American Football: Vikings cut short party by firing Tice

For once, results went as expected and there were no surprises on the final day of the regular season. The Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded wins to confirm their play-off places, while the Washington Redskins joined them after coming from behind to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 31-20.

Also through are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who overcame a slow start to defeat the Detroit Lions 35-21, a result which rendered Kansas City's 37-3 humbling of the Cincinnati Bengals meaningless, as Pittsburgh's success meant elimination for the Chiefs.

However, the scorelines hide a host of stories as another eventful campaign reached its conclusion. Following his team's emphatic win, Kansas City's 69-year-old head coach, Dick Vermeil, announced his retirement. The charismatic veteran is walking away for the third time, having left Philadelphia in the mid-1980s, and St Louis after winning a Super Bowl in 1999. This time he insists his decision is permanent.

"The greatest thing I take away from here is the value of relationships and how deep they are," he said. "They're not influenced by the scoreboard. Nobody can take those things away."

Also leaving, but not of their own volition, are Houston's Dom Capers and Mike Tice of the Minnesota Vikings. Capers pays the price for his side's miserable campaign of two wins and 14 losses, the worst record in the game, while Tice's colourful tenure ends despite him winning seven of his last nine matches.

Tice learned his fate within minutes of his side finishing with an emphatic 34-10 verdict over the Chicago Bears, much to the disgust of his players.

"In the locker room, right after a game you just won?" asked the receiver Koren Robinson. "Give the man respect enough to wait until Monday, to enjoy the win."

Respect was the watchword in Pittsburgh, where the veteran running back Jerome Bettis played the last home game of an illustrious career, and finished with three touchdowns as the Steelers triumphed against Detroit.

The popular 33-year-old understands that while his Steelers have qualified for post-season play, his hopes of a first Super Bowl appearance remain intact. "I told the guys we've got to get there," he said. "I'm running out of time."

The Seattle running back Shaun Alexander, established a record with his 28th touchdown of the season in a meaningless loss against the Green Bay Packers.

Alexander also finished as the league's leading rusher with 1,880 yards, and he looks certain to be named the NFL's Most Valuable Player too. Neil Rackers, Arizona's kicker, is also in the books after kicking two field goals in his side's loss in Indianapolis. Rackers converted 40 successful field goals to establish a new single-season record.

New England's veteran back-up quarterback Doug Flutie had the most bizarre play of the last 64 years, when he successfully drop-kicked an extra point attempt in his side's 28-26 loss against Miami.

Although still legal, American football rarely witnesses the drop kick as the sharply pointed ball makes control difficult. Flutie's effort was the first the game had seen since 1941.

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