack and a pair of incomplete passes prevented the upset. The Rams finished 2-14, while the Falcons clinched the # 5 seed and awaited the results of the Carolina game with New Orleans to see about the # 2 seed. 31-27 Falcons
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills–The 10-5 Patriots needed a win and a Baltimore loss to make the playoffs, or a win and Miami loss to win their division. A loss eliminated them. On New England’s second possession, Matt Cassel led New England to a 33 yard field goal by Stephen Gostowski. In the second quarter, a Buffalo field goal attempt was no good when swirling winds made the kick look like a golf slice. New England also had a field goal attempt get blown wide, as the game remained 3-0 at halftime.
The key play of the game came in the third quarter when Trent Edwards was sacked, resulting in a fumble. New England began at the Buffalo 43. On 3rd and 1 from the 24, Lamont Jordan lost a yard. With field goals virtually impossible, Cassel picked up 6 yards on 4th and 2. On 4th and 5 from the 14, Bill Bellichick again decided to go for it, and Cassell hit Wes Welker for 12 yards, setting up Jordan from 2 yards out for the game’s only touchdown. The 11-5 Patriots kept the Jets from winning the division, but now had to await the games in Baltimore and Miami. 13-0 Patriots
Kansas City Chiefs @ Cincinnati Bengals–NFL rules require that this game not be canceled. The NFL does not require me to give it much coverage. The Bengals kicked a field goal in the first quarter, and a 2 yard Cedric Benson run in the second quarter had the Bengals up 10-0. Fitzzpatrick then led a 16 play, 8 minute drive that moved from the Cincinnati 7 to the Kansas City 10. Yet a field goal was all that was added, as the Bengals led 13-0 at halftime. The Bengals added a late field goal before surrendering a garbage touchdown. The Chiefs finished 2-14 while the Bengals, after starting 1-11-1, won their last 3 games. 16-6 Bengals
Chicago Bears @ Houston Texans–The 9-6 Bears needed a win and a Minnesota loss to win their division, or a win and losses by Dallas and Tampa Bay to make the playoffs. Kyle Orton led an 11 play, 80 yard drive that took 5 1/2 minutes. Orton hit Brandon Lloyd for a 4 yard touchdown to put the Bears up 7-0. A controversial fumble then had the Bears set up at the Houston 38, leading to a field goal and a 10-0 lead.
In the second quarter the Texans took over at their own 12. Schaub fired passes to Andre Johnson of 17 and 12 yards, before launching a 43 yard touchdown pass to Johnson to make it a 10-7 game. The Bears fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Texans the bal at the Chicago 38. Schaub hit Johnson from 3 yards out to give the Texans the 14-10 lead at the break.
After a Chicago punt, the Texans began the second half at their own 28. Schaub hit Johnson for 21 yards and Walter for 23 yards. Moats ran it in from 2 yards out to put the Texans up 21-10. Late in the third quarter, Orton hit Devon Hester for a 37 yard gain down to the one. Orton then hit Greg Olsen for the score to pull the Bears to within 21-17 after three quarters.
After an exchange of punts, the Texans began at their own 43. From the Chicago 48, Matt Schaub hit Daniels for 33 yards. On 4th and 1 from the 6, Schaub picked up just enough. Yet the Texans still had to settle for a field goal and a 24-17 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the game. Chicago punted, and the Texans took over at their own 11. Schaub move the Texans 89 yards in 11 plays over 6 minutes. On 3rd and 14 from the Chicago 19, a defensive holding penalty killed the Bears. Steve Slaton scored from 2 yards out to put the Texans up 31-17 with 3 1/2 minutes left.
The Bears took over at their own 28. Orton hit Davis for passes of 19 and 16 yards. On 4th and 1 from the Houston 11, Orton snuck through for the first down. On 3rd and goal from the 1, Orton snuck through again to get the Bears to within 7 points with 1:53 left. Yet the onsides kick failed, and the Texans ran out the clock. The Texans went 5-1 down the stretch to finish 8-8 for Gary Kubiak, while Lovie Smith saw the Bears fall to 9-7, with the loss eliminating them from the playoffs. 31-24 Texans
New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings–For some bizarre reason, Coach Tom Coughlin had Eli Manning starting this game despite the 12-3 Giants having locked up home field. The 9-6 Vikings could clinch their division and the # 3 seed with a win or a Chicago loss. Early in the second quarter, Ryan Longwell nailed a 48 yard field goal to give the Vikings the 3-0 lead. On their next series, Adrian Peterson broke through for a 67 yard touchdown run to have the Vikings up 10-0. A 58 yard kickoff return by Ahmad Bradshaw had the Giants at the Minnesota 43. On 3rd and 10 from the 33, A Manning deep pass to Amani Toomer was initially thought to be a touchdown, but was then ruled out of bounds. A 51 yard John Carney field goal had the Giants within 10-3.
