NFL 2010–Week 16 Recap

The screws are tightening and the intensity level is being ratcheted up.

As John Randall reminds us, “This is when the big dogs come out.”

Here is the NFL 2010 Week 16 Recap.

Carolina Panthers @ Pittsburgh Steelers was the Thursday night game. Despite winning last week, the Panthers are the worst team in football. Despite losing last week, Pittsburgh is one of the best. For those desperate for a link, Bill Cowher Coached Pittsburgh and lives in Carolina. For those looking for exciting playoff football, this is not it.

Carolina had a chance to score first, but on 4th and 5 from the Pittsburgh 32, Jon Fox opted to punt. While it appeared to be downed at the 1, it was ruled a touchdown. Rashaard Mendenhal immediately broke off a 35 yard run, and Ben Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace for 15 more. On 3rd and 7 from the 8, a touchdown catch was challenged. On further review the pass was incomplete and the Pittsburgh Steelers settled for a 3-0 lead on a 26 yard Shawn Suisham field goal.

Carolina again moved the ball to another 4th and 5 from the Pittsburgh 32. Again Fox passed up the field goal, this time choosing to go for it. Jimmy Clausen was sacked for a 4 yard loss as a potential 6-3 lead was still a 3-0 deficit as the second quarter began. Pittsburgh punted on 4th and 30 from their own 34, but Clausen was then intercepted, giving the Steelers the ball at their own 42.  Big Ben hit Mike Wallace, who split the seams for a 43 yard touchdown to have the Steelers up 10-0.

Carolina punted, Pittsburgh fumbled it back, and Carolina did nothing with it. Pittsburgh took over with 6 1/2 minutes left in the half at their own 28. Big Ben hit Redman for 40 yards and Heath Miller for 19 more. On 3rd and goal form the 1 at the 2 minute warning, Mendenhall took it in to make it 17-0.

Carolina used up only 30 seconds of clock and punted it back as the Steelers took over at their own 45. Big Ben again went deep to Wallace for 40 yards. On 4th and 2 from the 7, another Suisham field goal had it 20-0 with 42 seconds left in the half. Carolina then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Steelers recovered at the Carolina 28. Roethlisberger hit Brown for 13 and then a dropped pass in the end zone was followed by a sack. A 41 yard field goal attempt on the last play of the half was no good. Nevertheless, a 10-0 game at the 2 minute warning was now at 20-0 the blowout it was expected to be as the teams hit the locker rooms.

In the third quarter the Steelers calmly moved to a 4th and 1 at the Carolina 5. They went for it and failed to convert, but got the ball back on their next drive after a punt at the Carolina 35. Defensive pass interference in the end zone led to Big Ben getting in himself on 3rd and goal from the 1 to make it 27-0. The uneventful fourth quarter saw the Panthers drive deep and kick a field goal rather than go for it simply to avoid the shutout. It was that bad.

The Carolina Panthers fell to 2-13, and a loss next week assures them the top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Jerry Richardson will most likely fire Jon Fox, who took the team to one Super Bowl and another NFC Title game in his tenure. He took over after the Panthers went 1-15, as the team has now come full circle. The Steelers improved to 11-4. A win next week would assure them a first round bye, and they even have a slim shot at the top seed and home field throughout. Yet they have not wrapped up their division yet either. Good teams win games they are supposed to win in a convincing fashion. Pittsburgh did that. 27-3 Steelers

Dallas Cowboys @ Arizona Cardinals was the Saturday night game. With both teams eliminated from the playoffs, this game will be given the short shrift it deserves. After all, don’t bad teams playing each other put on a bad game? Not this time. A dull game most of the way had plenty of big plays and a fantastic finish. Ironically it came from a pair of quarterbacks unknown a few weeks ago. The Cardinals saw Kurt Warner retire, cut Matt Leinart, and saw Derek Anderson and Max Hall get injured. They now have Red Skelton, or at least his cousin John Skelton. The Cowboys have Tony Romo injured, Jon Kitna starting, and Fibber McGee and Molly’s cousin Steven McGee in the wings.

Jon Kitna began by throwing a perfect 32 yard touchdown pass to Rogers-Cromartie. This was a concern for Dallas because Rogers-Cromatie plays defense for Arizona, who took a 7-0 lead. Kitna rebounded by throwing a gorgeous 66 yard touchdown pass to Toler. Sadly for Dallas, Toler also plays defense for the Cardinals. While the second one was a well thrown ball that bounded out of a receivers hands before going the other way, the bottom line is that a pair of interception returns resulted in a 14-0 Cardinals lead without an offensive snap.

In the second quarter Kitna led a 10 play, 5 minute drive that led to a 42 yard David Buehler field goal and a 14-3 Cowboys deficit. Yet the Skeleton crew of the Cardinals was a Skelton crew, as he found Roberts for a 74 yard touchdown combination to have the Cardinals up 21-3. Then things got interesting. No, really. It actually did.

Kitna led a 13 play, 81 yard drive that consumed nearly 7 minutes. On 4th and 2 from the Arizona 38, Kitna was just trying to draw the Cardinals offsides. These are the Cardinals, and they did jump. Yet at least they injured Kitna, although he finished the half. It was not be the last time in the game that a 4th down failure would be nullified due to a penalty. Barber then broke off a 25 yard run. On 4th and goal at the 2 yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten had the Cowboys down 21-10 at the half.

Midway through the the third quarter the Cowboys took over at their own 39. With McGee in at quarterback, he found Miles Austin for a 19 yard connection. David Buehler drilled a 53 yard field goal and the Cowboys were within 21-13. Dallas got the ball back after a short punt at the Arizona 47. Without McGee throwing a single pass, the running game got the job done, as Marion Barber ran for a 24 yard touchdown. Jason Garrett decided not to go for the 2 point conversion to try and tie the game. It was absolutely the right decision with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, but it would loom large later in a way neither Garrett nor anyone else could ever have expected. Buehler kicked the routine extra point as Dallas trailed 21-20 after three quarters.

With 9 minutes left in regulation the Cardinals took over at their own 20. On 3rd and 7 Skelton hit Roberts for 21 yards. Beanie Wells picked up gains of 8, 10, and 3, although a 3rd and 3 wildcat snap to Wells went nowhere at the Dallas 31. Jay Feely came in for a 49 yard field goal and the Cardinals led 24-20. Only 3:45 remained, and the Cowboys had a quarterback playing in his very first NFL game. Would the Cardinals find a way to lose again, just because that has been most of their 125+ year history?

From the Dallas 20, McGee scrambled for 11, with illegal contact adding 5 more yards. With 1:51 to play, everything came down to the Cowboys facing 4th and 5 at the Arizona 45. McGee threw incomplete and the Cardinals began celebrating as they prepared to kneel on the ball and run out the clock. Yet these are the Cardinals, and defensive pass interference gave the Cowboys an automatic 1st down at the Arizona 37. On the very next play, McGee went deep to Miles Austin. Despite dating a Kardashian, Austin had enough smarts to catch the ball for a touchdown. The collapse was complete as the 18 point lead had evaporated and the Cardinals trailed. Yet in a game of surprises, the biggest surprise happened next when Buehler, who had drilled the long field goal, missed the extra point. The Cowboys led 26-24.

The Cardinals took over at their own 24 with 1:36 to go. While Skelton had not made any mistakes, he had only thrown 2 or more passes to Larry Fitzgerald all game. Both were incomplete. This drive began with a 3rd incompletion to him. A sack and another incompletion forced the Cardinals to take their final timeout with 1:17 left and 4th and 15 at their own 19. Yet Skelton understood what every quarterback from Kurt Warner not named Matt Leinart grasped. In this situation, only one guy gets the ball. Skelton hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 26 yard completion, their only connection on the day.

With 25 seconds left from the Dallas 44, Skelton found Komar for 19 yards. Confusion then reigned when Skelton spiked the ball to stop the clock and a flag came down. The catch stood, and without the penalty Jay Feely would have a 43 yard field goal attempt to win it. Yet the ball was spiked with 10 seconds left, or perhaps 11. This was important because if the Cardinals were called for a false start for not being set, a 10 second runoff would end the game, or leave one second that would tick off. Would the Cardinals actually lose a game this way without even giving Feely a chance?

