December 24, 2012
Indianapolis is in, Pittsburgh is out, and Colts interim Coach Bruce Arians has to be pinching himself.
Arians, fired as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator after last season, has coached the Colts to a wildly improbable playoff berth one season after finishing 2-14. It might have been Arians' last game this season as interim coach, as leukemia-stricken Coach Chuck Pagano has been cleared to return.
"Mission accomplished. That's all I can say," Arians said. "Without getting emotional again, knowing that Chuck is going to be back Monday, the workweek shouldn't be as stressful."
As the Colts (10-5) were hanging on Sunday for a 20-13 victory at Kansas City, the Steelers were on their way to a 13-10 home loss to Cincinnati. The Bengals (9-6) grabbed the AFC's final playoff spot.
"Not our day and thus, not our year," Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin said after his team lost for the fifth time in six games to fall to 7-8. "Just not enough significant plays at the moments. Sounds like a broken record, but reality as we sit here."
It's all over but the seeding in that conference, with Houston, Denver, New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Cincinnati qualifying for the postseason. With one week remaining in the regular season, the Texans and Broncos are in the best position to earn first-round byes.
Atlanta is the only playoff team that can truly exhale. The Falcons (13-2) secured home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a victory Saturday night over Detroit.
In Philadelphia, Washington's Robert Griffin III returned from his knee sprain to lead the Redskins to a 27-20 victory over the Eagles.
That allowed the Redskins to maintain control of their destiny in the NFC East. They play host to Dallas next Sunday with the division title on the line. Washington hasn't won the division since 1999, and hasn't been to the playoffs since 2007.
Even though they lost in overtime to New Orleans on Sunday, the Cowboys are 8-7 and can still grab a spot in the playoffs by beating Washington (9-6).
The Giants, who lost at Baltimore and are also 8-7, are no longer in contention for a division title and face long odds of making the postseason as a wild-card team.
Minnesota, 9-6 after winning at Houston, has the inside track on a wild-card berth.
In the NFC West, Seattle secured at least a wild-card spot with its victory over San Francisco on Sunday night. To win the division, the Seahawks (10-5) would need to beat St. Louis next Sunday, and have the 49ers (10-4-1) lose to Arizona.
If the 49ers win, or Seattle loses, San Francisco wins the NFC West and plays host to a playoff game.
However, with the 49ers losing in Seattle, Green Bay (11-4) grabbed the inside track on the No. 2 seeding and a first-round bye.
Chicago (9-6), which won at Arizona on Sunday, needs a win at Detroit, coupled with a Vikings loss to Green Bay, to qualify as a wild card.
No matter how he has played, Tim Tebow has always been regarded as the paragon of sportsmanship and never-say-die persistence. But according to an ESPN report after the Jets' loss to San Diego, Tebow asked out of the wildcat package because he was frustrated with his role in the offense.
The report, which cited several unnamed people with the Jets, said Tebow's frustration reached a boiling point Tuesday when he learned he would be passed over for the starting opportunity when Mark Sanchez was benched. Greg McElroy got the start.
Tebow reportedly was disappointed enough that he told coaches he didn't want to be used situationally. That gave the team time to replace him in the wildcat with receiver Jeremy Kerley, a former high school quarterback. Kerley played in the game, Tebow didn't.
After the game, Tebow was asked who told him he wouldn't be playing in the wildcat and he said: "It just kind of happens."
Texans' Foster ill
Houston running back Arian Foster left Sunday's game in the third quarter because of an irregular heartbeat and didn't return. Afterward, neither he nor Texans Coach Gary Kubiak seemed concerned.
"I'll be OK," Foster told reporters. "It's a very minor situation, so I'll be OK."
Kubiak said Foster experienced the problem once before in practice.
"He calms down and he's fine," the coach said.
The Texans' medical staff cleared Foster to return to the game, but Kubiak thought it best to give him the rest of the day off.
Slowing his roll
There's no shame in running for 86 yards against the league's fifth-ranked rush defense. But Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who did that at Houston on Sunday, left himself a good piece of work to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record.
Peterson would need to run for 208 yards in the season finale against Green Bay to eclipse the record of 2,105 yards, set by Dickerson with the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. Peterson had 210 yards rushing against the Packers on Dec. 2 and 212 against St. Louis last week.
Although the Vikings won, 23-6, the Texans did a decent job containing Peterson, who had his lowest rushing total since gaining 79 yards in an Oct. 14 loss at Washington. He had rushed for at least 100 yards in eight consecutive games.
"We knew they were going to focus on the run, which is OK," Peterson said of the Texans. "It felt good to see other guys get involved and us continue to move the ball down and score some points."
Andy Reid might have coached his last home game for the Eagles.
Reid, the NFL's longest-tenured coach, saw his team collect its 11th loss Sunday, the same number of defeats he had as a rookie coach in 1999.
The Eagles almost forced overtime in their home finale against Washington. But almost didn't cut it.
Asked if he believes Sunday was his last home game, Reid said: "I don't know that. I have nothing to tell you on that. I'm the coach right now, and I'm just coaching. That's what I'm doing, the best that I possibly can."
Before the season, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said he expected "substantial improvement" over last season's 8-8 record. Reid has a year left on a contract that guarantees him about $6 million annually.
All signs point to San Diego sacking Coach Norv Turner after the season.
Sunday, the Chargers sacked the Jets' McElroy 11 times.
That tied a Chargers team record and fell one short of the single-game league record set by several teams, most recently by the Giants in 2007.
"A lot of those sacks weren't where they beat a guy quick and went," Turner said. "It was guys staying relentless and staying after the quarterback. You're playing a young quarterback. You'd like to be able to pressure him and disrupt him."
McElroy got the start over Sanchez and Tebow, who were both listed as the backup on the depth chart.
Jets Coach Rex Ryan said after the game that McElroy will be the starter for the season finale against Buffalo.
On the record
One fine day
Baltimore's Ed Reed is under the microscope. The All-Pro safety was briefly suspended for a game last month for his pattern of making improper helmet-to-helmet hits, a penalty that was later reduced to a $50,000 fine.
Reed probably will attract the attention of the league again for his sideline hit on Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who was flattened an instant after making a catch.
Reed, who drew a 15-yard penalty on the play, lowered his left shoulder into the upper chest of Cruz — who appeared to be in a "defenseless" position — and their helmets knocked into each other.
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