On the last weekend of the NFL season, with many playoff spots already locked up, stadiums often look as if fans decided to leave early for the holidays.
On this particular NFL Sunday, only five of the 11 games had playoff significance. Here’s how the fans responded throughout the league:
Raiders 17, Chargers 12
Not a bad crowd for the Raiders, who usually have drawn well at the Coliseum only against the elite teams. Of course, it was just the AFC West title on the line.
Houston 34, Pittsburgh 14
The House of Pain could barely take the strain as the Oilers earned a playoff berth.
Atlanta 26, Dallas 7
A good crowd showed up in Atlanta to watch the Falcons hurt the Cowboys’ chances. Jerry Glanville has meant a lot to this franchise. This was the sixth sellout of the season, although there were 9,574 no-shows. In past years, a game like like wouldn’t draw more than 20,000.
Cincinnati 21, Cleveland 14
A capacity crowd braved the cold at Riverfront Stadium to watch the Bengals keep their hopes alive.
San Francisco 20, Minnesota 17
The Vikings are out of it and so were 11,878 no-shows at the Metrodome.
N.Y. Giants 13, New England 10
The strangest crowd story of the day. Tens of thousands of Giant fans, who usually can’t get a ticket to Giants’ home games, made the trek to Foxboro, Mass., filling the seats there for the first time this season.
Miami 23, Indianapolis 17
There were about 15,000 empty seats at Joe Robbie Stadium, with the home team’s playoff position set.
Washington 29, Buffalo 14
A battle between playoff teams with nothing on the line. Still the toughest ticket in the capital, if not the country.
Seattle 30, Detroit 10
Despite the importance to the Seahawks, this was the smallest crowd at the Kingdome this season. There were 13,847 no-shows, probably because of a forecast of snow and freezing rain.
Denver 22, Green Bay 14
The second-lowest crowd since Mile High Stadium was expanded more than a decade ago. Many of the 29,076 no-shows probably were discouraged because forecasts indicated the game would be played in bitterly cold weather. Sure, it was cold, but it was thought 70,000 Bronco fans would show up on draft day if they could.
New York Jets 16, Tampa Bay 14
Who knows what goes through the minds of Floridians?
RUNNING IN PLACE
The battle for the NFL rushing title turned out in much the same way as the NFC wild-card chase--in reverse. Detroit’s Barry Sanders, who came in second last season, was held to 23 yards in nine carries against Seattle but won the title with 1,304 yards. He started the day 16 yards behind Buffalo’s Thurman Thomas, but Thomas didn’t gain a yard in five attempts on Sunday against Washington.
Also, this from the Associated Press report: “Sanders, whose 16-yard touchdown run was his only big play against Seattle, is the first Detroit player to win the league rushing title since Byron (Whizzer) White in 1940. White went on to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice.”
It was not reported if Sanders, who defied convention two years ago by leaving Oklahoma State after his junior season, is planning to follow in White’s legal footsteps.
NAMES AND NUMBERS
Seattle, which has suffered a string of injuries to linebackers this season, lost another when starter Tony Woods injured his right knee in the second quarter. Coach Chuck Knox said Woods would undergo tests Monday to determine if there was any ligament damage. . . . Barry Sanders’ 16-yard scoring run gave him 16 touchdowns for the season, tying the team record set by Billy Sims in 1980. It also was the 46th touchdown for the Lions this year, equaling the mark set by the 1981 team.
San Francisco’s Jerry Rice caught nine passes for 118 yards and became the fourth player to reach the 100-reception mark. . . . The Vikings (6-10), who won the NFC Central last season, finished in last place for the first time since 1984. They ended the season with a four-game losing streak.
Atlanta’s Andre Rison caught five passes for 49 yards against Dallas, finishing the season with 82 catches for 1,208 yards. He broke the Atlanta club record of 81 catches set by William Andrews in 1981. . . . Mike Rozier’s 67-yard run from scrimmage was a Falcon record, breaking the mark of 66 by Harmon Wages.
Cincinnati offensive tackle Anthony Munoz was poked in the left eye early in the game against Cleveland and went to the sideline. The injury wasn’t considered serious. . . . The Browns finished the season with 228 points, their fewest in a 16-game schedule. The previous low was 250 in 1984. . . . Eric Metcalf set club records for kickoff returns and yardage--a sign of the Browns’ defensive problems.
