NFL 2012 Week 16 Recap

NFL 2012 Week 16 Recap

The games that have zero playoff implications will be given short shrift so the world can focus on the games that matter. Fans of those teams getting shortened recaps should demand their teams play better. As John Randall says, “This is when the big dogs come out.”

Forty years ago today came a day that will live in football infamy. Steelers call it the “Immaculate Reception.” Raiders call it the “Immaculate Deception.”

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Now on to forty years later and the NFL 2012 Week 16 Recap

Atlanta Falcons @ Detroit Lions is the Saturday night game. Because of Christmas Eve, this game is being played on Saturday night rather than Monday night. The Falcons at 12-2 are looking to lock up home field throughout the playoffs while the 4-10 Lions are just playing out the string. Yet Atlanta lost a couple weeks ago on the road to lowly Carolina, and Detroit does have some talent. This could be a stunning upset, especially with an angry Jim Schwartz seeing his team lose by 28 to lowly Arizona. Atlanta may have to guard against a letdown after blasting the defending New York Champions 41-0. Mike Smith keeps his guys focused.

Detroit showed right from the start why a promising season washed away with 6 straight losses. On the first play from scrimmage, Detroit burned a timeout 23 seconds in. On Detroit’s 2nd possession they faced 3rd and 2 from their own 18. Matthew Stafford went to Megatron Calvin Johnson, who has a serious chance to break the all time single season receiving yards record held by Jerry Rice. This time the pass to Johnson went for a 49 yard gain. He just does that. Yet on the next play from the Atlanta 33, Matt Leshoure fumbled and Atlanta took over. From their 31, Matt Ryan made it look easy, hitting Roddy White for 16 yards. On 3rd and 1 from the Detroit 44, Ryan went deep to White for the touchdown and the 7-0 Falcons lead.

Detroit took over at their 20 with 6 minutes left in the first quarter, and Stafford moved the Lions to a 1st and 10 at the Atlanta 20. An 18 yard completion to Johnson moved them along, but the drive died at the red zone. Old Reliable Jason Hanson hit a 34 yard field goal as the Lions trailed 7-3 after the first quarter.

Atlanta began the second quarter with 2nd and 1 at their 29. A few plays later they faced 2nd and 19 from their 37. Ryan hit Jason Snelling for 12 and White for 7 on 3rd and 7. On 2nd and 5 from the Detroit 39, Ryan found White again, and White evaded all tacklers for another long touchdown to make it 14-3 Falcons. After an exchange of punts, Detroit faced 3rd and 3 from their 48. A short pass to Johnson was fumbled, and the Falcons took over at the Detroit 40 with 4 minutes left in the half.

Michael Turner gained 8 and 4, and on 3rd and 10 from the Detroit 28, Ryan hit Jaquez Rodgers for 11 at the 2 minute warning. Ryan went to the corner of the end zone for Julio Jones, and somehow Jones got one foot down and drug the other one with no margin for error. The electric 16 yard touchdown was the third of the game for Matty Ice as the Falcons were cruising 21-3.

Detroit took over at their 15 with 1:10 left in the half. Just before the half a completion to Johnson gave him the NFL record for most consecutive 100 yard receiving games with 8 and tied Michael Irvin for most in a season with 11. That record could be broken next week. The Lions did just enough for Hanson to hit a 38 yard field goal as the Lions trailed 21-6 at halftime.

Rather than break the game wide open in the second half, Atlanta went 3 and out, lost a yard, and punted. Detroit took over at their 40. Stafford hit Matthew Heller for 12 and Leshoure tacked on 9 and 3. On 3rd and 2 from the Atlanta 25, Stafford hit Johnson for 14. On 3rd and 4 from the 5, Stafford found Stephan Logan for just enough. Leshoure got the last yard as the Lions got to within 21-13 midway through the third quarter. Atlanta punted again and the Lions took over at their 15.

Stafford found Leshoure for 7 and Leshoure gained 5 more. On 3rd and 4 from their 33, Stafford found Johnson for 26 and again for 21 more, bringing within 5 yards of breaking the receiving record. The Lions began the fourth quarter with 1st and goal at the 6. On 3rd and goal at the 4, a designed quarterback draw only got half. On 4th and goal at the 2 only 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, Jim Schwartz angered the crowd by opting for the field goal. Hanson hit the 20 yarder as the Lions trailed 21-16.

Atlanta took over and soon faced 3rd and 4 from their 28. One stop on defense would give Detroit a chance for the lead. Instead Ryan went to White for 15 and Jones for gains of 12 and 14. On 2nd and 17 from the Detroit 38, Ryan scrambled for 16. On 3rd and 1 Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez for 9. On 2nd and 12 from the 15, Ryan found White for 14 and Palmer for the one yard touchdown as the Falcons got some breathing room up 28-16 midway through the fourth quarter.

On the first play from scrimmage after a touchback, Stafford went deep to Johnson. Perhaps it was an attempt to get the record out of the way, but Asante Samuel intercepted Stafford and the Falcons had a short field at the Detroit 42 looking to close out the game. Turner gained 22 yards. On 3rd and 6 from the 16, Detroit had no answers as Ryan hit Jones for 10. With 3:14 left left the Lions took their 1st timeout with the Falcons facing 3rd and goal at the 2. Ryan threw incomplete, stopping the clock. Mike Smith went for the field goal and Matt Bryant hit from 20. The Lions still clung to life as they took over at their own 20 with 3 minutes left.

On the first play from scrimmage Stafford hit Johnson for a 26 yard gain, and Megatron was in the record books. Stafford then threw 3 straight incompletions, although one of them was a perfect throw uncharacteristically dropped by Johnson. On 4th and 10 with 2:40 to play, Stafford found Tony Scheffler for 14 and Bell for 10 to the Atlanta 29 at the 2 minute warning. Stafford hit Scheffler for 18 and Bell for 9. Detroit took their 2nd timeout. Yet on 2nd and 1 from the 2, Stafford threw incomplete twice. On 4th and 1 from the 2, Stafford threw incomplete again and their would be no onsides kick try.

Yet in  very surprising turn of events, a handoff deep in the end zone never got out of the end zone as the Lions defense created a safety. Atlanta could have just ended the game, but instead the Lions would have life still needing a miracle. Down by 13, the final Lions blunder on the free kick killed them. Stephan Logan fielded it and must have thought he was in the end zone because he immediately went to one knee with nobody within 30 yards of him. He was actually at his own 4 yard line, where the Lions would begin with 80 seconds to play and only one timeout.

On 4th and 9 from their own 19, Stafford went deep to Johnson for another 21 yards as the Lions took their last timeout with 42 seconds left. In a game earlier this year down by 2 touchdowns with 20 seconds left, the Lions scored, got the onsides kick, and got the Hail Mary to score again. On 4th and 10 from midfield, Stafford hit Heller for 16 but the clock ran out. There would be no comeback.

Megatron got the record and now has a shot an unheard of 2,000 receiving yards next week. He only needs 108 yards, and the Lions will be at home against reeling Chicago. Stafford needs only 6 passes to break all the time mark for attempts in a season held by Drew Bledsoe. Stafford finished 37 for 56 for 443 yards, but with 0 touchdowns and one interception. Johnson caught 11 passes for a ridiculous 225 yards. Matt Ryan was lights out 25 of 32 for 279 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Detroit has now lost 7 straight to fall to 4-11. Atlanta at 13-2 locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This Atlanta crew had the top NFC seed 2 years ago at 13-3 and lost at home. This current Falcons team has not won a playoff game, but the skeptics will be silenced if and when they do. 31-18 Falcons

Oakland Raiders @ Carolina Panthers–For more on the game of the day, go to http://www.justblogbaby.com

This game has zero playoff implications. Carolina has won 2 straight to get to 5-9 while Oakland is 4-10. Both coaches may be fired at the end of the year. The Raiders lose most games by double digits and barely beat teams even worse than them. League rules require this game not be canceled.

Carolina punted, and the Raiders went to the bag of tricks at the outset. On 2nd and 9 from their 22, Terrell Pryor took the snap, and threw it across the field as a lateral to Carson Palmer, who then fired back across the field to Pryor, who gained 22 yards. Darren McFadden gained 2 and 7, but on 3rd and 1 from the Carolina 47, McFadden lost 5 yards and the Raiders punted.

