Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 31, 2006
IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys are headed into “the tournament” at their worst. They couldn’t even beat Detroit on a day when a loss would’ve given the Lions the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Done in by repeated mistakes from Tony Romo and a few more by Terence Newman, the Cowboys blew their last chance to win the NFC East with a 39-31 loss to the Lions on Sunday.
Roy Williams caught a pair of touchdown passes, Mike Furrey and Mike Williams each caught one and Jason Hanson kicked four field goals, helping Detroit (3-13) score its most points of the season and win a game the franchise might’ve been better off losing. Now Oakland gets the top overall pick and the Lions will go second.
Despite owning the top wild card, Dallas (9-7) goes into January having lost consecutive games for the first time all season. The Cowboys also have dropped three of four since owning a two-game division lead in early December.
All three losses were at home, guaranteeing no playoff games at Texas Stadium. Dallas will open the playoffs at Seattle next weekend.
Jets 23, Raiders 3
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The surprising New York Jets are headed for an improbable trip to the playoffs.
Chad Pennington threw a touchdown pass to Chris Baker, Leon Washington ran for a touchdown run and Mike Nugent kicked three field goals. Cheered by a sea of towel-waving fans throughout the game, New York (10-6) never trailed and took control in the second half. The Jets were 4-12 last year.
New coach Eric Mangini received a Gatorade shower just after the 2-minute warning, and a series of hugs by jubilant Jets players. Pennington urged the fans on, waving his right arm and prompting them to continue celebrating.
The Jets will play next weekend at New England in a first-round matchup against the AFC’s No. 3 seed.
The Raiders (2-14) got one consolation, the first overall pick in next April’s draft.
Chiefs 35, Jaguars 30
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City sneaked into the playoffs as Larry Johnson rushed for 138 yards on 33 carries, giving him an NFL-record 416 carries this season. His 1,789 yards smashed the team record of 1,750 the durable 230-pounder set last year in only nine starts. Atlanta’s Jamal Anderson had the NFL record for attempts in a season with 410 in 1998.
Johnson scored three touchdowns.
The Chiefs (9-7) will play at Indianapolis next weekend. After losses Sunday by Cincinnati and Tennessee, the Chiefs reached the playoffs with a victory by the 49ers over Denver.
Jacksonville finished the season with three straight losses and wound up 8-8 with its third-team quarterback on the field.
The Chiefs’ fourth touchdown came after Ty Law intercepted David Garrard’s pass, and sent the turnover-prone quarterback to the Jacksonville bench for the rest of the game. Law picked off Garrard’s throw on the 18 and returned it to the 2, and Johnson scored.
Into the game came Quinn Gray, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and appeared in only one game in three seasons. He led the Jaguars on three touchdown drives, finishing the first two with nifty runs himself.
49ers 26, Broncos 23 (OT)
DENVER — Walt Harris returned one of his three takeaways for a touchdown and Joe Nedney kicked a 36-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime as the Niners ended Denver’s playoff hopes.
All the Broncos (9-7) needed was a win over the double-digit underdog Niners (7-9) or even a tie to earn a spot in the playoffs, but they couldn’t score on three trips inside the Niners 5-yard line and blew an early 13-0 lead.
Champ Bailey returned his league-leading 10th interception for a 70-yard touchdown in the first half.
San Francisco got the ball back with 4:38 left in OT and drove 42 yards to the Denver 18, where Nedney kicked his fourth field goal. As it sailed through the uprights, John Lynch smashed his helmet on the grass, a crushing end to Denver’s dreams of a franchise-record fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
Frank Gore, the NFC’s starting Pro Bowl running back who led the conference in rushing and broke Garrison Hearst’s single-season franchise records for rushing and total yards, gained 153 yards on 31 carries and caught two more passes for 32 yards.
Steelers 23, Bengals 17, OT
CINCINNATI — Santonio Holmes’ long touchdown catch in overtime ended the Bengals’ season and gave Steelers coach Bill Cowher a reason to smile as he decides whether his Pittsburgh career is over.
Holmes caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the third play in overtime, eluded defenders and dived the final few yards into the end zone for a 67-yard score. The defending Super Bowl champions (8-8) were already eliminated from playoff contention, but wanted to take the Bengals down with them. They did, taking advantage of more Bengals bumbling.
With only three games left in the season, Cincinnati (8-8) was in position to clinch an AFC wild-card berth with one more a victory. Instead, the Bengals imploded while losing all three.
This time, Shayne Graham was wide right on a 39-yard field goal attempt with 8 seconds left in regulation.
The dramatic comeback ended a trying year for the Steelers, who now must wait to see whether Cowher will return for a 16th season. He plans to reach a decision soon.
If this was his finish, it was one worth remembering.
Patriots 40, Titans 23
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Corey Dillon ran for two touchdowns and Tom Brady threw for a TD as New England stopped the Titans’ magical run at NFL history.
The Titans (8-8) had won six straight games and needed to beat New England and hope Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Denver all lost. Jacksonville and Cincinnati did just that.
But the Patriots (12-4) wanted as much momentum for themselves before hosting a wild-card game next weekend, so coach Bill Belichick played Brady three quarters.
New England took control by scoring 19 straight points, and the defense sacked Vince Young five times, forcing him into three turnovers. It will play the New York Jets next weekend.
The game was in control enough that 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde got in for the final few snaps, and he tossed a 6-yard TD pass to Troy Brown and set an NFL record with at least one TD in 20 straight seasons.
