Swirling Winds Clear Up Playoff Picture For Some NFL Teams

By Bryan Mongeau-Eastmond

NEW YORK(RushPRnews) 12/08/08-The way teams play in December usually translates into how they will fare, granted they make it into the postseason. If this is true, then top-ranked teams will seriously need to consider sticking with what works. The inclement weather in Week 14 created an unfavorable quarterback situation for many top passers in the NFL. Brett Favre, Tony Romo and Eli Manning, all struggled on Sunday, leaving the door open for teams desperately making a playoff push.

49ers 24, Jets 14
They may no longer be in the playoff hunt but the San Francisco 49ers are sure playing some good football down the stretch. After beating the Buffalo Bills on the road, the 49ers squeaked out another victory against a tough opponent and handed the former AFC East-leading Jets (8-5) their second straight loss.
It was not the ground game that worked for the 49ers. Frank Gore was held to 52 yards but did catch a short touchdown pass before injuring his left ankle early in the second half. He did not return. San Francisco excelled in the passing game with quarterback Shaun Hill distributing the ball to ten different receivers. He efficiently picked apart the Jets secondary and threw for 285 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception.
This is the second lost for the Jets in the Bay area this season and both times the offence struggled. The 49ers do seem to be playing with a sense of urgency as of lately under coach Mike Singletary, which begs the question: where was this solid play a few weeks back?

Eagles 20, Giants 14
A stunning collapse by the New York Giants (11-2) has allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to jump back into the playoff race. The Eagles (7-5-1) outplayed the defending Super Bowl champions and it was all smiles for Donavan McNabb and company. Brian Westbrook had 200-plus yards from scrimmage which included a 30-yard touchdown run and a 40-yard catch and run from McNabb. Only a few weeks ago, it seemed that the sky was falling on McNabb, but he has shown resilience and mental toughness- attributes necessary to make it in this league. The Eagles quarterback even showed a glimpse of his former self, scrambling and keeping the play alive with his legs.
Despite the lost, the Giants still won the division title when Pittsburgh beat Dallas. No question the Giants did not play like the number one team in the NFC. Their only points, aside from a fourth quarter touchdown pass, came from a block field goal by Jason Tuck which was scooped up by Kevin Dockery and ran back 71 yards for the score. Even this huge change of events at the end of the half could not provide a spark for the New York Giants, who looked more mediocre and wretched than an elite team.

Titans 28, Browns 9
Kerry Collins and the Tennessee Titans have clinched the division title in the AFC South with a convincing win over the Cleveland Browns. Tennessee’s “Smash and Dash” tandem of LenDale White and rookie sensation, Chris Johnson, went to work early on against a soft run defense.
Johnson finished the game with 166 yards from scrimmage. His 136 yards on the ground made him the Titans’ first rookie 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie George in 1996.
White finished one yard shy from breaking the 100-yard barrier, but did score his 14th touchdown off the season.
The Browns’s secondary held their own against Collins who went 14-of-23 for 155 yards.
Head Coach Romeo Crenell called upon the services of their third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey, making his first start since 2005. Cleveland’s physical offensive line could not pave the way for Jamal Lewis, who ran the ball seven times for 7 yards. With no success on the ground, their game plan flew out the window as Dorsey was forced to make plays with his arm. He finished 22-of-43 with 150 yards and an interception.
Tennessee’s defense unit allowed a mere 178 total yards. With both the defense and offense firing on all cylinders it’s not surprising that the Titans are 12-1 and have the best record in the league.