Carolina faced 2nd and 13 from their own 9 when Cam Newton Hit LaFell for 12. On 3rd and 1 Mike Tolbert gained 7. Newton then scrambled for 29 yards. O 2nd and 22 from the Oakland 39, Newton hit Steve Smith for 16. On 3rd and 6 Newton went deep to Smith for the touchdown and the Panthers led 7-0.

After a touchback, Palmer hit Brandon Myers for 2 yards and Denarius Moore for 7 yards. Palmer was 3 for 3 for 31 yards. Yet on the next play the game was over. On 3rd and 1 from the 29, Palmer rolled out, and belted on a blind side hit. 2 guys got him in a high-low quarterback combo sandwich. The pass was incomplete. There was a personal foul for roughing the passer, and the Raiders had 1st and 10 at their 44. It did not matter. Palmer was out for the game, which meant the only thing that could make a 4-10 team worse was about to happen. Enter backup quarterback Captain Checkdown Matt Leinart.

The hope was he would not even raise his arm. Mike Goodson gained 7 and 1. So naturally on 3rd and 2 Dennis Allen called not just a pass play, but a Captain Checkdown West Coast Offense pass play. Leinart completed it Marcel Reece for a 2 yard loss. Carolina went 3 and out and the Raiders got it back at their 25, with unnecessary roughness moving the Raiders to their own 40. On 3rd and 12 Leinart hit Derrick Hagan for 19 and McFadden for 11. Yet on 3rd and 6 from the 7, another dink and dunk pass to Rod Streater meant a 4 yard gain. On 4th and 2 from the 3, Dennis Allen sent out Sebastian Janikowski. The 21 yarder had the Raiders down 7-3, but there was no hope even with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half.

Newton moved Carolina from the 20 to the Oakland 30, but Graham Gano missed a  48 yarder. With 1:40 left in the half the Raiders were still down only 7-3 with 1st and 10 at their 38. Taking a knee might have been a good idea Leinart is so awful. He threw incomplete twice and then was intercepted by Keuchly, who returned it 25 yards to the Oakland 29. Newton hit Denagelo Williams for 22 and on 3rd and goal from the 3, Newton took it in himself just before the half as the Panthers now led 14-3. The second half was unwatchable and unnecessary.

The Raiders went 3 and out to start the third quarter when on 3rd and 9 from their 21 Leinart completed a pass for 0 yards. The Raiders got a break when Carolina fumbled a punt, giving Oakland the ball at the Carolina 32. Leinart completed a pass to Reece for a loss of 4 yards. This is Matt Leinart. Consecutive offensive penalties meant another Raiders punt that was not fumbled.

On the last play of the third quarter the Panthers faced 3rd and 12 from their own 7. Newton was intercepted by Burress, who returned it 7 yards as the Raiders began the fourth quarter at the Carolina 18. Could Matt Leinart do anything ever in his entire bust of a career? No. After McFadden gained 6, a false start and an incompletion meant 3rd and 9. Leinart threw incomplete again but was bailed out by unnecessary roughness. Now it was 1st and goal at the 8. Dennis Allen tried to do without Leinart. Terrell Pryor took a snap and completed a 5 yard pass to Reece. McFadden scored the 3 yard touchdown, but offensive holding meant 2nd and goal from the 13. Leinart threw incomplete twice although had he completed them it would have lost yards given his history. Seabass hit the 31 yarder and the Raiders were down 14-6 with much of the entire fourth quarter to play.

Oakland got it back at their own 26 and McFadden gained 13. Leinart then threw what may have been the deepest bomb of his career, a 19 yard completion to Reece. On 3rd and 9 from the Carolina 41, Leinart hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for 11. Yet on 3rd and 4 from the 24, Leinart threw incomplete. 5 1/2 minutes remained, and Dennis Allen decided to trust Leinart rather than Seabass and his defense. Leinart threw incomplete again.

Carolina took over at their 24 and Newton ran for 4 and 19 and hit Olsen for 20. The Raiders took all of their timeouts as Gano came in for a 51 yard field goal try. A miss would keep the Raiders alive. The kick was good and Oakland was done. Leinart finished a miserable 16 for 32 for 115 yards and one interception. The Panthers began 2-8 but have gone 4-1 since, fighting hard for Ron Rivera. The Raiders lost their umpteenth double digit game as Dennis Allen saw any semblance fall apart when Palmer went down. At 4-11, the Raiders need to be blown up and made from scratch. 17-6 Panthers

New Orleans Saints @ Dallas Cowboys–The Saints at 6-8 are virtually eliminated from contention but Drew Brees will not let his team just play out the string. They will give Dallas a hard time. The Cowboys have fought back to 8-6 and a 3 way tie for first place in the NFC Least. They could win the division or miss the playoffs altogether, and with Tony Romo one never knows. Jerry Jones may blow up his 1.2 billion dollar metropolis stadium if the Cowboys lose this one, and Jason Garrett never has job security because no Dallas coach does.

The Saints began facing 3rd and 7 from their 23 when Drew Brees hit Marquis COlston for 15 and Darren Sproles for 12 to midfield. On 3rd and 3 from the Dallas 43, Brees hit pierre Thomas for 13 and Colston for 12. A facemask on the defense was followed by a 9 yard Mark Ingram touchdown run to make it 7-0 Saints. The Saints got it back at their 9 and Brees led a 15 play, 8 minute drive that had the Saints beginning the second quarter with 3rd and 1 at the Dallas 18. Ingram got the carry and got nothing. The Saints played it safe on 4th and 1 but Garrett Hartley missed the 36 yard field goal.

It was a huge momentum swing as the Cowboys took over at their 26. From the 32, Tony Romo went to Dez Bryant for 10 and then went bombs away back to Bryant for a 58 yard touchdown. Rather than down 10-0, Dallas had tied it 7-7. Dallas got it back and faced 3rd and 9 from their 26. Romo hit Jason Witten for 12 and then a short pass to Bryant went for another 58 yard touchdown. This was not instant replay, as Dallas led 14-7 with 6 minutes left in the half.

With 5 1/2 minutes left in the half the Saints took over at their 10. Brees found Colston for 21 and Sproles gained 11. Brees hit Ingram for 7, Colston for 4, Thomas for 7, Colston for 8 at the 2 minute warning, and Ingram for 9. Brees threw incomplete on 3rd and 1 from the Dallas 23, but they went for it on 4th and 1. Brees hit Colston for 15, but further review the ball was ruled incomplete. Yet Dallas had jumped offsides anyway. Brees then went to Thomas for 16 and Lance Moore for a 6 yard touchdown to make it 14-14 with 1:16 left in the half.

Dallas went 3 and out and used only 15 seconds to do it. With 47 seconds left the Saints took over at their 30 with 2 timeouts. Brees found Sproles, who raced 44 yards. Shots to the end zone were incomplete, but Hartley hit from 37 to make it 17-14 Saints at halftime.

Dallas began the third quarter at their 24. From the 29 Romo hit Miles Austin for 16 and Kevin Ogletree for 12. Murray gained 9 but the drive stalled. Dan Bailey hit from 47 to tie the game 17-17.

A key play of the game happened with 4 1/2 minutes left and the Cowboy getting the ball back at their own 3 yard line. DeMarco Murray got the carry, and had it ripped out of his hands. His knee may have been down, but the officials ruled it a fumble. The Saints recovered at the Dallas 5 yard line. On 3rd and goal Brees fired to Thomas for the score as the Saints led 24-17.

The Saints got it back at their own 2 yard line and began the fourth quarter facing 3rd and 2 from the 10. Thomas gained 6. On 3rd and 7 from the 19, Brees hit Graham for 16. On 3rd and 8 from their 37, Brees found Colston over the middle on a short pass and Colston raced for a 60 yard gain down to the Dallas 3. Brees hit Thomas for the score as the Saints had a 31-17 lead with 11 minutes left in the game.

