Seahawks, Jets struggle toward the finish line

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004

The Jets and Seahawks are disgruntled winners.

New York is 9-4, leads the AFC wild-card standings and has an outside chance of clinching a playoff spot with a win over Seattle at the Meadowlands on Sunday, plus a complicated combination of other developments. But there is a clear gap between the Jets and the best teams in the league.

Seattle is 7-6, leads the NFC West and, like the Jets, can make the playoffs with a win and some complicated other scenarios.

But coach Mike Holmgren is unhappy with the officiating he's getting and the inconsistent play of his team.

Join the club, Mike.

''Against good teams we don't do anything,'' says LaMont Jordan, the backup running back for the Jets. ''People around here might not like me saying that, but that's just the truth.

"Against good teams, against winning teams, against good defenses we haven't done a thing.''

Jordan's comments came a day after the Jets lost 17-6 in Pittsburgh.

Their other losses are to New England, Baltimore and Buffalo, all teams with winning records.

Seattle's win over Minnesota last week followed a late loss to Dallas and put the Seahawks back into the lead in their division by a game over St. Louis - really a half-game because the Rams' two head-to-head wins mean they hold the division tiebreaker.

''This will give us confidence,'' said rookie safety Michael Boulware, whose end-zone interception of an ill-conceived Randy Moss option pass helped seal a 27-23 win last week. ''We've been down, but we know that we'll never give up.''

There is historic significance to this rivalry.

In 1998, when the Seahawks visited the Meadowlands, the officials mistook Vinny Testaverde's white helmet for the football and awarded the Jets a fourth-down touchdown that won the game. That play turned out to be a pivotal point of discussion at the league meetings the next March, when the owners brought back video replay as an officiating tool.

One problem for the Jets' offense has been the weak arm of Chad Pennington, who missed three games with a shoulder injury. It allows defenses to concentrate on stopping the run and short passes.

''We just have to make some more explosion plays,'' coach Herman Edwards says. ''In this league, you want to run the ball, but to score points you have to throw the ball.''

Baltimore (8-5) at Indianapolis (10-3)

The Ravens are playing for a playoff berth. Indianapolis already has one.

But there is more pregame hype over Peyton Manning approaching Dan Marino's 20-year-old record of 48 touchdown passes in a season.

Manning has 46 with three games left.

''Honestly, I was hoping against hope that we'd get it down here so we can be done with it,'' coach Tony Dungy said after Manning threw for two TDs in the 23-14 win in Houston last week. ''I'm sure it will get bigger each week. We'll just have to deal with it.''

The Colts are probably locked into their playoff spot of no bye and a home game the first week. It could be against the Ravens, who are tied with Denver for the AFC's final wild-card spot.

Jacksonville (7-6) at Green Bay (8-5)

Minnesota (7-6) at Detroit (5-8)

The Vikings trail the Packers by a game in the NFC North and host Green Bay next Friday. The Packers can clinch at least a wild-card spot with a win, but not the division title.

Minnesota could have trouble in Detroit after its disappointing loss last week.

The Vikings had to come from behind to beat the Lions 22-19 in Minnesota and Kevin Jones is coming on at running back for Detroit.

Jacksonville is one of those AFC teams that would be in a comfortable spot in the NFC. The Jaguars beat the Bears 22-3 last week to break a three-game losing streak, their first win that didn't come down to the final minute.

Carolina (6-7) at Atlanta (10-3) (Saturday night)

The Panthers, who have won five straight after starting 1-7, could be the NFC's second-best team right now. They are, after all, the defending conference champion and have overcome a spate of injuries.

But they are also just 1-8 at the Georgia Dome in their 10-season history.

The Falcons can clinch a first-round bye with a win.

San Diego (10-3) at Cleveland (3-10)

Denver (8-5) at Kansas City (5-8)

The Chargers, who have won seven in a row and nine of their last 10, are in position for their first playoff berth since 1995.