No. The officials ruled that the penalty was against the Cardinals, but it was illegal motion, not a false start. This was critical because all the players were properly set before the snap. The Cardinals were penalized 5 yards, but not the 10 second runoff. So Feely had a 48 yard attempt to win it.

At this point let’s go back to 2006, in what might have been the one good game Matt Leinart played, at least most of the way. The Cardinals led the 5-0 (and eventual NFC Champion) Bears 23-3 on the road. Out of nowhere, with 0 offense, Chicago got 2 defensive touchdowns on a fumble return and an interception return, followed by a punt return touchdown by Devon Hester to have Chicago up 24-23. Yet Leinart quickly led the Cardinals down the field, and Neil Rackers had a chance to win it from 42 yards out. The kick was no good. The post game press conference with Dennis Green was legendary, as he screamed that “the Bears are who we thought they were!”

Dennis Green was fired and Ken Whisenhunt was brought in. Neil Rackers was gone, and Jay Felly was kicking. Leinart was gone, and the Red Skeleton Crew came in. Would it matter? In this 2010 game, the Cardinals had blown a 21-3 lead, trailed 26-24, but still had a chance to win it. It happened. Feely delivered it just inside the upright. The Cardinals had the win. Both teams are 5-10, but the Cardinals showed a ton of heart. As for the Cowboys, they are still on the right track. This was not a meaningful game, but it was still a great game, and why every football game matters. David Buehler was inconsolable, but Paul Maguire would remind us “I hate kickers. They should be paid $50 a game.” That cannot be said about Jay Feely on this day. 27-26 Cardinals.

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills–The Patriots have the best record in the AFC while the Bills are one of the worst but are improving. The last time the Bills beat the Patriots was in the 2003 season opener. Lawyer Milloy had just been cut by Evil Hoodie Bill Bellichick from New England to Buffalo, and the Bills won a stunner 31-0 at home. In the last week of the season in New England, the Patriots won by an identical 31-0 score. The Patriots would win the Super Bowl, and they have not lost to the Bills since that 2003 opener, 12 straight wins.

Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bills 64 yards in 10 play and 5 minutes, and a 26 yard Ryan Lindell field goal had the Bills up 3-0. Yet later in the quarter order was restored. A short punt had the Patriot at the Bills 48. Danny Woodhead broke free for a 29 yard touchdown to have the Patriots up 7-3. Buffalo took over at their own 31, and Fitzpatrick found CJ Spiller for 41 yards. Yet on 1st and 10 from the Patriots 17, Fitzpatrick was sacked and fumbled. The Patriots took over at their own 20.

Tom Brady hit Deion Branch for 15, and Green Ellis picked up 10 and 5. On 3rd and 8 from the Buffalo 34, Brady found Gronkowski for 23, and then Gronkowski again for an 8 yard touchdown to have the Patriots up 14-3.

In the second quarter Chan Gailey had the Bills go for it on 4th and 12 from the Patriots 32. Fitzpatrick threw a good pass but the receiver got blasted and could not hang on. Brady then led a 10 play drive that culminated in a 34 yard Shane Graham field goal to make it 17-3 Patriots. Fitzpatrick was then intercepted, giving the Patriots the ball at the Buffalo 27. On 3rd and 3 Green-Ellis gained 4. On 3rd and 1 from the 7 Brady gained 3. Brady found Alge Crumpler for the 4 yard score to have the Patriots up 24-3 in a rout that was expected.

In the third quarter Fitzpatrick was intercepted, setting the Patriots up at the Buffalo 11. Brady hit Gronkowski for the 8 yard score as the Patriots led 31-3. The rest of the game was garbage time as the Patriots tacked on one more field goal. The Patriots at 13-2 locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs as the Evil Empire of Football under Evil Hoodie Bill Bellichick is on pace for another Super Bowl appearance. 34-3 Patriots

New York Jets @ Chicago Bears–Both of these 10-4 teams have faced criticism that they are paper tigers. The Jets silenced some critics with a big road win last week, while the Bears are the only team to have officially clinched their division. The Jets can still win their division, but are most likely playing for a wild card. Right now the Bears are in position for the # 2 seed and the 1st round bye.

Chicago took over at their own 34 with snow coming down. On 3rd and 1 Chester Taylor gained 3. On 3rd and 1 from the Jets 45, an incomplete pass by Cutler was nullified by defensive pass interference at the Jets 26. A 37 yard Robbie Gould field goal had the Bears up 3-0.

The Jets tried an end around but Santonio Holmes fumbled, giving the Bears the ball at the Jets 45. Cutler hit Johnny Knox for 13, and Matt Forte ran for 8. Forte then burst through for a 22 yard touchdown run to have the Bears up 10-0.

The Jets took over at their own 20. Greene picjed up 12 yards, and Sanchez hit Dustin Keller for gains of 13 and 26. On 3rd and 10 from the Chicago 29, Sanchez found Keller for 11. On the first play of the second quarter Greene ran it in from 3 yards out to have the Jets within 10-7. The Bears took over at their own 25. On 1st and 20 from the 15, Cutler was intercepted by Lowery, who returned it 20 yards for a touchdown to have the Jets up 14-10.

Midway through the second quarter the Bears punted on 4th and 17 from their own 2. The Jets took over at the Chicago 36. On 3rd and 7 Sanchez hit Holmes for 16. Brad Smith took a wildcat snap 12 yards to the 3. Ladanian Tomlinson ran it in to have the Jets up 21-10.

The Bears took over at their own 36, and Cutler found Forte for 24 yards. On 3rd and 10 from the Jets 40, Cutler found Bennett for 14 and Forte for 24. Cutler scored the 2 yard touchdown himself to get the Bears within 21-17

With 2 1/2 minutes left in the half the Jets took over at their own 33. Greene picked up 12, caught a 5 yard pass, and ran for 7 more. From the Chicago 43 Sanchez hit Holmes for 18. On 3rd and 4 from the 8 Sanchez threw incomplete, but the 26 yard Nick Folk field goal had the Jets leading 24-17 at the half. Both of these teams known for defense would see the pinball machine action continue on offense in the second half.

The Jets began at their own 33, and Rex Ryan decided to gamble on 4th and 3 from the Jets 40. Sanchez fired incomplete, and one play later Cutler went deep to Knox for the touchdown as the gamble blew up on the Jets and resulted in a 24-24 game.

The Jets punted on their next drive and made the mistake of kicking it to Devon Hester, who returned it 38 yards to the Jets 32. On 3rd and 3 from the 25, Hester burned the Jets as a wide receiver, catching the touchdown pass to now have the Bears up 31-24.

From their own 34, the Jets came right back. Sanchez hit Edwards for 19. Smith took a wildcat snap 6 yards, and Greene gained 18. Sanchez threw a 23 yard touchdown to Holmes and the game was tied again 31-31.

Devon Hester returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards just shy of midfield. Cutler then hit Hester for a 9 yard pass. From the Jets 39, Cutler got 1/3 of it with a pass to Knox and then the final 2/3 of it to Knox again as the 26 yard score had the Bears back up 38-31.

The Jets took over at their own 33 and Sanchez moved them 12 plays. The drive would stall in the red zone as the Jets settled for a Nick Folk field goal to get with 38-34 as the fourth quarter began. Cutler moved the Bears in position for  35 yard Robbie Gould field goal. Yet Gould, who had made 64 straight from short distance, missed and the Jets had life.

Sanchez led the Jets to a 2nd and 6 at the Chicago 35, but  pair of incompletions set up a critical decision with 5:43 to play. Rex Ryan opted to punt. The Bears took over at their own 10 and went 3 and out. The Jets took took over at their own 40 and also went 3 and out when Sanchez fired incomplete on 3rd and 5.