Dolphins 16, Bills 3
The NFL traveled north of the border making its first appearance in Toronto at the Rogers Centre. This was sort of a homecoming for running back Rickey Williams who played with the Toronto Argonaults in the CFL after being suspended by the NFL. He did not give his former fans much to cheer about with his 40 yards on the ground. His counterpart Ronnie Brown got most of the load and fared a little better with 70 yards. Chad Pennington wasted no time scoring on the second drive with a strike to Anthony Fasano. He finished the game 23 of 29 for 181 yards. Pennington relied heavily on the underneath passing game with short and accurate throws. He basically played his game while orchestrating long offensive drives to win the battle of time of possesion. When the defense was on the field, Dolphins LB Joey Porter made sure it wasn’t for long. He had two sacks, bringing his total to 16 ½.
In winning six of their last seven games, the Dolphins (8-5) moved into a three-way tie for the AFC East lead with New York and New England. Conversely, Buffalo (6-7) has lost six of seven and has fallen all but out of playoff contention.  The Dolphins, who prefer warm weather games, took advantage that the game was indoors and did not have to face the cold that accompanies the month of December.

Vikings 20, Lions 16
It wasn’t pretty, but coach Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings will take it.
It seems that the Vikings (8-5) overlooked the woeful Lions and it almost cost them the game. Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper was 14-of-24 for 220 yards against his old team and had his best game of the season. Little consolation as it wasn’t enough to secure the victory.
Minnesota’s starting quarterback Gus Frerotte left the game with a back injury so Tarvaris Jackson stepped in and began feeding the football to Adrian Peterson, the league’s rushing leader. He ran for 103 yards on 23 carries. Chester Taylor, the other part of that one-two punch, scored on a 17-yard run and helped alleviate some of the pressure off his quarterback. Jackson was productive under centre going 8-of-10 for 105 yards with a TD and did just enough to hold on for the win.
Tempers flared in the second quarter after Lions rookie offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus made an illegal block by diving at Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen’s left knee. Allen did return in the game.
The Lions (0-13) also started 0-12 back in 2001, so this is not unfamiliar territory for them. The clock is ticking for them to get a win.

Steelers 20, Cowboys 13
Pittsburgh’s league-leading defense showed up and not a minute too late to prevent Tony Romo from scoring a game-winning drive. Steelers CB Deshea Townsend intercepted Romo and ran it back 26 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with under two minutes to play. That was one of Romo’s three costly interceptions as the Steelers (10-3) put up 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally past the Cowboys. Pittsburgh didn’t wrap up an AFC playoff spot, but remain on top of the AFC North.
The Steelers offense was dreadful for the majority of the game and Ben Roethlisberger, was under duress and sacked five times. Roethlisberger plays good when he is in a rhythm and Dallas did a good job disrupting his timing with receivers and preventing him from getting comfortable in the pocket. But in the end it was another December disappointment for Dallas.
Tashard Choice filled in for the injured Marion Barber and had a big day in his first NFL start. He ran for 88 yards, the most against Pittsburgh all season, and added 78 yards in receiving. A valiant effort for the rookie, but the rest of the offense was not in sync as they dropped to 8-5

Saints 29, Flacons 25
What a wild one in New Orleans which saw two high-octane offences go at it. Both quarterbacks operated efficiently and their offences seemed impossible to stop- at least for opposing defenses. The Saints and Falcons each had 414 yards in total offense.
In a game that saw six lead changes, it was clear that this one would go down to the wire.
The Saints were trailing heading into the forth quarter, but Pierre Thomas scored on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees and a 5-yard run for the winning score. Thomas was the only player in the game to rush over 100 yards.

Cardinals 34, Rams 10
The Arizona Cardinals have sure been hot playing in the desert. Sunday was no exception as the Cardinals were rewarded with their first ever NFC West title. This is the Cardinals first division title in 33 years.  With Sunday’s win, Arizona (8-5) got back on track and snapped a two game losing streak. This wasn’t much of a contest as the score indicates and Kurt Warner managed to rally his troops against his former team. Warner went to the air throwing for 279 yards and a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald who hauled in six catches for 73 yards.
The Rams (2-11) were somewhat successful in moving the chains, but consecutive fumbles by Steven Jackson in the third quarter sealed the deal. This memorable win for the franchise will surely give them a boost of confidence in the remaining three games.
Warner’s solid numbers have placed him over the for 4,000-yard mark this season.

The action continues on Sunday.  Look for our update, right here at RushPRnews. 

Photo courtesy of the National Football League.