The Broncos lost two straight before edging Miami 20-17 at home last week.

They are having problems at several key positions. Jake Plummer has six interceptions and no touchdowns over the last two games and RB Reuben Droughns, one of this season's finds, was benched because of two fumbles in his first four carries, returning only when replacement Tatum Bell was injured.

''For years, I've made some dumb throws,'' Plummer acknowledges. ''I've never gone into the tank because of it and I keep coming back fighting. That's all you can do.''

New England (12-1) at Miami (2-11) (Monday night)

Credit the Dolphins with still trying, as witness their near-win in Denver last week. Only two of their 11 losses are by more than 10 points, one of them a 24-10 defeat in Foxboro.

Because of the Steelers' run, the Patriots could finish 15-1 and fail to get home-field advantage for the playoffs. That didn't hurt them three years ago, when they won the AFC title game in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh (12-1) at New York Giants (5-8) (Saturday)

The highlight of this game will be the matchup of the two first-round quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, doing wonderfully for the Steelers, and Eli Manning, who has been woeful for the Giants. The irony is the Giants gave up draft choices to get Eli and could have had Ben simply by taking him with the fourth pick in the draft or even trading down.

New York has lost six straight, four since Manning replaced Kurt Warner as the starting QB.

Dallas (5-8) at Philadelphia (12-1)

Despite their record, all is not rosy for the Eagles. They have lost a bunch of defensive linemen, including Hollis Thomas, their best run-stopper, for up to six weeks.

Normally, that could hurt in the playoffs, but Philadelphia seems so much better than the rest of the NFC that it might not matter until the Super Bowl.

The Cowboys seemed to be getting back in the playoff race before last week's horrible home loss to the Saints. They are still in it nominally, but they figure to lose here to a team that beat them 49-21 in Texas.

St. Louis (6-7) at Arizona (4-9)

The Rams probably will still have Chris Chandler at QB for Marc Bulger even though Chandler threw six interceptions in Carolina last week. But Marshall Faulk might be back.

The 49ers' only two wins are over the Cardinals. If Arizona had won those games, both overtime affairs, it would be in the playoff race.

Buffalo (7-6) at Cincinnati (6-7)

Both these teams have come on, leaving hope for next season.

Willis McGahee has been the catalyst for the Bills, who have won six of seven since he became the starting running back. McGahee and wide receiver Lee Evans, plus a solid defense, should mean a bright future.

The same applies to the Bengals, who have won five of their last eight. Carson Palmer will miss this game with a knee injury, but the capable Jon Kitna replaces him.

Washington (4-9) at San Francisco (2-11) (Saturday)

The Redskins have been playing better. Last week, they became one of the few NFC teams to scare the Eagles and might have won if not for a horrible late interception thrown by Patrick Ramsey.

San Francisco's two wins are identical, 31-28 in overtime over Arizona. In the pre-OT days, they'd be 0-11-2.

New Orleans (5-8) at Tampa Bay (5-8)

The Saints proved just how unpredictable they are by winning in Dallas last week. But coach Jim Haslett still figures to be on his way out.

Jon Gruden isn't, though his frustrating season continued with a turnover-laden loss in San Diego just when it looked like the Bucs were getting back in the playoff race.

Houston (5-8) at Chicago (5-8)

The Texans can be tough, but usually at home - they gave Peyton Manning and the Colts a much better battle in Houston last week than they did in Indianapolis. The Bears can be difficult at home, although Brian Urlacher injured his groin again last week in a 22-3 loss to Jacksonville.

Tennessee (4-9) at Oakland (4-9)

Steve McNair, so frustrated about injuries that he's talking retirement, likely will be shut down for the season, giving him extra time to recuperate and forget about hanging it up. The Raiders have shown flashes, but their biggest splash lately has been a new contract for Sebastian Janikowski, their talented but sometimes volatile kicker.

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