Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are perfect no more, and that’s just fine with them. They’ve got their sights set on making postseason history — even if that means taking a break in the regular season.
Coach Jim Caldwell pulled Manning and a handful of starters — avoiding potential injuries — for the previously unbeaten Colts in the third quarter, and the Jets took advantage by rallying for a 29-15 victory that ended the NFL’s longest regular-season winning streak at 23 games.
Caldwell, players and team president Bill Polian, however, said perfection was never the goal; winning the Super Bowl was. And on Sunday, they showed exactly what they meant.
“Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all of your heart,” Manning said. “That’s what we’ve done as players. We follow orders.”
The Colts (14-1) lost for the first time since Oct. 27, 2008, at Tennessee, ending a franchise-record 13-game winning streak at home. Meanwhile, the Jets (8-7) took control of their playoff destiny with the victory, and would make the postseason for the first time since 2006 with a win next week at home against AFC North champion Cincinnati.
It was a busy Sunday around the NFL, with the postseason picture clearing up just a bit.
New England is back in the playoffs after routing Jacksonville and winning the AFC East. Also returning to the postseason after a one-year absence is Green Bay, which secured an NFC wild-card berth with a big victory over Seattle.
Cincinnati clinched the AFC North with its 17-10 win over Kansas City. Dallas also secured a playoff spot with a win over Washington, setting up a showdown next week against Philadelphia for the NFC East title.
At Indianapolis, Brad Smith opened the second half with a 106-yard kickoff return to give New York a 10-9 lead. The Colts went ahead at 15-10 when Donald Brown scored on a 1-yard run, but after Manning left, Marques Douglas returned a fumble from Manning’s replacement, Curtis Painter, for a score.
The Jets sealed it with a 43-yard field goal and Thomas Jones’ 1-yard TD run.
“Football logic has to come into play, and that logic is it makes no sense to have guys out there with the potential for injuries,” Polian said. “We played for 16 weeks, sharp as any team in football. The good thing is that none of this mattered in the standings.”
Patriots 35, Jaguars 7
At Foxborough, Mass., Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, three to Randy Moss, and New England’s young defense put together its third straight solid game.
The Patriots (10-5) took the division after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2002 despite an 11-5 record. Brady bounced back after throwing for just 307 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his previous two games.
Jacksonville dropped its third straight, and fourth in its last five after going 6-4.
Bengals 17, Chiefs 10
At Cincinnati, Carson Palmer’s touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco completed a 98-yard drive in the closing minutes, sending the Bengals to the AFC North championship.
The Bengals (10-5) moved into the playoffs for only the second time in the past 19 years after dealing with the death of receiver Chris Henry. The teary practices and locker-room grief seemed to show against the Chiefs (3-12), who stayed close in a mistake-filled game.
Palmer threw for a pair of touchdowns, and Cedric Benson ran for 133 yards in an offense that managed only two drives all day.
Packers 48, Seahawks 10
At Green Bay, Wis., the Packers clinched a playoff spot by forcing four interceptions by Matt Hasselbeck, then getting a big boost from the Carolina Panthers.
The victory, combined with the Giants’ blowout loss to Carolina, put the Packers (10-5) back in the postseason after going 6-10 last season and getting off to a 4-4 start this year.
It was Hasselbeck’s second straight four-interception game for the Seahawks (5-10), who have scored a total of 24 points in three straight losses.
Cowboys 17, Redskins 0
At Landover, Md., Dallas returned to the playoffs by dominating its 100th meeting with the Redskins and setting up an NFC East title showdown with the Eagles.
Tony Romo threw for 286 yards, Jason Witten had a career-long 69-yard reception to set up a score, and the defense pitched the rivalry’s first shutout in six years. After starting 0-2 this month, Dallas (10-5) recovered to win back-to-back December games for first time since 2003.
The Redskins (4-11) put on another embarrassing performance against a rival in prime time.
