Playoff door slams shut

Closing flurry leaves Packers, Chiefs out

8-8 Lions, Cowboys in

January 03, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In the instant it took for Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Tyrone Williams to drop Kurt Warner with a crunching, blind-side sack yesterday, the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl dream turned briefly to nightmare.

But Warner bounced up to throw another touchdown pass -- the 41st of his remarkable season -- on the next play and then watched the last 24 minutes of a 38-31 Rams loss from the safety of the sideline.

The Rams lost a meaningless game, but not their quarterback -- again. This time, coach Dick Vermeil didn't cry.

The weeping was left to the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, all of whom failed to qualify for the NFL's playoff party in a wild flurry of Week 17 positioning.

The latest to sign up?

The Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins backed in with losses. The Dallas Cowboys are in even with their 8-8 record.

That completes the playoff seedings. Next Saturday at 12: 30 p.m., the Buffalo Bills visit the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round's most attractive matchup. At 4: 05, the Washington Redskins play host to the Detroit Lions.

Sunday's doubleheader starts with Dallas at the Minnesota Vikings at 12: 35 p.m., and Miami at Seattle at 4: 05.

First-round byes go to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts in the AFC, and to the Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC.

The new order of power in the NFL has surfaced. Of the 12 teams that advanced, seven were not invited last season. Of the six division champions, five are new.

This is the new meaning of turnover in the year 2000.

"We came here with our No. 1 objective not to get anybody hurt," Vermeil said after surviving the third-quarter Warner scare. "[Warner] was going to play one series after the half. After it wasn't clean and sharp, we decided to go one more."

The Rams may have lost the battle in Philadelphia, but they're still winning the war. They remain the team to beat in the tepid NFC tournament, with a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

In the AFC, the Jaguars (14-2) rebounded from a stinging loss to claim the Central Division title and home-field advantage with a 24-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Seahawks (9-7) took the West title and third seed when the Chiefs were eliminated by their archrivals, the Oakland Raiders, in overtime.

On a day when backup quarterbacks took center stage, the league's two longest winning streaks fell. The Rams (13-3) had won seven games in a row before committing seven turnovers in the loss at Philadelphia.

With Warner on the sideline and backup Paul Justin (pinched nerve in his neck) unavailable, the Rams went with rookie Joe Germaine down the stretch. He delivered two interceptions and a fumble.

The AFC East champion Colts (13-3), meanwhile, saw their 11-game winning streak end in Buffalo, where backup quarterback Rob Johnson gave the Bills a 31-6 win and insurance in case Doug Flutie falters next Saturday in Tennessee.

Momentum? The Vikings have won three in a row, and eight of their past 10 since inserting Jeff George at quarterback for last year's hero, Randall Cunningham. They figure to get a second-round date in St. Louis.

The Lions have lost four in a row and six of eight. They don't figure to go anywhere after Washington.

Going by last week's rankings, the NFC has the league's first-, second- and fourth-ranked offenses in St. Louis, Washington and Minnesota.

The AFC has the NFL's first- and fourth-ranked defenses in Buffalo and Jacksonville.

Tennessee has the conference's longest winning streak with four in a row. If the Titans can get past the Bills at home, they will have to beat the Jaguars for the third time this season at Jacksonville in the divisional round.

Detroit and Dallas became the first 8-8 teams to make the playoffs since 1991, when the New York Jets did it -- and made a hasty exit with a wild-card loss to the then-Houston Oilers.

In the 21 years since the 16-game schedule was instituted, only three other teams reached the postseason with an 8-8 record. Only two teams made it since then with a losing record -- the Cleveland Browns and the Lions, who both went 4-5 in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

The NFL's longest playoff drought ended with Seattle's first postseason berth since 1988, an absence of 10 seasons.

On the flip side are the Packers, whose streak of six consecutive playoff seasons ended.

Wild-card games

Saturday

Buffalo at Tennessee, 12: 30 p.m., chs. 2, 7

Detroit at Washington, 4: 05 p.m., chs. 2, 7

Sunday

Dallas at Minnesota, 12: 35 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Miami at Seattle, 4: 05 p.m., chs. 13, 9

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