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NFL Roundup

Seeds planted for Titans, Giants

Tennessee, NY are tops in AFC, NFC

Steelers receiver Hines Ward paid the price after hauling in a 21-yard touchdown pass, getting rocked by the Titans' Cortland Finnegan. Steelers receiver Hines Ward paid the price after hauling in a 21-yard touchdown pass, getting rocked by the Titans' Cortland Finnegan. (John Russell/Associated Press)
Associated Press / December 22, 2008
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The Tennessee Titans wanted to head into the playoffs with a little momentum. Thanks to a dominating performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, they'll have much more than that.

Kerry Collins threw for a touchdown, Chris Johnson and LenDale White ran for a score apiece, and the Titans routed the Steelers, 31-14, in a showdown of the AFC's best teams in Nashville.

Tennessee clinched the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Coach Jeff Fisher called it the Titans' best game this season.

"This was not a statement game by no means," Fisher said. "It was a momentum game. We needed to build momentum for the playoffs and the bye week by playing well and winning the game. The bonus is the second game here at home."

The Titans, who improved the NFL's best record to 13-2, were coming off a loss to Houston in which they failed to score a touchdown for the first time this year and were up against the NFL's stingiest defense.

They snapped back well, ending the Steelers' five-game winning streak and becoming the first team to top 300 yards against Pittsburgh (11-4) this season. Tennessee finished with 323 yards.

Tennessee did it without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and end Kyle Vanden Bosch because of injuries. Their replacements helped them rest easy as the Titans sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and forced him into four turnovers.

Rookie Jason Jones, who started for Haynesworth, had 3 1/2 sacks and forced Roethlisberger into three fumbles. Michael Griffin came up with two interceptions, one returned for TD.

Giants 34, Panthers 28
The NFC road to the Super Bowl will run through the Meadowlands because New York did what a team has to do in bad weather - run the ball.

Derrick Ward ran for career-best 215 yards and set up Brandon Jacobs's winning 2-yard TD run with 9:57 left in overtime as the Super Bowl champion Giants clinched the NFC's top seed with a comeback win over visiting Carolina.

New York (12-3) forced overtime when Jacobs plowed into the end zone from a yard out, and Eli Manning hit Domenik Hixon for the tying 2-point conversion with 3:21 to play.

Jacobs finished with three short touchdown runs, and Manning and Kevin Boss combined on a 4-yard touchdown pass as the Giants snapped a two-game losing streak.

New York clinched a first-round bye earlier in the day when Atlanta beat Minnesota, but added the icing by beating Carolina (11-4) in the winner-take-all game for the NFC's top seed.

The loss spoiled record-tying four-TD performance by Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who gave Carolina a 28-20 lead with a 30-yard TD run early in the final quarter. He also scored on runs of 13, 5, and 1 yards.

The Panthers, who have qualified for the playoffs, can clinch the NFC South and the No. 2 seed with a win at New Orleans next weekend.

Chargers 41, Buccaneers 24
Philip Rivers threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns, helping San Diego beat host Tampa Bay to keep its playoff hopes alive and deal a blow to the Buccaneers' chances.

After its third straight win, San Diego (7-8) got needed help when Buffalo beat Denver, 30-23. The Broncos and Chargers meet next week in San Diego in a showdown for the AFC West title.

Tampa Bay (9-6), which lost its first home game and has dropped three straight, could have clinched at least an NFC wild-card spot with a win and some help.

Rivers threw TD passes of 15 and 5 yards to Antonio Gates, the latter giving the Chargers the lead for good on the first play of the fourth quarter. Darren Sproles turned a screen pass into a 32-yard touchdown before Antoine Cason returned one of San Diego's two fourth-quarter interceptions 59 yards for a score that made it 41-24.

Redskins 10, Eagles 3
Jim Zorn sure didn't look like the worst coach in America. Instead, he's the coach who got Washington turned around a week too late - with a stop of visiting Philadelphia at the 1-yard line on the game's final play.

As Reggie Brown caught the ball near the goal line, cornerback Fred Smoot lifted him into the air, and safety LaRon Landry supplied the shove that kept the Eagles receiver out of the end zone. With no timeouts remaining, Philadelphia couldn't stop the clock as the last seconds ticked away.

Clinton Portis scored his first touchdown in eight weeks in a win on the day the Redskins were mathematically eliminated from the postseason. The Redskins (8-7) had lost three in a row and five of six after a 6-2 start, prompting Zorn last week to say he felt "like the worst coach in America."

The Eagles (8-6-1), meanwhile, were left ruing a chance to stay ahead of Dallas and Tampa Bay (both 9-6). Philadelphia has a must-win game at home against Dallas next week.

Saints 42, Lions 7
The Lions own a dubious piece of NFL history - with perhaps more on the way.

Detroit became the first 0-15 team ever when it was routed by visiting New Orleans. The Lions will try to avoid a perfectly awful season in the finale at Green Bay, where they haven't won since 1991. Expansion Tampa Bay set the bar low for NFL futility in 1976, when it finished 0-14.

"This is one big nightmare," center Dominic Raiola said.

Drew Brees threw for 351 yards and two touchdowns after four Saints (8-7) ran for scores in the first half. Brees stayed in the game with a 35-point lead late in the fourth quarter to move closer to Dan Marino's season record for yards passing. Brees needs 402 at home against Carolina to break Marino's record of 5,084 set in 1984.

49ers 17, Rams 16
Isaac Bruce became the fifth player to reach 1,000 catches on a 3-yard touchdown grab with 4:03 to go and passed Tim Brown for second on the career receiving yards list on the go-ahead drive in San Francisco's win at St. Louis.

The Rams (2-13) squandered a 10-point lead for the second straight week, failing to capitalize on four turnovers while losing their ninth in a row. The 49ers (6-9) forced only one turnover, but it was the clincher and gave them four victories in five games.

Bruce needed six catches for 1,000 and 60 yards to pass Brown and he hit the first milestone with the TD that cut the deficit to 16-10 with 4:03 to go. Other players to reach 1,000 receptions are Jerry Rice (1,549), Cris Carter (1,101), Marvin Harrison (1,095), and Brown (1,094).

After the Rams went three-and-out, Bruce added an 8-yard grab to pass Brown two plays before Josh Morgan's go-ahead TD. He has 1,001 catches for 14,936 yards, trailing only Rice (1,549) in the latter category.

Bengals 14, Browns 0
Cedric Benson rushed for a career-high 171 yards and Leon Hall returned one of his three interceptions 50 yards for a touchdown to help Cincinnati (3-11) get its first road win this season, over hapless Cleveland (4-11).

Raiders 27, Texans 16
Johnnie Lee Higgins caught a 29-yard TD pass and then returned a punt 80 yards for another score in the third quarter, leading Oakland (4-11) past Houston (7-8), which squandered a chance for its first winning season.

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