In the second quarter the Giants mounted a drive from their own 9 yard line that ate up 14 plays and 8 1/2 minutes. On 3rd and 10 from the 9, Manning hit Toomer for 12 yards. A 26 yard pass to Johnson led to a field goal. The Giants were within 10-6 with only one minute left in the half. With 31 seconds left in the half, the Vikings faced 4th and 1 at the New York 39. On the quarterback draw, Tarvaris Jackson was blown up in the backfield for a 4 yard loss. Manning then hit Dominic Hixon for 24 yards, as it was the Giants getting another field goal befre halftime, not the Vikings. Minnesota led 10-9 at the break.
Eli Manning did not play the second half. Perhaps Coughlin heard about Roethlisberger. David Carr came in and led an 80 yard, 11 play drive that took 5 1/2 minutes. Carr hit Dominic Hixon for the 23 yard touchdown pass as the Giants led 16-10 entering the final quarter. Tarvaris Jackson brought the Vikings back, but on 2nd and goal from the Giants 6, Jackson was intercepted. Butler returned the pick all the way to the Minnesota 45. From the 35, Manning hit moss down to the 8 yard line. This led to a field goal, as the Giants bogged down at the 2. The Giants led 19-10 with 11 1/2 minutes left in the game.
The Vikings came right back, as Jackson hit Bernard Berrian for a 54 yard touchdown to pull the Vikings to within 19-17 with 9 1/2 minutes remaining. Carr then led a 6 minute drive, but a 48 yard field goal attempt by Carney was no good with 3 1/2 minutes left. Jackson then led the Vikings from their own 38 to the New York 32. With everything on the line, as time expired, Ryan Longwell nailed the 50 yard kick to win it for the Vikings. Minnesota clinched the NFC North and the # 3 seed at 10-6, while the top ranked Giants, despite losing 3 of their final 4, at 12-4 have the top seed. 20-19 Vikings
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints–The eliminated Saints needed Drew Brees to throw for 402 yards to break Dan Marino’s all time passing record in a season of 5084 yards. The 11-4 Panthers needed a win or Atlanta loss to clinch the # 2 seed. Carolina began with Jake Delhomme leading a 12 play, 7 minute drive that led to a 45 yard field goal by John Kasay. On their next drive, Delhomme led the Panthers down the field again. On 4th and 2 at the 9, Coach Jon Fox decided to again go for the field goal, making it a 6-0 game.
Drew Brees brought the Saints back, and from the Carolina 44, a 14 yarder to Marquis Colston was followed by a 20 yard strike to Miller. Yet the Saints could not get past the 3 yard line, and a field goal had the Saints within 6-3 in the second quarter. The Panthers reached the red zone again, and again had to settle for a field goal to lead 9-3.
The Panthers then broke the game open. Brees was then intercepted, setting Carolina up at the New Orleans 29. Deangelo runs of 6, 2, and 13 yards set up Delhomme hitting Muhsin Muhammad for the 8 yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 16-3 lead. The Saints then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which was returned 12 yards by Wesley to put the Panthers up 23-3. With 47 seconds left in the half, Brees hit Colston for a 26 yard touchdown to pull the Saints to within 23-10 at intermission.
In the third quarter, from the Carolina 40, Delhomme went deep to Steve Smith for a 54 yard gain down to the 6. Stewart ran for 4 yards, and picked up the final 2 yards on the next play to have the Panthers up 30-10 in what looked like a route after three quarters.
Looks became deceiving as Drew Brees went ridiculous in the fourth quarter. From the New Orleans 31, Brees hit Deuce McAllister for 20 yards. He then hit Meachem for 14, and Meachem for 7 more for the touchdown to make it 30-17 only seconds into the fourth quarter. Delhomme had the Panthers reach the New Orleans 34, but a penalty pushed them out of field goal range. The Saints took over at their own 11. On 3rd and 4 from the 17, Brees hit Moore for 20 yards. On 3rd and 10 from the Carolina 46, Brees hit Colston for 14 yards. On 3rd and 17 from the 24, Brees hit Meachem for 15. On 4th and 2 from the 9, Brees tossed the touchdown to Moore. The Saints trailed 30-24 with 5 1/2 minutes left.
With 4 minutes left, a 21 yard punt had the Saints starting at the Carolina 45. Brees needed only 3 plays and 47 seconds. 6 yards to McAllister, 26 yards to Colston, and 13 yards to Moore for the score. With 3:11 left, the Sainsts 21 point fourth quarter explosion turned a 30-10 deficit into a 31-30 lead.
The Panthers took over at their own 18, and Delhomme fired a prayer ball deep into double coverage. Luckily for the Panthers, they have all world receiver Steve Smith. The 39 yard gain had the Panthers at the Saints 43. With 6 seconds remaining, the Panthers had reached the 20. A false start moved the ball back to the 25. John Kasay, the lone original Panthers player from the 1995 expansion team, came in for for a 43 yard field goal attempt. With a first round bye on the line, Kasay drilled it.
The Saints fell to 8-8. Brees finished 30 of 49 for 386 yards. He finished the season with 5069 yards passing, 15 yards shy of Marino’s record. Brees did have a hail mary at the end of the game, but it fell incomplete. The 12-4 Panthers locked up the # 2 seed and sent Atlanta to the # 5 seed. 33-31 Panthers
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers–The Browns are eliminated, and the Steelers have locked up the # 2 seed. Yet for some reason Coach Mike Tomlin had Ben Roethlisberger playing. The score was irrelevant. Big Ben was knocked out of the game with a concussion and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. Mike Tomlin is a good coach, but when playoff position is locked up and cannot be altered, you bench your starters! No exceptions! Big Ben should be ready in 2 weeks for the playoffs as the Steelers have the bye.