The Titans wanted to become the first NFL team to start 0-5 and reach the playoffs.
Chargers 27, Cardinals 20
SAN DIEGO — Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes after injuring his right foot, and LaDainian Tomlinson also limped off after wrapping up his first NFL rushing title. The Chargers (14-2) clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The exact injuries weren’t disclosed.
San Diego heads into the playoffs with a 10-game winning streak and its first perfect home record since 1963. The Chargers’ 14 wins and eight home victories are club records.
Tomlinson ran for 66 yards, giving him 1,815 and the league rushing title. He beat Larry Johnson of the division rival Chiefs, who had 1,789. Tomlinson did not score for the second straight game. He already was the league’s most prolific scorer in a single season, with 31 touchdowns and 186 points.
San Diego’s Marty Schottenheimer won his 200th regular-season game, joining Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Curly Lambeau in that exclusive club. Each of those coaches won multiple Super Bowls or NFL titles.
Now Schottenheimer will try to do something about his unsightly 5-12 playoff record as he tries to get to his first Super Bowl.
Dennis Green might have coached his last game for Arizona (5-11). He is 16-32 in three seasons.
Ravens 19, Bills 7
BALTIMORE — Using a stellar performance from the defense and an efficient effort from the offense, the Ravens earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Chris McAlister returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown and the Ravens yielded only 39 yards rushing to put a pretty bow on the finest regular season in franchise history. Baltimore (13-3) will enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak and nine wins in its last 10 games.
Matt Stover kicked four field goals for Baltimore, which didn’t score a touchdown on offense — and didn’t need one. That’s because the defense carried the day, just as it did in 2000 when the Ravens marched to their lone Super Bowl title.
Buffalo finished 7-9.
Eagles 24, Falcons 17
PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles (10-6) clinched the NFC East title earlier when Dallas lost. So, coach Andy Reid pulled his starters to keep them healthy for next Sunday’s first-round matchup against the New York Giants (8-8).
A.J. Feeley threw for a career-best 321 yards and three touchdowns to help the Eagles win their fifth straight game without Donovan McNabb. The Falcons (7-9) played almost the entire second half without Michael Vick, who sprained his right ankle on the first play of the third quarter.
One play after Matt Schaub’s 9-yard TD to Alge Crumpler tied it at 17 for Atlanta, Feeley connected with Hank Baskett on an 89-yard TD pass that gave the Eagles a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. Feeley hit a wide-open Baskett in stride and the rookie wideout streaked untouched down the right sideline. Baskett finished with seven catches for 177 yards.
Colts 27, Dolphins 22
INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning threw two touchdowns, ran for another and watched his maligned defense limit Miami to five field goals before giving up a late touchdown.
Indianapolis (12-4) will host a wild-card game next week against Kansas City after blowing a chance to earn either of the AFC’s top two seeds by losing four times in the previous six weeks. The Colts still completed their first perfect season at home since 1958, when the Baltimore Colts won the NFL championship.
Miami (6-10), which was 5-0 against Manning in Indianapolis, closed the season with three straight losses.
Against a depleted Miami secondary, Manning was his usually efficient self. He completed 22-of-37 for 282 yards. His first touchdown pass, the 274th of his career, was a 2-yarder to defensive tackle Dan Klecko. That broke a tie with Joe Montana for seventh on the career TD list.
Seahawks 23, Bucs 7
TAMPA, Fla. — Riding a three-game losing streak, the Seattle Seahawks hardly were in a position to rest for the playoffs. Shaun Alexander ran for one touchdown and Matt Hasselbeck threw for a second, bolstering the defending NFC champions’ confidence heading into the postseason.
The Seahawks (9-7) had clinched the NFC West title, assuring themselves of starting the playoffs with a home game. But coach Mike Holmgren felt it was important to play well and ease some of the sting from the team’s puzzling three-game slide.
Alexander rushed for 92 yards on 28 carries. Hasselbeck completed 17 of 29 passes for 216 yards, including a 5-yard scoring throw to D.J. Hackett, while Josh Brown kicked three field goals.
Tampa Bay (4-12), which has missed the playoffs with a losing record three of four seasons since winning the Super Bowl, lost two fumbles — one inside the Seattle 10 — and was stopped on downs once at the Seahawks 3.
Rams 41, Vikings 21
MINNEAPOLIS — Steven Jackson had a career-high four touchdowns and 166 yards from scrimmage, helping the Rams finish the year 8-8.
With his team leading 34-7 early in the fourth quarter, Jackson raced up the left sideline for a 59-yard score. That prevented Minnesota (6-10) from establishing a post-merger (since 1970) NFL record for fewest yards rushing allowed in a season, missing by 15 the mark of 970 yards set by the Ravens in 2000.
The Vikings were dumped from the playoff chase last week in a 9-7 loss to the Packers when they managed only three first downs, and the Rams were ousted from contention when the Giants beat the Redskins on Saturday.
Texans 14, Browns 6
HOUSTON — Houston was outgained 306 to 177 yards, but got a win over Cleveland (4-12) thanks to several costly errors by the Browns.
The victory gives the Texans (6-10) back-to-back wins for the first time since 2004 and marks the first time Houston has won a season finale. It also triples its win total from last year’s dismal season.
Rookie Chris Taylor scored his first career touchdown on a 5-yard run and finished with 99 yards.
Cleveland’s Charlie Frye returned after missing the last three games with a wrist injury, but had a fumble returned for a touchdown and also threw an interception. Frye was 25-of-34 for 187 yards.