NFC playoff picture gains focus

ON THE NFL

Monday Morning Qb

Ravens Gameday

December 03, 2007|By KEN MURRAY

There will be no Mardi Gras in New Orleans for the Saints this season, no Super Bowl run in Chicago for the Bears, and the only playoff in Philadelphia will be on talk radio over who starts at quarterback for the Eagles next season.

It was crying time in the NFC yesterday, when those three 2006 playoff teams virtually dropped out of postseason contention.

The Saints, Bears and Eagles are all 5-7, and yes, mathematically, they're still in the wild-card hunt. But the race for the sixth and final playoff berth in the NFC is being pursued by no less than six teams. And the other three -- the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions -- are all 6-6.

In a conference dominated by the 11-1 Dallas Cowboys and 10-2 Green Bay Packers, Week 13 uncluttered the NFC playoff picture just a little.

The New York Giants' huge 21-16 victory in Chicago put them in control of the No. 5 seed at 8-4. Tampa Bay's clutch 27-23 last-minute win over the Saints in New Orleans virtually secured the NFC South title. At 8-4, the Buccaneers hold a three-game lead over the Saints, and a soft finishing schedule should do nothing to relinquish their grip.

Here were the day's three most agonizing losses:

The Washington Redskins also fell to 5-7 when Joe Gibbs tried to call two consecutive timeouts to ice Buffalo Bills kicker Rian Lindell. That cost the Redskins 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Lindell easily converted the 36-yard field goal that left the Redskins totally spent after their emotional week.

Asking the Redskins to play Thursday against the Bears, three days after Sean Taylor's funeral today, is unconscionable.

A week after the Bears staged a miracle comeback to beat the Denver Broncos, they had no miracles in the final 1:33 after the Giants took a 21-16 lead. For once, Eli Manning was able to win a big game, although he still threw two interceptions.

The Buccaneers beat the Saints when Luke McCown, subbing for Bruce Gradkowski, who had subbed for Jeff Garcia, threw for 313 yards. McCown threw a difficult 4-yard touchdown pass to Jerramy Stevens with 17 seconds left for the sixth lead change in New Orleans, cementing Tampa Bay's stranglehold on the division.

Around the league

The Miami Dolphins' date with infamy remained in place when the winless team was drubbed by the New York Jets, 40-13, in what appeared to be their best shot at a win. At 0-12, the Dolphins play at Buffalo, against the Ravens, at New England and against Cincinnati in the homestretch. Next week's game against the Bills might be winnable, but not if Miami plays the way it played yesterday, when quarterback John Beck threw three interceptions.

The Philadelphia Eagles' 28-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks should answer the question of whether A.J. Feeley should remain the starter when Donovan McNabb is healthy. Not a chance. Feeley gave the Seahawks the game with four interceptions. In 103 passes this season, he has thrown eight picks. In 326 attempts this season, McNabb has thrown six.

One more season, the Jacksonville Jaguars will fall short of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. The Jaguars are a legitimate playoff team, but they often self-destruct against the Colts. They had another chance to close the gap yesterday in a 28-25 loss. Their ground game controlled the clock, and they shut down Indianapolis' run game and pressured Peyton Manning. But every time they got in position to do serious damage, they made the big mistake.

Former Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer has gone back to his old ways as a fill-in for injured San Francisco 49ers starter Alex Smith. He threw four interceptions in the 49ers' 31-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers, increasing his season count to 11. Dilfer shed his interception-prone label during the Ravens' Super Bowl season but has struggled in his past two stops (Cleveland and San Francisco). He was outplayed by ageless Vinny Testaverde in Charlotte.

Kansas City coach Herm Edwards probably will take the heat for the Chiefs' slide to 4-8 this season, but the fact he won four games with Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle at quarterback is an accomplishment in itself. The cupboard is bare in Kansas City, especially with Larry Johnson's disappointing, injury-marred season.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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