After 25 minutes of scoreless football, Willie Parker broke off a 34 yard touchdown run to put the Steelers up 7-0. After a punt, with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half, Pittsburgh took over at their own 48. Big Ben got injured on the next play. Byron Leftwich came in and hit Heath Miller for 9 yards on 3rd and 6. Leftwich ran it in himself from 8 yards out to give the Steelers the 14-0 lead at halftime. With 4th string quarterback Bruce Gradkowski playing for Cleveland, things only got worse. The Steelers added a third quarter field goal, a fourth quarter 3 yard touchdown run by Russell, and a 23 yard interception return by Carter to complete the blowout. The 12-4 Steelers as the # 2 seed have 2 weeks to rest, and are praying for the health of Big Ben. 31-0 Steelers
Oakland Raiders @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers-In the 1999 season the Raiders finished 8-8 while the Bucs reached the NFC Title Game. Yet in the next to last game, the Bucs went into Oakland, where the Raiders, coached by Jon “Chucky” Gruden, thrashed Tampa Bay 45-0. After the 2001 season, Coach Gruden was “traded” from the Raiders to the Buccaneers. The 2002 season ended when Gruden and the Buccaneers thrashed the Raiders in the Super Bowl 48-21. In week 3 of the 2003 season in Oakland, the Raiders were beating the Buccaneers 30-6. The Raiders won the game 30-20, but in the fourth quarter Rich Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP, was injured on a hit by Derrick Brooks. Gannon hurt his neck, and never played again. The Raiders have been struggling since.
In 2008, Gruden and the 9-3 Bucs had lost 3 straight, needing only to win at home to make the playoffs. They hosted the Raiders. Yet for only the second time in Raiders history, Al Davis was not at the game. He missed one game in 1979 when his wife Carol was ill. His own health prevented him from making this trip, but Carol was in attendance to represent the family.
One final subplot is that the 9-3 Bucs have been known for their defense under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Kiffin announce he was leaving after the season to join his son Lane Kiffin at the University of Tennessee. So had Al Davis not fired Lane Kiffin, the Buccaneers would still have their defensive coordinator. The Volunteers gain a fine defensive mind due to more drama leading up to another installment of the battle of the pirates.
Beneath all the subplots for the 4-11 Raiders was the fact that their season finale was a heck of a football game. For more on the game of the day, go to http://www.justblogbaby.com
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Bucs punted seconds into the second quarter. Johnny Lee Higgins, who has taken 3 back to the house this year, returned this one 31 yards to the Tampa Bay 40. Russell hit Higgins for 17 yards. With Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden ailing Michael Bush did the running, and he ran wild today. His 2 yard touchdown run had the Raiders up 7-0. Jeff Garcia brought the Buccaneers back with an 10 play, 5 minute drive that covered 80 yards. Garcia hit Clayton for 29 yards, and Cadillac Williams ran it in from 9 yards out to tie the game 7-7.
With 1:19 left in the half, after an exchange of possessions, the Raiders took over at their own 39. On 3rd and 4 from the 45, JaMarcus Russell hit Schillings for 19 yards and Zach Miller for 28 more down to the 8. Russell hit Schillens for the 3 yard touchdown to give the Raiders the 14-7 halftime lead.
In the second half, taking over at their own 18, Garcia fired 25 yards to Williams before hitting a wide open Clayton for a 58 yard touchdown to tie the game 14-14. After a punt, The Bucs began at their own 13. Garcia drove the Buccaneers in 13 plays over 6 minutes. from the Oakland 43, Garcia hit Antonio Bryant for a 32 yard gain down to the 11. Yet the drive stalled there, and seconds into the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 lead.
The Raiders took over at their own 31, and Russell quickly hit Schillens for a 24 yard gain to the Tampa Bay 45. On 3rd and 6 from the 41, a Russell interception was nullified by a defensive penalty, moving the Raiders to the Tampa Bay 41. It did not matter. Russell was intercepted again on the next play, and this one counted. Piscatelli returned it from the Tampa Bay 5 all the way to the Oakland 8, an 84 yard runback. Cadillac Williams ran it in to put the Buccaneers up 24-14 with 11 1/2 minutes left.
Yet lost in all of this is the head coach of the Raiders, Tom Cable. The players have been fighting hard for him, and they did not fold their tent as they have in past seasons. The Raiders took over at their own 34. From the Oakland 45, Cable went into his bag of tricks. Russell lateraled to Michael Bush. Bush threw the halfback option deep to Watkins. The ball was incomplete, but defensive pass interference went for 43 yards. On the next play Russell hit Higgins for the 12 yard touchdown to pull the Raiders to within 24-21 with 10 minutes left.