Buffalo’s Leon Seals, the defensive end opposite Bruce Smith, went down with a sprained knee in the second quarter when several players fell on him as he tackled Washington’s Earnest Byner. He did not return, but said he would not miss the playoffs. . . . Art Monk extended his streak to 116 games with at least one reception, the fourth-best of all time.
New England scored just 51 points in its last seven games and failed to score more than one touchdown for the 12th time this season.
Indianapolis finished with its worst record since 1986, 7-9, but guard Brian Baldinger said the Colts might do well if they were in the playoffs.
“If they threw us in the pool, I think we’d be competitive,” he said, seriously. “No team puts fear in our hearts.”
Also, the weekly Bob Trumpy report: The NBC commentator chided Buffalo quarterback Gale Gilbert for lofting an incomplete pass in the corner of the end zone, then was back on Gilbert’s side on the next play, when he lofted a touchdown pass to Kenneth Davis between two receivers.
Cleveland Brown tight end Ozzie Newsome completed his 13th and probably last season by catching one pass for six yards in a 21-14 loss to Cincinnati, leaving him 20 yards short of becoming the 15th player in NFL history to reach 8,000 yards receiving.
Denver’s Sammy Winder, who earlier announced he would retire, was a sentimental starter in a 22-13 victory over Green Bay. The nine-year veteran, second on the Broncos’ all-time rushing list, finished with 80 yards in 15 carries and brought the Denver crowd to its feet with a 19-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
Raider Coach Art Shell on his club’s 17-12 victory over San Diego: “It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we did today what champions have to do--find a way to win.”
Charger quarterback John Friesz, who made his first NFL start: “I wasn’t nervous. I did some good things and I did some bad things. Our team played well enough to win and I just couldn’t get the job done.”
Seattle’s Derrick Fenner: “We’re a good team. We had critics say we were going to go 3-13. That’s ridiculous. I think they were talking about Denver.”
Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville, after the Falcons beat the Cowboys: “We heard they had five cases of champagne on ice, so we bought our own bottle, which cost us $2.29.”
Dallas Coach Jimmy Johnson, whose team could have clinched a wild-card spot, but will miss out if New Orleans beats the Rams tonight: “The Saints can get ready to play Chicago.”
Chicago Coach Mike Ditka on the Bears’ playoff opponent: “It doesn’t matter who we play. I’m sure they all want to play us after they watch today’s game.”
San Francisco’s Jerry Rice on the 49ers’ penchant for late rallies: “If we’ve got time on the clock, we’re going to get the ball into the end zone. We’ve always got somebody in the ideal position to make a big play.”
Minnesota Coach Jerry Burns, on the Vikings’ 6-10 season: “You really have to be scratching to find anything positive. When I saw that guy shoot that gun at the end, that was the most positive thing I saw.”
Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason on his passing for more than 3,000 yards for the sixth consecutive season: “I don’t worry about things like that. I don’t really care about statistics. The players around the league that are that way are selfish. They’re not playing the right game. They should be playing tennis or boxing.”
Buffalo Coach Marv Levy: “When you know what your playoff situation is, you walk on eggs a little bit.”
Defensive tackle Bruce Smith on the Bills’ loss to Washington: “We have other things to look forward to. We have accomplished 99.9% of our goals this year.”
After Washington defeated Buffalo, 29-14, veteran backup Frank Reich took his first loss in five NFL starts philosophically. He expects starter Jim Kelly to return for the Bills’ first playoff game in two weeks.
“The season is not over yet. My attitude is to stay ready,” Reich said. “Hopefully Jim will come back and lead us all the way. But I’m sure he will be a little bit more tender than normal, so I want to be prepared.”
Reich was ineffective against the Redskins, getting as far as midfield only once, in the closing seconds of the first half. He completed seven of 14 passes for 88 yards.
“The Redskins were in the same situation we were in (having already clinched a playoff spot). But believe me, there was a lot of intensity out there,” he said. “It was frustrating not to put any points on the board.”
Meanwhile, at New England, Jeff Hostetler stepped into Phil Simms’ spot and guided the New York Giants to a 13-10 victory.
Simms is expected to be sidelined for at least one playoff game. Asked if he would be comfortable using Hostetler in that game, Giant Coach Bill Parcells said, “Do I have a choice?”
“Then,” he answered, “I’m comfortable with Hostetler.”