Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The road to the Super Bowl on the NFC side
will go through Dixie. Home-field advantage in the AFC is still very much up
in the air, however, after the Minnesota Vikings stunned the Texans in
The Falcons invaded the Motor City on Saturday and really showed the
difference between winning and losing organizations, topping an underachieving
Lions team content with celebrating Calvin Johnson's greatness.
"Megatron," of course, entered the record books, breaking Jerry Rice's mark
for most single-season receiving yards in NFL history. But, as has been the
case for most of the season, Johnson's stellar play didn't translate on the
Matt Ryan, on the other hand, continued his MVP-like play and threw four
touchdown passes as Atlanta clinched the NFC's top seed with a 31-18 walk in
Roddy White caught two of those scores and finished with 153 yards on eight
receptions for Atlanta, which also produced 17 points off three Detroit
Ryan finished a spectacular 25-of-32 for 279 yards and matched Steve
Bartkowski's 32-year old Falcons franchise record for touchdown passes with
"It means a lot because this was one of the goals," said White. "We wanted to
play in the (Georgia) Dome and have everybody come to us, and then we'll give
them our best shot."
Johnson made 11 grabs for 225 yards, upping his record total to 1,892,
certainly within earshot of 2,000. And that wasn't the only NFL record the
rangy superstar broke on Saturday. Johnson also became the first player to
record at least 100 receiving yards in eight straight games, surpassing a mark
set by Charley Hennigan in 1961 and matched by Michael Irvin in 1995.
"I've coached for 19 years in the NFL. I've never seen a better player than
Calvin Johnson," said Detroit coach Jim Schwartz.
Perhaps, but there are sure a lot of teams better than Schwartz's
You can't say the same thing about the Falcons, who understand they really
haven't accomplished anything yet.
The thought process in the ATL, is all about the postseason since Atlanta has
made losing in the first round a habit, one they hope to break by finishing
the 2012 campaign strong and entering the playoffs with a hot hand.
"I like our chances (in the playoffs) a lot better at home with the Dome
rocking," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "But it doesn't mean anything
obviously. We still have to go out there and play."
"Momentum is very important," Falcons coach Mike Smith added. "Sometimes it's
difficult to measure and quantify it. When you use the word momentum, you use
the word passion. You use the word purpose.
"It's important that you're playing efficiently and effectively in December
and January. That's what every team is striving for. Over the last two
seasons, the teams that were playing well in December and January and really
rolling were the teams that had the most success.:
Over in the AFC the Texans won the war against Adrian Peterson, holding the
Vikings superstar in check for the most part with an array of run blitzes.
That said, Wade Phillips' defense proved to be a one-trick pony as the Texans
were trounced by visiting Minnesota 23-6.
Peterson was still effective, carrying the ball 25 times for 86 yards for the
playoff-hopeful Vikings but his string of eight consecutive games with 100
yards rushing came to an end.
The typically ineffective Christian Ponder took advantage of all the extra
attention to A.P. and played a pretty clean game, exploiting the flats and
completing 16-of-30 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown for Minnesota.
"Obviously it was a great team win for us," Ponder said. "The defense played
Houston also turned it over twice and failed to score a touchdown for the
first time since 2006. putting Denver, which won its 10th straight contest by
disposing of Cleveland on Sunday, in play for the top spot in the AFC.
In the crosshairs of a consistent Vikings pass rush the immobile Matt Schaub
connected on just 18-of-32 passes for 178 yards for the Texans.
Houston still controls its own destiny for the top spot in the AFC but must do
something the franchise has never done before, win in Indianapolis.
"It makes it very, very disappointing because we had the chance to line up
here and get something done today," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "Doesn't
mean we still can't get it done. That's the most important thing. But, to line
up and get beat the way we got beat today is very disappointing. Hopefully we
learn from it and bounce right back.
"We have to. We don't have a choice."
THE MONDAY REWIND
COLTS REALLY DID GET LUCK-Y
A lot of things can change in a year.
In just under 365 days the Colts turned from a moribund 2-14 bunch to a 10-5
club heading to the postseason thanks in large part to Andrew Luck, the No. 1
overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Luck set the NFL rookie passing record on Sunday, passing the 4,051-yard mark
compiled last season by Carolina Panthers signal-caller Cam Newton in the
second quarter of Indianapolis' 20-13 win at Kansas City. That was the least
of his accomplishments, though.
