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Falcons' win could leave lasting impression

Falcons 41, Steelers 38
ATLANTA -- Ben Roethlisberger stood on the Pittsburgh sideline with a white towel hanging around his neck. All he could do was watch as Michael Vick and the Falcons finished off the Steelers in a game that was just too good to be settled in 60 minutes.

Remember this one. It could be a defining game for both teams this season.

Vick threw a career-high four touchdown passes and hit another long play in overtime yesterday, setting up Morten Andersen to kick a 32-yard field goal that gave Atlanta a thrilling 41-38 win that featured enough twists and turns to last an entire season.

Where to begin? Vick responded to his critics in what had been a dismal season throwing the ball. Roethlisberger was unstoppable until he got knocked out with a scary blow to the head. Hines Ward had a remarkable homecoming.

There's more. The Falcons (4-2) thought they had won in regulation on a 56-yard field goal by their No. 2 kicker, but it didn't count. The Super Bowl champion Steelers squandered a 17-7 lead, fumbling three times and getting surprised by an onside kick in the first half.

The Falcons struck for touchdowns after every Pittsburgh miscue, hanging around in a game that could have been a blowout. Finally, after six lead changes and both teams missing chances to break a 38-38 tie in the final minute, the second-oldest player in NFL history won it for Atlanta.

"We learned something about ourselves today," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "We can hang with the heavyweight champs."

The Steelers (2-4) tied it at 38 with 3:19 remaining when fill-in quarterback Charlie Batch threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Ward, who grew up in the Atlanta area and longed to play for the Falcons.

On this day, he burned the Falcons badly, catching eight passes for 171 yards and a career-best three TDs, including a 70-yarder in which he literally ran out of his right shoe.

Even that wasn't enough. Atlanta won the coin toss for overtime and never let the Steelers have the ball. Vick converted on third and 9 by scrambling away from safety Troy Polamalu and flipping a 26-yard pass to Alge Crumpler. Five plays later, the 46-year-old Andersen came on to make the winning kick, atoning for a 52-yarder that fell just short in the final minute of regulation.

"Moments like this are the main reason I'm a Mike Vick fan," Mora said. "For all the talk about what Vick can't do, I like to talk about what he can do. And he does things that no other player in the history of the game at that position has the ability to do."

Coming off a near-perfect first half the previous week against Kansas City, Roethlisberger was brilliant again before halftime, going 15 of 20 for 235 yards and three touchdowns. But Big Ben was knocked unconscious early in the third quarter on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Chauncey Davis after letting go of a pass.

Roethlisberger remained on the turf for at least five minutes before finally wobbling to the sideline, then got wheeled to the locker room on the back of a cart. After changing out of his uniform, he could only watch from the sideline.

Coach Bill Cowher said he wouldn't know for a few days if Roethlisberger would be able to play next Sunday at Oakland.

It was another blow to the Steelers quarterback, his year already marred by a serious motorcycle accident and an appendectomy, and a discouraging loss for a team that seemed to get its season back on track with a 45-7 rout of Kansas City the previous week.

"We left everything on the football field and I couldn't be more proud of the group of guys," Cowher said. "We've dug a hole for ourselves, no question. But I know the character of this football team and we'll be back."

Batch did a good job in relief, throwing for 195 yards and two TDs. But he never got a chance in overtime.

Atlanta thought it won in regulation when Michael Koenen, who lost the kicking job after two games but still handles the punting and long field goals, booted a 56-yarder with 35 seconds left. Cowher managed to call timeout just before the snap, however, and the officials waved off the play.

Koenen tried again and missed, but Polamalu was called for running into the kicker. The Falcons then sent on Andersen, whose try was straight down the middle but fell on the end line.

There was still time for Pittsburgh to pull out a victory. Batch delivered a 25-yard pass to Ward to the Atlanta 33 and the Steelers raced up to the line to down the ball with eight seconds to go. However, receiver Nate Washington flinched ever so slightly before Batch took the snap and threw the ball into the ground, a false-start penalty that automatically led to the remaining seconds being run off the clock.

Vick was 18 of 30 for 232 yards, hooking up with tight end Crumpler on touchdowns of 22, 3, and 31 yards. Crumpler tied a team record for TD catches in a game, while Vick broke his personal mark of three scoring passes in a game, also connecting with Michael Jenkins on a 17-yarder.