With 3 minutes left, the Bears took over at their own 5. Forte gained 2, and then 8 more for a critical 1st down. Yet the Jets did get one last shot with 58 seconds left and no timeouts from their own 28. Sanchez was intercepted by Chris Harris to end things. The 11-4 Bears and 10-5 Jets are both in the playoffs. The Bears with a win next week get the # 2 seed while the Jets are definitely a wildcard. 38-34 Bears

Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns–The Ravens at 10-4 are tied for the division lead but the tie breaker works against them. Cleveland is fighting hard but is still 5-9. Walrus Mike Holmgren kept Eric Mangini last year but playing hard is not enough without the results. The last 2 games at home against the top of the division will tell a lot about Cleveland.

After a Ravens punt the Browns took over at the Baltimore 40, Eric Mangini went to the bag of tricks. A halfback option pass became a 29 yard touchdown pass to Muhammad Massaquoi to have the Browns up 7-0.

The second quarter found the Ravens finally moving the ball, as Joe Flacco led them 80 yards in 16 plays over 8 1/2 minutes. The drive bogged down at the 9 yard line, and Billy Cundiff hit the 27 yarder to have the Ravens within 7-3. Cleveland then fumbled deep in their own territory, setting up the Ravens at the Browns 20. On 3rd and 5 from the 15, Flacco hit TJ Houshmanzadeh for the touchdown to have the Ravens up 10-7.

Colt McCoy was the intercepted by Ed Reed, who returned it 20 yards to the midstripe. On 3d and 4 Flacco gained just enough. Cundiff would hit a 40 yard field goal to have the Ravens up 13-7. McCoy led the Browns 50 yards in 10 plays before the half as original expansion Browns kicker Phil Dawson hit the 30 yarder to have the Browns within 13-10 at halftime.

Mangini decided to try and onsides kick to start the second half, and Phil Dawson went from mild hero to mild goat when it went out of bounds. The Ravens took over at the Browns 38. From the 35, Flacco scrambled for 13 yards and then hit Derrick Mason for the 22 yard touchdown to have the Ravens up 20-10.

After that the Baltimore defense clamped down, with Ed Reed intercepting a pass in the end zone to kill any chance of a Cleveland comeback. The Ravens got to 11-4 and clinched a playoff spot. They are tied for the division lead, but need to win next week and hope Pittsburgh loses at this same Cleveland team to get the AFC North crown. The cliche about the Browns fighting hard for Mangini is worn thin as theyf ell to 5-10, making Holmgren an unhappy Walrus. 20-10 Ravens

Washington Redskins @ Jacksonville Jaguars–Washington is a mess as Donovan McNabb is the past, Rex Grossman is the present, and Mike Shanahan and his ego are the future. Jack Del Rio has the Jaguars at 8-6. They are tied for the division lead, but lose the tie breaker.

A strong kickoff return had the Redskins beginning at the Jacksonville 44. That was enough for Graham Gano to nail a 48 yard field goal and have the Redskins up 3-0. David Garrard was then intercepted by Carlos Rogers, who returned it 38 yards to the Jacksonville 18. On 3rd and goal from the 1, an incomplete pass by Rex Gross was nullified by illegal contact on the defense. Given another chance, Grossman hit Fred Davis for the score to have the Redskins up 10-0 on the road.

In the second quarter Garrard finally got the Jaguars going, leading a 10 play, 79 yard drive that took 6 minutes. On 1st and 25 from their own 24, Garrard hit Thomas for 26 at midfield. On 3rd and 1 Garrard gained 2. On 3rd and 2 again Garrard found Thomas for 12 and then again for the 19 yard score as the Jaguars were within 10-7.

Defense ruled the third quarter, and midway through the period Jacksonville faced 3rd and 15 at their own 41. Garrard went deep to Hill for 37 yards. Josh Scobee had missed a kick earlier, but this time he was good from 34 as the game was tied 10-10 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

The Redskins took over at their own 32 and Ryan Torain picked up 17. Grossman hit Santana Moss for 12. On 3rd and 3 from the Jacksonville 33, Grossman hit Moss for 14 as the third quarter ended. On 3rd and 1 from the 10, Sellers got the yard. On 2nd and goal from the 1 Torain got nothing, and Grossman then threw incomplete. On 4th and goal from the 1, Shanahan decided to go for it. Torain got it and the Redskins led 17-10 with 12 minutes left in regulation after the 14 play, 68 yard drive that consumed 8 minutes.

The defenses took over, but a 21 yard punt return had the Jaguars at the Washington 42 with 4 minutes left. From the 40, Garrard hit Hill for half of it. Then Garrard broke free and got the other half himself, as the 20 yard scramble tied the game 17-17 with 3 minutes left.

The game went into overtime, and Garrard quickly turned from major hero to major goat. He was intercepted by Khalif Barnes, who returned it 8 yards to the Jacksonville 14. On 3rd down, Shanahan brought in Gano. From 31 yards, Gano hit it for the stunning road win. Jacksonville fell to 8-7, on the verge of playoff elimination. Consecutive losses have Jacksonville needing a win next week and 2 losses by Indy to make the playoffs. 20-17 Redskins, OT

Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs–The Titans at 6-8 need a miracle to make the playoffs, while the Chiefs have a one game lead in their division at 9-5. Jeff FIsher after 16 years is not completely safe to come back, but Adams knows the fans like Fisher.

The Chiefs took over at their own 31 and Matt Cassel quickly hit Dwayne Bow for 31 yards. Thomas Jones gained 8 and Jamal Charles added 8 more. On 3rd and 6 from the Titans 28, Cassel hit Dexter McCluster for half of it and then Jamal Charles for the other half and a 7-0 Chiefs lead. Kerry Collins got the ball and led the Titans to a 4th and 6 at the Chiefs 38. Jeff Fisher decided to go for it, and Collins fired incomplete.

The Chiefs faced 3rd and 5 at the Titans 41, and Cassel hit Bowe for 15. On 3rd and 8 from the 24, Cassel hit Moeaki for 17. Cassel hit Charles for the 5 yard touchdown to have the Chiefs up 14-0.

Kansas City on their next drive faced 3rd and 3 at their own 45. Cassel hit Moeaki for 19 yards. Charles ran for 17, and a 35 yard Ryan Succop field goal had the Chiefs up 17-0. On the next Chiefs drive, they faced 3rd and 19 at their own 25. Cassel found Bowe, who pslit the seams and raced 75 yards for a touchdown as the Chiefs were winning a blowout 24-0.

The Titans finally got on the board when Kerry Collins went deep to kenny Britt for a 53 yard touchdown to have the Titans down 24-7. With under one minute left in the half, Succop missed a field goal, and Collins got the Titans to midfield. Yet Collins was then intercepted by Eric Barry, who returned it 54 yards with help from terrible tackling to have the Chiefs up 31-7.

The Chiefs would tack on a third quarter field goal to lead 34-7. The only drama came on the sidelines when Todd Haley pulled Cassel, which coaches should do in that situation. Cassel was unhappy, but risking injury is what most coaches do. Brodie Croyle, who has never won a game, threw an interception to set up a garbage touchdown. This made keeping Cassel healthy even more vital.The win eliminated the hated Raiders from playoff contention. Kansas City hosts Oakland next week. If the Chiefs win, they win the division. If they lose, they could miss the playoffs altogether if San Diego wins out. 34-14 Chiefs

Detroit Lions @ Miami Dolphins–The Lions have won 2 straight games, including a road win last week that snapped their NFL worst 26 straight road losses. They face a bizarre Miami team that is 6-1 on the road but 1-6 at home. Tony Sparano is a good coach, but with bigger names out there he could become a casualty. Jim Schwartz may finally actually have his guys turning a corner.

The Dolphins fumbled a punt, giving the Lions the ball at the Miami 19. Detroit lost a couple yards and Dave Rayner kicked a 39 yard field goal to have the Lions up 3-0. Miami reached the Detroit 29 before a penalty pushed them out of field goal range. Miami would get the ball back at their own 48. Dan Carpenter would try a 40 yard field goal. He made it to tie the game 3-3. This did not change the fact that his 4 misses last week is why this game is meaningless.

