Week 14 NFL Roundup

Near becoming dear to Saints

Magic numbers for New Orleans are 13-0, not margins of victory

Associated Press / December 14, 2009

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The New Orleans Saints are still perfect, which is all that matters.

They’re not the least bit worried about another close call.

Drew Brees threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, Jonathan Vilma came up with two huge defensive plays, and the Saints pulled out another tight win, 26-23 over the pesky Falcons yesterday in Atlanta.

A week ago, New Orleans (13-0) appeared on the verge of losing until Washington missed a chip-shot field goal in regulation. The Saints rallied for a 33-30 overtime win.

This time, they struggled to hold off an Atlanta team that was missing injured stars Matt Ryan and Michael Turner. The result was in doubt until Vilma came up with a crushing fourth-down hit on Jason Snelling, stopping him a yard short of the marker with just over a minute remaining.

Is another 3-point win cause for concern?

“Why would we be concerned? We’re 13-0,’’ Vilma said. “You’re not going to get many blowout wins in the NFL.’’

Or, as Brees said, “We call that being battle-tested.’’

While lacking in style points, New Orleans set a franchise record for wins in a season, clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs, and moved a step closer to home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

“It’s only going to get harder from here on out,’’ Brees said. But “no matter what the situation, we always feel like we have an opportunity to win. Whether it’s our offense, defense, or special teams, somehow we’re going to find a way to win the game.’’

Garrett Hartley put New Orleans ahead on a 38-yard field goal with a 4:42 remaining after the Falcons (6-7) rallied from two touchdowns down to tie it at 23.

Atlanta still had a couple of chances to pull out an improbable victory. Vilma stopped them both.

First, the linebacker dropped into coverage to pick off a pass that Chris Redman, filling in again for Ryan, intended for Roddy White over the middle. The Saints failed to score any points off that miscue, attempting a fake field goal that didn’t work.

The Falcons were trying to get into field goal range when they faced fourth and 2 at the New Orleans 46. Redman threw short to Snelling, but Vilma plastered the running back for only a 1-yard gain.

Redman was 23 of 34 for 303 yards but got little help from the ground game with Turner out. Snelling was Atlanta’s top rusher with 37 yards on 10 carries.

Jets 26, Buccaneers 3
Thomas Jones rushed for 99 yards and two TDs, Jay Feely kicked four field goals, and the NFL’s second-ranked defense held host Tampa Bay to 135 total yards as New York (7-6) climbed above .500 for the first time since October.

Filling in for injured rookie Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens completed 12 of 23 passes for just 111 yards, but he guided the Jets to a 19-0 halftime lead. New York held the Bucs (1-12) to 15 yards before the break.

Tampa Bay rookie Josh Freeman was intercepted three times, giving him eight in two games. Darrelle Revis returned a fourth-quarter pick 54 yards to the Bucs’ 7, setting up Jones’s second TD on the next play.

Dolphins 14, Jaguars 10
Miami snapped Jacksonville’s five-game winning streak at home to even the teams’ records at 7-6 and jump into the wild-card hunt. Chad Henne completed a team-record 17 consecutive passes and scored on a 1-yard bootleg for the Dolphins’ second TD.

Ricky Williams ran for 108 yards and a score for Miami and Henne finished 21 of 29 for 220 yards.

The Dolphins held Maurice Jones-Drew to 59 yards and a TD and forced six three-and-outs on Jacksonville’s first eight possessions. With 1:20 remaining, Miami stuffed David Garrard at midfield on fourth and 3, killing the Jaguars’ final threat.

Vikings 30, Bengals 10
With two scores, Adrian Peterson set a Vikings record with 14 rushing TDs on the season, and host Minnesota (11-2) got an outstanding defensive performance against a fellow championship hopeful to move closer to a second straight NFC North title.

The Bengals (9-4) committed 11 penalties for 85 yards, failing in their first chance to clinch the AFC North. The league’s stingiest defense in scoring and third downs gave up a season-high 30 points and let the Vikings convert 8 of 14 third-down chances.

Brett Favre wasn’t great, completing 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards, one TD, and an interception, but he still outplayed the Bengals’ Carson Palmer, who was 15 of 25 for a season-low 94 yards and one score. Peterson finished with 97 yards, 1 more than Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson, who fell short of 100 for the first time in a month.

Packers 21, Bears 14
Green Bay (9-4) held on in Chicago for its fifth straight victory, getting 137 yards rushing and two TDs from Ryan Grant. Grant broke off a season-long 62-yard scoring run on the Packers’ first play from scrimmage and scored the go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter.

The Bears (5-8) were eliminated from the playoff picture, making it three straight postseason misses since the 2006 team’s Super Bowl run. Jay Cutler threw for two scores, but he was also picked off twice; the second interception was returned 32 yards by Nick Collins to set up Grant’s deciding TD.

Ravens 48, Lions 3
Host Baltimore (7-6) built a 20-3 halftime lead behind Ray Rice, who ran for 155 of his career-high 166 yards in the first half, including a 59-yard TD jaunt. The Ravens piled it on from there, setting team records with five rushing TDs and 548 total yards, and their 48 points tied the franchise mark.

Detroit dropped its 19th straight on the road. The Lions (2-11) lost running back Kevin Smith to a serious knee injury in the fourth quarter. Daunte Culpepper, starting in place of injured rookie Matthew Stafford, passed for only 135 yards and two interceptions.

Titans 47, Rams 7
Chris Johnson ran for 117 yards and two TDs and also took a short pass 66 yards for another score as Tennessee crushed woeful St. Louis in Nashville to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

The Titans (6-7) must win out and get plenty of help after their 0-6 start. But they started a three-game homestand with a rout, despite losing quarterback Vince Young to a strained hamstring in the first half. Tennessee turned five interceptions into 20 points and held Steven Jackson, the lone offensive threat for the Rams (1-12), to 47 yards on 19 carries.

Texans 34, Seahawks 7
Matt Schaub had 336 yards passing before halftime and finished with 365, firing two TD passes to Andre Johnson as Houston (6-7) buried visiting Seattle early to break a four-game losing streak.

Johnson had a season-high 193 yards receiving. The Texans’ only second-half score came on Bernard Pollard’s 70-yard interception return. That was part of a rough day for the Seahawks (5-8) and Matt Hasselbeck, who also had three fumbles and was sacked three times.

Redskins 34, Raiders 13
Jason Campbell threw two TD passes to give Washington (4-9) the lead, and Quinton Ganther put an end to the Redskins’ three-game losing streak by running for two fourth-quarter scores in Oakland, Calif.

Trailing by 4 entering the final quarter, Oakland (4-9) unraveled without quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who partially sprained ligaments in both knees. JaMarcus Russell played the second half and threw for 84 yards, and his interception led to Ganther’s second TD. The Redskins sacked Russell six times and finished with eight, four by rookie Brian Orakpo.

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