|Indy's Melvin Bullitt (left) and Tim Jennings converge to take down Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)|
Colts cruise to sixth straight victory
After winning five consecutive games by a combined 20 points, Indianapolis's sixth victory in a row looked like old-fashioned Colts football.
Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns yesterday and Kelvin Hayden had a pair of interceptions, setting up one Colts touchdown and returning the second 85 yards for a score to lead host Indianapolis to its biggest blowout of the season, 35-3 over the sorry Cincinnati Bengals.
While the victory kept the Colts (9-4) in position for the top wild-card spot in the AFC, their reign atop the AFC South officially ended with Tennessee's victory over Cleveland. It's the first time since 2002 Indy hasn't won the division crown.
"The first thing is you have to get in the playoffs," coach Tony Dungy said. "The year we won it [2006 season], we played three on the road. So if we get in, I think we'll have as good a shot as anyone."
Manning exploited big holes in Cincinnati's defense. His uncanny mixture of methodical drives and quick-hitting plays were too much for the beleaguered Bengals, and after failing to score an offensive touchdown last week at Cleveland, Manning led the Colts on three TD drives of 69 yards or longer.
Manning, who is 6-0 against Cincinnati, was 26 of 32 for 277 yards, matched his season high for touchdown passes, and topped 20 TD passes for the 11th straight season. Brett Favre, with 12, holds the NFL record.
The Bengals (1-11-1) lost four turnovers and Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked four times. Cincinnati has been outscored, 96-16, during its three-game losing streak. The Bengals have gone 11 consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown.
Titans 28, Browns 9
Tennessee became the first team to clinch a playoff berth, wrapping up the AFC South crown and a first-round bye with an easy win over Cleveland in Nashville. Kerry Collins threw for two touchdowns and Chris Johnson ran for 136 yards and a score.
The Titans, off to their best 13-game start at 12-1, took the lead for good in the opening minute of the second quarter when Collins found Ahmard Hall on fourth and 1 with a short pass the fullback took up the left sideline for a 28-yard TD and a 7-6 advantage. Collins added a 9-yard TD pass to Justin Gage in the third quarter.
"Obviously, we're all pleased and happy we won the division," Collins said. "We know there's a lot of things left we want to accomplish. Today was a good first step."
Cleveland (4-9) lost its third straight, starting a different quarterback in each game. Ken Dorsey made his first start since Nov. 27, 2005, and finished 22 of 43 for only 150 yards. The Browns were outgained, 390-178, and failed to score an offensive touchdown for the third week in a row.
Cardinals 34, Rams 10
Kurt Warner threw for 279 yards, Arizona's defense scored twice, and the Cardinals cruised past St. Louis at home to clinch their first division title in 33 years.
By winning the NFC West, Arizona (8-5) earned its first playoff berth since 1998 and will host a playoff game for the first time since, as the Chicago Cardinals, they defeated Philadelphia to win the NFL title in 1947.
Arizona's defense scored both of the team's second-half touchdowns, including a team record-tying 99-yard interception return by rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with 3:11 to play. Darnell Dockett also returned a fumble for a TD in the third quarter, putting the Rams (2-11) in a 20-point hole.
Vikings 20, Lions 16
Backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw a go-ahead touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter as Minnesota barely escaped Detroit with a victory over the winless Lions.
The Vikings (8-5) lost starting quarterback Gus Frerotte to a lower back injury, but Jackson filled in well and kept them atop the NFC North. Jackson, who was supplanted by Frerotte after an 0-2 start this season, was 8 of 10 for 105 yards with a TD.
The Lions had chances to win, but still became just the fourth team to start 0-13 or worse since 1976, when Tampa Bay finished 0-14 as an expansion team.
The Vikings had defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams on the field after the NFL Players Association helped to at least delay their suspensions for testing positive in training camp for a banned diuretic that can be used to mask steroids. The run-stuffers held Detroit's Kevin Smith to 63 yards rushing and freed up defensive end Jared Allen to make two sacks, giving him 12 1/2 this season.
Tempers erupted in the second quarter after Lions rookie offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus lunged from his knees to chop block Allen on his left knee. Allen limped to the sideline, and on the next play, Detroit fullback Moran Norris was ejected for swiping at linebacker Napoleon Harris after they tangled.
Saints 29, Falcons 25
Pierre Thomas rushed for 102 yards and scored two touchdowns, and host New Orleans (7-6) kept alive its slim playoff hopes by edging NFC South rival Atlanta.
Thomas scored his first TD on a 7-yard screen early in the fourth quarter. He also scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard toss sweep, a score he set up with his 88-yard kickoff return after Matt Ryan's 12-yard scramble had given the Falcons (8-5) a 25-22 lead.
New Orleans finished with a season-high 184 yards rushing. Reggie Bush provided 80, including a career-long 43-yard run that set up his 5-yard touchdown catch. Drew Brees was 18 of 32 for 230 yards and two TDs.
Ryan was 24 of 33 for 315 yards, one touchdown, and an interception, which led to Bush's early TD. Ryan connected 10 times with Roddy White, who finished with a career-high 164 yards receiving.
Texans 24, Packers 21
Kris Brown booted a 40-yard field goal on the final play of the game, giving Houston its second victory in six days and completing a second straight home meltdown for Green Bay.
The Texans (6-7) committed four turnovers, but benefited from the return of Matt Schaub, who passed for 414 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in a month. With Houston trailing, 14-13, early in the fourth quarter, Schaub hit Andre Johnson for an 11-yard TD and 2-point conversion with 10:05 left. The Texans started their winning drive at their 3 with less than two minutes left, and Schaub had completions of 22, 17, and 27 yards to set up Brown's kick.
Green Bay's fifth loss in six games came on the heels of a costly defeat last weekend to Carolina. The Packers (5-8) took advantage of a fumbled punt to tie the game at 21 on Aaron Rodgers's 9-yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson with 5:56 left.
Broncos 24, Chiefs 17
Jay Cutler guided Denver on a tiebreaking 95-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter and the Broncos (8-5) stuffed Kansas City quarterback Tyler Thigpen on fourth and goal to preserve a come-from-behind home win.
Cutler completed 32 of 40 passes for 286 yards and two TDs, both to Brandon Marshall, including the go-ahead 6-yarder. Cutler's only bad pass was returned by rookie nickel back Maurice Leggett for a 27-yard touchdown in the first quarter that gave the Chiefs (2-11) a 10-0 lead.
Ravens 24, Redskins 10
Ed Reed set up a touchdown with an interception and scored on a 22-yard fumble return, part of a stifling effort by the Baltimore defense as the host Ravens (9-4) won for the seventh time in eight games to enhance their playoff chances.
Washington (7-6), which has lost four of five, trailed, 17-0, entering the fourth quarter. Jason Campbell threw two interceptions (both by Reed) and was sacked twice.
Bears 23, Jaguars 10
With the game-time temperature in Chicago at 18 degrees, Danieal Manning warmed up the crowd when he returned an interception 42 yards on the third play from scrimmage, setting up the first of Kyle Orton's two TD passes as the Bears (7-6) dealt Jacksonville (4-9) its fourth loss in a row.