Both teams moved 80 yards in the second quarter, with the Lions doing it quickly. Shawn Hill hit Brandon Pettigrew for 33 yards. Hill scrambled for 10 on 3rd and 5, and then hit Pettigrew for a 20 yard touchdown to have the Lions up 10-3. Chad Henne moved the Dolphins 11 plays and 80 yards in 6 minutes. Eventually a 4 yard run by Polite tied the game 10-10.

The Lions would punt on 4th and 19 from their own 4, and Miami took over at the Detroit 41. The opportunity was wasted but Detroit would punt again on 4th and 8 from their own 4, and in what was not instant replay, the Dolphins began at the Lions 40. Henne hit Brandon Marshall for 12 and find Duane Bess for a 13 yard touchdown to have the Dolphins up 17-10.

The Lions began their first third quarter drive at their own 14. On 3rd and 6 form the 31, Shawn Hill found Calvin Johnson for 16. On 3rd and 3 from the Miami 35, Hill found Johnson for 18. On 3rd and 6 from the 13 Hill hit Johnson for 8, and Morris ran for the 5 yard touchdown to tie the game 17-17 and complete the 14 play, 86 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive.

The Dolphins took over at their own 31. On 3rd and 6 Henne hit Ronnie Brown for 9. On 3rd and 1 from the Detroit 47, Polite gained 2. Moore then ran for 16 and Henne went deep to Shuler for 28 yards down to the 1. Brow ran it in to have the Dolphins back on top 24-17.

Early in the fourth quarter the Dolphins faced 3rd and 2 at their own 46. Henne hit Brandon Marhall for 10. Ricky Williams broke off a 28 yard run with a horse collar tackle penalty added on to have the Dolphins at the 7. Offensive holding killed the drive and the Dolphin settled for a 28 yard Carpenter field goal to lead 27-17 with 10 minutes left in regulation.

The Chiefs would tack on a third quarter field goal to lead 34-7. The only drama came on the sidelines when Todd Haley pulled Cassel, which coaches should do in that situation. Cassel was unhappy, but risking injury is what most coaches do. Brodie Croyle, who has never won a game, threw an interception to set up a garbage touchdown. This made keeping Cassel healthy even more vital.

San Francisco 49ers @ St. Louis Rams–The 5-9 49ers and the 6-8 Rams are actually playing a game that could decide who wins the NFC Worst. The Rams are on the upswing under Steve Spagnuolo and Sam Bradford, but the 49ers under Mike Singletary and both of his revolving Smith quarterbacks Troy and Alex are a mess.

The Rams took over at their own 29. On 3rd and 8 form the Rams 45, Bradford hit Danny Amendola for 9. From the San Francisco 40, Bradford went deep and was intercepted. Yet defensive pass interference instead placed the ball on the one, where Stephen Jackson ran it in to have the Rams up 7-0. An exchange of punts had the 49ers at their own 3. On 3rd and 8 from the 5, Troy Smith was sacked in the end zone for a safety to have the Rams up 9-0.

In the second quarter with the 49ers lacking offense and defense, special teams got them back in the game as Ted Ginn returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown to have the 49ers within 9-7. Yet Bradford coolly moved the Rams from their own 39. A 19 yard completion Gibson got things going, and the drive reached the San Francisco 25. Josh Brown connected from 43 to have the Rams up 12-7. The 49ers came right back, and Troy Smith fired t Michael Crabtree, who raced 60 yards for a score to have the 49ers on top 14-12.

The second half was even uglier than the first half in the battle to see which team wanted the division least. In the third quarter Josh Brown hit a 30 yard field goal to have the Rams up 15-14. At the end of the third quarter Jeff Reed had a 34 yarder to put the 49ers back on top, except that he missed it and the Rams still led. With 11 minutes left in regulation, frm the Rams 34, Bradford hit Alexander for 15 yards and then fired deep for a 48 yard bomb to the 3 yard line. Bradford hit Robinson for the score and the Rams led 22-14.

Mike Singletary decided to continue the lunacy that is quarterback carousel by benching Troy and bringing in Alex with 9 1/2 minutes left in regulation and the 49ers at their own 19. Smith hit Morgan for 33 yards, and a 47 yard Reed field goal had the 49ers within 22-17 with 5 1/2 minutes left.  Yet Danny Amendola returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards to the San Francisco 12. 3 straight running plays led to a 28 yard Brown field goal as the Rams were back up by 8 with 4 minutes left.

With 2 1/2 minutes left, the 49ers faced 3rd and 9 at their own 42. Smith was sacked and fumbled. The 49ers would get the ball back at their own 19 with 0 timeouts and 1:06 to play. With 9 seconds left, the 49ers were at their own 34 facing 4th and 10. Smith completed a pass to Ginn that was good for the first down, but rather than go out of bounds, Ginn tried to fake out a defender and get more as the clock ticked down. Ginn was ruled down inbounds although the replay showed he got out of bounds with one second left. Singletary argued to no avail, as the Hail Mary never got attempted and the game was over. The 5-10 49er are finally officially eliminated as Singletary is the second coming of Ray Rhodes, all scowl and no results. The Yorkshire Puddingheads who own the team fired Singletary after the game, but did not fire themselves and bring back Eddie Debartolo. At 7-8 the Rams have an NFC Worst showdown next week with Seattle. 25-17 Rams

San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals–The Bengals won a game after losing 10 straight, although both loudmouth receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson are now injured. This entire team will be blown up after the season, as Marvin Lewis will benefit from being out of Cincinnati. Norvelous Norv Turner has the Chargers won game out of their division, and they are not expected to blow up until the playoffs.

The Chargers began by going backward and punting on 4th and 22 from their own 8. A shank had the Bengals starting at the Chargers 32. After losing 2 yards, Carson Palmer hit Gresham for 23. Cedric Benson lost 3, but then gained 11. On 3rd and 2 from the 3, Palmer hit Gresham for the score as the Bengals led 7-0.

After an exchange of punts, the Chargers took over at their own 19. Mike Tolbert promptly fumbled, and the Bengals took over at the San Diego 33. On 4th and 1 from the 24, Marvin Lewis decided to go for it and Cedric Benson got nailed.

The Bengals got the ball back at their own 41, and Palmer hit Simpson for 15 as the opening quarter ended. Palmer hit Gresham for 22 yards, and on 3rd and goal from the 10, Palmer hit Simpson for the touchdown. Stitser missed the extra point, although the Bengals still led 13-0.

The Chargers would reach a 4th and 11 at the Bengals 39, but Turner opted to punt, pinning the Bengals at their own 7. On 3rd and 7, Palmer hit Simpson for 21. Encroachment added 5 more and Palmer went deep to Caldwell for 44 yards to the San Diego 20. Yet on the next play Benson fumbled at the Chargers took over at their own 25. Rivers led a 12 play, 73 yard drive that consumed almost 6 1/2 minutes. On first and goal from the 1, 3 straight runs were called. The first 2 went nowhere and Matthews was blown up in the backfield for a one yard loss. On 4th and goal at the 2 Turner had seen enough, and sent out Nate Kaeding for the 20 yarder as the Chargers trailed 13-3 at halftime.

The Bengals began the third quarter by reaching the San Diego 35, but a running play lost 5 yards and killed the drive. After the Cincinnati punt, the Chargers took over at their own 14. Philip Rivers hit Vincent Jackson for 14. On 3rd and 1, the defense jumped offsides. On 3rd and 2 from midfield, Rivers hit Wilson for 8 and Naanee for 19. Mathews ran for a 23 yard touchdown to have the Chargers within 13-10. Analysts everywhere pointed out that the Charger are famous for slow starts and then get red hot and win. Those analysts should shut up already.

The Bengals did punt again, but on the last play of the third quarter from the San Diego 47, Rivers was intercepted. Maualuga returned it 47 yards to the San Diego 21. The fourth quarter began with Palmer hitting Simpson for 11. Palmer hit Shipley for a 3 yard touchdown to have the Bengals up 20-10.