After an exchange of punts, the Cowboys took over at their 20 with 4:45 to play. Romo hit Bryant for 8 and then went deep to Bryant again for a 41 yard gain. Romo then found Murray for 15 and Harris for the 16 yard touchdown as the Cowboys were only down 31-24 with 3 1/2 minutes to play. The Saints took over at their 15 and faced 2nd and 11 from their 26 at the 2 minute warning. Another short run meant Dallas taking their second timeout. Everything came down to 3rd and 10. Brees faded back with defenders in his face and found Colston right near the sticks.  A perfect tackle by Jenkins meant 4th and 1. Not only did Jenkins stop Colston, but he got him out of bounds to preserve the last timeout with 1:45 left. Joe Vitt decided to channel his inner Barry Switzer by going for it on 4th and 1 from his own 35. It was just an attempt to draw Dallas offsides.

The Saints punted, and Dwayne Harris returned the punt from his own 7 for a 28 yard gain to the Dallas 36 with 90 seconds to play. Romo found Murray for 22 yards at the sideline, hit Bryant for 4, and Witten for 19. Romo spiked the ball to stop the clock with 32 seconds left. On 2nd and 10 from the 19, Romo threw out of bounds incomplete. On 3rd down Romo overthrew Witten in the end zone. 4th and 10 came with 23 second left. Romo sent everyone to the end zone, and fired to the corner to Miles Austin. Yes Austin has been blamed for having previously dated a Kardashian, but this was redemption. He caught the touchdown as the Cowboys stormed back to tie the game 31-31. For the second straight week, Dallas was headed to overtime.

Both quarterbacks were magnificent in this game. Drew Brees was 37 of 53 for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns. Romo was 26 of 43 for 416 yards and 4 touchdowns. Neither quarterback was intercepted. Regardless of the outcome, it would not be blamed on either offense. Dallas began at their 20, but on 3rd and 5 from their 36, Romo threw incomplete. The Saints got it back at their 26 in a game that was now sudden death. Brees hit Graham for 22. On 3rd and 3 from the Dallas 41, Brees hit Graham for 7. Then on 2nd and 9 from the Dallas 33, things got bizarre. This was not the Immaculate Reception or the Holy Roller, but it was something.

Brees hit Colston over the middle for a 9 yard gain, but Colston fumbled the ball forward with one player on each team scrambling for it. Although it appeared Jimmy Graham recovered it at the 2 yard line for the Saints, Dallas was given the ball. Also, it was not clear whether Colston ever fully secured the ball. After a lengthy review, it was ruled a catch, a fumble, and a recovery by the Saints. The refs may not have gotten the catch right but they certainly got the recovery part right. Garret Hartley was immediately brought in for a 20 yarder to win it. He did. The Saints at 7-8 were eliminated from playoff contention due to other games. The Cowboys at 8-7 are in real danger. They are one game back of Washington, and these teams have a showdown next week in Washington. 34-31 Saints, OT

Tennessee Titans @ Green Bay Packers–Sometimes a bad team goes on the road and shocks a good team. That will not be the case here. Tennessee is done while Green Bay at 10-4 has a shot at a first round bye but not home field throughout the playoffs. Mike McCarthy has made 2 very curious decisions this week. One is keeping kicker Mason Crosby. Crosby was part of their 2010 Super Bowl run, but he has been awful this year. Yet changing kickers this late in the season could be even riskier, and we will see if he is rewarded for his loyalty. Think Al Del Greco in Tennessee a decade ago. The other curious decision was benching center Jeff Saturday, who may retire after this season. Saturday should make the Hall of Fame, and a couple fumbled exchanges could put him back in the lineup in a heartbeat.

Tennessee went 3 and out twice and Green Bay began their second possession at their 44. Aaron Rodgers hit Williams for 8 and Greg Jennings for 9. Ryan Grant ran for 18 and 9, and Rodgers finished the drive with a 6 yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 Packers. Tennessee went 3 and out again and a short 31 yard punt had the Packers with a short field at the Titans 43. Rodgers hit Jones for 15, Jennings for 8, and Randall Cobb for the 20 yard touchdown as the Packers led easily 14-0.

Jake Locker was intercepted after that, but the Packers did not capitalize. Yet on 2nd and 20 from their 30, Locker was intercepted again, and Walden returned it 20 yards to the Tennessee 14. Yet despite beginning the second quarter with 2nd and 4 from the 8, Rodgers threw incomplete twice. Mason Crosby hit from 26 to make it 17-0 Packers. Tennessee moved from their 36 to a 3rd and 1 at the Packers 31. Johnson got nothing, Mike Munchak gambled on 4th and 1, and Locker threw incomplete. Green Bay moved to a 3rd and 1 at the Titans 37. Rodgers thew incomplete, Mike McCarthy gambled on 4th and 1, and Grant gained 2. That was enough for Crosby to hit a 48 yarder as the beleaguered kicker made it 20-0 Packers.

Green Bay held the ball for much of the second quarter, and despite a long drive from their own 3 to the Titans 38 not resulting in points, Green Bay began the third quarter at their 40 when the kickoff went out of bounds. An exhausted and overmatched Titans defense saw Rodgers hit Cobb for 31 and Finley for 13. Harris ran it in from 7 yards out to make it 27-0 Packers. The rest of the game was a Green Bay carpet-bombing by a team that looks every bit as good as last year’s 15-1 squad.

From their own 29, Rodgers hit Jones for 15 and 10 and Grant for a 34 yard gain to set up a one yard touchdown toss to Greg Jennings to put Green Bay up 34-0. The Packers took over at their 20 and Rodgers hit Jones for 27, Finley for 18, and Taylor for 11. The fourth quarter began with the Packers at the Titans 20. Rodgers hit Jennings for 8 and Jones for the 12 yard touchdown to make it 41-0 Packers. Tennessee punted again, and Ross returned it 58 yards to the Titans 7. One play was enough for Grant to run it in to make it 48-0 Packers.

After the Titans turned it over on downs in their own territory, Green Bay took over at the Tennessee 32. Rodgers was done for the day with 11 minutes left, and we now know his backup is Harrell. Harrell even completed a pass for 9 yards. Grant converted on 4th and 2 with a 3 yard run and then ran it in from 9 yards out to make it 55-0 Packers. Tennessee would finally avoid the shutout when Locker hit Kenny Britt for a 2 yard touchdown with 1:39 to play.

The Packers are 11-4 and clicking. They still have a shot at a first round bye but not home field throughout. Yet Mike McCarthy and the Packers 2 years ago went on the road and throttled top seed Atlanta on the way to winning it all. Atlanta does not want to hear this, but nobody wants to play Green Bay right now. They are still angry about last year’s collapse. This team has the potential to be a dynasty, and we will know very soon. 55-7 Packers

Minnesota Vikings @ Houston Texans–The overachieving Vikings at 8-6 have playoff hopes and Adrian Peterson is one of the feel-good stories of the year. Less than one year removed from a devastating knee injury, he has 1812 yards rushing. 2000 seems highly possible, but he is shooting to break Eric Dickerson’s 2105 yards. It is doable, but he is facing a buzzsaw defense run by Michelin Man Wade Phillips. Gary Kubiak has a 12-2 football team looking to lock up home field throughout the playoffs, and even Peterson should not be enough to stop them.

Houston began at their 21 and Matt Schaub immediately began firing, hitting Arriun Foster for 11 and Andre Johnson for 5 and 19. On 3rd and 11 from the Minnesota 45, Schaub threw incomplete but defensive pass interference meant 12 yards. Shane Graham hit a 51 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Texans. Minnestoa soon faced 1st and 15 from their 17 when Adrian Peterson began is quest with a 20 yard run. Christian Ponder hit Rudolph just before Christmas for a 27 yard gain. On 3rd and 6 from the Houston 34, Ponder went to Jenkins for a 32 yard gain. The Christma spirit continued as Ponder and Rudolph delivered a touchdown connection of 3 yards for a 7-3 Vikings lead.

Houston has a stout defense, but on this day it was the Minnesota defense clamping down for much of the game. Early in the second quarter the Texans faced 2nd and 7 from the Minnesota 28. Foster gained 5 but fumbled, and the VIkings took over at their 21. On 3rd and 8 from the Houston 44, Ponder hit Simpson for just enough. Leslie Frazier brought out Walsh for a 56 yard field goal try midway through the second quarter. Given the nature of this game, it was highly risky. Walsh drilled it and the Vikings led 10-3.