The Bucs took over at their own 33. Williams quickly ran 28 yards to the Oakland 39. Yet the Bucs stalled, and on 4th and 4 from the 33, Gruden decided to go for it rather than kick a 50 yard field goal. Garcia threw incomplete, and the Raiders took over with 7 minutes left. One play and 13 seconds was enough time for Michael Bush to race 67 yards for a touchdown to put the Raiders up 28-24 in front of a shocked Tampa Bay crowd.
On the next play from scrimmage, Garcia was intercepted by Baker at the Oakland 42. Michael Bush was then given the ball 9 straight times. He ended up gashing the Buccaneers for 177 yards. However, his 9th straight carry on the drive came on 3rd and goal at the 2, and Bush did not reach the end zone. On 4th and goal at the 2, with 1:13 left, Cable decided not to go for it and ice the game. Sebastian Janikowski hit the field goal to give the Raiders a 7 point lead.
The Buccaneers took over on their own 20. On 4th and 10, Garcia hit Bryant for a 30 yard gain to midfield. With 16 seconds left, the Buccaneers had 3rd and 5 at the Oakland 45. With a hail mary attempt to tie the game, the ball never left Garcia’s hand. He was sacked, and the Raiders had the shocking upset.The Buccaneers have never beaten the Raiders in the regular season, although the only time they have beaten them was the Super Bowl. Yet this one mattered greatly, and the Raiders knocked Gruden and the Buccaneers out of the playoffs. Despite finishing 5-11, the Raiders won their last 2 games for Cable.
In the offseason, the Raiders must resign free agents Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler. Field position was a big deal in this game, and Lechler is one of 2 Raiders to make the Pro Bowl this year along with Cornerback Nahmdi Asomugha, who sat this game out due to injury. The Buccaneers ended losing their final 4 games, while Al Davis got to end the seaosn with a win over a rival. 31-24 Raiders
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts–The 13-2 Titans at the 11-4 Colts could have been a thriller except that both teams had locked up the # 1 and # 5 seeds respectively, rendering this game meaningless. Peyton Manning did start, as the Colts began at their own 10. From the Colts 45, Manning hit Joseph Addai for the 55 yard touchdown pass to put the Colts up 7-0. Coach Tony Dungy then smartly gave Manning the rest of the day off. Coach Jeff Fisher did the same with Kerry Collins, who threw an incomplete pass on the first Tennessee drive and then sat down after the Titans punted. Jim Sorgi and Vince Young played the rest of the game.
Sorgi looke very impressive, leading a 14 play, 7 minute drive. On 4th and 3 form the Tennessee 10, a field goal had the Colts up 10-0. A surprise onsides kick was successful, as Dungy did his part to keep the fans from sleeping. Sorgi drove the Colts to the 3 yard line, where another field goal made it 13-0. After a punt, a 12 play, 6 minute drive led to a third field goal and a 16-0 halftime lead for the Colts.
In the third quarter, Sorgi threw 33 yards to Najeh Davenport. From the Tennessee one yard line, Ball fumbled his namesake, but offensive lineman Richard recovered it in the end zone for the touchdown and the 23-0 Colts lead. The game ended in only 2 1/2 hours, as both coaches got ready for the playoffs. These teams very well could meet in the AFC Title Game, and it will be far more dramatic. Jeff Fisher is 13-3 for the third time, and Tony Dungy is the only coach in NFL history to go at least 12-4 in six straight seasons. The Colts won 9 straight for the third time in the Dungy era with the Colts. 23-0 Colts
Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers–The Packers came in losing 5 straight, not a good feeling for my friend Steve at “No Runny Eggs.” Yet the Lions came in 0-15, and desperate to win just one game. My friend Doug, the “P*ssed Off Tree Rat,” was still rooting for his team. A 73 yard run by Wynn had the Packers up 7-0. An Orlovsky pass was then picked off by Charles Woodson, who returned it 23 yards to the Detroit 41. Aaron Rodgers hit Donald Driver for 16 yards, and Ryan Grant ripped off a 20 yard run down to the 4 yard line. Rodgers hit FInley for the 3 yard touchdown to put the Packers up 14-0 after the first quarter.
Yet this game was no laugher. Orlovksky led a 12 play, 63 yard drive that took 5 minutes. Orlovsky hit Calvin Johnson for the 9 yard touchdown to get the Lions within 14-7 at halftime. Ryan Grant fumbled deep in his own territory in the third quarter, leading to a 14 yard touchdown toss from Orlovsky to Johnson. After three quarters, the game was tied 14-14. The Lions had a shot.
Aaron Rodgers moved the Packers from their own 20 to the Detroit 18. Ryan Grant actually ran for an 80 yard touchdown, but on further review, he was ruled down by contact at the Green Bay 41 after a 21 yard gain. Nevertheless, a 36 yard field goal by Mason Crosby had the Packers up 17-14 only 90 seconds into the fourth quarter. After a punt the Packer took over just shy of midfield. A defensive personal foul pushed the ball to the Detroit 27. From the 16, Rogers hit Jennings for 11 yards and Kuhns fr the 5 yard touchdown to put the Packers up 24-14 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.