Darren Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to the Chargers 43. From midfield, Mathews picked up 12. The drive would bog down at the 10 yard line, where a 28 yard Kaeding field goal had the Chargers within 20-13. Scott returned the kickoff 27 yards to the Cincy 38. On 3rd and 7 from the 41, Palmer went deep to Simpson for a 59 yard touchdown as the Bengals led 27-13.

San Diego took over at their own 23. On 4th and 7 with 5 1/2 minutes left and forced to go for it, Rivers threw incomplete. From the 26, Scott ran for 6, 10, and the final 10 to have the Bengals up 34-13. San Diego managed a garbage touchdown and a failed onsides kick.

The Chargers at 8-7 are now out of the playoffs. All the talk about how nobody wanted to play them is ridiculous. They lost to a 3-11 team without their top 2 receivers. As for the Bengals, they won big without those same receivers. Maybe those players should stay injured since their contributions did nothing for the team this season. Those saying that they put up big numbers ignore that this is a team game. They did nothing to help the team. Meanwhile, with unheralded Simpson and Caldwell, much maligned Carson Palmer threw 4 touchdown passes against a team fighting for the playoffs. I am not saying the 2 reality stars are irrelevant. I don’t have to. 34-20 Bengals

Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos–Gary Kubiak faces off against his former team, who now has hope with electric phenom Tim Tebow. Kyle Orton will be watching from the sidelines, a casualty of the recent coaching change. Both of these teams may have new coaches next year, although Bob McNair wants to keep Kubiak but will have a tough time justifying it with more losses. Both of these teams are eliminated from the playoffs.

After a Houston punt, the Broncos began at their own 40. Tebow quickly hit Knowshon Moreno for 22 and Jabar Gaffney for 21 more. Yet Tebow was then intercepted in the end zone by Allen for a touchback. After an exchang eof punts the Texans took over at their own 9.

Matt Schaub hit Owen Daniels for 31 yards, and Jones for 11 more. From the Denver 37, Arrius Foster raced 34 yards, and took it the final 3 on the next play to have the Texans up 7-0. The second quarter began with the Texans at their own 15. Schaub hit Jones for 47 yards and Jones for 34 more to set up 1st and goal at the 4. Schaub hit Daniels from 3 yards out to have the Texans up 14-0.

With 4 minutes left in the half, the Texans took over after a punt at their own 47. On 3rd and 1, Foster gained 2. Schaub hit Casey for 21, but the drive would stall. A 34 yard Neil Rackers field goal just before the half had the Texans up 17-0.

The Broncos began the second half at their own 20. Ball ran for 15 and Tebow then went deep to Jabar Gaffney for 50 yards. Buckhalter then ran for 9 and 6 more for the touchdown as the Broncos quickly got within 17-7. The Texans took over at their own 20. Foster ran for 10 and took a short pass for 28 more. Neil Rackers drilled a 54 yard field goal to have the Texans up 20-7.

The Broncos took over at their own 20, and Tebow hit Brandon Lloyd for 18 yards and then back to Lloyd for 41 more. The drive stalled at the 9, but STeven Hauschka hit the 27 yard field goal to have the Broncos within 20-10.

The Texans took over at their own 20 Schaub hit Walter for 14 and Foster gained 11. With the drive stopped at the 39 yard line of Denver, Gary Kubiak decided not to punt or go for it on 4th and 6. A 57 yard field goal attempt was drilled by Rackers to have the Texans leading 23-10. Denver took over at their own 26, and after three quarters were just shy of midfield. On 3rd and 9 from just past the halfstripe, Tebow hit Lloyd for 18. On 3rd and 14 from the Houston 23, a short pass to Buckhalter went all the way for the touchdown as the Broncos were within 23-17 with 11 minutes left in regulation. Denver got the ball back with 8 minutes left at their own 24.

On 3rd and 10 Tebow hit Buckhalter for 22 and Lloyd for 15 more. On 3rd and 4 from the 10, Tebow fired incomplete. Yet Glover Quinn, the victim on the Hail Mary earlier in the year that led to a stunning loss, was called for defensive pass interference. Given a second chance, Tebow ran for the 6 yard touchdown as the Broncos took the one point lead with 3 minutes to play.

The Texans moved from their own 17 to a 2nd and 9 at the Denver 39 with 1:19 to play. All the Texans needed was a few more yards to set up the winning field goal. Instead Schaub was intercepted by Thompson to end things. Bob McNair is sick and tired of seeing the Texans come so close and lose so many heartbreakers. Houston led by 17 at the half and blew a 13 point 4th quarter lead this time to fall to 5-10, one game better than Denver.  24-23 Broncos.

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers–This is big time football, a rematch of the NFC Title Game 3 years ago when you know who threw his final pass with the Packers, an overtime interception that sent the Giants to a Super Bowl they would win. This time, the 9-5 Giants have to recover from their shellshock last week when a  31-10 lead with 8 minutes left turned into a 38-31 loss and a one game deficit in the division. Green Bay is 8-6 although they get Aaron Rodgers back from his concussion this week. If the Giants win, they are in the playoffs and the Packers are out. If the Packers win, both teams are 9-6 and the Giants would be on the brink of elimination.

After an exchange of punts, Green Bay took over at their own 20. One play fro scrimmage was all the Packers needed to take a 7-0 lead as Aaron Rodgers found Nelson for an 80 yard touchdown. Eli Manning was then intercepted, setting the Packers up at the Giants 44. Nance ran for 6 and 5, and Kuhn gained 3 on 3rd and 1. Rodgers scrambled for 15, and on 3rd and goal from the 3, Rodgers hit Jones for the score as the Packers led 14-0.

In the second quarter, the Giants took over at their own 30. Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for 16, and soon after found Nicks for a 36 yard touchdown to have the Giants within 14-7. Green Bay took over at their own 10 and Rodgers led a 6 minute drive down the field. Yet on 3rd and 8 from the Giants 25, a completion to Nelson just before the marker was fumbled away. This time it was the Giants needing only one play as Manning went deep to Manningham for an 85 yard touchdown to tie the game 14-14.

The Packers took over at their own 21. On 2nd and 5, Rodgers went to Jennings for 11 yards and 26 more, and to Donald Driver for 6 with a 15 yard personal foul tacked on. From the 16, Rodgers hit Jones for half and Kuhn got the other half on the ground at the 2 minute warning as the Packers led 21-14.

The Giants began the second half at their own 35. At 3rd and 2 from the Green Bay 41, Ahmad Bradshaw got blown up in the backfield and fumbled. Green Bay took over at midfield. Rodgers hit Jones for 12 and Crabtree for 21. Mason Crosby nailed a 31 yard field goal to have the Giants up 24-14. The Giants took over at their own 34. Manning hit Bradshaw for 13 and Nicks for 27. The drive stalled, but a 38 yard Lawrence Tynes field goal had the Giants within 24-17.

At this point a hard fought game turned into a one-sided aerial carpet bombing. From the Green Bay 30, Rodgers hit Driver for 33 and Jennings for 36 more down to the one. Rodgers found Lee for the score as the Packers led 31-17.

The Giants soon faced 3rd and 9 at their own 13. Bradshaw gained a dozen and Manning scrambled for a dozen more. Brandon Jacobs then ran for 21 yards, but fumbled the ball as the Packers took over at their own 27. The Giants on their next drive faced 2nd and 18 at their own 30. Manning was intercepted, and the PAckers began at the Giants 46. Rodgers hit Jennings for 24 and Quarless for 16. ROdgers tossed the 5 yard touchdown to Kuhn as the Packers led 38-17.

Ware took the ensuing kickoff at the 4 and got taken down at the 7. From the 5, Manning went deep and was intercepted again. The Packers took over just past midfield. On 3rd and 1 Kuhn gained 2. From the Giants 39, Rodgers went deep to Nelson for 38 ayrds down to the one. Kuhn ran it in to complete the scoring.