When Luck found Reggie Wayne for a 7-yard TD pass with just over four minutes
remaining in the City of Fountains, the playoffs were a reality again for a
franchise which was spoiled by the greatness of Peyton Manning.
"Mission accomplished. That's all I can say," interim coach Bruce Arians said
about extending the season for Chuck Pagano, who is coming back to work this
week after successfully battling Leukemia, "It's a fantastic feeling."
"Obviously it's nicer to be in the playoffs," Luck added, "but it's nice to
have a couple records -- which I'm sure will be broken in the next year."
Luck's numbers weren't all that impressive in K.C. He finished just 17-of-35
with 205 yards for the Colts, who have won four of five overall and clinched
the fifth seed in the AFC postseason picture. He is, however, overflowing
with the intangibles that make quarterbacks great.
The jury is still out on whether the Stanford product will ever reach the same
heights of players like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or his predecessor in Indy.
But, what we do know, is Luck was better than all of those names as a rookie.
"Would we have done it without him?" Arians asked after the game.
The coach didn't wait for answer, preferring to do it himself:
BENGALS EXORCISE THE DEMONS
Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals exorcised their demons in the Steel
City on Sunday and accomplished something the franchise hadn't achieved in
three decades, back-to-back playoff appearances.
It wasn't pretty but when Josh Brown booted a 43-yard field goal with four
seconds remaining, Cincinnati earned a 13-10 victory over the Steelers at
Heinz Field, vaulting the Bengals into the postseason while eliminating their
AFC North rival in the process.
The Bengals, an AFC wild card entry a year ago, last reached the playoffs
in consecutive seasons in 1981 and 1982.
"Obviously we know the history is that we haven't been (in the postseason) two
years in a row for the last 30 years," Dalton said. "But since I have been
here I haven't known that. My class, me, A.J. (Green), some of these other
guys, we come in and expect to go to the playoffs."
Brown's clutch kick came one play after Dalton and Green connected on a 21-
yard pass to the Pittsburgh 25, and two after Bengals safety Reggie Nelson
intercepted Ben Roethlisberger near midfield with 14 seconds remaining
Roethlisberger was picked off twice on the afternoon, with Leon Hall returning
the first 17 yards for Cincinnati's lone touchdown of the game back in the
"We should be (in the playoffs) if it wasn't for me," Roethlisberger said.
Dalton finished with 278 yards on 24-of-41 passing and was also intercepted
twice, with Green amassing 116 yards on 10 catches to help the resurgent
Bengals to their sixth triumph in their last seven outings.
"Huge team win," said Dalton. "It's exactly what we needed to have happen, we
needed everybody to play well. Our defense played great, giving us good field
position and different things. Obviously (on) offense there's areas we can
improve, but it feels good to get the win."
AFC PLAYOFF TEAMS ARE SET
With the Colts and Bengals clinching playoff berths, all six postseason spots
in the AFC have been accounted for.
The Baltimore Ravens, who beat the New York Giants 33-14, clinched the AFC
North on Sunday, while the Texans (AFC South), Broncos (AFC West) and New
England Patriots (AFC East) had already taken care of business in their
Now it's all about jockeying among the top three. Houston, could fall all the
way to No. 3 if they lose at Indy in Week 17, and Denver beats lowly Kansas
City while the Pats top Miami.
VIKINGS HAVE INSIDE TRACK TO NFC'S FINAL PLAYOFF SPOT
One more win and the Vikings are in.
Minnesota has gone from a 3-13 team to 9-6 with next weekend's finale at Mall
of America Field against long-time rival Green Bay serving as a play-in game
for the hopeful Vikings.
"We're not done yet," Ponder said after his team upset the mighty Texans. "We
still want to get to playoffs and we'll be extremely disappointed if we don't
get there. But we've come a long way."
An emotional Vikings owner Zygi Wilf went even further in the locker room
after Minnesota's big win.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," Wilf said while holding back tears.
"I'm emotional because you guys are so great. We're going to win the next one
and we're going on, guys. God bless you guys."
Aaron Rodgers and the Pack still have plenty to play for, however. A win in
Minneapolis would clinch a first-round bye for Green Bay while a loss, along
with a San Francisco win against lowly Arizona, could set up a Vikings-Packers
rematch at Lambeau Field in the first round of the playoffs.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, clinched a wild card berth on Sunday and still have
a chance at the NFC West crown after routing San Francisco 42-13, and the
Redskins-Cowboys matchup in Week 17 will decide the NFC East.
A Minnesota loss against the Packers could put life back into Chicago's
postseason hopes while the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants need a
lot of help for an opportunity to defend their title.
