Rams clinch home field in NFC, Colts win AFC East

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The Independent Online

This upside-down NFL season is looking just fine for the St. Louis Rams and the Indianapolis Colts.

This upside-down NFL season is looking just fine for the St. Louis Rams and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Rams, 4-12 a year ago, clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs by routing the visiting New York Giants 31-10. The Colts beat Washington 24-21 to clinch the AFC East title and at least the second seed in the postseason.

Both did it the way they've been doing it all season.

The Rams (12-2) got interception returns for touchdowns by Devin Bush and Mike Jones. Kurt Warner threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns to Az-zahir Hakim as they ended the Giants' nine-game December winning streak in three seasons under coach Jim Fassel.

New York (7-7) remains alive for a playoff berth.

In Indianapolis, Peyton Manning passed for 298 yards and two touchdowns, and Edgerrin James scored twice as the Colts (12-2) clinched their first AFC East championship since 1987 and their first home playoff game since moving from Baltimore in 1984. The Colts, 3-13 a year ago, also tied the 1929 New York Giants and 1963 Oakland Raiders for the biggest one-season improvement - nine games.

They can set a new mark with a win at Cleveland or at Buffalo.

Tennessee clinched its first playoff spot since 1993 - when the Titans were the Houston Oilers - by beating Atlanta 30-17.

Jacksonville beat Cleveland 24-14 in a game marked by the ejection of 350-pound tackle Orlando Brown of Cleveland for pushing referee Jeff Triplette after Brown was accidentally hit in the face by Triplette's flag. Browns quarterback Tim Couch and Jaguars' linebacker Kevin Hardy were injured in the game.

Dallas, meanwhile, lost a chance to tie Washington for first place in the NFC East by losing to the New York Jets 22-21.

Seattle fell a game behind Kansas City in the AFC West, losing its fourth straight, 36-30 in Denver as Glenn Cadrez returned Jon Kitna fumble 37 yards for the winning score in overtime.

And Tampa Bay lost a chance to clinch a playoff berth when it was routed 45-0 in Oakland.

In other games, it was Chicago 28, Detroit 10; Philadelphia 24, New England 9; Baltimore 31, New Orleans 8; and Miami 12, San Diego 9.

In Saturday games, Kansas City beat Pittsburgh 35-19, and Carolina beat San Francisco 41-24.

Buffalo defeated Arizona 31-21 Sunday night.

Green Bay is at Minnesota on Monday night.

The young Colts, trailing 13-10, got a halftime pep talk from Cornelius Bennett, who has played in five Super Bowls with the Bills and Falcons.

"I told the guys, 'Let's stop thinking about winning the AFC East championship. Let's just go out and beat the Washington Redskins,' " the 34-year-old linebacker said. " 'If we beat Washington, the championship will take care of itself,' "

The Rams, meanwhile, came through in a rare opportunity to beat a winning team after taking 11 games against teams with a combined 42-103 record, and losing to teams that were a combined 18-8.

"This team was playing well and we beat them soundly, we beat them good," Warner said. "If this doesn't quiet the critics, who knows? They can continue to doubt us all the way to the Super Bowl if they want."

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Jaguars 24, Browns 14

Jacksonville (13-1) won its 11th straight game and remained in position to have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Fred Taylor rushed for 136 yards and had a 41-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter to finally put away the expansion Browns (2-13).

The Jaguars, can clinch the AFC Central next week with a win at Tennessee, the only team to beat them. However, the Jaguars' win was overshadowed by the ejection of Brown, who became enraged when Triplette threw his lead-weighted penalty flag toward the line of scrimmage and accidentally struck the offensive lineman in the right eye.

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Titans 30, Falcons 17

Steve McNair threw for one touchdown and ran for another, and Al Del Greco kicked three field goals for the Titans (11-3). They still have a shot at their first AFC Central title since 1991. They are two games beookie Jevon Kearse had two sacks against the

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Broncos 36, Seahawks 30, OT

Seattle, down 30-20 with 1:47, rallied to tie the game. A 36-yard Jon Kitna-Derrick Mayes touchdown pass was followed by a recovered onside kick that set up Todd Peterson's game-tying 45-yard field goal with :09 ed by Ray Crockett on a third-and-4 and Cadrez picked it up and scored to give the Broncos (5-9) the victory.

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Raiders 45, Bucs 0

Hoping to clinch their second playoff berth since 1982, the Bucs (9-5) instead took the worst loss in their history in Oakland.

Lance Johnstone returned Shaun King's fumble 13 yards for a score and Tyrone Wheatley ran 30 yards for a TD for the Raiders (7-7) following Mike Alstott's fumble. The Raiders got two touchdowns apiece from Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman.

Jets 22, Cowboys 21

John Hall's 37-yard field goal with 1:39 left won it for the Jets (6-8) and kept the Cowboys (7-7) from catching the Redskins in the NFC East. It was the first loss in seven home games this season for Dallas, which is 1-6 on the road.

Dallas' Troy Aikman was just 12-of-28 for 158 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

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Bears 28, Lions 10

Marcus Robinson caught three of Cade McNown's four touchdown passes as the Bears (6-8) stayed barely alive for the playoffs and hurt the chances of the Lions (8-6).

Robinson finished with 11 catches for 170 yards. McNown was 27-of-36 for 301 yards with two interceptions. Gus Frerotte threw three interceptions for the Lions. He was relieved by Charlie Batch, making his first appearance since injuring his thumb Nov. 7.

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Bills 31, Cardinals 21

Visiting Buffalo (9-5) solidified its playoff chances as Jonathan Linton, subbing for Antowain Smith, gained 81 yards in 21 carries as the Bills controlled the clock. Doug Flutie completed 21 of 32 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona (6-8), which still is alive for a postseason berth.

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Eagles 24, Patriots 9

Koy Detmer threw three touchdown passes as the Eagles (4-11) bettered last season's win total and put New England out of the playoff race.

Detmer, the Eagles' third-string quarterback, also celebrated with an emphatic flogging motion some players call "whippin' it," after his TD tosses. New England (7-7) lost for the fifth time in six games.

Drew Bledsoe was sacked six times, threw four interceptions and lost one of the Patriots' three fumbles.

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Dolphins 12, Chargers 9

The Chargers' John Carney hit the left upright with a 36-yard field goal attempt with five seconds remaining as the Dolphins (9-5) broke a three-game losing streak.

The Chargers (6-8) won last week in Seattle when the Seahawks' Peterson hit the left upright from 38 yards with 1:10 left.

Olindo Mare made all four field goal attempts, increasing his season total to 37 to match the NFL record set by John Kasay of Carolina in 1996.

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Ravens 31, Saints 8

Tony Banks threw three touchdown passes as the Ravens (7-7) won their third straight game and tied a team record with four interceptions. They also won seven games for the first time in four years in Baltimore.

New Orleans (2-12) has lost five straight and 12 of 13. The Saints playing without injured Ricky Williams, finished with 11 yards rushing and just eight first downs.

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