Record chase overshadows big games

Manning one touchdown pass shy of Marino's mark as Colts prepare for Chargers

Posted: Sunday, December 26, 2004


  Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens Dec. 19. Manning is one touchdown pass shy of Dan Marino's season record of 48. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens Dec. 19. Manning is one touchdown pass shy of Dan Marino's season record of 48.

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

The Indianapolis Colts care about Peyton Manning's assault on Dan Marino's record. They are just tired of all the hype.

As the Colts prepare to play San Diego on Sunday, Manning stands at 47 touchdown passes for the season, one away from tying Marino's 20-year-old record. That seems to be about all anyone cares about before a game matching two division champions, both with 11-3 records.

''It doesn't have a great deal of buzz for us,'' says coach Tony Dungy, who with Manning's absolute concurrence elected to have his quarterback take a knee at Baltimore's 4-yard line in the waning seconds of a 20-10 win last week rather than have him throw the ball into the end zone.

Manning should get the record this week. Like the Colts, the Chargers are a team that doesn't mind a shootout — the opposite of the Ravens, who slowed things down in Indianapolis last week.

So Manning and Drew Brees could stage the kind of shootout that the Indianapolis QB had earlier this season with Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper. That's likely to give him any number of shots at the two touchdown passes he needs.

There could be more significance to this game than there appeared before New England was upset in Miami Monday night.

The Patriots' loss means that there's an outside chance that the Chargers or Colts could edge New England out of a first-round bye. Or even get home-field advantage in the AFC if Pittsburgh loses two tough closing games with teams fighting for wild-card spots — against Baltimore at home and at Buffalo.

But that remains a long shot and involves a lot of permutations.

So it takes things right back to where they were: The winner of Sunday's game in Indy will probably be the third seed in the conference and the loser will be the fourth, which means a home game in the first round and, if victorious, a trip to Foxboro or Pittsburgh.

Also aside from Manning's record is a possible coach of the year award for San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer; Dungy probably won't get it because his team was expected to contend.

''Marty's done a great job of coaching this year, taking this team from 4-12 to where we are now,'' says linebacker Donnie Edwards, who should have made the Pro Bowl but was snubbed. ''I think the guys are really believing in him and that's why we are where we are right now.''

Six of the eight division winners have been decided, including all four in the AFC: the Colts, Chargers, Patriots and Steelers. The New York Jets lead the wild-card chase in the conference and need one more win to clinch a berth, with Jacksonville leading Baltimore, Buffalo and Denver for the second berth.

The NFC is now assured of having at least one 8-8 team in the playoffs and it's quite possible a 7-9 team or two could get in — including a division winner with a losing record in the West.

Philadelphia has clinched the East and home-field advantage for the playoffs and Atlanta has won the South and will get a first-round bye. Green Bay (9-6) clinched the North by winning 34-31 in Minnesota on Friday. The Vikings (8-7) can still get a wild-card berth this weekend if Carolina or St. Louis loses.

Seattle can win the West with a victory at home Sunday over Arizona and a loss by St. Louis at home Monday night to the Eagles. The Seahawks can get a wild-card spot with a win regardless of what the Rams do, and Carolina, although only 6-8, can get in if it wins and a number of other things break its way.

New England (12-2)

at New York Jets (10-4)

The Patriots lost just about any shot at getting home-field advantage for the playoffs when they blew Monday night's game in Miami. Their other loss is to Pittsburgh, so they would have to win out and the Steelers would have to lose twice.

The last time the Patriots lost two games in a row was in 2002, the second 30-17 in the next-to-last game of the season against the Jets. New York would love to avoid going into the final week still needing a win to clinch its playoff spot.

Arizona (5-9) at Seattle (7-7)

Philadelphia (13-1)

at St. Louis (6-8)

(Monday night)

In an odd twist, the Cardinals are probably the happiest of these four teams simply because they remain alive — they actually could win the dismal West with two wins and two losses by the Rams and Seahawks. Unlikely, but this division is so bad that if the rules allowed, it should be dropped from playoff consideration.

The Eagles, of course, have clinched everything. But Terrell Owens' severely sprained ankle is likely to keep him out of the playoffs and he's been the primary reason Philadelphia has been so dominant this season.

''There's no reason for the city of Philadelphia to get down because I'm not there,'' Owens said, aware that all of southeast Pennsylvania and south Jersey is in depression. ''Obviously, my presence will be missed, but we have the guys to get it done.''

Baltimore (8-6)

at Pittsburgh (13-1)

Buffalo (8-6)

at San Francisco (2-12)

Houston (6-8)

at Jacksonville (8-6)

The Steelers need only one more win to clinch home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs. And they'd like to get it against the only team that has beaten them. Tommy Maddox was injured in that game, rookie Ben Roethlisberger took over at quarterback and Pittsburgh has won 12 straight.

Unless the Jets collapse, the Ravens, Bills, Jaguars and Broncos are fighting for the final AFC wild-card spot. And the Steelers can wrap up home-field advantage in the playoffs with a victory.

Right now, Jacksonville holds the upper hand. If the Jaguars beat the Texans and win their finale at Oakland, they are in and the others probably go home.

Of this group, the Bills are hot.

The Bills have won five straight and seven of their last eight, a period coinciding with insertion at running back of Willis McGahee, who injured a knee last week and is a question mark for Sunday.

Atlanta (11-3)

at New Orleans (6-8)

Carolina (6-8)

at Tampa Bay (5-9)

Despite their 34-31 overtime loss to the Falcons last week, the Panthers still hold the upper hand for an NFC wild-card berth. They should. They are the defending conference champion and had won six straight despite a spate of key injuries until that loss.

But the inconsistent Saints now have consecutive road wins over the Cowboys and Bucs. They could catch a break here — the Falcons are locked in as the second-seeded team in the NFC and, if they choose, could rest Michael Vick and other key players to keep them fresh and healthy for the playoffs.

New York Giants (5-9)

at Cincinnati (6-8)

A potentially noteworthy matchup: Carson Palmer, last season's first overall draft pick at quarterback for the Bengals against Eli Manning, this year's No. 1.

Manning had by far his best game as a pro last week as New York, which has lost seven straight, nearly upset the Steelers. Palmer also has improved, although he is questionable with a knee injury that kept him out of last week's loss to Buffalo.

Chicago (5-9) at Detroit (5-9)

Washington (5-9)

at Dallas (5-9)

Cleveland (3-11)

at Miami (3-11)

A bunch of teams that will pick high in the next April's draft.

Washington and Miami are starting to play decently, the Redskins since Patrick Ramsey became the quarterback and the Dolphins since Jim Bates replaced Dave Wannstedt as coach. Miami is 2-3 under Bates, including Monday night's shocker over New England, a reason the interim coach should be given a look for the head coaching job that Nick Saban seems to have locked up.

Dallas looked like it might make a late charge toward a playoff spot in the dismal NFC, but lost at home to New Orleans and then in Philly.

Chicago and Detroit? They've had a few decent wins, but the Lions are young, the Bears are hurt and both have had a lot of bad fortune, such as the botched extra point that kept Detroit from sending last week's game with the Vikings into overtime.

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