Both teams are 9-6. If the Packers win next week against Chicago, they are in and the Giants are out. The Giants now need to win and get help. Last week they were 8 minutes from a possible 1st round bye with a  very slim chance at the top seed. Now they may be eliminated altogether. The Miracle at the Meadowlands Part II is still killing them, as they now cannot win the division. Manning finished 17 of 33 for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns, but 4 interceptions and 6 turnovers overall plagued the Giants. Aaron Rodgers finished 25 of 37 for 404 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Packers looked like the playoff team and the Giants did not. 45-17 Packers

Seattle Seahawks @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers–Seattle at 6-8 can still win the horrid NFC Worst. The 8-6 Buccaneers severely hurt their playoff chances last week by being the first team in 3 years to lose at home to Detroit.

Midway through the opening quarter with Seattle at their own 44, Marshawn Lynch ran for 29 yards. The drive would face 4th and 1 at the 4. Pete Carroll decided to go for it, and Robinson gained 3. On 3rd and goal at the 1, Hasselbeck got it in to have the Seahawks up 7-0. Yet although Hasselbeck was not touched, at his age running one yard can do wonders for an old man with a bad back. Hasselbeck limped off the field and did not return. The Charlie Whitehurst part of the game did not go well. Michael Spurlock returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards to the Seattle 17. The Buccaneers lost 11 yards but Connor Barth made the 46 yard field goal to have the Buccaneers within 7-3.

The Buccaneers began the second quarter at their own 48. Josh Freeman hit Benn for 16 and Williams for 17. On 3rd and goal from the 10, Freeman hit Winslow for the touchdown as the Buccaneers led 10-7. Tampa Bay  got the ball back at their own 41, and on 3rd and 1, Freeman gained 3. On 3rd and 4 from the Seattle 41, Freeman hit Winslow for 21. On 3rd and 10 from the 20, Freeman found Williams for the touchdown as the Buccaneers led 17-7. Seattle did face 4th and 2 from the Tampa 37 late in the half, but Carroll opted to punt. Tampa Bay tried a field goal on the last play of the half but it was blocked.

Seattle punted in the third quarter and the Buccaneers began at their own 2. Freeman hit Winslow for 29 yards. On 3rd and 2 form the 40, Freeman hit Parker for 5. Blount ran for 20, and a 21 yard touchdown pass from Freeman to Winslow completed the 10 play, 98 yard, 7minute drive to have the  Buccaneers up 24-7. After a short punt, the Buccaneers took over at their own 44. Blount ripped off a 48 yard run, and Freeman hit Williams for a 7 yard touchdown to make it a 31-7 laugher.

A strong kickoff return had the Seahawks at their own 46. On 3rd and 3, Charlie Whitehurst hit Tate for just enough. On 4th and 8 from the Tampa Bay 42, Whitehurst hit Carlson for 12. Washington ran for a 16 yard score and the successful 2 point conversion had Seattle within 31-15 with 10 minutes left in the game.

It did not matter. The Bucaneers took over at their own 28, and Blount raced for a 53 yard gain. Freeman hit Winslow for 13 and Stovall for the 2 yard touchdown to end things. Freeman finished a ridiculous 21 of 26 for 237 yards and 5 touchdown passes. Raheem Morris has the Buccaneers fighting at 9-6, but the loss last week at home hurt them. They need to win next week and get help to make the playoffs. Seattle amazingly at 6-9 is still in it in the dreadful NFC Worst. The host the 7-8 Rams, with the winner taking the division and # 4 seed in the playoffs. Pete Carroll thought that only in college could a team win 6 games and get a bowl game, but apparently the NFL has gotten to that point. 38-15 Buccaneers

Indianapolis Colts @ Oakland Raiders–For more on the game of the day, go to

Earlier in the day the 7-7 Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention when Kansas City won easily. Kansas City clinched the division, making the showdown next week between the Raiders and Kansas City meaningless. The Raiders were playing at home for pride, and today would show if they had any. The Colts were desperately trying to make the playoffs at 8-6.

12 seconds into the game the Raiders led 7-0 because Jacoby Ford did it again. The opening kickoff was returned 99 yards for a touchdown, the 3rd time this year Ford has returned one and the second time at home to start the game. That other game they lost anyway.

The silver and black played good defense early on, and the Colts punted twice. Yet terrible field position and a lackluster offense had the Raiders punting it back twice. Giving Peyton Manning 50 billion chances is not a good idea, and the Colts began their third drive at their own 43. Manning hit Jacob Tamme for 14. On 3rd and 7 from the Oakland 40, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for 15 and Pierre Garcon for 19. Joseph Addai did play after missing 8 weeks, and the 6 yard run tied the game 7-7.

The Colts took over after another Raiders punt at their own 38. Manning hit Tamme for 10. Rhodes gained 9 and then 2. on 2nd and 15 from the Oakland 46, Manning hit Wayne for 20 and Tamme for 10. The defense held, but a 30 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal seconds into the second quarter had the Colts up 10-7. The Raiders had 0 first downs in the opening quarter.

The Raiders took over at their own 25. Jason Campbell hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for 9, and on 3rd and 1 Marcel Reese got the yard. Campbell hit Zach Miller for 9 and Michael Bush ran for 15. On 4th and 10 from the Colts 41, Tom Cable decided he had nothing to lose. As great a punter as Shane Lechler is, Sebastian Janikowski is still the Polish Cannon field goal kicker. From 59 yards out, Seabass drilled it to tie the game 10-10.

The Colts punted again, and the Raiders took over at their own 18. McFadden ripped off a 26 yard gain. On 3rd and 6 Campbell found Louis Murphy for 10. On 3rd and 5 from the Indy 37, Campbell hit Chaz Schillens for 9. At the 2 minute warning, the Raiders faced 4th and 2 at the Indy 20. Cable decided to play it safe and grab the lead. Seabass connected from 38 and the Raiders led 13-10 to complete the 11 play, 5 1/2 minute, 62 yard drive.

The Colts were backed up to their own 12 with 1:49 to work with. Oh yeah, and they had Peyton Manning. Defensive holding moved things 5 yards.  Manning hit Tamme for 8, and Addai gained 5. Manning hit White for 16. An idiotic unnecessary roughness penalty moved the Colts to the Oakland 36 with one minute left in the half. The Colts then took an unnecessary roughness penalty on offense, and with 45 seconds left in the half, the Colts had 3rd and 17 at the Oakland 43. Manning threw deep incomplete, but the umpteen billionth defensive pass interference penalty in the career that is Stanford Routt made it 1st and 10 at the 18. On the next play Manning hit Tamme for the touchdown, and the Colts led 17-13.

The Raiders took over at their own 27 with only 29 seconds left in the half. Campbell hit McFadden for gains  of 11 and 12 to midfield as the Raiders took their last timeout. Campbell hit Zach Miller for 14 and quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock with one second left. Seabass came in for a 54 yarder. He had made the 59 yarder, but this one was wide, no good, to end the half.

The Colts began the second half at their own 22. Dominic Rhodes, who was on the 2006 Colts Super Bowl team before being traded to the Raiders and back to the Colts, gained 15. Yet on the next play Manning was intercepted by Michael Huff. The Raiders took over at their own 43, but on 3rd and 5 Campbell only gained 3. On 4th and 2 from the Indy 49, Cable took no chances and punted.

The Colts took over at their own 12. They would punt, and the Raiders too over at their own 44. McFadden had a pair of 6 yard runs sandwiched around an 11 yard completion to Heyward-Bey. Yet on 2nd and 4 from the Indy 33, McFadden got stopped and a deep ball fell incomplete. Seabass was brought in for a 51 yard field goal. He nailed it, his 3rd kick in 4 tries, to have the Raiders within 17-16.

After an exchange of punts, the Colts took over at their own 44. Manning hit Garcon for 9 and Rhodes gained 4. From the Oakland 43, Manning went deep. Again, the human defensive penalty machine Stanford Routt got called for pass interference at the Oakland 12. After an encroachment penalty, Manning hit White for a 4 yard touchdown to have the Colts up 24-16 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.