With less than 2 minutes left in the half a 20 yard punt return by Sherels had the Vikings at the Houston 44. Ponder hit Wright for 21 yards. They got nothing else but Walsh hit from 41 as the Vikings led 13-3 at the half. Minnesota began the third quarter at their 27 and Peterson gained 21 yards. On 3rd and 10 Ponder hit Wright for 15 with unnecessary roughness adding 15 more. The drive again stalled but Walsh hit from 39 to make it 16-3 Vikings.

Minnesota got it back at their own 48 but Ponder was sacked and fumbled. Despite taking over at the Minnesota 45, Houston failed to capitalize. Yet Houston would get it back at their own 39 on the next series and Schaub hit Johnson for 19. Tate gained 13 and Schaub hit Johnson for 14 and Walter for 12 to set up 1st and goal at the one. Yet on 3rd and goal from the one, Schaub was sacked for a 14 yard loss. A disgusted Kubiak sent out Graham, who hit from 33 to get the Texans within 16-6 after three quarters.

The Minnesota defense just clamped down in the fourth quarter. A punt pinned the Texans at their own 1, and Minnesota got it back at their own 36. On 3rd and 2 Ponder scrambled for a 29 yard gain. On 3rd and 4 from the Houston 21, Toby Gerhart got just enough. On 3rd and 6 from the 13, a defensive facemask was the final nail in the Houston coffin as Gerhart ran it in for a 3 yard touchdown to ice the game.

Houston is 12-3, but they have lost 2 of 3 and may have thrown away home field advantage throughout the playoffs as well. They can still get home field but they may miss out on a 1st round bye altogether. The Vikings have gutted their way to 9-6. They are still alive for a wildcard spot. Adrian Peterson only ran for 86 yards on 25 carries to put him at 1,898 yards on the year. 102 yards next week gets him to 2,000 but he will need 208 yards next week to break the all time 2,105 mark held by Eric Dickerson. Those who truly understand sports should know that winning the game is more important. 23-6 Vikings

New England Patriots @ Jacksonville Jaguars–The Patriots are among the best teams and the Jaguars are among the worst. Could this be an upset? No. The Patriots are angry from a loss last week and at 10-4 see their chances of a 1st round bye slipping away. Evil Hoodie Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady may win this 100-0.

Jacksonville took over at their 22 to start the game and Chad Henne hit Justin Blackmon for 18 yards. On 3rd and 3 from their 47 Henne hit Christ Shorts for 10. Owens gained 14 and caught a pass for 12. Henne then found Mercedes Lewis for 9 and Blackmon for the 3 yard touchdown as it was the Jaguars that took the 7-0 lead. Yet Tom Brady was then intercepted, giving the Jaguars the ball at their own 47. Owens gained 5 and 11 and the Jaguars kicked a 41 yard Josh Scobee field goal as they led 10-0. Maybe they would win 100-0. No.

Tom Brady quickly led the Patriots with a 32 yard completion to Hoomanawanui as New England reached 2nd and goal at the Jacksonville 7. Yet Brady then threw incomplete twice and the Patriots settled for a 25 yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to trail 10-3. Jacksonville took over at their 34 and Henne hit Shipley for a 36 yard gain. Yet Scobee missed a 43 yard field goal. On the next series from their 45, Brady was intercepted and Jacksonville took over at their 26. On the last play of the first quarter, Henne found Owens for a 53 yard gain. They got little else and this time Scobee hit from 35 to make it 13-3 Jaguars.

After an exchange of punts New England finally got going again. On 3rd and 4 from their 24, Brady found Hernandez for 13, Deon Branch for a pair of 6 yard gains, and Danny Woodhead for 24 yards. The drive stalled at that point but Gostkowski kicked a 49 yarder to have the Patriots within 13-6.

New England got it back at their 34 with 4 minutes left in the half and faced 3rd and 1 at their 43 with 3 minutes left. Ridley gained 2 and New England was at midfield at the 2 minute warning. Brady hit Wes Welker for gains of 8, 11, and 8, Brandon Lloyd for 8, and Woodhead for the 14 yard touchdown only seconds before the half to tie the game 13-13. Brady had 162 yards passing and Henne 210, and that was only in the first half.

New England began the third quarter at their 20 and Brady hit Lloyd for 9, 16 and 14 to the Jags 35. Ridley gained 12, but on 3rd and 7 from the Jags 20, Brady threw incomplete. Gostkowski hit from 38 to make it 16-13 Patriots. After an exchange of punts the Jaguars faced 2nd and 12 from midfield. Henne was intercepted by Cole, and the Patriots took over at their 40. They did not capitalize, but began the next series at their 41. Ridley gained 5 and Walker took an end around for 9 more. Brady found Welker for a 25 yard gain and Lloyd for 8 more. The fourth quarter began with 3rd and goal at the 2. Brady found Welker open in the flat for the score and 20 unanswered points had New England up 23-13.

After a touchback Henne scrambled for 15. On 3rd and 5 from their 40, Henne hit Blackmon for 18. On 3rd and 2 from the Patriots 34, Henne hit Owens for 3. Yet on 3rd and 3 from the 24 Henne threw incomplete. Scobee hit from 42 and the pesky Jaguars were only down 23-16 with 8 1/2 minutes to play.

New England went 3 and out and Jacksonville took over at their 34 midway through the fourth quarter.

Henne hit Blackmon for 9 and 17, Shipley for 5, Shorts for 18, and Owens for 9. A 5 yard completion to Blackmon set up 2nd and goal from the one with 4:45 left. One yard meant a tie game. Yet 2-12 teams are 2-12 for a reason. Jones got the carry and got nothing. On 3rd and goal, a false start was followed by a sack of Henne. On 4th and goal from the 10, Henne was intercepted by Patrick Chung with 3:15 to play.

The Patriots took over at their 14, and on 3rd and 4 Brady hit Hoomanawanui for a critical 14 yard gain and a first down at the 2 minute warning. The Jaguars took their last timeout with 1:43 to play and the Patriots facing 3rd and 7 from their 37. Brady was sacked, and the Jaguars had one last chance from their own 38 with 54 seconds left. Unnecessary roughness on the defense meant 1st and 10 at the Patriots 47. 3 straight incompletions set up 4th and 10 with 39 seconds to go. Henne hit Clemons for 17, spiked the ball, hit Shipley for 18, and spiked the ball with 8 seconds left to stop the clock. After an incompletion, it all came down to 3rd and 10 from the 12 with 5 seconds to play. Henne went to the end zone and was again intercepted by Patrick Chung.

It was ugly, but the Patriots got the win to get to 11-4. They are still on the outside looking in for the 1st round bye, and their fans will complain about barely beating the worst team one week after a humiliating home loss. Yet at 2-13 Jaguars Owner Shad Khan is looking to bring Tim Tebow home. Either that, or they can move the entire team to where Tebow lives now. They have to do something, although they still have a 50/50 chance at the top pick in the draft. 23-16 Patriots

Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs–Last year it was the Colts at 2-14 and now Bruce Arians has them at 9-5 and all but in the playoffs as Andrew Luck and company rally around Chuck Pagano. The Chiefs have fallen to 2-12 and tied for the worst record in the league. Romeo Crennel might be out the door, but getting him a quarterback would help this team. It sure helped Indy.

Indy began going 3 and out and the Chiefs soon faced 3rd and 11 from their 28. Brady Quinn aimed in the direction of Dexter McCluster, but it was a McClusterf*ck as Butler stepped in and intercepted it. Butler raced 32 yards the other way for a touchdown and a 7-0 Colts lead. After a touchback, Quinn rebounded by going deep to Jonathan Baldwin for a 57 yard gain. That was enough for Ryan Succop to hit a 47 yard field goal to get the Chiefs within 7-3.

The Colts began the second quarter facing 3rd and 4 from their 39. Luck went deep to Avery for a 28 yard gain. That was just enough for Adam Vinatieri to hit a 48 yarder as the Colts led 10-3. Each team reached the opponents 42 before punting, and the Chiefs moved from their 20 to a 1st and 10 at the Indy 16 with 1:10 left in the half. Jamal Charles got the carry and fumbled, giving the Colts the ball at their 22. Andrew Luck went to TY Hilton for 23 yards and Moore for 32 more. The drive stalled but Vinatieri hit from 36 to make it 13-3 Colts at halftime.