TIME TO START THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE
There isn't going to be a lot to celebrate for a number of NFL coaches on New
While the rest of us are getting ready to pop the champagne corks and warm up
the diaphragm for Auld Lang Syne, a number of head coaches are going to be
staring at pink slips.
In fact, there figures to be far more turnover than usual this time around and
Dec. 31 just happens to fall on the Monday after Week 17, the day 20 NFL teams
will start their vacations.
The future of some embattled mentors are virtually a fait accompli with
Philadelphia's Andy Reid, the Chargers' Norv Turner, Carolina's Ron Rivera,
the Chiefs' Romeo Crennel and the Browns' Pat Shurmur almost assuredly hoping
Barack Obama can get those unemployment benefits extended.
That's just a short list, though. Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Munchak of
the Titans are also in hot water , and no one would be surprised if Mike
Mularkey in Jacksonville or Schwartz in Detroit are asked to pack up their
Jon Gruden has been rumored for just about every job in America from the
University of Tennessee all the way to the clerk of your local convenience
store. Everyone also always talks about Bill Cowher and Brian Billick, a pair
of former coaches with Super Bowl pedigrees, but Billick often describes
why neither is likely to come back. "Too old and too expensive," the former
Ravens coach is fond of saying.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly seems to be the "Flavor of the Day" with a lot of
reports indicating the Eagles are honing in on him and his inventive offensive
mind to replace Reid.
Kelly, who is 45-7 in four years as head coach at Oregon, turned down Tampa
Bay last offseason after effectively agreeing to take the job but with
possible NCAA sanctions hanging over Oregon like a Sword of Damocles now, it's
probably time for Kelly to flee the Pacific Northwest.
That said, the Eagles don't seem like a great fit. Kelly is a spread-offense
guy and would prefer a read-option type at quarterback. Of course, it's not
like Philadelphia has to hand the keys over to Nick Foles, a 2012 third round
pick who is a pure pocket passer and has showed some signs late this season.
Carolina and Cam Newton would be the perfect fit for Kelly but competition
will be strong and the Panthers aren't the type or organization to outbid
others for a hot name.
Memories are also evidently very short among front office types in the NFL.
The other college coach on a few radars, despite his acrimonious departure
from Miami back in 2006, is Alabama's Nick Saban.
Saban, who will be shooting for back-to-back national championships when he
leads his second-ranked Crimson Tide against No. 1 Notre Dame on Jan. 7, has
been steadfast in saying he isn't leaving Alabama but it's not like he has an
aversion to leaving anyone high-and-dry.
The Browns in particular may make a push. It's looking more and more like new
Cleveland CEO Joe Banner will part ways with both general manager Tom Heckert
and Shurmur, creating a power vacuum that a high-maintenance type like Saban
can take advantage of. Banner also understands his owner, Jim Haslam, is a
University of Tennessee grad and has a huge affinity for SEC football.
Meanwhile, the top coordinator-type on the market could be New England
offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was an abject disaster in Denver as
the Broncos head coach in 2009-10.
-New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees passed for 446 yards and three touchdowns
in the Saints' 34-31 overtime win at Dallas. Brees now has 4,781 passing yards
in 2012 and is the first player in NFL history to record at least 4,500 yards
in three consecutive seasons.
-St. Louis rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins had a 41-yard interception-return
touchdown in the Rams' 28-13 win at Tampa Bay. Jenkins has returned three
interceptions for touchdowns this season, tied for the most by a rookie in NFL
history. The other two rookies to accomplish the feat are both enshrined in
the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lem Barney (1967) and Ronnie Lott (1981).
-Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman had a 10-yard interception-return
touchdown in the Bears' 28-13 win at Arizona. It marked the eighth
interception-return touchdown scored by the Bears, tied with the 1998 Seattle
Seahawks for the second-most in a season in NFL history. The 1961 San Diego
Chargers hold the NFL record with nine INT-TDs.
-New England wide receiver Wes Welker had 10 catches for 88 yards and a
touchdown in the Patriots' 23-16 win at Jacksonville. Welker has 18 career
games with at least 10 catches, passing Jerry Rice for the most in NFL
-Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles rushed for 226 yards, including an
86-yard touchdown, in the Chiefs' loss to Indianapolis. Charles has three
touchdown runs of at least 80 yards this season, tied with Chris Johnson (2009
and 2012) and Barry Sanders (1997) for the most in a single season in NFL
The Sports Network