The Lions needed only one minute to get back in the game. From the 20, Orlovksy hit Standeford for gains of 35 and 36 yards, setting up a 9 yard Kevin Smith touchdown run. The Lions were within 24-21 with 7 1/2 minutes left, plenty of time to hope. Green Bay needed 16 seconds to extinguish that hope. From the 29, Rodgers went deep to Driver for a 71 yard touchdown pass to extend the lead back to 10 points. The Lions then took over at their own 21. Orlovsky drove them to the Green Bay 30, before they self destructed under sacks and penatlies. On 3rd and 29, they completed a 2 yard pass, and on 4th and 27 Orlovksy was intercepted.
In 2007 the debate was whether the 16-0 Patriots were better tan the 1972 Dolphins. New England lost in the Super Bowl, and the debate was closed. In 2008 the Lions did go 0-16. So are they worse than the 1976 Buccaneers?
Yes and no. The Buccaneers only went 0-14, so the Lions do have the worst single season record of futility. Yet the Buccaneers also lost the first 12 games of 1977, to start the franchise 0-26. The Bucs then won both their remaining games that season. So I still aintain those Buccaneers are the worst, although the Lions may match that total next year. Also, the Buccaneers played in a tough AFC West in 1976, before shifting to the NFC Central in 1977, switching with Seattle. The Lions play in a very mediocre NFC North. That debate is for another time. The 0-16 Lions of 2008 are forever etched in history.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens–The 10-5 Ravens needed to win at home against the eliminated Jaguars to guarantee themselves the # 6 seed. Given the New England win earlier in the day, a loss and a Jets win over Miami would have eliminated the Ravens. The Ravens began with a 10 play drive that took 5 1/2 minutes, leading to a Matt Stover field goal and a 3-0 Ravens lead. Jacksonville then fumbled in their own territory, but another Stover field goal attempt was no good. Late in the quarter, a punt had the Jaguars starting at midfield. Maurice Jones-Drew ran 20 yards, and then David Garrard threw 23 yards to Pearman to put the Jaguars up 7-3 after th opening quarter.
In the second quarter, the roof caved in on Jacksonville. Joe Flacco led the Ravens 78 yards on 10 plays over 5 minutes. On 3rd and 6 from the Jacksonville 16, Flacco hit Derrick Mason for 11 yards, setting up McClain from 5 yards out to put the Ravens up 10-7. After a punt, Flacco led the Ravens 77 yards. A 39 yard pass to Mason led to a 13 yard WIllis McGahee run and a 17-7 Ravens lead.
The Jaguars got going form their own 20. A defensive penalty moved them to the 35. Jones-Drew picked up 23 yards, and Garrard himself picked up another 22. Yet on 3rd and 9 from the 19, Garrard was intercepted, one of 4 Jacksonville turnovers on the day. From the Jacksonville 48, Flacco went deep to Clayton for a 47 yard gain down to the one, where McClain crashed in. The Ravens led 24-7 at halftime, and just turned the defense loose in the uneventful second half.
The Ravens improved to 11-5 with the win. They locked up the # 6 seed, eliminated the Jets, and left New England on the brink of elimination. Yet their wild card game would be on the road against the # 3 seed, which would be whoever won the AFC East. First year Coach John Harbaugh and Rookie Quarterback Joe Flacco got the job done, with the same vicious defense of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed that keeps clamping down. 27-7 Ravens
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals–The Minnesota win earlier in the day meant the Cardinals were locked into the # 4 seed. Yet despite starting 7-3 and having Kurt Warner, Anquon Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald all make the Pro Bowl as starters, the Greatest Show in the Desert has gone 1-4 since, limping into the playoffs. They displaced 4 time defending division champion Seattle, in what is the final game for Coach Walrus Mike Holmgren. Both tems started with a turnover, as Seneca Wallace was intercepted and Warner fumbled it right back.
Wallace then led a 64 yard drive over 12 plays and 6 minutes. TJ Duckett scored from one yard out to put the Seahawks up 7-0 after the opening quarter. In the second quarter Wallace mounted an 8 minute drive that began at the Seattle 10. Yet a field goal from 42 yards was no good, wasting the opportunity. From the Arizona 32, Warner threw 50 yards to Fitzgerald, and then hit Jeremy Urban for 16 yards to tie the game 7-7.
On 3rd and 10 from their own 31, Seattle fumbled, allowing the Cardinals to begin at the Seattle 12. Warner hit Fitzgerald from 5 yards out to put the Cardinals up 14-7. Seattle took over at their own 26. Wallace found Koren Robinson for 16 yards, Bobby Engram for gains of 16, 5, 6, and 12 yards, and finally Deon Branch for 30 yards and the touchdown to tie the game 14-14 at halftime.
In the third quarter, facing 3rd and 14 at the Seattle 38, Warner gain found Fitzgerald for a touchdown and the 21-14 Cardinals lead. After a punt, the Cardinals again began at their own 32 for the second consecutive drive. Warner hit Patrick for 17 yards, Urban for 14 more on 3rd and 3, 15 yards to Fitzgerald, and on 3rd and 10 from the 14, the touchdown to Steve Breaston to put the Cardinals up 28-14.