Panthers 41, Giants 9
At East Rutherford, N.J., Matt Moore and the Panthers turned the Giants’ farewell to Giants Stadium into one of their ugliest moments in franchise history.
The Giants (8-7) embarrassed themselves against a Panthers team with nothing at stake.
Moore threw three touchdown passes, Jonathan Stewart rushed for a career-best 206 yards and the Panthers (7-8) shredded New York’s defense with scores on six of their first seven possessions before a disgusted final sellout crowd Sunday.
Eagles 30, Broncos 27
At Philadelphia, David Akers kicked a 28-yard field goal with 4 seconds left for the win.
Kyle Orton rallied the Broncos from a 27-10 deficit in the third quarter, but Donovan McNabb led the Eagles (11-4) on a winning drive in the final minutes.
The Broncos (8-7) are trying to avoid a major collapse after starting 6-0. They are tied with four other teams for the final two wild-card spots and do not control their chances.
Steelers 23, Ravens 20
At Pittsburgh, Jeff Reed’s 38-yard field goal put the Steelers ahead with 5:25 left and they held a fourth-quarter lead to remain in playoff contention and further jumble the AFC race.
The Steelers (8-7), their season seemingly ended by a late-season five-game losing streak, won their second in a row.
Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes to Todd Heap, but the Ravens (8-7) now face a win-or-else game at Oakland next Sunday, although they retain the tiebreaker against the Steelers.
Buccaneers 20, Saints 17
At New Orleans, Carnell Williams had 129 yards rushing and Connor Barth kicked a 47-yard field goal in overtime, lifting the Buccaneers to a stunning victory that prevented the Saints (13-2) from securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
The Saints had a chance to win in the final seconds of regulation, but Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard field goal. Tampa Bay (3-12) then won the coin toss to open overtime and scored soon after.
Texans 27, Dolphins 20
At Miami, Houston raced to an early 27-point lead and held on to remain in the AFC race.
The Texans (8-7) scored on their first five possessions and won despite being outscored 20-0 in the final 31 minutes. Houston kept alive its slim hopes of making the playoffs for the first time, while defending AFC East champion Miami (7-8) was all but eliminated.
Cardinals 31, Rams 10
At Glendale, Ariz., Kurt Warner threw for 196 of his 313 yards in the second quarter and the Cardinals beat the Rams for the seventh time in a row.
The Cardinals (10-5) reached 10 regular-season wins for the first time since 1976.
The Rams (1-14), ravaged by injuries all season, were without the league’s second-leading rusher Steven Jackson because of a sore lower back.
49ers 20, Lions 6
At San Francisco, Frank Gore scored on a 1-yard run and topped the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth straight year. Alex Smith threw a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis and the Niners (7-8) forced six turnovers to close out the home season with a victory.
Drew Stanton struggled in his first start for the Lions (2-13), throwing for just 130 yards and three interceptions before being pulled for Daunte Culpepper. Detroit lost its fifth straight and 20th in a row on the road, failing to score after the first drive of the game.
Falcons 31, Bills 3
At Atlanta, Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes, including a 42-yarder to Roddy White on the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage. The victory left the Falcons (8-7) in position to post back-to-back winning records for the first time in franchise history. The Falcons, in their 44th season and eliminated from the playoff chase last week, close at Tampa Bay.
Buffalo’s Terrell Owens became the sixth player in NFL history with 1,000 receptions, catching an 8-yard pass in the second quarter for the Bills (5-10).
Browns 23, Raiders 9
At Cleveland, Jerome Harrison had 148 yards rushing and the Browns won their third straight, extending a surprising streak that Eric Mangini can use to strengthen his case to Mike Holmgren that he deserves to remain Cleveland’s coach.
The Browns (4-11) have their first three-game winning streak since 2007 and only their third since 1999. Holmgren is expected to be introduced as Cleveland’s team president this week.
The Raiders (5-10) committed 13 penalties for 126 yards, had two players ejected and failed for the fifth time to win two straight.
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