The main mistake the Raiders kept making in the second half was play calling. Hue Jackson has bee a very good offensive coordinator, but his obsession with a balanced offense ignores the fact that the Riaders have a great running game and a bad passing game. Jason Campbell is a capable game manager, but the Raiders should be running the ball, especially on 1st and 10. Instead Campbell fired incomplete passes and the Raiders punted.

The Colts began the fourth quarter at their own 25. Manning was intercepted again, this time by Chris Johnson. The Raiders took over at their own 37 and Campbell found Ford for 17 yards. Yet after a run got stopped, the Raiders again abandoned the run. Campbell was then sacked, and Seabass had to face a 45 yard field goal instead of a chip shot. For the 4th time in 5 tries, he was good, as the Raiders trailed 24-19 with 13 minutes left in regulation.

The Colts took over at their own 32., and turned to the resurgent ground game. Rhodes picked up 9 and 12, and Addai gained 18 and 4 before losing 3. On 3rd and 9 from the Oakland 28, the Raiders desperately needed to stop the only 4 time NFL MVP. Manning hit Tamme for 13. On 3rd and 2 from the 7, again one stop would keep it a one score game. Manning hit Garcon for the touchdown as the 5 1/2 minute drive had the Colts up 31-19 with 7 1/2 minutes to play.

The Raiders took over at their own 29, and on 4th and 2 from their own 37, they had to go for it. Campbell, who fired incomplete on 3rd and 2, did the same on 4th down and the Colts had the chance to end it from the Oakland 36. Yet the Colts went nowhere, and on 4th and 9 from the Oakland 35, Jim Caldwell played it safe and punted. The Raiders needed 2 scores in 5 minutes, and were at their own 20. They had 2 timeouts plus the 2 minute warning.

Campbell hit Miller for 7, and on 3rd and 3 Bush gained 4. Campbell hit Schillens for 7, Bush for 6, Heyward-Bey for 9, and Miller again for 5. With 3 minutes left, offensive holding had the Raiders facing 1st and 20 at their own 48. Campbell found Murphy for 26 yards. Campbell hit Bush for 3 and Miller for 13 to set up 1st and goal at the 2 minute warning. Campbell hit Miller for 9, and after a false start, Campbell went back to Miller for the 6 yard touchdown. The 12 play drive had the Raiders down by 5.

The onsides kick failed, but the Raiders still had 2 timeouts. The Colts took over at the Oakland 39. Rhodes gained 3 and 5 as the Raiders used their timeouts. With 1:39 on the clock, everything came down to 3rd and 2 at the Oakland 31. One stop and the Raiders would get the ball back. Jim Caldwell was his typical expressionless self as everybody wondered if Manning would hand it off or be crazy enough to pass it. An incomplete pass would stop the clock. It had to be a run, even with a 4 time NFL MVP passing.

Nobody in their right mind could have expected the play call. With everybody bunched up, Manning called a naked bootleg and saw nothing but green in front of him. Manning is not Michael Vick. Manning is the greatest passer and worst runner in the league. Yet he is also the best tactician, and he fooled everybody because to think he would run was ludicrous. As Manning lumbered slower than an offensive lineman toward the goal line, a defender was catching up. Manning showed why he might be the smartest player in football as well. Rather than risk a hit and an injury, he understood that it was better not to score anyway. With nobody in front of him, rather than score, he slid down at the 4 yard line after a 27 yard gain.

A touchdown would have given the Raiders the ball back with a kick to Jacoby Ford. Sliding inbounds allowed the Colts to take a knee and run out the clock. Manning may have had 27 yards running in his entire career. Yet this 27 yard run had the Raiders drop to 7-8. The Raiders are on the road next week at Kansas City, who may not have anything to play for. The Raiders need to win to get to 8-8 and avoid their 8th straight losing season. The Colts at 9-6 win their division and make the playoffs if they win next week. Yet if the Colts lose and Jacksonville wins, Jacksonville is in and the Colts would stunningly be out of the playoffs. The Raiders have a slogan pride and poise. They showed plenty of pride today, and despite critical penalties, showed poise with 0 turnovers. Yet the Colts had Manning. 31-26 Colts

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons is the Monday night game. The 10-4 Saints lost at home to the 12-2 Falcons early in the season when Garret Hartley missed a 29 yard field goal for New Orleans. The Falcons won in overtime. If the Saints win, win next week, and Atlanta loses next week, the Saints win the division and most likely the first round bye and maybe even the top seed. Yet the Falcons clinch the top seed with a win today or next week. The Saints won their biggest game in franchise history last year in the Super Bowl, while this might be the biggest game in Falcons history outside their Super Bowl appearance loss after the 1998 season.

The Game between Chicago and the Jets was supposed to be about defense, and we witnessed a pinball machine of offense. The Saints and the Falcons were supposed to light up the scoreboard but the defenses dominated early on with a ton of punts. Drew Brees did complete 11 of his first 14 passes, and a 52 yard field goal by Garrett Hartley with one minute left in the opening quarter had the Saints up 3-0.

Matt Ryan tried to establish the run, but Michael Turner picked up 5 yards on 7 carries early on. On 3rd and 8 from the Atlanta 38, a fumble by Ryan was recovered by Jonathan Vilma early in the second quarter to give the Saints the ball at the Atlanta 34. On 3rd and 4 Brees hit Graham for 10. Pierre Thomas ran for 16 yards and then carried it the final deuce to have the Saints up 10-0.

The Falcons took over at their own 22 and finally got going. Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez for 7 yards, and Turner finally broke free for a 27 yard gain. On 3rd and 11 from the Saints 45, Ryan hit Snelling for 19. Back to back defensive penalties for illegal use of hands and unnecessary roughness set up 1st and goal at the 7. Ryan hit White for the touchdown midway through the second quarter to have the Falcons within 10-7. Brees worked the 2 minute drill to the Atlanta 40, but was sacked to kill the drive and end the half.

The Falcons began the third quarter at their own 20. On 3rd and 5 Ryan hit Jenkins for just enough. On 2nd and 6 from the Atlanta 49, Ryan decided to target cornerback Tracey Porter. Porter was the hero in the Super Bowl last year but he was not heroic on this drive. While trying to guard Jenkins, defensive pass interference gave the Falcons 15 yards. Ryan tried to go to Jenkins again, and again Porter got flagged, this time for 35 yards down to the one yard line. Yet this game of defense turned again when Turner fumbled at the goal line. The Saints recovered to end the threat and take their 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter.

Yet in this defensive struggle, it would be the defense that would turn the game around again. Less than one minute into the fourth quarter, Brees was intercepted by Davis, who took it 26 yards for the score to have the Falcons up 14-10. Yet Brees came right back firing. From the Saints 32, he went deep to Robert Meachem for a 25 yard gain. He then hit Devry Henderson for 11 more. Yet on 3rd and 8 from the Falcons 30 with 12 minutes to play, Brees was intercepted again. This time John Abraham got the pick, and the Falcons took over at their own 47.

The Falcons gained one first down and nothing more, and Mike Smith did not consider a 60 yard field goal or going for it with 10 1/2 minutes to play, wisely deciding to play field position. The Saints took over at their own 10.

On 3rd and 11 from the 9, Brees hit Moore for 27 yards and again for 12 more. He then hit Meachem for 6. Henderson went around the end for 9. On 3rd and 2 from the Atlanta 38, Brees hit Thomas for 22 down to the 13. On 3rd and 3 from the 6, Brees hit Graham for the go ahead score. The Saints led by a field goal, as the Falcons took over at their own 19 with 3 1/2 minutes to play.

Ryan scrambled for 20, but with 2:52 to play the Falcons faced 4th and 6 at their own 43. Mike Smith decided to punt and trust his defense. Both he and Sean Payton have a tendency to engage in some riverboat gambling, and the end of this game saw Sean Payton taking major risks. Yes, this is the same Super Bowl Champion Sean Payton who began the Super Bowl second half last year with a successful onsides kick.