The game changed in the second half on the first play from scrimmage. From the Chiefs 14, Jamal Charles got around the end and raced for an 86 yard touchdown as a fired up home crowd saw the Chiefs only down 13-10. The Colts then went 3 and out and the Chiefs took over at their 13. Quinn hit McCluster for 9, Charles gained 33, and McCluster added 10 more. Yet on 1st and 10 from the Indy 14, Quinn was intercepted in the end zone. The Chiefs got it back at their 19 and soon faced 3rd and 3 from their 46. Quinn was intercepted again, but defensive pass interference meant a 24 yard gain. On 3rd and 2 from the Indy 22, Quinn was sacked. Succop hit from 47 to tie it 13-13.

The Chiefs began the fourth quarter at their 27 and moved to a 3rd and 1 at the Clts 27. Peyton Hillis got stopped, and with the game tied Romeo Crennel decided to go for it rather than try a 45 yard field goal with a solid kicker. Quinn took the quarterback sneak and got nothing as the game stayed tied with 10 minutes left in regulation.

On 3rd and 4, Luck hit Hilton for 11 and Reggie Wayne for 18. Ballard ran for 11 and Luck went back to Wayne for 12 more. On 3rd and goal from the 7, Luck found Wayne for the touchdown as the Colts had the 7 point lead with 4 minutes left after the 13 play, 6 minute, 73 yard drive. The Chiefs would have one last chance from their own 10 yard line. On 4th and 10 with 2:40 to play, Romeo Crennel decided to punt and trust his defense, rather than give the game away like his old boss Bellichick. With 2:20 left, it all came down to the Colts facing 3rd and 10 at their 37 and the Chiefs out of timeouts. 2-12 teams are 2-12 for a reason. Ballard took an end around 13 yards . He stayed inbounds down to the 2 minute warning and that was it.

The Chiefs at 2-12 have a 50/50 shot at the top pick in the draft while the Colts, only one year removed from 2-14 themselves, are now 10-5 and in the playoffs. Chuck Pagano is back, and Bruce Arians may be the coach of the year despite not being the head coach. Luck has already topped 4,000 yards and set the rookie passing record. Peyton Manning only had about 3,900 yards. Luck could lead a 9 game turnaround. Manning engineered a 10 win turnaround, but that was in his second season after starting 3-13. That is the past. The Colts have locked up a wildcard spot. 20-13 Colts

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins–Neither of these teams are going to the playoffs, and Jim Kelly and Dan Marino are not coming out of retirement. It could be a close game, but not a meaningful one. Chan Gailey and his sinister looking beard may be fired after the season, while Joe Philbin is only in his first season.

Miami moved from their 20 to a 1st and 10 t the Buffalo 28. 3 more plays gained 0 yards and a 46 yard Nate Kaeding field goal try was blocked. Buffalo moved from their 37 to Miami 25 when Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Stevie St Johnson for 8. St Johnson fumble the ball away. The Dolphins got it back at their 38, Despite having dated a Kardashian, Reggie Bush was determined to prove he could play football. He ran for 9 and Miller added 10. On 3rd and 6 from the Buffalo 39, Ryan Tannehill hit Brad Hartline for 10. On 3rd and 1 from the 20 Bush ran for 3 and caught a short pass from Tannehill that turned into a 17 yard touchdown and a 7-0 Dolphins lead.
Buffalo took over at their 11 in the second quarter. CJ Spiller ran for 4 and then broke off a 62 yard run. Yet Buffalo got nothing else and settled for a 42 yard Ryan Lindell field goal and a 7-3 deficit.

This game was as hideous as expected, and with 2:22 left in the half the Dolphins were at their 37. Tannehill hit Ryan Matthews for a 30 yard gain and then ran for 31 more yards. Bush ran it in from the one to make it 14-3 Dolphin at halftime. League ruled required the second half be played. In the third quarter from their 31 Buffalo fumbled and the Dolphins took over at their 36. Miller raced for 28 yards and Bush gained 8 and 3 on 3rd and 2. On 3rd and 5 from the 20, Tannehill hit Binns for 6. On 3rd and 8 from the 12 Tannehill hit Bush, who again made it to the end zone for another score as the Dolphins led 21-3. On 3rd and 7 from their own 35, Buffalo fumbled again, and Miami recovered at the Bills 29. They went nowhere but Kaeding hit from 45 to make it 24-3 Dolphins after three quarters.

Fitzpatrick would throw a 2 yard touchdown pass to brad Smith with 9 minutes left, but that was it for both teams. Buffalo got it back with 6 minutes left and moved from their own 15 to a 1st and goal at the one with 1:20 to play. Fitzpatrick was intercepted and the Bills at 5-10 long ago extended their NFL leading streak of seasons out of the playoffs at 13. Their last playoff game in 1999 was the home run throwback Adelphia Music City Miracle loss. Joe Philbin has quietly gotten the Dolphins to 7-8 with the win, giving them something to build on for next year. 24-10 Dolphins

San Diego Chargers @ New York Jets–Norvelous Norv Turner is definitely gone, while Rex Ryan finally benched butt-fumbling quarterback Mark Sanchez. Ryan may be back next year, although the bravado from a couple years ago is gone. Both of these rosters will be blown up at the end of the season. Even the Jets mascot Fireman Ed gave up, and the San Diego Chicken is tired of seeing his team play like Christmas turkeys. Tim Tebow is single again, and Eva Longoria may show interest in Sanchez does not play better or hold the clipboard without fumbling it.

Third string quarterback Greg McElroy got his first NFL start rather than Sanchez or Tebow. The Jets went 3 and out and Michael Spurolck returned the punt 63 yards for a touchdown as the Chargers led 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the game. Gang Green got it back at their 17 and McElroy hit Shone Greene for 30. A wildcat snap went to Justin Kerley, who went deep to Gates for a 42 yard gain. On 3rd and 7 from the 8, McElroy gained just enough and Greene got the last yard to tie it 7-7.

The Jets got it back at their 42 and Greene gained 12. McKnight gained 7 and McElroy hit Braylon Edwards for 13. On 3rd and 7 from the 23, defensive pass interference set up Greene for the one yard touchdown to make it 14-7 Jets. In the second quarter the Chargers moved from their 17 to a 3rd and 1 at the Jets 33. Battle lost a yard, but Norv Turner gambled on 4th and 2 and Philip Rivers hit Alexander for 18 yards. At that point San Diego went backward as 1st and 30 became 4th and 22. A field goal was good, nullified again, and on 4th and 27 Nick Novak from 51 hit it good again to get the Chargers within 14-10.

The Chargers began the third quarter at their 19 and Rivers hit Eddie Royal for 13 and Alexander for 14. On 3rd and 6 from midfield Rivers hit Gates for 10. On 3rd and 7 from the Jets 37, Rivers went deep to Alexander for the touchdown as the Chargers led 17-14. With 3 minutes left in the third quarter Spurlock burned the Jets again, returning a punt 21 yards to the Jets 38. On 3rd and 17 Rivers threw incomplete, but defensive holding killed the Jets. Rivers threw a 34 yard touchdown to Antonio Gates as the Chargers led 24-14.

3 plays later, on 3rd and 10 from their 33, McElroy was intercepted, as the Chargers began the fourth quarter at the Jets 19. The defense held, but Novak hit a 37 yarder to make it 27-14 Chargers. McKnight returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to the Jets 40. McElroy hit Edwards for 10 and Chaz Schilens for 24. The drive stalled, and on 4th and 8 Rex Ryan opted for the field goal. Nick Folk was good from 40 and the Jets were down 10 with 11 minutes to play.

The Jets got it back at their 15 with 6 1/2 minutes left. 90 seconds later, on 2nd and 10 from their 42, McElroy was sacked and fumbled. The last Jets drive ended in their own territory with another sack of McElroy. Both of these teams are underachieving losers, but the Chargers play hard for Norv Turner once it is way too late. That is still more than the Jets did at home for Rex Ryan. 27-17 Chargers

Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles–Walrus Lite Andy Reid will be gone after 14 years, proving once again the Eagles want to perpetually suck rather than give a good coach time to turn things around. Washington has been revitalized with RGIII and Kirk Cousins backing him up, as 5 straight wins have the Redskins at 8-6 in 3 way tie for the division lead.