The wild game rekindled memories of the last Atlanta-Pittsburgh matchup, a 34-34 overtime tie in 2002. This time, the Falcons got to celebrate.


Bryant's 62-yarder wins it
TAMPA -- Nothing in Matt Bryant's career suggested he was capable of making the kick of his life.

He was surprised he even got a chance.

Bryant nailed a 62-yard field goal -- the third-longest in NFL history -- to give Tampa Bay an improbable 23-21 last-second victory over Philadelphia and Donovan McNabb yesterday.

The kick ruined a gallant comeback engineered by McNabb after the Bucs (2-4) built a 17-0 lead, mostly on the strength of two interceptions that Ronde Barber returned for touchdowns. It was the longest of Bryant's career by 12 yards, and came on just his third attempt of 50 or more yards in five NFL seasons.

"To tell you the truth, I wasn't expecting even to be given a shot at 62," said Bryant, who was 0 for 3 from beyond 40 yards until coach Jon Gruden decided his chances of making the longest kick of his career was better than throwing a TD pass from midfield on the final play.

"Just to be able to go out there and help the team win -- just to try to do your job, but do it that way, it doesn't get much better than that."

Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam share the league record for the longest field goal -- 63 yards. The only other kickers who have been successful from beyond 59 yards are Steve Cox and Morten Andersen, who both booted 60-yarders.

Barber, whose 92-yard runback clinched Tampa Bay's victory over Philadelphia in the NFC Championship game four seasons ago, scored on a 37-yard return early in the second quarter and put the Bucs ahead, 17-0, with a 66-yard runback with just over five minutes remaining in the third.

McNabb rallied the Eagles (4-3), throwing one of his three late TD passes after Philadelphia was forced to take a timeout when the quarterback became ill and started throwing up.

Brian Westbrook scored on a 52-yard reception to put Philadelphia ahead, 21-20, with 33 seconds remaining. But Tampa Bay wasn't finished.

Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski drove the Bucs in position for Bryant, who has struggled from beyond 40 yards this season. The ball cleared the crossbar with plenty of room to spare, setting off a wild celebration.

McNabb completed 22 of 35 passes for 302 yards and three interceptions -- one more than he threw in Philadelphia's first six games combined. The Eagles outgained the Bucs, 506-196, but had four turnovers to Tampa Bay's none.


Seattle hassled in defeat
SEATTLE -- Seattle's notoriously raucous home stadium was so quiet, you could hear another Seahawks star fall.

Chester Taylor ran for a career-high 169 yards -- including a pivotal, 95-yard touchdown, the longest run in Minnesota history -- as the Vikings stunned the battered Seahawks, 31-13, yesterday to end Seattle's team-record 12-game home winning streak.

Already without league MVP Shaun Alexander, Seattle lost Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to a right knee strain early in the second half. Seneca Wallace replaced Hasselbeck and was 14 of 25 for 134 yards and two interceptions. Hasselbeck finished 7 of 17 for 127 yards and a touchdown.

The Vikings (4-2) won their second straight game thanks to a 15-yard halfback option pass from Mewelde Moore to tight end Jermaine Wiggins that broke a 10-10 tie in the third quarter. That was followed by Taylor's record romp.

A tie game -- and Seattle's immediate future -- changed on the third play of the second half. E.J. Henderson got past a block from fullback Mack Strong and then swung the left side of his torso into Hasselbeck's lower right leg, which was planted after he had just thrown an incomplete pass. Hasselbeck crumpled to the ground immediately.

Hasselbeck was taken to the sideline with his weight on the shoulders of two trainers. Soon, he was walking gingerly into the locker room behind Alexander, who missed his third consecutive game because of a broken foot.

On the drive after Hasselbeck left, Brad Johnson drove Minnesota downfield, and on third and goal from the 15, Moore, running an apparent sweep, fooled the Seahawks (4-2) when he lofted a pass to Wiggins behind the secondary.

The Vikings' Cedric Griffin intercepted Wallace's second pass, but Minnesota failed to convert it into points when Ryan Longwell missed a 46-yard field goal.

But they converted in a record-setting way after getting pinned at their 5 by a punt. Taylor bounced outside and broke a tackle, sprinting 95 yards for the longest run ever allowed by the Seahawks, topping the famous 91-yard run by Bo Jackson into a tunnel in the Kingdome during a Monday night game in 1987.