Wallace then led a 13 play, 80 yard drive. With 12 minutes remaining in the game, on 4th and goal from the 2, Wallace found Branch to close the gap to 28-21. At that point Matt Leinart came in for mop up work to give Warner some rest in a meaningless game. Leinart quickly hit Breaston for a 29 yard gain just shy of midfield. Edgerrin James then ran for 35 yards down to the 15. The drive stalled at the 5, but a field goal had the Cardinals up 31-21 with 8 1/2 minutes left. Another punt was followed by Leinart throwing 35 yards to Breaston. Again the Cardinals bogged down in the red zone, but another field goal closed out the scoring.
The Cardinals improved to 9-7, and will host their first playoff game since 1947. Ken Whisenhunt has accomplished much, but a tip of the helmet must be given to the Walrus. Despite a 4-12 season, he retired with 3 NFC Championships and one Super Bowl ring. Koo Koo Ke Choo Coach Holmgren. 34-21 Cardinals
Washington Redskins @ San Francisco 49ers–This game was meaningless from a playoff standpoint, yet both of the coaches show promise for next year. The Redskin faded after a 6-2 start, but are playing hard for Jim Zorn. Mike Singletary has revitalized the 49ers, and they had won 3 of 4 coming in after replacing Dick Nolan. Sean Hill led the 49ers 65 yards on 12 plays over 5 1/2 minutes to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead after the opening quarter. Hill ran it in himself the final 2 yards. The lead could have been extended but a 3rd and 1 from the Washinton 29 lost a yard, followed by a missed field goal.
The Redksins took over at their own 38, and Jason Campbell led them 62 yards over 10 plays and 5 minutes. A 17 yard pass to Santana Moss from midfield had the Redskins moving, and Clinton Portis ran it in from 4 yards out to tie the game 7-7 less than one minute into the second quarter. Hill was then intercepted by Rogers, who returned it 31 yards to the San Francisco 23. The Redskins went nowhere, but kicked the go ahead field goal to lead 10-7.
After a punt, the Redskins took over at their own 22. Campbell led a staggering 16 play, 9 minute drive, that went the 78 yards for the score. On 3rd and 8 form their own 24, Campbell hit Moss for 15. On 3rd and 2 from the Washington 47, Campbell was sacked, but defensive holding gave the Redskins a gift automatic first down. On 4th and 1 form the San Francisco 39, Portis, despite being stuffed on 3rd and 1, picked up 3 yards. On 3rd and 5 from the 31 Campbell hit Cooley for 12 yards. On 3rd and 2 from the 11, Campbell picked up 5 yards. Campbell then hit Antwon Randle-El for the 5 yard score and a 17-7 Redskins lead at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, a Portis fumble was recovered by Takeo Spikes at the Washington 38. Frank Gore ran for 8 and 11 yards, and Foster ran for 18 yards, and then the 1 yard touchdown to make it a 17-14 game entering the final quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hill led the 49ers from their own 20. Hill hit Johnson for 19 yards, Foster for 12, and Robinson for 24. A 9 yard touchdown pass to Hill had the 49ers up 21-17 with 10 minutes remaining in the game. After a punt, the 49ers took over at midfield. A 26 yard pass from Hill to Morgan led to a field goal and a 24-17 49ers lead with 5 minutes left. Cartwright then returned the kickoff 43 yards to the Washington 45. Campbell hit Moss for 12 yards, and then Campbell ran 23 yards himself to the 10. On 4th an goal from the 2, Campbell took it himself and barely broke the plane of the goal. The game was tied 24-24, and the 49ers got the ball back with 1:09 left at their own 27.
On 3rd and 1 from the San Francisco 36, with 46 seconds left, Hill hit Robinson for 19 yards to the Washington 45. 31 seconds remained, and Hill then hit Johnson for 24 yards down to the Washington 21 with 16 seconds left. Joe Nedney came in to try a 39 yard field goal for the win on the final play of regulation. Nedney nailed it, and the 49ers won. Mike SIngletary was given a 5 year contract extension after the game. Bad teams can still produce thrilling games. 27-24 49ers
Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets–The 10-5 Dolphins were at the 9-6 Jets with everything on the line. The Patriots had won earlier in the day to improve to 11-5 and eliminate the Jets from winning the division. However, the Jets could still be a wild card with a win and a Baltimore loss. If Miami won, they would win the division, and a Baltimore win at that point would eliminate New England in addition to the Jets. Both Miami and the Jets would be out if they lost this game.
The subplots were plenty. The Dolphins were 1-15 last year. Then came Bill Parcells, he of 2 Super Bowl Rings, and 5 successful franchise turnarounds. In 1996 it was the Jets that went 1-15. Then Parcells showed up. The Jets went 9-7 in 1997, an 8 game turnaround. They were 9-6, but lost their final game. They would have been the first 1-15 team to make the playoffs the next year. In 1998 they went 12-4, and were 30 minutes away from a Super Bowl before falling in the AFC Title Game on the road.