The Eagles began at their own 24 and soon faced 3rd and 1 from their own 46. Pass-Happy Andy Reid actually called a run, and Brown got stopped. With nothing to play for but pride, Reid gambled on 4th and 1 in his own territory. Nick Foles hit Captain Morgan brent Celek for a 15 yard gain. On 4th and 1 from the Washington 30, Reid went for it again. Foles got 3 yards himself and then went deep to Jeremy Maclin for a 27 yard touchdown as the Eagles led 7-0. Washington moved from their 9 to a 4th and 2 at the Philly 35. Mike Shanahan decided to go for it but RGIII threw incomplete. Philly moved to a 1st and 10 at the Washington 23, but on 3rd and 15 Foles was sacked and fumbled. Washington took over at their 41 as the second quarter began. RGIII quickly hit Morris for 17 yards and on 3rd and 2 Eddie Royster gained 7. That was enough for Kai Forbath to hit a 45 yard field goal to get Washington within 7-3.

Philly went 3 and out and Washington took over at their own 47. RGIII went deep to Pierre Garcon for a 27 yard gain. That was enough for Forbath to hit from 42 to get Washington within 7-6. Only 2 plays later Philly faced 3rd and 12 from their 20. Foles was intercepted by London Fletcher, and the Redskins took over at the Eagles 25. On 3rd and 2, Morris gained 4. RGIII hit Morgan for the 11 yard touchdown as the Redskins led 13-7 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the half.

After a touchback, Foles hit Avant for 16, McCoy for 15 more, and Johnson and Maclin for 12 yard gains apiece. On 3rd and 5 from the Washington 20, Foles hit Alexander for 8. Yet offensive holding then killed the drive and the Eagles settled for a 38 yard Alex Henery field goal and a 13-10 halftime deficit.

RGIII went right to work in the third quarter from the Washington 28, going deep to Garcon for 29 yards. Morros gained 9 and 3, RGIII hit Paul for 21, and Morris finished with a 10 yard touchdown run to make it 20-10 Redskins. After a touchback, Foles went deep to Maclin for a 38 yard gain and Riley Cooper for 18 more. Yet on 2nd and 9 from the 12, Foles was sacked. Henery hit from 30 as the Eagles trailed 20-13.

Washington punted, and the Eagles faced a critical 4th and 2 at the the Washington 47 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. Andy Reid decided to go for it and Foles was sacked. From midfield, Morris ran for 5, 10, and 6, with Royster tacking on 7. On 3rd and 10 from the Philly 22, Griffin went deep to Santana Moss for the touchdown. The Eagles were kicking field goals while the Redskins were scoring touchdowns, which is why Washington led 27-13 after three quarters.

The Redskins faced a 2nd and 9 at their 42 looking to put the game away when RGIII was intercepted by Anderson. The Eagles took over at their 39 with 11 1/2 minutes left in regulation. On 3rd and 7 Foles hit Johnson for 10, Avant for 10 more, and McCoy for 21 yards. Lewis raced for the 17 yard touchdown as the Eagles were only down by 7 with 9 minutes left. Washington moved from their 20 to a 4th and 1 at the Philly 43 with 4 1/2 minutes left. Mike Shanahan decided to go for it, but a critical delay of game penalty forced a punt. The Eagles began their last gasp at their own 15.

Foles hit Maclin for 18, and on 3rd and 1 from their 45, McCoy gained 6 at the 2 minute warning. Foles dinked and dunked, hitting Maclin for 6, and McCoy for 7 and 3. With 43 seconds left, on 3rd and 4 from the Washington 30, Foles gained 5 as the Eagles took their second timeout with 37 seconds left. Foles hit McCoy for 8 and the Eagles took their last timeout with 28 seconds left. On 2nd and 2, Maclin threw incomplete twice. On 4th and 2 from the 17 with 23 seconds left, Foles scrambled all around for his life before just heaving it nowhere as he got belted. Intentional grounding was the last insult to injury.

The Redskins won their 6th straight game to get to 9-6. They led Dallas by one game with the Giants playing later that night. Washington could win the division or miss the playoffs altogether. Andy Reid may have coached his last Eagles home game after 14 years. His players fought literally to the final play, but as they have so many times this season, come up just short. 27-20 Redskins

Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers–Despite being 8-6, nobody should respect the Bengals. They are 0-6 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Pittsburgh is only 7-7, and the Steelers are saying all the right things. We all know better. The only way to calm the doubters is for the Bengals to win this game with everything on the line. They rode a soft schedule, and despite talent on offense, will most likely again lose to Pittsburgh.

Each team punted twice and the Steelers began their 3rd possession facing 3rd and 4 from their 13. It was definitely not an immaculate moment when Ben Roethlisberger completed a pass to Leon Hall, who play defense for the Bengals. Hall trotted 17 yards the other way for the interception touchdown and the 7-0 Bengals lead.

Pittsburgh got it back after a touchback and Big Ben led an 8 minute drive that came to a critical 3rd and 1 from the Cincinnati 6. Roethlisberger threw incomplete and Mike Tomlin decided not to gamble on 4th and 1. The crowd was upset, and even more angry when Shawn Suisham somehow missed a 24 yard field goal.

A field possession game had the Bengals taking over at the Steelers 42 with 4 minutes left in the half. On 2nd and 15 Red Rifle Andy Dalton Brandon Tate for 23 yards. That was enough for Josh Brown to hit a 41 yard field goal as the Bengals had the stunning 10-0 lead just past the 2 minute warning. Yet at that point the Bengals relaxed a bit. From the Pittsburgh 27, Big Ben hit Brown for 13 and then went deep to Brown for a 60 yard touchdown as the Steelers only trailed 10-7 at the half.

The second half was a slugfest, yet this was not a Pittsburgh-Baltimore game. Cincinnati brought the lumber, determined to finally get respect. Although COncy was 8-6 and Pittsburgh 7-7, everybody expected Pittsburgh to just thrash Cincinnati like they always do. After a punt in the third quarter, the Bengals took over at their own 20. On 3rd and 1 Pittsburgh jumped offsides. On 3rd and 14 from the Pittsburgh 46, Dalton hit Gresham for 25. Yet on 2nd and 7 from the 18, a critical intentional grounding on Dalton set up 4th and 22 from the 33. Marvin Lewis decided against the 51 yard field goal, and Dalton threw a Hail Mary incomplete. Pittsburgh moved to a 1st and 10 at the Cincy 11. Yet Dwyer lost 3 and Big Ben was sacked for another 8 yards in the wrong direction. Suisham did hit the 40 yard field goal as the game was deadlocked 10-10 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter began with a 28 yard defensive pass interference penalty giving the Bengals 1st and 10 at the Pittsburgh 42. Dalton then hit AJ Green for 12, but he fumbled the ball away. On their next series facing 3rd and 17 from their 47, Dalton was intercepted. Cincinnati got it back and faced 3rd and 9 from their 11 with 6:45 to play when Dalton hit Gresham for 12 and Green for 15 and 21. On 4th and 11 from the Pittsburgh 38 with 3 1/2 minutes left in regulation, both coaches made bold, and some would say, insane decisions.

The entire season was on the line for both teams. Yet in a defensive slobberknocker, Marvin Lewis opted to try a 56 yard field goal rather than punt and play defense. Josh Brown was no good, and Pittsburgh took over at their 42. At the 2 minute warning, the Steelers faced 3rd and 8 at the Cincy 40. Big Ben only got 4 yards, and the Bengals took their second timeout with 1:51 to play. Now it was Mike Tomlin deciding on a 53 yard field goal. He rolled the dice on the season as well, and Suisham also missed with a kick that was just short. Now the Bengals had it at their 43 with 1:47 left. Yet on 2nd and 1, a pair of attempts failed to get the yard. On 4th and 1 from the Pittsburgh 48 with 52 seconds left, this time Marvin Lewis took no chances.

Pittsburgh took over at their own 11 with 44 seconds left. Overtime made sense. Yet Tomlin again got aggressive, and Roethlisberger hit Ian Redman for 13 with 5 more penalty yards tacked on. With 24 seconds left, on 2nd and 5 from their 29, disaster struck. For the second straight week, Big Ben was intercepted when it mattered most. Nelson returned it 10 yards to the Pittsburgh 46 with 14 seconds left. Dalton found Green for a 25 yard gain. With 8 seconds left, Brown came in for a 43 yarder with a hostile crowd in his face. Cincinnati never beats Pittsburgh or Baltimore, especially not on the road. That is why nobody respects them. They are a fraud.