The Vikings return home next Monday night to host the Patriots. The teams haven't met since 2002 (a 24-17 New England win), and the Patriots haven't played at the Metrodome since 1997.


Second-chance points
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Lawrence Tynes already knew he'd have to try again, from 5 yards farther back.

He figured a little practice for the longest field goal attempt of his career wouldn't hurt. He was right.

The Kansas City kicker had a 48-yard field goal wiped out by an illegal procedure penalty, then came right back to connect on a 53-yarder with six seconds left to give the Chiefs a 30-27 victory over San Diego yesterday.

"I knew the whistle had blown, but I said, `Let me go ahead and take a stab at it and see how the wind's blowing,' " Tynes said of his initial attempt. "I knew I was going to make the second one."

Tynes atoned for missing a first-quarter field goal try and hitting the upright on an extra point attempt in the second quarter.

LaDainian Tomlinson figured in two fourth-quarter touchdown throws, one as the receiver and one as the passer, as the Chargers (4-2) came back from an early 17-point deficit.

The Chiefs (3-3) began the winning drive at their 18 with 33 seconds left. Damon Huard made up for a critical turnover by completing three passes for 52 yards.

Kansas City forced turnovers on three of San Diego's first four possessions, converting two of them into touchdown passes by Huard, and led, 20-3, in the second quarter.

The Chargers tied it at 27 when, on third and goal from the 1, Tomlinson took a handoff, pulled up short, and threw to Brandon Manumaleuna for the score with 5:10 to go. It was the ninth TD pass of Tomlinson's career.

Larry Johnson, held to 26 yards rushing in last week's 45-7 loss at Pittsburgh -- Kansas City's worst defeat in a non-strike year since 1984 -- ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers.


Manning delivers knockout
INDIANAPOLIS -- Washington knocked Peyton Manning around for a half. Then Manning knocked out the Redskins.

After being bent over awkwardly twice in the first half and once appearing hurt, the two-time MVP responded with three third-quarter touchdown passes, leading Indianapolis to a 36-22 victory yesterday over the Redskins.

In the previous three games, Manning needed late drives to secure victories. Against Washington, Manning made it easier on himself by opening the second half with three straight TD drives. The Colts remained the AFC's only unbeaten team and became the ninth team in league history to start 6-0 in back-to-back seasons.

The Redskins (2-5) lost their third straight game, severely damaging their playoff hopes. They can blame Manning, who dominated the second half with his quick drives and shrewd moves.

Washington took its only lead on Antwaan Randle El's 87-yard punt return, which came in the midst of four personal fouls by the Redskins in about a two-minute span. The last two forced Washington to kick off from its 5.

Manning finished 25 of 35 for 342 yards with four touchdowns and continued climbing the NFL's career charts. The last TD pass, No. 256, sent him past Sonny Jurgensen into 10th place in NFL history. Manning also passed Jim Hart for 14th on the career yardage list with 34,809.

Marvin Harrison followed suit. He had seven catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns, moving past Irving Fryar and into eighth on the league's career yardage list with 12,846. He also tied Lenny Moore's franchise record for TDs (113).


Skid finally comes to a halt
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Andrew Walter threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss, ReShard Lee ran for a 1-yard score, and Oakland overcame five turnovers to win its first game of the season, 22-9 over Arizona yesterday.

After leading, 14-0, after the opening quarter only to lose the previous two games, the Cardinals (1-6) found themselves on the other side of the equation. Despite getting plenty of help from Oakland (1-5) with the two interceptions and three fumbles, the Cardinals lost their sixth straight game.

Moss had his biggest game of the year, catching seven balls for 129 yards to help Oakland end an 11-game losing streak dating to last season.

Arizona struggled to move the ball under new offensive coordinator Mike Kruczek, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach after Keith Rowen was fired following the Cardinals' collapse against the Bears last Monday night. Rookie Matt Leinart was 13 of 32 for 203 yards and two interceptions, and Edgerrin James was held to 34 yards on 13 carries.

Walter earned his first career win by outplaying Leinart, whom the Raiders passed on in the draft because they believed Walter was their quarterback of the future. Walter, who left with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, finished 17 for 30 for 263 yards.


Opportunity thrown away
CINCINNATI -- With the minutes ticking away, Carson Palmer found his touch and got the Bengals into the end zone. Given a chance to match him, Carolina's Jake Delhomme came up one throw short.