Everybody in their right mind knows you run the ball in this situation. So from the Saints 14, Brees passed to Graham for a 7 yard gain. Yet the decision appeared to blow up when Graham fumbled it and Lofton recovered for Atlanta. Payton challenged the call, and it was reversed, as the Saints dodged a major bullet and retained possession. Thomas ran for 4 yards and a critical first down at the 2 minute warning.

After Thomas gained 2 more, the Falcons took their 2nd timeout with 1:55 left. Surely Payton thanked his lucky stars and played it safe. No, he called another pass, and Brees found Thomas for 7 yards. With 1:36 left, the Falcons took their final timeout as everything came down to the critical 3rd and 1 call. Payton may have cojones of steel, but he does not have (redacted) for brains. No coach on Earth even allows their quarterback to raise their arms in this situation to even try and throw the ball. Brees handed off to Thomas, who crashed through for 3 yards and the clinching first down as the Saints ran out the clock.

Both of these teams are still in the playoffs, and they both won on the road by 3 points to split the season series. The Falcons are 12-3 and the Saints are 11-4. If the Falcons win next week against NFL worst Carolina or the Saints lose, the Falcons win the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs. Yet if the Falcons lose and the Saints win, the Saints win the division and the Saints, or another team such as Chicago or Philly, would have the top seed. The division non-winner gets the wildcard. Playoffs aside, this was a fine, fine football game. A third rubber match in the NFC Title Game would be well worth it. 17-14 Saints

Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to be the Sunday night game, but a blizzard in Philly led the NFL to postpone the game to Tuesday evening. Given that there was no damage, it was disappointing that a potential winter wonderland game was postponed. Then again, Vince Lombardi is no longer around to remind people what football is about.  Brett Favre is doubtful on the injury report, while nobody knows what that actually means because it is Brett Favre. Also, once again when Favre is doubtful an act of God or nature gives him extra time to heal.

If divine providence does not intervene, Joe Webb will most likely start again, while Michael Vick will try to make his case for NFL MVP for the 10-4 Eagles. After their miracle win last week, the Eagles still have a shot at the top seed, although that is doubtful. They have a very good shot at the # 2 slot and the 1st round bye, although right now the tie breaker is against them. They lead their division by one game, while the Vikings are eliminated, and showing little life in a home thrashing last week against Chicago. Welcome to Tuesday Night Football.

Sadly enough, it was not Vick vs Favre, as the grizzled gunslinger stayed out of this one. Watching those two quarterbacks has some symbolism because they represent a pair of changing of the guards. In 1995, Favre and Green Bay went into the defending champions in San Francisco and beat the daylights out of them, shifting the dominance from Steve Young and Frisco and Troy Aikman in Dallas to Favre. The next changing of the guard came in 2002, when Vick and the Falcons went into Green Bay for a snowy playoff game where the Packers had never lost at home. The Falcons won easily, and the next era was born. Both quarterbacks left and came back, although tonight in Minnesota the Joe Webb era had to get legs against a blistering Eagles defense.

With all the buildup, the game itself was dominated by the defenses. Vick began with a 14 yard scramble, but nothing else as both teams punted to start. The Eagles began their second drive at midfield. On 3rd and 10 Vick threw incomplete, but defensive pass interference had the Eagles at the Minnesota 26. On 3rd and 15, Vick found Jeremy Maclin for 28 yards. Vick’s 3 yard touchdown to Harbor was challenged by Leslie Frazier, but the touchdown stood as the Eagles led 7-0.

Webb brought the Vikings back to the Philly 28, but an offensive facemask killed the drive. In the second quarter Vick went deep and was intercepted. Minnesota gave the ball back when Adrian Peterson ripped off a 23 yard gain but then fumbled. Philly would punt and Webb again had Minnesota on the move, reaching the Eagles 29. Yet Webb was sacked to end that threat.

With 55 seconds left in the half the Eagles faced 2nd and 2 at the Minnesota 39. Vick went back to pass, and Antoine Winfield gave chase. Rather than make the hit, Winfield went for the ball and knocked it out of Vick’s hands. Winfield got to it first, scooped it up, and raced 45 yards for the tying touchdown as the stunned home crowd saw a 7-7 game. Vick did lead the Eagles into position for a 54 yard David Akers field goal try at the end of the half, but Akers was short.

The Vikings began the third quarter at their own 26 and Webb immediately went for the jugular, going deep to Percy Harvin for 46 yards. On the next play Webb hit Shiancoe for 23 more. On 2nd and goal at the 2, a touchdown pass was challenged by Walrus Lite Andy Reid. Reid was rewarded when the touchdown call was overturned and ruled incomplete, the second time Minnesota had a touchdown taken off the board. On 3rd and goal at the 2, Webb rolled out with 3 Eagles in pursuit. Before getting rid of it, he was knocked out of bounds for a 10 yard loss. Ryan Longwell made the 30 yard field goal as the Vikings led 10-7.

Philly went 3 and out and the Vikings took over at their own 25. Adrian Peterson ripped off an 18 yard run, and then ran for 9 and finally 3 more. Peterson then caught an 11 yard pass from Webb. Webb then hit Rice for 14 with a personal foul for helmet to helmet adding 15 more. On 2nd and goal from the 9, Webb rolled out again, and somehow eluded 4 tacklers en route to a touchdown to have the Vikings leading 17-7 midway through the third quarter.

Vick led the Eagles from their own 26 to the Minnesota 28.  Vick then avoided a sack and took off running up the middle. Yet Vick had taken several tough hits in this game, and he got blasted on this run, resulting in his second fumble. Jared Allen recovered for Minnesota with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. From 3rd and 7 at the Minnesota 26, Webb scrambled for 7 and a 1st down, but Webb was called for an offensive facemask to end the drive. The Eagles took over at their own 47 as the third quarter ended.

On 3rd and 2 from the Minnesota 45, Vick hit Captain Morgan Brent Celek for 5. On 4th and 1 from the Minnesota 31, everybody knows that Andy Reid does not run the ball. Yet maybe he does, since McCoy gained 5. On 3rd and 9 from the 25, Vick hit Maclin for 15. Vick called a draw play and ran again, this time up the middle for the 10 yard touchdown to have the Eagles within 17-14 with 10 minutes left in regulation.

David Akers uncharacteristically kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, as the Vikings took over at their own 40. On 3rd and 2, Webb hit Booker for 6. On 3rd and 11 from the Eagles 47, Webb found Harvin for 19. Peterson then ran 27 yards to set up 1st and goal at the one as Minnesota tried to get breathing room and Philly tried to keep it a one score game. Peterson was stopped, but the Eagles were called for 12 men on defense. On the next play Peterson barely broke the plane but it was enough to have the Vikings smelling upset at 24-14 with 6:43 to play in the game.

The Eagles took over at their own 16, and Vick got a swing pass to McCoy, who bobbed and weaved past a sea of traffic for a 28 yard gain. After another first down, a sack of Vick set up 4th and 18 at midfield with 4 1/2 minutes left. Andy Reid decided to punt.

On 3rd and 6 from the Minnesota 18, the Eagles took their final timeout with 4:14 to play. Webb scrambled and the spot was marked a 1st down. Although Webb appeared short, the Eagles were out of timeouts and could not challenge the call. A couple plays later, Webb scrambled around and fumbled. He was ruled down by contact and again the Eagles could not challenge it. However, on that one Webb clearly was down.  At the 2 minute warning, The Vikings faced 3rd and 11 at their own 23. The next play would absolutely be a running play, meaning the Eagles would have one minute and 0 timeouts to get 2 scores. They used up their miracles a week earlier.

The Eagles had exactly 1:06 to work with from their own 45, and began with a false start. A pair of completions over the middle kept the clock running, and Vick spiked it with 6 seconds left. Needing 2 scores, they could have brought in Akers for a field goal and then tried the onsides kick. Instead a West Coast pass over the middle was incomplete as time ran out. The Vikings improved to 6-9 and 3-2 under Leslie Frazier. The Eagles at 10-5 ar ein the playoffs and have clinched their division, but have lost their chance at a 1st round bye, which now belongs to Chicago. 24-14 Vikings


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