NFL Nation: Rapid reactions

Posted by's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- The celebration that started on an airplane somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico last Sunday continued all night long for the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers, with a dominating 52-21 victory Sunday, made history for both themselves and the downtrodden Denver Broncos as they took the AFC West title that many thought was going to belong to them for months.

Still, San Diego's chances looked bleak two weeks ago. However, the Chargers, who are 14-0 in December games with Philip Rivers as their quarterback, won their final four games and saw Denver drop its final three games.

San Diego became the second 8-8 team to win a division title and the first team to start 4-8 to advance to the playoffs. Denver tied the league mark for blowing a three-game lead. Denver (8-8) had its huge three-game lead entering Week 15.

Last week, Denver gave San Diego life when it blew a 13-0 lead at home against Buffalo. The Chargers were flying home from Tampa Bay when they got the news.

San Diego hosts Indianapolis in a wild card game Saturday night. The Colts beat San Diego in San Diego on Nov. 23 on a last-second field goal.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers, who on Sunday became the first team in NFL history to have two receivers finish with 100 yards in the same game in which two of their running backs also gained 100 yards.

You wouldn't have expected that feat to occur against anyone other than the bumbling Detroit Lions, who finished the first 0-16 season in NFL history in fine historical fashion. The Lions' latest rebuilding process could begin as early as Monday when coach Rod Marinelli meets with owner William Clay Ford, but at least Marinelli and his defense went out in style.

The Packers got 100-yard rushing games from Ryan Grant (106 yards) and DeShawn Wynn (also 106), while receivers Donald Driver (111 yards) and Greg Jennings (101) also finished in triple digits. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that statistical combination had never occurred before in league history.

The victory allowed the Packers some joy at the end of a deeply disappointing season. For the Lions? Just another drop in the historical bucket.

Posted by's Tim Graham

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Miami Dolphins have pulled off the most dramatic single-season turnaround in NFL history Sunday by defeating the New York Jets 24-17 at the Meadowlands.

With the New England Patriots winning earlier this afternoon, the Dolphins needed the victory to claim the AFC East title with an 11-5 record. They went 1-15 last year.

  • No team ever has made the playoffs after a one-win campaign.
  • No team ever has won double-digit games after a one-win campaign.
  • Only the 1999 Indianapolis Colts improved their record by 10 victories over the previous season, so the Dolphins tied that record, too.

Chad Pennington outperformed Brett Favre in a big way, completing an efficient 22 of 30 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

Favre, in what could be his final game, completed 19 of 39 attempts for 227 yards and one touchdown, but threw three interceptions.

Phillip Merling returned Favre's second interception 25 yards for a touchdown. The third came on the Dolphins 25-yard line and the Jets down by seven points.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

PHILADELPHIA -- In a stunning turn of events, the Eagles found out just before kickoff Sunday that they were still in the playoff hunt. They came out and overwhelmed the Cowboys to take a 27-3 halftime lead and then coasted to a 44-6 win.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb connected with Correll Buckhalter and DeSean Jackson on big plays in the first half to set up two Eagles touchdowns. But it was the Eagles' defense that shut the door on Tony Romo and the Cowboys. After last Sunday's loss to the Ravens, the Cowboys asked Romo to treat the football as a precious commodity. But the message didn't quite get through. He fumbled twice and threw a back-breaking interception late in the first half.

The Eagles defense returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the second half to remove any mystery from the outcome. The Eagles (9-6-1) will travel to Minnesota for a wild-card playoff game next weekend and the Cowboys (9-7) will have a lot of time to think about perhaps the most disappointing season in the history of the franchise.

McNabb was 12 of 21 for 175 yards and two touchdowns and he was able to finish the game on the bench. Unlike the game against the Ravens four weeks ago, it was a pleasant sight for Eagles fans to see McNabb cooling his heels. Fans and players spent part of the pregame watching the Bucs-Raiders game, but when Tampa Bay took a 24-14 lead, the game was turned off. The Raiders mounted a comeback and their 31-24 win coupled with a Bears loss to the Texans put the Eagles in position again. Unlike last week against the Redskins, the Eagles made the most of the opportunity.

They will be a dangerous team heading into Minnesota next weekend and the fact that they defeated the Giants recently has to give them a lot of confidence.

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

It was a struggle, but as Carolina coach John Fox often says, the end result "beat the alternative."

The Panthers almost wasted a comfortable lead for the second straight week and that would have sent them stumbling into the playoffs. But kicker John Kasay hit a last-second field goal.

Kasay, the last original Panther, has made a lot of big kicks through the years, but this one might have been the biggest. It allows the Panthers to carry a little momentum into the playoffs. More importantly, it gave them the No. 2 seed and a week off.

That time off is going to come in handy because the Panthers have been banged up the last couple of weeks. This gives Carolina a chance to get rested and healthy and that could be just what the Panthers need to make a serious run in the playoffs.