Palmer finally mastered a swirling wind and led a fourth-quarter drive yesterday that culminated in his 1-yard touchdown throw to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, giving Cincinnati a 17-14 victory over the Panthers.

Palmer was 23 of 39 for 240 yards but had huge problems in the first half, when Cincinnati (4-2) had the ball six times but failed to get a first down on all but one possession.

The Panthers (4-3) had won four close games in a row. Given a chance to tie or take the lead at the end, they let this one slip off Delhomme's fingertips. Delhomme drove Carolina to the Cincinnati 10, and on third and goal, instead of throwing the ball away and setting up a tying field goal attempt, he tried to loft the ball through the wind to Keyshawn Johnson in the back of the end zone. Instead, the ball floated to safety Kevin Kaesviharn, whose interception essentially ended it with 3:50 to go.

Delhomme was 20 of 34 for 238 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns -- a 7-yard pass to tight end Kris Mangum and a 20-yarder to running back Nick Goings with 47 seconds left in the half.


INTs no secondary factor
MIAMI -- Ranked last in the NFL in pass defense, Green Bay intercepted Miami's Joey Harrington three times and beat the woeful Dolphins, 34-24, yesterday.

Brett Favre threw two touchdown passes, including the clincher to David Martin with six minutes left, and Ahman Green scored on a 70-yard run. But it was big plays by Green Bay's beleaguered defense that made the difference. The Packers (2-4) doubled their season interception total, and the takeaways led to 13 points.

Charles Woodson made his first interception with Green Bay and returned it 23 yards for a score. Interceptions by linebackers Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett set up a pair of field goals.

Harrington set a Miami regular-season record with 62 passing attempts. He completed 33 for a career-high 414 yards and two touchdowns, but much of the yardage came with the Dolphins (1-6) trying to play catch-up.


Little give in Denver's D
CLEVELAND -- The NFL's stingiest defense held its fifth straight opponent to single digits and Jake Plummer did enough to keep Denver's offense moving in a 17-7 win over the Browns yesterday.

The Broncos (5-1) were less than 12 minutes away from their first road shutout in 14 years when Plummer's interception led to a short Cleveland touchdown pass in the fourth quarter -- only the second TD allowed by Denver this season. Still, the Broncos have allowed a league-low 44 points and haven't given up more than 10 since Week 1.

The Browns (1-5) never posed much of a threat despite having two weeks to plan for the Broncos. Cleveland didn't move the ball inside Denver's 42-yard line until the final play of the third quarter. But on the next play, Denver cornerback Champ Bailey picked off Charlie Frye in the end zone.

Denver's defense held Cleveland to 165 yards, including just 34 on the ground, and sacked Frye three times in the fourth quarter when the Broncos put the game away.


Rookie rushes to the fore
HOUSTON -- Rookie Wali Lundy rejuvenated the Texans' dreadful running game with 93 yards rushing and a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that enabled Houston to pull away from Jacksonville, 27-7, yesterday.

Lundy, who hadn't played in the last three games, scored on a 2-yard run to extend Houston's lead to 17-7. No Houston running back had gained 60 yards rushing this season and the Texans (2-4) managed just 34 yards rushing last week.

Houston's defense, which entered the day allowing a league-worst 418 yards per game, forced two turnovers -- both of which led to touchdowns -- and held the Jaguars (3-3) to just 220 yards.

The Jaguars' Byron Leftwich, who entered the game with a sore left ankle, looked out of synch and finished 14 of 28 for 125 yards.


Hitting the ground running
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Leon Washington rushed for 129 yards on 20 carries and scored the first two touchdowns of his career, and the Jets held on to beat Detroit, 31-24, yesterday, giving New York consecutive home wins for the first time since 2004.

The Lions (1-6) made it interesting by getting within a touchdown with 2:22 left when Mike Furrey caught a pass in the back of the end zone and the call was upheld by replay, but New York (4-3) got the ball back and ran out the clock to escape with a victory.

New York took advantage of Detroit being without its two starting defensive tackles (suspended Shaun Rogers and injured Shaun Cody). The Jets, who have struggled all season with their running game, finished with 221 yards on the ground. Kevan Barlow added 49 yards and a TD on 12 carries.

Detroit's Jon Kitna was 22 of 36 for 269 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 interceptions. His 9-yard shovel pass to Kevin Jones cut the Lions' deficit to 24-17 with 9:09 left.

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