As for the Dolphins, they were 1-15 last year. Parcells came in as team President, and brought Coach Tony Sparano with him. They needed a quarterback, and they took Chad Pennington, who was released before this season by the Jets. Pennington wanted to beat his former team more badly than Parcells did. Pennington was released to make room for Brett Favre, who as forced into early retirement before realizing that he still had passion and ability after 17 years in Green Bay. Again, the subplots were many, and the game lived up to expectations.
After a scoreless first quarter, the second quarter saw Pennington get sacked, forcing a fumble the Jets recovered just short of midfield. Favre hit Jerricho Cotchery for 26 yards and then hit Lavernues Coles for the 13 yard touchdown. The Jets fumbled the snap on the point after touchdown, leading 6-0 instead of 7-0. An exchang of punts had the Dolphins starting at their own 40. On 3rd and 5 at the 45, Pennington hit Fasano for 8 yards, and then Bess for gains of 7 and 13 yards. Pennington then hit Tedd Ginn for a 27 yard otuchdown and a 7-6 Miami lead. Favre needed one play to throw a 25 yard touchdown to Merling. Unfortunately, Merling plays defense for the Dolphins. 2 scores in 13 seconds had miami up 14-6 with 2 minutes left in the half. Favre worked the 2 minute drill well, but on 2nd and 2 from the Miami 10, the Jets failed to convert. A field goal had the Dolphins leading 14-9 at intermission.
On the first Miami drive of the second half, Pennington fumbled, and the Jets took over at the Miami 28. On 3rd and 14 from the 32, Favre hit Cotchery, who caught the ball, fumbled, and recovered his own fumble for a 15 yard gain and first down at the 17. Leon Washington ran for 7 yards and then for the final 10 for the score. Favre hit Cotchery for the 2 point conversion to put the Jets up 17-14.
The Dolphins took over at their own 20. Pennington handed off to Ronnie Brown, who lateraled back to Pennington for the flea flicker. Pennington hit Ginn for 44 yards to the New York 36. On 3rd and 5 from the 31, Pennington hit London for 10 yards. Pennington then hit Anthony Fasano for the 20 yard touchdown as the Dolphins retook the leaf 21-17 entering the fourth quarter.
With 13 minutes remaining in the game, the Jets faced 4th and 2 at their own 43. The punt was blocked, and the Dolphins took over just past midfield. The short field set up a field goal form 48 yards out, which put the Dolphins up by 7 with 9 1/2 minutes left. Favre moved the Jets from the New York 25 to the Miami 29, but with 5 minutes left Favre was intercepted.
From the Miami 28, Brown ran 23 yards just past midfield from the Wildcat formation. On 3rd and 1 from the New York 40, Polite failed to convert. Sparano decided to go for it on 4th and 1, and Pennington picked up 2 yards. Miami was eventually forced to punt, but a perfect punt was downed at the one yard line. Favre was asked to 99 yards in 17 seconds with no timeouts. Several laterals later, the game ended.
The Jets fell to 9-7, although the Baltimore game combined with the New England win had eliminated them anyway. The Miami win combined with the Baltimore win gave Miami the satisfaction of eliminating the Jets and New England all at once. Miami became the # 3 seed. The nexxt debate would be whether this was the greatest one year turnaround ever. Again, yes and no.
To go from 1-15 to 11-5 is a 10 game swing, tying the record set by the 1999 Colts, who went from 13-3 to 3-13. The Colts lost their first playoff game at home. I would say the 1999 Rams are still the very best turnaround. They went from 4-12 to 13-3, which is only a 9 game swing. They actually benched everybody in the last game, which they lost after clinching. However, the Rams also won the Super Bowl, so going from 4-12 to 16-3 is actually a 12 game improvement in wins, or a 10 1/2 game swing. If the Dolphins win the Superbowl, they would be the very best undisputed turnaround. Either way, they have accomplished a ton. Brett Favre may or may not retire as he does every year, but that is for another day. The Tuna brought wins to the Dolphins. 24-17 Dolphins
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles–Dallas at 9-6 came into the day needing only a win to make the playoffs. Phladelphia at 8-6-1 needed a ton of help, but miraculously got all of it. Chicago and Tampa Bay both lost, meaning that Philadelphia only needed to win and they were in. The loser of this showdown was out, and the winner was the # 6 seed, off to play Minnesota in a wild card game. The pre-game hype had plenty of drama, while the game itself had none. A 3-3 game after one quarter turned into a blowout of shocking proportions. Dallas had a 15 play, minute drive, but never cracked the end zone.
On 3rd and 7 from the Philadelphia 35, Donovan McNabb hit Correll Buckhalter for a 59 yard pass down to the Dallas 6. On 3rd and goal from the 1, McNabb snuck over to make it 10-3. Midway through the second quarter McNabb led a 71 yard, 11 play drive that took 5 1/2 minutes. From the Dallas 37, McNabb hit Jackson for 34 yards down to the 3, setting up McNabb to Buckhalter from 4 yards out and a 17-3 Eagles lead.
Dallas then totally self destructed at the end of the half. With just over one minute left in the half, Tony Romo was intercepted, setting the Eagles up at the Dallas 42. A defensive personal foul followed by a defensive pass interference penalty led to McNabb tossing a 1 yard touchdown to Celek. The Eagles led 24-3 with only 15 seconds left in the half. That was just enough time for the Cowboys to fumble the kickoff. The Eagles recovered, and David Akers drilled a 50 yard field goal to give the Eagles a 27-3 punishing lead at the break.