Not this time. Brown was good, and the only thing quieter than the doubters was the Pittsburgh crowd. With 3 seconds left from their own 28, their would be no Immaculate Reception II. Big Ben hit Redman for 22 to midfield, but the lateral went straight to defender Terrence Newman, who smartly went to the ground. The Bengals are 9-6 and in the playoffs. The Steelers are 7-8 and out of them. Marvin Lewis told his players that he kept gambling because he believed in his players. Mike Tomlin was gracious in defeat as always. Respect is earned. The Bengals earned it. They even have an outside chance at winning the division. 13-10 Bengals

St. Louis Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers–Yes this was the NFC Title Game during the 1999 season, but these teams fell on hard times and are now on the upswing. Both Jeff Fisher and Greg Schiano specialize in defense. While these teams are both eliminated from playoff contention, there is plenty to build on for next year.

Tampa Bay is a long way from the hideous “Buc Ball” that won it all a decade ago as they came in having four straight losses. Yet Buc Ball returned on the first drive as the Buccaneers moved from their 20 on a 15 play drive that consumed over 9 1/2 minutes. on 1st and goal from the 7, a false start and a sack of Josh Freeman meant a 29 yard Connor Barth field goal and a 3-0 Bucs lead.

Things got bizarre for the Rams from their 20. Sam Bradford found Danny Amendola for 3 yards. Amendola fumbled it and the Buccaneers had a gift when Johnson recovered it at the Rams 17. Yet Johnson fumbled it back on the return and when all was said and done the Rams had it back 1st and 10 at their 5. They moved to a 1st and 10 at the Tampa 31 to start the second quarter, but Bradford was then intercepted for a touchback. The Buccaneers soon faced 3rd and 15 from their 25 when Freeman was intercepted by Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins returned it 41 yards for a touchdown as the Rams led 7-3. Freeman would lead another long 11 play, 6 minute drive from the Tampa 20 to a 2nd and 3 at the Rams 31. A pair of incompletions meant a 49 yard Barth field goal as the Bucs still trailed 7-6 with 5 minutes left in the half.

With 3 1/2 minutes left in the half from just past midfield, Freeman was intercepted for the second time by Laurinitis, as the Rams took over at their 35. Stephen Jackson ran for 12 and 2 and Bradford hit Kendricks for 19. On 3rd and 10 from the Tampa 32, Bradford found Gibson for 13 and Kendricks for 13 more. Jackson ran it in for the 5 yard touchdown just before the half to make it 14-6 Rams. On the fits play from scrimmage after a touchback to start the second half, Bradford went deep to Kendricks for an 80 yard touchdown as 2 scores in less than one minute broke open a close game and made it 21-6 Rams.

3 plays later the Bucs faced 3rd and 4 from their 26. Freeman was intercepted for the third time, this time by Johnson. The Rams took over at the Tampa 30. Richardson gained 6 and 1 and on 3rd and 3 Bradford found Amendola for 8 and Givens for 11. A 5 yard touchdown to Pettis made it 28-6 Rams only 4 minutes into the second half. After a touchback Tampa faced 3rd and 2 from their 39. A short pass from Freeman to Mike Williams went for a 61 yard touchdown. The Buccaneers were back within 15 with 9 minutes left in the third quarter. Yet the final 24 minutes would yield nothing except Freeman’s fourth interception.

Tampa Bay would move from their 31 to a 3rd and 1 at the Rams 5 late in the third quarter. Freeman threw incomplete and on 4th and 1 got stopped on the quarterback keeper. The Bucs began the fourth quarter again at their 31 and moved to a 1st and goal at the 7. 3 straight incompletions was followed on 4th and goal but a short pass that only gained 4 yards. West Coast Offense anyone? Freeman threw his last interception on their next series and the one after moved from their 13 to a 2nd and 5 at the Rams 24. A pair of incompletions followed by a sack of Freeman officially ended things. The Bucs have lost 5 straight to fall to 6-9. The Rams are not in the playoffs, but are 7-7-1 with a chance at a winning season. Jeff Fisher clearly has them on the upswing with a tough defense and an improving offense. 28-13 Rams

Cleveland Browns @ Denver Broncos–The Browns have been fighting hard for Fritz Shurmur, but he may be gone anyway after another losing season. Denver is rolling as Peyton Manning has led them to 9 straight wins. Denver is on pace for a 1st round bye and has an outside shot at home field throughout the playoffs. This could be a blowout.

Denver made it look easy from the start at their 20. Knowshon Moreno gained 8 and Peyton Manning hit Brandon Stokley for 5 and Thomas for 23 and 12. On 3rd and 4 from the Cleveland 22, Manning went to Thomas for the touchdown as Denver led 7-0 in a game that was never in doubt. Brandon Weeden would move the Browns from their 28 to a 1st and goal at the Denver 8. Yet a false start hurt the Browns and they settled for a 27 yard Phil Dawson field goal and a 7-3 deficit.

After a touchback Moreno gained 8 and Manning got Thomas for 6 and Decker for 9. On 3rd and 2 from the Cleveland 45, the Browns were offsides. On 3rd and 1 from the Cleveland 31, Moreno gained 2. The second quarter had Denver facing 3rd and 6 at the Cleveland 25, where Manning hit Decker for 14. On 3rd and 9 from the 10, Manning hit Decker for the touchdown to make it 14-3 Broncos. The closest Weeden came to a break was when Weeden threw an interception that was returned for a 62 yard touchdown. Further review reversed it to an incompletion. With 5 minutes left in the half Manning moved from their own 6 to a 3rd and 2 at the Cleveland 5 with 21 seconds left in the half. After a false start, Manning was intercepted.

Cleveland began the third quarter moving from their 20 to a 1st and 10 at the Denver 29. Yet on 3rd and 9 Weeden was sacked. Phil Dawson drilled a 53 yard field goal and the Browns were within 14-6. Manning then turned out the lights, leading a 12 play, 6 1/2 minute, 91 yard drive. Manning found Thomas for 8, Stokley for 3, Decker for 9, , Thomas for 5, and on 3rd and 4 from their 37 found Jacob Tamme for a 33 yard gain. Manning then hit Stokley for 12, Moreno for 11, and Decker for the 8 yard touchdown to make it 21-6 Broncos and remove the slightest suspense.

Denver got it back with a short field and on 3rd and 5 from the Cleveland 43, Manning hit Stokley for 7 and Thomas for 21. The fourth quarter saw Manning throw incomplete on 3rd and 4 from the 9, but Matt Prater hit from 27 to make it 24-6 Broncos. After three quarters of bad football. Weeden was benched and Colt McCoy got to see some action. It did not matter. Cleveland would fumble a punt, giving Denver the ball on the Browns 19, with defensive pass interference putting the ball on the one. Jacob Hester got in to make it 31-6 Broncos.

McCoy would throw a 6 yard touchdown to Little with 8 minutes left with a failed 2 point conversion afterward. Denver wound down the clock and Prater tacked on one more field goal to complete the scoring. The Browns will be completely revamped next year while Denver at 12-3 is now tied for the top record in the AFC. They have a shot at home field throughout the playoffs, but if they stumble next week they could be left without a 1st round bye altogether. Manning was 30 of 43 for 339 yards and 3 touchdowns with one interception. John Fox really enjoys his job as the Broncos won their 10th straight. 34-12 Broncos

Chicago Bears @ Arizona Cardinals–It is impossible to see these teams play without reliving 2006. The Cardinals led 23-3 and allowed the Bears 2 defensive touchdowns and a punt return by Devon Hester to lose 24-23 when an Arizona field goal was no good at the gun. Dennis Green thundered “The Bears are who we thought they were!” It was the last good game played by Matt Leinart. Meanwhile, when the Bears were 7-1 we knew they were what we thought they were, and have since gone 1-5 and on the edge of missing the playoffs. Arizona began 4-0, lost 9 straight including one game 58-0, and finally won lat week. Both of these coaches could be gone after the season.