Posted by's James Walker

The Pittsburgh Steelers crushed the Cleveland Browns, 31-0, to finish 12-4. But the win didn't do anything to ease concerns of Steelers fans who are wondering who their quarterback will be for the playoffs.

Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was carted off the field moments before halftime after taking a hit from Browns linebackers Willie McGinest and D'Qwell Jackson. Roethlisberger suffered a concussion and is being tested for neck injuries.

The win was the 11th in a row for Pittsburgh over the Browns. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin improved to 4-0 against Cleveland. But without a doubt, his risky decision to play his starters in a meaningless season finale will be a huge topic of discussion.

Pittsburgh has two weeks off before hosting a playoff game and hopes Roethlisberger and other key players will be healthy at that time.

The Browns (4-12), meanwhile, completed their third double-digit losing season in four years and will begin looking into changes for next season. Cleveland owner Randy Lerner is expected to meet with the coaching staff and the front office as early as Monday to discuss the future direction of the organization.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ryan Longwell just clinched the NFC North title for Minnesota.

Longwell's 50-yard field goal on the final play bailed the Vikings out of a botched two-minute drill, lifting the Vikings to their first division championship since 2000.

The Vikings will be the No. 3 seed and play next weekend at the Metrodome. Their opponent will be the winner of Sunday afternoon's game between Dallas and Philadelphia. At this moment, the Chicago Bears' wild-card hopes are still alive.

A capacity crowd at the Metrodome was nervous until Longwell's kick sailed through the uprights. Owner Zygi Wilf led the charge onto the field afterwards, celebrating the team's first playoff berth since he purchased the team in 2005.

I'll be back with more once we return from the locker room.

Posted by's James Walker

In what has been another poor season in Cincinnati, the Bengals are probably one of the few non-playoff teams that doesn't want it to end.

Cincinnati capped the 2008 season on a three-game winning streak with a 16-6 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals (4-11-1) also beat the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns in consecutive weeks leading up to Sunday's game.

Bengals tailback Cedric Benson had another solid outing with 111 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Benson, who signed with Cincinnati during the season and will become a free agent, finished the year with 282 rushing yards in his last two games.

The winning streak also is a good sign for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who appears safe in his position and gained good momentum for his team entering 2009.

Posted by's James Walker

These Baltimore Ravens sure know how to score points lately.

Despite its reputation as a defensive team, Baltimore put up four touchdowns in the second half to blow out the Houston Texans, 41-13.

The Ravens are proving to be a legitimate threat in the AFC. They won their fourth game in a row and are averaging 33.5 points per game over that span.

Baltimore (6-3) is piling on wins at the right time. The Ravens have three of their next four games against tough NFC East opponents, starting next week on the road against the New York Giants, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles at home on Nov. 23.

But with six victories in their first nine games, the Ravens have set themselves up well for the November and December stretch.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cowboys insisted nothing was wrong after a lackluster victory over a winless Bengals team last Sunday. Not sure they can put a positive spin on this one, though. Especially after coming back to tie the score at the end of regulation and winning the overtime coin toss.

Quarterback Tony Romo spent most of the afternoon on the ground, and once again, Terrell Owens wasn't able to consistently beat press coverage. But this wasn't Shawn Springs on Sunday. It was Eagles castoff Rod Hood who controlled T.O. for most of the day.

Wade Phillips will have a lot of explaining to do -- not one of his strengths -- after another uneven performance. The only good news for the Cowboys (4-2) is the fact that the Redskins (4-2) were upset by the Rams.

The Cowboys' offense hasn't looked right the last three weeks, and things got worse Sunday. Cardinals defensive ends Bertrand Berry and Antonio Smith raced around Flozell Adams all afternoon, and Romo rarely had time.

Some of his most reliable targets, such as Jason Witten, had key drops in the game.

Special teams were an issue again, as the first and last scores of the game came against them: A 93-yard kickoff return by J.J. Arrington and a blocked punt by Sean Morey that Monty Beisel ran in for the winning touchdown.

The Cowboys' defense held up well in the first half, but the combination of Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald got going in the second half. Adam "Pacman" Jones, a man who caused a huge distraction this week with his bathroom brawl at a Dallas hotel, was burned repeatedly by Fitzgerald. The season's far from over, but for now, the Cowboys are not an elite team in this league.

Posted by's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals are finally for real.

They needed overtime to prove it, but their 4-2 record and consecutive victories over Buffalo and Dallas left little doubt. This was the victory Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt needed to demonstrate how far his team has progressed.

Previous road losses to the Redskins and Jets raised questions, but the Cardinals answered them with two impressive victories heading into their bye.

Arizona didn't get many breaks in this game. The officiating worked against them repeatedly. They lost cornerback Rod Hood, who had been defending Terrell Owens.

They even lost the coin toss to begin overtime.

But they still found a way to win when Sean Morey blocked a Cowboys punt and Monty Beisel ran it in for the decisive points. The Cardinals will have a hard time losing their division lead after the Seahawks and 49ers lost again.




Sunday, 2/2