In the third quarter the Cowboys had 2 long drives that reached a red zone. A pair of touchdowns would have made it 27-17, and a competitive ball game. 2 touchdowns did occur, but not ones that tightened the score. On 2nd and 5 from the Philly 19, Aikman was sacked by Brian Dawkins, forcing a fumble. Clemons picked it up and rumbled 73 yards for the touchdown, with a stiff-arm near the goal line as the exclamation point. On the next series Dallas had 1st and 10 at the Philly 12. Romo complete a pass to Marion Barber. Barber fumbled at the 4 yard line after being hit by Dawkins. Joselio Hanson picked it up and ran 96 yards the other way for a touchdown and a 41-3 Eagles thrashing.
Several weeks ago McNabb was benched. People questioned him and Coach Andy Reid. They were in last place in the division, and Dallas was cruising at 8-4. Now Dallas at 9-7 is cruising into the offseason. Jerry Jones may or may not fire Wade Phillips. Questions will continue to haunt Tony Romo, and Terrell Owens will likely blow up again, because that is what he of no Super Bowl rings does. This game was vindication for McNabb, and should give some to consider Reid for coach of the year given all the heartbreaking distractions he had to deal with involving his children before the season started. Consummate professionals, Reid and McNabb battled back, and got to 9-6-1 by running the table. 44-6 Cowboys.
Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers was the Sunday night game. The 8-7 Broncos and the 7-8 Chargers were in a simple do or die situation. The winner would be AFC West champions and the # 4 seed to host streaking Indianapolis, while the loser would be out. The Broncos were 8-5 before collapsing down the stretch. The Chargers were 4-8 under Norvelous Norv Turner before they pulled a Lazarus act to get in position. Yet this game also lacked any of the suspense that preceded kickoff.
A pair of defensive penalties had the Chargers at the Denver 11, where they settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. The Broncos came right back, and on 3rd and 1 from the San Diego 26, Tatum Bell ran for the touchdown. Th extra point was missed, and the Broncos led 6-3. A 37 yard pass from Philip Rivers to Vincent Jackson followed by another defensive penalty led to Ladanian Tomlinson scoring from one yard out to put the Chargers up 10-6 after the first quarter.
After a punt, the Chargers took over at their own 28. Rivers hit Antonio Gates for 34 yards down to the Denver 38. Tomlinson ripped off a 12 yard gain, and Rivers hit Manumaleuna for the 12 yard touchdown to put the Chargers up 17-6. Denver punted, and San Diego took over at their own 42. Rivers hit Chris Chambers for 14 yards and Jacob Hester for 16 more. On 2nd and 20 from the Denver 36, Rivers hit Chambers for 18, and Jackson picked up 13 on 3rd and 2. Tomlinson ran it in from 4 yards out to culminate the 6 minute drive and give the Chargers a 24-6 lead. Just before the half, Jay Cutler thought he had Tony Scheffler for a otuchdown, Scheffler was ruled out of bounds, and Cutler was intercepted in the end zone on the next play to keep the game at 24-6 at halftime.
In the third quarter Tatum Bell broke off another touchdown run,this time from 37 yards out to pull the Broncos to within 24-13. They got no closer. Tomlinson ripped off a 45 yard gain to set up Rivers to Darren Sproles for a 13 yard touchdown and a 31-13 Chargers lead. Cutler was intercepted again, and the Chargers began at the Denver 14. Tomlinson needed one play and 7 seconds to run it in and put the Chargers up 38-13 after three quarters.
Cutler brought the Broncos down the field, and on 4th and 4 from the San Diego 24, Cutler hit Brandon Stokely for 7 yards. Yet on 4th and 5 from the 12, Cutler threw incomplete. With 13 minutes remaining in the game, Cutler did hit Scheffler for a 25 yard touchdown pass, and this one counted. the 2 point conversion had Denver within 38-21. Yet the Chargers simply had too much. From the Denver 39, Sproles ran for 37 yards, and then ran the final 2 yards on the next play to go up 45-21.
The Chargers then mounted an 11 play, 7 minute drive. On 4th and 1 from the 4, with the game not in doubt. Jacob Hester ran up the middle for the exclamation point score. Both teams finished 8-8. The Chargers won the tie breaker, the division, and the # 4 seed. The Broncos are out. The Chargers became the first 4-8 team to make the playoffs. 52-21 Chargers
Hanukkah and the NFL regular season are now over. 2009 brings the playoffs. Here are the wild card games, with predictions.
NFC: # 6 Eagles at # 3 Vikings, # 5 Falcons at # 4 Cardinals.
Vikings and Falcons win. Vikings play at Panthers, Falcons play at Giants.
AFC: # 6 Ravens at # 3 Dolphins, # 5 Colts at # 4 Chargers.
Ravens and Colts win. Ravens play at Titans, Colts play at Steelers.
Are you ready for some playoff football!!!!!!!!!
Let’s get it on!!!!!!!!!!