6 minutes into the game the Cardinals faced 2nd and 11 at their own 3. Beanie Wells got the carry, fumbled the ball, and saw Zach Bowman recover it for the Bears at the one and stumble into the end zone for a defensive touchdown and a 7-0 Bears lead. These are the Cardinals. Ryan Lindley did move the Cardinals from their 21 to a 1st and 10 at the Chicago 27. Yet offensive holding stopped the momentum. Jay Feely did hit a 49 yard field goal to get the Cardinal within 7-3.

Chicago took over at their 28 and Matte Forte raced for a 36 yard gain as the first quarter ended. On 3rd and 8 from the Arizona 34, Jay Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for 30 and Forte ran it in from the 4 to make it 14-3 Bears. The Bears fumbled a punt with 5 minutes left in the half, giving the Cardinals the ball at the Chicago 36. That was enough for Feely to hit a 35 yarder to get Arizona within 14-6. From their own 20 with 2:18 left in the half, Cutler hit Marshall for 7, Jeffery for 35, Forte for 7, Bennett for 16, and Marshall for the 11 yard touchdown just before the half to make it 21-6 Bears. The second half was even uglier, with nothing resembling offense.

In the third quarter on 2nd and 15 from their own 5, Lindley was intercepted Peanut Tillman, who returned it 10 yards for another defensive touchdown to make it 28-6 Bears. These are the Cardinals. With 2 minutes left the Bears had 4th and goal at the 2. Lovie Smith went for the field goal, and it was blocked and returned 82 yards for a touchdown to create an actual Arizona highlight. Yet the Cardinals lost for the 10th time in 11 games to fall to 5-10. The Bears at 9-6 are still alive for a wildcard although most teams do not give up 2 defensive touchdowns. 28-13 Bears

New York Giants @ Baltimore Ravens–The 2000 Super Bowl was a mismatch, while the 2012 version is just a fight for survival. The Giants last year were 6-2, lost 4 straight, eked in the playoffs at 9-7, and won it all. This year Tom Coughlin saw his team start 6-2, and stumble to 8-6 and a 3 way tie in the division. John Harbaugh had his Ravens cruising at 9-2 but 3 straight losses led to the firing of the offensive coordinator. Baltimore has clinched a playoff spot but leads the division by only one game. This one could be very ugly. Neither coach is going anywhere, but many of the players are under the microscope.

The Giants went 3 and out and the Ravens jumped all over them from the start. On 3rd and 1 from their 36, Ray Rice gained 14. On 3rd and 5 from the Giants 45, Flacco hit Allen for just enough. Pierce gained 5 and 18. On 3rd and 5 from the 12, Flacco hit Jones for 7. There was a fumble the Giants recovered, but on further review that was reversed. On 3rd and goal from the 6 Flacco hit Torry Smith for the score as the Ravens led 7-0. Baltimore got it back at the Giants 47. Flacco went deep to Smith for a 44 yard gain down to the one. Flacco got the yard himself to make it 14-0 Ravens. From the Giants 23, Eli Manning went deep to Randle for a 43 yard gain, Dominic Hoxon for 9, and Bennett for 7. Wilson ran it in from 14 yards out and the Giants were within 14-7.

In the second quarter the Ravens shut the door. From their own 12, Flacco led a 12 play, 6 minute, 83 yard drive. On 3rd and goal at the 5 Ray Rice got stopped, but a 23 yard Justin Tucker field goal made it 17-7 Ravens. Baltimore got it back at their 24 with 3:15 left in the half. Flacco hit Smith for 21. On 3rd and 2 from the Giants 47 at the 2 minute warning, Flacco hit Boldin for 3 and then 12 more. Flacco found Rice for 5 and then again to Rice for a 27 yard touchdown to make it 24-7 Ravens at haftime.

In the third quarter the Ravens moved from their own 15 in a staggering 16 play, 8 minute drive. Flacco would throw incomplete on 3rd and goal from the 3, but the 82 yard drive allowed Tucker from 21 to make it 27-7 Ravens. In the fourth quarter the Ravens followed it up with a 13 play, 7 minute drive from their 26 to  3rd and 3 at the 9. A swing pass lost 3 yards and Tucker hit from 30 to make it 30-7 Ravens.

Later on Pierce would break free for a 78 yard run down to the one yard line but again the Ravens could not get it in. On 3rd and goal Flacco was sacked. Another field goal made it 33-7 Ravens. Manning would finally throw a 13 yard garbage touchdown to Hixon to end things. The Giants are 2-5 the second half of the season and at 8-7 are clinging to playoff life. The Ravens stopped the bleeding and at 10-5 clinched the AFC North. They cannot get a 1st round bye but they have won playoff road games before. Their concern is finishing red zone drives and getting healthy. 33-14 Ravens

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks is the Sunday night game. These teams are mirror images of each other, with Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll teaching hard-nosed physical defense. Earlier this year they played a slugfest in Frisco that the 49ers survived 13-6. Seattle has blasted opponents 108-17 in the last 2 weeks, but this will be a tougher test. Frisco is 10-3-1 while Seattle is 9-5. So if the 49ers win, the division is locked up. The 49ers also have a shot at a 1st round bye although home field throughout is out of reach. A Seattle win has them only 1/2 game back with both teams going into the final week with everything on the line. Seattle has not locked up a playoff birth, and a loss would jeopardize their season.

San Francisco began at their 17 and 3 incompletions meant a punt. Leon Washington returned it 15 yards to midfield with unnecessary roughness having the Seahawks begin at the Frisco 35. Russell Wilson hit Zach Miller for 11 and Marshawn Lynch raced for a 24 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Seahawks only one minute into the game.

Seattle got it back at their 14 when Lynch ran for 7 and Wilson went deep to Danny Baldwin for a 43 yard gain. Wilson hit Sideny Rice for 14. On 3rd and 1 from the 12, Wilson gained 3 and found Lynch for the 9 yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Seahawks. San Francisco finally got going and moved from their 20 to a 2nd and goal at the Frisco 4 to start the second quarter. On 3rd and goal from the 3 Colin Kaepernick threw incomplete. Jim Harbaugh called on the field goal and then the game truly got broken open. David Akers from 21 yards out had his kick blocked by Bryant. Sherman picked it up for Seattle and raced for a 90 yard touchdown to make it 21-0 Seahawks in front of a cheering and rain-soaked crowd.

The 49ers punted and Seattle took over at their 23. Wilson was quickly intercepted and the 49ers took over at the Seattle 16. On 3rd and 9 Kaepernick threw incomplete. This time Akers was good from 33 and the 49ers were on the board down 21-3.

Washington returned the kickoff 42 yards to the Seattle 40. On 3rd and 6 Wilson hit Tate for just enough to midfield. Unnecessary roughness moved the ball to the 36. On 3rd and 5 at the Frisco 31, Wilson ran for 7 and Lynch gained 8 and 10. On 3rd and goal from the 6, Wilson hit McCoy at the 2 minute warning to make it 28-3 Seahawks. The 49ers moved from their 33 to the Seattle 23 with 43 seconds left in the half. Yet a 13 yard sack of Kaepernick meant Akers would be trying a 54 yard field. Akers made it although the 49ers were still down 28-6 at intermission.

The second half was a formality. Seattle punted and Frisco moved quickly to the Seattle 32 before the 49ers fumbled the ball away. On 3rd and 2 from their 40 Wilson hit Lynch for 10. On 3rd and 1 from the Frisco 41, Robinson got the yard. On 3rd and 8 from the Frisco 38, Wilson hit Kearse for 17. On 3rd and 6 from the 17, Wilson hit Turbin for 11. On 3rd and goal from the 4 Wilson hit Baldwin for the touchdown to make it 35-6 Seahawks.

Frisco moved from their 30 to a 3rd and goal at the 3 to start the fourth quarter. Kaepernick was intercepted for a touchback. Wilson would lead Seattle 80 yards and hit Baldwin for a 6 yard touchdown pass to make it 42-6. With 1:47 to play on 4th and 17 from the Seattle 18 the 49ers got their garbage time touchdown as Kaepernick hit Walker. The 49ers are 10-4-1, only 1/2 a game ahead of the 10-5 Seahawks. Frisco also fell 1/2 game behind 11-4 Green Bay. So next week the 49ers could either win the division and get a first round bye, win the division without the bye, or lose the division to Seattle altogether. Seattle has scored 42 points after scoring 58 and 50, and have outscored opponents 150-30 the last 3 weeks. They are for real. 42-13 Seahawks

eric

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