New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals clinched the NFL division titles and play-off spots but the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts were shocked by New York Jets.
Coach shrugs off Colts' defeat
The New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals clinched NFL division titles and play-off spots but in a major upset the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts lost to the New York Jets on Sunday. The Colts (14-1), who had not lost in 23 regular season games dating back to last year, went down 29-15 at home in the regular season's penultimate weekend.
The Jets (8-7) scored 19 consecutive points after the Colts, who rested their quarterback Peyton Manning and several other starters, had taken a 15-10 lead. "Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart," Manning said. "That's what we've done as players. We follow orders." The Colts' coach, Jim Caldwell, downplayed the loss. "A perfect season has never been one of our goals," he said.
The Jets' coach, Rex Ryan, was delighted with the victory. "Our guys played great. We found a way to win," he said. "We were just going to line up and play, whoever was out there." Tom Brady threw four touchdowns, three to Randy Moss, to help the Patriots (10-5) beat the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) 35-7 and wrap up the AFC East title for the seventh time in nine years. "It's the time of year we really need to start playing good football and I think today was one of our best 60 minutes that we have played all year," Brady said after completing 23 of 26 passes for 267 yards.
Cincinnati (10-5) needed a six-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Chad Ochocinco with two minutes left to claim the AFC North championship with a 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs (3-12). The win was an emotional one for the Bengals, after the wide receiver Chris Henry was buried during the week following his death in a fall from a pick-up truck. "I'm not jumping for joy or glee, just thinking about 15 [Henry's shirt number] once that clock hits zero," Ochocinco said.
"That was everybody's mindset, to go out and win this one for him." A 38-yard field goal by Jeff Reed with just over five minutes remaining ensured the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7), the defending champions, will take their play-off hopes into their final match as they beat the error-prone Baltimore Ravens 23-20. "It's been do or die for us for a while, fighting to the last minute. We're like the cardiac kids," said the Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Ravens (8-7) will clinch a wild card spot next Sunday if they win at Oakland. The Green Bay Packers (10-5) and Dallas Cowboys (10-5) advanced to the post-season, but the play-off-bound New Orleans Saints joined the Colts in posting a surprising home loss, falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-17. Green Bay (10-5) earned a play-off place thanks to a 48-10 rout of the Seattle Seahawks (5-10).
Dallas thrashed the Washington Redskins (4-11) 17-0 and set up a showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles (11-4) for the NFC East title. Philadelphia held onto their lead in the NFC East with a 30-27 win over the Denver Broncos (8-7), courtesy of a 28-yard field goal by David Akers with four seconds to play. New Orleans (13-2) lost for the second week in a row when Connor Barth kicked a 47-yard field goal in overtime to give visiting Tampa Bay (3-11) victory. "It's hard to explain," the Saints' quarterback Drew Brees said, after his team surrendered a 17-0 lead. "We started off fast, then after that there was a big lull."
The Saints, who won their first 13 games, can still claim the NFC's top seeding and the home-field play-off advantage if they defeat the Carolina Panthers in their last game. The Panthers (7-8) demolished the New York Giants (8-7) 41-9 in what was the home team's final game at Giants Stadium. "We had everything at stake playing a team that was only playing for pride, and I guess pride won today," said the Giants' defensive end Justin Tuck. "We should have been playing with a little pride ourselves."