American Football: Hall conjures career best to send Jets to play-offs

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The Independent Online

The kicker is a much-maligned presence on an American football team. Tolerated at best by his teammates, he cuts a lonely figure: when he succeeds, he is lauded, but should he fail, he incurs the wrath and indignation not only of fans in the stands, but of colleagues inside his own locker-room.

The kicker is a much-maligned presence on an American football team. Tolerated at best by his teammates, he cuts a lonely figure: when he succeeds, he is lauded, but should he fail, he incurs the wrath and indignation not only of fans in the stands, but of colleagues inside his own locker-room.

The New York Jets John Hall has endured his fair share of calamities over the years, but he is the toast of his side today, because without him, the Jets would not be in the play-offs. With less than a minute remaining in their game in Oakland, the New Yorkers were down by a point, knowing they needed to win to stay alive.

Hall was sent on to attempt a daunting 53-yard field goal, the longest outdoor kick of his career. The snap was awful, but the holder, Tom Tupa, managed to right the ball in time for Hall to swing his boot through to give his side a 24-22 victory. Hall, who was almost cut after a lacklustre campaign last year, was the hero of the moment.

"I knew the ball was good, I just hoped it had the distance," he said. "It was the biggest kick I've ever made." The fading Raiders had already qualified for the post-season, which is just as well considering that they have lost four of their last six games, and look a spent force. It did not help that their kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, was sidelined with a foot infection. His replacement, Brad Daluiso, missed a field goal and an extra point.

All told, however, it was another sloppy performance from the one-time Super Bowl favourites. "We need to pull ourselves together and stop reading about how old and tired we are," said their irascible coach, Jon Gruden. His team will get an early opportunity when they will almost certainly face the Jets again next weekend, this time in the play-offs.

The Jets' triumph was bad news for the Seattle Seahawks. Despite beating Kansas City 21-18, the Seahawks could only join the post-season celebrations if the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the early hours of this morning. The Vikings, terrible travellers at best, are unlikely to trouble the defending champions in front of a hostile Maryland crowd.

"I'll be watching and rooting," said Seattle's coach, Mike Holmgren. "If Minnesota wins, we're in. However, if we had played well in a few other games, we wouldn't have to depend on someone else." Elsewhere on the final weekend of the regular season, most of the leading contenders tuned up in style. The St Louis Rams set a new league record when they beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-13. The result means the Rams have scored 500 points in three consecutive seasons, and are strongly favoured to win their second title during that span.

The Chicago Bears continue to impress, humbling Jacksonville 33-13, while the Green Bay Packers looked solid in their 34-25 victory over the Giants in New York. After their surprise loss in Cincinnati last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers disposed of the Cleveland Browns 28-7, while the New England Patriots downed Carolina 38-6. The loss was Carolina's 15th in a row, a new league record, and resulted in the dismissal of their head coach, George Seifert.

On a personal level, the veteran Dallas running back Emmitt Smith became the first player in history to rush for 1,000 yards over 11 consecutive seasons, while Michael Strahan's late sack of Brett Favre gave the New York Giant defensive end 22.5 for the season, breaking Mark Gastineau's record of 22 set in 1984.

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