Colts jolted awake from dream season
A dramatic penultimate week of the gridiron campaign settled three of six available berths in January’s playoffs, while the New York Jets took control of their own destiny by beating the Colts 29-15 to end an unbeaten dream season.
“A perfect season has never been the goal,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “You still have to look at your main objective, which is how you want to function in the post-season.”
Indianapolis had already clinched a first-round bye and home-field edge in the American Conference playoffs, so to cut the injury risk to quarterback Peyton Manning and other starters, the Colts benched them while leading 15-10. But Curtis Painter, Manning’s understudy, went 4-of-11 with an interception and lost a fumble for a Jets touchdown over the last 20 minutes as the Colts’ record 23-game regular-season win streak ended.
Marques Douglas recovered the fumble for a touchdown that put the Jets ahead to stay, while Thomas Jones added a 1-yard run and Mark Sanchez threw a pair of two-point conversions for the Jets (8-7) as the Colts fell to 14-1.
“We came out healthy, which was important,” Manning said. “This was an organizational philosophy that we stuck with and as players we support that. We still had a chance to win the game. I’m disappointed we didn’t.”
Brad Smith returned the second-half kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown for the Jets, who could reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006 by beating Cincinnati next week. The Bengals (10-5) reached the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years by defeating Kansas City 17-10 just five days after attending the funeral of teammate Chad Henry, who fell out of a moving truck earlier this month.
Carson Palmer marched the Bengals 98 yards in the final minutes, capping the game-winning touchdown drive with a 6-yard touchdown toss to Chad Ochocinco, who pointed to the sky in memory of Henry, who wore jersey number 15.
“I’m not jumping for joy or glee, just thinking about 15 once that clock hits zero,” Ochocinco said. “That was everybody’s mind-set, to go out and win this one for him.”
As the Bengals sealed the AFC North division crown to join the Colts and San Diego in the AFC playoffs, the host Patriots (10-5) routed Jacksonville 35-7 to take the AFC East title and return to the playoffs after missing out last year.
Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, three of them to Randy Moss, and host New England delivered a likely knockout blow to the Jaguars’ playoff hopes.
“It’s big, believe me,” Brady said. “It has been a long journey for us.” Green Bay ripped visiting Seattle 48-10 to secure a National Conference playoff spot, joining New Orleans, Minnesota, Arizona and Philadelphia.
Dallas was set to claim the last NFC spot with a win later at Washington. New Orleans (13-2) missed a chance to clinch a home-field edge throughout the NFC playoffs with a 20-17 overtime home loss to Tampa Bay. Minnesota (11-3) can sustain hopes for taking the playoff home-field edge from the Saints with a Monday night victory at Chicago (5-9). Carolina spoiled the New York Giants’ final game in Giants Stadium, routing their hosts 41-9 to diminish their playoff hopes.
Baltimore and Denver each fell to 8-7 with a loss that left seven teams in the hunt for the last two AFC playoff spots. Reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh edged Baltimore 23-20 on Jeff Reed’s 38-yard field goal with 5:25 remaining while Philadelphia blew a 27-10 lead but beat Denver 30-27 on a David Akers 28-yard field goal with four seconds to go.
In the last week, the Jets will advance by beating Cincinnati and Baltimore will advance by winning at Oakland. Should either lose, the door is back open for Denver to reach the playoffs with a triumph over Kansas City. Houston and Pittsburgh, each 8-7, and Miami and Jacksonville, 7-8, need victories and help to move into playoff positions. Elsewhere, Cleveland downed Oakland 23-9, Atlanta ripped Buffalo 31-3, Arizona blasted St. Louis 31-10 and San Francisco pounded Detroit 20-6.