AROUND THE NFL
Help was wanted
NFC idlers get their wishes
You can be sure there was a cross-country congratulatory phone call placed yesterday. Whether it came from Philadelphia or Seattle doesn't matter. Andy Reid or Mike Holmgren would gladly pay the freight after each coach reached a major goal without playing a single down.
These two have more in common than their resemblance to former president William Howard Taft. Reid was a top lieutenant to Holmgren when the latter was calling the shots in Green Bay through most of the 1990s. Each had done all he could this season to get their respective squads -- Reid's Eagles and Holmgren's Seahawks -- into the playoffs, winning on Saturday to cap their regular seasons. But not everything was settled, not before an afternoon of anxious moments in front of the television.
Start in Philadelphia, where Reid was brainstorming for his NFC East champions. They had already secured a first-round playoff bye by dismantling the Redskins the night before. However there still was the painful matter of watching the downtrodden Lions humor the Rams in Detroit. Only, with NFC home-field advantage on the line, it was Detroit that looked like the playoff team, humbling NFC West winner St. Louis, 30-20. And that meant Reid could scrap any travel plans he had designed. His 12-4 Eagles are staying put by virtue of a better conference record.
"Congratulations to the Lions," said Reid. "They sure gave themselves a nice boost into next year and gave us a nice boost for this year."
Although the Eagles finished only 5-3 in their first season at Lincoln Financial Field, the postseason is another story. In the past 14 years, nine of the teams that finished with the top seed in the NFC advanced to the Super Bowl. Of those nine, seven won it all. One of the exceptions came last year, when Philly failed at home against Tampa Bay in the conference title game.
"I'm not big on home or away," Reid said. "We've done well on the road and done well at home. If you're a good team, you expect to do well both places."
The comforts of home will come in handy for a few ailing Eagles, especially Brian Westbrook. The team's leading scorer and rusher suffered a torn triceps Saturday and is debating season-ending surgery. A decision is due this week.
Many Seahawks figured Saturday's win at San Francisco wouldn't be the most grueling part of their weekend. That would come yesterday, awaiting the outcomes of other pertinent matchups that would determine whether Seattle would reach the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Holmgren opted for a soothing drive as a distraction. Running back Shaun Alexander decided to spend some extra time at church to appeal to the football gods.
It didn't take long for his prayers to be answered some 2,500 miles away. The 10-6 Seahawks earned a wild card and date at Green Bay Sunday when the Saints tipped Dallas, 13-7, in New Orleans. There were other factors involved as well, with weekend losses by Buffalo and the Jets and wins by the Browns and Lions all tilting the "strength of victory" tiebreaker in Seattle's favor, earning it the fifth seed over Dallas. Turns out it was all moot anyway with Minnesota's shocking loss at Arizona.
"This is something we've worked for since August," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the catalyst behind the Seahawks' first 10-win season since 1986. "It's great that all of our hard work has paid off. Now we need to take care of business. We have a great opportunity and we're excited."
If all goes according to plan, Seattle's business could extend a few more weeks.
And if a trip to Philadelphia is on the horizon, Holmgren and Reid can hang up the phone and make their reacquaintance in person.
Motor pity Lions owner William Clay Ford either was feeling extra generous this holiday season or had a little too much eggnog when he announced yesterday that president and general manager Matt Millen will return next season after overseeing a 10-38 operation during his three-year tenure. There's really no catch, although there should be, notwithstanding yesterday's 30-20 stunner over the Rams. Millen has failed to improve Detroit on the field (tough to defend a 24-game road skid) and embarrassed it off the field, making derogatory remarks, failing to comply with the league's minority hiring policy during the team's coaching search last summer, and amassing a small fortune in fines. Millen attacks his job how you would expect a former linebacker would, but seems to have trouble leaving his fiery attitude out of the public eye. Said Ford, "He may be learning on the job, but he's learning." Three years should be long enough . . . So what if the Chargers eked out a 21-14 win over Oakland, you say? Which 4-12 team would you rather be? The Raiders put up a 17-week stinker to get there, with little reward and a brittle future. The Chargers, on the other hand, continue to show promise with LaDainian Tomlinson running like a thoroughbred. His 243 rushing yards yesterday were the 10th-most all time, and caused fullback Lorenzo Neal to exclaim, "He's Superman without a cape." Now San Diego has the chance to complement him with the No. 1 pick in the draft, which it secured on a strength of schedule tiebreaker. The Raiders have the second selection, but their top priority should be a capable backup for quarterback Rich Gannon after Rick Mirer (4 of 11) and Tee Martin (2 of 11, interception) combined for 0 net passing yards.
Material from wire services was used in this report.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.